Archive for August, 2014

Horizontal-Collaboration-Traverse-Theatre-620x330The technique of getting actors, different for every performance, to read a play “blind” is not new (for example White Rabbit, Red Rabbit which is playing again at this Festival). Horizontal Collaboration, written and directed by David Leddy, requires four actors of either gender, any race or age, to appear in white shirts and judges’ robes, sit behind a long desk and read from computer screens. On this particular occasion, four middle-aged white actors, two men, two women, took the roles. Their characters are presiding over a War Crimes tribunal in The Hague and summarising the testimonies given so far. What follows resembles a suspense thriller of high intrigue, with twists and turns at every corner in a plot which concerns tribal conflicts in an unnamed African country and the less than reputable involvement of United Nations peacekeepers. So, how is this different from listening to an audio book? In reality, not much, except that, with the actors having no prior knowledge of the material, they have little opportunity to dramatise their delivery. Perhaps it is expected that actors will be visibly and audibly taken aback by plot developments, but, at this performance, all four were completely professional and read out their lines in a plain, matter of fact manner. However, all that really matters is that the presentation is effective in getting the story across, because this play is all about that story and it’s a cracker!

Performance date: 15 August 2014

This play is double-billed with a film entitled “City of the Blind”, made exclusively for smart phones or tablets

siddhartha-the-musical_2014SIDDHAR_8VInspired by Herman Hesse’s novel, which has something to do with the journey of a prince to discover the meaning of life, this is an Italian musical, written and directed by Isabella Biffi, with music by her and Fabio Codega. It is difficult to think of a successful musical from Italy since Turandot, but, true to its origins, it boasts lush melodies and beautiful singing, particularly by Giorgio Adamo in the title role. With the exception of narration by the older Siddhartha (Michael Nouri), the show is spoken and sung in Italian, but it is only necessary to glance occasionally at the American surtitles, because the book is a load of tosh and all the lyrics seem to be about the same thing – the joy of living. What makes this show special is the full-on staging of the songs, which range from soaring ballads to pounding club anthems and include a novelty number. Yes, this is a live mini version of the Eurovision Song Contest – incomprehensible lyrics, glittery costumes in lurid colours, half naked dancers gyrating all around the singers, flashing lights and lasers, psychedelic back projections and all of it unashamedly camp. Just like Eurovision, occasional suspicions that someone may actually be taking it seriously add to the amusement. The only things missing are (thankfully) the roll call of results and (sadly) Graham Norton’s commentary. Spectacularly entertaining.

Performance date: 14 August 2014

trial-of-jane-fondaIn June 1988, the double Oscar winning Hollywood actress Jane Fonda went to Waterbury, Connecticut to shoot scenes for Stanley and Iris, along with her co-star Robert De Niro. She found herself a pariah in a town which was populated by an unusually high proportion of war veterans, branded a traitor for the stand that she had taken against the Vietnam War in the 1960s and early 70s. This play, written and directed by Terry Jastrow, tells of a confrontation between Fonda and a group of the veterans which was, in effect, a trial. Somewhat ironically, the play takes the shape of Twelve Angry Men, one of the most famous films of Fonda’s father Henry, as we see a single figure seeking to convert dissenters, one by one. Ironically also, Fonda was seen as little more than a nuisance by the US Government and Military who she opposed, but as a demon by the fighting men whose cause was closest to her heart. Here, she admits that she had been hot headed and made mistakes, but she remains passionate in her beliefs that the Vietnam War was wrong and that the actions of US Presidents, particularly Nixon, amounted to genocide. From the perspective of the modern day, it is impossible to argue with her, but, in 1988, the wounds were still open. This is all fascinating and the arguments are generally well presented, with the aid of newsreel footage, except that the same points are repeated too often. Anne Archer is cool and composed as the beleaguered film star, as indeed Fonda may have been in 1988, unlike the fiery image of “Hanoi Jane” of a decade and more earlier. Occasionally, when the verbal interchanges become a little stodgy, dramatic flash points, that look somewhat cooked up, are inserted and the ending is 110% Hollywood. Otherwise, this is an intelligent and intriguing play.

Performance date: 14 August 2014

my-obsession-2014MYOBSES-PH-300Suki Webster’s short play has the feel of a pilot episode for a sit com that was never taken up. The writer herself plays a woman so obsessed with Danny Heywood, a television comedian, that she breaks into his hotel room in the middle of the night. Heywood seems a little like Paul Merton, so, rather conveniently, he is played by Paul Merton, who makes full use of his trademark expression of bewilderment when confronting the intruder. The comedy is inoffensive and light as a feather, steering well clear of the darker side of stalking and it doesn’t go on for a second too long. Indeed, some may reflect that the play lasts for little longer than it takes us to get to and from our seats, but it’s fun while it lasts anyway.

Performance date: 14 August 2014

TheCuringRoom-620x330What better way to spend a lunch hour in Edinburgh than in the company of a group of naked cannibals? In the Spring of 1944 in Southern Poland, a group of seven Soviet soldiers is taken prisoner by the Nazis, thrown naked into a cellar and abandoned with no means to escape. As days become weeks, the seven become hungrier and they realise that there can be only one source of sustenance available to them. A little like Agatha Christies’s Ten Little….., the question now becomes who will be the first and next to fall? In common with all stories of incarceration, David Ian Lee’s play relies upon the development of strong characters and he is served well by excellent performances all round. Stand outs are Marion Solomon as a reluctant leader, Matt Houston as a boastful Georgian ex-farmer and Thomas Holloway as a simpleton. However, this is a grizzly affair that makes us long for a return to the days when suggestions of unpleasant things were enough to trigger an audience’s imagination; the gratuitous offal on display in this production actually works against the drama by distracting our attention from the characters and making us divert our eyes in disgust. Stark realism is a positive feature of this production, but it is taken just a little too far.

Performance date: 14 August 2014

cuckooedMark Thomas is a stand-up comedian, but this is not a stand-up routine. Yes, Thomas uses all his skills for working an audience and he incorporates plenty of humour, but the story that he is telling is serious and even alarming. It is a story of friendship and betrayal that leads into a political rant over corporate malpractices. Thomas is an active member of CAAT (Campaign Against the Arms Trade) and, using video interviews with others involved, he tells of protests and demonstrations over a period of several years against arms dealers and of the underhand tactics used by those dealers to infiltrate the activists. The most affecting aspect of the show is Thomas’s descriptions of others involved with him, particularly an individual known only as Martin. This show is gripping, informative, relevant and moving.

Performance date: 14 August 2014

donald robertsonI cut back on seeing stand-up comedians some while back on the basis that they had all begun to sound the same. Gary McNair certainly does not fit into that category, although, as “play texts” were being sold at the end of his performance, it may be fair to deduce that he is no more a stand-up comedian than Donald Robertson, the badly bullied schoolboy that he bumps into regularly on a bus. Let’s just say that McNair presents the piece as if it were a stand-up routine and then takes it to all sorts of fascinating places. It would be unfair to divulge too much of the story that unfolds, but the narrative is always inventive and it leads to a very clever deconstruction of the natures of comedy, bullying and their inter-dependence. McNair, also the writer, is an accomplished comedy performer, who holds the audience in the palm of his hand for the entire show and, at the end, we are treated to a really wonderful punchline, which fully endorses everything that has preceded it. So, if Gary McNair is not a stand-up comedian, then, for sure, he is a consummate storyteller.

Performance date: 13 August 2014