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Tag Archive | "Edinburgh Festival Fringe"

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Review: Fleabag

Posted on 09 September 2013 by Simon Holton

Phoebe Waller-Bridge in Fleabag at the Big Belly, Underbelly.

A woman walks onto a stage, sits down on a chair and starts telling a story. Fleabag, written and performed by Phoebe Waller-Bridge, has at its heart a wonderful simplicity. With a powerful and nuanced performance from Waller-Bridge, skilfully directed by Vicky Jones, Fleabag is sure to impress at the Soho theatre, as it did with an extremely successful (Fringe First-winning) premiere at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

In fact, Waller-Bridge doesn’t quite walk on stage; it’s more of a semi-jog, or even a bound. The story begins with a scene certain to inspire sympathy in many, a job interview. She’s late, she’s been running. This is not a good start to a job interview and, thanks to her propensity to say and do the wrong thing, doesn’t continue well. She is that classic British favourite: an underdog. Her slightly ungainly enthusiasm is endearing from the off.

During the interview, the way in which she bluntly and excitedly proclaims things like “sexual harassment case”, or how she momentarily lifts her top, revealing just a bra underneath, before attempting to pretend that nothing has happened, cannot help but charm us, and make us eager to learn what this slightly erratic person might do next. Waller-Bridge’s ability to build a rapport with the audience is commendable, and that rapport is continued with her mastery of comic timing, suggestion and sub-text, and her expressive face with just the right amount of animation – hilariously clown-like but not grotesquely or unrealistically caricatured.

With the first scene begins our first example of the subtle but effective lighting design, by Elliot Griggs. Lighting changes accompany changes in scene and mood in such a way that supports the action, but does not detract from it. The interviewer is played by a recorded voice, sound being effectively managed by Isobel Waller-Bridge. In a one-woman show, containing numerous other characters, the times in which recorded voices were used, and when Waller-Bridge was to play the other characters herself, is an important decision. Though effective, the recorded voices are fortunately not overused, the focus remaining on Waller-Bridge’s accomplished storytelling.

The production is described as a story of “some sort of female living her sort of life”. The skill in this production lies in delivering incredibly ordinary and accessible material in a way that is utterly compelling. The rudeness is unavoidable. The ability to shock an audience is itself a notable achievement, and one wonders if the fact that is a grown woman who is being rude, describing her arguably excessive masturbatory efforts in great detail, is part of this shock. Whether the show is overly reliant on rudeness and shock tactics is debatable, but it is delivered unashamedly and unostentatiously by Waller-Bridge, and is a rare and importantly honest depiction of active female sexuality, still very much an underrepresented taboo.

Fleabag has no reservations about mixing the crude and the profound, and it is profound. It does not shy away from issues of addiction, dysfunctional relationships, violence, death and the problem of maintaining one’s self-esteem in an ever-more competitive world. And yet it remains determinedly light hearted and laugh-out-loud funny, Waller-Bridge raising a laugh with a look, or a pause. This is impressive, important, unique theatre.

Fleabag is playing Soho Theatre until 22 September. For more information and tickets, see the Soho Theatre website.

Simon Holton

Simon Holton

Since returning to the UK after sojourns in the German-speaking world, Simon has plunged himself headfirst into the world of theatre, as both a creator and consumer. Actor-in-training and self-confessed Germanophile, Simon is pursuing diverse interests in experimental and fringe theatre.

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Edinburgh Fringe Review: Genesis/Golgatha

Posted on 26 August 2013 by Devawn Wilkinson

Genesis/Golgatha

Star Rating:
(4/5 stars)

In a rather obscure Assembly venue space tucked behind a construction site, two of the most famous people in the world take the stage in order to speak to us. It’s been a long few millennia and, after a lot of bad press, they just want to get the facts straight. In Clancy Production’s hidden gem of a show, Genesis/Golgatha, Eve (not the rapper) and Jesus Christ (possibly a beat poet) present two monologues that pretty much rewrite history, with radical and richly poetic reassessments of the Good Book as we know it. Nothing is sacred – God, humanity, sex and sin all come under scrutiny in this assured production that boasts finely-tuned performances and fiercely intellectual writing.

Eve (Nancy Walsh) appears before us as a wife and earth-mother, a sort of world-weary ex-hippy, heartbroken by her expulsion from the Garden of Eden, horrified by her all-consuming love for Adam and her children, furious with the creator who she sees as a lonely, selfish genius who simply didn’t think about the consequences of his actions. She, of course, was punished for her curiosity, but as she argues passionately, isn’t it that very longing for knowledge that energises her, makes her wondrous and makes her human? Her experience of the world, “in the first place” (my favourite double-entendre of the Fringe) is not paradise as we might imagine it, but filled with awe and horror – sex is  “horrible and strange and wonderful”, yet she empathises with God, she thinks they are more alike than the almighty might assume – because they have both created things that are doomed to die, that is their joy and their punishment.

Jesus Christ (John Clancy) is a shabby hobo talking in manic poetry at a hundred miles an hour, with his bloodied shirt and battered hands that could just as well be the marks of a bar brawl than a crucifixion. Biblical characters are relocated to Nazareth, Pittsburg with plenty of scope for darkly cynical and probably blasphemous comedy – “my mother was dating this Italian before she had me” kind of thing. Pontius Pilate turns up a blank-faced Quentin Tarantino villain, a strangely hollow soul with a clipped southern drawl. Mary Magdalene (reminiscent of Missy from Kerouac’s On the Road) is the great romance of Christ’s life and is a serial cheater, but only because she’s following Christ’s tenet of universal love.  He’s a reluctant Messiah, in fact he’s not even sure if he’s the messiah at all – God is definitely crazy by this point, so Christ is too. There’s something deliciously theatrical in the moment when Christ addresses us – the audience , the world – as “you imaginary people in the dark!” with the kind of fervour that could be that of a genuine visionary or simply the deluded ramblings of the wild-eyed preacher you avoid in the shopping centre. The choice to doubt or believe is left entirely up to us.

The production is about as stripped back as you can get – just the actors, on an empty stage, engaging with us. But the text is intricate, stylish, complex and genuinely demanding; I think I could actually hear the cogs of my mind grinding, having rusted a little from a fortnight’s disuse. It’s certainly not for everyone, and the performances can tip very occasionally into melodrama, but most of the time Genesis/Golgatha is a poetically rich and emotionally invested work that’s worth seeking out.

Genesis/Golgotha played at Assembly George Square as part of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

Devawn Wilkinson

Devawn Wilkinson

Devawn is a London-based writer, performance poet and aspiring theatre-maker. As a reviewer, she has written for A Younger Theatre, Theatre Royal Stratford East and Exeunt Magazine.

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Edinburgh Fringe Review: 4.48 Psychosis

Posted on 17 August 2013 by Lauren Mooney

4-48-psychosis_31537

Star Rating:
(2/5 stars) In this re-imagining of Sarah Kane’s famous play, first performed posthumously in 2000, DEM Productions attempts to turn this dark, highly-stylised swan song into something altogether more naturalistic. It’s an interesting intention, but not entirely successful.

4.48 Psychosis is known for being stageable in a variety of ways. Kane’s final play, about the mental illness that was to end her life, reads like a poem, and can be staged with between one and several actors, as she left it fairly open to interpretation. After attributing the text’s otherwise unattributed voices to several people, including a male lover and an unidentifiable woman, the main addition here seems to be a group of friends with who drift in and out, chatting over wine about Angela who’s had a baby and teachers from school.

Presumably these scenes are added in an attempt to pit the central character’s illness against the reality of existence, her not-coping against their blustering acceptance of all life’s horrors and tragedies, because they are well and she is not. It’s an interesting idea, but doesn’t really come off.

Kane wrote 4.48 Psychosis with such towering intensity and passionate rage that it is a world in itself, a world where you are asked to comprehend a mental state that is by its nature incomprehensible, because her mind is not working as it should. Injecting all the banalities of everyday life into this invalidates both strands; put against each other, the group’s conversations look petty and trivial, while her misery looks excessive in contrast and almost petulant. To be mentally ill is to be completely isolated from reality – but we need to accompany her there, and DEM Productions’s inability to let the real world go keeps its audience firmly rooted in the normal and the sane, peering in at a woman’s suffering without really comprehending it.

A further problem is that you simply cannot hear the actors for most of the play, and it’s a wordy script they’re grappling with. Some combination of the fans being kept on in the stiflingly hot venue and the cast seeming to forget, half the time, that they are speaking for an audience and not just each other, makes a good half of the play fairly inaudible.

Florence Brady turns in an impressive enough performance in the central role for you to want to see her in a normal production of the show; she pitches a difficult role well and her utter despair is completely believable. Unfortunately, Brady alone can’t save proceedings from being distinctly underwhelming.

4.48 Psychosis can be seen at 20.20 at C Nova every day until 26 August. For more information and tickets, visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.

Lauren Mooney

Lauren Mooney

Lauren graduated with an English degree from the University of Liverpool before moving to London. Aside from reviewing for AYT and her day job at Free Word, she also writes for Exeunt and TheatreGuide London, and helps make the London Horror Festival happen.

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Edinburgh Fringe Review: Oh My Irma

Posted on 15 August 2013 by Dan Hutton

Oh My Irma

Star Rating:
(3/5)

Young women committing acts of violence on small animals seems to have become a bit of a running motif throughout this year’s festival. After the grotesque ending of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s Fleabag comes Haley McGee’s Oh My Irma, which features a similarly damaged young woman who ends up taking out her anger on a similarly unsuspecting victim. But though the themes are similar, there’s enough that this piece does differently to make it an interesting watch after the former’s brazen honesty.

“I did it,” announces our narrator at the top of the piece, paralysed with stage-fright and angry that the techies have ruined the opening. Her mission is to explain how and why she did “it” as she recounts the story of a man who slept with her mother (Irma) and then gave his dog the same name, leaving her confused and frustrated. She follows Irma’s tendency for self-harm, too, as small acts of self-sabotage allow her to regain control over her life.

For the most part, a colloquial delivery style (“I was like…”, “He was like…”) allows our narrator to tell her story, but she often strays into other storytelling forms like performance art and beat poetry in order to express herself. This is an extremely self-aware performance, making the most of the form whilst also ridiculing it. There’s a sense that this character is very much aware she is performing, having rehearsed various moves and gestures in order to get her point across. There are fault lines, however, like when she drops her guard in order to find an audience member who will touch her arm allowing moments of genuine emotion to break free.

The text is littered with unexpected phrases, as McGee allows lines like “Well gag me with a wooden spoon” and “Rich people sleep on such clouds” to find their way into the piece. Her performance is subtle in its comedy, letting small pauses and glances do the work rather than gurning or shouting. Like Fleabag, we see a picture of someone who has gone through a lot brushing it off with confidence.

The monologue is sometimes a little obtuse, but then this sort of works in the context of this woman telling us her story. Either way, Oh My Irma is an intricately written and beautifully performed examination of self-destruction due to the mistakes of others. Haley McGee is one to watch.

Oh My Irma is at Hill Street Theatre until 25 August. For more information and tickets visit the Edinburgh Fringe website.

Dan Hutton

Dan Hutton

Dan recently graduated with a degree in English and Theatre Studies from the University of Warwick. He is a theatre-maker, freelance theatre critic and a company director of Barrel Organ Theatre.

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