Things to do in Edinburgh today
Theatre in Edinburgh today
Please can we take a moment to congratulate these guys for coming up with a show concept that so immaculately sums up the name of their company, Good Bad Ideas. 'That's So GSCE' is a good idea because GCSE theatre is ripe for parody (think Brecht, heinous overacting, blackouts, whiteface, yet more Brecht). It's a bad idea because you can see real-life teenage theatre experimentalism pretty much anywhere else on the fringe line-up, not least at the notorious American High School Theatre Festival. But then again, making deliberately juvenile work makes you guaranteed critic-proof, and its running time is a teen attention-span-friendly 30 minutes. At a packed festival, that's a very very good idea.
Jennifer Kidwell and Scott R Sheppard’s ‘Underground Railroad Game’ comes to the Fringe with a pedigree that no other show here would even dare dream of: The New York Times recently named this exact production the twenty-first best American theatre show of the last 25 years. Which is a lot to live up to, but this snarling, snarky satirical two-hander about race in America flips off any sort of attempt to put it on a pedestal. We open in a barn, where a black woman in nineteenth century togs munches on an apple nervously. She hears a noise, and hides in terror from the white farmer who appears. But it’s okay – he’s a Quaker, and part of the Underground Railroad, a clandestine network of abolitionist whites who helped slaves escape the antebellum South. She is grateful. Maybe a little too grateful? Something is weird here... and then the two performers reveal themselves to be high school teachers Caroline (Kidwell, who is black) and Stuart (Sheppard, who is white). And we are their class. ‘Underground Railroad Game’ is a freewheeling, foulmouthed, often excruciating look at race relations and America’s inability to come to terms with its past. It is very intense, very brave, and also very funny: in perhaps the best scene, the two teachers go on a date together, and end up trying to talk dirty to each other about each other’s race and I had to look through my fingers while cackling hysterically - it’s a bravura scene that’s goofy and horrifying all at the same time. There
Comedian-slash-activist Mark Thomas is such a fixture of the Traverse’s Fringe programme that it can be easy to take him for granted. Still, there’s a reason he keeps being asked back – he’s very good at it. ‘Check Up: Our NHS @ 70’ isn’t so much a fiery polemic about our beloved health system as a thoughtful and funny piece of docu-theatre about where it’s at as it turns 70. To that end Thomas did his research. He was embedded with an NHS trust for a month. He conducted a series of public interviews with leading healthcare experts. And he had a good chat with a gleeful GP about everything that could possibly go wrong with his health between now and his death (almost everything, it turns out). The show is directed by former Tricycle Theatre boss and verbatim theatre maestro Nicolas Kent, who would appear to have really put something of a rocket under Thomas as a performer. Where previous shows have used recordings of his interview subjects, Thomas now mostly speaks their words verbatim, accents and all. It’s engaging, and sometimes explosive: his one man recreation of the sudden chaos of an A&E department is startlingly effective. It’s a souped up lecture, really - after a brief tour through NHS history, Thomas moves on to its present, chatting about everything from antibiotics resistant microbes, to the ongoing PFI debacle, to exciting prospects in the future of medical development. The interspersed sections in which he describes his month-long placement are perhaps m
Ever since she she came to prominence as an all-round Scots theatre polymath, it’s been a well-established part of Cora Bissett’s CV that she was in Kirkcaldy indie band Darlingheart, who came within spitting distance of fame in the early ’90s before falling apart messily. It’s not a story she’s ever told in a show before, though, but now recent events mean Bissett has evidently achieved enough closure on the period to go for it. Loosely speaking ‘What Girls are Made of’ is an autobiographical gig theatre show, with Bissett as lead singer and the three other actors playing her band mates and the sundry chancers they encountered on the way. It touches on everything from Bissett’s love of Patti Smith, to her relationship with her parents, to her adventures in London after the band had folded. But mostly it’s a music memoir, warmly, vividly painted, with Bissett an emotional, open focal point. For me, about a decade younger than Bissett, the story of Darlingheart’s rise and fall is both gripping and somewhat nostalgic – I grew up reading the music press in this era, and lapped up the stories of bands’ boom and bust. There’s a tragic glamour to it, that doesn’t really exist now there’s no money in the biz and no major label would take a punt on a Darlingheart. Energetically directed by Traverse boss Orla O’Loughlin, ‘What Girls Are Made Of’ is a romp through those times, beautifully told, bedaubed with songs – PJ Harvey, The Sultans of Ping FC (!), even one Darlingheart tra
New Zealand experimentalists Binge Culture are back in Edinburgh with the perfect solution for anyone who's fed up with their real mates: a rentable electronic companion that, for the low low price of a fiver, will take you on a mysterious social journey. Grab a bevvie, plug in your headphones, and wait for friendship 2.0 to begin.
Playwright Penelope Skinner’s ‘big’ show at the Fringe this year is ‘Meek’ at the Traverse. It’s not very good, a humourless ‘Handmaid’s Tale’ knockoff that seems to play against all the traditional strengths of the socially astute, scabrously funny Skinner. Fortunately, her ‘little’ show is much better. ‘Angry Alan’ is a monologue send up of masculine entitlement and the shitshow that is the meninist/alt right/incel movements. It concerns Roger, an American man who feels oppressed by feminism. There is the danger of being a bit on-the-nose. But Skinner’s script is not only extremely funny, but it also makes Roger unexpectedly likeable, even as it condemns his views. In this Skinner – who also directs – is aided considerably by her performer, US actor Donald Sage Mackay, who has an irresistible, Rob Delaney-style manboy affability to him. It’s not that we really agree with him on anything. It’s just that he’s too hapless to see as a monster. Divorced, and filled with unresolved anger at his unceremonious sacking from his well-paid former job, his genial exterior conceals a rage and frustration that he seems largely oblivious to. One day, though, he happens across Angry Alan, a Jordan Peterson/Alex Jones/Milo Yiannopoulos-style ‘online activist’ who explains how all male suffering can be attributed to the overwhelming success of feminism, which has tipped the world into a ‘gynocentric’ society, in which men are persecuted for just being men. Roger says this not with hate i
Four years ago Chris Thorpe – mercurial British performer, wordsmith and serial collaborator – teamed up with US director Rachel Chavkin – of New York experimentalists The TEAM – to create ‘Confirmation’. A searing piece about modern day white supremacism, it was a tremendous critical smash, and in hindsight way ahead of the curve in terms of the conversation about the far right’s grim global resurgence. The intervening years have seen Thorpe work on a slew of shows – three alone last year, including his Royal Court debut ‘Victory Condition’ – while Chavkin’s career has gone into orbit thanks to her Broadway musical ‘Natasha, Pierre, and the Great Comet of 1812’, and ‘Hadestown’, which will call in at the National Theatre this autumn before transferring to Broadway. But first, it’s genuinely heartening to see them back together at the Fringe, as Chavkin directs Thorpe’s latest, ‘Status’. Like ‘Confirmation’, ‘Status’ has a serious message – which is that ‘nationality’ is more than a question of passports, but more a case of privilege. In a prologue type section, Thorpe describes a trip to Croatia in 2001, where he aroused the ire of the local police, but was effectively saved by being British; he contemplates the accumulated layers of history and ills of empire that got him to the point where Britishness spared him a beating. Unlike ‘Confirmation’, which was more-or-less docutheatre, ‘Status’ reveals itself to be an elaborate allegorical shaggy dog story, which Thorpe dec
Dante or Die’s beautiful site-specific show about grief and digitial afterlives is performed in a cafe. After we sit down, last orders are taken, and we’re issued with headphones and a phone, and meet Terry (Dante or Die co-artistic director Terry O’Donovan).In a raw and magnetic performance, O’Donovan paces, sometimes even dances about the cafe – but often we look away, our attention on his voice in our ears, and the frequent action on our screens.Luka, Terry’s ex-boyfriend of nine years, has died – something that Terry is late finding out. He is tipped off not by a phonecall, but a sudden rush of oblique condolence messages that all assume he is aware of the death.He is stricken by the news. As he’s struggling to process the sudden flood of old acquaintances and estranged friends getting back in touch, he receives an unusual message from a company called Fidelis: he has been made the executor of Luka’s social media legacy, entrusted with deciding what happens to his presence after death.‘User Not Found’ becomes a dance of sadness, memory, and technology, as Terry attempts to process his sorrow at Luka’s passing, and unresolved anger about their relationship’s ended. And, of course, he trawls through Luka’s social media – obsessively cross-referencing major dates in their relationship with Luka’s often maddeningly bland Twitter feed, or combing his Facebook feed to fill in the gaps between their separation and Luka’s death. (By-the-by, I feel like it’s illustrative of this s
The NHS’s seventieth year has inspired numerous shows at this year’s Fringe, diagnosing the institution’s troubles via a myriad array of approaches, from confessionals by actual doctors to Mark Thomas’s excellent docu-theatre piece ‘Check Up’ or the surprisingly devastating new stand-up show from comic Luisa Omeilan.Gary McNair’s ‘After the Cuts’ is the only actual drama on the subject that I’ve thus far spotted, a 2040s-set sort-of dystopia that imagines a post-NHS Britain.If that sounds like it has the potential to be overwrought and polemical – well yes, it does, but McNair has a deliberately narrow focus here. While we’re made aware in passing that things like chocolate and petrol have become scarce in this world, Beth Morton’s slow surning production avoids complicated world building: it’s entirely set in a single couple’s shabby, twentieth century-style living room. Sweetly eccentric Jim (George Docherty) and brittle Agnes (Pauline Knowles) are a desperately poor older couple. There are, of course, poor people now. But at least they have the NHS. Here the couple have insurance – but not a package that covers Agnes when she is diagnosed with lung cancer, something revealed to her by a kafakesque, entirely automated phone system.It’s a sad, tender, often amusing portrait of two people struggling in a society that has turned its back on them. It also takes an unexpected turn, as the resourceful Jim decides he can see a possible last chance. I suppose I shouldn’t give too m
Breach Theatre are a bracingly unpredictable company: after debuting at the Fringe three years ago with their acclaimed show about the Battle of the Beanfield (‘Beanfield’), they returned in 2016 with ‘Tank’, about – of all things – CIA dolphin experiments in the 1960s. If there is a line between those first two shows and ‘It’s True, It’s True, It’s True’, it’s that squint a bit and they could all be classed as documentary work, mining powerful contemporary resonances out of obscure historical incidents. ‘It’s True, It’s True, It’s True’ is an artfully, eventually devastatingly staged adaptation of a translated transcript of the 1612 trial of Italian painter Agostino Tassi, in a case brought against him by Artemisia Gentileschi, a female painter who he had raped whilst serving as her tutor. It pointedly uses an all-female cast to reenact the trial, in a steely, stripped back production from Billy Barrett that takes place on a harsh, utalitarian set resembling a painter’s workshop. The cast play multiple roles, but the lasting impression is of the showdown between Ellice Stevens’s clearly-spoken, supernaturally composed Gentileschi, and Sophie Steer’s cruelly cocky Tassi. (They’re joined by Kathryn Bond). At a #MeToo-charged Fringe, it doesn’t take a genius to discern that this is not a piece critiquing the late Renaissance justice system (well, I guess it kind of is as well), but rather a more universal comment on the nature of rape trials. Gentileschi must have been a st
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If you think that blowing bubbles is an innocent pleasure, think again. This show mixes the lure of all things soapy, shiny and poppable with some just-for-adults appeal. Aussie performers Doc Bubble and Milkshake will apparently 'illustrate their real life sex and relationship dilemmas' using bubble-based wizardry. Well, it beats a foam party.