Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Edinburgh Fringe - Following Wendy, Unenlightened and Alone

Following Wendy

This was a re-telling of the Peter Pan story, with much darker overtones, and it was absolutely wonderful. It brought the story further into the real world, brought it into the modern day, and looked at the consequences of Wendy’s disappearance.

It was really well-acted by the entire cast, which is rare enough at the fringe to warrant note. Tinkerbell was particularly good and thoroughly enchanting. Wendy, Peter and the ensemble were also very strong. Wendy’s friend Sebastian was the weakest link, but even he did well.

The venue was a room in the depths of an old building, damaged by fire and usually abandoned. It was damp and claustrophobic, but this only added to the experience, somehow.

The set and props were minimal, but well used. Boxes, chairs, a stool, sweatshirts, a red ribbon and some fairy lights combined to create both the real world and Neverland. The costumes were also simple, but there was a lot of thought put into them. Tinkerbell’s costume in particular was just perfect.

There was also a strong physical theatre element to the performance. Stylised movements, repeated in the same way sections of dialogue were repeated, added a wonderful depth to the story. I’m used to not understanding the meaning behind physical theatre, not completely, but in this case everything suddenly became heartbreakingly clear at the end.

The script was a complete delight, tight, brimming with life and folding back on itself to make everything come together in the end. There were a couple of scenes at the end of the play that were potentially unnecessary. They were there to explain things that I had already gotten from the story.

The actors played the stylised dialogue to perfection, and it made me wish they would tackle Sarah Ruhl’s Eurydice. It’s one of my favourite plays, and the one and only production of it I ever saw just completely butchered it. If anyone from the company is reading this, think of doing that one next time, please!

Very good, thoroughly delightful, dark and imaginative. And it nearly made me cry. Go see it!

Unenlightened and alone

This was a one-night-only performance. Two former Cirque du Soleil artists put on their own show, and the house was packed.

There were several acrobatic acts of the kind you would expect from Cirque. We began with a hand-balancing act, and then an inventive number on crutches (which always makes me think an injured artist got bored and came up with the concept), a balancing act on one of those yoga balls, and then a number on straps. In contrast to Cirque, there was a distinct lack of colour in the costumes, the set and the lighting. I missed the colour a little, but the simplicity blended well with the other segments of the show.

The other acts in the show were perhaps the most inventive. There were two numbers that involved drawing to music. A laptop was set up on a desk onstage with a drawing program open, and the image was projected on the back wall. The performer sat there, silhouetted in the dim light and drew, accompanied by beautiful music. It was actually very engaging.

The other numbers were musical in nature. The performer brought a cello onto the stage and played a simple melody. She recorded it with a device plugged into the cello, which then played it back on a repeated loop through the speakers. She then accompanied herself, adding a slightly more complex tune, and recorded that as well. In the end it was a stunning multi-layered piece of music, all performed live (sort of) by the one musician. It was beautiful.

The very last act had the two performers onstage at once, the one playing the multi-layered cello accompanying the other who was performing on the straps. Straps are pretty much what they sound like. Two straps of strong canvas or fabric that hang from the ceiling. The performer climbs them, hangs from them, twists in them. Contortion in silk and corde lisse, both of which we had in Quidam, are variations on the theme. And I always loved the aerial numbers best. So this number was by far my favourite, and actually made me a little homesick for the circus.

My only issue with it was the space itself. I’m astounded they were able (or allowed) to fly a person in that room. And the space just wasn’t big enough or high enough to accommodate the act. Usually on straps, the performer would take a running start and then fly, his arms outstretched, suspended from the straps. It’s beautiful. But there wasn’t room for that. The performer also banged his foot several times on the proscenium arch and on the desk that remained on stage from the drawing number. During a couple of his spins, I was terrified he was going to crash into either that or the cello player. There was a sense of confinement when usually the act is about flying, and plummeting, and freedom.

It was a good show though, and received a well-deserved standing ovation.

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