Zoo Southside

How To Use a Washing Machine

26/08/19

Zoo Southside, Edinburgh

And so here it is: our final show of Edfringe 2019. And for Bouquets and Brickbats, it’s Slam Theatre’s latest production. We really don’t know what to expect from this, but the presence of a string quartet on stage is promising. How To Use a Washing Machine is a new musical, and, as it turns out, a fairly unusual one.

It’s the story of James (Max Cadman) and Cass (Amelye Moulton), two disaffected siblings called back to the home they grew up in because their parents are going through a marriage breakup. They are required to help put things in order, to sort through the detritus of their childhoods, so they can decide what to keep and what to dump. Max is a successful banker, who has sacrificed his youthful dreams of being a dancer to make a repectable living. Cass hasn’t quite given up on her artistic ambitions and is leading a rather less comfortable existence in a rundown flat in London. The two have respective axes to grind. They have fallen out in the past, but neither of them is quite prepared to take the blame for the rift.

There’s much about this production that I like: the urgent, strident rhythms of the music by Joe Davis, the acerbic lyrics by Georgie Botham, and the performances of the two young leads are also top notch. Narratively though, the story feels a little one-note. After a powerful opening section, which depicts the siblings’ travails as they travel to the  parental home during adverse weather conditions, the middle stretch feels as though it needs to progress a little more than it actually does. It seems to take Max and Cassie an age to settle their differences.

Furthermore, though we’re told that the warring parents are somewhere else in the house, arguing with each other, there really isn’t much sense of their presence in this production. I want to have a better picture of them.

The piece regains its momentum in the final third, and goes out on a rousing note, with a reprise of the memorable opening song. How To Use a Washing Machine makes a unusual culmination to Edfringe 2019 and, ultimately, that’s what this festival is all about.

Anyhow, it’s been emotional – and now we need to get some sleep.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

Luna Park

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19/08/16

Zoo Southside, Edinburgh

It’s the morning of Delmore’s eighteenth birthday and, on a cold winter’s day during the great American depression, he and his mother, Rose (Eugenia Caruso) are barely getting by. There’s no money for a birthday cake and Rose can’t even motivate herself to sew up the tear in her cardigan. That night, Delmore (Jesse Rutherford) has a dream, and we’re taken with him into a series of flashbacks charting his parents’ relationship, from the optimism of their first date in Luna Park on Coney Island, to the devastation of their marriage falling apart.

Written by Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Donald Margulies, Luna Park is a piece about coming of age, about finding your own place in the world and accepting who your parents are. It’s nicely acted (Caruso is particularly good in her role), and the direction is visually very pleasing, particularly the balletic movement in the transitions between scenes. If there’s a criticism here, it’s that the various household objects used to delineate different areas of the house sometimes feel too much like clutter; on this small stage, less would almost certainly be more.

The play itself has a beautiful simplicity, which helps to make the characters utterly believable, but the tension seems to dissipate quite quickly, and there isn’t much of a denouement; we’re left feeling that we’ve witnessed maybe half of something very good, which is a real shame.

3.5 stars

Philip Caveney & Susan Singfield

The Blind Date Project

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07/08/16

Zoo Southside, Edinburgh

The Blind Date Project is a delicious slice of improv theatre, with a mischievous wit that makes it a delight. Staged in the cabaret bar at Zoo Southside, the realism here is so heightened that you can almost believe you’re actually witnessing a moment in someone’s life.

As we enter the bar, there’s a relaxed atmosphere. A woman (Margaux Susi) is singing karaoke; we buy drinks, sit ourselves down at little tables, look at the ‘karaoke cards’ laid out before us. If we want, we can request a song to perform. We chat, check our phones, moan about how uncomfortable the seats are, check our phones again, sing along to familiar lines. There are two stools by the bar, elevated on a tiny platform. A woman comes in and sits on one of these. We register her presence, but otherwise just carry on.

It’s all so beautifully done. There’s a subtle lighting change; the Karaoke Queen leaves the stage and goes to tend the bar. A man runs in and sits down beside the woman. They introduce themselves to one another. And the show’s begun.

The woman is Bojana Novakovic, the creator of this piece. She’s playing Anna; she plays Anna every night. The man is Max, played by JJ Whitehead. And this is his first (and only) performance; Anna’s date is different every time. There is no script. The actors are sent directions via texts and phone calls, and have to respond in the moment to everything that is thrown at them. And, my word, it works.

I have rarely been so utterly absorbed in a play. JJ Whitehead is just lovely, gamely dealing with Anna’s neuroses in a kind, accepting, non-judgemental way. He’s confident and funny and, if he’s nervous, it’s okay, because they look like first-date nerves. His performance makes us warm to him, and we resolve to try to catch his own fringe show, if we can fit it in (Fool Disclosure, Liquid Room Annexe, 20:45).

Novakovic is enchanting. Her Anna is drunk and needy, serious and sweet. She seems like a real, complex person, one you’d admire as well as want to protect. Susi, behind the bar, brings a welcome cynicism to the date; her deadpan, sardonic responses are very funny indeed.

I loved this piece. I want to see it again, to see how the dynamic changes when there’s someone else in the other seat. Don’t miss this one; it’s a real treat.

5 stars

Susan Singfield