Solarplexus: An Alternative Energy Play (ZOO Charteris: 3-27 Aug: 19:35: 60 mins)

“Affectingly haunting musings.”

Editorial Rating: 2 Stars

Oddly, there are more shows than ever this year where I personally have felt a performer is too good for the show they are starring in. This is particularly true of Melissa Mahoney and Solarplexus: An Alternative Energy Play. The show, written by Michael Galligan, deals with a near-future where solar fires are plaguing Earth and a mega-corporation known as Syzygy has proffered a ‘solution’ to the problem by creating a giant space station that will bathe the world in constant daylight. A genius inventor/farmer/tin-foil-hat wearer (played by Gilligan), however, has made an energy-producing bike named Mercury Daniels, that can somehow stop all of this and save the world. His daughter, Ellen (Mahoney), contacts him and tries to help stop the plot, while his son Frank (Sam Metzger) has started working for the corporation and its evil boss (Justin Picado), leading to a frenetic mission and intergalactic madness.

There are standout elements of this show that really shine. Mahoney, first and foremost, delivers a strong performance and an excellent onstage presence; she holds the show together in more ways than one. Another stellar presence in the production is Justin Picado, multi-roling as the maddened Syzygy CEO, a messenger from the Sun, and a few other surreal presences; Picado has very clever comic timing and physicality, and similarly to Mahoney, could and should really knock it out of the park if given more compelling lines to perform. Also onstage but in the corner is composer Robert Fernandez, who live-scores the show with remarkably fun musical motifs and sounds. Credit to director Jaye Hunt for placing him in view of the audience, for most of the entertainment in the show can be derived from watching him work.

The rest of the production is unfortunately a let-down. The plot dissolves into flat, unconvincing absurdity, which could be entertainingly surreal if it was not constantly interrupted by uninteresting arguments and character moments. The constant bickering between Ellen and Frank, as siblings who took very different paths in life, possibly due to their father’s treatment, is so overplayed it becomes simply irritating to listen to. The same jabs and judgements are repeated over and over and over, never improving in form or content; the interjections from their father, also played by Galligan, do not particularly help, possibly because his characterisation seems straight out of the notoriously neglectful Rick from Justin Roiland’s Rick And Morty. Some lines and concepts are fascinating, yet most are delivered during the intermittent cacophonies of the characters simply talking over each other, so they have little impact. The jokes, of which there are surprisingly few, are also quite unmemorable; thankfully, Mahoney and Picado are quite good at stepping in to save the moment when certain punchlines fall conspicuously flat.

Solarplexus is an odd watch, and contains some affectingly haunting musings on what could result in the end of the world: corporate greed, public disinterest, and personal irresponsibility. Yet though these concepts are raised, the show is not particularly risible to an audience, and perhaps could do with a slight rewrite and a more dynamic second half. 

Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller

 

The Sensemaker and Drop the Gogo (ZOO Charteris: 3-11 Aug: 18:00: 60 mins)

“Slick, fun and packed with charisma”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

Often contemporary dance can come across as very abstract and inaccessible to normal people. Narratives or themes can be lost in conceptual musings, and it becomes hard for audiences to connect with the action on stage. With this double-bill, however, Swiss company Woman’s Move are presenting work that is more down-to earth – where dancers are people in situations we can all relate to – and the result is enjoyable and engaging.

First up is solo piece The Sensemaker, which sees dancer and choreographer Elsa Couvreur arriving on stage dressed and ready for a job interview, only to be greeted by a ringing phone and a disembodied voice giving her instructions. The tension is palpable through the awkward waiting and uncertainty, though frustration soon builds as the repetition of the automated voice continues. Throughout this sequence there are several comic moments when progress through ‘the system’ is made, only for it to be undermined later, and Couvreur’s facial expressions communicate all we need to know. It’s a fun and simple piece, with a charming interlude to set up the next.

In contrast, Drop the Gogo features six dancers performing an energetic and upbeat routine, where they seamlessly drop in and out of cannon, unison and extended motifs as befits their personalities. There’s a playful, childish element to the piece, highlighted by the costumes and roles each dancer takes on when reliving what they wanted to be when they grew up – something we might all cringe at now. Overall, it’s slick, fun and packed with charisma.

A loose theme of career and expectation threads the two works together, yet the playful irreverence of the choreography shows that this is a company not too concerned with following convention and who are determined to have fun in their own way. Throughout both pieces there’s just enough comprehension to follow what’s going on, though the overall creativity and mood is what comes across most clearly. This isn’t stuffy or stuck-up dance you need to labour through.

Overall, The Sensemaker and Drop the Gogo as a double-bill is fun show that’s full of charm, and well worth watching as your “something different” choice this year. It also once again strengthens ZOO’s leading position as the destination for contemporary dance at the Fringe. Dance fans, please go and check out this show and more of ZOO’s programme, I’ve yet to be disappointed by anything they present.

 

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 5 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

#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