Nothing ****

Theatre

Summerhall

Until 27th August

0950

 

Nothing is an existential play addressing one of the biggest questions – does life have meaning? According to 13-year-old high school student Pierre-Anthon, the answer is no. Much to his class mates’ despair, on discovering the ‘truth’ he takes to residing in a plum tree where every so often he preaches on his new-found philosophy. The rest of the class set out to prove him wrong.

Based on the novel of the same name by Janne Teller, it is translated to the stage by Pelle Koppel and performed by Mikkel Reenberg and Ane Helene Hovby. Between them, these two incredibly versatile actors play every character in the story, giving each their distinctive voice or physical characteristic so it is always clear who is being portrayed.

The solution that the class comes up with is to create ‘The Heap of Meaning’ for which every class mate sacrifices something of great personal value. With this, they hope to persuade Pierre-Anthon that life does have meaning.

It starts off innocently enough with one girl giving up her prized green sandals, a boy, his fishing rod and so on. As the play progresses and they get caught up in the importance of what they are trying to do, things take an unexpected sinister turn. The rule is that once someone has given up their offering, they can demand what the next person must sacrifice.

The only props onstage are a stack of wooden boxes of varying sizes. These are moved around to create settings, to represent objects and for the actors to stand on during scenes. The actors carry and move the boxes, changing the settings throughout the play without missing a beat, or dropping the storyline.

I found myself focusing more on the dialogue and what was being acted out, rather than watching what they were building next with the boxes: a testament to the strength of their storytelling. While the play does not presume to give a definitive answer to the Big Question, the message I took from it was that life has whatever meaning we ascribe to it.

Sharon Jones

 

 

 

 

Nadine Aisha: The Lady Doth Protest Too Much ****

@Just Festival

18th Aug only

Spoken Word often gets overlooked during the Fringe so I wanted to ensure I got at least one review of a spoken word artist this year. Nadine Aisha is a strong rebellious voice for women of colour and feminists everywhere so I was keen to review her show.

There was a bit of a wait getting into the venue as the microphone had decided to stop working minutes before the show started. The lack of a mic didn’t detract from Nadine’s performance, as in spite of being softly spoken usually, she projected her voice very well and the chapel at St John’s church provided the ideal acoustic setting.

She announced at the beginning that she was going to be talking about Islamophobia, misogyny and racism, and said that anyone who struggled with the subject matter would be free to leave, she would understand and wouldn’t take it personally.

That compassion for others comes through in her poems, especially in Established 1978, one of my favourites from her set. Published in her debut collection, Still it is about a victim Nadine came across in her work at the Rape Crisis Centre and is a beautifully touching poem of solidarity, of recognising another’s pain and saying ‘I understand.’

Raheema Sayed, a young poet Nadine is mentoring shared the stage with her, giving her first public readings of her own work. While she is shy and unsure to begin with, her short poems were good especially Mother Tongue. I found myself moved by her final poem which was written in Urdu, Raheema reading a line first in Urdu and Nadine echoing it in English.

Nadine weaves the stories of her experience as a mixed-race woman who has endured hate-speech from a child and blatant racism on the street, tales she tells us in poems Scotmid and Hopscotch. She speaks out about things women are often told to keep quiet. She is rebel poet raising up other women with her words.

Sharon Jones

 

 

About a Goth ****

THEATRE

  THE SPACES @ SURGEON’S HALL     V53   

AUGUST 5,8,10, 12,15,17,19

22.30

This is a stunning and bravura performance by a young and very promising actor. The character is Nick, who is seventeen and gay and goth. He loves dancing in his pants to the Sugarbabes and Steps. He is obsessed with a straight mate and spends some of his time as a care worker with a grumpy old man. Said grumpy old man will in time and unwittingly have lessons for Nick. Nick hates his family for refusing to reject him for his sexuality. He claims to be an only child, dismissing his somewhat helpful sister. Clearly, a youth of some contradictions.

The role is brilliantly and very imaginatively performed by Clement Charles, a student at Birmingham School of Acting. Nick is first seen slouched in a chair in many layers of goth attire, with cloak, hat, false hair and much make up. As his story is told, with the actor presenting us with a number of voices and characters we feel we come to know, especially the old guy, Clement Charles begins to lose some of his elaborate costume and some of his make up. We begin to wonder – just how far will he go?

This clearly represents his gradual distancing himself from his earlier identity, his divesting himself of goth-ness. There are some inspired touches, as when Nick is hidden behind his chair, and first one and then another bare foot appears, these nimbly representing first one parent, then the other. I’ve not seen that before.

Clement Charles keeps up the flow of dialogue, character and incident as he smoothly removes more and more goth apparel. This is a highly original performance by an actor fizzing with energy, skill and ability. This show was a delight from beginning to end, providing many laughs and displaying real originality.

I very much look forward to the further performance of Clement Charles, who surely has a very successful career ahead of him. This is an actor I could well take my hat off to!

 

Tony Challis

 

A Snowball’s Chance in Hell *****

Dance

C venue

-Aug 28th

1450

As distant ragtime echoes around the darkened room, on a bare set of stretched linen screens and the wooden box and tripod of a hand cranked camera, two half glimpsed figures wait beneath the waves with only a coffee pot of air between them as they advance with fluid movement towards shore bearing with them their own spotlights.

They are Don Strømgren and Gnu Cunningham, played by Jannik Elkær and Kristoffer Louis Andrup Pedersen, choreographers and principal dancers of the Danish physical theatre company Don Gnu, returning to the Edinburgh Fringe following last year’s Dancebase hit M.I.S. – All Night Long. Now housed in Adam House on Chambers Street, the hard floors may be less amenable to tumbles but the auditorium emphasises the theatrical aspects which drive A Snowball’s Chance in Hell.

This year fully dressed following the scant socks and sandals of their previous visit, in flat caps and working mens’ suits speaking of an age of hard industry these are not the typical lithe frames of dancers but instead archetypes of masculinity, barefoot, bearded and solidly built yet with flexibility and exertions testing the limits of the strong seams of their tight costumes.

Segueing into silent movie melodrama at times it is almost Singing in the Rain with all the dance numbers but none of the singing as it considers the shifting priorities of a new medium, here filming versus live performance, the demands of the camera lens set against an audience, but regardless certain rules still apply – find your light, hit your mark, face forward, give the director what he wants.

A performance which could not be more different from the broad pantomime shenanigans and live synthpop musical accompaniment of M.I.S. – All Night Long, there is still humour as the two men alternately compete with and encourage each other, playfully adapting what is to hand to the needs of the moment.

Stripped back down to a two piece outfit the pair make other characters from the objects around them, the freewheeling camera tripod becoming a puppet, and an unruly one at that, while in other moments there is contrast between the two as Pedersen dances in backlit silhouette while Elkær sits alone beholding the unexpected contents of his coffee pot.

Against a gentle backdrop of Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue raising hemlines are teased and gender expectations are confounded before thundering shifts in the tempo return the duo to the slapstick fisticuffs which they enjoy so much; bold, brash and baffling, it is a proud and welcome return to the bizarre world of Don Gnu.

Michael Flett

Ali Affleck’s Speakeasy Sessions ***

Music

@The Jazz Bar

till Aug 27th

times vary

Ali Affleck and The Copper Cats are regular favourites at the Fringe, so I went along to the Jazz Bar to see if they lived up to the hype. I had high expectations for this event, but I was left disappointed. While the Copper Cats were outstanding, I found Ali’s voice to be lacking as the lead vocal. It might just be me, I don’t know a huge amount about jazz apart from knowing what I like, but for most of the set her voice didn’t have the rich quality that the songs demanded.

Having said that, the Jazz bar was packed and most of the audience seemed to be having a great time.  There were a few young couples at the back showing off their old-time dancing, which was most entertaining.

I could have listened to the Copper Cats all night long, indeed my favourite parts were when they performed their solos, or when there was a prolonged instrumental segue. If I had seen the Copper Cats on their own, I’d have given them a solid 4 star review. All very talented and experienced musicians in their own right. They all played beautifully, the trumpet player and the drummer alone could raise the roof of any venue.

Ali does have a lovely voice, and I’m aware that she has won many awards for her vintage style, but I felt she could have chosen songs better suited to her voice. Some of the sexy numbers such as Do Your Duty and My Baby Likes it Slow, left me cold. There was simply no sensual quality to Ali’s voice for these songs. Where she came into her own was during songs like Egyptian Layla which literally rocked the Jazz Bar.

Ali is clearly a versatile singer, she knows her jazz and her jazz history and I wanted so much to like her but it just didn’t happen. I have had many a good night in the jazz bar but this wasn’t one of them.

Sharon Jones

The Phoenix and the Crow

Dance, Physical Theatre and Circus

Sweet Grassmarket

Venue 18

15.35 (run ends 20th Aug)

 

We were given an opportunity to speak with the director after the show – this is a show that is still being developed, and she wanted our feedback.  One audience member queried the lack of story for the Crow, and we were told that the whole show is much longer and had to be seriously cut to fit a Fringe slot.  This explains why he appeared as narrator with little attention being paid to his story – he was the bread in the sandwich of which the story of Shayna and Zakir was the filling.  The venue was extremely small, which must have hampered the dancers, reducing the opportunity for expansive movement and full expression: I look forward to seeing the full show, in a larger venue, at a future Fringe.

Those things apart, this show sparkled and shone.

Shayna, a dancer, and Rahil, a poet, are good friends – the poet wishes they were more. Shayna concentrates obsessively on reaching the pinnacle of her career in the big city, and believes that her latest performance was wonderful.  Rahil tells her plainly that it was empty and heartless.  Shayna is first outraged, but when she sees Nuhoor dance and learns of the ‘dark dancers’, she realises what she is lacking: she must find them and learn from them.  She sets off into the unknown, inviting Rahil to go with her – but he is reluctant to leave the city, although he wants to be with her.  She arrives at the village but can’t contact the dancers: instead, she meets Zakir, who is a guardian of the village – she wants to learn martial arts from him, and he agrees, after she has proved her worthiness by performing unending menial tasks.  She then meets one of the dark dancers, Nuhoor, who reluctantly agrees to train her – and teaches Shayna to reach inside to all the aspects of her femaleness: the dark, ugly and threatening as well as the bright and attractive.  It transforms her dancing – she is now the Phoenix, risen from the flames and incandescent with beauty.  Zakir realises he is in love with her, and discovers that she loves him in return.  Zakir is torn between his love for Shayna and his duty as guardian of the village: he can’t cope, and leaves, while Shayna returns to the city.  It all ends happily for them – but not for Rahil, who realises he, by his timidity and hesitation, has lost the woman he loves.

Jake McGarry made the most of his limited part in the story, and managed subtly to convey hopeless devotion and a broken heart: I look forward to learning more of his story.  Janina Blohm Sievers was an impressive dancer till Pragati Bhatia’s Nuhoor came sinuously onstage, and wiped the floor with her.  Shayna’s transformation from empty airhead to flaming phoenix was fascinating, and owed much to Nuhoor’s example – Pragati has such expressive hands, and such a sinuous body, which delights in its physicality and rejoices in expressing this in dance as she encourages Shayna to develop that same delight.  And then there was Reza Naserri’s Zakir… tall, dark, handsome, with a powerful stage presence and impressive martial arts and movement skills: really, the poor Crow didn’t stand a chance – I can only hope that he will also find a fitting mate.

The audience was small, but extremely appreciative.

 

Mary Woodward

 

Robert Burns: Rough Cut *****

Theatre

Scottish Storytelling Centre

Venue 30

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

 

This show was one of the highlights of my Fringe this year, and in the presence of a master wordsmith I am floundering as I try to put into words why it shone so…

 

We are invited upstairs to the library of the Storytelling Centre, and step back in time to the Edinburgh of Burns’ day as we are invited into the humble room the poet lived in during his stay in the city in the 1780s.

 

Burns himself is there to greet us, and shares with us his frustration with publishers in general and William Creech in particular, and with the hypocrisy of Edinburgh ‘society’ which controls all matters artistic in the city and deplores the use of anything but the [Hanoverian] King’s English, frowning on the poet’s use of his native Scots tongue.  He tells us about some of his exploits – both salubrious and less so – and his amatory adventures: we meet some of Burns’ friends, ‘Clarinda’ and her maid Jenny, and the mysterious Deacon, who presides over an establishment of questionable reputation and appears to have unlimited power and influence in the city.

 

Gavin Paul is simply magnificent as Burns: the magic of his voice, the expressiveness of his language, his chameleon-like changes of mood and manner, and his irresistibly magnetic personality – no wonder he was such a success with the ladies!  He held us all enthralled: if he’d beckoned would we not have gone with him?  The lyrical beauty of Burns’ prose overflowed into poetry and song as he honestly recounted all levels of experience – this was no languid poet, but a full-blooded human being, alive, vivid, joyful, tender, and so passionate in everything he did.

 

How can I say anything that means anything and is not simply tired cliché?  Oh for a poet’s tongue to begin to describe what was enchantment of the highest order: I can’t recommend this show too highly.

 

Mary Woodward

 

All Kidding Aside ****

@TheSpace at Surgeons Hall 1pm until August 26

 

In All Kidding Aside, Christel Bartelse presents a refreshing theatrical comedy based on a life-changing decision. With the help of the audience she explores whether or not she should have a baby.

The show begins with a ‘recording’ of a baby speaking from within the womb, saying thank you to its mother for always ensuring there is enough to eat and for reading The Velveteen Rabbit. The baby exclaims that it can’t wait to meet its mother.

Then Christel Bartelse emerges from curtains beneath a doctors table wearing a grotesque alien-like baby head. I must admit, at that point I wasn’t sure what I had let myself in for.

It’s a unique one-woman-show, she takes her audience with her on her journey towards motherhood. The first stop is her gynaecologist appointment. Here she shares her struggle with endemetriosis, thrashing about on the table to demonstrate how agonizing her periods can be. She has been told by doctors that she is 40% infertile, so in spite of wondering if she wants to have children, she doesn’t even know yet if it’s an option for her.

She seamlessly transitions from acting to speaking to the audience, slipping in and out of character with practised ease. In using comedy, Bartelse gets away with mocking people, playing each character convincingly. In one scene she is having coffee with her friend who has brought her baby daughter along. Christel looks on scornfully as her friend sings a child’s song, doing all the actions to try and soothe her. This is something parents and non-parents can recognise. We all have one friend like that who takes their mother role too far in public. The audience erupts into laughter upon hearing the baby’s name – Austentatious!

All Kidding Aside has many laugh-out-loud moments, but it is also a bold, personal show about Christel’s own very real fears about motherhood. Should she have a baby? Go along and help her decide – the clock’s ticking.

Sharon Jones

 

 

 

 

Meis Julie *****

Theatre

Assembly rooms

-27th Aug

14:30

This adaptation of Stringberg’s Miss Julie set in post apartheid South Africa crackles with tension and passion throughout its 90 minutes with the two leads, Hilda Faber as Julie and Bongile Mantsai as John giving intensely physical and captivating performances as they explore the nature of race and class in a still bitterly divided country.

In this setting writer Yael Faber provides a world  which adds to the original as the extreme isolation of the South African farm house serves as a smouldering hothouse for simmering desires between the two who have grown-up along side each other but who cannot truly understand the lives the other must lead.

Julie is a cruel mistress who teases and provokes John and uses his obvious love for him to humiliate him, but we come to understand that she too is a victim of the dangerous society she lives in: she has very few options to escape her situation as an Afrikaans farmer’s daughter, living in fear of squatters and her absent father. She despises John as a Kaffir and his pent up bitterness is always near the surface yet the sexual energy between the is palpable  from the off.

The melancholy music played  on stage by Xhosa musician Tandiwe Nofirst Lungisa  the sense of a storm arriving and the energy between the characters makes for genuinely electrifying theatre as the play heads towards its inevitable, dramatic climax and the audience is left thinking about terrible inequity that still exists in South Africa and the deep divisions and potential for violence that leaves in place.

Carena Brogan

Rosie Wilby: The Conscious Uncoupling ***

Comedy (Storytelling, Theatre)

Laughing Horse @ The Counting House (Venue 170)

Aug 17-27

1830

 

Rosie Wilby’s comedic background takes a backseat during “Conscious Uncoupling”, instead opting for a deceptively disarming stagecraft. Musing on the coming together and falling apart of a relationship, Wilby uses the narrative refrain of ‘A Christmas Carol’ to provide a gentle and oftentimes heart-aching hour of storytelling

 

At the outset of the show Wilby dons a white bedsheet with miniature sword and shield, and tells the audience she is the ‘Ghost of Future Love’, come from 2070. In the future, she intones, breakups have become callous and uncaring, with partners using text, email, even telepathy to end relationships. She implores the audience to become her ‘warriors of love,’ to restore empathy to romance.

 

From this Wilby launches into the story of a recent girlfriend. Having only experienced Wilby as a comedian, it was a delight for me to experience Willby as a storyteller. The staging is simple and effective: when stood Wilby is speaking after the breakup, rereading old emails shared with her partner, and while sat she relives their early romance, from meeting in a backroom comedy club..

 

At points the pacing of the performance dips dangerously close to lethargy. The seated moments are in particular need of some theatrical aid, as reading from a book severely hampers Wilby’s performance ability. Wilby is clever to intersperse moments of comedy, a flashlight inspired ‘Ghost of Love Past’ being a particular highlight. Unfortunately this is the same technique used to indicate the ‘Ghost of Love Present,’ which was initially confusing for the audience.

 

This is a refreshingly heartfelt story that does not shy away from the more ambiguous ends of relationships. It is a firm foundation, but at points lacks theatrical flair to become fully engaging.

 

Freddie Alexander