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The Edinburgh Fringe, days 8 and 9: Thursday and Friday

August 28, 2010

Today is our last performance! It has been an AMAZING time. Later on I will write about it, but for now have some more reviews!

Thursday

Andrew and the Slides of Chaos – a comedy where a boring office seminar turns bad after the presentation laptop develops sentience and tries to take over the world. Really funny with some pretty slick graphics, and astoundingly smooth on-stage interaction with the video portions (pulling things out of the screen, talking to the screen etc.). If only all office presentations could be this entertaining!

Baby Wants Candy – the classic improv musical show. We were able to get half-price tickets, which is awesome in itself – but these guys are so talented! It’s like “Whose Line is it Anyway,” but they improvise an entire show based on one audience-suggested title. Ours was “Electric Sexpants – The Musical!” Really, really hilarious.

Lorca is Dead – possibly my top show. By Belt Up theater company, it was an interactive performance where the audience is invited into Andre Breton’s study for a performative meeting of the Paris Surrealists group. They are putting on a play about how their friend, Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca, died. The playwright clearly did his homework in a number of areas – Lorca’s biography, the surrealist movement, communism, fascism, the Spanish civil war – but it is not at all heavy-handed. Using surrealism as a jumping-off point, time becomes fluid and other elements become fluid as well; for example, Lorca is portrayed by anyone wearing the red scarf, even if they are an audience member with lines being whispered in their ear. With plenty to laugh at, the production barrels along at breakneck speed, whipping through not only Lorca’s life but the current tensions between the remaining members of the group (including Salvador Dali and his wife Gala’s ex, French poet Paul Eluard). By the time we reach the death scene, the shit has hit the fan with the different ideological and personal disagreements, and Lorca’s death emerges from the breakdown in heartrending silence. (History: Lorca is thought to have been murdered in the night by Spanish Nationalists for his leftward leanings and homosexuality; his body was never found.) “We are defined by our beginnings. There is a house on the vega…” I left the theater in tears. If I could I would go again.

Blues Brothers – a rollicking good time! Danced my socks off.


Friday. Show-wise, Friday kind of sucked. I’m not going to write about the shows really, but here’s what I saw:

Cracks – ensemble cast, everyone dies for no apparent reason

Hildegard of Bingen and the Living Light – one-woman show about the life of the learned abbess (my favorite of the day, despite the fact that I nodded off a few times)

Love Bites – abusive, eating-disordered relationship

Interabang – improv comedy

The Edinburgh Fringe, days 5-7: Monday-Wednesday

August 28, 2010

Yesterday was our best show yet, if you ask me. The audience really seem to be enjoying it! (But flyering in the rain is no fun.) Here is what else I’ve been to over the past few days:

Monday

Death of the Unicorn – ugh. Existentialist exploration of the life of one woman, starting as a baby, then small child and so on. Not only was the concept weak and the tone preachy; the writing was poor as well (“Have you awoken to the sound of the unicorn?”), and (spoilers) in the end, the woman blinds herself to live completely in her imagination. What kind of a message is that? Not for me.

Samson Agonistes – like Sylvia, another Bookstacks production, but more of a staged reading than a play. The language is certainly beautiful though there’s not much action as the play wasn’t really written to be performed. Worth seeing, but expect to be told what happens / has happened, rather than watch.

When in Rome… – a musical by the Cambridge Fools. The concept is definitely funny (Ovid as a rap artist especially), but the humor is often puerile and (dare I say) sexist. Mostly I’m just disappointed that their number from the Mile (“Your Toga’s on Fire” to Kings of Leon) wasn’t actually in the show. My friends really enjoyed it, so I guess it just wasn’t to my taste.

Nevernight – a musical about an adolescent Peter Pan. I can’t really recommend it – apparently when Peter grows up, he turns into a twat. The leading actor and actress weren’t very strong on the acting front, so the spotlight was mostly stolen by the supporting roles – which was fine by me as they were much, much better to watch.

The House of Mirrors and Hearts – one of the best things I’ve seen here. Tightly wound, naturalistic – but a musical as well. The writing was fabulous, the acting was professional, and the songs were wonderful; moving and deliberate, intertwining different themes for different characters –  I will be very disappointed when the next psychological drama I go to doesn’t come with music.

Tuesday

Hood! – apparently written in a week and a half, this unique a capella/drama based on “Little Red Riding Hood” pretty much shattered my expectations. The lyric-less opening number had me a little worried, but once the cast settled into creepy forest dwellers I knew it was going to be cool. Squawks and squeaks, moans and giggles – certainly something we have heard enough of around here, but it definitely worked well this time. When it was time to change sets, one of the actresses became grandma and opened the (pretend) door to her cabin. Closing it behind her, the others scuttled around to form a fire, a chair, a clock, cabinets and a cat; the lights change to a warm interior as she turns and suddenly all is relatively still. It goes on in a similar way, telling the familiar story in the fun and unique medium of bodies and often wordless jazzy a capella. The cast switches between forest, grandma’s cabin and the town with only brief on-stage additions to costume and changes in movement quality. The Wolf was especially wonderful – both sinister and clever, he was amusing in that way that makes you choke down your laugh so he doesn’t come for you next. I had an amazing time – my only critique is that at the end, I wanted more!

Wait Until Dark – a murder mystery about a blind woman alone in her home as mysterious men come searching for a strangely important doll. It took a little while for me to get into it, but once I did I found the lead actress compelling. The whodunit wasn’t a huge twist, but rather a huge threat to her safety, and the production did a good job of conveying this. Overall it was a touch lackluster, but by the end quite chilling.

Pork – one of my favorites. A short play set in an alternate society where humans and animals share equal rights. Animals live on reserves, where they can be safe and happy, and some humans have joined them there as their brothers and sisters. But not everyone has gone vegetarian, and in some cases dinner needs a little persuasion. (If that sounds like an advert, that’s because it is – go see it!)

Wednesday

101 – see my previous post. A different scenario this time: blindfolded as animals, we were made to follow our master’s voice – his or her movements and commands, while they promised to keep us safe. Others would come to tempt us away from our masters, but those who did were punished for their disloyalty. It wasn’t exactly enjoyable at the time, but the experience really sticks with you: trusting a complete stranger as he walks you through the darkness for forty minutes makes a huge impact. I started wondering why I trusted so easily, why I jumped higher when he told me to, why I believed him when he said he’d keep me safe. When the others would come, they would threaten to hurt my master if I didn’t go with them, and he would tell me to stay in between bouts of what sounded like him being hurt. The whole scenario was really scary and believable and fascinating, and I still highly recommend 101.

British Summertime – a short and sweet musical about trying to pull off a wedding when it seems like everything is going wrong. The vocals were very good and the lyrics were funny. The plot was a bit cliche but you could tell that going in – it delivered what it advertised, which was light and amusing.

MyFace – a group of young people who are all Suzy’s friends on “myface” try to sort out how to act with each other in the real world. A clever satire of internet friendships (“Lu! I just bit you using the werewolf application!” “Are you going to write on my wall? Please write on my wall!” etc.). Funny and unpretentious.

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!

The Edinburgh Fringe, day 2: Friday

August 21, 2010

Yesterday, after a morning rehearsal for Sylvia (if by morning you mean noon, and I do), it was time to head into town for more shows! Here’s what we saw:

{Extinguish.} by Ezra LeBank – a one-man show about the nature of death. In one hour, the performer embodies 27 different lives (according to the flier – I’m not sure I counted that many, but his versatility is certainly astounding). Through a combination of movement and original spoken word, he conveys the perspective of the dead and the dying. It is definitely a concept worth exploring given that it is a first-person perspective that the living are never privy to in our lifetimes. Pain, joy, fear, gratitude, revenge – from a lynching in Waco, Texas to one of the 9/11 hijackers, from suicide to accident to old age, from seeing the light to getting lost in the dark, the show does have some elements of pretension but for the most part brings dignity and humor to the last situation any of us will butt heads with. LeBank grounds the performance, capably moving between characters through accents and movement quality. Definitely a show worth seeing, but for the most part you’ll have to check your sense of irony at the door.


The Harmonics
– I almost didn’t go to this show, but because my friend has a friend who is the girlfriend of one of the band members, I tagged along – and I’m so glad I did. The first musical act I’ve attended at the Fringe, the four-piece band delivers cool, jazzy renditions of just about anything. From “Moondance” to the Jungle Book their humor, adroit original arrangements and amazing harmonies made the show fresh and enjoyable. Their linen suits made me feel like I should be in the sunshine sipping champagne instead of a stuffy basement venue, but given the packed room, you’ll be lucky to score a ticket.

Quarantine – a comedy for the modern age. Spoofing on plotlines such as “Outbreak” and “28 Days Later,” Quarantine plays on the fears of the masses in the post-swine flu internet age. The writing is good, the pacing is even, the jokes are funny – even the tagline, “It’s ‘House’ meets ‘Jurassic Park’ … with a ukelele!”, is surprisingly accurate. It definitely delivers, so if you’re looking to see a show about dino-flu, this is the one.

This morning we were able to have a dress rehearsal in the venue, which was excellent given that people will be coming to watch our show tomorrow! Fliering on the mile this afternoon, and then more rehearsing and more shows to come!

Things to get overly excited about: ginger beer, quiche, ticket sales, homemade challah and comic books.

The Edinburgh Fringe, Sylvia!

August 20, 2010

You may have found me gushing about Oneohone in my previous post (I’ve seen one of their interactive shows and their midnight Dracula). One of the members of Oneohone, Arabella Lawson, plays the lead in our production of “Sylvia”, opening Sunday at 15:25, theSpace @ Royal Surgeons Hall! Book ahead here: http://www.edfringe.com/sylvia

We are really pleased with the number of people who have already booked tickets. Come one, come all!!

The Edinburgh Fringe, day 1: Thursday

August 20, 2010

After a week and a half of (relatively) peaceful solitude in York, I hopped on the train (as lightly as one can while dragging along all of one’s worldly possessions) and headed north to Edinburgh. The route lies along the east coast of the UK with sometimes no more than a cliff between train and sea: really lovely scenery.

It’s my third time in this city and I could tell as soon as I stepped onto the platform at Waverley that things are not what they once were. It was lively before, even in dark-by-3pm December, but it is packed now. And the only people I could see were people for the Fringe – theatrical tourists to the largest international arts festival in the world.

That first afternoon, I dropped off my things at my cast’s shared flat and went back into town to hang out at our venue’s cafe-bar. I spent an hour or two flipping through the official program with no clue how to choose between shows. At any given moment, there are dozens of shows to choose from, hundreds in a day, thousands in the three weeks of the festival, and no sure way of picking only good ones. But it’s that same grab-bag effect that makes it so fun.

That night, once everyone had arrived, we did our first line-through since May. It was a bit shakey of course, seeing as 1) it was after midnight, 2) our lead stays at a different flat, and 3) it’s been ten weeks since we were all together. Nevertheless, I was so impressed: the Fringe, my Fringe, was underway.

Yesterday (Thursday) we had a 9:30 call tech-run to set our lights, sound, and set, and get our first feel for the space. There wasn’t enough time to run the scenes but we did cue-to-cues for lights and sound; it was terribly exciting to see “Sylvia” lit and coming to life on stage!

After that, we had the rest of the day free. Here’s what we did:

101 (Oneohone) – an interactive show that rotates through four different scenarios, so you never know what you’ll get. Go down to a basement venue that is pretty much still just a dark basement, tie on a white armband to show that you’re willing to participate in the action, and go! The cast mingles with the audience, shaking hands: “My excellent good friend? My excellent good friend!” “My fellow student? My fellow student? My fellow student.” We are introduced to the King and his son (pulled from the audience, but later revealed to be a plant), his friend and his friend’s son (David, from our cast, is picked from the audience) and daughter. We kneel to the King one by one: “Think on thy sins.” “They are loves I bear to you.” We watch the daughter fall in love with the king’s son: “I bear my loves to you.” (This is the extent of the dialogue, you see.) One man clearly has tension with the King, and murders him: we kneel to him as the new King. “My excellent good friends” are his supporters, while “my fellow students” support the old King’s son. Plot derivation revealed? You guessed it: Hamlet. It was so amazing: the opening circulation determines where your loyalties lie- responding “my excellent good friend” gets you in with the usurper’s crowd, and they defend you against the “my fellow students”, interrupting with a pointed “my excellent good friend.” The restrictions on dialogue make intonation amazingly clear and important, and by the end you feel really traumatized, having been immersed in a society that led to so much tragedy. Ophelia especially made it very clear that it was Hamlet who caused her death, by killing her beloved father – her accusatory cries, “I bore my loves to you!” left my ears ringing. This show was my favorite of what I’ve seen so far.

Death of a Theatre Critic – this production comes from a Swedish theater company, but from what I could tell all the parts but the lead had been replaced with Scottish actors. This four-person show was a little uneasy. It dives into the pain caused by one bad review, which killed the protagonist’s show and left it dead in the water. His wife then leaves him for the play’s up-and-coming writer. The director basically falls apart, goes to the house of the reviewer and in what was probably the best scene discusses the fallout from the review and the roles of directors and critics to the theater. “We are the theater, and you’re just a parasite” as opposed to “we save the theater from the egos of people like you.” The reviewer does die, in an almost-accident (the director strangles him, but the reviewer has a stroke mid-strangle): the director goes to prison, not for murder, but because he failed to call an ambulance. In prison he meets a psychopath who has written an eight-hour surrealist play. He’s in prison for having murdered his stepfather. One of the funniest moments was his description of the murder: “It wasn’t difficult. What came after was difficult.” While ice-fishing, his stepfather criticized one of his drilled holes. He killed the stepfather with the ice drill, and then, being out on the ice with nowhere to hide the body, he carved him up (“for hours”) with his small fishing knife, the only other tool to hand, in order to fit him through the hole in the ice – around eight inches in diameter, and fifteen inches deep. But unfortunately, the holes keep clogging, so he has to drill new ones, until he is surrounded by about fifty holes full of body parts. Efficient? (The best writing in the play were the parts like this: anecdotal. Where the characters got around to actually discussing and analyzing their issues, I started to lose interest.) Once the director gets out of prison, he decides to put on his fellow inmate’s play, hiring the writer from the original piece to shorten and adapt it. But according to the inmate, the play is “myself, and if you shorten it you shorten me” etc. The psychopath kills the director in order to preserve his play and get enough publicity to have it performed in full. The end. The question you walk out with then becomes “which is the dead theater critic? the original reviewer, or the director?”, which is trivial. As stated in the play, in ancient drama there is only one end for the protagonist: death. So what is the play about? Death? Theater? Both? I don’t know, and while I enjoyed watching it at the time (because the acting was so strong, and all the parts aside from the lead were doubled, showing great versatility), I don’t really care.

Lashings of Ginger Beer Time – Queer. Feminist. Burlesque. Need I say more? Probably: “vagina dentata” to the tune of “Hakuna Matata” from the Lion King (“it means no penis / for the rest of your days / it’s our phallus-free / philosophy, vagina dentata”), an extremely smart song about the trials (and pointless deaths) inflicted on LGBTQ  TV characters (“Now I’m the dead girlfriend”, “at least Joss Whedon tried” etc.), and some really well-written stand-up about being a transwoman (“any “real” women in the audience? no?”). Plus, the words to Taylor Swift’s “Love Story,” re-written: “Juliet take me somewhere we can be alone / I have you so who needs Romeo / You’ll be a princess, I’ll be a princess / It’s a love story / Baby just say yes”. Finally an encore to the tune of “Que sera, sera”: “Join the fight with me / against heteropatriarchy / and consumer society / join the fight with me.” Amazing.

Dracula – a midnight production, which in itself is a cool idea. It was an adaptation unlike any other I’ve seen, where all the major characters are patients in an asylum, “reenacting” events, mumbling to themselves, moaning, twitching, and generally being creepy (complete with white dresses (or white shirt and shredded white trousers), black eyes, “broken doll” movement, a smoke machine and a venue akin to an abandoned warehouse. Scenes from the book emerged from these figures like hazy crystal-ball images only to dissipate again. With no set, movement quality was everything, and any sound effects were produced by the actors (which was a bit heavy on the hissing and moaning). All in all it was a really cool and creepy idea, but a bit on the long side. Also, Dracula wins – which I suppose is fitting for a creepy midnight production.

So that was yesterday – four shows in one day, plus two rehearsals – amazing! Also, our cast is the cutest: we made our grocery list Wednesday night and went shopping for communal food yesterday, and last night we all ate pasta and salad, “like a family.” Our flat is a bit of a hike from the city center and we all share beds (except the one guy, who merited the only single), but it is really quite nice. Right now, I am watching Alex make bread before our afternoon rehearsal. We’re so wholesome. (Although yesterday we did come home to find a random stranger sleeping in our bed (Goldilocks, anyone?), a friend of the other cast staying here, and yesterday I retrieved a waterlogged-looking passport from the bathroom floor, belonging to one of the guys with our production team; upon returning it I learned that it had not, in fact, gone in the toilet, which was a relief.)

And that is my Fringe thus far: midnight Draculas, oddly sweet and tame queer burlesque, morning tech runs and family dinners, Goldilocks, the crazy Royal Mile, and getting overly excited over just about anything – including fold-out Victorian dollhouse books, avocados, Lidl’s, and songs from Buffy. And that was just the first day!

Easter Vacation Part II: Lisboa in photos

June 1, 2010

Some photographs to finish out the week I spent in Portugal with Kathryn (click on photo for full size):

[I put the photos in a slideshow at the bottom of the post. For future photo updates, do you prefer the thumbnail gallery with a larger-size option, or the medium-size slideshow? Let me know!]

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