Festivals · Theatre

Edinburgh Festival Day Thirteen.

Monday August 14…just the one today.

The Course of True Love - SE Theatre Company

SE Theatre Company’s The Course of True Love is a new piece by Samão Vaz, directed by Elliott Wallis, acted by Vaz and Imogen Parker.  It uses words from apparently ten Shakespeare plays (I recognised five or so) to chart a relationship between the two characters from the first flush of love all the way to it going right round the bend.

After a short preview run in Stratford it is debuting in Edinburgh.

SE Theatre Company The Course of True Love - Edinburgh 2017

It is well devised, skilfully acted and staged. What made it special for me, though, was that Vaz and Wallis are alumni of probably my favourite ever Fringe troupe, Year Out Drama Company, who would present Story Shakespeare for a week each year at The Fringe…until 2014, at least. When there was no entry for them in the 2015 programme, we found out that they had lost their rehearsal space earlier in the year so would have been unprepared for Edinburgh. Sadly they have never returned…

On top of that, Imogen Parker trained with the much lauded Fourth Monkey, probably my second favourite Fringe troupe. I would have seen her in their interpretations of Grimm’s fairy tales two years ago.

I was passing the theatre a couple of days later just as the show would be coming down, so went in the ask Elliot or Samão if they knew how Deborah Moody, the producer of Story Shakespeare was – I met Elliott who told me that she was fine and spending time with her family…Story Shakespeare is sadly now no more.

Below is our picture from 2013.

Stuart Ferguson with Deborah Moody

The Course of True Love plays at 5:10pm at C Cubed in the High Street until 28 August and is highly recommended.

Festivals · Music · Theatre

Edinburgh Festival Day Nine.

Edinburgh Fringe - 70 years of defying the norm

Five shows on Thursday 10 August, only one of which I’ll politely skim over (“it’s not me, it’s definitely you.”)
Impromptu Shakespeare by the company of that name was about half way through an eleven show run and was a polished performance on the premise of the actors improvising a performance based on suggestions from the audience of Shakespearian events, objects or tropes.

Robert Burns: Rough Cut was an interesting one man show depicting Burns’ frustration at the Edinburgh publishing clique with which he struggled for recognition and indeed payment for his work. I liked the frequent references to places near the venue (the Scottish Storytelling Centre in the High Street) where Burns had caroused or tried to do business, it must have been especially pleasing for visitors to the city. I’m afraid I didn’t get the actor’s name.

Baba Brinkman’s Rap Guide to Consciousness was a load of fun. A Canadian rapper rapping about the nature of consciousness in the same space as I attended my first philosophy lectures in the late 1970s. This is just one of many “Rap Guide[s] to…” that Brinkman has done.

After the Virgin Money Fringe party, we went to the fourth and our last Fourth Monkey production of this year (sadly, we could not go to any performance of The Burial of the Rats, their fifth show of this Fringe.) Fourth Monkey had kindly replied to my comments about their lateness in going up on the first two shows of this season, blaming problems in communicating with the venue. It was good of them to pay attention to the gripes of a fan, as I remain after seeing Medusa on this evening. They go from strength to strength.

Gigs · Music · Theatre

Edinburgh Festival Days Three, Four and Five.

Edinburgh Fringe 2017

I got a bit behind over the last few days. We went to fourteen shows, only one of which I won’t mention, so quite a good strike rate. There does seem to be far fewer duds on the Fringe than say, fifteen or twenty years ago.
Friday kicked off with Chris Davis’ One-Man Apocalypse Now at Sweet Grassmarket, an hour long one man solo reduction of Coppola’s masterpiece, a film I think I have seen more often than any other. It was good; Davis seems to be a Fringe professional, doing some hard flyering and indeed another free show after midnight at The Counting House.
An hour or so later, we were at The Space in Niddry Street to watch our favourite company, Fourth Monkey, who have given so much pleasure over so many years now with their singular style and adventurous productions. This year they are visiting Edinburgh with a triptych of plays under the banner Women of Greece, based on Greek myths, opening tonight with Persephone. The company did not disappoint, all the familiar tropes were in place in the venue that they use so well. Every year seems like the best year. It was a shame they started about twenty minutes late, but I put that down to it being a first night.
Then we went a bit off-piste (for me anyway) and went to Underbelly’s Circus Hub in The Meadows to watch Elixir, performed by Head First Acrobats. If you enjoy watching handsome young men performing unfeasible acrobatic stunts, this is for you. I’m neutral.
Today’s Annoying Festival Git is shared among those who think their whispering is inaudible. By definition, it is not.
Saturday started gently with Bob Kingdom’s The Truman Capote Talk Show. This genre has become very popular; an actor appears in the character of a dead writer, actor or musician and addresses us from beyond the grave, including all the subject’s “greatest hits” and pithily assessing the successes and failures of their life. I’ve seen similar on Oliver Reed, Tony Hancock and Nina Simone in previous years. Kingdom’s show is fine and will get better as it eases into the run – it made me think and has given me a couple of additions to my reading list.
Big Brother Hamlet: A Surveillance Adaptation by International Collegiate Theatre Festival is a mouthful and a title that didn’t augur well. What it was turned out to be a perfectly fine Hamlet interpretation with some great ideas and acting that really didn’t need the “Big Brother” conceit of having about a dozen supernumerary actors on stage in cowls mechanically observing the action surveillance cameras. Maybe the show was devised so that all the members of the company could come to Edinburgh, hence these other parts? (In the UK now, we think of the Endemol show when we see the words Big Brother; the reference here was more to Orwell’s original Big Brother, however obliquely. It’s interesting how the phrase Groundhog Day now means something quite different to its original connotation subsequent to the film of that name.)
Pike St. at Roundabout in Summerhall was next and would be the first outstanding thing I’ve seen this year. The venue was deeply impressive, a bespoke theatre-in-the round with excellent sound and lighting options. This allowed the amazing Nilaja Sun to perform her piece most effectively, where she used her body and a variety of voices to portray several characters going about their lives in the Lower East Side of New York City (I think it’s called acting…) This would have been the second show in Edinburgh and it’s already entirely in place.
In the evening, we were back to The Space to see Fourth Monkey‘s Persephone, the second of the Women of Greece series. They went up twenty minutes late with no explanation or apology, really annoying because twenty minutes is not an inconsequential amount of time during the Fringe. People will have other shows to go to. The fact that Persephone was brilliant doesn’t sweeten the pill; rather, the fact they were late for the second night leaves a bitter taste. Once is maybe understandable, twice is arrogant. They know they are great, no-one is going to leave. I was discussing this very loudly in the queue because the guy in front of us had been in the queue for the Hamlet I was at in the afternoon and had been telling people he knew someone from Fourth Monkey who was in Edinburgh. It must have been the girl in the red dress, because that who he was filming covertly (annoyingly) one seat away from me. Saturday’s AFG.
We had limited time to get to the day’s last show, Frankie Boyle at the EICC. My heart lifted as I saw numerous signs around the venue saying if you left, there was no readmission, including toilet breaks (spelled out for the vodsels -put eight pints in, something will come out during Frankie’s marathon one hour set.)
The threat was balls. Fifteen minutes in, the exodus of weak bladders started and they all got back in. At least the couple in the first seats I went to had cut to the chase and already spilled their drinks on the floor, so I reconsidered and sat in row W next to quite a friendly bloke who texted and took videos throughout Frankie’s marathon ONE hour set. He at least didn’t need a piss.
Oh yeah, Frankie Boyle. He was quite funny, but not as funny as taking £17.50 a ticket for ten nights in a 2,000 seater. Sheep. More power to Frankie’s elbow.
Sunday then. At the back of twelve we were at Underbelly to watch the excellent Harry by Poor Michelle. Performed by the writer Caitlin McEwan and Sophie McQuillan, this is a play about two late teenage girls who grow up together devoted to the fandom of Harry Styles, then grow apart as one of them grows up and another crashes and burns because she can’t let go of her devotion to Harry. It was a great experience because it was a play about one of my favourite subjects – not Harry Styles, but being a pop fan; but slightly compromised by one of the actors not having as good projection as the other.
Peer Gynt by Gruffdog Theatre at Zoo was absolutely fine for fans of physical theatre. Lovely venue.
Blank Tiles at Assembly in George Square was better. A monologue by one Dylan Cole about the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease on a Scrabble winning, Star Trek loving, Rubik cube solving geek, it is at once funny and touching.
Later that evening, we went to Dance Base to watch Lady Macbeth, an investigation of the motivation and psyche of that imaginary character rendered in the medium of interpretative dance. It was very good, but sometimes I think “Stuart, you need a word with yourself…”
The evening finished with another visit to The Space to watch Fourth Monkey‘s take on Titus Andronicus. Predictably great. On time tonight, but running overtime. No problem, got the night bus home, which is a Fringe show in itself.

Festivals · Music · Theatre

The Fringe 2014 – so far, pretty good…

Edinburgh Fringe 2014

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.

Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens Edinburgh

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.


Linda Marlowe, Sarah-Louise Young, Night Bus


Festivals · Theatre

Fourth Monkey – One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Fourth Monkey Edinburgh Fringe 2013

Fourth Monkey have returned to The Fringe this year with three productions, of which I watched their adaptation of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest on Sunday.

I had enjoyed their version of Sarah Kane’s 4.48 Psychosis last year, so returned to theSpace on Niddry Street for this year’s show, which was equally strong.  A mostly female cast adapts Kesey’s novel (with more nods to that than Milos Forman’s movie,) with a particularly vibrant performance by Lauren Young in the lead role of McMurphy.  There are many gleefully acted comedy moments, but our gaze is not deflected from the underlying sadness of McMurphy’s eventual defeat in the wake of triumph.

Fourth Monkey is a company with high production values in acting, lighting and sound design; my only cavil is that I wish they would issue even the most basic programme or credits before or after the show; I am still none the wiser as to whose adaptation this was (and it was very good, hinting that the action was taking place  in the present and in the UK,) and all the information I have about them has been gleaned from Internet searches.  They deserve to blow their own trumpet a bit more.

Lauren Young


theSpace on Niddry Street is happily unusual, as a hotel-based venue, in having banked seating and good air-conditioning – not the norm, but essential for comfort and good sight-lines.

The show runs until 24th August.