Twelfth Night. An enigma wrapped up in a conundrum: Royal Lyceum Theatre


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Even the bloody poster’s great: by DO in Leith (http://madeby.do)

“If this were played upon a stage now, I could condemn it as an improbable fiction.”  Act 3.

I urge those potential audience members unfamiliar with this play (like me) to read the Wiki (or other) synopsis two or three times before you come along to this outstanding production, because it is thoroughly deceptive and even more enthralling than Jed Mercurio’s “The Bodyguard” that is thrilling British TV audiences right now.

It’s a Shakespearian comedy, verging, at times, on farce.  And one can immediately understand why Ade Edmondson was cast as Malvalio in last year’s Royal Shakespeare production.  It’s a high comedy role but needs considerable light and shade to work throughout.  Unquestionably this is achieved in bucket loads by Christopher Green here in Edinburgh (transferring as a Co-Pro to Bristol Old Vic for a month from 17 October), he’s the star turn in a simply brilliant ensemble.

He certainly lives up to his famous line…

“Some are born great, some achieve greatness and some have greatness thrust upon ’em.”

But my God it’s complicated.  Take this for a start.

In Shakespeare’s original (which this stays true to script-wise if not cast-wise).  Viola cross-dresses as a man to chase (but fall in love with) Olivia on behalf of his boss Orsino.   Viola having been cast adrift from her almost identical looking twin brother Sebastian.

Now, get what Wils Wilson does.

Viola is a black female.  That’s fine

Her identical brother, Sebastian, though, is a white female.  So they couldn’t possibly be mistaken as the same person.

Olivia.  That’s straightforward, she’s a white female.  Easy.

Orsino is a black female, not male.

So the love triangle is now three females, two of colour and the “identical twin”, also female, is white.  That makes the finale tricky if you aren’t concentrating.

Let’s chuck in Lord Tobi Belch.  Not a Lord.  A lady.  Which makes his, sorry her, suitoring of the maid, Maria, very 21st century.

I don’t say any of this to pass judgement because it’s a key constituent of what makes this production so enthralling.  But it’s complicated (as if it wasn’t anyway.)

So we have sex and skin colour deviations from the source material but we also, as you might expect, have a time-shift to deal with.  It’s set in the summer of love (1960’s sometime) at a party, or perhaps in a commune, where the bored or drugged partygoers suggest they “do” Twelfth Night.

That then places the musical ensemble, led with gusto by the one off that is Aly Macrae, in a musical nirvana which is a huge opportunity for composer Meilyr Jones (who also plays Curio).

And it has to be great because, after all, as the bard himself says (Act 1 scene 1)  “If music be the food of love, play on.”

It is, and they do.

In fact the music is outstanding, immediately likeable, tuneful and with a real groove (I loved it) and it gifts Curio, Feste (brilliant performance by Dylan Read) and Auguecheek (Guy Hughes) almost unlimited show stopping moments.

Feste had us rolling in the aisles – at one point we were treated to a Marti Feldman moment that is burned onto my retina.

I cared a little less for Dawn Seivewright’s Lady Tobi as I felt it was just a little too 100% full on, although it is a massive performance.

The set design by Ana Inés Jabares-Pita – try saying that after a few Chardonnays doll – is enthralling and remains beautiful throughout.

The costumes are triumphal.

And, of course, the whole thing would just be a conundrum wrapped up in an enigma without the brilliant direction and vision of director Wils Wilson.

This is gonna be a great export from Scotland when it hits Bristol later this year.  In the meantime fellow Scots, get yersel’ along.

 

 

 

 

 

Nike smash it with Colin Kaepernick.


Watch this.

10 black protagonists (some disabled)

4 female protagonists (two black)

Three white male protagonists.

Not representative, huh?

Colin Kaepernick, the former San Fransisco 49ers quarterback strongly divides opinion in the USA.

It was he who started the black injustice protest of kneeling on one knee during the National Anthem and this has driven white supremasists, such as Donald Trump, absolutely nuts for disrespecting the flag.

And it’s him that’s fronting this commercial standing in a US city street in front of a rippling US flag.

Now that’s what I call brave marketing.

This is what Donald Trump calls it.

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And he’s right to an extent, there are boycotts from similarly white supremasist Republicans.

But my mate (who doesn’t really like Nike) just bought a White Nike NFL #7 Colin Kaepernick T shirt for £25.

Because this ad moved him.

Sure Nike may lose some customers with this (admittedly a bit Appley) ad, but they’ll win over a lot more than they lose.

Someone at Nike said to a brand manager “Don’t ask if your strategy is crazy, ask if it’s crazy enough.”

I doff my hat.

 

Cold War: Movie Review.


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The first thing to state about this beautiful movie is that it’s monochrome.  So stunningly so that at times you feel you are in a photographic gallery rather than a cinema.  The quality of the cinematography is quite extraordinary thanks to Lucas Zal.

It’s also in 4:3 format.  Not the square format of Instagram, but close.

We don’t see 4:3 very often these days but Wes Anderson used it to immense effect in Grand Budapest Hotel and so did Lazslo Melis in Son of Saul.

It’s an engaging format that draws you in.  It suggests a time before cinemascope (16:9 etc) and only really works in period cinema of a time.

This time.

But it also lends itself to incredible framing, such as when our female protagonist floats down a river gradually disappearing out of shot, and later in the movie when the chief protagonists leave a bus and walk out of frame in a composition that Henri Cartier Breson would be proud of.

It’s one of the most beautiful movies I’ve seen in many years.

In truth that’s probably its biggest strength.

It is, but it isn’t really, narrative driven.  More episodic than story, but it does tell a tale about director Pawel Pawlikowski’s parents’ love affair set against the Cold War backdrop in his native Poland.

It’s fairly sordid in a way (his mother was abused by her father as a child) but without anything shocking to see.

Imagine, yes.

The two leads ( Joanna Kulig and Tomasz Kot) are magnificent.  Brooding, beautiful (although unconventionally so) and real.

Lucas Zal has a great time dwelling on three particular things.  Crowd shots.  Amazing, Dance sequences. Amazing.  Joanna Kulig (the lead).  Amazing.

In particular, Joanna Kulig has a stand out performance.  She’s not one to show her enjoyment in life.  Sullen most would say.  But it is an immense performance.

It’s a love story, set against the challenges that Cold War Poland put in front of people of artistic belief where communist doctrine made creativity very difficult.

What Pawel Pawlikowski achieves is a mood piece of exemplary, peerless really, detail.

And it’s a musical.

I was constantly drawn to comparing it to La La Land, yet it is so NOT La La Land.  Partly it’s down to Kulig who shares the unorthodox looks (beauty) of Emma Stone.  Partly it’s the framing of scenes by Zal.

And the music fuses from Polish country folk to French basement jazz (which La La Land would have been so comfortable with).

This is an Oscar nomination shoe in.  It’s absolutely brilliant.

And, at 88 minutes, certainly does not outstay its welcome.

Bravo!

A Straight 10 from me.

 

 

 

Eurovision Young Musicians 2018 Semi Final #1 at Edinburgh International Festival.


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A major constituent of the magic of Edinburgh in August is the sheer variety of stuff to see.  I’ve done dance, theatre, comedy and music so far.  But this was competition.

Once again it was peacefully protested  by a Palestinian support group – because Israeli Cellist, Tamir Naaman-Pery was taking part.

Presented in conjunction with BBC Arts and broadcast live on that channel and on Radio 3 it was magical.

Three 20 minute performances by Maltese pianist Bernice Sammut Attard, British Cellist vMaxim Calver and Spanish violinist Sara Valencia were all superb but, for us, the stand out was Sara Valencia whose technical excellence was indisputable.  What a talent.

There were six of these.  We only saw one but it was a great hour to spend on a Saturday afternoon.

Bravo!

(The final is on Thursday in the Usher Hall, if it’s not sold out I’d recommend it heartily.)

 

 

L-E-V Dance Company Love Cycles: Love Chapter 2. At The Edinburgh Festival Review.


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I’m fat.

And I dad dance.

So I don’t get, but I do love, modern dance.

Ballet?  Meh.

We saw great dance last year (especially the astounding NDT and Rosa Dance) so we are going BIG on dance this year starting with L-E-V, the Israeli dance company.  (Wayne McGregor tomorrow.)

Anyway, this show was just brilliant.  Beautiful, meticulous, mesmerising, long (for modern dance @55 minutes).

A completely black set with uniformly light grey costumes that made it quite androgynous.

The music by techno DJ Ori Lichtik, was so up my street it was unreal.

The show starts in blackness and gradually the drum beat and the lights build.  It’s gorgeous.

Class.  Great start to the official festival.

 

 

De Fuut by Richard Jordan Productions at Summerhall.


Big in Belgium, Richard Jordan Productions, Theatre Royal Plymouth, RBC

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De Fuut is a bird.  That bird above.

Birds feature thematically in Bastiaan Vandendriessche’s eery, creepy, threatening, really, really scary creepshow.

“What I would really like to do
is go to a desert island with Leda and Emma,
or sail away with the sperm whale
we are lying on the deck
in our swimming costumes
and I tell them stories about
the destruction of the world
about the futility of life
we compose 200 songs together
with the best ironic poetry there is
and I would never hurt them
I would just be very kind and they would too
and we would never go to sleep
they would kiss me on my neck
they kiss me on my neck”

You see, he’s a child molester.  A groomer.  A Sea Scout leader with a penchant for 13 year old girls.  But you know, not just little girls, he’s slept around with men and women.

He’s all cooled out at his desk, telling us of his exploits.  Not boasting, just sharing.  In his green Kaftan, His love of a Scandi solo performer (Ride?) is apparent as he shares his love for him with us.

The set is a shambolic corner of a large venue with us crammed in so he can get close and personal.  A lot of whispering happens in this show.  Sick whispering.  And shouting. Real anger directed at audience members.  This is not for the faint hearted.

It’s an emotional bastard of a piece.

It’s a bit sick, but it’s also a bit brilliant.

Vandendriessche is amazing.  Utterly hateful.  Utterly charming.  Utterly handsome. Utterly Nabokov.

You have to make your own decisions about seeing this very challenging piece of theatre.  It’s not for everyone, in fact it’s hardly for anyone.  But it’s why theatre is important and can challenge society.  It’s uber-Summerhall.  Thank fuck we have this venerable establishment.

Alongside the Traverse, that is pulling no punches with Underground Railroad Game and Ulster American, I have had a Fringe that already has delivered spine-tinglingly challenging thought provocation on a grand scale.  This does it in a very small, very intimate, very creepy, very Belgian way.

Then again, you might just think it’s a thing by a peado. (I didn’t think it was!)

Underground Railroad Game by Ars Nova at The Traverse.


Soho Theatre presents the Ars Nova production.

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The Traverse is ON FIRE this Fringe.  I expect them to win three, maybe four, Fringe firsts at the weekend. (This show, Ulster American and What Girls are Made of, for sure.  I hear great things about others too, including Class and Coriolanus Vanishes.)

But this one troubled me last night.  To say it’s shocking would be an understatement (as shocking as Ulster American?  No.  But very, very challenging).  The two stand comparison because they touch on American political issues with nerves of steel and no apologies for their subject matter – in both cases they are rooted in America’s past, its heritage, its DNA.

What UA does is present that as befuddled birthright to Ireland.

Here too it’s based on a confusion about heritage.  But the much darker heritage of slavery.  America’s shame.

In a society where mixed race relationship, marriage and family upbringing is hardly uncommon, particularly in democratic cities like New York, LA and so on, what this play examines is the underlying racism that says those relationships are actually outliers, that racism is endemic EVEN in those that truly believe they are in touch with their African American side.  No, not in touch with it, IN LOVE with it.

And so Ars Nova have written and perform this shocking exposition of that endemic racism by playing two school teachers, one black, one white who seem to fall in love, set against a backdrop of a participative (and mandatory) school history lesson.  We, the audience, are the pupils playing the Underground Railroad Game.

Any one unaware of this phenomenon should read Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer winning novel The Underground Railroad.  It’s a semi-metaphor for the work of the white  abolitionists who took their own lives in their hands to shepherd slaves into freedom in the north and Canada for nothing other than pity (and perhaps shame).

The teachers are played by Jennifer Kidwell and Scott R Sheppard who wrote the play and what performances these are.  Brave, energetic (sweat drenched), vulnerable, funny and, oh yes, challenging.

So far, so good.

Where it becomes harder to deconstruct is where the humour stops and the hatred starts.  It also challenges the Scottish audience with quite a few North American cultural references I didn’t understand, but you can get over that.

Clearly some of the audience had done their homework better than other because the opening scene in which a slave woman (Kidwell) is discovered in the barn of a quaker abolitionists (Sheppard) both dressed in cliched, almost cartoon, costumes drew howls of laughter whilst the rest of us thought, what’s funny about that?  In the context of the whole and in hindsight it is, of course, funny because this play is about undermining the tropes of slavery.  It’s out there to DESTROY the tropes. To smash the fuck out of them.

In a series of disjointed vignettes the story (as it is, it’s not really a story, it’s a polemic) takes shape and we realise that the protagonists although falling in love do so from different perspectives. White man Sheppard is actually falling in lust, but maybe in love with the idea that ‘a bit of black’ would be a pretty cool thing to experience and would possibly add to his street cred. (Not among the real racists, mind – and if you know Avenue Q you’ll know that “Everyone’s a little bit racist’.)

Black woman Kidwell quickly spots this because seemingly innocent statements made by Rockwell are deconstructed very differently in the brain of a Black African American woman whose ancestors were almost certainly slaves.  And she doesn’t like it.

So we’ve established the premise.  It’s brave enough in its own right.  As an idea.  But to make it sing Ars Nova just go ‘Fuck it, let’s make this thing sing. Let’s not beat around the bush” – yes that’s a deliberate vagina gag).  And so it goes full tilt into DESTROYING those tropes.  I’ll not go into any detail because that really would move me into spoiler territory.

Let me just say that it goes where most liberal theatre fears to tread and for that Ars Nova deserve all the credit they will get.  I personally found it a little hard to follow the narrative thread – I think I was trying to read to much into it at the time – and I found it troubling.

But having reflected on it overnight I am more sure of its message.  An important and brave one.

And so I conclude, not without indecision, that this is a tremendous piece of theatre that should be seen and enjoyed by its sell out audiences.  But do not go to this if you are easily offended – or you will be poleaxed.