Archive for Drama

Beethoven in Stalingrad


Universal Soldier? Jesper Arin

12 letters are read to the audience. 12 letters from trapped men facing almost certain death to loved ones. Letters written by dispirited, depressed and doomed German solidiers to their relatives, friends and lovers back home. To people who had no idea of the reality of their situation and who were being fed a diet of propaganda and misinformation about the war. Jesper Arin gives an intense performance as he takes as through the distressing but sometimes touching letters. All is accompanied by a mix of the Appassionata by Scottish violinist Ian Peaston with electronic distortion that creates a chilling, sorrowful atmosphere.

The play hits you emotionally and makes you think about big questions of belief, survival, suffering and love. As the production notes say: “The letters contain messages of hate, longing and despair but they also send us reassurance, love and hope.” You can’t help but identify with the soldiers because they are experiencing emotions which are part of all of us, they are universal.

The letters never arrived, they were censored because they did not support the German war effort.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

Sun 16th – Mon 31st Aug – 12.15pm
(45 mins)
Venue 278. 22 Hanover Street. EH2 2EP

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When I told friends I was going to see a theatrical interpretation of Trainspotting they were sceptical. Mainly because they loved the 1996 film and it had such an impact on them. They couldn’t see how the story, centred on heroin addiction in Leith, could be translated to the stage. “How would the play deal with the famous/infamous ‘toilet scene’?” was one question. I didn’t know whether they were right or not. Certainly the film set a high bar of expectation and to meet that in a different medium would be challenging.

There doubts were answered when I saw the production, it is simply one of the best things I have ever seen. The passion and energy of the cast as they rove the audience and stage just communicates to all present. The audience is put on edge by the interaction and that creates a strange tension between the cast and them. They certainly had my attention as I wondered what they would do next and if they would ‘pick on’ me! Gavin Ross as Renton acts as a kind of narrator and he confronts us with a disturbing, yet sometimes bleakly funny, alternative view. One minute the audience were laughing but then the mood changed and we were gripped by the tragedy unfolding.

And, let’s be frank, Trainspotting is a tragedy. How could it be anything else? Happy endings aren’t that common amongst Heroin addicts. The best that can be hoped for is recovery but often the conclusion is a life cut short. Trainspotting is a bleak story of alienated, trapped people who are slowly killing themselves and sacrificing everything for the drug. Erin Marshall hits your emotions when she screams and writhes in tortured agony at the loss of her child. Renton and the others are incapable of holding her or offering comfort. They babble and are concerned more about their next hit.

Trainspotting was accused of ‘glamourising’ drugs by some stupid Tories when the film first came out. I wonder if any of them actually bothered to watch it before condemning and pontificating in their hostile soundbites. The script is based on the 1994 adaptation by Harry Gibson which is bleakly honest.

Like the book and the film this production is informed about the appeal of heroin and the rituals surrounding it. It partly answers the question as to why people take it, what they get out of it. It is educational, in that sense, but never boring.

The cast just carried the audience with them through every change of pace or tone in the narrative. The company are ‘In Your Face Theatre’ and the performance is certainly that but it is also subtle and nuanced. The company have performed Trainspotting in London and I expect they will be offered more venues after this huge hit at the Fringe. They are certainly ones to watch.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

You can catch Trainspotting at Assembly George Square (Underground) until the 31st August, performances at 18:00, 20:30 and 22:45.

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24-29 August 2015
Time: 1715
Duration: 50 mins
Venue: SpaceTriplex

sophiejugeAs we entered the theatre Jazz musicians played Caravan I had come to see Muse a fascinating telling of the story of Jean Ross, the inspiration for the character Sally Bowles in Cabaret. Sophie Juge plays Jean Ross who tells us her story through drama and music. The music is great including such classics as Mad About the Boy, Alabama Song and Love for Sale.

In Cabaret and ‘Goodbye to Berlin’, the book by Isherwood (who lodged in the same house in 30s Berlin) the story of ‘Sally Bowles’ ends abruptly. In real life Ross continued to have a series of lovers. In fact one lover, Eric Maschwitz, wrote These Foolish Things about Ross after the end of their affair. Ross was also a political journalist who reported from the front-lines in the Spanish Civil War and married Claud Cockburn who wrote for the Daily Worker (and also had a column in Private Eye for many years). She was a life-long Communist. Juge Performs the anti-fascist El Quinto Regimento to illustrate this part of the life of Ross.

This is a great story with a passionate, expressive and skilful performance from Juge. I highly recommend it. It is on at the Fringe till the 29th. Try and catch it!

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

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 Lovecraft’s Monsters

lovecraftsmonstersLovecraft’s Monsters, performed by David Crawford as a part of the Free Fringe. Located at the Laughing Horse @ The Wee Pub at 1 Currie Close, Grassmarket, EH1 2JR at 13:15 pm

HP Lovecraft spent his life haunted by harsh, unrelenting demons. Their tentacles wrapped him in fear, pushed him into poverty and filled his brain with horrors that found expression in some of the world’s greatest works of weird fiction. American actor David Crawford, of Dawn of the Dead fame, portrayed Lovecraft and we experienced him fighting his demons and transforming them into a world he could inhabit.

David entertained us with his one person show in period costume and through his ‘channelling’ of Lovecraft, we experience HP as a child and later as a married man who eventually drifts into an isolation which pushes him into a space where he can exorcise out his demons through his stories.

David called up Lovecraft’s demons and the legend himself. This was a warmly intimate encounter and I greatly enjoyed the performance. Mr Crawford did  a brilliant job of portraying H P Lovecraft in various stages throughout his life. I particularly enjoyed the resonant and rich voices he uses when portraying the sundry characters of his tales.

I must say I was sat quite enthralled as he wove in and out of the different characters down to the smallest grunt, the inflection in his voice and the mere parlance bringing the scenes to life. Eventually as he winds us through HP’s life, he divulges the story of the “Shadow over Innsmouth”, and I relished this most.

Howard Phillips Lovecraft created the Cthulhu Mythos, an imposing and horrific intricate world of ancient gods that was very unique to Lovecraft and to Horror literature at the time. Cthulu, Azathoth, and Yog-Sothoth are the ancient ones at the heart of the Lovecraft stories.  He was ahead of his time and had a considerable influence on modern horror films in many ways. His was a difficult childhood, and he suffered from depression. He was a recluse and seems to have lived socially through his correspondences with many people around the world.

Both of Lovecraft’s parents died in a mental hospital, and it is believed that he was concerned with having inherited a predisposition to physical and mental degeneration. This was a common pre-occupation at the time amongst eugenicists and it is this pre-occupation suggested in the plot of Innsmouth. Lovecraft explores themes of Cosmicism and the idea that one’s mind deteriorates when he is afforded a glimpse of what exists outside his perceived reality. In the opening sentence of “The Call of Cthulhu“, Lovecraft relates, “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.” And perhaps here, he is struggling with his own inner demons and mental health as he delivers his gifts to future generations of the horror genre.

The Shadow of Innsmouth was written from November to December of 1931 and was twice rejected by Weird Tales. Subsequently, it was published as a bound booklet in April of 1936. This will become the only fiction of Lovecraft’s published during his lifetime that did not appear in a periodical. He based the town of Innsmouth on Newburyport Massachusetts where he had visited before, and most recently in the fall of 1931 around the time he was writing the story.  Shadow_Over_Innsmouth_(dust_jacket_-_first_edition)

David Crawford’s rendition of Lovecraft’s Monsters was held at The Wee Pub and it was an intimate venue quite well suited for the show, however the seats were not very comfortable, and I would suggest couches and arm chairs might be a nice touch to bring us even closer into this performance.

We were delighted to be able to sit down with David following his performance and have a brief chat after the show. David tells us he was asked to do this show in Pittsburgh and from there he decided to bring it to the Fringe. This production is something of a fluid work in progress with David refining and re-working as he performs his 50 minutes with Lovecraft’s Monsters with us. Mr Crawford was a lovely and warm host and we enjoyed the conversation with him as we bantered about ideas which he could add to the show.

This is from David Crawford on the Lovecraft’s Monsters’ Facebook page about the production:

“I’m incorporating a lot of smaller ideas into the show now. My favourite at the moment is letting Lovecraft drift into delirium at the end. He sees some of his monsters and says things like “Reynolds”, which was a word that Poe shouted as he lay dying. And of course his last words are the Tail of the Dragon from ‘The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.’”


David is an actor, known for his role as Dr Foster in Dawn of the Dead (1978), Lady Beware (1987) and What Rats Won’t Do (1998). He has also performed a similar type of show about the life of Edgar Allan Poe in addition to his Lovecraft’s Monsters production. I hope we will see him return to the Fringe to entertain us in the future with more tales of terror.  Perhaps he will bring us back Edgar Allan Poe to the Fringe as well in the future as I missed him doing that. Poe


Reviewed by Rosdaughr






You can listen to David Crawford speak about his performance of Poe here on YouTube:



David’s Filmography

2014 Night of the Living Dead: Genesis (filming) – Sheriff Connor McClellan
2014 Wormwood’s End – Alan Burrows
2010 Animalz (Short) (voice)
2008 Sabbath (Video) Reverend
2001 Euphoria (Video) Test Subject 1 / Guy in Line
1998 The Tichborne Claimant – Court Usher
1998 What Rats Won’t Do – Drunken Lawyer
1987 Lady Beware Katya’s Father
1984 The Boy Who Loved Trolls (TV Movie) Paul’s Father
1978 Dawn of the Dead Dr. Foster
1971 Room 222 (TV Series) – They Love Me, They Love Not (1971)
Dragnet 1967 (TV Series) Teenager – Robbery: DR-15 (1968) … Teenager (as David N. Crawford)
1962 To Kill a Mockingbird David Robinson (uncredited)
Self (2 credits)
2015 Road Trip of the Dead (filming) Himself
2004 The Dead Will Walk (Video documentary) Himself
Archive footage (1 credit)
2007 Cinemassacre’s Monster Madness (TV Series documentary) Dr. Foster
– Dawn of the Dead (2007) … Dr. Foster

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Blood Orange

bloodorangeAug 19-24
1 hour
Suitability: 16+ (Guideline)
Group: Electric Theatre Workshop

This play, written and directed by Graham Main, is centred around a Scottish Defence League (SDL) demonstration against the opening of a Mosque in Dumfries. The SDL are an organisation which asserts that they counter Islamic extremists but who their opponents claim are racist or even ‘Nazi’.

The SDL is represented in the form of ‘Mole’. Mole is a skinhead (almost inevitably!) who seeks to manipulate the psychological insecurities and needs of those around him to political purpose. His life, and those on whom he preys, are set to a club beat with drugs and casual sex providing most of the highs.

Why is ‘Mole’ the way he is? Curiously, he is the only character whose psychological insecurities are not explored in the play. That’s maybe not surprising as he is the baddy, presented as an animal. The Nazis compared Jews to rats. This writer doesn’t use that metaphor instead plumping for a burrowing, underground creature. The effect is the same – dehumanisation of the ‘other’, ‘the enemy’.

Mole does not have any valid points. His criticisms of Islam are just pure bigotry without any foundation. Mole has no redeeming qualities. He is a pantomime villain. I half expected the audience to hiss and boo every time he appeared!

Mole seeks to manipulate Zander into murdering a Muslim. Zander scapegoats Muslims for the suicide of his mother. Mole befriends and rapes Jasmine (the anorexic and vulnerable girlfriend of Zander). Those around Mole are presented as weak, easy victims. Is it any wonder that others (whether Mole or Labour) need to think for them!

Once it has been established that Mole is thoroughly evil the play starts to promote the idea that violence is the solution: ‘if only someone could do something about that Mole the world would be a better place’. That’s the point where I get really uneasy about this story. It gets worse.

Mole is murdered in a wish fulfilment sequence. Zander is described as a ‘warrior’ or like a ‘soldier’. Cue Jasmine: “It’s over now“. It never is like that with violence, however. It is never over so simply. One brutal act just is the first step to the next. Tit for Tat is a simple game that is quickly learned. Ask the people of Northern Ireland!

There is great and passionate acting and enthusiasm for their cause in a very physical performance. There is interesting use of technology and footage from the SDL demonstration is mixed-in in sound and pictures. There is a fascinating mix of influences on the stage presentation featuring Shakespearian influences of asides and soliloquy as well as a kind of Greek chorus.

Despite all this I didn’t applaud at the end. The play made me sad as hate, prejudice, intolerance and the glorification of violence won the day, albeit in a different form.

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

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justposter12 to 17 August,
Paradise Green at St. Augustine’s on George IV Bridge

Just starts with a young woman, Victoria, standing at a bus stop. A corpse lies near her with an umbrella stuck in its back. From there the audience witnesses a tale of Kafa-esque injustice unfold. There are many surreal features including a blindfolded Judge, townspeople who speak in (bad) synchronised verse and a forgetful policeman who confuses his words.

This production is performed by Sixth form actors from Oundle School (near Peterborough). These are Robbie Younger (Grafton) playing Albert, Victoria shared by Lily Spicer (Sanderson) and Livvy Sellers (Laxton). They are supported by Emma Kelmsley-Pein (Sanderson), Georgie Anstey (Laxton), Alex Wallitt (Kirkeby), Monica Dahiya (Laxton) and Annabelle Sherwood (Wyatt), with Polly Halstead (Sanderson) as stage manager. All of them did a great job in what can be a difficult play to perform.

At the heart of the play is the issue of Justice, or perhaps injustice. The writer spoke of the blind Judge Mrs Wright:

“I had no specific person in line for Mrs. Wright. In fact the character started off as a man then she became female and you can read her as anything you like. Justice is blind but hers is a different kind of blindness. It is a chosen kind of blindness. She almost always decides which direction to look.”

Themes of class and the treatment of outsiders are hinted at but never fully developed. This is a deliberate tactic to provoke thought as the audience is left to fill in the gaps in the narrative. Sometimes just a word or phrase is used (like a reference to shopping at Waitrose or the statement that someone doesn’t come from “round here”). There is a clear theme of suspicion of the ‘other’.

There are clear Brechtian influences at work in the play too. The characters indicate that they are aware that it is a play and refer to ‘our play, our unending poem, our theatre of here’. The actors sometimes peer out at the audience. The writer makes it clear that they could walk out if they really wanted but they seem trapped in a cycle. In that sense the play is pessimistic. If they realise they have a choice they lack the will or courage to exercise it. This then is a play with a message, very subtly put and ably delivered by a talented young cast.

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siddhartha-the-musical_2014SIDDHAR_8VAssembly Rooms, Edinburgh
54 George Street, Edinburgh, EH2 2LR
Aug 10-12, 14-24

I read the novel Siddhartha by Herman Hesse many years ago. It’s about the life journey of Siddhartha Gautama, Prince of Kapilvastu, Nepal. Siddhartha renounces his position and fortune and seeks spiritual enlightenment. It isn’t a straight path and one woman in particular knocks him off course – the Courtesan Kamala. She even persuades Siddhartha to go into business with the merchant Kamaswami!

You can’t blame him. The girls are hot and the money is flowing. When he goes off for enlightenment I had to suppress my cockney inner voice: “some people are never happy”!

An unlikely subject for a musical you might think. A musical that started as a rehabilitation programme in a maximum security prison in Milan! But it works. Even the fact that it is in Italian doesn’t stop the fun. Surtitles are provided for those who don’t know the language.

The dances, story and songs are great. I particularly liked the fight scenes which are incredibly graceful and, by way of contrast, the comical Kawaswami. It’s a sexy production with pounding beats and by the end the audience were clapping along in rhythm.

Combine this with the way the show gets you to reflect on the message of the Buddha (which I will not even attempt to summarise) and you’ve got enlightened entertainment!

Reviewed by Pat Harrington

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Private Peaceful

Scamp Theatre

Underbelly, McEwan Hall, Bristo Square (Venue 300)
Aug 10-12, 14-25

Running time: 1 hour 15 minutes

This deeply moving play by the forprivate-peaceful-by-michael-morpurgo_2014PRIVATE_MImer Children’s Laureate Michael Morpurgo tells the story of young Tommo Peaceful. In a powerful one-man show Tommo tells the story of growing up in the Devon countryside in the shadow of his big brother Charlie. He tells of happy times at school; how he met Molly, the love of his life – and that of Charlie’s – his guilt at the death of his father in a tree-felling accident.

Tommo is sitting by himself and walking around the stage with only a bed as a prop. Interspersed between his reminiscences he keeps checking the passage of time on his watch; his father’s watch which we learn was later given to him by Charlie. Gradually, as the rapt audience hang on every word, we realise that something is wrong. This young lad of sixteen – who lied about his age to join up – is in a condemned cell. He had a travesty of a trial that lasted less than an hour and he is due to be shot at dawn for cowardice in the face of the enemy. No wonder he keeps checking the time.

Coming at the centenary of the start of the Great War in 1914 this play is a timely reminder of that bloody slaughter that offers a counter-argument to those jingoistic revisionists of the Michael Gove school who try to whitewash the conflict as just and necessary when it was plainly neither.

The lighting and staging and the sheer talent of Andy Daniel, the young actor portraying Tommo, succeed in building up the atmosphere. The audience – laughing easily at some of Tommo’s innocent recollections of his early school days – are soon reduced to rapt silence and then to tears. This was Fringe Threatre at its best.

Just one word of warning, though for the vertically challenged. Short people should avoid the front two rows. The seats are packed in very tightly to the front, so you’ll find that the stage is very high and you won’t see much. These seats must have been placed by a race of giants.

***** Five Stars

Reviewed by David Kerr

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altamont_2014ALTAMON_YGat C Nova (venue 145)
Until 25 August

This one man play by John Stenhouse tells the story of the tragic events of the Altamont Speedway Free Festival of December 6, 1969. My vague knowledge of that day was only that Hells Angels had turned on a largely hippie, peace and love audience and some people had died. I knew this day was seen as marking the day when the counter-culture dream turned into a nightmare.  Other than this I knew nothing.

I certainly came out of this show knowing a lot more. The story is told from the perspective of Joe a hippy fan. Stenhouse is engaging in this role and a great storyteller (he is also the writer). Staying in character (apart from breaks when he depicts an intimidating Hells Angel and Mick Jagger) he brings the day alive from arrival to departure. A still at the end tells us of subsequent events. Stenhouse gives us a real sense of the layout of the show, the chronology of events and the mistakes made but more than this he gives us a sense of the hope and optimism of those attending and the shock when everything started to go badly wrong. No mean feat for one person in a fairly short performance!


Reviewed by Pat Harrington


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Assembly George Square Theatre (Venue 8)
12:00noon; Aug 9-10, 12-17, 19-24
Running time: 1 hour 30 minutes

George Orwell’s tale of a revolution betrayed is brought to the stage by the Tumanishvili Film Actors Theatre from the former Soviet republic of Georgia. Georgia’s most famous son was the model for the pig leader, Napoleon; former Soviet leader Josef Stalin.

In this allegory, the animals of Manor Farm overthrow the rule of the tyrannical Farmer Jones and set up a new regime where all animals are equal under the new ideology of Animalism. However, to defend the revolution, the newly christened Animal Farm gradually cedes, without realising the consequences until it’s too late, all power to Napoleon and his coterie of pigs.

Props and costumes are minimal in this production but that is not a problem. This performance  is in the Georgian language with simultaneous English language surtitles displayed overhead. In practice this works well. Arguably, it allows for greater concentration. Through dance, movement, gestures and a cracking soundtrack we can soon work out who are the sheep, the pigs, the hens and the dogs in this effective piece of physical theatre.

Stalinism is dead and gone everywhere but in North Korea but the temptation to trust a ruler who is ‘always right’ is still with us today. Animal Farm is great reminder of the truth of the words of the Psalmist who said, ‘Put not your trust in princes’.

***** Five Stars

David Kerr

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