Monthly Archives: August 2013

Edinburgh Festival: Four Walls (2 stars)

A girl trapped in what’s either her own imagination or a fantasy universe converses with a talking kettle, grandfather clock, her mirror image alter ego and a pair of warring oven clothes. They discuss fixing the toilet, play cricket and have a picnic. It’s as if Alice visited Wonderland on a day when nothing was really happening.

Eventually, the surreal banality morphs into a chance for childish heroine Sarah to get over the past and, through a final scene involving lots of snotty crying into her sleeves, she at long last says goodbye to the chattering household objects who have guided her.

Written for The Scotsman

Edinburgh Festival: Cinderella Lives! (3 stars)

From feminism to capitalism, what exactly have those campaigning for equal rights for women achieved? Not equal pay, that’s for sure, points out Aisling Kiely’s imaginative one woman show. It costs businesses 16 per cent less on average to hire a female rather than a male, didn’t you know? You probably did, and while it’s a piece that covers the depressing facts and familiar arguments, it’s vivaciously performed by the charismatic Kiely in a way that is anything but predictable. A compellingly androgynous figure, who moves between male and female identities, she questions whether men and women are really so different after all. Suits, glitter, shoes, hair styles. Aren’t we all just wearing costumes?

Charting the story of a character called Eve and her relationships with her boss, flatmate and partners, it can feel like our host, who flits in and out of character, is having a conversation with herself, rather than us, as she agonises over what being a modern woman means. Is it the right to be sexy? Or something more? Through pop music, dance and glittering props, she fuses contemporary life with fairytale imagery, presenting the arguments with theatricality and pizzazz, even if they have been heard before.

Written for The Scotsman

Edinburgh Festival: Power Games (3 stars)

It’s an innovative idea: an interactive piece of dance theatre where the audience vote, in a TV gameshow set-up, for what they’d like to happen next. Meet Deepak, a wealthy banker and someone who, today at least, we would like to see have hot coffee spilt on him and get a huge bill from the tax office. While Deepak isn’t especially dislikeable, he is into gambling on the markets and in the casino – which, in this day and age, is difficult to find attractive.

Polished but somewhat obvious movement pieces, fusing contemporary and South Asian dance, capture the cold, sharp lines of city living and anxiety driven by the constant pressure to succeed. The decisions the audience make often have little effect on wider action. Through a single routine Deepak goes from meeting a woman to their relationship falling apart, all without us holding up our voting cards.

The story is less interesting than the form, and the form – despite a final twist – feels under-explored. In trying to do a lot conceptually, performer, director and choreographer Shane Shambhu’s new company, Altered Skin, doesn’t have time to make us care about the people whose fate we are supposedly deciding, which is a shame.

Written for The Scotsman

Edinburgh Festival: Small Talk (4 stars)

You know those films that are really gratuitous and you think, ‘What on Earth was the actress thinking doing that?’ Then you see an interview with her and she is talking about her character’s motivation and the director’s vision and you are like, ‘Wow, she thinks it’s Citizen Kane?’ Well, that’s how Antonia Grove’s beautifully performed, funny, provocative one-woman piece of dance theatre starts off – with a girl in a glittery dress telling us just how wonderful, creative and artistic it is to star in a movie set in a torture chamber.

As the words become more extreme, Grove’s body violently twists into unnatural shapes. One minute she’s an all-American starlet, the next a Hollywood action heroine being blasted across the stage – the supposedly “strong” woman we are constantly presented with who is, in fact, equally as archaic as the fluffy, blonde love interest.

From actresses who push themselves to places they don’t want to go, and justify it by claiming it is liberating, to a female stand-up comic seeking approval through laughs, Grove asks us to consider how much of the way we behave and look is for ourselves or other people. Her own appearance is constantly changing as she dons wigs and costumes, and we never really get to see the person beneath – just insights into women she describes as both “me and not me”.

Are we laughing at them because Grove is funny or because we think they are stupid? Is the stereotype of stupid women one we are all too ready to embrace? When Grove crumbles in front of some increasingly nasty recorded laughter, having delivered some whimsical female-centric anecdotes, it’s an uncomfortable moment of self-reflection.

Created in collaboration with Wendy Houstoun, it’s a piece that is constantly reinventing itself – moving from dance to spoken word to comedy and clowning – through which Grove explores whether it is ever really possible to just “be yourself”. As the frustration at feeling trapped in a series of pre-defined roles rips through the exhilarating choreography, we’re left to consider both who she and we really are.

Written for The Scotsman

Edinburgh Festival: Darren Maskell: A Woodlouse Trapped Underneath a Glass (2 stars)

The show, the show, the show’s about to start,” chants some music as Darren, larger than life in all senses, flicks the lights on and off. With the Daz logo and “The National Trust” tattooed on his arm, he’s a great person to spend an hour with – a cross between a great mate and someone from another planet, and possibly (yes!) a woodlouse.

There are some brilliantly understated moments: the wryly observed details of cooking pasta and the tragedies of dating. Darren is deliberately irreverent but the show needs more focus to work as something beyond a series of bizarre scenes.

Written for The Scotsman

Edinburgh Festival: Yellow Pears (2 stars)

The homogeneous one-size-fits-all corporate world is closing in and a market stall faces being closed down. That is, unless manager Raz and her assistant Itzy can stop it. The pair’s outfits are as thrown together as the stuff they’re selling, but they are a likeable duo, played with heart by performers and devisors Rose McPhilemy and India Crawford.

Less successful is the story, which, cut with physical theatre and dance, uses surreal imagery without making it apparent why. As a critique of modern consumerism it has things to say but the esoteric style doesn’t make them any less obvious.

Written for The Scotsman

Edinburgh Festival: A Reason to Smile (2 stars)

How do relationships end? Over 45 minutes, this two-hander by 17-year-old writer and performer Lucy Ioannou attempts to answer this question by charting the journey of unemployed Christopher and ambitious writer Jo, from meeting in a library to a violent and emotionally draining break-up.

The young cast give it their all and it’s clearly quite an intense piece to perform, but also to watch – and one that doesn’t seem to have anything to say other than the somewhat bleak message that love dies.

Less choppy scenes would allow more time to explore the characters and subject matter in greater depth.

Written for The Scotsman