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 Festival 2006
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Musicals & Opera

(B) 13 out of 156
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Page number refers to the Fringe programme

Babylon Burning (Another Lovely War). (Page 147).
Drams full glass.
Venue Theatre Workshop. (Venue 20).
Address 34 Hamilton Place, Stockbridge.
Reviewer Barbara Bryan.

Babylon Burning (Another Lovely War) is a powerful community production that deals with the issues and controversies surrounding the invasion of Iraq. With a cast of 100 - all volunteers - and a bank of television sets relaying images relating to the Iraq war, our senses are saturated and we become immersed in the tale of the politicians deceit and subsequent spin which provided the excuse for this illegal invasion.

The production is very well researched. Beginning with the mood of anti-war demonstrators, we are taken on a journey that embraces political speeches, soldiers in action in Iraq, and most poignantly, an Iraqi family whose close-knit structure is torn apart by the death of a daughter, an action that precipitates a peace loving son to seek revenge and become a terrorist. And by involving the audience in the emotions of this simple family, whose lives have forever been disrupted by the invasion, we are reminded of the reality of this war which has devastated so many lives, civilians and soldiers - all in the pursuit of oil.

Written by a selection of writers - professional and non-professional - the show moves along at a terrific pace. Robert Rae, the Artistic Director of Theatre Workshop, has done a very effective job in bringing the tale to life of those involved in the Iraq war. But he has also incorporated humour in this large-scale production, an essential ingredient in any major issue. And to add to the atmosphere of this dynamic show the production is complemented by a large orchestra.
(c)Barbara Bryan 20 August 2006 - Published on EdinburghGuide.com .
Runs to 27 August at 19.30 (not 21 August).
Company - Theatre Workshop.
Company Website - www.theatre-workshop.com .


The Bacchae. (Page 147).
Drams - maybe just two if you're a fan of the Ancient Greeks.
Venue Diverse Attractions (Venue 11).
Address Riddles Court, 322 Lawnmarket.
Reviewer Morag Hannah.

The transportation of Euripedes' play from Ancient Greece to a modern-day unstable nation is for the most part entirely superfluous. There's the impression that someone had the idea of rendering the messengers as comedic newscasters and changed the setting of the play for that one gag, another nod to the supposed new setting being the costumes.

A clear spoken but otherwise somewhat nervous and stilted Dionysus (apparently cast for his long blonde hair, assuming it's real) is overshadowed by Umar Ahmed's Pentheus. Ahmed speaks far too quickly at the outset, such that a non-Scot might struggle to catch everything, but once he settles into the part he shows presence and sensitivity. The best performance may well come from the Greek Chorus, a substantial part in The Bacchae as they represent the Maenads themselves in all their raving, wild haired glory. Played with humour and relish, the Chorus is without doubt the highlight of the play.

Some much-needed pathos is injected by an solid turn on the part of Fiona Scott (also appearing in the Chorus) as Agaue, coming to her senses at the tale's tragic finale. It's too little, too late, however, for a competent but largely by-the-numbers production. Perhaps worth it for fans of the Greek plays, but overall not terribly exciting.
©Morag Hannah 12 August 2006 - Published on EdinburghGuide.com
Run ended Aug 12.
Company - Moving Parts.
Company Website - www.movingparts.co.uk.


Baggage (Page 147)
Drams .
Venue Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33).
Address 60 The Pleasance.
Reviewer Rebecca Smith

The complex relationship of family is a constant visitor to the stage, and Baggage takes a confronting look at a father and son's relationship marred by mental illness. With sparse staging in the narrow, black-draped confines of Pleasance Below, there is no escaping the sadness as Adam Burton (Doug) and Stephen Sobal (Taylor) expose the wounds etched from years of unrelenting mental decay.

Taylor, in his unexplained bloodied robe, answers the door to his father Doug (believing himslf to be "Reggie"), and for the next 45 minutes they meditate on past experience, current life and love and acceptance of fate. A watchful balance is struck with touches of humour in the absence of knowledge of each other's lives.

Burton gives a detailed, mannered performance as Doug, a middle-aged man further wearied by his condition. The acute attention to detail is intriguing to watch, but shifts attention from Jonny Fielding's talents as an insightful playwright. The strength of this play rests in the dialogue. The defiant exchanges between the two; Doug's insistent questioning and forceful perceived notions of truth are skilfully absorbed by Stephen Sobal's achingly muted Taylor.

Baggage is the follow up to Short Story Theatre's acclaimed debut Waiting Game. The company is gaining a reputation for its innovative, groundbreaking drama, and this is a challenging alternative to the this year's theatre offerings, but is not wholly rewarding. You get a glimpse of greatness in Baggage, but I left dissapointed in the lack of impact it had on me.
©Rebecca Smith 13 August 2006 - Published on EdinburghGuide.com
Runs to 28 August at 14:05 every day, except Monday the 14th.
Company - Short Story Theatre.
Company Website - www.shortstorytheatre.co.uk


Bite Size. (Not In Programme).
Drams for the selection from Menu A anyway.
Venue Roman Eagle Lodge . (Venue 21)
Address 2 Johnston Terrace.
Reviewer Ariadne Cass .

One out of two ‘menus’ of ten - minute plays are presented along with a croissant and strawberry, a perfect beginning to the day. Short-listed from the Melbourne and Sydney Short And Sweet festivals, these plays range from the very funny to sweetly poignant.

The show I happen to see is a selection from Menu A, which on this evidence contains some very well written plays. This is not average standard fare, this is really good stuff, made more so by the excellent direction of Shirley Jaffe and the superb performances given by the actors. Uncomfortable Silences by Andrew O’Keefe is very noteable for its romantic dilemma, passionately acted by Matt Lea. Varied scripts and even quality means that there is something for everyone here. And there’s so much of it that you can come again to another show with another menu of plays. A bountiful, brilliant feast.
©Ariadne Cass 23 August 2006 - Published on EdinburghGuide.com .
Runs to August 26 at 10:30 every day.
Company - White Room Theatre.
Company Website - www.bite-size.org .


The Black Jew Dialogues. (Page 149).
Drams full glass full glass.
Venue C (Venue 34).
Address Chambers Street.
Reviewer Bill Dunlop.

So what's a good Ulster / Angus Scots boy doing at a show about U.S. Blacks and U.S. Jews? As one quick quip on the monitor followed another and no actors seemed ready to step forth, the question hung around this reviewer's mind for a little. Not for long, however, as Ron Jones and Larry Jay Tish quickly took command of the stage and presented the premise that here were a U.S. Black actor and a U.S. Jewish actor presenting a show about working on a sketch show about U.S. Blacks and Jews.

If that seems confusing, you are no more confused, dear reader, than several of Jones' and Tish's interviewees attitudes to Jews and Blacks. Six feet above contradiction and loud if not always proud on that monitor screen, the smug prejudices of everyday came back to haunt the perpetrators in public. Wherein lies the problem with this brave and bold attempt to unpackage the unacceptable face of U. S. Black and Jewish attitudes to one another. Several of Jones' and Tish's several sketches work extremely well, but not always as well as the two actors playing two working actors working on a show.

Several of their forays into the history of race are illuminating - the involvement of Jewish merchants in the slave trade, for example. It's perhaps worth noting that Dutch merchants (Jews included) backed William of Orange's seizure of the British crowns and thereby helped catapult a second-rate power into pole position for subsequent imperial adventures. Slavery became uneconomic in large parts of the British Empire, but remained viable in parts of her American colonies, leading in part to the creation of a United States and some of the issues dealt with in The Black Jew Dialogues.

Overall, this is an intelligent and effective essay in examining prejudice, stereotypes, smugness and crass stupidity; once Jones and Tish acclimatise to Edinburgh and resolve their confusion about Scottishness and Britishness (don't worry, lads, most of us natives are a bit confused at times) this sharp show should be even sharper.
©Bill Dunlop 2 August 2006 - Published on EdinburghGuide.com.
Runs to 28 August at 20.30 every day.
Company - StageCoach Productions.
Company Website - www.theblackjewdialogues.com.

Black Watch. (Page 149).

Drams No drams needed.
Venue Traverse 4
(Venue 109).
Address University of Edinburgh Drill Hall, Forest Hill (off Forest Road).
Reviewer Barbara Bryan.

Scottish soldiers are renowned the world over for their bravery and this moving, passionate play by the hugely talented Scottish writer Gregory Burke is based on interviews with Black Watch soldiers who recount their tales of being in the conflict of Iraq. The Black Watch regiment is based in Fife and the Tayside region in Scotland, and the army has been a part of their lives for generations. Their fathers, grandfathers, great grandfathers, have been soldiers in the regiment - a regiment that has been involved in virtually every major conflict since it was formed in l745. "It's in the blood. It's part of who we are."

Black Watch.
© copyright: Robbie Jack
An explosive verbatim production, Black Watch takes us to the heart of what makes these soldiers tick. Set in a military drill hall, we are immediately immersed in the personalities of the squaddies who operate as a tight-knit team. We see their mechanisms for coping in conflict - the humour, the hyper nervous tension, the bravery, the comradeship. But most of all, the pride in being a part of this regiment.

This National Theatre of Scotland production is brilliantly directed by John Tiffany. Using the sparseness of the drill hall to great effect, we can tangibly feel the tension erupting from the soldiers, whether it be the simulated conflict, or when they return home and are waiting to be called up again. And the show is also enhanced by Steven Hoggett's very effective military style choreography.

A dynamic production, Black Watch imbues all the passion involved in serving this centuries old Highlanders regiment which this year has been amalgamated into the new Royal Regiment of Scotland.
©Barbara Bryan 17 August 2006 - Published on EdinburghGuide.com.
Runs to 27 August at 20.30.
Company - National Theatre of Scotland.
Company Website - www.nationaltheatrescotland.com .


Bodies in Transit. (Page 150).
Drams .
Venue Traverse Theatre (Venue 15).
Address Cambridge Street, off Lothian Road.
Reviewer Barbara Bryan.

Trafficking in women has become a major 2lst century global problem and Bodies in Transit deals with the issue head-on.

Devised by the Danes - Lars Fleming and Iben Hendel Phillpsen of Mucca Divina productions - this powerful one-woman play revolves around the story of Marija's journey into sex slavery, where she is reduced to a nameless body in transit, used and abused by pimps and clients.

Marija's a Lithuanian girl, and the play begins with her being locked up in a Danish jail for drunk and disorderly behaviour. She refuses to speak to the authorities and has no identification, but we, the audience hear her harrowing story. Like thousands of other innocent, poverty stricken uneducated girls she dreams of a better life. She wants to be a beautician. Her Uncle persuades her he can help her, and under his 'protection' she leaves home, only to sign her life and identity away in a debt bondage.

Against a minimal set, Iben Hendel Phillpsen imbues potent drama into this production. Emotionally and physically she takes on the persona of many of the unsavoury characters who Marija encounters on her downward slide into a living hell, immersing the audience in the appalling reality these girls have to face once they are enslaved. A heart rending play, though it runs for 90 minutes and it feels over long, it is nevertheless important to be reminded of the lives some young people are forced to lead.
©Barbara Bryan 10 August 2006 - Published on EdinburghGuide.com
Runs to 27 August at various times.
Company Mucca Divina.


Bonnie in Brighton. (Page 150).
Drams .
Venue Roman Eagle Lodge(Venue 21).
Address 2 Johnstone Place.
Reviewer Nathan Witts.

There is nothing horribly wrong with this one woman show but equally there is nothing that great about it either. I quite like the script and the play's premise, a young American seduced by Brighton on her year out, but actress Erin Parks and director Guy Picot could do a lot more with it. Parks' performance is pretty average and so to is Picot's direction. Don't get me wrong, Parks is a competent performer, at points in the show she captures a range of emotions effectively. But her performance is incomplete with the pithy character hard to believe. Equally Picot's direction is good at times, and the score for the show is well chosen. But too often his direction becomes clichéd and somewhat formulaic. Picot's set design is basic with a splash of Brighton deck chair colour, a table and chair but as with the rest of the show some more thought could have gone into producing something a tad more original.

Nothing about this show will blow one away and although Parks offers a dose of energy and enthusiasm there are better one-woman/man shows at the fringe.
©Nathan Witts 10 August 2006 - Published on EdinburghGuide.com
Runs to 27 August at 15:45 every day except 15 of August.
Company - WASIF Productions.


Brand. (Page 151).
Drams .
Venue Quaker Meeting House. (Venue 40).
Address 7 Victoria Terrace.
Reviewer Pippa Tennant.

I've seen A Doll's House and Ghost before, but Brand is Ibsen at his most intense. Atonement, penitence and God's wrath are the issues, warning of graceless religion, just in case you thought you were in the comedy section. Heavy through and through, we follow the spiritual journey, or rather, fight of the cold mission preacher, Brand, Nathan Cable.

Cable's performance is solid, albeit overacted at times. The same cannot be said for Ben Wheale, however. Wheale's contrived acting sucked the life out of the only potentially funny character, the Mayor. An unforgivable error in the context of this play where we need all the mood variety we can get.

Thank God for the leading lady. Agnes, who gives her all to obedience and obtains enlightenment sought by others. She is Ibsen's heroine and also ours. Sophie William's embodies this character perfectly. Overall, the cast work well together, the direction is impressive and the stark broken furniture is used inventively to keep our attention in this awkward piece.

A difficult play to do and Theatre Apprentice managed it well. Definitely worth a watch both for Ibsen fans and anyone who is up for a bit of early evening religious struggle.
©Pippa Tennant 16 August 2006 - Published on EdinburghGuide.com.
Runs to August 19 at 18:15 every day.
Company - Theatre Apprentice.


A Brief History of Scotland (Page 152).
Drams .
Venue Sweet Grassmarket (Venue 18).
Address Apex City Hotel, 61 Grassmarket.
Reviewer Thelma Good.

Could be a great idea this. And the events LIP have picked out of Scotland's varied history have possibilities. The trouble is they just don't know where to stop, most of the sketches just go on too long, The one based on Sawney Bean the Scottish cannibal and his family chews its flesh so much, revulsion and gore rises. It's strange 'cause they do have an ability to observe the quirks of our nation. It's hard to understand why they didn't pick more of our richly coloured past to parody and poke fun at. It's a student company who go for the snigger factor rather than the pander to my intelligence giggle, some will love that, others will tire of it.

They are a rather over eager bunch, needing to learn more about the pace and ease that really gets an audience laughing in the heather. Comedy needs a lighter touch than the ram it home repeatedly approach they adopt. It's a bit like being made love to by a virgin - all over the place and never bring you to a stunning climax. But if you're a "Chewing the Fat" fan this may be just your bit of batter. It's a small space for both actors and audience and there is near-nudity which not all the cast seem comfortable with. If you don't want to know what lurks under a Scotsman's kilt, there's a moment you should definitely look away as they turn their backs on you.

The several women in the cast don't get quite enough of the stage, but there is one sketch where the females do get to make their comments on that and raise some laughs. The dispute between two males, the Ned and Jakey, two species of our present day Scottish low life is sharply delivered with well drawn characters. More skill, a redraft of the script and more playing with the audience's sense of the comic rather than than the prurient is needed. Given a rejig and much more experienced cast the show could morph into a Scottish version of the type of History/Knowledge at speed comic plays the National Theatre of Brent and others have entertained many immensely with. Right now it isn't near them.

But they have youth and energy on their side, maybe next year they'll give more laughs and mine the comic potential in more of those extraordinary snips Scots made history. What about spiders and caves, James VI the wisest fool and the Deacon who could make a dovetail by day and remove valuables by night, not to mention the delights of Gardy Loo and certain recent events with Scottish politicians!
©Thelma Good 24 August 2006 - Published on EdinburghGuide.com.
Runs to 25 August at 18:35 every day.
Company - LIP Theatre Company.
Company Website - www.dusa.dundee.ac.uk/lip .


Budapest Kiseret (Page 152).
Drams .
Venue Roman Eagle Lodge (Venue 21).
Address 2 Johnston Terrace.
Reviewer Rebecca Smith.

Rounding off their tenth year at the Fringe, Vermont-based Firefly Productions return to Edinburgh with an original moody, thought-provoking drama in Budapest Kiseret by Keefe Heeley.

When Bardok, Keefe Heeley, misses his train for his long anticipated trip to Budapest, he puts his trust in an overly attentive conductor Malcomb, Jordan Gullikson, and boards a night train with an undisclosed destination. The two strangers trade stories as if they were currency, fuelled by a wine that’s ‘somewhere between Cabernet and Vinegar’. This entourage (Kiseret) is complete with the occasional muted presence of mysterious gypsy border patrol Annanika, Genevra MacPhail.

The polite, inquisitive introductions become increasingly aggressive as they probe the truth from one another's recollection of past events that have united their company. Directed by Suzanne Mackay, the single-set carriage of the train plays host to these wordy, heavily detailed exchanges, and this contrasts well with minimal props and simple costumes. It's the dialogue that demands full attention, but despite the heavy themes of desire, regret and longing, the result is strangely un-absorbing.

The experienced cast delve into their characters with conviction; Heeley is particularly powerful as the deeply haunted Bardok. They successfully create a sense of unease when it becomes clear that all is not as it seems, but the slow pacing fails to capitalise on this and the journey feels disjointed.
©Rebecca Smith 22 August 2006 - Published on EdinburghGuide.com.
Runs to 28 August at 11:35.
Company - Firefly Productions .
Company Website - www.fireflyprod.com .


The Burial At Thebes: Sophocles' Antigone. (Page 152).
Drams .
Venue Venue 45. (Venue 45).
Address Old St Paul's Church Hall, Jeffrey Street.
Reviewer Bill Dunlop .

This reviewer recalls racing home to watch a BBC 2 Open University production of Tom Paulin's The Riot Act- another northern Irish version of Antigone. The cast was very top drawer - the RSC had clearly been ransacked for likely lads and lasses and in that alone the BBC must have reckoned to have come up trumps. We'll return to he Riot Act later, although it does make an interesting contrast with the Seamus Heaney version offered by The Perse Players.

Perse are a young company, and their courage has to be saluted for tackling 'Antigone' in any version. George Steiner's extensive meditation on its themes in 'Antigones' considers several, and this reviewer can remember a striking adaptation by the excellent Communicado. Comparisons, of course, are almost always invidious in one way or another, and Perse, despite or perhaps because of their youth strike boldly out on their own. It's a short, sharp 'Antigone' they offer their audience, shorn of the showy to bring us closer to the essential elements of the text.

Sadly hunched over a TV at half past midnight, watching for the opening moments of the televised 'Riot Act' brought bitter disappointment. The RSC cast (or possibly their director) had decided to treat Paulin's carefully constructed Belfast cadences with the contempt some pure English speakers presumably felt was deserved. The punch of 'The Riot Act' lies in its Belfast dialect and the need of non-Northern Irish audiences to 'catch themselves on' or be lost on a tide of the most glorious dialect. Heaney's script is less overtly 'nationalist' than Paulin's, but to shear it of its native cadence as Perse do is to lose much of the beauty, even if we lose little of the sense. It's perhaps unreasonable to expect a possibly inexperienced cast to wrestle with an unfamiliar accent as well as an emotionally complex script, but it's a great pity no way was found to retain its natural rhythms.
©Bill Dunlop 22 August 2006 - Published on EdinburghGuide.com.
Runs to August 26. at 18.30 every day.
Company - The Perse Players.


The Butler Did It!? (Page 152).
Drams .
Venue The Lot (Venue 24).
Address 4 Grassmarket.
Reviewer Lorraine McCann.

The main problem with this production is that its ambition rises no higher than to coast along on the 'Spirit of the Fringe'. From the student cast to the spoof subject-matter to the made-up review quotes on the back of the programme, it all screams 'We're having a laugh! Yes, that's right! A laugh! Ha! And you're paying for it! Ha again! Even the programme's fifty pee! HA HA HA!' Or maybe it just seemed that way to me, even though I was lucky enough to be able to wave my media pass and get a programme gratis, thank you very much.

I should think the premise of this show will be familiar to anyone who has not been living under a rock for the past thirty years. Like Carry On Screaming and The Naked Gun, the play takes the well-worn conventions of a genre and attempts to send them up with a mixture of stereotyped characters, absurd plot developments and a welter of dodgy puns. Already done with some aplomb more than a decade ago by Neil Harrison in his wonderfully silly Whodidit?, here the setting is likewise inter-war England, with the main characters all belonging to the Moneysworth family, whose Uncle Guy, Gilchrist Muir, has been found murdered just as he was on the point of changing the benfiiciaries of his will. On hand to investigate is tweedy spinster sleuth Miss Fanny Marbles, Cassandra Steele, alongside the usual Christie-esque compliment of Hollywood has-been, exotic foreigner and dissolute young heir. That the actors play these roles with commendable verve is, I'm afraid, not quite enough to overcome a rambling script and a general dearth of original humour.

Of course, it goes without saying that I feel like an absolute cad writing this. These young people are, as they solemnly remind us in their programme, 'the future of Scottish acting talent' AND 'the future of Scottish writing talent', and it's just a bit of fun, after all, eh? Well, yes and no -- I mean, I could see that holding up if this was some end-of-term turn in the student bar, but it's not really fresh or sharp enough to be making a splash with at the Fringe. Let's hope the next one's better.
© Lorraine McCann, 11 August 2006 - Published on EdinburghGuide.com.
Runs to 27 August at 1330 every day.
Company - Afternoon Delight Theatre Company.

(B) 13 out of 156
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