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Category Archives: Tony Challis

Trash Cuisine

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Trash Cuisine
Pleasance Courtyard
3.30 pm (run ends 26th Aug)

 

This is a devised show by the famous and intrepid Belarus Free Theatre. It is one that should be seen by everyone who cares about both drama and humanity, except those who are too faint hearted to look reality in the eye.

We are welcomed to the Capital Punishment Café. The opening is deceptively gentle, with alluring guitar music originally composed by Arkady Yushin. Quickly, however, we see members of the cast apparently dying and being revived by other cast members, or are they receiving electric shocks, or shocked by what they become aware of….

Our compere then encourages us to vocally show our presence, rather as though this is stand up. We are told this will be a gourmet show, with a great new chef. The dishes to be served are not those we might ordinarily savour, and are anything but low down the food chain. Even when the subject is a small bird you may feel an impulse to become vegetarian.

This company is highly skilled and extremely professional, to an extent that they can make a great theatrical success out of a survey of the inhumanity of humanity, with very witty and creative culinary connotations. Electrocution, hanging, lethal injection, tribal violence, the injustices perpetrated in Northern Ireland, together with the appalling conditions that prevail in their native Belarus, all get due attention. Most of the time we don’t want to know, we pass by on the other side of the road. Only a company of the highest theatrical calibre could make us aware of so much that is so chilling, and make of that a great and memorable production. That is what Belarus Free Theatre has done here.

Tony Challis

 

 
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Posted by on August 21, 2013 in Tony Challis, Trash Cuisine

 

Shylock

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Shylock
Assembly Hall
3pm (run ends 12th Aug)

 

This is one very exceptional actor on stage for ninety minutes, becoming a great variety of characters in that time, and telling much of the story of Jewish history also. It is difficult to avoid the cliché of describing this as a tour de force.

Guy Masterson presents himself at first in the character of Tubal, Shylock’s friend, who has only eight lines, and who is the only other Jewish character in Shakespeare. (Shylock’s daughter, it seems, has a non-Jewish mother). He reminds us that Shakespeare would not have met any Jews – not any who were legally present, anyway, because Jews had been barred from England for centuries, following the upsurge of the blood libel, of the idea of Jews using Christian children in rituals, in the 12th century. This idea spread throughout Europe, taking firm hold in Transylvania, and hence the story of a certain vampire.

We are treated to many other historical figures, to references to the holocaust, and to detailed references to Shakespeare’s sources, mainly in a much saucier earlier tale, and to Portia’s speech in detail and to Shylock’s fate. We see the masks that would have been used for early productions, we hear the words of Marlowe’s very caricatured Jew of Malta, and we see how famous actors through history have presented Shylock.

When this show is over, we have been made aware of much fascinating history, we have seen many characters come to life, we have heard much Shakespeare text very well performed, and we have seen a brilliant performance by a very distinguished actor. The very enthusiastic applause could not be more deserved.

Tony Challis

 

 
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Posted by on August 21, 2013 in Shylock, Tony Challis

 

Newton

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Newton
Summerhall
5pm (run ends 25th Aug)

 

Jack Klaff can be relied on to bring a different and illuminating light to bear on any subject. Here he takes Sir Isaac Newton, who clearly deeply fascinates him, and presents him as seen from many different angles, through the voices of various people who have commented on him. We move from his rival of his own times in the Royal Institute, James Hook, to a scientist at CERN, to a Russian poet and to Usain Bolt. Each of these people is presented in his own voice and manner as Jack Klaff gradually builds a kaleidoscopic vision of this legendary figure.

As he moves through the characters, he repeatedly breaks down and rebuilds the fourth wall, speaking closely to us and looking at us, then retreating into a character. This is a warmly involving show, and Jack Klaff treats his audience with much consideration and respect. Whether we are hearing Maynard Keynes or a scientist at today’s cutting edge, Klaff makes each one communicate closely and personally with us. And if someone in the audience has a problem – as with a woman who had a coughing fit on this occasion, and who was treated with great courtesy – “it’s alright, you’re amongst friends…” – that can be very smoothly incorporated.

As we enjoy this roller-coater of impressions – and some input from Jack Klaff himself, including warnings about climate change – we become aware of the significance of Newton, of his very productive insights, and of the way in which there are many facets to any person, and as many views of that person as there are people who observe him. And maybe, to adapt Einstein, that observation changes the person. This extremely skilful and illuminating show is likely to have its audience seeking out more background on the subject, even if we thought we knew about him already.

Tony Challis

 

 
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Posted by on August 21, 2013 in Newton, Tony Challis

 

Tell Me the Truth about Love

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Auden, Britten, Mitchell and Ravenhill: Tell Me the Truth About Love
Underbelly Bristo Square
7pm (run ends 26th Aug)

 

This performance of a collection of songs with words and music by Britten, Auden, Conor Mitchell and Mark Ravenhill is part of the Britten Centenary celebrations and was a sell-out hit at the Aldeburgh Festival. Collection of songs is an understatement, because the level of acting skill shown by Jamie McDermott of the Irrepressibles is great and he brings the audience into what is happening warmly and with much humour. Peter Foggitt on piano adds much to this intimate atmosphere, and is very entertainingly informative.

The songs are all very deeply gay, despite the times in which many were written, from the 30s to the present. We open with the Mitchell/Ravenhill I haven’t the time to be loved, a wryly humorous one. Jamie has great fun with the Mitchell/Auden I’ve fallen out of love with you.  Many people’s favourite will probably be the Britten/Auden Funeral Blues, made famous and extremely popular by the film Four Weddings and a Funeral.

This was an extremely enjoyable hour which I would recommend to anyone with a sense of humour. The two guys are a treat to spend an hour with, and Jamie’s performance is sheer delight. However, the venue is very new, barely finished and creating atmosphere is hard work. How different this could be in a cabaret bar with tables, drinks… But that could not be, and what we have here is still one of the treats of this festival.

Tony Challis

 
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Posted by on August 21, 2013 in Tell Me the Truth about Love, Tony Challis

 

Let’s Get Things Straight!

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Let’s Get Things Straight!
theSpace on North Bridge
1.05 pm (run ends 22nd Aug)

 

This is a really delightful comedy and the young cast seem to have great fun performing it. It takes the idea of a society in which it is normal for people to live in homosexual relationships, and where heterosexual relationships are taboo. The great thing is that the idea is acted out fully – quite straight, you might say. So you have a young guy who is concerned that he may be attracted to girls, and dare not tell his two mothers. A girl gets wind of this a makes herself very presentable to him at a party, and gives him lots of attention. She also is different and likes boys. He gets into deep trouble, and a woman in a straight relationship becomes like his fairy godmother.

The two mothers’ answering machine message got its own round of applause, and deserved it. Enlightenment does spread, and there is a delicious twist in the tail of this show.

If anyone came into this performance with a trace of homophobia it would surely be laughed out of them before the show was over. It is a really joyful show, and is a demonstration of how consciousness has changed. It is not a long play, but it is one with a point to make which it does at full pelt and with relish. It deserves to have really good audiences. Go out and give yourself a lunchtime tonic with this one!

Tony Challis

 

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2013 in Let’s Get Things Straight!, Tony Challis

 

Dressing Down

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Dressing Down
Gilded Balloon Teviot
3pm (run ends 26th Aug)
 

This show involves sixty costumes in sixty minutes. As they say at the beginning, it is the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe reduced to the Wardrobe. A great mass of garments choke the small stage at the start and you wonder if these three guys will get through them all…but by the end the clothes racks (if not the cupboard) are bare. Though not the guys, though they are very skimpily clad often.

They race through not only many costumes but many sketches. Alex, Ben and Harry show no sign of flagging after their hectic hour. Many visual images stay with you – from the Black Swan to the Very Hungry Caterpillar, and the joy of the performers transfers to the audience. When I saw this the theatre was packed and everyone had a great time. Many of the jokes are fairly basic, and sometimes they are so bad they are good – you know the sort. You may have heard one or two of them.

In an interview, the cast mention as influences Bill Bailey, Dylan Moran, Ricky Gervais, and others, which is maybe a pity, because this comes as, “a brand new sketch show from the writers of the Cambridge Footlights Spring Review 2013”, and while these guys are good, very energetic and give their audience much pleasure, they are not, as yet at least, at that level. Which you would not expect. However, what would have really lifted this would have been some trademark originality. Something to make them really stand above the crowd. I’m not sure the sixty costumes in sixty minutes is a substantial enough concept to do that.

I expect these guys will entertain capacity audiences for the rest of their run – they give much pleasure and the show is a crowd-pleaser, and I hope that they go on to greater success.

Tony Challis

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2013 in Dressing Down, Tony Challis

 

Open Wide Tour

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Open Wide Tour
The Fiddler’s Elbow Upstairs
2.00 pm (run ends 24th Aug)

 

The beginning is a list of names used in contempt of gays and lesbians, then a list of all 82 countries where being gay can land you in prison. Later, discussion of many actions that may be offensive…we like to think we are unshockable , but how easily that can be disproved. Then Doug has a doughnut – a Doug nut even? And Ashley a banana, and they make a virtual little orgy out of consuming these.

The two make good and friendly connection with the audience, but I did feel there could be more consistency of tone. Were they angry? Or just having fun? Maybe their material needs to be more focused, though it is good to mix heavy with light.

A list of people who have been killed for being gay has impact later, but I feel the whole show could have had more drive. These two appear to be really good actors, but they need to structure what they are doing with care. The crafted naivety of asking each other what do they owe the audience sparks a train of thought, but does it add to their intended effect? As someone who has been active in the LGBT movement for 40 years I feel that whilst much has been gained there is still lots to be angry about, and they could have got away with being angrier. Sock it to ‘em, Doug and Ashley – let ‘em know that every life is precious.

Tony Challis

 

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2013 in Open Wide Tour, Tony Challis

 

Threesome

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Threesome
Word of Mouth
7pm (run ends 11th Aug)

 

This was a revelation. In a small but very welcoming café on a corner half way up Leith Walk three accomplished poets were performing their work.

We began with Someone’s Mum, aka Liz Lefroy, and her Seven Rages of Woman. Liz is a successful poet on the printed page, having won the Roy Fisher prize for her pamphlet Pretending the Weather. We heard of the many problems of childhood, the gaps in the Shakespeare original, what lies between childhood and lover or soldier, and the exasperations of motherhood and of roles assigned to women. Performing her poetry is something fairly new for Liz, but her work is striking in its ideas and imagery, and deserves close attention.

Jay Walker, we were told, “embodies poetic licentiousness.” What she does is be brave enough to talk truthfully about her body , about how she feels it has been taken from her – by convention, society, censorship, and about how the world would change if one woman was true to her body. How might the world be if we all lived in accordance with our deepest selves. Her work is graphic and cuts no corners. She is a poet of real substance.

Finally, Amy Godfrey, known for The Biscuit Chronicles. Amy is also concerned about attitudes to the body, especially to the larger body, and the fashion demands for size zero. She proceeded to make a chocolate cake whilst performing, which we were able to eat afterwards – and it was good – and cooking was a warm job, so a few garments were removed…. A little old guy came in from the street at this point, and Amy made him welcome, making sure he could see, and after he took up a collection for the performers. Amy performed with great confidence and skill.

This was a very varied and really absorbing collection of performances. I was told that this was only the second time the three women have performed together. Despite that, it was a show of high quality, entertaining, enlightening and thought-provoking. They should get together more often, and perhaps take their work on tour. It would compare well with many poetry events around the country. Onwards and upwards, the Threesome!

Tony Challis

 

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2013 in Threesome, Tony Challis

 

Our Fathers

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Our Fathers
Summerhall
12.30pm (run ends 25th Aug)

 

Mike and Bert are in a long-standing relationship. Sonia is their flatmate. Mike receives an email asking him to father a child with his dead dad’s friend’s daughter. He has never met this woman, but he is excited and intrigued – he has never thought of becoming a father. Mike’s father died when Mike was thirteen, and he wonders what that loss did to him. (As someone who only first met his father at age nineteen, I always find treatment of this subject a glimpse into an unknown world, and thereby fascinating).

Bert reacts very negatively to the idea of Mike as a father. He does not speak to his religious and homophobic father. Sonia begins to wonder about the man behind her Greek father’s happy and spontaneous façade. Family stories are explored using diary entries, archive film and baby pictures. Sonia talks with, questions and teases various audience members – on this occasion she shared wine with a guy, asked about his father and found the father was sitting beside him. This created an intimate atmosphere, but I didn’t see how it helped the stories unfold.

Mike gets books on fatherhood, but is warned by Sonia that sperm donation may be all that is wanted. Dancer Bert has a phone conversation with his father, with Mike and Sonia standing in to voice the father, and some progress is made. Mike goes in detail into his father’s life.

This is a very imaginative show, using innovatory approaches, and is charming, with each character exposing aspects of themselves. Mike, especially, comes to see memories in a new light. We share some on-screen enjoyment of her father’s company with Sonia, and are shown visually how things change over time. I’m all for experimental theatrical approaches, but on this occasion and with this subject I did not feel that the topic was explored with anything like the depth and thoroughness that might have been achieved with traditional narrative.

Tony Challis

 

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2013 in Our Fathers, Tony Challis

 

Mrs Green

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Mrs Green
Wilkie House Upstairs, Guthrie Street.
11pm (run ends 24th Aug)
 

Mrs Mabel Green (Ben Welch) is at home in her flat in Basford, Nottingham. She used to be a songwriter and backing singer in the days of soul and Motown. Now she has arthritis and self-medicates and offers open house to her many friends.

Darren (Nic Harvey, who is also writer and director), is doing up her bathroom and is also a dab hand at writing songs. Friends with relationship problems, like Kim and Scott, pop round, as does Vivian, (Shauna Shim), a face from her past, plus the very helpful special constable, who has a rather special attitude to some things…

There are ten brilliant and rousing numbers in the show, and the sense of community and mutual support is there together with much squabbling, humour and zestful vitality. Mrs Green is far from down and out. The show is hugely enjoyable , and was really relished by the capacity audience. (Get there in good time – there’s not likely to be spare space.) This is the first show I have been to in Edinburgh this year which has been greeted by a standing ovation at the conclusion. And that was very well deserved – it is a joy throughout. Plus, it’s not often here in Edinburgh that someone answers the intercom with, “Ay up!”

Tony Challis

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2013 in Mrs Green, Tony Challis

 

Kubrick Cubed

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Kubrick Cubed
Pleasance Courtyard
7.10pm (run ends 26th Aug)

 

This is a brilliantly imaginative take on the story of Alan Conway, failed gay man who decided to become Stanley Kubrick, and did so in many circumstances over three years, including underwriting a gay bar in Kubrick’s name – no money was ever forthcoming, of course. This show won the 2013 Enfants Terrible Award, and very much deserved to do so.

We are presented with Conway’s son, (Andy McLeod) who encounters his father’s ghost and has many questions to ask. The spirit reappears as four shades Alan himself (Ed Cobbold), Alan as Julie Walters (Leah Milner), Alan as Frank Rich (Madeleine McMahon) and Alan as a Nigerian producer (Sophie Wallis). Being mere shades they are in outfits which give new meaning to fifty shades of grey.

We see Alan using his alias in many circumstances, chatting up women, getting privileged access, special tables in restaurants, the gay bar episode, being interviewed as Kubrick, and much more. Watch out for the multiple giant heads of Kubrick, looming and closing in on Alan! Energy, enthusiasm and sheer joy in performance comes across from the whole cast throughout. It would be unfair to single out any one. Scriptwriter and director David Byrne has done himself proud. This is a show that is a delight from beginning to end. It’s a big venue, there’ll be room for you – get along!

Tony Challis

 

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2013 in Kubrick Cubed, Tony Challis

 

Entertaining Mr Orton

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Entertaining Mr Orton
C
8.25pm (run ends 17th Aug)

 

Martin Mulgrew’s play is Joe Orton’s life as if he had written it. It is full of very Ortonesque lines, and has a very entertaining trial scene where two defendants could almost have stepped out of Orton’s Loot. The first part of the play is sharply observed, but then we have a lawyer and a psychiatrist who are pretty stock characters. The unfortunate Halliwell (Stuart Denman) has his well-known faults displayed, but he does not get to show his strengths – but maybe because this is being seen through Orton’s eyes. Joe himself (Jack Burns) is mostly impassively distant – maybe he does have no real feelings for Halliwell and is purely acting a role.

There are fewer laughs later. If you are going to include one of the most brutal and high-profile celebrity murders of the past half century in a play, then it is a good idea to go for it. The audience will largely be anticipating it. But here there was a single blow, pills swallowed and the pair ended looking almost cutely cuddled. Failure of nerve or what?

There are many moments and lines here which will be familiar to those who know certain books and films, including in the final scene. Yes, it was good to see Orton’s alter ego, Edna Welthorpe (Helen McCormack) in the flesh and there were some good double entendres. Yet, if this was to be the life through Orton’s eyes surely that provided the opportunity to do something new, rather than, with the exception of certain moments, rehash much material that many will be familiar with. The play had its good sections, but for me it was too flaccid, and never grabbed the blessed Joe by his horny horns!

Tony Challis

 

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2013 in Entertaining Mr Orton, Tony Challis

 

Briefs – The Second Coming

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Briefs – The Second Coming
Assembly George Square
7.50pm (run ends 26th Aug)
 

I was just chatting to this luscious Taiwanese lad beside me (great audiences here, too…but this was his last show and then he was flying back…ah) when a lamp appeared before me, a hand stroked my neck and someone kissed the top of my bald head. This very exciting show was starting!

What followed was some top notch acrobatics, brilliant costumes – and some guys in no costumes, or just cock socks, anyway, extremely skilful three-man juggling, a mistress and pup show to blow your mind away, and some very entertaining audience interaction. Plus the raffle – win that and get on stage and have the chance to get real close to a very special nineteen year old as you have a very interesting drink. (No! You have such a dirty mind!)

The guys here are not just pretty faces, nor just very toned and athletic bodies; they are also very impressive entertainers and extremely skilful physical performers. One athlete performs stunning aerial acrobatics way above you, returning from time to time to his wee bath below – and if you sit in the first couple of rows expect him to splash you. But it’s only water, and think where it’s been…

This is a most entertaining show which will set you up for a great evening. Get along. Join in the spirit, let it all hang out (up to a point…) There’s a space for you there.

Tony Challis

 

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2013 in Briefs – The Second Coming, Tony Challis

 

Bent

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Bent
C Too
10.10pm (run ends 17th Aug)

 

This now classic drama opens with a scene many, especially amongst the gay audience, will be able to recognise and maybe identify with. Max (Peter Calver) has had a wild night out and cannot remember what happened. He has brought someone back from a club (Wolf, played by Mark Mear) to whom he has told elaborate lies about himself which he cannot now recall. His dancer boyfriend Rudy (Danniel Horton) tries to ease things, but is more concerned about his plants. It is one of the brilliant aspects of Martin Sherman’s script here that we seem to be almost in a farce, and we relax and laugh. But this is the night that Roehm, the top gay in the Nazi establishment, has been killed, and all associated with him are targeted – including Wolf. This is Berlin 1934, and S S men burst into the flat and shoot Wolf. All is altered.

This is an excellent production of the play, directed by Chris Bassett. The tension builds, and the second half is extremely moving. I have seen a number of Bents, way back to Ian McKellen, and I have not been more moved by any of the others. The relationship between Horst ( Anthony Eglinton) and Max is excellently portrayed, with a deliberate and unhurried pace that brings the audience fully into their special intimacy. The brutality of their captors, who, having denied their own human feelings, wish to bring others down to their own level, is graphically portrayed.

There are moments of brutal violence that could have greater impact. When the killers burst into the flat this should be a great shock to the chuckling audience. That did not really hit us in the solar plexus at this show, and was very brief. Again, in the train, the scene is very painful, but those specs could have been mangled – a complete lack of respect and compassion has to be conveyed. Anthony Eglinton as Horst is very good from the beginning in his use of voice and the presence he has. Peter Calver’s Max brings across very well how he is consistent throughout and yet how he changes and develops .

Some may feel that a play substantially set in Dachau concentration camp is too much for them, but to say that would be to miss out on an opportunity to observe a very imaginative account of how human beings can preserve their emotional integrity. There is wit and humour in this play, and late on there is an amazing transformative scene that is a highlight of the play. Go see this production, and see a very good account of a deservedly famous play. Unlike a good deal on the fringe, it is well paced, unhurried and the cast fully engage their audience and bring them into a special emotional world.

Tony Challis

 

 

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2013 in Bent, Tony Challis

 

All or Nothing

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All or Nothing
Space North Bridge
4.05pm (run ends 10th Aug)
 

This is the first outing to the Edinburgh Fringe of The Drama Boys, a company of teenage boys from Cornwall led and directed by Caroline Secombe ( a former Miss Moneypenny). They have been touring Cornwall and entertaining there for five years. There were a number of facets to this show which played to a packed audience. I laughed aloud a number of times during their sketches, which is quite an achievement. Their presentation of the Dance of the Cygnets from the Bourne male Swan Lake, in appropriate costume, was very funny. Having one guy out of step makes it harder but much more amusing.

The centre piece was the scenes from Hamlet which were interspersed through the show, ending with the final conflict, including some good fencing. Outstanding in the company was one of its younger members who took the part of Hamlet. Having taught Drama in schools I would say he is exceptional and maybe we will see him on the professional stage in due course.

All of the company gave a good account of themselves – I have seen decidedly less entertaining shows on the Fringe. This is a show that is well worth anyone’s time, and the company should be proud of what they have achieved.

Tony Challis

 

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2013 in All or Nothing, Tony Challis

 

According to Oscar

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According to Oscar
Mayfield Salisbury Church
6pm (run ends 9th Aug)

 

The Mercators annually present a Fringe tribute to a famous author. They are an amateur group in Mayfield, and this year they are doing Oscar Wilde. We were told at the beginning that there would be a focus on Constance, Wilde’s wife, and his devotion to her. I do not recall hearing the love that then dared not speak its name actually mentioned during the show, though there were references to Bosie. Constance was, as was stated, an early feminist and liberal speaker and activist – as, more notably, was Wilde’s mother, and she was also an Irish nationalist. It’d be good to see a Fringe show about her one day.

We began with an early Wilde childrens’ story, The Remarkable Rocket. This contained a number of characteristic Wildean aphorisms. It was primarily a rehearsed reading. We then had parts of An Ideal Husband, De Profundis (nothing about the circumstances of the writing of that, of course), Lady Windermere’s Fan and of course, The Importance of Being Earnest. It was different seeing the final scene where Gwendolyn is the only young person, and when it was over I could not recall hearing the famous, “handbag!” exclamation.

This was an amateur group doing their annual obeisance to literature, and they have done Austen, Barrie, Stevenson and so on before. I wonder what they made of the circumstances of those writers, who were all pretty full-blooded in their way. Famous writers very often live intensely, break society’s rules, and show us new possibilities in life. It does no-one any good to pretend they were safe, conformist and unthreatening. That way, the excitement of literature is lost. With Wilde, the group chose to omit one of the central aspects of his life, though what they did emphasise was significant. Yes, he did live a bisexual life – ah, but we did not hear that word.

It is very good that local groups in all areas maintain the memory of significant writers, and much effort and enjoyment will have gone in to the preparation of what I saw. However, I did feel that I was spending time in the past during the show, that I could have been a child in the 1950s watching a show about Wilde, and that was very sad.

Tony Challis

 

 
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Posted by on August 15, 2013 in According to Oscar, Tony Challis

 

Angels in America. Part One: Millenium Approaches

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Angels in America. Part One: Millenium Approaches
C Aquila
10.20pm (run ends 17th Aug)

 

This is one of the great dramas of the twentieth century American stage. It centres on the experiences of a group of people during the Reagan period when AIDS was having its greatest impact. There is the cutting wit of Roy Cohn, (William Brady) who shows the world the face he has constructed, but whose self-image is threatened by illness, though he remains true to the ruthlessness he has adopted. There is Prior Walter (Brendan Macdonald) who is devastated by illness, and whose lover Louis (Frazer Hadfield) cannot face the new challenges of this new time. Joe Pitt (Sebastian Carrington-Howell) is working for Cohn, but is a Mormon, whose world view is very different. His wife Harper has her own problems, and is in and out of different worlds from early on.

The network of relationships between this group forms the driving force of this drama, as each tries to negotiate the rocky path of his or her life. The cast all give excellent performances. Kaffasse Boane as the friend Belize is lively, spirited and gives relief to the soul-searching of the others. There was a wonderful cameo of a hobo in the Bronx.

It is not easy to give a top-notch performance of such a demanding play in a small Fringe venue with minimal props, but the screen backdrops helped much here, including a very atmospheric park at night. Given all the constraints, this performance was a triumph. There was an impressive depth of characterisation, and the audience were gripped and transported. I actually looked at my watch a few minutes before the end and thought, “My goodness – that’s gone quickly!”

On leaving, audience members were commenting on how they had been moved, including young guys near to tears – but the play is in no way grim; it is a work of many shades, providing rich insights, and most highly recommended.

Tony Challis

 

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2013 in Angels in America. Part One: Millenium Approaches, Tony Challis

 

Radicalisation of Bradley Manning

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The Radicalisation of Bradley Manning
Pleasance at St Thomas Aquinas High School
2.30pm/7.30 pm (run ends 25th Aug)

 

As I was leaving this production a guy ahead of me said, “When Wales play rugby maybe now they’ll chant, ‘Bradley Manning!’”. That would be quite something. I felt I knew a fair amount about this guy before I went into the show, but I was unaware of the Welsh connection. He went to a primary school in Pembrokeshire, where he was mocked for his accent, and where his mother still lives. He seems to have been mocked and picked on pretty much throughout his life, and one leaves this production wondering where he gets the inner strength that has propelled him to the position he is currently in. Maybe his mother had great belief in him?

This show is produced by National Theatre Wales, and is the result of writer Tim Price’s obsession with this story. The play is performed in the unpretty hall of a new-build sectarian school just off Lauriston Place. The venue is very effective as it provides plenty of space for the company to perform in the round with scant props – apart from a number of small screens which may be expensive without adding a great deal; the context tells us where things are happening anyway, and they could be distracting.

All of the six strong cast become Manning a various times. (Strong is the right word for these players – they give it everything, and I found it hard to believe that there were only six of them at the end.) They become Bradley by the simple expedient of taking on the glasses, which is an excellent touch. They have to switch between very disparate roles at short notice, maybe from a part-time drag queen to a sergeant. We see him defending another bullied boy, on gay marches and questioning army authority. We are given plenty of evidence of the ways an army turns its soldiers from people into fighting machines – and how Bradley resisted this. He is mocked at one point for evidence of his wearing women’s clothes, though I heard nothing of the suggestion I have read that he was at one point thinking of changing gender.

This is a very powerful show, and does involve much shouting; Bradley’s life is not seen as in any way a joyful one, though there are gentler moments with a lover. He is seen as someone who comes to see the world as not good as it is, and he wants to make it better for people. Whether or not you agree with his actions, it is impossible not to see him here as someone who has had an enormous amount to put up with, who saw the country he chose to serve not standing by its own cherished principles, and could not resist the opportunity to do something about it.

I would urge you to see this play, think about the world it depicts, and about how you would respond to the same experiences.

Tony Challis

 

 
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Posted by on August 14, 2013 in Radicalisation of Bradley Manning, Tony Challis

 

Sans Salomé

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Sans Salomé
Space Niddry Street
5.15 pm (run ends 24th Aug)

 

Within a brilliant white set, with white costumes, we begin with a scene of intense activities, presided over by one with a whip… thus we begin in a world of imagination, far from our daily reality. Soon, we join the world of Oscar Wilde (Simon Holton), who is writing his play Salome. He wants to persuade Sarah Bernhardt (Sara Banson) to play Salome. His enthusiasm for her commitment arouses jealousy in his lover Bosie, (Alex Sherwood).

We move between the play rehearsals and a modern couple, Oli (Rakhee Sharma) and Mia (Sarah Heracleous). They argue repeatedly and, sexuality aside, don’t seem well suited. The middle part of the play concentrates on rehearsals and problems with censorship, given the religious element of the play, as well as on the problems of Brookfield (Jordan Capelli), one of Wilde’s actors who does not have a contract. Later, Wilde’s persecution comes to the fore. The modern relationship is riven by the greater openness of one partner and the fears of the other.

Because the Wilde part of the play focuses on the problems of Wilde’s drama, Salome, and only latterly on his imprisonment, and less on his relationship with Bosie than most treatments (Bosie is a fairly small part here), the modern play did not seem to blend, – it was a bit like two plays – though the general theme of censorship, including self-censorship, was common to both. The show was maybe taking on too many issues and not focussing on one or two, and the downbeat final section was perhaps too long.

There was eventual liberation, and this was a very bold and imaginative show, which raised important questions within a very well-costumed, alluring set, but it was structurally unwieldy.

Tony Challis

 

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2013 in Sans Salome, Tony Challis

 

Hide and Seek

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Hide and Seek
Central Hall
3 pm and 6 pm (run ends 10th August)

 

This is a charming and show based on Carol Ann Duffy’s The Stolen Childhood.

Lucy (Catherine Major) and Greg (Lewis Sherlock) begin as children, playing games, exploring their environment and offering things they have made to us. That environment was a shopfront at Tollcross, but has become an intimate performing area beneath a great white tent. Gradually, the two begin a journey. They have an adventure involving many dangers, latterly involving the shadow people; too much fantasy and too much reality prevent the fullest living; love is found only by those willing to look for it in the shadows.

Here we have, we are told in the notes, a boy and girl who grew up too fast and retreat into a childhood den full of surprises. Between the frantic daily routines of adulthood and pure fantasy they find a compromise that sets them free.

The two actors convey the childlike and the adult sides of their characters with much subtlety and charm, and the ending is refreshing and appropriate. Director Jo Rush has produced something special here and the set is splendid. The audience was wholly adult when I attended and this is a story whose complexities could not be followed by a child. It did have many twists and turns and it needed close adult attention to follow it, and some key points could perhaps have been highlighted more. However, it was a most pleasing and gentle show.

Tony Challis

 

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2013 in Hide and Seek, Tony Challis

 

The Worst of Scottee

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The Worst of Scottee
Assembly George Square
8.40pm (run ends 24th Aug)
 

Scottee is seated in a photo booth for this show. As he faces the screen in profile we see his face where the glamorous advertising photos usually are. He turns to sing “Cry me a river.” He then proceeds to tell us tales of his early life, intentionally tales against himself, of times he told whoppers, such as that a close friend of his had committed suicide when she hadn’t, and that he had AIDS when he hadn’t. In the final section of the show he tells in detail a story of his past which holds the audience’s attention very closely, and it is rather as though this is a counselling session and the audience his counsellors. But given what has gone before, are we to see this as another great but detailed whopper?

He sings some of his own songs, creating a special atmosphere, but there were interludes where women who know Scottee were seen on the screen praising him. Maybe to balance the image he was giving, but I found it difficult to see the point of these, unless there was a kind of irony involved. A great many small details of Scottee’s life were provided, about where he lived, what he ate and reactions to him and his size.

He held the attention of his audience closely, and there was very enthusiastic applause at the end, but I cannot pretend that the show was to my taste. However, I think he will most likely develop a close, maybe even a cult, following amongst a particular audience.

Tony Challis

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2013 in The Worst of Scottee, Tony Challis

 

Executed for Sodomy

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Executed for Sodomy
C Nova
6.30 pm (run ends 26th Aug)

 

This is the life story of Caterina Linck. Caterina lived just 300 years ago, in the early 18th century, and desperately wanted to live as a man. She had a leather penis which she filled with straw, she served as a soldier, she lived for a time in a women’s religious community, and she had a lover, Cathy, who was very willing to accept the truth and still love Caterina.

Much of this play is derived from court transcripts by writers Danny West and Ben Fensome. Linck was tried in 1708 for blasphemy and sodomy. This is a most involving drama with a number of points of high tension and played in a small auditorium. Fanni Compton as the driven, passionate Caterina is excellent, and conveys well the desperate hell that it must have been to be, in effect, a transsexual 300 years ago. Alice Bell as Cathy’s mother and several other roles is very impressive, as is Victoria Jones as the Prosecutor and Cathy, two very contrasting roles.

What Caterina and Cathy are seeking is a kind of same-sex marriage, which gives this play a topicality. It does, however, end rather suddenly, and I think the closing section deserves some thought. Yet, this is a very exciting play which is brilliantly acted and covers a very important subject. I would urge anyone who likes hard-hitting relevant drama to get along to this one.

Tony Challis

 

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2013 in Executed for Sodomy, Tony Challis

 

The Winterling

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The Winterling
C Nova
2.15 pm (run ends 17th Aug)

 

Midwinter on Dartmoor. The river is frozen. An isolated house. There is a prehistoric fort nearby. Is there? Maybe there is something nasty out there? West (Eoin Bentick) has invited two people down to join him. Only one arrives, with a stranger. Another guy is sent packing. There is a mysterious girl upstairs.

Written by Jez Butterworth, of “Jerusalem” fame, this Pinteresque jeu d’esprit needs plenty of that nebulous thing, atmosphere. Menace is quickly conveyed by Ben Lewis as Draycott; we feel we will see more of him after he is seen off, and that someone may regret that. West, the inviter, is not oppressive enough, especially later. Naomi Fawcett as the girl Lue has a presence that suggests her character could develop in many directions, and keeps the audience guessing. Rob Beale as Wally, the expected one, is every inch the spiv, and a man trying to be something he is not sure is in his range. Very well conveyed. Dan Rodgers as Patsy, the articulate young newcomer, is effective as a character who never becomes a member of the pack.

This is a young, talented cast, who convey characters of very disparate ages, and are totally engaging. However, a piece like this needs to be properly paced for the sense of threat to build. The timings imposed by the Fringe can make this difficult. Maybe the script could have been trimmed to allow certain actions to be performed slowly and deliberately. This can help the conveying of both suspense and humour. There are a number of homoerotic suggestions in the text, and hints at past sexual contacts, – but much of what these men say could be read as bravura – what is real? What is their truth? What may happen after the play ends? Many questions remain unanswered.

Tony Challis

 

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2013 in The Winterling, Tony Challis

 

Love in the Past Participle

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Love in the Past Participle
theSpace@Surgeons’Hall
11.05 am (run ends 17th Aug)
 

This is a play that creeps up on you. Things may at first seem confusing, a scatter-gun of descriptions of encounters spoken by the four actors, each sitting at a desk in a row facing us. Two men, two women, one man making good use of a bottle of wine, one woman with a telephone wanting to be used.

John May’s very skilful script gradually coheres as we learn about the sexuality of each person, one woman having her first gay experience, one man straying from a relationship. The description of sex is good enough to take you there. The four all become connected in a dramatic denouement.

This drama is an unusual piece, which involves the viewer in each of the people observed, though the ending is rather melodramatic and it is difficult for the cast to respond fully whilst still sitting at desks. However, you are drawn in step by step in an enjoyably arresting way. This is a very engaging addition to this year’s crop of LGBT shows.

Tony Challis

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2013 in Love in the Past Participle, Tony Challis

 

Up4aMeet?

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Up4aMeet?
Electric Circus
11pm (run ends 8th Aug, then transferring to Glasgow Oran Mor)
 

Here is a chance to have a good laugh at the complexities of contemporary gay male life, the potentially hilarious consequences of gay dating sites and apps. Carlos (Benedict Garrett) is a naturist and permanently nude. Grant (Chris Wills) is more physically cautious, as we learn at the beginning when his fag-hag friend Caroline (Penny Tasker) arrives a he is photographing himself for a Grindr type app. Julian – the neighbouring older gay man – was excellently played when I saw the show by an understudy.

The plot? Julian is desperately seeking online ‘cock’ using another’s identity, as is the gorgeous Grant (who has no need to – buns to die for!) and this deception is the source of much hilarity. A lodger Scott (Lloyd Daniels of X factor fame) moves in downstairs –and is immediately a source of great curiosity and interest (not least from the audience). Complications and laughs develop, especially when the Eurovision Song Contest arrives and everyone has to remove a garment if “their” country is mentioned. You can imagine…

I felt that this show was too long. I was told afterwards that there is usually an interval, which will be reintroduced, and that a big Shirley Bassey number will be reinstated, both of which should raise the level. The play had the fraught complexity needed for farce, but failed to build to an intense enough climax – maybe the Carlos story needs an extra twist. The women were very clear and firm in their diction, but sometimes it was hard to make out what some of the men were saying.

If you want to see plenty of male flesh, have a good few laughs and reflect on your own gay male life, this will entertain you. And the Julian character is unnecessarily panicked, of course – there’s plenty out there for larger 50+ ers, believe me!

Tony Challis

 
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Posted by on August 9, 2013 in Tony Challis, Up4aMeet?

 
 
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