Spotlites

Cracked Tiles

2016CRACKED_AVH

27/08/16

Spotlites, Edinburgh

The Edinburgh Fringe has nearly come to an end and yet, there are still some fabulous shows to be caught before it breathes its last for another year.

Take Cracked Tiles, for example. This beautifully crafted monologue, written and performed by Lorenzo Novani, is the downbeat tale of a young man who inherits a Glasgow fish and chip shop from his father Aldo. The place has been there for decades and Aldo spent every spare hour there, so much so, that as a child, Riccardo barely ever saw him. Now, after years living away from home, he returns to discover that what everyone regarded as ‘Aldo’s little goldmine’ is anything but that. One look through the accounts suggests that things have been going downhill for years…

This play is about the fractured relationship between a father and son. It has the unmistakable ring of truth about it and Novani is quite staggering as Riccardo, as he switches effortlessly from character to character, portraying old Italian-Scottish relatives and cantankerous customers with ease.

The play’s heartbreaking conclusion had me in floods of tears. If you’re looking for something special to finish off the Fringe on a high note, please consider this little gem. It’s an absolute delight.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Advertisements

The South Afreakins

2016SOUTHAF_AVI

25/08/16

Spotlites, Edinburgh

The South Afreakins is a duologue performed as a monologue, a two-hander expertly performed by a single actor. And, my word, it’s really very good indeed.

Robyn Paterson is a playwright and actor, and she’s clearly talented in both fields. This piece, inspired by her parents’ immigration from South Africa to New Zealand, is all about displacement and belonging, and the difficult relationship so many immigrants have with ‘home’ (is it where you live or where you’re from, where you fall in love or where you lose someone?). We see Gordon and Helene, newly retired, scared by the violence erupting in South Africa, and keen to start a new life elsewhere. New Zealand appeals to Helene far more than to Gordon; he wants to stay where his roots are. But Helene refuses to live in fear; she knows she’ll be poorer in New Zealand – no servants for her there! – but she wants to live a peaceful life. And Gordon loves her, of course he does, and so he goes along.

Paterson switches effortlessly between characters; a simple shift in the body language, a tilt of the head or a shrug of the shoulders, and we know exactly who she is supposed to be. It’s captivating; we are completely drawn into their story, and our emotions are wrapped up in theirs.

It seems a simple tale, but it covers a lot. There’s a lightness of touch which means that, although it’s not the focus of the piece, Helene’s instinctive racism is exposed, as well as her wish to deny it, even to herself. We know that the violence that frightens Helene is that of the oppressed rising up against the oppressor, and we know that Helene represents the oppressor here. But she is just a woman, living the life she was born into, coping, like we all cope, with the cards we are dealt.

It’s a subtle, thought-provoking piece, that has us laughing and then stops us short. I highly recommend you catch it while you can. It’s only here in Edinburgh for three more days!

4.8 stars

Susan Singfield

Unseen

2016UNSEEN_AVH

24/08/16

Spotlites, Edinburgh

Unseen is a play about homelessness, and it’s clearly been meticulously researched. Holly (Ashley McLean, who also wrote and directed the piece) is homeless after losing her job and falling out with her friends; Maria (Lara Fabiani) is an old acquaintance, whose world-view is challenged by a jolt of recognition: someone she actually knows is huddled under a sleeping bag in the street. This makes her question her own security, as well as her attitude to the rough sleepers she passes every day.

Maria is ‘us’; she’s the filter for the audience.Holly is ‘them’, the nameless, ignored men and women, whose shattered lives should shame us all. What sort of a society is this, where the safety net is so full of holes? We live in the world’s sixth richest country; how can this be acceptable?

The issues are well articulated here. Holly is a believable character with credible responses to the situation she finds herself in. Maria’s sense of unease, her feelings of guilt, sympathy and fascination, are conveyed with conviction. If there’s a problem, it’s with the narrative drive. Sometimes it all feels a little too much like a lecture; the same ideas could be conveyed with a lighter touch, perhaps? And I’d like to learn more about Maria and to see how their friendship develops – and the complications their unequal positions might create. I’d like a stronger character arc, I suppose, to really draw me in to the girls’ stories.

But, all in all, this is a very worthy piece, which certainly wears its heart on its sleeve.

3 stars

Susan Singfield

Evil

2016EVIL_AVI

12/08/16

Spotlites, Edinburgh

Evil is nobody’s idea of a fun day out at the theatre. It’s an emotionally demanding piece.

A searing monologue, adapted by Benny Haag from a novel by Jan Guillou, it’s brilliantly performed by Jesper Arin. It’s the story of Erik, a young Swedish boy who has been systematically brutalised by his father (‘the old man’ as Erik habitually refers to him), ritually beaten on an everyday basis. When the chance finally comes for him to escape to a prestigious boarding school, Erik jumps at the chance; but it isn’t long before he realises that the institution – Stjarnhov near Stockholm – is every bit as vicious as the place from which he has recently fled.

Arin is a compelling actor – he lays out the story in a cool, matter-of-fact tone, never flinching from detail, drawing us completely into the narrative. Perhaps it’s the fact that I had a school background that was horribly similar to the events outlined here, that made this story so personally affecting; or perhaps its simply that it’s so beautifully written, it would have the same affect on just about anyone. Whatever the case, this is a remarkable piece of storytelling that deserves to be seen by as wide an audience as possible.

Just don’t expect to come out laughing…

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

The One Legged Man Show

2016ONELEGH_AVG

10/08/16

Spotlites, Edinburgh

Nils Bergstrand is the one-legged man in question, and this auto-biographical show charts his attempts to come to terms with losing a limb. He was shot in a bar in Thailand one fateful New Year’s eve (wrong place, wrong time – the bullet was never meant for him), and the subsequent amputation changed his life forever. Here, he uses musical theatre as a kind of catharsis, performing a series of original cabaret songs that take us through the dark times until we emerge to see a present that looks remarkably bright.

Bergstrand has a lovely singing voice, and there are moments here that evoke real tears (the song where he begs his girlfriend not to leave him alone is a standout). His diaries from the past reveal  a tendency towards the poetic, and it’s certainly an affecting tale.

It does all feel a little earnest, a little – dare I say? – American, with the kind of self-help vibe that always makes me feel a bit uncomfortable. And the piano is too loud at times, so that I can’t hear all of the lyrics to some of the songs. But, overall, it’s a story worth hearing, and it’s great to know Nils has the happy ending he deserves.

3 stars

Susan Singfield

 

Gratiano

Unknown

04/08/16

Spotlites, Edinburgh

There’s a fascinating idea behind Gratiano.

Take one of the minor players from The Merchant of Venice, (the comedy sidekick who no-one quite remembers), transport him forward in time to 1940s Italy during the rise of Mussolini, and have him re-examine his role in the events of one of Shakespeare’s most enduring plays. A monologue, written and performed by Ross Ericson, this opening night show is somewhat marred by the fact that only a few people have actually turned out to see it – but it’s early days at the Fringe and there’s plenty of time for this to find the right audience. The play is beautifully scripted and gamely performed – and it offers views about fascism and racism that seem powerfully prescient given what’s happening in the world right now.

Ericson’s tale imagines the consequences of the original play’s events: something terrible has happened to Gratiano’s old friend, Bassanio. He’s been found murdered and the police are wondering if his former best friend might have been involved. Gratiano, of course, is quick to dispel such notions. After all, he and Bassanio parted ways years ago. So where’s the motive?

Spoken in contemporary language, this is compelling stuff and some passages – particularly the observations about the concentration camps spill over from prose into sheer poetry. Those who are looking to find a new approach to a time-honoured classic could do a lot worse than investigate this.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Charolais

2015CHAROLA_XS

27/08/15

Spotlites, Hanover Street, Edinburgh

With such a variety of shows on offer at the Fringe, there’s inevitably a range of quality here too. Now and again, though, it’s possible to see something really rather special.

And Charolais is one such thing.

Written and performed by Noni Stapleton, this is an unlikely comedy about a young Irish woman and the jealousy she feels towards a beautiful heifer. The cow, a Charolais belonging to her farmer boyfriend, takes up far too much of his attention, and his mother, Brede, demands what’s left. Siobhan, it seems, must fight to win his love.

It’s an unusual tale, as beautifully written as it is acted. This is truly an object lesson in characterisation: a one-woman performance that not only makes us laugh and cry, but also brings to life a horny cow. Really, the episodes where Stapleton embodies ‘Charolais’ are extraordinary: she drops her jaw, lowers her stance, sticks out her backside, and becomes the cow. The lowing-singing is a lovely touch, and the French accent an added delight.

As this year’s festival heads towards its end, there are only three more chances left to see this show. Don’t miss out: get a ticket now.

5 stars

Susan Singfield