Tuesday August 15, two shows, one worthy of comment, one of which we shall not speak.
First was Hamlettes, from American High School Theatre Festival, on its last night. I gleaned quickly from the programme that I would probably have enjoyed this more if I had a knowledge of the film Mean Girls, but all the same, there were many deft touches in the language and the staging, and with a bigger, more receptive audience it could have gone down really well. Unusually for an AHSTF production, there were only three actors – usually they have large casts. One of the actors has the same surname as one of the sponsoring companies.
What really sabotaged a promising production was the photographer the company had hired, who sat in the front row with a digital SLR. The camera had a bright back screen, a huge telephoto lens and of course, SLRs make a clicking noise. And this guy was taking on average three shots a minute, for all of the 75 minutes of the play. I was in the back row and it was driving me nuts, so the people in the first few rows must have wanted to murder him. At least I could interpose other people between me and the screen, they had to contend with the screen and the swinging about of the lens.
On the way out, we did point out to the “freelance” how annoying his photography was; a lady with lots of laminates, whom I assume was with the company, dismissively said she would “take our comments on board.” But clearly, the vanity nature of the project had overtaken the needs of the paying audience. The kids have their snaps, but I doubt we will attend AHSTF presentations in future.
We attended six shows on Wednesday 9 August, only one of which I’ll gloss over (“it’s not you, it’s me…”)
Delightfully, predictably, charmingly, C theatre‘s Shakespeare for Breakfast was as hilarious as ever. In its 26th year of performance, each year always seems to have been the best ever. Enough said.
Pauline Goldsmith‘s Bright Colours Only was a pleasant surprise. I knew nothing about this play/performance, which she originated and first staged in 2001.
It’s billed as an Irish Wake Show and as we enter the room (complete with coffin and set as an Irish parlour,) we are offered tea (in cups and saucers,) sandwiches, whisky, biscuits and swiss roll and are shown to our seats to join in the wake. Over the hour, Goldsmith explores with humour, poignancy and depth our reactions to death and mourning – and ultimately, chillingly, our own certain demise. A great piece of staging and indeed street theatre, as the audience is enjoined to follow the coffin out into the hearse awaiting in George Street at the climax of the show.
Ghost Light Players come from Massachusetts and bring their take on Hamlet to The Fringe in an unshowy and inventive production. Their sets and production values are simple but effective.
Our second American High School Theatre Festival production at Central Hall was Romeo and Juliet ; a little more ambitious than the Tempest we saw there on Monday and the problem with the echoing of the hall did not seem so pronounced; but then I knew tonight where the best seats to counter this were and went there straight away.
Tonight’s nightcap was Droll from the Owle Schreame players and was the second good surprise of the day. The show consists of a series of bawdy sketches from the sixteenth and seventeenth century theatre. Theatre was outlawed in England in 1642 and supposedly died, but as was pointed out in this show, three things happened; the superstar actors went abroad and continued acting; actors who could turn their hands to other professions did so; but he middle ground of the talent who could not do any other work just carried on acting in this sort of thing. The show is acted in character (and yes, I started out thinking they had been in the pub all day) by five superb actors and they say it changes every night.
In retrospect, it was insanely optimistic to think I could update the blog at the same time as going to so many shows over the week commencing 7 August, so here goes with the backlog…
The first show on Monday 7 August was the excellent Kafka and Son by Theaturtle and Richard Jordan Productions. A monologue co-written and performed by Alon Nashman, it examines the correspondence of Franz Kafka to his father, positing the idea that much of what informed Kafka’s work came from the dysfunctional relationship he had with his father. Not a subject which is debated much in Stratford’s Bar, but it made for a captivating hour in a really interesting venue I had not been to before, Bunker One at The Pleasance. The performer was going to make himself available in the Bunker Bar afterward for discussion of the play and the “increasingly Kafka-esque world.” The show continues until 27 August and is highly recommended even, or especially if, you know as little about Kafka as I do. If you Google the title, there is a complete performance on a platform called Vimeo, but I don’t think it would be as good as being present at a performance.
For many years (although not all 26) one of the highlights of our Fringe has been C theatre‘s Shakespeare for Breakfast – this year they are also presenting Dickens for Dinner, a similarly formatted show where the five mega-talented members of the company riff around aspects of Dickens (mostly A Christmas Carol today) to huge comic effect. Always reliably hilarious. C theatre are presenting a total of six shows throughout the Fringe, at least three of them with the same five-strong cast.
Bristol’s Theatre Ad Infinitum first performed Translunar Paradise at the Fringe in 2011 and it’s back this year. I would say it is inspired a lot by the great sequence in the Pixar movie Up! that everyone knows, where the old man reflects on his life with his recently deceased wife; a real tear-jerker, as is Translunar Paradise judging by the sniffles I could hear around the theatre. A very cleverly devised and expertly acted show.
American High School Theatre Festival are always worth a look. As you would imagine, this is a banner for a number of American High Schools to present work. They have used various venues throughout Edinburgh, this year it is Central Hall at Tollcross and the show tonight is The Tempest. As per usual, there is no lack of skill in the acting and costumes, but they go at some pace and tonight were defeated by the natural echo of the huge hall – I eventually found a third seat where the reverberations were minimised and I could follow the rapidly delivered lines. But a good effort.
I’ve been having a good Fringe so far this year and we’re not even half way in.
First nice surprise was to see Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens back in Edinburgh. I met the players twenty years ago when the show premiered in Edinburgh and went along this year not expecting much, but was pleased to meet director and co-author Mike Fidler again – the show was in Edinburgh on condition that he direct it. Consequently, it is a fine production again, with an excellent cast…on at The Caves every night.
On the subject of continuity, I enjoy going to see Fourth Monkey Theatre Company in Edinburgh – I’ve seen three of their four shows this year; an adaptation of Treasure Island aimed mainly at children, which was fine; Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba which was better; and best – definitely not one for children – a promenade adaptation of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland which was chilling and thrilling in a David Lynch style. Good exercise as well, with the number of times one is up and down the steps in The Space on North Bridge.
Another repeat prescription is Shakespeare for Breakfast , which every year contrives to top the previous year’s show. Ticket price includes coffee and croissant…a must see.
Each year also brings several shows under the banner of the American High School Theatre Festival, which colonises the Churchill Theatre in Morningside for a couple of weeks. Although “school plays,” the acting, vivacity and production values put many professional companies to shame. The best of the three AHSTF shows I’ve seen was by PDS Theater from New Jersey, a stunning version of As You Like It, which took place in Pilrig Church – looks like they’re spreading out…
I can’t remember the last Fringe I didn’t see Linda Marlowe perform; this year she is in Night Bus with the deeply impressive Sarah-Louise Young, a series of comic and bitter-sweet sketches set on, yes, a night bus. That’s on at the The Pleasance, which somehow seems much more comfortable this year.