The theme of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival is “unboring,” and “get unbored” but not all the shows live up to this.
Two of the shows I saw featured a young woman telling a true story of her life with the accompaniment of a male partner and music.
In Near Gone, Katherina Deva tells of a near death experience of her 4-year old sister.
She tells the story in her native Bulgarian language and Alister Lownie, her partner in Two Destination Language, translates. It is a story of sorrow and pain, intermingled with criticism of medical and city services in Sofia. The story is told sparingly, though some of the words are uttered repeatedly. Punctuating the words, loud recorded music plays (mostly Balkan wedding music of Goran Bregovic) and Katherina moves and dances in a frenzy. She clutches bunches of carnations (400 flowers in total during the performance) which break and fly wildly in the air.
Though it is clear that Katherina’s dance is one of pain, the show draws a thin line between celebration and mourning. Bregovic’s band is called the Wedding and Funeral Orchestra and the music, the flowers and even the dancing could easily be part of either. I found the story, music and dancing too repetitive and was bored. The deep pain and suffering exhibited by Katherina was hard to reconcile with the ultimate positive outcome (which I had guessed from the name of the show).
Leaving Home Party
In Leaving Home Party, Catherine Ireton tells of leaving her Irish hometown to move to Glasgow a couple years after college. She is afraid she will end up spending her life without seeing the world. She admires an aunt who travelled extensively during her life, but died right near her birthplace, but when Catherine leaves home, she feels like an outsider and overwhelmed by the differences (I admit, I had trouble understanding her culture shock—of all the places one could move, Scotland doesn’t seem so different from Ireland).
The show is a musical, with Ireton singing original songs with words that relate to the narrative. She is accompanied by Ignacio Agrimbau on keyboards, guitars and a number of less familiar instruments like a Thai khaen, a Cuban tres and a cajon. (His instrumentals are the best part of the show).
Ireton describes how she is not in control of her life. She turns down a two year cellphone contract but spends more than two years with pay as you go. She works dead end jobs and follows projects brought to her by friends and boyfriends. She says she allows her life to be guided and determined by others.
Eventually she heads back to Ireland and then has an epiphany. What that is is not clear. Does she stay in Ireland? Does she go back to Scotland? Somehow the show is over and the audience is satisfied but I have failed to see a transformation or an explanation for why she feels differently about her life. Has she taken control of her life? Has she decided she is comfortable in Scotland? Also she has failed to mention that perhaps her life is more focused than she lets on. Apparently the reason she originally went to Glasgow was to work with Belle and Sebastian. She doesn’t mention this or any of the successes she had along the way.
My ratings of these shows and the 35 others I saw can be found here.
A number of shows that I saw at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival had formats that I had never experienced in theater before. But, though, I found them interesting, they were not successful.
Before attending the Fringe Festival (this was my first year), I decided to rate each show that I saw on a one to five scale. My friend Nanette and I agreed on what each rating meant and as we left each show we shared our ratings with each other. A three-star rating was for shows that we enjoyed. More than that, for shows we would enthusiastically recommend. I noticed along the way that there were a few shows that I had high hopes for because I anticipated something different, but ultimately I was disappointed and had to rate them less than a three.
Theater on a Long Thin Wire
One of those shows was Theater on a Long Wire (by Jack McNamara, artistic director of New Perspectives Theatre). The audience for each performance is limited to 16 people. We entered a small attic space at the Summerhall theaters—there was a chair with a cellphone on it. The phone rang. It took the group of strangers a couple of seconds to realize that someone needed to answer it. I actually tried to do so, but instead, accidentally hung up on the call. Now what? The phone rang again and someone else stepped in to answer it. The whole theater performance consisted of audience members repeating the words of the “performer” to the rest of the group. (What happened to speakerphones?)
The caller told us of his fear of leaving his room he was in. He then described leaving his room and coming to see us. The only suspense in Theater on a Long Thin Wire was whether we would actually see the performer (though, since the show describes itself as theater without actors, the suspense was limited). He said he had reached the building and was on his way up the stairs. Yes, my imagination was working—I was picturing the building I had just entered and the stairs I had gone up to get to this room. I was wondering what the performer looked like. But isn’t that the purpose of reading a book—your mind creates all of the images of the written word? What happens when theater becomes an uninteresting audio book?
Following the directions of the person at the other end of the line, the phone was handed off to three others and then back to the first. Sometimes the caller requested that everyone repeat specific phrases, or clap, or look out the window. I wondered why we all followed the directions to a “T”. Though two people left the room early in the show, the rest of us did exactly as we were told. I also found it interesting to observe how people ended up with the phone. Is that what the show was about? Group dynamics? Co-operation? Leadership? Conformity? If so, it was done at the expense of boredom.
I gave the show 2 stars—I didn’t like it. It held my interest because I kept hoping for more, but in the end, there was no pay off. The Fringe Festival’s theme this year is “unboring”. The telephone caller in Theater on a Long Wire didn’t get the message.
The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland
Another unique theater experience was The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland. The stage is divided in two. Audience members are split. Some start out on one side and some, the other. Halfway through the show, the audience switches sides.
The two parts of the stage are divided by a wall with windows. Window shades block the view of the other side of the stage. When the performance started, I could hear some of what was happening on the other part of the stage. Occasionally actors from that side would enter the stage on my side. At some point the shades were lifted and I had a better view of the other stage.
On my side, I was viewing a man in a blue hospital outfit. Doctor or patient? An actor comes from the other side of the stage and sits on a chair—apparently he is a patient and the man in blue is his psychiatrist. On the other side, from what I can here, there is a family—perhaps a mother and her sons. Is this the past of the patient? Are these voices he is hearing? The psychiatrist seems to be troubled as well. Is he hearing voices too? We get a glimpse of an actor on the other stage—he looks very much like the psychiatrist. Is there some relation? Are some aspects of the family on the other side actually part of the psychiatrist’s past or present?
When we switch to the side with the family, what is happening is just as elusive. The words spoken are bits and pieces, there isn’t a real conversation. The mother speaks about Dracula, saying that he was Irish. The characters discuss what to eat and ask where father has gone.
None of my questions are answered and I never get enough clues to make sense of it all.
For me, one of the more interesting aspects of the show relates to multi-tasking. The second half of the show is, for the most part, a repeat of the first half—but now seen from the other stage. During the second half, I hear sentences spoken that I didn’t notice before. Some of those sentences come from the side of the stage I was originally sitting on. How did I miss those sentences the first time round? Was my mind wandering? Was I listening to the other side of the stage? Another thing I found interesting was the difference between just hearing something and having both audio and visual. I hear a shaking sound from the other side of the stage and remember the facial expressions of the actor trying futilely to open a pill bottle, but then I hear a similar sound that I don’t remember and can’t visualize. But these things aren’t interesting enough to sustain me.
The theater group, Ridiculusmus, says the play is inspired by a treatment method for psychosis involving open dialogue (as opposed to drugs) that has virtually eradicated schizophrenia from Western Lapland. How this play relates to that treatment method is unclear to me. I didn’t see a transformation or improvement in the character that clearly suffered from psychosis and I didn’t see (or hear) anything I could understand as open dialogue. It seemed that some sort of psychosis was being experienced by more than one character on the stage—and that it was not in a process of being eradicated.
My rating: 2.5 stars
In the six days that I spent at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I saw 37 shows. I have already rated the first 19. Below are my combined ratings for all 37 shows.
I gave a full five stars to three shows:
The Object Lesson, an original work of theater in an interactive space full of junk and boxes of stuff. A one man show conceived and performed by Geoff Sobelle, it is illusion, stunt and comedy that makes us think about all those objects we surround ourselves with.
Cuckooed, also a one man show, was written and performed by Mark Thomas, an English comedian, TV personality and political activist. He describes being deceived by a fellow member of the Campaign Against Arms Trade, who turned out to be spying for Europe’s largest arms company. The show deals with surveillance and deception as well as friendship and trust. It is funny, personal and clever. Apparently, Cuckooed has been in the works for a while–a 2007 article that Thomas wrote in The Guardian in 2007 provides the outline.
Forgotten Voices is a reading by five actors based on the words of people who lived through World War I. I saw the show on the eve of the 100th anniversary of the U.K.’s entry into the war. The show ended just before the strike of midnight and was followed by a bagpipe tribute. It was a very moving evening.
14 of the 37 shows had a single performer.
9 of the 37 shows involved some sort of audience participation
8 involved mourning the death of a parent, sibling or child
I gave 23 out of 37 a rating of at least 3 stars. In other words, I liked 60% of the shows I saw. If you add in the shows with 2.5 stars, an additional 10% of the shows at least held my interest.
2.5 stars (held my interest but can’t say I enjoyed it)
The Eradication of Schizophrenia in Western Lapland
After three days of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival I have seen 19 shows.
I gave just only one show a full five stars: The Object Lesson, an original work of theater in an interactive space full of junk and boxes of stuff. A one man show conceived and performed by Geoff Sobelle, it is illusion, stunt and comedy that makes us think about all those objects we surround ourselves with.
Interestingly, of the eleven shows with three or more stars, seven were a single performer.
The shows included one (Theatre on a Long Wire) where the actor only appeared by phone and not even a speaker phone (one of the 16 audience members had to repeat the actors words), one which combined storytelling with movement and hip hop (Shame) and another (Margaret Thatcher) which featured men in drag and 80’s disco music.
5 Stars (excellent, mesmerizing, original)
The Object Lesson
4 Stars (I really enjoyed it)
Margaret Thatcher in Soho
Title and deed
3 stars (I enjoyed it)
Big bite sized breakfast
2.5 stars (held my interest but can’t say I enjoyed it)
The eradication of schizophrenia in western Lapland
2 stars (didn’t like)
Theatre on a Long Thin Wire
Anatomy of the piano
1 star (Disliked, found annoying, hated)
0 stars (I walked out)
About a week ago, I had my fourth and final dinner in Amsterdam at Wilde Zwijnen restaurant at Javaplein 23. When I arrived, there was a lively scene outside, the temperature was pleasant, and that is where I asked to sit. I was directly inside — I was told that the outside would be emptying up and that the inside would fill up.
My name was on the table so I was somewhat invested, but inside was hot and sitting there in an empty restaurant wishing I was outside colored my enjoyment of the meal.
The view of the restaurant from where I was sitting: The restaurant had a beautiful a la carte menu. I immediately saw dishes I would have liked to have. However the menu also offered a secret chef’s menu with two options– a three-course or a four-course option. They don’t tell you what is on the chef’s menu–you have to order it blind. I went with the 4-course chef’s menu, assuming that the dishes would be a creative representation of the chef’s cooking.
The first course was plaice with squid and octopus over potatoes, cucumbers, frise lettuce and red onions with a black ink sauce
The second course was a garlic soup. It was delicious. But I thought the hazelnuts overpowered the soup so I pushed them aside.
In the meantime, people had shown up for their reservations and most of them had asked to sit outside. Inside was still hot and, except for a couple of tables, empty.
From where I was sitting I could see the kitchen at the opposite end of the restaurant. I noticed the chef was running dishes to a number of tables. I was surprised he never brought a dish to my table. People dining in groups are there for the company and the conversation (in addition to the food), but a solo diner is just there just for the food. So, I thought if he was spending time greeting the tables, it would have been nice if he had said hello.
The third course was sliced beef with a fennel sausage with steamed vegetables, a couple of cubes of beef and a schmear of red onion purée. This was the most disappointing dish. Disappointing not just because the meat was a little bland and slightly tough, but also because it was boring. It seemed more like a dish on a prix fixe menu–simple, common dishes–nothing too challenging. I thought the chef’s menu was supposed to be something else, something more unique and interesting. I wished I had chosen one of the interesting sounding dishes on the a la carte menu instead.
Dessert was a yoghurt mousse, which marinated strawberries, almond crumble, a red sorbet, and an earl grey granita.