Theatre

Though This Be Madness

22/05/22

The Studio, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Though This Be Madness deals with both the micro and the macrocosm: a study of one woman’s mental health, and a record of her place in a long line of other women. She is daughter, sister, mother. She is Shakespeare’s heroines.

This is Skye Loneragan’s scattershot depiction of a new mother, struggling to finish a sentence without being interrupted by a baby’s cry, and it’s a haphazard, palpably stressful piece. ‘The Land of the Lounge Room’ is messy, with toys strewn everywhere, and our protagonist has given up trying to tidy them away. There’s no point, is there? Her body’s been ravaged; she doesn’t remember what sleep feels like; her doctor’s unsympathetic and her mother thinks she shares too much. Oh, and her sister’s schizophrenic.

There’s a lot to process here. The fragmented, unstructured narrative works well to convey a sense of disconnection and distraction, but it also means that not everything lands, and that some interesting ideas are lost in the chaos. The references to Shakespeare’s women, in particular, feel under-explored.

Loneragan is an engaging performer (with exemplary mime skills). I like the symbolism of the post-it notes and the overt circularity of the piece, and Mairi Campbell’s music lends it an eerie – almost hypnotic – air. In the end, however, I can’t help feeling this piece is both too much and too little: too many ideas for the short running time, and too little made of the best of them.

3 stars

Susan Singfield

Anything Goes

11/05/22

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Until tonight, I’m only aware of Anything Goes as the ‘rubbish’ musical that drama teacher Mr G bins off when he’s left in charge of the school play in Summer Heights High – in order to replace it with a highly questionable self-penned piece (Mr G is not a reliable barometer). Of course, I have gleaned a few clues from the poster (definitely nautical) and from Bonnie Langford’s billing (all-singing, all-dancing), although Simon Callow’s presence is more of a puzzle. And, sadly, Simon Callow isn’t present tonight, so I never get to solve that particular enigma. Still, his understudy, Clive Heyward, puts in an excellent turn as boozy gazillionaire Elisha Whitney, truly owning the role.

Anything Goes, it turns out, is exactly the sort of old-fashioned glitz-and-glamour musical I like the best, with lots of big, bold choreography, and a galumphing Cole Porter score. Of course, the story is nonsensical and ridiculously contrived, but it hardly matters: the plot is just a vehicle for the performances.

Reno Sweeney (Kerry Ellis) is a nightclub singer/evangelist, booked to entertain passengers on luxury ocean liner, the SS American. She is infatuated with Whitney’s assistant, Billy (Samuel Edwards), but he’s hopelessly in love with debutante Hope (Nicole-Lily Baisden). Hope loves him too, but she’s betrothed to bumbling English toff, Lord Evelyn Oakleigh (played by the aptly named Haydn Oakley, presumably no relation). Hope’s mother, Evangeline Harcourt (Langford), won’t allow her to call off the engagement, because Evelyn is rich, and the Harcourts are on their uppers. Throw in a couple of gangsters called Moonface and Erma (Denis Lawson and Carly Mercedes Dyer), put ’em all on the ship, and let the mayhem begin…

Reno is a demanding role, but Ellis is a prime example of a ‘triple threat’ – not only imbuing the evangelist with spark and charm, but also showcasing her impressive singing voice – all while hoofing it up with the best of them in some very peppy dance routines. She’s perfectly cast. Oakley is also delightfully amiable as Evelyn, effortlessly winning our sympathy. Co-book-writer PG Wodehouse’s imprint is all over this character, and Oakley makes the most of the opportunity to Bertie Wooster his way through the tale. Mercedes Dyer is another standout, dazzling both ship’s crew and audience alike with her sassy attitude.

The set (by Derek McClane) is pretty awe-inspiring, with a joyful nautical aesthetic and a real sense of scale: the ship feels vast and imposing.

But really, this is all about the big numbers, and director-choreographer Kathleen Marshall has pulled out all the stops. The ensemble cast is huge, and there is a palpable sense of a busy ocean liner, bursting with energy. It’s an unabashed celebration of theatricality, and I am absolutely spellbound by the extended version of the title song that ends the first act: the tap dancing is sublime. The second act quickly leads to another high, the fabulous Blow, Gabriel, Blow: it’s a real spectacle.

There’s nothing deep and meaningful to ponder here – except perhaps the strange nature of what constitutes “celebrity” – but that’s really not the point. If you’re after a bit of pure distraction, with some effortlessly glorious song and dance, then Anything Goes certainly fits the bill. Don’t listen to Mr G!

4.8 stars

Susan Singfield

Red Ellen

04/05/22

Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

As a long-established advocate of socialism, I’m sometimes embarrassed to realise how little I know about the movement’s history – so Red Ellen proves to be both informative and entertaining. It’s the story of Labour politician Ellen Wilkinson, a woman who spent her life fighting for female suffrage and the rights of the working classes. As portrayed by Bettrys Jones, she’s a fierce little scrapper, a human powerhouse, who – despite her own struggles with ill health – is always ready to fight for her beliefs

Wilkinson is remembered mostly for her involvement in the infamous but ultimately doomed Jarrow Marches, but Caroline Bird’s play delves into other aspects of Wilkinson’s life: an amusing diversion when she meets up with Albert Einstein (Mercedes Assad); her experiences during the Spanish civil war, when she crosses paths with a drunken Ernest Hemingway (Jim Kitson); a look at her chaotic personal relationships with the shady Otto Gatz (Sandy Batchelor) and with married Labour politician, Herbert Morrison (Kevin Lennon). And there’s also a look at the groundbreaking work she did after the the war, when, as Minister for Education, she introduced free milk for all pupils, something that would stay in place until a certain Tory ‘milk snatcher’ finally undid all her hard work.

It’s a complex play but Wils Wilson’s propulsive direction has Ellen hurtling from one scene to the next, which keeps the pot bubbling furiously, whether she’s arguing with long suffering sister, Annie (Helen Katamba), or with her Communist comrade, Isabel (Laura Evelyn). Camilla Clarke’s expressionistic set design creates a bizarre, nightmarish backdrop to the unfolding story, where a bed can suddenly transform into a motor car, where piles of discarding clothing can lurch abruptly upwards to depict the Jarrow marchers. One of my favourite scenes in this turbulent production depicts Ellen as a fire warden during the blitz, frantically fighting a series of blazes in tiny doll’s houses. It serves as the perfect encapsulation of Ellen’s career in politics.

For a historical tale, her story is powerfully prescient. In the opening scene, she bemoans the rising tide of fascism that threatens to overtake the world – and how in-fighting in the Labour party would inevitably hand the reins of power over to the Tory party time and time again. It’s impossible not to reflect that sadly, very little has changed since those challenging times.

Red Ellen is a fascinating tale, ripped from the pages of political history. It’s not to be missed.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

A Murder is Announced

03/05/22

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

‘Cosy mystery’ is a strange genre. The body count is high but the blood loss is minimal; an alarming number of its denizens have murder in mind, but we’re not witness to any physical brutality. Death occurs courtesy of a fast-acting poison or a single, well-placed blow to the head; killers tend to be well-to-do, well-spoken, suburban types, fond of chintz and regular cups of tea – oh, and there’s usually a domestic servant or two.

If the genre has a queen, Agatha Christie wears the crown. And of her prodigious output, the Miss Marple stories are the cosiest of all. Jane Marple looks like a cliché: a nosy, soberly dressed spinster of independent means, living modestly in a sleepy village. But Miss Marple is shrewdly intelligent, and her prying has a purpose: she’s a dab hand at uncovering criminals, and the local constabulary often find her help invaluable.

A Murder is Announced is a classic Miss Marple mystery. It opens with an unlikely premise: someone posts an ad in the Chipping Cleghorn Gazette, announcing that there will be a murder at 6.30pm that night at Little Paddocks, home to Letitia Blacklock (Barbara Wilshere). Letitia is a kindly soul, and she’s opened Little Paddocks to a whole host of friends and relatives, so there’s a raft of potential victims – and killers. Her impoverished old school pal, Bunny (Karen Drury), has lived there for years, and – more recently – Lettie’s second cousins, Julia (Lucy Evans) and Patrick (Will Huntington), have appeared. They’ve been living abroad, but now they’re back in the UK and need somewhere to stay. In addition, Lettie has taken pity on Philippa (Emma Fernell), and invited the young widow to reside in her home too. Housekeeper Mitzi (Lydia Piechowiak) is kept very busy!

And, at 6.30pm that night, a murder does indeed occur. What’s going on? Luckily, a certain Miss Marple (Sarah Thomas) is in the vicinity, visiting her nephew, the local vicar, so Inspector Craddock (Tom Butcher) doesn’t have to figure it out alone…

Despite the convoluted and unlikely plot, there are no surprises here. But that’s part of the appeal, I guess: we know what we’re getting – hence the term ‘cosy.’ Middle Ground Theatre Company’s production is competently done: director Michael Lunney successfully corrals the twelve-strong cast’s tortuous backstories into a comprehensible tale, and the actors deliver solid performances.

I’m a little confused by the lowering of the curtain for an extended period at the end of each scene. The first time, I’m expecting a complex set change, but, when the curtain rises again, only minor adjustments are apparent. A plate of sandwiches has been removed; a newspaper folded. I can’t help feeling this could be achieved a little more dynamically.

In the end, there’s nothing striking here – either good or bad. A Murder is Announced just does what it says on the tin, and there’s no denying its popularity; the theatre is bustling. There are worse ways to spend an evening, but I’d love one day to see new life breathed into this old form.

3 stars

Susan Singfield

Singin’ in the Rain

27/04/22

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Of all Hollywood’s great movie musicals, only one has consistently featured in critics ‘best film’ polls down the years and it is, of course, Singin’ in the Rain.

Released in 1952, at a time when the film industry was already starting to look back to its beginnings for inspiration, it had a lot going for it: Gene Kelly at the height of his terpsichorean powers, a nineteen-year-old Debbie Reynolds just beginning her ascent to stardom and the ever-dependable Donald O’ Connor providing inspirational comic relief. (Even now, if I’m down in the dumps, a viewing of his Make ’em Laugh routine is guaranteed to lift my spirits.) Throw in some top flight songs by Arthur Freed and Nacio Herb Brown, a sprightly screenplay by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, and and it’s no wonder that the film is so fondly remembered.

Of course a movie and a play are very different creatures. Suffice to say that any stage adaptation has some very big tap shoes to fill – so I’m delighted to report that this production, directed by Jonathan Church, is one of the most supremely entertaining shows I’ve seen in a very long time. Slick, assured, technically brilliant – it never puts a hoof wrong.

Don Lockwood (Sam Lips) and Lina Lamont (Faye Tozer) are the stars of a series of silent movies, swashbuckling romances beloved by the masses. Thanks to the publicity machine, everybody believes they are lovers in real life but, though Lina is under the impression this is actually true, Don is far from keen on the idea. As he tells his best friend, Cosmo Brown (Ross McLaren), he’s still looking for the right woman. He thinks he might have found her when he bumps into Kathy Selden (Charlotte Gooch), but is dismayed to discover that she’s not at all impressed by his movie star status. She tells him she’s a serious actor, who hopes one day to tread the boards of the New York stage. Ooh, hoity-toity!

But the year is 1927 and Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer – the first talking picture – has just been released. Don thinks it’s a fad that will soon be forgotten but, of course, it signals a seismic change in the industry. Within days it is breaking box office records and it quickly becomes clear that the latest Lockwood and Lamont epic, The Duelling Cavalier, is going to need some drastic remodelling before it can be successfully released. The only problem is Lamont, who has a broad Brooklyn accent delivered in a screeching tone.

Actually, this is the one part of the story that could raise hackles. Making fun of a regional accent would be a no-go zone in the contemporary world, but the fact that this is a period piece just about excuses it – and Tozer plays her part with such adept comic timing that I find myself laughing uproariously at her mangled intonation, particularly when she’s working with her ‘dialect coach’ (Sandra Dickinson).

But that’s my only caveat. Both Lips and Gooch have splendid chemistry together and McLaren manages to own the Make ’em Laugh routine, without attempting to deliver a carbon copy of the original. There are some very funny film extracts, the ensemble dance numbers are thrillingly executed and even the film’s extended Broadway Melody sequence is lovingly recreated, right down to the vibrant costumes, with Harriet Samuel-Gray handling the Cyd Charisse role with aplomb.

And to have so many memorable songs in one show seems almost unfair on the competition.

But of course, you might argue, how can this hope to work onstage without any actual rain? Rest assured, rain there is, in abundance. I can only marvel at the ingenuity involved in taking a travelling production around the country and adapting each and every venue so that water can bucket down onto the cast without causing major devastation. It’s no surprise that the orchestra are safely located backstage instead of in their usual pit. Their brief unveiling during the second overture foreshadows Kathy Selden’s famous moment of glory, as well as highlighting the frantic unseen action that underpins any theatrical production.

Singin’ in the Rain is a delight from start to finish. It never falters, never loses pace and manages to honour the great film that inspired it. Wandering out of the Festival Theatre, humming that famous signature tune, I’m almost disappointed to discover that it’s a cold, clear evening, with no hint of rain.

Well, I did say ‘almost.’

5 Stars

Philip Caveney

Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World

26/04/22

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

I almost don’t make it to tonight’s production of Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World. The drama class I’m teaching doesn’t finish until 6.30pm, and FGWWCTW starts at 7pm. That’s half an hour to get from Fairmilehead to Tollcross, which ought to be do-able but – well, this is Edinburgh – there are roadworks. It’s 6.57pm when I park up, and then dash breathlessly to the King’s Theatre, charging into the box office, hollering ‘thanks’ as I hurtle through to the foyer, before racing to the auditorium. I slump into my seat next to Philip, only for the end of an umbrella to appear before my eyes. “Phones off!” says a voice. There’s a woman in a raincoat and glasses, all mock severity, and that’s it. The show’s begun. She marches onto the stage, barking instructions. The lights go down…

Aaand relax?

Well, no. FGWWCTW is not a relaxing show at all. In fact, the frantic urgency of my arrival serves well to set the mood. This is a dynamic, fast-paced gallop of a show, as bold and spirited as can be – like SIX’s little sister. I love it.

Based on Kate Pankhurst’s 2016 nonfiction best-seller of the same name and directed by Amy Hodge, the musical has a simple premise. Jade (Kudzai Mangombe) is on a school trip to a museum. Ever the ‘good girl,’ she has helpfully stopped to retrieve other students’ misplaced items, only to be forgotten in the chaos – and left behind. This, we learn, is typical: Jade’s quiet obedience means that she is often ignored or overlooked. A disembodied tannoy voice tells her that the museum is closing, urges her to leave, and forbids her from entering the Gallery of Greatness she’s standing outside. But Jade has had enough of doing as she’s told. This time, she’s going to do what she wants to do – so into the Gallery she goes.

It’s a good decision. Inside, Jade meets a host of inspiring women, who share their stories with her, and urge her to find her own greatness. There’s Sacagawea, Frida Kahlo and Marie Curie (Jade Kennedy); Amelia Earhart, Rosa Parks and Mary Seacole (Renée Lamb); Gertrude Ederle, Jane Austen and Mary Anning (Christina Modestou) – not to mention Emmeline Pankhurst and Agent Fifi (Kirstie Skivington). Anne Frank puts in an appearance too (she’s played with charm and grace by young actor, Lana Turner, who shares her name, of course, with another ‘fantastically great woman’.) The women are all wise in their own ways: some are funny and some are serious; some are gentle and some are fierce. But they are all, without exception, exceptional. “Take up space,” they tell Jade; “find a way to make yourself heard.” Jade doesn’t know what she’s good at or what she wants to do, but they tell her that doesn’t matter. All she has to do is exist, be true to herself and stand up for what she believes is right – and she will change the world.

The target audience is a young one (6+), and the theatre tonight is full of enthusiastic kids. It’s heartwarming to witness: they’re enraptured by the audacious performances and the maverick message. Even as an adult, I’m totally engaged, caught up in the drama, delighted that Jade is being encouraged to dare. Mangombe’s performance is central, of course, and she’s mightily impressive. When I consult the programme, I’m genuinely shocked to realise she’s an adult, as she embodies a conflicted eleven-year-old so well.

The songs (by Miranda Cooper, Chris Bush and Jennifer Decilveo) and choreography (Dannielle ‘Rhimes’ Lecointe) are great. None of it’s subtle: this is as in-your-face and brazen as it gets. It works. It’s impossible not to feel energised and, yes, empowered.

“A better world for everyone begins with dreams.” And “deeds, not words.” If you have children, there’s an easy first step: take them to see this.

4.3 stars

Susan Singfield

The Great Gatsby

21/04/22

Festival Theatre, Edinburgh

Regular readers of B&B may be somewhat surprised to see this review. We haven’t previously covered ballet, mainly because of a reluctance to show our general ignorance of the subject. But it is theatre, when all is said and done and, when we see that Northern Ballet’s adaptation of The Great Gatsby is to visit the city, it seems the logical choice for a starting point. F. Scott Fitzgerald’s famous novel is a story we already know, so we should have no problem following the action. And so it proves.

Actually, on reflection, Gatsby seems an inspired choice for the tricky metamorphosis of literature-into-dance. For one thing, those jazz-age excesses are perfectly suited to the medium and, for another, many of the novel’s most memorable scenes are built around visual motifs: the blinking green light of the Buchanan’s home on the horizon; those lavish parties frequented by alcohol-fuelled celebrities; the distorted reflections in the infamous room of mirrors.

Jay Gatsby (Joseph Taylor) spends his days reminiscing about his lost relationship with Daisy Buchanan (Abigail Prudames), back when he was a young soldier. He even gets to dance alongside his younger self (Harris Beatty), before four men in black raincoats and derby hats step out of the shadows and neatly illustrate how criminal activities turn Gatsby into the rich socialite he is today.

But wealth and success haven’t dulled the longing he still harbours for Daisy, who now lives with her husband, Tom (Lorenzo Trossello), and their little daughter – an adorable performance by Rosa Di Rollo – in their home across the bay (cue that blinking green light).

Into this turbo-charged atmosphere dances Daisy’s naive cousin, Nick Carraway (Sean Bates), who soon befriends Gatsby and then can only watch in dismay as he and Daisy become ever more entangled in a relationship that will surely end in tragedy.

This stirring adaptation also feels curiously cinematic, an effect heightened by Jérôme Kaplan’s brilliant set design, which contrives to present physical events – even an entirely convincing road accident – with absolute authority. And the dancing, of course, is sublime. While I freely admit that I don’t know the difference between an arabesque and a jeté, I’m still enraptured by the cavalcade of physical perfection that whirls and leaps and pirouettes around the stage with apparent ease. I particularly enjoy the earthy physicality of Riko Ito as garage mechanic George Wilson, driven to distraction by his wife Myrtle (Minju Kang)’s affair with Tom Buchanan – and also the wonderfully accomplished ensemble pieces, where those epic parties of the roaring twenties are lavishly enacted in perfectly-tailored suits and glittering cocktail dresses.

The music of the late Sir Richard Rodney Bennett provides the perfect accompaniment for the story, encompassing as it does elements of jazz, ragtime and sweeping, soulful grandeur. We even get to hear the great composer sing in the production’s penultimate piece, a heartfelt rendition of I Never Went Away, which offers a poignant preface to a brutal and shattering conclusion.

So there we have it it. As an introduction to an art form, The Great Gatsby offers everything I was hoping for. Also, it proves a propitious night for a first foray into ballet, as long time choreographer and director David Nixon OBE is about to step down from the role he’s occupied for twenty-one years.

An emotional onstage presentation duly ensues and a heartfelt standing ovation caps an evening that will linger in my memory.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

The Meaning of Zong

20/04/22

Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

The Meaning of Zong opens in a contemporary UK bookshop, where Gloria, a young black woman (Kiera Lester), attempts to tell the white staff that they have misclassified a book about the Atlantic slave trade. They’re mystified. “It’s in African history,” they tell her. “But it’s British history,” she replies. They don’t understand, prevaricating with platitudes about ‘being allies,’ while vaguely insinuating that such decisions are taken by a distant boss. Gloria’s frustrated, but help is at hand, in the form of Olaudah Equiano (Giles Terera), a former slave, who steps out of the history book to tell Gloria (and us) his tale.

And the tale he tells is truly shocking: a shame-inducing account of an event so appalling it ought to be common knowledge. That it is not speaks volumes, illuminating the importance of that opening scene. If we don’t even acknowledge our history, how can we hope to learn from it?

In 1793, Oloudah tells Gloria, there was a massacre on board a British slave ship called The Zong. 132 slaves were thrown into the sea and left to drown, jettisoned because – so it was claimed – there was a shortage of drinking water, and so their killing was a “necessary” act. Not only did they commit murder, the ship’s owners also put in an insurance claim for the loss of their “property.” The insurers disputed the claim, of course (because some things are immutable), but not before Oloudah chanced upon the case, and joined forces with anti-slavery campaigner Granville Sharp (Paul Higgins) and shorthand secretary Annie Greenwood (Eliza Smith) to ensure the case was brought to public attention. The slave owners’ blatant dismissal of human beings as “cargo” caused outrage, and proved to be a significant step on the path towards abolition.

Although it’s an ensemble piece, this is very much Terera’s project: as well as playing Oloudah, he is both writer and co-director (along with Tom Morris). It’s a spectacular achievement, making bold social and political points, while still being playful and overtly theatrical. He pulls no punches and yet we’re on his side; he never lets us off the hook, but we feel galvanised rather than defensive.

We never witness the massacre. Instead, we are shown the legal struggle Oloudah and Granville mount to have the court’s ruling overturned. Instead, we are shown the strength of three female slaves (Lester, Bethan Mary-James and Alice Vilanculo), recounting the story of Anansi, the spider god, calling on the spirits to save them. And one of them – unnamed – is saved, clinging to a rope, reaching through the years to become Terera’s inspiration for this devastating reminder of our collective guilt.

Jean Chan’s set is a thing of beauty, reinforcing the notion that everything is connected, that we can’t escape our past just by shutting our ears and hiding things away. Thus Westminster Hall’s magnificent wooden ceiling is also the slave ship’s hull; the judge’s bench is also a Waterstones bookshelf. The furniture we sit on, the cutlery we use, the sugar we sprinkle in our tea: these things are all linked to slavery, Oloudah tells Gloria – and the truth will out.

Sidiki Dembele’s onstage drumming is both powerful and provocative, first bringing the audience together then silencing us with its force. It’s the perfect accompaniment to a story that demands to be heard.

The Meaning of Zong has already finished its run at the Bristol Old Vic, and only has a few more days here in Edinburgh before it moves on to Liverpool. It’s worth seeking out. We mustn’t let this story fade away. It belongs in the bookshop’s window, not relegated to a forgotten shelf.

4.7 stars

Susan Singfield

The Da Vinci Code

05/04/22

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Ah, The Da Vinci Code. That preposterous juggernaut of a 2003 novel: badly written, controversially researched, ludicrously convoluted – and yet, somehow, as popular as can be, selling more than eighty million copies worldwide. 

Dan Brown’s tale leans on other people’s cleverness: his protagonist, Robert Langdon, is a Harvard professor, whose sidekick, Sophie Neveu, is a brainy cryptographer. Their enemies are equally learned, and the murder at the heart of this high-octane mystery takes place in the highbrow setting of the Louvre. Indeed, the whole plot is reliant on the duo’s impressive understanding of theology, symbology and Renaissance art. All of this, of course, is just smoke and mirrors, obscuring what is – essentially – a cryptic crossword given legs. Nevertheless, it’s undeniably engaging; there’s a reason the novel was a runaway hit. 

This stage adaptation (written by Rachel Wagstaff and Duncan Abel) doesn’t shy away from the schlocky nature of the source material. Instead, director Luke Sheppard uses more smoke and mirrors, this time in the form of impressive technical effects and slick production values. If touring shows can sometimes seem a little lazy, this is anything but, and Brown’s silly story is elevated by some damn fine theatrics. 

The plot is pared back, so that there’s less obfuscation and greater clarity. There are fewer chases (thank goodness). Nigel Harman imbues Langdon with a credible seriousness: it’s an unshowy, subtle piece of characterisation that serves the production well. In many ways, he’s the still centre of it all: bemused at finding himself involved, but quietly determined to sort things out. Hannah Rose Caton’s Sophie is somewhat livelier, as suits the role, but neither she nor Harman dominate the stage. That’s not what this is about, after all. 

The focus here is on the clues, on the elaborate treasure hunt that sees the pair wielding guns and crossing continents, challenging religious doctrines and theorising about everything from the Mona Lisa to the Holy Grail. David Woodhead’s bold set – all gauze panels and moments of revelation – is complemented by Andrzej Goulding’s stunning video design, with luscious projections filling every wall. It’s a dazzling spectacle (and, naturally, there’s an extra frisson for us as an Edinburgh audience, when the depiction is of nearby Rosslyn Chapel).  

I like the chorus too: the company sits, blank-faced and hooded at the side of the stage, rising occasionally in sporadic chants and rituals, all precisely choreographed by Tom Jackson Greaves. 

So – admittedly somewhat to my surprise – watching this production is a real pleasure. And not even a guilty one. 

4 stars

Susan Singfield

Human Nurture

19/03/22

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

It’s Harry (Lucas Button)’s eighteenth birthday and, when his old friend ‘Roger’ (Justice Ritchie) turns up out of the blue, bringing him a Colin the Caterpillar cake and a selection of shared memories, he’s initially delighted. The two of them recall their days in the care system together: the adventures they had, the everyday trials they faced. 

But now things have changed somewhat. Harry is still struggling to make his way in the world, while Roger, who prefers now to answer to Runaku – his real name; the name his parents gave him – is about to set off for university and exciting new horizons. 

But before he leaves, he has some issues that need to be addressed. 

Harry has been pretty vocal on social media lately and many of his views are racially insensitive, to say the least. Runaku wants him to face up to his duplicity but, as Harry protests, how can he be a racist when his best friend is black?

Ryan Calais Cameron’s punchy play handles a complex subject with surefooted skill and nails the central flaw that lies at the heart of Harry’s logic. We soon learn that Runaku has been marginalised all through their years together, and that Harry needs to face up to something he’s avoided since the beginning of their friendship.

Both Button and Ritchie attack their roles with vigour and the physicality of their performances prevents this two-hander from ever becoming static. Movement director Yami Löfvenberg and Rob Watt’s pacy direction have them hurling themselves around the stage, slipping expertly through a whole range of emotions from cheery bonhomie to outright anger. I also enjoy the live music from musician Neeta Saarl and the way she interacts with the performers – though the lengthy electronic overture she performs at the beginning feels suspiciously like an attempt to pad out the play’s brisk running time.

But this is thought-provoking stuff, that isn’t afraid to tackle its sensitive material with refreshing honesty.

4 stars

Philip Caveney