Sunday, August 24, 2008

"365" - Edinburgh International Festival 2008

Since its creation we've managed to see over a dozen National Theatre of Scotland badged shows and up until now only "Peer Gynt" has been a complete disappointment (yes we know it won loads of awards but it just didn't work for us) so I guess we were overdue for another one. And "365" definitely fits the bill.

365 features around half a dozen individual threads - some interwoven and others entirely isolated. This immediately creates a feeling of incoherence and puzzlement as the audience reaches for links between characters that simply aren't there. Despite David Harrower's writing credit, this really feels like a devised piece where pairs/groups have created their own segments with little attention given to the whole.

Given the excellent use of choreography and physical theatre seen in previous NTS shows I initially assumed that in "365" it was intentionally graceless and cumbersome but as the show progressed I'm no longer sure it deserves that generous approach. And despite trumpeting that it would feature a new song from Paul Buchanan of Blue Nile fame, it too failed to register even a minor impression. As for the set - least said the better.

Two of the central tales are given far too much prominence in comparison to others and fail to justify the attention. J's relationship with her mother lacked tension, and the damaging dynamic between F, K & B seemed merely designed to shock some of the older patrons of the International Festival.

But some elements of the show did work. The scenes between Ryan Fletcher and Scott Fletcher as brothers P and N arguing on other sides of a door were brilliantly staged and performed - a clear highlight of the night. C's story, one of the few to actually focus on the 'practice flat' idea the show was billed as, is also one of the most successful. Okay, so we'd seen it before in "Elling", but Ben Presley played the character with sufficient depth that I think he was the only one that generated any empathy. The scenes he shared with Rebecca Smith's L were particularly effective.

I'd read in previews that the show was very much an ongoing creative process and while that's probably responsible for many of its failings and lack of vision it might also save the show. They now have a couple of weeks to sort it out before a run in London. If they don't, I suspect it could be in for a real critical mauling.

And I'd strongly suggest that anyone involved with the show beg the guys from "Caravan" to put on an extra few shows to see just how effectively voices can be given to people and issues in need of them.

365 runs at the Edinburgh Playhouse until 25th August and then a the Lyric Hammersmith from 8th to 27th September
Image by Mark Hamilton, used with permission

2 Heckles

Not a 365 fan said...

I liked Peer Gynt and I wish that we disagreed on the merits of 365 as well, but we don't. 365 was a big disappointment.

I really hope that NTS can get it into an entertaining state before it goes to London, but I fear that they won't and as far as I'm concerned it's unsalvageable as long as it still contains that ridiculous magic forest scene. If there had been any kind of continuous thread concerning the inner lives of the kids it might have worked, but it just feels as if they can't be bothered with the practise flat idea any more so they've borrowed some set from the Lyceum pantomimes in an effort to make a dull play interesting.

An interval would have been really nice, too... Then I could have gone home early.

Thanks for being the other dissenting voice. It's you, me and the Telegraph at the moment, I think.

Waldorf said...

It seems to have really polarised opinion.

The critics seem completely divided, with the Scotland on Sunday/Scotsman being particularly schizophrenic. Joyce McMillan loved it, Mark Fisher was much less positive (http://scotlandonsunday.scotsman.com/education/National-Theatre-flagship-fails-to.4421905.jp).

We wouldn't have left at the interval, as we did feel that there was something in there. It needed that moment that would have pulled it all together and made you go - 'wow'. Unfortunately it wasn't to be.

I don't always agree with Shona Craven at OnstageScotland, but she does a very good write up of it at http://www.onstagescotland.co.uk/365.htm.