Archive for September, 2010


Tales from a Cabaret

Tuesday, 7 September, 2010

Existential Cabaret

Edinburgh 10 – Fingers Piano Bar – 7-28 August­­ 2010 – 21.00 (0:50)

The Creative Martyrs, a white-faced duo intent on reliving the glory days of cabaret, are in fine sinister form throughout this rollercoaster ride through the world of mime, music, storytelling and high-concept japery.  The Tales from the Cabaret that they tell are a direct riposte to the X-Factor generation intent on getting their kicks from the latest heavily marketed shiny bauble in the television listings.

An introductory song establishes their style as “existential cabaret” and is swiftly followed by a song about the private life of hats “running about at night”.  Making anthropomorphic head-gear sound threatening with a whispered lyric, the entertainers paint a picture of the seedy underbelly of society accompanied by cello, ukulele and kazoo.

The pair then introduce a few of the stars of the cabaret of their shadowy past, dancers, acrobats, mimes and “Esmerelda, the bearded lady – six foot ten and a little bit shady”. They proceed to narrow their gaze onto two of these singular characters –  namely the Glittering Raven, a fantasical, almost supernatural dancer, and Darievo, an unparalleled escape artist – telling vignettes from their lives throughout their time on stage.  Their tales are told with increasing sadness as the world moves on and tastes change, opening the way for more commercialised acts and spurning the fascinating freaks for mere physical beauty.  As the Raven and Darievo slip ever further down the bill they are faced with a stark choice – change or be forgotten.  The homogenation of entertainment is completed by the end of the show where to garner success all one must be is a “comedian telling jokes about a certain type”.

Venturing into the audience, the pair cajol and hector while blaming the world at large for the dumbing down of culture and the paucity of ambition in the modern age.

The performance is bookended by a ritualistic secret knock segment which is as ambitious as it is simple, drawing all into their secret world and making the whole show seem like a secret club to which only the luckiest few have been invited.  This feeling of exclusivity is maintained for much of the first half, before being quickly whipped away as a character simply known as the ‘administrative photocopier’ starts picking at onlookers’ personal privacy to devastating effect.  The fourth wall is destroyed as the performers forsake their beloved entertainers and shine a critical light into the characters in the audience.

Both entertainers, resplendent in dark suits, bowler hats and pansticked faces, are multi-talented individuals, equally comfortable on a number of instruments and experts at using mime and body-language to communicate their frustration at the new and elation at the old.  The two work together like a Hammer Horror version of Laurel and Hardy, Gustav Martyr’s clipped Eastern European accent and  Jacob Martyr’s eloquent English tones combining to capture their chosen bygone era perfectly.

It’s a perfectly structured performance which communicates the Creative Martyr’s tales in a complex style, but never sinks into solipsism or sacrifices entertainment for the sake of their grand ambition.

Cast Credits: Gustav MartyrJacob Martyr.

Company Credits: Writers – Gustav Maryr and Jacob Martyr.  Company – The Creative Martyrs.  Promotor – PBH Free Fringe.

(c) David Hepburn 2010

Reviewed Friday 26 August


Mathemagician: A Monodrama in Five Acts

Tuesday, 7 September, 2010

Edinburgh 10 – Acoustic Music Centre @ St Brides – 21-22 August­­ 2010 – 22.45 (1:15)

Mathemagician: A Monodrama in Five Acts is an occasionally baffling mix of poetry, prose, music and dance used to illustrate a journey through a dream-like world of war and political machinations.  Written by journalist, translator, playwrite and children’s author Dr Gowri Ramnarayan it is a full-on assault on the senses, filled with the intrigue of long-dead nations and, at its heart, a great romance left unfulfilled.

The Mathemagician of the title is Nikor, a numerical master who lived in around 500BC and ultimately became the Persian Empire’s chief economist.  As he waits for a visit from the Persian Emperor he tells the story of how he achieved such a lofty rank.

Born to a Babylonian noble man, Nikor started life as weak child hated by his domineering siblings.  His only friend and confidant is a shy girl called Salla who lived in the neighbouring mansion and their fledgling love affair is shattered when Nikor’s family collude to have him castrated and sold into slavery.  But the slave’s talent with numbers is soon uncovered and the young eunuch quickly becomes apprentice to Plautus, the Babylonian chief economist.  Swiftly rising through the ranks he achieves huge wealth and fame as the country’s chief mathematician, account general and keeper of the state seals.  A chance meeting with the now-married Salla rekindles old passions but, once again, the pair’s happiness is thwarted, this time when the Persian Army invades and lays siege to Babylon.  When Plautus vanishes, Nikor takes on his role and tells his Queen about the severity of likely food shortages.  With this minor calculation he becomes an accomplice to a brutal suicide cult designed to keep the rich and powerful alive at the expense of the poor and weak – including, he fears, his beloved Salla.  Unable to live with his part in the massacre Nikor switches sides and is welcomed into the bosom of a Persian society keen to take advantage of his talents.  His betrayal leads to Babylon being destroyed, with many of his countrymen and family slaughtered.  As he watches his city burn he thinks of nothing but the further power and riches which are to be showered upon him by his new Persian overlords.  Settled into his new, near-regal, position a message from his forgotten former master Plautus ultimately forces him to look back on his life and see the man he has become.

Wielding a bewildering array of theatrical weaponry, Vasudev Menon powers through the performance with confidence and obvious emotion.  Whether pining after his beloved, fearing the wrath of his political superiors or succumbing to treachory, he communicates the characters’ feelings with great depth, often using just a single well-chosen glance from wide kohl-rimmed eyes.  His balletic movements throughout add an extra layer of characterisation and make every line or rhyme seem pregnant with meaning.  A basic set of a chaise longue, table and basket is ingeniously used, along with a smattering of props, to convey a sense of place and time.  Traditional Indian music adds to the Eastern promise and is utilised to effectively demonstrate new scenes, chapters and characters.

The plot, however, is so confusing that the storyline is often forced to take a back-seat to the sheer spectacle of what is happening on stage.  This means that the eventual unravelling of Nikors’ entire belief-system does not feel as dramatic as it could, with too much in the way of extraneous material and superfluous artistic flotsam getting in the way of what is undoubtedly a riveting yarn.

Cast Credits: Vasudev Menon – Nikor. 

Company Credits:  Story and monologue – Doctor Gowri Ramnarayan. Music design – Doctor Gowri Ramnarayan.  Lighting design – Gordon Hughes.  Sound – Chandra Mouli.  Music and Vocals – Kannan and Renju.  Dramatization – Vasudev Menon and Rosie Paveley.  Co-ordination and Stage Management – Sajeev Pillai and Vaishnavi Sundararajan.  Produced By – The Holy Cow Performing Arts Group.

(c) David Hepburn 2010

Reviewed Saturday 21 August


Ladies of the Sacred Heart

Tuesday, 7 September, 2010


Edinburgh 10 – theSpaces @ Surgeons Hall – 6-28 August­­ 2010 – 19.00 (0:45)

Ladies of the Sacred Heart is a comic play which takes an initially light-hearted look at the travails of an order or nuns before unleashing a wicked twist in the tale.

Set in a convent, the plot follows Mother Superior Sister Mary (Natasha Nightingale) as she welcomes new arrival Sister Catherine (Stephanie Glide) into the order.  She is hindered in her holy duty by the foul-mouthed, heavy-drinking, party animal Sister Maud (Roisin Kelly) who is more intent on getting a ticket to see a pop concert and drinking Guinness than she is in worshipping the almighty.  Sister Mary is also disrupted in her mission by a swiftly-established sexual attraction to Sister Catherine, lapsing into embarrassing Freudian slips at every turn.

Taking equal time to introduce the new nun to her duties and remonstrating with Sister Maud for her antics (including a memorable scene featuring a large vibrator), the Superior has her work cut out.  As the sexual tension between Sister Catherine and Sister Mary increases the Superior increasingly gets involved in ever-more-suggestive positions as she engages in the daily chores, often with her habit tucked into her pants.  It is only when she threatens to expel Sister Maud that her true relationship to the errant Sister begins to surface – leading Sister Catherine to worry about her Superior’s very sanity.

The tone of the piece is set early on with a set comprising a desk, crucifix and alter seemingly dedicated to Boyzone singer Ronan Keating.  Thus begins a number of sly digs at the dogma of the Catholic Church, most evident when shortly after bemoaning the convent’s precarious financial state Sister Mary blows her nose on a ten pound note.

Roisin Kelly is the undoubted star of the show, with her garrulous Irish accent investing the oft-truculent Sister Maud with a delightful naughtiness.  Whether mispronouncing the word ‘Bible’, scoffing the alter wine or exhibiting shock at a nun’s requirement to pray, she is a wonderfully drawn comic character.

Natasha Nightingale portrays Sister Mary as the stereotypical buttoned-up nun with frustrations boiling up inside of her but never let loose.  Her obvious chemistry with her fellow cast members keeps the play rolling-on and ties together the entire performance effortlessly.

Stephanie Glide has little to do as Sister Catherine other than to provide a foil to the comic antics of the other two actresses. She does, however, make a fine ‘straightwoman’ and her increasing incredulity at the actions of Sister Mary provides plenty to laugh at.

The writing, by Roisin Kelly, is sparky although it occasionally lapses a little too much into smuttiness reminiscent of the Carry On films.  The joke involving St Mary’s habit being tucked into her knickers goes on a shade too long and serves no final purpose.  It sometimes seems that the writer is unsure about whether to aim for full-on satire or knock-about physical comedy and the play is left accomplishing neither form satisfactorily.

The direction, again by the multi-talented Roisin Kelly, is brisk with very little to distract from the main story.

Cast Credits: Stephanie Glide – Sister Catherine.  Roisin Kelly – Sister Maud.  Natasha Nightingale – Sister Mary.

Company Credits: Writer – Roisin Kelly.  Manager – Roisin Kelly.  Technical Manager – Louise Thomas.

(c) David Hepburn 2010

Reviewed Friday 28 August


Reel-to-Real: The Movies Musical

Monday, 6 September, 2010

Brash musical theatre

Edinburgh – Pleasance Courtyard – 4 – 30 Aug 10 – 17:00 (1.00)

Reel-to-real is a bright, brash piece of musical theatre with a simple message, and a rather complicated way of purveying it. The unique selling point of Reel-to-real is the clever incorporation of classic black and white film footage into a new story told through the medium of musical theatre.  Therefore, the experience would be enhanced for those with some knowledge of classic films.  For those lacking in such knowledge, the merging of the two media is still a clever and amusing trick, although a little confusing for the plot at times.  Characters interact with former film stars, and objects are apparently magically exchanged between the film set and the stage, making a transition from 2D film to 3D stage.  This may not be the most exciting, tear-jerking or showstopping musical on offer, but Reel-to-real remains an entertaining show.

A set of twins, one boy, one girl, come of age, and by a set of contrived circumstances, find themselves on a race around the world in opposite directions, apparently in order to impress their father and gain access to his fortune.  While this makes for a very neatly packaged collection of characters and situations, it is actually a bizarre storyline, ending with the inevitable conclusion that competing against your twin is not advisable, and sticking together would be a much better idea.  Various settings are recognisable by stereotypical monuments and locals, such as the Eiffel Tower and the Great Wall and street sellers of China.  Visiting a carefully chosen collection of countries to correspond with movie clips, along the way the twins meet friends and love interests of the generic happy ending variety.

Supporting this insipid storyline are some extraordinary special effects and exceptionally swift scene changes.  One of the most inventive scenes involves clever rhythmic gymnastic trickery using coloured fabric alongside lighting effects to represent a storm.  While the effects might, at times, be truly mind-blowing, the songs and the singing are much less often, and the storyline is ultimate American cheese.  The shining star of the show is its choreography.  Tap routines rival the old greats, and are performed alongside movie clips, sometimes complementing, sometimes synchronising with them.  The dancing and choreography is something to behold, and seems in a separate league to the other elements of this uplifting but superficial piece of theatre.

For a show incorporating so many effects whilst combining film and theatre, the result is surprisingly one dimensional. A strange mixture of top quality dance, slick stage management and standard singing and storyline, this show could be fantastic fun for fans of Mamma Mia!  A great time will be had by audiences who enjoy a sing-along style, a bubblegum colour scheme and a predictable ending, but are not too critical of the quality of the plot or the depth of characterisation.   Reel-to-real is fabulous in theory, pretty good in practice.

Cast credits:  Jeremy Benton – Jack.  Craig Blake – Swing.  Joe Grandy – Chorus.  Danielle Jordan  - Chorus.  Jose Luaces  – Benson.  Kelly Lynn Cosme  - Swing. Shaun Parry – Joe.  Rebecca Palmer – Chorus.  Kiira Schmist – Chorus.  Vanessa Sonon – Bombshell.  Joe Sparks – Chorus. Doug Stender – Cheever. Ellen Zolezzi – Jill.

Company credits:  Writers – Kincaid Jones.  Director – Lynne Taylor-Corbett.  Musical Director – Doug Oberhamer.  Choreographers – Lynne Taylor- Corbett/ Jeremy Benton.  Set Designer – Beowolf Boritt.  Costume Designer – Fabio Toblini.  Lighting Designer – Vivien Leone.  Projection Designer – Jeff Sugg.  Sound Designer – Christopher Cronin.  Props Designer – Matthew Hodges.  Wig and Hair Designer  – Robert-Charles Vallence.  Conductor – Tom Nazzioli.

(c) Claire Higgins 2010


Above the clear blue sky

Friday, 3 September, 2010

Talented young Russian ensemble

Edinburgh 2010 – C venue -  4-30 Aug (not 16,23) 22.30

The world premiere of SSR Productions Moscow-based company’s new project, “ Above the Clear Blue Sky “ happened at the Edinburgh Festival a week later than planned. Weather conditions in Russia were so hot the tarmac melted below the clear blue sky and grounded the company in Moscow airport.  “Above the Clear Blue Sky “ is a strange piece of work. The opening is elegantly set, as if we are in the clouds, being sung to by moving clouds. The actor-singers are voluminously clad in white stretchy material through which they demonstrate their strong movement skills while singing in mellifluous harmony. From here we could have gone anywhere, had it been truly  “a musical”, but it is not.

The show comprises a series of songs selected from different genres, adapted by the arrangers to be sung in feature solo lines and multiple part harmony. Ray Charles‘ “Georgia on my Mind”, The Beatles’ “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “Because”, Queen‘s “Bohemian Rhapsody”, “Fly away on the Wings of the Wind” from Borodin‘s opera “Prince Igor”, J.S. Bach’s “Prelude” , Michael Jackson‘s “Black or White”, “Agua de Beber”,& “New Born” by Muse, and a Russian rock ballad “Above the Clear Blue Sky” are sung in rapid succession, though not necessarily in this order. The bravura vocal performances were accompanied by recordings of their normally live band and a series of short films, created specifically for the show, projected on the white set.

Each number was splendidly harmonised and sung with dynamic shaping, like a well trained choir, but told no consecutive story. They sang “ Bohemian Rhapsody” with confidence and style and did a beautiful rendition of “ Can’t Buy Me Love “ which emphasised the lyrics to be heard anew, but their style was most perplexing. It was a bit like The Swingle Singers meets the Barber’s Shop Chorus in a Church Hall. If this had been advertised as a Concert and performed in the Queen’s Hall in September they might have provoked rave reviews. As a late night performance in the Edinburgh Festival it was a strangely pitched conundrum.

It is a stunningly well arranged and sung musical performance with some well choreographed sections. It’s a joint production by six recent graduates of The Russian Academy of Theatre Arts, Astemir Apasanov, Vadim Dubrovin, Olga Godunova,  Seseg Khapsasova,  Nikolay Novopashin,  Olga Ponomareva, Choreographer, Burukin Dmitry, manager and actress Valeriya Koltsova, director Alexey Rubinstein, and music arrangers Grigory Auarbah, Gelsiat Shaidulova, and Nikolay Novopashin but it seems to have ironed out any Russian characteristics to become some kind of Pan European eclectic offering of Westernised modern style. The costumes revealed from under the white are all rainbow coloured and very modern while the characters of each of the performers seems to have been held somewhere in the 1940′s.

Seseg Khapsasova, a very talented young woman who graduated from composer and choir department of a specialized music school says, “ Ensemble is a body that breathes and sings as one! I want the world, meaning the system, to change! Then the mankind will be happy!! Will go the musical way… and forward!”

She, like all the young cast, is a prize winning Performance Arts graduate who has been participating in Festivals and Competitions for much of her life to reach this stage. Perhaps their classical training is yet to mellow into personal, funky style which might still blend all their differences into the desired Oneness while establishing a new energetic blend of 21st Century performance style which is not quite so clean cut.. Their command of the English language is excellent. Their diction is clear and remarkable. They smile gloriously and they co-operate with one another seamlessly moving from one number to another, from one mike to another, from one partnership to another. The sound created was often surprising and always professional.

The Company wishes, with the help of the songs, “ to speak of love, friendship, loneliness, and of that one day when the whole world stops, while people see each other, hear each other’s heartbeats and feel with every cell of their body, all that remains alive on this planet.” These sentiments are in accord with those of the European Rainbow Family and The Rainbow world wide. How-ever this super-clean, very urbane ensemble might learn much of how to relax into brilliance from seeing and hearing “ Bacca Beyond “ do their set on the stages of Festival Fields. Each of the individual voices is given a moment to shine, and shine they do. The quality of the performers and the material is second to none. I’m just not sure the full concept has yet been realised. Currently I’m not sure if they are a company destined to do a wonderful musical or a set of young people who would like to win the Eurovision Song Contest, sounding more English than Russian.

Olga Ponomareva, is one of “Russia’s Talented Children”,  Astemir Apasanov, so far has always taken the first prize. Grand Prix at the super finals of the TV singing contest “The Morning Star”, first place at the international young talent festival “Hopes of Europe”, grand prix of the Russian national contest “Blue Bird”, first place at the “Russia’s Talented Children”. Vadim Dubrovin, won the grand prix at the Music World 2004 Italy Festival Internacionale Fivizzano.. Nikolay Novopashin, Nikolay graduated from the Academy of Arts and Culture with a degree in music conducting. She’s a winner of Russian and International musical festivals and competitions. Olga Godunova, participated and was the winner of musical contests, such as “Open Europe”, “People’s Artist 3″, was a participant in the semi-final of the international contest of pop singers “New Wave” in 2005. Burukin Dmitry did ballroom, Latin, modern and jazz dancing more than ten years.

Valeriya Koltsova,  a 23-year-old graduate of the Russian Academy of Arts is a workaholic who can’t imagine her life without coffee, cafes, and acting! She is an actress and a manager for the Above the Clear Blue Sky show. Anna Dudina, their Executive Producer, originally comes from a Siberian town of Omsk, and having lived most of her life in Moscow, she is now settled in the UK about to embark on a postgraduate course in Culture, Politics and Management in London. Alexey Rubinstein was born into a family of actors. He produced and directed “The Self-Murder”, The show got four stars from Scotsman and five stars from British Theatre Guide. It would be rare for a Western Theatre Company to be composed of such luminaries, especially such a young company.

SSR Productions is a Moscow-based company, created by artistic director Alexey Rubinstein in 2008. Its main focus claims to be “ on search and reflection in the theatrical art of vital topics and plots, on the union of quality and innovative forms in theatre and on discovering the new generation of Russian playwrights, directors, composers and artists. The person and the society, sense and meaningless of life, the individual and power, ethnos( ethnic peasant culture ) and urbanism, wars and religion, ethics and immorality – these are the topics relevant for the new theatre”  to be realized by the  company. Artistic integrity and topicality are their stated creative and ideological reference points.

In this production I would say they have found the new generation of Russian artists. Their ethnic roots though seem to have been discarded while they explore the relationship between the individual and the collective in a musical manner. They are deeply interested in Peace and Harmony which is not surprising for young people who have grown up in Eastern Europe where war was always in their consciousness and all young men were trained in the Russian army, sent to the places where struggle was happening on their borders and concerned for the political fate of their nation through the years of transformation which resulted in the disintegration of the Berlin Wall. Perhaps it is just the first necessary step in the building of a new musical theatre which can thrive without state funding and tour the world, allowing our young people to see where classical discipline can take a group of young people willing to share the limelight and show love.

Cast: Astemir Apasanov- actress/singer, Burukin Dmitry – actor/singer, Vadim Dubrovin - actor/singer Olga Godunova – actress/singer,  Seseg Khapsasova – actress/singer Valeriya Koltsova- actress/singer,  Nikolay Novopashin – actor/singer,  Olga Ponomareva – actress /singer,

Company: SSR Productions; Choreographer, Burukin Dmitry; Manager - Valeriya Koltsova; Director Alexey Rubinstein; Music Arrangers Grigory Auarbah, Gelsiat Shaidulova, and Nikolay Novopashin

Executive Producer - Anna Dudina,

( c )Lilian Kennedy Brzoska 2010

reviewed Friday 20th August 10


100 Greatest Beekeepers In Switzerland Ever – Free

Friday, 3 September, 2010

Intelligent, witty masterly stand-up and great poetry

Edinburgh 2010 – Laughing Horse@Three Sisters -  20-29 Aug 16.00 (1.00)

Edinburgh Fringe Free Comedy is becoming a very strong part of the Festival. I heard many good reports of the high standard of performances being given by the Laughing Horse contributors at all their venues.

“ The 100 Greatest Swiss Beekeepers, Ever “ claimed to “ poke fun at all those insufferable list TV shows that clutter up the airwaves and give employment to Kate Thornton etc when nothing else will.”  It stood up to its description, as the performers used the list to great comic effect from the outset in a pastiche of the shows we love to hate. The charmingly cheeky young men made the audience laugh out loud very early on in the proceedings. However, the show was far more than its description, far reaching and engagingly entertaining in a remarkably intelligent, linguistically skillful way.

It was performed by “three penniless, scruffy, talented (if broke) comedians “ who are also poets.  John Osborne, Patrick Lappin and Yanny Mac belong to a new wave of poetic and comedic talents who have a strong resonance with performance poets found regularly in Edinburgh throughout the year. These particular performance poets are a splendid combination of energies and talents. Their script was beautifully crafted.

John Osborne is an excellent poet and writer. His performance character is very warm-hearted, slightly shy and yet deeply confident. The poems he chose to read were delicately precise in syntax and gloriously full of sharply perceptive compassionate humanity.  A member of poetry collective Aisle16 his first book Radio Head was Radio 4 Book of the Week, his second ‘The Newsagents Window’ has just been published (both Simon and Schuster).The Daily Telegraph reviewed it as  ‘Funny perceptive and charming’  If what he read to us was a true measure of his writing I am not at all surprised his published work is so well received. He is boyishly humorous when improvising and genuinely engaging.  He also managed to create a fine holding space to support both Patrick Lappin and Yanny Mac to be very funny, complimenting their work with his mobile facial responses and his gentle laughter.

Patrick Lappin is a stand-up comedian and poet and regular on the London circuit. ‘Always hilarious’ says Maddog Magazine. He is based in Norwich where he and Yanny Mac also developed a double act. His mates call him Paddy. He is a very funny man. His delivery of his stunningly clever stand-up pieces is rapid and very physically entertaining. His acting skills are very strong. He was the central player, extremely well supported by his colleagues who played straight-man and buffoon to his very powerfully  “ bi-polar “ maniac with strong opinions and a dangerous edge. When the audience arrived he shook everyone’s hand. He created a unwelcoming gentle atmosphere and early laughter. Gradually, through the show he allowed his dangerous comic to appear, until finally he produced one of the most challenging pieces of work I saw all Festival. He walked a very delicate line between hilarious and deeply sick which he pulled off brilliantly. It seemed to me he appreciated both the strong audience attention and the supportive power of his fellow performers who created the extra layer of safety needed to allow him to walk the tightrope he created.

Yanny Mac is a poet and raconteur. Yanny describes himself as is a pikey poet. He is about to launch his anthology “Suburban Myths & Misses”, with a tour set for Spring 2011. A former member of Aisle16, he claims he retired as age and arthritis took their toll. His last performance at The Fringe in 2005 with ‘Searchin For Me Chav Princess’ was described as ‘Poetry for the masses’ by The Guardian and featured on BBC TV. He controlled the music while contributing merry quips and performing his role impeccably. He plays The Daft One, desperate to share his poetry, being patronised or ignored by Paddy and John who occasionally allow him to do what he thinks is right. He brings the running gag of the 100 Bee Keepers in Switzerland to life with impish merriment, encouraging the other two to keep going when the idea wears as thin as it does on TV in the mid- 30 -80 range…where much merriment is had by all finding silly names and silly gags. He is beautifully self-deprecating and splendid at direct audience address.

As a team these three very talented writer, poet performers are wonderful to watch working. They shared the tiny space with great grace. They send up ego-mania by playing its extremes and they balance one another with comfortable ease. The clearly have a wonderful working relationship which resulted in a very fine show. It was a fine sunny afternoon in Edinburgh. They managed to fill the dark house and keep the audience who could all have buzzed off at any time. This was a show full of honeyed moments and open-hearted laughter.

Cast: Patrick Lappin – comedian/poet; Yanny Mac - poet-raconteur;  John Osborne-poet

Company – Producers – Patrick Lappin, Yanny Mac, John Osborne, Writers – Patrick Lappin, Yanny Mac, John Osborne, Technical Department -  Patrick Lappin, Yanny Mac, John Osborne

© Lilian Kennedy Brzoska 2010

reviewed Thursday 26th August 10


Lockerbie: unfinished business

Friday, 3 September, 2010

Stark, strong, lonely

Edinburgh – Gilded Balloon – 4 – 30 Aug 10 – 14:30 (1.00)

Jim Swire's pursuit of justice for his daughter, dramatised here

Lockerbie: Unfinished Business tells the true story of the terrorist attack on an aeroplane in 1988, in which all passengers were killed on their way from Heathrow to New York. It is the story of one man’s quest for justice following the loss of his daughter, the obstacles in his way, and less overtly, yet profoundly, the effect that grief still has on him, 20 years later.

Captivating are the emotional outpourings of the protagonist, David Benson playing Jim Swire, father of a victim of the attack.   No stone is left unturned along the path he hopes will lead to justice.  In attempting to make public the inadequate policies, warped politics and bungled judgement applied to the Lockerbie bombing, he stumbles many a time, and often finds himself diverted, revealing that behind each fact and figure lies an aching personal loss, in this case, of a cherished young woman, Flora Swire, who was set for a career in neurology.

The performance, as the show itself, is stark, strong, and lonely.  There is very little in the way of setting or effects, leaving room for an intimate and interactive experience, and many will be moved to tears.  This is an impressive performance by David Benson, as he holds the stage, and audience attention, alone.  At times, lines are lost, and a little backtracking occurs, which is just about plausible given the highly charged emotional soliloquies.  Unfortunately less so when a date is corrected, as a father is unlikely to forget the day his daughter died, but David Benson may be forgiven for this, as he clearly has a lot of lines to remember, seldom pausing in an hour’s performance.  Overall, the effect is of a father who is genuinely struggling under the burden of his grief and the need to do something positive for his daughter.  He feels, rightly or wrongly, that never giving up on his quest for justice is his best offering.  This determination comes to rule his life, sometimes to the detriment of his remaining family.  

Although the most moving aspect of the show is the personal desire of a father to help his daughter in some way, his method of doing so is educational for many, who may be unaware of the intricacies of the case.  The subject matter is topical, as current news coverage talks of the Lockerbie bomber, released on grounds of ill health, going on to live another year.  Many will feel that they have learnt something through watching this show.  Others may feel that this is irrelevant, as information has not served justice for Swire.  Knowledge is not power, it is grief unending, and may upset younger audience members, or those who have suffered similar experiences.  Alternatively, some may find the overview of hard facts too broad, and want to learn more, finding the show simply too sentimental.

Whilst some may feel a little frustrated at the fruitless efforts of a lifelong quest, and debate whether or not its execution has brought Jim Swire any closer to peace, admiration for his strength of conviction is probable, and sympathy for his obvious grief is almost certain.  David Benson’s portrayal of Jim Swire is admirable in its sincerity.

Cast credits:  David Benson – Jim Swire.

Company credits:  Writer – David Benson. Director – Hannah Eidinow.

(c) Claire Higgins 2010

Reviewed Thursday 2nd September 2010


The Thunderbolt, by Arthur Wing Pinero

Friday, 3 September, 2010

Greed in the spotlight

The Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond – 1 Sept – 2 Oct 2010, 7.45pm (2.45 including 15 min interval)

This long-forgotten Edwardian drama is principally about greed, and since that is a human quality that hardly ever changes, its subject is as current now as it ever was.

So, when the Mortimore family are reconciled to their long-lost brother, on the advice of his lawyer and literally on his death bed, their thoughts – collectively and individually – turn quickly to the will, who might get what, and how much. Matters are complicated by the apparent lack of a substantive document which might just point to the wishes of the deceased regarding his not inconsiderable fortune.

He has made his money in beer, something which doesn’t seem to trouble these temperance-society local notables.

They don’t seem to be troubled either by the existence of an acknowledged illegitmate daughter, who, when she appears, hardly seems to be the bohemian, that her residence (in Paris) and her inclinations (she is training to be an artist) might indicate. In fact, she is young, beautiful and possessed of a degree of moral certitude which is in stark contrast to her deceased father’s family. What upsets this potential heiress is the lack of any kind of document that might point to her father’s love. It is this (it seems) that concerns her; the spiritual, rather than financial, legacy.

There is a big cast here and this is a full-on costume drama. The Orange Tree’s in-the-round space seems quite crowded sometimes, but director Sam Walters moves everything along – including the substantial quantity of furniture on the stage, when necessary – at a brisk pace, and as is usual at the Orange Tree, there is an excellent cast who make the most of Pinero’s script. Its determination to illustrate the moral weaknesses of the whole Mortimore family is unrelenting. Even the scarcely acknowledged Thaddeus (Stuart Fox), the music teacher who has married beneath him, for all his protestations regarding the family’s duty, is finally revealed as self-seeking and vain, even though his reasons for wanting the money are slightly more understandable.

There is a fairly long-winded section towards the close of the first act which reveals something that most of the audience will have understood to be not beyond the bounds of possibility for some while before, but mostly this doesn’t feel like a long play, and that is mostly down to the quality of the performances on show here.

There are many highlights, but Orange Tree regular David Antrobus as the hapless lawyer Vallance, new to the family and its inclinations is always meticulously effective. Julie Teal as one of the wives gives a masterclass in displaying her disgust at other people’s behaviour, and Grainne Keenan as female lead and heir apparent (Helen Thornhill) has just the right balance of moral certitude and worldly awareness to carry our unquestioning sympathy, though her character in Pinero’s script is just a bit too perfect – at least until near the close.

Pinero’s plot meanders slightly, but it is a journey which is well worth our attention – largely because of the high-quality performances – even if no particularly momentous conclusions – apart from the fact that life can and will go on – are to be drawn.

This is almost an Edwardian soap opera, and the plot could – without too much alteration of detail or character – readily transpose itself into an Eastenders or Coronation Street plotline.

Cast: David Antrobus – Mr Vallance; Jack Armstrong – Cyril; Vincent Brimble – Mr Elkin; Amelia Brown – Joyce; Osmund Bullock – Colonel Ponting; Stuart Burgess – Heath and other servants; Stuart Fox – Thaddeus Mortimer; James Joyce – the Rev Trist; Grainne Keenan – Helen Thornhill; Geoff Lesley – James Mortimer; Brenda Longman – Ann Mortimore; Nathalie Ogle – Phyllis Mortimore; Julie Teal – Louisa Mortimore; Janet Spencer Turner – Rose Ponting; David Whitworth – Stephen Mortimore

Company: Director – Sam Walters; Set design – Sam Dowson; Lighting design – Dan Staniforth; Costume designer – Robyn Wilson; Trainee directors – Jimmy Grimes, Teunkie van der Slujis; Stage manager – Stuart Burgess; Deputy stage manager – Becky Fisher; Assistant stage manager – Sophie Acreman; Production technicians – Dan Staniforth, Michael Sowby; Assistant designer – Katy Mills

(c) Brent Crude 2010


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