Séance ****

Summerhall (Venue 26)

Theatre (Acoustic, Immersive)

Aug 24-26

times vary

 

Developed by Glen Neath and David Rosenburg,‘Séance’ is a disturbing immersive experience that takes place in a pitch black shipping container. Using a combination of audio and visual cues, the production tells the unsettling story of a supernatural conjuring, in which the audience is more closely implicated than they had previously thought.

 

As the audience enters the space they are instructed to wear a set of headphones. As the play progresses it becomes increasingly difficult to tell what audio input is coming from the headphones and what is coming from the room. The audio track is carefully balanced to make a spatial illusion around the audience. This illusion is only slightly disturbed if you are sat on the far ends of the container, and so I would personally recommend sitting towards the middle seats.

 

Due to the short nature of the production, it is difficult to discuss ‘Séance’ without ruining its element of surprise. The story is sparse, but almost entirely focussed on the audience as an individual and group entity. Everything in the room is both happening to you and around you, creating an intensely alienating experience.

 

The richness of the production is such that ‘Séance’ could easily have continued for a further 10 minutes. The production relies strongly on the sense of sound, whilst being suggestive of further sensory inputs.

 

The first half of‘Séance’ induces a feeling a terror in the audience, a gradual unease that something has gone awfully wrong. The second half is more concerned with horror, creating a sonically disturbing assault on the listener. While this second half is effective, the prior section is without a doubt the more interesting half of the show. Subtle phrases conjure a distrust of the audience’s senses, even in simple questions such as “Do you smell burning? Is anyone on fire?”

 

‘Séance’ is a uniquely terrifying theatrical experience, and a technical masterclass in sound design. While become somewhat overwrought in its second act, it is a truly frightening show, and a must-see for the horror aficionados of the Fringe.

 

Freddie Alexander

BLAK WHYTE GRAY   ****

Image result for blak whyte gray edinburgh

DANCE

THE LYCEUM (E I F)   

AUGUST 16 TO 19 ( ALSO 19TH AT 14.30)

1930

Here Boy Blue Entertainment provide us with the very best of Hip Hop Dancing. The company has a very strong reputation, having been formed in 2001 by Kenrick Sandy and Michael Asante, and in 2007 it won a major award for the breakthrough breakdance interpretation of Pied Piper. The group has a strong social and educational commitment, and, despite the pressures of rehearsal for this performance in Edinburgh, they enthusiastically took part in the Gala for Grenfell at the Adelphi Theatre on July 30th. In 2009 Boy Blue became an Associate Artist of the Barbican, where the company is still based.

Blak Whyte Gray is only the third full length dance-theatre show the company has produced in the sixteen years of its existence. The words of the title are intentionally misspelt so that people do not get hung up on the colours. The show is in two halves. The first involves much locking, and the dancers relate to each other without touch, but with great ensemble and formation work.

After the interval things are deeply arresting. Central is a figure curled to the ground. A dancer who may at first represent a large, mythic human face. As he moves forward, could he represent a giant tortoise, a species vanquished by human greed? Eventually, he becomes clearly a human figure who is unable to stand unaided. He is helped by other members of the company, who support him as a team, and gradually he gains strength, until he is like a prince among them. This, at least, is my relatively uninformed interpretation of what happens in the course of this stunning piece of dance, which involves many different styles and forms of movement.

This was a most absorbing show, moving and very exciting, and a source of enlightenment for one here who is relatively unschooled in this dance form but is now inspired to discover more.

Tony Challis

KRAPP’S LAST TAPE   ****

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THEATRE

CHURCH HILL THEATRE (E I F)  

AUGUST  4TH TO 27TH 20.00 ( NOT 10, 11, 12, 13, 16 OR 22) PLUS 15.00 AUGUST 19, 20, 24,26, 27.

This is the legendary short one-man play by the famous Nobel-prize winning playwright Samuel Beckett. It is performed here by the Irish actor Barry McGovern, who has appeared in Beckett based shows at this festival before.

We have the figure of Krapp, aged sixty nine, alone and preparing to listen to tapes from his life exactly thirty years earlier. In these earlier tapes there are already regrets ,and there are evocations of time with an intensely remembered woman, in a punt, and descriptions of her as she lies before the Krapp who once was.

Before turning on the tape machine, Krapp has some rituals to fulfil. He takes out of a side draw a banana, carefully peels it, drops the peel. Subsequently he is careful to avoid stepping on it, until…   A second banana is similarly dealt with. Krapp has fun with the word “spool”, which seems to fascinate and delight him.

The memories stimulate and disturb him. He turns the tape on and off, goes back and forth. The Beckett estate people keep a tight hold on how his plays can be performed, but the actor can bring a personal approach none the less. Barry McGovern brings to the script a serous intensity but also a sly sense of humour, and his Krapp seems to view the past differently from moment to moment.

Being older than Krapp now, as I was not when I last saw the play, I feel grateful that for me at the moment life is still wonderful, but there are regrets of course, and this play does make you insistently aware of how the past can take over; there were beautiful moments, and if only they could last for ever, but life moves ever on.

This is one to carry in the mind, and reflect on.

Tony Challis

NEDERLANDS DANs THEATER   *****

Image result for nederlands dans theater edinburgh

DANCE

EDINBURGH PLAYHOUSE   

AUGUST 21ST TO 23RD

19.30

This world famous dance company can be relied upon to tour material that is richly imaginative and original. They did not disappoint on this occasion. What we saw was amazing and fascinating from the start.

There are three sections, beginning with Shoot the Moon. Here we begin in one room with a couple who are very animated, sometimes still, sometimes moving furiously. The stage revolves, bringing us a second room, then a third, with different couples in each. Mods vary, and there is longing between rooms, and some windows, and a very daring flight of one male dancer through a window into darkness. At first, the situation made me think of Magritte, the surrealist painter, but after the woman next to me suggested Hitchcock. Very likely. And very engrossing.

Next came The Missing Door. Here we are with a man who is dying, and in his last moments he tries to piece together what he hears and what is happening.  The dancers in the room around him act out these events, sometimes repetitively, sometimes without apparent sense,  with very demanding sequences and movements. This section is highly original and startling.

The final section, Stop Motion, is set to melancholy music by Max Richter, and involves a process of farewell and transformation. There is beautiful ensemble work here, which very graceful dancing and unexpected twists as we would expect. This section seemed relatively calm after what had gone before, but we were intensely drawn into the world presented to us none the less.

As ever with Nederlands Dans Theater,  this was an evening not to be forgotten, after which we may argue and discuss about just what we were meant to take from what we saw, but the whole evening had the ambiguity of good poetry, and we can enjoy exploring possible interpretations.

Tony Challis

 

 

BIG FAT GAY  **

COMEDY

CC BLOOMS (V171)   

AUGUST 5TH TO 27TH    (Free Fringe)

20.00

Martin J Dixon, aka Big Fat Gay, is a very agreeable and pleasant guy who has his audience on his side from the beginning. He is young, round and bespectacled, but on the evidence of this show he maybe needs to think better of himself and to be more confident.

He has a good way with members of the audience, including those who come in late – and latecomers are only to be expected, especially when you are downstairs at a club. However, he is only one of several I have heard this year use the, “you’ve not really missed anything” line, which may be encouraging, but gives the impression the performer does not rate his opening. Something wittier but still welcoming would be good.

Martin makes a strong connection with several audience members, getting a loud reaction from them,(thus making the rest of the audience take note),  but repeatedly he shows a tendency to be dismissive of his own material, and to build up towards a punch line which then seems hardly to appear. Being self-deprecating can work well and be very funny, and is very British, but each time it is done it should be for real comic effect, and best if not expected.

Martin needs to make us feel that he is really keen on his material, which he does not always do, and give it to us with less apology. He knows his stuff, his timing is generally good, and he has a good many ideas – though it is not so good to suggest doing something to audience members which then does not happen, Maybe make us feel that something outrageous really IS about to happen, and then pull back just at the last minute. Here I don’t think we ever felt anything dangerous was possible. Maybe this guy needs to decide if he is purely a very cuddly, safe and slyly hilarious comic (which is fine), or if he wants to challenge his audience, put them on the edge of their seats and make them gasp – which is also fine.

I hope Martin continues to entertain us and to take us into his comic confidence. He is generous with his audience, knows how to get them with him, but needs to have a sharper focus and not to let any of his material run into the sand. I am sure he will gain confidence with experience, and I look forward to seeing him in the future.

Tony Challis

Helga – Life of Diva Extraordinaire ****

Dance, Physical Theatre and Circus

C Royale

Venue 58

13.30 (run ends 27th Aug, not 14th, 21st)

 

 An old woman shuffles onstage, muttering wordlessly to herself.  She is dressed in scarlet and purple, has improbably blonde bubble curls, enormous spectacles with rose-tinted lenses, and the make-up of a white-faced clown – dead white face and garish red lips.

 

Helga is a tragi-comic figure at whom I found it impossible to laugh as she hunted through the newspapers which littered her flat for a tiny item which she tore out and added to a bulging book of press cuttings and shuffled back and forth to the coffee pot, frequently choosing instead to sup a wee dram…

 

Suddenly she had slipped behind a screen to emerge in a more daring costume – and, after flirting invitingly but hesitantly with a man on the front row of the audience, launched herself at a trapeze dangling from the ceiling, and coiled her way around it in a way which provoked amazement and admiration – all the time without losing her rose-coloured spectacles.  She resumed her ‘old’ garb and wordlessly remembered the child she reared – who grew up and left her; the cat she adopted – which also grew to an enormous, tiger-like size – and then left her…  She puts on a coat and goes out, maybe to an old folk’s club where she performs her aerial routine, somewhat hampered by her body’s lack of flexibility, but still endeavoring to enchant the gentleman on the front row.  When she gets home, she discovers a postcard among the newspapers on the floor and sets about preparing for a visitor – but as the lights fade, we see her sitting at the table waiting, and wonder whether she is yet again doomed to disappointment: a Diva Extraordinaire who continues to look at life through her rose-tinted spectacles, without a shred of self-pity.

This was a splendid performance from circus artist Henni Kervinen: I hope I have even half Helga’s style and élan as I advance towards the dying of the light…!

Mary Woodward

 

The Great Gender Debate ****

The Great Gender Debate

Edinburgh book festival

One day only

 

The premise here was to discuss the efficacy and necessity of ‘gendered’ book marketing. That being said, it might be more accurate to call this event the Great Gender Collaborative Discussion: all three authors (Kathryn Evans, now winner of the Edinburgh International Book Festival’s My First Book award for her debut More of Me, Jonathan Stroud, author of the popular Bartimaeus, and Lockwood books, and David Levithan, author of several YA titles including Every Day and Two Boys Kissing) agreed that what boys like and what girls like are not all that different, and that what differences there are are what adults teach them. Levithan went so far as to question the very nature of the event: ‘We’re actually debating the wrong thing’.

 

Throughout the discussion I found Evans remarkably honest, ready to discuss her mistakes and foibles, and to learn from them: ‘I once said to a librarian, “Actually, my book is for girls”,’ said Evans, to audible groans from the audience, but went on to say that she understood, now, what a disservice that was doing to potential boy readers, who should be given the benefit of the doubt.

 

When asked how they choose the gender of a character, Evans, whose main character is apparently very much a part of Evans herself, freely admitted to backgrounding male characters. Levithan, whose protagonist in Every Day wakes up every morning in a different body, took a more abstract approach: ‘they’re characters, not traits’. He stressed the importance of characters being defined by their interior rather than exterior lives, and the freedom of writing a character without a single body or ‘outward’ gender.

 

‘Everything we’re taught from when we’re very young is that “boys like this, and girls like this”. But boys and girls like my books equally,’ said Evans, when questioned about the demographics of her readership. Stroud made the point that children are taught what they’re “supposed” to like: it comes, not from the children themselves, but from the viewpoint of the person in control, “the person who has the power to make assumptions on behalf of the children.”

 

Another thread woven through the discussion was empathy, and the importance of intersectionality in literature. Levithan, to my pleasant surprise, reminded us constantly of the existence of nonbinary and asexual people, and the importance of including them in young people’s literature. These sentiments have been echoed in many of the events at this year’s Book Festival. It’s been quite refreshing to see these issues discussed openly.

Eris Young

Mimi’s Suitcase ***

Theatre

Quaker Meeting House

Venue 40

18.30 (run ends 26th Aug) 

Ana Bayat was born in Iran, grew up in Spain, studied in France and England, and now lives in California.  A multi-talented actress, she has written this largely autobiographical show in which she performs in at least three languages – blessedly with subtitles for those of us who are not fluent in anything other than English!

 

We are first invited to a party in Teheran in 1984, where teenagers are dancing under the watchful eyes of their older relatives – until suddenly the moral police burst in and drag off to prison anyone they feel is failing to conform to the strict moral code they have decided governs the only correct way to behave.  ‘Mimi’ then tells us what life was like in Iran under the Shah, how she and her family fled to Spain after his downfall, and how they returned to Iran to rejoin their father after he returned there from the USA, only to find how much had changed in their absence.

 

Ana is an accomplished actress, switching effortlessly from sulky Spanish teenager to gruff and frightening ‘moral policeman’ to Iranian ‘auntie’, giving a very clear picture of and commentary on the different cultures in which she finds herself.  We see her struggles with the conflict between the life she learned to live in Spain and the way she is expected to live now, learn how ‘clandestine video rental guy’ saved her life with western films and pop videos, and wonder with her how she can escape this appallingly restrictive society to which she has been confined?   Theatre becomes her raison d’être – but when even that becomes subject to the moral police Mimi realises that applying to study abroad is her only hope: and so begins a new chapter of her life, still with her faithful suitcase in her hand.

 

This show was a fascinating window into life in widely different cultures which the audience found entertaining and moving in equal measure.  It shows us a woman of considerable ingenuity, resourcefulness, and resilience, and reminds us that it is possible to survive appalling situations without bitterness and hatred, while also pointing out the terrible things people will do in the name of an ideology, and how repression can be a slowly creeping tide as well as a crushing tsunami.

 

Mary Woodward

 

Tiger ***

Spoken Word (Theatre, Music)

Natural Food Kafe (Venue 415)

Aug 23-27

Times Vary

‘Tiger’ is a story of sex, drugs, and self discovery, found in the liminal space of dreams and young adulthood. Performed by Izzy Stott and Colin Bramwell, a poetic imagination permeates the piece, as Stott leaves her father (played by Bramwell) to take LSD in the forest and remember falling in love.

 

‘Tiger’ is a bold debut production by Teuchter Company. Stott and Bramwell alternate verse monologues throughout, with sparse dialogue to thread a larger narrative between them. The heavy lifting is performed by Kathy, played by Stott. Capturing a playful worldliness, Stott manages to balance clever audience interaction with a earnest wondering.

 

Bramwell handles the other characters of the story with remarkable tact, attempting to develop a unique register and intonation for each one. Some of these transformations are less effective, notably the rather jarring visual image of Bramwell playing both Kathy’s father and girlfriend. It was an ambitious theatrical choice that would have benefited from a tighter direction or an additional actor.

 

The production is accompanied throughout with a dreamy soundscape provided by Dan McGurty. This, along with the use of four different lamp shades, is enormously effective in delineating movements in time and space, allowing instead for the script of ‘Tiger’ to focus on the emotional trajectory of the characters.

 

The most notable weakness of ‘Tiger’ is the attention given to Kathy’s father at the beginning of the piece, which remained largely unresolved at the close. The production could almost benefit from a second act, in which the periphery characters could become more fully realised.

 

This is a decisive creative statement from Teuchter Company, melding spoken word and theatricality in complex and subtle ways. They certainly deserve your attention, and will be worth following in the future.

 

Freddie Alexander

Tim Key: Work in Progress *****

Comedy (stand-up, poetry)

Pleasance Dome (Venue 23)

Times vary. 24-27 August 

Tim’s 2017 Fringe show ‘Work in Progress’ is based around the fact of him currently being in the process of writing his new show (provisionally titled ‘Mega-date’) and he’d like feedback from a live studio audience. Eccentricity and whimsy abound as he tests idiosyncratic new material. Improvisation plays a key part in Key’s style as he connects with various audience members in the manner of a demanding but lovable Talent interacting with his nervous but excited PAs. There are silent-movie video clips. Opera. Costume changes. I didn’t like his hat but I did very much like Tim.

After seeing him perform his unconventional style of slow, rambling, yet oddly matter-of-fact poetry on Charlie Brooker’s Screenwipe, I went to Tim’s show last night hoping to see a show worthy of five stars. He didn’t disappoint, although personally I could’ve done with less shouting. His snappy joke-poetry written on the backs of playing cards and extracted from flattened cigarette packets made me laugh loudly and smile warmly in equal measure. If you don’t like poetry, fear not, for this is the opposite of pretentious attempts to sound clever or explore deep personal traumas. Veering unpredictably from the absurd to the momentarily bleak, Tim maintains an ethereal, surrealist air with a surprising and reassuring lack of pomposity.

The subject of relationships keeps resurfacing, although my feeling is that Tim doesn’t require such a meaningful topic on which to build material – he alludes to previous Fringe shows about his bed, a fridge, or whatever inanimate object he found lying around. This is the year of the ‘Mega-date’: a foray into the anxieties, dreams and practicalities surrounding the mysterious First Date. Tim takes the audience down the journey of a (non-?)fictional 62-hour Mega-date he once took in London with a poor unsuspecting woman, consisting of several plays, dinners and trips, notably to a Planetarium and Madame Tussauds. The tale is as much ridiculous as it is entertaining. Then he tells of the resulting panic over whether she will text back, as well as his auspicious retracing of steps to locate his missing bank card. Told over the course of an hour and interspersed with video clip and poetic interludes, I couldn’t help but find his antics absorbingly charming. With three dates to go, Tim’s show is obviously almost finished – his wit shines through the cheeky grin and darkness behind his eyes on most lines. It can only get better from now on.

Jo Harrison