Archive for category 2012 Reviewers
Adam’s favourite 2012 Fringe shows were:
Bourgeois and Maurice: Sugartits (review)
This quirky cabaret double act are a fabulous blend of candy-coated satire and wonderfully witty music. Georgeois Bourgeois and Maurice Maurice offer some late night utterly different comedy combined with a killer aesthetic, and brilliant songs. They are definitely worth catching whilst you’re up here!
A Clockwork Orange (review)
Action to the World’s electrically charged production of A Clockwork Orange is incredible. It’s an all male cast of 10 incredibly attractive actors in the most homo-erotic staging of a dark, iconic classic – what more could you ask for?
Jonny Woo: Wonder Woo-Man (review)
Woo’s take on drag is irreverent, jaded and fantastic. It’s an hour of autobiographical entertainment and was an absolutely fantastic and completely unexpected performance. For me, this kind of thing is what Edinburgh’s all about.
Adele’s favourite 2012 Fringe shows were:
James Cooney’s performance makes you visualise this 15 year old lad’s story in agonising detail. You need to pinch yourself to remember that he is just one very talented young man on an empty stage. Beware of reviews with spoilers, don’t risk it, and just see it (if it’s not too late)!
The Fantasist (review)
Theatre Témoin have devised a production which is engaging from the start, a focus which is maintained by Julia Yevnine’s unwavering energy as Louise; an artist trapped in her own mind by the dizzying rapidity of her mental health.
Confessions of Old Lady #2 (review)
Joan Shepard shares her priceless stories and it’s a real treat to hear her history in lavish detail. Her songs may be out of time, out of tune, but it really doesn’t matter, it even adds to its charm. An incredible woman I’d love to get locked in conversation with.
Albert’s favourite 2012 Fringe shows were:
The Blues Brothers: Live (review)
The end of the set heralded a standing ovation from the audience and they remained on their feet for two encore tracks. I’ve never seen an audience dance like this one did. I’d rather see this group than almost any other. Take your Arctic Monkeys. Take your Coldplay, Killers and Snow Patrol and give me The Blues Brothers Live. I want to be in this gang.
Asher Treleaven: Troubadour (review)
Asher Treleaven’s years of circus and street performance combined with his honed stand-up skills give him an air of Jim Carrey crossed with Penn Jillette (of magic duo Penn and Teller), but despite this his style is certainly his own. There’s a surprising twist in the middle of the show which I won’t give away but this five minutes of pure skill and expertise is worth the price of the ticket alone.
Chris Corcoran And Elis James: The Committee Meeting (review)
The Committee Meeting is an hour of character comedy set in a small Welsh village. This was certainly one of my biggest surprises of the festival so far. This show is fantastic. They tread the line between surrealism and factual accuracy very well, featuring elements that probably aren’t far off these village establishments but keeping it strange enough to be entertaining throughout.
Angus’s favourite 2012 Fringe shows were:
Out of the Blue (review)
Arguably the best a cappella group at the Fringe. These boys have got class, charisma and talent by the bucket load. With genius mash-ups, camp choreography and impressive covers, there is nothing that these boys can’t do!
Vikki Stone: Hot Mess (review)
Vikki Stone is not just a comedian, she is also a highly talented pianist, singer and songwriter. With a song about Philip Schofield, and a play-along Deal or No Deal featuring cheese, Stone presents one of the funniest hour’s on the Fringe.
Frisky & Mannish: Extra-Curricular Activities (review)
Frisky & Mannish are absolutely bonkers but incredibly brilliant. They are both amazing singers, their show is raucous and wild and the whole thing is just a joy to be a part of!
Ben’s favourite 2012 Fringe shows were:
Armageddapocalypse: Threat Level Dead (review)
There are so few gaps between the jokes in this show it is astounding. One of the most economical pieces of comedy I have ever seen. Every line is quotable – it’s brilliant.
Doctor Brown: Befrdfgth (review)
Fast becoming an Edinburgh legend, Doctor Brown’s latest show is his best yet. Physical clowning at its finest: at once utterly hysterical, immersive and gripping.
Bane 3 (review)
Bane 3 was one of my favourites last year, and it’s one of my favourites this year. Some might say it’s boring to keep returning to the same show as a festival highlight. They have obviously not seen it. One of the greatest innovations in popular theatre you will ever witness.
Clare’s favourite 2012 Fringe shows were:
Dirty Great Love Story (review)
As heart-warming funny as any classic rom-com, as messy as real life, and as sharply intelligent as anything you’ll find on the Fringe, this love story told in rhyming verse is an hour and half of sheer joy.
As You Like It (As Told Be, in association with Greenwich theatre) (review)
Maybe it was because it was the first thing I saw at the Fringe, maybe it’s because it’s one my favourite of the Shakespeare comedies, but this production, which has seen fierce competition from Cambridge University’s all-male take on it, is the one of the few one-off Edinburgh shows I would have loved to bottle and bring back to London with me as, with no more than a small stage, some-ill fitting costumes and a great deal of extraordinary talent they transcend all the imitations of fringe theatre to produce a Shakespeare comedy worthy of the name.
Cambridge Footlights (review)
Clever, sharp, thought-provoking, challenging and – above all – flipping hilarious, this is sketch comedy at its finest. It’s well known that Cambridge Footlights boasts some of the funniest alumni in the world, and this troupe do them justice. No fringe foray should be complete without a visit.
David’s favourite shows so far this year are:
And No More Shall We Part (review)
Despite the best of efforts, I simply couldn’t hold my tears back. Two phenomenal performances from Bill Paterson and Dearbhla Molloy, and a shatteringly moving play not to be missed.
An Evening With Dementia (review)
As something very close to my heart, I was utterly absorbed by it. A master-class in acting from Trevor T. Smith.
Fresh and engaging, reassuring us that something comic can also be cathartic. Very sad in places, very funny in others- ultimately uplifting.
Jodie’s favourite 2012 Fringe shows were:
Loretta Maine: Bipolar (review)
This wild and wanton beautiful creature had me spellbound within seconds, with a superior combination of scintillating stand-up and macabre melodies. One feels enriched after sharing this spectacular hour of decadent self-indulgence with Loretta Maine, the disturbed singer-songwriter creation of British comic Pippa Evans.
Hannah Gadsby: Mary. Contary. (review)
Hannah Gadsby has an intricate knowledge of religious icons, and showcases this awareness through countless images of Virgin Mary spanning the centuries. She shares her intelligence on perspective, background, symbolism, placement and style – all the while dropping razor-sharp one liners about unbroken hymens, piety and happy camels which all lighten the topic up to be both educational and very funny.
Rubies in the Attic (review)
An hour with four passionate, cultured and talented ladies who entertain us thoroughly with their adventures and misadventures, and the finale which is a mish-mash of the Suffragette song from Mary Poppins and ‘Don’t Rain on My Parade’ has the audience in an uproar.
Martin’s favourite shows of the Edinburgh Fringe 2012 were:
Stewart Lee – Carpet Remnant World (review)
The best stand-up working in the UK today delivering his best ever set. This 75 minutes of Stewart Lee made me very, very happy.
Susan Calman: This Lady’s Not for Turning Either (review)
I’ve been a huge fan of Susan Calman for years – her shows just get funnier and funnier. Mind you, this was the only comedy show in 2012 that actually made me cry.
Made for Each Other – Free (review)
If you’d told me that the strongest, most powerful piece of theatre I’d see this fringe would be as part of the Laughing Horse Free Festival in the corner of a pub, I would not have believed you.
Sandi Toksvig Live: My Valentine (review)
Sandi Toksvig is particularly inspiring as an ‘out’ female celebrity; within the dominating mass of heterosexual culture she provides a reminder that we can be female, gay, and bloody successful.
What Would Beyonce Do? (review)
It’s so exciting when something like this happens at the Fringe and surely this is what encapsulates the festival like nothing other. Sitting by the loos in a sweaty room above a bar, watching a free show by the freshest new talent on the block.
Suzi Ruffell: Let’s Get Ready to Ruffell (review)
A fresh (cute) face, acute observations, a truly awful Glaswegian accent and a really enjoyable hour spent in the company of one of the comedy worlds rising stars. Here it comes… One to watch. There, I said it.
Tony’s favourite Fringe shows this year were:
Mies Julie (review)
A dynamic show that takes you into its own world of explosive relationships in today’s South Africa. Fabulous acting, and The Guardian, The Scotsman and Three Weeks have copied my 5 stars idea!
A brilliant dissection of the life of Alan Turing, gay national hero (unsung). It tells us about him, his ideas and even suggests what it means to be truly alive. Feel what it was like to be a gay man sixty years ago.
Strip Search (review)
This is the very powerful, disturbing and erotic story of Squaddie, who is an disadvantaged youth, who spends time in homes and the army, and as a hustler. He gradually learns more about himself. And tells us all of this whilst doing a splendid striptease.
This event was subtitled, “We are all from somewhere else.” The subject was her new book The Mara Crossing – or rather, the many fascinating aspects of that book and the many thoughts they promote. In a mixture of prose and poetry, Ruth moves from the earliest forms of life on the planet, to many forms of migration, especially those of birds, with which she is greatly taken, and even of jellyfish, to the migration of refugees and asylums seekers, which she observed at the edge of Europe, in Greece, recently.
Chair James Naughtie commented on the amazing range of the book and the great research that must have gone into it, as well as the rich poetic content. However, the poem with the continual refrain, “You go,” with which Ruth Padel ended could, I felt, have made its point very effectively more briefly.
Yet, this is a book both to dip into and to read with thoroughness, and one which cannot fail to make the reader more appreciative of the amazing world we live in, and more concerned to preserve and sustain it in the face of our human depredations.
Toby’s Room, Pat Barker’s latest novel, is a sequel to her acclaimed Life Class. She mentioned reading in the papers that this was going to be a trilogy, so she is now a couple of chapters into the next book. She has returned to the First World War as a topic; Elinor’s brother Toby is missing presumed dead. There is a mysterious secret concerning brother and sister in 1912. Kit Neville was her fellow art student, and he returns from the war with a disfigured face. In the extract that Pat Barker read at the event we find Neville – a difficult and irascible person – wearing a face mask of the very handsome Rupert Brooke – also killed in the war. He jokes about causing panic when removing his mask on the London tube.
Elinor seeks the truth about what happened to her brother, and believes Kit Neville can help her discover that. This very vividly written novel is a worthy addition to Pat Barker’s considerable oeuvre. Readers may be familiar with her Regeneration trilogy, which also concerns the effects of fighting in the First World War and which was filmed. This new novel asks how far we want to face the truth, both of what has been done to the injured who are in our midst, and what really happened in the course of conflict.
In 2010 Polly Toynbee and David Walker published a volume called, The Verdict, an appraisal of the achievements and lack of them of the outgoing Labour government. Now, just in time for this Book Festival, they have produced a short but incisive volume called Dogma and Disarray: Cameron at Half-time. This was the main focus of today’s discussion, where Toynbee and Walker made a series of alternate statements outlining the ways in which they claimed the Conservative opposition had misled the public in terms of their intentions, and then the radical ways in which the ensuing government were using the crisis to reshape much of British society in an image comfortable to them and their powerful friends.
There was very concerned discussion of the damage the Lansley reforms were seen as doing to the National Health Service. Some in the audience seemed to feel safely glad that these reforms did not affect Scotland, but there were warning voices suggesting that this security may be short-lived. Polly Toynbee also suggested Scotland needed to think of the level of taxation it would be prepared to tolerate when independent to maintain the kind of services it desired. She was perhaps thinking of economies of scale when she said that larger countries could more efficiently provide high quality public services.
These two writers clearly appeared to feel that things would go from bad to worse for the present British government, and that it would not last beyond one term. They provoked a range of responses, with some audience members referring to other political discussions at this festival. Toynbee, Walker and their books will encourage much vigorous discussion for the foreseeable future.
Many of us know John Burnside for his poetry, for which he has won an almost embarrassing number of prizes, most recently for the very resonant and suggestive Black Cat Bone. Today we learned more about the man who lies behind the poetry, and about his political concerns and enthusiasms.
John Burnside has become fascinated by the life of David Gilbert, an anti-imperialist American author and activist who is serving time in a U S prison for his part in an attempted robbery. He was involved as a driver, but his sentence is long. John Burnside is working on a novel inspired by Gilbert’s life. He describes him as a gentle man who is happy to be an inspiration to others from where he is.
John Burnside was, if anything, keener to enthuse the audience about the writings of David Gilbert than about his own, and he had brought quite a pile of copies of Gilbert’s book, Love and Struggle, published in the U S A by PM press. The book recounts the experience of a political radical in the 1960s, amongst other things, a time which now appears historical. ( I lived through it, and not only that decade but the 70s are often misrepresented now – television accounts of that decade can now cause wry smiles.)
The discussion was wide ranging, covering what was and was not achieved back then and the chances of change now, plus the possibilities and restrictions made available by new technology.
John Burnside is a prolific writer, with much poetry, fiction and autobiographical non-fiction to his name (his memoirs A Lie About My Father , and Waking up in Toytown were available today.) I very much look forward to seeing the publication of his new novel.
This was a discussion of the continued influence of one of the most iconic of early twentieth century writers. Sadly, neither the Hungarian writer Laszlo Krasznahorkai nor the highly regarded Chinese novelist Can Xue were able to be there. However, chair Daniel Medin has written a study of Kafka’s influence, focusing particularly on the American Philip Roth, originally famous for Portnoy’s Complaint, the South African J M Coetzee, and the German writer who lived most of his career in England, W G Sebald.
There was plenty of time for a lively discussion, covering the status of Kafka and how he compares to other significant figures in modern western literature, who, it could be argued, create more deeply felt social structures and a wider emotional range; but it was felt that his labyrinth tended to draw in and seduce the reader. Particular reference was made to the way that people’s students tended to find Kafka “easy” whilst perhaps missing his depths.
The way in which people in many different countries and cultures could identify with Kafkaesque situations was seen as evidence that he had pinpointed an aspect of human existence not often highlighted in writing, and which could be related to in China, in European dictatorships, under communism and in today’s increasingly surveilled and bureaucratised world.
This was a very involving discussion of the work and legacy of a writer who will continue to be read and talked about, no matter what the critical view of his position becomes.
Lavinia Greenlaw’s most recent collection of poetry is called The Casual Perfect. She is also well known for writing opera libretti, radio dramas and essays on art. Her absorbing poems reflect her fascination with the depth that lies beneath the ordinary and everyday.
Marie Howe is a celebrated American writer and teacher, who began by saying how she loved Edinburgh and how it was different from what she imagined. Many British people say they love New York – but if you are familiar with either of these two cities, it is likely that the contrast between them will make the lesser known attractive – which is not to say that Edinburgh is anything other than a city of great charm and beauty, and a very fine place in which to live.
Marie Howe also has poems which make the everyday special, sometimes through a religious connection. She has a series of poems in which the Virgin Mary reflects on many things from the Annunciation onwards.
These are two collections of poems which appear easy to assimilate at first reading, but which have depths that will be revealed by further consideration.
Paul Durcan is a deservedly popular poet who was greeted enthusiastically this morning. He began by reading the first poem in his new collection. Praise in which I Live and Move and have my Being, a poem called On Glimpsing a Woman in Hodges Figgis Bookshop in Dublin. This details Durcan observing a woman writing in books, and discovering that she is signing them as author. He is taken with her audacity and with her living in the moment, and she causes him to think of many of his own small decisions and of mortality. Many of his characteristics as a poet are here – the apparent simplicity, the wit, the sense of a serious undercurrent and of human limitations, all in a memorable style which is crafted to seem throwaway.
At a time when many of us have just been watching Olympic strivings, his The Boy from Belarus, with the boy seen hammer-throwing on a screen, fits with and heightens the common experience of many of us. Durcan takes us into his experiences in many locations, including the last breakfast in Paris – beware the woman here! There are tributes to friends such as Michael Longley, reflections on the wonder of nursing, and intimations of the ultimate vulnerability of all human bodies.
This is a collection to be savoured for wit, life-enhancing vitality, sad echoes and art that hides art.
Gabriel Josipovici is a leading academic critic and fiction writer, though not as well known as perhaps he should be. His seminal The World and the Book was an influence on many, including myself. His new novel, Infinity: the Story of a Moment, is told through the voice of the manservant of a famous composer. By this method we learn much about the thoughts, desires and peccadilloes of both people, and perhaps wonder how accurate a picture of the composer we are getting. This is an intriguing way of getting insights into two worlds at the same time. Music, of course, only exists in the moment; but then, what doesn’t?
Christoph Simon is a rising star of Swiss literature, and Zbinden’s Progress is his fourth novel, but the first to be translated into English, subtly and effectively by Donal McLaughlin. Simon mentioned that he did his national service in the forces, but that many people did alternatives, such as a caring option. This novel is spoken to a new carer in an old people’s home by an 87 year old widower who has always loved walking. It is, Christoph Simon says, as though he has inhabited the caring option he did not take, and it shows us a person who seems to know all his fellow residents very well, and to recall his marries life well, but how far is his memory accurate?
Both of these novels are relatively quiet in tone, both focus on one voice and its outpourings, and both offer much pleasure and insight.
This show is directed by the famous and radical Romanian Director Silviu Pucarete. We begin by watching a horse being brought onstage and downstage, then led off. This suggests already the Country of the Houyhnhnms, and the fourth and final part of Swift’s famous work. But we do not see anything of these noble creatures again, or learn of the virtues Swift ascribed to them. We do see a wigged gentleman, maybe Swift, with his manuscript (?) being attacked, perhaps by Yahoos, the wretched human – like creatures of Book IV. A boy appears, and takes up the pages left undestroyed by the mob. Is he Swift’s alter ego? Or just a boy? But if what we are seeing is just what remained of the text, that gives license for a very partial account of the travels…
We see the gent getting fairly rough treatment in hospital, though in a fairly comic style. A rack of baby corpses appears, and one is cooked and given to a passer by who is not too keen and gives it to a giant rat. With whom it does not agree. This is clearly a reference to Swift’s A Modest Proposal, where his anger at the poverty and starvation in the Ireland of his birth led him to suggest, with savage irony, that it would be better for the Irish poor, whose children were starving anyway, if their babies were fed well to the age of one, and then their parents rewarded for handing them over as a treat for the tables of the British aristocracy. To have this black satire reduced to little more than a music hall joke is almost unforgiveable.
We do see the Lilliputians, as models taken from a box at front of stage, with actors reflecting their use behind – a clever idea. We also have great shadow effects for the giants of Brobdingnag, in a set that does have a feel of Irish bogs and hedgerows. There are many very clever theatrical effects, and we end with a famous speech which talks of knowing yourself, but the drift of this production has been to focus on knowing the baser side of yourself and not to provide the dramatic contrasts that could have come from looking at how Swift compared his base man and his idealised horse.
Very little of the ideas that infuse Swift’s work survive in this production, but the distortion is at least refreshingly different from that to be had in popularised versions. The audience looked very pleased and merry at the end, ready to continue the festival merry-go-round.
This opera by Marc-Antoine Charpentier was first seen in Louis XIV’s France in 1688. It tells the story of the relationship of the former shepherd boy who killed Goliath, David, and King Saul’s son Jonathan. Saul continually resents David and feels threatened by him. The civil war that develops forces the pair onto opposite sides with the risk one may kill the other. Jonathan is killed, and David vividly sings a lover’s grief, asking what remains for him when the one he loves is dead.
It is usual to look to the Old Testament for condemnation of human affections that do not comply with the most rigid rules, but here a deep, even if non-physical, love between men is celebrated. The relationship is shown as physical here, with the physical closeness and touching normal to lovers and with an on-stage kiss. Pascal Charbonneau is a terrific David, with a richly forceful and sensual voice, Ana Quintans is very good in the soprano role of Jonathas, and Neal Davies has a very powerful edge to his voice and characterisation as Saul.
The set somewhat grew on me, but the bareness of the wooden effects and the continual moving in of the walls to suggest claustrophobic situations, no doubt, seemed overdone. Turning the Witch into ten dead wives of the widowed Saul was a neat idea, but I’m not sure what it added. (Breaking a character into two, four or more performers seems almost a theme in what I have seen this year.)
Yet overall this was a very emotionally rewarding evening, where the personalities on stage made an impact and crossed the chasm of the centuries. The “mini scenes” involving the children helped this, and they added to a very moving finale.
Most festival goers will be aware of Camille O’Sullivan and her tremendous voice. Here she takes on a very challenging role. Accompanied by Feargal Murray on the piano, she performs, with a mixture of speech and singing, Shakespeare’s long poem, ”The Rape of Lucrece.”
We are at the founding of the Roman Republic. Collatinus brags to his fellow officers that his wife Lucrece’s virtue is impregnable. This inflames Tarquin, who begs lodging as a kinsman while Collatinus is still away, then demands sex with Lucrece. When she refuses, he threatens to frame her, saying he caught her with a servant, and slew them both. Her resolve weakens at the thought of the loss of reputation for her and her husband, at which Tarquin brutally rapes her. She tells all to her father the next day, demands they revenge her as she stabs herself, and thus begins a revolution that sees the Tarquins driven from Rome.
Camille O’Sullivan begins by greeting her audience, then providing a little prose introduction, soon moving into Shakespearean text, and then into song. It seems a natural and fluid progression. The set is simple; a red backcloth, the black piano, a chair, papers. Camille O’Sullivan wears a black gown, which when the collar is raised and it is drawn about her, seems almost to embody Tarquin. In this she inhabits his violence and sexual rage. Losing it, and revealing a white shift beneath, she then becomes the vulnerable and suffering Lucrece.
She very effectively inhabits each character, with a remarkable range of voice, tone and expression. To act and sing as well as she does whilst writhing on the ground as Lucrece is remarkable. The poem has been adapted by Camille O’Sulivan, Feargal Murray and director Elizabeth Freestone, including the music. The whole is a deeply affecting and, because of its artistry, satisfying musical and theatrical event. It is a disturbing and tragic story, redolent of types of crime and violence that are sadly still very much with us today. Yet the powerful and very talented way in which this tragic story is presented, and the approach taken to the tale, reinforce a moral order. Camille O’Sullivan in her powerful singing and acting and Feargal Murray with his sympathetic, dynamic but largely unobtrusive accompaniment, draw us into the story almost as if the singer is speaking just to us, hauling the individual through the tale. This is an extremely accomplished show, which deserves great success.
Villa Grimaldi, after which the first part of this original and most engrossing drama is named, was the largest and best known of over twelve hundred detention and torture centres that have been identified as being so used during the Pinochet dictatorship in Chile. Onstage in this first half we have three young women; we quickly realise that these are all Alejandra, they all represent the same character, arguing amongst themselves, ostensibly about what should happen to the site of Villa Grimaldi. Should it be erased from memory, should there be a visitor centre, should there be merely an electronic record of the people held there…..it emerges that Alejandra was an inmate, one of the abused, and there is talk of torture and of rape, even by forced dogs. There is talk of her mother, also raped, and at one point one of the Alejandra’s discloses that she is the child of her mother’s rape, and that her mother, part native American, is reminded of her rapist at times by her fair skinned daughter, at which the speaker moves towards another Alejandra, who turns away. There are a number of such visually electrifying moments.
The acting is splendidly dynamic and fluid, and – believe it or not – there is humour. We live along with these three spirited young women, who are a dizzying three-in-one. Whether there is meant to be a suggestion of split personality, and maybe this as a source of strength under duress, is difficult to say. However, as a theatrical conceit it works wonderfully well.
There is a ten minute interval before Discurso, and the press are invited into a separate bar. Which is quiet, with hardly any press chat; guys just study their glasses.
For Discurso, the same three actors appear, this time as three incarnations of Michelle Bachelet, the first left President of Chile post- Pinochet, the only woman so far, and someone who was incarcerated. Was she tortured and raped? There is much speculation but she will not speak about it. What we see and hear in Discurso is her farewell speech when she resigned in defeat in 2010 – or rather the speech which the playwright wishes she had made. In this speech she talks of her ideals and hopes, how she compromised in power and felt the pressure of American corporate power. She asks forgiveness and understanding. She mentions her time in one of Pinochet’s concentration camps, but only repeatedly says, “when I was tortured…or not…” Part way through, Sonia Mena appears as a fourth Bachelet, a much more mature and grey one, meant to be taken as “the real thing.” She also makes firm statements about her legacy and experience.
What I have described may not sound like an evening of outstanding theatre, but it is…the quality of the writing, the energetic way in which the language moves between topics , and the committed and outstanding acting of Francisca Lewin, Carla Romero and Macarena Zamudio as the three Alejandra’s and three of the Michelle Bachelet’s – these are the things that make for a most memorable and absorbing event.
Playwright Guillermo Calderon is a rising young star of South American theatre, and he spoke briefly before the play about its context. It takes art of a very high order to take such disturbing and sombre material and create a theatre event which fuels sad anger but which is also uplifting and is a celebration of the people seen on stage. Calderon deserves every credit for achieving this.
Inside Belt Up’s cushioned and draped playroom, you step into the margins of Lewis Carroll’s books to witness a retelling of stories inspired by his literature in a surprisingly unique way for an author who is so often over used. For ‘Outland’ steers away from the pages and hones in on the author, spinning a fascinating exploration of the imagination behind the best-loved stories enjoyed by adults and children alike. Written by company member Dominic Allen, the world which Belt Up creates is inspired by the possibility of a rare epileptic condition which historians believe that Charles Lutwidge Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) suffered from. Taking the audience by the hand, both metaphorically and tangibly, this trio guide the onlookers through parallel worlds as both witness and participant of the stories in the mind of professor Charles; wonderfully played by the Allen. It takes a little getting used to adults playing children, but ‘Outland’ is familial and the casts unwavering commitment to their characters aids the suspension of disbelief. Jethro Compton and Serena Manteghi skilfully flit between the professor’s adult companions Muriel and Arthur; also his doctor and the children Sylvie and Bruno who are brought to life from the lesser known of Carroll’s wonderful and irresistible nonsense with Alice sidelined, but not forgotten in this adventure down the rabbit hole.
Once inside their hub of stories and seated thigh to thigh with a stranger on a mishmash of cushions and benches, you could be 5 years old again. Belt Up do not disappoint, they use retrospect to their advantage, tapping into the mind of an adult character to unveil the magical stories often belonging to children and challenge this ownership by placing the imaginative key into the hands of a dying man who becomes the driving force in the desire to take the mind to ‘Outland’, but perhaps not back again.
‘Outland’ is a master class in imaginative play, every parent could learn a thing or two from these actors’ performances and when I have children, I’d like to borrow Belt Up. They are more than an adult crèche however, but I am certainly inspired to emulate the creative energies within the company to share with my children one day. It helps that Compton and Manteghi look very young, but their performances refuse to rely on this as there is clear maturity in the strong cast dynamic which is to be expected from performing three different shows each day at the Fringe.
‘The Boy James’ is based around the author of Peter Pan, J.M Barrie and contains many ambiguities surrounding the interactions between the author and his younger self. The audience are invited into the cosy room by the excitable Jethro Compton as the protagonist playing a boy and seated in the certainly atmospheric performance space.
Already intimately spaced within the room, we are made to hold hands and introduce ourselves to a neighbour and tell one another of an adventure, as if you’ve walked into a bizarre speed dating scenario on your first day at school. It certainly plays with breaking audience conventions and tensions, but is somewhat awkwardly orchestrated. When you are painfully reminded of the inhibitions of adulthood and left with the mind blank that comes from being put on the spot to tell someone something interesting about yourself on the topic of being adventurous, perhaps they should leave this responsibility on themselves, as they capture the sense of child’s play with ease. It is a nice idea but I preferred their simpler device of engaging the audience in the act of hiding from the character James by closing and covering their eyes. This moment is the first introduction to the character and the audience experience it blind. As the scene is played out and you listen to James speak for the first time, the piece is opened up to utilising the senses and the temptation to peek sparks immediate curiosity.
Having seen both ‘Outland’ and ‘The Boy James’ it is clear how Belt Up can transform within their shabby chic room with an explosion of tales full of excitement and capturing such innocence that they are not afraid to break. Although the narrative seems weak in places with less of a storyline than an experience of performance, ‘The Boy James’ is really well paced. They maintain a sense of adventure and manage to orientate the audience against scepticism, even if reluctantly because they place this attitude at the hands of one of the characters instead, which instantly and cleverly encourages the audience to pick sides. They use this technique in both ‘The Boy James’ and ‘Outland’ and although there are many crossovers in style and technique, their stories are different experiences but equally engaging. They also do not shy away from unearthing flawed characters and sinister streaks. Lulled into a false sense of security by Compton’s performance as the boy, the shows dark twists lead to uncomfortable scenes of sexual abuse and a heart-breaking final sequence which asks the audience to abandon a helpless boy.
It’s like Belt Up rewrite children’s classic literature, so that Peter Pan would take Mr and Mrs Darling to Neverland instead of Wendy and the other children. Like Peter Pan’s inability to grow up, this theme is well ingrained in the company’s work and governs the journeys and attitudes of the characters. But although the show makes a compelling case for believing in the innocence of the characters, It isn’t entirely clear who the anonymous girl is, or what she is supposed to represent so that when she spirals recklessly into precociousness and rapes the vulnerable boy James, Peter Pan seems to have flown a long way away and the escapism vanishes.