Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2014 Wrap #3


At a time when war once more is leering at her victims in Gaza it isn’t surprising that a number of works address the issues of responsibility, corruption and – yes – fundamentalism across both camps.

The story isn’t necessarily new but it does shine a light, if somewhat tepid, on the relationship between Somalia and Britain. From the perspectives of Fawsia (Jade Tettey), a Somalian refugee and now UK resident, and former soldierCrispy (Fergus McGovern), the main narratives question the motives of war and its unrelenting acceleration by George Bush and Tony Blair.

Accompanying this central narrative are blurry narratives that provide some insight to the various relationships between the different members of society including Professor Abukar (Isolte Avila), who does give some beautiful renditions of Somalian poetry, and of course the expected Taliban representative played by David Bower.

There are some clever aspects to this play – the use of chalkboards, directors chairs orchestrating the stage for war, good combat fighting scenes – but the work is still in its embryonic stage and needs further development.

It raises important questions as to the notion of fundamentalism and the misconceptions of Islam, the difficult and ugly choices that war forces people in power to make often at the expense of thousands of unjustified deaths – and yet it does little more than scratch the surface.

Works like these need support and have valuable stories to share with a much larger audience – but simultaneously they need extensive restructuring to be more than just visual extracts from conversational performance.

two stars


The Leeds community are ready to talk. In fact, they’re ready to talk a lot. But we’re going to hear their thoughts through the voices and visceral impressions of two young university women who went to this community to collect interviews with the locals on the very topical subject of the Asian community in Leeds.

The verbatim form isn’t new. The interviews play through their ipods and they repeat their interviewees’ responses mere seconds after they hear the words themselves.

As a collection of insights and responses by a variety of different members from the Leeds community commenting on the racism in Leeds, the work has much to offer. These are the words of individuals who share personal information on their migration to England, growing up as a first generation British with Asian heritage, and of course the conversation does not exclude the voices of ‘opinionated’ Anglo voices who aren’t hesitant to say, indeed in 2014, that it is largely ‘black’ people who cause a lot of the problems. Not really folks “like the Polish”, but the rest.

There are some fascinating, undisguisedly revealing narratives that are shared in this 50 minute production but where the work stumbles is in its actual curation and delivery. Sitting down for the majority of the show, both female performers are limited in their visceral connection to the words of their interviewees. While both are skilled performers, the stories are somewhat bound by the constant musical chairs scenario.

It is also interesting that only for the portrayal of Muslim women do the actors don a scarf – an interesting choice because, if no other story and it’s narrator requires an accessory, does the deliberate inclusion of a headscarf – already such a politically charged statement – actually benefit the conversation?

Some of the material might be familiar, some thoughts might be new, but essentially this production is in its entirety a collection of interviews. To its credit, it allows for voices to be heard in their own words and on their own terms – but then what?

There is much to be done with such a rich assortment of varying views and opinions and their responses – ranging from resigned, frustrated, disgusted, reactive and proactive – have a much larger role to play in shaping future work.

two stars

21st Century Poe: Moyamensing

Any Edgar Allan Poe fan would be instantly drawn to an opportunity to experience a glimpse from Poe’s last few weeks spent in Moyamensing prison in Philadelphia.

In a very Canterbury Tales-style fashion we are invited to wander through the back lanes of Poe’s memory as Scottish playwright and performer Marty Ross presents highly physical excerpts from those last chilling days in prison.

The writing, while constantly delivered in a babbling stream-of-consciousness, is quite beautiful; though it is easy to fall in and out of the various twists and turns, a few key metaphors do anchor the audience and certain sections are taken verbatim from Poe’s own memoirs.

Unfortunately, the acting is rather one-note: a constant state of frenetic activity with Ross leaping, yelling, pleading and yet missing subtle beats of pace and silence in this increasingly dizzy world where paranoia is blurred with hysteria. And more’s the pity.

The lighting states are also a tad frustrating: either clinical fluorescent white or scarlet, giving a reductive good-bad effect that does nothing for the performance.

Ross comes into his own in the final 20 minutes of the production with the gruesome dissection scenes and the complex narrative does finally reach a semi-satisfactory state.

A shorter, less melodramatic production would have sufficed.

two stars

According to his Need  

The politics of love. Indeed. Many a manifesto has been entrenched in notions of supposed egalitarianism between the sexes but as nerdy but likeable Nick (Michael-David McKiernan) and unrelenting Marxist Cass (Hannah Tucker Mamalis) prove through their short-lived dalliance, life in the debating chamber isn’t easy.

Desperate for girls, Nick first made his foray into politics by joining the local branch of his communist party with the hope that girls with ‘brains’ might find his newly acquired knowledge about Marxist theory and his Che Guevara t-shirt attractive. Eventually, iron lady Cass melts under his puppy advances and volunteers to educate him.

This however, leads not to a cheesy Disney ending but a befitting finale showcasing the collision of two, where our lovers are successfully thrown off course. Nick is out of his depth and fails to find equilibrium amongst the party and its politics; and Cass, having put love before work, is forced to relinquish her student. No happily-ever-after. Or is there?

It’s clever and well-written. Emerging playwright Oliver Eagleton traces the adventures of these two unlikely lovers, their sacrifices and efforts to adapt, even their recourse to philosophical interrogation whilst having sex. Intellectual shags, as the play celebrates, can be incredibly satisfying, yet socialism comes at a price that demands more than just casual participation.

However, while both McKiernan and Mamalis have good chemistry and an impressive ability to be present whilst engaging with long tracts of socialist rhetoric, the actual staging is unimaginative (in the round, inhibited admittedly by a small room) and the awkward lighting state creates a sense of watching an experiment take place – albeit, one that suggests that success is likely for socialist intervention productions, especially when coupled with great writing and confident performances.

three stars


I’ve never been tasered in a show. Yes, that’s right TASERED. But it’s quite likely that I’ll remember the particular production quite distinctly – although ‘memorable’ may not be the right term.

But let’s start at the beginning. Hidden away in the basement of Edinburgh’s French institute, Antiquithon is inspired by the notion of side-show freaks and carnivalesque exoticisation.

Here in this dark cavernous space we are introduced to the remains and the relics of a Romanian collection. Curiosities pique the human interest, and certainly for the grandfather of Ourelia (Aurélie de Cazanove) and Vodek (Gwen Aduh), this collection is reflective of an obsession with the mysterious and the foreign.

From the hairy hand of the Tibetan Yeti to the spider-rabbit and a tiny dancing skeleton, anomalies of the human condition and also the natural world seem to have been his chief occupation. Forced to flee from Romania, this brother-sister combo is intriguing: Ourelia a ring mistress in this freak show and her brother, silent and watchful, unable to speak it seems.

But what could have been a clever interrogation, a dismantling of the exoticised frames in which such curiosities are located, lapses into cheap tricks, swerving towards the taboo and ultimately an ending that only just touches upon the notions of voyeurism that is thrust upon the audience.

The lack of a strong clear narrative and any semblance of plot ensure that the grand finale is rendered somewhat lazy and largely unimaginative, a quick exit from a work that could have had promise.

two stars

Casting the Runes

M.R James’ short story by the same title is a suspense-laden page-turner. But does this quite translate into an equally chilling stage production by Box Tale Soup?

Professor Edward Dunning (Noel Byrne) is a no-nonsense implacable disbeliever and refuses to publish a manuscript on alchemy by the mysterious Karswell. This is despite the fact that the last person who refused to entertain the requests of this silent and stealthy author was found dead three days after being handed a piece of paper with runic letters.

Enter the young and winsome Joanna Harrington (Antonia Christophers) who, despite several failed attempts at convincing Dunning of the serious implications of ignoring Karswell, finally succeeds in convincing the sceptic that there is more to this than an ingenious magician’s box of tricks.

Christophers also plays a number of other characters, including the nervous librarian, Dunning’s pragmatic assistant and of course the shadowy Karswell: a larger-than-life, leering puppet.

There is much to like in this show but it fails to grasp the sense of looming death, the metaphors are undermined by Coleridge’s beautiful poem being repetitively used as a mere transition state, and the singing would not have been missed.

While Byrne succeeds in playing cool and calm, his transition to believing in his imminent departure from the world of the living lacks the heightened development of tension and ends up being rather one-note. Christophers, while commendable in her various character roles, seems rather wobbly on the day and a slight hesitancy detracts from her pivotal role as a lead.

A recommended production that could go much further than it presently does.

three stars


The Second World War takes centre stage in this slick vintage-style drama by Nottingham New Theatre. Three women have been detained under the stipulations of Regulation 18b for being suspected Nazi sympathisers – consequently, they can be imprisoned without trial. This is their interrogation.

At a time when suspicion is rife and alliances are questionable, 18b provides an opportunity to look back while moving forward. These women form the centre of an unfurling narrative about who chooses sides during war. There is the high-society lady with an admiration for Hitler’s tastes in the arts, an actress who sees no reason to hide her fascist beliefs and a German woman who now lives in England and calls it home.

And of course, there are the two interrogators pulling at straws to decide who will use what manipulative tactics to cajole or if necessary, coerce confessions. All five actors are excellent, offering well-paced nuanced performances that lift what is essentially a sequence of interrogation vignettes to a critical examination of war-time espionage.

But where this polished production fails is in its content. Allusions are made to a number of moral dilemmas, issues of nationalism and democracy are skimmed over. Inevitably, despite the sophisticated visual aesthetic complemented well with a thoughtful sound design, the production lacks substance, spiralling towards an ambiguous ending where all the effort made seems to be for nought.

A somewhat disappointing conclusion to what could have been more than just a nonchalant nod at Regulation 18b.

three stars


Inspired by the life and loves of civil rights activist and songstress Nina Simone this is a one-woman show that is packed with charm, tenderness and a whole lot of soul.

Black is the Colour of my Voice brings the very talented Apphia Campbell to the fore of the Fringe’s best shows. Channelling the fictional Mena Bordeaux, Campbell showcases the tumultuous journey of one of American’s greatest musical icons – from child prodigy to human rights champion for black rights and all the various personal highs and lows that accompanied this life.

Accomplished through a range of conversations with her deceased father as she prepares for a spiritual release, this is an invitation into the personal world of Bordeaux with no distractions, no outside phone calls and certainly no cigarettes.

Campbell has a powerful voice and although the narrative seems to be at times awkwardly punctuated with bursts of song, she has her audience mesmerised. There’s no piano but before you can lament its absence Campbell has already started crooning her way into the heart of her audience.

Armed with basic props, and performing on a tiny stage at the Gilded Ballroom the she packs a punch chiefly because the narrative and the music are beautifully entwined in an engaging performance that refuses to be self-indulgent.

It’s not easy to be young, talented and black in 1960s America and yet the victory is not about crowing over others less fortunate. Instead the show celebrates the unrelenting passion of a people who refuse to abide by the dictates of society.

Set against the racial riots, the death of Dr Martin Luther King and her own personal heartaches, the story of Bordeaux – and as a result, Nina Simone herself – inspires hope, not just then but especially today.

four stars

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