Wednesday, 29 August 2007

Edinburgh Reviews 2 (including The Bacchae)

Woyzeck. Aurora Nova.

A brilliant physical realisation of Georg Buchner’s 1836 play, where the eponymous (anti)hero, a dogsbody of a soldier, kills his lover after he is turned mad by a combination of his grinding life, strange medical experiments and his abuse at the hands of his drum major (who sleeps with Marie, Woyzeck’s lover). I’ve seen several productions of this play (and the superb Berg opera), but this 70 minute version by South Korea’s Sadari Movement Laboratory at the respected Aurora Nova venue, is by far the most striking. A piece of almost wordless physical theatre, 11 performers bring the dark world of the soldier to vividly life. The company are all dressed in simple clothes and the stage is bare except for chairs, these chairs are used in a variety of ways to paint dramatic stage pictures. There is Woyzeck at the end of a row of these chairs, dramatically lit (the lighting throughout is very atmospheric and quite superb), looking like the loneliest man in the world, or a group of soldiers frantically spinning a chair each, extraordinarily representing their physical prowess and macho pride. This production really defies my powers of description, it is ravishingly beautiful, constantly striking, but absolutely simple and without flummery. If this company or thrillingly captivating and entertaining production every comes your way, I would fight for a ticket.

The Bacchae. King’s Theatre.

The Edinburgh International Festival’s big theatre event of 2007 was David Greig’s version of Euripides The Bacchae at the King’s Theatre, in a co production with the National Theatre of Scotland and directed by John Tiffany (who had the Fringe hit of 2006, the superb Balckwatch, which will finally be seen in London next year). If that is a sentence that should hit theatrical pay dirt, add Alan Cumming as Dionysus making his return to the Scottish stage, and you really have a licence to print good reviews. And this is a very good production, and Mr Cumming is actually excellent, but it is not quite a superb production for my money. This 145 minute version (no interval), is highly entertaining and beautiful to look at; we get an a alarming burst of flames (which was very hot indeed, even in row K), blinding lights, a river of wine, an aerial entrance and a striking chorus of red clad Gospel singers as the Bacchae themselves. So Tiffany certainly knows how to make ‘total theatre’, but the camp touches were sometimes a tad too flip for my taste (and I’m all for camp in the right places). The more sombre emotional scenes towards the end of the play were quite moving, with Paola Dionisotti excelling as the cursed Agave. Grieg, who also had two other plays being performed in the Edinburgh Fringe at the time, is a deft adaptor, he gives us beautiful language, speech that is never stiff or too formal, but most importantly he has the skill to make this adaptation feel natural (i.e you can watch the play without consciously thinking about when the language was written). The production plays Glasgow, before a residency at the Lyric Hammersmith, it is well worth seeing.

Killer Joe. Pleasance Courtyard.

Tracy Letts’s play Killer Joe started out (in Europe at least) on the Edinburgh Fringe in the mid 1990’s before a West End run, and this production shows it as a powerful piece still, though very much a period piece too. It is certainly not for everyone, when I attended several people left, and this violent comedy/drama ends with an almost over the top orgy of killing. The depiction of sex is also unflinching (though not particularly explicit), with the title character sexually awakening a young woman, given to him as a ‘retainer’ on his assignment to kill the young woman’s mother (having been hired by the woman’s father and brother to knock off the mother for the supposed insurance payment). This is a world of Texas trailer park white trash, who live in scuzzy splendour in a grotty caravan, eat KFC and drink only beer. Directed by Maggie Inchley with a superb cast of comedians come actors, particularly excellent are Phil Nichol as the amoral father and Tony Law as the deadly and seductive killer Joe, but al the cast hit the mark. The play is not an enduring classic, but it is very funny, brilliantly bloody (almost Greek in its tragedy) and highly entertaining.

Etiquette. Aurora Nova.

An excellent, inventive and memorable experience for two people by London based theatre company Rotozaza, Etiquette has you and a partner sitting at a table in a café (on the occasion the Aurora Nova café, but it would work in any such environment), where you each act out a scenario as instructed by pre recorded tape (you both have headphones on, with props arranged precisely on the table in front of you). The play is a very intimate experience, you have to look your partner in the eye for quite a long time, which is actually quite difficult for many people (think about it, when do you ever hold a direct gaze for more then a few seconds?). The play lets us lose our self-consciousness, we are in a café, but oblivious to the other people once we are inside out world of performance, we don’t care who is looking at us or mind what we say. Eventually you only see and hear your partner and the sounds on the tape. Instead of thinking how to fill the silence with our own words we are instructed what to say, it heightens your sense of anticipation, of what you will say and how your partner will respond. You close your eyes, and when you open them your partner has changed positions, you move your partners hand, you look at them or avoid looking at them, you speak, they respond. It is a thoughtful piece, which challenges our everyday strategy for automatically filling time with words and glances; it makes us think about communication and relationships. It also tells a strange almost love story, which in the grand scheme of things is very much secondary to the experience as a whole. I loved the moment when I was an actor onstage, closing my eyes and imagining I was in the wings, with all the noises of the theatre ringing in my ears. I think my friend Angela was as equally impress as I was with this wonderful piece of personal theatre.

Macbeth: Who is that Bloodied Man? Old College Quad.

I saw some of Macbeth: Who is that Bloodied Man, but not all of it. Unfortunately I had a ticket for the wettest and coldest night of Edinburgh’s ‘summer’. The rain lashed the handsome Old College Quad as the hundreds of spectator flooded in like the river flowing on the pavement outside. Unfortunately this meant that everyone had their umbrellas up, which in turn meant, as the quad is a flat piece of ground, that those behind the first couple of rows of standing spectators couldn’t see very much at all (or at least very much of what was going on at ground level). Due to my totally soaked state, and the fact that for the first (and I hope last) time I was wearing a plastic carrier bag (i.e. poncho) with the Scottish Saltire printed onto it, and I looked like a large blue tent crossed with a drowning SNP supporter, I decided after 20 agonising minutes (I had rushed halfway across the city with my friend Angela from Aurora Nova to the Quad in the pouring rain, and my feet hurt anyway from a mad day of rushing about) to quit and retire to my warmish bed. Polish theatre company Biuro Podrozy’s production is a visual treat, it involves people on stilts in flowing black gowns, motorcycles, football rattles and a disturbing musical soundtrack. Unfortunately the chap on stilts couldn’t light the beacons because of the heavy rain, but he did give it a good go. Macbeth seemed to be a crazed Nazi, and there were occasional burst of unintelligible speech loudly relayed over the huge speakers (like God was talking to you I would imagine). I thought the piece was visually interesting, but not all that revelatory, if it had been I probably would have braved more of the rain.


Waldorf said...

I know what you mean about the weather this year. I spent most of my time soggy - but even I drew the line at the blue plastic poncho.


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