Sunday, August 14, 2011

"Handling Bach" - Edinburgh Fringe 2011

Forget any assumptions you may have made about a play based on a fictional account of a meeting between composers Handel and Bach. A meeting that never happened. The most important thing you need to know is that Paul Barz's play (translated by David Bryer) is a comedy. And a very funny one at that. Music lovers will undoubtedly get more out of the piece, but we know even less about music than we do about theatre, and we enjoyed this immensely. Having had the misfortune to encounter the stage version of "Yes, Prime Minister" recently, it was a joy to see something here that approaches the charm and wit of the original TV series. Think of Handel as Sir Humphrey, Bach as Jim Hacker with Handel's deadpan servant Schmidt as Bernard and you'll get an idea of the show's tone.

But it would be a mistake to dismiss it as inconsequential gentle humour. For part of the second act, the laughs take a back seat as Handel and Bach's initially polite chat develops into a 'frank exchange of views'. There's also a very contemporary discussion on the value society places on art and artists; and of the nature of celebrity.

James Bryce makes Handel a larger than life character, but it's clear there are layers to him that Bryce skillfully strips back as the evening progresses. As Bach, Simon Tate gives a wonderfully subtle performance: much of it with mere glances, while Andrew Dallmeyer completes the cast as Schmidt and is in danger of stealing just about every scene he's in. Bruce Strachan's direction in-the-round ensures a lively pace for what could otherwise be a rather sedentary piece and makes great use of Rosslyn Chapel's acoustics.

As the play takes place over a dinner shared by the characters, we advise eating beforehand to avoid becoming too envious as they tuck into a veritable feast. A post show enquiry revealed that this is prepared for each performance by Mike Osborne & Cathie Owen; and that although most was exactly as it appeared, what had been passed off as 'oysters' on stage was in fact a rather less appetising alternative.

Seeing this show from Nonsense Room does require a bit of effort due to its location outside of central Edinburgh, but there is a good bus service and it can be combined with a visit to the chapel during the afternoon and a meal nearby before the evening performance.

Handling Bach runs at Rosslyn Chapel until Saturday 20th August