Feed by Theatre Témoin @ Pleasance Dome

Devising Cast: Jonathan Peck, Louise Lee, Nina Cassells, Yasmine Yagchi
Director: Ailin Conant
Creative Producer: Fiona Mason
Contributing Playwrights: Eve Leigh, Erin Judge
Produced by Theatre Témoin in co-production with The Lowry and Everyman Cheltenham
August 1-27 at Pleasance King Dome, Edinburgh

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Photo by Nathan Chandler

Feed is a devised show about a bunch of things which are at risk of becoming meaningless buzzwords: social media, fake news, the Internet, the post-truth era, integrity in journalism, etc. But where Feed has its point of difference from other devised shows on these topics is how it explores them through the microcosm of four characters: Lucy, a “feminist lesbian progressive” journalist; Simon, her creepy, manipulative, possibly sociopathic, SEO (search engine optimisation) specialist brother; Clem, Lucy’s Palestinian photographer girlfriend; and Mia, a school-aged beauty vlogger. The story unfolds on the morning of Lucy and Clem’s anniversary. Over breakfast, the two enjoy some cute banter about romance and foie gras, before the moment is punctured – not, judging by Clem’s expression, for the first time in their relationship – by Lucy’s ringtone. A story she wrote about a murdered young boy in Gaza is going viral, but there’s only problem: its sudden fame is built on a lie.

As the story progresses, it and its characters spiral further and further into madness, losing their grip on reality and humanity as they disappear into the clutches of the Internet. Jonathan Peck is wonderfully demonic as Simon, who becomes less and less a real character and more an impish embodiment of all the worst temptations offered by online culture; this is visually accentuated by his gradual removal of costume pieces to reveal a full-body Lycra morph suit in green-screen green. The modern offspring of Puck and Iago, he whispers in Mia and Lucy’s ears, urging them to do whatever it takes to chase online fame and power, past all morality or reason. The only one to resist his influence is Clem, and eventually, she seems to be the only real human left in the story, and we are trapped with her in a splintered nightmare of garbled dialogue and conceptual images. This, I gather, was intended to reflect an online feed which has been twisted and fractured by algorithms until only the most shocking and bizarre content remains… and boy, was it effective.

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Photo by Nathan Chandler

Leaving the theatre was like waking from a fever dream of colliding hashtags and rampant digital capitalism. As I emerged, dazed and blinking in the watery Scottish sunlight, with a suddenly-grotesque nursery rhyme echoing through my brain, I tweeted “this one’s going to need some digesting before writing the review!” Three days later, I think I can finally deliver a verdict: Feed is a sharp, incisive, and very disturbing portrayal of the state of online communication in 2018, for all that its themes are nothing new, and despite a slight tendency to get sidetracked by its own cleverness. Whereas anti-digital artistic content is usually produced by baby boomers and born of mistrusting fear, Feed was created by and with young people, “Digital Natives” adept at navigating the online world and with a good understanding of its workings, and this is what makes it so effective. We all know that today’s society operates largely on an “attention economy” born of digital over-exposure and emotional desensitisation, but Feed brings it home in a way that is visceral and affecting. Just don’t go if you’re squeamish about force-feeding or finger removal.

Feed will play at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival until the end of this week, and tour regionally in Spring 2019.

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Harpy by Philip Meeks @ Underbelly Cowgate

Performed by Su Pollard
Written by Philip Meeks
Directed by Hannah Chissick
Produced by Suzanna Rosenthal of Something for the Weekend
At Underbelly Cowgate, White Belly Theatre, 1-26 August 2018

Harpy

Su Pollard is Birdie, the infamous hag of her little village. She sits in her house on the hill, perched like a harpy atop her hoard, and waits for the return of the one thing she ever let slip away – the most important thing in her pitiful, lonely life. Throughout the course of this hour-long one-woman show, we watch her converse with her fish, her social worker, her neighbours (through the intervening walls), the local busybody (and almost-friend), and assorted other characters from Birdie’s past and present.

The play was written for Hi-de-Hi! star Pollard, and she brings warmth and complexity to her eccentric character, exhibiting in turns a shrewd Marple-like observant of human nature, and a fragile, vulnerable lost soul. Deftly handling both comedy and aching pathos, she helps her audience forge a deep and personal understanding of this misunderstood old lady. However, the sudden changes to the play’s various other characters are often confusing and flow-breaking, as Pollard does not always draw enough of a distinction between characters to make it clear who is talking, especially when she is playing both parts of a two-person dialogue. At such times, the play could benefit from another actor – Pollard may be a national treasure and an excellent Birdie, but as an actor she does not quite have the versatility to carry all Harpy’s characters on her own.

The play’s first act suffers somewhat from lack of direction; meandering anecdotes, vague foreshadowy references, and the aforementioned disorienting character changes mean that the story feels cluttered, like the house where it takes place. I found myself becoming restless and checking my watch, worried that I too would be sucked into Birdie’s house and lost amongst its hodgepodge of debris, like the Jehovah’s Witness in one of Birdie’s stories. However, with the introduction of a young woman named Mattie Cleeves (spelling?), the story finally begins to gain momentum, and its various frayed threads come together to weave a compelling tapestry – by the final act, I was absolutely hooked and caught up in the story unfolding in front of me. The central element of that story – Birdie’s compulsive hoarding – is much more interesting as soon as it is hinted that there may be a reason for it locked in her tragic life history, and the play could benefit from setting up this conceit much earlier. As it is, it risks jettisoning its audience’s attention (and consciousness) before this intrigue can be properly established.

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Drenched, Third Man Theatre @ Pleasance Courtyard

DrenchedWritten by Eddie Elks and Dan Frost 
Performed by Dan Frost
Directed by Eddie Elks
1-27 August, 3pm at Pleasance Courtyard – Bunker Two

Daniel Drench is West Cornwall’s most prolific and unstable storyteller, an enigmatic figure with a sea-green anorak, ripped skinny jeans and an erratic onstage energy. As he takes us on a journey (‘come with me’) through Cornwall and back in time, he alternately paces the stage, cajoles and reprimands the audience, stares morosely into the middle distance, and spends long minutes sitting motionless in a spotlight as recorded voiceovers play, betraying life and performance only through mad darting eyes and heavy breath. The titular character of his tale – The Mermaid of Zennor – seems added into the story as a belated afterthought; most of the hour’s block is occupied by detailed and repetitive exposition on the character of Matty, who is depicted with an air much like autism until a sudden accident turns his life around.

The bunker space is hot and dark, the one-man show – and its performer’s vocal cadences – rather meandering and slow; I caught myself nodding off once or twice. What roused me most throughout the piece was feelings of discomfort and awkwardness when the storyteller would veer off track to shoot bitterly pointed barbs at the audience, his tech assistant, and Poldark, or to throw a sulky tantrum and declare that he won’t bother doing the ending unless his listeners put a little more effort in. I gathered that these interludes were in character as Daniel Drench – not Dan Frost – but the resulting atmosphere fell short of either a clever artistic statement or real comedy. Perhaps Frost and Elks sought in the character of Drenched to capture a sense of that spirit which inhabits all old folk tales – capricious, untamed, dual-natured, fey – but unfortunately, it all came across as simply self-indulgent and dull.

There were moments when I saw flashes of the show I’d have liked to see: when the soundscapes, lighting, set, and craggy-faced narrator evoked an atmosphere of the Cornish coast on folklore and romanticised history; when Drench as Matty danced a wild, ferocious reel to music of heartbreak; when Drench told, eyes fixed on an unseen horizon and voice soft and light as waves after a storm, of how Matty met his final destiny. But these were sadly few and far between, and I hope that before Elks and Frost open their next production, Daniel Drench will have been quietly dropped as Third Man’s third man.

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Thor And Loki, by Harry Blake @ Assembly Roxy

Directed by Eleanor Rhode
Created with House of Blakewell
Produced by Vicki Graham Productions with HighTide and Something For The Weekend
1 – 26 August 2018, 7:15pm at the Assembly Roxy Upstairs Theatre

Thor and Loki

Photo by Geraint Lewis

I went into this show knowing absolutely nothing about it other than what the silly/kitschy poster proclaimed – THOR + LOKI, A COMEDY MUSICAL – and it is only now, as I begin the necessary research to write this glowing review, that this ridiculously, gloriously camp creation boasted the same director as Boudica (on last year at the Globe) and the same producer as today’s earlier show The Song of LunchHats off to Eleanor Rhode and SFTW respectively as I loved both these more “serious” productions of theirs, however the figurative cake was well and truly taken by this ridiculously, unapologetically silly comedy musical.

Thor and Loki, growing up amongst gods and giants respectively, have always known that they don’t fit in with the expectations of what they should be. Thor writes poetry and isn’t outdoorsy, and pacifist Loki would rather have a vegan picnic in the park than join the giants’ army. Neither is particularly interested in the businesses of heroism or havoc. However, when both are reluctantly press-ganged by destiny to fight in the great war of Ragnarok, they must choose between being the people they are, or who they are told they must be…

Photo by Geraint Lewis

Honestly there’s not much I can say about this show except that it is a giant-sized amount of fun with a warm heart and a hilarious, talented cast (which, despite singing a number about not having to use a talent just because you have it, manage to shoehorn an amazing number of talents into the show, often on little to no pretext – tap-dancing trolls??). Alice Keedwell is magnetic as Loki, in a role reminiscent of (but more fun than) Elphaba in Wicked, and with a similarly soaring soprano. Bob Harm’s Odin is a commanding presence with a strong old rocker vibe, and while Harry Blake’s wet blanket Thor underwhelmed me at first, his journey throughout the piece changed my mind and by the end I was thoroughly enjoying his whole schtick. However, the stage-stealer of this show was Laurie Jamieson as the giants’ scheming, horse-riding general (and assorted other bit roles) – side-splittingly funny, with just enough of a touch of real human warmth to have me invested in his fate (and I was not disappointed!).

Did Thor + Loki have a huge budget to spend on slick sets and fancy costumes? No! Were the political references and moral themes a little heavy-handed? Yes! Did they play hard and fast with Norse mythology to the point of unrecognisability? Definitely! But was this the hardest I’ve laughed at the Fringe, and the most uplifted I’ve felt by any theatre in a long time? Well, let’s just say:

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Photo by Geraint Lewis

The Song of Lunch, by Christopher Reid @ Pleasance Courtyard

Directed by Jason Morell
Featuring Robert Bathurst and Rebecca Johnson
Animations by Charles Peattie
Produced by Thirty/20 Theatre and Suzanna Rosenthal of Something for the Weekend
1 – 27 August at 2:20pm at The Pleasance Courtyard, Forth theatre

Picture by Karla Gowlett

Robert Bathurst’s unnamed character in The Song of Lunch is a man who wishes he could turn back time. A stuffy older white man, working in the publishing industry and determinedly inhabiting a fantasy London in which he can still brush shoulders with literary greats in the streets of Soho, he has summoned his ex from her comfortable life and family in Paris to meet with him for lunch in an old trattoria. What is he hoping for? Pleasant reminiscences on old times? To rekindle their lost love? As lunch progresses and the Chianti bottles empty, the Publisher’s defenses are slowly stripped away under his companion’s mercilessly incisive gaze, and we see the foibles of his psychology laid bare.

This play is staged in the tucked-away and packed-out Pleasance Forth theatre, and its audience comprises almost entirely of older middle-aged theatregoers who recognise Robert Bathurst from Cold Feet and Downton Abbey. The simple, rhythmic elegance of its lyrical writing and the minimalist staging – supported by gorgeous animations by Charles Peattie – feels a world away from the raucous variety of attention-grabbing artistic gambles which characterise usual Fringe shows. Like the haute cuisine enjoyed by its characters, this play appears light and bite-sized on the surface, but has layers of subtle complexities and flavours which mean that the subsequent analytical discourse forms half the pleasure. I feel that I would need a whole essay to unpack the meaning of this piece, in an operation as delicate as the lady character’s dissection and consumption of her sea bass. If pressured, I would summarise thus: this story is about an individual’s (or a country’s? An empire’s? A social class’s? A gender’s?) inability to accept that, through his own failings, the sun is setting on his glory days and a new era is beginning to dawn without him. Rather than taking responsibility for his shortcomings and adapting to make the best of the changing times, he clings desperately to an unattainable and rosy-filtered image of the past. Like Orpheus, in succumbing to the temptation to look backwards instead of forwards, he throws away the chance of a brighter future.

All the talk of tragedy and pathos aside, this play is also incredibly witty and had the audience chuckling and chortling both with and at the charming yet pathetic Publisher. Rebecca Johnson as the “old flame” is also wonderful, embodying poised self-confidence and providing an empathetic yet no-nonsense balance to the narrator’s self-indulgence (the golden tones of her hair and the warm lights she is often bathed in provide welcome relief from Publisher’s cooler, almost anaemic colour scheme).

The playbill includes a note from the playwright which suggests that, though originally intended to be a ‘piece of pure comedy, a light farce’, during the writing process the play had found its own, darker shape, in a process of which he ‘was only partially aware’. This is evident from the contrast between the light, optimistic, playful mood of the beginning in contrast to the somewhat bleak ending, and the piece’s tangled deeper meanings (teasingly self-parodied when the Flame suggests a convoluted counter-interpretation to the Publisher’s poetry, and is met by a blank response of ‘…you’re going to have to run that past me again’). However, this very vulnerability of the piece is what lends it its charm: beneath all the witticisms and self-deprecation, this play provides a glimpse of someone who is disappointed in their past and scared of their future… I think all of us, at some time in our lives, can relate to that.

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Picture by Karla Gowlett

 

Little Death Club @ Circus Hub Edinburgh

Hosted by Bernie Dieter
Presented by Underbelly and Dead Men Label
3rd – 25th August 2018, 8pm

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Bernie Dieter in Little Death Club (background: Jess Love and Myra DuBois). Photo from berniedieter.com

Little Death Club bubbles along with easy good humour and sly winks, buoyed by the delightfully naughty charm, raucous wit, sultry Weimar-punk-jazz vocals, and wildly careening pseudo-Euro accent of its black-clad hostess, Bernie Dieter. Her flirtatious banter with the audience brings a sense of intimacy (so important, darlings! we don’t get intimate enough these days!) to the large-scale Spiegeltent, and her acts – from an aubergine-heavy emoji song to an ode to dick pics to a demand for cunnilingus – exude exuberance and an unapologetic female sexuality which never sacrifices its own pleasure for the male gaze. (I may be a little enamoured of this larger-than-life mistress of havoc.)

The show’s strongest acts – aside from its fabulous compere – are, interestingly, those which are most traditional and least subversive: fire eater Kitty Bang Bang and Oliver Smith-Wellnitz on the double bar trapeze. The former is classically, coquettishly sexy, despite the luxuriously curling merkin which pokes out amongst red mesh lingerie – watching her brandish, twirl, roll, swallow, spit, jiggle, and breathe fire was absolutely enthralling, especially since I was half-convinced her synthetic victory rolls and tumbling wig might go up in flame at any moment! Smith-Wellnitz, on the other hand, glided onto the stage as a tall, slim, almost elfen androgyne, slipping out of a long black gown to perform an achingly beautiful aerial dance, accompanied by a haunting self-penned ballad from Dieter, Cracks in the Mirror.

The Underbelly Circus Hub To Celebrate 250 Years Of Circus

Oliver Smith-Wellnitz in Little Death Club – photo source

The show’s other acts included glam granny drag queen Myra DuBois, fed-up and disillusioned mime Josh Glanc, and Jess Love performing hula comically under sufferance. Each had a unique comedic appeal based on self-aware genre parody and subversion of circus/cabaret expectations, however their acts seemed lacking in energy and cohesion, which meant the show sometimes struggled with pacing and momentum. This may have simply been penultimate-week slump, or simply because this is a collection of artists who are all at the Fringe with their own solo shows; they are marketed as a “family of freaks”, and it is true that they are all dramatically different in appeal and style (although for a club where “difference” is welcomed and celebrated, there is a distinct lack of racial diversity). However, their easy self-confidence in their acts and their disabilities also made it seem as though they weren’t quite challenging themselves or their audience.

Little Death Club may not be breaking new burlesque/kabarett/circus ground, but they certainly command the existing ground with expertise and ebullience. I would recommend this show for you if you are a Fringe-goer who wants some light and sexy fun after a day of hard-hitting shows, and wish to use it as a sample taste so that you can then pursue the solo shows of your favourite acts.

Tickets

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Angry Alan by Penelope Skinner @ Underbelly Cowgate

Written and directed by Penelope Skinner
Starring Donald Sage Mackay
Presented by Francesca Moody Productions in association with Underbelly
2nd – 26th August 2018, 3.20pm at Cowgate

Donald Sage Mackay in Angry Alan

Donald Sage Mackay in Angry Alan, photo by The Other Richard

Angry Alan is not actually about Alan; it’s about Roger, a thoroughly average American guy. Roger is established as an unremarkable everyman from his very first line: “You know that feeling, when you think to yourself, I should really go for a run…” from which he then leads us through a familiar process: getting your phone out to check the weather, becoming distracted by an interesting article, and next thing you know you’ve fallen down a rabbit hole of Internet links and you definitely don’t have time for a run now. We’ve all been there! But for Roger, the rabbit hole leads somewhere more sinister than your usual clickbait – he discovers Angry Alan, a prominent figure in the online Men’s Rights Activism (MRA) community. As Roger is “red pilled” and ventures deeper and deeper into this movement, we follow his story of how it changes his relationships, decisions, perceptions of society, and his self-esteem.

This is a one-person show, told in first person present tense, with virtually nothing to distract the audience from its narrator – the only two items brought onstage are a chair and a lanyard. A projector screen forms the backdrop, and various (real) MRA videos are interspersed throughout the narrative, along with various supporting images such as an email screenshot, or a text message conversation. Donald Sage Mackay is superb as Roger, portraying a character who is very believable and sometimes even relatable – a guy who means well, but whose weaknesses, his feelings of insecurity and impotence, allow him to be preyed upon by more sinister forces. While Roger claims that the movement inspires him to be “proud” of his identity and to “change the world” for the better, he also unwittingly admits to the truth: where he had previously blamed himself for his perceived inadequacies and failures, the MRA movement offered him an absolution from guilt, and a different target for all his pent-up rage and resentment instead.

Skinner’s decision to minimise the amount of outright misogyny in Roger’s character – there was nothing about “women’s place” or any gender-fraught slurs – meant that Roger was not the two-dimensional caricature of a socially challenged, greasy-haired weirdo hunched over his laptop and spewing out hate speech, which many feminists would usually associate with the “MRA type”. All Roger really wants is a better self-image, a better relationship with his son than his with his father, and a return to a time when he knew and understood his place in the world. When his girlfriend discovered feminism, he explains, she found it “inspiring”. But the main feelings Roger finds in Men’s Rights Activism seem to be, as declared in the play’s title, anger.

In a world of Elliot Rodgers and “incels”, alt-right terrorists and #metoo, Angry Alan certainly fulfills the proscription of theatre to ‘hold up a mirror to society’. However, my only criticism of the play is that it stops there; there is no urge to action, or even suggestion of how we, as a society, can counter this anger and (self-)destruction. As Roger laid out the logic of the MRA movement, the “alternative facts” of a “gynocentric” social structure in which it is men, not women, who are systematically oppressed, I felt a dull sense of helplessness and hopelessness set in: how do you fight this sort of cultish indoctrination, and blind, rage-filled world-view? At what point could anyone have stepped in and talked Roger away from these beliefs, when he clung to them like a drowning man to a life raft? As the story hurtled inevitably towards crisis and/or tragedy, there was a total lack of hope, of the possibility of redemption. I feel this is doing Roger, men, and humanity a disservice, and meant that Angry Alan fell short of being truly groundbreaking. Diagnosing and warning against a widespread disease in society is important, but trying to treat it is what we really need our innovators to concentrate on.

This last gripe notwithstanding, it is fair to say that Angry Alan is fully deserving of its Fringe First award and fully sold-out status: this is a piece of raw yet elegant theatre which packs a real punch, and when further runs are announced throughout the UK – of which I have no doubt – I would strongly urge all Theatre Box readers to make seeing it a priority.

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Donald Sage Mackay in Angry Alan, photo by The Other Richard

The Red Shoes, Young Pleasance @ Pleasance Courtyard – Beyond Theatre

By Jo Billington & Will Feasey with Tim Norton
Original music composed by Ned Bennett
August 15 – 18

And my Edinburgh Fringe is off to a good start with the Young Pleasance’s charming production for 2018, The Red Shoes! A re-imagining of the tale by Hans Christian Andersen, this (light on the music) musical follows the story of Lotta as she grows up in early 20th century Berlin. We see Lotta as she grows through three stages: her childhood as the orphanage’s wild child, her teenaged years working as a maid and then stumbling into cabaret performance, and finally her later years as a rich entrepreneur’s mistress and actress in Goebbel’s propaganda films. Throughout all this time, two things remain constant: Lotta’s best friend, a Jewish boy named Jacob, and the pair of red dancing shoes she inherited from her late mother.

This production is slick, with well-oiled choreography crafted for actors who are not trained dancers, and song numbers crafted for actors who are not trained singers. The costumes and sets are sumptuous and wonderful – adult Lotta’s film star outfit shone for the former, and a transparent gauze curtain was used to great effect for the latter when intimating flashbacks or detached worlds (such as the unreachable upper class audience watching Lotta perform). The ensemble class is strong, with the Narrators (Hannah Margerison and Kieton Saunders-Brown) inhabiting the most consistent roles, and performing them strongly. Margerison also played a key figure asthe mysterious friend who introduced Lotta to the world of performance – this double-casting carried interesting implications about whether the seemingly impartial, omniscient narrator was providing a guiding hand in Lotta’s fate.

Of the three Lottas, the youngest (played by Eliana Franks) certainly had the most energy and charisma; however, it may have been more of a problem with the writing than acting that the characterisation of this story’s lead felt like it lacked continuity. There were few similarities between Franks’ precocious and rebellious girlchild, Katie Walton’s naive and unsure teenager, and Eva Burton’s glamorous, selfish adult woman. Jacob, however – played by Theo Murchie and later Kishore Walker – seemed to remain the same idealistic, intelligent, and innocent young boy so captivated by Lotta’s charms. Other standout actors in minor roles included Ella Davis as the sharp-tongued Frau Pelzer, and Miles Rosbrook as the coldly villainous Franz.

This play, as we are informed almost immediately, is about temptation in all its forms: fame, fortune, love, belonging, and much more. It blurs the lines between a glittering glamour which is never quite within Lotta’s grasp, and the seedy, desperate, harsh reality which keeps chasing her. But once she has slipped her feet into those shoes, she cannot take them off until she has lived out her fate – and the final, powerful image spotlit on stage serves as a warning against the fickle nature of that which may tempt us.

This talented young cast is certainly one to watch – The Red Shoes is on at the Fringe until the end of this week, so hurry to catch it before it dances out of sight! Tickets available here.

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Where the Hell is Bernard, Haste Theatre @ Blue Elephant Theatre

10th July, 2018
Haste Theatre
Featuring: Elly Beaman Brinklow, Jesse Dupré, Valeria Ross, and Sophie Taylor

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Image credit: Rarar Su

Haste Theatre’s current work in progress, Where the Hell is Bernard?, is an exploration of a dystopian future in which people live dreary, monotonous lives devoid of any pleasure or individuality, controlled by an authoritarian power known as the Vine. The story follows Pod 17, a unit of four women who dress in matching platinum blonde wigs and shapeless khaki jumpsuits and move, work, and live in unison and silence. When citizens are “evaporated” at age 50, it is Pod 17’s job to sort through their possessions and assign them to new pods for reuse. However, one day a citizen named Bernard does the unthinkable: rather than proudly stepping up for the honour of this death, he defies the social conditioning and ends up on the run. Pod 17, left holding a box of his posessions and clothes, finds cryptic and poetic instructions hidden within them, encouraging them too to break free from the Vine and embark on an adventure to discover themselves and the humanity denied to them.

This performance is a creative mix of mime, live song, movement, clowning, and abstract dystopian drama. With only six characters including the disembodied voice of the Vine and Bernard’s spiritual presence, portrayed by the four onstage actors through puppetry and mime, we see the futuristic society solely through the Pod’s experiences. The set, designed by Georgia de Grey, is flexible enough to stand in for a number of settings, from factory-style office to nursery to nightclub to forest, and is reminiscent of classic 70s-era sci-fi: white, glowing, and minimalistic.

In fact, much of the atmosphere of the piece is very much like twentieth-century sci-fi, with its anxiety about totalitarianism, the future, state surveillance, technology, and loss of connection to nature and maternity – it was impossible not to think of Fahrenheit 451 as the pod members explored an outlawed library. This re-emergence of narratives from the Cold War is a trend which reflects the current sociopolitical climate, most obvious in the success of the recent TV serialisation of The Handmaid’s Tale; however, in this new era of dystopic “speculative fiction”, the centre of the thematic anxiety tends no longer to be technology, but rather humanity, and this is also true of Where the Hell is Bernard. Although the core of the Vine seems to be a giant glittering server, and its maternal/authoritarian disembodied voice has hints of AI about it, an exceedingly clever twist on the ending suggested that instead, the villain of this story is an inherent part of the human condition. Can the new generation tear down a broken and oppressive system in order to create a newer, fairer, freer society? Or are we doomed to repeat the mistakes of our parents? Is all social struggle pointless if the powerless are always corrupted by power as soon as they attain it? Even if none of the concepts in this show were exactly innovative, their presentation through this type of performance art was ambitious, and the ending helped create the payoff which the piece had lacked up until that point.

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Image credit: Rarar Su

This is not a finished work, evidenced by some discrepancies between the events onstage and the plot description online, as well as a number of plot holes and issues with the fictional world’s lore (if pod members are all totally uniforms and identity-less, why do the “evaporated” citizens seem to have been allowed such unique costumes and possessions, and why are they being recycled on an individual scale? Why are the pod members literate if reading is banned and not necessary for their work? If the Vine is so omniscient and omnipotent, why do they struggle so to catch the four pod members on the run? Why was there a forbidden rave club apparently up and running for the women to experience alcohol and flirtation, and who was there with them?). However, the abstract, surreal nature of the shows was such that I was able to mostly suspend my disbelief and enjoy the beautiful synchronicity and dissonance of the performance before me, and contemplate its questions and themes without examining too closely the vehicles used to take me there. I expect, too, that many of the flaws will be ironed out in further development, and that when I drop by Assembly George Square to see them during their Edinburgh run, the show will be of even higher quality. So, taking into account the in-development of this piece, its ambition, the skill of the performers and devisers, and the way it made me turn it over and over in my mind afterwards, I am satisfied that Where the Hell is Bernard? is deserving of four stars.

 

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Apologies to Blue Elephant and Haste Theatre for the tardiness of this review.

The Family Blimp, Klump Company @ Blue Elephant Theatre

21 – 23 June 2018
Klump Company
Chloe Young, Megan Vaughan-Thomas, Ulima Ortiz, and Arthur Dumas

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The Blimp family has moved to the UK, and mother Evelyn and father Phillip struggle with opening the door to their new house, let alone controlling daughter Emily and baby Dioxyne! The beginning of this show seemed innocuous enough – straightforward slapstick clowning and buffoonery, with the support of a few novelty props and classic white facepaint. For these first five or ten minutes, dialogue was minimal and/or in exaggerated French, but then the character of community leader Jocelyn Price was introduced in the form of a booming voice emanating from a picnic hamper… and things started to really get interesting!

These four recent graduates of Ecole Jaques Lecoq, Paris’ internationally famous physical theatre school, devise and perform as a collective without any director. According to the theatre manager, they were a pleasure to host at Blue Elephant, and almost manically cheery throughout their time there, though this may have had something to do with the gallons of coffee they powered through every day… And honestly, I can see why they needed it, as this performance was chock-full of creative and physical energy. This was both a strength and a weakness: sometimes the action onstage seemed to hurry through conceits and plot points which would have been more effective if explored at greater length, and as a result the story sometimes felt quite disjointed and oddly paced (for example, I loved the family game show section, however it began and ended so suddenly that I couldn’t really get into it as I’d have liked to). I also felt that the ending of the narrative was a little abrupt and not particularly satisfying; personally, I’d have closed it off with the family coming full circle, and appearing on a new neighbour’s doorstep to sinisterly welcome them to the community…

Really though, the fact is that this show had far too much to offer for it to all cram into 45 minutes. The Blimp family’s trials and tribulations may have been grotesquely, cartoonishly comic, but they did also provide some very astute commentaries on the experience of new migrants to the UK navigating the unspoken expectations of British social life and its concepts of respectability. I particularly enjoyed the exploration of the disconnect between British attitudes of welcome to our neighbourhood, we value multiculturalism and we expect you to assimilate and learn to play by our rules. We were provided with a unique viewpoint on all of this by the positioning of the audience as both within the Blimps’ home, witnessing private scenes, and also as part of the wider community looking in from the outside and judging. The periodic breaking of the fourth wall kept us on our toes, particularly when the creepy, malevolent baby Dioxyne started taking an interest in audience members! Speaking of Dioxyne, she and her sister Emily really stole the show from their onstage parents; I don’t feel that this was a reflection on any of the actors’ abilities, as they all seemed very evenly matched, but rather that the two children were given the wilder roles, while the parents were often stuck playing the straight man.

Overall, this was a very enjoyable short performance which left me wanting more, and even thinking about the meat of its subject matter afterwards – unusual for a clowning show! The Klump Company artists certainly have a bright future ahead of them, and I hope they keep developing The Family Blimp to best showcase their obvious comic, creative, and sociopolitical talents. I’ll be looking out for them at the Edinburgh Fringe, and beyond!

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Finally: my deepest apologies to the Klump Company and Blue Elephant Theatre for the extreme tardiness of this review. This is a reflection on developments in my personal life, and not in any way on my enjoyment of the show.