Sunday, June 22, 2008

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2008 Preview

Now that the Ed Fringe website has finally started to play nice after a week of playing 'hide and seek' it's time we did our first run through of what we hope to see this year. At the moment we're aiming for around 30 shows but there's no guarantee we'll get to see all of them due to time restrictions. But these are the shows we'll be making an effort to see...

As always the Traverse is a great place to start for theatre at the Fringe and we'll be catching 3 of their shows early on to take advantage of the "2 for 1" offers on the first Sunday/Monday. "Free Outgoing" caught our attention with its look at moral and cultural outrage ( review now posted ) and "Fall" ( review now posted ) has an intriguing premise and a strong cast. The description of "Finished with Engines" as a "blackly satirical hatchet job" ensured our attendance ( review now posted ), and we hope to catch "Deep Cut" later in its run. ( review now posted )

We never like to strongly recommend shows without having seen them but Nonsenseroom's "Romeo & Juliet" out at Rosslyn Chapel is the exception. ( review now posted ) It's not just that we've had an excellent track record with them (including last year's "Ballad of James II") it's the 'Special Performances' they are doing on the 9th, 16th and 23rd that really make the difference. These include "a preshow drink, a post-show buffet with more drinks, as well as a chance to meet the cast and crew and find out a bit more about the show and Rosslyn Chapel." We're pretty confident the 'standard' weeknight shows will still be well worth the trip out to Roslin, but the 'Special Performances' really make it an event.

There's a bit of a historical theme to the next few shows we're hoping to see, starting with "My Grandfather's Great War" ( review now posted ) and then moving on to the horrors of the gas chambers in "The Factory" but given the likely intensity of that one we'll need to schedule it carefully ( review now posted ). We also have "White Rose" about student resistance in Nazi Germany (Sadly we couldn't fit this one in) and finally "Restitution" which features one man's quest to recover his family's painting which was stolen by the Nazis. ( review now posted )

Okay, after that lot we'll need to lighten up a little... so we'll be hitting the Musicals and Comedy sections of the programme. Last year Markus Birdman was a last minute gap-filler for us, but we ended up enjoying his stand-up immensely so we'll be back for his new show "Sympathy for the Devil" this year ( review now posted ). After a slow start "The Butler Did It?!" really hit the mark and gave me one of my most memorable moments from last year's Fringe. Then it was a comedic play with a couple of musical set pieces but they have gone a stage further this year and it's now "The Butler Did It?! - The Musical" and I'll be interested to see how it has turned out (not sure if we'll now manage to get to this one). I first suggested seeing "Plague! The Musical" as a bit of a joke but their impressive website has convinced me that it's certainly worth a look (review now posted). Rounding off our musical plans there's "Zanna, Don't!" from the RSAMD students Returning to comedy, sadly there is no new Rebus McTaggart show this year but last year's Rebus McTaggart:Crimewarrior does return for one week only and is a 'must see' if you didn't catch it last time round.

One of the aspects of the Fringe I enjoy most are the shows that fall under the label of "quirky" and I think most of these hold promise... "Call for the Condemned" set in Hell's call centre ( review now posted ), "The Third Condiment" about a new alternative to salt and pepper ( review now posted ), post-nuclear office politics in "After the End" (Please note - this show has been cancelled), "Sword of Maximum Damage" set in the world of role-playing games ( review now posted )and the near-future set "Involution" ( review now posted ). Describing it as a 'sci-fi comedy thriller' puts "Comic Potential" firmly in with the quirky (sadly unable to fit this one in), as does "Creation and All That Jazz" being described as a 'whistle stop tour through evolution' ( review now posted ).

I'm also a sucker for shows with a political edge or setting such as "Time Bomb" set in 2017 ( review now posted ), Macbeth does Westminster in "Golden" ( review now posted ), an Iraqi immigrant's tale in "Dirt" (unfortunately missed due to a run shorter than we realised) , a look at the (miss)use of spin in "Answers" (Review now posted), and the conflict between art and politics in both "Patriot Act" ( review now posted ) and "Army of Reason" ( review now posted ).

So, what does that leave? Well, "On The Waterfront" comes with a strong reputation, and I'm looking forward to "Stolen Secrets" ( review now posted ) from Fin Kennedy's school group that brought us last year's "Mehndi Night". "The Bird" ( review posted ) & "The Bee" ( review posted )are a pair of interlinked tales that caught our eye, so we'll certainly see one and take it from there, and although it's part of the Edinburgh International Festival rather than the Fringe we'll be rounding things off with the National Theatre of Scotland's new show "365" about children passing through the care system ( review posted ).

We'll update this post with any additional shows that grab our attention, and our Tips for Fringe Goers post from last year giving general Fringe advice is still available.


"The Shoemaker's Wonderful Wife" - June 2008

As readers may know, during the 'regular' "A Play, A Pie & A Pint" season at Oran Mor I made the effort to see the shows that caught my interest on a Wednesday - a) it's half price, and b) it gives anyone reading our thoughts on the show a chance to see it for themselves. But with these "Corona Classic Cuts" we've been seeing them on a Saturday as Waldorf has been keen to make it along - which rules out midweek trips. So, I feel the need to apologise at the start of this post - because as with last week's 'King Lear', I'm about to tell you that this was an absolute cracker of a show - and that it has now finished its run. Sorry.

Roxana Silbert has done a great job of adapting Frederico Garcia Lorca's original in a manner that amuses while remaining acutely observational. It has much to say about the value of reputation and also about our failure to appreciate what we have. But the text is only part of the story here - there's so much more. Rosie Kellagher's direction brings a very poetic and balletic feel to it - particularly with the enhancement of on stage percussion. At times it feels like a marvelously musicless musical.

We have three incredibly strong performances from Callum Cuthbertson, Sarah McCardie and Keith Fleming (fresh from his CATS Awards success). Cuthbertson is wonderfully downcast as the Shoemaker but later sparks to life as 'the Puppetmaster' while McCardie swings beautifully and believably between outrageous flirt and screaming harpie. Lumbered with playing "Everyone Else", Fleming pulls it off magnificently - particularly as the grotesque mayor and the young boy, although his Pythonesque female roles were also a joy.

While consistently funny it isn't all laughs and includes some genuinely touching moments. This was a brilliant piece of high-energy madcap theatre and I defy anyone to have left the performance without a smile on their face.

Next week sees the last of the Corona Classic Cuts at Oran Mor - "Anthony & Cleopatra"
Image by Leslie Black used with permission


Tuesday, June 17, 2008

"Swindle & Death" - June 2008

Although Scottish theatre tends to quieten down in June and July before the feeding frenzy that is the Fringe, The Tron have put together an interesting programme for that lull period. Whilst booking tickets for 'Oh! What A Lovely War', 'Swindle & Death' by Mull Theatre caught our eye. Since they've been "Touring Scotland since 1707" (S&D, not Mull Theatre - according to the programme they've only been around since 1966) it's about time we saw their work.

Statler obviously knew people who write about theatre would get it in the neck during this, so bowed out of attending. So a theatre novice was dragged along at the last minute to see a show about the theatre. It was an interesting to see how she would cope with the 'in jokes'. To be honest, a lot of it probably went over her head, but what was left was still enough to make it an enjoyable night.

The Brigadoon-esque fictional company give a portrayal of Scottish historical events and Shakespearean melodrama as you've never quite seen it before. Wobbly sets, curtains that don't quite meet and acting that make the set look good. But this all hides a darker truth behind the scenes of what the reality of the company's longevity is. Helen McAlpine give a good performance as the newcomer Marjorie, who's hiding her own reason for auditioning for the company. Whilst Barrie Hunter Malcolm/Malefice is suitably menacing and crass in equal measure. The eponymous heroes of Swindle (Hamish Wilson) and Death (Andrew Dallmeyer) provide the guiding hand to the motley crew, with an almost good cop/bad cop style. However the most humour, and sympathy is for Angela (Sarah Haworth), who you're quite happily laughing at, until you realise quite how 'touched' she is.

There are some nice particular barbs at those who sit scribbling throughout performances (I'd like to state for the record that the day I start taking notes through a show, it's the last performance I'll go to) and the need for theatre to be educational and inclusive - illustrated well with a very nice speech by Mary Queen of Scots. It did wander a little at times, and the (deliberate) lack of polish started to wear a little thin in parts, but overall it was an enjoyable evening and that's what I took from 'Swindle & Death'. Remember why you actually pay your money and go - it's to enjoy yourself.

"Swindle & Death" has completed its run at The Tron but continues on an extensive tour.

Image by Douglas Robertson used with permission


Monday, June 16, 2008

Critics Awards for Theatre in Scotland announced

Yesterday saw the presentation ceremony for the Critics Awards for Theatre in Scotland at Oran Mor. As I mentioned when the nominations were announced I was particularly pleased to see "The Wall" feature in a couple of categories and I'm delighted that it went on to win the award for Best Ensemble. Of course the main story of the results is the absolute triumph of "Peer Gynt" winning four categories (Best Director, Best Production, Best Male Performance(s) and Best Design) Just shows what we know! Congratulations to the recipients of all the awards.


Saturday, June 14, 2008

"King Lear" - June 2008

Over recent weeks I've come to appreciate just how great a venue downstairs at Oran Mor is. Partly it's the 'regular' audience and the enthusiasm they bring with them (and the Pie and Pint surely help) but it's also the physical space itself. The low ceiling adds a level of compression and intensity that a bigger space can lack. But everything I've seen there previously has been largely comic, and I've often wondered if the 'comedy club' vibe would work for a serious play. With this week's "King Lear" I doubt I could have come up with a sterner test - yet it passed with flying colours.

I'm really not familiar with the full text but what Paddy Cuneen has achieved in his adaptation of the play cut down to 45 minutes is pretty incredible. The reduced plot is concise and coherent - so much so that I'm sure I would now find watching a 'full' version intolerable slow and bloated.

Cara Kelly brilliantly makes Goneril more sympathetic than she has any right to - while her actions can't be condoned it's impossible not to appreciate her genuine difficulties and frustrations in handling Lear. Jennifer Hainey as Regan brings an air of superiority approaching smugness that fits perfectly with the character. Danielle Stewart's Cordelia doesn't have the opportunity to make a real impact but as the Fool she gives a wonderful performance with an almost tangible warmth for Lear. I've always believed that great performances come from the eyes and Stewart exemplifies this beautifully here. And then we have Micheal Mackenzie's King Lear - perfectly combining moments of powerful rage and quiet distress.

The audience were clearly impressed with the piece and it's a pity the staging makes it difficult for the cast to be brought back for a second curtain call - they certainly deserved one and I'm not sure we were a million miles away from the beginnings of a standing ovation - and I'm not sure I wouldn't have joined in.

"King Lear" has now completed its run. Next week's Corona Classic Cut is "The Shoemaker's Wonderful Wife"

Image by Leslie Black used with permission


Saturday, June 07, 2008

"The Way of the World" - June 2008

Although the regular "A Play, A Pie and A Pint" season has ended, Oran Mor have cleverly extended it with a short series of "Corona Classic Cuts" where rather than showing new writing, we have a series of classic plays trimmed down in time and scale to suit the lunchtime slot. And yes, you do still get the Pie and the Pint.

In an entertaining prologue Tam Dean Burn, who has adapted the text from William Congreve's, explains that there is a plot - 'but not a lot'. And it is really rather thin, but then it isn't the plot that is of interest here - it's the verbal sparring between Mirabel and Millamant. Just how much of their independent lives and pleasures are they prepared to sacrifice to be together? What we get is really a humorous negotiation of marriage vows. Johnny Austin and Carmen Pieraccini both give strong performances in the lead roles with Pierraccini delivering a brave unaccompanied vocal performance very impressively. I'm afraid Tam Dean Burn's character of Wilfull pushed all the wrong buttons for me and I found him more irritating than anything else, but his delightful prologue and audience interaction made up for that.

Burn, as adapter and director, has created a nice little piece of playful theatre - with some fantastic costuming thrown in for good measure. It doesn't take itself too seriously and doesn't ask us to either. Fun - if a little forgettable.

"The Way of the World" has now completed its run at Oran Mor - Further Corona Classic Cuts are "King Lear", "The Shoemaker's Wonderful Wife" and "Anthony & Cleopatra"
Image by Leslie Black used with permission