Adapting on the Edinburgh Fringe: Day Four…

Aug 11 2011 | By More

Ninjas, Overcoats, Splindid Isolation and Continental Quilts

Billy Mack (centre) with other cast members of The Overcoat Photo Alan McCredie

By Thom Dibdin

One of the great sights of Edinburgh during the fringe is seeing the kids going home from play. Groups of families wandering away from the centre with gaggles of youngsters still high from the joys of their day.

That doesn’t happen in the rain, however. Then, everyone is grumpy and wet and wanting to have gone home half an hour ago. At least. So their was a real sense of relief when Monday dawned clear with a light breeze. Just the sort of day for a brilliant version of Gogol’s The Overcoat transported to Edinburgh and an intense version of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness – all rounded off with a jolly bedroom farce.

First up, though, was a visit to the Theatre Ninja’s launch at the Udderbelly’s cafe and meeting area: Abattoir. It was good to meet Ed Ninja in the flesh rather than by twitter. What I really like about the whole Theatre Ninja idea is the way it brings all sorts of elements of the theatre industry together and cross fertilises them with new technology. They have a developers openness too – the realisation that creativity can be an iterative process in which not everything has to be perfect first time. If you haven’t downloaded it already, do so. Even if you aren’t in Edinburgh but work behind the scenes in theatre, its worth having a look just to see what might be possible.

Into the Queen Dome for the first show of the day and I was utterly bowled over. I tend not read press releases before I go to the shows I am sent to review – they are there to provide me with the facts afterwards: names, characters and how to spell them, and run details. So I was completely unprepared for a version of Gogol translated to English – and to Edinburgh – by Catherine Grosvenor from a Finnish adaptation which modernises the original short story “into a fable for our times” (as the release reported).

No one told me that the excellent Billy Mack would be playing Akaky McAky – and he brought a wonderful sense of pathos to the role. Pathos of the kind that a clown or a harlequin might have. He is surrounded by a very talented five-strong ensemble who create Akaky’s world. Born looking like a bank clerk, that is what Akaky becomes and they steer him through his life as the bank where he is a permanent probationer is modernised while he rides, immune and unremarkable through all the changes.

Adapting Conrad

Splendid Isolation found another literary adaptation, but with a dynamic which was far removed from the Overcoat’s physical style. This is Conrad’s Heart of Darkness and Outpost of Progress adapted by Nick Ward and given a long, lugubrious production from director Simon Usher.

Appropriately for a play called Splendid Isolation, there were was only one more person in the audience than there was on stage. Proof that while the ticket sales might be up overall, there are still plenty of shows struggling to get an audience. Johnnie Duval and Peter Tate play the two rather vile men hired by Steven Beard’s anonymous Managing Director to go to the Horn of Africa and gather pearls from the local population.

They expect to find riches beyond belief, but instead they find Makota (Yvonne Wandera), sickness, the slave-trade, opium and their own falabilities. Intense and brooding, this struggles to keep the attention – I kept on wanting the pair to travel upriver to the sound of The Doors but they stayed resolutely near the sea. I hope the production finds an audience – it deserves one.

Sarah Howley, Colin Mitchell and Seonald Stevenson in Saughtonhall Drama Group’s Continental Quilt

No literary nonsense for the Saughtonhall Drama Group with Joan Greening’s The Continental Quilt – and my final show of day. This is pure 1970s sex comedy, or maybe its a bedroom farce, involving the goings on in the bachelor pad of one Mike Feather. He is rather perturbed when his brother Dick arrives late one evening and announces he is going to stay – just as Mike is about to hop into bed with his own new girlfriend.

Soon the whole of Mike’s family are piling in. Dick’s wife, his and Mike’s uptight mother, their father, Dick’s sexy neighbour who was the cause of him being kicked out and even Mike’s old girlfriend. As bedrooms are allocated and the misunderstandings mount up, director Morag Simpson keeps the rhythm nice and steady as the comedy builds up to a climax of innuendo.

Among the ten-strong cast, the performances are not even. Alan Moonie as Dick, in particular, could do a lot more with his character. With stronger belief in his character he could really make his scenes go with a zing. As it is, Colin Mitchell as Mike is often left to provide all the energy when the two are on stage together. Elizabeth Swinburne is strong as the mother which allows the rest of the characters to swing – in several senses of the word – around her.

The real star turn, however, comes from Chris Mitchell who plays the small role of Priscilla Plankton – Mike’s neighbour who comes round to ask him to help her with a proposal of marriage. Mitchell gives her an earnest, yearning quality that both gives the character her own comedic value but also adds another dimension to the sexual liberation of most of the rest of the characters.

The Overcoat, Pleasance Dome, to 29 August, 12.35-13.45

Splendid Isolation, Pleasance Dome, to 29 August, 14.05-15.05

The Continental Quilt, Saughtonhall church, to 13 August, 19.30-12.30


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