Category Archives: theatre

Edinburgh Fringe Review: No Names

This is probably about as good a zombie apocalypse you can do on a tight budget; with zombies represented entirely by sound effects, No Names is bleak, claustrophobic and darkly funny.

The play has exactly one setting – a room in an ordinary house – and two characters, a ditzy, optimistic woman and a survivalist man. Unfortunately, for a play that should be a character comedy, the characterisation is shallow. Of the two leads, only the survivalist has any real depth. His female companion is a ditzy stereotype.

It’s her self-evident stupidity that is the source of much of the humour, which is at odds with the grim setting. It’s sad, because then the jokes are suitably dark, they are funny and original – No Names has what must be the first ‘dead pug’ joke I’ve ever heard.

Despite my gripes, it’s a decent zombie story, with a few real twists along the way. Between this and Reginald Tanner, the other half of the zombie double bill, I’ll be sure to give any future Shiny New Theatre productions in Edinburgh a look.

No Names was a Shiny New Theatre production on at Cafe Camino until August 24th

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Edinburgh Fringe Review: The Brief Afterlife of Reginald Tanner

regThis might just be the most thoroughly British zombie story you’ll ever see – and for all it has flaws, The Brief Afterlife of Reginald Tanner is a very refreshing take on the genre.

Where most zombie stories are about the horror of loss of control and chaos, The Brief Afterlife of Reginald Tanner focuses on the precise opposite. A scientist devises a brilliant – but costly – way to bring the dead back to life. This leads almost at once to the appointment of a Minister of Mortality, the creation of a mortality tax, and yet more legislative and capitalist horrors.

The horror comes not from the zombie, poor ol’ Reginald Tanner, but from the government’s nastily realistic decision to, as they put it, ‘privatise death’. As a satire it is biting, but spectacularly unsubtle. There is no wriggle-room for interpretation here – nor is there really meant to be.

The lack of subtlety is the show’s biggest weak point. It is a production that is very certain of its own wittiness which is not always as witty as it tries to be. It spends a lot of time going into detail about the horrifying system being developed for reanimated corpses and little time on developing its – largely archetypal – characters.

Certainly a play with room for improvement – but for an entirely new twist on the zombie genre, one can put up with some flaws.

The Brief Afterlife of Reginald Tanner is a Shiny New Theatre production that was on at Café Camino at 8:45 until August 24th. 

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Edinburgh Fringe Review: Shattered!

With people in identical blue hospital gowns drifting about the room as the sound of a ticking clock echoes in the background, Shattered! creates from the outset a feeling of tension and discomfort. Each of its monologues focuses on a different mental health issue, from bipolar disorder to post-natal depression and alcoholism; each is dynamic, intense and relatable.

For all it is billed as ‘a raw and honest portrayal’, Shattered! has a sense of artificiality to it. It has a tendency to devolve into something more like PSA than theatre, with characters lecturing the audience on the important of mental health awareness rather than telling their stories.

An important message, certainly, but one that could be delivered with more subtlety. It’s all very well to encourage greater understanding of mental health, but the show’s climax becomes downright accusatory. The chances are the audience of a show all about mental health issues is already aware that they must be understanding – not to mention according to the statistics quoted in the show itself, it’s probable a number of them have personal experience.

Shattered! introduces an element of physical theatre into a genre that is traditionally static. This is much appreciated, but does sometimes become distracting. The ‘sound effects’ yelled out by the actors sometimes drown out the monologue; depending on where you are sitting the constant movement will probably block your view.

But for all its flaws Shattered! is a disquieting and sometimes captivating experience that will hold your attention for an hour. If you’re interested in issues of mental health, it’s probably worth your time.

Shattered! was on at Café Camino (venue 65) until August 24th.

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Review: The Tempest

tempest

The Tempest is my favourite Shakespeare – in fact, I’d go so far as to say it’s my favourite play, period. So I was very excited to see the Globe’s production of it. I’d seen The Tempest on stage once before, but since the first production I saw was a non-traditional re-interpretation by a South African company I was looking forward to seeing a more traditional approach.

And in that regard, I wasn’t disappointed! As a straightforward production of Shakespeare’s place, this is a really good show. It hits all the right notes. It’s nicely staged – the opening scenes on the ship, in particular, are beautifully executed – the music is fantastic, and the comedy is spot on.

If you’ve not seen or read The Tempest before, this would be a really good production to start with – which is kind of my problem with it. It’s very much entry-level Shakespeare. It’s broad, but shallow; all of the threads of the play are there, but none are developed fully. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing. It’s not possible to fully develop all the threads, so more depth means less breadth. The Tempest is full of interesting social and ethical issues that I like to see explored further, but that’s just not what this production is setting out to do.

The comedy, as I said, is spot-on, and probably the show’s real strength. It manages to draw comedy out of lines that are normally played straight, which really helps some of the play’s duller scenes – though really, nothing is going to keep the stretch of exposition between the opening shipwreck and Ariel’s first entrance from dragging. The truly comic thread, with Trinculo, Stephano and Caliban, is excellently done, with just enough of a modern flavour to the delivery to keep it funny without sacrificing the original intent of the jokes.

400708_10151665592310774_543986667_nI do feel, though, that the extra comedy hurt the dignity of Roger Allam’s Prospero. Prospero is a difficult character to play, and one that must have dignity to work. Allam does a decent enough job – but given that he’s supposed to be one of the big draws of the play, I was disappointed.

Colin Morgan is a solid enough Ariel. It’s another difficult part and he manages the traditional ‘ethereal dainty spirit’ without descending into the awkward campiness of many productions. Though I’m still not sold on the costuming, his performance has an otherworldly, birdlike air that I loved. Unfortunately, the reading of Ariel’s character is one of the elements I found shallow – though really, the chances of ever finding a production that gets my personal reading down are next to nil, so I shouldn’t complain.

James Garnon is one of the best Caliban’s I’ve seen to date – perfect blending of savage wild-man and tragically wronged soul, plus some brilliant drunken comedy.

I saw the play from the yard as a Groundling – and I’m really glad I did, not just because it was cheaper! Standing all through the show wasn’t as uncomfortable as I expected, and it turns the show from ‘just’ a play to an all-round immersive experience. All in all, a really enjoyable production in a great setting.

The Tempest at Shakespeare’s Globe (Photos from The Globe’s Facebook page)

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Edinburgh Fringe 2012

I was working two journalism-ish jobs at the Festival this year, one as a Volunteer Media Intern for the Festival of Spirituality and Peace and the other as a reviewer for The Flaneur. So what I was mostly attending was a mixture of music, poetry and politics events on one side and free theatre (The Flaneur doesn’t provide tickets except very occasionally) on the other.

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