Archive for the ‘Edinburgh 2011’ Category

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Just So Stories: Red Table at Edinburgh

Tuesday, 30 August, 2011

Captivating Children’s Theatre

Edinburgh 11 – Pleasance – 23 August

Three rows of stools sit behind a pile of duvets, cushions, pillows and soft toys.  The adults are head for the stools and the children head for the duvets where they get comfortable under the able supervision of Jennifer Hazel.

Sitting the children in such a fun and distracting environment risks sleep or hyperactivity but, from the initial first reveal where the company appear almost from nowhere through to the end where a whale’s mouth is captivatingly portrayed, Red Table are a dynamic and lively company who keep the children captivated.

The storyline runs through four of Rudyard Kipling’s Just so Stories.  The stories themselves provide a significant challenge moving quickly between location and character and with many fantastical events happening .  Wisely the script uses only very basic dialogue and focuses on simply telling the stories, enacting them with modified everyday objects such as umbrellas, bedsheets and socks.  Its not a new style of theatre but it is done with a great deal of focus and class and a excellent design from Mafalda Cruz.  The children are kept rapt, and the adults very impressed.

The production asks a lot of its performers but they deliver.  Well cast they complement each other.  Jennifer Hazel and Jo Wickham take on more of the narrative.  It is a difficulty task but they give the narration a great deal of energy and manage to portray the joy of the stories, they are also admirably willing to look foolish whilst playing talking elephants camels, whales and other fantastical characters.

Freya Parsons and Tressa Brooks complement them, taking on slightly more of the character work.  They are lively and well skilled performers and inhabit the characters well.  Equally committed to the children they communicate with them very well and have exemplary energy.

Children’s theatre is always a difficult balancing act.  It needs to be atmospheric but not frightening, engaging but not leading to anarchy, tailored to their young audience but disciplining them to listen and engage, finally, if a company is feeling ambitious they may even try to put in a few jokes for the adults.  The final story in the Just So Stories is the tale of How The Elephant got his Trunk, in which the young elephant gets repeatedly spanked for her curiosity about crocodiles before one grabs his nose and stretches it out into a trunk.  The adults are given a early nod with a spanking joke then as the story progresses the crocodile emerges from the duvets to grab the elephant’s nose and the children invade the stage to help the young elephant pull herself free.  At every stage, the production gets it right, the children are enthralled by the crocodile but not scared, the stage invasion is planned and controlled and the audience are in the reality of the show throughout.  It is a splendid moment from a company that (by this stage of the show) has very little left to prove.

I’ve been lucky enough to see a great deal of childrens theatre at this years Fringe.   None has impressed me so much as this delightful show which is very highly recommended.

Cast Credits: (alpha order): Tressa Brooks – Performer.  Jennifer Hazel – Performer.  Freya Parsons – Performer.  Jo Wickham – Performer

Company Credits: Director – Rafe Beckley. Technical Operator – Holly Marie-Hale. Producer – Nick J Field. Producer – Piers Beckley.  Assistant Producer – Holly-Marie Hale.  Designer – Mafalda Cruz Website -www.redtabletheatre.com

(c) George Maddocks

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Improvised plays from Austin, Texas – at Edinburgh

Tuesday, 30 August, 2011

Solid improvisation

Edinburgh – the Spaces on the Mile – 5-27 August 2011 – 1940 (45 mins)

Opening the show, Roy Janik explains that tonight’s show will be an improvised version of Grimm’s Fairy Tales and is the company’s 385th ensemble performance. The cast are all donning brown costumes with a rustic hint – jerkins and trousers for the men and smocks and skirts for the women. Unlike the majority of improvised shows, there are no suggestions from the audience. As a result it’s impossible to know what is coming through for the very first time or what ideas may have arisen in previous performances. On the technical side, the lights and sound may have been pre-arranged or are being winged by the technician.

It becomes a play within a play as two grandparents are seemingly telling their grandchildren stories. The relationship within the four is established, with the children given the names Heinrich and Heidel, and with a few initial jokes made about the grandfather’s hearing there is a clear skill for comedy here. A later joke is made about the weather and the joy of flyering to promote shows to potential audience members in Edinburgh – admittedly not necessarily strictly within the Grimm’s Fairy Tales theme but still there for the audience’s amusement.

The performers have little apart from their ingenuity to work with -  a few simple props including a wooden bird can get worked into the piece, and at one point the technician gave them classical music in the background but it’s really for the actors to choose the direction they go in and to support each other doing so.

It certainly felt that they worked very well together and were receptive to each other’s ideas. It’s not always particularly innovative – at one point a king is described as lazy and the actor concerns demonstrates the king’s state by a protracted yawn – but the performers are engaging to watch.

The difficulty with long form improvisation is shaping the work to have a beginning, middle and an end as well as sticking to the time limits which are laid down upon Edinburgh shows.  Parallelogramophonograph certainly seem to have a skill for this and their ability to return to some of the elements raised earlier in the show displays a good level of attention to detail and the listening skills which skilled improvisers must make use of. In order to present a slightly different challenge, perhaps it would be interesting for the performers to take some suggestions from the audience at the beginning and then craft them into the piece throughout. These four performers would almost certainly be able to face that challenge with aplomb and confidence.

Performers: Kareem Badr, Kaci Beeler, Roy Janik, Valerie Ward.

Produced by Parallelogramophonograph

© Chandrika Chevli 2011

Reviewed on Thursday August 24th, the Spaces on the Mile.

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Flynch: Looking

Friday, 26 August, 2011

Worth catching this sea monster

Edinburgh – Zoo – 5-29 August 2011 – 2015 (1hr)

The eponymous character emerges wishing the audience a good evening, and then proceeds to make his way to find each and every one of them to shake their hands.

While James Flynch is welcoming the assembled crowd who have effectively come to witness his misery, a reading of the contents of the final letter left by his ex-girfriend Lydia can be heard by the audience but seemingly not by Flynch  himself. As he clambers over the seating to shake a hand the phrase, “You’re ridiculous and you don’t even know it” seems to ring particularly true.

Even though the show is about a man’s descent into the pain surrounding a relationship breakdown it contains humour. James Flynch decides to get away from it and emerges in a loud, bright orange shirt although the holiday sense isn’t all there – it’s rather awkwardly tucked in below the waist.

This is another visual depiction of what James Flynch is – a man who doesn’t fit in easily. It’s an engaging and gently subtle performance by Ben Teare. The quirky way in which Flynch’s escape – a seaside hotel – is presented is a touch of genius. A cleaner moves her mop balletically around while a man becomes a hotelier who only kicks into life when a potential customer rings the bell which sits in his stationary hand.

The minimal use of set and props leaves the performers themselves to create both physical and emotional environments. Beds, phones and lamps are constructed and brought to life as James Flynch tries to find peace during his seaside break and the representation of a dream sequence is particularly effective. It’s not a complex storyline and the strength of this production is the well thought out staging and the effective creation of the emotional experience James Flynch is undergoing.

The sound of the sea laces the score, which is a combination of original work and recognisable tunes including Patsy Cline’s ‘Crazy’. As James Flynch repeatedly tries to regain contact with Lydia the variety of other characters can’t seem to distract him, even Gigi, the flirty fellow guest who dances with him. When the news comes that Lydia has a new boyfriend, James Flynch may well find some form of peace after all. The dubious ending may be happy, it may be sad, but what it does present is a company who have a great deal of promise and whose future work will be worth catching.

Performers: Sacha Plaige, George Ramsay, Jenny Swingler, Ben Teare, Daniel Wilcox.

Score by Christopher Duncan

© Chandrika Chevli 2011

Reviewed on Wednesday August 24th, Zoo

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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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