August 24 to 28.
When a people is long inured to war there is a strong tendency to live for the moment, to party, to play, to fuck, to enjoy the pleasures that may soon be extinguished. The on-screen introduction here reminds us of the Wars of the Roses, of the decades of strife that have preceded the present peace under King Edward. But will this hold? So there are fireworks and dancing and giggles, and then Richard enters with his famous speech of resentment, and his determination to play the only hand that nature has allowed him, that of the villain.
This production of Shakespeare’s early play comes from the Schaubuhne am Lehniner Platz, Berlin, and is performed in German with surtitles. Richard is played by Lars Eidinger, in a commanding and athletic performance. There are firsts here; I have not before seen Richard woo the widow of the man he has killed leaning naked across the coffin. The strength of Eidinger’s performance does put the rest of the cast somewhat in the shade. We get something more like a study in abnormal psychology than a view of a society riven by crisis and threatened with collapse; both are parts of this story.
Robert Beyer as Margaret is perhaps the strongest of the women’s voices, which otherwise tend to be downplayed. Moritz Gottwald as Buckingham begins by seeming like another of the plain-suited ciphers, but in the mock-piety scene where Richard is offered the throne he comes into his own and then shines.
I didn’t feel having the Princes as puppets worked; their several handlers clutter the stage, and this prevents any involvement with them. Probably there are problems bringing boy actors abroad, but reversing the rules of Shakespeare’s time and having them played by young women might really add something.
We are told that it is an ambition of director Thomas Ostermeier to make us feel sympathy for Richard, having been repelled by him. This did not happen for me. Prior to the dream scene before his final battle we do not see any shades of doubt or self-criticism enough to make him less repellent. There has also been comic distancing. I have not before heard an audience titter and laugh at the murder of Clarence as happened here as the naked figure gurgles lengthily and more and more blood flows from beneath him. In the second half there was increasing laughter around me, as though the audience saw the show as a circus of horrors.
Then Richard has his dream of the ghosts of his victims and wakes to fight himself, his own demons, rather than his human enemies. It was a brave and good idea to write Richmond out altogether – he is a pious goody-goody written to please the Tudor monarch, his grand-daughter, but one or two anonymous figures actually opposing Richard would have added zest to this scene.
The move towards a reflective and sympathetic view of Richard happened much too late for me, and it did not take. His final situation, hung upside down, a Mussolini-esque caricature, seemed more like him getting his desserts. This was a memorable, dynamic and bold production, but it served to remind me that the play was written not so long after Titus Andronicus, and it is difficult to find in it the subtleties that would create the sympathetic effect Ostermeier desires.
Banshee Labyrinth (Venue 156)
Hi my name is Ivy and I’m your stunt reviewer for 2016. I say this because the guys were too scared to go see this, but that’s exactly why this show needs to exist. Menstruation is such a taboo subject, it’s yet another thing for women to be ashamed about, however its something we have zero choice with as it’s gonna happen to us whether we like it or not. So why is it something to be hidden away?
Adventures in Menstruating isn’t another throwaway fringe show about fannies, it’s bloody awesome for all the right reasons. Our comedian come teacher shows us where period shame comes from through the history of menstruation products and how they have been marketed over the last few decades. Why is it all so negative and what the hell is that blue stuff they always use in the commercials?
She does a fantastic job of talking about periods without hiding behind jokes. Yes we all had a good laugh throughout the show but without using comedy as something to hide behind. She uses comedy to show how stupid the stigmas around periods are and to make us realise that it’s ok to talk about it, it’s nothing to be ashamed of.
Chella, who has recently completed her Master’s dissertation Period Positive Schools is taking back the ‘stain’ which is used to shame and embarrass mensturators and has turned it into Leak Chic. She’s teaching the next generation that it’s ok to bleed and is educating us older ones that it’s ok to be #periodpositive. You couldn’t have a better person to spread this message, she’s inclusive of trans and non binary mensturators, presents everything in an approachable way and is an all round lovely person. She combines education, science and comedy into a perfectly balanced show that leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy inside much like her cuddly blood cells.
Her last show of the Fridge is tomorrow the 28th of August at 6:40pm in The Banshee Labyrinth. Even if you think this show isn’t for you or that you’ll be too embarrassed by it I implore you to give it a go. You might not be a mensturator or even be mensturator adjacent but this is about more than bleeding. It’s about breaking stigmas, stepping away from shame and being proud of your body regardless of what society tries to tell you.
Adventures in Menstruating is part of the Free Fringe but for the bargain price of £10 you can get your very own Stain™ necklace to wear with #periodpositive pride, I know I’ll be wearing mine!
Ivy Von Anderson
Musicals and Opera
New Town Theatre
19 – 24 Aug
The Zheijiang Kunqu Opera Troupe is commemorating the 400th anniversary of the deaths of William Shakespeare and Tang Xianzu, China’s most famous and well-respected dramatist, born in the 1550s and dying, like Shakespeare, in 1616. The Peony Pavilion is his most famous play: this show presents a version of it in the traditional Kunqu opera style.
Du Liniang, a sixteen-year-old girl, and Liu Mengmei, a young scholar, first meet each other in a dream. When she awakes, Du thinks she will never meet her lover in waking life: she waits, but slowly sinks into a decline and dies. Liu meanwhile has set off in search of the girl of his dreams: and even though he arrives three years after her death, the power of her love defies even death, and the lovers are finally united.
It’s visually gorgeous. The lovers appear in a succession of fabulous beautifully embroidered and colourful costumes; the Infernal Judge who sits in judgement on the dead has the most glorious emerald green garment; and even Du’s maid has beautiful clothes. Traditional musicians sit each side of the stage, accompanying the singing and dialogue and providing expressive and atmospheric music for the dances – I wish I had had more time simply to watch and enjoy their playing. Their music was familiar to my ear: the singing and dialogue was fascinatingly alien.
Chinese opera is nothing like western opera: it’s a fusion of music, song, dance, martial arts, acrobatics and literary art forms. Movement and gesture are stylised, and are designed to suggest reality rather than portray it accurately. Much use of the lovers’ long sleeve extensions and mirroring of gesture and attitude create beautiful images and suggest the characters’ emotions, even to the ignorant westerner. Subtitles gave a helpful summary of the dialogue and words of the song (though they would benefit from a little attention from a first-language English speaker). The belief system underpinning the narrative is not something with which I’m familiar, so the ‘comic interlude’ with two monkey-like acrobats and the Infernal Judge, which I assume explains how Du was able to defy death and be reunited with her lover, was a little puzzling – but I got the gist of the narrative.
Although the style was so unfamiliar, the total commitment of the actors was obvious, and drew us into their world, keeping us engaged and enthralled, and receiving warm, enthusiastic applause. This show is only on for a few days: give yourself a treat and experience a very different and compelling art form which is a feast for the eyes.
4 – 21 Aug
For many years I lived in a cul de sac just off the main route to my local crematorium, so I had a daily reminder that death was waiting me at some point in my life, and that I would inevitably make that journey up the hill. Later on, when I was a professional singer, I was happy to sing at funerals, either as a soloist, to sing hymns in case no-one else did, or simply to pad out the sound. I also sang at my brother’s and my mother’s funerals, and was glad to be able to offer this gift to them and everyone else present.
Most people don’t have this regular exposure to the inevitability of death, and western culture seeks to hide this from us, trying to persuade us that we will live for ever, and that modern medicine has the answer to everything, even death… There is now a growing reaction against this, a realisation that we need to talk about death and dying, that being in some way or other prepared for that eventuality, rather than sticking our heads in the sand and trying to deny it, is a good thing, something to be encouraged. There has been a growing ‘Death Cafe’ movement, a proliferation of organisations offering information about green funerals, dying well, preparing all that we can to take the burden off those who survive us, and so much more.
Liz Rothschild is a performer, a celebrant, and the manager of a woodland burial ground which was declared Cemetery of the Year in 2015. She enters and immediately engages us with an account of “my first death” – Molly Gilmour, an old lady she had been visiting: she is grateful for such a calm and gentle introduction to death – there is nothing to be afraid of, nothing to worry about, it was calm and peaceful.
Birth stories are common to all cultures: we have a National Childbirth Trust: but where are the death stories, the Death Trusts? Like the underside of a leaf, or the sole of our shoe, death is there – but generally hidden from our sight. Liz doesn’t like the Death Industry – the covering-up of that which is natural, hiding it away, even disguising it with makeup and/or embalming, covering the mound of Earth by the grave with plastic grass: “We all cover up in a myriad of ways”.
She tells stories from her own life, her work as a celebrant and as manager of a natural burial site. She has seen the chaos and pain people can suffer when someone dies without leaving any instructions or expressing any wishes – the “exposure of the fault lines in a family” as they quarrel over “what mum would have wanted” – and the unifying effect of working together to make arrangements about which everyone is happy (only to discover written wishes, too late, which are completely opposite to that which the dead person had chosen!).
70% of people in the UK die without leaving a will or letter expressing their wishes. “What can be healed when you know you are dying?” The huge rise in the number of suicides among South Korean office workers’ led to ‘death courses’, where people were encouraged to realise and come to terms with the fact they would at some stage cease to exist: the suicide rate dropped markedly. You can now go on coffin-weaving courses: Liz has hers on stage, and adds to it during the show.
Music interweaves the sections: “Always look on the bright side of life” is apparently the nation’s favourite piece of funeral music. We hear a movement from one of the Bach solo cello suites, lively klezmer-type music, and other pieces: what would I want?
The sudden unexpected death of an atheist lesbian friend pointed up that there are no guidelines for “how to do this”: her friends get together and spent time remembering her, and devising a celebration. The coffin was brought to the house and to everyone’s horror the friend’s face had make-up on it, something she hadn’t worn since her early teenage years – this exposed underlying assumptions that ‘this is how you would want it to be’: what we might want is not what the funeral director would see as ‘usual’ (and vice versa): all the more reason to talk about things and ask questions.
There are far fewer regulations surrounding funerals than we might think. Different cultures work to different timescales – in some the body must be ‘dealt with’ the same day, but in others there is actually no ‘deadline’. The cost of funerals varies enormously: shopping around is not ‘bad’ or ‘tasteless’; one family sought crowd-funding; funeral firms can apply emotional ‘blackmail’, pressuring people to spend more ‘because they deserve it’, using emotive language – ‘economy coffin’ triggering “oh no we can’t let him or her have that” resulting in spending more than you can afford; learning that pre-paid funeral plans don’t always cover everything….
There was so much more! We laughed, we cried, we recognised experiences, feelings, and frustrations: we were told that “most of us have no idea what is possible” and that even the strictest of regulations can be subverted. Did you know you can bury up to three people in your garden? (Though not if you are renting…) We were encouraged to keep talking and listening to each other, to address people’s concerns rather than hushing them and soothing them away.
The hour passed so swiftly, and there was so much more to share. Those who were able were invited to stay on and talk; we were given a list of extremely valuable resources of all kinds, and encouraged to contribute our own stories – which could find their way into Liz’s show, as did the story of the publican buried in the garden of his pub, with whom loyal customers would still share the odd pint…
Once again, thank Summerhall for an inspiring, thought-provoking, moving, funny, blunt, unforgettable show: and thank you, Liz, for presenting it!
Edinburgh International Festival
Edinburgh International Conference Centre
13, 14 August 2pm, 7pm ONLY
I marvelled at the fluid grace and extraordinary dance style of this piece: a fusion of ethnic dance styles, street dance, yoga and who knows what else. Choreographer Akram Khan is perhaps best known for his contribution to the opening ceremony of the London 2012 Olympic Games (remember the giant sunflower/ Abide with me?). His dance style is unique to him, a fascinating mix of folk dance, contemporary dance, and kathak, the North Indian classical dance form which he practised in a garage at the back of his house during the year he bunked out of school, setting off each day in uniform and then doubling back through the garden quite literally to follow his own path. Kathak is a dance form that tells stories with expressive gestures, rhythmic virtuosity, lightning-quick spins and fast-stamping feet. Fuse this with techniques learned in dance studies at De Montfort University and the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, and you begin to have a notion of Khan’s unique style.
Chotto Desh (‘‘little homeland”) is a reworking for a younger audience of his own solo Desh, in which Khan explored themes of cultural identity and father-son relationships: he has taken parts of the original show and added material developed with the two dancers who would take on the role of Akram, producing a simple narrative of a boy of mixed-race parentage who was born in London, and who just wants to dance. His father can’t to understand why Akram won’t sit still, why he won’t listen to him, why he doesn’t want to follow him and work in his restaurant: his mother is gentle and understanding, telling him traditional stories and understanding that the boy needs to find himself, “all in good time”.
The show is a delightful mix of expressive dance and storytelling, with shadow play, clever interaction with projections, recorded dialogue and atmospheric music. There were a couple of sections that were very expressive but I felt were over-long – Akram’s struggle with the frenetic and bewildering street life when his father took him back to visit his homeland, Bangladesh, and the loud banging and stomping when Akram was letting out his anger and frustration. I was also uncertain about the linking device of a child in a call centre in the Far East: it gave a framework for the story, but would younger children have followed it? It did get laughs from the adults in the audience.
I loved the his mother’s story of the starving little boy who disobeyed his parents and went into the forest to find wild honey, unable to leave the honey for the bees until they had made enough to spare. This was charmingly fantastic, the dancer interacting with projected images of the forest and its inhabitants; I particularly loved the well-hidden crocodile, the elephant and the snake. In an earlier scene he transformed himself into his father, a small man, drawing his father’s face on his own shaved pate and looking downwards and performing extraordinary juggling feats with his head. The exuberant explosion of dance when Akram finally learned that he would be allowed to follow his own path, and be a dancer was a joy to watch.
The dancing was mesmerising, the story engrossing, and the audience were loudly enthusiastic at the end.
Dance, physical theatre
12.00 pm (run ends 29th Aug; not 22nd)
It’s hard to describe this piece, and the handy synopsis we were given could have done with being edited by someone more familiar with the English language – it promised “Both similar and different works about heaven, from Eastern and Western cultures, presented in a new creative way… The play based on the form of Gut, the struggle between this world and the world of the dead. This Gut makes the regrettable souls have fun and leave this life without any lingering affection towards this world.” After consulting the internet, I can add this: Gut is a Korean shaman ritual, a private or a communal ceremony which can have a number of purposes – in the case of this show, a ritual designed to pave someone’s way to the afterworld.
The performance was a extraordinary mixture of deeply moving ritual and almost slapstick comedy: deeply serious and heartfelt mourning rituals and songs surrounded a pantomimic, almost vaudevillian playlet in which a man made advances towards a woman then, after apparently killing her and bringing her back to life, deserted her for another woman… the mourning rituals were then resumed. This is where cultural differences really come into play – my complete ignorance of shamanic ritual and thought left me at a loss and trying to make sense of what I was seeing.
The set was extremely simple: Solemn rituals surrounding grieving beautifully portrayed: White-clad solo singer [?the shaman] singing moves among black-clad actors who play different parts; excellent movement skills and mime, fascinating singing,very simple and effective; minimal ‘scenery’, just the curtained gateway through which the shaman appeared and the dead woman left; clever use of props to convey different people and things [streamer ‘fans’, boat, black veil and white cloth]
Shaman linking the dead with the spirits of the world – ?linking the living, too? Sing the soul into the afterlife, help it to let go and pass through/over; grieving – those left behind? The dead one? Sending the soul on its way in the white boat; tearing a path through the river
?the ‘pantomime’ showing the dead woman that there’s nothing to keep her here, the man worthless; what about the children?
Good visuals, clever costume changing and mask work, special applause for the whirling drummer with streamer on his hat. The audience loved the pantomime, and the inclusion of the audience [is there a doctor in the house?]; I found it jarred against the simplicity and deep truth of the grieving and the ritual of the opening and closing parts. Better understanding/ explanation could have helped me make sense of it? Cultural clash/ Misunderstanding
16 – 28, not 15
Potatoes – lots of potatoes. Bluebells [artificial]. Watermelon – hatcheted open. Red paint splashed on the wall, fire extinguisher blasting out smoke, red ‘vomit’ splurging everywhere.
“The first 25 minutes were OK, and after that it went downhill” (overheard on my way out) – well, that’s a relief, I wasn’t the only person feeling less than enthusiastic about this contribution from the RSC.
What was it trying to say? There was a lot of shouting, a lot of bitterness and anger, a lot of loud holding forth with no attempt to hear what the other person was saying, a lot of “I know (better than you) what you meant when you were saying xxx” but I couldn’t see the point of most of it.
Empty despair at the end – a wilderness where we thought we had mountains and rolling hills. There was laughter on stage – or was it corpseing that got out of control [if so, what were they laughing at?]
People were saying things that revealed their inner hurt – but simply shouting out their anger and abuse at another person, making no attempt to talk or to listen. Is that what is seen to be the only way to get through to those who have hurt us?
Purportedly this play “examines the language, behaviour and forces that shape women in the 21st century and asks what’s stopping us from doing something truly radical to change them”. Well, somehow I missed that…
I heard a man being uncomfortable when a woman responded to his verbal sexual advances with aggressive advances of her own; a woman saying she was insulted by her partner’s proposal of marriage (“you didn’t say that” was her constant response to his attempt to explain); a boss who refused to hear her employee’s statement that she wanted to not work on Mondays, thinking that by offering new and ‘better’ inducements she could get her to change her mind. Then things started to go downhill as a woman wrapped in a blanket was insulted by workers in a supermarket because she behaved inappropriately, undoubtedly because of a mental health problem; a daughter blasted her mother with the hurt she felt at having been left when she was only four while her own daughter was slowly falling apart in front of her eyes; and all four cast members talked over, around and through each other in a disjointed and unintelligible way… A miserable defeatist monologue and an implication that there needed to be a revolution which would result in the extermination of all men closed the show.
Not a happy piece: I have no idea what it was trying to say, and I don’t feel that it gave any pointers as to what to do: I think the message I got was “life is shit, people are shit to each other, and that’s it”. Did I miss something???
Postscript: having spoken to my neighbour at this morning’s first show, she felt it was a completely brilliant show, with the possible exception of its closing moments; that it perfectly expressed the violence done to women by the current way language is used, and that nothing short of radical action would effect any sort of change. I mentioned that I was a Quaker, and didn’t experience the things she was talking of: she said she had taught for a month at a Quaker school and been deeply impressed by the respect and consideration pupils showed for each other as a matter of course. So maybe there’s the explanation for why I didn’t ‘get it’ – and possibly a solution too…
Go to the show and make up your own mind, why don’t you?
Assembly George Square Studios
August 4th to 28th
This is a show that you could go to see day after day and be likely to see something somewhat different. It is performed by a different actor each day, and that person works from a script that is in a sealed envelope until the performance begins.
It was written in 2010 by Nassim Soleimanpour, an Iranian writer unable to leave his home country. He tells us that to get a passport in Iran you have to do two years military service, and this he has not done. The text travels the world in his place. It is unusual in the way it makes you aware of the gulf between any playwright and a performance of their work. It has been translated into twenty languages and performed by very many famous actors. When I saw it we were fortunate to have performing the piece Richard Gadd, the up and coming young Scottish comedian who may have achieved an award or two by the time you read this..
Richard got into his stride very quickly, though for any performer I think there would be one or two deep drawings in of breath early on. There is some audience participation, but not anything to be concerned about, and it may be that the more bravely you approach this very stimulating and provocative text the more you will get out of it.
It has repeatedly been said to be a piece about the transformative and transgressive power of theatre; I feel it is a reflection on human behaviour and psychology as much as anything. Best to really go with what happens, be there.
This is a highly unusual piece, as you will have gathered, one that will stay in your mind and that you will want to discuss afterwards. An experience to be savoured and subsequently digested. Highly recommended.
16 – 28 Aug (not 22)
This was the final play in the ‘set’ of four, and I found it (like yesterday’s one) disappointing after the excellence of the first two.
Jean has just been thrown out of her favourite karaoke pub late on a Thursday night. She is cursing her way along when she notices a man’s legs coming out of a wheelie bin. She engages him in a one-sided conversation, not really registering his presence but using him as the focus for a monologue about everything that is wrong in her life. Gradually she begins to hear his faint cries of “help me”, and finally makes out that he is not saying he is a sideboard, but a cyborg… He starts telling Jean of his fear that ‘they’ will find him, and tries to warn her of the terrible fate that ‘they’ have in store for everyone – he has had an implant in his head through which his employers control him, and warns her that her future is also endangered – “what’s been done to me is the future”.
The play is making a good point, but not in a way that engaged me: a rambling monologue for drunken Jean was followed by one for the mostly invisible Bin Heid. It was hard to feel much sympathy for Jean’s rants, and almost impossible to engage with Bin Heid because his body was inside the bin – we couldn’t see his face, or gather anything much from his tone of voice.
The concept is chilling, and not very far from the current reality – the implant is to control the man’s actions and increase his productivity: it takes over life and leaves him feeling that he is unable to see in colour, to engage with his wife and family, to enjoy anything; there is no rest from the voices and noise in his head, controlling every action, getting him driving 30-hour stretches. He warns of the future – they’re doing it to you too, subtle changes introduced at work without you really noticing, dividing workers by involving them in arguments at work so they can’t unite and confront/ oppose the changes.
Jean’s drunken ramblings, self-centred and oblivious to the plight of Bin Heid, were good, and in good Weegie: but suddenly she lost her accent and dialect when responding to Bin Heid’s warnings – how credible was this?
If I’d seen this piece first, would I have been put off the others? Yesterday’s and today’s suffer by comparison with the outstanding first two, when the characters were alive with electric energy. The latter plays were very much in two parts, with the first part credible and the second somehow failing to come alive. Might it have been any better if Bin Heid had come out of the bin earlier, and allowed us to engage with him as a person rather than a disembodied voice? It was hard to feel any connection with him and his plight, and his character didn’t quite come over as real, believable. Again, was it the script, or the acting?
It’s been fascinating to experience four authors’ imaginings of the future direction in which our technology-obsessed society is heading. I sincerely hope that the warnings they contain are taken to heart!