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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
I was back down at Assembly on George Street last night to see another Australian stand-up comedian Hannah Gadsby. Adam Hills is producing Gadsby’s run at the fringe this year and gave her a shout-out in his show on Thursday night.
Gadsby is fairly new to the stand-up circuit, and it wasn’t hard to tell – the pacing was a bit bumpy and she mumbled through a few lines that might have been hard to decipher for audience members not familiar with Australian colloquialisms.
Beyond the jitters she put together a good show, focusing on her experiences growing up in an insular Tasmanian town and dealing with an unusually doctor-phobic mother while constantly getting into bizarre accidents involving bicycles, sheet glass and cricket stumps.
Kiss Me Quick I’m Full of Jubes
Assembly @ George Street
Until the 30th 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.
I heard an interview with Nigella Lawson where she talked about her experiences as a restaurant reviewer. She said that she was always reluctant to write really negative reviews, saying that she thought on some occasions it was more charitable to just say nothing.
That is my inclination about Horse. I always think I’m going to love physical theatre, then about ten minutes in I’m itching to leave and cursing myself for thinking an hour of dramatic movement and half-arsed dancing will be entertaining.
Rather than write a full review I’ll just briefly summarise what audiences can expect:
Woman dances like a horse with a mop for a tail. Falls into a stack of hay bales. Is heckled. Gets into jodhpurs and a riding jacket (slowly) and reads from a riding manual. Changes into pastor’s outfit (slowly) and holds a equine religious service. Strokes members of the audience. Changes back into original outfit (slowly) and pretends to ride a hobby horse. Stands topless on said hobby horse. Jumps into a water trough, emerges dripping wet and dressed in formal attire. Sings.
Actually the last costume change was quite impressive. It was a fairly small trough.
I don’t think my disappointment after seeing Horse was just the inevitable realisation that I don’t really like physical theatre. For one thing the somewhat misleading positive reviews on the promotional poster are actually for one of Company FZ’s previous fringe productions. For another: half the audience walked out. Seemingly from boredom rather than shock or excessive hay inhalation.
It’s the Edinburgh Fringe! I don’t care if you’re provocative, silly or poorly rehearsed. Just don’t be boring.
The Bosco at Hullabaloo
until the 31st of August
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.
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.
On Wednesday I went to see a show by indie/anti-folk band Noah and the Whale. Part of the band’s Club Silencio tour, the night included three short film screenings and a couple of songs from slightly underwhelming support act Jay Jay Pistolet.
The program included three films: a cute claymation piece Le Grand Sommeil, a farcical noir The Bloody Olive, and from the dark depths of 1980s New Zealand, award winning short The Lounge Bar (more about it here).
The main act was great. Boppy, melodic music with plenty of handclap moments. It wasn’t too loud either, a big plus. In keeping with the theme of the evening songs were performed in front of projected animations and edited archival footage. Noah and the Whale really wear their twee-pop label with pride.
Noah and the Whale
Feat. Jay Jay Pistolet and films from Future Shorts
Queen’s Hall Edinburgh
Once upon a time, the economy broke and a whole lot of other awful stuff happened…
…but art cheered me up.
From my past posts, you can probably gather I’m a big fan of seeing lots of live performances, as cheaply as possible. Actually, every performance I’ve written up on this blog has cost less than 15 pounds – all of the Edinburgh festival events, and all the stand-alone performances at day ticket prices. It helps to have a student card and a flexible morning schedule to scope out tickets, but even for posh places like the ROH you can try your luck at the ticket office just before the performance.
Back when I was in Sydney I liked going to the Belvoir St box office on Tuesdays to get pay-as-you-can-afford tickets (or a minimum of 10 dollars) for shows at the downstairs theatre – if you’re there about forty minutes early you’re pretty much guaranteed a seat, depending on the popularity of the show.
According to this article in the Sydney Morning Herald, the Australian arts sector is starting to suffer from the economic downturn, and companies are starting to look at discounting tickets across the board.
ETA: Here’s another one today.
Last night I went to a great Balkan club night here in Edinburgh – seven pounds for a couple of hours of crazy folk-ish/gypsy/klezmer music, plus belly dancing, and an impromptu farandole-mosh-pit.
Tonight I went to local arts co-op Forest to see a performance from Anti-folk-ish harpist Erica Holcomb. It was great. The harp pieces were better than those on the guitar, and the crowd was a little distracted and noisy at times, but free concerts are awesome.
Moral of the story:
Take advantage of cheap tickets if you can get them – show everyone there is a demand for good quality, affordable theatre and music. Go see new things. Be nice to box-office staff. Student performances and emerging new acts are cheap, and sometimes free. Free/inexpensive shows can be bad. So can expensive ones. Arts companies like loyal audiences. Support them.