Posts Tagged ‘ Fringe 2015 ’

ECHOES

Echoes
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This new play by former Fringe First winner Henry Naylor contrasts the plight of two different women who find themselves colonised by their circumstances and tied to their plights through laws and restrictions despite being separated by a one hundred and seventy-five year time frame. The two-handed drama is intense and clear in its aims from the outset and the two characters, both seventeen and both hailing from Ispwich, Tillie ( Felicity Houlbrooke) the Victorian who is sent to India as some form of breeding machine to help build the empire and Samira (Filipa Bragança) who is recruited to become the wife of a fighter for the Islamic caliphate both start out as idealists looking for escape but instead only discover horrors and feel even more imprisoned than they did previously.
Their various observations, thoughts and fears are acted out alongside each other and although their personal circumstances are radically different it transpires as they find themselves enmeshed in situations where men make all the decisions , have all the freedoms and mete out any form of justice they consider to be right in their eyes that women have really not come very far in certain cultures.
This is an extremely intense and rewarding work which focuses on the parallels of two different women’s lives and whilst many will find Tillie’s experiences difficult to comprehend because of the Victorian values she espouses others will find Samira’s cultural differences just as hard to fathom. It is a play of complex emotions and the perfectly nuanced performances lend it depth and intelligence.
Echoes is on at The Gilded Balloon daily at 5.30pm until August 31st
*****

DERBY DAY

Derby Day
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Festering family secrets lie at the heart of this impressive fast paced drama by Samuel Brett Williams. Focussing on the three Ballard brothers, Frank (Robert M. Foster), Ned (Malcolm Madera) and Johnny (Jake Silbermann), who arrive at the races following their father’s funeral earlier in the day, each with their own grievances and secrets. What starts off as barely civil swiftly degenerates into accusations, recriminations and alcohol fuelled confessions followed swiftly by outbreaks of violence as the day progresses and the alcohol flows.
It transpire that none of the brothers has been wholly successful in his life choices with Johnny fresh out of jail, Frank a recovering alcoholic and several failed marriages and Ned the archetypal womanising hard-drinking loser who suffers from the indignity of believing he was adopted. It seems there is little love between these three brothers and even less for their recently departed father referred to not so affectionately as The Old Bastard. Added to this dysfunctional trio is their waitress for the afternoon Becky (Teresa Stephenson) who, as an outsider, is able to spot the sibling rivalries, jealousies and competitive streaks then subsequently offers condolences, sympathy, advice and reprimands as and when they are appropriate.
This is an extremely strong ensemble production with all the actors giving stand out performances. A spare set and simple but effective lighting provide the right atmosphere and never detract from the dialogue or the acting. Moments of humour are handled as well as the serious issues here and provide a welcome relief when all the back biting and fighting seems like it is spiralling totally out of control. No easy answers are offered as a solution at its conclusion as this type of family issues never wholly resolve themselves anyway. Definitely a theatrical highlight at this year’s Fringe, Derby Day is a sure-fire winner!
****
Derby Day is on at 3pm daily at the Gilded Balloon until August 31st

ALIEN LULLABIES: SONGS FROM A DECAYING FUTURE

Alien Lullabies: Songs From A Decaying Future
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Opening with hurtling images akin to an alien crash landing accompanied by manic, dislocated electronic scratching and whirling sounds this collaborative production between musician and singer Fiona Soe Paing and animator Zennor Alexander sets out its disorientating agenda from the get go.
For the first few minutes the audience is bombarded with sounds and visions creating and unsettling ambience that continues as the music settles itself into a slinky, pulsating electronic throb simultaneously detached in its pristine iciness and warm in an all-encompassing cocooning fashion.
Against the animated background and positioning herself slightly off centre Soe Paing makes her entrance shrouded in a black straw hat and high heels providing a mysterious charismatic figure. Almost straight away she starts singing in a mixture of English and Burmese creating what sound like filtered messages from another world, with lyrics slightly out of reach and beyond our comprehension. Meanwhile the bleeps, whooshes and whirrs of the electronic back beat provide the backbone and erratic heartbeat set against Alexander’s stunning animated responses featuring gliding swans and trains as modes of transport, mutant forms forming and collapsing alongside an arachnoid playing a harp. It becomes clear the vision here of the future ahead is not the shiny white pristine one we are promised in science fiction but instead it is decadent and decaying relying on machinery reminiscent of Fernand Léger’s cubist imagining of the future.
Whispers, screams, seductive cooing and distortion are just some of the many shapes and sounds Soe Paing summons up with her voice. Occasionally she leaves the stage and lets the visuals direct the narrative but it is the moments she is onstage that captivate and compel the most with her bi-lingual lyrics clarifying and confusing in equal measure. New single ‘Heartbeat’ is perhaps the slinkiest and most accessible of the tracks on show here tonight but it is in good company.
Alien Lullabies: Songs From A Decaying Future delivers on its title more than adequately. A stunning meld of sound and vision perfectly synchronised. If this is the future I want it now!
*****
Alien Lullabies: Songs From A Decaying Future is on at Summerhall at 10.35pm until Sunday 23rd August

DOWN AND OUT IN PARIS AND LONDON

Down and Out in Paris and London
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Inspired by both George Orwell’s pre-fame work –when he was struggling penniless writer Arthur Eric Blair- and Polly Toynbee’s research work looking into poverty in the modern age Down and Out in Paris and London succeeds in drawing comparisons between two different ages which despite location and the introduction of the welfare state shows that very little has really changed.
The tale begins with Orwell very much down and out in Paris during the 1920’s when things were so bad for him that he had to sell his clothes to survive. At one point prison seems to be a viable option as it would at least mean a roof over his head, a bed and regular meals. Work in a kitchen restaurant saved him and not only put food in his stomach and money in his pocket but also a little colour and flavour into his life.
Interspersed with his tale is journalist Polly Toynbee’s social experiment on living beneath the breadline. In a week when the DWP has issued a leaflet claiming sanctions are a fluffy commodity which those who have fallen foul of actually think are a good thing have been found to be fake her experiences with the benefits system is more relevant than ever. Shunted around from pillar to post then forced into low paid work with long hours with any self-esteem systematically eroded as she finds herself becoming more and more invisible even to people she once knew and engaged with.
More than anything Toynbee’s tale is a damning indictment of how our society denigrates and degrades those that are the most vulnerable and while there may have been no support system to cushion the likes of Orwell in the 1920’s at least in low paid jobs he was able to command some respect from his peers ,if no-one else, as well as seeing it is a way out of poverty as opposed to a trap.
Executed at breakneck speed and jumping between the two different tales with consummate ease Down and Out in Paris and London is a great show which treats very serious issues with humour and respect.
Down and Out in Paris and London is on at Pleasance Courtyard until August 31st at 6,30pm daily

CHICKEN

Chicken
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This new play by Molly Davies is an intriguing offering which is at times eerie and thought-provoking. Set in a near dystopian future where a young girl returns to her rural beginnings from London at a time when the political structure of the whole country is in disorder and separation is a key theme. Unable to find any other employment she finds herself working at a chicken processing plant where the daily grind is perpetuated even more with conversations with her co-workers about such issues as climate change and feudalism
. The tale told in contemporary modern tones at times lapses into more traditional motifs with folk songs and eerie witches. However the witch in question is actually the teenage daughter of a couple who have actually made a life for themselves in this environment much to her disdain. Analogies are made between the chickens on a conveyor belt merely living their lives out until they are ready to be consumed by the human population and how they compare with humans. A joke is made about how some are happy if they are allowed out into the wild at certain points of the day. Much like humans. Over population and a housing crisis are also explored giving it a contemporaneous and relevant feel.
Making great use of the venue- the pop up Roundabout at Summerhall- and an extremely strong cast who treat the material with the respect it deserves Chicken is a
worthwhile addition to this year’s Fringe although it is not always easy to follow what is going on. This however does not detract from its worth as it is always compelling to watch even in its densest moments.
Chicken is at Summerhall until August 30th (not 25th)
***

Trans Scripts

Trans Scripts
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Gender issues are both relevant and prevalent at Fringe 2015 with many shows focussing on its issues and themes. For the mainstream masses who like to dip their toe in the lukewarm water of the subject and feel they are pushing their own boundaries there is always the Ladyboys to gawp at but for those who want something which focuses on the real life problems and concerns then this excellent play by Paul Lucas which uses the words of real life transgender women to great and challenging effect is far more worthwhile and in its own way just as glamorous.
With a stark stage with only five boxes strewn casually around, the show begins with childhood reflections and the first stirrings of gender difference. Different eras from the late fifties to the present day are referred to showing the generational span of the women being represented here. One thing that each era seems to recognise is that people tend to talk about them rather than to them and that the sense of difference is there from pretty early on in life.
With the five actresses on stage weaving their stories in and out of each other a great cohesion is achieved even though each of their own individual experiences is very different.
Agreeing on the fact that the Stonewall riots of 1969 were the major factor on the gay revolution of the seventies were originally started by the transgender population of New York at this time. However frustration set in when the whole movement got co-opted by white gay males, who claimed it as their own and in the process ostracised the transgender revolutionaries who actually set the ball rolling, setting their cause back years as an outcome. Therefore whilst gay men became more and more socially acceptable and absorbed into culture transgender women felt themselves more and more exiled into some sort of social Siberia. Despite this setback empowerment from being transgender is one of the things this play celebrates and recognises and there is recognition also that women have been fighting for basic rights for even longer than they have so one step forward usually always means several steps back.
At one point an argument erupts amongst the women on stage when it is revealed that many transgender women do not go for full genital reconstruction surgery. Accusations and recriminations ensue and it becomes clear that the reason why so many don’t go the full way is because their outward appearance is more important than genital surgery as this allows them to blend in and disappear.
Trans Scripts is an extremely powerful, interesting and intelligent piece of work which leaves its audience feeling enlightened, exhilarated and enthralled. A standing ovation greeted the performers at its dénouement as the performances, script and setting all melded together to create a show which is totally worthwhile.
Trans Scripts is at the Pleasance Courtyard at 3pm daily until August 31st
*****

DONALD DOES DUSTY

Donald Does Dusty
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I must admit to being slightly perplexed by this show. On the one hand it is an extremely sensitive personal odyssey for its creator and performer, Diane Torr, but at the same time it lacks cohesion and the subject matter whilst interesting is likely to mean less to anyone else. It also felt unfinished in its execution, lacking cohesion or any structure which is likely to engage an audience for its hour long duration.
The show mainly focuses on Diane’s older brother who she clearly adored and had a conspirational relationship with from a very young age. This explains the Dusty connection of the title as being infatuated with the music of Dusty Springfield Donald impressed upon his younger sister the importance of comportment and sophistication as he translated them through his idol.
Donald was gay and at the time they were growing up-the late fifties and sixties- this was still a taboo subject. Being mildly successful in the entertainment industry-he released a couple of solo singles and was part of television group The Young Generation- obviously impressed upon the younger Diane; archive footage of BBC performances and front page headlines form The Sun are exhibited as examples of his successes. However it was after leaving the entertainment business and embarking into the world of antiques and eventually property and real estate that he really made the millions he had dreamt of. Unfortunately Donald died at the age of 44 in 1992 from AIDS related causes before he ever fully had a chance to enjoy the fruits of his labours.
Donald Does Dusty is obviously very emotional for Torr to perform and one feels a sense of catharsis emanating from the stage. However despite this heavily drenched emotional atmosphere the whole thing lacked cohesion and on occasion felt awkward. The final scene where the audience is invited to join her onstage to dance to Dusty’s ‘I Only Want to Be With You’ felt superfluous, unnecessary and a little indulgent which is unfortunate as I had very high hopes for this show based on its premise.
Donald Does Dusty is at Summerhall Red Lecture Theatre at 7.35pm
**

THE ORCHID AND THE CROW

The Orchid And The Crow
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This one man show by Daniel Tobias is at various times funny, sad, discomforting and affecting. Although it touches on his Judaism to give us some understanding of his psyche-even though he is an aetheist- the real central issue here is his diagnosis of and recovery from testicular cancer whilst emphasising how Tour De France winner Lance Armstrong who had also battled and beat cancer inspired him; this is before he was stripped of his title after eventually admitting to doping scandals that had haunted his reputation for years. Not that this lessens him any in Tobias’ eyes.
Opening innocuously enough with a rock song which would not be out of place at any mid seventies rock concert-some of the musical numbers here were written by other great Fringe act Die Roten Punkte- the tale begins with discussing Daniel’s parents and their faith which is inherently passed onto him. Circumcision on babies is discussed and Daniel’s concern that he had his performed on him at eight days old and in front of a crowd of family and friends. The story is humorous enough and lightens the way before he gets around to the topic of his testicular cancer and then matters take a darker twist.
Interspersed with self composed show-tunes Daniel’s tale unravels before us with all the emotions his diagnosis and treatments incurred: fear, hope, humour, depression and innumerable physical and psychological side effects. Admittedly for me the show-tunes parts of the show didn’t really work as it distracted from the serious issues at hand , I realise that maybe this was the point, but somehow they just didn’t gel.
Aside from this ‘The Orchid and the Crow’ is a worthwhile show which will certainly make you think. The quieter passages were the most effective for me whilst the musical ones seemed superfluous and ineffective.
The Orchid and the Crow is at Assembly Roxy until August 30th (not 24th) at 4.10pm
***

LENNON:THROUGH A GLASS ONION

Lennon: Through A Glass Onion
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Although this show featuring John Waters and Stewart D’Arrieta was a great success off Broadway and features the music of one of pop/rock music’s greatest composers, both with The Beatles and as a solo artist, I struggled to see what the point of it all was.
Obviously a celebration of Lennon’s music but rushing through snippets of thirty one of his songs whilst narrating moments of his troubled life in an unconvincing interpretation of his Scouse drawl is maybe not the best way to do this. Admittedly the song choices were impeccable- ‘Help’ ‘Isolation’ ‘A Day in the Life’ and ‘You’ve got to Hide Your Love Away’ and ‘Working Class Hero’ were stand outs- and they fitted the loose narrative flow perfectly but despite being coherent it just felt hollow.
Unfortunately there is not much more I can say about this show as it picks over the same old ground revealing nothing new or interesting about Lennon and although the songs were excellent and more than adequately performed the whole production seemed quite vapid.
Lennon: Through A Glass Onion is at the Assembly Hall until August 28th(not 18th or 25th)
***

PENNY ARCADE: LONGING LASTS LONGER

Penny Arcade: Longing Lasts Longer
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Penny Arcade’s background is legendary: Warhol Superstar and acolyte, Friend of Quentin Crisp and Queen of the New York Avant Garde. However all of these pale into insignificance when left to stand alone without these reference points and only her witty, satirical, dissecting and very quotable observations on society –focussing heavily on New York- where she becomes a force on her own to be reckoned with, listened to and taken note of. Definitely a Fringe highlight this year Arcade’s verve and chutzpah reduces the nightly fireworks taking place up at the Castle to mere fizzle. Here at the Underbelly is where the real fireworks are!
There is little pretence about Arcade as, unlike many other acts. she actually wanders around the venue greeting and chatting to the audience as they enter thus removing the barrier that usually exists between artist and observer. At once we empathise as she connects on a down to earth level that relaxes and makes us warm to her instantaneously.
Not having appeared at the Fringe for several years she begins with a wry comment about it now being all about selling alcohol and how the financial success of shows generally relies on big advertising budgets. The analogy is then applied to New York’s arty and creative scenes which have also been appropriated by big business and gentrified.
Gentrification is a big theme in Arcade’s spiel and one which lies at the core of what she thinks is amiss in the world today.
Although most of her show focuses on New York and how it has changed she does also have very real concerns about all the crime in Midsomer, especially the murders. Certainly if the ITV programme is to be believed she has a point as the crime rate per head and the chances of being murdered are extremely high.
Mediocrity is the new black, the Big Apple has become the Big Cupcake, ageing is failing and Internet life support are just some of the more memorable phrases which are tossed out like confetti over a crowd more than eager to be smothered in them. A run through of the decades from the sixties onwards and what each has meant to her especially is riveting especially when revealing she hated each one at the time, has no truck with nostalgia and believes in living in the present.
Soundtracked by her longstanding musical director who played such diverse tracks as the Velvet Underground’s ‘Heroin’, ‘I’ll Take You There’ by The Staple Singers, ‘The End’ and Prince’s ‘Purple Rain’ at appropriate moments which gave the show extra shape and colour. Not that Arcade lacks shape, colour or anything else.
Do yourself a favour and go and see this show as although it focuses on how seeking validation from others is pointless until you can validate yourself it is one step forward towards attaining that validation. Oh, and it is also fun!
Penny Arcade: Longing Lasts Longer is at The Underbelly until August 31st (not the 17th and 24th)
*****