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Last year’s big contemporary ballet première at the International Festival was Mathew Bourne’s fun adaptation of Dorian Gray. This year Scotland’s own Michael Clark presents New Work.
I think it’s fair to say that Clark doesn’t have the same narrative flare as Bourne. Rather than follow one single story, New Work‘s unrelated pieces take inspiration from glam rock, the 1970s and Clark’s personal history.
I haven’t seen much contemporary dance, and to my inexperienced eyes the first piece ‘SWAMP’ seemed a little slow and occasionally bumpy. Several dancers broke long poses to plant a foot and start again. It was the first night, so this may have just been jitters, but the disjointed choreography can’t have helped. I suspect that perhaps as an uncommonly talented dancer Clark placed too high expectations on his company.
The second piece ‘come, been and gone’ contained both the best and worst moments of the evening. Sequences put to David Bowie were explosively rhythmic and exciting to watch, particularly towards the end from when ‘Aladdin Sane’ began. The solo set to The Velvet Underground’s ‘Heroin’ was embarrassingly literal. I don’t see a problem with Clark exploring his history of addiction through dance, but trussing up a ballerina in a nude body-suit punctured all over with hypodermic needles and getting her to roll about on the floor is another thing all together. Cringe worthy. I suppose at a stretch you could see her as a skewered Saint Sebastian, but the flopping about of the foam needles set my teeth on edge.
Aside from the heroin body-suit the costumes were quite nice; most had a Pam Hogg feel, although there were a few too many silly arm and leg-warmers tacked on in the first piece.
From where I was sitting the performance didn’t seem to go down too well the audience. I started a conversation at intermission with a nice couple next to me who wanted to know if they were missing something. They too had seen Dorian Gray last year and were a bit confused by the wobbles and the slowness of the first half.
Celebrity excitement on Friday was bumping into Amanda Palmer, (formerly of The Dresden Dolls, now touring solo) outside the Bowery. A friend and I were in line waiting for Die Roten Punkte, and she was picking up her guest pass for the show. We’ve got tickets to see her in concert next Saturday, so we were quite excited and a bit flustered. We were even more flustered when she sat directly in front of us in the audience. We didn’t say hello (after much deliberation) because we didn’t want to disturb her, but my friend did take very blurry picture of the back of Amanda’s head with her phone (which is possibly more disturbing and stalker-ish now I come to think about it):
That shadow is a rock star.
I also managed to continue my largely unintentional spree of violence against the famous by whacking her in the shoulder with my bag. I’m sorry Ms Palmer.
Die Roten Punkte sounds like a really good name for a punk rock band if you don’t know what it means in German – “The Red Dots” – the translation gives the game away. They’re essentially a White Stripes parody band in clown make-up, but save some comedic energy to send up Nick Cave, The Cure and Kraftwerk as well.
More a comedy performance than a concert, the duo mix slapstick with dance, stand-up, improv and audience participation. Songs like “Straight edge girl” and”Ich Bin Nicht Ein Roberter (I am a Lion)” are hilarious, but also pleasantly poppy.
The Robot Lion Tour
Die Roten Punkte
Pleasance OVER THE ROAD
Until the 31st of August (not the 17th)
Performance poet Luke Wright prides himself on being the first person to show up on a google image search for “Foppish Buffoon”. His new fringe show, The Petty Concerns of Luke Wright, is an hour of poetical reflections on ambition, tight trousers, famelessness and the tricks creative people play on themselves to keep motivated when success is taking its time coming.
For me the highlight of the performance was Wright’s stanza by stanza knock-down of a poem he wrote about a road accident when he was fifteen. From the waves of laughter triggered in the audience, I don’t think I was not alone in recognising the mix of mortification and affection inspired by looking back at ones self-indulgent adolescent attempts at poetry.
Some the poems Wright performed can be read on his site here – I don’t recommend reading too much of the blog if you are planning to go to the show, as some of the material seems to be directly lifted from old posts.
Luke Wright is an energetic performer, and while occasionally his audio-visuals look a bit too much like a school power-point presentation for comfort, Petty Concerns is a fun show.
The Petty Concerns of Luke Wright
Underbelly @ George IV Bridge
Until the 30th of August.
Now this is what I was ranting about the other day. Quirky, slap-dash, brutally abbreviated Goethe and a bunch of lip-synched pop songs.
Written and performed by German actor/dancer/singer/author Bridge Markland, Faust in the Box is the sort of thing you’d be pressed to find outside of festival season. Classic German literature performed in a cardboard box.
You might not find it as fun if you’re not familiar with Faust, or don’t like hearing a devil hand-puppet singing snippets of Placebo songs.
You don’t like Faust, singing devil hand-puppets or Placebo?
Are you dead inside?
Faust in the Box
Underbelly @ George IV Bridge
Until the 29th of August
Private Peaceful is another adaptation of a novel by the brilliant children’s laureate Michael Morpurgo (of War Horse fame).
Similarly to how War Horse relates sophisticated ideas about war to young audiences by focusing on the relationship between soldiers and animals, Private Peaceful focuses on the childhood recollections of a sixteen-year old boy who lied about his age to be able to fight alongside his brother in the First World War.
Finn Hanlon gave an amazing performance as Tommo Peaceful, controlling the pace of the piece while not just developing Tommo’s character but also bringing a great deal of life to the characters within his recollections. This is no small achievement – the play is a 60 minute reflective monologue performed on a stage empty of all but a dilapidated folding bed.
The strength of the play is in how beautifully it captures how Tommo’s favourite memories are poisoned by his time on the front; his first glimpse of a aeroplane in a country field, running along the mud tracks of a stream with his best friend, and getting piggyback rides from his big brother.
A fantastic piece of children’s theatre.
Michael Morpurgo an Simon Reade
Udderbelly, Bristo Square
Until the 31st of August
Morgurgo is also going to be speaking at three events the Edinburgh Book Festival: some tickets still available.
Thousands of tourists are shuffling up and down the Royal Mile in shorts and rain ponchos. It’s fringe time.
I started off my fringe by heading down to the Assembly venue on George Street to see the first night of Adam Hills’ new show Inflatable. I’ve mentioned Hills here before. He’s a fantastic comedian who manages to be both consistently amusing and non-offensive. I must admit I’ve never actually seen stand-up live before, but I’ve seen enough on television to know that a huge amount of it tends to be rather crap.
The only thing more depressing than bad stand-up comedy is watching an audience chortle away (out of a sense of obligation, one can hope) while some poorly groomed gentleman in his late thirties rants about why he dislikes his uptight partner, can’t operate a parking meter or thinks Welsh people sound stupid.
Adam Hills isn’t like that. The first night of Inflatable started with an impromptu re-enactment of Flashdance with a bottle of IRN BRU and a jolly IT consultant from the front row. I won’t say too much about it – I imagine in-depth reviews don’t add much to stand-up – but the show is definitely worth seeing.
Assembly @ George Street Assembly Rooms.
Until the 31st of August.
There are very few books written for children that irritate me more than Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials trilogy. But I’ll get to that in a minute.
Why would I sit for six hours watching a dramatic adaptation of a series of books I hate?
There could only be one answer.
I love a good puppet.
The big hook of Pullman’s alternate world is that the soul of each character exists outside of their body as an animal. These animals are supposed to reflect in some way the personality of the owner, and become set at the onset of puberty (when, naturally, the personality of any person is set forever). The sexuality of characters is also set at this stage – with an animal ‘settling’ to be of the opposite sex for heterosexual people, and one of the same sex for homosexual people (although no major or even minor character described in this world is homosexual – they are mentioned briefly as some sort of very rare anomaly).
While these soul animals are the cause of most of my anger towards the books, they also require creative staging. Puppets. In this production designed by the Blind Summit puppet company. They were great.
The play, performed in two parts of almost three hours each, was first performed at the National Theatre in 2004. Nicholas Wright (author of the libretto to The Little Prince and Man on the Moon as well as several episodes of the recent BBC adaptation of Alexander McCall Smith’s The No 1 Ladies Detective Agency) adapted the play from the books. This revival was produced by the Birmingham Repertory Theatre Company with the West Yorkshire Playhouse.
For those unfamiliar with the novels, Pullman is rewriting Paradise Lost for atheist children. I really like Milton. Pullman is no Milton. In his alternate world scientific development has proceeded along a different route and steam power and Zeppelins stand in for electricity and cars. Lyra, a feisty orphaned girl living under the guardianship of an Oxford college, goes on a magical adventure – discovering not only the deepest secrets of the world, but also the deepest secrets of her own soul. Well…
Pullman intends to use His Dark Materials as a rebuttal to C.S. Lewis for not letting Susan back into Narnia after she discovers boys and lipstick and silk stockings. But rather than let Susan back into Narnia, Pullman seems to think that Susan’s lipstick alone can save the world.
Lyra kisses and lies down with her boyfriend, unleashing magic dust that somehow fixes everything. Not that she knows that her sexual awakening will save the world. Agency is overrated. The witches who watch over her progress know that a prophecy has named her as a new Eve, but don’t feel the need to tell her. Why have a female protagonist valued for her thoughts and abilities when you can put pervy overemphasis on her sexuality at twelve?
I don’t have a problem with children of twelve kissing, in life or in fiction, but beyond the strangeness of a plot relying on the kiss of a child to correct the flow of magic dust (really), her male companion Will gets to save the world with a magic knife. His side of the kiss isn’t of the slightest importance. Why would it matter when you have a phallic power prop to rule the universe with?
The way the animal souls (called daemons) function is also just rather comical. People can not generally be separated from their daemons by any great distance. Some people’s daemons settle as sea creatures, confining the owner to a boat for the rest of their lives. One wonders if a person with an elephant or horse daemon would ever be able to socialise indoors or take an elevator again.
The animals don’t really do anything but make occasional wise cracks. And make out with each other. There is a rather disturbing scene when the two characters revealed to be Lyra’s secret parents kiss and their puppet souls kiss along beside them (a snow leopard and a golden monkey).
The play sets seething sexuality against a repressive church, an organisation which has begun to quite literally cut children in two to preserve their innocence. I’m quite happy to be on the atheist bandwagon, but this analogy seems a bit of a stretch.
This production was interesting, but I (obviously) find the content irritating. See it if you like lectures about why religion is bad. Or if you just want to see a monkey try to seduce a gecko.
His Dark Materials
By Philip Pullman, adapted by Nicholas Wright.
Festival Theatre Edinburgh.
Touring May 28th to the the West Yorkshire Playhouse.
Michael Frayn’s Copenhagen, like Doctor Atomic, examines the personal and political events surrounding the development of the atomic bomb during the second world war.
The play dramatises various possible conversations that could have occurred when Niels Bohr visited Werner Heisenberg in German occupied Copenhagen in 1941. The structure of the play is not linear – it revises and re-imagines events, attempting to mirror principles of quantum mechanics in dramatic form: complementarity and uncertainty. Aside from the politics and physics, Frayn’s play is a quite moving exploration of the changing relationship between mentor and pupil over time.
It is an incredibly interesting piece of drama – the only real downfall being the (perhaps necessary) simplification of the scientific issues. The way that the physics is discussed is not the way that two of the brightest physicists of the twentieth century would have talked to one another. It breaks the illusion. And as with many plays dealing with this time, an irritating female character is used as a device to explain events to the plebs in the audience, and occasionally gasp ‘won’t somebody please think of the children?‘ (in this case, Heisenberg’s wife Margrethe).
This production was directed by Tony Cownie and designed by Neil Murray. Compared to the average play Copenhagen allows some scope for interpretation – it is written without any stage directions and only requires set peices to describe the Heisenberg’s house and garden. At the Lyceum the walls, floor and a few vertical poles were covered with oversized handwriting, with a few chairs and piles of paper for props – placing the events clearly in a world of ideas and recolection. The production was really very good – if you ignored the moment just before the curtain call when a ridiculous projection of the earth spinning suddenly appeared. I’m going to pretend it didn’t happen.
By Michael Frayn
Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh
More odd celebrity sightings. I stopped by King’s Theatre to return a couple of extra tickets I had enthusiastically snapped up when the tour of Waiting for Godot was announced last year. There was a huge queue of people waiting for return tickets for that night’s performance, and as the box office hadn’t yet opened I stood in the line and had a chat with an interesting man in a large hat and two drama students who had travelled up from London for the chance to see Sir Ian on stage. Waiting there in the line I was suddenly whacked in the leg as a man with long white hair, wearing oversized tracksuit pants tucked into his socks and a hairy camel overcoat pushed by.
He was carrying a bright orange Sainsbury’s bag containing a few pointy objects. A few professional autograph hunters crowded around him. I gather Sir Ian was doing the prop run, picking up turnips for that night, and saw his opportunity to take revenge on behalf of British celebrities everywhere.
It was great seeing Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart in Godot. It’s easy to forget when reading Beckett that his plays are not just depressing post-apocalyptic commentaries, but often very funny too. However, the highlight of the performance for me was Lucky’s monologue near the end of Act 1:
…I resume the skull to shrink and wast and concurrently simultaneously what is more for reasons unknown in spite of the tennis on on the beard the flames the tears the stones so blue so calm alas alas on the skull the skull the skull the skull in Connemara in spite of the tennis the labours abandoned left unfinished graver still abode of stones in a word I resume alas alas abandoned unfinished the skull the skull in Connemara…
Having recently read quite a bit of Beckett, including the soul destroying trilogy Molloy, Molone Dies and The Unnamable, for me this monologue really evokes the sort of gut wrenching panic that hides just under the surface in Beckett’s prose and drama.
Lucky was played brilliantly by Ronald Pickup – from his biography it seems he’s been in every play performed in Britain in the past forty years, but most recognisably for people of my generation, he is the voice of this guy:
Aslan in the BBC adaptation of the Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe! (As I child I was convinced that they had trained up a real lion for that show, and am now devastated at how obviously it is a puppet.) Simon Callow, who plays Pozzo, has also had a very interesting career, rising from a box office job to stage (as the front end of a stage horse) to the west end, to director and critic.
Sometimes it is difficult to fully enjoy something with such famous actors so aggressively promoted, but this Godot is certainly worth the hype.
Waiting for Godot
By Samuel Beckett
King’s Theatre Edinburgh
Unusually, this production has toured prior to its London run – it is currently playing at the Theatre Royal Haymarket.