Today turned out to be a four show day at the Fringe. Two of those I was invited to see and comment upon here, two cost me a tenner each and will comment upon anyway. I note that £10 is a bit of a price rise, which would in normal circumstances lead us into a bit of a debate around fair ticket pricing for the Fringe. I don’t want to go down that particular avenue right now as I have quite a lot to talk about and not enough time, so shut up and read about what I saw.
I had a review to finish off for a show I saw in Keswick (Very good, go and see it) before seeing The Heresy Machine at Greenside on the Royal Terrace at 11.25am. I’d been invited to see it so obviously wasn’t going to refuse, particularly when I became aware that the show was about Alan Turing, the scientist who broke the Enigma code and went on to pioneer computer science. I’m pretty interested in the human story of this guy as he is only just being recognised as the national hero he is after the hideous treatment he received when he was alive. Unfortunately The Heresy Machine seemed to focus more on Turing’s relationship with a computer without any authentic attempts to investigate Turing or his story.
The writing is incredibly verbose which leads to a disconnect with the actors and audience in understanding what the piece is about. Use of phrases such as “promethean instincts” did not endear me, smacking of self indulgence and academic superiority. An artists job is to convey meaning and in this they seemed satisfied in their own understanding of the piece but placed no importance on whether or not their audience could.
Looking at the facebook page for the Section 175 Collective they define themselves as “a group of cyborgs working to create postgender posthuman futurity in our time.” Again, this makes no sense to this reviewer.
So accepting the fact that this is a lexically challenging production, I consider what can be taken from it in a visual sense. It incorporates physical theatre and even a little ballet set to a jarring electronic soundscape. There’s multimedia projections and it fulfils its description of being “transdisciplinary,” whatever that is meant to be defined as precisely, yet with no clear artistic storytelling aim. It’s a tragic shame that story wise I didn’t get more out of this than I would have liked and felt nothing to connect me to the piece. I don’t feel it’s all my fault by any means though.
I had another show to get to not long after that which required a fair sized walk from the Royal Terrace to the Pleasance, via Pie Maker for a Scotch pie lunch (has to be done when in Edinburgh), to see Manchester based company Ransack presenting their one man storytelling show Chasing Comets. There’s a lot to talk about here and some of it very beautiful. I don’t quite know how to explain what it is about but if I said Rambo films, a love story, worries of masculine inadequacy and a comet heading towards the earth this gives you some of the key themes in this whirlwind of a production.
Chasing Comets has a slightly unusual design concept of a square of rope pulleys which transport what I can only describe as a magic crystal ball around the space. As absurd as it sounds I find a great mystery in how the ball is lit in multi colours. It’s one of those tiny, almost insignificant yet fascinating and magical things that I’m still thinking about. Unfortunately I can’t find much information about who plays Toby the protagonist as I’d quite like to praise him for an excellent performance.
Onwards to my next show and it’s a well known classic which I take the opportunity to see Georg Buchner’s Woyzeck. I entered having never seen or read Woyzeck but knowing from the frequency of productions here at the Edinburgh Fringe that it’s a significant theatrical work which I should experience. On leaving at the end though I’m still non the wiser as to what it is about.
I hope it’s not me being dense in not understanding some of these shows but I think with this one I can put my finger on where the problems lie. In the first instance Woyzeck was never completed by Georg Buchner so a range of artistic interpretations have been allowed. In this one a normally significant cast list has been wittled down to three with the undoubtedly talented actors taking on multiple roles but too many for an audience to keep track of. As a result it’s never clear which character is speaking to who. On top of this, the needs of a Fringe festival require significant editing which leaves this version unintelligible to one uninitiated in the play. The actors knew what they were about and went about that with vigour. Unfortunately a clear telling of the story never cut through.
I will give some credit to this team though that there was some considerable effort in design ideas with a creative use of live sound through a loop machine created onstage. There are some great ideas coming through from a talented group but unfortunately this production didn’t communicate as a whole piece.
After this I felt I deserved a curry so off to the Mosque Kitchen before my last show of the day, one which I’d been requested to review.
I’ll say from the outset that Takin it Easy 1916 was not a good show. It’s a comedy about a village near Swindon who are astonished to find that an outsider will be opening the village fete. It’s like Royston Vasey on overdrive only far less funny as there’s only so far you can take parochial insular xenophobia before it becomes decidedly unfunny. It even includes stock character locals and this student team can add little to those flimsy characters but add a funny west country voice and a walking stick. They are not brilliantly cast for their respective roles which really doesn’t help.
My overriding issue with this play is not necessarily anything to do with performance or staging but a terrible script. There are one or two decent performances here but none of them funny where the writer intended them to be. It’s the sort of play which only the very least self aware amdram company would stage.
This sounds like a very negative review of the day here but I took a punt on these and that’s part of the charm of the Edinburgh Fringe. There are occasional gems such as Chasing Comets amongst a varying standard of other shows. It’s kind of like an addiction where infrequent wins make the rest of it all worthwhile.
Check out the Edinburgh Fringe Website for details of all these shows.
Writer- Karl Barnsley