The Hour We Knew Nothing Of Each Other (Lyceum: 31 May-2 June ’18)

“A joy to watch”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

Peter Brook famously said he could take an empty space and call it a bare stage, continuing: “A man walks across this empty space, whilst someone else is watching him, and this is all that is needed for an act of theatre to be engaged.” In a masterclass of simplicity that Brook would be delighted with, The Hour We Knew Nothing Of Each Other is arguably very little more than several people walking across an empty space for the best part of 90 minutes, and the end result is nothing if not engaging throughout.

Inspired by an afternoon spent watching people come and go in a town square, playwright Peter Handke’s script transforms the actions of these normal people into a theatrical event, which is given new life here by directors Wils Wilson and Janice Parker, along with their community cast of over 90 (ninety!) Edinburgh residents.

The decision to use a large community cast works really well in bringing a sense of honesty and integrity to the action. These are people of all ages, backgrounds, shapes and sizes, with individual quirks that are celebrated on stage, but never embellished to make them ridiculous. Sure, there are some larger than life characters and a sprinkle of pizzazz to create some special moments, but the overall sense of realness conveyed by this piece makes it a joy to watch. Perhaps what’s most impressive though is how slick and deft everything is – one can only marvel at the intricacy that must go in to stage managing this huge cast and all their precise entrances and pathways on stage – it’s hard to spot a misstep anywhere.

Performed completely without words, this is a show that does ask quite a lot of an audience to keep with it, and Michael John McCarthy’s sound design and compositions are (excuse the pun) instrumental in creating a sense of wonderment throughout. His whimsical score facilitates a pleasing ebb and flow to the performance, as if you’re never sure if the music is leading the action or merely complementing it. There’s plenty of variety in the soundscape to punctuate different moods, yet enough consistency to keep it connected and grounded in some magical faraway place. Indeed, this is a production where all creative elements – from costume, design, sound, and direction (even the curtain!) – pull together towards a common goal, which manifests in a very high quality output.

In saying that, at almost an hour and a half in duration, this performance does verge on being too long and self-indulgent. In particular, the section where all performers cluster on stage feels like it should be the climax, but ends up being a surprisingly sloppy (in comparison to the rest of the show) and inconsequential few minutes, which peters out rather unceremoniously into more walking.

As a production that could easily be a rather bizarre lovechild of Samuel Becket and DV8, The Hour We Knew Nothing Of Each Other won’t appeal to everyone. But for me, there’s just such a vibrancy to this piece that leaves you 100% rooting for everyone involved. I’d happily go again.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 1 June)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Forbidden Stories (Traverse: 17/18 May ’18)

“You can almost smell the emotion”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

Cyprus. A country torn apart by colonisation, occupation and civil war throughout the 20th Century – the repercussions of which are still deeply felt by its people today. The aptly titled Forbidden Stories is part documentary, part theatre piece bringing new life into the previously untold stories of many of those affected by the political situation on the island over the last 50 or so years.

The stories presented are an equally heart-wrenching and heart-warming collection, with comical, childish moments positioned alongside angry, confused and overjoyed perspectives from all sides of the conflict, dating from the 1960s until the early 2000s. And as a collection it feels like a fair representation of the truth, without ever swaying towards bias for any group or individual.

Much of the staging is basic, reflecting the sense of people at a loss with minimal possessions, and while the presentation in this performance sometimes verges on feeling a bit too low-budget and ill-conceived, the power from this piece comes from the delivery of the stories by the ensemble. Given the strength of the multi-talented and multinational cast, the sense of individual voices comes powering through – you can almost smell the emotion of families being forced to leave their homes or being reunited with their communities, thanks to the subtlety of the acting and deep personal connection with the text. At times it’s almost impossible to consider that they are indeed actors sharing someone else’s words rather than their own experiences.

Yet what a strictly Verbatim-style piece brings an emotional honesty, it can lack in cohesion and narrative, so while there is much insight to be gained from each story, the piece as a whole feels very fragmented, and some of the stories a little hard to follow. What’s disappointing from a theatrical angle is not being able to see individual stories and characters evolve over the duration of the piece to create more narrative drive – I really wanted several of the characters presented to come back and share more of their journey to bring a greater sense of resolution – though the chronological structure of the piece does go some way to completing this loop.

As an educational documentary production, Forbidden Stories is a unique and personal way to learn about the history of Cyprus from the people who lived through it, and it really hits the mark in that respect. As a theatrical performance in its own right, it feels somewhat unfinished and rough around the edges, but still very much worth watching.

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 17 May)

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Footloose (King’s Theatre: 14-17 March ’18)

“Genuine wow-factor”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

When the stage musical of Footloose (based on the 1984 film) hit Broadway in 1998 its critical reception was mixed. But this week in Edinburgh the Bohemian’s Lyric Opera Company are cutting it loose with a near-perfect interpretation, with plenty of positives to shout about.

Following the story of a young man who moves to a new town that’s banned dancing for being a bad influence on children, it’s a fairly mediocre plot, but it’s a show packed with punch, heart and fun to get anyone’s weekend off to a good start.

What makes or breaks a show like Footloose – where dance is what the whole show is about – is being able to sell the choreography, and boy, do the Bohemians do just that: it’s hard to spot a foot or fingernail out of place in this full-on production. And what’s most impressive is that whether there are five or fifty dancers on stage, everything is slick, polished and performed with smiles. Dominic Lewis’s excellent choreography not only captures the overriding sense of freedom vs. containment throughout the show, but it really works to the strengths of this amateur company, creating complex patterns with simple moves that result in a genuine wow-factor.

Leading man Ren McCormack (Ross Davidson) brings all the charisma and light-footedness required for the out-of-towner who dares to be different, while Felicity Thomas as Ren’s love interest Ariel More is honest, likeable and very impressive vocally throughout the show. The main comedic moments are delivered by Willard Hewitt (Thomas MacFarlane), whose gawky brashness brings a lightness and joy to proceedings whenever he is on stage, while Christopher Cameron shows great authority and control as anti-hero Rev. Shaw More.

Musically, this show won’t be to everyone’s taste: there’s a real 80s vibe to the score, which to me makes the standout upbeat songs quite poppy and obvious, leaving the others feeling a little bland in comparison. In saying that, on the whole, everything is very capably sung with some stunning vocals on display – especially from the female leads. Cathy Geddie in particular brings tear-jerking emotion to Can You Find it in Your Heart, and Charlotte Jones pumps up the party diva-style with Let’s Hear it for the Boy. But it’s when Felicity Thomas, Cathy Geddie and Ciara McBrien combine in the spine-tingling Learning to be Silent that you know you’re watching something very special.

The only downfalls in this show are a few pitching and power issues with some of the male soloists, and a tendency for some of the duologue scenes to dip in energy following big production numbers, creating a sense of imbalance from scene to scene. On the whole though, this is a very polished production, so lose your blues and go and see Footloose!

 

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 15 March)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Tom at the Farm (Bedlam: 7-10 Feb ’18)

“Intelligent and engaging”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

A dark, brooding affair, Tom at The Farm sees charming city-boy Tom visit his (secret) lover’s family farm in rural Ontario for his funeral, under the guise of having been purely his friend and co-worker. What unfolds is a tale of grief, secrets, identity and duty, akin to the works of Emile Zola, with the tensions between the characters evident upfront, and an intriguing journey ahead as to how each one will play out.

To that end, Michel Marc Bouchard’s script really is delicious serving up a twisting tale of deceit where Tom falls further and further into an elaborate web of lies in order to keep the family happy, though peppered with enough dark humour and sexual tension to make it enthralling on all levels. Asides and textual motifs are used cleverly to capture the sense of inevitability throughout, while the scene in French is simply a stroke of comic genius.

Director Joe Christie does a stellar job in capturing the overall mood of the piece, and attention to detail throughout each scene gives the production an intelligent and engaging quality – everything happens for a reason, and each contributing factor drives the narrative to its gritty resolution. The production team also deserve credit for transforming the Bedlam space into what could easily be believed as a rundown farmhouse, while the other visual and sound effects all contribute well to the psychologically intense nature of each moment.

With grief being such a strong central theme, it’s a tough ask for the student cast to delve into that level of emotional depth, but on the whole they handle it very well. Yann Davies as Tom is barely ever off stage, and steers the character from pillar to punch-bag with electrifying conviction, and Peter Morrison is every inch the guy you love to hate as Francis, oozing with masculinity and a genuinely frightening presence. Matilda Botsford brings a tender and controlled approach to Agatha, capably balanced out by Kathryn Salmond’s irreverent Sara.

For me the only real downfall in this production are the dips in emotional intensity and honesty that generally occur between scenes. Given the changes in dynamics and relationships throughout the play it sometimes takes the actors a little a while to really establish the tone of each new scene and bring us with them to where they are. The style of the production requires a lot from the audience to follow the journey, believe what happens in between each scene and then be present in each moment on-stage moment, and though it’s a tough ride, it is very well worth it in the end. I’d happily go again.

 

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 8 February)

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FAME! The Musical (Church Hill Theatre: 6-10 Feb ’18

“Plenty of individual noteworthy performances”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Nae Bad

Fame! The Musical follows a group of performance arts students through their formative years at the “Fame” high school, and is full of vivid characters, energetic dance numbers, and show-stopping songs. Largely an ensemble piece, it’s the perfect choice and platform to allow Edinburgh University Footlights’ members to present their considerable talents as actors and singers, and there are plenty of individual noteworthy performances throughout.

Mimi Joffroy demonstrates all the ingredients of a stellar leading lady as Carmen, most evident in the goosebump-inducing In L.A.; Matt Galloway delivers a laugh a line as the charismatic Joe, and dance captain Connie McFarlane proves she’s a genuine triple threat in the gospel-tinged Mabel’s Prayer. Alice Hoult and Adam Makepeace show great chemistry as romantic leads Serena and Nick, and Mhairi Goodwin serves up a killer belt as Miss Sherman in These Are My Children. Liam Bradbury never quite convinces he’s actually a hip-hop dancer as Jack, though comes into his own during the character’s signature song Dancing on the Sidewalk.

Yet given all this obvious talent, what holds this production back is being able to effectively embrace the script’s very bitty nature, made up of lots of short scenes taking place over a number of years. EU Footlights’ simple set proves very constraining to this end, often dragging the action to the back of stage, while there’s precious little to link each part and show progression over time. There are pleasing teases of getting it right during Think of Meryl Streep, as action continues behind the singer, so it’s slightly frustrating not to see more creativity in the presentation of each scene throughout to make it feel like one cohesive piece.

Additionally, Fame! is a show that is chock-full of dancing, requiring much more from a cast and choreographer than your average production. The company certainly give it their all during this performance and there are some wonderful moments during the dances (especially some of the daring lifts!), but there’s also a scrappiness to the performance – particularly in the ballet sequences – which, although charming at times, more often detracts from a lot of the other great things happening on stage. Some extra time spent in brushing these up would go a long way to adding to the quality of this production.

Overall, Fame! is a feel-good show with plenty to enjoy, and EU Footlights should be very proud of the job they’ve done with it. Though one can’t help but feel that we ain’t see the best of them yet.

 

nae bad_blue

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 7 February)

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Rabbie (Basement Theatre, Rose Street: 23-27 Jan ’18)

“It’s almost impossible not to find yourself engaged in every moment”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

For a musical about one of Scotland’s best-loved poets – many of whose works are also well-known songs – it’s hard to fathom why Rabbie hasn’t already been doing the rounds for years. Yet given Captivate Theatre’s impressive revision of it, I’m sure we’ll soon see this show becoming something of a tradition on stages around the country.

Loosely following Burns’ life and loves in chronological order, the action is also punctuated by toasts from a modern day Burns supper, which help give context and relevance to the action. Structurally it’s a fairly whistle-stop tour of the main turning points of the poet’s short life, and it’s a shame not to get more depth and drama from some of these, though the through-line about Burns’ love Jean Armour does go some way to adding that much-needed integrity to the piece.

The action often veers slightly too close to the edge of bawdy and crowd-pleasing for my tastes, but underneath the simple folksy style is a good musical – there’s a pleasantly surprising amount of harmonic complexity and variety in the numbers, and plenty of laughs to be had throughout. It all moves along at a rollicking pace so there’s never a chance for the energy to dip, and while I would have preferred more development in some of the scenes and characters to get to know them better, it’s almost impossible not to find yourself engaged in every moment.

The staging of this production is somewhat rough and ready, and director Sally Lyall’s decision to spread the action around the space perhaps isn’t the best given the setup of the Basement Theatre (if you’re sat in the front you’ll have to turn your ahead a lot!) but in a different space with more… space, and greater attention paid to the overall production values this could very easily be a show-stopping piece.

The cast are a talented bunch, and can’t be faulted when it comes to sheer gusto and conviction in their performance throughout. The nine-strong troupe play numerous characters between them and blend in and out of spotlight very well. A special mention to Charlie Munro who is hilarious as one of Burns’ publishers, Creech, while Meg Laird Drummond brings a wonderful sensitivity to Burns’ long-suffering wife Jean.

Like Burns’ own work, Rabbie may not be the finest example of writing ever to grace Edinburgh, but it’s certainly worth raising a glass to, in this, his celebratory week.

 

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 24 January)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

The Lover (Lyceum: 20 Jan-3 Feb ’18)

“Glimpses of brilliance”

Editorial Rating: 2 Stars

Margerite Duras’s sensational autobiographical novel about an affair between a 15-year-old girl from a poor family and a Chinese millionaire almost twice her age is certainly potent stuff for stage adaptation, and presenting this spoken word/dance interpretation on the backdrop of #MeToo and #ItsTime is a brave choice for co-collaborators The Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh, Stellar Quines and Scottish Dance Theatre, which will be sure to attract interest. Unfortunately, given the finished product, it probably won’t be the level of interest hoped for.

The performance is narrated throughout by The Woman (Susan Vidler), who looks back on how her affair began, developed and ended. Jemima Levick’s and Fleur Darkin’s adaptation is somewhat lazy in its construction, with too many unnecessary accounts of (mimed!) dialogue and a plodding monotony which Vidler’s voice does little to enliven, leaving the other performers often stranded in the middle. Indeed, the confluence between text and movement seems at odds throughout, feeling not unlike a playground grapple for territory.

 

Darkin’s choreography at times gives glimpses of brilliance – from the awkward intimacy between the lovers to the playful fights between Paulo and Pierre – and the production’s moments of stillness (particularly towards the end) and subtle gestures often convey far more than the tedious narration. Yet, in saying that, the choreography also too often lapses into writhing around on the floor and clumsy movement of furniture which instantly breaks any of the mysticism and poetry previously built. It’s a genuine shame not to see lengthier dance sequences to tell the story at the sacrifice of some of the narration, while simplifying and minimising some of the on-stage antics would also ease comprehension.

In The Lover’s defence, Emma Jones’s lighting design and Torben Lars Sylvest’s soundtrack do pleasingly act as mediators throughout, dragging the other disparate elements into a clear time, place and mood. Yet the overriding impression this performance leaves – much like the subject matter of the show itself – is one of misfit: an attempt to bring together two different hearts for glorious joy, yet which ends up flat and, somehow, unfinished. What could have been.

In my book, this is a production that should have worked – it has enough of the right cards (including three great collaborating companies and a fantastic base text) to play a good hand – yet it dithers and dallies its way into such a mediocre result that my only constructive criticism would be to start again from scratch. A commendable concept, poorly executed.

 

Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 23 January)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED