Based on James Joyce's seminal novel, Ulysses, this is the tale of Leopold Bloom, an Irish philanderer, and his day in the city of Dublin, exploring his fears and familial insecurities. Set against the backdrop of a country on the verge of revolution, Glasgow's Tron Theatre Company bring one of the most studied books of the twentieth century to the stage in this exciting, vulgar and richly textured production.
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Let me be frank: if you think you know what you’re about to see based on the play’s summary, you’d be wrong. Described as a “fast-paced, brutally poignant coming of age story” the play is actually a lot more entertaining than it sounds. Two is the Beginning of the End is quite possibly the closest fiction can get to reality. Often blurring the lines between characters, actors, spectators and directors, the play is much like adolescence: short, energetic, awkward and nostalgic.
The Tower Theatre Company's production of 'Entertaining Mr Orton' by Martin Mulgrew imagines Joe Orton's story the way the playwright himself would have told it. Whilst this makes for interesting viewing, the very Sixties-led humour means that you end up glad that certain jokes are no longer in use.
Surreal staging meets Hitchcock’s bleak tale of the ‘The Birds’. This original work tackles four forgotten victims of the feathered fiends’ attack, now holed up in Coronet Cinema. These elderly ladies, played by the spritely Devon-based Jammy Voo company, trained at the prestigious Jacques Lecoq School of Theatre in Paris.
Summerhall's Victorian Anatomy Lecture Theatre plays host to the tale of one isolated woman, lost in tragedy and to the necessity of making lists.
The story begins with smoke. It ends with a little boy's grey face. Mark O'Rowe's sensational two-man play, now re-imagined as a one-man tour de force, bursts forth from actor Tom Vaughan-Lawlor like a fever.
David Cameron, David Beckham and Prince William, sharing a hotel during England’s bid for the 2016 World Cup. It should have been brilliant.
One of the most highly-anticipated shows of the Fringe, Making News is a fast-moving satire about the BBC. It is the latest production from Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky, writers of last year’s hit Coalition.
As the audience files into the darkened ballroom, the stage is already occupied: three men sit at three separate desks, writing letters. They are immersed in their tasks, unaware of the audience’s arrival. The lights dim further, and a recorded voice begins: a news report outlining the horrific crimes committed by each of the men: Ian Brady, the Moors Murderer; Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper; and Dennis Nilsen, the Muswell Hill Murderer.
Apparently, the average person lives for 29146.3 days (that's 79.8 years to you and me). Though 'On the One Hand' begins with this and other similar statistical assessments of human life, this fantastically moving production goes on to prove that we are much more than boxes we tick on forms, or the roles that life deals us.
Comparisons to The League of Gentlemen should be taken as well deserved flattery, though I suspect this young company are perhaps a little too cool to take on the mantle of Messrs. Dyson Gatiss, Pemberton and Shearsmith. There’s a bit of Tim Burton in there too along with a lavish helping of Grizzly Tales for Gruesome Kids (younger readers may miss that reference).
Missing is an astonishing blend of physical theatre, dance and puppetry, in which creator Amit Lahav displays a mastery over set mechanics and movement to rival that of Robert Lepage. Whilst each of these elements are singularly impressive, the company’s most significant achievement is that they never once let the production overwhelm its own narrative. Lily’s story is given the space it needs to breathe and is sure to strike a chord with anyone who has ever felt that a piece of them has gone missing – be it through depression, trauma, growing older or inattentiveness. It is rare to see such technical theatre wizardry serve so small and human a story so well.
Fight Night is the live theatre version of a Rubik's cube: a twisting, turning puzzle box that an audience can literally get its hands on. On entry, each audience member is given a device much like a calculator, before being addressed by tonight’s ‘host.’ He explains that over the course of the evening we will be given questions viewable on the screens hanging above his head, we will then be given a series of numerical options. The questions themselves relate directly to what’s happening on stage as we begin to vote which actors stay and which go.
Puppets, video footage and physical movement combine to make this adaptation of Kafka’s Metamorphosis both inventive and original. In this rendition, Gregor, the travelling salesman-turned-insect, is a young lady and instead of being transformed into a giant bug, she wakes up to find she has become an old woman.
The lights go up on a tiny black-draped stage to show a heavily-bearded Karl Marx bending over a desk, a handgun firmly in his mouth. Marx (Ben Blow, who also wrote the play) is a drunken syphilitic waster who frequents prostitutes and bullies his faithful but weak sidekick, Friedrich Engels, played by Mathew Jebb. While Europe is gripped by revolution, Marx gets drunk and has lots of sex, and Engels runs around doing whatever Marx tells him (“He said he’d hurt my Mum if I didn’t.”), with hilarious results.
Triggered by the brutal gang rape on a bus in Delhi last December of Jyoti Singh Pandey, nicknamed 'Nirbhaya' (the fearless one) by the press, women and men in their thousands came together at last to protest about the treatment of women and girls in India.
There was already a substantial queue for this lunchtime show very early on, and with the legend that is Steven Berkoff performing his new material, it’s no surprise that so many are impatient to see it, having predicted that it's bound to be a triumph.
An immensely provocative, uncomfortable and powerful production, stunningly played by the Badac theatre company, Anna tells the stories of the Russian journalist, Anna Politkovskaya, and those she interviewed during the second Russia/Chechnya war – victims of torture and abuse, parents of abducted children, soldiers overseeing the pits where prisoners of war were kept, trying to suppress her reports. The play builds inevitably towards her murder in the lift of her apartment block in 2006.
Scroobius Pip is enlightening spoken word for the masses. Bearded, brilliant and dressed in black, Pip introduces himself and announces that this is the first time he’s taken a tour to the Fringe. Pip has kindly made sure that his Pleasance room contains a bar, so that people might feel more comfortable as he recites his poetry.
The soul-crushing, mind-bending inertia of an office that could be anywhere in the world is morphed into a show of high-octane fights, explosions and incredible stunts.
and a half
Solomon and Marion is a moving tale of redemption, forgiveness and loneliness. Marion (Dame Janet Suzman) is an ageing divorcée, living alone in a post-apartheid South Africa. Trapped by the love she has for her country, she remains after her children and husband have left. It is this lonely, self-imposed exile into which the young Solomon (Khayalethu Anthony) arrives.
Chalk Farm is a mixture of movement, acting and video, set against the backdrop of last year's London riots. It revolves around the relationship between hard-working single mother Maggie (Julia Taudevin) and her teenage son Jamie (Thomas Dennis).
Where to begin? Kiss Me Honey, Honey! is a tour de force from award-winning playwright Philip Meeks, which chronicles the lives of two middle-aged men, both down on their luck and with a mutual love of Shirley Bassey. With well-written, snappy dialogue, Meeks has once again created a memorable show that is sure to be a sell-out success throughout the festival.
The first scene of The Babysitter is so perfectly constructed, it's easy to see why the cast and crew left the National Student Drama Festival with so many awards. It blisters with familial tensions, both veiled and enabled by the characters' political opinions. The dialogue is real, the set-up delicious; but from here on in the play, billed as a comedy, takes bizarre paths. It treads into both farce and kitchen-sink drama at the expense of the play's tone and otherwise meticulous depiction of middle-class dynamics.
A charming and ethereal promenade performance of Shakespeare's final completed play, The Tempest in the Firth of Forth is performed by students of the University of St Andrews, on the ground and beaches of Hopetoun estate. Live music, and the crackling of seashells under the audience's feet, accompany the action.
Described as a ‘hoochie-coochie carnival for the end of time’, Omega offers a harrowing insight into the award winning blackSkywhite Theatre Company’s bleak view of the future. The show entails a series of gothic vignettes, each more eerie than the last, compered by a somewhat Machiavellian ring leader who delivers sharp and piercing introductions that are only overshadowed by the sheer unsettling nature of the acts themselves.
The lights come up on a stage empty of people, but bristling with guitars, amps and a drum kit. Instead of a play, the venue feels like you've bought a ticket to see your favourite indie band from the late nineties.
Walking into the theatre, the audience is confronted by a large cube made out of a thin, see-through fabric. Before the show had begun and whilst everyone was finding their seats, The Pilot was already watching us from the inside, possibly judging, too. This is our unnamed protagonist, a female F-16 pilot; a rough-and-tumble badass who looks ready to either beat you to a pulp, or slap you on the back and buy you a beer. She tells us her story, never leaving her claustrophobic, gossamer prison.
As ‘Issues in Focus’ talk show host interviews an Extremism ‘expert’, what begins as straightforward political and media satire soon spirals into farcical meaninglessness. It's a vast questioning of reality and everyone who thinks they might know what that is. Attacking jargonese, empty rhetoric, scaremongering tactics and the media presentation of ‘facts’ to the world, C J Hopkins’ play is replete with rapid-fire dialogue, witty satire and humorous undercuttings of those who claim to offer authoritative statements on important issues with little to substantiate their claims – after all, they don’t need to explain what they’re talking about, because everybody already knows what they mean.
Listed as theatre but more appropriately described as comedic storytelling, The Weary Land is a heartfelt, often hilarious autobiographical tale delivered with utter commitment by ultra-charming actor and comedian, Phil Nicol.
The Glaswegian art world collides against the criminal underworld in this powerful one woman show by David Harrower.
Blythe Duff - best known as Detective Inspector Jackie Reid on Taggart - plays Ciara, the daughter of local gangster, Mick, as she tries to turn her art gallery into a success. But the long shadow of her father's dark past, and her husband Bryan's dodgy dealings, place her aspirations in serious danger.
Duff commands full attention, using masterful timing and delivery to bring shock, intrigue and dark humour to Harrower's fine script. Fantastic imagery, brilliant colloquiums and intense tragedy work together to deliver a performance that is at times hilarious and at other points, pretty unsettling. It's a tale of a woman's attempt to move on in a world of Glasgow's 'hard men'; where violent revenge threatens to unravel any and all achievements.
The set - dark and grey, with brick and concrete - convey's Glasgow's harsher, industrial edge, helping Duff to shine in an otherwise bleak environment. Sparse use of music brings some variation and atmosphere, but otherwise Duff is given the show to carry alone, armed only with a sensuous dress and sharp script. A few fluffed lines can be forgiven for what is otherwise a powerful and compelling performance.
Ciara is excellent and thought-provoking entertainment for those comfortable with stories of brutal violence and liberal swearing.
Ciara, Traverse Theatre, times vary
The clanking of chains, the harsh, rusted cages of the prisoners' cells looming above you. There's a distinct chill in the air to the Assembly Rooms' Music Hall as the dry ice menacingly drifts about.
Fearless, inventive and without a doubt unique, Phill Jupitus’ show (one of three he’s doing this year at the Fringe) changes every single night.
Real life mother and son lay everything bare in this brutally honest and endearingly vulnerable onslaught of sight, sound and even smell, played by Ann and Feidlim Cannon. Audience interaction is at the forefront of the performance as we are each handed a balloon as we enter the auditorium, and the opening of the performance is a direct welcome to what, essentially, is a voyeuristic glimpse into a family’s struggle with the grieving process.
This thought-provoking show by Robert Softley asks us to join him in an uplifting and graphic look at disability and self-worth. Told through the anecdotes of those that have lived with a variety of disfigurements and disabilities, including his own, this show holds its own.
No props. No set. Just one stage and one woman. Angela, played by Gemma Whelan, ventures out into the glaring spotlight to a packed audience. Dark Vanilla Jungle begins. What a show it is.
Frightening, moving, surprising and consistently fascinating is Quietly's take on the aftermath of Northern Ireland's troubles. Set entirely in Belfast, we delve deep into a country that is trying to right itself after thirty years of bloodshed. The story begins with a red herring, as the interaction of Robert (Robert Zawadski), a Polish barman interested only in the footy game and Jimmy (Patrick O'Kane), the laconic patron. Jimmy prowls the stage like a caged animal, seemingly uninterested, exuding threat and violence. What we do hear about him personally is deeply menacing: kneecapped at seventeen, offering to deal out 'hurt' to the youths hanging around outside his bar. The promise of violence follows him like a dark cloud. This may have gone on for ten, fifteen minutes but so engrossing was the spectacle that no one was checking their watch.
The real story doesn't begin until the arrival of Ian (Declan Conlon).
Astonishingly fast-paced and packed with emotion, Long Live The Little Knife is an explosion of money, paint and tears from Glaswegian 'Fringe institution' David Leddy. In this – purportedly true – story of a couple that meet Leddy in a pub and tell him of their world, this self-aware absurdist piece drags you into the world of fraud and forgery, where nothing is quite as it seems.
Melmoth, a tormented man who has struck a Faustian deal with the devil, is doomed to roam the earth and appear to mortals only in their darkest hours. In this ambitious adaptation of Charles Matruin's 1820 Gothic novel, Glasgow-based playwright Nicola McCartney takes representative stories from the hefty 700-page original text and mixes in a robust dose of black humour and absurdity to depict the underbelly of human nature.
and a half
From the outset, L.O.V.E is a tough show to explain. A mixture of dance, physical theatre and acting, it blends Shakespeare's sonnets into a tale of passion, jealousy and tenderness. It is a truly visceral experience. Straight out of the box, you know you're in for an extreme ride; Shakespeare's poetry mixed with foul language, laughing abandon - oh, and a bit of Shirley Bassey. Not for the faint of heart.
With minimal set, props or gimmicky effects, it was down to the scripts, direction and actor's skill to hold our attention for the full hour in Keir McAllister's play, "Hindsight". I, for one, could not take my eyes off the stage.
A magical retelling of the Odyssey from a kitchen table puts the skills of puppeteer Philippe Genty into perspective
Fans of Philippe Genty are used to seeing puppetry on a very big scale. The internationally lauded French master specialises in out-size, fantastical visions: a woman cradled in an enormous blue hand; a man colliding with a floating pink orb; a creepy insect the size of a human being crawling the stage; a platoon of naked babies parachuting from above...
By contrast, the 75-year-old’s latest show is an intimate affair. Pitched at family audiences, Dustpan Odyssey takes place on nothing bigger than a table top. In this light-hearted retelling of Homer’s ancient Greek epic, the characters and props are household objects. Our wandering hero Odysseus is played by a corkscrew. His men are chocolates and his boat is a dustpan set on top of a brush with a fan for a sail. A soda fountain is a whale spurting up water and the table as sea, desert and island.
“This time we’re bringing a very small show but Philippe never has a small imagination,” says Mary Underwood, Genty’s wife and collaborator of 45 years. “When Philippe picks an object it has to have a metaphorical meaning.”
Performed in English by three actors, Dustpan Odyssey is enlivened by songs and constant movement. With the complicity of the audience, the transformation is complete. “The puppet is very real and not an object any more,” says Genty. “It’s much more imaginative.”
To grown-ups, this may seem unusual. To younger audiences, it is second nature. When children are at play, they continually transform one thing into another. “The idea of object theatre comes from the children,” says Underwood. “If you watch children playing, they will take an object and transform it into a boat or a snake.”
Genty, who remains active despite suffering a stroke two years ago, attributes his restless imagination and roaming spirit to a troubled childhood. “When I was six, my father was killed in a skiing accident and my mother didn’t tell me he had been killed until a year later. I felt very guilty because she put me straight into a boarding school. I escaped from 16 boarding schools. I just couldn’t stand the discipline.”
His next escape was into the arts. He qualified as a graphic designer before running off on a four-year world tour in a 2CV. Nowadays, Philippe escapes into the world of the imagination where he finds the theme of escape cropping up time and time again.
Small-scale or large, he refuses to accept barriers, bringing in whatever technique serves his intentions best. “We take a long time to pick our artists,” says Underwood. “We always say to them, ‘If you want to be an actor and just talk, you’re not for us. If you want to be a dancer and just want to dance, you’re not for us. You have to learn to manipulate, to talk and to move.’”
Words Mark Fisher
When & Where
Dustpan Odyssey, New Town Theatre, 14 - 25 August, 12.10pm. From £6, Tel: 0131 220 0143
If you think you know juggling, wait till you see it blended with dance and theatre in this exuberant show
With back-to-back shows running in every venue during the Fringe, one of the key skills all companies must master is a quick clean-up. For London-based Gandini Juggling, this matters more than most.
Because at the end of each performance of Smashed, Gandini’s critically acclaimed blend of dance, theatre and juggling, there’s a bit of a mess. Eighty apples, bitten, thrown and dropped, litter the stage, along with four sets of crockery smashed to pieces by nine talented and exuberant jugglers.
“It normally takes 15 to 20 minutes to clear it all up,” says company founder Sean Gandini. “In France, where we work a lot, they have these enormous cleaning machines. But in Edinburgh, I think we’ll have to get all nine performers plus the stage manager cleaning up. There’s a stand-up comedian on after us, so hopefully we’ll be OK.”
Practicalities aside, Smashed is entertaining; receiving praise for its humour, soundtrack (featuring everything from country to classical) and incredible juggling. Dance theatre aficionados in the audience will also spot a distinct reference to the late, great Pina Bausch, and in particular her 1978 work Kontakthof.
“In the dance world, there’s a clear acknowledgement of Pina’s influence, which is enormous,” says Gandini. “But in the circus world, the influence is there but it’s never really been acknowledged. So when she died in 2009, we wanted to pay tribute to her.”
It’s hard not to be impressed by the fact that all nine of the jugglers coming to Edinburgh have been training and performing for over ten years, and “on a good day” Gandini says he can juggle nine objects at the same time (“seven on an average day”). And yet as a theatrical artform, juggling rarely receives the recognition it deserves. “In the UK, juggling has an unfortunate stereotypical association,” says Gandini. “In the last 25 years there has been a lot of very good work taking place globally. But it’s still a hard thing for people to take seriously.”
After juggling meticulously in unison for much of Smashed, the performers then let their hair down and start dropping their apples, smashing the crockery and shouting at one another. For both the audience and jugglers, it’s a cathartic moment. It also gives Gandini and his team a chance to have a sly poke at those who feel juggling can’t share the stage with higher art forms.
“There seems to be a healthy cynicism about juggling in the UK, and I quite like that,” he says. “People say, ‘You can’t really do a serious hour with juggling?’ – and then we prove them wrong. And in Smashed, when we start shouting at each other, we play on that whole perception. We performed in the Royal Opera House recently, and we were shouting, ‘Jugglers in an opera house? How ridiculous.’”
Words Kelly Apter
When & Where
Smashed, Assembly Hall, 3 - 26 August (not 13), 6.05pm. From £12, Tel: 0131 623 3030
Shakespearean actress Dame Janet Suzman is bringing audiences a post-apartheid South Africa just starting to finds its voice
From the moment Dame Janet Suzman picked up Lara Foot's play Solomon and Marion, she knew she had something very special in her hands. “It is very rare that I read a play and say immediately, ‘Oh yes, when are we going to do this?’” Suzman, the South African-born actress who made her name playing great classical and Shakespearean roles, relishes the opportunity to bring a taste of the new South Africa to the Edinburgh Fringe.
“Solomon and Marion is a great little play; a two-hander, which is also a rarity.”
She plays Marion, a lonely elderly white woman whose life is transformed by an encounter with a young black man. “It’s about replacing loss with trust and love,” she says. “An old woman finds her door open one dark and windy night and finds a young black man standing there.
“They are different in age, gender, colour and background. It is a very optimistic play because it asks people to reach across divides.
“It is a most finely balanced, beautifully written role about loss and about grief. It has the kind of optimism the new South Africa and the world needs about an unlikely friendship. The play is misleadingly comic - but it has a real sting in the tail.”
Suzman has nothing but praise for her young co-star Khayalethu Anthony - who at 25 is almost 50 years her junior and has a vastly different experience of life, having come up through theatre in the townships.
“We both got on terrifically well from day one,” she says. “He is very talented, which is the important thing.”
The actress, who left South Africa in the late 1950s, has lived in London for many years but has always stayed in touch with the theatre scene in her homeland and had a real rapport with playwright Lara Foot.
“We clicked straight away. She is my kind of gal. And we come from the same tradition which grew up around Benny Simon and the Market Theatre Laboratory in Johannesburg. It was a very famous protest theatre which grew up during the apartheid years.”
Before coming to Assembly Theatre for its European premiere, Solomon and Marion played in Johannesburg - giving Suzman an opportunity to work in her homeland. She says: “It’s exciting to be back in the country of my birth, seeing how it has grown out of all recognition.”
The country today is hugely different to the one she left behind. “My whole generation left. Everybody got out because the feeling was this place is doomed. Now lots of people are coming back.”
Nonetheless, South Africa is still struggling with the legacy of violence. “It feels very busy here. Part of it feels like Chicago in the 1930s: it is murderous and very tough.”
Playing the part of Marion in South Africa, she noticed how the theme of loss had a special resonance with audiences: “Somebody said to me at the theatre in Johannesburg, ‘Everyone who is in this audience today knows somebody who has lost someone precious.’ It’s like a country at war. There are so many people who have lost their children through violence.”
As you might expect, Suzman has been a frequent visitor to Edinburgh over the years but she anticipates her visit to the Fringe this year will be a new kind of experience.
“I have been there quite frequently - but usually in quite a grand way with the RSC. I played in the Taming of the Shrew and Hedda Gabler.
“I am very pleased to be coming back in a new piece of original work rather than a classic.”
At the age of 74, she says she would not return to live in South Africa. “I live in London because my child is there,” she explains. But, by helping to promote and celebrate the theatre of South Africa, she is proud to be helping the country to find its voice.
“Theatre plays an important role in authoritarian regimes of helping people say what needs to be said - possibly less so in a democracy.
“It is quite rare in a lifetime that you have the opportunity of being part of a new nation.”
Beyond physical prowess, beyond comedy and grace; Wunderkammer may just move you to tears
It's an hour before curtain up on the stage of Madrid’s Teatro Circo Price. High up on a pole, an acrobat is balanced weightlessly, as if he’s drifting in space. In his hand is a peacock’s feather. He takes aim and propels it downwards. At floor level, another acrobat catches its stem on his forehead and balances it magically in the air. “That’s my new favourite trick,” he cries.
It’s impressive stuff. And it’s not even in the show.
We’re nearing the end of the lengthy exercises the seven performers of Australia’s Circa go through before every performance of ‘Wunderkammer’. They start with notes from the previous night’s show, get into gear with an hour-long warm-up, then try out fresh ideas for the evening’s performance in their daily ‘show call’. What this supple young bunch of athletes get up to even as they limber up – handstands, backflips, human pyramids, tricks with feathers – is an Olympian spectacle in itself.
Which is why it comes as something of a relief to discover their director is as much of a klutz as I am. “I can’t even do a forward roll,” I confess to Yaron Lifschitz as he draws on a post-show cigarette in the balmy Spanish air. “I’ve done one and I’m still recovering,” he laughs. “I get to take out my own physical inadequacy on a bunch of people who aren’t physically inadequate. That’s a rare privilege and perhaps a sick enterprise.”
What sets Circa out from the new-circus pack, as those who saw its eponymous 2009 Fringe hit will attest, is Lifschitz’s mixing of emotional depth with the performers’ physical prowess. The company’s mission statement is to move the heart, the mind and the soul. “Our work tries to make the audience feel something beyond wow and surprise and risk,” he says. “It aims to be the expression of an emotion that doesn’t yet have a name.”
It’s an approach that takes its toll on the company. “Last night after the show one of our performers was in tears – not because anything was wrong, just because it’s really intense,” says Freyja Edney, a whizz at the hula-hoop. “We’ve all been there. It’s a show where you give so much that you affect your emotions in a profound way.”
With the mood varying from free-floating poetry to dystopian chaos by way of whimsical comedy and tender interdependence, ‘’Wunderkammer’ often seems as much like a piece of exquisite modern dance as circus. Lifschitz, however, is careful to make the distinction. “The movement languages are drawn from circus, although we do use some techniques that are drawn from dance to modulate those languages,” he says. “In dance, the movement is the thing, whereas here, I hope there’s a sense of the performance and the people. At its core, these are highly skilled acrobats doing difficult, dangerous, complex things.”
Because so much rests on their agility and precision, the acrobats are central to the creation of the show, both in the routines they perform and in their night-by-night spontaneity. Costume designer Libby McDonnell says she never knows what outfits they will turn up in from scene to scene; they just grab whatever takes their fancy backstage. “Our methods are based on a kind of jazz,” says Lifschitz. “The performers are the authors of tonight’s performance. Andy Warhol said that sex and parties were the two things you had to be there for: I’d add circus to that. It’s created in front of you and the risks are real.”
Performer Lewis West agrees: “You have to be in there feeling it and living it. The shows change. A scene might one day be happy if before the show you’re feeling happy and one day might be more intense or have a harder edge. That keeps it real and fresh.”
For the acrobats, it’s a case of double exposure. In this ‘cabinet of wonders’, they reveal themselves both emotionally and physically. In scene after scene, they remove their clothes, stripping off the layers as if to bare their souls. Jarred Dewey even manages to strip while perched precariously on a rope string.
It means they get through a lot of clothes. McDonnell’s costumes may be skimpy but they account for most of the production’s excess baggage as it tours the world. “We play with the idea of how many ways you can strip,” says West. “Sure, you can strip your clothes, but can you strip your identity, your emotions, your humanity?”
It’s an open-ended question. Lifschitz, meanwhile, has a more fundamental reason for seeing ‘Wunderkammer’: “Circus for me is simply a place in which the performers do stuff that mortals can’t do.”
Words Mark Fisher
When & Where
Circa: Wunderkammer, Underbelly, 31 July-21 August (not 7, 13, 20), 5pm. From £12, Tel: 0844 545 8252
Blythe Duff is leaving DS Jackie Reid behind and proving her mettle all over again with powerful stage performances
For 21 years, Blythe Duff was hardly away from our television screens. As DS Jackie Reid, she was the longest serving cast member in Taggart, itself one of the UK's longest-running police series. After such an innings, you wouldn't blame the East Kilbride-born actor if she decided to live off the royalties or accepted nothing but high-profile screen work. But that's not Duff's style.
Her first love is the stage and, in the past couple of years, this least starry of stars has been back on the studio-theatre circuit where she began. She has set up her own company, Datum Point, and turned in a series of top-notch performances in the most intimate of spaces.
In 2011 she was nominated for a CATS award for her starring role in David Harrower's Good With People in Glasgow's lunchtime theatre season, A Play, a Pie and a Pint. And in this year's CATS, she was named Best Female Performer for her role as a husband-killer in Rona Munro's Iron, produced by the tiny Borders company Firebrand.
"Don't get me wrong - my bank manager's face is tripping him," she laughs. "There will come a point when I'll have to go out and earn some money. I think it's just because I've been interested in the writers I've been working with and they tend to be a bit more studio. I've really enjoyed being part of the Traverse Theatre again, and now it's come to the 50th anniversary, it feels right and timely that I'm going back to rediscover what I loved when I started out."
It was thanks to her part in Good With People, which subsequently played on the Fringe and in New York, that she is back in Edinburgh in Ciara. She and playwright Harrower, the author of Knives In Hens and Blackbird, hit it off so well he wrote the new play specially for her.
"Good With People was the first time our paths had crossed," she says. "I had been in a bit of a Taggart bubble so I wasn't even massively familiar with David's work. Now that I have caught up, I can totally understand why everybody falls over themselves. To have somebody of his calibre writing with me in mind has just been lovely. He runs were wee moments past me and says, 'Do you think she would say this?' It's nice that I've had as much input."
In this one-woman show, a centrepiece of the Traverse's Fringe season, Duff plays the grown-up daughter of a Glasgow gangland crime lord. Although he is now dead and she is pursuing a profitable career in her own right as a gallery owner, she is not able to escape her family's dark past as clearly as either of them would have liked. It's as if Ciara is an embodiment of a city that has morphed from razor-gang central to cappuccino capital without stopping to reflect.
"David came to me and said, 'I want to write something about the changing face of Glasgow, and I want to tell it through a woman's eyes,'" says Duff. "She's rooted in a criminal past but she's at one remove from it. This is a well-groomed, well-healed, sorted business lady who knows how to handle the world she exists in. Does that come from acumen or is it because of the way she's been brought up? There's a lot of darkness that she's carrying in a big Louis Vuitton trunk."
What Duff excels at is playing against expectations, creating a tension by expressing one emotion and behaving in a way that contradicts it. That could prove the key to unlocking a character who is so much in denial about her background. "You don't know you carry rage until that button is pushed," she says. "I remember years ago when I was younger and something happened that brought me to a rage and I thought, 'Oh my God, I didn't realise I was capable of feeling this.' I always think if you meet somebody in a really bad mood, none of us knows what's happened in that person's life and I always try and take one step back and give them the benefit of the doubt."
Words Mark Fisher
When & Where
Ciara, Traverse Theatre, 1-25 August (not 2, 5, 12, 19), times vary. From £6, Tel: 0131 228 1404
Deeply inventive and deftly performed, Centralia is a captivating piece of comic theatre. Essentially a play within a play, Maria Askew, Frode Gjerlow and Simon Maeder masquerade as the three remaining inhabitants of the non-fictional American ghost-town, Centralia, evacuated due to a continuous and hazardous subterranean mine fire.
In this pretence the trio have scrimped and saved in a desperate effort to bring the story of their plight all the way over to the “Edinboro' Festival.”
Grimy and gripping, Wonderland is an example of what Scottish theatre does particularly well – overcoming the limitations of the genre to create art with genuine impact.Read more...
Most tourists visiting Scotland will believe that in order to identify a true Scotsman you must briskly whisk up the back of their kilt to reveal a pair of hairy, sun-deprived buttocks. Where I grew up, there was a different test to find the truest of true Scotsmen, and that was in their ability to recite the longest Burns poem of them all, Tam O’Shanter.
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A politically motivated musical fusing rap, hip hop, jazz, and beat poetry is an ambitious concept, and one that was always going to require a delicate level of execution. Unfortunately Darian Dauchan, backed by his accompanists on bass and violin, failed to make this a show of any lasting impression.
In this one-woman adaptation of Chekhov’s ‘On the Harmful Effects of Tobacco’, a puppet named Nikolai Nikotine, forced by his overbearing wife to deliver a lecture against smoking, digresses and complains, sings and dances, and teaches us more about the harmful effects of marriage than those of tobacco. The show definitely has its moments, but there are too many pacing problems for it to be as entertaining as it could.
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In this intimate solo performance, the protagonist bares her soul in a monologue that is truly affecting. Fanatical list-making – an obsessive attempt to control her surroundings – punctuates the narrative, providing an underlying structure. However, “Managing lists is a complex activity”, and not every task is of equal importance. So caught up in her own overwhelming, mundane day-to-day activities, she fails to see the urgency of a friend’s request until it is too late. The script examines the consequences of her short-sightedness in startling detail.
By turns stirring and moving, Camille O’Sullivan and The Royal Shakespeare Company breathe new life into an old tale with this retelling of The Rape of Lucrece. Using a mixture of spoken word and songs courtesy of O’Sullivan and her writing partner Feargal Murray, the story of Lucrece, a virtuous young wife and Tarquin, a soldier who lusts after her and uses her hospitality against her, unfolds on a deceptively bare stage.
Consistently moving and humorous, this clever adaptation of Jonathan Safran Foer’s stories depicts four disparate monologues linked by common subject matter: family, mortality, love, and communication issues. ‘Everything else happened’ poignantly explores the difference between what occurred in reality and ‘the things that could have’ happened instead.
In this wonderfully endearing show, one performer and his TV set work together to update a medieval poem in which a man loses his beloved pearl, once thought to be an elegy for the anonymous author’s lost daughter. Currently living with his bereavement, the protagonist in this mostly silent mixed-media production must eventually come to terms. Having been told he should spend more time with friends, he’s invited some people – the audience – round to his home.
Run or lie down? Jane (Shauna Macdonald) has a difficult decision to make and a 110 mile desert ‘death race’ during which to make it. This inspiring one woman show, from writer-director Gary McNair, engages with the physical and psychological limits people may reach when searching for solutions.
An Arachnophobic’s worst nightmare, Alan Bissett performs five distinct monologues that capture the individuality of each spidery specimen trapped in a lab in St Andrews. Bissett slides between accents (Scottish, neurotic New York, Southern USA Drawl and a dubious Venezuelan) with surprising ease, contorting his body language to fit each persona and creating impressive variety and distinction.
Jeff Achtem’s brand of shadow puppetry and storytelling is wonderfully impressive, insanely inventive, madly lovable, and has the power to transform an audience of mostly adults into maniacally giggling children. For just under an hour, you enter a magical realm where a cluttered stage full of household items and puppets comes to life to tell the story of ‘two brothers on a trip across the stars’ as they flee their war-torn planet in search of a new home, accompanied by special effects and epic soundtrack.
In the ninth Fringe show by the City of London Freemen’s School, Phil Tong brings to the stage his adaptation of Agnes Owens’s novel. Looking back on her tragic life from a mental hospital, Peggy begins writing a book, and both her past and present are acted out onstage. Growing up during WWII, young Peggy secures a job as a paper girl and has an affair with her employer. Thinking he will marry her when she falls pregnant, she is instead abandoned, forced by her disapproving mother to have the baby adopted.
Standing outside after the show, a girl is bawling uncontrollably. She is approached by a total stranger and asked, ‘Have you just seen Translunar Paradise?’ Almost the entire audience is puffy-eyed, slightly vacant, still in tears or lost in thought; this is a piece of theatre that stays with you long after it ends. It’s so affecting that it elicits real joy and sorrow from most, if not all, audience members. Involving and thought-provoking, it’s one of the most powerful things I’ve seen onstage.
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Revealing the personalities behind the bodies of medal-winners and aspiring Olympians, ‘The Prize’, by Steve Gilroy and Richard Stockwell, presents the narratives of a cross-section of real athletes, drawing its material from interviews. With variously hopeful, dark and inspirational stories, the strength of the script is its incisive exploration of how setbacks and disadvantages are dealt with.
The ‘Waiting for Godot’ of Fringe puppet shows, this is existential meta-puppetry-improv-theatre as you’ve never seen it (and we’ve all seen that before, right?). Pioneering puppeteer group Blind Summit return to the Fringe with a new form of last year’s hit show, granting their Bunraku-style puppet, Moses, centre stage based on audience enthusiasm for the lewd little guy.
(and a half)
A new comic play by Lee Griffiths, featuring Matt Ralph and Paul Biggins, ‘Rod is God’ tells the story of Rod, who is stuck in a dead-end job, and his slacker flatmate Jack, who concocts the harebrained scheme of starting a cult to get rich quickly, recruiting a ruthless PR professional to the cause. As the venture grows beyond their control, the script explores how they deal with unexpected outcomes and some personal changes undergone along the way.
Literally transported (by coach and boat) to the world of Macbeth realised on Inchcolm island, audience members are absorbed into this incredible production from the outset of the journey. Fine touches such as live bag-piping, blankets to guard against ‘Shakespearean weather’, and cackling witches roaming the boat pre-performance offer a taste of what is to come.
The multiple award winning South African Director Yael Farber has taken on the classic Miss Julie. She’s given her a darker twist, setting it in the Cape Karoo on South African Freedom Day. It is 18 years since the first non-racial elections of South Africa but a nasty storm is brewing between the white-african land owner’s daughter and her fathers favourite farm worker.
A coffin stands starkly on stage as the audience files in and settles down to watch Six and a Tanner. This central image will inform the rest of this searing one-man play, as Glaswegian David Hayman performs a monologue that he himself encouraged playwright Rony Bridges to write.
Donnacadh O’Briain is the Artistic director of Natural Shocks production company and the Creator of Peep, the x-rated plays and box venue that has quickly become the most talked about show at this years fringe. I met up with him to discuss the box, theatre and Peep’s exploration of sex.
As I arrived at this sold out performance, I realised that Daniel Kitson has a cult following and as a Kitson virgin, I might have missed out on years of in jokes and references to old shows that I would not understand. Not the case. Although Kitson made reference to how previous shows of his had been received, this was a completely new show and chatting to the people around me, is a slightly unique script and style compared to previous years.
The timing of the recent capitulation on the Lords reform issue fits perfectly with the latest by comedic offering by Robert Khan and Tom Salinksy, and shows just how on-target the talented writers of Coalition are.
I feel I should apologise in advance for this review because I do not feel that any review I could write can possibly do this beautiful new play by Tom Holloway justice. So deep are the feelings it created, I still felt heartbroken hours after - not even watching Usain Bolt win gold could stop me crying.And No More Shall We Part stars Dearbhla Molloy and Bill Paterson as Don and Pam; probably two of the most believable and likeable characters I have seen on stage, which makes it all the more heart-rending. They are married, have children who have moved away and show all the signs of being a couple who have lived together their whole lives.
Theatre Uncut is a production of plays by a selection of leading playwrights from around the world who write pieces on the current political issues affecting their country. The purpose of Theatre Uncut is to invite writers to pen their views in order for them to be voiced theatrically to provoke and encourage positive discussion and action. Launched successfully in 2011 it is back this year by popular demand and today’s first session showcased four well written and witty plays containing material portraying an exaggerated and comedy take on present situations.
Kaya Muller, once a pop star, left it all behind to become a hermit, and totally immersed himself in the study and interpretation of dreams. This unusual u-turn seems to have paid off, as he is now world-renowned in his field and can claim celebrities, dignitaries and world-leaders as clients.
More a workshop than a Fringe Show, Kaya begins by talking his audience through the fundamental rules that must be applied to begin to understand your dreams. What could be a flat show, is brought to life by a charismatic host, a slick slide presentation and an audience who were defiantly in the zone and ready to take the journey.
The two-man show Letter of Last Resort centres around a humanitarian Prime Minister and her ‘Arrangements’ advisor as she attempts to write a letter of action in the event of a nuclear attack. The two characters are introduced in broad strokes, but throughout the play little character nuances creep in, giving you the chance to warm to them both.
Exiting the Traverse this morning I couldn’t help but wonder if I had missed something.Simon Stephen describes his new supposed coming-of-age play ‘Morning’ as possibly ‘the most moral’ thing he has written, and in part(I think) I get some of the points he was trying to convey, however if the character interactions and storyline isn’t believable then what is the point of a powerful message?
In The Age of Christian Grey and his red-room of pain comes Peep and their black-box of three intensely sexual plays. Peep is ultimately a peepshow, where the audience is separated by dark booths, with windows of reflective mirrors so that you can see the actors, but they cannot see you.
You are taken to a booth and asked to put on your headphones. Immediately music/sex sounds boom into your ears. It was hard to ignore the unmistakable smell of PVC of which the booths are made from and which I felt could not have been a coincidence. The Set is indeed brilliantly thought out, and unlike anything I have seen before at the fringe.
Rob Drummond as William Wonder takes you on a journey through the mythology surrounding the 12 illusionists that have previously tried and failed ‘The Bullet Catch”: A volunteer from the audience has to shoot a bullet, from a real gun, which is then caught between the Magicians teeth. It is a trick so dangerous Houdini refused to attempt it. The show has story telling throughout mainly revolving around William Henderson, a Victorian Magician and student of Houdini, who was the last person that died attempting this trick. This sense of forboding slowly and subtly increases the tension in the audience building up to the final act of the ‘Bullet Catch’.
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Dave Florez’s latest play shows us all the things that might go wrong when staging an intervention for an alcoholic family member, employing a mixture of dark humour, effective drama and a smattering of slapstick.
Early in the piece it is clear that the family and friends who have gathered to help Zac (Phil Nichol) have got plenty of problems of their own. Set in modern day Chicago, the play exploits the comic potential of the very American concept of an ‘intervention’, including the unintended consequences of good intentions, while also dealing with the harsh realities of addiction and the power of family secrets. A few interesting twists in the plot keep the action moving and help create some explosive scenes.
I’m always a little worried when I am reviewing the third part of a trilogy and I haven’t seen either of the first two - what if I have missed something important?
Luckily, this is not that sort of performance. Koba is a bright 18 year old and the world is not what she expected – she writes her thoughts down on a small blackboard which grows and grows throughout the show, starting off as immediate and personal issues such as feeling too skinny and then, as the media infiltrates her conscience with depressing story after story – her feelings about life start to fall into certain headings – Evil, War, Power, Money, Hate, Pain, Fear….
Following his award-winning success at last year’s Fringe festival, playwright Dave Florez is back, and this time he has an army of comics tackling the subject of alcoholism in his show The Intervention. Words isobel PalmerRead more...
Dave florez didn't follow his father into banking. Instead, he embarked on a career of writing, acting and stand-up comedy. No job security, no nine-to-five, no pension. Eyebrows were raised, but little more. And a decade or so later, dad, originally from Spain, should be proud.
For the small-time actor and rather average stand-up comedian, his playwriting triumph at last year's Fringe is followed by a new high-profile production called The Intervention. In Edinburgh Festival terms, he's hit the big time and then some.
Yes, that Les Dennis. The Family Fortunes host and stand-up, has reinvented himself as an actor and is heading to Edinburgh with his very own play. Words Isobel PalmerRead more...
Les Dennis has 16,467 followers on Twitter, a dedicated website, and appears in a tiny-budget movie entitled Wounded that is so hip it just won a prize at London’s Independent Film Festival.
What? The Les Dennis that used to host a TV quiz show and do impressions of Mavis Riley? The miserable middle-aged one who had a meltdown on Celebrity Big Brother? Yes, the very same, and yet, no, not quite. Because Les, now 58 and talking about his new Fringe show between performances all around the country of Legally Blonde The Musical, has perfected the art of reinvention.
Forces sweetheart, and force to be reckoned with, Claire explains how her role in Willy Russell's Educating Rita really does take her back… Words Isobel Palmer
Sweeney reckons she was 13 or 14 at the time, but can still recall, verbatim, the speech about vain old pensioners not telling hairdresser Rita about their hearing aids: “And snip, that's another granny gone deaf for a fortnight!” she quotes, with a joyful flourish.
There’s something about Dickens that has Miriam Margolyes hooked. He’s changed her life she says – to the best of times, of course. Words Mark Fisher
In the crush of the London Underground carriages, lives intersect like the lines that thread beneath the city. One Under masterfully brings to the forefront the thoughts that capture our imaginations as we sit solemnly waiting for our stops in a subtly and deftly told piece of drama.
Engulfed by the hubbub of the Pleasance Courtyard, for an hour Invisible Show II makes you privy to the secret lives of those embedded in the milling crowds, with a set of headphones and your keen eyes your only guides.
Able to snap between bold physical expressions into understated naturalism in a heartbeat, this three-strong cast gives one of the best Fringe performances of 2011. The play follows three recently liberated prisoners and their struggles to readjust into a society that has discarded them. Magnificently expressed by Paul Tinto, Verity Hewlett and Shane Shambhu, Release deserves accolades aplenty and your crucial attendance.
Arthur Dodsworth has recently retired and this afternoon it his ‘pleasure’ to play host to his former secretary, Peggy Prothero, as she opportunely drops in for a visit. Charmless and brash Miss Porthero is keen to fill in her old boss on all the changes at Warburtons since his departure, saving her most callous bombshell until the very last minute.
Private Peaceful tells the tale of Private Tommo Peaceful as he forces himself to stay awake by tracking the journey of two Brothers in Arms, himself and his older brother Charlie, from their home in the West Country to the killing fields of Ypres. Acted alone by Leon Williams, Michael Morpurgo’s children’s novel is beautifully recounted and perfectly pitched for the family audience this Fringe.
Every moment of 1927’s The Animals and Children Took to the Streets is absolutely infused with gorgeousness. Whether the cast find themselves in the grimy, cockroach-ridden rooms of Bayou Mansions or the heady heights of the Mayor’s office, there is not one second that is not beautifully and intricately realised.
Confined to a bathroom, this adaptation recasts Odysseus as Grant, a modern war veteran who, although physically at home, is not mentally there: instead he is battling the demons of his mind, in a desperate attempt to return to his wife Penny.
Paddy Cunneen has outdone himself, writing and directing a tale of urban warfare in modern Glasgow that finds its unlikely roots in Greek tragedy.
Storytelling has gone a bit meta this Fringe. By that, I mean that many of the fascinating storytellers attending the festival are not only weaving their tales, they’re showing you the loom they did it on.
Chris Goode is a fine example of this. He begins this one-man play by explaining what inspired him to write it: his first, unrequited love for a boy in his class at school, a boy who had a girlfriend but spent his lunchtimes sharing a pair of earphones with Goode, listening to music and between them “making stereo”.
Patient H.M. is the most written-about case study in the history of neuroscience; in 2009, H.M.’s brain was dissected live on the internet to a global audience of over 400,000 people. What 2041 Objects beautifully brings to our attention is the story of the man behind the furor, Henry Molaison: how he lived his life, as well as the ordinary passions and pains that stirred him and ultimately led him to undergo a radical surgery that would leave him constantly trapped in the present.
In a dilapidated mansion in central London, a group of squatters host a party to launch their anti-capitalist campaign: unbeknownst to them the evening will have devastating consequences.
When I saw that Central School of Music and Drama was back at the Fringe after a couple of years’ absence, I knew I had to get a ticket to its graduate show. After all, in 2008 I was so moved by their alumni’s production The Boy from Centreville, about the Virginia Tech shootings, that I gave it five stars on this very site. This year’s topic sounded just as interesting – human trafficking.
Joe Bones’ hotly anticipated Bane trilogy is story-telling at its best: no props, no set, only Bones commanding the empty stage, creating each and every character, underscored by Ben Roe’s hauntingly evocative guitar strumming. This film-noir parody is truly a must-see, with the ‘wastes no time, takes no prisoners’ hired hand Bruce Bane attracting big numbers, testifying to this show’s appeal.
This urban ghost story by Michael Wicherek is outstanding from every angle you look at it.
Truly, from its bare evocative stage set that subtly changes with the scene’s mood and setting, to the snatches of music that ebb and flow in and out of the performance, Time for the Good Looking Boy creates an atmosphere that has the hairs on the back of your neck raised and your eyes fixed upon actor Lloyd Thomas.
When the village boasts the healthiest pensioners in the United Kingdom, the local undertakers must find a way to keep the bailiff and imminent closure from its coffin-shaped door. Coffin Up brings this macabre tale to life without a single word being uttered.
Written by Dave Florez and performed by Phil Nichol, Somewhere Beneath it All a Small Fire Burns Still, is one performance you are unlikely to forget.
Specifically written for Canadian comedian-turned-actor Phil Nichol, this play takes his personal facts and fictions and melds them to create a platform for his incredible, if not disturbing, acting abilities.
To anyone unfamiliar with the sporting culture of Glasgow, or its patter for that matter, I can imagine that Singing 'I'm No a Billy, He's a Tim'’ might not have a great deal of impact. Having grown up on the Southside of Glasgow myself, the play is the perfect explanation as to why I will always harbour a fierce hatred of football, thanks to exactly the kind of casual sectarian idiocy on display here.
Last year, Chris Larner accompanied his chronically ill ex-wife Allyson to Switzerland’s Dignitas clinic. In An Instinct for Kindness, Chris reveals the circumstances, morality and humanity surrounding the journey they made, and, in doing so, gives one of the most poignant and frank performances you are ever likely to bear witness to. This show is, simply put, remarkable, and the viewing public deserves to see it.
How does a Midwestern, churchgoing, motor-biking family-man become Rachael Jones? Lucy Danser’s world premiere of ‘Rachel’s Café’ gets under the skin of this very question. Based on the true story of Bloomington café owner Miss Jones, who Danser met whilst studying at Indiana University, this show is all about creating acceptance and understanding over a cup of coffee (or a nibble of cookie, as it turned out).
Reading the background information to The Observatory, one senses that Daniel Fexsmith’s debut play has all the potential to make a real statement amidst the sea of non-committal mainstream plays on the Fringe. This production is plugged as his interrogation of the morality of conflict and the corruption of justice through a military frame, directly inspired by the Siege of Sangin in Helmand Province and the recent conspiracy to cover-up torture and murder carried out by British troops in Iraq.
Pleasance Bytes is a series of three interviews with stars of the Fringe, hosted my writer and reviewer Mark Fisher. It gives Fringe goers the opportunity to hear about the star’s life, passions and their involvement in the Fringe.
I attended on the 13th of August and sat in on the discussion with Julian Sands, who is appearing in A Celebration of Harold Pinter at this year’s Festival. He discussed why he enjoys coming to the Fringe and how he likes to keep up with the changing stage and screen.
Pachamamas draw their inspiration from the Latin American experience of the world: where life transcends daily reality and is infused with a sense of magic and the surreal. Emergence feeds off this perspective, pulling together storytelling, cabaret, physical theatre and the otherworldly into one hour-long performance.
Chucker and Mucker are friends for life. Growing up in Halifax in the 80’s and 90’s, the two friends following their own paths gives us the story of The Historians. Coming from similar backgrounds and born “in the same hospital at the exact same time” the show follows the two girls from birth into adulthood and shows how the choices we make and those that are made for us affect our lives.
Lee Fenwick's alter ego - the unemployed shipbuilder from Tyneside, Mick Sergeant - has previously done well at the Fringe. Unfortunately, in this year’s offering of dark humour and heartfelt dismay, Fenwick manages to push the bitter satire, along with the audience’s morale, over the edge.
“There’s something rotten in the cul-de-sac. And you know it!” This three-man production is the stuff of curtain twitchers’ dreams. Offering a masculine spin on The Stepford Wives, Matthew Osborn’s new comedy is, judging by the packed audience, going down like the proverbial cucumber sandwich at the Vicar’s tea party.
The Brighton-based performance company Flying Eye focuses on delivering pieces that explore real and heartfelt human issues, which resonate with the audience beyond the final bow. In this fashion, Cutting the Cord follows Sachi Kimura as she makes the life-altering journey from Tokyo to London.
David Leddy is a notorious ‘theatrical maverick’ (The Financial Times) and ‘Scotland’s hottest, edgiest young playwright’ (The Guardian), so I was excited for what was in store. The production is accompanied by a publication that contains the play’s full script. an introduction by the writer, references to all quotations and music as well as the creative team’s biographies. I started to read as I waited in the queue.
Working in the local pub, the Kerryman, gets the better of the play’s protagonist as she turns her attention to acting school. Welcome to the Kerryman is one girl’s story of getting out of the hometown rut and the trials and tribulations along the way.
Hawke and Hunter’s Green Room is transformed in The Curse of Macbeth. This well-known tale, which has been adapted by the Cambridge University ADC, is engaging, chilling and eerie.
Translunar Express is an unspoken performance translated through mime and dance with accordion music and lyric-less singing throughout. It is utterly moving: romantic, poetic, a little bit raunchy and sincerely touching. Yesterday I managed to hold back the tears in another show. Today I crumbled, and I wasn’t the only one!
I rather appropriately went to see Dr. Apple’s Last Lecture after a yoga session - it pays to be in a relaxed state of mind while watching this piece.
I am not often particularly moved by theatre at the festival. This, I can honestly say, pushed me towards tears at times.
Silken Veils is a short play about an Iranian woman coming to terms with her personal and cultural identity while living in America. The social and political upheaval of the Iranian Cultural Revolution is portrayed through its fracturing of a single family, and yet what comes through clearly is the prevailing reality within this terrible situtation for any Iranian.
Brotherly Love is part of the Free Fringe, and there is no point harping on about what it isn’t or what it lacks. It simply is what it is: two men and one woman acting out a play about a husband and wife preparing for a dinner party with their barrister friends, when the cleaned-up-junkie younger brother pitches up to make amends.
Theatrical force Steven Berkoff revisits the story that made his name – Oedipus.
Harold Pinter revolutionised British theatre – so much so that powerhouses John Malkovich and Julian Sands have teamed up to pay tribute to him.Last Updated on Tuesday, 02 August 2011 16:33 Read more...
What does John Malkovich listen to on his iPod? Apart, that is, from arias by Beethoven and Mozart, which make up the exquisite soundtrack to The Infernal Comedy, a musical play about an Austrian serial killer, which he’s currently touring around Europe?
A terrible accident changed Marc Almond from the confident singer of Soft Cell back to the awkward boy he’d been at school, but Ten Plagues is helping him to overcome his fears.Read more...
A renowned torch singer, lamenting the poor souls excluded from life’s feast and fortune’s favour, few can articulate a survivor’s emotional journey with more empathy than Marc Almond. Bullied at school, he would hyperventilate and black out in order to avoid being attacked, while as Soft Cell’s frontman and as a solo act, his debauched lifestyle saw him narrowly cheat death on several occasions. Famously, he survived a horrific motorcycle accident in 2004 that left him with memory lapses, his childhood stutter resurgent and having to learn to sing anew.
With a rock-star husband and a tantric sex life, most people forget that Trudie Styler is also a talented actress, as A Dish of Tea with Dr Johnson proves.
This year sees Art Malik, one of Britain’s best-loved stage and screen actors, undertaking a very personal project with his daughter, Keira.Read more...
Everyone knows his name, and no doubt his appearance at the Edinburgh Fringe – his first – will be a hot ticket. The press are already anticipating the new play, Rose, while the city has barely recovered from the world premier of his first executive-produced movie, Ghosted, at the Edinburgh International Film Festival.
It’s more than 25 years since Art Malik shot to fame with a series-stealing performance in The Jewel in the Crown, but at 58, he seems busier than ever.
Melbourne-based trio The Suitcase Royale have been performing together since 2004, and now they’ve brought their “Junkyard Theatre” style to the Pleasance in a hilarious tale of a boxer whose wife’s apparent murder is investigated by an undercover private detective.
Keepers tells the true story of Thomas Howell and Thomas Griffith, two 19th Century keepers of the Smalls Lighthouse off the West coast of Wales, who were tormented by isolation in the days without electricity and limited means of communication. With two chairs, a trapdoor and a ladder forming the set, The Plasticine Men describe the levels of the lighthouse they inhabit, it’s lamp, windows and the rocks and waves below, through strong physical performances and an impressive soundtrack.
Shortlisted for this year’s Total Theatre Awards in the Innovation category, winner of The Stage Award for ‘Best Solo Performer 2009’, and having been an Official Fringe Sell-Out Show last year, Theatre Ad Infinitum’s production of Odyssey returns to Edinburgh. In a thrilling and mesmerising performance of Homer’s classic story. George Mann narrates and plays all the characters, including Odysseus returning home after the Trojan War. This is quite simply one of the best hours of entertainment you’ll find at the festival.
Dance, music and colour combine in this inventive piece of theatre performed by Ankur Bahl. Exploring the blurred lines between illusion and reality, this is a quiet little play not afraid to take on complex ideas.
The audience huddle around in this cosy pub for a fascinating forty minute one-man performance delivered with such ease and conviction that it doesn’t feel like a performance at all.
Sophocles’ tragedy Oedipus at Colonus is given a soulful retelling as Gospel at Colonus, a Pentecostal twist on a 2,400 year old story. Starring The Blind Boys of Alabama (collectively playing Oedipus) and The Legendary Soul Stirrers, the group that was led by Sam Cooke, the stage is packed with fantastic singers and backed by a live band. Not familiar with Sophocles’ original text? Well don’t let that put you off: the music will put a smile on your face whether you follow the story or not.
Kristen Thomson is nothing short of amazing in this one-woman, coming-of-age drama about twelve-year-old Claudia’s struggle to cope with her parent’s divorce and her transition into adolescence.
Clive Russell stars as Derek Hodges, a snooker player who was world champion at 17, but is considered past his prime by sport pundits and even his disinterested agent. Now an embittered alcoholic with a string of divorces, we join Hodges as he takes stock of his life in the dressing room before a big game.
Tony Tanner’s imaginative rendition of Sergei Diaghilev’s culturally rich life was enjoyed by a woefully small audience. This was a real shame, because Tanner’s impressively long and varied career on stage and screen shone through as he brilliantly encapsulated the character of such an interesting subject.
Anyone who has flown anywhere in the last ten years knows how irritating airport security is these days. Mindless drones force you almost to strip naked: belts, shoes and jackets in one tray, phones, cameras and laptops in another, nail polish and liquid eyeliner into a bag and then into another tray, being pushed around and scanned and spoken to as though you are planning to blow up the entire country if you so much as cough at the wrong moment.
This frustrating experience is parodied beautifully in the new production of The Man Who Was Thursday by young company The JAM Theater Collective.
On a small, hot underground stage, Glass-Eye Theatre uses only one prop – a length of red rope – to tell the story of Iris and how she came to appreciate the world around her. The play is very physical and all people and objects in the city are represented by half a dozen members of the cast, who strike appropriate poses to become trees, clothes on hangars, bookshelves and even ducks. The result is a funny and touching story that captures the monotony of a daily routine, but reminds you to appreciate all the little things you ignore every day.
After greeting the audience with a quiet “hello” and a brief pause, the shy-looking Canadian, complete with tweed waistcoat and sideburns, mutters “time to play” whilst easing off a baffled audience member’s right shoe. An intriguing start to what proved to be a delightfully entertaining performance featuring the lost magical art of shadow puppetry.
In this one woman show Rachel Rose Reid explores some of Hans Christian Andersen’s classic short stories through theatre in its most minimal form. Reid parallels her own life with that of Andersen’s by appropriating his work into her own reality.
Bryony Kimmings’ ‘intimate’ forty person capacity venue was littered with old suitcases, plastic flowers and hippy trinkets; her saccharine sweetness (as if it needed to be confirmed) was further backed up by free sweets at the door and our host clad in lederhosen.
If you are concerned that this might be a show entirely about one single football match, don’t be. Poland 3 Iran 2 is also a story of political revolution, war, train sets, Subbuteo and chess, as Chris Dobrowolski and Mehrdad Seyf explain how they came to be watching the 1976 Montreal Olympics match between Poland and Iran. There are some emotional moments and occasional laughs, particularly when close-ups of a 1976 sticker album reveal just how inaccurate British publications could be with Iranian and Polish names.
Teenage Riot offers a bold insight into life as a modern day teen, looking to challenge and expose the way a contemporary audience perceives young people. With a minimalist set, a great soundtrack, and an ensemble of brave young performers, theatre company Ontroerend Goed (the team behind last year’s extraordinary theatrical experience Internal), explore the absurdities of peer pressure and the hypocrisy of adulthood.
It was a pleasure to watch this much-hyped solo play, written and performed by Nijala Sun, who is about to make it big in Hollywood. When theatre is talked about this much, it’s easy to worry that it won’t meet expectations, but in this case those fears proved to be unfounded.
Becki Gerrard exposes both her body and her inner self in this brave performance piece. Lip Service explores the importance of family history in a show that includes film clips, photographs, dancing, anecdotes, boiling kettles and quite a lot of spilt milk.
Daniel Kitson’s performance plucks out those fragments of life which stand out in the torrential flood of time. The story begins with the death of an old man, and decades earlier, the birth of daughter.
Like some latter day Stoic, Kitson ambles around the stage recounting the two lives: their learning, loving and living. And in all this apparent chaos, he highlights the importance of action and choice. He is an excellent storyteller, occasionally stopping to scratch his head, pull his suspenders up or adjust his spectacles.
Seven panto stories are squeezed into 70 minutes of hilarity for all ages in Potted Panto, starring CBBC’s Dan and Jeff, who have had previous stage success with Potted Potter and Potted Pirates. Stories such as Jack and the Beanstalk, Cinderella, Dick Whittington and Snow White are each condensed to ten minutes, including rapid costume changes from the two energetic entertainers, who play every character.
Verbatim theatre is always difficult to pull off. The skill of the writer lies in teasing out the threads of the interesting and the truthful from an inevitably unreliable narrator, and this is a trick that Davey Anderson has achieved with aplomb in ThickSkin Theatre Company’s debut production, Blackout.
A woman addicted to gin, crosswords and speed, who bred the world’s best racehorse and is the only woman ever to have been nominated as Private Eye’s "Sh*t of the Week"? How could I resist a description like that?
Ankur and Pachamama Productions present a truly unforgettable experience with Roadkill, a totally immersive piece of theatre that addresses the issue of sex trafficking in Scotland. Based on the true story of a young woman brought here from Nigeria, the audience joins chirpy teenager Adeola on her bus journey into the city, accompanied by an older woman who looks after her. They chat with the people sitting around them, and soon the instinct to avoid strangers on public transport fades, as you can’t help liking Adeola’s naiveté and sense of fun.
Financial Times columnist Mrs Moneypenny has, quite aptly, chosen to host her celebration of wealth in a shop that sells overpriced appliances to those who live a lifestyle few people will ever experience. I'm only here for the free champagne.
As beautiful and predatory as its namesake, Wolf sets out to explore the relationship between Man and wolf, and to attack some of the myths that have grown up around these fascinating creatures.
This is a tale of Northern poverty, drug and alcohol abuse, promiscuous sex and rape. It is also, if you’re feeling clever, a half hearted metaphor about Eden, complete with Adam, Eve and the Apple.
The show is powerful and well acted. ‘Brutally honest’ is also one, perhaps slightly lazy way, of describing the first stage-adaptation of Richard Milward’s debut novel. It does, indeed, cram in everything, from domestic violence to lung cancer; rape to infanticide.
Set in a Victorian theatre and performed amidst the dark spaces of a shuttered Masonic Lodge, David Leddy's Sub Rosa is an atmospheric chiller that is blacker than the heart of Hunter, the unseen but powerful impresario that controls all its characters' lives.
I should start by saying that the next time I opened my fridge after this show, I spotted an onion and carrot and shut the door quickly, scarred for life and terrified by these innocent vegetables.
You wouldn’t expect anything less than brilliance from the team behind 2006’s global hit Black Watch, which went on from its Fringe debut to win awards and wow audiences across the world. Thankfully the National Theatre of Scotland and Frantic Assembly, along with writer Bryony Lavery and directors Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett, have created what is sure to be another Scottish success story with their latest piece, Beautiful Burnout.
David Hume, the Edinburgh based polymath, was not a big Shakespeare fan. Sure, for his time Shakespeare was impressive, but in the great scheme of things and compared to eighteenth-century masters like Moliere or Swift, he was nothing special. This is not the Shakespeare we have grown accustomed to; that is, Shakespeare the timeless master, able to transcend class, cultural and even linguistic barriers.
Girls who are boys, who like boys to be girls, who like to be flung around a mirrored tent, from half-naked man to magician’s cage... or something.
Jack Thorne is well versed in writing about the intense social pressures that dominate adolescence. A lead writer on Skins, Thorne continues to dissect themes of growing up in multi-cultural Britain in his latest work, Bunny.
These are true stories, told with real tears. Four girls act out verbatim conversations with their own mothers in a delightful piece of theatre that turns out to be just as touching as the concept itself.
In this production of Hamlet (as you’ve never seen before), Linda Marlowe’s confident, powerful and moving performance is truly commendable. Launching into the script in the guise of a cleaner in a dressing room, Marlowe’s flawless command of the language and nuances of the greatest work in English literature is captivating. By collaborating with six brilliant puppeteers from Fingers Theatre, the tragic tale is given life, colour and clarity through the company’s fantastic collection of puppets.
UCLU Runaground’s production of the farcical black comedy Mr Kolpert was originally written by David Gieselmann in German, and translated for the Royal Court in 2000. Runaground’s delivery and interpretation of the play is simultaneously well-timed and chaotic, as the mystery of Mr Kolpert’s ‘murder’ is gradually revealed to the dinner guests in clever and absurd conversations.
Not another reunion. The very name implies some sort of severance of communication, which in our wired age this is actually harder to do than staying connected. So by definition, almost, something is bound to go wrong: the trashy one is going to get drunk and start crying; the siblings are going to fall out and the new boyfriend is going to feel totally out of place.
A beautifully scripted and stunningly performed piece, Enda Walsh’s Penelope is a must-see for anyone looking for serious, thought-provoking theatre at this year’s Fringe.
For someone not remotely interested in sporting activities and with a particular disdain for 'celebrities', of the reality TV show variety, the idea of sitting through John Godber's rugby-based play starring Abi Titmuss didn't full me with excitement. To my pleasant surprise, however, I was kept happily amused and even (embarrassingly) found myself joining in an impromptu applause and cheer during the final match scene.
This comedians' musical and its fantastically funny cast make for an entertaining and ridiculous show of unforgiving comedy and revenge. The all-star cast including Lizzie Roper, The Penny Dreadfuls and Sarah Pascoe bring this absurd tale of death to life, but it is Colin Hoult’s hilarious portrayal of the entire Bewley family that brings the show moments of comic brilliance.
Unfortunately the lyrics to the songs are delivered with such poor sound quality that at times their content is lost on the audience and they fail to get the laughs they deserve.
We apparently do most of our communicating through body language. How we stand, sit or lie; where our eyes wander; what we do with our hands. All this reveals a great deal about us – far more than often restrictive and scripted verbal communication laced with half-truths or deceit.
Freefall is a breathtaking piece of theatre. Through an ingenious combination of superb acting, technology and set design, the audience is made not only to see, but to feel the sudden shock and revelations of a man whose life is coming to an end.
Hurtwood Theatre Company's performance of Cake left me hungry, but predicting the future is bright. The young trio confidently delivered an absurdist play, setting the greed of 21st century capitalism in the mind of a sexually frustrated couple locked in a room with no exit.
The sex slave trade taking place in Britain is a serious issue and merits a serious discussion; in this sense Fair Trade should be commended for provoking the issue, especially with the impending Olympic Games in London. At several points the anecdotes taken from two genuine accounts almost become appeals as the victims realise they could have been sitting next to you on the underground, just like any other stranger.
Sam Holcroft’s raw and gripping new play ruthlessly exposes and explores two disintegrating relationships in a self-serving, sex-driven, consumerist society.
It is a true story rich in audience-pulling themes: extremely codependent twin girls Jennifer and June, of Caribbean parents, are ostracised by the rural and very white RAF community in which their technician father is based and stop communicating with the outside world.
Despite the justifiable aversion many of us hold to anything which contains the two words ‘Romantic’ and ‘Comedy’, ‘My Romantic History’ is a great piece of theatre with pace, intelligence and more humour in it than most stand-up comedies.
Looking at children and childhood with an unflinchingly honest eye, the revival of Decky Does a Bronco by Edinburgh’s own Grid Iron proves to be an extremely welcome rematch indeed.
In the summer holidays of 1983, five boys, four aged nine and one aged eleven, turn their council estate swingpark into their own personal Utopia. The boys long to be grown up, mimicking the ways of the TV stars and action heroes they admire, but when tragedy strikes they are all forced into adulthood far too early, struggling to survive in the face of awful loss.
Rhoda and Jerry inhabit the desolate office space of “Convenience Foods”. Together yet solitarily they negotiate their way through the corporate jargon to face their demise; the omnipresent struggle of nature and civilisation. The pair come up against contraptions and appliances, personal neuroses and the looming threat of invasion from the natural world in the form of taxidermied animals and decayed shrubbery.
Brilliant, bold and wildly creative – theatre in Edinburgh has never been more exciting or accessible, says Mark Fisher.Read more...
The Traverse @ St Stephens
11-28 August (not 16, 23), 4pm
Telling the story of Adam and Eve re-imagined in the world of 21st century teenagers, this adaptation of Richard Milward’s debut novel is staged by Newcastle’s Northern Stage and Company of Angels.
6-29 August, times vary
Acclaimed in London, Tim Crouch’s provocative play puts the audience centre stage and asks us whether it is acceptable to allow violence to flourish in
the name of art.
Writing a serious play about sex trafficking was a difficult task for young graduate Anna Holbek, but with Emma Thompson in her corner she had the chance to spread her wings.Read more...
It was Anna Holbek’s first job. Aged 21, straight out of the Italia Conti Academy, she found herself on the set of Pride and Prejudice, teaching Emma Thompson and the rest of the cast a song. In Latin. Suddenly, the lowly gofer was one of the team. Chatting over lunch, Thompson asked Anna if she could possibly rattle up a few of her drama school chums for a photo shoot. They would be dressed as prostitutes for an installation on sex trafficking that Thompson was working on.
As the Latin lesson shows, Holbek is not the type to hide under the duvet when a gauntlet is thrown down, which is how she, and a gang of friends in hotpants, became lifesize cutouts in a container in Trafalgar Square. It was part of The Journey, an art installation that brought the seedy, scary reality of sex slavery into the centre of London.
There’s something about creating stories for teenagers that Shameless and Skins writer Jack Thorne can’t resist, as his new play, Bunny, demonstrates.Read more...
Jack Thorne has a confession to make. The writer might be best known for his work on Skins, the cult TV series about teen life, but he’s so far removed from his target market that when he had a job in Vodafone customer support, he didn’t even own a mobile phone. “I had no idea how to fix any of the problems,” laughs the 31-year-old. “A lot has changed since I was a kid. I didn't grow up with mobile phones.”
What’s your first memory of the Festival?
Zoo @ 140 The Pleasance
An examination of masochistic, co-dependent lesbian relationship, inspired by ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ and ‘Lassie Come Home’. What?!
The Space @ Venue 45
Wide-eyed pioneers turned settlers. The hopes and dreams that founded a nation. A model of the Empire State Building; each window the gate to a story, a dream.
I’ve been trying to work out what it was about this production that made me so angry because, to be fair to ‘Two Shades of Blue’, the Fringe is all about this type of student-led light entertainment. They are its irreverent, innovative beating heart, and – when done right - what makes this festival such a magnificent bloody mess.
Assembly @ Assembly Hall
Transfixing in its ring of truth and through the stellar performance of solo actor Liam Brennan, Djupid (The Deep) is breathtaking, life-affirming theatre.
Stand Comedy Club
If Scotland ever produces a film equivalent of Reservoir Dogs the starting point must surely be Gagarin Way. It’s a performance sweating with tension, frustration and violence.
A basic text that sparkles is complemented by some witty modern additions to make this a thoroughly enjoyable, community-spirited evening.
This exploration of life as the outsider, told by a black man who never knew another black person until he was 18, is a humorous and timely look at contemporary attitudes to race.
This year's production by 'Inspector Sands' theatre company had a lot to live up to, following last year's sell out debut of 'Hysteria'. Continuing the theme of 21st Century obsessions with self-fulfillment, 'If That's All There Is', seems a little darker than most problem-comedies.
Edinburgh University Medical School
A tall, strong, tuxedoed character strides smoothly and silently past me and into the backlit doorway in front of a gasping audience.
The post show party of CAODS’s 1970 amateur dramatic production of The Sound of Music proved to be a beginning for some (it was here his parents’ romance began) and the end for others (another actor collapsed whilst playing the guitar, eventually dying that same evening). His father was a Nazi, his mother a nun.
Assembly @ George Street
Following the lives of a group of young women in the post-war era of austerity, Muriel Spark’s novel is set in a period of thrift, mending, making do and getting by. Contrasting the earthly pragmatism – even cynicism – of characters like Selina Redwood, with the pious distance of Joanna, a clergyman’s daughter, Spark depicted a Britain pregnant with the seeds of social and political change.
Two writers stretch towards each other across the ether. In the 21st Century, Bret’s romance-radar is blocked. A writer of pornographic plays, he is unable to evoke true love, floundering instead in an embarrassment of felching, fellatio and tumescent phalluses.
The audience rolls into the Hullabaloo circus tent to the sound of Sinatra, welcomed by Megan Riordan ("Kim", as she will be known to us), looking every inch the casino hostess in her black cocktail dress. Her auburn hair is immaculately curled, she wears a red sash tied round her waist and is holding a tray of "Vegas cheese balls", which she busily offers around the crowd.
The Space @ Venue 45
A penal colony in late 1780s Australia is not a merry place, but between floggings, hangings and madness comes an opportunity to celebrate what many consider to be humanity’s greatest achievement: art. In this case the form is theatre, performed by convicts, in a double-edged attempt to civilise and liberate.
Assembly @ George Street
More than another mere event, this is The Event. But don’t expect fizzling fireworks, lacy legged dancers, or acrobats. Instead The Event is a monologue told through the third person.
University of Edinburgh Drill Hall
Distant dull voices crackle over loudspeakers sending orders to the audience. Lights flash and alarms pulsate. A deep ambient drone wraps itself around the audience as they walk along the concrete floor to designated standing areas. A youthful enthusiasm, also seen when watching A Bridge Too Far or Where Eagles Dare, was evident in certain members of the audience.
C Adams House @ C Venues
“... it’s like that car advert...!”
Like a mother-of-five lost in Tesco on a Saturday morning hysterically looking for marmite, this thought kept dashing in and out of my mind throughout Brocante Sonore’s hour-long set.
Assembly @ Assembly Hall
“Isn’t it amazing how superficial things can make you feel so good?” asks Robyn Peterson, former couture model, primetime actress and star of this new one-woman exposé of the world of 1970s High Fashion.
You go into mind out, sit down and scratch your head. You realise that the performance is playing with your expectations of a play, and is scripted as the previous two sentences have been. You are intrigued.
Othello from Iago’s perspective: the vision of its playwright tossed aside, with one of the world’s most fascinating villains left to run amok? Good on you, Louise Hill, you genius!
Everything that makes Kafka’s novella so wonderfully nightmarish is delivered in dollops of macabre by this admirable production. The vision is outstanding; rictus grins, manic quiffs and pale faces haunt a monochrome timbre punctuated by splashes of scarlet.
This play tells the story of two film makers – Joe (Lewis Hetherington) and Matt (Daniel Tobin) who, whilst making a programme on light-houses, accidentally capture the last moments of Stephen (Sam Taylor), a twenty-nine year old with a love of writing.
Assembly @ George Street
Adapted from a novel by Ron Butlin, this play tackles the idea of alcoholism amongst the respectable suburban middle class.
The Chronicles of Irania, a new collaboration between two of Scotland's most exciting emerging female artists, is arguably the most poignant one-woman performance of the Fringe this year.
‘Anomie’ refers to a feeling of isolation or anxiety, resulting from a lack of social regulation or shared values.
Precarious’ production presents anomie as a near-ubiquitous aspect of modern living, cultivated by a lack of moral guidelines, information-overload and insufficient engagement with the real world.
"A daringly elusive, ground-breaking production". "Avant-garde theatre at its very best. Disorientation and uncertainty envelop audience and protagonist alike".
The chances are if you look anywhere else on the Internet for Belt Up's production of The Trial, this is the kind of laudatory (and horribly misjudged) critical guff that you will encounter.
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