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Tag Archive | "Edinburgh Festival 2011"

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Edinburgh Fringe Review: The Improvised Musical

Posted on 01 September 2011 by Jack Thomas

The concept is absolutely terrifying and would fill even some of the most established actors with fear and dread. Yet, a team of six actors, three musicians and a man on improvised tech called Giles, turn up to their theatre venue in Edinburgh each day not knowing what they will perform for the next hour.

No Shoes Theatre, which returns to the Edinburgh fringe for its third year with The Improvised Musical is on to a winner, and judging from another sell out year it has got its model right to ensure  happy audiences.

As we file in, the musicians are playing, the cast jumping around greeting people and asking if we have any props to lend to their production… I don’t think anyone could have thought that two sticks of garlic bread would be presented to them but nevertheless they went on the pile of random items and were indeed used.

A quick introduction to  how the concept works we spend five minutes seeking suggestions for a song title, the title of the show and also issuing cards to members of the audience who can at any point request a song, add another character to the scene, or shout flashback to gain a bit more story to the scene that unfolds.

The whole thing has the potential to be a complete disaster but, incredibly, the venue shakes with laughter on several occasions and smiles beam in admiration for a team of six people who not only know each other’s performance so well but also manage to present several songs in harmony and know exactly when to end. Credit must be given to the outstanding talents of musical director Gavin Whitworth who dutifully sits behind the keyboard adding sound effects and nuances to the performance as well as picking the right musical genre to complement the tone of each improvised scene – as well as leading a bass player and drummer.

You can’t help but sit and think, how are they doing this? The simple answer is practice. Performances by the cast of six, with mentions to the delightful Nic Lamont and Scott Gilmour, come not only from genuine comic talent and timing but also from the time invested in knowing exactly what the other is thinking and how to improvise around what the other can present.

Director Michael Slater, who also performs in the six person troope, presents an exciting show that is literally completely different each performance. I have no shame in saying that I now have this firmly stapled into my itinerary each year.

For those who couldn’t make Edinburgh, talks are FINALLY underway to organise some performances in London, and I really can’t wait.

Clever, inventive, feel-good theatre, with a group of very talented individuals.
I want a go!

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Edinburgh Fringe Review: The Animals and Children Took To The Streets

Posted on 01 September 2011 by Jake Orr

It’s rare that I return to see the same show more than once unless it is a West End musical and only to please some family member in town. Rarely am I so enthralled that I will quite happily sit through another darkened hour in the name of theatre, especially at the Edinburgh Festival. When it comes to 1927’s The Animals and Children Took to the Streets, a part-projected, part-animation, French-inspired Gothic musical-esque experience, a show I first saw at Latitude Festival, I leapt at the chance of seeing it all over again. Did it stand up to a second viewing? Did it ever.

Having already been on tour and racked up a series of five star reviews, 1927’s latest production is now being featured as part of The British Council Edinburgh Showcase, and it is perfectly placed for international promotion, having already achieved an excellent tour in Australia. The Animals and Children Took to the Streets is quite a timely piece given the recent unrest that swept much of the UK. In the apocalyptic and septic existence that makes up the Bayou Mansions, a rebellion uprising of children is taking to the streets, whilst a hopeful Agnes Eaves attempts to use crate paper and collage to ease the storm. What follows is a story thick with Gothic influence and projected beauty that stakes 1927 as a company which is changing the way we look at animation and theatre. It is, quite frankly, a masterpiece.

The key to 1927’s piece is the way that Paul Barritt’s animations are integrated with the three ensemble members. The level of precision and visual imagination put into the animations make The Animals and Children Took to the Streetslike nothing you have ever seen before. The ensemble seamlessly moves and interacts with the projected animations, which are beautifully crafted to show anything from a group of children running amok, to a caretaker sweeping endless dust that billows into the air. The visuals are captivating, and when coupled with the exceptional storytelling, musical accompaniment and harmonious singing, there is a distinct feeling that the audience are watching something far more than just a finely crafted piece of theatre: it is an experience enriching every sense of the body – a treat for eye and ear.

My one slight criticism of the piece upon second viewing is the pace; the production seems to drift by at the same constant level. It never seems to propel itself into the chaos of the storyline, instead opting for a more linear pace. If there is one thing that could make this production even better, it would be to let go of the restraints and allow the production to soar, which can quite easily take place within the current framework. Putting this aside, it is a remarkable achievement for a company still developing its craft, and is a fine testament to the collaborative support they have received during the making of the production.

It’s hard to really pinpoint what it is about the production beside the visuals that makes it so arresting. It’s a feat of storytelling, both creative and imaginative, whilst still showing parallels to the world outside the theatre. It is quite clear that 1927 takes its work very seriously when it comes to the creation and delivery of performance. They work seamlessly with each other and the projections to make this macabre tale both entertaining and heartfelt.

The Animals and Children Took to the Streets seems perfectly placed with both the Edinburgh Festival and as a company being showcased by the British Council. If its work continues in this vain, we might just be witnessing the start of a new innovative theatre troupe to rival the likes of Complicite. Whatever you do, follow this company and make it your life’s ambition to see one of their productions.

Jake Orr

Jake Orr

Jake is the Artistic Director and Founder of A Younger Theatre. He is a freelance writer and blogger, a theatre marketer and a digital producer. He is also Co-Curator of Dialogue.

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Review Edinburgh Fringe: The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer

Posted on 31 August 2011 by Harriet Hale

In this post-apocalyptic scenario, the ice caps have melted, flooding the earth and forcing survivors to skyscrapers and mountaintops – or, in Alvin Sputnik’s case, a glorified roof garden, complete with house, tree and ailing wife. What’s more (if the global situation were not bad enough) Alvin’s wife then dies, leaving him alone in the vast ocean with nothing and no one to live for.

But there is hope. Just as his wife’s soul has drifted, fairy-like, into the deep, Alvin is alerted to Earth HQ and its call for a hero to travel underwater and save the world. Spurred on by love and grief, Alvin volunteers and the perilous adventure begins.
Tim Watts, undoubtedly a bit of an Alvin Sputnik himself, orchestrates the show in a wetsuit, using hand puppetry, mime, projections, music, light and shadows. The performance, for all its media, is simple, and brings little, Lilliputian Alvin to life without making him too cutesy or unrealistic. In fact, his wife’s death is the perfect catalyst for adventure, as it gives him both an ulterior motive to save the world and nothing to lose in failing. He is no Hollywood do-gooder, but driven by his own grief and need of purpose.

The production as a whole is captivating, and showcases Watts’ originality and talent as a storyteller. The puppets are endearing, and the emotions understated. And whilst Sputnik is suitable for kids, my advice would be to leave them at home. It really is too good for children.

Sputnick has finished its stint in Edinburgh, but is scheduled to run at Bristol Festival of Puppetry (2-4 September,) Oxford Playhouse (8-10) and Dublin Fringe (15-24)

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Review Edinburgh Fringe: Crunch

Posted on 27 August 2011 by Jake Orr

This is not a lecture, an angry protest or rebellion, this is an awakening. Or so we are lead to believe by Gary McNair in his one-man show Crunch. Looking at the way in which we value money and how we interact with it, McNair presents an inspiring and thought-provoking performance piece.

Presented to us in the style of an American “enlightenment” course, we learn five steps to rethink our actions towards money as a commodity. McNair is a excellent performer, who manages to not only perform this course of enlightenment, but make the whole experience somehow an educational tool, too. If I didn’t understand the nature of the banks’ lending before Crunch I certainly do now, and I am weary of the vast sums of money which in reality do not exist. Of course the nature of banking and spending/loaning of money is complex, and is never quite as simple as McNair makes it, but he does go a long way to strip back any pretense and confusion, and to deliver it rather straight forwardly. All of this means that Crunch is seamless, and never feels like a lecture or an attempt to brainwash the audience. At each stage of the piece we are encouraged to question, or to at least understand what is happening, and to act as individuals (and as McNair is keen for us to recite back to him, we are “great individuals”).

Crunch balances the right amount of informative understanding of money with audience participation and McNair’s own unique style of delivery. As a piece it is brilliantly funny, picking away at our obsessions with money, and how greed seems to so easily slip into our lives. McNair gives us the chance to earn money in the performance by bidding upon an envelope with an unknown amount inside – as it turned out our bidder gained a profit of £10. This of course links excellently with the underlying nature of the piece, the values we place upon money, and the increasing amount of gambling that is done through the banks alongside our own greed for wealth.

The whole performance careers towards the ending when, under McNair’s instructions, an audience member is invited to rid himself of the restraints that money has put upon him by shredding a £10 note. It is by and large a poignant moment. How much do we value what is essentially nothing but paper? This note, the currency, might relate to an amount within our bank accounts, or might be worth a value in goods, but we never really see the true value of it. At the end of the day, the money we exchange goods for and collect over time is essentially never seen – we never see the weight of those numbers on our statements in nice piles of gold in the bank. McNair releases himself from the idea that we are tied down by our wealth and our obsessions with money. He invites other audiences members up to do the same, and whilst you could see this as a gimmick, it’s not about shredding money for the sake of a performance piece, it’s about reevaluating the way we look at money as a whole.

Crunch is an excellent example of a piece of work which is honest and never attempts to be anything more or less than it is. McNair is an excellent performer who guides his audience through ideals and ideas with fluidity, gaining our trust and I’m sure changing a few people’s ideas on money as he goes. Later on that evening as I went to the cash point to withdraw some money, I couldn’t help but to think back to Crunch and how McNair had been right, we really could do with another system beside money. Unfortunately I’m not sure any of us could do this… yet.

Jake Orr

Jake Orr

Jake is the Artistic Director and Founder of A Younger Theatre. He is a freelance writer and blogger, a theatre marketer and a digital producer. He is also Co-Curator of Dialogue.

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