Thursday, 9 August 2012

Six O'Clock News – Northern Stage at St Stephens

[Word of warning: this is a review of a one-off. Don't read this and think “Ooh, that sounds really good, I'll go and see it”. You can't. It was on the day before yesterday. And as far as I'm aware, there are no plans for another one]

[go and take picture]

So, what was Six O'Clock news? Well, it's a format which brings x number of performers together to read through the previous day's papers, they each choose a story and 32 hours later, they present a, five-to-ten minute *thing* about that story. (Yes, it's precisely the same format as Nabakov's Present:Tense, except none of the participants were really involved wearing their “playwright” hats, if indeed they even have such a hat. Although, yes, I know Present:Tense is also multi-disciplinary.)

There were eleven pieces in this one. They were:

1. Entertainment – Daniel Bye with Dick Bonham
2. Curiosity – Alex Swift
3. It's a Nice House – Chris Thorpe
4. The Picture Editors – Alexander Kelly and Gillian Lees
5. David Beckham is Alive – Gary Kitching
6. Curiosity II 
7. Josephine Explains the Theory of Disappointment – Caroline Horton with Hannah Boyde
8. Travel Section – Annie Rigby
9. Eyebrows – Alex Elliott
10. Curiosity III 
11. Olympic Jubilation – Dick Bonham

The thing ran at 1hr20, and I'm just going to race through the list and say a bit about what each one was/did.

As a programme, it actually cohered rather nicely as a kind of arty take on the usual radio news broadcast. I can't help wishing they'd do some more so that some news could filter through the Edinburgh bubble.

1. Bye's Entertainment was kind of a meta-commentary on the whole business of news. Sat in the back row of the audience, Bonham and Bye offer a two page dialogue between two people watching the news, with Dan having “missed a few episodes” and treating the whole thing like it's an American thriller series.

Their main topic, though, is Scottish independence and oddly enough, Entertainment contained enough analysis and facts alongside the perhaps slightly-too-easy-jokes-for-a-lefty-audience that it has already served as useful context while watching another show here.

2. Curiosity was Mess director Alex Swift's leftfield take on the success of NASA's Mars probe mission. Taking as its starting point the fact that it takes 13 minutes and 48 seconds for light-travel to cover the 250 million km between Earth and Mars, Alex undertook to leave the venue, go off for this time period and bring back a picture of the surface of Mars and describe what he could see.

3. Chris Thorpe's It is a Nice House initially seemed to fit well into his ever-expanding volume of spoken-word stories, many of which I reviewed during the week he curated at The Gate for Forest Fringe. That might perhaps be to do with his delivery as much as anything, but I think the set-up – a man decides to buy a house with another man because neither of them are getting younger, and it would be the sensible thing to do – also had plenty of Thorpe's trademark dark sense of humour and slightly off-kilter action too. And we're left a bit unsure as to how this relates to the news.

Gradually, it becomes more and more clear that the story is a very obvious political allegory about Nick Clegg's attempts to reform the House of Lords. The story of the two men becomes more and more absurd, and I don't think that Thorpe is suggesting that David Cameron has ever actually taken a shit on Nick Clegg's face, or makes him sleep in a basket in front of the telly, but it's worryingly easy to imagine.

4. The Picture Editors is totally different again. It a kind of game: Third Angel's Alex Kelly (again, a Forest Fringe at the Gate alumni) along with Gillian Lees – who I haven't come across before – sit in front of a laptop and try to describe photo illustrations of news stories in the most basic terms possible.

I'm not totally sure I got *why*. Or *what for*. But as an abstract collage of improvised, almost-poetry, it worked well as a kind of art-piece, much more than revealing (at least to me) anything political. Or anything media-studies-y about the choice of photographs in newspapers. It was also the first piece that didn't contain a hell of a lot of jokes.

5. David Beckham Is Alive was director Gary Kitching's analysis of this two-page story from the Daily Mirror. It takes the form of a kind of stand-up analysis-cum-modernist-poem. Kitching basically alternates between a critique of the story itself and lists of other things that are alive, people who are alive thanks to their grandparents having not died before one of their parents' conceptions, and a list of people who never existed because their grandparent did die too soon. It makes a neat point very entertainingly.

7. Josephine Explains the Theory of Disappointment was a bit of an strange one for me, since it was performed by Caroline Horton and Hannah Boyde, who only four hours earlier had made me cry with Mess, and here they were again with the same characters.

Mercifully, Josephine Explains... didn't go quite as far down the road of emotional highs and lows, but did offer a pithy, witty take on a profile of what various Olympians had said after not winning a medal; and offered the consoling thought that they'll feel better after some time had passed. [More here]

8. If Caroline Horton didn't manage to make me well up for a second time in one day, Annie Rigby's Travel Section almost made up the shortfall. The structure was simple. She read out a piece from the Indie about the Syrian Athletic Team enjoying their time in London away from the civil war that is destroying their country (it's an odd thought to think that a country at war with itself can even field an Olympic team), and notes that one of them hurriedly removed pictures from his Facebook account after releasing how, well, tactless they might have looked.

She then talks us through a slide-show of snaps taken by her brother, ho went to Syria two years ago on holiday.

She then reads a piece, regrettably by Robert Fisk, so it could have done with a bit of editing, but the main thrust is still chilling. Fisk names pretty much every amazing site visited by Rigby's brother, and describes the extent to which it has been shelled or even destroyed since the photos were taken.

For something that must only have been about eight minutes long, it an incredibly powerful bit of work. I really hope Rigby does it again. After all, the basic facts at the centre aren't going to change, and the war in Syria isn't showing any sign of abating. Would work well in the context of new, more politicised post-Gate Theatre Forest Fringe, possibly.

9. I didn't really go for Eyebrows, but since this was a one off, there doesn't seem any real need to dwell on it.

10. The final part of Curiosity saw Alex S. return from his “Mars” 14 minutes away, this time with the picture of the surface of the planet. As drawn by some Americans in a show about a love triangle, who he'd met at the top of Frederick Street and Thistle Street. There was much cheering and hugging in the assembled crowd.

11. The final piece, Dick Bonham's Olympic Jubilation was interesting, primarily for the fact that it contain an outright lie. Bonham's starting point was that the human being only feels actual elation for a very short space of time. Less time than the 22.83 secs it took Jessica Ennis to run the 200m in the Heptathlon. To redress this, Bonham proposed to experience elation for precisely this length of time. The outright lie is the fact that he didn't but still carried on as if he was. (It was kind of most obvious at the point when he looked imploringly at the person with the stopwatch.) I think this was cheating, and an honourable failure to complete his mission would have been more intellectually honest.

Still, overall, as more than an hour of zeitgeisty entertainment goes, this was actually several hells of a lot better, than News Revues, Present:Tenses, and other such theatrical treatments of topicality. Somehow managing to be by turns insightful, moving, and savagely funny, while actually feeling like it had nailed a particular moment in time.

More please, St Stephens...

[edit, I've just noticed I haven't finished done 6.  Will get back to it, but you get the picture...]

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