Summerhall

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

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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

 

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

Big Aftermath of a Small Disclosure

14/08/18

Summerhall, Edinburgh

What I love most about the Fringe is the sheer variety of what’s on offer. Two weeks into a rigorous viewing timetable, patterns start to emerge (for example, table lamps and portable cassette recorders are popular props this year); I start to think maybe I’ve seen it all. And then I find myself in Summerhall, watching ATC’s Big Aftermath of a Small Disclosure and am reassured that theatre still offers endless possibilities, that I can still be surprised.

We start with a bare stage and two characters, Jon (Abhin Galeya) and Louise (Wendy Kweh). They cross, meet in the middle, and Jon tells Louise he is thinking of leaving town. Their dialogue comes in short, staccato bursts, spare and unrevealing. It’s an intriguing opening, the bare bones of an idea. When Johan (Sam Callis) and Sjon (Mark Weinman) join them, the stylised he-said-she-said repetition is both funny and strangely alienating – but slowly, slyly, the power dynamics are revealed, and we see the characters pacing, circling, approaching and retreating, vying for control and understanding of the crisis created by Jon’s simple announcement.

This is choreography as much as direction: the moves become more complex as the drama is fleshed out, and it’s beautifully crafted by Alice Malin. Layer by layer, we learn about the group: who they are, what they mean to each other, what Jon’s leaving really signifies. The set grows with each round of revelations too: now we have grass, now chairs, now beer bottles and other props. The whole piece is an illumination of the storytelling process, how we start knowing nothing and are fed details piecemeal.

Magne van den Berg’s script, translated by Purni Morell, is oddly ethereal; the characters’ speech patterns are slightly jarring – it has a disorienting effect. I like it: it’s the opposite of naturalism; nobody speaks like this, with such precision and control. And yet, even in its strangeness, it’s all very recognisable: the unuttered agendas, the circling around real issues.

A thought-provoking, unusual piece – and one I highly recommend.

4.5 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