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The Edinburgh Fringe, days 3-4: the Weekend

August 24, 2010

Sylvia opened on Sunday!! With an audience of over fifty people, it was a great start to the week. Here’s what else I saw over the weekend:

Saturday

Out of the Blue – all-male a capella group from Oxford. Wonderful vocals and hilarious choreography, featuring “Don’t You Want Me”, “Use Somebody”, “No Diggity” and the obligatory Backstreet Boys encore. Expensive, but really worth seeing – they sell out at one of the largest Fringe venues.

The Marat Sade – finished now but we made it to the last performance. Like us, it was another of the Bookstacks’ shows up from Oxford. The actress playing the Marquis de Sade gave one of the best performances I’ve seen here. The Marquis had long stretches where he doesn’t speak, and then intensity of her expression during these pauses would draw my eye away from the action, to see her reaction. The Marquis is whipped at one point, but aside from that my only criticism would be that it was a little tame for a play about the Marquis de Sade and Jean-Paul Marat. That being said, the core choir of inmates were convincingly insane – making this the second (or third?) show I’ve seen where everyone has gone mad. Not ineffectual, but it does leave one feeling a bit twitchy oneself.

Sunday

The Night Heron – AMAZING play by Jez Butterworth. Another Bookstacks show, the cast and crew got to work with Butterworth on the production, and I really think it shows. The acting is excellent across the board. The set makes the best use of the small space at Surgeons Hall Theatre 1 that I’ve seen. It’s hard to say anything about the plot without giving things away, but the starting premise is that two recently laid-off men living at the edge of a bog take on an unlikely female boarder. The name comes from the birdwatchers who arrive to peer into the swamp looking for the mysterious bird – they are only ever mentioned, but pressure, invasion of privacy, and the idea of someone watching all forms a slowly tightening grip that finally implodes. I would see it again.

There’s Only One Lord Byron – another Bookstacks show, written and directed by an Oxford student. A series of vignette-like scenes depict Byron, returned from Greece, visiting his old favorite brothel. Each of the five women portray for him a different woman in his life. The madame he calls Augusta, after his sister. They each have their role to play but the illusions fall apart – he is old, meant to be dead, and he has no one. The play incorporates Byronic language and some of his poetry fairly smoothly, but the best is when he bitterly quotes Shelley.

The Master and Margarita – an interesting production by the Oxford University Dramatic Society. The devil arrives in atheist, Stalinist Moscow and meddles with the Master, a failed novelist, and his love Margarita, reuniting them after they are separated. It’s hard to tell if it’s the story (based on the Russian novel by Mikhail Bulgakov) or the adaptation, but the narrative doesn’t hold together very well at all. There are brief moments where the actors’ abilities really shine, but these are drowning in jolting scene changes, unnecessarily strange make-up, and those moments where you find yourself thinking, “why am I watching a half-naked man leap around the stage for no apparent reason?” The answer – that his brush with the devil has driven him mad, and the devil is controlling him – doesn’t make it any less jarring, and not in a good way. In the end, though, the production wasn’t bad – it just felt unfinished.

Things to get overly excited about: official Fringe participants’ lanyards, old YouTube videos, running out of fliers on the mile, opening night!

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