What’s worth watching: Edinburgh Fringe 2017

fringe-chris-scott

Skip to: Bite Size, Call Mr. Robeson, The Jurassic Parks, Police Cops in Space, Replay, Izzy’s Manifestoes, The Friday Night Effect, Gratiano, The House, Mars Actually, No Miracles Here, The Empress and Me, Labels, Your Ever Loving, Give Me Your Love, The Writers’ Room, You, Me and Everything Else, Boris and Sergey, Imaginary Porno Charades, The Dark Room, Doktor James’s Academy of Evil, Knightmare Live, Morgan and West, Murder’ She Didn’t Write, Notflix, The City, The Divide

Edinburgh fringe has already started, and I still haven’t written up these recommendations. Let’s get started then. Here’s a list of things coming up at Edinburgh which I can recommend seeing for various reasons. You can find the full rules for how I choose what to endorse in my Recommendations Policy, but the main thing to remember is that is a cross-sections of good plays, not an exhaustive list. In particular, for Edinburgh I have a rule that recommendations are only given to groups I’ve seen before. I’ve heard a lot of good things about other groups, but if I was to include them the list would get unmanageably long.

No major changes since previous fringes to report this time, so let’s get straight to it. All plays run the entire length of the fringe unless otherwise noted.

Safe choice

So let’s being with some choices that have wide appeal and I’m confident will be liked. Often these are plays I’ve seen before, at other time it’s groups I’ve seen before where I have good reasons to believe a new play will not disappoint. No play ever appeals to everyone, but if you like the sound of the play from this description and their own publicity, I’m confident you’ll like it for real.

These are written in alphabetical order rather than order of preference. Here they are:

The Big Bite-Size Breakfast Show and Lunch Hour

bite-size-breakfast-image-lores-300x300Plenty of groups do entertainment of ten-minutes plays, either individually or a set, but Nick Brice’s group always outshines the others. What started off in the tiny upstairs studio of the Roman Eagle Lodge back in 2006 has grown into one of the most popular shows in the fringe, opening Pleasance Dome every morning. Some funny plays, some serious plays, but most fitting of all, a lot of humour on absurd situations that fit to 10-minute format perfectly.

Continuing what they started last year, Bite-Size now have a breakfast show and a lunchtime show. If you are new to this, I recommend going to the lunchtime “best bites” first. This has six plays from the previous decade, of which I liked two and loved four. For the slightly more adventurous, the breakfast show is almost entirely new plays. As always, they are running three different “menus” in rotation, and if you like this it is well worth catching all of them. The new plays are a little more hit-and-miss, but if a play doesn’t work out it’s only a short wait until the next one – and the next one could be a gem you’ll remember for years.

The breakfast show is at 10.30 a.m., including their trademark coffee, croissant and strawberries. The lunch hour best bites is at 12.30 p.m. Both of these are in Pleasance Dome, both the 15th and 22nd off.

Call Mr. Robeson

alt3_2016

After hearing so many good things about this play, I finally saw this in Buxton last month in the Rontunda’s debut season. Writer Tayo Aluko plays Paul Robeson, a outspoken black singer in America in the mid-20th century who became a pariah – but not for the reason you might think. Even though he lived in a country where racial segregation was the norm, he defied expectation and oozed talent a charisma earning him a huge following on both sides of racial divide. No, it was the Red Scare that turned him into an outcast, seemingly singled out for a few naive comments he made about the Soviet Union.

It’s an amazing story that Aluko tells with great clarity. From his rise to stardom to his speeches against segregation to his battle with the McCarthyites to his life afterwards. Throw into the mix an exquisite singing voice covering many of Mr. Robseson’s greatest songs, and there’s few things you can fault with this play. It’s only on in the last week of the fringe on August 21st-26th at Quaker Meeting House, alternating between 2.20 and 8.20 p.m.

The Jurassic Parks

jurassic-park-superbolt-theatre-image-4-lst172364Superbolt Theatre shot to fame two years ago with the most unlikely hit: Jurassic Park (as it was called then), but not as you know it. A play within a play, the Parks are showing a screening of the film the family watched together, commemorating their mother who died a year ago. When the video turns out to be missing, they are about to descend into another row, when son Noah hit of the bright idea they act out the film. This is the last thing you would expect to work as a play, but it does, and the reason why is that it’s not just Stephen Spielberg’s film on stage – it’s also the story of the Park family. Scenes from the film are interwoven with scenes from the Park Family’s difficult backstory, often funny, but often surprisingly moving.

Superbolt are back at the Fringe with a new show, but if you haven’t seen them before, see this one, as it is unbeatable. Under a slightly different name, it shows on alternate days at Assembly Roxy between the 6th and 27 August at 7.00 p.m. See it, or put up with everyone else telling you how great it was. So you don’t want to miss it this time.

Police Cops in Space

serveimage.jpegAnother popular play from two years ago was Police Cops, which can be most easily be summed up as a parody of every 1970s cop show ever made. It’s as if The Pretend Men planned this by watching all of these cop shows, listing every cliche that came up, and working them all into the same story. And so we have the obligatory pair of mismatched cops, the cynical old hand and an idealistic rookie seeking to avenge the death of his brother, killed of course by the evil drug baron overlord or something.

So how do you follow this up? When you’ve gone over the top in ever cliched 70s cop show way possible, what is there left to do. Well, they haven’t gone into space yet, so I guess Police Cops in Space it is. Now they up against evil business empire Futuretech, so maybe it’s not set in the 1970s this time, but if it’s in the future, I really hope it’s the future as imagined in the 1970s. Don’t expect anything particularly deep or meaningful, but do expect an hour of slick high-energy silliness, showing at Pleasance Dome at 7.00 p.m. (not 14th or 23rd).

Replay

Last on the safe choice lreplay2-770x1089ist is Dugout Theatre, but maybe not Dugout Theatre as you know it. For the last few years, Dugout Theatre has been known for a series of excellent devised plays, always involving plenty of singing, and whilst the topics vary from light-hearted casino heists to dark apocalyptic futures, they’ve always been mostly funny with a healthy dose of surrealism. But it hasn’t always been that way. Prior to their recent hits, they did some very down-to-earth stuff such as an excellent performance of Patrick Marber’s classic Dealer’s Choice. This play looks like one of those.

One important note: this is not the ensemble piece we’ve been used to in recent years. Instead, it’s a solo play written and performed by Nicola Wren, who, as far as I can tell, only got involved with Dugout Theatre very  recently. She plays a workaholic Police Officer, and the play has been heavily lauded for covering the topic of bereavement, in this case her brother. Normally I would put a play this different – even with the track record of Dugout’s – as a bold choice, but I’ve heard enough about this play and Wren’s old track record to upgrade this to Safe Choice. See this at 2.15 p.m. in Pleasance Courtyard (not 15th), but expect a very different Dugout to what you know.

Bold choices:

Now for some picks a bit more what a fringe is about. These are plays I have reason to believe could be good but you’ll have to see it to know whether it’s the play for you. Some of these plays are new, some I’ve yet to see, and some have split opinion. But if it’s a gamble, it could be a gamble you’ll so glad you took.

Bite Size: Izzy’s Manifestos

https://i2.wp.com/www.bite-size.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/06/Claira-lores-300x263.jpgThe Bite Size team might be the undisputed champions of ten-minute breakfast plays, but one thing they’ve always struggled with is doing something different. It’s the curse of the smash hit: once you’re known for one thing, everything else you do will be judged against those expectations. Over the years, Bite Size has experimented with various things: follow-up shows, bringing more serious plays into the main programme,but the most recent attempt was in 2015 Lunch in Cairo, two half-hour plays covering complicated topics in Africa. Then last year they went for the more popular but far tamer best bites for a lunch hour. So, what better us of a lunch hour: the safe bet of greatest hits, or the riskier bet of new writing? Well, why not both?

And so this year, alongside the aforementioned lunchtime show, they are doing a second one-hour play called Izzy’s Manifestoes. A solo play performed by Bite Size veteran Claira Watson Parr, we don’t know much about this play because the publicity gives a lot of contradictory hints as to what this play might be about, but it’s likely that mental health will feature in this, something that has been rising in prominence in the last few years. For once, Bite Size ventures away from their Pleasance home, and this shows in Gilded Balloon at 12:15 p.m. (not 15th or 22nd).

The Friday Night Effect

Sunday’s Child have grabbed my attention lately. There was a lot of praise for My Name is Saiorse back in 2014, set in 1980s rural Ireland where sex education is non-existent (and everyone thinks the teen pregnancy rate is just a coincidence), but the one I particularly liked was Overshadowed, based on Eve O’Connor’s personal experiences of anorexia – but unlike many plays where the writer plays someone like herself talking about her own experiences, she played her own inner demon, an invisible friend driving someone to self-destruction.

This follow-up looks promising, and ambitious too. It’s a wild night out in Dublin. How the story unfolds between Jamie, Sive and Collette is decided by the audience at various points in the play, but whatever happens, but by the end Collette will be dead. This interactive format is a departure from the previous two plays, but Eve O’Connor made some astute observations in her last two plays which bodes will here. This shows at Assembly George Square at 2.35 p.m. (not 15th).

Gratiano

unknown-32-700x455Ross Eriscon shot to fringe fame two years ago with The Unknown Soldier, a play set in the aftermath of World War One. That didn’t cover the obvious topics of life in the trenches and going over the top, but the equally important topic of what happened after the guns fell silent. The follow-up, Gratiano, gets even more ambitious. This is a re-telling of The Merchant of Venice, transplanted to Venice in Mussolini’s Italy. Shylock the Moneylender isn’t any nicer than he was in the original, but that’s no longer the main reason why everyone hates him so much. Ericson delivers another cautionary tale about extremist politics.

Bold choice instead of safe choice because it’s a very complicated concept that you either will buy into or you won’t. As well as transplanted the story, it extends to a later point where the hero Bassiano is murdered, except that no-one’s really the hero any more and instead everyone is betraying everyone else. But it’s all done very cleverly, and whatever you make of this, it will be unlike anything else you see at the fringe.  See this at Assembly Hall at 1.40 p.m. (not 21st).

The House

Jane Postlethwaite is one of Brighton Fringe’s national treasures. She previously got my attention with her writing on taking part in a fringe, so when she finally took part in Edinburgh herself I gave Made in Cumbria a go, which I loved. She plays five different Cumbrians, and whilst it’s fair to say the humour was a bit too derivative of The League of Gentleman, it was fun to be introduced to a hawker or tour guide who has probably murdered someone recently.

The House is her follow-up and looks set to build on this humour. Again it’s character comedy where she plays a whole host of different characters, and with this house presumably haunted you can expect a few more skeletons in the cupboard to come to light, or probably more likely bodies under the floorboards. This shows at Sweet Grassmarket at 1.30 p.m. (not Wednesdays).

Mars Actually

https://ksr-ugc.imgix.net/assets/016/626/169/4ccee756f738bd6e9e528ad4083a92c8_original.jpg?crop=faces&w=1552&h=873&fit=crop&v=1494491128&auto=format&q=92&s=8f60668419a2cb1a532e3f27efd9511cSo now it’s back to Superbolt Theatre. They may be bringing their smash hit back to Edinburgh, but they’re also bringing their new show, Mars Actually, which I saw at the Vault Festival. There was maybe a little work still to be done back then, with the pace sometimes too fast and sometime too slow, but the ingenious staging that made Jurassic Park such a great hit is to be seen here too. We are greeted by three Martains – descendants of the pioneering earthlings who went to the Red Planet. Or did they? Their enthusiasm over life on Mars is a thin sticking plaster, and as we learn more about founder of the mission, more questions emerge about just how free they really are. Especially if you’re a woman, where it seems your sole purpose is to have babies.

If you can only see one Superbolt play, see The Jurassic Parks, because that was unbeatable,  but this is a good play to follow this up with. Superbolt clearly have no intention of being a one-hit wonder and Mars Actually actually shows how many ideas they still have up their sleeves. This shares the slot with The Jurassic Parks, which means it’s alternate days at Assembly Roxy between the 7th and 26th August at 7.00 p.m.

No Miracles Here

https://i2.wp.com/www.theletterroomtheatre.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/TOF_7567-1030x514.jpg

Finishing off the list of Bold Choices is The Letter Room. This is one of the products of North, a project at Northern Stage to create a new theatre company each year out of actors in the north-east. The Letter Room is the company from the original 2013 intake, and Five Feet in Front from 2015 was a highly impressive debut. A kind of Wild Western version of Sodom and Gomorrah, I was hopeful that Northern Stage would have trained them well in devising theatre together, but I had no idea they’d be so good at designing their own lighting, staging, singing and playing their own instruments.

So here comes their follow-up, No Miracles Here. As with many new plays, few clues are given, only that it is heavily Northern Soul-themed and mental health will feature somewhere in this. They’ve set themselves a high bar to clear with the previous play, but if they work their magic with all the music and staging they did last time, it stands them in good stead. See this at 11.00 a.m. in Northern Stage at Summerhall (not Wednesdays).

You might like …

Now for three plays I’ve previously seen. As with safe choices, if you like the description of this then I expect you will like the play, but these productions I expect to have more specialised appeal than the safe choices. They are:

The Empress and Me

Thanks to the appearance of the Rotunda in Buxton, I’ve caught up with most of Grist to the Mill’s productions, and that includes this solo piece performed by Michelle Yim. Like Call Mr. Robeson, this is also a true story, this one about Yü Derling, also known as Princess Derling, in the days of Chinese Emperors and Empresses. Although forgotten by most people now, along with most history of the Chinese dynasties, she had a fascinating life: the daughter of a Chinese diplomat growing up in Paris, later recalled to China and adopting a new life as a lady in waiting, her life is perhaps a perfect microcosm of East meeting West.

This piece does at times sound more like a biography told in first person than a solo play, and it maybe missed a few opportunities to see Yü Derling as a character and not just a woman telling her story, but there’s no denying that the story itself is fascinating. Whilst it may tell a lot about the difference between Eastern and Western values of the period, the people in her life are far from stereotypes: it is her liberally-minded Chinese father who pushes for the most freedom in her life rather than her more socially conservative half-American mother, and one of her biggest frustrations is condescending westerners telling her what’s meant to offend her. Find this at Assembly George Square at 11.00 a.m. (not 21st).

Labels

It’s hard to know where exactly shows like Labels belong. This, and many shows like it, have an actor-performer talking about something in their lives important to them. Is it a theatre performance of true life told in speech, or a speech of true like told with theatrical staging? But there’s no denying that whatever you call this, Joe Sellman-Leava’s piece is one of the most successful. His own story of growing-up in the south-west as a mixed race child is juxtaposed against inflammatory rhetoric over race. Some of this is from the usual suspects, such as Clarkson, Hopkins and Trump, but there is one important exception: Idi Amin. His inclusion is not there simply for the sake of balance, but because Joe’s father was one of the tens of thousands of Asians expelled from Uganda. It’s an interesting hour, covering a lot of topics and no sign of pandering to narratives. This shows at Pleasance Courtyard at 11.30 a.m., but only of Thursday-Sunday.

Your Ever Loving

I saw this last year when it toured to Alphabetti Theatre. A play about the Guildford Four, from their arrest to their release after years in prison, it might have been a ground-breaking piece had it come fifteen years earlier when details of forced confessions were still coming to light; now, it only tells a story everybody already knows. But there’s still a lot to like about this piece. Performed as a two-hander, it tells the tale with a surpising mixture of humour to drama to comment. One moment, we hear about the moment the maimed victims are wheeled into court – a warning of the tactic of “Someone must pay for what’s been done to these people – here is someone”. Another moment, they talk about the fictionalised sensational appeal trial, compared with the realistic version where the defence lawyer drones his may through legal jargon. This shows on the 3rd-20th August at Underbelly Cowgate at 12:00 noon.

Wildcards

The next three plays are ones I haven’t seen and I don’t know whether or not they are any good, but these grabbed by interested, and if you want to try your luck with something new, this might be a good bet.

Give Me Your Love

I haven’t managed to keep up with Ridiculusmus ever since I saw The Eradication of Schizophrenia is Western Lapland back in 2014, but few groups can claim to be as innocative and risk-taking as them. When you see a play with two simultaneously-running scenes to audiences on different sides of the room, you know you’re in for something unique (and, for once, having little idea what’s going on is the whole point of the play). Consequently, it’s anybody’s guess what they have in store for this new play. We know it involves an ex-soldier Zach on medication, ahving withdrawn into a cardboard box, but little else. Whatever happens, though, you can safely bet it will be like nothing else you see at the fringe. This shows from 15th-27th August in Summerhall at 10.15 a.m. (not 21st).

The Writers’ Room

Degrees of Error are best know by their key production of Murder, She Didn’t Write, a long-running improvised murder-mystery, and also my introduction to Edinburgh Fringe Theatre. Previously I’d assumed groups like this had some stock storylines ready to fill in the gaps, but there I learned just how much is done on the fly. So it’s only fair to give a shout-out for the new project, The Writers’ Room. This is still an improvised production, but without the murder mystery theme. And – quite unusual for improvised shows – it’s not billed as comedy at all, appearing in the theatre section as storytelling instead. Can you do improv without comedy? We will at the The Space on Niddry Street at 10.20 p.m. on 21st-26th August.

You, Me and Everything Else

I’ve been singing the praises of The Letter Room on the strength of Five Feet in Front, but of course there’s been graduates of four more Norths at Northern Stage since their inaugural year. So I’m interested to see what we get from The Camisado Club, the group that formed the following year. The play is billed as a science-fact love story that involves sending a mixtape into outer space, so no point in guessing what the play is about, but keeping my fingers crossed for The Letter Room’s Northern Stage successor. Shows as Zoo at 5.45 p.m. on the 4th-14th August.

From the comedy

This is a theatre blog, but I do see the occasional comedy piece. Most of these are successful recurring shows, so I won’t spend too long banging on about these because they have more than enough publicity. I can recommend:

Boris and Sergey’s One Man Extravaganza

Boris and Sergey are a pair of foul-mouthed puppets. Occasionally it comes under criticism for being the sort of thing that only makes sense after four pints, and I see where they’re coming from, but why are they saying that like it’s a bad thing? More seriously, whilst the twisted humour won’t be to everyone’s tastes, I have been really impressed by the puppetry, with puppets and puppeteers alike choreographed superbly. And most impressive last year was a completely improvised show. When you have three people per puppet, it literally does become a challenge of the left hand knowing what the right hand is doing. I don’t know how they did it, but they did.

This year, it’s billed as a one-man show. I’m not sure how this going to work – I’d have thought you could have Boris’s one-man show, or Sergey’s one-man show, but not Boris and Sergey’s one-man show, unless one of them has regenerated into Jodie Whittaker. The last time I saw a solo show with more than one person in, however, it involved a magician performing a trip to free Nelson Mandela whilst his glamorous assistant (a bit hairy man) did a burlesque dance. So if this is how these shows work, it should be right up Boris and Sergey’s street. This shows at Assembly George Square at 9.25 p.m. (Not 15th.)

Imaginary Porno Charades

Does what this days on the tin. It’s a game a charades. Where you have to guess the title of a made-up porn movie. (At least, we think they’re made up. I once checked on Google and swiftly regretted it.) Look, if you go looking for comedy at 11 p.m. and know what to expect, you’ll probably find it hilarious. If you are, say, an English graduate with a passion for museums and Radio 4, this probably isn’t your thing. Come if you like, but don’t expect anyone to take your indignation seriously. Sorry, I think I digressed there. No idea what made me think of that. Anyway, this shows Friday to Sunday in Sweet Grassmarket at 11 p.m.

(Irrelevantly, I procrastinated last week by creating these listings. I mean, I found them in the programme. What, are you suggesting I’m doctoring screenshots?)

The Dark Room / The Dark Room for kids

One of the greatest cult classics of the fringe, The Dark Room is everybody’s favourite homage to the 1980s adventure games. No, not things like The Curse of Monkey Islands. Graphics? You don’t know you are born. No, this is the golden age of text games, where You Awake To Find Yourself In A Dark Room (learn that phrase, you will be reciting it a lot), and you get for multiple choice options, where, just like the real adventure games, it’s impossible to know the right answer except blind guesswork.

New this year is The Dark Room for kids, which I’m told is almost the same show, except maybe not being quite so cruel to the muggins who take part. (I’ve already see him play the game with a child who strayed into a grown-up’s version and I can vouch he played nice.) The original grown-up show is at Underbelly Cowgate at 8 p.m. The kids’ version is at 4.30 at Just the Tonic at Community Project.

Doktor James’ Academy of Evil

Now for something that trascends the adult/children divide the other way round. Doktor James is in the family section of the programme, but this show has previously been performed as Doktor James’ Night School, which is exactly the same show but at a later time of day. Doktor James wants to take over the world, but he lives in his mum’s basement. Worse, his arch-nemesis (James-man, a superhero whose powers are being able to fly and starting Skype calls without the other person’s consent) is his twin brother and mum’s favourite. You get the idea. It shows 4th-20th August at 12.15 p.m. in Sweet Grassmarket.

Knightmare Live

Right, text adventure games are hard enough to explain to the young whippersnappers, but how do I explain the teenagers’ TV show in the early nineties? Oh, forget it, too complicated to explain in one paragraph. If you’ve seen this, you’ll understand why everyone cheers when someone says “You’re in a room” and you’ll understand why the wall monster has his feelings hurt if you say your favourite was Granitas. If you haven’t, you probably have no idea what I’m talking about, but don’t worry – you’ll pick it up as you go along. Only three performances here, on the 6th13th and 21st August at Underbelly George Square (presumably the upside down cow), various times. The last date seems to have been a recent addition – seems there’s too many 80s children for two to be enough.

Morgan and West

Yet another group who’s transcended the adult/child divide with similar shows. Billed as Victorian Time-Travelling Magicians, they’ve made a name for themselves with a combination of magic (they can even catch you out with a magic trick whilst explaining exactly how they do it) and exactly the sort of spiffing character you’d expect of Victorian gentleman, time-travelling or otherwise. Two years ago they introduced a family show, and whilst all of their shows were family-friendly this had children coming on stage. This time there’s a new children’s show and also a new grown-up show, and I’m hoping the grown-up one will be another time-travelling adventure which was my favourite format. All shows take place in Underbelly Med Quad. The children’s show is either 1.00 p.m. or 2.40 depending on the day. The grown-up show, hopefully time-travel included, is at 5.15 p.m.

Murder, she didn’t write

I’ve already plugged Degrees of Error for their new show, so let’s also list their long-running success, their improvised murder mystery. Set in the 1930s (because, as we all know, murder mysteries ended on the 1st January 1940), we have an ensemble of suspiciously colour-coordinated suspects, where one randomly-drawn coloured card decides the victim and the other decides the murdered. I haven’t seen much improvised comedy so I can’t conclusively compare this to others, but it was my introduction to how well done theatre on the fly could be. This shows at Pleasance Courtyard at 5.00 p.m., with an extra performance each Sunday at 11.00 p.m.

Notflix

And the other improvised show that impressed me in Notflix, which was an improvised musical. This one, I was convinced, had to have some sort of stock melodies to sing to, but no, the really do make up everything as they go along, piano, melody and harmony included. The theme is taking the worst movies out there and making them even worse, because everything is better as a musical. We won’t be having The Titanic again (the version that ends with “Land Ahoy” as the ship sails into new York Harbour), but that should give you an idea of what to expect. See this at 3.00 p.m. in Gilded Balloon Teviot.

Special choice:

There are a lot of other shows at Edinburgh that I’ve heard endless praise for. For reasons I already gave, I don’t have time to comprehensively list all of them. However, there is one play I must make an exception for.

The City – A Detective Hip Hop Opera

The City, photo by Petr Kiska

It takes a lot of guts for anyone to take a show to the Edinburgh Fringe. But it takes extraordinary courage to come back in defiance of people who want you silenced because of who you are.

It was disgraceful what happened at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2014. It’s not that people assembled a hate mob that shocked me – I have seen enough extremist politics in my time to get used to this – but the fact that plenty of artists lined up to to cheer this on, simply because the group concerned were Israelis. If they’d put on a play supporting the IDF bombing Gaza, I would still have supported their right to have their say (whilst completely disagreeing with that position), but I would at least have understood why some people would argue otherwise. This was not a pro-IDF play. It had nothing to do with the conflict at all. When you cut through the spin, it was pretty obvious the real gripe was that it undermined the narrative that Israelis are bloodthirsty murderers. I mean, we’ve worked very hard to portray the entire civilian population this way, and they think they can promote idea that Israelis can put on plays just like normal people do. Can’t have that, can we? That’s what the warmongers in Israel want. You don’t want Israeli warmongers to get their way, do you, huh?

If you read that and shrugged and went “Meh, why should I care about that?”, you are very naive. Along with the calls for censorship came the suggestions that they might be spared the mobs if they signed a statement taking an approved anti-Israeli stance. If that does not scare you, it should, because this is scarily reminiscent of the McCarthy era, where artists were routinely blacklisted by other artists for insufficiently denouncing the hate figures of the day, the communists. The Red Scare is over, but the hate figures simply change, and if the normalise the attitude that anyone can be targeted on frivolous connections and failure to comply with other people’s demands to adopt their opinions justifies open season on you, no-one is safe. No-one.

Luckily, the best weapon we have against censorship is the Streisand effect. Experience shows that the more obviously someone tries to censor someone’s voice, the more people hear about it and check what all the fuss is about. This was certainly the case last time, when The City went on to have sell-out runs in other cities. If you want one in the eye for the censors, nothing says it more than the play coming back to the festival they wanted it gone from. I don’t think big deal that some Israelis put on a play that has nothing to do with the conflict in Palestine, but they do. If they went through all that trouble to ban it last time, clearly they think they have something to fear from this.

As for the play itself, I don’t know whether it’s any good. All I can tell you is that the few reviewers who had the chance to see this seems to like it. It is of course possible that they got inflated star ratings from people who wanted to stick up for them. But this is now bigger than star ratings. This is about standing up to people who don’t want you or anyone else seeing things for yourself and making up your own mind. Incubator returning to Edinburgh has already done a lot to fight this. We can fight it even harder if they play to full houses. This has a short run at Drummond Community High School, but there are three performances each day at 12 p.m.4 p.m. and 8 p.m. See this and stand up and be counted. Don’t let the censors think it’s worth repeating this stunt, or next time it could be you.

(And before you ask – yes, if this had happened to a Palestinian group and it was pro-Israel anti-Palestine artists supporting the censorship, I would be saying exactly the same thing.)

And one from the international festival

I don’t normally pay attention to what’s going on at the International Festival. Nothing against then. just that I prefer concentrating on what low-budget grassroots groups, seeing who’s on the way up – and besides, I rarely see anything in the programme I recognise. However, this year is an exception, because I see Alan Ayckbourn is featuring.

The Divide

https://www.eif.co.uk/sites/default/files/styles/event_header_image/public/event-images/divide-2-1400x800.png?itok=EgrH56A3

Ayckbourn, I feel, is on the receiving end of a lot of cultural snobbery. The peak of his commercial success was in the 1970s with a lot of plays that went on to be popular with amateur dramatics, which is enough for some people to decide that nothing he ever writes can possibly be of any cultural value, failing to notice or outright ignoring how different his writing got over the next four decades. Expect a lot of people to dismiss this out of hand without seeing it.

Even so, I don’t recommend a new Ayckbourn simply for being a new Ayckbourn. For anyone in reach of Scarborough, we get at least one of those every year, and it’s impossible to predict which one will be the next Private Fears in Public Places. But The Divide is notable not because it’s produced in the International Festival, but because it’s being produced at all. Described as a dystopian epic, this script has been sitting in a drawer for years because he assumed it was impossible to perform: eight hours long and a massive cast. It finally got a rehearsed reading two years ago as part of the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s 60th anniversary celebrations, which was pretty much expected to be as far as this would go.

But, to everyone’s surprise, it’s gone down so well the Old Vic has decided to go ahead and produce it for real. Now cut from eight hours to five, it’s showing as a two-parter at them King’s Theatre, with performances at 2.30 and 7.30 up to the 20th August with Parts 1 and 2 at various times. If this is going to eat up too much fringing time, it will be running at the Old Vic in London in the autumn. As with all new Ayckbourns, there is no knowing at the beginning whether it will be classic or just one of the crowd, but it certainly will be one of the most notable.

And that’s it. I’ve lost count of the recommendations. Enjoy.

Advertisements

Leave a comment

Filed under What's worth watching

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s