The Divide by The Old Vic: Edinburgh International Festival Review


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This show has had (incredulously to me) mixed reviews because it is a stellar piece of theatrical work and in particular a stellar piece of direction by Annabel Bolton.

The design of this six hour, two-piece, marathon takes the breath away and it’s a gift that keeps on giving.  The use of gauze which I wonder if the director meant to echo her use of mesh over the actors’ faces as a means of protection from ‘the plague’ was brilliant throughout.

Gauze is an ancient theatrical device that’s rarely exploited these days , yet it is a centrepiece in this outstanding production.  It strikes a chord with me because its ‘old fashioned’ technique chimes beautifully with Alan Ayckbourn’s vision of the future.

His vision has no technology.

Literally none at all.

No snapchat.  No hand held devices.

(OK, a spot of email at the end but that’s it.)

It’s radical and it’s brilliant.

It’s ‘human’.

His dystopia is a romantic one. (And it’s complicated.) Maybe he likes Blur…

Girls who are boys
Who like boys to be girls
Who do boys like they’re girls
Who do girls like they’re boys
Always should be someone you really love

The story is so brilliant on so many levels; sexual, political, racial. His future vision is of a world where black is white and vice versa.

In this play;

  • Women are the dominant sex (but have no self esteem).  They have assumed power and out-bred men.  Yet men STILL pull the strings, somehow.
  • Same sex marriage is the norm.  Heterosexuality is repulsive (Cue a sort of Romeo and Juliet subplot)
  • Republicanism is dead.  Certainly in the UK neoliberalism and free thinking (leftist) politics grow gradually throughout.

I loved every minute of the 6 hours and 5 minutes of this brilliant play.  Sure, it needs tightening but that will happen when you see it LONDON.

Can I just say in closing how mesmerisingly brilliant the two main protagonists were; Erin Doherty and Jake Davies who narrate the show through their childhood to adolescence.

Truly great performances, both.

(Check out the photo above and the amount of highlighting on that script.)

 

Les Miserables by Captivate Theatre: At the Rose Theatre, Edinburgh Fringe Review


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I know how difficult Les Mis is for a youth group, trust me.  But Captivate have been honing their skills on the Fringe with this show (different casts each year) for a while now so they should know how to go about it.

And they do.

The Rose Theatre is a welcome addition to our theatrical real estate in Edinburgh and when they sort out their technical teething problems it will be a brilliant venue.  Today’s was more succesful than the National Youth Jazz Orchestra gig that I reviewed earlier in the year, but it’s not quite nailed on yet.

But let’s forget about that, shall we, and concentrate instead on this stupendous production.  The nature of working a shared venue necessitates a parsity of set design but Director, Sally Lyall, has done a good job in utilising a bunch of grey wooden crates that come into their own at the barrier scene which works really well.  I also liked her devise for transporting the ‘souls’ of the many fatalities in this celebrated show off the stage and through the audience.

It’s a lovely visual leitmotif.

In general her direction is assured and light handed, but at times there is a tendency for ‘enthusiasm’ that I’d like better if it was dialled down to 9.  But in the quieter, more poignant, moments such as Empty Chairs at Empty Tables, I Dreamed a Dream, On my Own and Bring Him Home she creates an electrifyingly intense audience connection.

The ensemble is brilliant.  Every number they perform is welcome, solid, and really well pitched.

The orchestra (it’s not a band) is big, beefy and boisterous.  They do a fine job

But it’s the succession of excellent principle performances that really gets you.

I loved Conall Ross’ Marius (one of my favourite parts in the show) and I adored his Empty Chairs (for me the song of Les Mis).  He’s nicely soppy but engaging with it.  The scene with his comrades, prior to battle, where he declares his undying and sudden love for Cosette is really well done.

Cosette herself is simply wonderful with Naomi Anderson reminding me of a young Irene Allan (her delightful soprano voice really resonates with emotion).

The Thenardiers are both brilliant (but especially Georgia-Lee Roberts who would give Les Dawson a run for his money in any gurning competition), Eion Mullen though is also great.

Rosie Graham’s hapless Eponine gathers momentum throughout the show and she puts in a lovely understated performance.

Kara Chalmers is beautiful as Fantine and she totally hits the spot with her show-stopper moment.

The youngsters; Little Cosette (Isla Manson/Georgia Sim/Kayla Travers) and Gavroche (Tom Barclay or Seamus Cross – I know it wasn’t Andrew Gilbert as he used to be in my Youth Theatre) were also excellent.

But, for the show to really work, you need a strong Valjean and Javert.  Both were outstanding.  They bounced off each other convincingly and Benjamin Collins’ rendition of On my Own hit all the high spots with an assured use of falsetto.  That can be the death of many a Valjean; long before the Epilogue. Finlay McKillop sounds like an opera singer and is destined for good things in the future.  I would’t be surprised if he turns up at the Conservatoire.

Collectively, their excellent diction really helped move an extremely complex story along, at a fair old clip, in a very coherent way and that can be another real problem with Les Mis.

Not this one.

That was a 4.5 stars for me guys.  Enjoy your run.  The standing ovation at the end proved I was not alone in this view.

 

Birthday Cake: Review, Edinburgh Fringe, KCS Theatre


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KCS Theatre boast of six successive five star reviews from the Scotsman so the implication is that similiar will follow.  (I find it interesting that the Scotsman choose to review a London Youth theatre six years in a row but Edinburgh’s finest Youth tTheatre has not had a single review since the 1980’s but that’s an aside.)

However this is no five star show.  Presented earnestly by an enthusiastic cast it suffers a little from being presented in a conveyor belt venue where productions are rattled through with little or no chance for production design other than the most basic.  The story (described as a dark comedy) concerns at the stabbing of a teenager, Louie, that is presented in a series of flashbacks of his teenage life in which we discover his struggles with his sexuality.

The story is very difficult to follow and the acting, although pretty decent has a lack of real conviction.

Although an obvious friend of the company behind me found the whole thing hysterical I can’t say there was a single laugh out loud moment.

Startlingly average in my opinion.

At C Venues Level 3.

 

£¥€$ (Lies). Review. At Summerhall. (No spoilers)


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Belgian shockmeisters, Ontroerend Goed, are renowned for creating immersive theatre that freaks out its audiences.  I’ve never had the balls (or got in fast enough to buy tickets) to actually see them, but I was quick off the mark this year.

I’m very, very glad of that because this fully immersive metaphor for the 2008 crash is a compelling and unpredictable experience; part casino experience, part theatre part competition it’s brilliantly managed from the sound design through to the temperature control of the room.  Both contribute to creating an atmosphere that winds up the audience from the get go.

It’s hilarious and fascinating in equal part.

I don’t want to say any more for risk of spoilers.

It’s completely sold out so I count myself lucky to have experienced this monumentally clever and wholly original theatrical experience.

Seance. Review, Summerhall


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I saw Fiction at last year’s Fringe by the same creators (Glen Neath and David Rosenberg).  It was a mega creepy aural experimental show in a blackened out Potter Row and I loved it.  So I was full of anticipation for a Seance in a blacked out shipping container.  Whilst it’s creepy it’s by no means terrifying,  not by a long shot.

Some may be freaked by it.  Not I though.  Having said that it’s clever and brilliantly sound designed.  So, for a fiver, you get something good, just not great.

Sasquatch, The Opera: Review. Summerhall.


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To describe this as bonkers is approaching understatement.  Ina production desperately let down by both lighting and design teams Roddy Bottum’s opera is still a great success.  The sound, in particular, is so all  over the place that it’s hard to follow the storyline but that doesn’t matter so much as the band is brilliant, the score outstanding and the performances excellent.

Two keys, (one is Bottum), a drum machine, Tympani and two trumpets make up the ‘orchestra’ and the synth led score is simply brilliant, certainly not what I expected from a metal band member.  It’s nearer early Human League than it is Faith No More.

Certainly it left some audience members cold with several walk outs, but the rest of us (notwithstanding the shoddy tech) loved it.

Go see.