Archive for the ‘Edinburgh 2011’ Category

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William, performed by Shona Cowie

Friday, 26 August, 2011

Brave and delightful storytelling for children

Edinburgh 11 – C Venues eca – 3 – 29 August. 11.30

William is a single performer piece focusing on storytelling designed for children of five years and older.

Shona Cowie is sat in the centre of the space with a suitcase, some paper and crayons.  As the children file in she calls them to her and invites them to sit on the floor and draw on the sheets of paper.  They are asked to draw the cover of a book thats called ‘William’, and as the piece progresses to keep drawing what they see and hear.

Initially the children are drawn into the piece by simple interactions.  They make the sound effects for the cars and shout about sea monsters, Shona ques these sounds with both gestures and spoken lines of dialogue.  Its a clever device that is both a fun game and a story telling tool.  Initially reticent the children warm to Shona and soon are enthusiastically joining in.  From this platform we are taken into the body of the story.

Shona Cowie is a talented performer who takes care not to patronise her young charges.  Creating characters and locations using only her body and the suitcase she keeps the young children enthralled throughout.  What is exceptional is her ability to keep characters natural rather than exaggerated and her willingness to portray the bad in characters – her portrayal of Williams mother is refreshingly harsh for a piece of children’s theatre.

Whilst Shona allows the children to define certain sections of the story there is a narrative that carries it from start to finish.  This narrative is preoccupied with the joy of reading, the magic of storytelling and the importance of helping others through their fears and problems.

This narrative is both the pieces strongest feature and its greatest weakness, the use of metaphor within it is astounding and the message that it is looking to impart into the children is powerful and deeply essential.  However, having made so much of working from the children’s input sometimes the dense story can seem a little artificial.  Also, whilst the narrative says something fundamental about the joy and power of stories (and is moving beyond belief on occasion), it feels more essential for the children than wonderful for them.

Once the storyline is finished there is a magical but very simple reveal – Cowie opens the suitcase and it is stuffed full of all the stories that the children who took part before us drew on their sheets of paper.  It’s a delightful end to a wonderful and brave piece of theatre that may not amaze children in the moment of its performance but is likely to remain with them many years to come.

Shona Cowie – Performer

Company Credits: Designer, Director – Shona Cowie. Writer – Alexander Wright. Technical Operator – Sian Parsons.  Company – The Flanagan Collective. Website – http://www.theflanagancollective.co.uk

(c) George Maddocks

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Vertigo: Kindling Project – Nightlight Theatre

Friday, 26 August, 2011

A successful partnership

Edinburgh ’11,  Bedlam Theatre– – 7th -13th  Aug at 15.25

“ What do you need to start a fire?” asks Nightlight Theatre. “You need Kindling.”

Night Light Theatre helped co-create The First Kindling Project Ever!  They describe it as “a tiny project” which they have supported in improvised development.  It is called ’Vertigo’, though in the course of the show Philippa Hogg’s character declares that she thinks this is not the right word to describe the feeling she is trying to reach, to reclaim from her childhood. She and Tom Penn are associate members of Nightlight Theatre. They tell us at the start of the play each will perform their ‘one man show’ at the same time, in the same space under the same title, because they have been double-booked into the space.

Philippa Hogg begins the piece taking notes. She is wandering in the audience in the front rows, down stage left, as they  take their seats. Tom Penn asks people close to his side of the stage what they most fear. He begins creating lyrics from the answers he receives, singing as he plays guitar. She has a chair strapped to her back. Since the piece is improvised and devised, it has set pieces, which are the stories from childhood and adolescence and apparently improvised links between the two “one man show “ performers in the present. How much is fully improvisation, how much written and how much blocked and busked is not clear, which is a compliment to the performers, who are both very skilled and watchable.

The theatrical conceit is that they have not met until the technical rehearsal, having just discovered they will need to share the stage, if each is to be able do their show in the only time slot available. It has been an administrative error, as far as they know. They do not behave as if they do not see one another but as if they are resigned to sharing the stage and negotiating space as they go. Tom Penn’s character is apologetic and laid back in nature. Phillipa Hogg’s is more of a startled rabbit caught in the headlights, who then rushes around a bit, taking charge of how the stage will be divided, or shared. There is a piano on stage. There is a bike.  We are introduced to the chair. She is called Alice.

As she introduces Alice to us, Philippa unstraps her and puts her centre stage. Alice is used to stand on, so that Philippa can see more. When she is no longer needed to assist in this way she is strapped to Philippa’s back and carried everywhere, like a rucksack. Having a chair as a constant travelling companion actually begins to seem like a reasonable idea once explained and demonstrated by this extremely likeable, lively young woman. She also defines stage space as her granny’s garden in a very winning manner with great mime accuracy and a wonderful child-like presence. She also plays the piano well and has fine comic timing.

Her character is searching for the ultimate high, right now, experienced as a childhood memory, while in at her granny’s garden. She’s a kind of adrenalin junkie.

His character is illustrating, in stories, why it is he does not trust anyone. He is playing a slightly paranoid depressive with an air of resignation.

Each is taking a turn with our attention on their own stories while listening to one another and gradually they integrate the two streams. As part of this unfolding of personal stories he rides the bike, asking Philippa to be his dad holding on while he learns. One of the things he learns is even his daddy cannot be trusted! She asks him to help with Alice and their personalities begin to engage more amd more with one another until they finish the show, on Alice, together. They are now fully in the present, creating a joyful sense of having moved on, through their obssesions and failures as individuals to a greater understanding of life, assisted by one another.

They asked for written feedback from the audience at the end of the forty minute romp, saying it was still a piece in development and they would like to know what had or had not worked. I found Tom Penn successful in painting a picture of his gentle boy and of growing into a helpful talented man very sensitively played, with a fine comic edge and an interesting voice. Phillipa Hogg is a twinkling star. They worked beautifully together throughout, giving each other space to shine and supporting one another to confidently play through many emotional fields to acheive a frisson of delight in the final scene. I trust they received the feedback they needed to take further steps to tighten the areas in which they are still growing towards a fully fledged two-hander moving even further into the zones of present delight.

Cast Credits: ( alpha order ) Philippa Hogg- The Woman/Girl, Tom Penn– The Man/Boy

Company Credits: Writer/devisers  –Philippa Hogg & Tom Penn,  Artistic Director – Rich Rusk  Technician - Simon Perkins

© Lilian Kennedy Brzoska 2011

reviewed Wednesday 10August 11

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The Attic, by Alan Jackson

Friday, 26 August, 2011

Performed with consummate style

Edinburgh ’11, Main Hall, The Columcille Centre – 13rd &14th  Aug at 14.30 & 18.00

Sometimes a piece of work on the stage is so illuminating it is worth seeing three or four times before attempting to make comment about its content. Alan Jackson’s play for solo actor, “The Attic”, is one such work. It is one hour twenty five minutes of densely packed consideration of the nature of a life, lived as a human, in the last century, from the perspective of a humble, evolved Being living now.

That this is today, in the 21st century, rather than the 20th century is important in the context of the play, however, much of the action comments on the last forty years of the 20th century, much of it lived in an attic, where The Poet is experiencing self imposed isolation, to filter his thoughts, assess his life and hone his Art Form. He is in the process of Becoming. The action moves between NOW, where the audience is being directly addressed, and then, when the Poet lived in the attic, which features as the title of the play.

“ I had rented the attic for years as a workplace, a studio, you weren’t meant to live there. When I told friends I shared a flat with that I was going to stay there I said: ‘I am going to go and stand in my own fire.’

We witness The Poet “standing in his own fire “ at various times in the years before, as beautifully played flashbacks, upon which the present time narrator Poet comments, while the story and poetry unfold as one.

The set is a beautiful evocation of bare, sparsely furnished, attic space littered with papers and books. One gets the impression there might have been more papers in piles if the set was more permanently fixed than a touring set can be. The poetry in The Attic was written between 1961 and 1978. The real attic is still there, high up in a university building in Buccleuch Place, in the heart of Edinburgh.

A well known brand of pie in its tin features as a meal during the performance. The fact that the tin is also a plate underlines the practical efficiency of everything domestic in the attic room, as is anything which is not to do with the writing, like the Baby Belling cooker and the bedroll.

The writing is found in notebooks, on the backs of envelopes and other odd places, written on any surface to hand when the muse was flowing. These are found and typed up on an old fashioned typewriter, not a computer, to become part of The Work. The Poet sleeps on a mat rolled out on the floor. Sometimes he speaks insights into a tape recorder when awakened in the night by The Voice of Insight. We hear him think.

Andrew Floyd, the actor charged with becoming Alan Jackson on stage inhabits the space with great grace and a splendid command of the beautiful language. This is a serious exploration of the intelligent developing male psyche, laced with witty observations and deep insights, following the poet through a particularly challenging section of his life, in which he is taking his social construct apart and allowing himself to be guided to re-emerge as a connected Human Being. The writing is never self indulgent but spare, dense with meaning and powerfully evocative. Often it is very beautiful while still being colloquial and modern. The intensity of the work is directly expressed. It has emerged as a result of living deliberately, to reveal that which is hidden beneath the surface and break through into Freedom from social programming and lies.

Although rarely publicly active now, Alan Jackson is one of Britain’s major poets. He was one of the central figures , giving hundreds of readings with Norman McCaig, Adrian Mitchett, Edwin Morgan, Pete Morgan and Brian Patten in the 60’s and 70’s. He stepped out of the limelight to obey – to live – the poetry, rather than deliver it. He continues to do this, as well as collating his poetry into books and writing new works. His work Collected Poems, Walking Through Apocalypse and A Great Beauty are now accessible on line and can be ordered from www.lulu.com or www.amazon.com and can be found in any really good book shop.

This well directed production of Alan Jackson’s most recent writing and creative collaboration finishes with Alan Jackson’s own voice, on tape, speaking his own work. Hearing him in the air was an extra treat at the end of this beautiful performance. Andrew Floyd is playing a living person, which is always a terrific challenge for an actor. He creates a rare hybrid, giving Alan Jackson’s script all the necessary weight and lightness to hold the attention, entertain and provoke deep responses. This production is a gem. Everyone involved has created their masterpiece, to manifest this splendid autobiographical script and its writer’s character with due craftsmanship and insightful power. I laughed aloud often and sat in rapt silence, smiling the rest of the time, delighted to be presented this rare opportunity to look inside a man. We were being given honest insight into the creative process of an astonishing, warm-hearted talented Human Being who is still alive and well, living in Scotland and once more sharing his work with the world.

Cast Credits: ( alpha order ) Andrew Floyd – The Poet,  Alan Jackson – The Voice of Alan Jackson

Company Credits: Writer – Alan Jackson,  Director – Adam Fotheringham.  Voicework and Artistic Direction– Lizzie Hutchinson.  Lighting Mike Watson, Production Assistant – Nathaniel Mason,  Set Construction – Moses,  Construction Assistant – Zeb, Painter – Michael Harter,  Administration and Marketing – Rosie Strain, Artwork,programme and publicity Dylan Floyd, http://www.dylanfloyd.co.uk

© Lilian Kennedy Brzoska 2011

reviewed Sunday 14h August 11

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Splendid Isolation, by Nick Ward

Friday, 26 August, 2011

Riveting theatre

Edinburgh ’11, Pleasance Queen Dome, – – 3rd – 29th  Aug at 14:05

Splendid Isolation was a riveting experience. This is a very tight production of an extremely beautiful script, adapted from Joseph Conrad’s novels “ Heart of Darkness” and “ Outpost of Progress “. The acting is absolutely splendid, the lighting is perfect, the sound and music enormously effective, creating the necessary ambiance for the production to transport us in time and distance.

The initial moments grab our attention wonderfully in powerful sound and beautiful  light. Then, in an almost music hall theatrical presentation, Steven Beard, as the Managing Director of a turn of the19th/20th century Trading Company,  moves to the front of the stage to engage us all in understanding his world, his role in it. His delivery is beautifully timed, stylishly mannered and splendidly forceful. He introduces us to  The Company Ethos which exploits the third world for vast profit, which he serves, whether he agrees with it or not. He also introduces us to the next candidates being interviewed for essential jobs in “The Colonies”.

They are Carlier, (Johnnie Duval) and Kayerts (Peter Tate). Both are social reprobates in some mysterious way, which makes them perfect candidates, as expendable employees in an outpost at the edge of the known world. They are willing to leave England and their families for the jungle, to gather pearls brought to trade by the native “savages” in a dangerous area from which the last incumbents have disappeared.

The trio do a tremendous job of rapidly establishing the pecking order in an entertaining interplay, classily  demonstrating the formality of the way of life, the establishment attitudes and the distinctive personalities of each of the characters. They also sing in a jingoistic rallying manner, raising the energy another notch.

The Office in Britain and the Outpost in Deepest Darkest Africa are played on the same glorious wooden set with changes of lighting and sound which effectively move us from Victorian England into a very hot, very English environment, inappropriately perched on the edge of the steamy jungle. The men wear their suits, with high collars and tightly knotted ties because Kayerts insists. He is in charge of the detail. He is an man who declares he likes order, while Carlier more wants to relax into Being, restrained by his training as an obedient employee.. They have been getting to know one another a little on the voyage by ship and are now ensconced in the Company Office where the dearth of pearls is creating a problem for Kayerts, who wants them brought in by Carlier, recorded in writing by Carlier and put in the locked coffers by himself to create a good impression back in England, even though they never see anyone who would notice.

Throughout the play the Native Population is represented by Makota, a very beautiful black woman dressed in creamy white, who drapes herself about the forefront of the set when Outside and acts as servant when Inside. Yvonne Wandera also sings evocatively and her presence gives the play a powerful counter-balance of feminine wild energy , contained in a dignified, sexually free character who is the link between the Officials and the Pearl Fishers. The people who gather the pearls are established as existing, made visible in the distance, to our inner eye by fine attention given to their activities from the edge of the office domain by Mr. Carlier.and by Makota’s movements and vocal long distance communications with them.

Carlier is a far more likeable man than Kayerts, more modern and rebellious in his attitudes, interested in encouraging conversation to discover facts about his bosses past but unwilling to share his own secrets. Kayerts controls the distribution of alcohol and opium (used by many Victorian Colonialists), according to his own whim.  Carlier tolerates their relationship to be given permission to drink, smoke or remove his collar while questioning their role in the jungle, the mystery of their predecessors and niggling Mr. Kayerts about his dark past.  Kayerts seems to have “ unproven” sexual abuse of his daughter as one layer of his guilt ridden personality and perhaps murder is common to them both. We never really know.. But we do know neither of them is a morally upright citizen nor a particularly fine person. They are in charge of the Trading between the native people and the Empire, giving cheap manufactured baubles in exchange for Nature’s Pearls..

They are in Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness” within themselves,.as well as abandoned in the heart of the dangerous darkness of isolation, in a country they do not understand, serving Masters who care nothing for their sanity nor the people of any class or race. The Masters consistently exploit for scientific knowledge or industrial dominance. In the first scene the Managing Director tells us, whether or not these men survive their experience will be treated as a useful experiment to gather information for future policy in the field.

The dynamic between Makota, Carlier and Kayerts explores all the issues Moliere addresses so well in Servant/Master comedy. Who is really in charge? Why does it matter? This is a serious work about class, dominance and submission, slavery, trade  and addictions, with many delicious comic moments, addressing issues which are still current in our world. The financial difficulties and the wars in this century are the grown trees of the seeds planted by such men and such trade relationships all around the world.

Simon Ward’s poetically beautiful words are brilliantly delivered by this talented, magnificent, mature ensemble cast. Yvonne Wandera is given no words we understand in her role as Makota, She and her nation speak a language we do not know. She communicates with every movement of her eyes, every graceful nuance of her body and her haunting singing voice evokes many moods as the story unfolds. She and Carlier have a beautifully directed sexually charged scene which they both play with a wonderful delicacy. Kayerts does not notice this relationship because, for him and his ilk,  her people are animals not humans. She does not ever disappear into a victim role, despite Kayerts more and more visibly brutal nature but Carlier is more and more disturbed by his subservient situation and the massive contradictions inside.

These two white men are in the grip of forces too strong for them, both externally and from within. They are in the circumstances if their time, morally bereft and entirely unsuited to the environment into which they have been catapulted. They may have volunteered themselves but had no idea how deal with the circumstances set up for them by their employers. It is not “the savages” who are ignorant but the “ civilised men” with no honourable traits and no willingness to adapt to, or learn from, their environment. They deteriorate into their own versions of madness before the end of the action. Makota survives with dignity.

This play has many layers of resonance, historical and psychological accuracy and a depth not common in many Festival offerings this year. It is a triumph of directorial skill and perfectly played characterisations, which is a delight to behold. It’s lessons are absolutely essential for all 21st century European humans wondering what it was that went so badly wrong. It is a beautifully crafted, real play which sings with Life. .

Cast Credits: ( alpha order ) Steven Beard– Managing Director, Johnnie Duval  – Carlier.  Peter Tate Kayerts,.  Yvonne Wandera – Makota

Company Credits: Writer – Nick Ward,  Director – Simon Usher.  Sound and Music – Neil McArthur.  Stage Manager Jude Malcomson, Designer Anthony Lambie,  Lighting  – Simon Bennison, Creative Producer – Gabby Vautier, Associate Producer – Mark Bixter

© Lilian Kennedy Brzoska 2011

reviewed Monday 15 August 11

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Carey Marx – Laziness and Stuff

Friday, 26 August, 2011

Humorous, intelligent observation of human foibles to lighten the heart

Edinburgh ’11, Gilded Balloon,Teviot Row House,13 Bristo Square , EH8 9AJ  – – 6rd – 28th  Aug at 22:15

Carey Marx is one of the many late night comedians in Edinburgh Festival Fringe at the moment. In the Gilded Balloon Student Union Turret venue., once the doors were closed on a packed audience, he began by behaving like a Stage Manager checking out how rowdy the crowd was prepared to be, before stepping onto the stage and introducing himself. The drunk front row were prepared to be as rowdy as possible, when encouraged by the young man.  He had a very voluble heckler whom he dealt with as effectively as he did with the crowd dynamic throughout the show. He did this with a mixture of gentle, barbed humour and direct requests for respect for his timed script, with which he then kept us entertained for an hour, in traditional stand-up manner.

He describes with much recognisable accuracy the foolishness he observes on his journeys as an entertainer in Europe. His observations are perceptive. His attitude of intelligent disbelief and wry criticism of his fellow human beings is effectively funny, though his running self-deprecating gag is about being “pointless”, having no noticeable teaching effect over the years, since his humorous observations seem to have changed nothing in the world.

He makes  light fun of other comedians making careers out of not being able to find a clitoris and gives lessons in how to do so. He makes a running gag of this boyish search and his story about being sat upon in a bus makes very funny use of his view that finding a clitoris is very simple.

He addresses all the current taboos and lightly touches on his political stance to orient the audience to his particular angle of observation. He also identifies himself as “ A Jewish Comedian”, allowing him to make jokes about his ethnic group with impunity. He describes being attacked by a feminist in a bar, allowing himself to be very rude about ugly people who take up political stances to explain the world’s unkind reaction to them in terms of sexuality. He makes humorous remarks about people who just stop, coming to a standstill for no apparent reason. This he developes to make fun of overweight people blocking lift doors by standing stock still once they leave the lift. He does this while never actually being offensive about people being overweight.

He manages this trick in most areas, addressing potential social and personal mine fields with enough wit and humour to walk the tightrope between crass and cool without falling into the banal or the cruel. He is a very likeable young man who makes a warm relationship with his audience, checking what makes them laugh and then playing to the interest area that arises, choosing from a kind of multiple choice sheet of zones of engagement, carried inside him, or so it would seem.

I smiled a lot throughout his performance. I laughed aloud more and more, as he tied loose ends together with masterful intelligence, towards the final fifteen minutes of his eclectic performance. Many people laughed aloud from the start of the set and belly-laughed long and loud as he touched their fear edges to release their laughter. His humour surmounts age barriers and gives expression to the modern young man’s confusion, experienced  when faced with bigotry, sexist nonsense and adult hypocrisy in the world. He is acid about the levels of ludicrous stupidity he meets and gently wry about human weaknesses experienced by all. I left uplifted by his banter and pleasantly surprised by how fluidly he had moved me from disengaged observer to friendly fan in a very short time.

Brought up with Billy Connelly as a measure of how funny a man can be, I am not necessarily an easy audience for a stand-up comedian. Carey Marx came out of this experience well, making a friend of an over-weight critic who “Just Stops” quite a lot, for no apparent reason, considering and integrating the work of talented people. He is a talented comedian with a splendid active mind and a warm heart which gets him through many a minefield to the explosive, unexpected laughs hidden beneath our cool exteriors.

Cast Credits: Carey Marx – comedian

Company Credits: Writer – Carey Marx,  Director – not credited,  Sound & Lighting  – The Gilded Balloon Stage Management and Crew

www.edfringe.com/whats-on/comedy/carey-marx-laziness-and-stuff

© Lilian Kennedy Brzoska 2011

reviewed Friday 12 August ’11

 

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Snow Play: for Children

Friday, 26 August, 2011

Slapstick and Storytelling

Edinburgh 11 – The Pleasance Above – 3 – 29 August

Snow Play is a three person piece designed for two to seven year olds.

Mr White (Carlo Rossi) is asleep onstage under a single bare light bulb as the house opens, downstage of him are some basic glassless french windows and to the right of those a Christmas tree.  It would be a bare and slightly dull setup were it not for Carlo Cappeli’s score –  which is a beautiful and evocative piece of writing – and the ‘snow’ circling in the air.  With these in place the theatre becomes a magical winter environment.

A rowdy audience of children never really settles throughout (this is failing on the parents part rather than the performers) but when they are as close as they will get Carlo Rossi awakes. He comes out of the window and hands ‘snow’ to the audience; ‘for later’ he says.  Rossi hasn’t got any lines that are much more complicated than that, a skilled clown his role in the piece is to thwart Mr Green’s (Patrick Lynch) attempts to get him out of the house and clear up the snow.  He is a captivating performer with a great capacity for physical humour and keeps the children mesmerised throughout.

Patrick Lynch is a excellent foil for Rossi, he has the bulk of the lines, communicates clearly and simply with the children but shows a great deal of flair for physical comedy as well.  A great deal of credit should be given to him for his control over the children, the production asks a lot (at one point every child in the auditorium is onstage) and yet he manages things without breaking character which is a considerable achievement.  Together, him and Rossi are a classy team who effortlessly entertain.

The third performer is Kate Phillips, she is a plant (a performer sat in the audience in plain clothing) she has minimal involvement and does a excellent job but, ultimately, her involvement feels calculated and disingenuous.

Despite the skills of the performers the real star of Snow Play is the script and its tight integration with the prop and set design.  Many different types of snow are used – ranging from large rolls of it that the audience spread over Mr Green’s house whilst he is sweeping up the paper based snow Mr White has spread outside.  Other tricks used to great effect are a umbrella that snows continuously from inside itself when opened and ‘snowballs’ that the audience throw at Mr White who then bats them back with a tennis racket.

Marcello Chiarenza’s direction is assured and skilled, mixing slapstick with storytelling and always keeping Mr White and Mr Green as distinct and rounded characters.  He takes his young audience seriously and repeatedly gets them involved, allowing the stage to get close to anarchy before trusting his two excellent performers to reign things back in.  It’s very impressive work.

There are slight niggles, the lighting design is patchy and disjointed at times, although operator error and usual Edinburgh technical compromises most likely explain this.  The French windows in the set are also slightly too imposing from some angles and obscure some of the action.

These are minor issues but it is a testament to how much Snow Play gets absolutely right that they irritate.  Another irritation is that on occasion the experience feels a little calculated – having Mr Green remind people that the soundtrack is in sale in the foyer as the piece ends is a key example – The children without exception have a magical and fun time, and the adults are well entertained,  it is a testament to how well this is done that no-one wants to be distracted from the snowy reality that the show creates.

Cast Credits: (alpha order): Patrick Lynch – Mr Green.  Kate Phillips – Plant  Carlo Rossi – Mr White.

Company Credits: Director, Designer and Writer – Marcello Chiarenza.  Writer – Patrick Lynch   Props and Costume Design – Elena Marini. Lx Designer – Uncredited  Musical Composition – Carlo Cappeli   Technical Operator – Zoe Robinson

(c) George Maddocks 2011

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Robert Rauschenberg: Botanical Vaudeville

Friday, 26 August, 2011

Scupture in Edinburgh’s Botanical Gardens

Edinburgh 11 – Inverleith House   – 27 July – 2 October

Botanical Vaudeville is a collection of 37 works in mixed media, specifically sculpture and paintings.  Common materials to all pieces save one is metal and paint, a small amount of acrylic, bamboo and clay is intermittently used. The sculptures range in size from small sculptures of (30cm x 10cm x 10cm) to room dominating sculptures (75cm x 55cm x 350cm).  The paintings range from A4 sized (21cm x 29cm) to almost wall covering (400cm x 300cm).

The exhibition spans two floors.  Each room features at least one sculpture and a number of paintings.  Moving anticlockwise through the rooms on the ground floor we have a disappointing start to the sculptures with ‘Uptown Pig Pox’ (1988) – a life-size metal pig garishly painted in black with purple polka dots (front) and block orange (back) with clashing ties hung over the middle and covered in acrylic.  It is a sculpture that only the colour blind could love and easily the weakest piece in this exhibition.

Thankfully we also get a taste of the best work we will see with ‘Lixer’ (1988) which is puts bright blue and yellow acrylic paint on shiny mirrored aluminium.  The yellow looks like it has been printed on using a crinoline pattern as a model and the blue is spilled across the centre.  Its arresting to look at, the pattern being at odds with the modernity of the aluminium and with the blue lending it a sense of anarchy.

Rauschenbergs work on metal with either paint or tarnishes is the best work that is displayed in this exhibition.  In the next room we get ‘Untitled (Shiner)’ 1987 which features a turquoise tree on brushed stainless steel and ‘Fossil Lace (Borealis)’ 1992 which features a blocky pattern not unlike ‘Lixer’ tarnished onto brass.  They are astounding in content and material and draw to mind a mixture of classical and modern, organic and manmade.  This theme and mixture of media continues throughout the gallery the finest examples being ‘Party-Bird (Night Shade)’1991 in which black acrylic paint portrays the silhouette of a tree onto brushed aluminium and ‘Maybelle Brass’ 1988 which has a polished copper frame with brass industrially tacked onto the top.

The second room also features the best sculpture of the exhibition.   ‘Eco-Echo IV’ 1992 – 1993 it is a large solar operated fan made from aluminium.  The main feature of the fan is the twenty plus backwardly inclined blades that feature similar designs to the mixed media paintings but also some pieces in acrylic.  The combination of industrial metal fan and the small excerpts (almost) of the other pieces rotating slowly is hypnotic and fabulous to look at.  It is a dominating piece with a great amount of connotations and should most likely be exhibited in one of the bigger rooms.

The exhibition never achieves this quality of sculpture anywhere else.  The final sculpture on the ground floor is ‘Urban Katydid (Glut)’ 1986 made from stainless steel street signs riveted  together it sprawls along only 50cm off the floor but at least 300cm long.  Almost all of the sculptures from this point are similar – found urban objects (almost always metal) bent into new configurations.  Sometimes it works: ‘No Wake Glut’ 1986 which takes the front of a car and bends it round itself spider-like is compelling in its scale and ‘Mercury Zero Summer Glut’ 1987 in which a metal wing exudes from a crushed desk fan also feels essential.  Elsewhere some of the other sculptures; ‘Dirty Ghost Glut’ 1992, ‘Curly Cue Summer Glut’ 1988 feel entirely underdeveloped.

Robert Rauschenberg’s Botanical Vaudeville is hidden away right in the centre of Edinburgh’s botanical gardens.  It is a strange place to have a exhibition as modern and urban as this – which on occasion feels important and is often profoundly compelling.

(c) George Maddocks 2011

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Nutshell Theatre at Inverleith Allotments

Thursday, 25 August, 2011

Sisters in nature

In the open air: Allotment

Step through the gates at Inverleith Allotments and a warm scone spread with homemade rhubarb jam is offered to you, along with a mug of tea just how you might want it.

To step through these gates is to allow Nutshell theatre company to usher you into the intimate world of the allotment. As Maddy and Dora lead their audience through the functioning allotment, you are inside a special area of society, removed from Edinburgh and surrounded by nature, the outcome of hard work, years of love, devotion and weeding. It may be a space familiar to some, but it could also stand for those on the outside looking in, offering a rare opportunity for escape.

The script tells the story of two sisters and their world within the allotment. The narrative spans their childhood into their adult lives, all contained within the site-specific setting. This narrative is a bit of a whirlwind, jumping from childhood to adulthood in a matter of seconds, but the pacing from Kate Nelson’s direction matched this demand and she skilfully blends small vignettes of the sisters’ lives together, as opposed to creating a logically consistent flowing line of action.

This worked well in the setting, as the sun dipped in and out of the clouds and the smells of earth and flowers came and went, so did these fleeting moments that contribute to their relationships. Darkly comic moments emerged through the sisters’ relationship, at once complex and loving. Nicola Jo Cully and Pauline Goldsmith gave intimate performances – not an easy task in an outdoor setting next to a busy road. Their performances were at times joyful and poignant whilst exhibiting flawless comic timing. At times though, both actors struggled vocally against the noise pollution and resorted to shouting, which was at times exhausting to watch.

Kate Nelson’s character took inspiration from T.S Eliot’s poem Burnt Norton, specifically the two lines;

“At the still point of the turning world. Neither flesh nor fleshless;
Neither from nor towards; at the still point, there the dance is”

Eliot’s poem is about children playing in the rose garden of a manor house.

Jules Horne has produced a script that evokes so perfectly the sentiment of these lines. When together in their allotment Maddy and Dora are ‘at the still point of the turning world’. Their dance demonstrates their freedom within the confines of this vegetable patch; they argue, play, drink and have sex there.

An enchanting and unique setting matched the characters which provided an all-round sensory experience. Together, the script, the characters, the sight of the allotment and the others surrounding it, work to create an unforgettable experience.  Maddy and Dora encourage their audience to smell mint and lavender as they rub their hands and ‘throw’ the scent into the audience, it actually works. Combine that with the mug of warm tea and the scone and you have an atmosphere that is relaxed and intimate, but as is so common when one is outside and allowed to frolic in mud, mischief is bubbling under the surface dampened with a little nostalgia.

Performed by: Nicola Jo Cully (Maddy), Pauline Goldsmith (Dora)
Company: Director – Kate Nelson, Desinger – Sarah Paulley, Stage Managers – Michael Dixon and Ruth West, Production Manager – Peter Searle, Assistant Director – Alice Kornitzer, Producer – Ed Littlewood, Venue Manager- Rachel McEwen
Written by Jules Horne

(c) Alexandra Kavanagh 2011

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Gags, songs and bombs: Chuckle Sandwich

Thursday, 25 August, 2011

An hour of free, late night comedy

First up for this hour of free, late-night comedy is comedic songstress Kate Lucas with a few taboo-shattering songs about her sexual relationship with an elderly woman and how she brutally murdered a cashier at Santander. The Ballad of Janine which was pinnacle of her performance, encouraging the audience to join in a resounding chorus of “Give me back my money Santander”. Kate Lucas’ saccharine delivery is run up against her dark humour but provides her audience with nothing unfamiliar in contemporary comedy. Particularly the prickly, deliberately awkward delivery of some punch lines which was been growing ever frequent on the stand-up comedy set since the emergence of Slough’s infamous export David Brent. Indeed, all three performers seem to tackle a particularly difficult audience with such an approach to their delivery, Lucas seems most guilty of it; she seemed to lack her own comedic persona, even when performing her songs which  on the whole were well-written and funny.

Next was stand-up comic Tez Ilyas, who provided the most impressive performance of the hour with a set centred around his religious beliefs as a Muslim and braving the topic of the London riots. Presumably no mean feat at this year’s Festival as the news is so current, although most likely already well-trodden on the stand-up circuit. Tez Ilyas takes to it with gusto, assuming a similar haltingly awkward style as Kate Lucas but pulling it off with a more direct sense of humour, outwardly critical to hecklers and displaying moments of great wit when discussing his home in Brixton. The lack of enthusiasm from his audience seemed to throw him a little, as it did with all three performers, which made for occasionally uncomfortable viewing, as it seemed many of their punch lines and wise cracks needed a stronger reaction.

Gary Tro polishes off our evening with some more stand-up comedy. Warm and giggly, he goes through the motions of identifying the two Dutch men in the first row as the other two performers had done before. There was the feeling throughout each set that the audience were not playing their part, and it was a little uncomfortable to watch. Gary Tro seems taken aback by the tentative audience breaction but launched headlong into his cynical slightly absurd brand of comedy. He performs with enthusiasm, he enjoys every situation or idea he is describing which makes for an enjoyable set, with a handful of laugh out loud moments.

Performers: Tez Ilyas, Kate Lucas, Gary Tro

reviewed 18 August 2011

(c) Alexandra Kavanagh 2011

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Scott Agnew’s Scottish Breakfast Chat Show

Thursday, 25 August, 2011

Edinburgh 11 – Cabaret Voltaire – 01 – 28 August 21.30

Scott Agnew opens the show by addressing the eleven or so people who are watching.  Upon not getting the reaction he wants from a couple in the front he brands them; ‘a bundle of joy’.  At 13.00 (‘Fringe breakfast time’ as he describes it) such criticism runs the risk of being alienating but he is a fairly warm performer and broadly keeps people onside.  He then serves “Scottish breakfast”.  This is advertised as being Irn Bru and a sausage roll.  What is actually served is just Irn Bru (allegedly the council wouldn’t let him serve food).  To make matters worse he doesn’t have enough Irn Bru to go round a half empty house and what he does hand round is flat.  Its a poor start thats sloppy and unprofessional.

The first act is Rachel Juhasz – a singer performing in ‘My Judy Journals’ – a show that mixes the music of Judy Garland and excerpts from Juhasz’s diaries (it is at The Jazz Bar Venue 57 at 19.00), she has a rich and soulful voice and captivates the room for the short time she is performing.  Following this she has a interview with Scott Agnew.  The interview reveals little and Agnew clearly doesn’t know much about her act.

Following Rachel Juhasz is Tiffany Stephenson who is performing her standup show ‘Cavewoman’ at The Stand Comedy Club (Venue 12 14.25).  She is invited onto the stage and Agnew retreats to leave her alone with the microphone.  A painful moment then ensues when she asks Agnew if she’s ‘doing standup then?’.  Agnew indicates that she is not obliged to and so instead conducts a interview with her.  Without Stephenson’s having been bothered to do any of her act its hard to know why we should be interested in the interview and she keeps talking about how hungover she is which is a further irritation.

Following Stephenson is The Silky Pair, they have the decency to perform a song from their act.  Clad in fluffy leopardskin coats over silk slips they sing a song about their landlady that brings to mind Kate Bush.  Its well performed with Kathryn Bond singing and Lorna Shaw singing and playing guitar but the lyrics are not very amusing and the parody alone is not enough to carry the song.

Finally, Nazeem Hussain takes to the stage – he is a Australian comedian.  He starts his set by observing that ‘there are a lot of white folks in here today’ its not entirely clear what else he was expecting and like the rest of his short set it doesn’t get a laugh.  His material is without exception to do with both race and religion, very weak and in some places questionable – one section in particular where he is impersonates a Indian in a call centre is uncomfortably close to racism.  His set is a embarrassing failure but perversely his interview shows Scott Angew at his best, ‘welcome to my sofa’ he says ‘you just died on your arse’.  By being frank and chatting briefly with Hussein about what its like to fail onstage he goes someway towards bringing a good feeling back to the room. It is his best moment.

I feel obliged to disclose that early in Scott Agnew’s set I was singled out for some of Agnew’s material because I was reviewing the show.  I didn’t much appreciate it but I’ve tried not to let it affect my judgement of this lazy and amateurish show which should be avoided.

Cast Credits: (alpha order): Scott Agnew – Host. Rachel Juhasz – Performer. Tiffany Stephenson – Performer. Kathryn Bond – The Silky Pair.  Lorna Shaw – The Silky Pair.  Nazeem Hussain – Performer

(c) George Maddocks 2011

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