+3 Review: Nuclear Family (Assembly Roxy: 3 – 29 Aug. 1715. 1h)

Image. Sunday's Child & Fever Dream Theatre.

Image. Sunday’s Child & Fever Dream Theatre.

” .. a drama of a hopeless, unstable, situation”

Editorial Rating:  2 Stars

Torness nuclear power station is 30kms from Edinburgh, strikingly visible from the A1 and from the main line. The MailOnline did a photo feature on it in January last year. A close-up on one of the panels in the Control Room shows the operating switches to Boilers A to D. Understandably, there’s ‘Start Up’, ‘Drain and Warm-Up’, and – critically – ‘Dump’; which is what Ellen, who’s a technician at a nuclear site, has just done to Phil. He takes it very, very badly.

This then is your chance to get up-close and personal with nuclear safety. You play your part in an examination of how Phil, the jilted boyfriend, and a couple of his drunk mates got into the Central Control Room of a nuclear power station and caused a disaster. It’s your job to review the evidence of how it was allowed to happen and to play ‘What Would You Do / What Should They Have Done?’ The results are to be included in the final ‘Prescott’ report. (There is no connection BTW with the former Deputy Prime Minister or indeed, I trust, with any incident at a nuclear installation). As a core idea, it has a lot going for it; but what of its processes?

The audience of eight to ten – it might stretch to 14 or so – sits in a semi-circle. In front of us two actors act out the CCTV footage of the Security desk from that terrible evening. Ellen (Eva O’Connor) is on duty with her brother Joe (Adam Devereux), who is on a verbal warning for telling site managers what they don’t want to hear. This sequence is interrupted on five occasions for  audience participants to look at further evidence: personnel records, transcripts, and the like. A facilitator officiates and calls Time when a decision has to be reached: for example, sound the alarm now or wait? There is a show of hands to determine what happens next.

The acting was by far and away the best part, creating tension even when the plot approached meltdown. However, for me, the ‘interactive’ theatre was a nightmare. I had my senior doubts from the start when the bumbling distribution of iPods did not convince me that this was an official inquiry and then the request for a rapporteur helper was immediately taken up by a man to my right festooned with venue participant lanyards. He started whispering broken instructions on how to open the nano which I tried to follow but I had to give up on the looped audio files. My neighbour to the left seemed to be ‘on task’ and having an engaged conversation but all this activity seemed completely superfluous. It didn’t help, of course, that I was outside the discussions that were taking place. I just wanted to hear more from Joe and Ellen, whose acting was reaching critical levels, rather than wait for the next predictable outcome. Even then it was pretty obvious that whatever decision was reached, at whichever improbable juncture, it would make no difference. When the votes were taken there was no time to really examine the decisions reached. As an immersive simulation it wasn’t working; as a drama of a hopeless, unstable, situation, I liked its fallout.

Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 7 August)

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+3 Review: Jane Eyre: An Autobiography (Assembly Roxy: 4 – 29 Aug. 1115. 1h30m)

Image. Dyad Productions.

Image. Dyad Productions.

“Rebecca Vaughn’s solo work is outstanding.”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars Outstanding

” ‘… and when I draw up the curtain this time, reader, you must fancy you see …’  me, plain and plain-spoken Jane Eyre, on stage for ninety minutes as I tell you the story of my life.”

We have an autobiographical telling, dramatic and full of character, with nothing of substance left out and everything of significance retained. From the window seat in the breakfast room, aged 10, to the parlour of Ferndean Manor, some nine years later where the blind Mr Rochester – he of the ‘brow of rock’ – reclaims his darling Jane. Writer Elton Townend Jones calls his work ‘an impressionistic adaptation’ of Charlotte Bronte’s book. Well, fair enough, along with the charged immediacy of the scene(s) comes the solid narrative, fused and monumental.

Performer Rebecca Vaughan is definitely impressive. She is Jane, of course, but she is also everyone else – except the source of crazed laughter from the attic. There is, inevitably, a cartoon Mr Brocklehurst, who might as well be the grim progenitor of today’s (English) free schools. Mr Rivers, impossible for the irreligious to figure, is left pallid and decent. Mr Rochester is gruff and always amused by Jane’s frank determinations. As Jane, Vaughan is upright and indomitable, which makes her excitement and frailty when it comes to the love story just a bit tricky. However, if romance is your thing, then Jane’s virtuous path to happiness is surely realised.

What makes the novel probably undoes its efficient telling. Jane ‘hadn’t intended to love [Rochester]’ but does and she certainly never expected riches but she gets them. That, to use Bronte’s unlikely word, is a ‘stunner’. The stage-succinct explanation of her 20K inheritance does advance a parallel narrative that gives Jane an easy living that is more assured than the trials and anxieties of any self-respecting literary heroine should be. I wondered, listening hard, whether her assessment of Position, Fortune, & Age in the marriage stakes – our century’s life-style choices – was beginning to count for more than love, which (I concede) is rather uncharitable.

Dyad Productions have worked the text of Jane Eyre to lucid and creditable effect and Rebecca Vaughn’s solo work is outstanding. I just found the whole piece satisfying and accomplished rather than remarkable or radical, which the novel is.

outstanding

StarStarStar

Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 7 August)

Go to Dyad Productions

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+3 Review: Hot Brown Honey (Assembly Roxy, 5 Aug – 28 Aug : 20:20 : 1hr)

https://i1.wp.com/d2752rta4dscqv.cloudfront.net/ImageCache/1462324008_hot_brown_honey_h_0516.c935f3ad275ed95b1576ad8fb546a7d8.jpg

“Gleefully challenges stereotypes of sex and race with a full grin, bared chest and raised middle finger.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars Outstanding

I sat for some time before writing this review trying to think of an introduction which best captured what I thought of Hot Brown Honey. But the truth is, there’s not much else which can compare to the bombastic gut punch of a burlesque show Assembly Roxy has somehow managed to contain inside their theatre. From the second that the glass-panelled hive lights roar to life, this show is a nonstop ride that has the audience welded to their seats.

Hosted by unapologetically badass MC Kim “Busty Beatz” Bowers, Hot Brown Honey is a raucously funny and entertaining trip through acrobatics, beatboxing, song, dance and everything in between. But don’t be fooled – despite considerable comedy thrills, it never strays from what makes it so compelling: a show which not only celebrates the power and complex femininity of women of colour, but gleefully challenges stereotypes of sex and race with a full grin, bared chest and raised middle finger.

To talk too much about the acts would lessen their impact, but it cannot be said enough that each segment of performance was distinct, feverishly well executed and consistently jaw dropping. Every single honey from this hive is impressive enough to warrant their own review, let alone packing every single one into a single critique. Of course, for those who aren’t fans of audience participation, proceed with tentative caution: a show like this one demands to spill out into the aisles, to surprising and hilarious results.

The honeycomb that links up this show, however, is both more subtle and infinitely more loud than the performers themselves. There are West End shows that could learn things from the tech team behind the burlesque extravaganza. The sync between every technical element and the behaviour of the set is nothing short of breathtaking, for those who can bear to concentrate on anything but the inspired spectacle going on centre stage.

But what makes Hot Brown Honey such an outstanding show goes beyond its strength in immediacy. When the applause stops and the doors are open, that doesn’t mean the show is over: the messages, ethos and enthusiasm for equality, sexuality and sensuality stick around far after the day is done. As a piece of burlesque, Hot Brown Honey is outstanding simply by merit of its performance. But as a complete show, its greatest triumph is that it fully achieves the vision set out by creators Bowers, Lisa Fa’alafi and Candy B: not simply social activism masquerading as entertainment, but a genuinely thought provoking thrill which, at least personally, will open the eyes of many to any issue they never even know existed.

If you like your shows sexy, superbly skillful and socially conscious, you cannot miss Hot Brown Honey this Fringe. It’s a rare show indeed.

 

outstanding

StarStarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Jacob Close (Seen 6 August)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: Tiff Stevenson: Seven (Assembly Roxy, Aug 8-14, 16-28 : 19.10: 1hr)

https://www.cityvarieties.co.uk/ArticleMedia/Images/CVTiffStevensonbig.jpg

“Stevenson has a presence you could smash a wine bottle on”

Editorial Rating:  4 Stars Nae Bad

When you see a comedian on TV, it’s almost a coin flip as to whether they’ll stand up to their digital performance when you’re maybe ten feet away. For some, it’s clear that they’re funnier as a bundle of pixels – but, as in the case of Tiff Stevenson, proximity makes joke grow funnier.

Even when loping around the stage, Stevenson has a presence you could smash a wine bottle on. Despite being wrapped up in a thick web of humour, it’s clear from the outset that there’s an iron core to every joke: it’s as if scientists managed to fuse Belva Lockwood and someone’s drunk aunt. Pushing their own distinct beliefs is something, consciously or otherwise, all comics do; and Stevenson is a masterclass in delivering it without sounding evangelical. Even if you don’t agree with what she’s saying (however you’ve managed to come to that outcome), you’ll be hard pressed not to laugh along with her.

From the get-go, it’s an unmistakably zeitgeist-y set. In a surprisingly speedy hour, Stevenson runs the full gamut from bus bombings to baby showers, joyously flicking up v’s behind her as she runs from topic to topic. We might be awash in a sea of Macintyres, but Stevenson is one of many happy islands where comedy’s rebellious, fringe roots are still dug deep. No subject is too taboo, as she very happily reminds the audience throughout – however, often the transitional link between these subjects can wave from tenuous to unneeded, but as it takes up perhaps a minute of time in total, it hardly spoils the bunch.

If there ever was a complaint, it was that sometimes Stevenson doesn’t seem to trust her own considerable wit enough. Several times throughout the show, a fantastic joke was extended far beyond its peak, simply for the sake of explaining it. Whilst none of these jokes fell into “unfunny”, it certainly blunted the otherwise fantastically sharp tongue which dominate the rest of the show.

To talk too much about Tiff Stevenson’s set at the Roxy is to do her a disservice: half of the enjoyment comes from the unexpected directions she swerves with every punchline. But if you’re looking to start your evening on a high note, you’ll have no tiff with her.

 

nae bad_blue

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

Reviewer: Jacob Close (Seen 6 August)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: Queen Lear (Assembly Roxy: 4 – 29 Aug. 16.10. 1h)

Image. Assembly & Ronnie Dorsey productions

Image. Assembly & Ronnie Dorsey productions

“Exquisite”

Editorial Rating:  4 Stars:  Outstanding

Shakespeare’s Lear is a pathetic apologist : ‘I am a very foolish, fond old man’, who (by his frail reckoning) would have fathered Cordelia in his late sixties. And he didn’t stop there. Why should he? He’s a King of ‘wild, roaring, lecherous men’ who live for ‘war, wine, and whoring’. So, in Ronnie Dorsey’s new and exquisite piece we come to his second queen, heavily pregnant and in great pain. No Lear is to be seen but his expectation of a son, for once legitimate, is almost unbearable.

Remember Lear’s ‘Let copulation thrive’? Well, he ends that hateful, mad, speech longing for anything ‘to sweeten my imagination’. Enter Queen Lear.

Three characters: the young queen; her devoted companion Ursula; and her priest, Lawrence. Back story: the queen was married at 16 and leaves her home in the Borders for good. She is cruelly abused by a husband who, after beating her, kicks her small dog to death. Rooks caw about the castle walls (we assume that the queen’s chamber is in a castle) and in these harsh, loveless, circumstances it is doubly touching to hear Ursula call her queen ‘Sweeting’.

Dorsey writes words that hold and sustain. Queen Lear grasps sympathy where it can be found and does not let go. The queen, who knows that she will not be remembered, talks of the coming birth with dread. She would have the child but fears she will not survive the labour. In her time a caesarean section is all about cutting and not delivery. Alice Allemano plays a woman living the agony of the fact that ‘this child is killing me’, so if ever a role has to be in extremis, then this is it. Jane Goddard plays Ursula with a loving solicitude that is never familiar but always kind. Mary McCusker, as Lawrence, has ‘his’ own confession to make in a performance of great sensitivity and control.

Mark Leipacher directs. It is a tight work, physically and emotionally close, as you’d expect of a confinement and what lightness and lift there is comes from the lyrical quality of Dorsey’s lines. Three benches and an embroidered bolster are the only props required. The queen is in an elegant gown that denotes her high rank but which confers neither influence nor power. She can only hope against hope that Lear’s Fool will somehow protect Cordelia.

When resolution comes to such a forlorn situation it’s hard to take. You might not accept it, but that’s the point. For Lear’s queen there is no healing touch for her ‘female wounds’.

 

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 6 August)

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+3 Review: Molly Whuppie (Assembly Roxy: 4-28 Aug. 1030. 1hr 15)

Image. Assembly & LicketySpit Theatre

Image. Assembly & LicketySpit Theatre

“Smiling, tuneful, and big-hearted”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Nae Bad

Molly Whuppie is a pickle of a lassie. She’s bright, bonny and brave and saves her mother and sister from dying of hunger on a northern shore. She’s a fairy tale character from the Western Highlands , whom English cousin Jack – of beanstalk fame – would love to meet, for their stories are pretty close; although Molly (aka. Maol a Chliobain) steals it, as her baddie is no the giant, but one King Boris (!), who loves his meringues too, too much.

Smiling, tuneful, and big-hearted, Molly Whuppie has toured all over Scotland and has already, since 2001, delighted upwards of 30,000 people. Licketyspit Theatre Company is Edinburgh based but has decided, as the International Festival posters have it, to ‘Welcome [the]World’ so this is the company’s Fringe premier and it’s a treat.

If you’re still fortunate to be in your early years – and therefore very unlikely to be reading this! – Licketyspit is for you. If you’re alongside a young child, then you’ll appreciate the modesty of the fact that all actors do is ‘show the story’ in exciting and imaginative ways. First then, there’s fearless Molly (Amy McGregor) who keeps her pretty red beret on even when balancing for her life on the Bridge of the One Hair, and we sing “I’m Molly and you can’t scare me / I’m Molly, Hee Hee Hee!” Second, there’s Virginia Radcliffe as Ninian the Giant in tremendous sandals and as horrid King Boris with a wonderful polka dot jester’s cap. No crown of majesty for him, just fanfare by kazoo.

Radcliffe is also Artistic Director of LicketySpit and it is easy in Molly Whuppie to see hers years of experience in building drama-led work for children and their families. There’s a good strong narrative where the good and the kind – above all – prevail, constantly reinforced by repetitive elements of colour, music and song. Invention is everywhere, from the reveal of successive kind grannies to land clearance by tree hurling.

Yes, it was probably devised as a December, Christmassy show when Molly, her mum, and her sister are perishing of cold and, yes, there’s the question of how come only giants have a Never Empty Purse; but no matter really, this is a warm and generous show with stick puppets to colour in and cut out afterwards.

 

nae bad_blue

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

Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 6 August)

Go to Assembly Children’s Shows

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+3 Review: A Streetcar Named Desire (Assembly Roxy, 5 Aug – 29 Aug : 13.55 : 1hr 30mins)

https://files.list.co.uk/images/festivals/2016/fringe/2016STREETC-9D-300.jpg

“Consistently raw, emotional and human”

Editorial Rating: 2 Stars Nae Bad

For many years, Tennessee Williams’ immortal “A Streetcar Named Desire” conjured up two shared memories: the off-yellow, stained tooth colour of chipboard desks; and the strange, (and in hindsight, quite sad) familiarity with which my divorced, middle-aged English teacher spoke about the dangers of hiding in fantasies.Now, thanks to the Tumanishvilli Film Actor’s Company and director Keti Dolidze, it’s far easier to think of quiet intricacy, and the heartfelt ebb of Georgian on a smoke-filled stage.

From the get-go, it clear this is a production which has been undertaken with care. The monotone stamp of poverty is imprinted surprisingly well on the set. Had it not been lit up on the Assembly Roxy stage, I would have had no trouble believing it had all just been sitting in the French Quarter. But what was most admirable about the set was its clever use of shadow. Translucent material and a little light transformed what in any other production would have simply been a rearward wall into a very entertaining transition tool: whilst set is moved around, the audience is treated to dancing shadows, or the silhouette of a saxophonist. And whilst occasionally these transitory segments went on a little too long, they were nevertheless welcome. Combined with excellent, well-timed soundscaping, it was clear the overall audiovisual design had received the care it deserved.

However, the background paled in comparison to the string of strong performances. It would be difficult to place the strongest actor in what is obviously a very seasoned cast. Even sans translation, this was a show which was consistently raw, emotional and human. Nineli Chankvetadze’s Blanche in particular showed almost uncanny emotional range, bringing depth to every smile and frightened sob even when the emotions in between were few. Kudos also to Imeda Arabuli as Stanley Kowalski, who lent an almost frightening hypermasculine, bestial quality to a character who is so easily made trite by a lesser actor.

With the aforementioned strengths, then, you could be forgiven for wondering why I’ve given this show a surprisingly low rating. And whilst, clearly, many of its component parts merit celebration, it is unfortunate then that this production was completely and utterly failed by its translation. Whilst subtitling a foreign language work is a fine idea, its execution onstage was risible.

From half a line being completely cut off (which happened often), to the subtitles stalling or – even more frustratingly, skipping back and forth in an obvious effort to re-find the dialogue – and the surprisingly low quality of what should have been a simple transcription of Williams’ original transcript (Prize contenders include the immortal phrase: “I’ll never forget the colour of his yes!”), the translation of this show was consistently frustrating. Even worse, the form and punctuation of character dialogue was not so much confused as nonexistent, leaving much of the second half reading as if Blanche was having the most spectacular breakdown ever seen on stage.

But even worse was the fact that, as an audience member, I often found myself between Scylla and Charybdis: either losing myself in the wonderful performances on show and having no idea what was being said, or half-understanding the dialogue whilst being unable to see the show itself as I craned my vision to the extreme top left of the stage. Had the subtitling quality been better this may have been less of a problem, but given the internal problem-solving required to make the subtitles coherent, it was like I had simply stepped outside for half the play. I shudder at the prospect of having seen this work without first being familiar with the plot beyond cultural osmosis, as a surprising number of people are. Given that the importance that the language plays in Streetcar, I was legitimately shocked at the poor quality of its execution.

In terms of its actual materiality, Keti Dolidze has crafted a fine show indeed. And, if you’re fluent enough to understand Georgian on the stage, I’m sure it would make for an afternoon to remember. Had it been simply billed as a foreign language play, even an English speaker would be able to understand, at least, the raw emotional content from performance alone. But, as it stands, the almost fantastically poor quality of translation packaged with this show made engaging with it a chore by the final half hour. With some simple tweaks, A Streetcar Named Desire could have quite handily added two more stars. But, as it stands, perhaps the kindness of strangers is less important than the kindness of transcribers.

 

nae bad_blue

Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Jacob Close (Seen 5 August)

Visit the Assembly Roxy  archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED