JUST AN OBSERVATION

Just an Observation

Bypassing summer completely this year we seem to have arrived at an early mid-autumn and all that brings with it.
On the plus side a vast improvement in films at the cinema, television programmes other than just endless sport, slightly more reliable weather in keeping with the date on the calendar and a good reason to eat comforting foods- not that the latter ever requires any reason at any time of year really.
On the minus side the slightly darker evenings are just a precursor to seemingly permanent darkness, cold biting winds and rain, endless layers of clothes in a misguided attempt to stay warm, endless chats with everyone about how awful the weather is and an insatiable appetite for comfort food!
It also means that the parliamentary summer recess is over and once again we have to reconcile ourselves with seeing politicians we despise on the news on almost a daily basis.
I had almost wiped out the sight and sounds of Theresa May from my mind when up she popped last week and reminded me once again just how insincere, annoyingly delusional and smugly arrogant she actually is. Mind you she has some stiff competition from Jacob Rees-Mogg in all of the aforementioned categories and sometimes you wonder whether there is a competition within the Tory party to see just how misguided and evil it is possible to be and still somehow manage to get people to vote for you.
I find it all quite bewildering!
Both going out and staying in are preferable ideals at this time of year and as already mentioned cinematic offerings are infinitely preferable to the blockbuster fodder served up over the summer months.
One film definitely worth seeing, possible contender for film of the year, is Francis Lee’s God’s Own Country starring Josh O’ Connor and Alec Secareanu as mismatched lovers set against the bleak but beautiful Yorkshire landscapes. Annoyingly referred to as a British Brokeback Mountain, a lazy comparison which does this tender yet brutal film a disservice as the beauty and harshness of this film has more bite, genuine emotion and gritty realism than the aforementioned Hollywood fare, which only tipped its toe in the water by way of contrast.
A moving and oddly sentimental film which refuses to drown itself in schmaltz; God’s Own Country, like Weekend before it, shows a new sensibility in gay film making which steps out beyond the gay theme at their core to show a more universal approach to relationships in general.
In direct contrast to this the other great film out at the moment is Steven Soderbergh’s Logan Lucky which really is a product of Hollywood although it is far from being mere Hollywood product.
Featuring a virtually unrecognisable Daniel Craig, who has stepped well out of his comfort zone, alongside Channing Tatum, Adam Driver and Hilary Swank it is that old Hollywood staple, the heist film. Somehow it works and although it is totally fantastical it is a thoroughly entertaining and compelling film which does not insult your intelligence. Against all the odds I actually loved it!
Even television schedulers seemed to have lightened up to the fact that after being bombarded with sport over the summer months autumn is the time to return to drama. Rellik on BBC1 has some great promise as a small screen Brit version of Memento- the story unfolds in reverse- but was marred by the BBC affliction of bad sound-why can’t they apply this whenever Theresa May is on screen?- which along with the difficult narrative structure makes it hard to follow. I watched it again on iPlayer and it is certainly worth sticking with. Likewise ITV’S Safe House with Stephen Moyer and Ashley Walters is marred by the channel’s annoying adverts every five minutes stance which ruins any sort of atmosphere or tension.
Tonight also sees the return of the worthwhile Refugee Benefit Nights at Leith Depot and what a line up there is for their return; The Safari Surfers, Mattie Collins, The Omega Corridor and the Filthy Tongues’ front-man Martin Metcalfe in a solo outing. Looks like being a great night and for only £7.50 and for a good cause what is there not to like!
Image by Liz Tainsh.

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FLEABAG

Fleabag

Originally at the Fringe in 2013 Phoebe Waller Bridge’s Fleabag in the interim has become a successful and quite brilliant BBC production. Although she does not appear in this updated outing the baton has been handed onto Maddie Rice who although she doesn’t quite sprint ahead with it certainly holds onto it firmly.
Differing from the TV show, this is a one woman show wherein Rice sits alone on stage with only a chair as a prop and only the briefest of recorded interjections from peripheral characters, I can’t help but feel that something is lost as the protagonist’s interactions with and reactions to others is what made that show so very special. It is still an outstanding show though and Rice’s adaptation of the spiky, confrontational and acerbic Fleabag loses none of her mettle.
Focusing on the lot of what it is to be a woman in the modern world Fleabag feels as if she has little to recommend her other than sex. In fact sex is the currency she uses on a daily basis in every situation she encounters other than with her family and even then it is still bubbling close to the surface. Raunchy, explicit and direct are the mediums she uses to get across her message and although she is obsessed with pursuing her desires there is a hint of melancholy about it all; as if she is going through the motions of what is expected of her and hasn’t really considered what it is she truly desires herself as she is so busy feeding the fantasy of others and what modern culture expects of a liberated free thinking woman. She has removed herself from one stereotype and simply created a new prototype.
Defiantly confrontational Fleabag often makes for awkward listening and to anyone familiar with the production the scenarios adapted here will already be familiar. In some ways it is the greatest hits compilation of the TV series. This is no bad thing as they were such wonderful hits in the first place!
****
Fleabag is on at Udderbelly George Square until August 27th.

DEAR HOME OFFICE 2: STILL PENDING

Dear Home Office 2: Still Pending

Featuring ten real male refugees from Afghanistan, Albania and Somalia each playing fictional characters based on their real life stories Dear Home Office 2: Still Pending is perhaps not the most accomplished show on the Fringe but it must certainly rank as one of the most moving.
Exploring how escaping their homeland may dilute one problem but when they arrive here there are a whole other set of hurdles to overcome. Amongst these are visas to guarantee citizenship, education, housing and even the basic right to remain here at all. The production utilises various short scenarios to highlight the plight of refugees and the bureaucracy and prejudice they face.
Elgin, an eighteen year old Albanian, desperately wants to improve his life chances and enquires about business courses and realises that due to his asylum seeker status and the £16,000 a year tuition fees this is simply not an option open to him and therefore finds himself on child care course instead.
Akram has his asylum status refused and evenm though he eventually wins his appeal his eventual victory has been soured by the inadequate advice and help he received during the process.
Another has his dreams of being a Hollywood star dashed when a Syrian refugee wins the oart he is after as Syria is more current and on trend. Yet another finds the whole situation too much and drowns himself in despair.
The whole premise of this show won me over but it was more the message it put across than anything happening on the stage. The acting and scene changing are positively clunky and rather inept to say the least. However any sense of frustration I felt at its conclusion was more to do with the plight of those involved rather than any ineptitude in the performances. Uktimately it is theatre with a cause at its core and a message in its heart.
***
Dear Home Office 2: Still Pending is on at gilded Balloon at 2.30pm until August 28th.

SHAME

Shame

A totally relevant and impressive piece of multi-media drama focusing on the worrying trend of online shaming written and performed by Belle Jones and directed by Allie Butler, Shame looks at how this harmful trend not only affects the person at the centre of it but also their family and friends and even, in this case, the actual perpetrator.
Keira-Sarah Miele- seems like an average sixteen year old who likes to party, enjoys a drink and has experimented already with sex but her life and that of her mum Vicky-Jones-is turned upside down when she goes to party gets drunk then allows two older boys to have sex with her; unbeknown to her though the two boys film the aforementioned act on their phones to later post online to ‘shame’ her.
It doesn’t take long for the video to go viral and along with it a whole world of hatred, opinions and criticism follows in a torrent of ill-will and malice. The force seems unstoppable and when Vicky is called into the school to discuss the matter things only worsen as under the pressure of being in such an abusive spotlight it transpires that Keira has disappeared.
Panicking, upset and blaming herself Vicky herself goes into meltdown but salvation arrives in the form of long-term loyal friend Cheryl-Sarah McCardie- who starts a new twitter hashtag ‘unshaming’ which involves posting a video of yourself reciting a tale of the most regrettable thing or mistake you have ever done and how quickly it can be forgotten becoming yesterday’s news.
Soon the ‘unshaming’ tales are more prevalent on social media platforms and it seems the hostilities and condemnation turn into voices of support as it becomes clear many others have something they are ashamed of and if they are lucky enough to escape having had it posted it on social media then it really is just luck and an escape.
Jones gives an impeccably strong performance in this show but the drama unfolding behind her on a video screen from Keira and other peripheral characters along with the constant twitter updates showing the reaction to the shaming and its subsequent fall out is just as equally captivating. A worthwhile play that has a clear message showing that cyber bullying and shaming which is such a harmful disease in the modern world, where people are so detached and physically removed they sometimes can’t envision the hurt they are causing, but that it can be fought with a thoughtful approach.
****
Shame is on at Assembly George Square at 4.15pm until August 28th.

GLITTER PUNCH

Glitter Punch

Perfectly capturing the awkwardness of adolescent teenage angst and the joys and heartaches of first love Glitter Punch, by Some Riot Productions, is a convincing tale with several underlying stories which contribute to the tale as told by Molly Shannon Davis aged 16 who with frequent regularity in a self-deprecating way reminds us she ‘is shit with words and my tits are too small’. Flawlessly played by Emily Stott one thing that can be said of her character is that she ‘is shit with words’ as the dialogue is almost poetic in its delivery and articulates everything she has to say quite comprehensively.
Commencing on Molly’s first day outside college where she is having a cigarette before going inside but finds herself drawn to John- Anthony Fagan- a 21-year-old who fascinates her with his conventional footwear and ,to her at least, his posh accent. Deriving that he is not from around Salford, where the play is set, it is established that he is from London and has recently lost his father which has brought on a serious bout of clinical depression that he is trying to work his way through.
We learn most of our facts about John via Molly’s discourse as he remains enigmatic and uncommunicative meaning we only know what we know by what wants Molly to know.
The burgeoning relationship starts to develop into something more and the two inevitably fall in love. During the course of related events a sexual relationship occurs and the awkward ness and sense of achievement on losing her virginity- from Molly’s viewpoint she loses nothing and gains so much more- is brilliantly enacted by Stott.
In fact Stott’s performance is a veritable tour de force and definitely rates as one of the most impressive I have seen on the Fringe this year. Written by Lucy Burke the dialogue is equally impressive and the direction is simple but highly effective. The simplicity of complex emotions reveal a depth in this work and the twist in the story towards the end is highly unexpected.
****
Glitter Punch is showing at Assembly George Square at 1.15pm until August 28th

ASSESSMENT

Assessment

Extremely relevant in the current climate with the fear over pensions and how future generations are going to cope left to the devices of a government who don’t feel they can sustain the ever-growing elderly population much longer. Assessment takes a dark look at how a future government could provide one way of solving this seemingly unstoppable problem and it does so with wry, curmudgeonly humour but also a worrying hint of truth.
Alan McDonald(Stephen Clyde) has reached his 77th birthday-celebrating may be too strong a word- and his daughter Karen(Karen Bartke) is trying to galvanise him into some semblance of party celebrations with little success. The icing on the birthday cake arrives in the form of the slimy government ’salesman’ with nearly as much oil in his manipulative manoeuvering as there is in his hair Amrit Roy (Taqi Nazeer) who is under strict instructions to make Alan commit to a new scheme the government is trying to implement.
This new scheme is on the surface an attractive one- so attractive that unbeknownst to him Alan’s daughter Karen has arranged for Roy’s visit- and involves a lump sum of £30,000 to be paid in place of the weekly pension he is already in receipt of. There is only one catch to this seemingly generous offer and that is that Alan will not be around to benefit from it.
Certainly the idea of voluntary euthanasia is initially abhorrent to Alan but Roy’s persuasiveness not to mention the added sucker punch of his superior Siobhan Clarke (Selina Boyack) soon makes him reconsider although obviously nothing goes quite the way anyone planned.
Written by Robert Dawson Scott the script is taut and full of dry witticisms despite the gravity of its subject matter. If it falls short anywhere then it is in the slightly pedestrian direction which at times feels flat-especially during the scene changes where some momentum is lost- and a little dated. It is however an extremely enjoyable production and the acting talent on display is highly commendable.
****
Assessment is on at The Gilded Balloon Rose until August 28th at 2.30pm

SAFE PLACE

Safe Place

This interesting production focuses on the discordant dynamic between a well-respected elder generation feminist, Maxine, who has come under the spotlight of criticism and controversy with her views on transgender women’s rights and a young transgender woman, Rowan, who turns up on her doorstep claiming she needs a safe place to stay after reading a newspaper article wherein Maxine claimed she would feel compelled to offer shelter to a homeless person should she ever come across one in need.
Of course things are rarely as they initially seem and Rowan’s appearance and pleas for help although seemingly genuine come with an agenda all their own. What follows is a barbed battle of wits with both sides making convincing cases for their argument. Maxine as a long serving feminist- Germaine Greer is an obvious reference point and Greer herself has spoke disparagingly of the transgender issue- still feels the struggles she has suffered and the fights she has fought for women to be accepted on a more equal footing although she doesn’t feel that fight is anywhere near over yet. Her attitude to Rowan whilst not wholly unsympathetic is definitely not empathetic and the idea that a male having lived sixteen years as a male suddenly deciding to become a female is something she views as a male right; Caitlyn Jenner in a corset on the cover of Vanity Fair, coming from a position of privilege and money, is thrown up as an example of how suspiciously she views the idea of transgender rights and equality.
Rowan however tries to explain that it is not that simple and before she actually came out as trans she had struggled daily in her life beforehand and only found any solace after she had made the admission to herself and then to others.
Written and directed by Clara Glynn, Safe Place is an intriguing thought-provoking work that looks at an issue that is very relevant in our culture today. The cast, Jennifer Black, Nalini Chetty and Shane Convery as Rowan, all handle their roles with skill and nuance. It is a worthwhile play which raises interesting questions and gives a balanced idea that life as a female-transgender or biological- is never easy and by creating subdivisions and categories this merely weakens the battle as it creates unnecessary distractions.
***
Safe Place is on at Gilded Balloon Rose at 12pm until August 28th.