Well, itís been physical.
This festival the theatrical world lifted the skirts of society
and found out it was going commando. Theatre is traditionally
the most debauched of all the artforms, but the sheer sleaziness
that has preoccupied the Fringe should have us all worried.
As every year, thereís an awful lot of exposing the darker
side of the zeitgeist with dread, an awful lot of exposing
liberal hypocrisy and an awful lot of good old self-exposure.
This was the year of crazy Russians with great propmakers,
overbearing mothers, gastroporn and tasteless showtunes. This
should have been the year of Saddam the Musical, if there
was any justice in the world.
Itís surprising how much of the best stuff on the boards was
what is known to drama tutors as Ďdevised workí. Those on
the lookout for great new scripts to take home to their local
Little Theatre have been disappointed. Watching Braintree
Community Arts tackle Derevo Ė Islands in the Stream
(5stars) would be entertainment of sorts,
but perhaps not art. Itís hard to imagine this being done
justice by anyone other than the mad Moscovites, whose mysterious,
mystical approach to their work is legendarily weird. It pays
off, though, in this impressionistic take on loneliness in
the modern world. Perhaps itís the ingenious props, or the
stunning lighting, or just the sheer eeriness of the whole
production which makes this an unmissible highlight of the
Fringe. The fact that Derevo themselves all look the same
- androgynous little embryos with shaved heads and eyebrows
Ė only adds to the sense of being caught in a fantastic world
where words canít be trusted. Ironic, since this play has
nicked the title of a Hemingway novel.
No less mad, but more rooted in the everyday, is Grid Ironís
Those Eyes, That Mouth (5stars).
This ambitious show involved the company taking over a house
to put on a production about a house taking over a photographer.
A derelict New Town flat hosts an altogether unhinged woman
and the ghosts of her relationship. Site-specific work can
be balls, and a way of fudging a companyís lack of talent.
Here itís a way of exploring loneliness in a way that lingers
Of course, everyone wants a slice of these box-office hits.
Chance would be a fine thing Ė at this stage in the game,
tickets are like gold dust. There are plenty of venues, though,
which understand that the beer and fag fog that descends over
most festival goers tends to screw their ability to organize
their ticket-buying. Even if you only had one Festival day
to live, thereís top quality theatre to be had. The
Argument (5stars) plays a large
enough auditorium to let the less cool and collected of us
pick up tickets on spec. This incredibly intelligent but beautifully
agile play is the perfect antidote to all the rather sterile
shoutiness of high-concept agitprop fare. Its observation
of family life falling apart after the loss of a mother understands
the big stuff through the private and personal, and is all
the more affecting for it. Any family will understand shouting
ĎI want to have a conversation with you, but I donít know
Cillian Murphyís cheeky little face ought to have sold out
The Seagull (5stars) instantly.
Apart from him being beautiful and talented, itís rare to
share a theatre with a live, genuine film star. Those clever
International Festival types have come up with the ruse of
holding back reserve tickets every day, so everyone stands
a chance of basking in his prettiness. While youíre there,
this is a hard to come by chance to see Chekhov in a first-class
production. Exquisite acting and a very bare stage add up
to an almost unbearably bitter study of ambition and jealousy.
And itís got another one of those goddam awful mothers in
it. Theatre, thy name is Oedipus.