Archive for August 30th, 2011

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Do Not Take Advice from this Man: Jim Smallman and Friends

Tuesday, 30 August, 2011

A laugh out loud stand-up comedy experience

Edinburgh ’11,  Globe Pub  – Niddry St, Edinburgh  5th – 28th Aug at 14.15

Jim Smallman - the illustrated man

On a tiny stage in a dark corner of a pub in the middle of the afternoon, Jim Smallman created a nightclub atmosphere with relaxed ease. He introduced us to his two companions on the stage, who listened in attentively, while Mr. Smallman set the pace and tenor for the gig. He introduced one of them, Simon Feilder as the tiredest man in the world, explaining 2pm in Edinburgh during the Festival was the equivalent of 5am anywhere else on the planet. Comedians work late in Edinburgh and this free afternoon show was functioning as an early advertising slot for shows on elsewhere in town later in the evening, He was making his fellow comedians laugh and relax as well as entertaining the crowd. The other performer was Billy Kirkwood.

Jim Smallman had an unusually packed house. A teenage school group from a well known St. Andrew’s secondary school, studying Journalism, had landed unexpectedly. He declared himself to be terrified. He also declared himself to be an ex-teacher perfectly capable of stopping any errant nonsense in its tracks. He had everyone laughing from the outset and proceeded to terrify the mixed age audience by declaring he would find out what their problems were to give great advice to solve them from the stage. Much giggling ensued.

He then gave hilarious examples of problems already solved earlier in the week and began asking people to put up their hands if they had a problem seeking solution. After a few entertaining false starts a young man at the back of the room volunteered as his target and a non-threatening, gentle exchange began where he asked questions, heard the answers around which he improvised witty responses and irreverent comments before moving on to ask the teachers present who was their most challenging pupil in the room. This question was answered, “fingering” a young lad in the front row, who became the next anchor for the humour, which strode the edge between put down and ego boosting with great skill. Much good humour flowed in the room and the balance between the wit from the stage and the comments in the room never rocked out of Smallman’s deft control

He was sharing banter on the stage with the other two comedians, Simon who was half asleep and Billy who was wide awake, as tattoo covered as Jim Smallman. An alert, declaredly working class Scot, he was warm and helpfully entertaining, hinting that the St.Andrew’s University town school kids might be a little more posh middle class than the present English Comedians on stage with him understood, Simon made “ unhelpful remarks” about young girls in school uniforms, pedo-magnets and other such “ too early for this material “ remarks to pepper the inoffensive banter of his companions, creating the opportunity for the other two to put him down with gusto. Their exchanges on the stage were often fun, creating an interesting dynamic which allowed good-natured humour to emerge, while never patronising the young people, who were thoroughly entertained by the stories Jim Smallman tells of his mistakes and successes in life. It was a masterclass in stand-up comedy and in entertaining teenagers well enough to create smiles of recognition,  provoking the laughter of fears being transformed to relaxation in an “I share-You share” camaraderie.

Towards the end of the time shared there was a long exchange with a young woman in the audience who described the worst experience she had in her life of dumping a boyfriend in a cowardly manner, in response to a direct question from the stage. She could have been a plant, she was so confident in her responding to his egging on. Her story was funny and grew from the encouragement she received from this generous hearted comedian. He then asked her about her work. When she said she drove ships all three comedians exploded into impressed banter. She described having driven warships from the Arctic to the Equator and from the Equator to the Antarctic in a matter of fact manner which gave Jim Smallman ideal circumstances in which to create even more laughter. He improvised around chat up lines and managed to celebrate a heroine in the midst of chaos before returning to questioning the young people about their love lives. He had made allies of them early on describing being bullied because his name was Smallman, having heard every related joke and put down early in his school life. Two or three of the boys in the class were willing to bounce ideas back and forward with him and everyone left the Globe a little early because the school party were heading for the train, having happily dropped coins in the bucket to say Thank you for 50mins of smiles and laughter, friendly banter and wise crack remarks, laced through endearing stories and splendidly compassionate humane observations. He finished displaying his latest Tattoo asking us to go see  “Tattooligan” so that he could make the money to pay for it. This is a very talented, winning young man with a powerful comic gift.

http://www,edfringe.com/whats-on/comedy/do-not-take-advice-from-this-man-jim-smallman-and-friends-free

(c)  Lilian Kennedy Brzoska 2011

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Julian Sands’ Celebration of Harold Pinter

Tuesday, 30 August, 2011

Tribute to a lauded friend

Edinburgh ’11,  Pleasance Courtyard 5th – 21st  Aug at 15.00

Urbane actor Julian Sands held the audience with ease as he introduced us to his late friend Harold Pinter and his poetic works. Initially he seemed a little stiffly English actorish, however he relaxed beautifully after the first five minutes, as did the audience, when they realised they were in deftly gentle, humorous hands, addressing their relationship with one of the literary giants of our time.

Julian Sands had the great good fortune to work intimately with Harold Pinter between 2002 and his untimely death in December 2008.  His reflections, commentaries and anecdotes are drawn from their time together, Sands reads Pinter’s little known poetry with the authority which comes from being tutored by Pinter himself. He was asked by Pinter to read his poetry when a throat problem made it impossible for him to fulfil an important engagement. Theatre was Pinter’s milieu in the second half of the 20th Century. He transformed actors’ lives, as writer and director, and audiences’ perceptions of British life, with his silences and the quiet depiction of the menace emanating from apparently ordinary people.

Of the poetry and prose, about Life in the 20th Century, written by Pinter, Sands says: “In these spare but complex works there is an extraordinary revelation of subjective feeling – at once poignant, profound and often hilarious.” This is both true and a measure of the complexity the language the actor wields in this verbally illustrated picture of Harold Pinter,  the man, the romantic husband of Antonia Frazer, the politically aware being behind the plays and screenplays. He does this with humour and gravitas in equal measure.

If you want to drop a name in a gathering of splendid British actors and cause a resounding awed silence, then there could be no more illustrious person to name as friend and mentor than Harold Pinter. The warmth with which Julian Sands describes Harold the irascible man, met by himself as acolyte actor is glorious, as is his deep respect for all the writing he speaks, rather than reads, giving it all a very direct opportunity to speak to the audience. He incarnates the Harold Pinter he knew and allows us to feel the privilege of being alive while such a massively intelligent, creative person was being given free reign on London stages to transform our views about what a play could be. Harold Pinter won the   Nobel Prize in Literature in 2005 having written many a fine screenplay as well his works for stage and television. He was a life long pacifist, a splendid actor and renowned for his endless creative and physical personal energy. Julian Sands reads from other people’s words about Pinter, including those of his second wife Antonia Frazer, with whom he was very much in love from the day they met in 1980 till the day he died. Their story is illustrated through dinner parties and pillow talk creating a luminous picture of a great love well lived for all to see.

The passion of Pinter the man comes through in the poems and stories and his loss is felt more powerfully as we become aware of the integrity which ran through him like the letters run through Edinburgh Rock. The other name which might cause equal resonance in a room full of chattering actors is that of John Malkovich. The difference would be that he would be as known to the young film goers as to the theatre professionals in the room. That he is the director of this piece makes Julian Sands a tremendously fortunate man, to have known his remarkable subject and to have the insight of a remarkable actor of International stature to support him manifest this spare production of such a richly literate set of writings and personal reminiscence.

Towards the end of the production Julian reads one of Pinter’s stunning writings about war. I was moved to tears. We are all deeply fortunate to have the plays, poems, scripts and essays from which to learn and Julian Sands is the brave man who took the time to master the works and had the great opportunity befriend the writer. This combination of inspired work and great good fortune gives him the loving authority to share this well constructed, intelligent exposition of the genius of Harold Pinter with consummate skill and insight. It will tour beyond this Edinburgh Festival Première. Pinter’s work resonates with power into the 21st Century.

www.edfringe.com/whats-on/theatre/julian-sands-in-a-celebration-of-harold-pinter

Cast Credits: ( alpha order ) Julian Sands – actor/ raconteur

Company Credits:  DirectorJohn Malkovich, Writer – Harold Pinter and Julian Sands, Stage Management – The Pleasance Courtyard House Staff.

© Lilian Kennedy Brzoska 2011

reviewed Thursday 11h August 011

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Rose, by Hywel John

Tuesday, 30 August, 2011

Excellent new two-hander, beautifully produced, directed and acted.

Edinburgh ’11, Pleasance Courtyard/ Forth  – 3rd – 29th  Aug at 17:25

The set doubles as a hospital room and a small bedsit in this well directed, beautifully designed production of Rose by Hywell John. Art Malik is splendid as Arthur and Keira Malik a very powerful Rose. They are father and daughter playing father and daughter, which is far from an easy option. That they have chosen to work together is a remarkable accolade to their respect for one another as professional actors. They do a great job of playing a dysfunctional family of two, living in a tiny bedsit, as we enter into their lives in Flashback, from the hospital scene at the top of the show, where Arthur has had a stroke and Rose comes visiting.

The younger Arthur dotes on his clever young daughter, teaching her what he knows of educated English values, learned in his Middle Eastern country of origin, before coming to live in England. We gather this move happened just before Rose was born.  Her mother has passed away in mysterious circumstances but is ever present in their lives because Rose constantly asks questions about her which the pained, lonely  Arthur never answers properly. He enthusiastically diverts her attention into stories about Englishness, moral education, history, anything but his own history or that of her mother. He is both strict and very loving with his lovely daughter, with whom he shares a small bedsit. She goes to school. He stays home. He drinks secretly.

Keira Malik deftly moves in age from adult to small child to older, growing, questioning child and rebellious teenager, as we bounce through the years experiencing their extra-ordinary relationship. She plays open-hearted youth,  resentful teenager, loving daughter and regretful adult with equal ease. Art Malik has a ball with the idiosyncratic phrasing and partially Dickensian English of his troubled character. He is doting on his daughter  while also being a dragon of a teacher, using questioning to elicit the answers he has been drumming into her, to make her an educated English lady. She is out in the modern world while he lives in his fictional world of structured Arthurian Englishness, enclosed in their room.

( Arthur ) “ What is better- to flatten Fat Danny in unthought anger and indignation? Or to say to him, ‘Danny, you are wrong. I am not a Paki, but your intentions in calling me so are nothing but the most common insult, for you demean and lessen me by your label. So I hereby challenge you to a duel’ What is the correct answer?” ( Rose ) To challenge him to a duel? ( Arthur ) “ Correct, yes, a duel. Or a joust. For then you may still inflict righteous vengeance upon him, but you have risen divinely above his puerile, small-minded bigotry by giving him fair and reasonable warning of his impending punishment. You become an Englishman with such behaviour. Danny Simpson is no Englishman.”

Rose Smith is trying to understand who she is, to find her identity as a person with a coloured skin in Britain. She finds her mother’s hijab folded under her father’s pillow. During her teenage years she deliberately annoys him by declaring herself to be a muslim and wearing a hijab to school. He is quite volubly not a religious man, for which we discover the reason when we find out what has happened to Rose’s mother, whom he still loves deeply.  Since the play is a mystery story it is important not to reveal too much while describing the engaging performances and elucidating the themes. Suffice it to say the relationship between Arthur and Rose allows the themes of “ crabbed age and youth “ living together, love, frustration, racism, power, belonging and personal identity to be explored with refined complexity, weaving their threads through the pressure cooker of symbiosis in which caring father and loving daughter live. As Rose grows up, she is more and more frustrated, in many ways, by his lifestyle and his secretive attitude to his past. As she grows more independent she distresses him by becoming verbally abusive and physically distant. She departs.

Throughout the play we return to the hospital room in which this once tremendously articulate, intelligent man  has been reduced to verbal silence by a stroke. He can still moan, as he has done in his sleep for the whole of Rose’s life, she says and she now has all the power because he is helpless. The bitter-sweetness of their love for one another and the stresses of their circumstances are played with great subtlety by Art and Keira Malik. The set is well designed, the lighting beautiful and the music compliments the play perfectly. This is a triumph in all areas, disturbing and funny, making the ephemeral mother as solid as the characters on the stage.  ( Rose ) “ Do you know what that’s like, to not know your own mum’s face? I’ve been dreaming about her you know – but that’s impossible right?  But not the actual her obviously, more this sense of her. In the dream it’s like I’m on a treasure hunt or something..”

This whole play is a treasure hunt and Art Malik is a national treasure introducing us to his treasured daughter Keira,  a mightily talented, beautiful actress. The setting within which they play together is a well directed modern exploration of morality, society and family values in an intelligent relationship. It is the opposite of dumbed down and well worth seeing to find such intelligent work being given vibrant life by this excellent, faultlessly professional team.

Cast Credits: ( alpha order ) Art Malik– Arthur,/Ahmed,  Keira Malik – Rose

Company Credits: Writer – Hywel John,  Director – Abbey Wright. Designer Richard Kent , Lighting Designer  – Emma Chapman, Sound Design and Composer – Alex Baranowski. Assistant Lighting Designer –  Joshua Carr, Production Manager – Ali Day, Stage Manager Connie Blackbourne,       Producer – Jessica Malik /Dirty Boots, Co-Producer – Alex Waldmann/ SEArED

© Lilian Kennedy Brzoska 2011

reviewed Thursday 11h August ’11

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How to Climb Mount Everest

Tuesday, 30 August, 2011

 

London – The Camden People’s Theatre – 19-21 Aug 2011

A small sofa chair covered in a green material sits in the centre of the stage.  A coat is draped over it.  To the left there is a small box covered in white material.  A drum is next to it and there is a brown leather coat on the floor.  A tall up-light lamp stands to the right of the stage.  There is also what appears to be a paper-mache aeroplane on the floor.  The mix of objects makes it difficult and intriguing to decipher how they will be used to ‘Climb Mount Everest’.  Who is going to climb Mount Everest?  Is it the real Mount Everest or a metaphor for something in a person’s life that they need to overcome and conquer?  How does one climb Mount Everest really?  What kind of preparation does it take?  Is this going to be a how-to guide to climbing?  There are so many questions.  So many cold feelings as the high snowy peak is imagined before the action begins.

A man suddenly bursts in and rustles onto the stage wearing a cream polo jumper, green trousers and brown ankle boots with laces all the way up.  He welcomes the audience to his show.  A second man bursts in wearing cream trousers, a white striped shirt and black shoes.  It is quite an entrance for both.  Evidently something wonderful is about to be revealed…wait for it.  The second man says ‘I’ve been stuck…on the toilet’.  He then recounts, in mock anger aimed at his companion, how he was locked in the toilet and therefore forced to swim through the u-bend and the sewer with poo flying past his head.  He came up through the ladies’ toilet.  He apologises to a woman in the audience.  He says he is ‘covered in toilet water’ but he is ‘a forgiving friend so I forgive you’.

It is an humorous start to a play that now has so many possibilities.  How is a swim through a toilet going to lead to Mount Everest?  Who knows?  The image of a man swimming through excrement water in a nice suit is enough of a picture and conundrum to keep one amused, confused and fully ready to enjoy the delights ahead.

There are indeed an abundance of delights ahead.  The two men re-start the play together, with both of them, minus any toilet mishaps.  The paper mache aeroplane turns out to be a well-crafted stork puppet.  One man dons this as he makes it fly and deliver a baby to a man in the start of a beautiful and skilled summary of a man’s whole life all expertly acted by Sam Gibbs and Nusret Ozguc.

The following action tells the story of a man’s last day at work and the quest to find adventure, which in this case, happens to be learning How to Climb Mount Everest.  Sam Gibbs is the man and also the narrator from earlier who had the unfortunate encounter with the sewer system.

Sam Gibbs acts with enthusiasm and conviction.  His ‘average man put in unfortunate circumstances seeking adventure and a new life’ is interesting to watch grow and develop.  His facial expressions capture the moments precisely.  The humour never stops.  He draws the attention but does not draw away from Nusret Ozguc.  He goes through various emotions and the audience go with him.  A scene with an angry neighbour and his oblivious nature and naivety of the situation is engaging.

Nusret Ozguc plays the other narrator that put his friend in the toilet situation.  He also plays various household items and the explorer who mentors the man.  Yes, I said he plays household items.  To see the human radio is something altogether wonderful, jovial and admirable.  Where do you think the dials for tuning the radio station are?  The human shower is also equally amusing, as is the photocopier.  This is the kind of amusing visual, which makes one laugh out loud and really enjoy the laugh.  A person may even go home and try to recreate the human photocopier when describing the play to someone else but not do it justice.  A person may do this, they may not.  Nusret Osguc plays them as if this were a normal thing to do and is believable and never loses concentration or comes out of character.  His explorer character is also a nice contrast to the others.  He is a stern trainer and uses mannerisms well to convey the authority of this figure and the arrogance too.

Sam Gibbs and Nusret Ozguc do all the sound effects for the whole show.  It is a sight to see and something special to experience.  The props become irrelevant and almost obstructive.  They are simply not needed as Sam Gibbs and Nusret Ozguc play everything so skilfully that you would prefer to focus on them without the distraction of the props.

Sam Gibbs has written a great play that is not offensive, which is a welcome relief.  It has interesting characters with a good story about a normal man that searches for a better life.  It is something that all can enjoy and also relate to.  Sam Gibbs and Nusret Ozguc have devised a play with intellect and fun.  It clearly has had much input and thought gone into each second of the performance.  They address the audience and bring them into the piece further.  We become fellow travellers on this journey of self-discovery.  Chris Browning’s skills have obviously been advantageous as Assistant Director too.  The photography by Paul White to promote the show is fitting and captures the essence of the piece and the characters.

This is the kind of play that you hope to see when you visit the theatre.  It is a gem in London.  It is the wonderfully kept secret that you cannot keep.  It is the story you have to share with the jokes that gets everyone going.  They say in the play ‘this is Mount Everest, well, it’s theatre, use your imagination’.  You really do to need much more imagination as Sam Gibbs and Nusret Ozguc have started painting an intricate tapestry of imagination for us already.  See this and paint your world vibrant.

Cast Credits:  Sam Gibbs – narrator and man.  Nusret Ozguc – narrator, explorer and objects.

Company Credits:  Writer – Sam Gibbs.  Devised by – Sam Gibbs and Nusret Ozguc.  Assistant Director – Chris Browning.  Photography – Paul White.  Company – Autojeu Theatre.

© Chantal Pierre-Packer 2011

Reviewed Friday 19th August 2011

 

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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.