Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Edinburgh Fringe 2010 - First Picks

We spent Sunday night working our way through this year's programme for the Edinburgh Fringe which launched at the end of last week. Surprisingly (and disappointingly) it didn't take us anywhere near as long as it has in previous years and if truth be told we found it pretty slim pickings. Usually we end up with a huge list that gets narrowed down to forty or so shows we plan to see but this year we found it a struggle to reach thirty. There's no guarantee we will see all of them once we have taken into account time/location and then scheduled them across a few day trips through to Edinburgh, but here are the shows that have caught our eye so far...

NonsenseRoom return to their home at Rosslyn Chapel and we're looking forward to finally seeing their show based on the Chapel's "Apprentice Pillar". In addition to 'normal' performances of "The Apprentice" there will also be 'special evenings' on the 7th and 14th of August which include a light buffet and tour of the Chapel and are well worth paying the extra ticket price for. NonsenseRoom have a second show at the Fringe - "Hairy Maclary & friends" based on a series of popular children's books - we won't be seeing this one ourselves but have no hesitation in reccommending it based on all their previous shows.

Next up is boxing based "Beautiful Burnout" from the National Theatre of Scotland and Frantic Assembly which comes with a cast that includes the usually impressive Ryan Fletcher.

"Blackout" from ThickSkin is inspired by the story of a Glasgow young offender waking up in a jail cell, and its description as "a 45 minute smack in the face" gained our attention.

David Leddy's "Sub Rosa" established itself as one of the greatest pieces of theatre we've ever seen when we saw it at the Citizens last year. With its site-specific nature we're not completely sure it will translate quite so well to its new location - but what is certain is that we're looking forward to finding out!

The Citz has its own presence at the Fringe with "The Girl in the Yellow Dress" as part of the programme at the Traverse but we might wait and catch that one when it reaches the Citz in September.

Those of you who have followed our Fringe tips in previous years will know that anything described as "darkly comic" is likely to catch our interest, and "Honest" from the Royal & Derngate Theatre duly did so. The fact its tale of a man in the pub determined to tell the truth, no matter what, is staged in a local bar also adds the novelty factor often required to stand out from the crowd.

"Imperial Fizz" could easily have got lost amongst the thousands of shows in the programme and defining itself as a "surreal, intoxicating comedy" risked it ending up on our blacklist. But the involvement of performer David Calvitto who impressed us so much in "The Event" was enough to convince us to give it a go.

I'm a little worried that Waldorf's selection of "In Memory" may turn out to be a total tearfest but it sounds like it has the potential to be a powerful piece of theatre - and on a more shallow note I'm a sucker for an interesting publicity photo.

Another of Waldorf's picks is "The Interpersonality Workout" which appears to be an amusing take on corporate training but I tend to think the reality of these events often takes them beyond parody. But hey, it has the advantage of being free, so why not?

Despite how it might appear at times we don't spend our time sticking pins in the Fringe programme to choose shows, and quite often we'll place a lot of trust on the basis of what we've seen a company do previously. Dogstar Theatre's "Jacobite Country" was an easy pick on that basis - despite its somewhat bizarre blurb. We really enjoyed their award winning "Tailor of Inverness" and are also pleased to see it getting another outing at this year's Fringe.

"Jacob's Ladder" from Pocketful Productions promises to be "a twisted comedy about religious politics, social position and sexual immorality" - more than enough to get itself added to our list.

An office romance doesn't sound particularly promising for a comedy, but then, writer DC Jackson is responsible for some of the funniest shows I've seen in recent years so "My Romantic History" at the Traverse is a must see for me.

This next pick is an interesting one as I saw a production of Louise Welsh's play last year that proved intriguing and frustrating in equal measures. Our review prompted some intriguing revelations about the play/production that makes me want to have a look at this new production of it. Warning - trust me that "Memory Cells" is a show worth seeing, but I'd really suggest going into it cold. Don't go looking for any reviews of it and whatever you do don't go searching out our one.

Sex trafficking appears to be quite a popular topic this year and while Emma Thompson's Executive Producing role on "Fair Trade" seems to have generated a fair amount of publicity, we don't think we can face two shows on the matter in a single Fringe and have opted for Cora Bissett's "Roadkill" based on the fact that pretty much everything we've ever seen her involved in as actor/director has been nothing short of brilliant.

Yes, we know that the Fringe tends to throw up a lot of self reverential and self indulgent shows full of theatrical in-jokes that are totally unfunny to 90% of the audience, but for people who see as much theatre as we do it's hard to ignore a show that doesn't take theatre too seriously. And we hope we don't fatally damage any credibility we may have established over the last four years when we book up for "A Slacker's Guide to Western Theatre".

Simon Callow has built a reputation as a real draw in Edinburgh with his Dickens based show and this year his performance in "Shakespeare:The Man from Stratford" is bound to attract an audience. But given our long-standing year round policy of declining press tickets it's a bit of a stretch for us to justify ticket prices of £20 plus for a single show when we could be seeing three others instead. Maybe if we can sort our schedule and time off to take advantage of the 2 for 1 offer on 10th August...

Euthanasia is always an issue that I'm interested in seeing being dealt with by theatre and "6766" sounds like it's going to rush in where others fear to tread. This is quite possibly the show I'm most looking forward to this year.

Few words divide our opinion on a show's blurb more than 'moving' - it seems to be a magnet for Waldorf and sends me scurrying for some comic relief instead. So I think she'll be on her own for "Speechless" despite the involvement of Sherman Cymru who brought us "Deep Cut" last year.

I'll also be ducking out of seeing "Stationary Excess" for different reasons - it lost me at "Imprisoned on an exercise bicycle..." but Waldorf's still keen.

Of course there are just as many shows that I'll be left to see on my own - including "Stitched Up" which claims to be a "bitterly comic take" on Mary Shelley's Frankenstein. Its timeslot might be tricky for us to schedule but it sounds like it might work as a funny conclusion to a day of more serious shows.

Another show likely to cause us scheduling problems is the EGTG's version of "The Tempest" as it takes place on a barge down in Leith. But it's not just the venue that piqued our interest - we enjoyed their version of "Tiny Dynamite" a couple of years ago and director Claire Wood's blog provides an interesting insight into the production process.

I had nearly marked "That Moment" in my copy of the programme and then didn't as it wasn't quite enough for me to make the effort to see on my own and I knew it would be too hard a sell to get Waldorf to come along. So I was pleasantly surprised when we compared our picks to find that it had made it onto her list. Perhaps it's another show that's benefitted from the whole 'theatre eats itself' vibe.

But she's back on her own again for what sounds like a 'choose your own adventure' type performance in "Threshold" from 19;29. I'm a little cautious about this kind of stuff (terrified I'll miss a turn and wander off and get lost!) and the note that 'price includes a bus ticket' doesn't help matters.

We certainly wouldn't be rushing to see another "Hamlet" at the Fringe but SEDOS' "The Tragedy of the Prince of Denmark" might be an intriguing look at the play's events from a different viewpoint.

Waldorf's hoping to see "Tunde" but a 'powerful drama' about modern day child trafficking sounds a little too close to 'moving' for me...

How workers in a call centre cope when faced with a natural disaster isn't really an obvious choice for me - especially as the blurb says it's "funny, poignant and moving" but somehow I still want to see "20:20 Vision". Maybe it's my mother's 'end of the world' fixation coming through...

"The Typhoid Marys" true-life tale of 43 women confined in a psychiatric hospital for being carrier's of typhoid seems unlikely to provide a comfortable afternoon but sometimes those are the shows most worth seeing.

The Fringe often features shows that deal with a personal journey or triumph over adversity and Waldorf has picked out "Unshakeable" from the programme. Paul Betney's performance based around his diagnosis of Parkinson's Disease sounds a little too 'personal' for me - I prefer my shows more 'at arms length' but it sounds very much Waldorf's cup of tea.

We have very few hard rules about things that we won't see at the Fringe but "Ups and Downs" has managed to persuade us to break one of them. We've learned that shows in hotels are considerably riskier than those in other venues and in fact we can't think of a show we've seen in one that would gain anything like pass marks. But KDC Theatre's show about a group of the newly dead as they await judgement is the kind of thing we like to see at the Fringe so we're taking a deep breath and giving it a chance.

"Two couples explore the threat of honesty and our perverse need for it" sounds like typical Fringe stuff and wouldn't normally warrant our attention but "While You Lie" is written by Sam Holcroft whose "Cockroach" has the distinction of being one of only half a dozen or so shows that have genuinely changed my opinion about something important. And the fact it's on at the Traverse is generally a measure of quality... and provides a nice excuse to eat at the nearby "Spirit of Thai" restaurant.

Surprisingly, it wasn't the "slick, dark and very funny" that got "Wild Allegations" onto our list, but rather a hint at the play's format/structure. In any medium I tend to enjoy things that provide alternative views of the same events or any kind of 'he said'/'she said' situation so it was the mention of "parallel but conflicting tales" that grabbed me.

"a site-specific, interactive shopping experience" was enough to send me running in the opposite direction but I wasn't surprised to see "Your Dream Wedding" from Anything Bloody Goes on Waldorf's list.

That's all we have from the 'Theatre' section of the Fringe programme but we like to dabble in the 'Music' and 'Musical' sections too. As soon as we heard Alan Cumming was bringing his musical show, "I Bought a Blue Car Today", to the Fringe it was top of our 'hot ticket' list. And we'd enjoyed his performance in "The Bacchae" so much a few years back that we don't even grudge paying £20 a ticket. We're amazed there are still tickets available for his 3 night run but don't wait too long to book up.

We're also hoping to see "Spring Awakening" and I'll see "Fresher" if it can be slotted around a day's schedule.

And that just about concludes our tips for now, although we may add shows to our list once we get more details about shows such as cast etc. It's also unlikely we'll be able to see all these shows as past experience suggests there will be time clashes and distances between venues that will prove insurmountable given the relatively short amount of time we can spend in Edinburgh.

We are always open to suggestions for other shows to see, but if you're planning on e-mailing us about your own show, please do so as early as possible. We always get a few e-mails each year in the middle of the Fringe asking us along to see shows that sound fantastic but we simply can't rearrange our plans at short notice. And with that in mind I had made a mental promise that I would go along to see the first show that sent us a press release after the programme launched - so although it wouldn't have normally been on our list, is technically in the 'Comedy' section (which we haven't quite got round to yet), and is in a hotel venue, I will be going along to see "Dildon't".


Monday, June 14, 2010

Open.Stage & CATS winners announced

The Tron's Open.Stage competition to find a play for their Autumn season recently reached its conclusion, and after the public vote, Abigail Docherty's "Sea and Land and Sky" was declared the winner. We're looking forward to seeing it later in the year and also hope to catch the rehearsed readings of the two runners up. Full details at the Tron website.

And yesterday saw the award ceremony for the Critics Awards for Theatre in Scotland (CATS) - full details of all this year's winners are now available on the CATS website. As we mentioned before we somehow seem to have contrived to avoid seeing most of the winning productions, but congratulations to all involved.


Thursday, June 03, 2010

"One Million Tiny Plays About Britain" - June 2010

Okay, let's be clear about this for the benefit of anyone worried about committing the next few years of their life to watching this show from the Citizens Theatre Company. You only get to see about thirty of Craig Taylor's 'tiny plays', adapted here by Ros Philips and performed by Sushil Chudasama, Mark McDonnell and Pauline Turner over the course of around 90 minutes. But actually, that's a pity as I'd quite happily sit through another 999,970 tiny plays like these ones - although perhaps not all in one session.

We've grown accustomed to seeing cast members playing multiple characters over a short time frame but I can't ever recall seeing it done on anything like this scale, or quite so impressively as it is here. Age and sex prove no obstacle to playing roles here and the accents vary perfectly to match locations the length and breadth of Britain. When we discussed the show on the way home we realised we had no idea what the 'natural' accents of the three cast members might be. The individual plays are too short and sketchlike to allow any real depth to the characters, but I expect it will be a long time before I see performances displaying such range again.

Despite their brevity, each playlet is absolutely absorbing and perfectly captures a vignette of everyday life in modern Britain and is crafted with such care that they seem to come to a natural conclusion - never feeling too long or too short. In her role as Director, Philips ensures the plays transition seamlessly at breakneck pace separated only by snippets of audio and a digital text scroll to help to set the location. Jason Southgate's design for the Citizens Circle Studio is as creative as I've ever seen in there - with a kebab shop, a train carriage and an immigration inspector's booth located on three of the four walls, and a fantastic multipurpose central set.

A hugely entertaining and memorable evening of theatre and we hope the Citz will be looking to give us Volume II before too long.

One Million Tiny Plays About Britain runs at the Citizens Theatre until Saturday 5th June.
Image by Richard Campbell used with permission