Yesterday Jeana and I had the perfect festival day.
We started at 12 with Avenue Q by The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s MA students. So, not a professional production, but as near as damn it because these guys are the cream of the student crop in Scotland, and beyond, and they’re in their final year.
It was devastatingly funny, extremely well sung and technically appeared flawless. I had no previous benchmark to compare the show unlike many of the audience (the guy sitting next to me had seen it seven times in the West End and on Broadway – he loved it). If you don’t know the show try to see it this week. In a nutshell it’s Sesame Street gone bad. Featuring a cast of human operated puppets it’s set at the seedy end of NYC (on avenue Q) where a melting pot of nationalities, sexual orientations and monsters live in a run down street. We hear in musical form how everyone is a little bit racist, what to do if you find out you’re gay, How it ‘sucks’ be me, what to do with a BA in English and the pleasure of schadenfreude.
The numbers are universally good, the script cracking, the puppetry mostly really good but what makes the show sparkle is the interaction between the actors and their puppets. You can’t decide which to focus on as the performance behind the brightly coloured characters by an all black dressed ensemble is electrifying.
An absolutely stand out show in a terrific venue (Assembly on the mound). The future of Scotland’s (musical) theatre is assured on the basis of this.
After a light lunch and a pint of the highly superior Caesar Augustus (by Williams Brothers of Alloa) we returned to Assembly for the much lauded, multi-award winning Nirbhaya. (The Indian word for fearless).
This was a stark contrast to our earlier entertainment. If indeed it could be branded “entertainment”.
It was inspired by the brutal rape and murder on a Delhi bus of Jyoti Singh Pandey in December 2012 and brings us six cameo stories of Indian sexual abuse survivors. These women all went through the stories they tell, for real, and one in particular by Sneha Jawale tells us how she was attacked by her husband with acid. The result is there as plain as day to be seen,; her face and body mutilated and scarred, her story told through a flood of tears.
The show is book-ended by Pandey’s story and is dimly lit throughout with snatches of Indian and Western music that add atmosphere.
The stories are harrowing and half of the audience were openly sobbing their eyes out. A young man we met in the Queue on the way in told us this was a life changing event.
I’m sad to say that for me (and Jeana) it was far from that.
You can’t take away the honesty and integrity of the piece or the clever staging, or the excellent performances but something failed to grip us.
Both of us.
Perhaps it’s too voyeuristic. There was no programme and no notes about it so we weren’t aware if we were listening to stories of others or biographies.
For me I think the flaw lay in the direction which made it feel too staged, almost contrived in a strange sort of way, which is a shame because it is anything but. As Lyn Gardner says in the Guardian “it veers dangerously close to well-meaning theatrical misery memoir”, and I agree.
Despite my reservations I have to recommend it though because you cannot ignore the importance of the message or the response (including a standing ovation) of many of the audience.
Afterwards the cast stood waiting to talk to anybody who felt the need. That, for me, was the most moving moment.
After the show we had a beer with my Pals Mark and Fiona and my pal Vince’s daughter Louise which was great
Last stop of the day was a few relaxed drinks at Summerhall (the Dick Vet Bar) with David Reid and his lady Nicola Dunn. I love Summerhall, it somehow recalls a bygone age of Fringe scuzziness. It feels real, fresh and amateur despite its arms length awards list. And they sell Barney’s Beer.
I also met the star of HeLa, Adura Onashile, a new one woman show who had been the case worker in Cora Bissett’s much lauded Roadkill. And lovely she was too.