EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL.
King’s Theatre. August 14, 15, 16 8.00 pm August 17 3.00 pm.
⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4 stars)
EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL.
King’s Theatre. August 14, 15, 16 8.00 pm August 17 3.00 pm.
⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4 stars)
RED DUST ROAD. EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL
August 14, 15, 17, 18 7.30 pm August 15, 17 2.30 pm August 16th 1.00 pm
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (5 stars)
Edinburgh International Festival
Gluck – Orfeo ed Euridice
19:30 15 August only
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (5 stars)
Sublime! Incomparable! It’s a glorious piece of music even if badly sung but last night Welsh counter-tenor Iestyn Davies poured his heart and soul into the part of Orfeo and Sophie Bevan’s Euridice lived up to the picture Orfeo had painted of her in his grief at her death.
It’s a simple story: Orfeo’s love Euridice has died, and Orfeo is heartbroken. Amor, the god of love, offers him a way to get her back from Hades. If he is prepared to face the horrors of the underworld, he can bring her back to life – but he must not look at her nor explain anything to her: if he so much as looks at her on the way back to the surface, she will die again, and forever.
Orfeo overcomes his fears and goes to meet the furies of hell: his grief placates their wrath and they let him pass: he finds himself in the realm of the blessed spirits, and is reunited with his love. He is overjoyed, but Euridice can’t understand why he won’t touch her or look at her: why is he so sad? What has gone wrong? Does he no longer love her? Her anguish causes him torment as he restrains himself from responding to her pleading – but at last, as she fears she is dying once more, he can no longer resist his feelings. He turns to look at her – and she dies for a second time. In some versions of the story Orfeo is left to lament for ever: in this version Amor, convinced of the power of Orfeo’s love, rewards him by bringing her back to life and the lovers are united in praise for the power of the god of love.
With no elaborate sets or props to distract us we were focused solely on the music and the singing. Iestyn Davies is not simply a superb singer: he is also an accomplished actor, even in modern dress, and while doing very little, he conveys subtly but unmistakably the agonies he is suffering – then his voice bursts out and our hearts are torn with grief for him.
We had to wait for Sophie Bevan’s entrance until after the interval, but she too had our hearts bleeding as she poured out her joy at being alive again and seeing her beloved husband but her joy swiftly turned to anguish and confusion as her husband failed to give a single sign of his love for her. Indeed, he seemed to her to have stopped loving her as his curt commands to her to follow him, and quickly, grew more and more stern as his desperation to bring her back with him increased.
The music – ah, the music! Of course there is the famous che faro senza Euridice – the agonised outpouring of the lover who for the second time is bereft of his beloved, and can’t see how he can continue to live without her. But there was so much more: the superb orchestra and choir of the English Baroque, conducted by Bernard Labadie; the solos, [a lovely cameo for Rowan Pierce as Amor], the choruses, the exquisitely pain-filled duet as the lovers express their individual anguish; the way the orchestra builds and underlines the emotions – pounding heart, terror, agony, despair, pleading, desolation and finally unexpected joy.
Presented here in the simple, first version of Gluck’s masterpiece, it was pared down to the bare minimum, with the suite of dances before the final chorus allowing us to come back to earth after the extreme emotional rollercoaster we’d been on.
Thunderous applause greeted soloists, conductor, chorus and orchestra, with Iestyn looking very small and quiet and ordinary for such an extraordinary singer – almost as if he were wondering what all the fuss was about – or just maybe, like Orfeo, coming back to earth after such a harrowing experience.
In Conversation with … Nicola Sturgeon
The Stand’s New Town Theatre, v7
15:40 (15 August only)
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (5 stars)
Politics apart, I’ve always had a great admiration for Nicola Sturgeon. This was greatly amplified by an encounter with her last year when I was resting after giving blood and she was doing a tour of the blood donor centre as part of a drive to get more Asian people to donate. The first thing she saw of me was my boots, and so we fell into conversation about them: I mentioned the [considerable] number of pints of blood I had donated so far, and she was very warm in her appreciation. What really impressed me, however, was when, at the end of a considerable amount of p.r. stuff, she caught sight of me snarfing tea and Tunnocks in the cafe area and called out further appreciation of my achievement – her people skills are more than considerable, they are bloody brilliant!
So it was with great delight that I went to her session in the In Conversation With… series at the Stand’s New Town Theatre. Last year I had been extremely impressed with SNP MP Mhairi Black: now I was going to hear the First Minister of the Scottish Government, who received a standing ovation, with cheers and applause, before she’d even opened her mouth.
Graham Speirs was her interviewer, and he went immediately to Boris… It was most interesting to hear Ms Sturgeon make her opinions very plain, without descending to abuse or belittling – would other politicians could learn from her! She talked of him as a charmer who emits a stream of words which provide a convenient smokescreen to hide the complete lack of content in the words, and when being asked about his visit to Bute House, when he attempted to [quite literally] hand her in to her own house, said “I decided I wisnae havin’ it”.
There was of course a lot of questioning about Brexit, and the possibly increased prospect of Scottish Independence if there is a no-deal Brexit. Once again there was no bombast, no heady rhetoric, but a steadfast determination to do everything in her power to further the best interests of Scotland. She was outspoken in her questioning of the [reported] anti-no-deal majority in the Westminster parliament – why can they not co-operate, consider every possibility, and agree a solution, setting party politics aside to work together for the greater good? As an aside she added “it is possible to think more than one thing at a time – if you’re a woman…”
There was conversation around working with three different Prime Ministers during her time as First Minister and with members of other political parties, and whether it is possible to be friends with people holding political opinions differing radically from her own – of course it is, she said: she tries to work constructively with everyone even if she doesn’t get on with them or have much trust in them.
She didn’t come from an actively political family: Margaret Thatcher was in power while Ms Sturgeon was at school – she may not have agreed with her policies but acknowledged that, while doing nothing in particular to advance the cause or position of women in society, the fact that she was Prime Minister did make it possible for girls and women to contemplate a future in politics – or elsewhere – at the highest level.
Again and again she emphasised the importance of respecting the opinions of people who differ from one’s own, of not demonising “other”, and of her commitment to confirming Scotland as a country offering a warm welcome to everyone, where there is no place for bigotry, racism, homo- or transphobia. Upon being asked “what makes a person Scottish?” she replied if you think of yourself as Scottish, if you think of Scotland as your home, you’re as Scottish as I am. This, like so much else she said in that all-too-brief hour, was treated with loud applause and cheering – which was repeated, with many people on their feet, as she left the platform to go back to her day job.
THEATRE (New Writing)
PLEASANCE DOME (Venue 23)
August 16th-26th, 16.10
The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is an eclectic mix of artistic wares – sometimes a hit, sometimes a miss, and sometimes, you are faced with a performance that sits on a pedestal atop Fringe mountain – and my god, does E8 belong up there.
The performance begins the moment you enter the theatre, with Polly, the headteacher of an Pupil Referral Unit, and Bailey, a difficult, but ultimately, misunderstood student, determined to start and finish every fight. Both are busy in a simple classroom set, with audience thrust on three sides. They are soon joined by another student, Ryan, and Mo, a member of staff with what seems like a similar upbringing to both students.
It becomes immediately clear that E8 is set in the East End of London, specifically Central Hackney, with dialogue that pours out like poetry, albeit an almost alien language, with colloquialisms that would put the Scottish dialect to shame. The snappy back and forth of sometimes just single words was almost hypnotic, and it’s very obvious that writer, Marika McKennell has a background in spoken word, both writing and performance.
The drawbacks to this style of writing however, is that it isn’t always quite so fluid, and there are moments that feel awkward and clunky, especially between both staff members, Mo and Polly. Whether the writing is a little lacking, or the performance is missing authenticity, I’m not entirely sure. There were flashes of brilliance, intertwined with moments which dragged a little. Perhaps the single scene nature of the play was also somewhat to blame.
This haphazard writing also stretched into the stage directions, with exits and entrances which felt contrived, and purely to get cast members out of the way, for the next section of dialogue. A few minor tweaks here and there could easily smooth these out, but it was a little too obvious for my liking. Similarly, the character Ryan was lacking in depth or even much of a purpose, and I’m not sure this was actor Harry McMullens fault.
However, Alice Vilanculo’s protrayal of Bailey is a sight to behold – a terrifyingly honest insight into a student falling into the cracks of the system. It’s a masterclass in characterisation, down to the tiny details of twitches and quirks. Wholly believable, and Vilanculo delivers some of the best dialogue when perched atop a cupboard – every description of the horrors she had witnessed felt like a punch to the stomach, and the words will resonate with me for some time.
I would also like to hugely congratulate the beauty in the BSL performer, signing the performance. An additional character lurking in the background, I sometimes found myself watching the wonderful portrayal of the sometimes nonsensical words. It’s a shame she isn’t highlighted in the programme insert, because from costume to character, I was hugely impressed.
E8 is an all too real reflection on the many issues faced by thousands of students in our education and care system. With a little love and care, it’s new writing that could flourish into a masterpiece. It’s heartbreaking, but with moments of hope and light. It’s a story that needs to be told, and it’s a problem that needs to be addressed.
And E8 is theatre that needs to seen.
COMEDY (MUSICAL THEATRE)
GOT A TEXT: A MUSICAL PARODY
GILDED BALLOON PATTER HOOSE (Venue 24)
August 16th-26th, 13.45
How do you parody a television show like Love Island, when it is already a parody of itself? Well, just ask the cast of ‘Got A Text: A Musical Parody’ at the aptly named Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose – a musical full of laughs, witty jokes and memorable (and sometimes purposely non-memorable) characters.
The show begins with a ‘behind-the-scenes’ style casting reel, as the audience enter the space, relaying the stereotypes often found on the reality programme – and they really don’t hold back with the punches, labelling ‘The Token Welsh’ and ‘The Slutty One’ on the clapperboards! It cleverly set the scene for what we were about to encounter in the villa.
A colourful cast with massive personalities wove all the aspects of Love Island into the 60 minute parody, with numerous texts designed to torture the contestants with tasks and twists. A highlight was the introduction of a new potential man, pulled from an unsuspecting audience. Cut to a quick improvised interview, and much hilarity – don’t sit in the aisle unless you’re ready for a Welsh grilling!
Although I spent most of the show laughing at the clever script, I did find myself occasionally cringing at the musical numbers – the enthusiastic accents did make understanding the lyrics difficult, so we missed several of the sung jokes. And I am never a fan of musicals which alter lyrics to well-known songs, as they can often be clunky, and defy the songs natural rhythms – and there were a few instances of this.
My only other problem was with the casting itself – if you’re going to parody a reality television show as absurd and dripping in stereotypes as Love Island, you really need to commit. I need peroxide hair, tramp stamp tattoos, awful fake tans – and that’s just the men! This, however, is not to say the cast weren’t a talented group, but it’s hard to kiss one’s biceps, when one’s biceps are somewhat sparing…
A special mention must go to Erin, our Essex beauty therapist. I could have watched a one woman show based on her life, before, during and after the Love Island antics. I was constantly in hysterics, and it’s her performance that jumps the review up and extra star. A hugely physical and terrifyingly accurate portrayal.
All in all, if I can only complain about a little accent enunciation, lyrical lumpyness and a lack of biceps, then a new comedy musical at the Fringe is doing pretty well! I entered the theatre with somewhat low expectations, and exited with cramp from laughing and a desire to go and bulk watch the last series of Love Island – well, that’s maybe pushing it.
Lads, OMG, I Got a Text… This show is totes funny AF – it’s proper worth it, babes. #Fringebinge
Breakfast Plays: The Future is…
Traverse Theatre, v15
09:00 (13-25 August, various days)
⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (5 stars)
Another cracking play to start the day! Work-Life by Diane Stewart is another three-hander excellently directed by Becky Hope Palmer. At first, I thought it was going to be three completely separate monologues but the characters’ lives intertwined more and more closely, both literally and figuratively, as the play progressed.
Katie is working in a warehouse, packing customers’ orders with the ‘assistance’ of an electronic device to which she talks incessantly: its intermittent beeping could lead you to suppose it is responding – Katie certainly talks to it as though it can understand as she vents her feelings about Jamie Oliver, wonders how soon she will be obsolete and reassures the machine it won’t be let go, it’ll just be upgraded – and if it does stop working, it won’t know. She appreciates the fact that the machine always listens – people where she works are too busy to listen or speak to each other, and she works such long hours she’s always tired and ready to go to bed. Suddenly there is a broadcast message [that sounds as though it’s coming from underwater – she can’t believe it, thinks it’s a joke, but when it’s repeated, realises that it’s real: her job has been ‘terminated’. She reassures the machine that it will be okay – it can always be reprogrammed and given new skills: but still can’t really believe she has to go – there’s so much else she wants to tell the machine.
She goes, and someone else comes on whose name and purpose are unclear as she enthuses about the wind being the one thing that feels right, and asserts that she is ‘actively making a difference – not like most people’ as she lives her solitary life in what is quite a harsh environment. Other people “will work and they will die, and they will never live” – she will make a difference!
Cut back to Katie, who is facing the press and refusing to say she blames the machines: she appreciates their design. She is at home later and is surprised by the arrival of a friend from way back when [whose name we never learn] who has come to see if Katie is okay. She doesn’t receive the welcome from Katie which she seems to expect, and is somewhat taken aback when her offers of help are refused.
Her friend’s monologue reveals her own unthinking compulsion to buy the things that Katie worked her butt off to pack: seeing Katie on TV has made her question her actions: it’s so easy to browse, to click, to buy – stuff she ends up not using… She muses about the weirdness of her relationship with her delivery drivers: she can track their every move and they could know just about everything there is to know about her life. She wants to ‘do her bit’ – or, more honestly, to seem to be doing her bit: sometimes trying to make the ‘right’ choice paralyses her. Seeing Katie on the TV made her realise she is to blame, and that she has to change herself and everything else – but her addiction to Stuff seems too deeply embedded for her to realise it exists: she will simply end up “buying better stuff from better shops”…
The eco-warrior turns up at Katie’s house – it’s her mum! An acutely observed mother-daughter non-conversation ensues: when her mum leaves Katie observes that everyone has answers, everyone wants to tell me what to do: she’s never had time to think what she want to do, she’s been too busy working – but now she has time. The next step she takes is perhaps not surprising – but what she discovers and what transpires is not necessarily what you might be expecting…
It’s an intense play with a lot of incidental humour in it which features three superb performances from Dawn Sievewright as Katie, Neshla Caplan as her friend, and Gail Watson as her mum. The two young women’s situations were clearly and sympathetically presented, and some answers suggested – but no real solution offered to the possibly insoluble problem of increased mechanisation and computerisation putting
more and more people out of jobs in a society which only values you if you are able to work. What I found most interesting was that Katie’s mother, who felt she’d got it all right, was doing all the right things, and, to be honest, rated herself rather more highly than the rest of humanity, was no less complicit in the environmental mess we’re in than anyone else.
Another wake-up call – and yet again I wonder how many of the enthusiastic audience would leave the theatre seriously intending to change their ways…
I am Mark
Scottish Storytelling Centre, v30
17:30 (run ends 17 August)
⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4 stars)
I’m really swithering over the stars: three or four? In the end, I decided on four because it was a compelling performance which happened to be of material I knew too well for comfort. The Gospel According to St Mark is narrated ‘live as it happened’, as if for the first time to an audience who had never heard it before, telling the good news of Jesus’ life and teaching, the parables he taught, the miracles he performed, the storm of opposition whipped up by the official Holy Men who couldn’t cope with the revolutionary message he preached, his trial and ultimate terrible death.
And it was fascinating hearing the slightly abridged narrative, rather than reading it, whether in bits or all the way through it’s also presented very differently from the small chunks dished up by the priest in my catholic childhood and young adulthood. It’s only when you hear it all the way through that you realise just how pared down Mark’s account of Jesus’ life is – not a lot of teaching, only a few parables: a lot of miracles: no sermon on the mount, no feeding of the five thousand, a very short last supper: most noticeable of all, no resurrection and appearance to his friends after his death – just three women going to the tomb to anoint Jesus’ body and finding the huge stone rolled away so that they could get in and see a young man dressed in white who told them Jesus was no longer there, that he was going before them into Galilee as he had promised, and to go tell the others. But the women didn’t go and tell the others: they just ran away because they were afraid.
So, almost against my will I was impressed as the over-familiar words were made new: part of me wishing I could be hearing them for the very first time indeed, to see what effect they would have. Stefan Smart does a very good job of making the characters come alive, and setting the scene with only a chair to help him. He also involves his audience throughout – offering us the opportunity to sample the locusts and wild honey John the Baptist lived on in the wilderness, and sharing bread with them at the last supper, and speaking directly to us as though we were his personal friends. He smiled a lot, which at first made me think uneasily of fervent evangelicals trying to convert me: but I think he was trying to convey Mark’s joy in the story he was telling us – it’s unusual, and slightly unsettling to see someone smiling so much isn’t it?
We were invited to stay behind and have a conversation with Stefan – I should have liked to engage with him and find out why he has taken this performance to so many places; why this is his second year at the Fringe; and what his audience makes of the show – whether it changes their lives in any way or if they simply see it as ‘just another Fringe show’. If it’s evangelising it’s a more striking way of bringing people to Jesus’ teaching than either being harangued by earnest people in the street or many of the sermons I’ve endured. If it’s simply a one-man show, I have to say it’s a
good one – admittedly with a cracking script written a couple of thousand years ago… The audience seemed very appreciative and in no hurry to leave.
ADVENTURES OF BUTT BOY AND TIGGER.
theSpace on the Mile V39
August 2nd to 24th (not 11, 18) 22.00
⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4 stars)
theSpaces @ Surgeon’s Hall V53
August 12th to 17th 20.15
⭐⭐⭐ (3 stars)