#JeSuis (Zoo Southside: 16-26th Aug: 20.30: 45 mins)

“Hugely powerful…all this show needs is an audience”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

#JeSuis isn’t just a stunning piece of contemporary dance from Aakash Odedra Company. It’s a galling political movement in response to the global media disparity in coverage of the growing number of displaced people worldwide. And what hits hardest in this performance is the sheer determination and resilience of a group desperate to have their voice heard.

On a basic level #JeSuis presents the hopeless waiting, the loneliness, danger, shaming and stigma of being a refugee, through a series cleverly woven scenes and images that are at once beautiful and brutal. The piece starts slow, as we see the performers wait for something, anything to happen, and when a grizzly authority figure enters and the phone rings, desperation boils over and violence erupts. The use of structural and architectural lighting in this section reflects the harsh rules and boundaries displaced people often find themselves within, adding an extra layer of discomfort as dancers are enclosed within small spaces of light, thrown away from the light, or have a spotlight shone directly in their faces.

The movements are frantic and jagged – as if each limb is under remote control of a six-year-old child on speed – and the quality signifies the alarming lack of control the individuals have over their situation. The imagery created is stark: we see dancers desperately attempt to move freely, to being physically wrapped in layers of cling film while they continue to fight, to the more aggressive restraining of an individual who reaches for the ever-present microphone to one side of the stage. But perhaps most powerful in the early part of the performance is an apparent sexual assault conducted by the authority figure, leaving his victim broken while the others can only look on.

Yet it’s not all darkness and depression – a sense of comradery builds between the group to over-throw their oppressor towards the second half, with rousing unison sequences and a role-reversal as they hold back the authority figure from achieving his own goals. The token use of sung and spoken word are a perfect complement to all the other ways the dancers attempt to express themselves throughout the piece, and it’s evident that something has to give. Yet even as the next chapter emerges at the show’s climax, it’s with a distinctly bitter-sweet sentiment, as the rigid unison once again feels like overbearing control of a different kind.

This performance of #JeSuis is a work in progress, with further development scheduled for the second half of the year, though from here it’s hard to see how much better it can get. From a theatrical perspective seeing some of the individual characters and journeys developed would help build a greater empathetic connection with their stories, otherwise all this show needs is an audience. Even as a work in progress this is a hugely powerful piece of contemporary dance, perhaps made all the more poignant given the fact it is unfinished, like many of the struggles faced by those it represents.

outstanding

StarStarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 22 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Gossip (Zoo Southside: 4-15 Aug: 20.30: 75 mins)

“A chocolate box of visual delights”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

Gossip is a subject we can all relate too, and in a world of hearsay and “fake news”, the theme of Lenka Vagnerova & Company’s latest production is achingly relevant. Yet for a topic so closely associated with words, how does a dance piece explore its intricacies? On the whole, with zeal.

The action begins at a party, as guests arrive and go through the rigmarole of introductions and drinking. The movement is jarring and robotic – a cutting reflection of the forced politeness many of us display in social circumstances – and the skill and dexterity of each dancer’s exaggerated stilted reactions is really wonderful to watch. Tensions soon arise as gossip spreads, and then the real fun begins.

The whole piece follows different characters’ reactions to being gossiped about, joked with (or worse), with creative interpretations of what that experience feels like. From dancers being puppets on an evening out and inadvertently ending up in bed together, to another being physically swamped in a cape made up of all the things she doesn’t say about her husband, the whole performance is energetic, stylish and performed with the swagger one might expect of one of Czech Republic’s most lauded companies.

Yet while gossip is the overall theme, the undertones of the piece are much darker than you might expect – the taunts and fights are at times frightening, and the dramatic ending may be a lesson to us all in keeping our mouths shut and thinking about others before we act. It’s scintillating and dramatic, yet at times very funny, as facial expressions and stylised reactions add a slapstick feel at choice moments, giving the overall performance depth and balance.

The artistry, choreography and control are all stunning, with solos, duos, and ensemble moments, blurring the lines between dance and theatre. Daring lifts, throws and balancing acts will keep you on the edge of your seat and the clever use of changes in dynamic and music keep the performance moving and engaging throughout. This is a company that feels very natural on-stage, with all the creative elements and personalities working together to present of chocolate-box of visual delights.

For me the only disappointing aspect is the lack of clarity of through-line (dare I use the word “narrative”?) throughout the piece. At times it feels like a stream of ideas and explorations following no particular order or structure, and while some loose ends are tied up at the climax where the opening party scene is revisited, I would have liked for the piece to feel like it had more cohesion and completeness.

Overall, Gossip is a very high-quality performance with something for everyone. It certainly deserves to be talked about.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 5 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: The Master & Margarita (Zoo at St.Cuthbert’s: until 29th Aug (not 19-20, 25th) Aug: 22.00: 1hr 30mins)

“A Hell of a show”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

It was with a certain amount of trepidation when I met The Sleepless Theatre Company on the Royal Mile and discussed with the crew their production of The Master and Margarita. How on earth are they going to do it?, I thought.

Action opens with the procurator of Judea, Pontius Pilate, in court session over an apparently worthless vagrant, Yeshua Ha Nostri. The procurator is ill and it would be so simple to dismiss this tramp with two words: “Hang him.” Nineteen hundred years later, it is a hot May night in Moscow and the committee members of the exclusive Communist Party writers’ guild, are sweltering in a small meeting room, waiting for the Chair, Mikhail Berlioz, to arrive. He is late. None of them can know that dark powers have already entered the city.

For Russians, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov is the Soviet Union’s most famous novel. It is a wide-ranging satirical fantasy and the changes in location (across Moscow and Jerusalem), space and time are a daunting challenge for any adaptation. In this interpretation Sleepless Theatre does well at capturing those changes, using the magnificent setting of the St.Cuthbert’s Church to great effect. Like the cast, the audience too are expected to be mobile, following the action around the hall and even being participants if the scene demands. I found the flight of Margarita (Iona Purvis) over the rooftops of Moscow particularly effective: Purvis is obviously dance-trained and her graceful physical acting really added to the dreamlike quality. Against my expectations, the company’s low-tech approach often overcomes the staging challenges inherent in the novel and they should be highly commended for this.

The central relationship between Margarita and The Master (Jonny Wiles) is wonderful: both actors touchingly portraying the sacrifices each make for the other in the cause of their mutual love and Woland (James Blake-Butler) is suitably all-powerful and sinister. Gwenno Jones captures the tortured soul of Frieda perfectly; though as Yeshua, to me, Jones fails to show the calm and almost playful wit possessed by the character, even in the face of death. Coupled with Pilate (Georgia Figgis) lacking a real menacing streak, the opening scene rings slightly less true than the others, which are on the whole excellently delivered.

Narration is a large part of this production, with actors taking this in turn, and in the first scene I did have some concerns about the delivery (and, indeed the existence of) some crucial lines. During the interrogation Pilate lays too much emphasis on a certain word than is appropriate and leads the witness. The script sees the narrator point this out, rather than it being obvious from the acting, and it is a shame that writer Alexander Hartley keeps to narration here, rather than letting the acting speak for itself. Apart from this minor blip, the rest of the narration remains faithful to the book, and dedication to original text should otherwise be praised.

The Master & Margarita is a massive challenge for any company to take on, and for the most part Sleepless Theatre Company do a really good job: the central themes of the book come shining through. If you know the book, see Master & Margarita for the joy of seeing it live. If you have never read the book, go see. You are in for one hell of a show.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Martin Veart (Seen 16th August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: Still Here (The Tent, ZOO @ St.Mary’s South Lawn: 5-24 Aug: 19.15: 1hr)

“I hope Theatre for Justice are back soon with the next instalment”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

I’ll admit that before this show I had no idea where Eritrea was, and I wasn’t even sure how to spell it. I knew nothing of the religious persecution going on in the country or the hundreds of people who flee it every day. For these insights alone Still Here is worth watching. Yet while being a “worthy” piece of theatre, it never veers into being preachy: rather, it is a simple account of one student’s (Rachel Partington’s) trip to a refugee camp and the people she met there. It’s honest, frank and – I hate to use such a word to describe theatre – interesting.

With tickets checked by border control officials, a mismatching array of seats (including deck chairs) for the audience, and performed in a tent outside a church far from the central hub of normal Fringe venues, Still Here goes to great lengths to create an authentic experience that is central to its overall aims. The show opens with the two main characters telling interweaving stories of their journeys to Calais – six hours for the interviewer, and six years for the refugee. It’s a great way to set the contrasts for the piece, and is creatively staged to give it interest.

Actors Afolabi Alli and Rachel Partington both do an outstanding job with clear, engaging performances that strike the perfect balance between honesty and theatricality. They bring a real fresh-faced look to an age-old problem and their vitality makes them a joy to watch.

Water is used creatively throughout, from sound effects to projections, and it’s great to see this young company using intelligent recurring motifs within their work. Other props are fairly minimal, as the performance uses a more physical and human approach to its storytelling – again a sympathetic match with the subject material. More powerful is the use of a child’s puppet, whose unspoken presence towards the end of the piece is made even more stark when Partington utters the words “I can’t help. I can’t do anything to help.” Stirring stuff.

Yet while everything in the performance is done very well, content-wise it is somewhat lacking. Largely centred around just one 15 minute interview with a single refugee, it’s disappointing that as a production it seems a little unfinished, with so much more potential to create a really powerful and inspiring show with more depth to it. It’s a great first chapter, and I hope Theatre for Justice are back soon with the next instalment.

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 15 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: Moscow Boys (Zoo Southside: 5-29 Aug: 20.35: 1hr 10mins)

“Funny, impressive and unlike anything I’ve ever seen before”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

My early front-runner for most bonkers show of the year is this one: an all-male tap-dancing string quartet from Russia with a penchant for wearing funky hats. Oh, and that’s before they change into rollerblades and charge around the stage while still playing their instruments. You have to see it to believe it.

I’m no classical music aficionado (though I did have a rather painful year learning to play the violin at the age of 7), but to me the musicianship was spot on. I paid very close attention to check whether the boys were actually playing the instruments (just to be sure), and can confirm that yes, it’s all live, and all note-perfect.

This is far from being your average string quartet concert: right from the off it is set up as a comedy piece too, as the boys begin to play around as soon as their maestro has left the stage. It starts small – standing up, sitting, down and swapping seats – but before you know it they’ve burst into a full-blown tap routine (while still playing), without any effect on the quality of the sound. And that’s just the beginning of the madness.

Musically we get everything from Tchaikovsky to Timberlake, and on the whole it just flows seamlessly together as if originally written that way. There’s not a sheet of music or music stand in sight, so extra kudos to the quartet for merging so many pieces of music together and learning it all so well they can perform it while dancing – this really is impressive stuff.

This is very close to being a five star show, it is just a little disappointing that the troupe seem to pull out all of their best tricks in the first half of the performance, so the second half is spent wondering what will happen next, given that most of their cards are already on the table. Later on they also rely on recorded sound to support their playing, when the wow-factor in the first half comes from just the four performers and their instruments.

It’s funny, impressive and unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. I would definitely recommend it for those looking for something a little different this Fringe.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 14 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

To Kill A Machine (ZOO, 7 – 31 Aug : 20.55 : 1hr)

To Kill a Machine, a new full length play written by Welsh writer Catrin Fflur Huws about the life of Alan Turing. Director: Angharad Lee Scriptography Productions Dress Rehearsal May 5 2015 ©keith morris www.artswebwales.com  keith@artx.co.uk  07710 285968 01970 611106

“One of the finest acting performances I have ever seen at the Fringe”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

In a year that has seen Alan Turing receive an official royal pardon and a blockbuster film about his achievements, it seems somewhat surprising that there aren’t more shows at this year’s Fringe about him. However, this work from Welsh company Scriptography Productions is absolutely sensational, and features on of the finest acting performances I have ever seen on the Fringe.

The play starts with Turing as a schoolboy, and goes on to show his first love, his work at Bletchley, and the relationship that would see him found guilty of gross indecency. It’s certainly not afraid to be bold, and at times brutal, focussing primarily on Turing’s sexual identity and personal life.

Turing himself is played by Gwydion Rhys, who brings so much emotional depth, softness and realism to this disturbed character that I genuinely wanted to jump on stage and stand in the way of him being chemically castrated in the play’s final scene. It’s a controlled and commanding performance without ever being over the top, and well worthy of a Fringe award. The supporting cast of Rick Yale, Francois Pandolfo and Robert Harper, who between them play 14 characters, also deliver highly commendable performances.

The production moves at quite a fast pace, but it’s the moments of stillness and sensitivity, which to me were the most powerful. In particular, watching Turing’s mind whir as he develops his theory for the first computer, and his damning confession and inability to lie while in the witness box are utterly compelling.

While I wasn’t 100% convinced by snippets of the high energy quiz show scattered throughout, which posed questions to reflect theories developed by Turing, these sections did serve as a stark Brechtian contrast and awakening to his manipulation and ultimate downfall. I would have liked to have seen a closer integration between these sections and the genuine interrogation he received in the courtroom to really complete the circle of that idea.

It was also disappointing for me that this show was only an hour long, I could easily have stayed engaged for two, and would have welcomed more exploration into some of the other themes – gender identity, machines vs humans, and more cultural context of the period of his life. In saying that, for the length it was, I think it was written and structured excellently, with an engrossing narrative and compelling action. This show is a must-see.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 17 August)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Smother (ZOO, 7 – 22 Aug : 18.40 : 55 mins)

“The choreography throughout is outstanding”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars

Smother is a dance piece that loosely covers the theme of relationships, in particular those among gay people. It’s not overtly “gay though”, and doesn’t lose itself in stereotypes, making it very accessible to a wider audience. What is more prominent is just how two people can meet, fall in love, and be affected by an affair, regardless of gender or sexual orientation.

The choreography throughout is outstanding, from a full-on hip hop opening number, to more sensuous contemporary sections it explores the party lifestyle, expectation, friendship, infidelity and intimacy. There is a great balance between the big unison group numbers and the more emotive solos and duo sections, while one dancer’s frustration to find anybody to love is made all the more powerful by the constant ignoring of her plight of the performers who walk past her time and again.

Particular highlights include an example of the first awkward encounter in the bedroom getting tangled up in one’s clothes, through to the very emotive trio at the end of the piece, showing how a lover comes between the lead couple to drive them apart. Canon is used very effectively throughout the piece (with one dancer often doing the reverse of their partner), and is powerful enough to show similar thinking, but an ability to communicate it directly.

For a high octane dance piece, performed by a troupe of incredibly lithe and athletic young dancers, it’s also very mature. The overt sexual movements are kept to a minimum, while everyone stays, for the most part, fully clothed. The power comes from engagement between the dancers – their synchronicity (or otherwise) and proximity to one another is enough to show how close they are emotionally and sexually. It’s balanced, detailed and very relatable.

While it’s not quite as hip-hop throughout as the billing suggests (the music perhaps a stronger influence than the choreographic style), the dancers are just as talented at the fast pops and locks as they are with the leaps and lifts in the more contemporary sections. Speaking of the music, it’s a generally a very modern and young selection, at times very lyrically overt, perhaps to aid the narrative, but very effective all the same.

A very  impressive full length debut from 201 Dance Company.

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 15 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED