Remember Edith Cavell

2016REMEMBE_AHE

Theatre

Palmerston Place Church

Venue 254

Times various

23 – 27 August

***

This was a very worthy, well-intentioned piece that failed to come completely alive and grab me, though it’s hard to work out quite why.

 

Edith Cavell (born 1865) was a nurse who in 1907, when she was in her forties, was put in charge of a pioneer training scheme for lay nurses in Brussels.  Prior to this, nursing had been done by nuns who, though well-intentioned, had no specific training.  By 1912 L’École Belge d’Infirmières Diplomées was providing nurses for three hospitals, 24 communal schools and 13 kindergartens; by 1914 Edith was lecturing to doctors and nurses.  When war broke out and Belgium was invaded by the Germans, some Allied soldiers were caught behind enemy lines: to be caught was to be killed.  Edith, aware of the implications of her actions, began to shelter and nurse any soldiers who found their way to Brussels and, when they were fit to travel, accompanied them to the outskirts of the city, where a network of people would help them to reach safety in Holland and get to England.  As a member of the Red Cross, she ‘should’ have remained neutral: but her argument was that she was a nurse first, and her duty was to tend every sick or wounded soldier who came her way, regardless of their nationality.  She was betrayed by a collaborator, condemned to death as a traitor and shot at dawn on October 12 1915.  Her last words to the chaplain who visited her the night before were “I expected my sentence and I believe it was just.  Standing as I do in view of God and Eternity, I realise that patriotism is not enough, I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone”.

 

The show begins with the British Foreign Secretary, Edward Grey, reading the proposed public announcement of her execution over the phone to the then Prime Minister.  He is then able to begin the story, and comment on it as the action progresses.  Edith writes to her mother, which enables her to express her feelings and motivation.  Her devoted assistant at the École, Sister Wilkins, is also able to advance the narrative and recount her own feelings: we also meet one of the soldiers Edith helped, some Germans, and the chaplain who was with her the night before her execution.  The short scenes are linked by popular songs of the time and hymns which would have benefited from a more accomplished pianist and better singing.

 

The story was interesting and the acting not bad – why did the show fail to come alive for me?  It felt rather as though it had been devised to put over a particular message, with hymns and some bible passages to underline the message; and though there were some accomplished actors on stage, they were not performing with the passion and energy I have seen in other shows this year, but rather preaching a sermon that had been well-rehearsed but failed to come alive.  The show had the potential to be gripping: a pity that it wasn’t.

 

Mary Woodward

Breakfast Plays: Tech Will Tear Us Apart (?): The Girl in the Machine

2016BREAKFA_TR (1)

Theatre

Traverse Theatre (venue 15)

09.00

16 – 28 Aug (not 22)

****

 Brilliant!

 

Polly and Owen have been together for some years, have been thinking about having a baby together.  Polly, a corporate lawyer, has just been promoted and her career is demanding so much of her attention that, while denying that she is addicted to her phone, she seems barely aware that Owen has a life, a career, and the desire to share his successes with her as well as rejoicing in hers.

 

Polly’s problems begin with the appearance of a new app that seems to have come from nowhere, offering the possibility of creating new songs by dead musicians by sampling their existing works and synthesising key elements into new compositions.  Polly’s firm is engaged in sorting out the complexities of this new legal ‘grey area’ and her new promotion has put her in charge.  Despite attempts to prevent the spread of the app, it goes viral, and an even more disturbing phenomenon appears – it seems that within the programming of the app is a programme that enables people to ‘upload’ themselves into the Internet: their body ceases to function but their consciousness enters the internet, and appears to be able to send messages back to the living.  [Shades of Terry Pratchett’s Going Postal here, with the idea that someone is never forgotten as long as their name is still being spoken…]

 

The death toll rises and Polly is made a scapegoat for what is seen as her firm’s failure to contain/ prevent this: she is sacked.  Fearing that she will never again be employed, she descends into depression and spends even more time attached to her phone, withdrawing further and further from Owen and resisting all his attempts to revitalise their life together…  Society begins to disintegrate as more and more is shut down or destroyed in an attempt to stop the spread of this viral threat, ending up with no gadgets or appliances, and electricity itself being shut off.  Owen remarks that the house is so much better with no appliances in it, and appreciates the silence when all the buzzing stops.

 

The play raises so many questions – the addictive nature of technology, the corporate world’s need for a scapegoat when something goes wrong (“you should have been ready, you should have foreseen this, it’s all your fault”), and the possibility that maybe the Artificial Intelligence itself developed this app – (how did it get through all the security?  There’s no trace of its origin, no trail to show how it arrived).

 

A recurring theme is the search for escape from life’s problems, the idea that “being uploaded” will be a blissful end to the isolation, loneliness and constant procession of thoughts rushing through one’s head, the immense pressure, the bombardment of stimuli, ideas, must dos…  Owen’s desperation is heart-rending as he watches the one he loves disappear in front of his eyes while being powerless to help.  It’s a study in obsession/ addiction: the growing distance between the couple, indicated at the beginning as she sits cross-legged on her chair, hunched round her phone, attentive to it rather than him, is mirrored in the gradual movement apart of their chairs.

 

Despite being an unstaged reading, the characters were real and rounded, and the situation brought vividly to life – the passion is bursting out of the actors and reaching out to hook us and draw us in.

 

Another cracking start to the day – well worth getting up early for!

Mary Woodward

2 become 1

20162BECOME_UG

Musical

Underbelly, Cowgate (Venue 61)

-Aug 28th

16.00

****

I think it’s safe to safe to say that eight long, long, months into 2016 we all long for simpler times. Which is maybe one of the reasons 2 become 1 is such a joyful little show. For an hour we are going back to the land of platform shoes,  Spice Girls and were Philip Schofield is the ultimate DILF. The 1990’s may now be 16 years ago, but it feels a hundred . Get ready to bathe in some rose-tinted nostalgia.

The story, written by Kerrie Thomanson and Natasha Granger is a simple one.  It opens on Jess, hysterically crying into her landline. Her dream man has dumped her, hard. So her squad of girl pals are over to cheer her up and drag her kicking and screaming to try a new dating craze, speed dating.  While the plot is hardly War and Peace it is a glorious nostalgic trip for the audience, packed with great little nods to pop culture and fashion of the time. Of course no 90’s revisit would be complete without some of the songs of the time and the show is stuffed full of them, all with spot-on perfect choreography. Spice girls, Shania Twain, All Saints are all given brilliant live renditions in this warm and funny story about friendship.

It’s expertly done between the 4 leads, all who are extremely funny and each as loveable as the last. Underneath the good humour it does have some very interesting things to say about sex in a time of Girl Power. A time long before we were so reliant on our smart phones to get what we want (what we really, really want).

For an hour sit back, prepare to laugh yourself silly and get swept up in an a Lambrini soaked party of all things 1990.

Martin Miller

 

Sarah Kendall:Shaken

Comedy

Sarah Kendall: Shaken

Assembly George Square Studios (venue 17)

18:45

to August 28

**** stars

If you know your movies, you’ll know that Ferris Bueller had an awesome day off. The kind of day, Kendall says that she as a thirteen year old girl in a small town in Australia, could only dream about. With not much to do and few friends,movies are the one joy she shares with her grouchy mother.  Movies are where the magic in life happens while she’s marooned in the car park next to the cinema.

One day, things change. And just like Ferris, Kendall takes us on a hilarious trip of self-inflicted chaos, of the type that’s best practiced by teenagers.

Having missed the bus, she arrives late at school and in a mess after various events. She impulsively makes up a story to save her skin and big herself up in front of her classmates and the alcoholic school librarian whom she expertly conjures up with one jeering and the other one in a fog. . In her naivety, she doesn’t realise that she has told the type of story that merits serious attention as we learn from the well-acted principal and his expressive double-takes. Things ripple out, uncontrollably, from the principal’s office, to the local media, and to the police. Her schoolmates are impressed, finally she is the centre of attention and something is happening to her. Even when the seriousness of it is beginning to dawn on her,  she just can’t stop embellishing the story. She’s not in the car park anymore, she’s the fabulous star of the story.

But then she’s rumbled. First by the police officer, who never did believe her story, and then by an equally spotty and lowly student in her class who, also longing for attention, makes up a very similar story. She expertly leads us to see that the end is near. It’s just not the ending anyone expected and someone else’s heroism proves to be transformational – not just for her character but for the audience who are left to rethink the whole story.

From the guileless thirteen year old, to the more mature young woman, and the long-suffering sergeant, she conveys each character and their interactions with a verve and conviction that keeps us entranced throughout. Well worth the visit.

Anna Morris: It’s Got to Be Perfect

2016ANNAMOR_V2

Comedy

The Voodoo Rooms (venue 68)

-Aug 28th

15:55

 

****

Ultra posh Georgina, is getting ready for the wedding of the century, her own. She’s been planning it since the days she was born and now she has found herself  a rich man, she has 22 rehearsals to make sure it is absolutely perfect. Each Fringe show is a rehearsal and apparently each show varies massively.

I wasn’t sure I was going to like it at first. I have little to no interest in wedding planning but I could see that Morris was likable and very funny improvising with the audience. By being the rich bitch she gets away with dismissing the crowd, where they live and what they do. It’s fun but at first nothing more. At least it seems so, but Morris has written a brilliantly thought-out narrative. As more and more things start to go wrong with the wedding, like an unfortunate spelling mistake in the invitations, a crazy ex boyfriend wanting her back, she starts to go into total meltdown. Till the audience were rolling about the floor in laughter. To give away any of the plot reveals would be totally unfair. But just know that she plants little seeds of plot throughout the audience that she reaps later in wildly inventive and intelligent ways.

Throw in musical numbers, lots of audience participation, the rudest husband ever and ‘that’ Dirty Dancing lift and you have one of the smartest and best free shows at the fringe.

Martin Miller

 

I SHOULD HAVE LISTENED TO IVOR DEMBINA

2016ISHOULD_AEO

 

COMEDY

The Stand Comedy Club 5 and 6   (Venue 319)

August 16th to 27th   (not 21st)

18.15

***

This is a chat show between audience and performer for much of the time, that is also a work in progress, but none the less deeply enjoyable. Ivor said it was not really review-ready, but then encouraged member so the audience, which included a few other comedians as well as tourists from far away, to suggest phrases that I might include in my review. Suggestions I liked included, “wonderfully engaging, “ “he let us speak,” “tears up the rulebook,” “reveals his personality” , “utterly courageous,” and “you heard it first from Ivor Dembina.”

As well as much witty repartee, Ivor gives out many cards and in turn we ask him the questions thereon. This provokes more interesting debate, as we are a bit of an unruly class. The whole show is very relaxed and unpressured. Clearly no two shows are going to be anything like the same. I would very much recommend this if you want a show where you can enjoy the comedy both on stage and around you. You are sure to leave smiling.

This is only one of three shows Ivor is doing at this Fringe. You can catch him at Laughing Horse @ Finnegan’s Wake (Venue 101) at 13.15 doing Old Jewish Jokes and  Late Night and Free at City Café (Venue 85) at 22.30, both until 27th August.

There are no airs or affectation about Ivor – what you get is the genuine article, and sharp and rib-tickling comedy.

Tony Challis

Care Takers 

2016CARETAK_CD

Theatre

C Chambers Street  (Venue 34)

August  3rd to 29th (Not 15)

18.35

****

This is an intense and involving two-hander consisting entirely of conversations between a Deputy Head Teacher and a new teacher.in an urban, multi-cultural school. The new teacher is increasingly concerned that a vulnerable pupil is being bullied. The Deputy Head is concerned about her own possible promotion to Head Teacher. She does not want to rock any boats, and finds reasons to block the initiatives suggested by the teacher.

The acting by members of Truant Company is of an extremely high standard throughout, and the narrowness of the focus is not allowed to be a reason for any lack of tension. The Deputy Head notes that the teacher is raising an issue of homophobic abuse, and directly questions why, strongly implying that she believes the young teacher to be lesbian. This makes one wonder when the play is set, as there has been employment protection for LGBT teachers for some years now (when I came out to the Head of the school I was working at in the ’90s he didn’t turn a hair, nor should he have,) but this young teacher is very fearful of saying yes or no to this implication.

This is an engrossing story of the conflict between two people who are both shown to have reasons for their behaviour, and are defending what seems very important to them. It also reveals how very dangerous it can be to have an anti-bullying policy on paper yet refuse to put it into practice where it is needed. I would hope that few schools remain where such hypocrisy is practised, but this play vividly shows the great importance of dealing with homophobia in schools as well as elsewhere where it occurs.

Tony Challis

27 Wagons Full of Cotton by Tennessee Williams

201627WAGON_AME

THEATRE

Greenside@ Infirmary Street.(Venue 236)

August  5th to 27th (not 14.21)

16.10

****

We are in 1930’s Mississippi, and a remote rural couple have listened to FDR’s speech, including about being good neighbours. There is more than a little irony there. Depression has made things economically desperate, and Jake (Codge Crawford) has left his wife alone at the same time as a fire starts nearby. He roughly bullies her into saying he was around all evening. Flora (Helen Fox) becomes the victim both of her husband and of Silva (Stephen Carruthers), the man with 27 wagons full of cotton.

This is a devastating portrait of what can happen in terms of sexist abuse where there are no restraining forces, but Flora is not without a voice, and what seeds has she sown?

The acting of all three characters is exemplary here, and the audience is gripped as well as horrified. You may need a strong drink after this one, but it is a theatrical experience very well worth having.

Tony Challis

Big Bite-Size Lunch Hour: Best Bites

2016BIGBITF_PW

Theatre

Pleasance Dome

Venue 23

12.30

6 – 29 August, not 16, 23

****

 The show consists of five of the best plays from the last ten years of Big Bite-Sized breakfast shows, all performed to the accustomed high standard.  No lunch is offered but there are delicious, Scottish, strawberries.

 

All the plays were excellent: some resonated more strongly with me than others.  A Rottweiler facing being put down for a savage attack on two tiny dogs tries to put the case for the defence – “I can’t help it: I’m a Rottweiler and that’s how you people bred me to be” – almost but not quite convinced me.  A cheery know-it-all barman turns out to be The Answer Man, with his irritating little song, who will answer all the deep questions the girl really wants answered, if only she could stop complaining about having just been dumped, and asking rhetorical questions, thus using up her allotted number of questions  (why do people not think before they speak?).  A very Dashiell Hammett hard-boiled and cynical detective, with attendant musically-commenting saxophonist, encounters The Girl in the Red Dress: ‘tec and girl are forced to question whether they or their internal monologues are driving the action and, indeed, whether they are the Big Fish they imagine themselves to be.  A couple of ‘vintage re-enactors’ who are so hooked on the 1940s that they have chosen to make every aspect of their lives truly authentic, until the dilemma they are facing brings them to seek our help and advice.  My favourite, which opened the show, had a couple meeting on a blind date which their Inner Voices were doing their best to scupper the evening and get their particular charge home along and seeking solace in alcohol.  The voices have succeeded on any number of previous occasions, but this time things don’t go according to plan…

 

All five plays are well-written, the characters are generally engaging, the dialogue witty and the situations amusing if somewhat incredible.  It’s a good hour’s entertainment, a nicely contrasting menu of short courses which together make up a delicious light lunch.  Having already seen this group of actors in one of their Big Bite-Sized Breakfast menus, it’s a joy to see them again in yet more widely-differing parts. The set and lighting are extremely simple, and the rapid changes between each play keep our attention engaged: each new situation grabs the audience right from the start, and the applause at the end was loud and long.

 Mary Woodward

 

 

Burns for Beginners

2016BURNSFO_T4

 

Music

Scottish Storytelling Centre (V30)

15, 22 August ONLY

19.00

***

 

This show has enormous potential: I’m very disappointed that, for me at least, it failed to deliver.

 

It was a good concept – demonstrate that Robert Burns is outstanding in so many genres: he wrote the best epic narrative poem, Tam O’Shanter, one of the best satires, Holy Wullie, the best love song of all time, Ae Fond Kiss, and a song which hymns the brotherhood of man and makes bosom friends of total strangers within seconds, Auld Lang Syne.  Unfortunately, the presentation didn’t match up to the idea.

 

The material was potentially good, but- just not put over well.  I had a sense that the words were being said or sung but without the emotional engagement of the performer that speaks directly to the listener, drawing them in and engaging them, speaking straight to the heart.  It was a pity about the singer, whose voice did not seem to be working well:  was she sick?  Why could she not stay within range of the microphone, and thus be better heard?

 

The show itself was a strange mixture of trying to be funny, to send up lit. crit. and academia and interpretation, and ‘giving the common touch’ – I wondered how much would be intelligible to the non-native English speaker – or, indeed, the non-Scot?  To me it fell between any number of stools, and didn’t hit any mark.

 

It’s a pity, because the potential for a cracking show was there, and in moments it took off: it came more to life in Tam O’Shanter – but even there didn’t completely grip me, and as for Ae fond kiss – I was far more deeply moved by the “I’m not a singer at all” singing of the poet Ken Cockburn who took us on a poetry tour Down The Mile than tonight’s singer: he sang it from his heart.  Is it the “I’m a folk singer so you’ll just hear the words and not notice the poor delivery”?  Or was I just not ‘getting it’??

 

Everyone else applauded wildly at the end.

 

Mary Woodward