JUST AN OBSERVATION

Just an Observation
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So the last weekend of the Fringe/Festival is upon us already!
Somehow it feels like it is already over and for me personally I don’t feel that this year it ever really got started.
No doubt at sometime over the next few weeks some ‘official’ will use the media to report that it has been the busiest and most successful one yet when in fact this is so far from the truth. Granted more money may have changed hands- have you noticed the price of tickets for most shows? – But in most other ways this year’s Fringe has been far from successful.
The streets are as annoyingly busy as ever-perhaps even more so- and the traffic is so slow it is hard to differentiate between driving and being parked but there has still been nowhere as near as many people around the venues or even in them as there usually are. Mind you when shows are £10 upwards on average, a pint of lager is over a fiver and six pound is the going rate for a bacon roll-re-named pulled pork and served by a bearded hipster in denim tights (that’s just the girls by the way) so that makes it a bargain obviously- or even more for a burger then it is an expensive night out even if you are doing it on the cheap.
Of course the weather has not helped matters either. The Fringe in sunshine is a totally different beast to the Fringe in perpetual grey, drizzle, rain and wind and unfortunately this year these are what we have had for the most part. Getting wet queuing for shows then drinking warm beer in cold outdoor venues is not my idea of a good night out. Obviously the weather cannot be helped but it really does alter the whole experience.
What about the shows then?
The Fringe is supposed to be at the cutting edge of new talent with innovation and experimental ideas offering an insight into the next big happening thing. Or so we are led to believe.
However I have not seen much evidence of anything groundbreaking or innovative this year and several shows were ones I missed last year due to a busy schedule so were returning productions, admittedly with a tweak here and there, so hardly cutting edge.
Perhaps the fact that 2016 has been such a pivotal year in cultural change –the deaths of Bowie, Prince and Muhammad Ali amongst others then there is the little matter of Brexit here and the rise of Trump across the Atlantic- means that real life has afforded us more incredible drama than anything the theatre could produce and as such has been rendered almost redundant. Life no longer simply imitates art it would seem it now dictates it.
Also things have moved at such a swift pace this last eight months that capturing anything topical has proved harder than usual. Who needs to go to the Fringe for thought-provoking drama when the news requires you to suspend your belief almost on a daily basis?
As for the shows which have stood out for me and worth catching over this last weekend, well there is Trainspotting at Assembly, The Club at The Gilded Balloon, Boris:World King at The Pleasance Growing Pains and Cut at Underbelly all on until Monday whilst Anohni’s one off live performance of one of the year’s best albums, Hopelessness, at the Playhouse ranks as one of the best and most modern live music shows I have seen in years and possibly the most memorable show of the last month.
So this time next week the streets will be clear, the traffic returned to normal and as habit dictates the sun will probably have returned. There will of course still be plenty to complain about though as Parliament returns soon with our new unelected Prime Minister and whatever schemes she has cooked up for us over her summer vacation. I imagine soon we will be wishing the Fringe back to at least distract us from how bad things are likely to get!

CUT

CUT
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Almost from the outset of this intriguing show we are plunged into darkness and my guess is that most of the audience were still in the dark as to what had just happened to them throughout this seventy minute experience long after the lights had gone up at its conclusion. This is a good thing by the way, a very good thing!
On entering we are told that we need a safety word, ‘Cut’, if we want to leave the proceedings at any time during the show, or journey as it would transpire; on the night I attended this introduction proved so unsettling that one attendee immediately raised her hand and left before any action even took place. Their loss.
Settling into our seats we are almost immediately plunged into darkness and when they go up we find ourselves on a plane. The lone performer, Hannah Norris, then leads us through the motions of an in-flight attendant but there is something especially creepy about this particular role and performance.
At later junctures we are on a train or trapped behind Clingfilm screens with light reflecting and refracting as a well scored original soundtrack adds further tension to an already intense experience.
At several points Norris moves around so swiftly and silently in the dark I am almost convinced that she is one of two twins, as often not only has her character changed but her appearance seems to have altered slightly. It is this sense of mystique and the loss of one of our senses-in the dark nothing can be seen or observed- that adds another dimension to what is already becoming a guessing game.
Norris uses only minimal props to change from controlling predator to victim- something as subtle as letting her hair out of its pony-tail changes the feel of her character totally- and holds us in her thrall throughout the whole performance.
There is something David Lynchian about this whole show and anyone who is a fan of his work-I am very much in that camp- will find this totally arresting and completely irresistible. It is definitely the most intriguing and original work I have seen in this year’s Fringe where these particular attributes have been very thin on the ground. Definitely recommended for those who want a theatrical experience to remember and think about!
****1/2
Cut is at Underbelly Med Quad at 19.00 until August 29th

EXACTLY LIKE YOU

Exactly Like You
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Written and performed by Lotte Rice ‘Exactly Like You’ is driven by its creators love of poetry and the inspiring voice and music of one of the 20th century’s great talents Nina Simone. It is an ambitious project and one which often reaches the heights it so obviously aspires to but as a whole fails to cohere effectively enough due to the nebulous nature of its ambitions; on occasion it feels as if it is trying just a little too hard.
Told through the experiences of Abbie, who is still grieving the recent loss of the grandmother she obviously adored. A shared love of music and especially Nina Simone function as a form of catharsis as she deals with the mundanities of her life; heavy drinking sessions, difficult work colleagues and sexual exploits.
The story shifts from scene to scene fluently enough and Rice manages to inhabit several different characters with consummate ease whilst proving along the way that she is no slouch in the singing department herself.
Where the production falls short however is that there is just too much going on and this fails to disguise the weakness of the plot strands which are just a little too thin. It is a courageous show however and certainly not without merit, the scene where Rice drags herself along whilst drunk is a mastery of elastic limbs and quite hilarious but it would be interesting to see Rice’s obvious talents used in a more cohesive show or preferably even an ensemble production. There are just too many of these one actor shows at the Fringe these days but unfortunately this one doesn’t stand out enough to quite make it as a must see!
***
Exactly Like You is at Underbelly Cowgate at 15.10 daily until August 28th

THE IMMORTAL

The Immortal
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Whilst this is essentially a conventional piece of theatre it is also an extremely effective and moving one.
When five World War Two airmen are shot down in Holland by Germans they seek shelter in a deserted schoolroom where they try to revive the one injure member of their party. Amidst the hysteria of their plight we soon discover the background stories of each of them and how the war has affected and motivated them. soon after their arrival they a young German girl, fighting for the Resistance, arrives offering help but inevitably her efforts arouse suspicion and mistrust amongst a couple of the airmen.
The tragedy and futility of war is never far from our thoughts and never more so when the jack the lad character ‘Dicky’ Dixon- a stand out performance by Sam St.Clair- whose forced jollity has simultaneously galvanised and irritated the other four, reveals his own personal losses that are the result of the war. It is a particularly moving moment and makes clear how it is the forgotten dead who are the real losers in the horrors of any war; people who give their lives unknowingly and more often than not unwillingly.
Although this is a fairly straight forward piece of theatre there is also a twist at the play’s en which is quite unexpected. All the performances are spot on- the angry and brash American, the working class no-hoper and the upper-class privileged types are all represented- and the play gathers its own momentum and sets its own pace. A very accomplished production!
****
The Immortal is on daily at 15.00 at Greenside, Infirmary Street until August 27th

COLD/WARM

Cold/ Warm
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There is very obviously a lot of talent in this production, not least the outstanding performance by Ieuan Perkins , but ultimately the whole thing is frustrating. The script meanders a little too much in the first half and although it picks up somewhat it takes too long to establish itself and by the time it does the audience may already be lost.
Trying to win an audience back after their attention has wandered and no matter how Perkins tried to hold our attention unfortunately the script let him down a little so his endeavours were somewhat fruitless even if they were effective.
Focusing on the mental breakdown of an isolated youngster lacking the guidance he had relied on from his mother until the authorities intervened and placed her in care. Perkins does an excellent job of mimicking these authoritarian figures but meanwhile his life is becoming more and more internalised until he is only able to observe it from his high-rise council flat. The ritual abuse of a neighbourhood dog simultaneously fascinates and horrifies him and he is at once emotionally involved but somehow detached.
The dialogue in this play is extremely clever but it is also more than a little clunky. Trying hard to make a point it seems to forget to involve the audience or even consider entertaining them. As a lunchtime show it is extremely difficult to digest and although it picked up and had a suitably climactic ending it still felt as if it was just slightly too little too late.
***
Cold/ Warm is at Pleasance Courtyard until 29th August at 12.45 daily.

EARS ON A BEATLE

Ears on a Beatle
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John Lennon was always the most interesting of the Fab Four. Even before his murder in 1980 he was the Beatle the world continued to be fascinated by: McCartney had gone onto huge success with Wings, George Harrison had found religion and an artistic freedom previously denied him under the shadow of the Lennon/ Mc Cartney juggernaut and Ringo moved on to narrate Thomas the Tank Engine whilst marrying a Bond girl along the way.
Lennon though managed to hold the ear of the world with his political outpourings and his tireless campaigns for peace. Not surprisingly he also had the ear of the FBI and come to their attention who, concerned about his anti-establishment stance, had him under surveillance whilst also tapping his phones to find out what his next move would be.
It wasn’t so much Lennon himself which alarmed them but how much his views would filter through to a young audience under thirty who, unable to find a voice for themselves in the machinations of politics and authority, would take inspiration from the former Beatle and follow his lead.
This play by Mark St. Germain focuses on two FBI agents who have been assigned the Lennon case. One of them, Daniel (Ben Adwick), is Lennon’s supposed target audience who goes undercover and manages to infiltrate Lennon’s social circle and greater access to the man himself.
The other, Howard (Paul Broesmith), is a much more authoritarian figure who follows life’s rulebook although after an accidental encounter with Lennon also finds his staunch views compromised and questioned somewhat.
The plot is an interesting one although when it jumps from December 1972 to December 1980, the night of Lennon’s assassination, it feels as if a large chunk of the story has been edited and some clarity is lost. Interestingly enough assassination theories and conspiracies, almost as much as Lennon, are a central topic in this production with Martin Luther King and the Kennedy Brothers cropping up at frequent intervals.
Occasionally the acting and staging is a little wooden but more often than not it is effective and gets the message across. As an early show for the Fringe it is highly effective however and if you are out for a ay of shows then I can’t honestly think of a better way to start than with this.
****
EARS ON A BEATLE is at Greenside, Infirmary Street at 11.25 am daily until August 27th.

ONE DAY MOKO

One Day Moko
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Created and performed by New Zealander Tim Carlsen I must admit to being somewhat perplexed and frustrated by One Day Moko. Matters were probably not helped on the ay I attended as torrential rain had probably convinced a few Fringe goers to remain at home so therefore the audience on this particular occasion was disappointing to say the least as I feel an immersive work requires some sort of audience feedback and participation.
As it was, the audience barely filled the front row so there was a slight awkwardness between us and Carlsen from the very outset. Despite this there were some promising moments as Carlsen attempted to create scenarios involving those we tend to ignore in our daily meanderings; an urban landscape which involves encounters with MacDonald’s staff, the police and club bouncers but unfortunately they never came to any real fruition.
Along with this his regular catchphrase of ‘Any requests?’ which was supposedly a cue for someone from the audience to shout out a song they would like him to sing often hung around the air like a guest who has over-stayed their welcome; more often than not a dreaded silence hung heavy in the air.
To be honest I found this show somewhat not fully realised. Obviously matters were not helped by the reticence of the audience participation but this aside the material just didn’t feel strong enough to stand on its own merit. There were simply too many awkward moments and poignant silences which prevented the whole production from moving forward as it should have if it wanted to be a relevant and entertaining piece of theater.
**
One Day Moko is on at The Gilded Balloon at 15.45 until August 29th.(not 22nd)

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