Thursday, August 11, 2016

"The 2016 Edinburgh Fringe Festival: Mini Reviews, Days One & Two

Our Nine Days at the 2016 Edinburgh Fringe Festival

For the third time, we are visiting Edinburgh, explicitly to attend the world-famous grandfather of all fringe festivals now popular around the globe.  With over 3000 events in 464 venues for a total of 50,000+ performances in three weeks, the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is clearly the world’s largest performing arts festival.  Drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors from around the world, this Festival began in 1947 when eight theatre groups showed up uninvited to the official Edinburgh International Festival.

 Today, thousands of performers present to adoring, oft-returning audiences a total of 141 cabaret shows; 184 children’s shows; 1176 stand-up comedy performances; 112 dance, physical theatre, and circus events; 515 music performance of all types; 127 musicals and operas; 920 plays; and 101 spoken word performances Streets are full of performers giving snippets of their shows and handing out flyers by the hundreds in order to draw folks to their stages.  With over 1300 performances every day, the competition for butts in seats is real; and the overall excitement of live performance is everywhere.


2016 Edinburgh Fringe Show #1
How to Win Against History
Seiriol Davies
Developed in Association with Ovalhouse and Arts Council ofEngland

The 5th Marquis of Anglesey, born in 1875, one of the richest men on earth, was poised to inherit a virtual empire from his wealthy, powerful family.  However, in his twenties he chose to spend money as if there were no tomorrows, which for a man who died at 29, there were few.  In his brief life, this flamboyant transvestite turned a family chapel into a theatre and starred himself in extravagant productions to which no one came.  At his death, he was penniless and soon forgotten since his family burned all evidence of his very existence.

Seiriol Davies recreates the Marquis’ forgotten history in a wild and quirky musical, How to Win Against History.  Along with Matthew Blake and Dylan Townley, he brings the Marquis to full, glittering life in songs full of pizzazz and pageantry, in a tawdry, slightly naughty sort of way.  From his days at military school in Eton (recalled in high kicks and fun times with the boys in “Boots, Boots, Boots”) to his conveniently arranged marriage with Lady Lillian in which neither had any sexual expectations of the other (“This Is What It Looks Like ... A Real Couple”), the three actors sing in voices ranging from whispering high falsettos to full-out diva blasting.  Lyrics often shoot out as fast and furious as bullets, and the pace is sweat-producing and laugh-ensuring throughout (thanks to the direction of Alex Swift). 

Much to the probable chagrin of his surviving family, the Marquis now lives on in the full living color in his sparkling purple gown and in the flashy blinks of his mascaraed eyes.

Rating: 4 E

2016 Edinburgh Fringe Show #2
My Eyes Went Dark
Matthew Wilkinson
107 Group in association with Cusack Projects LTD

What does losing one’s wife and two young children as two planes collide over a snowy Swiss forest do to a man?  And what if that same man is the one who finds his daughter’s body after she has fallen 30,000 feet, sustaining only a scratch but not her life?  Cal MacAnich gives a riveting performance in the Scottish premiere of Matthew Wilkinson’s My Eyes Went Dark, a time-jumping series of scenes that recount Russian architect Nicoli Kosonov’s journey through disbelieving shock, numbing grief, and slow-broiling anger – all leading to a blind quest for justice and if not justice, revenge. 

Along the way, over a dozen girls and women of all ages comfort, counsel, confront, challenge, and even chastise him – including the wife and the daughter of the air controller who somehow failed to halt the accidental collision of two planes.  Thusitha Jayasundera brilliantly, movingly, and convincingly transitions in age, nationality, dialect, and demeanor to embody those who push and pull Nicoli through his torture toward an uncertain end.

As scenes and times flip back and forth on a blank stage with only two chairs in this scaled-down, Fringe production, there are times when it becomes difficult to discern what is exactly happening, in what order, and why.  At the same time, the playwright has directed his own production in such a way to retain tension and attention and is aided greatly by excellent lighting effects by Elliot Griggs and sound by Max Papperheim – both of which help often to clarify what the bare stage does not share.

With a larger stage production, this Off West End awarding winning play is one that definitely merits scrutiny by an American company.

Rating: 4 E


2016 Edinburgh Fringe Show #3
The Red Shed
Mark Thomas
Lakin McCarthy in association with West Yorkshire Playhouse

The 50th anniversary of The Red Shed of Wakefield, Yorkshire approaches.  The 47’ X 18’ pub, residing in the shadows of the larger and notoriously conservative Tory Club, has a rich history as a meeting and organization venue for unionists, socialists, communists, feminists, gays, and many other groups with a leftist leaning.  Famed British TV and club comedian, journalist, and actor, Mark Thomas, relates in his world premiere of The Red Shed his own thirty-year association with this institution for economic and social justice and equality. 

To help The Red Shed celebrate its half century, Thomas sets out on a quest to prove to his disbelieving colleagues of the pub a story he had retold many times of the ’84-’85 miners strike – but one no one else can recall happening.  While he was away at a school nearby, he witnessed the failed strikers heading back to the mines and being bolstered by school children singing a union anthem as the miners trudged by, “Solidarity forever, for the union together is strong.”  Master story teller Thomas rolls off a tale of his search for a fellow witness or better yet, one of the children; and along the way, he introduces to us several dozen locals, employing an amazing array of accents, voices, and personalities.

Joining him in the telling are six volunteers from the audience who, at his prompting and the audience’s delight, don the Polaroid portrait heads of the story’s main characters in order to help act out organizing meetings, car trips to possible sites where the school could have been, and interviews with townspeople who might remember that seminal day of Thomas’ life.  Even the audience becomes background sound and songs for his story, enriching the telling for all.

In every way imaginable, Mark Thomas gives a tour de force performance. Laying bare with no holes barred his deeply felt politics, his prejudices, and his heart, Thomas blends humor with anger, convictions with doubts, and truth with maybe just a couple of white lies.  And he does so while forming his audience into a momentary community that is eager to honor The Red Shed, the groups it has and continues to support, and Mark Thomas as a performer par excellence.

Rating: 5 E


2016 Edinburgh Fringe Show #4
 “Daffodils (A Play with Songs)
Rochelle Bright

Two generations, a father and a son, fall in love with their to-be wives by the same lake, lying on a field of daffodils.  Idyllic beginnings have rocky journeys to unhappy endings for both; but the son is definitely not in the mold of his father, no matter how much he may be accused of being so.

The story of Eric, the eighteen-year-old son, and his sixteen-year-old newly met girlfriend, Rose, is told by two barefooted actors who stride alternately and together up their own carpeted paths to two lone mikes.  Supported by an excellent band of three, there they turn the songs of a dozen New Zealand groups (Crowded House, The Mint Chicks, The Senators, Th’Dudes, among others) into their story, from first meeting to a bitter end.

In Clark Kent glasses and a smile as contagious as it is wide, Todd Emerson easily and eagerly grabs the mike to rock out as that teen in search of both love and adventure before ending up married, with kids, and part of his dad’s office cleaning business.  His voice rings true whether his Eric croons ballads in soft falsetto or knocks out hard, metallic sounds with raspy vocals. 

Equally impressive in voice is Colleen Davis as Rose, a Goldilocks blonde with lips redder than her namesake who sings with a rich deepness and stellar clarity.  At times, her voice cuts to the core with its edge of intensity, only to back off into a softness that can melt any heart. 

Their story in prose and song is constantly supported by an onstage band (Fen Ikner, Abraham Kunin, and Stephanie Brown), with Ms. Brown also lending harmonic vocals with the two leads in some of the more beautiful and moving numbers.  The story itself is inspired by true events, as told by the daughter, also Stephanie Brown, who says upfront, “This is the story of my parents, and it is mostly true ... except ...”  

The twists and turns of love and life, of guilt and misunderstanding, and of what is said and what left unsaid add up to a bittersweet tale that is perhaps now one family’s sad recalling at their annual reunions of love found and love somehow allowed to wane.  Unfortunately, what is missing in the present telling is any hint of why the son’s love journey and its demise follows that of his father when Eric has in fact many chances to alter and correct the course along the way. 

Rating: 3 E

No comments:

Post a Comment