2016 Edinburgh Fringe Show #5
House + Amongst the Reeds
Somalia Seaton & Chino Odimba
Assembly George Square, Box Theatre
Two sisters and a mother reunite in the family home after one sister has been away for five years, having been incarcerated and dealing with drug-induced issues in Somalia Seaton’s new work entitled House. As Patricia (Pat) arrives, she and sister Jemima (Jem) gingerly, in spits and starts, reunite, slowly developing an old familiar rhythm of sister bantering, joking, and even duet singing as they remember other times. As Pat (Shvorne Marks) repeatedly assures with a face shining with newfound pride that all is now well with her and “I’m focused ... on living,” Mama arrives, unaware that Pat has been invited to help celebrate her birthday.
The sullen face and tightly pursed lips with a frosty stare frozen in another direction is Mama’s greeting to her returning prodigal daughter. Her later accusation comes with all the gall that Michelle Greenidge can muster for her Mama: “You walk into this house, and the walls come tumbling down.”
No matter how much Jem (a sincere, shy but persistent Rebecca Omogbehin) tries to awaken recognition in her Mama that she might be glad to have her other daughter back again, the more it becomes clear that the chasm may be too great for the two of them to cross. Over a birthday dinner, eruptions explode, silence deafens, and truths long kept as secrets ever so slowly begin to emerge and then to spill as a waterfall.
Powerful performances abound in this spell-bounding drama of a family’s unveiling of an unspoken sin that has poisoned their lives far too long. With sensitive, well-timed direction, Róisin McBrinn has assured that this new play has a strong birthing and a promising future.
Rating: 4 E
On the same bill as a second act is Chino Odimba’s Amongst the Reeds, a strangely intense but overall unsatisfying piece about two immigrant teenagers living on the streets without proper papers. Rebecca Omogbehin is a Somalian girl who meets in a soup kitchen a dirty, disheveled, and very pregnant Vietnamese girl, Gillian (Jan Le). The story jumps about in time and place with moments of the extreme realism of birth pains and screams and of surreal replays of the girls’ first encounter, as if some or all of this may be a dream. What is real and what is not is at time unclear as Gillian lives hidden away from authorities in a cluster of bags and blankets, hidden in reeds. While the horrors of young immigrant women seeking desperately asylum is visually visceral, this particular story is much weaker than the performances that these two actors give in attempts to bring it to life on the stage.
Rating: 2 E
2016 Edinburgh Fringe Show #6
Verge of Strife
Assembly George Square, Two
“You have to know how much more I feel things than other people,” the extremely handsome man of twenty with face fair and curly locks to his shoulders demurs to his friends. With language rich in metaphor and flowing with such ease as if it could be actually sung, Nick Baldock’s Verge of Strife is a beautifully moving, naughtily funny, and totally engaging glimpse of the too-short life of the English Edwardian poet, Rupert Brooke. Often employing the sonnets and letters of the man himself, the script and the direction positions the young poet as an Apollo -- the sun god and keeper of poetry, music, and truth (his of course). At the center of his own universe, Rupert is constantly encircled by his many friends, admirers, and both lovers and would-be lovers (female and male). “I know how to make everyone like me,” he admits at one point, then adding coyly. “Being young and beautiful helps of course.”
And stunningly beautiful in person and in performance is Jonny Labey (BBC actor famous for his role on “EastEnders”) as the charmingly self-centered Rupert. Often in pose almost as if a Greek statue in some gallery, he brings an intensity that reaches out into the audience and touches each person glued to his every smirk, glance, and move – each often made for full dramatic effect on his audience, both on and off stage. “They dance and dance and dance around me,” Rupert says of his many friends. Yet the pained looks he gives them, the ambivalence he expresses on whom to love and when, and the outbursts of deep-set emotions that sometimes erupt in anguish and anger reveal his own struggles in knowing and accepting who he is as a bisexual man of high words in the post-Victorian period of aristocratic England.
An outstandingly talented ensemble of Fergus Leathem, Kirsten Callaghan, Emma Barclay, and Sam Warren play a variety of the literary and socialite satellites revolving around the life of Rupert in his Cambridge and beyond days. We meet him and them on his twentieth birthday and follow their revolutions around Rupert until the fields of Greece claim him in 1915. Their voices pepper the tale of his life’s story with short remembrances and personal takes, with one outwardly gay admirer recalling, “Rupert was not nearly as nice as people remember, but he was a lot more clever.”
For a Fringe performance, Verge of Strife has set (Emeline Beroud) and lighting (Matt Cater) designs quite elaborate and period appropriate to support the excellent directorial decisions of Quentin Beroud. Scenes, friends, and aspiring/rejecting lovers shift, blend, and even intertwine in the manner of a flowing verse. We are left with lasting, haunting, mesmerizing images and words of this renowned poet now remembered most for sonnets written on his way to a grizzly death in the Great War, words such as “If I should die, think only this of me.”
Rating: 5 E
2016 Edinburgh Fringe Show #7
Assembly George Square, Two
While audiences may be flock to F*cking Men drawn by the advertised promise of a “frank, funny, and full-frontal play” (all of which of course is true), what they soon discover is there is much more under the covers than just a few naked bodies. The script of Joe DiPietro (prolific, award-winning playwright and book writer of Memphis) and the current Fringe three-man cast (cut from the original 2009 cast of ten) combine to tell a spellbinding, moving, and message-rich set of stories about the loves and lives of contemporary gay men.
Ten interlocking scenes are each announced by a lone man in some state of undress standing at audience’s edge as he delivers one line that will play an important part in the subsequent scene. Each paired love scene retains a character from the past and introduces yet another as the play’s men continually search for their next trick, one-time relief, or love of their lives.
A closeted soldier is quick to say in the opening scene to his young, gorgeous pick-up as the paid-date unzips his trembling pants, “I’m not gay ... I’m in the army ... I just want to try this once.” His journey to acceptance of self and a possible lifelong love with this same rent boy will be just one of the stories that will fade in and out of the many scenes. Along the way, we will meet a tutor and his student, that student and his Grindr hook-up, an aspiring playwright with a porn star, an out playwright and a closeted actor – all who help weave stories of men who are hot for “fan-f*cking-tastic” sex but who are as often looking for some way to do more than to “simply connect.”
Harper James, Haydn Whiteside, and Richard De Lisle play the ten characters in such ways as to portray individual personalities that are distinct and make it quite easy for the audience to discern and remember who is whom, even as one scenes blends into the next. As heated scenes alternate between darkened park bench to steamy sauna to rented hotel or dorm room and on to expensive penthouse apartment, the entwined men and their stories lay bare such issues as loneliness, fidelity, and authenticity of and to self that not only gay men, but all men and women face as they seek, find, and struggle to keep the love relationships of their lives.
Be very clear, F*cking Men will titillate and delight with its hot scenes of love-seeking and love-making between these three beautiful men; but do not be surprised when a tear or two emerges in the final scene when one soldier finally bursts out of that closet door because a rent-boy has found a sugar daddy who does not want his body, but only to ensure his happiness.
Rating: 5 E
2016 Edinburgh Fringe Show #8
The Freckles Effect
Mel Lawman (Book & Lyrics); Matt Finch, Owain Coleman & Tom Cory (Music)
Triple Dare Musical Theatre Productions
Greenside Emerald Theatre
Part Matilda, part Annie, and largely a feel-good story about an abandoned, past-around foster girl named Anne Drew, The Freckles Effect sets out to be a ___, toe-tapping musical set in the 1930s coastal town of Bibury-by-the-Sea in South Devon, England. Mel Lawman’s script follows the now-familiar trail of an orphaned girl (yes, with the required red hair and this time freckles, too) who shows up in a community where her forward, adventurous, non-conforming ways soon make her a pariah to jealous kids and moms alike but eventually wins all their hearts and a set of loving parents. The playwright’s lyrics and the music by a team of Matt Finch, Owain Coleman & Tom Cory are pleasant enough for the young-voiced cast; but few pieces of the twenty-plus hit home for gold.
The Edinburgh Fringe attracts casts of all ages and abilities; and while this large 25+ ensemble boasts of former West End Matilda actors, the young voices overall are more like those found in a solid school production than on a major stage. Choreography of the Dorothy Coleborn School of Dancing (Annette Hind and Heidi Postlewaithe) is often impressive for such a young cast but not up to big-stage standards in design or execution.
Overall, for a family outing with younger kids pre-teen, The Freckles Effect bears promise of a fun afternoon at the Fringe. For anyone looking for a new musical that has wide appeal of age and interest, best to keep searching the Fringe catalogue.
Rating: No Rating in Respect to Young Cast
2016 Edinburgh Fringe Show #9
The Emerald Diaries
John Murray & Tony Delicata (Book); Willie Logan (Music); John Murray (Lyrics)
Greenside Emerald Theatre
A sailor has a night’s leave in Leith and must be back on ship by 0900. With one night to find his online love whom he has been faithfully messaging and falling into cyberspace love, Andrew (Juan Casado Y Barton) sets out to the Irish dancers audition night where his skeptical date, Mary (Aileen Goldie), is waiting to lay eyes on who her fellow dancers have already nicknamed, “Andy Pandy, the Seafaring Dandy.” Once there, the aw-shucks style of Andrew runs up against not only the no-nonsense but increasingly interested Mary but also right into the ploys of dance troupe manager, Aggie Dooley (Jacqueline Hannan), a crusty, joke-a-minute widow whose hard exterior hardly hides her match-making heart inside.
John Murray and Tony Delicata’s The Emerald Diaries follows the no-surprises courtship of Andrew and Mary through the expected bumps and detours of a typical musical’s, love-seeking journey. When the Fringe-allotted hour comes to a near end, so does the story without a satisfying explanation of how or even if the required happy ending has in fact occurred.
Fortunately, the oh-hum book is delightfully punctuated by the Celtic-based music of Willie Logan and the dance of a dozen members of the Siamsoir and Irish Dance Academy. With their high stepping and toe stomping, these dancers ensure the evening is a Fringe fun time for anyone wanting to experience a bit of Ireland as they visit the theatre’s stage in Scotland.
Rating: 3 E