Posts Tagged ‘Pleasance Theatre’

Swamp Juice

Swamp Juice

What an unexpected delight. Scamp’s reputation precedes them, but my only experience of them was the beautifully crafted Private Peaceful (also at the Fringe this year – though I saw it in 2009) – I wasn’t expecting the puppet menagerie awaiting me.

Set in the eponymous swamp, Jeff Achtem fills the story with creatures in various forms, but the main story follows the journey of one little man’s determined pursuit of Birdie, his Roadrunner styled nemesis who is always one step ahead of him.

The apppeal of this show is its simplicity – it’s a very basic story performed incredibly well by a supremely talented actor. Achtem is superb – bumbling, shy and instantly endearing, he effortlessly brings his shadow puppets to life with breathtaking realism, despite being made from cardboard and bits of scrap. His adorable performance style means that, even in the shows darker moments, no child is frightened as Achtem draws them into his world as though a child himself. (“That took me a week!” he exclaims proudly, pointing to one of his puppet creations)

At various stages he involves the audience in creating his beautiful shadow world, inducing squeals of delight from adults and kids alike, and as we reach the end he adds another fantastic element as we all don those familiar red and blue glasses and the shadows become 3D! “Avatar, eat your heart out,” says Jeff – I have to agree!

This show is perfect fringe fodder, and deserves to be seen by a much wider audience. I doubt you will ever see shadow puppets so lifelike and full of character – and you’ll find yourself thinking “Here Birdie Birdie Birdie” long after you’ve left the theatre.

 
Translunar Paradise

I went to this show on the recommendation of my twitter feed and thank goodness I did. Theatre Ad Infinitum tell the story of a man who is lost following the death of his wife. Lonely and mourning, he copes by reliving treasured memories of his wife and their life together, from meeting and courtship, through to sadder memories of heartbreak and loss.

Told entirely without words, with only an accordion/singer for accompaniment, this show could very easily have slipped into schmaltz, but instead this show packs an emotional punch I don’t think I’ve ever experienced before in a theatre.
The masks used to portray the elderly couple force meaning into the simplest of gesture. A tapping finger, a glance to the left – all create a full and moving picture of a man bereft of his life partner. The lack of words was heartbreaking – there was no weeping or wailing, no beating of the chest – instead there was an unspoken sense of loss that needed no words.

The man and his wife’s older selves are played using handheld masks that are pulled away when they play the younger versions of themselves. The effect is extraordinarily poignant, their whole bodies becoming younger and more full of life. George Mann and Deborah Pugh delicately portray these scenes of the younger couple – the movements suggesting snapshots of utter happiness. Even an argument between the couple becomes just another expression of love.

Perhaps the moment that will remains with me longest is that of our elderly friend distracting himself from his loneliness by making a cup of tea – only to absent-mindedly pick up two cups from the cupboard. As I describe this I realise I am making it sound like a maudlin and depressing tale, when that couldn’t be further from the truth. For each moment of sadness there is another of joy as we celebrate their incredible life together.

I rarely give praise without fault, but I fell completely in love with this show. I, like most of the sell-out audience, wept unashamedly as Theatre Ad Infinitum taught us that death isn’t really the end, so long as we keep the memory of loved ones alive. See this show. Bring tissues and tell your friends, such a sublime and beautiful piece of theatre should be seen by as many people as possible. It’s astounding how much you can say without words, and this company says it perfectly. 

Comedian Dies in the Middle of Joke

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            Forest Fringe is, in my opinion, the greatest venue the fringe has to offer. With free tickets and a bohemian style, the place seems to encapsulate exactly what the Fringe is all about. This fun little show is set in the middle of a comedians failing comedy set, and as if his day couldn’t get any worse, he’s going to be shot at the end of the set.

Written by Ross Sutherland Comedian Dies In The Middle Of Joke is an interactive play for small groups, where audience members take it in turns to play the various parts on offer. There’s the sycophantic agent, the party table, the insulted soldier and many more, and a fortunate few even get a chance to be the comedian. The reason everyone changes around so much is that our eponymous comedian is stuck in a 6 minute time loop – and no matter what happens, he’s going to die at the end of that 6 minutes.

            If nothing else, this show was really great fun. There was something really engaging about coming up with various lines and barbs depending on the character you were playing, and the ‘6 minute loop’ repetition was quite effective as we witnessed our comedian struggling to overcome the inevitable. It was also a very social event – I went in alone, but I emerged chatting animatedly about the show and agreeing to meet my fellow audience members for a drink.

            Saying that, this show isn’t going to change lives. It has a powerful ending, and the repetition is very effective, but when you boil this show down, it’s really just a very clever parlour game. However, this was a parlour game I was more than happy to play.

Crunch

 

Another Forest Fringe show (I told you I love that venue!), Crunch is pretty unique for fringe shows. Part lecture, part sales pitch, part motivational life coaching, Crunch examines the worlds over-reliance on money, and asks us to question this once in a while.

            In his sharp suit and slicked back hair style, Gary McNair presents his lecture on the money, explaining its history, and presenting it to us for what it really is, just a belief system like any other. He asks us to enter his five-step programme to rid ourselves of the tyranny of money and take back control. After all, he explains, we are the ones who really decide the value of that bit of paper with £10 printed on it.

McNair is honest and charming, and uses various techniques to show audiences the true value of money. There is an auction for a sealed envelope containing an unknown sum of money, and as he attempts to purchase a bag from an audience member he offers things that, perhaps, have more worth – building your flat pack furniture for example, or cooking you a meal.

However, what most people will be talking about when they leave is the moment when Mcnair, like a faith healer or preacher, invites people up onto the stage to be ‘cured’ of their obsession with money. He then unveils a shredder and asks for volunteers to take the money from their wallets and shred it. What is fascinating is the amount of people that queue up to do it. They laugh in delight as their money is shredded before their eyes and take away the tiny pieces as a souvenir. Some throw them in the air like confetti, some take them grinning back to their seats, but all look happy and satisfied with their decision to do it.

            Crunch, oddly, leaves you feeling quite good about yourself. McNair isn’t telling anyone to live without money, that would be impossible, but he is asking his audience to see it for what it is – unimportant in the grand scheme of things. It’s a refreshing message, and while I didn’t get up there to shred my hard-earned cash, I did leave with a much lighter view of my financial situation: after all, it’s only money.

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My only previous experience of Edinburgh Fringe Festival was when I happened to come for a visit with my family a number of years ago. This year nothing has changed, sat in the car with my parents and instead of my siblings, a friend of mine who I work with on the bar in the Oxford Playhouse. The difference being this year is that although I was still a super fan of performance during my last visit, this trip is cushioned by a new wealth of knowledge and experience gained from the past few years.

 Sadly, we are only hitting the Edinburgh Fringe Festival for two fleeting visits, one of sixteen hours and the other a week later, of 24 hours. This raises the issue of priority viewing, and with friends performing, reviews, recommendations and favourite companies, the lists have been long and constantly changeable. So it was with great excitement, and a meagre understanding of how best to construct our day, that the two of us reached the Royal Mile to begin our day of theatrical adventure.

 The first show we attended was Il Pixel Rosso’s And The Birds Fell From the Sky. Recommended to us by a variety of different sources, this was top of the to-do list, and it certainly didn’t disappoint. An intense and totally immersive piece of theatre, where the viewers go in two at a time and are fully kitted out with blindfolds, goggles, and a headset; the smells, the sounds and the touches create an entirely different world.

As you leave the performance you can’t help but wonder whether everything around you is real. It was wonderful to go accompanied as it gave us the chance to discuss what we had experienced, something I never usually do, preferring to make sense of my own experience before I share with those with me.

 A clever reference to the irrelevance of time made at the start bears relevance to the rest of the show; when walking away from such a clever experience, you wonder whether what just happened really was only over a duration of 17 minutes?

            Later on, after having wandered up the Mile again and seen a highly entertaining street performance of Charlie Chaplin, we headed for Zoo Roxy to watch Idle Motion’s The Seagull Effect. This was the only show we had planned and ensured would fit into our day, desperate to show my parents what magical things the young people of Oxford get up to.

            Beginning somewhat surprisingly, a woman stands and engages the audience, going on to tell us about her experience of the great storm of 1987, and suddenly the audience are whisked up into the tale.  The opening sequence (which, as I write this, is giving me goosebumps) is spectacular, and had me welling up in the front seats from the pure beauty and ingenuity of it all.

             Idle Motion are renowned for their use of props, projection and voice over, which is second to none, and used to wonderful effect as they create two stories around each other, intertwining beautifully.

            The parallel storyline running through the show this year seemed somewhat weaker than previous productions, which was a shame. However the ability to whip up an entire backdrop for a scene from what appears to be nothing, I have yet to see from any other physical theatre company. None of their actions are done simply to impress. Everything fits with what’s happening and only enhances the show, rather than detracting attention away from what’s being said. This is a strong skill to hold, ensuring the audience doesn’t get lost in the whirlwind of the story. If anyone is interested in physical theatre, this is a must-see performance from an outstandingly creative and incredibly tight knit company of young artists.

            At entirely the other end of the physical theatre spectrum,  the next performance I pottered through the rain to see was not so impressive. Selling itself as an “emotionally charged physical theatre adaptation of Shakespeare’s Titus Andronicus, Headlock Theatre’s The Tragedy of Titus was badly directed, poorly performed and a majority of physical theatre they did employ made absolutely no sense in keeping with the piece.

The opening fight scene was well choreographed, and Matthew Stevensas Titus did his best to carry the piece, assisted part of the way by Emma Belam as Tamora, but the rest of the characters lacked conviction.

            A shame, as this piece had the potential to be an exciting piece of performance; the lack of external direction (it would seem that this piece had been entirely devised, choreographed and directed by the actors themselves) was clear. With a cast of nine, it is difficult to construct an outside view of what the play is looking like from the audience perspective.

            The stresses of Shakespeare’s text were placed on strange syllables, which meant the words didn’t sit quite right on the ear, and the manner of speech during one or two of the scenes seemed entirely backwards. Most notably, when Titus was informed of the finding of his daughter Lavinia, who had been ravaged and her hands and tongue removed, and comforted his son Lucius despite Lavinia herself being stood (I certainly wouldn’t be able to stand after such an ordeal) in the corner making unnecessary noises.

 A couple of lines were delivered as though for a film, meaning words were lost, and people at the back had to struggle to hear what was going on. There is a lesson here about the difference between stage and screen acting.

            Not the most impressive production I’ve seen, however I’m glad I went. Though, as my mother said five minutes into the show; “I’m glad we didn’t have to pay for this”.

After food time where we swapped a tired father with a much younger friend, and took a brief trip to the fabulous Ukelele Cabaret tent, we headed off to see Dead Cat Bounce, at the Pleasance. Once again, it was on recommendation that we went to watch them, with some idea of what was in store; “it’s a little Flight of the Concords-y”.

 What a fantastic night! The perfect mix of highly entertaining lyrics, fantastic musical ability and wonderous banter in between songs. Each band member has taken on the role of the member of a highly successful rock band member and play the parts brilliantly.

 An incredibly entertaining way to spend an hour, the audience were rolling about in their seats and singing along to their intelligent lyrics.

Last but not least, was a production of The One Man Show.  As it says on the tin, this is a solo performance by Nigel Barrett, one of the creatives of Shunt, which looks at the role of “The Actor”.Though not entirely sure what exactly this piece sets out to accomplish, it was an interesting look into the purpose of the actor, his versatility and intentions.

            A particularly entertaining moment was when Barrett donned a surgical mask and through the use of mouth projections and voiceovers, spoke of what it is these people who call themselves “actors” are like. Slightly stereotypical and perhaps a little harsh, it amused me to think of many actors I have met during my time in the theatre (one in particular) and listen to how relevant parts of the description were; “I will ask you about you, but am waiting to steer the conversation back to myself”.

            Despite the entertainment value, and although I was pleased to have attended, this performance is not necessarily one that will sit in the forefront of my mind over time, unlike one or two shows from earlier on in the day.

 All in all, a tremendously entertaining day, and I have finally learned how to go about making the most of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival. For the most part of this coming week, I’ll be re-writing the schedules over and over again in preparation for my next 24 hour stint amidst of the hub of creativity and story-telling.