If stories are not continued to be told, the lives they contain can be wiped away like chalk on a blackboard. In the basement of Edinburgh’s Army Reserve Centre, Will Huggins preserves the story of his great uncle Edgar, a veteran of the First World War. This is a story of boys thrown into battle, of horses and of dreams never quite realised.
Dotted with recordings of Edgar’s voice, collected by the Imperial War Museum, there are delicate moments of humour and love. As it becomes clear that Edgar was resistant to talking about the darker details of his time during the war, perhaps the greatest reveal is the guilt of being alive some soldiers feel, that surviving somehow makes you less of a hero.
Huggins acknowledges that as a child he unconsciously glorified his great uncle’s trauma, looking at a war wound with “horrified wonder”. Here, he approaches the topic with care, but the pain is never blistering and he moves too fast to let it settle.
Huggins illustrates his words with chalk, noting dates, names and ill-prepared attack strategies like an old fashioned lecture. The pedagogical style seeps into the content. It is a tragic story but told by numbers. This personal history lesson is an important record, but could be just as impactful, and perhaps more so, were it made for radio.
At the end of the play Huggins wipes the blackboard clean. He leaves two numbers: year of birth and death. In the end, this is how most of us are remembered. While this may not be the most accomplished play, it is lovely that Edgar’s story can now also be remembered by strangers through his great nephew’s performance.
Yaël Farber’s thrumming production returns to the Fringe after it first stalked the stage in 2012. Creating a vivid, bloody drama of race and class, August Strindberg’s Miss Julie is transposed to post-apartheid South Africa. The intensity holds throughout as Julie (played with feral desire by Hilda Cronje) tempts her manservant John (with an avalanche of a performance by Bongile Mantsai) in this production which roars for its full 90 minutes.
The love between the impossible duo is so ferocious the stage seems to beat. Their destructive passions never settle, power constantly throwing them across the stage. A gun is pointed one way then the other. Lungs crack and blood seeps.
Though Julie and John’s bodies fit together, they are unable to find any sense of harmony. There is a temporary moment of calm where tensions reduce to a simmer, limbs bubbling to touch, before cascading once again into a thumping, savage haze. Over the haunting, metallic tune of the onstage band, they replay the tensions between their ancestors as they rip wildly at each other’s cores. The vast theatre is not ideal for the intensity of the production, but it pulsates regardless.
While bundled in the illicit couple’s searing lust, the production also shows how John’s mother is traumatised by her past, agony tangible in her song. The tragedy of the ignorance of youth is revealed in the last few moments of the play, as the dust settles, and John’s mother is left to clear up the devastating mess.
Original: Fest. Photo: Murdo Macleod.
We watch as a movie is made. Orwin plays Her, a seductress whose every action is for Him, played by a different member of the audience each night. Dressed as a cowboy, he is the star of the show. He reads from an autocue in a Texan drawl, following his stage directions. Our audience member is perfect, macho, tattooed, standing tall. The gun looks natural in his hands.
Her grip on the gun is sexual rather than controlling. She holds it not to shoot, but to pass to him, or to caress. As she dances for him, tempts him and fawns over him, his scenes become more possessive, more violent. As Orwin’s accent fades, her enthusiasm falters and her words trail off, he remains in character. Gun slung over his shoulder, drawl in place, we watch as his power grows and her patience goes.
We know he’s acting but his commitment to the role is chilling. He questions a slap and a kiss but goes for them regardless. He shoves her to the floor. He stares into the camera. He growls a threat.
The play is quiet and at time stilted. But Orwin provides a platform for alpha male traits to breed, deliberately leaving little space for him to think before doing. By watching silently, we too are complicit in these acts of gendered brutality. By both following and disrupting Jean Luc-Goddard’s famous phrase that all you need to make a movie is a girl and a gun, Orwin has created a disturbing, wickedly manipulative exploration of consent, gender roles and violence.
In Amy Conway’s personal, personable show, she draws together her love of video games and the reality of depression, trying to understand them in conjunction with each other. How is Mario always happy even if he’s just fallen into a pit of fire? How does goodness always triumph?
Conway merges the two worlds, trying to use video game techniques to bop the bad thoughts on the head. But we don’t always have the power to press pause or save on our own lives. This show is a demonstration that Mario’s positive attitude can’t always be replicated in reality, that the pep talks on video games are often atrocious examples of how to talk to those in need of help, and that the difficulties of facing the darkness alone are sometimes insurmountable.
The audience are encouraged to get up and play silly games, spilling giggles over the seats and highlighting the social aspect of playing. She shares her love of these beautiful adventures with us. Her enthusiasm is infectious, and her honesty is gracious. It is not a slick show, but for the majority of it, she creates an atmosphere of comfort and support, as she tells of her own struggles, and her subsequent work with the Samaritans.
The highly personal nature of the show frames its parameters, sometimes restrictively so, at times feeling like an interactive essay. At the end of the show she confronts the audience in an action intended as supportive, but that is in reality—at least for myself and a friend in the theatre—extremely uncomfortable.
Aside from the final few minutes, Amy Conway’s Super Awesome World is in turns delightful and sombre, and a gentle hour of care welcome at a chaotic festival.
It sounds like every other modern love story: two people meet online and fall in love. But this beautiful, bumbling three-hander leapfrogs over other couples to dig its way into your heart. It runs wildly, whacking the opponents with a drumstick along the way, and then awkwardly stops right behind you, waiting for you to turn around and realise that it’s what you’ve been looking for all along.
A man (Ste Murray) and a woman (Catherine Russell) match on a dating app. As they chat, a human incarnation of the internet (Aoife Spratt) watches. Spratt is a digital cupid, a judgemental, nosy, sarky, hilarious, geeky middle-man. In her retro haze, she highlights the modern realities of knowledge sharing, of not fully reading articles, of GIFs and pictures replacing words in our flirting vocabulary. When the relationship jolts or pauses, she is the desperate friend trying to pull them back together.
With the burden of a past event that can’t help but breed distrust and fear of intimacy, the decision to turn the funny face on a screen into a fully dimensional human being takes an astronomical leap of trust. In this way, Dylan Coburn Gray’s seemingly frivolous production carries a huge weight as it deals with something society still isn’t very good at talking about.
BlackCatfishMusketeer fizzles with charm, but it’s not the extraordinary lives or remarkable staging that makes it so endearing. It is the mundanity. These encounters, these beginnings, these GIFs sent late at night to a stranger you feel a connection with – they’re happening everyday. It is a deeply hopeful, humorous, delicate exploration of modern dating, of fear and trust, of suggestive ellipses, of love.
Locating the historic tussle between inventors Thomas Edison and Nikola Tesla in an Orwellian dystopia, this cracked history gets lost in a sea of glitter.
In an alternative past, a determined Tesla (Zoe Feldman) is robotically manipulated by a demonic Edison (Jaz Blain). The fundamentals are rooted in truth as Edison was Tesla’s employer, and history tells of a great feud between them, but this wonky retelling focuses more on its aesthetics than on creating coherent content.
The controlling environment of Edison’s factory, where every step is overseen and every deviation noted, is a check list of traditional dystopian tropes. Surreal elements are randomly chucked in to disrupt this, but as a result feel incongruous: a lip-synced golden rave; a flirtatious pigeon. They lack a logical connection with the script.
Sound levels undulate, making the details of the plot harder to understand. Film clips and sound queues deafen and drown out the shouts of the actors. Even without background noise, some dialogue in the opening scenes is lost through a lack of projection.
There are lovely touches: translated subtitles projected onto a back wall, and a sparkling swimming pool of gold ribbon. Kirstyn Ballard’s compositions of five-part harmonies are luxurious, with the female chorus providing a beautiful background for several scenes. But they are underused, this delicacy not replicated throughout the rest of the production.
This company clearly have some bright ideas, but their execution could do with some polishing.
The progression of this show is not dissimilar to those nights when a friend gets blind drunk, starts a rambling story that never reaches its conclusion, gets very intimate and finally ends up in a corner crying. At a certain point in the performance the audience are forced to share their recent emotions. Today we’ve got: unease, confusion, terror. It is uncertain whether the suggestions refer to this year as a whole or specifically this show.
Manic clown Alexandra Tatarsky presents her audience with an endurance test of tumbling, nonsensical garbling. One word sparks a new thought as she sparsley covers the broad ground of the disaster of American politics, though at no point offering insight or humour on any event or person. This element of performance art could almost be taken as a clever literal staging of America today, if it were not for the fact that she follows this section with a session of laughter yoga.
It is exhaustingly ridiculous in the least entertaining way. Laughter, tears, vomit, scream. A deep-throat ketchup scene pushes it beyond this reviewer’s patience and gag reflex.
There is enough vomit-inducing, tear-staining, shatteringly vile politics going on right now. We don’t need it to be staged too, especially not when it runs over its time slot by 10 minutes. Unease. Confusion. Terror. Mixed in with a good dollop of boredom and frustration, that pretty much sums it up.
Dickless delights in misanthropy. Lauren Downie and Tessa Jane Fairey take turns at performing Aisha Josiah’s one-woman play. Her characters are a playground to swing across, and Josiah arms them artfully, quips and pint in hand.
Saff has a lack of fear: of people, of sex, of words. She walks with a swagger and an undercut, her attitude large enough to fill every venue in Edinburgh. Taking us through her night of family feuds, boys and broken friendships, she is a master storyteller. At home, she gets in everywhere for free because of her face. Here, she holds the audience in the palm of her hand thanks to her words.
Oli is sleazy but charming. Even when he’s got himself into a right mess, his confidence oozes unfailingly. Though the gender issues thrown to him midway through the show offer a potentially potent platform for explanation, it’s not given enough breathing space. Like the wonderfully surreal animal slaughter sprinkled throughout, the extraordinary events of the night are simply accepted and downed with the next drink.
Downie switches character with aplomb, not just Saff and Oli but family members and friends too, painted with curious details that make their characters entirely believable, like the lovingly-formed Old Boy with his bubbling, fish-like uncertainty.
Dickless provides hilarity in the bleakest of moments. It is easy to overlook Saff and Oli’s dubious morals and fall in step with them as they leave chaos in their wake.
On the back wall of the theatre are a mass of jumbled fairy lights. Like the lives of people in shared spaces, they are messily, inseparably tangled.
Jess Murrain and Lucy Bairstow present a series of duos struggling with limited living conditions. An uptight landlady and an edgy lodger who talk at rather than to each other. Two perfectly presented lesbians whose facade cracks as they repeat the words of a scene with a different tone. A single girl, finally with a space of her own, who can’t sleep because of the urban noise.
The comedy goes some way to displaying the pressures of living with another, but the characters aren’t quite full, funny or clever enough to shatter stereotypes or produce belly laughs. By displaying straightforward stereotypes of millennials, Theatre with Legs do little to transcend those typical narratives.
The sketches don’t push hard enough at Murrain and Bairstow’s frustrations. The domestics simmer but rarely boil. Moments of song present potential for more original work, but the scenes aren’t given enough space to build. The devised scenes are neither cohesive nor absurdly scrambled enough to have an identity, resulting in a tangle much like the mass of fairy lights.
The addition of microphones, a sprinkling of glitter and nakedness demonstrate attempts at crossing into more innovative ground, but the half-hearted aesthetic experiments are more like a deposit than a solid month’s rent.
Siân Rowland’s three-hander boldly tries to unpick complex modern situations, but falls short, leaving underdeveloped characters struggling with subjects too big for them to carry.
From the tip of the pencil to the little lies told, everything in Gazing at a Distant Star is clean and white. Anonymous. Each of the characters is dealing with loss, of another and of their own identity. Arun (a gentle Harpal Hayer) blends into his cold-calling job, using the name Adam so as not to put people off by sounding too “ethnic”. Anna (an amicable Serin Ibrahim) reminisces about her sister’s potentially abusive partner. Karen (a broken Victoria Porter) sends a message to her missing son as she rides waves of guilt.
The play asks where responsibility lies, and who is to be blamed. What should they have done? Shouldn’t they have seen the signs? Couldn’t they have changed the end of these stories?
The exploration of these big questions lacks nuance. The meet-cutes are too easy, plot changes are dolloped heavily, and the twist that drives the second half of the play is easily guessed early on.
Rowland’s ideas are ambitious and her writing touches on delicate subjects worthy of discussion. The specific situation of Karen’s character—the mother of an attacker—is one unseen on most stages and increasingly relevant to our modern world, but the restricted form of the monologue Rowland provides her with limits her character to that of a victim. Combined with the other two stories, this script doesn’t carry enough weight to make an impact.
Delicately woven together, the stories of Annie (Charlie Sellers) and Sophie (Maureen Lennon) unravel like a salty lullaby. With their melancholic monologues underscored by live folk music—played by Mortiboy who sits centre stage, watching the action unfold—Hull-based company Bellow Theatre have created a story to tell in hushed tones round a campfire.
Study, work, marriage, babies. Annie and Sophie are desperate for more than the ordinary. As they both catch a current they can’t turn back on, the play reveals the pressures and expectations on young women.
Theirs are the stories of cruel men and crap jobs. Annie, thrown into a life she’s not ready for, tries to regain control through slight acts of rebellion and slow-burning self-destruction. Sophie, trapped by a possessive husband, resorts to other people’s stories. She tells bedtime tales in order to understand her own, recounting Arabian Nights with its myths of honour, horror and possession. When she dives into her own story, Sophie makes it clear the tales of girls trapped by kings don’t only belong in fairytales.
Everything in the production is approached with care. The direction is subtle, the drama creeping through in words rather than actions. At times it begs for a harder edge. Their voices are gentle as they build up the courage to speak out, with Mortiboy’s gentle strumming dappling below their words, never quite allowing the intensity to land. This dark, delicate production reminds us there is still a chance to change the end of every story. Watching it feels like being wrapped in a warm towel after jumping into the cold sea.