+3 Review: The Marked (Pleasance Dome: 3rd-29th Aug: 13.30: 1hr)

“Remarkable theatre worthy of standing ovation”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

With an intricate set and haunting musical score, it’s clear from the off that this is a show that pays close attention to detail and creativity. And while, on the whole, this focus creates some remarkable theatre worthy of the standing ovation it received in this performance, for me at times it does border on being a little too artistic for its own good.

The story is fairly simple: homeless Jack (Bradley Thompson) is unable to sleep, as dreams of his aggressive, alcoholic mother haunt him. But he is able to overcome his demons by helping Sophie (Dorie Kinnear) – another homeless person he meets on the streets – from winding up in the same situation thanks to boyfriend Pete (Tom Stacy).

Told in a very visual way, we get to see into the darkest depths of Jack’s mind: the buried secret he’s been living with for so long, and the struggle he has to go through just to be able to help someone else. In terrifying flashback sequences, Jack becomes a child puppet and his mother a domineering masked figure whose eyes bleed while she brandishes a wine bottle, and in the most gut-wrenching of these she actually smashes the bottle on his head. The music, lighting and other effects come together in these moments to create a gripping dramatic intensity, made all the more stark by the slick changes back to the “real” world and its emptiness.

Through clever use of a repeated street scene (demonstrating the relentlessness and drudgery of homelessness), we see Jack’s journey – from tripping over faceless individuals he’s too scared to look at to start with, to their smiles and humanity at the end when he finally wins through. It’s a really powerful story, and Thompson more than delivers with raw emotion in this physically demanding role. Credit also to Kinnear and Stacy for every other character they play between them, as well as their handling of masks, puppets and various props.

While the visual and technical aspects of this show are absolutely outstanding, one of my main niggles is the appearance of the life-size talking pigeons towards the end (no, I’m not making this up). At this point in the show a bit of light relief is exactly what is needed to break up the emotional intensity of the previous scene, but this device cheapens the production and wholly detracts from what otherwise is a complex and well-thought through piece. To me this is one example of where Theatre Temoin try a bit too hard to be too creative, and at times I would have preferred a little less focus on all the “stuff”, and more on the basics of the acting and narrative.

The Marked is a stunning and unique performance, but perhaps just a little overreached creatively.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 12 August)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: Early Doors (Pleasance pop-up @ The Jinglin’ Geordie: 5-29 Aug: 12.00: 1hr)

“A stunning piece of site-specific theatre”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

After the general bustle of buying drinks, finding seats and, of course, choosing your pub quiz team name, Early Doors opens with an introduction to each character, performed almost like an African tribal chant, which makes it feel like we (the bijou, but sell-out crowd) are being truly welcomed into their community. It’s rhythmic and theatrical but never over the top, and sets the tone for the lyrical, poetic styling of the piece as one long fable.

Our landlord and landlady are a young brother and sister who inherited the place when their mum died. They start by sharing memories of her, and set the scene for a potentially fractious relationship between them. We also meet various other characters in the community: the pub quiz master, who can’t help but share some details of his ongoing custody battle with his ex-wife; the bouncer, who recalls the end of his relationship with one of the local punters; and the “village idiot” who brings the comedy to proceedings. The characters are flawed but lovable, and the ensemble cast do a great job of sharing their world with us.

As the show progresses we get hints of the tensions and relationships between different characters, which help bring interest and drive the story. I did feel slightly robbed in some characters having comparatively little action, while others seemed quite unconnected to the main narrative, so for me, a little further development to see clearer links between each would really make this show spectacular – but this is only a small niggle considering the quality of action and overall performance value.

The piece is performed with wonderful energy, and the writing – in particular the language – of every aspect is exquisite, giving just enough detail to hook the audience without verging on rambling. Yet while some of the transitions between each section are smooth and logical, it is a shame that in other instances the show progresses by simply having one character leave and another mysteriously appear for no apparent reason.

There are so many wonderful aspects to this performance – the characterisation, storytelling, and sense of really being “in it” really are top notch and encapsulate everything I love about the Fringe. I would have just preferred some clearer links between sections and less disjointedness between some of the characters to give the piece a bit more cohesion.

Overall, I raise a glass to Not Too Tame and this stunning piece of site-specific theatre and urge you to go and join them at the Jinglin’ Geordie for a pint, a pub quiz and an engrossing performance.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 6 August)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Preview of The Pirates of Penzance (Pleasance: 15 – 19 March ’16)

Pirates 1

The Edinburgh University Savoy Opera Group are back on the Pleasance stage doing what they do best this week, with a swashbuckling performance of that most loved of Gilbert and Sullivan operettas, The Pirates of Penzance. And unlike the society’s past few forays into the genre, which have steered clear of good old G & S traditions, it looks as though this one will be harking back to the original setting that Gilbert intended.

At the helm of the ship is newcomer to the society, Charlie Ralph. Having never directed a musical before, let alone tackled the intricate works of Gilbert and Sullivan, Ralph appears cooly confident ahead of opening night as he excitedly shares a glimpse of what audiences can expect when the show opens on Tuesday.

“We are aiming for a very classic vibe. Performance-wise we’re steering away from interpretations that lean towards the pantomime, and there won’t be any modern references. It’s been important to us to keep the show true to the original universe of the story.”

Pirates 2

An exciting prospect, which hints that this production team aim to swiftly quash any opinions that the works of Gilbert and Sullivan are an art form of the past. The plot itself oozes that nonsensical comic melodrama that is so much a part of the G&S institution, and Ralph has taken no prisoners when it has come to teasing this comedy out of his cast members. The operetta centers around Frederic, played by Tom Whiston, who wishes to be released from his apprenticeship with a band of pirates, all while pursuing the love of the beautiful Mabel, played by EUSOG favourite Caoilainn Mcgarry. Chaos ensues, with more than a hint of comedy and heart, something that Ralph is certain will ring true in the performances of his cast.

“It’s a lot of fun. It’s all about getting them to enjoy what they’re doing and embrace the fact that G&S is ridiculous, silly and doesn’t really make sense.

Once the actors understand that and get to know their characters and how stupid they are, they can then feel free to have fun within those roles. It doesn’t actually take much direction. It’s all about them having the confidence to act up and make each other laugh and then they can bring that energy to the stage.”

Pirates 3

But Ralph is only too keen to emphasise the fact that he certainly has not been alone in leading this project for the past three months. After her stint as Gianetta last year’s EUSOG production of The Gondoliers, familiar face on the student theatre circuit Eleanor Crowe has moved behind the scenes this time as producer, while choreography is created by Meera Pandya.

Straight out of his stint as the piano rep for EUSOG’s November success that was The Addams Family Musical, first year university student Will Briant has stepped up to the position of Musical Director for Pirates and by the sounds of things, the cast are in safe hands.

“I’ve really enjoyed it. I’ve done shows before, but conducting a large cast and full orchestra has been an amazing experience. I’ve especially enjoyed aspects such as the Sitzprobe, putting it all together for the first time and hearing how it sounds. And I’m so excited by how it sounds.”

And we’re certainly excited to hear it, Will. If the mounting success of the society over the past few years is anything to go by, Pirates of Penzance is sure to be no exception. 

Go to EUSOG at the Pleasance.

The Addams Family (Pleasance: 17 – 21 Nov ’15)

Photos: Oliver Buchanan

Photos: Oliver Buchanan

“Funny to the point of tears…”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars Nae Bad

I hate The Addams Family theme song. It’s not that I think it’s bad, I think it’s too good. It’s every bit as iconic as it is catchy. No matter who you are or what you do, as soon as you hear that da da dadum *click click*, you’ll be reduced to a finger-snapping, grinning mess. Driving a car? Doesn’t matter. Operating heavy machinery? Tough luck nerd. You’re on a one way bus trip to Addams-town and there’s only one song playing on the radio.

And just as epochal is the tune’s creepy, kooky subject matter. The cemetery-dirt stained shoes of the Addams family are impossibly large ones to fill, and although EUSOG’s ambitious production fell an inch or two short of six feet under, it’s a performance so bouncy and entertaining that you’d hardly even notice.

It’s crisis in the Addams household: Wednesday (Ashleigh More) is growing up fast, and even worse, she’s fallen in love with a guy so normal he makes white bread look like a Harley Davidson. Now, his parents are coming to town, and the family needs to be on their best behaviour. It goes just about as well as it sounds like it might. It’s hardly a daring new direction in terms of plot cliché, but there are fine seeds growing in this well-trod ground.

From the outset, it’s very clear that this is a talented cast. Scott Meenan’s Gomez is an utter joy to watch, and an even greater one to listen to. His comic timing and twitchy crispness of movement enhanced an already impressively funny repertoire of gags. But even more impressive was his emotional range: it’s easy to tickle a funnybone, but less so to pull a heartstring.

And whilst Melani Carrie’s Morticia often lacked the steely, sultry smugness which forms the character’s backbone, it’s hard not to be blown away by her voice – not to mention her knack for latin footwork. She was very much the smoky family matriarch, but when next to Meenan, she seemed oddly muted. However, this never affected the performance to the point of becoming a significant problem, and all feelings of flatness were limited to the spoken portions of the show. When Carrie opens her mouth, it’s like being hit by a verbal sledgehammer.

Though perhaps more nuanced than the footwork was More’s Wednesday Addams. Although usually presented as a monotone proto-goth, I was pleasantly surprised by More’s characterization. She perfectly embodies the sense of being pulled in two directions, and manages to do so in such an entertaining and genuine way that it never falls into the usual trap of feeling hackneyed or trope-ish. This was an excellent performance in every sense – especially the oddly sweet chemistry between her and masochistic brother Pugsley (Holly Marsden).

Championing the side of “normalcy” is the impressive Nitai Levi; having traded his moody rocker persona a-la Rent for  wonderfully dorky fianceé Lucas, he provided a great foil for More’s Wednesday, delicately dancing the line between nerdily sincere and annoying. And it seems like the talent runs in the family: Mother Alice (Esmee Cook) and Father Mal (Patrick Wilmott) inject ever more laughter into what is already a show bursting at the seams.

Addams Family 2

But if stealing a show was a jailable offence, Campbell Keith would be going away for a very long time. Acting as the show’s narrator, Keith’s Uncle Fester dominated the stage every time his weirdly pale head popped out of the wings. It’s hard to make a man who looks like Humpty Dumpty’s goth cousin charismatic, but I’ll be damned if he didn’t succeed.

But all the talent in the world, unfortunately, can’t control a tech setup. Whilst the swell of voices (especially thanks to the ghostly chorus of Ancestors) managed to rise above the band, the microphones were simply too quiet. I lost most of the lyrics in the first half, and the problem still persisted through some numbers in the second act.  And the lights, whilst vibrant and interesting, sometimes felt oddly out of sync with the action on stage. In isolation, either of these issues may not matter. But eventually, grains of sand do become a heap.

And although the chorus should be applauded for their brilliance in terms of both movement and vocal work, the choreography sometimes felt cluttered. There were times I was genuinely afraid an overenthusiastic kick might KO the cellist. Having fewer objects and people on stage may have helped this production breathe easy.

However, I’m loathe to admit the above for a number of reasons. The first being that it would be a crying shame to lose any of the strong chorus, and the masterful musical section – the former never faltering even in the show’s faster and more energetic sections. And secondly, changing the stage would mean altering the breathtakingly Burton-esque set dreamed up by Lu Kocaurek. I’d feel more comfortable pushing over a henge.

Although blighted by a few blips, this was a show more than worthy of its pedigree. Funny to the point of tears and touching to very much the same end, EUSOG’s Addams Family is just as creepy and kooky as that damned theme song promises. Check this one out while you can: Kate Pasola and Rebecca Simmonds have conjured up a brilliant show indeed.

nae bad_blue

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Jacob Close (Seen 17 November).

Go to EUSOG for The Addams Family & cast list.

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Sophie Pelham: Country Files (Pleasance Courtyard, 7 – 30 Aug : 16.45 : 1hr)

“Likeable, effusive, hilarious”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Nae Bad

Upon entering the Pleasance Cellar (sorry, Dorset) the audience is offered a tot of sherry and a sausage roll to get into the mood. For me, in this, my third back-to-back show, this seemed like a dream come true. And indeed the dream continued for the first 10 minutes or so when Pelham, as village lady-of-leisure Vanessa Bluwer hilariously tells us about life in Kilmington, her noble employers, and the various courses she runs on a voluntary basis (everything from breast-feeding to bereavement counselling). As this character Pelham is likeable, effusive and strikes a good balance between prepared material and audience interaction.

Alas, after this the show falters somewhat, with a series of less well developed characters, too much audience interaction and little drive to keep the performance moving. Pelham’s Lord Ponsanby, a drunken country gent utters my funniest line of the show “I’m not homosexual, just bloody posh”, but falls flat after a few minutes and it’s a bit of a relief when she goes off to change again. Two of her characters are animals (a badger and a fox respectively, the less said about those the better), but posh school girl Primrose and yummy mummy Sulky Waterboat are both enjoyable, making fun of relevant stereotypes.

While some parts of the audience interaction in this show were great – getting various members to hold a hobby horse, read a letter and answer the odd question – I felt that on the whole there was an over reliance on this, and as the show went on there was a definite sense of awkwardness in the room, particularly among those in the front row who seemed to get “picked on” multiple times.

And just as the level of audience interaction was pushing it, sometimes her jokes also strayed over the line into being somewhat cringeworthy, the worst offender of these definitely being the one about the Muslims… hushed silence all round. Some gags were spot on tone-wise though: safer topics included politics and class, both suitably ridiculed, while even references to underage sex got a few chuckles.

Overall, I think this show has the bones of something that could be really special, but would be better if it focused on fewer individual characters, and having a clearer sense of narrative between them, to keep the show flowing from one scene to the next. A good effort.

nae bad_blue

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 22 August)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Trans Scripts (Pleasance Courtyard, 5 – 31 Aug : 15.00 : 1hr 30 mins)

“Gutsy, inspiring and emotional… get a ticket by any means possible”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars

Trans Scripts is a verbatim play, which examines the lives of six transgender women, and is performed by six fantastic transgender actresses. It’s simply structured as six monologues, interwoven and staged with very little fuss and theatricality, allowing the stories to speak for themselves.

We follow the women from when they knew something was wrong with their bodies, through reactions from their families and peers, their transitions, and their lives since. Each story is unique and heartbreaking in its own right, but when told as a collection, you do really get to see many different sides to being trans. We see familial acceptance, we see homelessness, we see violence, suicide attempts, broken relationships and even the reaction of a church. There are highs, lows, twists, turns, and a real cross-section of experiences that go some way to representing a very misunderstood group.

One example is Josephine (played by Catherine Fitzgerald), who becomes trans when she’s married with children, and longs just to fit in as a woman. She’s managed to maintain an amazing relationship with her wife, but struggles to comprehend the reaction of her wife’s colleagues and friends. The most touching story for me though, which reduced me to tears many times, was that of Eden, who having been born with both female and male genitalia, was made a “boy” at the insistence of her father. We follow her struggle with her identity, relationships and family, learning about how she almost died during her gender reassignment surgery, and her first steps to meeting her mum again, having been estranged for over 20 years. The delivery of this monologue was gut-wrenchingly powerful from Rebecca Root, who really stood out with impressive physicality and emotive range throughout.

While very much six individual stories, there are occasional moments of interaction between the characters as well. The most interesting of these involved a heated discussion as to the necessity of having the full operation, and how this affects identity. As became evident, even within the trans community there are differences of opinion as to whether such steps are necessary to really fit in, shining further light on the struggle to be accepted and happy in their own bodies.

Overall, this is a very important and engaging piece of theatre, which has been crafted with precision and sensitivity by writer Paul Lucas, and is a gutsy, inspiring and emotional performance from six women who’ve all made incredible journeys in their lives. Get a ticket by any means possible.

 

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 22 August)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED