Theatre

Mojo

19/08/19

theSpace on North Bridge, Edinburgh

Grey Cardinal Studios’ production of Mojo is well worth a look. These graduates (and students) of the East 15 Acting School have got a little gem on their hands.

Of course, Jez Butterworth’s script is a gift to any actor worth their salt, but that doesn’t make it an an easy choice. This hard-hitting tale of 1950s gangsters – reeling after their night-club owning boss is killed – requires real grit and, with its depiction of virulent masculinity, might seem out of step with our times. But that’s where Grey Cardinal Studios’ inventiveness steps in: here, Sweets (Ameleah Wilson), Skinny (Natalie Sproston) and Silver Johnny (Ceili Lang) are all played by women. Apart from the pronouns, they don’t change the script at all, and it works – adding an extra layer to the story, bringing it bang up to date. I’m particularly impressed to learn that this change was made with Butterworth’s approval, that the young company engaged with him and made sure he was on board.

The acting is uniformly strong, although Evan Barker (as Baby) stands out, clearly relishing his part, exuding a particularly menacing and capricious air. He’s genuinely scary, and Skinny’s fear of him seems all-too valid a response.

Director Ashley Mapley-Brittle clearly knows what she is doing; the staging is dynamic, the relationships and pecking order established by proxemics and body language as well as dialogue. It’s technical stuff, but it all looks natural and unforced. The pace, while never dropping, still allows the script to breathe, the actors weighting the words so that we can appreciate them. I’m not convinced the spangly backdrop, awkwardly manoeuvred from behind the curtains, is necessary, but even this potentially clumsy scene-change is nicely covered by Silver Johnny’s singing.

Grey Cardinal Studios’ two founders Lewis Macey (Potts) and Charles Hollingworth (Mickey) should be really proud of themselves. They’ve made something rather special happen here.

4.1 stars

Susan Singfield

 

 

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44 Inch Chest

19/08/19

theSpace on North Bridge, Edinburgh

Colin Diamond (Liam Willatt) discovers that his wife, Liz (Holly McLachlan), is having an affair – and he doesn’t take it well. He’s had the luckless ‘Loverboy’ (Simon Burke) roughed up and locked in a wardrobe by his gang of mates – and now they’re waiting around for Colin’s arrival, drinking booze and working themselves up to  cheering him on to commit murder. The gang comprises Old Man Peanut (Lee Barden), Mal (David Guy), Archie (Harvey Seymour) and Meredith (Jake Williams). A more unsavoury bunch of villains would be hard to imagine. Trust me, you wouldn’t want to spend time with any of these people. Colin arrives and, much to Peanut’s disgust, it looks as though he’s having second thoughts about killing Loverboy. And then Liz turns up, and the balance of power begins to shift.

Abridged from an unproduced original play by David Scinto and Louis Mellis, which was itself turned into a 2009 film starring Ray Winstone and John Hurt, this is something of a coup for Out of Bounds Theatre, who have scored themselves a world premiere with this production. It’s a hardcore stew of toxic masculinity that comes across like Harold Pinter with added effing and jeffing, but – once you’ve accustomed yourself to that unflinching invective – there’s a brutal kind of lyricism to what unfolds. The performances are strong, with Willatt and Barden on particularly good form, and McLachen is a tremendously calming presecence amidst all that machismo. I like the inventive direction that uses light to delineate different locations in an unusually stylistic manner.  I also enjoy Peanut’s sweary retelling of the story of Samson and Delilah.

There’s an interesting ambiguity to the play’s conclusion, but the final applause is well earned, and those looking for a slice of powerful drama in the final week of the Fringe could certainly do a lot worse than this.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

 

 

To Move in Time

19/08/19

Summerhall (Techcube 0), Edinburgh

To Move in Time is a prose-poem written by Tim Etchells and performed by Tyrone Huggins. In it, Huggins meditates on the various possibilities of what he might achieve if only he had the ability to travel backwards and forwards in time. The options range from the profound – preventing wars and plagues – to the more mundane – ensuring that Rick Astley never gets to record Never Gonna Give You Up.

As the piece developes, Huggins ties his brain (and consequently ours) into complex knots, as he struggles to keep control of all the loose ends that his meddling might create. And what if all his valiant struggles are in vain?

Though nicely performed and beautifully written, the piece is rather one-note in its approach and feels somewhat overstretched at an hour in duration. It would benefit, I think, from developing its subject matter onto different themes, but it stays resolutely on the same track and arrives pretty much at an inevitable conclusion.

The deep thinkers and philosophers out there might enjoy this piece rather more than I do. I’m afraid I belong to the ‘brain in knots’ cohort.

3 stars

Philip Caveney

 

Shine

18/09/19

Zoo Southside (Studio), Edinburgh

Once in a while you stumble across a show at the Fringe that thrills you with its invention and sheer originality. Shine is just such a show – brought to the Fringe by From Start to Finnish, it’s a triumphant slice of immersive theatre. Indeed, my only criticism is that the title is deceptive, giving none of the flavour of this dark, powerful slice of psychological drama. Much of that power comes from its unusual staging.

As we take our seats in the studio theatre, we cannot fail to notice that a set of headphones is hooked over the back of every seat. We are instructed to put on the headphones. The lights dim and the drama begins.

This is a story about the disappearance of a little girl. The child’s parents, played by Olivier Leclair and Tiia-Mari Mäkinen are making love when she calls out to them in the night and they ignore her cries. The following morning, she is gone. When the official search is eventually called off, her father becomes obsessed with finding her – and his obsessive search leads him on a long, dark descent into madness…

If the story sounds familiar, the telling is anything but. Leclair and Makinen unfold their story through the medium of dance and mime, accompanied by an evocative soundtrack, every move they make perfectly synchonised to the sighs/screams/whispers that fill my ears. This has all the powerful intensity of a first-class ghost story. The hauntings are largely in the characters’ heads; nevertheless, there are scenes here that are incredibly chilling. This is a world where even an innocent piece of chalk can become an uncontrollable weapon, where the simple act of pouring a glass of water can take on a sinister subtext. I sit transfixed, completely involved right up to the (weirdly) uplifting conclusion.

There are just a few days left to check out this startling slice of theatre. The clock is ticking… listen… can you hear it?

Don’t worry, you will.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

 

Shellshock!

18/08/19

The Greenhouse (Pleasance Pop-Up), Dynamic Earth, Edinburgh

Written and directed by Louis Catliff, Shellshock! is a funny, endearing musical, with a serious message but a playful tone. Shelly (Alex Duckworth) is a hopeful young ecology graduate, recruited as an intern for GLG, an oil company with a spillage problem. She thinks she’s there to help them reform, but they’re only interested in greenwashing their image. So far, so predictable. But when ruthless CEO Venetia Von Van Clief (Phoebe Angeni), German mentor Jeremy (Daniel Heidlandn), secret agent Darryl (Molly Williams), animal rights activist Glen (Elliot Douglas) and a Galápagos ‘turtle’ (Catliff) are added to the mix, it’s pretty clear this is going to be a quirky ride.

Zero-waste venue, The Greenhouse, is an ideal space for this play by BoxedIn Theatre. We queue outside in glorious sunshine but, just as we’re entering the little wooden hut, a light rain begins to fall. Before long, as we’re watching the performance, there’s a downpour, the drops bouncing off the clear perspex roof, our eyes drawn to the grey sky above. As the characters sing about covering up the damaging effects of their industry, we’re acutely aware of our environment. Ten minutes later, we’re reaching for our sunglasses as the clouds break and the light pours in. There’s no hiding from the world in here.

The music, written and performed by Joseph Baker on guitar, is charming: a little bit folksy, a little bit blues, even a little bit hip-hop at one point. It suits the story and its Louisiana setting. The singing is also uniformly strong, although a special mention must be given to Angeni and her super-impressive vocal chops. The ‘turtle’ is very funny too, effectively conveyed by Catliff donning a green T-shirt and adopting a tense crouch.

I like the story: it meanders a little, but is always engaging, the dubious nature of the characters’ motivations exposed through sharp humour. It takes me a while to understand the dramatic purpose of Glen, the inept animal rights activist, but I come to realise that he’s a means of critiquing dogma – that he and Venetia Von Van Clief are united by their zealotry, and their inability to see a picture bigger than their own obsessions.

This is a lovely little play in a fascinating (and much-needed) venue.

(For more details about The Greenhouse, check out our other blog here: https://thezerowastrels.home.blog/2019/08/17/the-greenhouse-a-zero-waste-fringe-venue/)

4 stars

Susan Singfield

When the Birds Come

19/08/19

Underbelly Cowgate (White Belly), Edinburgh

Thirteen-year-old Margaret (Phoebe Vigor) lives with her eight year old brother, Stanley (Zak Douglas), and their troubled parents in a tiny Yupik community in the wilds of Alaska. Global warming is gradually destroying their traditional way of life. The melting tundra threatens to plunge the family’s modest home into the ever rising river – and, because of a landslide that coincided with his birth, Stanley has always thought himself responsible for this catastrophic change.

The goverment has plans to rehouse them further inland but Margaret repeatedly tells Stanley that, when summer comes and the geese return, the two of them will run away to Anchorage, the nearest city of any size, where they will enjoy all the comforts of capitalism: Starbucks coffee, central heating, cinemas and unlimited wi fi…

But, as we learn in a beautifully judged flash-forward, things don’t always turn out as expected. And Margaret’s anticipated pleasures come at a terrible cost.

This delightful, enviromentally-conscious two-hander by Tallulah Brown, tells a poignant story, yet also manages to give a stark warning about the impending disaster that awaits our planet. The two adult actors skilfully embody their young characters (Douglas in particular has a face that uncannily belies his years) and the poignant scene where the two of them meet up years later is genuinely heartbreaking.  I previously knew nothing about the indigenous communities of Alaska but, after watching this, I intend to find out more.

Meanwhile, this charming play provides a heartfelt introduction to their plight.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Dexter and Winter’s Detective Agency

18/08/19

Summerhall (Roundabout), Edinburgh

Surely the hardest working trio in Edinburgh, Toyin Omari-Kinch, Charlotte Bate and Charlotte O’Leary are performing daily in not one, not two, but three plays here at Roundabout. I don’t know how they do it: so many lines to learn; such physicality required. But even now, as we head into the final stretch of the Fringe, they all look perky and healthy. Maybe they’re revelling in the joy of working with such interesting scripts, or maybe they’re just good at faking it. Whatever.

We’ve already seen them in heartbreaking, thought-provoking mode in Daughterhood (https://bouquetsbrickbatsreviews.com/2019/08/09/daughterhood/) and On the Other Hand, We’re Happy (https://bouquetsbrickbatsreviews.com/2019/08/11/on-the-other-hand-were-happy/). This time, we’re here for their children’s show, an altogether lighter affair, all high-octane energy and fast-paced storytelling.

Dexter and Winter’s Detective Agency, written by Nathan Bryon and directed (again) by Stef O’Driscoll, is all about friendship. Dexter (Omari-Kinch) has his world torn apart when his mum, Ange (Bate), is arrested, accused of jewellery theft. But his best friend, Winter (O’Leary), has a plan. Of course Ange is innocent. All they have to do is prove it, by finding out who the real culprit is.

There’s a serious undercurrent to the piece – there’s debt and immorality, betrayal and loss – but there are lots of jokes too. The performance is exuberant, the characters larger-than-life, and yet still credible. Special mention here to Bate, who plays countless roles, switching at breakneck speed, adding a hat here or an apron there: she’s Winter’s mum, she’s a policewoman, a train guard, a butcher, a bailiff… it’s endless.

Once again, Paines Plough deliver quality theatre, the direction totally in harmony with the performance space. Roundabout is the Fringe venue I can most rely on; I’ve never yet been let down by what they have to show.

4.2 stars

Susan Singfield