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Now is the Winter

I made the mistake of standing still (to be fair, I was standing in line to see Simon Callow’s show) and I ended up being flyered to within an inch of my life. It’s a hazard of the fringe. Most of them I chucked out soon afterwards, but one of the people doing the flyering stopped to chat for a while and got me interested. (We bonded over a mutual dislike of ‘actor voice’.)

The woman doing the flyering for this particular show really picked her targets well. The show – of which, it turns out, she is the writer/director/producer – is called Now is the Winter, and is a re-telling of the story of Richard III from the point of view of his servant. It’s a one-woman show, and I believe it’s a mixture of lines from Shakespeare’s Richard III and some new writing.

I went to see it on my day off. I had read a review stating that it was hard to keep up with the content unless you were familiar with the period, so I found myself going over the program before the show started as though I was studying for an exam. Even so, it was challenging and I had to pay very close attention. Not only was I trying to keep up with the politics, but also with the people’s names. Everyone had both name and title – sometimes more than one title – and they were referred to by either interchangeably. And not having the physical body to which to attach the names made it harder.

It was an enjoyable show, though, with a good gossipy tone. It was nice to see the servant going about her business as she talked, cooking, folding, sweeping and so on. It built a whole kitchen out of just a few props. I got an excellent sense of her and her world, although somewhat less of a sense of Richard. He was the master and quite a distant figure, although it was clear that she adored him.

A good show. I’m glad I went.


Putting it Together

This is a show I’ve seen before. A Broadway musical. (And I don’t quite understand the place that established musicals have at the fringe – why not bring a new one? – but there do seem to be a lot of them.) Although technically, I suppose, it’s a Sondheim Review (not ‘revue’, one of the actors points out in the introduction, as Sondheim wants us to think about the result).

Usually, I steer clear of amateur Sondheim; the intervals are tricky, the music is often not exactly lyrical, and the lyrics are complex and fast, all of which can sound terrible when butchered by amateurs. But this production had received some very good reviews. So, as a treat, I decided to go on my day off. To see something familiar.

And it was good. Great, by fringe standards. All the singers were able to keep up with the Sondheim music and lyrics, which at least meant that it wasn’t a painful listening experience. That said, though, they were never quite able to take control of it. To own it.

To be fair, I am comparing them to the version I’m most familiar with – the DVD recording of the 2000 Broadway production. Carol Burnett, Ruthie Henshall, John Barrowman and Bronson Pinchot leave some big shoes to fill.

And the woman playing The Wife in the fringe production may have been having an off night, because she stumbled a couple of times, and we were all a little worried that she wouldn’t quite make it through ‘Not Getting Married’. She did have a beautiful voice, though, and was one of the best actors on the stage.

I did enjoy it, though. It was really nice to hear some of those songs again. I had forgotten how much I love the version of ‘Being Alive’ that ends the show. And ‘Hey, Old Friend’. And the introduction. I had a big goofy grin on my face.

I’m going to have to re-watch the DVD again as soon as I get home.

My Name is Richard

I heard a lot of good things about this one before I went to see it, and I wasn’t disappointed.

It is a musical about Richard (not Dick), a teenager with Asperger’s syndrome, which is a kind of high-functioning autism. He is in love with a girl, Anne, who is dating the school bully, but he is determined to win her love.

The score and the book were both good. The interactions between Richard and his parents and his two brothers were very realistic, as were the playground interactions of the teenagers at Richard’s school.

It was interesting to watch the way Richard’s mind worked, convinced that the logical chain of events that he could see in his head was the way things would work in reality. He couldn’t grasp the reality of human emotions that his friend kept trying to explain to him.

It was very well done, very sensitive to the subject matter without tiptoeing around it. The songs were good, and one of them is still stuck in my head a couple of days later.


The Crying Cherry

Ok. This is going to be a toughie. The difficulty comes from the fact that I’m not familiar with the source material. I’ve heard this play described as a live-action Samurai Jack. And I think they’re parodying a whole genre of Japanese films.

It’s a piece of physical theatre. It stars two men in tracksuits who not only play all the characters, but create the entire soundscape as well, using their voices and a handful of props. It’s the story of twin brothers, essentially. Their father raped their mother, and when she was pregnant, the mother was given a prophecy that one of her sons would murder the other. So she sends one of them away, where he is taken in and trained by a Samurai, and eventually journeys back to his homeland where he accidentally kills his brother.

That said, the plot was completely irrelevant, because the whole joy of this show was in the skill of the two performers. They played all the parts, often several at once, including the animals, and did the sound effects. They were phenomenal. It was all performed with complete seriousness, but the result was absolutely hilarious. And it was meant to be.

And, I should say, there was dialogue, and narration, that accompanied the whole show – all of it in gibberish Japanese. Convincing gibberish Japanese.

It was bizarre and surreal, but it was also a feat of physical performance. Very clever and very funny.

So excited!!

A brief pause in my crazy fringe schedule for this exciting news… I’m going to see the Barenaked Ladies!!!! Not that I’m at all excited by this fact.

*bounce*

For those of you playing the out of town game, the Barenaked Ladies are a Canadian rock group. Possibly THE Canadian rock group. I love the Barenaked Ladies. They were my happy music while I was living overseas – I would put them on any time I got homesick. They are still a favourite for road trips, too. And just in general. And in Canada, they would sell out the ACC (read: great big stadium) the day the tickets went on sale. In the UK, the tickets have been on sale since April, and I can still get two in the stalls.

*bounce*

ALSO, the only other time I’ve ever seen them live was when I was living in the UK. In Hammersmith, in fact. And they came to perform at the Hammersmith Apollo, two blocks from my house. The other ex-pat Canadian and the two Americans and I were all bouncing off the ceiling while the Brits looked on as though we were nuts. I dragged Steve, a British friend, with me to the concert, and he had this very patient ‘yes, dear’ expression on while I was jumping up and down with excitement.

Today, walking in a neighbourhood I don’t usually spend a lot of time in, I saw a poster for the Barenaked Ladies. They are coming to Edinburgh, but not until the 22nd of September, the day I fly back to Canada. They are, however, also coming to London, where I will be before I fly out. They’re coming back to the Hammersmith Apollo. So I’ve arranged to come to London two days early, and I’ve bought tickets for myself and for Dario, who is kindly putting me up.

It will mean that I travel from Skye to Buxton on the 13th of September, have the 14th to recover, and then hop on a train to travel down to London on the 15th. Lots of travelling in a short time, but worth it.

I’m going to see the Barenaked Ladies!!!

Art

I managed to miss this show on Broadway, in the West End and when the Mirvishes put it on in Toronto. I did finally catch it at the fringe, though, and it was wonderful.

It’s a three-hander, and in this case was mounted in a converted hotel conference room, with simple furniture creating three different living rooms.

It’s the story of three friends. Serge buys a painting – a white background with some white stripes on it – for a vast sum of money, and this kicks off a series of arguments between the three of them. Marc is worried that he can’t be friends with someone who genuinely likes that kind of painting. And conciliatory Yvan is stuck in the middle.

Given its pedigree, it’s not surprising that it’s also extremely well-written. And very funny. And it was very well-acted, too, which was a treat. Yvan in particular blew my socks off.

A truly enjoyable show, and I’ve been recommending it to all and sundry.

Second Star to the Right

I’m not entirely sure what to do with this one. It wasn’t bad. It was odd, but not bad. But at the same time I’m fairly certain I didn’t understand it, and I’m not convinced it actually went anywhere.

Wendy wakes up in the nursery and is taken away to Neverland, where she is told the stories of how the Lost Boys ended up there. The cast was made up of four women – Wendy, and three others who played a variety of parts. The trouble is, I was never exactly certain who they were meant to be.

There were elements of dance, and song, physical theatre and rhyming verse, and it did create a strong atmosphere, but the meaning behind it was never really made clear. The dance in particular didn’t quite work, and I don’t know whether to blame it on the fact that the floor wasn’t sprung or on the abilities of the dancers. You could see the effort going into the dancing, though, which takes away from the effect. It never quite flowed.

The set was interesting, and more complex than is usual for a fringe show. The entire room was draped in fabric, but it had more colour and texture than the standard black theatre drape. The floor was laid with a kind of Astroturf, simulating grass, and there was a big tree made of various fabrics over a structure and draped from the ceiling.

We were greeted at the door and ushered inside by the three Lost Boys, who whispered in our ears as we passed. We sat on cushions on the floor. And at the end, a Lost Boy came and whispered at us that it was time to leave, but without there having been any blackout or applause.

It was interesting. Odd. With a strong style. But I couldn’t quite find the story in it all.

The Demise of Christopher Marlow

I hoped this play would be interesting. Given how much Shakespeare-related stuff I seem to be seeing, I thought it would be good to expand to other writers of the era. Sadly, this play just evoked a resounding ‘meh’.

The theory behind the show (and I have no idea how much of this is based on fact, knowing absolutely nothing about Christopher Marlowe that wasn’t covered in Shakespeare in Love) is that Christopher Marlowe was a spy who knew too much. Another spy, this one with royal connections, felt threatened by Marlowe’s knowledge and plotted to have him killed.

Basically, they threatened to take him to Deptford to kill him and… they took him to Deptford and killed him. Not that the tension was ever going to come from that corner – we all know how he died.

They tried to drum up some tension about whether he would betray Thomas Kyd, with whom they implied Marlowe was having an affair, but that storyline never really came together.

And… there just wasn’t much else there. The plot felt a bit straight-line-ish. The blurb made a big deal about maybe Queen Elizabeth was behind Marlowe’s murder, but her involvement in the action was limited. The plotter wrote her letters saying ‘this man is a danger and should be killed’ and she wrote back and said ‘ok, kill him then’.

The man playing Christopher Marlowe was quite good, with lots of energy. The others were mediocre, apart from Thomas Kyd who was bad, but thought he was good.

I wanted to like it, but in the end I just didn’t care.

Green Eggs and Hamlet

I so wanted to love this play. I completely fell in love with the idea of it. I mean, listen to the blurb: “Rome had Carthage, Holmes had Moriarty, and now, Hamlet has Dr. Seuss. Shakespeare’s classic tale of death, deception and madness told in the style of the beloved Dr. Seuss. Shakespeare is weeping in his grave.”

Sadly, the concept was far, far funnier than the play itself.

Firstly, their idea of ‘Dr. Seuss rhyme’ was broadened to include ‘any rhyming couplet’, and I’m sorry, but that’s just not good enough. Dr. Seuss has a very specific metre (“I do not like green eggs and ham, I do not like them, Sam-I-am”), and they ignored that and just jammed any number of syllables into their lines.

Secondly, there were random passages of actual Shakespeare left in there for no real reason. And I have to say, they’re not exactly two styles that mesh well.

Thirdly, they didn’t know whether they were trying to be funny or serious, and various actors swung back and forth between the extremes. Either you’re parody and you go all the way, or you take the bizarre and play it straight, but this was all over the place.

Lastly, the only actor who could act at all was Hamlet himself. He did quite a good job, expertly walking the line between being funny and taking it seriously. As for the rest… at least two of them were abjectly terrible, having clearly never acted before in their lives. The other two were your average amateur actors.

There were individual moments of cleverness and humour (Ophelia’s “I like the flowers, I like the daffodils” madness speech actually got a snort of laughter from me), but not nearly enough to sustain a 50-minute-long show.

It did make me think, though, that a one-man show, telling the story of Hamlet using the rhyme and structure of one or more Dr. Seuss books could potentially be hilarious. It would, however, have to be a lot smarter than Green Eggs and Hamlet.

A disappointment.

Following Wendy

This was a re-telling of the Peter Pan story, with much darker overtones, and it was absolutely wonderful. It brought the story further into the real world, brought it into the modern day, and looked at the consequences of Wendy’s disappearance.

It was really well-acted by the entire cast, which is rare enough at the fringe to warrant note. Tinkerbell was particularly good and thoroughly enchanting. Wendy, Peter and the ensemble were also very strong. Wendy’s friend Sebastian was the weakest link, but even he did well.

The venue was a room in the depths of an old building, damaged by fire and usually abandoned. It was damp and claustrophobic, but this only added to the experience, somehow.

The set and props were minimal, but well used. Boxes, chairs, a stool, sweatshirts, a red ribbon and some fairy lights combined to create both the real world and Neverland. The costumes were also simple, but there was a lot of thought put into them. Tinkerbell’s costume in particular was just perfect.

There was also a strong physical theatre element to the performance. Stylised movements, repeated in the same way sections of dialogue were repeated, added a wonderful depth to the story. I’m used to not understanding the meaning behind physical theatre, not completely, but in this case everything suddenly became heartbreakingly clear at the end.

The script was a complete delight, tight, brimming with life and folding back on itself to make everything come together in the end. There were a couple of scenes at the end of the play that were potentially unnecessary. They were there to explain things that I had already gotten from the story.

The actors played the stylised dialogue to perfection, and it made me wish they would tackle Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice. It’s one of my favourite plays, and the one and only production of it I ever saw just completely butchered it. If anyone from the company is reading this, think of doing that one next time, please!

Very good, thoroughly delightful, dark and imaginative. And it nearly made me cry. Go see it!

Unenlightened and alone

This was a one-night-only performance. Two former Cirque du Soleil artists put on their own show, and the house was packed.

There were several acrobatic acts of the kind you would expect from Cirque. We began with a hand-balancing act, and then an inventive number on crutches (which always makes me think an injured artist got bored and came up with the concept), a balancing act on one of those yoga balls, and then a number on straps. In contrast to Cirque, there was a distinct lack of colour in the costumes, the set and the lighting. I missed the colour a little, but the simplicity blended well with the other segments of the show.

The other acts in the show were perhaps the most inventive. There were two numbers that involved drawing to music. A laptop was set up on a desk onstage with a drawing program open, and the image was projected on the back wall. The performer sat there, silhouetted in the dim light and drew, accompanied by beautiful music. It was actually very engaging.

The other numbers were musical in nature. The performer brought a cello onto the stage and played a simple melody. She recorded it with a device plugged into the cello, which then played it back on a repeated loop through the speakers. She then accompanied herself, adding a slightly more complex tune, and recorded that as well. In the end it was a stunning multi-layered piece of music, all performed live (sort of) by the one musician. It was beautiful.

The very last act had the two performers onstage at once, the one playing the multi-layered cello accompanying the other who was performing on the straps. Straps are pretty much what they sound like. Two straps of strong canvas or fabric that hang from the ceiling. The performer climbs them, hangs from them, twists in them. Contortion in silk and corde lisse, both of which we had in Quidam, are variations on the theme. And I always loved the aerial numbers best. So this number was by far my favourite, and actually made me a little homesick for the circus.

My only issue with it was the space itself. I’m astounded they were able (or allowed) to fly a person in that room. And the space just wasn’t big enough or high enough to accommodate the act. Usually on straps, the performer would take a running start and then fly, his arms outstretched, suspended from the straps. It’s beautiful. But there wasn’t room for that. The performer also banged his foot several times on the proscenium arch and on the desk that remained on stage from the drawing number. During a couple of his spins, I was terrified he was going to crash into either that or the cello player. There was a sense of confinement when usually the act is about flying, and plummeting, and freedom.

It was a good show though, and received a well-deserved standing ovation.

Tempest: Without a Body made a very strong artistic statement. It just wasn’t anything remotely close to the one I was expecting.

It was dark and harsh, the movements sharp and contained. The performers moved with quickly shuffling feet as though their ankles were bound. A witch-like woman, stooped and crouched and rigid, with stubs sprouting from her back where wings had been broken or cut away, took slow, painful steps across the stage, turned to the audience and let out a sound somewhere between a scream and a wail, again and again.

There was no music, but a sombre soundscape with deep, vibrating base, continuous tone, and clashes and chirps of sound that created a constant tension.

The lighting made an equally strong statement. With almost no front light at all, the performers were thrown into stark silhouette, half in shadow half in light. What light was there was cold and harsh.

The set was simple; a single giant monolith, deeply textured in the harsh light, suspended about four feet above the stage. There was also projection, images of wrinkled, aged faces on the back wall.

It being, supposedly, a dance piece, I was expecting bigger and more fluid movement. It is also unfortunate that I had been up since five in the morning (to start work at six) and was starting to doze in the darkness. Had I been more awake going in, I think, despite my expectations, I would have found it interesting.

It was reminding me a lot of the butoh that I saw in Vienna, which is a kind of modern Japanese dance that is also very slow and very deliberate. I had the worst hangover of my life that day (courtesy of a friend’s birthday party and an abundance of 1 euro tequila shots), but I had sworn up and down I would go with another friend to the dance festival. Her choice was the butoh. I was dreading it a little, but it turned out to be perfect. The men wore cream-coloured fabrics, the lights were gentle, as was the music. And the movement was slow, but hypnotic. I found it very peaceful, almost like guided mediation.

Tempest was anything but peaceful, and while I’m sad that I did nod off occasionally, I also can’t say that I enjoyed it, exactly. A strong statement, but not for me.

Rosemary Kirstein

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