Before I set off for my first-ever trip to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I laid out a couple of unassailable ground-rules for myself, namely:
1) No stand-up comedy. There did turn out to be an exception to this rule (more on that later, and trust me when I say that it truly was exceptional), but the fact is that the Fringe has become over-saturated with stand-up over the past few years (or so I hear from my kind hosts) and even if I wanted to delve into the comedy on show, it would take me a good couple of days to rifle through that particular section of the programme to isolate a few favourites. Which brings me to the next rule.
2) No running around like a headless chicken. Look, I know that a part of the Fringe’s appeal is that it’s a gathering of both the best and worst performing arts talent – that it’s supposed to be, in theory, a democratic free-for-all that both showcases tried-and-tested quality talent and provides a testing ground for up-and-comers. And though I understand the appeal of just wandering into – often free-of-charge – student productions and stand-up comedy shows by unknowns, I didn’t want to add that element of randomness to the hassle of finding my way around venues in a city I wouldn’t have been all that familiar with anyway.
Despite these restrictions, however, I still think I managed to pinpoint a selection of events that were both eclectic and very much worth my time. Here’s reviews for the first two – more to come!
A blisteringly energetic comedy of errors that owes more to classic-era Hollywood than Norse mythology.
Jethro Compton Productions set themselves an admirable challenge: perform a six-play cycle at this year’s Fringe, all of which take characters from history, literature and mythology as a starting point and transpose them to a specific historical setting: World War I in the case of ‘The Bunker Trilogy’ (Morgana, Agamemnon and Macbeth) and, well, you-know-what in the case of ‘The Capone Trilogy’ (Loki, Lucifer and Vindici).
Being a fan of trickster myths in general and Norse mythology in particular, I decided to sample Loki out of this batch of intriguing-sounding and supposedly ‘immersive’ one-act plays.
Well as it turned out the mythological hook was just that – a convenient way of labeling what is essentially a rat-a-tat pastiche of classic-era Hollywood gangster films and imbuing it with some post-facto gravitas. To wit: the only real connection to the titular Norse trickster god is our protagonist’s name: Lola Keen (!), a showgirl keen to put herself on the straight and narrow path – an ambition we see unravel in front of our very eyes as Lola consistently fails to remain faithful to her dull and morally upright husband on the eve of their wedding night.
The extent to which the production is in fact ‘immersive’ is largely down to just the size of the venue itself. Studio 7 of the C-Nova is transformed into a cramped hotel room that soon develops an often abused and potentially dangerous revolving door policy. Preece remains an alluring and likable presence throughout – the beat-perfect slapstick that underpins the entire play leaves little room for wallowing in the casual cruelty of Lola’s behaviour, instead moving things along and making sure that the gags are coming in thick and fast.
Preece’s co-stars David Calvitto and Oliver Tilney deserve the lion’s share of the credit, however, as they effortlessly alternate between a myriad of characters which run the gamut from henpecked husbands, hot-blooded Italian suitors, the good/bad cop combo, submissive bellboys and clueless gangsters.
Written by Jamie Wilkes and directed by Jethro Compton, the play is neither formally groundbreaking nor emotionally resonant, but it commits so entirely to the source material that it’s paying homage to that it can’t help but be a raucously entertaining hour from start to finish.
This In Yer Face Theatre production not only lives up to its company’s name with a vengeance – it also paved the way to a Fringe day marked by projectile fluids (more on that in the next post).
As someone who holds the likes of Quentin Tarantino, Clive Barker and Nicolas Winding Refn as cultural touchstones, the promise of being splattered in blood during a live theatre show was bound to capture my interest either way – good thing that IYF succeed in giving McDonagh’s brutally funny script a run for its money: the cast-and-crew clearly get that, despite the frequent jets of blood and gristly acts of violence that occur during the course of this short-and-sharp one act (both on and off stage), the play is first and foremost a goofy farce, albeit one with a politically-focused satirical backbone.
Self-styled ‘Lieutenant’ of IRA splinter-group INLA Padraic (Mark Barrett) takes a break from administering brutal justice to INLA infidels after he’s drawn back to his hometown of Inishmore. The reason? His beloved cat, Wee Thomas, is revealed by his drunken father Donny (Kenny MacLeod) to be doing “poorly”.
The fact that the poor cat is beyond any help is, hilariously, what propels this (literally) bloody mess of a play into action.
The (once again) minuscule performance space at the Hill Street Drama Lodge is made to look like Dexter’s ‘kill room’, with black plastic bags coating the room from floor to ceiling. That the audience (never topping the 15-seat mark) is given ponchos to guard from the jets of splatter that we’re promised is to come adds to the excitement.
But the play itself both plays into and transcends this initial gimmick. It’s a bloody play, yes, but this isn’t a scary fun-fair ride, it’s a knowing and urbane take-down of the ignorance that underpins fundamentalist, retribution politics.
Though a penchant for gore and black humour may be necessary to go along with the ride as gleefully as the play asks you to, the gory set pieces are more Looney Tunes than torture porn, and McDonagh partakes in a noble satirical tradition which uses humour to show how grisly but supposedly righteous acts of terror are often executed by clueless idiots operating on a murky-at-best understanding of ideology.
Next time: CHRISTEENE!