Sunday, August 05, 2007

"Venus As A Boy" - Edinburgh Fringe 2007

The Fringe is an ideal opportunity to try new things, and take a risk in what you're seeing. However in the interests of breaking us in gently our first show this year was an adaptation by Tam Dean Burn of Luke Sutherland's novel 'Venus As A Boy', in conjunction with National Theatre of Scotland's Workshop, so we felt we were starting on safer ground. I'm always slightly concerned by novel adaptations as due to time and practical constraints it can be almost impossible to make a completely successful transition to either film or stage. However as Luke Sutherland was so intimately involved in this - to the extent of providing the score and live music - he was obviously comfortable with how his work was being presented. As I've not read the book yet (see below), the production had to stand on its own.

The incestuous nature of the cast and crew of Venus As A Boy did have us worried beforehand. When the author of the novel is onstage providing the music, and the adaptation has been carried out by the main performer it makes a reviewer's job that much harder. It also leaves all those involved very exposed.

Despite starting slowly, you soon become caught up in the tale of D/Désirée and how circumstances conspire. The small flashes of Sutherland's life that are woven through D's tale take on much more significance when he's standing in front of you playing his electric guitar or violin. In fact if there was one disappointment in this is that Sutherland's contribution is so non-verbal. Meaningful looks and the excellent score only went so far for me - I wanted more. However ultimately this isn't his story - it's D's.

Tam Dean Burn laughingly admitted in his introduction that he doesn't quite meet the description of D as a gorgeous Orcadian boy. And physically you've got to agree. However he brings both an energy and vulnerability to his portrayal of D that makes physical appearance largely irrelevant.

A limited set also worked well, with the lighting providing shifts in mood and tone. It was also revealing that Dean Burn's co-director, Christine Devaney has a strong dance background. The use of costume and choreography together helped bring the other 'characters' to life.

All in all this was a good start to the 2007 Fringe.

Venus As A Boy
Traverse Theatre
2 August - 28 August 2007
then London, Glasgow and Liverpool

PS The Traverse always does well at offering books/script books for sale. We picked up 'Venus As A Boy', so I'll be able to say how well the book adapted.

Photo by Eammon McGoldrick, used with permission.

2 Heckles

Waldorf said...

I've now finished the book, and I've got to admit it's one of the better adaptations that I've experienced.

I'm not sure whether this is due to the format and style of the book (and of course its relative brevity) or speaks about the strength of the adaptation. Of course some things had been cut out and some tales abbreviated but the spirit of the book remains and nothing substantive was changed.

I'm a quick reader, but even though it's a short book I couldn't read it in one sitting - there's a lot to absorb.

Anyway this is a theatre blog - not a book review site, so back to our regular schedule.

Anonymous said...

Saw 40+ shows at the fringe this year, this and England were the stand outs. Loved its magical realism, theatricality, music, and visual style -Tam Dean Burn wrapped in a sheet illuminated with some coloured lights looked far more spectacular than Damascus' presumably hugely expensive set. And I can’t think of a play that would not be improved with the addition of Luke Sutherland on electric guitar (except perhaps The Bacchae, which would also require the removal of the other musicians, the set, the actors, director, and most of the text– in fact, just two hours of Sutherland hitting Alan Cumming over the head with a guitar would have been more entertaining than that play, but I digress.)