Summerhall

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

 

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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

The Basement Tapes

09/08/18

Summerhall, Edinburgh

Zanetti Productions’ The Basement Tapes is a startling piece of theatre, compelling and surprising, throbbing with energy. The site-specific environment of the creepily named ‘Former Women’s Locker Room’, deep in the bowels of the Summerhall building, all clanking radiator pipes and low ceilings, enhances the rising tension, and we find ourselves utterly enthralled.

Stella Reid plays a girl who, after her grandmother’s death, is tasked with clearing out her home. We’re with her in the cluttered basement, resonant with memories, boxes everywhere. The girl is part way through her onerous assignment: some of the boxes are open, their contents strewn around the room. She’s clearly bored, dancing as she works, pausing to order pizza, trying on her grandma’s coat. She grapples with unfamiliar technology: calling her mum via a landline, because there’s no mobile signal here; intrigued by an old tape recorder and a bag full of cassettes.

From hereon in, the story revolves around those cassettes, those titular basement tapes. The eerie, disembodied voice of her dead grandmother weaves its way into the tale, taking us (and the girl) on a strange journey, with macabre revelations that really make the spine tingle.

The atmosphere is fraught, crackling like the electricity that intermittently cuts out, leaving us in darkness as black as the secrets that have been set free. Stella Reid’s performance is powerful and riveting; I realise, as I leave, that I have been holding my breath.

An exciting, innovative production from this award-winning New Zealand company, the show is deservedly sold out for much of its run. If you can, get hold of a ticket now while there are still a few available.

4.5 stars

Susan Singfield

Lovecraft (Not the Sex Shop in Cardiff)

Lovecraft1.jpg

05/08/18

Summerhall, Edinburgh

Sporting one of the most unforgettable titles of the festival, Lovecraft (Not the Sex Shop in Cardiff) is the creation of Carys Eleri. She swaggers into Summerhall’s Red Lecture Theatre from behind the audience, announcing into a microphone that she is the goddess of love and that she is here to spread the word.

I’ll admit that at first I don’t think I’m going to like this very much but, happily, I’m wrong. Eleri’s vivacious personality soon wins me over and I start to enjoy her witty and enthusiastically presented songs, which range in style from hip-hop to power ballad and all points in between. It helps that she has a terrific singing voice and the kind of bubbly personality that you can’t help but like.

She promptly takes us on a picaresque journey through her (mostly disastrous) love life. She’s clearly done some research here, concentrating on the science of human attraction. Her subjects include endorphins, neuro-transmitters and dopamine and, if that all sounds a bit technical, don’t worry, because these bits are accompanied by colourful and amusing animations that cleverly illustrate what she’s talking about.

The audience is also treated to a ‘cwtch’ apiece (if you’re not Welsh, you’ll need to see the show to find out exactly what that is) and a taste of some very nice dairy and nut-free chocolate, which let’s face it, is not something you’ll get at many Fringe shows.

Those looking for a bit of light relief from the more serious fare on offer at the Fringe could do a lot worse than head up to Summerhall to catch this funny and engaging show. Unless you’re made of stone, you’ll have a really good time.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

 

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

Joanne Ryan: Eggsistentialism

07/08/17

Summerhall, Edinburgh

Eggsistentialism is an absolute gem of a show. Written and performed by Irish actor Joanne Ryan, it tells the very private story of a woman trying to decide whether or not she’d like to have a child. But it’s a lot more than that: it’s also a history of Ireland and its social, sexual history. Deftly constructed, so that it feels light and palatable even when it’s punching hard, this is a clever piece of work, which made me laugh out loud, but also brought me to tears.

Ryan is an extremely engaging performer, with wit and warmth enough to envelop her audience. There are animations too: this is a multi-media piece. But it never feels heavy-handed, or techy-for-the-sake-of-it, like such things sometimes do. The animations here are charming and quirky, and used to excellent effect, contextualising Ryan’s modern-day dilemma and adding layers of meaning to the fears she faces. Veronica Coburn’s direction is lovely too: there’s an ease and subtlety to the whole production, which makes it most enjoyable to watch.

This is a must-see: a deeply personal play with universal appeal. Don’t miss it.

5 stars

Susan Singfield

 

The Trial

People-Zoo-The-Trial-Image

08/08/16

Summerhall, Edinburgh

Adapted by People Zoo Productions, as part of the Rose Bruford College season at Summerhall, Franz Kafka’s ultimate tale of paranoia and alienation is presented here as an absurd farce with the volume cranked up to eleven. On his 30th birthday, Josef K (William J Holstead) wakes one morning to find himself under arrest. He has no idea what his supposed crime is or even exactly who is accusing him, but he has embarked on a slippery downward path that will eventually lead him to his own destruction.

This stylish and thought-provoking production has already won a couple of prestigious awards at this year’s Manchester Fringe Festival and it’s easy to see why. There are elements of physical theatre here (the stage combat is particularly assured) and characters are played in a grotesque, almost cartoonish fashion. The scene in which K is instructed to beat three teenage girls in order to prove his innocence is particularly chilling. I liked the simple but effective staging of the story and the way in which the six strong cast switched effortlessly from character to character, providing their own musical accompaniment along the way.

It’s always daunting to take on such a famous work but People Zoo rise to the challenge. This powerful and effective play, ably directed by Craig Sanders, is definitely one to watch at this year’s fringe.

4 stars

Philip Caveney