Archive for Edinburgh Fringe Festival

1984

1984

A passionate production of this dystopian nightmare by Close Up theatre

theSpace @ Jury’s Inn (Venue 260)

17:40
Till August 27
45 minutes
 
This abridged version of the classic dystopian nightmare by George Orwell from Close Up theatre is gripping. It can’t have been easy to condense the themes into 45 minutes but somehow they did it. Just three central characters Winston Smith (Geraint Downing), Julia (Lara Deering} and O’Brien (Harriet Thomas) interact to show the reality of life under a ruthless and confident totalitarian State. A State in which your every gesture, act and expression is monitored for signs of ‘disloyalty’. Of course Orwell was influenced by his understanding of Stalinism but the attempt to deny any objective reality beyond power has never been confined to one ideological or political tendency. That’s why, though Stalinism has thankfully long bitten the dust, the warnings Orwell gives are still very telling.
 
This production is played with great passion and energy. I wouldn’t single out any three of the actors as they are all so good with the material they are working with (though, for me, O’Brien was given the best lines by Orwell!). The torture scene between O’Brien and Smith was harrowing and fascinating – all at once. As with the description of the hanged man in Plato we wanted to look away but we were drawn to it.
 
I believe that there is a connection between this company and the company that did Antigone (Eleventh Hour). I am very impressed by both productions. Both deal with dictatorship in different ways. If you can go and see the two . You will not be disappointed.
 
Five Stars
Reviewed by Pat Harrington
 
Crew
 
Technical Desk: Lucy Elmes
Technical Desk: Gabriella Stills
Producer: Rebecca Vines

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Antigone

antigone

An ancient play resonates with modern issues in this passionate production from Eleventh Hour

theSpace @ Surgeons Hall (Venue 53)
14:55
Till August 27
1 hour

Antigone is believed to have been written by Sophocles in 441 b.c. For such an ancient play it has a very modern feel and message and that is heightened by this production.

The plot centres on the decision of Angtigone (Elsie Ireland) to defy the command of Governer Creon that her brother Polyneices’ body should remain unburied because he is a ‘traitor’, outside the city walls, to be defiled by the ravages of wild animals and birds. In deciding to bury him Antigone asserts the primacy of the law of the Gods over man. Nor does she seek to deny that she knew of the ruling on her brother when questioned. It is a classic tale of civil disobedience. It raises questions about the limits of State authority and the exercise of power without regard to either good counsel or tradition.

This production by Eleventh Hour Theatre reinforces the sense of modernity with soundclips of Blair, Cameron and George W Bush ranting against terrorism and disorder and promising uncompromising ‘robust’ or ‘tough’ action. Perhaps most telling is Bush saying “If you are not with us you are with the terrorists”. Bush and Creon both ignore the possibility of a third way or even neutrality. Everything in their world is black or white and there are no shades of grey. The company also, at times, wear terrorist (or special forces) style balaclavas. Sometimes it is difficult to know which is which!

So many questions are raised by Antigone. It is at heart though, a cautionary tale warning against arrogance and an inability to listen to others. Creon (played passionately and well by Jake Deasy) is warned by his son Haemon (Charlie Coobs) and the prophet Teiresias (Oliver Evans) amongst others that his decisions are wrong. By the time he takes heed it is just too late.

I really enjoyed this interpretation by Eleventh Hour. It’s a play performance that makes it clear that the themes of this ancient play are still important today. The lesson that a desire for conformity and order can produce chaos is not missed. As the notes to the production state:

“The implosion of his self-created police state, rife with brutality and a total disregard for civil liberties, will bring Creon to his knees, as he sees everything that the sought to protect fall apart before his very eyes. Violence, betrayal and rebellion will see the streets run red with royal blood.”

A timely production and a lesson for the wise.

Five Stars

Reviewed by Patrick Harrington

Cast and Crew

Antigone: Elsie Ireland
Ismene: Ginny Troughton
Chorus Leader: Sam Wheatley
Creon: Jake Deasy
Sentry: Max Evans
Haemon: Charlie Coombs
Teiresias: Oliverr Evans
Eurydice: Lydia Maxwell
Directors: Max Evans and Charlie Coombs
Producer: Rebecca Vines
Sound Design: Owen Crouch
Translated by David Grene

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Simply Bowie

oliverdarley

Darley interprets Bowie skillfully

Frankenstein Pub, Edinburgh
26 George Iv Bridge, Edinburgh, EH1 1EN
1840-1940 till 29 August

Sometimes free shows are free because they aren’t very good. That isn’t the case here. Singer Oliver Darley amd Pianist Chad Lelong interpret the songs of David Bowie in a nuanced and subtle way. The audience was still and concentrating on the performance transfixed by the way each song had been skillfully varied yet kept the essense of the original.

There was some commentary of the context of the songs and the audience were encouraged to shout out answers if they thought they knew them.

Bowie hits like Changes and Heroes were all there alongside less well known songs. Darley has a fine voice – “One of the UK’s greatest white voices” according to BB King. He didn’t mimic or slavishly copy (even changing changes dropping the ch, ch, ch!).

A great show and great German beer like Löwenbräu (from Munich) on tap. What more could you ask for?

Reviewed by Pat Harrington
Four Stars

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No Exit (Huis Clos)

noexit

A well acted and interesting adaptation of a Satre classic

theSpace @ Jury’s Inn (Venue 260)
14:35
Aug 23-26
50 minutes

As I walked in I was welcomed to hell. The show is an adaptation of Jean-Paul Sartre’s classic directed by Charlie Rogers. Satre’s version of hell isn’t the traditional one of fire and brimstone. The torture is mental and subtle rather than physical and crude. It’s summed up in the famous phrase “Hell is other people”. It’s a surprising take and who would expect this to include IKEA furniture and a TV set?

The young actors in this show all bring something to the table. It’s an ensemble effort. Though I particularly liked  the expressions of the staff demon who conveyed a knowing, smug sadism whilst saying little. This adaptation from the Stahl theatre (based in Oundle) was very well done. If you enjoy thought-provoking and well acted drama go see it.

Cast and Crew

Valet- Charlie Rogers
Joseph Garcin – Tom Younger
Inès Serrano – Coco Brown
Estelle Rigault –  Hetty Hodgson
Designer – Lizzie Lee

Five stars
Reviewed by Patrick Harrington

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The Remains of Tom Lehrer (Performed by Adam Kay)

remainsoftomlehrer

Adam Kay provides a great introduction to the life and dark humour of Tom Lehrer

Gilded Balloon Teviot, Edinburgh
13 Bristo Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9AJ
1545-1645
Till Monday 29 August (not Wednesday)

I was introduced to the satirical songs of Tom Lehrer by a good friend. I first heard National Brotherhood Week and then went on to listen to many more. His darkly funny songs have both entertained and horrified audiences for decades. It was good to see that though Lehrer retired from performing over fifty years ago the audience at the show contained many young people.

Adam Kay took us through the life of Lehrer in a roughly chronological order with amusing commentary interspersed between the songs. Some of the songs had been updated but where historical context was needed Kay provided it (as with  Alma where he told us about her three husbands: Gustav Mahler, composer; Walter Gropius, of the Bauhaus school of design; and author Franz Werfel).

The updated version of The Masochism Tango was very good and Kay performed both this and the original. It’s brave to update and reinvent some classic songs but Kay pulls it off.

Kay performed well known and less well known songs (although sadly not Wernher Von Braun, one of my favourites) and even encouraged some audience participation. We were asked to shout out suggestions on a variation of the L-Y song. One brave member of the audience even got up on stage and sang The Elements (although he was provided with lyrics!).

Kay is an accomplished performer who is clearly knowledgeable about the life of Tom Lehrer and his songs. I was amazed to hear the poem sent to Harvard by Lehrer as an application. Fans of Tom Lehrer will love this show (as I did) and those who haven’t yet been introduced to his black humour are in for a treat. I’ve seen quite a few shows at the Fringe this year but this one has been the most fun!

Five stars

Reviewed by Patrick Harrington

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Call Mr Robeson

callmrrobeson

Robeson: a complex man

Spotlites (Venue 278)
17:55
Aug 23, 25, 27
1 hour 20 minutes

Dirt & Candy described this show as: “A brilliantly put together history lesson delivered as art.”

Tayo Aluko who plays Robeson certainly informs us about the famous US Communist and Civil Rights campaigner who was also internationally acclaimed as an entertainer. Like Robeson himself this show entertains and informs.

Call Mr Robeson depicts a complex man. A man who loved his wife Essie but conducted numerous affairs. A man who sang spirituals in churches but was a Communist. A man of incredible intelligence who was fooled by the lure of Soviet Communism under Stalin. Someone who sang songs (including Ol’ Man River with use of the ‘N-word’) and acted in films (Ilike Sanders of the River) with politically questionable lyrics and assumptions but used the fame these gave him to construct a platform to condemn the very same.

For me his attraction to Stalinism is the most difficult thing to reconcile with his many fine qualities. As late as April 1953, shortly after Joseph Stalin’s death he wrote a eulogy entitled To You Beloved Comrade for the New World Review, in which he praised Stalin’s “deep humanity,” “wise understanding,” and dedication to peaceful co-existence with all peoples of the world calling him “wise and good”. There is little evidence that he ever revised his view of either the Soviet Union or Stalin.

The show takes us through his life using framed pictures of loved ones as props on a set with Soviet, International Brigade, Welsh, US and British flags.

Robeson was a talented man, a professional footballer, an accomplished orator, a lawyer and a singer and actor. He was deeply influenced and guided by his father (at one time a slave who becae a Pastor). Yet this remarkable man was born into a country where he would often be judged not on his ability or character but the colour of his skin.

Aluko plays Robeson engagingly in a conversational style punctuated by renditions of songs like Old Man River and The Battle of Jericho. Robeson faces many trials and tribulations because of his sincerely held beliefs. His income fell dramatically as a result of cancelled contracts and bookings on account of his outspoken opinions. He suffered FBI surveillance and harassment and had travel restrictions placed on him. His right to travel was only finally restored by the 1958 United States Supreme Court decision, Kent v. Dulles. We should recall, however, that dissidents in the Soviet Union at the time were treated somewhat more harshly!

Robeson was a man who seldom backed down. When he was summoned before the House Un-American Activities Committee he was defiant. He refused to sign an affidavit affirming he was not a Communist instead taking the fifth  (the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution giving the right to not incriminate yourself). He also gave them an ear-bashing!

The songs are great and although Aluko is, I think, a baritone and Robeson a bass he does a fine job of performing them. I particularly liked his performance of the Battle of Jericho (which I remembered fondly from attending services at the Meropolitan Tabernacle in London when young).

I really enjoyed the performance from Aluko and learning more about Paul Robeson. It was great to see this depiction of a strong, intelligent man who, though not without flaws, remained steadfast in his belief (even in the face of adversity) that a better world was possible.

Four Stars
Reviewed by Patrick Harrington

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Doubting Thomas

doubtingthomas

Former enforcer Thomas McCrudden gives a compelling performance

Summerhall (Venue 26)
19:20
Aug 21, 23-28
1 hour 10 minutes

Thomas McCrudden was a Glassgow enforcer. This is the story of his journey from that through prison to performer. It’s a brutal and sometimes bleak tale that does not pull punches in any way.

At the start the audience is told that the play will take us “on a journey, to a place and world that that times may feel uncomfortable to them”. It certainly delivers on that promise.

You can feel the tension and anger in Thomas as scenes depict what he describes as his addiction to violence. Yet Doubting Thomas has a message of hope. Thomas when a prison mentor tells a fellow inmate to take off his mask. What does he mean by that? Thomas has said:

” I was acting…all of my life I have been trapped in roles that I did not want…I want you to show this…I will do anything on a stage to show what I did and went through to get people too understand that in people like me, people they call monsters…there is still a child, in me, a scarred child…even when others were crying, begging me to stop hurting them, I was still this child. When I was growing up I was not given any love and that created a man, that was like a monster, I had no empathy, no care for others…I couldn’t, I was alive, but dead inside. I have seen people dying in front of me, bleeding to death, and I have stepped over them because it was not me, I was cold and heartless.”

The play has a strong social message that asks us not to turn our backs and look away from the ‘lost boys’. It clearly states that bad social conditions breed crime: “when your’re born into poverty, you don’t stand a chance.” Doubting Thomas is a plea for wider society not to give up on or abandon individuals. At no point, however, does Doubting Thomas seek to duck the need for individual responsibility.

The central performance from McCrudden is compelling. Despite the aggression and anger you can see a vulnerability. His performance is nuanced as he switches from rage to Glasgow banter and edged humour. Despite the seriousness of the subject matter and theme Doubting Thomas has lines and scenes that had the audience laughing!

The supporting cast show Thomas with his girlfiend, his criminal sidekicks and with a prison counsellor. All serve to throw light on what has made him the man he is and are good performances in their own right. They show also how some ‘friendships’ can reinforce destructive behaviour. A scene I found particularly telling was when one ‘friend’ sought to reinvolve Thomas in crime after his release from prison and took one (of only two) pot noodles and £1.60 (of only £2.50 he had) for a bus fare. He would have taken more if Thomas had allowed it!

Hat tip to Harry Mulligan in a carefully understated depiction of the prison counsellor.

Doubting Thomas is a show with humanity. It doesn’t seek to hide or excuse what McCrudden did. It seeks to explain it and show how positive change can be achieved against the stacked odds that our society gives to many. Although it’s emotionally demanding at times the humour and the positive message shine through. Go see it!

Five stars

Reviewed by Patrick Harrington

Cast: Thomas Mccrudden, Dale Joseph Duffy (Antique Specialist), John Riley (Cats and Dogs), William Clelland (Old Prison Lag), Lynn Lynne Killin (Thomas’ Mrs) and Harry Mulligan (Psychotherapist).

Editorial note: Since his release from prison, Thomas has worked in a mentoring capacity as well as advising professional bodies including the UK Government and the Scottish Prison Service. He is also one of the founding members of the registered charity ‘Positive Prisons/Positive Futures’.

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