A Girl and a Gun (Summerhall: 2-27 Aug: 18.00: 60mins)

“A greatly rewarding hour of insight and grace for cinephiles, feminists, and iconoclasts everywhere.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

Louise Orwin is one savvy film buff and her one-woman show, A Girl and a Gun (the title of which is derived from Jean-Luc Godard’s notorious quote “All you need to make a film is a girl and a gun”) is sixty minutes of finely crafted satire/tribute/criticism/fun on that very notion. For cinephiles and non-cinephiles alike, A Girl and a Gun offers laughs, thrills, and intimate insights into some of popular culture’s most beloved genres and setups within film, while asserting a masterfully subversive message.

Orwin is an electric performer, constantly keeping the audience guessing and engaged as she flits from scenario to scenario as “Her,” representing the interchangeable, lazily written female in so many Hollywood films. She is accompanied onstage by an unspecific male counterpart, as “Him,” a random actor who had responded to the show’s online call for male performers, and who is a different person every night. “Him” reads his lines from a teleprompter, and is, charmingly, just as surprised, shocked, amused, and impressed at the show’s content as the audience is at every turn. For Orwin has created an amalgam of sorts, of every misogynistic and abusive male-female dynamic presented in male-ego-centered films, to prove how toxic and destructive masculinity in popular culture can be.

“Him” is scripted to seduce, kiss, betray, bully, abuse, physically hit, and generally mistreat “Her” in carefully structured ways, so that sometimes he has free reign to strut around and take advantage of the audience and damsel in front of him, and other times he has no real choice but to act like a heel. Her commentary is strikingly simple, as she uncovers the terrible unfairness and cruelties beneath many a male/female action hero/damsel dynamics.

What is most impressive and reassuring about the show’s approach is the level of research evident behind the faithful recreations of the films it satirises. It is presented in a format all Tarantino fans will recognise; divided into chapters with pseudo-poetic titles like “Cherry Picker” or “Why You Don’t Have to be American to have an American Dream,” which is a particularly impactful one. Taglines, catchphrases and devices from lots of Tarantino’s writing are featured, including dances reminiscent of Pulp Fiction and Death Proof, and the opening theme from Kill Bill – indeed the piece is chock-full of cinematic observations and criticisms that are spot-on if you are a fan of the retro-worshipping, Western-esque American odysseys Orwin comes after. There is a particularly impressive and hilarious sequence in which Orwin and the male actor recite all the typical names of “Him” and “Her” in these films, like Charlie, Bobby, Big Charlie, Big Bobby, Tommy, Tony, Big Tommy, Big Tony; Suzie, Jenny, Little Suzie, Little Jenny, et cetera.

Points like these are also, in a larger sense, what makes Orwin’s show so clever and incisive; there are no individual films or even individual scenes that are criticised on their own. Rather, A Girl and a Gun takes aim at the sheer repetitiveness and laziness of re-used, tired tropes, with great success. One of the most memorable sequences comes near the ‘end’ of the experience, when “Him” has forsaken “Her” and she must, as she does in so many films, die. Orwin’s “Her” dies at least ten times in a row, in various gruesome fashions, from being shot with numerous types of firearms to being tied to a train track and run over. Her point lands with a surprising amount of grace, as we recall so many female characters who have been extinguished simply to prove the male protagonist’s point, and it is the sheer quantity of such deaths that packs the greatest punch.

The attention to detail in this show is also commendable, from the use of projection and subtitling to recall a movie being written and filmed, and on-screen directions for “Him” to don various costumes, play with numerous prop firearms and “act like he is in an action movie”. This device in particular leaves a meaningful impression, presenting both “Him” and “Her” as pawns of the written scripts, and suggesting it is not necessarily inherent to a man’s composition that he acts so cruelly — he is written that way, much as many men may have learned their behaviour from movies where that very same behaviour got the girl and saved the day.

A Girl and a Gun presents an ingenious deconstruction of male ego, cinematic influence, and the truth beneath the beauty of so many of society’s favourite films. It is a greatly rewarding hour of insight and grace, plus a goldmine for cinephiles, feminists, and iconoclasts everywhere.

outstanding

StarStarStarStarStar

 

Reviewer: Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

EQ: Dance! (Various, until 14 June ’17)

“A real treat”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

The Edinburgh Quartet are one of our favourite live music acts here at Edinburgh49, and while normally it’s my colleague Charles we defer to for his superior knowledge of classical music, I was interested to see how a collaboration with Youth Dance Scotland would work, and what unexpected gems might be uncovered when combining classical music with contemporary dance.

The evening commences with a traditional musical performance by the quartet, followed by three dance/music collaborations: all original compositions for the quartet, and with original choreography from Marc Brew.

The first of these, For Sonny captures a very childlike and playful feel, with the dancers darting in and around the musicians (who are positioned centre-stage), seeming to make the rules up as the go along. There’s an element of give and take to the piece as the dancers respond directly to strokes from the quartet in the quieter elements, and to movements from each other – as if playing a rather bizarre version of “follow the leader” throughout. It’s fascinating to see such a close relationship between the dancers and the musicians, even though the danger of collisions sometimes causes the heart-rate to rise somewhat!

The quartet move to the side of the stage for the final two pieces, yet still feel integrated within the performance as the dancers watch and respond to them throughout. The second piece feels just slightly more grown up as the dancers adopt a more uniform and unison approach to their movement, though they become more animalistic – like a set of production line workers in rebellion against the formality of the everyday. Different dancers take turns to break out from the group, using more and more of the space, until they surround the quartet at the end, as if waiting for their next direction or inspiration.

Silent Shores has a significantly more ensemble feel, and combines the best of both of the previous two pieces, with some daring lifts and tableaux in direct response to the music, following its stops and starts with playfulness and control. Reflecting the nature of the isle of Arran, it’s a complex interrelationship as the different aspects of the piece – contrasting stillness and frantic movement – bring about a sense of ongoing time and flow, like the changing of the seasons.

Overall what’s most pleasing about the whole setup is the relationship between the dance and live music, which is cleverly structured and choreographed to integrate the two. At times the movements did lack a little polish and finesse – but perhaps given that the piece is touring across different venues in Scotland for just one night at a time, it can be expected that the dancers will have to adapt to the size and shape of their performance spaces each time, not allowing them to fully relax into each performance.

Something for both dance and classical music aficionados, a real treat. It’s a shame that, at just shy of an hour, the performance is so short.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 10 June)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: Mungo Park (Summerhall: 3 – 27 Aug. 8.45pm 1h 20m.)

Images: Dogstar Theatre.

Images: Dogstar Theatre.

“… an invitation to taste the popcorn, then it’s serried lights and blinding action”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Nae Bad

There is a Mungo Park Road in Gravesend, Kent, and sheltered housing at Mungo Park Court in Selkirk which seems all a bit sedentary when it comes to the tremendous life of Mungo P himself. Born in 1771, near Selkirk right enough, he ventured out down the Niger River and was the first European to reach Timbuktu. Of course, he did not have a passport so that nice phrasing, used in this show, about his Majesty ‘requests and requires [that] the bearer pass freely without let or hindrance’ did not apply. Instead his heroic travels are the stuff of bedtime stories, ‘To Selkirk … and beyond!’ if you will, which is where Mungo Park Theatre (Copenhagen) and Dogstar Theatre (Inverness) come flying in.

Writer and director Martin Lyngbo wants Hollywood-on-stage for the ‘inner eye of everyone in the audience’. So we get an invitation to taste the popcorn, then it’s serried lights and blinding action. We move swiftly from the Highlands, to London, and – via the two journeys of 1796 and 1805 – to central West Africa, on foot and in a canoe.

Travel at the wrong time and it’s very hot and wet and deadly out there. The African interior was a huge gap surrounded by a coastline, for its ‘heart lies in darkness’ and between August and October forty-one out of the forty-five or so Brits on the second expedition died of fever. How Parks survived for as long as he did is an open question but – to judge by this play – it was a combination of physical toughness, determination (to see home and family again), good sense and good luck. Africa for him is ‘a fragile network’ of peoples and customs and you got nowhere without respecting that.

Mungo Park goes back to 2006. That first Danish production was rehearsed during the crisis that surrounded publication in a newspaper of the Muhammad cartoons. This English language version, by Jonathan Sydenham, still looks as if it is significantly influenced by that controversy. Clever caricature asks questions of how individuals are represented and received by ‘others’, culturally akin or not. African kings Desse and Ali play ‘up’ their obvious differences in sing-song pidgin speech; their messengers play their crafty roles as would flunkies of a European court but with outlandish accents. Sir Joseph Banks, notable patron of the natural sciences, is as interested in gold as he is in plants. Lieutenant John Martyn, in command of Parks’ escort, is more blood thirsty racist than an officer and a gentleman. Desperate and dangerous confusion results from misunderstanding and prejudice.

Kingsley Amadi (l)

Kingsley Amadi (l)

Matthew Zajac is impressive as the courageous and virtuous Mungo, whose story we follow at every turn, literally so as he fights his good fight on a turntable. Anders Budde Christensen is all exaggerated gesture and of wily tongue as emissary and as the not-so-enlightened James Rennell, map-maker, who would be master of all he surveys. Kingsley Amadi is black African potentate and crazy (white) army officer. It is so confidently performed that the zany is never risible, the indomitable never preposterous.

The rapid screenplay, to go with the filmic idea, produces strong exposition – particularly when its opening is chalked-up on the blackboard rather like title cards to a silent movie of colonial history in the making – and a dynamic narrative. No visual ‘shots’ are projected so there’s a spontaneous, on-the-spot quality to the whole piece. For the most part it is tightly focused upon Parks himself and when it isn’t there is some loss in terms of its depth of field. Performers running up and down the central aisle in a bright light did not look right.

Sturdy Mungo always has a satchel for his notebook and his Travels were published in 1799 but if you want a stirring measure of the man and of his life you won’t do better than this motion picture of a play.

 

nae bad_blue

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

Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 24 August)

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+3 Review: Karmana, Songs of the Roma (Summerhall: 12-20 August: 21.15: 1 hour)

“Fantastic, moving and highly recommendable”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

Karmana, Songs of Roma is performed in the Library Gallery of Summerhall. As the Scottish guitarist and composer Simon Thacker and Polish cellist Justyna Joblonska walked in to the room the small crowd fell silent. They did not introduce themselves which I found a little odd but as Thacker began his solo instrumental performance of Albedo I guessed this was to add to the dramatic effect of the song. Immediately I could see that this is one very talented musician who is clearly passionate about his work.

For the second song Thacker was joined by his playing partner Jablonska who’s performance was equally captivating. The flowing sounds of the cello combined with the intricate sounds of the guitar hypnotised the crowd, who remained so  silent throughout you could have heard a pin drop.

Throughout the show Thacker takes the audience on a Romani musical journey with songs from the gypsy tradition. In between songs he explains the history and meaning of each song including his thoughts and reasoning behind each composition. His own personal experience with Indian, Balkan and Spanish music add a special twist to the performance from beginning to end.

Personally I thought the highlight of the evening was when the endearing singer and violinist Masha Natanson joined to complete the trio. Originally from Lubin, Poland, Natanson adds a new, traditional element to the performance. As cliché as it may sound, I really did get goosebumps when she began to sing Ne Govorite Mne O Nem (Don’t Talk To Me About Him). Natanson sang with such emotion that although I couldn’t understand the Russian lyrics I could tell she was portraying a heart-broken woman. At one point she even charmed the audience with her premiere of speaking in English to a crowd and no one could help but smile and giggle as she tried her very best!

Perhaps I have been caught up in the excitement and excess of the Fringe but the only thing I would like to have seen improved was the set. The whole room was lit in a romantic red but I feel focusing more of the lighting on the performers would have added to the dramatic effect of the songs.

Overall it was a fantastic, moving and highly recommendable show – particularly for those interested in the traditional music of different cultures.

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

Reviewer: Iona Young (Seen 16 August)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

 

+3 Review: Don’t Panic! It’s Challenge Anneka (Summerhall: 5-28 Aug: 14.50: 1hr)

“A beautiful and emotional journey”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

Much like deviser and performer Sophie Winter, I was also a huge fan of the TV programme Challenge Anneka in the 90s, so I couldn’t miss the chance to see a show featuring my favourite presenter from yesteryear. As the audience enters, Winter embodies her heroine – complete with bright jumpsuit, blonde wig and bumbag – welcoming us to the performance and offering treats. It’s a great way to set the tone as one of comfort, support, nostalgia and togetherness.

The piece follows the story of Holly – someone who suffers from anxiety – and we learn what brings it on and how it affects her and those around her. Anneka soon arrives on the scene to help restore Holly to her former happy self, and her challenge unfolds throughout the performance. Winter plays every character throughout the piece, showing great dexterity in capturing personas of people we can all relate to, including the boss who doesn’t listen, the doctor who uses too much technical jargon and the mum who tries to help buy doesn’t really understand.

The performance uses a lot of video, played through an oversized TV on stage, which, as well as demonstrating the level of care and attention put into this piece, allows Winter (as Holly) to react to these characters, and for us to see and feel these reactions close up. Holly comes right into the audience at times, showing her to be just another person like us, and it’s really engaging to see her honest and personal accounts and every side of suffering from anxiety.

I have to say that structurally I did get a little lost and at times I couldn’t quite tell when or where the action was taking place. But this a show where narrative is far less important than the beautiful and emotional journey we are taken on. The overall soul and spirit are absolutely intact and it is a real joy to experience.

As Winter points out at the end, there is no grand resolution to Holly’s anxiety, and that it may well be with her for the rest of her life. Drawing parallels with Anneka Rice’s challenges, the overall message of the piece is that just because a first big step is achieved, that doesn’t mean that the problem is solved. Ongoing support, nurturing, care and hard work are still required, and I think it’s right that this is highlighted, as it shows a real connection and openness with the subject matter.

An important an enjoyable work, on a highly topical subject matter. Please go and see it.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 14 August)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Uncanny Valley (Summerhall: 29 – 31 March) – part of Edinburgh International Science Festival

Photo:.Borderline Theatre

Photo:.Borderline Theatre

“Educational and entertaining, well-worth taking the kids to”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Nae Bad

As a child I was never particularly into science. At school the lessons were boring and didn’t challenge me to think creatively or engage with it in real life situations. Uncanny Valley, however, does both, placing today’s children at the heart of a situation we may well find ourselves in 30 years’ time.

Essentially it’s a show about humans and robots, and the difference between the two. With the world becoming ever more robotic, the subject matter is engaging for audiences of all ages and I certainly learned a thing or two about artificial intelligence and the Turing Test during the performance. While I imagine 9-year-old me might have struggled with some of the concepts and sitting still through some of the longer “lesson” parts, many of the younger audience members seemed to grasp it fairly well and engage in the interactive elements.

As a children’s piece, one can forgive a certain amount of ridiculousness and be able to suspend disbelief to still be able to enjoy the action. Credit goes to the actors for keeping the performance engaging, with boundless energy creating big, bold characters that are instantly relatable. Kirsty Stuart in particular shines as the cut-throat Mayor who’ll stop at nothing to eliminate robots in her town.

I would have liked closer attention paid to the narrative to keep it seamless all the way through: there were quite a few unexplained jumps in time and location in the story, and I never quite believed Ada’s relationship with her adopted parents. In saying that, some of the theatrical elements are very well done: the Turing Test at the end of the show is funny and gripping; the open moral discussion about whether to swerve a car off road and kill a group of chickens to save yourself is very thought-provoking, and I was even able to feel emotional connection with the robot characters of OKAY and SARA, which adds a really nice dimension.

The beginning is a little confusing – I feel that Rob Drummond as facilitator perhaps tries too hard to convey a lot of factual information early on and doesn’t seem as comfortable in parts of audience interaction as I would expect from an experienced TIE professional. These are only small moments throughout the piece though, as on the whole it’s quite slick and professional.

Overall, Uncanny Valley is educational and entertaining, and well-worth taking the kids to, as long as you’re ready for a bit of thinking! Theatrically it is a bit rough around the edges but still full of heart.

nae bad_blue

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 31 March)

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‘To Breathe’ (Summerhall: 24 – 28 Nov ’15)

To Breathe 1


Photography: Andrew Perry. Back line, l to r: Erin Whalley, Tiffany Soirat, Anna Elisabeth Thomsen. Front line, l to r, Adela Briansó, Lewis McDonald, Maddie Flint.

“Inventive and intriguing”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Nae Bad

It’s not often you see student theatre groups perform original work with such a strong dance element, especially pieces on complex themes with so much thought behind them. They generally take hours upon hours to devise and rehearse, so one must give Theatre Paradok kudos for even getting to the startline of this show, and for packing Summerhall’s Demonstration Room to the rafters with an eager audience on a Thursday night.

Given the premise of To Breathe as a physical exploration of body and breath, to me it was a somewhat strange choice to develop it with a cast of performers with limited dance experience and training. The lack of finesse and technique on display in the more choreographed elements unfortunately detracted from what could have been a very powerful and moving (no pun intended) performance, and this was the lasting impression I took with me – a great concept, but perhaps slightly overreached.

As a theatrical spectacle, it was certainly very accomplished: it contained a lot of light and shade, tension and calm, with a good sense of progression and drive, and the performers’ ability to create changing moods seamlessly was very impressive. Early on the piece was very playful, and the performers raised several laughs in their innocent self-discovery, before moving onto more emotive storytelling. Rachel Stollery’s design really complemented the action, as did the subtle use of music, and with a healthy mix of ensemble and solo sections, structurally this show ticks all the boxes.

What the troupe may not have shown in dance technique or grace, they more than made up for in emotional intensity, concentration and sheer gumption. There was a great energy and spirit to the performance, with the whole company throwing themselves into it wholeheartedly. Maddie Flint in particular was utterly watchable throughout, with a very engaging and expressive face.

 

To Breathe 2

Lewis MacDonald and Tiffany Soirat

While choreographically it was a fairly safe piece (albeit with a few too many cliched motifs for my liking), there were moments of dramatic risk that were inventive and intriguing. In one of the duets (performed by Lewis McDonald and Tiffany Soirat) the dancers fought and tussled to cover each other in paint, in a sequence that was both passionate and very well controlled. There were some great lifts on show, and this section oozed with sexual chemistry. Later on, the dancers experimented with different movements with their hands in a pile of mud, which again showed great creativity, yet it was difficult to see the connection between this and the rest of the performance.

Overall, the heart and soul of this performance were absolutely in the right place – but I would have liked to have seen more focus on the dance elements to make it more complete.

nae bad_blue

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 26 November)

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