Roundabout

How to be Brave

24/08/19

Roundabout at Summerhall, Edinburgh

Katie (Laura Dalgliesh) isn’t in a good place. She’s moved back in with her mum, because she needs help looking after her littl’un. She’s clearly on a downward spiral, relying on her routine to keep her focused and on track. But today is different; today is difficult and new. Today she has to take the littl’un to the hospital, for heart surgery. Today Katie is scared.

And Katie doesn’t cope too well with fear.

Siân Owen’s one-woman play follows single-mum Katie as she flees a situation she can’t face, dashing impulsively out of the house and onto the streets of Newport, ricocheting from one panicked moment to the next. As she darts around the town she grew up in, she gets lost in childhood memories, the past and the present blurring into an incoherent howl.

It’s very funny. Dalgliesh’s energetic portrayal of a woman on the edge incorporates laugh-out-loud sequences, the breathless pace taking us along for the ride: we’re on that stolen BMX with her; the dread humiliation of her past failures fills us with shame as well. Katie is having a breakdown; we’re cringing even as we giggle. But still, it’s a positive piece, the kindness of strangers and, indeed, old enemies, a warming reminder that most people are actually pretty nice.

Catherine Paskell’s direction is spot-on, the small circular stage inventively utilised. Dalgliesh frequently darts towards the exits, seeking an escape, but she’s hemmed in (and supported) by the audience, hemmed in (and supported) by Newport and her past.

But will confronting her demons be enough to help her ‘find her brave’?

There’s only one more showing of Dirty Protest Theatre’s sparky Welsh play here in Edinburgh, but North Wales readers, take note. It’s coming to Theatr Clwyd at the start of September, and is well worth the trip to Mold.

4.1 stars

Susan Singfield

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

On the Other Hand, We’re Happy

10/08/19

Summerhall (Roundabout), Edinburgh

On the Other Hand We’re Happy is a play about adoption – the hopes, the perils, the joys and pitfalls of the process. Like most productions by Paines Plough, it’s brilliantly staged and powerfully acted. Written by Daf James and directed by Stef O’ Driscoll, this is an object lesson in how to toy with an audience’s emotions, and it succeeds admirably on just about every level. It’s a powerful, compelling story.

Josh (Toyin Omari-Kinch) and Abbi (Charlotte Bate) are a young couple in love, who – like so many others before them – plan to become parents. When they discover that they can’t make babies in the usual way, their thoughts turn to adoption, and they even elicit the opinions of the audience when discussing its merits. (The action regularly breaks the fourth wall, but it’s handled so cleverly, it never feels like a gimmick.) When the couple learn of a young girl, Tyler, who could be the right fit for them, they are naturally excited at the prospect of meeting her – but then fate deals them a cruel blow and it looks as though their dream may be an impossibility…

I love the direction of this piece, the way the actors appear to tumble and lurch from scene to scene, cutting back and forth in time, seeming to literally fall from one sequence to the next. Charlotte O’ Leary plays Tyler and also her mother, Kelly – a deliciously sweary Welsh woman, who may have taken some wrong turns in her life, but still wants the best for her daughter. All three performances are top notch, but Omari-Kinch’s physicality stands out. His is a character caught up in a maelstrom of wild emotions, flinging himself recklessly around the circular stage of Roundabout like an out of control automaton.

The conclusion is almost overpoweringly emotional and I watch the actors taking their well-deserved bows through a film of tears. If you like quality theatre, head down to Summerhall and catch this vibrant, beating heart of a play before it moves on.

It’s one of the best shows we’ve seen at this year’s Fringe.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Daughterhood

Summerhall (Roundabout), Edinburgh

We enjoyed last year’s Paines Plough/Theatr Clwyd collaboration, Island Town, so we’re keen to see what they have to offer us this time. Philip and I are from North Wales, and Theatr Clwyd featured heavily in both of our young lives. It feels good to have a slice of home right here with us in Edinburgh.

Charlotte O’Leary is back, this time playing Rachel, a Little-Miss-Sunshine younger sister with an exciting job in London. Her sister Pauline (Charlotte Bate), who’s nine years older, still lives at home, caring for their disabled father, growing steadily more miserable as life passes her by. Daughterhood is an examination of their relationship, of duty and fairness and doing the right thing.

It’s brutal: Pauline is stuck; she can’t find a way out. Someone has to look after Dad. Bate exudes despair, her face locked in a silent scream; it’s a stellar performance. Rachel cares too, but she’s busy lobbying parliament for access to better medication; she’s not there, clearing up the shit. When she does visit, Pauline’s resentment bubbles over, and they find themselves trapped in an endless argument, repeated ad nauseam each time they meet.

O’Leary portrays Rachel as sparky and likeable, her energy and sense of purpose a stark reminder to Pauline of what she could have had. The dynamic between the two is compelling; they’re on opposite sides but I’m rooting for both of them.

Toyin Omari-Kinch plays a range of supporting characters: Rachel’s colleague, her teenage bestie, a doctor, a professor – and their sick father. The first time he switches roles, I’m momentarily confused, but I soon work out what’s happening from the context – and he changes his accent and demeanour too. From thereon in, it’s always clear who he is, and he steps up to the challenge most impressively.

I like this play. Stef O’Driscoll’s direction means that the frequent flashbacks are well signalled, and we’re always sure of when and where we are. Despite the bleak subject matter, Charley Miles’ script is often laugh-out-loud funny, the humour helping us to engage with both women. I like the relentless repetitiveness of the sisters’ rows, entrenched as they are in the roles they’ve come to inhabit. And I like the fact that redemption, when it comes, is small and tentative.

A lovely piece of theatre in my favourite Fringe venue.

4.3 stars

Susan Singfield

Island Town

13/08/18

Paines Plough at Roundabout, Summerhall, Edinburgh

We’re big fans of Roundabout here at B & B. Paines Plough’s portable, in-the-round theatre is a wonderful space and we’ve  seen some fantastic performances here. Island Town is an especially exciting prospect for us, being a co-production between Paines Plough and Theatr Clwyd; as North Walians, we’re keen to see what this collaboration brings.

Writer Simon Longman clearly knows about small towns, about the stifling going-nowhere feelings that make people feel trapped. The location here is unspecified, ‘this town surrounded by fields’, circled by a ring road, is impossible to escape. It’s anywhere and everywhere, as symbolised by the actors’ regional accents: one Derby (I think), one Manchester and one Welsh.

This is Kate’s story, and Katherine Pearce is captivating in the role of the angry teen, full of impotent fury, raging at the injustice that sees her marooned, caring for her dying father, permanently drunk because it’s the only outlet she has. She yearns for something better, longs to head off beyond her narrow horizon, to see more of the world. But she’s tethered: too poor, too tied down, too ill-equipped to leave.

Her friends, Sam (Charlotte O’Leary) and Pete (Jack Wilkinson), are more accepting of their lot. Sam’s main concern is protecting her little sister from their violent dad, while Pete’s only ambition is to be a dad himself. Pete in particular is a tragic case: he’s a sweet character, positive and hopeful; he doesn’t ask for much. But the system seems designed to grind him down. He hasn’t any qualifications and there are no jobs locally. He can’t even get the benefits he’s entitled to, because the bus service has been cancelled so he can’t get to the job centre to sign on.

There’s no doubt about it, this is a bleak play, but there is humour too, a nicely balanced tug of war between hope and despair. And, as we draw towards the teens’ inevitable fate, we start to make sense of the strange jerking movements they’ve been making in the transitions between scenes…

Perhaps the penultimate section is a tad too long, a little too spelled-out, but all in all this is an impressive piece, a darkly accurate commentary on those society leaves behind.

4.5 stars

Susan Singfield

Pike Street

07/08/17

Roundabout @ Summerhall, Edinburgh

Pike Street is an ingenious monologue, written and performed by Nilaja Sun, and staged in the marvellous Roundabout pop-up theatre. It’s set on New York’s Lower East Side in the heart of a vibrant Puerto Rican community where the residents are bracing themselves for the impending onslaught of a major hurricane.

We are introduced to a whole host of characters onstage – male and female, young and old – and Sun, in a performance that can only be described as a tour de force, plays every single one of them.

We meet Evelyn, a determinedly optimistic single mother who is tasked with the monumental challenge of caring for her brain-damaged teenage daughter, Candi, a child who cannot survive without constant life support. We meet Evelyn’s father, Pappy, a hard drinking macho widower, and we meet her decorated war veteran brother, Manny, home on leave from the navy and clearly damaged by his experiences in Afghanistan. We meet Mrs Applebaum, an elderly Jewish neighbour and, in passing, a whole bunch of other friends and acquaintances. It’s really quite uncanny to witness Sun flipping effortlessly back and forth from one character to the next with such utter conviction; we really feel we are there, amidst the crowd, waiting anxiously for the hurricane to hit.

This is exciting and incendiary theatre, that will have you laughing at one moment and filling up the next.

At the play’s conclusion, Sun is given a standing ovation and I’ve rarely seen one that was more deserved. Go and see this, if only to marvel at that extraordinary performance.

4.8 stars

Philip Caveney

The Human Ear

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16/08/15

Roundabout@Summerhall, Edinburgh

Sian Reese-Williams and Abdul Salis must surely be the hardest working actors at this year’s fringe. Starring in no less than three duologues at Roundabout (Our Teacher’s a Troll, Lungs and The Human Ear), the number of lines they’ve managed to learn is impressive in itself; that their performances are consistently first-rate is nothing short of amazing.

All three pieces are directed by George Perrin, and there’s a distinctive style to his work. There’s no set, no props, no fancy costumes. Instead, there’s a blank stage, two actors – both casually but anonymously clothed – and a lot of clever lighting (designed by Emma Chapman). There’s no attempt at naturalism here, no attempt to physically create a space. Where the characters are (on the doorstep, at home, in bed, in IKEA) is told us through the dialogue; the actors’ movements represent instead the characters’ emotional distance – they circle each other, move close together, far apart – and it’s done so well we never question it.

In The Human Ear, Reese-Williams plays Lucy, a recently bereaved young woman, whose estranged brother turns up unexpectedly. Salis plays both the brother, Jason, and Lucy’s policeman boyfriend, Ed. He switches effortlessly between roles, without relying on any of the usual techniques: there’s no obvious change of stance, no particular mannerism added, no vocal tic or new accent. He just is, somehow, a different man.

Time-shifts are similarly deftly shown. There are no pauses in the dialogue – the flashbacks are unbidden thoughts within conversations – but the lighting (a masterclass in precision) makes clear exactly where we are.

There is a lot to admire about this play. The premise is exciting and it’s beautifully performed. If, in the end, the pay-off isn’t quite as satisfying as what’s gone before, it’s still a production well-worth seeing.

4.6 stars

Susan Singfield

Lungs

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14/08/15

Roundabout@Summerhall, Edinburgh

He suggests that they should have a baby – but she has so many reservations. After all, she argues, the world is becoming increasingly polluted and a baby creates an awfully big carbon footprint. ‘Ten thousand tonnes of CO2. That’s the weight of the Eiffel Tower. I’d be giving birth to the Eiffel Tower.’ And… on reflection, maybe the checkout queue at Ikea wasn’t the best place for him to broach the subject in the first place.

On a grey, rainy day in Edinburgh, Lungs by Duncan Macmillan is a breath of fresh air. The witty, sparkling script picks you up by the scruff of the neck and hurls you along in a series of perfectly created flash-forwards as the couple argue, chatter, break up and make up. On route, they suffer all the emotions under the sun as they attempt, by hook or by crook, to become parents. Will they get there? We they end up together? You’ll have to see the play to find out but the snug confines of Paines Plough are the perfect place to watch such a delicious confection and I’m happy to report that the venue was packed. I laughed a lot and in a couple of places my eyes filled with involuntary tears because there are moments in here that everyone can identify with and some moments we all hope we’ll never experience. You’ll emerge from the experience feeling wrung out.

As the young couple, Sian Reece-Williams and Abdul Sallis are every bit as assured as they are in Dennis Kelly’s Our Teacher’s A Troll (also at this venue) and as the story accelerates towards it’s poignant but inevitable conclusion, you’ll be with them every step of the way. Clever, dazzling, intelligent, this is a perfect delight and it’s not to be missed.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Chicken

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13/08/15

Roundabout@Summerhall, Edinburgh

As we queue to go in to Chicken, the guy on the door gives us a strange warning. ‘If you’re allergic to straw or chicken feathers, don’t sit in the front row,’ he says. As it happens, we’re not, but this must count as a first, even for the Fringe.

Set in a near future dystopia on the Eve of ‘the separation’ – when East Anglia declares it’s independence from the rest of great Britain – the play is an examination of folklore, superstition and ‘Nationalism.’ Emily (Rosie Sheehy) works at a Tesco store, but she has a reputation for not speaking much, preferring instead to sing traditional folk songs and visit the places where witches used to be ‘swum.’ Her father, Harry (Benjamin Dilloway) and Mother, Lorraine (Josephine Butler) both work at a nearby chicken farm (hence the straw and feathers strewn liberally around the stage). Into this setting comes a ‘returner’, Layla (Beth Cooke), who having tried her luck in London has come back to her home town and is eager to reconnect with old crush, Harry. But he’s been dehumanised by his years of organising the slaughter of chickens on a massive scale. Chickens (along with bicycles) are now East Anglia’s biggest export. Meanwhile, Emily seems to be planning something very strange indeed…

The play is beautifully acted by all the cast, but we were somewhat distracted by a noisy fan that blew a stream of cool air into the theatre, making much of the dialogue hard to follow. It was happily dispensed with for the final third, which helped enormously; but I have to admit I found it hard to swallow the play’s conclusion or to feel at all terrorised by the prospect of marauding chickens attacking a family home.

This is a decent play with an intriguing premise. Just make sure you sit well away from that pesky wind machine!

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

Happy Birthday Without You

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12/08/15

Roundabout@Summerhall, Edinburgh

Meet Violet Fox, “award-winning-live-and-visual-spoken-word-vegan-solo-artist-and-occasional-collaborator,” with her autobiographical tale of unhappy birthdays and emotional trauma (“Yes, it’s all about meeee!”).

This is a satirical piece, expertly skewering the self-obsessed posing of a certain type of wannabe, and, if this truly original slice of comic nonsense is difficult to categorise, it’s certainly a pleasure to witness it unfold.

Sonia Jalaly, as Violet, is a gifted comedian, with a penchant for wild emoting and exaggerated gesture. This is clowning at its most engaging, and there’s some decent mimicry and singing here as well, with pastiches of Marilyn Monroe, Judy Garland, Julie Andrews and Shirley Bassey, cleverly woven into the narrative. There are beautifully clumsy references to Plath and Woolf as well, underlining both Violet’s pretentiousness and her immaturity. There’s a lot going on within this script.

The play works well in the round, and Jalaly uses the space effectively, laying out her boxes (‘This is my emotional baggage”) and props to create a real sense of her myopic, chaotic world. The mother character is evoked by a scrunched up facial expression and the use of two cigarettes as props, and the climactic moment when we, the audience, become involved, is deflated instantly by Violet’s joyful declaration: “Oooh, immersive!” We are reminded, all the time, that Violet has one eye on the way her performance makes her look, however personal the story that she is telling us.

If there’s any criticism here, it’s that it’s all perhaps a bit one-note. It might be more compelling if our empathy were allowed to develop further on occasion – before the balloons are popped.

This is a funny and entertaining performance, and deserves to be seen by a bigger crowd than is here tonight. Make the trip; you won’t be disappointed.

4 stars

Susan Singfield