Wednesday, 16 August 2017

Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria – EIF, Usher Hall, Edinburgh

[seen 15/08/17]

Ever since I saw David Marton’s wildly deconstructed version of Monteverdi’s proto-opera, Il ritorno d’Ulisse in patria, at the Schaubühne in 2011(?), I’ve been kind of fascinated by it. Not least because I quite wanted to see *everything else*. [Sure. I’ve got old. I sometimes like to see “properly” as well now. Sue me. (tbf, Marton’s version had removed 95% of the music, and I didn’t want to see historical costumes or anything, so I think my former-self can relax)]

This version performed by the English Baroque Soloists and Monteverdi Choir, conducted by Sir John Eliot Gardiner and directed (brillantly) in a semi-staged concert setting by Elsa Rooke is nigh on perfect. [The cheap seats round the side of the Upper Circle, however, are some of the most uncomfortable I’ve ever experienced, however. Brutally uncomfortable, with no leg-room, to the point of absurdity.] And what a strange piece it is. The first half (1hr35) is pretty much entirely made up of new characters being introduced. The “plot,” such as it is, barely moves forward at all. I think we get maybe one or two returns to *really* central characters, but mostly it’s just “Hey, let’s meet *this* new guy now!” Bizarrely, this completely suicidal (not least because of cost) dramatic structure is actually pretty entertaining. Or at least, quite funny. And not unsuccessful. You do get repeatedly drawn in, wondering who all these people are, and whether the plot will ever really kick off. And the music is pretty relentlessly gorgeous, so there’s that too.

Given how old this opera is (1640-ish), and how much it played a part in inventing the form, I was weirdly reminded of Middle Child’s new forays into gig theatre. Indeed, aside from the complete opposite-ends-of-the-musical-spectrum approaches, there is something astonishing about sitting in a hall in Edinburgh watching what is essentially a (largely context free) recreation of the invention of opera and it feeling similarly exciting and inventive now. The instruments used here seem to be largely authentic, early-modern/Renaissance ones, rather than a re-orchestration of Monteverdi’s score, but rather than feeling like this being museum-y for the sake of it, their very tones and unfamiliarity actually act to make the music feel more strange, rather than “more traditional” (Globe modernisers, take note).

In this original-form, you can maybe hear influences from more unexpected sources (maybe a hint of Arabic and perhaps even Balkan/Bulgarian) as well as the more “traditional” “Western” styles that it itself went on to extert influence over. (Geographically, historically, politically, this all makes a lot of sense – and maybe with current events raging so loudly outside/on-our-minds/etc. it’s particularly good to be forcibly reminded that the crucible of “Western” civilisation in the Mediterranean was (x2; both in classical times and during the Renaissance) not just some monolith of “whiteness” (whatever the fuck that’s meant to mean anyway) but a crossroads of cultures, all appropriating each others’ better ideas with nary a thought to political correctness).

So, yeah. What an incredibly rich experience on several different levels. One might wish that, for all its insides are *evocative*, the good people of Edinburgh might consent to having the seating in the Usher Hall made fit for the C21st, and one might also wish that this concert hadn’t been a one-off [although a) it wasn’t full, and b) it still probably sold more tickets than it’s possible for, say, Barrel Organ to sell for their entire run...]. Nevertheless, a far more convincing example of what the International Festival is for than The Divide, by all accounts.

Anyone’s Guess How We Got Here – ZOO, Edinburgh

[seen 15/08/17]

Barrel Organ’s third show is a slight departure-from/reshuffle-of the familiar elements in this unruly, horizonally-organised theatre company. Written by Jack Perkins, directed by Joe Boylan and Dan Hutton, and performed by Bryony Davies and Rosie Gray, with Ali Pidsley on dramaturgy duties, it still somehow manages to feel entirely like a logical next step for this exciting company...

Jack Perkins’s Anyone’s Guess How We Got Here – directed by Joe Boylan and Dan Hutton – is as impressive a New Writing debut as you could hope to see on the Fringe...

Getting the beginning right is a right bugger. In the manner of Martin Crimp’s Attempts on Her Life, Anyone’s Guess How We Got Here allows itself several stabs at a beginning...

Davies and Gray stand on the empty stage and tell us how they’re in a car, tell us how they know each other (several possibilities, is one ever marked out as definitive?), tell us about Robin Hood, tell us about the ending of Thelma and Louise...

Have you been watching the new series of Twin Peaks? For me, it’s been making almost all the theatre I’ve seen since it started seem wilfully, timidly linear. Like, if you haven’t seen and taken on board Lost Highway, Mulholland Drive and Inland Empire, what’s even the point... Like, if your characters are still basically the same person (i.e. played by the same actor) at the end as they were at the beginning... Like, if you’re not prepared to spin out a shaggy dog story for more or less ever, and then interrupt it halfway through with the most insane, hallucinogenic interventions, then how can you call yourself an artist?

Anyone’s Guess... admirably picks up that Lynch-challenge ball and runs with it well over the touchline. This is a kind of kaleidoscopic, spiralling, fever-dream of a piece. A haunted house story about household debt. A play that manages to conjure an atmosphere of tension and suspense, and then press it into service as an exploration of he human story at the heart of a socio-economic problem. What’s astonishing about the piece is the way that it manages to work on so many levels at once and, by-and-large, make all of them feel satisfying in and of themselves.

As this is Edinburgh (and presumably touring for an age thereafter), I’m loathe to spell out precisely all the things I got from the piece while it’s still such early days. Suffice it to say, that – oddly – over the course of the “credit crunch” and beyond, I don’t remember seeing all that many stories about the actual human cost of household debt (Dennis Kelly’s Love and Money remains an outlier, unless I’m forgetting lots of somethings), and Anyone’s Guess... feels like an important corrective. At the same time, it fits perfectly into Barrel Organ’s oeuvre – proving (yucky word, but) that they really do have an identity *as a collective* which can withstand changes of both writer and director, which feels valuable and exciting in and of itself. It also fits excitingly into the world of contemporary New Writing – easily standing comparison with the work of Alice Birch or Ali McDowall. Similarly, Hutton and Boylan’s direction is fresh and inventive (enhanced brilliantly by Lucy Adams’s lighting and (once again) Kieran Lucas’s superlative sound design). Davies and Gray are also brilliant (and, as per usual with actors, I have no useful adjectives).

But, yeah; if it’s not already clear: Very Much Recommended. Go And See This.

Tuesday, 15 August 2017

Sasquatch: the Opera – Summerhall, Edinburgh


I’m going to stick my neck out and suggest that (Faith No More keyboardist) Roddy Bottum’s Sasquatch: The Opera is *the* Must-See event at this year’s Fringe. It’s probably the strangest thing here – and yet most comfortingly familiar – by a country mile; it’s got a massive cast, by Fringe standards (six named characters, six musicians, and a further six-strong chorus – I’m sure the heavy metal 6/6/6 configuration is purely coincidental); it’s hugely ambitious; it’s remarkably executed; and it still manages to feel admirably “Fringe-y” – with Ahmed Ibrahim’s staging (not to mention Joshua Rose’s lighting) very definitely not aiming for “polish” (although I dare say, given a less improvised space than Summerhall’s black-curtained Old Hall, it could look a lot more space-age if it wanted to). But the main thing about it is its strangeness.

At a Fringe where much else seems to be tending ever more toward a polite, consensus-driven agreement about “what constitutes good theatre/performance/whatever” (not such a bad thing, in the abstract), it is exciting to see something that appears to neither know nor care. It’s like finding a completely unironic greasy spoon in a street full of tasteful concrete and wood coffee shops. (Again, nothing wrong with tasteful coffee shops, per se. I *like* nice coffee. But it’s pretty exciting to find a show offering the equivalent of sugary Nescafé instant in a polystyrene cup for 30p.)

Musically, it seems to exist in an unexpected intersection between Lady Macbeth of Mtsensk and ‘Pretty Hate Machine’. Similarly, the story – which definitely feels like it’s whizzed through to make it fit an hour-long slot, and could easily accommodate more complexity – feels like a cross between the heightened emotions of (say) Romeo and Juliet, and the less-heightened emotions of (say) South Park. There are both some very funny and/or absurd jokes, and also an emotional arc – at least for the Sasquatch himself – that is genuinely rather heartbreaking.

Visually, perhaps due in large part to a lot of footlights, I kept thinking of those photos you occasionally see of the sorts of things they used to put on at Tristan Tzara’s Cabaret Voltaire in Zürich. This feels of-a-piece with that sort of WWI-era surrealism (and now, plausibly coming from a similar sort of psychological place – total horror in the face of the state of the world, and maybe a loss of any faith in rational responses to it: at the end, the group hold a minute’s silence in memorial of Heather Heyer and in protest at the ongoing collapse of the US.)

In terms of deeper meanings actually contained within the show, well, I wasn’t hugely aware of any (not *all* the libretto is entirely 100% audible/comprehensible, let us generously say). I mean, it offers some broad-brushstroke stuff about oppression/slavery/servitude/exploitation being bad (Sasquatch’s nemesis seems to be a sort of travelling showman who keeps his daughter on an actual leash, and makes his son dress up as a parodic Sasquatch in a kind of freakshow?). Also bad is loneliness (Sasquatch is lonely). Love, on the other hand, is nice (if liable to end tragically). But then, that’s pretty much operas, right? It still makes a tonne more sense than The Magic Flute...

So, yes. Despite being (apparently) impossible to write up convincingly – at least as a strong thesis goes – this is one hell of an experience, and quite unlike anything else I’ve seen at the Fringe for years.

Saturday, 12 August 2017

All We Ever Wanted Was Everything – Paines Plough Roundabout, Edinburgh

[seen 09/08/17]

All We Ever Wanted... is an absolute belter of a show. Big story, big noise, big heart. I bloody loved it. Sure, there are probably a few bits and pieces you could quibble about, but basically it’s brilliant.

It’s by (EU City of Culture 2017) Hull’s (Leave 66%) Middle Child Theatre, who are pretty much still the only company in the UK who make “gig-theatre” – that is to say, the story here (written by Luke Barnes) is told through a mixture of narration, short dialogues scenes (directed by Paul Smith), and punky-poppy songs (music by James Frewer). Songs which, in this fast trot from 1987 to 2017, err toward light-touch period pastiches. There are also some excellent period-piece observations (and the odd old Nokia).

[Quite spoilery for a while, now. Maybe just buy a ticket and read later...]

The story itself starts in Hull in 1987, when Kimberley (Emma Bright) and Brian (Joshua Meredith) are in hospital waiting for the births of their respective children Chris (James Stanyer) and Leah (Bryony Davies). Ten years almost instantaneously pass, through the magic of M.C. Marc Graham’s narration, and Kimberley and Brian meet in a [bookshop?] over the last copy of the first Harry Potter novel. Tony Blair has been swept to power, Britpop [and Brit-Art] and “Cool Britannia” [and the plays of Mark Ravenhill and Sarah Kane in Germany] are Making Britain Great Again, even if Kimberley’s and Brian’s relationships have gone ass up. They arrange a play-date for their children. Chris and Leah get on like a house on fire and decide they’ll get married. Their parents, more aware of their class differences, don’t quite manage the same thing. Fast forward another ten years to War on Terror 2007 and middle-class Chris is at Manchester Uni hating every minute of it, while working-class Leah seems to be having a lovely time working in Build-A-Bear, but a chance encounter with her old school rival Holly (Alice Beaumont) turns all that around when she decides she wants to make a lot more money...

There’s *a lot* of welcome and unexpected complexity in this class-conscious narrative. From 1987 to the start of the 2007 segment, you’re struck by bleak thoughts on Britain’s sheer lack of social mobility. Then, Barnes pretty much turns those sympathies on their head. Firstly, by reminding us that there’s nothing *wrong* with being working class; second, by suggesting that being middle-class (for this particular character) isn’t necessarily a whole lot of fun; and then, thirdly, by having Leah go on to make quite a lot of money, we’re reminded that class and wealth aren’t inextricably linked (and, fourthly, that it’s kinda stupid putting a bunch of energy into hating the middle-classes at the same time as encouraging social mobility anyway...). It’s fascinating. Essentially, Barnes is both a subtle and a completely unsubtle moralist At The Same Time. And, lest all this sound a bit serious, it’s not even about “morality” (class-based or otherwise). Those ideas are in there to have a think about, if you like, but let’s not forget this is basically a banging episode of Doctor Who with songs. (“Doctor Who? What?” Oh, I forgot to tell you about the singing asteroid that’s about to destroy the earth, BY CHOICE... And the fact that Paines Plough’s Roundabout still looks like the Tardis...)

So, yes. Total fun, and enough *stuff* in it to be worth thinking about too. And moving! It’s really moving! And there’s a bit at the end where Marc Graham gets to deliver a speech that might as well be David Tennant or Christopher Eccleston’s Doctors at their very best. So, yeah. Go and see this. It might be not perfect, but it’s a bloody good argument against perfection.

[Absolutely no reference at all to this, though...

5 Encounters on a Site Called Craigslist – Zoo, Edinburgh

[seen 11/08/17]

As regular readers will know, I absolutely loathe and detest 99.999% of me-theatre, confessional monologues, true-life solo-shows, etc. In general, I fucking hate every self-pitying, sentimental, oversharey, emotionally-bullying last one of them. They are (almost without exception) a terrible, terrible error of thinking, the antithesis of theatre, and should be actively boycotted, if not banned outright. :-)

I’m not fully sure why it is, then, that I thought YesYesNoNo/Sam Ward’s 5 Encounters... was in any way acceptable. I think, in part (assuming that it is all “true” in the first place – insofar as one person’s version of anything can ever be called “the truth”) it’s because a) it’s not really complaining or demanding our sympathy or understanding, b) if anything – a bit like The Shape of The Pain – it is partly about the impossibility of ever really explaining or understanding anything, c) it’s almost like a bleak, black, ironic joke at the expense of “me-theatre”. It offers neither a glib feel-good message nor a sententious telling-off to its audience. Instead, at root, it’s a theatrical exploration of a philosophical problem. Interestingly, it’s also interactive – which is another thing I often hate. Here the interactivity/voluntary-participation is managed tactfully and carefully, rather than as a device for achieving cheap laughs through bullying or ridicule.

The meat of the piece is Sam talking about these titular five encounters. They’re essentially anonymous encounters for sex with other men. The piece basically takes us through each encounter, from the posting of an advert by Sam, through to whatever end-point he decides; sometimes when he physically leaves the encounter, once a couple of emails after that. The descriptions are deadpan, and as matter-of-fact and un-erotic as descriptions of sexual activity can be. Audience members in search of titillation will have to work extremely hard to find any (unless, of course, deadpan anti-erotica is your fetish, in which case: bingo). These encounters are played off against Sam talking us through those “36 Questions On The Way To Love” (Ward has actually done proper research, and traced them back to their 1970s origin point, rather than their 2000s reincarnation as pieces like the that one I’ve just linked to). In this way, alongside the rather bleak, grinding descriptions of loveless, mostly quite joyless-sounding sex, there are also these questions apparently designed to achieve “intimacy” and/or “love”. At one point, a volunteer couple stand in front of a big fan and name all the things they like about each other while Sam drops pink confetti petals into the wind blowing between them while “romantic” music plays. It’s both actually rather touching, and also a) completely contrived/constructed, b) an enjoyably sardonic commentary on at least the bullshit trappings that surround “love” and/or “romance”.

Being pretty-much old enough to be Sam’s dad, I’ll admit that maybe I didn’t fully empathise with this level of Liebesangst, so much as recognise it from when I was much younger. But it’s a clear-sighted, sincere enough piece for that to worry me a bit, rather than make me feel condescending toward it. There is something admirable, I think, about having theatremakers worrying about the quality of truth, or empathy, or honesty that is possible. Indeed, it seems fundamental to the very core of (some of) what theatre’s about.

The Brothers Are But Believers – Summerhall, Edinburgh


Have you read Angela Nagle’s brilliant Kill All Normies? Javaad Alipoor’s The Brothers... is almost the hi-tech, multi-media, stage show of the book. Ok, it’s not. Instead of considering the online culture wars from a Left/Right perspective, it instead looks at the “East”/West version. Or rather, the version of violent online “masculinity”that manifests as 4chan (even unto Trump) in the West and as online Jihadism even unto ISIS-membership – kind of also “in the West,” but on into the Middle East. (These highly political “geographical” distinctions are essentially rendered absurd by the piece’s relentless good sense.)

It’s a pretty simple structure – part performance lecture, and part triple-stranded narrative monologue about three very different blokes, who all watch the same video of a girl being blown up by a bomb in Syria – interspersed with some whizzy projections and live texting in a What’sApp group. This last innovation, believe it or not, I’ve never seen used before, and it’s strikingly effective here. Indeed, there’s a bit where Alipoor – echoing Oliver Frljić’s Klątwa – points out that he could just text us all links to what he’s talking about, but in the theatrical context 4chan would probably contravene the Obscene Publications Act, and sending links to ISIS recruitment sites would fall foul of the Prevention of Terrorism Act. But even without, the way that the entire room/audience is suddenly networked, like a little encrypted cell all of our very own, reflects the content, and “the world of the play” beautifully. “The world of the play” being *precisely the world,* after all.

Alipoor writes rather brilliantly, and performs with a northern swagger that I reckon could even make the phone book sound pretty cool. [Incidentally, when are we going to get a new stock phrase for “makes the phone book sound exciting”? Young people won’t even believe that they even existed. I mean, you know this “doxing” thing that the show also talks about? British Telecom used to publish a book containing everyone’s name, address and phone number as a simple courtesy, FFS.] Alipoor is pretty much the ideal poster-boy for solid, sensible, old-left, atheist-Islam; not to mention even making “theatre” seem a whole lot less stale than it may often be perceived as. The form of the thing feels urgent and mobile, and the set (Ben Pacey) looks a bit like something out of Spooks (indeed, even the stories bear passing similarities (I intend this as a compliment; I like Spooks, even if it does have *significant problems*)).

If there’s a gripe, it’s maybe that (like Kill All Normies), it’s so good and interesting that you could happily wish it was two or three times as long. And it’s basically an overview of an analysis that’s very easy to agree with. I’d have been interested if ...Believers had also added a consideration of what the various factions of the disastrous “left” are up to; sitting in their own bedrooms being baited by 14-year-old boys who have learned how to wind them up, while drawing up ever more elaborate LARP-style rules about what people can and can’t say, admiring the thinness of each others’ skin, and codifying “left” politics into the most exclusive jargon possible.

Nonetheless, for all that Billington-style backseat dramaturgy, this is a a thrilling, urgent, blackly funny piece of work that at least makes one of the apparently inexorable impending global conflagrations seem comprehensible, and even maybe avoidable.

Wednesday, 9 August 2017

Lands – Summerhall, Edinburgh

[seen 08/08/17]

Seen the day after Palmyra, it’s difficult to shake off the feeling that, a) Lands is the ideal counterpart to Palmyra, b) they compliment each other beautifully, c) while Palmyra *may* explore the macro, external, “bigger picture” of geopolitics, *maybe* Lands explores the micro, internal, psychological landscape; the first half of Blasted to Palmyra’s second half of Blasted, if you like. I couch all this in “maybe”s, because I reckon – like Palmyra Lands functions on so many levels at once, that it would be just as possible to read it as an exploration of, say, the rise to power of Donald Trump, as it is to accept it at something closer to face value...

What that face value is is two women (Leah Brotherhead and Sophie Steer) and their relationship. Because they’re on a nearly-empty stage they could be anywhere. For some reason, I imagined them into a pretty normal flatshare arrangement – either as friends or partners. But they could just be on that stage (same as Bert and Nasi). Leah has done one jigsaw puzzle and is doing another. She is describing each piece of the puzzle in turn into her iPhone for “documentation.” Sophie, on the other hand, is bouncing up and down on a trampoline. Eventually, it becomes clear that she can’t stop this. Rapidly, “bouncing on a trampoline” goes from being bouncing on a trampoline to anything from drug or alcohol addiction, to mental illness, to physical illness, or even just another person’s irritating habits or quirks that they can’t or won’t give up. Similarly, Leah is maybe *a bit too invested* in her work with jigsaw puzzles.

The way that the piece unfolds (credits: directed and devised by Jasmine Woodcock-Stewart, co-devised by cast, additional devising by Richard Perryman and Nasi Voutsas) is, by turns incisive, tender, tough and heartbreaking. I mean, it really is a lovely, beautifully made show. Yes, it takes a couple of unexpected turns, one or two of which might occasionally seem to make it a bit too on-the-nose for a few moments, but then it somehow seems to turn again, shift our sympathies some more, and return to the sort of “compassionate Beckett”(?) thing that seems to form its core.

Definitely enormously recommended.

Until 20th August. 12.00pm. 1hr. £10 (£8)

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Palmyra – Summerhall, Edinburgh


In Palmyra, Bertrand Lesca and Nasi Voutsas have created a strong contender for “Best Piece of ‘Political Theatre,’ Edinburgh 2017.” Like their previous hit, Euro House, it is ostensibly a tightly rehearsed set of comic scenes exploring the deteriorating relationship between the two performers. Upon entering the stage to take their chairs, they discover Bert’s plate has been smashed. Nasi’s plate is fine. We don’t know how Bert’s plate got broken. We never find out. They put it behind them and carry on with their thing – here: whizzing about the stage on those little industrial trolley stands, to the strains of ostentatiously Western Classical Music (what precisely I couldn’t tell you off-hand). And this is the way that the piece builds its suggestive relationship to its title. As we know, Palmyra is the name of the ancient Semitic city, in modern-day Syria, which was the target of a massive campaign of destruction by ISIS. Palmyra here seems to stand, plausibly, for the entire region, and all the warfare and politics that that entails.

The dynamic between Bert and Nasi is crucial here. Bert is French, unnecessarily handsome, charming, and also frequently In The Wrong. Early on, he takes Nasi’s plate to the top of a ladder and drops it. Absolutely on purpose. When Nasi – bearded, shorter than Bert, more of a working class accent, maybe – reacts (over-reacts?), Bert appeals to the audience to recognise what a psychopath Nasi is. The entire show is a gradual amping up of this bullying dynamic. In the actual room it’s fine. It doesn’t feel so cruel that it’s no longer funny. It’s played – by both of them – for laughs, after all. Sure, there are set-pieces where it gets genuinely more tense than funny, but always in service of setting up another laugh rather than for the sake of it.

And this is the genius of the thing. Because the surface level of “two blokes making a funny clown show about making their funny clown show” is always there, we never have to get bogged down in mapping specific moments onto particular aspects of global politics. As a result, with that political commentary track running loudly in the background, I reckon we end up working at thinking harder about the links between the two dynamics than we would if all of it were being explicitly rammed down our throats. We’re not “being told what to think” at all. Of course, as a result, part of the reason I think this is the most intelligent show about American/Western Imperialism versus the savage retaliation of ISIS is because the entire thing could be seen to work as an enormous exercise in confirmation bias (or, more, I read onto it exactly what I believe, and then pat them on the back for being so acute). That said, it’s not as if the show is formless or says nothing. And it even throws up some “difficulty”. I mean, in the way I read it, “God Only Knows” by The Beach Boys becomes an Anthem for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria; the “you” of that song’s chorus suddenly seeming to be America, the “God” suddenly seeming much more present.

Indeed, the whole feels so finely tuned that you can read the piece in relation to any number of unequal power-dynamics, and indeed it feels so accurate (at least, to how I read politics) that it feels like at particularly acute analysis of power and abuse; any situation at all where one power is greater than another, and the ways in which the greater power uses charm and “reason” to excuse their own abuses and pathologise resistance. It doesn’t endorse or excuse anyone or anything. It just keeps on showing us this one analogous situation and, to an extent, it insolubility. As such, it’s a bloody good job it’s also funny, or this would also be the most depressing show on the Fringe too. To be honest, it probably still is. That’s probably what makes the jokes funny.

But, yes. Proper genius, this. Incredible pity it’s not on for longer. Here’s hoping it has a long, long post-Edinburgh life.

Until 13th Aug. 1.15pm. 55Mins. £10

Monday, 7 August 2017

Together Alone – Dance Base, Edinburgh

[seen 06/08/17]

Together Alone is probably impossible to describe usefully. Look at the photo. It’s basically that. But moving around. To (various) Music. For 45 minutes. I thought it was (mostly) brilliant Chen-Wei Lee and Zoltán Vakulya – naked throughout – are in incredible physical condition, and make nearly an hour of intense physical exercise look almost effortless.

The game in this piece is that for the entire duration, some part or other of Lee and Vakulya’s bodies must be touching. There is obvious stuff: hand-holding, swinging each other round, clambering over each other, etc. But there is also stranger contact; heads pressed lightly against shoulders, shoulders pressed into arms, hips against hips.

The musical accompaniment varies, from modernist growls and crackles through to a fully-fledged jazz-dance complete with something like the Charleston. Re: the nudity – vainly trying to find the name of the jazz song mentioned above, I came across this excerpt from an interview with the performers which puts exactly what I thought much more precisely than I’d have managed. “We talked about what we should wear and tried various things. We have this floor-based part we call “Rock.” It’s very slow and difficult, like we’re tangling, wrapped together as tight as possible. You see a lot of muscle tension, how we’re using force to carry each other, but we found that even if we covered ourselves with just thin fabric the dance lost that strength. You just didn’t see it.

I can’t imagine anyone reading this review being overly bothered by nudity anyway, but I will add that it’s fascinating, in the context of a theatre culture in which nudity still often feels difficult, awkward or exploitative, it was a joy to see something where simply not having any clothes on felt like nothing except a practical and aesthetic decision. And also – given that this practicality was manifestly the case – how an entire audience will immediately accept this.

Criticisms: I suppose I worried that some of the music balanced a bit on the knife-edge between being quite good, and “a bit too new-age relaxation tape”. But it never actually tipped over. And maybe other people are ok with new age relaxation tapes anyway.

In terms of “message” or “meaning,” I don’t think I came away with *much*, although there was something palpable about two dancers from such totally different backgrounds and (I presume) dance/training cultures making work together, especially such a) successful, and b) contemporary work together. But it didn’t feel like this was a piece that functioned in that way. I mean, what “meaning” do you get from (wordless) Bach? Sometimes formal experimentation and inexplicable beauty are easily more than enough. Warmly recommended.

Together Alone | Zoltán Vakulya, Chen-Wei Lee | 4 – 27 Aug | 21.45 | 45 mins | £12 (£10 conc)

Not Mondays or Thursdays

The North – Dance Base, Edinburgh

[seen 05/08/17]

Joan Clevillé’s The North is probably as a good an entry-level bit of contemporary dance as you’re likely to find at the Fringe. Theatre-refugees in particular will find much to delight them. For a start, it’s dramaturged by Ella Hickson (I presume the Ella Hickson); for seconds, it’s got a script and honest-to-God dialogue; and then there’s the venue, which... Well, if like me you’re bracing yourself for a month of watching plays, pieces, whatevers, mostly in damp basements, sweaty attics, and dusty back-rooms, there’s something intensely refreshing about a large clean white room, with beautiful concrete architecture, a purpose built lighting rig, and a first-rate sound system.

The piece itself is a lot of fun too, with the added bonus that – as well as being fun, and having bits of dialogue – it’s performed by people who (unless you’re a trained dancer too) can just do amazing stuff that you can’t. And can do it without breaking a sweat, at the same time as doing all the normal stuff you can do. Which is a pretty excellent thing to go and see.

In terms of The Actual Show, well, it kicks off with a bloke (John Kendall) being dragged on stage in a huge plastic bag and emptied out onto the stage, by a pair of women/dancers/shape-shifting-mythic-creatures (Eve Ganneau and Solène Weinachter). He has arrived in The North – essentially an amusing assemblage of tropes. The landscape is represented (surprisingly effectively) by a single small fir tree, and its inhabitants are dressed in gold jeans, Lundpers, and sometimes antlers. They speak an incomprehensible language that sounds like Donald Duck (very funny). The plot (yes! Even a plot) basically sees him trying to get to grips with living in this cold, remote, unfamiliar place; never quite knowing whether he’s “doing it right” or not. In fact, it feels for all the world like a Nordic remake of Anne Washburn’s The Internationalist.

It’s not maybe the absolute “deepest,” “most urgent” or “necessary” thing you’ll see this year, but it’s a very, very well done version of itself, and I imagine might fire the imaginations of more earth-bound theatremakers with the sheer range of additional possibilities offered by dance. Very much worth checking out (maybe especially when you’re completely sick of black drapes hung up in store rooms).

The North. Joan Clevillé Dance. 4 – 13 Aug. 8 – 13 Aug | 16.15 | 60 mins | PG £12 (£10 conc)