REVIEW: RATTIGAN’S NIJINSKY 🌟🌟🌟

THEATRE

RATTIGAN’S NIJINSKY    

theSpace @ the Surgeon’s Hall V53

August 18th to 24th    09.50

🌟🌟🌟 (Three Star)

It is 1974 and the ageing and famous playwright Sir Terence Rattigan is in his office preparing the script for a BBC television play about what he considers, “the greatest love story since Romeo and Juliet,” that between the ballet impresario Diaghilev and the amazing dancer Nijinsky. At the same time we see scenes play out where Nijinsky begins his dance training, and where he meets Diaghilev and his wife, Romola.
The play has to be transmitted soon or it will be put back years by a massive Shakespeare project, and will the ill and drink-addled Rattigan survive? Romola does not want her late husband’s memory affected by the truth, and threatens Rattigan. Rattigan cannot bear the publication of the truth either. Who will win?
KGS bring another very accomplished performance to the Fringe, with a large and able cast, bringing to life this very involving play by Nicholas Wright. The staging is excellent, and the audience quickly adapt to the movement across time. Alexander Clay is especially good and arresting as Rattigan, showing us a tormented man, who has not moved with the times, and still keeps within him all the shame about his sexuality that belongs to a previous, pre-law reform era, despite having a quite self-revealing lifestyle. He is a kind of anti-hero, a tragic figure, in effect. Matti Musk is a very well observed Nijinsky, showing us the dancer’s ability, his self-regard, his religious obsessions, and his decline.
This youthful company brought a very fine update of Kafka, Joseph K, last year, and again they present a show that is very well worth getting along early for. This is a distinctive and very well-produced show, with which director Stuart Crohill should be very pleased, and is a rarely told story that is well worth engaging with.
TONY CHALLIS

Review: FIRST TIME  🌟🌟🌟🌟

THEATRE

FIRST TIME  

Summerhall   V26 – 16.15

July 31st to August 25th (not 12th and 19th)

🌟🌟🌟🌟 (Four Star)

This is a captivating, dynamic and moving show written and performed by Nathaniel Hall. He charms us and brings us onside with his opening, where he appears to be unready for our arrival, and dizzy and confused after a hard night out. We soon become aware that this is a guy who is thoroughly in command of every gesture, and deeply professional. He tells us of problems at school, and also of his intimate encounters with the deputy head boy, who is far from out, and seen to be close to a girl at the prom. Our hero looks very good in his cream tuxedo for the school Prom.
It is at this time that his life takes a different turn. He meets a somewhat older guy on a bench, someone he has noticed, and something develops….. it is quite some  time later that he learns that this first time has left him with a permanent memoir. He finds himself to be HIV positive. He takes us with him as a deeply distressed and unconsoled teenager has to face this situation in the early noughties, with medication having sever side effects. His technique for telling us how he lives his life afterwards allows us to be entertained at the same time as involved.
A good deal of valuable information about living with HIV is provided, including the very important message about being undetectable –  that with today’s medication, people being treated for HIV are unable to transmit the infection – thus Nathaniel could be the safest person in the room to have sex with.
He tells us about his more recent achievements, including reading out a personal message at an AIDS vigil.
This may make the show sound a little heavy. Not a bit of it. This is a very fresh and very enjoyable show, performed by a very engaging and talented actor, with many laughs and many unexpected turns. But it is a show with an important and heartfelt message, and a story of a life similar to many that have been lived by those in our community, and it is an experience well worth having.
TONY CHALLIS

Review: Kathryn Joseph: From When I Wake 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Kathryn Joseph: From When I Wake

Summerhall 20:00

Run Finished

🌟🌟🌟🌟 (Four Star)

For three nights at Summerhill, Kathryn Joseph entices audiences with theatricality and poise, hygienically arranged and paired with her hard stares around the intimate room as she speaks into the souls of her observers.

The set alone, designed by James Johnson, with its multiple mirrors, small and big, with an upright piano fashioned in the foreground, is enough to induce the feeling of being in a musical hall of mirrors. Then enters Joseph, draped in some eighteenth century attire, in silence, staring at the audience. She absorbs the anxieties within the room amid the applause, and puts them to work through her set. Her opening track, ‘IIII’, fills the room with haunting. The opening words are spoken in a cracked whisper: ‘From when I wake the want is/And you survived/Tell my lover and it will lick you clean/There’s no god but you, safe/We’ve been loved by our mothers/Mouths full of blood, mountain, weight’. The mood is set. We, the spectators, are to be absorbed in her melodic lifeworld.

At first, it is easy to embrace Joseph’s unique vocals, many times over compared to Joanne Newsome’s. However, I eventually began to feel welcomed, yet uneasy by it. The vulnerability in her voice, its crackled pyrotechnics, like a firework display, immersed me into the pure spectacle of the performance, with its primal acrobatics. Indeed, I saw favour in her vocal ability to meander between the grooves of her phantom show. Most evident is this ability in ‘Safe’, where her Scottish accent takes centre stage. With crisp enunciation coloured with controlled and meditated chaos, she declares ‘I’m almost out of mind’.

The show comes to an end with a reflection on the here-and-now, the maternal, the stable, the centred. A familial glow colours the end of the performance in her closing song ‘^^’: ‘He has my heart/She is my blood/And I am made full’. The resolution is made sure, firmly within the domestic. And yet the expressive charge in the rest of the performance: the coloured changes in the dimmed lighting, the dramaturgy of her wine sips, the soft, but rough-edged distortion of Joseph’s vocal charge place this show as something beyond. It is a matter, therefore, of mediating her roles as a mother and wife, while fully participating in deep catharsis.

While the delivery of the show may be uncomfortable for some, Joseph teaches as well as entertains us, of the innate spirituality, the spirit of the feminine, that doubtless characterises human nature. It is a quality that, perhaps in this present cultural phase, needs to be underlined and understood: the feminine within all, and our duty to embrace it.

 

Joshua Kaye

Review: The Greatest Theatrical Event… Ever! 🌟🌟

Theatre

The Greatest Theatrical Event… Ever!

Paradise in the Vault – The Annexe

20:30 (ends 25th August)

🌟🌟 (Two Star)

Flashback to a week ago when I was walking up the Royal Mile and I saw some people in Edwardian dress handing out flyers with pins attached to them. Flashforward to me walking into the theatre for The Greatest Theatre Event…Ever! (yes, that’s the name), finally having worked out the name of the show, but still in a relative state of confusion, which the show itself did nothing to alleviate but in fact, contributed to.

The Greatest Theatre Event…Ever is a 3 person play that takes you through the history of The Carlisle, a theatre which seems to have a habit of spontaneously combusting. It is essentially a series short sketches that are altogether rather random, but full of 4th wall breaks and one-liners that do manage to make you laugh. The different sketches within the show are explained by at least one of the narrators, and although they would be rather confusing without an introduction, the shortness of each scene gives the show a patchy feel, which means it doesn’t seem to be leading anywhere in particular. The narrators didn’t particularly add much to the show in the end apart from some exposition which only contributed to the show’s issue of patchiness. The show couldn’t decide what it was or wasn’t trying to be, and by the end, if asked I wouldn’t be able to say whether it was a comedy, a critique on social issues, or a satire about theatre.

The show was rather ridiculous and works if the aim is to make fun of theatre and the different stereotypes that exist within it and the arts in general. Apart from that, there isn’t much to it. The storyline – if it exists at all – is hectic and only really makes sense if you have caught and remembered all of the names that were dropped throughout the play. Sure, there aren’t many but at the time of that particular scene with that particular character, it doesn’t seem important because there doesn’t seem to be a connection. The actors had a lot of information that they were trying to get out very quickly, though much of it gets lost because of sheer volume that is being directed at you. This non-stop exposition gets very tiring very quickly.

I started to wonder if the show would change at all if some element was removed, and I decided that it wouldn’t. This either means that everything within it is either completely necessary or unnecessary. My conclusion was the latter.

I left the theatre in the same state of confusion that I had before seeing The Greatest Theatrical Event… Ever, slightly alleviated by the fact that I now understood where I got the initial impression that it had something to do with the Titanic. I by no means would call this the greatest theatrical event ever and calling it by that name is definitely a case of false advertising, for it is mediocre at best. Whilst this show fits with the experimental spirit of the Fringe, it just falls short of being an experimental show that is worth seeing.

Katerina Partolina Schwartz (Twitter: @katpschwartz)

Review: MYRA DUBOIS: DEAD FUNNY 🌟🌟🌟

COMEDY

MYRA DUBOIS: DEAD FUNNY

Underbelly Bristo Square: Buttercup

August 1-25th (not 22nd, 23rd) – 3:55pm

🌟🌟🌟 (Three Star)

Myra Dubois is quite a character. She is quick witted, charismatic and brings her own unique charm to each audience she comes into contact with.

It was frustrating then that I left this year’s show feeling a little…underwhelmed.

As I enter the Buttercup venue, it is filled to capacity. An instrumental version of “I Know Him So Well” plays as a tribute to Myra is shown on the multimedia screen: “Goodbye Yorkshire’s Rose”, it states. Myra bursts out to the stage, thankfully alive, and greets her audience to humungous cheering.

Her crowd work is second to none, and she tears the audience to pieces with absolute ease, all in classic tongue-in-cheek style. Her improvisation is what works the best in this show. It is the structure of the whole show that lets it down somewhat. Myra is keen for the show to be all about her, as she lets us know in acerbic style at the beginning of the show. She has decided that a funeral setting is the best way for all the attention to come her way. However as the narrative of the show progresses, this theory seems to unwind.

The character of Myra is unapologetically selfish, and this is one of the best things about her. However, the introduction of other characters in her life, her sister and mother, take away from this attention that Myra so desperately wants for herself. Myra’s persona is too selfish, loud and brash for me to care about these other people. I began to find myself becoming detached as an audience member later on in the show, when Myra calls her sister on Skype. The jokes are there and the jokes are funny, I just wasn’t interested in any potential feeling I should have had for anybody but Myra. Too much of the show has a narrative that, in the end, didn’t thrill me.

Despite these criticisms, the show remains enjoyable. Myra Dubois can fill a room and keep an audience laughing for a full hour, non-stop. That is something that takes talent.

James Macfarlane

REVIEW: SYMPHRONICA 🌟🌟🌟

   

MUSIC

SYMPHRONICA        

theSpace @Niddry St.   V57

August 12th to 24th  20.50

🌟🌟🌟 (Three Star)

This is a lively, engaging and foot-tapping hour in the company of Ron Davis’ SymphRONica, who are regulars on BBC Radio 3. We have almost a small jazz orchestra, with Ron on the keyboard, plus guitar, bass, drums, two violins and cello.
The music played ranges across the world, with some numbers, understandably, coming from Ron Davis’ native Canada, a stimulating tango coming from much further south, and a good deal that stems from the European classical tradition. We hear jazz that has its roots in Bach and even roots in a movement from a Beethoven string quartet.
Each number is counted in by Keith Barrett on guitar, who gives a very distinctive character to the proceedings and repays close attention. The environment of the relatively small room means that the audience is close to the players, and can appreciate every note. The whole hours was agreeable and enjoyable.  The applause was enthusiastic after each number, and we left humming one of a number of tunes, and at least mentally dancing up the street.
TONY CHALLIS

REVIEW: UNICORN PARTY  🌟🌟🌟

THEATRE

UNICORN PARTY  

ZOO Playground   V186

August 11th to 26th (not 18th)    18.50

🌟🌟🌟 (Three Star)

This is a highly original, scatty, delightful and disturbing show. Performer Nick Field has done his research on the topic of unicorns, and a fascinating subject it turns out to be. Everything is presented with a lightness of touch and great confidence. Some things happen which would give problems to a less assured and skilful performer.
We are reminded of how queer culture is assimilated and used by the mainstream, for its own advantage, of the invasion of all aspects of our life by corporate interests, and of the danger of not noticing to whom we are giving power – of looking away and thinking only of the pleasures of the moment. The unicorn, first popularised in bronze age India, is seen as an emblem of power, and its power may be desired and the creature may be hunted.
Which all makes this show seem heavier than it is. It is to be embraced in a party spirit, but attention is given to the different meanings of the party. There is no lack of sugar – this guy clearly does not believe that he is sweet enough, and wants to experience more sugar. Nick Field cooks up the interest and the fun, all very smoothly. If you are one of the people invited to participate then you are fortunate and should relish the action.
This colourful show creates the sense of a party from early on, but there is a transformation which raises further questions.
The show will leave you with more knowledge about unicorns than you thought you needed, but it all slips down very agreeably, and you may want to go home and make your own horn of sugar, or even your own unicorn.
Nick Field is to be congratulated on creating a very distinctive show, one that is much fun and is entertaining throughout and has a good deal to say.
TONY CHALLIS

REVIEW: DAVID BENSON – CATO STREET 1820  🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

THEATRE

DAVID BENSON – CATO STREET 1820    

Pleasance Courtyard  V33

July 31st to August 18th (not 12th)   15.15

 

David Benson here takes us into the world of discontent, plots, sedition and public executions of the early nineteenth century. The Cato Street conspiracy receives much less attention and is less well known then such events as the Peterloo Massacre, recently covered in an excellent film.
David Benson takes us back to the world of executions as mass public entertainment, referring to Thackeray’s witnessing of one, and then building up to what happened to the conspirators of Cato Street.  He strikingly becomes each disgruntled plotter, characterising them in a few expressions and words. We feel their optimism and enthusiasm as they see a great opportunity to achieve their revolutionary aims. Benson details just what happens with the form of execution used for treason centuries back, and with the more modest – but still lethal and horrifying – process these men face.
Songs connected to the rebellion are included and we are enjoined to take part in the chorus lines, something that was done with enthusiasm when I was at the show. “Oh give me death or liberty” was resounding in my ears after I had left the venue. Links are made to events and attitudes of two centuries ago and today.
There is humour as well as horror in Benson’s account, and there are chances for audience members to show their knowledge.  Considerable research has gone into this show, which is presented with deep feeling and commitment. We almost feel we are living with these conspirators through their actions and words.
David Benson has a brilliant track record in one-man shows, having won Fringe firsts with his Kenneth Williams and with Lockerbie: Unfinished Business, and this is another of his superb successes. Here is a darker side to society, the desire for change, tragically poorly planned and not executed, and a catalogue of characters and incidents brought to life by a master actor.
TONY CHALLIS

Review: Neither Here Nor There 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Spoken word

Neither Here Nor There

Summerhall, v26

19:15 (ends 25 August)

🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 (Five Star)

I’m not sure quite what I was expecting from this show: what I got was a delightful hour spent in scintillating company, with the added bonus of fruit!

A small group of people gathered in Summerhall’s courtyard beside the placard saying “Neither Here Nor There”, and began making conversation on the lines of ‘oh hallo, have you come far? what brought you here?’ We were led on a short walk out of the courtyard, on to the street, back in through Summerhall’s front door and along a corridor to what, in the daytime, is the café, where we found tables and chairs waiting for us – and the aforementioned FRUIT: loads of it, which we were invited to eat. I fell on it, having had a particularly fruit-less week.

Our hosts Jo and Sonia gradually revealed the format for the evening by example. A bell chimed, and we were told that this would be our six-minute sign. Jo began, talking seemingly randomly but always interestingly, and stopped as the chimes signified her time was up. Among the things she mentioned, very significantly [with hindsight] was people’s tendency to polarise in conversation – to state individual [often diametrically opposed] points of view and stick to them, leaving the whole middle ground between them unexplored [and maybe, I would add, without ever really listening to the person with whom they were talking].

We sat in pairs and were handed a card with a question on it: one person answered while the other sat and listened, without commenting, interrupting or questioning. When the six minutes were up, the listener was given a card with a different question. None of the questions had simple yes/no answers, most could be interpreted in a variety of ways, and all of them gave scope for going as deeply into a subject as one chose. I felt free to answer as simply or as complicatedly as I chose, revelling in being listened to attentively, and being able to give my full attention to what my partner said when they were speaking. At various points, we changed partners. Finally, we were instructed to Review: Neither Here Nor There 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟indulge in “general chat” and then, most reluctantly, invited to leave as our time was up.

It sounds so simple: it was so profound.

I had intense exchanges with Sarah Jane, Charlie, and Sonia, and loved every minute of it. It is a fascinating discipline to keep silent and simply listen to someone, and equally fascinating to be allowed uninterrupted space in which to talk: when Sarah Jane’s time was up she found it hard to believe she’d been talking for six minutes… I really appreciated the depth from which people were led to speak, and was sorry to have to part from each of my conversation partners, feeling that there was so much more to explore with them, and enjoying their interest in what I had to say.

I felt we had met as strangers and parted as friends. It’s a very simple and effective format, which brings rich rewards: I urge you to try it for yourself.

Mary Woodward

Review: Jottings from the Queen of Sheba 🌟🌟🌟

Theatre

Jottings from the Queen of Sheba

St Patrick’s Church, Cowgate, v408

Times: various (run ends 25 August, not 21)

🌟🌟🌟 (Three Star)

After negotiating myself round a pile of Stuff which could have been a junk heap or an art installation [I found out later that it was the set for Notre Dame de Paris] I climbed the steps of the church and found my way to the Memorial Room, where one of the Queen’s handmaidens offered me a most welcome cup of tea and a biscuit, and happily engaged in Fringe conversation – obviously the Queen likes her attendants to know the time of day!

The Queen herself is most gracious in welcoming us to her palace: she tells us she is on her way to visit the fabled king Solomon, who is, apparently, full of wisdom. She talks of the long and arduous journey through the desert, mainly by night, and wishes she could have been a trader – until the horrors of sandstorms and lack of water make her realise that a trader’s life is not all joy.

To while the time away on the long journey, people tell stories to each other, and the Queen is sad that ‘all the old family histories are no longer being told’ – so she wants to tell us stories that are common to the Jewish scriptures, the Christian old and new testaments, and the Qur’an. Like all family stories, there isn’t one straightforward version – every family member will have a different account of the same incident!

The Qur’an mentions people and incidents, but doesn’t often tell the story, just saying things like “remember what happened to X”, and details can vary: but there’s a lot of common ground between the three faiths, and it’s the Queen [aka Mary Callan] who wants to emphasise this common ground in a time when there is so much discord and strife.

We hear from Adam and Mrs Adam about life after leaving the Garden; from Noah and his wife and sons; from Lot’s daughters, Joseph’s brothers and Joseph himself; Moses’ parents, Pharaoh’s daughter and the man himself; Jonah; Abraham’s slave wife whom he cast out into the desert and then both Abraham and Isaac’s sides of the story of the sacrifice god ordered. We end with the bits of narrative about Jesus’ early life – and then address the question of what really went on between Solomon and the Queen of Sheba…

It’s a very well-intentioned project, and Mary Callan is very good at painting word-pictures of what life was like at the time of the stories, and making the people come alive. I wish she didn’t use strips of paper fished out of a [goldish] bin to point her in the direction of the next story – the connection between storyteller and audience is lost, and she has to start all over again. I wonder whether a book of some sort – a scrapbook, maybe? – might be a better way of keeping her notes ready to hand.

I also noticed that everyone in the stories, including the Queen, sounded the same, so that at times it wasn’t easy to work out who was speaking. In the conversation that followed the performance, Mary said that she’d realised that all the characters were her, in all her different moods – so I guess that explains that: it’s just a pity there isn’t more variety in her vocal delivery. She pointed out the way different translations affect the way we see a story and the people in it, as does returning to a story after a period of time. She did rather assume that everyone was familiar with the stories of the Old Testament, which is possibly not the case in the 21st century.

I liked her assertion that “bible stories are like a ready meal: you have to add water” – i.e. flesh out the bare bones of the story and add colour and life. This the Queen certainly did, and the [sadly small] audience was duly appreciative. I had to run, but others stayed on, and I hope they had a satisfying conversation.

Mary Woodward