Oot-Aboot the Fringe: Day One…

Aug 6 2011 | By More

Apps, Happiness, Casablanca and The Chess Game

When Two Queens Go to War... Rebecca Gilhooley and Julia Carstairs in FCT's The Chess Game. Photo © Mark Gorman

By Thom Dibdin

Start it up and lets go! Day One of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe dawned bright and clear. No monsoon, no rain, just a crisp morning with light wind and sunny skies.

A perfect day for a play called Happiness, it would seem, at a sparkling new venue to boot: The Playhouse at Hawke and Hunter Green Room. Good timing too, for the Tron Theatre’s revival of Casablanca, the Gin Joint Cut – which arrives in Edinburgh with a slew of four and five star reviews under its belt. And to round off the day, a visit to the first Edinburgh Local Hero, with the fabby FCT’s The Chess Game, at Inverleith.

Before that, though, for some real work with news for The Stage of solid ticket sales and the upgrading of the Fringe Society’s mobile phone app – for iPhone, iPad and android – to allow users to buy tickets through it. Which, as Gavin Dutch managing director of the development company behind the app Kotikan, told me “makes the fringe the largest ticketed event in world to offer mobile ticket purchase.”

The app isn’t perfect, as Dutch is not afraid to admit. The sheer logistics of making it do all the things it should do while keeping the design clear – and handling so many different shows – means that certain functionalities don’t happen. But you can buy tickets. I haven’t tried that yet – if you have do add a comment to this post – but Dutch has spent many hours road-testing it himself and is now the happy owner of plenty of bought tickets to fringe shows.

Other app news in passing: Assembly, Pleasance and Zoo have all updated their own programmes on their iPhone apps. The “official” Edinburgh Festivals Guide app allows you to interrogate the programmes of all the festivals, including the fringe.  Theatre Ninjas wonderful free-ticket app is working very well, in both iPhone and android version. Cryptic have updated their app for their show Orlando with some groovy treats and a programme. The iFringe Edinburgh reviews app is also updated and looking good. Proper reviews anon, I hope.

So to Happiness. First of all to say that The Playhouse have done up Hawke and Hunter’s Green Room splendidly. There is a smallish black-box stage at the far end, a temporary bank of properly-raked seating with a bar stashed underneath at the back. Lights and sound look to be well appointed and the decor has a nicely kitsch touch of decadence to it, with gold highlights on black plaster work and large mirrors.

The downsides are that the naked plastic seats of the temporary seating are not the most comfortable in the world. They are flimsy and don’t quite fit the body as they might. And there are some rather loud and intrusive creakage problems with the stairs if anyone moves around during the performance – including the backstage technicians.

Happiness, itself, is of course anything but. The story of a creaky marriage, compromise and lies, it had one outstanding performance in Lucia McAnespie as the wife, Shelley, and one rather mediocre one from Simon Hadoo as the husband Laurie. The Stage review should be online soon.

Here’s lookin’ at you

As for Casablanca, the Gin Joint Cut, which is showing every day at the Pleasance Courtyard in the main room: Pleasance One: everything good you have heard of this show is true. Brilliant stuff from writer and director Morag Fullarton with script which is both reverent to the original movie while being very funny -and great design from Kenny Miller.

The script is tops, but the performances are even better. Gavin Mitchell plays Bogart playing Rick, and several suave introductory characters too, Clare Waugh is a sensual Bergman playing Ilsa and a dastardly Major Strasser, while Jimmy Chisholm is fantastic as just about everyone else. Quick-fire changes of costume, of pace, of idea are all there. The tear-jerk moments work and even the smoking on stage is finessed with panache. A must-see show which should be on everyone’s list.

The Cast of The Chess Game, by FCT. Photo © Mark Gorman

Finally the Local Heroes, Forth Children’s Theatre. I always enjoy reviewing their productions but was slightly concerned to be there on first night of The Chess Game, particularly when the company has just said good-bye to a very successful generation of young performers.

No worries, though, The Chess Game was excellent. Not perfect yet, but the voices will mature and grow in confidence over the years, as will the acting. There are several in the company who need to learn to speak up and out, as the mumbled spoken lines into their boots. Director Vic Laing could also have improved some of the blocking. He left several of the more diminutive members of the company stuck out of sight at the back in big ensemble numbers and tableaux which should have given everyone a chance to shine.

That said, the young company tackled this piece about war, redemption and taking responsibility with real maturity. There are several very problematic moments which they made pass by with a natural fluidity to their pacing. Their musical performances pushed right to the edge of their abilities too – well beyond their comfort zones – and they made the tricky arrangements sound simple.

Of course they do have some cracking support, and those responsible for the wardrobe did an excellent job. The live band were crisp and supportive under the leadership of Iain MacDonald who wrote the words, music and lyrics of the show – which FCT first performed back in 1984. A thought-provoking treat. And I found myself humming the tunes on the way home.


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Comments (3)

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  1. mark gorman says:

    Thanks Tom for a very constructive review. Out of interest what did you feel were the very problematic moments?

    You’re right it is a very young cast and a lot of thought has to go in to the productions we present. But we feel this is an underpresented production with a lot of merit that really suits an ensemble cast.

  2. Thom Dibdin says:

    Thanks for commenting Mark, and thanks very much for letting me link to your pics!

    Those “problematic” moments might better have been described ones which are “tricky to get right and very easy to get wrong” – I’m thinking of moment of the on-stage kiss, for example…

    Then there is the moment when the lead white pawn and the lead black pawn confront each other on the battle field. Hayley Scott’s white pawn is asked by Liam Thomson’s black pawn why she hates him, she says: “Because you are black”. I thought that they did that scene superbly, it didn’t feel forced and I was quite in the moment of the exchange.

    This was a great choice of production for the cast, I thought. My review will be in the Edinburgh Evening News on Monday, so look out for that!

  3. mark gorman says:

    Really helpful Thom and they will love your feedback.