Thursday, August 15, 2019

Words Without Borders - two books about language.  Translation as Transhumance by Mireille Gancel was frankly too French intellectual for me.  My eyes glazed over.  Four Words for Friend by Marek Kohn was more my level but I thought he spoke a fair amount of tosh, no more so than when declaring that we had in some way expropriated words like chutney and bungalow so that they are no longer Indian.  He seemed to object to their assimilation into English, a process that has gone on for millenia between pairs of languages.  It doesn't stop them being perfectly good Hindi words as well as being English.

Love in the Time of #Metoo - one of the authors didn't make it so we had an hour of undiluted Ayelet Gundar-Goshen talking about her novel Liar, and an enthralling hour it was.  The novel deals with a false accusation of sexual assault.  The discussion ranged widely from the incidents that had led her to write the book through the ambiguities that it examines to the responsibility or not of the writer to champion or not the society they live in.  A really stimulating hour from a practicing psychologist who happens to write or is it vice vera and does that duality apply to all novelists.  Can't wait to read the product of her clever and compassionate mind.

Wednesday, August 14, 2019

Hitler's Tasters - a signal sounds, a trio of flaxen haired girls stand by their chairs around a table, they extend their arms, darkness, two dark clad girls highlight the scene with torches, darkness, lights up, the girls are seated and miraculously food has appeared in front of them.  This is the snappy beginning of the story of young women who have the honour of tasting food from Hitler's kitchen before it's served to him in case it's poisoned.  The show is never less than snappy. While they wait to see if they are going to die and while they wait for the next meal they chat, they bicker, they take selfies (one of the delighful anachronistic touches in the play), they dance and discuss forbidden dreams of Hollywood film stars.  One of their number disappears (suspiciously Jewish looking nose), she's replaced, another one goes (father is reported to have deserted).  Ecstatic delight at a rumour that the Fuhrer will visit.  Will he bring his dog Blondie?  Will they be able to take selfies with him? It's a bright and lively production with bundles of energy, super costuming, great performances, great fun.

Dreamtalk and Devotion - twenty years ago Sheena McDonald the journalist and broadcaster was hit by a police van and suffered severe brain injury.  In collaboration with her husband Alan Little, also a journalist and broadcaster, and Gail Robertson, the neuropsychologist who shared in the task of her rehabilitation she has written Rebuilding Life after Brain Injury.  The discussion of the journey from intensive care to fully functioning was fascinating.  Recovery was clearly very difficult and placed great strains on those around her, not least Alan but the discussion was enlivened by numerous humorous anecdotes.


Analysing the Brain's Functions - Ever since reading Gilbert Ryle's The Concept of Mind at university I've been fascinated by the workings of the brain and its products, our minds and personalities.  This session dealt with two books pandering to that fascination, Unthinkable by Helen Thomson, a science journalist and The Heartland by Nathan Filer, a former mental health nurse.  Both offer examples of the problems people live with.  Thomson focuses on odd and even amusing  case studies whereas Filer I think is more concerned with how we "normal" people should look on the schizophrenics amongst us.  I'm already reading Unthinkable.

Adam Smith: The Invisible Hand - a dramatisation of the life and work of Kirkcaldy's greatest son performed in the house he spent the last decade of his life in.  The 17th century building has been beautifully restored to commemorate Smith and to act as a learning centre.  The play is performed in an elegant room suitably furnished for the purpose.  The room was full.  Indeed the show had been overbooked so that extra chairs were dragged in before it could start.  The stage lights were strong, The room grew hotter.  I lasted through Smith's early years, his meetings with Rousseau and Voltaire and then dozed my way through the rest.  It was probably first class.

 Steve Reich Project - a solitary dancer, tall and elegant, creates angular shapes as she ranges  athletically over the stage while a string quartet plays Reich's wonderful music.  A microphone hangs over the centre of the stage dangling close to the floor.  The dancer uses the mike and its cable, sings into it, sets it swinging and limbo dances under it as it sweeps across.  The string quartet who are initially ranged in a line down one side of the stage become part of the dance.  They are moved by the dancer into different formations.  She picks up a music stand and drives the player forward with it.  So simple, so elegant, so precise.  The whole show is wonderful. 

Novel Views of Africa - another of my fascinations is with Africa.  Chigozie Obioma discussing his An Orchestra of Minorities and Namwali Sepelle her The Old Drift.  The latter seems destined to be the great Zambian novel.  It combines the intertwined sagas of three white, brown and black imaginary families over three generations with historical truths, magic realism, and a dash of science fiction. The story is fequently narrated by a swarm of mosquitoes.  Obioma's novel too uses a non human narrator, in his case a traditional Ibo spirit called a chi.  I've added both to my mental wishlist. 

Monday, August 12, 2019

Bull - a bleak tale of three office workers awaiting the arrival of the big boss. Two of them taunt, harass and bully the third, revealing to him that the meeting is to choose which of them the company will "let go".  He, who can least afford to lose his job, duly gets the push and they are even nastier to him.  The curtain falls on the play and on his life.  A competent production of an unsettling story which shows that man's inhumanity to man is not limited to the torture chamber or the battlefield.

Level Up - Jimmy want to marry Natasha but in the brave new world in which the play is set that cannot be because the state does not sanction marriage between high scoring individuals like her and humble drones like him.  Jimmy determines to raise himself up to the necessary level and in the process shafts his brother and his best friend and fails to realise that he is destroying all that Natasha found loveable in him.  Engaging performances from the cast of five and an ending if not quite happy then optimistic.

After the Fall: Crisis, Recovery and the Making of a New Spain - the author, Tobias Buck, was the FT's correspondent in Spain for a number of years.  This book is the result and its presentation kicked off my Book Festival programme.  Buck traced concisely and knowledgeably the course of recent Spanish history through the building boom, the financial crisis, the Catalonian secession attempt and the current state of the parties. On my list but by the time I get around to reading it Spain will have moved on.

Wine and Words - subtitled A Taste of Basque Culture this Book Festival event was in essence a wine-tasting.  Some music was played and poetry read.  The music was folksy and  the poetry in Basque (though subsequently translated) and the wine was Rioja. Pleasant but not riveting.   

Kalakuta Republik - an EIF dance show which I ultimately enjoyed once I'd decided that there was no good reason to worry about finding meaning in the show (or not) than there had been at the acrobatic circus a few days previously.  I was wrong of course about lack of meaning.  The EIF blurb tells us "...dance becomes a symbol of transformation, a ceaseless march towards ultimate freedom.  Kalakuta Republik is a carnival of insurrection."   I saw it as a colourful, noisy, celebratory feast of rhythmic joy.  Should have bought a programme.

Saturday, August 10, 2019

As they say a week's a long time in festival going so here are brief notes before it all fades from my not very retentive memory.

The Crucible - My first EIF show and it's a cracker. Beautiful choreography beautifully brought to life by the dancers, lovely music, excellent staging.  The essence of the story clearly told and helped by making explicit from the start the relationship between Proctor and Abigail.  No wonder dates have now been announced for Autumn performances in Scotland. I expect a world tour thereafter.

Trainspotting Live - billed as immersive it certainly was.  Two rows of spectators on either side of a long tunnel under the conference centre.  Fast and furious telling of the tale by a brilliant cast of four running up and down in between and often amongst us.  All the filth and squalor and the humour of Irvine Welch's masterpiece brought to throbbing life.  Not for the fainthearted.

Super Sunday - under the big top in the Meadows out of the rain half a dozen Finnish lads jumped, tumbled and generally threw themselves about on seesaws, trampolines and spinning machinery.  Impressive acrobatics and not so impressive horse impersonations.

Being Norwegian - a short, delicate and touching tale of two incomplete human beings coming together finely performed by two excellent actors.

Solitary - in a performance space seemingly made of four shipping containers bolted together a man's confinement alone, his numbingly repetitive routine, his occasional conflicts with his guards, his anguish, his release and subsequent failure to re-establish relationships or to find employment, his final retreat into a living space uncannily similar to his prison cell.  All are effectively and silently presented by five talented performers.

Big Bite Breakfast - after coffee and croissants a packed house were entertained for an hour by excellent players who performed five sketches.  I found three of the five first class.  Top marks must go to the witty deadpan parody of the encounter between private eye and femme fatale from the  black and white movies of yesteryear.

Anguis - the setting, which is a set building success, is a recording studio where Cleopatra (visiting the land of the living for the purpose) is being interviewed for a radio programme.  Interlaced with her interview responses she sings, accompanying herself on the guitar.  So far so mildly entertaining as she displays her queenly strength and mocks the legend of death by asp. Fake news apparently. So further so still mildly amusing.  The interviewer we learn is a virologist and clinician.  She hears sounds that neither Cleo nor the studio engineer do and becomes increasingly distracted.  The play morphs into being about a medical negligence incident she's been accused of.  Whistle blowing is mentioned and probably metoo and feminism and other miracles of modern life but my attention had spanned its span.

Bleeding Black - growing up in rugby mad New Zealand.  Stop playing or harden up is the mantra.  Obsession, in this case with rugby but it could be with anything else can lead to doom.  That's what is put before us in this well constructed and performed one man show.  Rugby fans may get more out of it than others but it's a timely lesson for us all.

Parasites - great performances, especially from the lead actress in a dynamic, sometimes trite but always honest story of a girl with issues.  Expelled from school she spirals downwards.  Bad company,  abusive boyfriend, a spell in prison for assaulting her mother, pregnancy thanks to now junkie boyfriend, child in care, attempt to break the cycle and get a menial job in her old school, rejection.  I left with tears in my eyes.  Five stars from me.

Antigone - a novel and delightfully fresh presentation of the play.  All the drama and all the conflict of ideas, all the debate over loyalty to state or to family, all the themes are there but wrapped in what you could truthfully descibe as a joyous party atmosphere.  Indeed it begins with a party to celebrate the victory of Thebes where the lively cast of eight dance and throw balloons about.  The balloons are central to the show, burst as laws are discarded or trust broken.  Members of the audience are brought into the action from time to time.  The whole enterprise is steered to its heartbreaking conclusion with a deft lightness of touch.  Very impressive from this young cast.  

The Merry Wives of Windsor -  or in the Grads production, of a steamie nearer home.  It's Shakespearian comedy in all its glory.  The cast romp energetically through the twists and turns of Falstaff's plot to have it away with one or more of the eponymous wives and their counter trickeries.  A jealous husband disguises himself, a Welsh parson and a French doctor almost come to blows, an unwanted suitor is fooled, true love conquers and all is forgiven.  It's going on to Stratford with all my best wishes for success.

Pool (no water) - for the Grads other show a piece from the pen of the redoutable Mark Ravenhill.  Played with intensity, staged with imagination, directed with formidable skill.  Could not have admired it more.   

Sunday, August 04, 2019

Tales from the Garden - A young South African tells us in her pleasant and gentle voice of how she was brought up as a good Catholic girl, how she loved her grandmother and shared her love of plants.  As she speaks she minds a little garden and recounts how her grandmother pulled the petals off a rose and challenged her to sew them on again to illustrate how something beautiful once lost can never be restored.  At eighteen she is proud to be sent for three months to a youth conference in London  as a reward for her academic success.  The night before her return to South Africa she loses something beautiful and however hard she tries over the next several years it's gone forever and she with it.  A delicate and moving piece of theatre that deserves larger audiences than the one I was part of.

Collapsible - Aping St.Simeon the performer spends her time on a little platform atop a pillar, no doubt to stress her isolation.  She's lost her job and much of the action of the piece revolves around her fending off enquiries from friends and family as to her progress in finding another, how she is and so on.  She in turn enquires of them what word or words describe her that she can use in interviews.  They are many and various: smart, perfectionist, reliable.....I was reminded in the early moments of the play of the character in Fleabag, her brightness, false cheerfulness and so on.  I haven't seen enough of Fleabag to know how it develops but in this play the character deteriorates, collapses as in the title.  It's a very powerful and clearly draining performance that takes it out of the actress and whose sincerity shines through.  Excellent show.  There is a deus ex machina who appears at the end not so much to offer her a way out of her predicament (though he offers some comfort) as to provide a ladder for her to to get down.

The Long Pigs - I can't really bear to say much about this. I disliked it pretty intensely.  Three Australian clowns in grubby grey outfits and with black piggy noses potter about the stage constucting a heathrobinson machine that fires red noses, creating a crucifixion scene in which lumps of bread are thrown at the victim, slobbering over cream tarts and so on without the distraction of a script or a storyline.  I do them an injustice there.  The absence of one red nose is signalled early in the show and the discovery of its whereabouts heralds the final scene. Bullshit.  Or in this case pigshit.

Devil of Choice - A perfectly presentable three act drama about cheating on your wife/friend condensed into an hour.  There's a carapace involving Faust and his pact with the devil which is something to do with there always being a choice and so on.  It's very well performed.  There are lots of good lines.  There's a fine live violin soundscape. But was it worth the performers' time to bring it all the way from New York?

Hughie - I was making my way to catch the bus home when I was handed a flyer and a free ticket for this show.  Call me mean but who could resist.  Let me play my part in this almost Faustian compact by declaring that it's good and you won't regret the forty five minutes lost in watching it.  Its duration comes as something of a surprise when you learn it was written by the author of A Long Days Journey into Night.  It's a two-hander but mostly one character riffs on his relationship with the recently deceased night clerk (night porter in our English I suppose) of the down market Manhattan hotel he frequents to an audience of one - the replacement night clerk. As befits its 1920's provenance there is no swearing, a rarity in the modern Fringe.

Enough - is one of those plays where patterned, poetic writing takes precedence over actual drama.  That's not me.  That's Michael Billington.  How right he is and how much I'd like to see some actual drama!

Friday, August 02, 2019

Rich Kids: A History of Shopping Malls in Tehran - thanks to this show I now have an Instagram account.  I was advised that would be the best way to fully enjoy the experience.  Since 99% of the material appeared on on-stage screens, fiddling with a phone was more a distraction than an addition.  Anyway what of the show?  More of an illustrated lecture than a piece of theatre the two presenters traced backwards in time (as Instagram presents a users photographic history) the story of a pair of rich Iranees who end up, or since we are going backwards, start off dead in a smashed up Porche.  The whole thing seemed to be a musing on the iniquities of the rich and powerful and the awesomeness of time.  A million years for a plastic cup to disappear.  It was all very earnest and I expect too worthy for me to appreciate.

Ane City - the title is a Scottified nod to Dundee's slogan "One City Many Discoveries".   A single performer backed now and then by a guitar player talks about Dundee and her return to the city after an absence at university.  The night out with her chums to celebrate her return is not the happy time she had imagined it would be.  The actress does very well in inhabiting her various friends and relatives both male and female and with a few simple props gives us glimpses of some Holyrood stars.  She uses both voice and body vigorously and convincingly as the story of the night out progresses.  How does it end?  I won't spoil it for you.

Crocodile Fever - hooray! This is not a lecture, not a monologue but an actual play.  There is a set, a box set even, excellent stagecraft and five characters (only four actors).  It's a black comedy about the return of a girl to her home after an absence of some years eight of which were spent in prison for burning her mother to death.  But it was actaually her sister who did the burning.  Her sister does not welcome her return. Their father, dismissed as a monster by the returnee, is upstairs.  From there we descend into a spiral of what you might describe as horror movie sequences with a pretty smashing finale.  Worth seeing.

Thursday, August 01, 2019

Somebody behind me in a theatre today said to their chum speaking of some other show "it wasn't a transcendental theatre experience......".  That's what we're all hoping for when we buy a ticket and fingers crossed it happens to me sometime this Fringe. 

It hasn't happened yet but early days, indeed only day 1.

Mengele - Josef Mengele was a nasty piece of work (see Wikipedia) and it's right and proper that the world should be reminded of the horrors that he and his like perpetrated for fear that we allow such things to happen again.  Theatre is an ideal way to do so for it can act on both our heads and our hearts.  I'm not convinced that this particular play succeeds in either exposing the irrationality of Mengele's ideas or in arousing the revulsion that his acts deserve but it tries.  I was struck by the minor irony that the production is dedicated to the memory of Eva Mozes Kor, a holocaust survivor who forgave Mengele and the Nazis, since the final scene gives him very short shrift indeed.

Spliced - I was very entertained by this play which is staged in a squash court.  The protagonist is a player of hurling and devoted member of the Gaelic Athletic Association.  (I had an Irish friend who was a keen GAA man and frequented the squash courts, but he never launched into the Irish national anthem in my hearing unlike my neighbour in this squash court and in Irish to boot).  Your man  jumps about and whacks the sliotair (ball) with his hurley (stick) back and forth most athletically.  Later in the play he recites yoga mantras while standing on one leg in his briefs and he acts while standing on his head.  I think it's about identity and group think versus individuality but it hardly matters since the actor is a most personable chap and the show is such fun.

Dazzle - the perennial display of beautiful jewellery which I wandered into between shows and was rewarded with a free glass of plonk. Some of the stuff was so lovely that I wondered if it was worth getting my ears pierced.

Suffering from Scottishness - a show that lulls you into thinking that it's all harmless humour but turns out to pack a political punch delivered with genuine passion.  Worth seeing.