Definition of Man (Greenside @ Infirmary Street: 3-25 Aug: 11:25: 60 mins)

“Powerful and emotive”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Nae Bad

Two performers enter the space, wearing rags and looking dishevelled. It appears they have been alone in a post-apocalyptic wasteland for some time – though for how long doesn’t seem important. What follows is a journey of how two people might survive (purely from a psychological perspective) in this situation.

Definition of Man is created by performers Jason Rosario and Nikki Muller, and could crudely be described as part Waiting for Godot, part DV8 physical theatre piece. After the initial wasteland scene, the performance darts back and forth between mini lectures about chemicals within the brain, personalised accounts of growing up as the child of an immigrant or ‘other’ in the USA, and much more besides. The level of detail in each section demonstrates impressive research and creativity, though comprehension is the main sticking point.

To begin with, there’s a bizarre jarring between the words in the script and the action on stage: the upbeat voices and physicality of the performers seem at odds with the sense of desperate survival implied by the words they say. Then the whistle-stop tour through all the other elements makes it hard to decipher just what, when, and who this show is about.

Only in the second half of the piece do the threads start to come together, and the crux of the relationship between the two characters comes to the forefront – just what happens to two lovers when they are left alone in the world for an inordinate amount of time? The final moments between Muller and Rosario are a powerful and emotive interpretation of this, though it’s a shame this depth comes so late on.

The action is punctuated throughout by some genuinely impressive lifts, balances and counter-tensions, which are an effective way to highlight apparent changes in power and focus between each character, and the emotions at play. When combined with colour design and subtle sound-scaping, moments within this performance really do shine.

To me, though, it feels like there are almost too many themes and ideas crammed into this piece, diluting what could be a compelling discussion into and presentation of the relationship between two people in an extreme environment. With so many different strands, it’s really difficult to get into and connect with the performance and work out what it is and where it’s going.

Overall, Definition of Man is an interesting and intense production that certainly gets the cogs whirring, but unfortunately, for me, it’s all a bit too confused and busy to have the impact it has the potential for.

 

nae bad_blue

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 9 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Action Man (Paradise in Augustines: 4-11 Aug: 17:35: 75 mins)

“The benchmark that all young theatre companies should aim for”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

Action Man follows the journey of army Corporal Liam Drury (Michael Moulton), who, upon returning home after eight years’ service, is severely affected by PTSD, causing the breakdown of his marriage and other relationships. Performed as an ensemble piece with seven actors in addition to Moulton, it pulses with the urgency of a tale that needs to be told, and interweaves choreography, sound and silhouette to convey the intensity of the action.

Rather than being a linear piece, Action Man flashes back and forwards in time, covering key moments and influential characters in Corporal Drury’s life. While early on it’s difficult to grasp the structure of the piece (when and where each scene takes place), everything soon slots into place and what’s presented is an intelligent and concise story that maintains interest and tension from start to finish. At 75 mins this performance is slightly on the lengthy side for a Fringe show, but there’s little fat to cut given the complexity of the relationships and emotions at stake – writer Lizzie Morris does very well to gauge just how much to present from scene to scene.

Moulton turns in a powerhouse performance as Drury, with seemingly unflagging energy. His impressive range of emotions across each scene makes him compelling to watch, and his emotional monologue at the PIP meeting really does tug at the heart strings. The supporting cast more than capably do their bit to build and sustain tension and drive the emotive choreography, and there’s an earnestness about their performance that demands attention.

Though while the company generally handle the topics covered in the show very well, and with sensitivity, at times they do seem slightly out of their depth. The army scenes in particular are perhaps too naïve, and the difficult conversations Drury has with his current and former partner occasionally lack the presence and power in performance for them to ring true. But given how young this company are, a little slack can be given.

In many ways this production of Action Man captures the very spirit of the Fringe – a talented and ambitious group of artists sharing a powerful story with every weapon in their arsenal – and there’s plenty of exciting stuff happening on this stage. For me, Plaster Cast Theatre are the benchmark that all young theatre companies should aim for. Bravo.

 

outstanding

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 8 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

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

Sob Story (theSpace on the Mile: 5-25 Aug (odd dates only): 16:00: 65 mins)

“Pretty Knickers Productions certainly can act”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars

When six old school friends from a small town reunite in the hopes of winning Yorkshire’s Got Talent as a girl group, it soon dawns on them that in order to make it they’ll need more than talent to succeed – they’ll need a sob story to get the public on their side. As a dark and witty peak into reality tv talent shows and those who crave to participate in them, Sob Story hits the spot in just how far a slightly misguided group of girls might go to meet their goal. But there’s a twist…

Without giving away spoilers, the show definitely doesn’t go the way it might appear to – credit to writers Calum Ferguson & Lewis Lauder for the unexpected change of direction and thrilling climax – though unfortunately the dénouement’s power is slightly undermined by the lack of ground work in the first half of the show to make it effective. Character backgrounds and more details about the world they inhabit outside of the here and now are largely sacrificed for an unnecessary chunk of self-indulgent singing, so when relationships and loyalties between the girls are put under strain, it becomes difficult to connect and empathise given the precious little that has been shared about them in the run-up.

Director Donna Soto-Morettini does well to keep the pace going and tease out changes in mood to reflect the action, though has her work cut out to bring together the scraps of story into a cohesive and naturally flowing production. The company of Pretty Knickers Productions certainly can act, though – Mhairi McCall in particular shines and commands the stage as ringleader Sophie, while Lana Pheutan as Aimee is consistently hilarious with her gawkish physicality during the opening scenes. The a capella singing throughout is impressive, and there’s an ease with which the company works together that indicates a lot of untapped potential.

Sob Story is a powerfully performed and interesting show, but would definitely benefit from greater script workshopping to become the gripping thriller it deserves to be. The self-marketing as a comedy seems ill-fitting somehow – the dark humour misses more times than it hits – though maybe this will pick up further into the run. One to keep an eye on.

 

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 5 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Velvet (Pleasance Courtyard: 1-27 Aug: 14:00: 60 mins)

“A tour de force from Tom Ratcliffe”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

If the #metoo campaign taught us anything last year, it’s that sexual harassment is far more common than we think – especially in the entertainment industry where (generally) younger and (generally) female individuals are too often coerced into performing sexual favours in the promise of getting some sort of career boost from it.

Velvet (written and performed by Tom Ratcliffe) shows it’s not always women that are the victims in these cases, as it follows the plight of a young male actor longing to hit the big time, and who finds himself questioning how far he’s willing to go to get ahead. After turning down a spurious offer of a drink from an overly familiar casting director, and subsequently being dropped by his agent, Tom thinks twice when he is contacted on an app by an apparent big-wig in the film industry. Should he put his scruples aside to potentially further his career? And what would his partner think if he did?

While perhaps not the most original of plots, Velvet does go to show an honest and accessible account of one actor desperate enough to dance with the devil, with sufficient depth and perspective to make it a balanced and gripping show. It’s a fairly pacey piece, with scenes jumping from one to the next to push the story along, but it’s those where Tom converses with the mysterious man online that are the most disquieting and pleasingly restrained. Something about seeing each message flash up on screen behind the action gives added weight to the dark discourse, and the development of this plot-line in particular is edge of the seat stuff – how would any of us respond given that situation?

As a one-man show it’s a tour de force from Ratcliffe, who himself plays everyone from snooty agents to stuffy actor friends, and even his own mum. Only at rare moments do individual personalities blur, and it would be great to see some more extremes and risk-taking come to the fore to make each and every character unique and identifiable.

There are a couple of convenient coincidences and moments in the script where suspension of disbelief is pushed to its limits, but on the whole this is an honest and heartfelt performance that I could very happily sit through again. It’s only my seventh show of the Fringe this year, but absolutely my favourite so far. Well worth watching if you’re an (aspiring) actor, in particular.

 

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 5 August)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Elizabethan (theSpace @ Surgeon’s Hall: 3-11 Aug: 12:05: 50 mins)

“A healthy serving of bawdy silliness “

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars

Elizabethans aren’t particularly well-known for their musical theatre prowess, so developing a one-man (is it fair to call it a juke-box?) musical comprising songs only from the turn of the 17th century sounds like a risky move, but a compelling concept for those of us who enjoy a bit of both history and musical theatre.

The resulting Elizabethan follows the loves and losses of one Tobias Bacon, who comes of age after his father dies in 1599. Yet though it’s billed as a musical, what’s delivered is much more like a comedy cabaret – a lot of chat and period puns, with the odd musical ditty thrown in – but with very little in the way of narrative or emotive development. Disappointing if you’re expecting to be wowed by a 17th century equivalent to Tell Me on a Sunday, but packed with laughs and merriment – especially if you’re a fan of historical wordplay.

Elizabethan is created and performed by David William Hughes, who accompanies himself on the lute for each song. This stripped back musical simplicity of man and lute certainly works for the more melancholic moments, while attempts to rock out and mix up the vocal styling do go some way to adding interest and excitement to the subtle nature of the music when required. Hughes is clearly a gifted musician, but more complex arrangements and variety in style would help keep the songs more engaging while maintaining the integrity of its renaissance roots.

Hughes also shows himself as a very competent improviser in relation to audience reactions, which is where perhaps the biggest risk of this production becomes apparent. Hughes requires several audience members to participate in this production (though – thankfully! – nobody is asked to sing or play the lute), and these contributions make up a good bulk of the comedy and tension within the performance. While willing subjects make the show fresh and funny, it does rely rather too heavily on their good grace and humour for my liking.

On the whole, Elizabethan is a healthy serving of bawdy silliness with a couple of nice (though fairly samey) songs thrown in. It’s good for a giggle, though somewhat lacking in depth.

 

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 5 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Stardust (Pleasance Dome: 1-27 Aug: 16:20: 60 mins)

“Entertains and enlightens”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

While, to many, the Fringe is a place to be entertained, it is also a place to be challenged and to learn something new. I’m not ashamed to say that before watching Stardust I knew very little about the country of Columbia. And that my knowledge extended barely any further than the stereotype it has garnered for being the home of cocaine – another subject about which my knowledge was paltry. Step up, then, this part-documentary, part one-man-theatrical-masterclass which entertains and enlightens on both counts.

In entering the space, performer Miguel Hernando Torres Umba gives each audience member a warm welcome and entrusts a select few to look after mysterious boxes, which go on to become significant parts of the show (nothing scary!). The mood set is one of familiarity and friendship as Umba then explains his Columbian heritage and the purpose of the show he has created as artistic director of Blackboard Theatre.

What follows is a whistle-stop tour through the history of cocaine, how it has become a multi-million pound (and very dangerous) industry, and the wider effects this industry has around the world. With very imaginative use of audience interaction, projections, sound, contemporary dance and many other devices besides, it’s certainly a feat in creative communication. Yet while each section is captivating and powerful, the connection between them often comes across as a little disparate and scrappy, working against the relaxed and open atmosphere at the heart of this show. The game show element in particular is engaging and fun, though rattled through almost too quickly to get the most out of it, and then we’re on to a different aspect of the story.

The joy of this performance, though, is driven by the passion and personality of Umba. His likeability and charm make the learning very enjoyable, and his honesty and communication style are very engaging without going over the top. He shows himself to be adept at multiple performance styles within the piece and knowledgeable and authoritative about his subject.

Overall, Stardust is a well-thought out and compelling discussion, though disappointingly (albeit achingly honestly) leaves a bittersweet taste as there appears to be no resolution or obvious path forward. Well worth watching to learn a few facts about Columbia’s biggest export, though.

 

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 2 August)

Visit the  Pleasance, Potterrow & Teviot archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED