Okay, so I know this is a weency bit late, but there are still loads of people going up this weekend… So here goes.
1) 7 Day Drunk – Bryany Kimmings (Assembly George Square – 20:00-21:00) ￼￼￼￼
This was a bit of a given for me… Because Becki Haines (producer of Bootworks and all around person-you-want-to-know) had tipped me on to her last show (which I failed to see) Sex Idiot, and I think her exact words were something like “You absolutely must go see this show.”… This was also my first show of the Fringe, so I was in a heady mood, ready to play and excited about life. Plus we were right next to Nigel and Louise (by complete coincidence) so I was feelin’ that community thing. Anyway… It was brilliant. For anyone who has woken up with missing days, slept with the wrong person during a binge-gone-wrong, or just wanted to know a little more about blood chemistry and the creative muse, this show will speak to you.
The audience are invited into the work almost from the start — there is *hard core* audience interaction for one or two lucky peeps (some people have complained about this type of interaction — see the brilliant Hannah Nicklin’s blog here, for instance) but Trish and I were in the front row and from where we were sitting, it was all good fun. Dancing and flirtation with strangers (which, after all, is what being single is all about, right?) aside, there were gentler, less… intrusive ways in to the work for others wanting to play but not ready to give away the farm. At one point we got to blow bubbles, and while these childhood delights were handed out to specific audience members, there was, by that point, such a feeling of esprit de corps in the room that the coveted wands made their way around the rows of seats like peace pipes at a Phish concert.
Bryony’s emotive and at times self deprecating forms of presentation are disarming and informative; you want to join her in her glitter-filled, glammy journey, littered with costumes, bits of kebab, and slices of video documentation of her grand experiment. I also liked that the timbre of the piece was, ultimately, hopeful. After a childhood listening to speeches from over zealous D.A.R.E. representatives in US middle schools, and watching Truth commercial after Truth commercial on television, I guess I walk into any show about substance abuse expecting to maybe have a bit of fun on the front end, but knowing it’ll eventually get around to telling me how horrible the various choices I’ve made in my life are… Not so with 7 Day Drunk. Like any good experiment, she remains objective and, if not dispassionate, at least without agenda.
2) Titus Andronicus – Action to the Word in association with C theatre (C Venues – C – 22:15-23:35) ￼￼
Trish really wanted to see this and I had promised I would go and see shows she wanted to see if we got to look at the craziness I wanted to see… This was a late show, and even though they cut the hell out of it, spiced it up with lots of tiny red-and-black patent leather corsets, and a *loud* NIN soundtrack, there were times when I felt that plodding pace kick me in the head and it was all I could do to keep awake. Of course, coming out of 7 Day Drunk, we had felt the need to get dutifully tipsy, so I’m sure that didn’t help.
What I liked. I liked the movement, the fight choreography, the graphic and extremely present, no-holding-back sex, *some* of the costumes (where it felt like ladies night at theCastle, I was unimpressed, but there were enough genuinely well designed kits that you could tell someone with an eye had done their work). I liked the use of the extremely sparse scenic elements and props (a rotating table that doubled as a backdrop, a grocery cart, a small sack of gold).
What I didn’t like. I didn’t like the gothtastic stereotype the show seemed determined to live into. As Trish said, it’s one thing if you really like NIN and shiny, knee-high boots, but a show should be about more than satisfying your lust. It should be, as the name implies, a show. I thought the (non-sexual) violence was pretty vivid, but next to the stab-your-own-eyes-out rape (which had Trish and I both uncertain of whether we were aroused or horrified) and the steamy-sensual moments between the Moore and the Queen of the Goths, it seemed hollow, the dyed pink water just a little too thin and the screams of agony just a little too performed.
Some of the acting was quite good. Lavinia’s shrieks during the afore mentioned rape, and her efforts afterwards, when learning to write, utterly obliterated the picture of the ingenue I was painting her into during the initial scenes. Aaron, too, was well portrayed, and the simpering, insane brothers Demetrius and Chiron were chilling. Sadly, I wasn’t crazy for the actress portraying Tamora, or the title actor either. This production tried to rip the bandaids off of Titus, and in some ways it succeeded, but ‘going all the way’ in some respects just threw the places where they didn’t quite make it into sharp relief. Plus, this wasn’t really the sort of thing I went to Edinburgh to see.
3) The One Man Show – Nigel Barrett and Louise Mari from SHUNT (C Venues – C – 00:00-00:50) ￼￼￼￼
UPDATE — The One Man Show has won a FringeReview Theatre Award! Check out their awesome review here! Creepy wonderful difficult exciting delicious patronising gentle elating. Nigel is a solid, fantastic performer, and the hinterlands he and Louise attempt to explore are generally delightful/unsettling/titillating. One Man Show is as abusive as it is inclusive. You eat, you sing, you feel uncertain about your ethical standpoint. Okay — So I know I’m not being helpful. I’ll try to boil it down to to its essentials and give you the short, easy answer before I go on to try and decode my own feelings about the show at length.
Short answer: You have made bad choices if you leave Edinburgh without seeing this show. And besides, at midnight, even if it weren’t the gem that it is, what else are you going to spend your time on? Some B-string standup? A five-hour, theatre ad naseum romp through ancient Greek tragedy? A ‘VIP’ party full of self-important prats who stand around not talking to one another wishing they were drunker?
Long answer: This show dissects the role of the performer, and by extension, the role of spectator. Consumer and consumed. You are shown a series of unsettling and playful images, there are ‘phases’ to the performance (the ‘various modes of the actor’ phase, the ‘painfully loud metally-screechy sounds’ phase, and the ‘whizzing fast procession of projected celebrity images’ phase, for instance). The audience is invited in turns to ignore, and to join into the performance. There is consumption of food and sweeties. When I saw it the house was nice; about half-full. Nigel carries you through all the confusion because he is genuinely fascinating and enjoyable to watch, even when he’s doing something fuckin’ creepy. It’s like going scuba diving with a skilled and experienced dive master. You feel well cared-for even though you’re in seriously murky water. Despite (or maybe because of) his winning smile and disarming presence, at the end of the experience I was left with disquieting feelings of uncertainty about where I stand, and about the implied values inherent in the relationship between performer and consumer. At times the … dunno what the right word is … Methodology? (perhaps) is a bit scattered and unfocused, but it’s a cheshire cat romp through Nigel and Louise’s effed up imaginations, so I think it’s only right that some of the logic is tenuous and creaky. I felt like One Man Show ended up in a space that was absolutely perfect for the show. The sort of ‘washed-up, moth-eaten theatre-fallen-on-hard-times’ at the bottom of the world… Faded carpet, badly sprung seats (actually quite comfortable) and non-sequitur sconce-lighting on the walls all contribute to the feeling of being in some sort of 1970’s private screening room… You know… the kind where you’d go to watch *those* kind of movies… Which is the perfect, morally ambiguous setting for a show that is provocative while remaining entertaining.
4) The Incredible Book Eating Boy – Bootworks Theatre (Pleasance Courtyard – 10:20-14:19 five-minute individual slots) ￼￼￼
This is Bootworks’ first foray into the land of children’s theatre and they have created a unique and personal experience. Their all-new black box is even better now with flashing colourful LEDs, and sleek theatre-style seating. The show, which accommodates one adult audience member at a time, or one child with one adult at a time, combines live performance, projected media, and innovative puppetry to retell the story of Oliver Jeffers’ popular story for children. Bootworks tells stories through theatre using the performative vocabulary of film, revealing scenes through close-ups, medium, and long shots. My favourite was the top-down view of the dinner table. The company play with perspective and scale using various sized models and exciting costumes. They even sprinkled in a little bit of ‘immersive theatre’ when at one point, the sickly Henry (the protagonist of the story) gets up-close and personal with the audience member.
I most liked the finished way they have adapted to an interior space (their shows have generally been outdoors before) — audience memberd queing for slots in the box get to wait in Henry’s room, complete with bed, photos, a goldfish named Ginger. All around are comfortable puffy pillows, copies of Jeffers’ books (you can read and/or purchase) and other odds and ends. The care with which the environment has been fashioned serves to bring the audience into the world of the story before they even get into the box. Once in the box, the company are very gentle and caring, assuring you that you can get out at any time (if I had been five, the initial disclaimers and assurances would have been very comforting, as it was, I felt only slightly awkwardly out-of-place (I’m 33, you see) but it was nevertheless charming and… endearing, is the word. The show was endearing and innovative. I would love to have known the experience as a child; as an adult it was fun and cute. As a child, I’m sure it would have been magical.
5) One Thousand Paper Cranes – Lu Kemp (Assembly George Square – 13:10-14:05) ￼￼￼
Another piece of chidren’s theatre, One Thousand Paper Cranes retells the true story of Sadako Sasaki. The show is tender, touching, and engrossing. At times I felt a little bored or self-conscious from my vantage point as a theatre geek. The magical moments were when I forgot about all that nonsense and got lost in the story. The tale is told by two very talented performers (Ros Sydney and Julia Innocenti) who skilfully don character after character, spanning ages and societies using bits and pieces of costume and prop. And the idea is very bittersweet and beautiful. I was not amazed, but I did have moist eyes at the end of the performance, and I wasn’t the only one. If I had children I’d definitely take them to see it. As it was, I was glad I saw it, but it didn’t change my life.
6) The World Holds Everyone Apart, Apart From Us – Underbelly Productions / Stuart Bowden (Underbelly, Cowgate – 14:55-15:55) ￼￼
Trish really liked this one but, while I thought it was cute, and I liked the music, I was not amazed. I guess I just wanted… A bit more. I did think the use of crates (as the only scenic device) was clever. The story was where the show lost me, which was a little too thinly stretched, I think. I felt like there was a slightly hollow, desperate quality to the performance that left me feeling slightly uncomfortable. The World Holds Everyone Apart, Apart From Us is a one man show about a man who goes about trying to save the world by building a space ship and venturing out into space to find a friend for the earth. One thing I think he (Stuart Bowden) got exactly right was the way he switched between characters in a completely believable fashion without doing anything. At all. No new voices, costume changes, or props. He just told us he was playing a different character and we believed him. His use of the looping machine was good and went a long way towards building the worlds he was describing. Not sure where it went wrong for me, but as I mentioned, Trish thought it was quite good.
7) Baby Wants Candy – Baby Wants Candy (Assembly George Square – 20:15-21:15) ￼￼￼
This was one of Trish’s picks, and while I was initially not all in, I went along and ended up really enjoying it. Baby Wants Candy are a musical improv troupe from America. At the top of the show they call for audience members to shout out possible titles for imaginary musicals (I shouted out ‘Fun With Pets’ and it was the one they picked!). The next fifty minutes or so was spent with the talented band and the troupe of singing/dancing performers riffing off one another in sometimes clever, sometimes strained rhymes and off the cuff story telling. There was sex with animals, paedophilia, violent prison abuse, and much, much more! A bit of fluff, but certainly fun, and they were playing to a completely packed house. Bonus! At the end of the show I got a sweet personalized shirt with ‘Fun With Pets’ printed on it.