Review: Paradiso ***

Physical Theatre

Paradiso

ZOO Charteris, v124

11.30 (ends 27 August)

*** (3 stars)

Disappointing. It didn’t help that the venue access was up and then down extremely rickety stairs – black [admittedly with a white edge] – and black handrails that kept changing height and disappearing, followed by a final shuffle past the first row of chairs along the very narrow edge of the front of the rake, with a drop below to the performing area: and all this to be done in virtual darkness — there appeared to be no concept of house lights at all. It’s a miracle there wasn’t an accident – I stumbled at one point, but blessedly didn’t fall. There was more light on the way out, so it’s not impossible, surely, to have better light on the way in???

This was not a good start to the show: unfortunately it didn’t get a whole lot better. Our Theatre was founded in Tbilisi, Georgia, works with different styles of puppetry and “is constantly in search of new, varied and diverse approaches that make our communication with the audience more effective”. The puppetry was indeed most interesting: rather than simply wearing masks, the puppeteers wore ‘half-people’ – head and costume, into which they inserted themselves so that the character had at least one arm available. The black-clad puppeteer was fully visible behind, which I found distracting – I wonder if this would have been less obvious if I hadn’t followed orders and sat on the front row?

Each of the three main characters – three old men in a retirement home – spoke a different language: Bibo used Italian, Ischa French, and Sir Robert English, while the nurse Bonita mainly used gesture and the occasional word, possibly in Spanish. I wonder how audience members got on who had no other language than their native tongue? The gestures and body language weren’t always particularly clear or intelligible, and I relied a lot on the language to work out what was going on.

If you like fart jokes and old men getting buxom young women to bend over so that they can ogle her bum, then maybe this is the show for you. It didn’t float my boat, but other people in the sadly small audience were laughing. There was interesting exploration of the challenges for a new arrival at the home in fitting in with existing friendships, and a couple of reflective moments with shadow work when one character’s past was explored: and then, just as the three men were possibly beginning to form a friendship, first one of them died and appeared before the Recording Angel, closely followed by the second, whereupon the third took it upon himself to follow them without an invitation.

The body movement was superb – and the audience was most surprised when the three ‘men’ unmasked and revealed that the fartiest old man was in fact a young woman – but the content and general feel simply didn’t do it for me. A pity, when there is so much brilliant mask work and puppetry around. Let us hope Our Theatre do better next year.

Mary Woodward

Review: CANOE *****

THEATRE

CANOE

thespace@surgeon’s hall venue 53

August 3rd to 11th, then 13th to 25th. 21.05

***** Five stars

One man walks on to the stage in shorts, carrying a small rucksack containing books.

This man (writer and performer Matthew Roberts) proceeds to create whole worlds of past and present on stage before us. He begins as Tom, an ex-military guy who has been the partner of David, a ground-breaking children’s author, for twenty years. It is the eve of a funeral, and relations between the two are not at their best.

It is a time of great distress. There are few greater distresses for a person than to have a child pre-decease them. Tom and David adopted a son, Andrew, who is now 24 and has arrived with his baby son. There were two other children whom Tom and David had by surrogacy, saw being born, and who have both died, aged nine and eleven, on an adventure holiday, in a canoe. Tomorrow is the funeral.

This sounds like it must be a deeply depressing theatrical experience, but it is anything but that. This is down to the immense subtlety and range of Matthew Roberts’ script, together with his extremely versatile and expressive acting. Plus the books – those that fall out of the bag, and which Tom reads from, as he did to the children. He brings the audience into the action of responding to the reading as the children would have done.

He also moves between acting as Tom and as David, as well as Andrew, takes us through the adopting of Andrew, and makes us aware of the horror of the reaction on twitter to the deaths of these children of gay men, which is as harsh as you may imagine

Yet the effect of this show is a very positive one, as it conveys the deep love these men had for their children, and their ambition to have this family, and the knowledge that the experience they have had of the children is something they will have for ever.

The play’s impact and success owes a debt to director and dramaturg, Struan Leslie, though principally to the wonderfully committed, fluent and athletic acting of Matthew Roberts. Being at a performance of this play is an experience to be treasured, and it richly deserves a large audience.

Tony Challis

Review: FROM TODAY EVERYTHING CHANGES. ***

THEATRE

FROM TODAY EVERYTHING CHANGES.

TheSpace on the North Bridge venue 36

August 14, 16, 18, 20, 22, 24.

*** Three stars

Chris is a man in his sixties. He was married for thirty odd years, but his wife has died. She was aware of his gay feelings, even before he admitted them to himself. Before she died she told him that he must do what he wishes after she goes, and not be alone.

In this play, written by Ian Tudor-Bell, we see quite an old-fashioned gentleman, whose story could almost have been played out in the eighties, except that he is using Grindr to find men. And being frustrated and stood up.

Then he begins a lengthy conversation on the site. This younger man is keen. They talk for days online and on phone, then meet. One thing that is really good here is the capturing of the real embarrassment of both parties when they first meet. The way they both have to almost push themselves towards each other is almost palpable. Then there is the embarrassment about kissing. This is such a very new area for Chris, and we are made to feel that with him.

The strength of the play is in the characterisation. Chris and his daughter Alice are both strong people, and they often argue. Yet they are people who tend to realise that there is more to life than arguing, and to make up in good time. The boyfriend has a habit of being late, which causes some problems. But the relationship has wings, despite problems.

This at first seems a very gentle play indeed, but it gradually develops tension and action. It is very good to see the situation of someone who has been as reclusive in his personal life as Chris displayed on stage, and to see such a very believable relationship.

I would like to have seen the relationship as it develops beyond the ending here. The play could have been more ambitious, and it seems that things follow a pretty untroubled path. The play is realistic, comforting, but could have been more challenging. However, it is admirable that this story is there to be seen.

Tony Challis

Review: WAITING FOR OFSTED ****

THEATRE

WAITING FOR OFSTED Four stars

TheSpace at Niddry Street venue 9

August 13 to 18 12.05

****

Waiting for Ofsted is a sly, humorous but ultimately serious response to Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, reflecting on what is or is not serious in life. It is brought to Edinburgh by Westcliff Boys Theatre, from Westcliff High School for Boys.

After the initial noisy beginning to the day, we are left with two boys, one of whom begins by declaiming, “Nothing to be done.” His teacher has not turned up. Plus he finds his shoe laces a problem. The other boy is somewhat entertained by the need to help this one. There follows some cheerful horseplay by a number of boys, until in time a teacher appears. Not the one hoped for. French teacher Mt Godot is not in today.

The teacher begins to quote poetry. The pupils respond by asking, “Is this in the spec?” They become outraged that things not on the syllabus or not approved by Ofsted are being talked about in their presence. Placards and a march ensue.

This is all great fun, but covers an issue of real sadness. Education has become an area where anything that cannot be measured may as well not exist. In my area the particular construction and materials used in the shoes worn by pupils to school is considered of first importance, with pupils sent home for any infringement. People of good intelligence believe this to be essential to the maintenance of order and discipline. Dear me.

The play has been put together by the current Director of Drama at the school, Ben Jeffreys, who has brought another school to perform at the Fringe on previous occasions. Fifteen school students are involved, from the whole 11 to 18 age range. Included are two Year 13 student actors with offers from Cambridge University. Lighting design is by old boy Sam Thomas who is studying design at Central School of Drama.

Back in the 80s droves of school students would be accompanied to the Edinburgh Fringe by staff from a number of local authorities that gave some priority to Drama, including my own authority of Nottinghamshire. As performers and audience members, the youngsters will have learned much and had a great experience. Then came Ofsted, the National Curriculum and more. It is excellent to see that this school at least is taking a serious, witty and provocative approach to school drama, and is developing the skills of its students in this very valuable area.

Watch out for their next offering. The school and also the students who move on nourished by their experience there may well have more to entertain and enlighten us.

Tony Challis

Review: WOYZECK ****

THEATRE

WOYZECK Four stars

Pleasance Dome venue 23

August 1st to 27th not 13, 23

**** (Four Stars)

The company Spies Like Us are an extremely dynamic group, but also precise and profound in the conveying of emotion. They have taken the classic tale by Buchner, written nearly two centuries ago but still seeming fresh and relevant, by the throat, and presented us with it essence. The story of a hapless young soldier, bright and perceptive in his way, but receiving less than good treatment from all around him.

The army doctor is experimenting on him. Telling him to eat only peas, with predictably odd consequences. The Drum Major, much senior in rank to Woyzeck, takes a fancy to Woyzeck’s unmarried partner, and applies pressure she is unable to resist. His Captain provides advice but also mockery. The situation becomes more and more unbearable for Woyzeck. When will he break?

The ensemble physical theatre here on a small stage is deeply impressive. Each cast member seems able to turn on a pea, so to speak. Alex Holley is very credible as the increasingly troubled Woyzeck. Tullio Campanale varies from manipulative to sly and seductive with ease as both Doctor and Drum Major. Phoebe Campbell is distractedly sympathetic as the increasingly confused and harassed Marie, Woyzeck’s partner.

There is not a moment in this relatively brief version of this play when the action is not compelling. We continually move between scenes of interrogation, pressure, violence or domesticity, punctuated by fluent group action and movement.

After this show you will feel you have seen something of real substance in a short period. Strongly recommended.

Tony Challis

Review: BEETLEMANIA – KAFKA FOR KIDS ****

COMEDY

BEETLEMANIA – KAFKA FOR KIDS

Pleasance Dome venue 23

August 1st to 26th Not 14. 13.15

**** Four Stars

Kafka for Kids? Really? Yes, this show really does work, and it has a good deal to offer for kids who enjoy playful mystification, and for adults who enjoy a good laugh with imagination, and are maybe not too worried about having to wear an embarrassing t-shirt. (Not every adult has this experience. No fears.)

This brilliant show is created and written by Tom Parry and Russell Bolam, and stars Perrrier award winning Will Adamsdale together with Heidi Niemi, Tom Parry and Rose Roberts.

Petty officialdom makes itself felt at a few points, as Will Adamsdale is assailed very early on, and entrance money is demanded from him, the exact amount, please.

A variety of less well known Kafka stories are made use of, but relatively lightly, Stories such as Poseidon, with its opportunity for regal headgear, and The Bridge, which allows Tom Parry to become a very impressive structure. The story of the two bouncing balls that will not let their chosen subject be, where ever he may go, was a source of much fun, and a little boy just along from me had much enjoyment playing with a ball.

Things do not always happen as you might wish, or happen at all, as we see here. The story of the beetle, of Metamorphosis, is much talked about, but handled lightly, and pest control come into play.

This show may well cause people to delve more into Kafka, and may make some youngsters curious. However, it is a brilliant confection of many parts, and simply as an experience it is a delight, and all involved in its production deserve applause. The title may confuse some as to whether it is really for adults or children, but it has much to offer both, and deserves large audiences. Just plunge in.

Tony Challis

Review: CARMEN FUNEBRE ****

THEATRE

CARMEN FUNEBRE

Pleasance at the E I C C Venue 150

August 16th to 19th

**** (Four Stars)

This stunning and unforgettable show takes place in The Square, an outdoor rigid space behind the E I C C. The audience gathers in the increasing darkness.

Eventually floodlights appear at each side, slowly moving around. Picking us out, watching us. These are held by men on enormous stilts. They retreat behind a tall structure facing onto the Square. Next they burst out from there, striding with speed and assurance, heads about fifteen feet above us, and with very unpleasant whips, which they snap loudly, coming right up to us to do so.

They then take some people out of the audience. These are cast members who are placed amongst us, but this does give a frisson of, “Me next?” to us all. These people are viciously chased around and then into the tall structure. Later only their clothes reappear.

Not all is nightmare. There is a rescue. A group of people send small lighted houses flying away into the air, a gesture which suggest hope. Later, there is burning, including of much of the tall structure, and cracked bells ring out.

This show, performed by the Polish company Teatr Biuro Podrozy, is often assumed to be about war. It seems to me to reflect a certain type of war, such as the civil conflict in the Balkans in the 90s (This show was first brought to Edinburgh in 1995 – I saw it then, and wanted to see how it had changed. It has, but only in small ways.) It also to me suggests the plight of a population faced by totalitarianism or fascism.

This is a very vivid presentation, which will stay in the mind. It is also extremely skillful. The men on stilts have great assurance. All of the cast are clearly fully committed to this extraordinary show. Anyone who has ever been bullied – which is likely to be most of us – can imagine that vastly magnified, and thus identify with the victims here. It is a show to waken to most politically complacent person in the city out of their slumber.

Tony Challis

Review: One Woman Sex and the City ****

One Woman Sex and the City

Drama/Comedy/Cabaret

18.55 until 27th August @ Under Belly Bristo Square

(**** 4 star)

Performer Kerry Ipema takes us on a hilarious trip down memory lane of all six seasons of the extremely popular HBO show, Sex and the City.

Fans of SATC will no doubt be dubious, with only one woman impersonating their beloved Carrie, Samantha, Miranda and Charlotte, just as I was at the start, but after around 10 minutes I’m sure will find themselves laughing and reminiscing while also appreciating the faults of the show that are acknowledged with all-round general P*** taking.

Amongst the audience were people who had never seen SATC before and I wasn’t sure if they would quite pickup on everything, but as I looked around at the various age groups, everyone seemed to take something from the fact this wasn’t only about the TV show but also about relatable life, things like, brunching, shoes, love/sex/relationships, friendships, and of course New York City and how we can all relate in some way to any of these much-loved characters.

Kerry’s impressions of all the characters was hilarious but by far my favourite and the most accurate and flawless one was that of the show’s character, Samantha Jones which she totally nailed. There’s no denying this is a brilliantly genius idea for a unique fringe show.

I was surprised how much I enjoyed this parody of the six seasons and only wished there had been a bit more time to cover the films, perhaps next year.

A fabbbuloussss, sassy, daring, fascinating, fun filled, quick hour which celebrates the classic show and left me wanting to watch all six seasons from the start again.

Susan Clark

Review: Yana Alana – Between the Cracks ***

Yana Alana – Between the Cracks

Cabaret and Variety

Assembly Checkpoint

Aug 21st – 26th  

20:00

*** 3 Stars

Edging slowly up the queue and into the building which used to house the Forest café (before it moved to Tollcross), is like bumping into an old friend who got their life together in the intervening years but still smells faintly of spilled Buckie and day-old rollies. It’s a grand church building, fit for kings, queens and anarcho-punk feminists, so Yana (created by Sarah Ward) is an acceptable bridge between its previous vibe and the new. She is spunky and weird, painted almost entirely blue, and more glamorous than I may ever be.

Yana is a brilliant singer – her command of chords is unquestionable. She is also a good songwriter. The many songs are at times thoughtful, at others funny. She seldom blends the comedy and the tragedy, instead opting for a narrative arc for the show. This means the songs are grouped together by content: it starts with the entertaining ones like I’m Blue and Back Door Blues (featuring a whimsical trumpet gag) and get increasingly soulful as Yana becomes more naked and raw.

Between the Cracks is not just a practical joke to riff off regarding her bare blue ass. The show is also a reflection on narcissism, neediness, and Yana herself (of course). However, some of my favourite moments are actually the audience interactions, which are playful and imaginative. Yana is helped along here by slightly hesitant, ultimately game guests, including the venerable Burt Bacharach.

It is invigorating to see someone talk about the flip-side to the desire to perform, namely poor mental health. The fact that she shines one of her stage-lights in the direction of the struggles of many quote-unquote Big Personalities is perhaps why her brand of slapstick feels a bit forced at times. The notable exception to this is the presentation of her most recent book Go Fuck Yourself. But for every gleeful exhortation to “Go Fuck Yourself” there is also a joke based on one of the accompanists who provide vital comedic fodder. Pianist Louise in particular becomes the metaphorical butt of the joke and therefore arguably of the whole show, which is ironic considering the aforementioned narcissism.

Review by Joanne Harrison

Review: Xenos ****

DANCE AND PHYSICAL THEATRRE.

XENOS

Festival Theatre (Edinburgh International Festival)

August 16 to 18 only.

**** (4 Stars)

Akram Khan is a dancer of world wide renown. He expresses the many emotions available to the human body intensely through dance and movement of enormous skill.

This production is part of the 14-18 NOW WW1 Centenary Art Commissions. Well over a million soldiers from the Indian sub-continent fought on behalf of their imperial masters in that war. Xenos means stranger or outsider. Here were outsiders who were relied upon.

In this show, presented by the Akram Khan Company, Khan dances to represent this million, Much of the experience of war is not of action, but of preparation, of supply lines, of fortifications and also of laying cables. Akram Khan here is seen laying cables, and hearing voices in the cables, including voices of those already dead. He scrambles about on Mirella Weingarten’s daring and seemingly precipitous set. He rolls and unrolls cable in lighting that reflects the need to work out of sunlight, and maybe the effects of the smoke of battle.

Occasional gunfire makes one wonder if Khan is still alive a several points. Jordan Tannahill’s script reflects at one point on the long rise of evolution, to Sapiens. For what? Khan dances the struggle of man to be himself, and the struggle to survive.

This is a deeply moving and compassionate piece, involving the audience deeply. The percussion and singing that preceded the show was greatly admired by the audience. During the show a number of musicians performed to great effect, except that some of the time an orchestral drone pretty much drowned out their efforts. This was not a time for raised voices, but the voice over was sufficiently gentle that it only needed one cough somewhere in the audience for things to be missed.

However, this was a memorable and brilliant performance by all concerned, and a further display of Akram Khan’s great talent.

Tony Challis