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

Correction (ZOO Southside, 11- 19 Aug : 20.15 : 55mins)

“Very well developed and powerful, with bags of personality”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

There are times that I feel like I’ve seen everything there is to see in contemporary dance, but Czech company VerTeDance showed me that originality is still very much alive and well with new piece Correction. The show begins with seven dancers in a neat row on stage, arm’s length apart from each other. And that’s where they stay for the entire performance. Honestly.

Such a bold, simple approach reminded me of the founders of the Judson Church contemporary dance movement in the 1960s, pushing those very same boundaries and asking the question “what is dance?”. While there’s certainly movement and music, the seven performers are literally glued to the floor throughout the piece and don’t take a single step.

Despite the seemingly constraining concept, it’s actually a very well developed and powerful piece, with bags of personality, tension and progression from beginning to end. In the opening moments the dancers look around and become aware of their space and own being. It’s a slow and subtle start, and like many pieces I’ve seen before, but then the fun begins. One dancer turns to poke the next, who reacts by tipping slightly from side to side before coming back to standing. Then they poke the next, and so on. Before long there’s lots of poking, lots of tipping and chaos ensues.

After a brief musical interlude, the next iteration of movement involves the dancers falling over, while still having their feet stuck to the ground. It’s thoroughly enjoyable to watch them struggle back up to standing, with hilarious, unimpressed reactions from their fellow dancers. As this section developed, some of the body contortions and balances made were simply astonishing, and at times seemed to defy gravity.

The action soon moves onto a sort of fight scene, with dancers pushing and shoving and bending and falling in all directions. There are several repeated sequences in this section of the dance, which speed up and becomes more frantic, before a moment of stillness. This section is very impressive and controlled, showing great skill and dexterity to make all the shapes and supporting positions for each move. The final sequence is somewhat unexpected, but adds a new dimension and feeling to the work.

Throughout the piece music is provided by Clarinet Factory, a four-piece clarinet group who move forward and back creating incredible atmosphere with their instruments to support the action. It’s not something you see every day, but in a bizarre kind of way it really works.

This is one of those pieces you’ll be talking and thinking about well after you’ve left the auditorium, and really is worthy of being seen to be believed.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 2 October)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED