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Fringe 2017 Reviews: Julius Caesar (With Pirates)

fde992_527ef8796fe0460f800cb789ce6bd666~mv2There’s mutiny afoot on the pirate ship, Rome.  Fresh from his victory over former captain Pompey, Caesar’s tyrannical command causes unrest amongst the crew. A mutiny supported by first mate Brutus might help restore democracy to the ship, if greed and in-fighting don’t get the better of the mutineers’ good intentions.

This is the second production I’ve seen by Some Kind of Theatre. Last year’s Steampunk Tempest was a little rough around the edges, but inventive, funny, and ultimately true to the source material.

I’m surprised they chose Julius Caesar as a follow-up – if I had to guess, I’d have expected them to stick with the comedies, not tackle one of Shakespeare’s heaviest plays. The other productions of Julius Caesar at the fringe this year include an all-female production described as ‘relevant and gritty’ and a production set against the backdrop of the Vietnam War.

Some Kind of Theatre takes a totally different route, presenting Julius Caesar – with PIRATES! And you know what? I’m all for it. It’s fun, it’s irreverent, and the soothsayer is a talking parrot.

Aesthetically, for the scale of the production it looks great. It’s part of Some Kind of Theatre’s Shakespeare on the Sofa project, portable productions designed to fit into any venue, intended to make Shakespeare accessible to a wider audience.

The storybook backdrop is ingenious, simple but very effective, and the piratical aesthetic is very slick. If you’re smart enough you don’t need a whole lot to make a real impression. It’s a nicely choreographed, visually appealing, concise little production.

The concept of Julius Caesar as a pirate captain is an interesting one – sailing the ship of state, perhaps? Ha. There is some cognitive dissonance from the fact that the characters are now ostensibly outlaws rather than the state government, but given what a light-hearted production it is, I’m willing to let that slide.

I was pleased to see that, silly as the premise is, they didn’t shy away from the play’s darker moments – despite the talking parrot and the swashbuckling swordfights, it’s still a story about politics and murder, and the bloody heart of it comes through.

Julius Caesar has (I gather) a complicated plot and a lot of characters and for the most part they’ve done a good job of condensing it down into an hour and the minimum of players. However, I was a bit uncomfortable the resulting handling of Mark Antony.

In this production, Mark Antony is a woman – and Caesar’s wife, combined with the character of Calpurnia. On one level, the gender flip is a bit of a masterstroke.

When Mark Antony is a woman, you get a story in which Caesar’s murderers don’t expect any retribution because they’d never expect Mark Antony to declare war on them. They let her speak at Caesar’s funeral because they assume they can control her. The line Your voice shall be as strong as any man’s /In the disposing of new dignities takes on a whole new meaning.

But did she really have to be Caesar’s wife? I recognise that someone had to have the portentous dream (that Caesar ignores) but that role could have gone to Antony without their being married.

I’m of the opinion that, as a general rule, you can either have two Shakespearean characters who are, in the original text, close platonic friends be lovers or have one of them be a woman. When you do both, the implications get a little unfortunate.

I’d be more charitable here were it not for the fact that last year’s Steampunk Tempest also contained some… strange cross-gender casting (I’ve never seen a woman play Caliban before, and frankly it’s not an experience I’d like to repeat). I’d suggest that they think through the possible implications in future!

Otherwise, though, I had a good time! It’s not the smoothest Shakespearean production you’ll see at the Fringe this year – some of the cast do struggle at times with the dialogue, making the plot hard to follow for those of us who haven’t read the play – but it’s certainly one of the cheapest, and the only one with pirates. And a talking parrot (puppet).

Julius Caesar (With Pirates) is on until August 18th 7PM @ Black Market. Entry is free, suggested donation £5. Take your friends, get some culture, enjoy some pirate antics.

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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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