Belt Up’s The Boy James
Enter a child’s special, secret, reserved attic playroom. Sit on one of his chairs or cushions, talk with a friend there, play games with him…but wait –there is a man…a man who drinks. Who has the same name.
Enjoy this delightful world while you can, though, for things soon darken, and the desperate attempt to retain innocence, to continue the games and adventures, is inevitably doomed, and a world of change, trauma and loss suddenly arrives. This drama is inspired by the life of J M Barrie, he of Peter Pan fame. Rarely is the deep intensity of the desire to avoid change, to stop the clock, conveyed so thoroughly and so heartbreakingly in theatre. After the playful interaction with the boy James, you feel part of his fierce fight to hold on to what he has – or had. (I read once of butch, moustachioed early 20th century soldiers watching Peter Pan with tears rolling down their cheeks.)
The impersonation of the boy James by Jethro Compton is appropriate to an almost uncanny degree, and you believe in him implicitly. Lucy Fawcett as the girl who has clearly had her heart slain is flawless. Dan Wood conveys the man James with complete conviction.
This is one to see if you want something unlike anything you have ever seen, which will take you into its own special world and which will not leave you unchanged. Enter the child’s playroom for the most grown-up of dramas.
The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart
Traverse at Ghillie Dhu
Written by David Greig, ‘The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart’ provides a striking celebration of Border Ballads, full of both satirical wit and moments of heart wrenching beauty. Prudencia Hart is a high-strung academic, who after becoming caught in a snowy Kelso takes a journey of self-discovery and emotional awakening via a series of enchanting encounters, comic characters and Katy Perry karaoke.
Combining stirring folk music and balladry with the contemporary Greig has recognized the power of creating a hybrid of both old and new, and combining this with an innovative use of the Ghillie Dhu bar space by director Wils Wilson the magic of the afternoon performance is continually sustained – the snow our heroine finds herself stranded by is conjured buy the audience’s torn napkins, the ice cold air invoked by the chiming of glasses, and the venue’s bar transforming from car to lecture hall. A violin solo in the second half of the performance had me in shivers as the humour of Greig’s satirical ballad retreated for moments of haunting poignancy. The music is a definite highlight, with each member of the cast having not only a confident singing voice but also skills branching a variety of instruments, from bagpipes to guitar, drums to recorders, complementing the folk inspired soundtrack and even coming together to create a mesmerizing discordant reworking of a Kylie Minogue track at the end. What with such an intricate script and impassioned soundtrack one does consider whether the company has considered a radio translation of the piece. Either way enjoyment is ensured – grab a ticket now.
Bluebeard: A Fairytale for Adults
Admittedly when reading the blurb ‘A Fairytale for Adults’ one cannot help but fear that some other moron in face paint on the Royal Mile has crafted a show to have Angela Carter turning in her untimely grave. Forget this – Milk Presents Theatre Company, a collection of graduates from London’s Central School of Speech and Drama, have approached the idea with maturity and style, and an awareness that has ensured an original and exciting examination of the latent messages that are embedded in the fairytale narratives with which we consider ourselves familiar.
Although heavily constructed to generate all the effects of the production (including both lighting and sound) the set harbors a organic and playful air that harmonizes handsomely with the Perrault folktale upon which the performance is based and uses as a medium for its points of analysis. A bike rigged up with a generator powers a dim light for moments of haunting tension, an overhead projector combined with coloured gels and even dishes of water and dye is employed with innovation complementing both the moments of humour and poignancy that infuse the show. Despite the success of the visual direction, I must admit that the employment of sound was for me the highlight, not necessarily in the variety of amusing cabaret style compositions that were supplemented with wit and irony – the discordant guitar twangs of the opening scene and electronic pulses of both archaic and contemporary contraptions conjured a world not too far from something PJ Harvey may inhabit, an appropriate setting for this classic tale of seduction and slaughter.
When another audience member is singing along to a number satirising gender constructs and the heterosexual family ideal in the venue’s male toilet after a performance, you know you’re on to a winner. With focus and funding Milk Presents Theatre Company are sure to have a prosperous and exciting future.
The Space at Venue 45
This is an intense and diverse production with a large cast which investigates the issue of assisted dying and the ability to choose how you die – and the many fears people have regarding this.
The early part involves the trial of Dr Jack Kevorkian aka Doctor Death who helped patients die and challenged the law in the U S A and was imprisoned. An English element comes in with the section on “Jean’s Way,” a book written about a woman’s assisted death written by the husband who helped her. Later, we explore the lives and attitudes of various patients in a hospice, with an eccentric and comic administrator.
Tectonic are the people who were behind the Laramie Project – re the young gay guy who was viciously killed in Wyoming a decade ago. Again, they have researched their material very thoroughly and present a wealth of information in an accessible and dramatic way, with engagement and some humour. The problems of religious intransigence are not overlooked, but there is a direction in which things weigh.
This may seem a tough course for some, but it is an issue of relevance and importance to all of us in the end, and you could hardly wish for a more digestible way to go into the matter and see what the debate is about. The great variety of arresting characters keep you involved throughout this substantial work. It is very much both entertaining and informative.
How to Catch a Rabbit
The Spaces on the Mile
A group of students from the London School of Economics branch out into theatre, and fall a long way from the tree. In a much too intimate performance space, the cast grapple about the stage fumbling scene changes in the black outs and perform a stylised, yet incoherent piece of theatre inspired by Urban Gypsy culture.
The script was entertaining at times, capturing the mundane and making root vegetables the subject of dry comedy, but whilst these moments were achieved, at other times they buried themselves under excessive shouting. It seems, therefore, that the play was driven by its aural qualities (for better or worse) and they could have utilised the original music score much more effectively to help the flow of the piece. Through the use of soundscape and jerky movement routines, the performers demonstrated their talents as expert whistlers, and this was the strength of the piece, as they were able to create an atmosphere using sounds and harmonious noises.
These routines were clever but discordant to the intermittent acted scenes, and this mix of performance styles congealed rather than blended, only highlighting the spare actor; whose sole purpose seemed to be the token choral singer. This undermined the sense of company value of the ‘Revolving Shed’, as they were clearly strongest, although cluttered when performing as an ensemble.
theSpaces at Surgeons Hall
As an old woman taps into her memories, she unearths scandalous (yet predictable) experiences governed by maternal angst and parental pressures. Immediately the performance was teeming with cliché, as she reached for the keystone of any schools props cupboard; and the metronome pendulum began to ‘click’. Clutching this, she swayed from side to side chanting irritatingly sing-song verse repeating the word ‘click’, so needless to say there was no mystery surrounding the significance of the title.
The actor playing the protagonist was convincing as an elderly woman and her younger self however hackneyed the overall effect was, but this did not relax the raised eyebrow expression my face adopted by the incessant clicking. Admittedly, there didn’t seem to be a distinction between the ways in which she acted the various emotions in the play, but it seemed to convey a child-like innocence, and guiltless perspective cast upon her life, which I took to be intentional. They captured the sense of nostalgia well with her eyes glistening tears at the glimpses of happiness pre-empting the shocking incidents of her rape and accidental murder of her infant child.
Nevertheless, I’d rather she recollected different parents, as they were frankly bad and as monotonous as the metronome, but at least her mother suited the icy maternal exterior.
Colour Me Happy
Group 13 have created a colourful and playful time-capsule which celebrates the small pleasures in life, and paints a partly auto-biographical glimpse into their childhoods in the 90’s. Although thematically, they fall into the paint pot of recycled material, they creatively interpret the question ‘what do you want to be when you grow up?’ innovatively, and create an artistic and entertaining show offering something for adults and children alike. Featuring the Spice Girls, Jelly Shoes, inflatable arm-chairs and a disco ball, they are perhaps just a Furbie short of capturing the spirit of childhood innocence in a time infected by ‘Girl-Power’.
The show was heavily reliant on props and the set, but they made excellent use of these resources which were integral to the show, rather than unnecessary paraphernalia. The trio acted as tools for object manipulation, and the possessions were fetishized, just as the Spice Girls are idolised, and the audience patronised. At face value, the show doesn’t seem to take itself too seriously as a light-hearted parody of itself and the era it portrays, however, it struggled to fully leave the region of contrived stereotype and at times I thought that if Blue Peter did theatre, then ‘Colour me Happy’ was the one they did earlier.
Rosie’s Pop Dairy
Just the Tonic at The Tron
Before Rosie Wilby became famous for being a stand-up comic, she was (less) well known as a 90’s Brit Pop singer – heading her own band. She had performed at Glastonbury and Ronnie Scott’s before jacking it all in and turning to comedy. This show is a pleasant and nostalgic look at Wilby’s life in the band, built around her self-penned pop diary which was published from 1996-2000 in ‘Making Music’ magazine.
Along the way she reads poems and letters from her old fans. She gives us the juicy details of the band members she slept with, and wanted to sleep with – but we don’t really get under her skin. This is still a comedy show after all, and we don’t have time for too many inner feelings.
Wilby is an accomplished singer, lyricist, comedian and story teller. She sings five of her favourite songs from the era: “Everything is Wrong”, “You Amaze Me” (about her then girlfriend Stephanie), “I Want You” (about Jo, another woman that she fancied), “This Time” and “Reward” punctuate the funny stories.
She does have a story to tell. I enjoyed it. Actually, I loved it. But I can’t help feeling there is more that she isn’t telling…
Jekyll & Hyde
You won’t find it in the Fringe programme, but this terrific piece of Free Fringe theatre by Lucy Danser is well worth a look. It tells the real life story of US Midwest Christian Eric Laverne, who becomes Rachael Jones, and buys a café.
It’s a beautifully written one person piece, as the tale of this sensitive and strong pre-op transsexual woman is played out. It is in turns humourous and poignant, with a moral code that says, ‘everyone is equal’. When Rachael states at the top of the play that, “this isn’t a GLBT café, everyone is welcome here. No exceptions…” the tone is set.
Of course no man, or woman, is an island. When Eric became Rachael she already had a wife and three children. How Rachael’s family came to terms with her transition – and Rachael’s response to their varied reactions, becomes the focus of the piece.
Rachael is convincingly portrayed by the charismatic actor Graham Elwell, in a challenging role that demands subtlety of emotion and utter conviction – the part could easily have been overplayed in less competent hands. And it’s hard to believe that this is Lucy Danser’s first play – a young woman with a fine writing career ahead of her.
Notable mention must also go to Joyce Terry, the most persistent show promoter on the Fringe. And that really is saying something.
Paul Sinha: Looking at the Stars
The Stand 3
Last August, Paul Sinha’s show ‘Extreme White Vitriol’ discussed, amongst other things, the British National Party and argued for dialogue with the individuals who advocated racist or other objectionable views. Not a tactic shared by many on the left.
Later that year, Sinha had the opportunity to meet Jim Davidson, something that he was understandably reluctant to do. Since the death of Bernhard Manning, Davidson is the highest profile (allegedly) racist, (allegedly) homophobic and (truly) misogynistic comedian in Britain. Would Sinha be willing and able to follow the message of his last show – and meet him?
This is one of many, very loosely connected stories that Sinha tells with the confident touch of a real professional. Unlike too many stand up shows this Fringe, the show doesn’t appear over-written and so it feels like a genuine performance, unique from the gigs on other nights. His delivery is a little slower than before, which allows the audience to keep up with the jokes. Not a line is wasted.
To date this is the best stand-up I’ve seen this Fringe, from a comedian who should be on the television much more often. He says that he doesn’t have a face for TV, but he’s much better looking than Michael Hazen James McIntyre.