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.

 

 

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.

The Edinburgh International Festival and Fringe. The final Reckonings.


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You’ve put up with me so far so here’s the final evaluation.  And the Gorman Awards.

Best show:  Nederlands Dans Theatrer.

Best Musical (excluding Pippin):  Les Miserables.

Best Play:  The Divide (Part 1)

Funniest Show:  Guru Dudu’s Silent Disco Walking Tour

Best Venue:  Summerhall

5 stars *****

Nederlands Dans Theater

Rain

Guru Dudu’s Silent Disco Walking Tour

Border Crossing

Richard Gadd: Monkey See, Monkey do

The Divide (Part 1)

Meow Meow’s The Little Mermaid

£¥€$ (Lies) by Ontroerend Goed

Gus Harrower

Adam

4 Stars****

Les Miserables 4.5*****

Lilith: The Jungle Girl

The Gardener

Dolly Would

Meet me at Dawn

Charlotte Church’s Late Night Pop Dungeon

Staffa

Sweeney Todd

The Divide (Part 2)

Into the Woods

Nina

3 stars***

Flight

Blanck Mass

Guy Pratt

Seance

2 stars**

Party Game 2.5***

The Performers by Irvine Welsh

 

 

 

 

Lilith: The Jungle Girl by Sisters Grimm at The Traverse: Edinburgh Fringe Review.


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Sisters Grimm is a multi-award winning Melbourne based experimental queer theatre group and Lilith is the barmy brainchild of Ash Flanders (who plays Lilith) and Declan Greene.

The three person cast includes Candy Bowers as the hilarious Sir Charles Penworth a Dutch based brain surgeon and Genevieve Giuffre as his assistant, Helen Travers, who is deeply in love with him (her as it happens).

The show concerns the civilisation of a feral jungle girl Lilith, who has been brought up by Lions in the jungles of Borneo and has an irrational fear of Penguins.

From the off it is obvious that Lilith is actually a man as Ash Flanders makes his entrance completely naked and ‘soaped up’ in a pink gunge that makes the vinyl floor of the set a veritable ice rink and creates many off script moments of hilarity.

Bowers’ hilarious Victorian bombast creates belly laughs a plenty.  Her performance is at the heart of the show but all three are excellent.  In a particularly amusing ongoing gag he can’t (or won’t) pronounce Helen’s name correctly; it’s a gift that keeps on giving.

There is a degree of Pygmalion about this because if Lilith cannot reach an acceptable level of civilisation and language she will be lobotomised by Sir Charles (or worse).

The threat pushes her onwards and the transformation is real until it all goes wrong and we are transported to London Zoo where Bowers has now assumed the persona of a South London Rapping Lion.

It is again hysterical.

This show is brilliant.

I’m not sure it has any deep meaning, but with its mix of a fine ‘Ripping Yarn’, slapstick, gender bending, extreme full frontal nudity and terrific acting it’s an absolute treat.

4.5*****

 

 

Dolly Would by Sh!t Theatre at Summerhall: Edinburgh Fringe Review


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Well, this one comes from left field.  It’s a mash up of love, real love, for Dolly Parton (in which her legendary breasts feature very prominently and not just in the image above – from near the show’s conclusion) and the fact that Dolly the Sheep (named after Dolly Parton) was created near to Summerhall in the Rosslyn institute.  Given that Summerhall was previously a Veterinary School this is perhaps also appropriate.

The cloning theme is developed by showing the veneration Dolly Parton creates with clone fans galore (famously Dolly herself entered a Dolly Parton lookalike show and lost).

We are left in no doubt that Sh!t Theatre’s two players, Louise Mothersole and Rebecca Biscuit, are lesbian lovers and their love for each other and of Dolly Parton (not uncommon in the gay world as I realised with no uncertainty when I was in the crowd for her legendary Glastonbury legends gig) was a relationship-saving writing project.

Their love for Dolly has no bounds and this reunited them and has led to a totally insane celebration of her life during which the ridiculous treatment she received from the media, focussing largely on her looks and her assets, is ridiculed.

But also her own sexuality is deeply questioned.  Was her great friend Judy really her lover?

I liked the way they used the 1977 Barbara Walters interview with Dolly as a narrative musical device that was a recurring theme in the show, supported by a neat live music loop.

I suppose more questionable was the way they cut their vest tops to expose their breasts for most of the show.  It might make some of the more strident feminist wing of their devotees uncomfortable, but I was fine with it.

Some of Sh!t’s performance is shambolic (the balloon bursting scene for example) and wilfully amateur in its look and feel (a fair bit of corpsing occurs) but that’s all part of its charm.  And I have no doubt it is intended.

I loved it.  My wife hated it.

I guess that’s part for the course.

4****

 

 

 

 

Richard Gadd’s Monkey See, Monkey do at Summerhall: Review, Edinburgh Fringe


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I was taking no risks seeing this.  Voted the hit of last year’s Fringe Gadd has toured the world performing it over 200 times.

what I was not prepared for was its kick in the heart emotional trauma.

This is billed as comedy but it’s so much more than that. (But, yes, it’s outrageously funny.)

The ‘more’ is an entire treatise on sexual abuse and the resultant depression.

The monkey of the title is Gadd’s subconscious creating massive panic attacks and extreme self doubt.  The show is a metaphor about running away from money demons (the monkey on your back) and so, to bring that metaphor to life Gadd performs it from a tread mill and his vest top gradually saturates as his one hour run slowly overwhelms him physically.

But the low-fi technical brilliance of the show with his sound and video designer, Phil, is what makes it so original and ultimately extremely moving.

My wife is not one to demonstrate her emotions by way of leading a standing ovation.

Until last night.

Bravo.

Bravo indeed Richard Gadd.

*****

Blanck Mass at Summerhall: Edinburgh Fringe Review.


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I only discovered Blanck Mass the other day.  But have immersed myself in his magic vibe since then (but only when the Mrs is down corner shop, cos when she heard me training for the gig she said TURN THAT FUCKING SHITE DOWN. She is deluded.)

He is half of Fuck Buttons.

He is loud.

He is proud.

He is loud.

Really fucking loud.

And quick.

I clocked one number (the closer) at 200bpm, so I will probably need a fucking hip replacement next week. ‘Cos I was dancing along.

And a hearing aid.

And his videos are like sick (maggots and intestines doing peristaltic movement).

When he weren’t fucking our hips he went for ballads (80bpm), it was a wee bit dull.

But when he cranked it; it was FUCKING great.

Here’s to 200bpm.

Cheers man.  Short but sweet.