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.

 

 

 

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.

 

 

Impact by Fever Dream Theatre at Pleasance Courtyard.


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A one man show performed by Richard Henderson and written/directed by Jonathon Carr this was a chance purchase on our part.  Described as a dark thriller with an opportunity for the audience to participate as they read victim statements from the trial of a man who it transpires has been involved in a heinous crime.

It’s a brilliant hour of theatre in which Henderson mesmerisingly draws you into his warped mind.  Although most will decide the artist is guilty of the crime his exterior is of a perfectly normal and balanced human being looking for meaning in his life.  So far, so millennial.  Where he finds that meaning is also both normal and laudable.  The story is about how once in this place he manipulates those around him to meet his ultimate needs.

The hour passed in the blink of an eye and is up there among the best performances I’ve seen on the Fringe this year.

I imagine most would ask what degree of ‘Direction’ is needed in a one person show but I’ve seen three so far this year and one would have benefited from Jonathon Carr’s hand being on the tiller.

The nuance of this performance didn’t just happen by chance.

Strongly recommended.

A day on the Fringe.


Nice. No, really nice. To spend a whole day with your best pal agreeing, disagreeing, (not fighting), puzzling about plays about homosexual parentage, eco-terrorist mass murder by train derailment, the meaning of life by Karl Sagan and time travel, slavery and the sexual politics it can result in and, best of all; Rock and Roll (indie style), the death of your dementia ridden parents and having a baby maybe just before it was biologically too late. And to meet Coronation Street Stars and Ulster American Stars and What Makes a Girl stars and the Three best directors in Scortland (Orla, Cora and David). To eat good, really quite good street food. To drink a little too much beer, without losing the ability to enjoy any of the above. And then to sleep.

The bastard child of Aaron Sorkin, Frankie Boyle (maybe Jerry Sadowitz) and Martin McDonagh – Ulster American @ The Traverse Theatre *****.


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You know those things Frankie Boyle says that few of us even think?

You know the way Martin McDonagh captures the Irish ‘thing’?

You know the pace and eloquence that Aaron Sorkin brings to TV writing?

This is the mash up.  Kinda.

It’s actually a symbiosis of the three:  1 + 1 + 1 = >3

Written by David Ireland (I HAVE to see more of his work), brilliantly directed by Gareth Nichols and impeccably acted;  no, ferociously acted, by Darrell D’Silva, Robert Jack and Lucianne McEvoy.  This is joyous, mind tingling, laugh out loud, sick to the stomach farce, and political machination brought together in an unholy alliance that led to whoops, cheers and a standing ovation from a sold out Trav 2 audience that were simply blown away by total theatre.

90 minutes passed in the blink of an eye and you could have wrung us out after.

By revealing ANY of the plot would be a spoiler but you’ll never think of Princess Diana the same way again.

This will win every award going.