Monday 13th August

August 13, 2012 § Leave a comment

So it’s been a few weeks since my last post. I have been in the hills in Tuscany, and then to the Edinburgh Fringe. Both great trips, which I will touch upon in this long delayed post.

Italy was amazing, as it always is, with great weather and great food. But this trip was the first time that I have been deep into Italy’s countryside- surrounded by forests and mountains. I won’t dwell too much on the natural beauty of the place, one because I didn’t take photos, and two, because I find blogs that describe holidays in minute detail extremely annoying. (If it can be considered a waste of paper, then don’t even write it on the internet- that’s my rule)

But two things that I really took away from the experience, that might not be totally banal for you to read, was how alien nature is. Of course, in these kind of rural environments, man really is the the alien being,  as an invading force, in a space dominated by seen and unseen nature.

I found a scorpion in my wash bag. In the panic of disposing of it I violently disregarded its right not to be flung into the distance. I was just defending my expensive soaps: a very human reaction.

All nature in these kind of environments seem to have extra confidence. The flies were massive, and seemingly drunk in the heat- swinging through the air with a low hum, before landing the corner of your mouth. Then there are the spiders. A friend, the keeper of the house we stayed in, pulled on a jacket he hadn’t worn for a couple of weeks, only to find a Sci-Fi horror scene attached to his back: around ten grey, powdery spider pods, shaped like miniature urns of dirt, full of semi-formed baby spiders (as we found out after poking one open) squirming with despair, brought into the light before their time. Needless to say, those wonders of nature were smashed remorselessly into the ground and stomped into non-existence. We were just doing our bit to prevent a full-scale invasion and resulting enslavement from a breed of miniature extra-terrestrial face-huggers.

Since coming home I couldn’t help but abandon my usual spider policy of live-and-let-live. Every arachnid I came across took on a new, sinister light. “Does that spider look foreign to you?”, I would ask my wife. Driven by my horror stories, she would engage her God-palm and dispatch its (potentially fatal) being. Better safe than dead by insect bite.

The second, slightly mundane observation I bring to you from Italy, is that their fruit is so big on the market stalls, that I momentarily felt like I had lost my sense of depth perception. Never before has the sight of a bunch of white grapes made me weak at the knees. Oh. And the figs. The figs.

Edinburgh was a fantastic experience. Better than Italy, I would like to say, or rather, more up my street.

It is a fantastic city in its on right, but with the Fringe Festival on, it is like a waking dream for me, at every moment of the day. I will give here a short run down of the shows we saw, and give brief reviews, for what its worth. If you’re going to Edinburgh in the next couple of weeks maybe it can inform your choices. If you’re not going then please humour me with your eyes.

Detention, by Tang Shu-wing Theatre Studio (Hong Kong). Described in the brochure as “a non-verbal comedy combined with powered acrobatics, off-the-wall clowning and throbbing percussion”. It was truly terrible. For anyone who has seen or done any percussion before, the drummed element was embarrassingly bad. The acrobatics seemed pasted in to kill time, and were never truly integrated into the story, which itself was incoherent and dull. Badly directed, poor performances, and a crap story. */*****

After the Rainfall, by curious directive/Watford Palace Theatre/Escalator East to Edinburgh. A devised multi-media theatre piece, combining projection, physical theatre and an ambitious non-linear narrative. It kept me interested, but the story lacked true drama. It had quite a stale tone, with no real reveals or frictions to set the heart racing. If anything, it suffered a little from its own ambition -interweaving three stories from three different eras- and consequently no single strand of the narrative felt fully realised. An interesting idea at the heart of it (exploring the aftermath of Empire, through “Britain’s relationship to artefacts, mining and the secret life of ants”), but never better than just good. ***/*****

Translunar Paradise, by Theatre Ad Infinitum. A superb piece of devised physical theatre, combining live accordion playing, masks and mime. The story explored the memories of an old man who loses his wife to cancer. Through a series of highly stylised flashbacks, key moments from their life together -memories good and bad- flood back, as he struggles to let go of the love of his life. It is a remarkably moving piece, with fantastic performances. It is so original and inventive, with amazing interplay between the music and silent action. It has to be seen to be believed. Everyone should see this. Check their website and see if they are touring. You won’t be disappointed. *****/*****

Late N Live. A late-night stand-up show, starting at midnight, and running until 4am. There were some average performers, a couple of poor ones, a couple of stars, and a lot of drunken audience heckling (and later a full-on fist fight). It was a good experience, but it is certainly not the best environment to see comedy in. The star performers? Host Jarred Christmas, a New Zealand comic who is becoming increasingly well-known, and deservedly so. He held things together brilliantly when the audience threatened to destroy and pillage. Also, Swedish comedian Carl-Einar Häckner, whose low-fi attempts at prop comedy and magic were a joy, only to be topped by the truly grotesque ending to his spot, whereby he “accidentally” headbutted a harmonica into his mouth, which he then got an audience member to extract with a pair of over-sized tongs. A very endearing and energising performer, and probably about to get very famous in the UK. ***/*****

The Price of Everything, by Daniel Bye. Described in the brochure as “Part performance lecture, part stand-up storytelling, Daniel Bye’s smart whistle-stop tour of bizarre facts and impassioned arguments about value”, the show sought to explore “the difference between the price of an object and its value”. This all sounds incredibly interesting (which is why I went to see the show), but despite the deep philosophical, political and comic potential in this aim, this performance was disappointingly bereft of any real ideas, or indeed, interest. He gave us all a free glass of milk, whilst explaining how he would use milk as a reoccuring symbol for a unit of value throughout the show- breaking down the value of a pint of cow-juice, and championing it as an object which “is good value for money”. But I don’t drink milk. In fact, a large number of the audience refused his offer. This then brought up the question- is it possible to create an objective idea of value? He did not explore this idea. Indeed, many ideas seemed to sneak up on his presentation, but he failed to address any of them. He seemed more interested in dwelling on revelling in post-theatrical irony, deconstructing his own performance, and telling long, dull, made-up anecdotes. It was a show that never really seemed to start. */*****

Jason Byrne- People’s Puppeteer. On Saturday night, me and my wife went to see Jason Byrne live, in his new touring show. I love Jason Byrne. He is lively and upbeat, and full of energy. I have always seen him deliver 10 minute routines on TV stand up shows, so was really looking forward to him having a whole hour to run on his thoughts. In the end, I found the show good, but not superb. He has some great lines, but I somehow think he works better in smaller chunks, surrounded by comics of contrasting styles. ***/*****

4.48 Psychosis, by Fourth Monkey. This play was written by Sarah Kane, an English playwright, in the late nineties, shortly before she killed herself. The play explores the psychotic mind, through a narrative in which the central protagonist, a young woman under going psychological treatment for depression, is bombarded with voices from her own mind, and that of the doctors around her. The play was performed on a stage of light up squares (a bit like Michael Jackson’s Billie Jean video), which would illuminate in different combinations when the various actors took to the stage, in highly stylised action. Needless to say, the play was incredibly dark and serious. Expressionistic, pared down theatre usually isn’t my cup of tea. Often it seems the default setting for drama students who are a bit “dancey” to devise a work with lots of rolling around and broken, poetic dialogue exploring the subconscious. But with this play coming from a playwright herself in the depths of depression, it was impossible to doubt the authenticity of the writing, and indeed, despite the seriousness of it all, I found it quite an enjoyable experience, albeit one I wouldn’t wish to repeat often. The young performers did a good job of visualising Kane’s ideas with their physicality, and kept me interested throughout the shows bleak 1 hour and 5 minutes. ****/*****

Also on Sunday, we went to The Jazz Bar on Chambers Street, which is playing host to a number of music events throughout the Fringe. First, in the afternoon, we saw a Bossa Nova two-piece, and late in the evening a funk/soul band. Both were good, but it was the space itself which I wanted to champion here. If you like seeing live jazz, soul or otherwise, and are going to Edinburgh this or another year, then pay a visit to The Jazz Bar. It is a great little place, with a nice layout and atmosphere.

Slapdash Galaxy, by Bunk Puppets. A very lo-fi one-man shadow puppet show. Bunk Puppet’s Jeff Achtem screws up bits of paper, modifies remote control cars and attaches puppets to his toes, in a highly ambitious and playful piece of theatre. Though billed as a show for all ages, I thought the story was a little bleak for young kids, and it definitely sagged in places, when props broke or failed to work as wanted. But when it worked, it was highly enjoyable, and undoubtedly an original vision. This is a new work from Bunk Puppets, and it didn’t yet feel complete. Though the quirky slapdash nature of proceedings was undoubtedly the intended character of the piece, I would like to have seen the roughness reigned in a little at times, and a little more coherence. ***/*****

The Agony and Ecstasy of Steve Jobs, by Gilded Balloon. This play has caused quite a storm since its premiere back in 2010, and his subsequently been performed two hundred times in eighteen cities worldwide. A monologue exploring exploitation in Apple’s main production factory in Chengdu, China, the work has caused controversy, partly due to the fact that many of its details have been proven to be fictitious. This is, of course, a work of theatre and not journalistic reportage. But it is theatre that wishes to change societal perception about something quite integral to contemporary life, with the overall dream of widespread political and industrial change. The piece certainly is brilliantly written. Performed well (as it was here), and it is a magnetic piece of theatre, combining humour with serious politics through a parallel telling of an imagined journey to Chengdu, and the story of the birth of Apple itself. But this is the problem of theatre that wishes to affect political change. It needs to entertain, but hold to its principles. Life doesn’t always fall into a neat dramatic format, and so to make a real story work as a piece of drama, small changes need to be made. But of course this will give your political opponents (which you will undoubtedly have if you establish yourself as being against something so important to a lot of people) lots of ammunition to paint your ideology as fantasy. In the play, playwright Mike Daisey keeps telling us “You see what you choose to see”. It is a provocation to the audience to take more responsibility in its daily life choices, but this phrase, in many ways, also encapsulates Daisey’s own approach to the truth. When your aims are commendable, is a little bit of lying excusable? This, ultimately, is the message of the play; a piece of work that everyone should see. *****/*****


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