EdFringe Day 1 – Get in there!

Aug 6 2012 | By More

An economist, an old comic, some love letters and the blind

By Thom Dibdin

Les Dennis as Jigsy in the Edinburgh Fringe production at the Assembly Rooms.

Les Dennis nails the role of Jigsy in the Edinburgh Fringe, with a performance which is wistful, compassionate and impeccably timed.

The sun still shines even though the Edinburgh Fringe is now officially open. Surely some mistake? Equally sure, is the prediction that it won’t last. Today is time to check out a couple of new venues – or old ones reinvented.

First off is C Nova. I didn’t mention how hot and sweaty the Cabaret Bar in that venue is in yesterday’s blog. But it is quite positively sauna like, at least on a sunny day – quite reminded me of the original C venues down at Overseas House, 100 Princes Street.

Down in C Nova’s belly, MKA Theatre’s The Economist is playing in a found space. I am very happy to discover it is directed by the often controversial but usually spot on Van Badham. And this does not disappoint in the slightest.

The Economist is based on the writings and various reports and interviews around Norwegian terrorist Anders Breivik. It is a response to his terror bomb in Oslo on June 22 2011 which killed 8 people and the following massacre on Utoya Island when he murdered a further 69.

It is moving, thought-provoking account which fictionalises Breivik to Andrew Berwick and changes the facts slightly, in order to examine how what he did fits in with the society from which he comes. It is all told in a strong Australian voice – but with a white, beige and red colour scheme that nails itself firmly as Norwegian.

It’s a great ensemble piece with a fantastic central performance from Zoey Dawson as Andrew Bolt Berwick. Certainly a must see show for anyone interested in how our society works and is structured. Van Badham has a fascinating article about the show on the MKA website, here, which puts it in an Australian context that appears to be slightly different to the UK experience. But the show still says brave things for all.

Down the hill on George Street is my first chance to sample the delights of the new configuration of the Ballroom of the Assembly Rooms in full action. Outside, the Spiegelterrace is looking very good – at least in the sun.

Inside, it feels funny not nipping into the Supper Room to see who is hanging out. Upstairs the main change in the Ballroom is that instead of that long configuration with the stage at the end on the right and the seats banked up to the left, the stage has been put on the north wall, ahead of you as you go into the room. It thrusts out into the space with seats on three sides.

A little piece of history for all those comedians and comedy fans in town

I remain to be convinced that this is going to work well for amplified shows – at least not without something to help deaden the echo. But Les Dennis has no problems (without any microphone support) in his one-man show Jigsy.

This is story of a Liverpudlian comic down on his luck, coming to the end of his career in 1997. It’s set in the social club dressing room, between Jigsy’s two sets, with the bingo being called off stage.

Les Dennis nails the role with a performance which is wistful, compassionate and impeccably timed. His Jigsy is a bitter, increasingly drunken man who, tankard of beer in hand, meanders from one photo in the dressing room to the next, recalling stories of the dead great comics and getting all twisted about those living with success.

It’s a perfect show for Sheppard to be staging at the fringe, a little piece of history for all those comedians and comedy fans in town. It places comedy in the heart of its community – where it still is of course, albeit in a community which is much larger and geographically diverse.

What is really surprising is how maudlin Dennis lets Tony Staveacre’s script become. Hannah Chissick directs it with a really long leash – letting silences build and reflection on human frailty burst through much of the play’s dying moments. But that is what it is, a play about a comic – not a stand-up comic.

Jon Morgan of the FST and Andrew Dixon of Creative Scotland in the queue for Love Letters to the Public Transport System

When Jon met Andrew – the high heid yins of the Federation of Scottish Theatre and Creative Scotland in the queue for Molly Taylor’s Love Letters to the Public Transport System

Later in the Assembly Rooms the great, the good and the powerful in Scottish theatre lined up to see Molly Taylor’s Love Letters to the Public Transport System, being staged by the NTS. The show is one of the most generous, optimistic and generally joyous pieces of theatre I have seen for a while. It’s just Molly on stage herself and the hour flies by.

Amidst all the big hitters in the queue it was great to catch up with Tam Dean Burn – a favourite actor of mine. And even better, in the show itself, to hear the story of how he and Luke Sutherland got together, quite fortuitously, to create the wonderful Venus as a Boy. An object lesson for those in the audience willing to hear, of how great theatre does not necessarily grow by design but often by serendipity.

Final show of the day was The Blind, up at the Old College Quad. Powerful stuff, brave and violent in its telling of a country afflicted by blindness, amidst whom only one person can see. The descent into mindless acts and reversion to base instinct is done by the Polish KTO Theatre company in a way that is rarely seen over here. Hospital beds are raced around in a way that even Danny Boyle would find edgy, bass-heavy music pumps out, glittering shards are projected up into the night sky and brutality seems very real.

The final tableaux leaves the one seeing woman finally succumbed to blindness – but abandoned by all those she both helped and whose excesses she witnessed. And just to underline it, the company don’t so much as bow at the end, but stand, staring at the audience. Challenging them to understand the importance of what they have just witnessed.

production shot from The Blind by KTO Theatre. Photo credit Dorota Czarnecka

Even Danny Boyle would have been impressed with KTO Theatre’s edgy use of hospital beds…. A production shot from The Blind by KTO Theatre. Photo credit Dorota Czarnecka

The Economist: C Nova, 1-27 Aug; 1.30-2.30 pm www.edfringe.com

Jigsy, The Assembly Rooms, 1-26 Aug (not 13); 2.50-4 pm www.edfringe.com

Love Letters to the Public Transport System, The Assembly Rooms, 3-26 Aug (not 13, 20); 6.15-7.15pm www.edfringe.com

The Blind, Old College Quad 3-15 Aug (9-10 pm) 16-27 Aug (10.30-11.30 pm). www.edfringe.com


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