Museum After Hours: Friday Fringe Takeover *****

Cabaret and Variety

National Museum of Scotland

Venue 179

19.30 (FRIDAYS ONLY run ends 25th Aug)

 

 On Friday evenings in the Fringe, the Museum of Scotland closes its doors at its usual time, and then re-opens to ticket-holders and invited guests for an entertainment extravaganza that has something to please, intrigue, amuse and delight everyone: this particular Friday was no exception.

 

We are free to roam the museum at will; to visit the current ‘special’ exhibition on Bonnie Prince Charlie and the Jacobites; to hang around the bars and eating places, watching the world go by; to take part in drop-in activities, including dressing up; to have a private viewing of The Tomb: Ancient Egyptian Burial, guided by curator Margaret Maitland, and have the opportunity to handle Egyptian artefacts; and as if that’s not enough to satisfy the most exacting tastes, a full programme of music, circus, comedy, and magic acts perform on three separate stages, making you wish you could master the art of being in more than one place at any given time…

 

When I and my friend arrived, the place was buzzing!  The first and most important thing was to get our [temporary] Jacobite-themed tattoos – mine was of course going to be a thistle… I then got seduced into visiting the costume gallery, which my friend [unlike me, a regular Museum visitor] told me was a recent addition – oh my goodness the fun you could have deciding exactly which costume you most wanted to steal: and believe me, you’re spoilt for choice!   We then decided to investigate Bonnie Prince Charlie – but on the way I got sidetracked by some incredible 20th century ceramics, including pots by Shōji Hamada and Bernard Leach.

 

Finally, we made it into the Jacobite exhibition, to discover that crowds of other people had had the same idea.  I wonder why the Museum chose to put on this exhibition now, as it takes a long hard look at the Union of the Crowns, the Stuart and Hanoverian claims to the British crown, and the atrocities that were committed by the latter in the suppression of the former’s uprisings.  I also found it most interesting to discover how closely related the two families were, and to see how many Jacobite ‘relics’ ended up in the hands of the Hanoverians and were passed on to the current royal family.  There were some excellent video presentations, many splendid portraits and miniatures, [many of which were created for  distribution to loyal Jacobites] and a lot of other exhibits including gifts from Bonnie Prince Charlie to his loyal supporters after the disastrous defeat at Culloden, when the prince was helped to escape to France.  I found it hard to be very enthusiastic about the guns, swords, and armour on display, but appreciated many of the other items, including various documents written by major players in the drama.

 

There was so much to see in that exhibition that on leaving it I have to confess to being tired and longing for my bed…  on our way out of the museum, there were some seriously good acrobatic clowns doing their thing: I would have loved to stay, but (a) my feet were killing me and (b) the accompanying band’s music was reverberating so loudly round the main museum that my ears would have very soon joined my feet in protesting – a sure sign that I’m getting old!!

 

Most other people had more stamina, and were obviously going to stay on until they were thrown out – it’s a cracking night out, I had a great time, and I’m already looking forward to next year…

 

Mary Woodward

 

THE IMPORTANCE OF BEING FRANK  ***

THEATRE

TheSPACE ON NORTH BRIDGE (V36)   15.20

AUGUST 14TH TO 19TH

This is an adaptation of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest updated to the 1980s, so that we have an Andrew Moncrieff immersed in large headphones and other symbols of that time.

The cast throw themselves into the performance. The members of Reading University Drama Society who were presenting this show displayed much enthusiasm and enjoyment in what they were doing, and this transmitted to the audience. Timothy Stiles as Andrew Moncrieff was all long-limbed energy and smiles, smiles which helped cope with successive embarrassing moments. Daniel Snipe as John Worthing had a contrasting sense of dignity and decorum, a strong presence. Hana Beckwith and Coral Richards as Gwendolen and Claire respectively both brought a sense of energetic joy to their parts, Coral Richards with a nice sly wit, and Hana Beckwith managing at times to be at the same time gushing and knowing. Cameron Gill as Mrs Bracknell was strong and memorable, though there was probably room for more light and shade even in this reduced script.

The reduced script was what most bothered me. The director, Erin Caitlin Karn, has said she has “an absolute ball” directing the show, and I can imagine it being great fun. However. I did not have quite that degree of joy, as events sped past and the performance ended with loose ends for anyone who knows the original. I do not think you can do justice to the twists and turns of this play in forty five minutes, but this was a brave and dynamic attempt to do so, and the company are to be commended for making the attempt.

Tony Challis

KAFKA AND SON  ****

THEATRE

PLEASANCE COURTYARD  (V33)      11.40

AUGUST 2ND TO 27TH   (NOT 15, 16)

This is a one man performance by Alan Nashman, who becomes both Franz Kafka and the father to whom Franz addressed a long and impassioned letter, analysing the difficulties he had being this father’s son and the ways he felt his father had damaged and abused him. The father is accused of hypocrisy in relation to his following of the Jewish faith, and of immorality in his business dealings and his relations with those he employed. The father is here given a chance to respond, and Alan Nashman moves between the characters of father and son, with the father detailing his son’s weaknesses and ingratitude, and at one point saying that Franz was always on the mother’s side, and that she was obstinate. Franz was the only one of several sons who did not die young, so much was expected of him.

Franz Kafka’s suggestive and many-layered works continue to fascinate, and illuminate the dark areas of life both domestic and social. Alan Nashman here allows us a dramatic insight into what the personal life was like for Franz Kafka.

The room in which this performance is given at Pleasance Courtyard is called Bunker One, which is pretty appropriate. It is dark and cave-like, rather like a large prison cell. The props, of bed frame, cage, and similar structures evoke deprivation. When Alan Nashman clatters the bed frame, or crawls under it, or gets into the cage, we travel with him into the struggles within Franz’s mind.

The father figure is presented as fierce,  overwhelming but also having his weaknesses, his desires, and his hopes for his son. Alan Nashman manages to let us see him as a complex human being. Within the time span of the show this is a very considerable achievement.

This is a piece of acting of real intensity, with humour and with pathos. After Canada, Iceland, Germany, Turkey, South Africa and Prague, this show is now here in Edinburgh. It is full of piercing insights and ideas, and is extremely well worth catching.

Tony Challis

JOSEPH K    ****

THEATRE

C CHAMBERS STREET.   (V34)     10.30

AUGUST 20TH TO 26TH

This is a production by KGS Theatre Company of Tom Basden’s comic adaptation of Kafka’s The Trial. The play relocates the classic novel from the central Europe of a century ago to 21st century London.

Joseph is “arrested” on the morning of his thirtieth birthday. He at first sees this as a practical joke, especially as one of the guys who comes to arrest him he recognises as being a clerk at the bank where he has a senior position. If he signs a paper he can go to work, but then finds there are problems with his passport, his credit card…. The scene begins to darken.

This version of the novel focuses on many of the frustrating and limiting aspects of contemporary life. Joseph cannot get clear information about his case. Those due to help him can only follow the formulae that are on the computer screens before them. Go beyond that and they are as hopeless as off-task robots. Joseph’s brother has connections, and takes him to a reputed lawyer,  who is gross and idle, being more interested in his collection of dolls of the world. His intern takes an interest in Joseph,  though he later comes to think that the seduction was just an intended distraction. The intern encapsulates one of the casual injustices of employment today.

As we settle into our seats before the play starts, we hear a voice over of one of those breakfast programmes that chat inanely with callers. Here the DJ/host is talking about condiments, and a caller asks about coleslaw. An attention-getting  opening. I think of such programmes a verbal idling, of letting the engine of the mind run purposelessly. Almost like mental fingers down a chalkboard.

This was a case of getting along to an early show and expecting to pass the time agreeably. I was in for a surprise. From that opening voiceover, to the excellent Jamie Bisping as Joseph treating the arresting officers like very unwelcome flies buzzing around him, and to Miranda Worth and Liv Arnold as the arresting officers, persistent and committed to their lack of respect for others’ food (a case here of cross-gender casting working very well, a tribute to the directors, surely,) I was immersed in the surreal and crazy world presented to me.

This show was a continual delight, and the ninety minutes passed very quickly. The original text was used just as a rough skeleton, which kept the play on track as it nailed many items in today’s life. Yet it seems the novel’s ending had to be kept. This seemed to me sudden and tagged on. It seemed a pity that this final scene could not in some way have been integrated more into the kind of entertainment we were experiencing.

But this is a small carp. This was an excellent performance of which the youthful cast should be very proud.

Tony Challis

SECRET LIFE OF HUMANS ****

THEATRE

PLEASANCE COURTYARD      18.30

AUGUST 2ND TO 28TH     (NOT 14TH)

This play was inspired by the international bestseller Sapiens by the gay Israeli intellectual Haran. To produce the history of humanity on stage on any one night would have been very daunting, and might have led to the kind of indigestible evening I have known on occasions in Edinburgh. This performance is richly and rewardingly digestible.

It focuses down on the figure of Jacob Bronowski, who produced a series called The Ascent of Man several decades ago, which purported to show a continuous line of progress and development in human affairs. However, in 1949 he installed a locked room in his house. What secrets does it contain? Do they undermine the thesis of his series and of his philosophical approach?

Through the medium of a woman who is researching just this area happening to arrange an online date with Bronowski’s grandson and thus gaining access to the house with the locked room we find ourselves on an investigative chase after the truth. Cue flashbacks to Bronowski being persuaded to become involved in wartime research which flatters his mathematical abilities and will help defeat the Nazis – but at what cost? Meanwhile Bronowski’s colleague learns the cost of aerial warfare when he loses his long term male partner. But – does he learn? Do humans learn?

This is a thought-provoking play, with the different elements well integrated. The acting is not always crisp enough to be engrossing, and there is a lack of tension in parts of the play. There comes a point where you can very much see where things are going. Yet it is very well worth experiencing, and discussing afterwards.

Tony Challis

CARAVAGGIO: BETWEEN THE DARKNESS  ****

THEATRE

TheSPACE ON THE MILE (V39)      14.55

AUGUST 4TH TO 26TH (NOT 13TH)

Rapid action begins this play, as the actors surge across the small, darkened stage. Soon we are in Caravaggio’s threatened space. He is wanted for the death, maybe murder, of a man he has crossed. His enemies will see to it that he meets a gruesome end if he does not leave Rome. He is very reluctant to leave his home city, and to leave loyal friends such as Lena (an intense and effective Dorothy Jones) or the arms of his enthusiastic servant (Danny Hetherington, who brings much vigour to the different roles he is called upon to play.) And yes, there is man-on-man snogging very early on in this play. We are left in no doubt that Caravaggio had enthusiasm for his fellow humans, of whatever gender.

We see Caravaggio move to Naples and then on to Malta. In Naples he is housed by fellow artist Carracci, whose work he criticises whilst expecting continued help and shelter. Alex Marci, in his portrayal of Caravaggio, shows us someone who has a very high opinion of himself and who feels that others should accept him at his own evaluation and behave accordingly. His performance is very vigorous from the outset, and he appears as optimistic about his ability to deal with whatever fate throws his way.

There is considerable discussion of the art of Caravaggio and Carracci and others, and we are invited to imagine what is discussed. If you are familiar with the works of Caravaggio that probably helps. (There is a large exhibition “Beyond Caravaggio” in Edinburgh at present – you may want to move between the play and the exhibition)

In Malta, Caravaggio faces the austere authority of de Wignancourt (Michal Nowak) who is very pleased to have his portrait painted by Caravaggio, but Caravaggio’s presumption again appears when he demands to be made a Knight of Malta.

Does he survive his various tribulations? The loyal Cardinal del Monte (Richard Unwin) helps smooth Caravaggio’s passage at different points, whilst not being able to contain his exasperation at times,

Even if you do know about Caravaggio’s life in some detail, the swift and determined action of this play will sweep you along. The small, dark space in which it is played out is appropriate for the mood and drama. This is a play that will hold you tight and the hour will pass very quickly.

Tony Challis

CERTAIN YOUNG MEN    TWO STARS

THEATRE

theSPACE @ VENUE 45    (V45)    20.50

AUGUST 21ST TO 26TH

This is a revival of a play first performed at the Almeida Theatre in London in 1999. It was written by Peter Gill. This revival is presented by the Cambridge University Queer Players.

We have a total of eight players, including several couples. Originally it had an all-male cast, and part of the intention appears to have been to show the folly of adult gay male couples mimicking or adopting the behaviours and assumptions of heterosexual couples.

Much of the time I found it hard take as real the ways that the characters were speaking to each other. The “or” game that appeared to be the basis of communication between the first couple added to a sense of hazy unreality in the relationship. Would it have been more helpful to have presented this couple later?

I found it difficult to get a handle on the relationships presented. If you want to make the cast half female that is fine and a very interesting experiment, but much of the problem for me lay with the dialogue. Much of the time it was staccato statements that work against real connection between people. One character had clearly been abused, but his successive appearances served to underline his damaged neediness without us getting any deeper understanding.

One speech struck me where a character begins by telling his partner he is exciting. He stands and delivers this speech from a distance. Maybe that is meant as a statement, but he could have used the whole stage, gone across and touched the partner, looked at the ceiling, done many things.

Overall, I found the production dull and confusing. Much of the time the dialogue was not given sufficient energy and commitment, was not sufficiently owned. I came to this play with eager anticipation and I went away disappointed.

Tony Challis

 

Letters Live *****

Image result for edinburgh international fringe festival 2017 letters live

Edinburgh International Festival

King’s Theatre

19.00, 22.00 27 August ONLY

 

 

This show’s format was devised in 2013: this was its first visit to Edinburgh.  Against a silhouette of an idealised Edinburgh skyline, on a smoke-filled stage, actors read letters written by people from widely-differing cultures, countries, and centuries.  Our host, Jamie Blake of Canongate Books, welcomed us to Edinburgh, a city “steeped in letters”, and invited us to open some letters – “potent time capsules” – and get glimpses of the lives of their authors.

 

I was impressed with Kelvin Jones who managed to get the entire audience singing – in two-part harmony! – as his backing group in the final chorus of Nick Cave’s Love Letter.  The actors included Harriet Walter, Ian McShane, and Meera Syal, and a quintet of young people who read some of the letters submitted in answer to the Edinburgh International Festival’s invitation to young people to write a letter from the future to their younger selves.  These were deeply moving – not least the initially amusing one which ended by assuring their younger self that they would be a man, not a girl – and rightly brought the house down.

 

Other letters were from George Bernard Shaw, complaining bitterly and wittily about the lack of dress code for women attending the opera; Jack Lemmon telling Walter Matthau about an absurdly amusing money-making scheme involving a cat ranch in Mexico; Bette Davis’ acerbic response to her daughter’s publication of a biography of her mother; Frank Sinatra’s advice to George Michael; and Roald Dahl, drunk as a skunk, writing from Tanzania to his mother.

 

James Baldwin’s letter to his 14-year-old nephew James in the centenary year of the abolition of slavery resonates loudly today.  He advises the youth, in the light of the then current integration furore, that “whites fear their loss of their identity” [as superior] and that “these men are your brothers, your lost and younger brothers” and that “only love will change this: we cannot be free until they are free” … would that more people would heed his advice!

 

A Scottish connection was made with a reading of Mary Queen of Scots’ letter to her French brother-in-law immediately prior to her execution, and one from a family in Lockerbie who had, four years after the disaster, been visited by the family of the man whose body they had found on their farm – so much love, sympathy, and understanding shared between strangers connected by tragedy.  Edinburgh was referenced with an exchange between J K Rowling and the young woman who wrote simply to thank Jo for her writing.  She revealed how closely her life circumstances mirrored those of her exact contemporary, Harry Potter, and how Harry, her “best friend”, had helped her cope with an unbelievably shitty childhood and adolescence: Jo’s reply was warm, wise, understanding, and witty.

 

There were other letters, long, short, angry, sad, passionate, funny, tragic, surreal and hysterically funny: the evening closed with Eddi Reader singing Dear John – the letter nobody wants to write or to receive.  All the actors in Letters Live give their services for free, and the monies raised go to local literacy charities – this evening benefits the Craigmillar Literacy Trust and the Scottish Book Trust.  It was a splendidly entertaining evening, opening windows into people’s lives, shedding new light on characters we thought one knew, giving food for thought, and reminding us that the art of writing a letter is something we might perhaps consider reviving: e-communications are simply not the same!

 

Mary Woodward

The Harry and Chris Show 2 ****

Just the Tonic at the Mash House (Venue 288)

Comedy (Music, Spoken Word)

3-26 Aug

 

Harry Baker and Chris Read playfully joke that they are no longer found in the Spoken Word section of the Edinburgh Fringe guide. Following feedback on 2016’s ‘The Harry and Chris Show,’ their audience had found them too funny. As such, they entered the 2017 program under the comedy category, and are already surprising audiences with the amount of poems in their show.

 

Despite this, ‘The Harry and Chris Show 2’ is a show that precisely understands it’s intentions. Blending Flight of the Conchord’s-esque absurdist lyrics with smart musicianship, Baker and Read have confidently established themselves as the apex of jazz-poetry duoships. The setlist is taught and refined, with Christmas Cracker puns littered throughout; “I wanted to be a podiatrist / but I kept staring at defeat.”

 

Baker and Read radiate charisma throughout the show. Attracting an almost cult level of adoration from their audience, Read plays the beleaguered straight man to Baker’s razor-sharp wordplay. It is a delight to see Read take more of the lyricism over the course of the show, as the tonal shifts between melodic choruses and rapping verses emphasise each other’s strengths.

 

In demonstrating such creative flair, the weaker sections of the show are made all the more apparent. The melancholic love poem of Sir Kill-a-lot is a less impressive rehash of the melancholic love poem about a Giant Panda that precedes it. Furthermore, while ‘Harry and Chris’ and ‘I’m a Flipping 10’ are reliable crowd favourites, they are notably recycled from their 2016 show.

 

‘The Harry and Chris Show 2’ is another delightable outing by two artists at the top of their game. It is effortlessly charismatic, assuredly talented, and a delightful hour of entertainment.

 

Freddie Alexander

Sad Little Man **

Paradise in the Vault (Venue 29)

Theatre (New Writing, Physical Theatre)

run now finished

 

‘Sad Little Man’ is the sophomore Fringe production by Pub Corner Poets. Writer Josh Overton returns after his controversial 2016 script ‘Angry.’ Where ‘Angry’ was structured around collective voice and political discontent, ‘Sad Little Man’ is an introverted piece, set within the mind of its main character, Lee (Oliver Strong). Lee is an evidently disturbed individual, and ‘Sad Little Man’ orbits his trauma. As with ‘Angry,’ ‘Sad Little Man’ is a divisive play. Lee is joined on stage by Emily (Danielle Harris), who remains largely mute throughout the performance. Their relationship is cryptic, passionate, and violent. The audience is made witness to Lee’s interpretation of the beginning of their relationship, it’s progression, and it’s abrupt end.

‘Sad Little Man’ employs a range of theatrical techniques to construct its mystery. Where Lee communicates through poetry and prose, Emily uses dance and movement. Unfortunately, as the play progresses it becomes painfully clear that Emily’s story is more interesting than Lee’s, more impactful to the plot, and of greater consequence. Despite this, the script contorts itself to prevent Emily explaining herself. Her scripted words can be counted on two hands before things take a very dark turn.

There are hints of Emily’s story throughout ‘Sad Little Man’. In a montage of the couple attending a party, a drunk Lee attempts to strike Emily. We are told by Lee that their arguments are mutually vociferous, and yet they are only ever described by Lee. This could be interesting subtext conveyed by a delusional narrator. But ‘4:48 Psychosis,’ this is not. Instead ‘Sad Little Man’ groans under the weight of a self-flagellating main character whose response of his girlfriend’s suicide barely extends beyond the climactic line; “I am a sad little man.”

As with ‘Angry,’ Overton recreates violence without interrogating it. The characters of ‘Sad Little Man’ demonstrate shockingly sparse motivation, instead browbeating the audience into a state of trauma. Its success as a production is entirely due to a compelled performance by Strong and Harris, and some deft directorial touches by Tyler Mortimer.

‘Sad Little Man’ is the smart production of a catastrophically flawed script. Pub Corner Poets demonstrate good technique, but without substance these stylistic choices feel shallow. Towards the end of the play I was reminded of another sad little man’s response to his wife’s suicide: “it is a tale… full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Freddie Alexander