Splashing about on the Edinburgh Fringe: Day two…

Aug 8 2011 | By More

Imprints, Turandot, Snails, Ketchup, Bawbees, Ducats and rain.

Maite Delafin and Michael Sherrin in Nux's Imprints at Dance Base Photo © Maria Flaconer

By Thom Dibdin

So much rain can’t be good for you! And just to prove the point, day two of the Edinburgh Fringe saw me jumping about all over the shop, from dance to subverted opera, choreographed rope-work to Commedia Dell’Arte.

The foray into the world of dance came with a visit to Scottish company Nux’s show Imprints at Dance Base. Then it was across to the New Town Theatre for a spot of hard-core weirdness from Polish company neTTheatre with Turandot – followed by the Iron-Oxide’s Snails and Ketchup. Finally, splashing down through the puddles, it was to Goldenacre for Leitheatre’s Bawbees and Ducats.

One sign of a successful piece of art is that it stand on its own without needing surrounding explanation. And at first I was mightily confused by Imprints. Here was the lovely Maite Delafin as a wife arriving home after work, putting on the kettle and spending the evening with her obviously doting husband, the commanding Michael Sherrin.

A heartbeat of a score from Poppy Acroyd and particularly well-observed sound design from John Lemke helped flesh out their danced evening rituals. Rituals which were to repeat and repeat. Quite what was going on was unclear. The repetitions showed long time passing with Delafin becoming distant while Sherrin remained hopelessly in love. Not in a puppy-dog kind of a way, but just with a look that expressed the enormity of what he felt for his partner.

This was where the confusion came – I couldn’t make out where this was going, what was happening, how their marriage was breaking apart – and breaking apart it most certainly was. Until I realised, and it does become clear very easily, that this must be about mental health. Alzheimer’s disease seemed likely. And so it was to prove on reading the programme afterwards.

Down at the New Town Theatre they are putting on some pretty hard-hitting stuff. The talk on the streets is of Dust, about the miners strike, and Silence in Court, about rape. But I had Puccini in mind and an imagination already in full questioning mode from the daring, provocative publicity material for Turandot.

And for once, the work lived up to the image. Pawel Passini has made the huge stage of the main Majestic theatre into something resembling a nightmare in a Nineties horror movie. Bunches of tied-up dolls hang from the ceiling, other dolls are skewered and hung out on a drying rack and a mannequin made of bandages hangs above. And the red of those curtains set in a huge picture frame over a skeletal piano centre stage, is a blood red.

This is hardcore. In Puccini’s letters, written in his final few weeks as he strove to finish his final opera Turandot – and read out in distorted tones by the unseen Passini, the composer talks about “vivid theatre”. And vivid is exactly how it is.

The letters provide a narrative arc as Puccini’s last weeks pass by and the play skewers its way into the head of the dying composer. In them are described the incarceration of his wife for slander, Puccini’s infatuations and fears, the creation of the final opera and the mortal threat his throat cancer.

The world of Turandot, the bloodthirsty Chinese princess who asks her suitors three questions, rises up to meet Puccini. Turandot’s twist is that if the suitor gets a question wrong, they die. Passini’s twist is to have Puccini and a crazed Prince Kalef arguing on the stage, bludgeoning each other while his crazed wife looks on, desperate to see if her husband is cheating on her.

The soundscape here is equally bizarre. A silent chorus of sign language interpreters echo Passini’s amplified, heavily accented quotes from the Puccini letters. Strange vocalisations from the company rise into fragmentary quotes from Puccini’s opera, easy listening Hammond organ and trombone are played live from the balcony behind and above the audience.

It is crazy stuff which is right out there on the edge of the fringe, beyond the comfort zone. Yet Passini never leaves his audience befuddled as to what has happened.

Snails and Ketchup

Ramesh Meyyappan in Snails and Ketchup

Ramesh Meyyappan has set himself a similarly tricky task of storytelling in Snails and Ketchup, his tale of a child growing up in a dysfunctional family. On a stage hung with ropes for aerial work the profoundly deaf Meyyappan uses neither sign language nor spoken word to tell his story. A live pianist provides the soundtrack.

Meyyappan is a fascinating, physical performer. Watching him create a range of different characters, bring them to life and make them interact it is easily clear why Meyyappan has just been awarded an Unlimited Commission as part of the Cultural Olympiad. It’s not just easy on the eye, there are sequences that work exceptionally well. When the boy’s hand is cut by his cruel father, sewn-up by his mother and then healed by a snail slithering across his hand, the storytelling is lucid, and exploding with imagination.

Where it doesn’t quite come together is in the set-up. Meyyappan doesn’t establish the individual characters and their relationships clearly enough from the start. It doesn’t, yet, stand on its own, needing a synopsis to explain the story which you have just seen.

Bawbees and Ducats

Down at Goldenacre there’s no such problem with the simple convolutions of Leitheatre’s Bawbees and Ducats at St Serf’s Church Hall. There were a couple moments when the prompt was called upon during Saturday’s opening night, but the play has a two week run and is certain to settle in.

Fiona Robertson and David McBeath in Leitheatre's Bawbees and Ducats

David McBeath plays Angus Nairn, a tight fisted Scottish laird on the run from his creditors in 17th centre Venice. Martin Dick is his long suffering servant, Tom Mickle, who is having to keep on the good side of their latest landlady, Fiona Robertson’s Lucietta, so they aren’t thrown out into the canal. Into this tight little community – with Lucietta and Angus making eyes for each other – arrives a distracting group: young girls down on their luck; rich guardians; violent suitors and travelling players.

It’s well played for the comedy, with more than a passing nod to Commedia Dell’Arte, although director Rik Kay does need to get the pace up a bit. Premiered in 1982 as The Comedy of the Marks, Alan Richardson’s script has been slightly reworked and amended for this production. For the most part it works well, although the first half is rather too long for comfort.

Robertson and McBeath are both on excellent form. Martin Dick’s role might be the servant, but as the conduit of information and back-story to the audience in lengthy asides, he has plenty to do. There’s a touch of the random arm-waver to him which should simmer down when loses his nervousness, but he keeps the narrative flowing well and has great timing for his many interjections. For the rest of the cast, Constance Clark as the rosy-cheeked distressed English maid and Vanda de Luca as her Scottish maidservant put in particularly strong performances. Don Arnott plays her benefactor, Lynne Morris is a resident of the inn and Steve Bennett a would-be Italian benefactor.

Great fun all round, and while nothing will ever be as it seems, you certainly don’t need a crib sheet to know what’s going on.

Dance Base website: http://home.dancebase.co.uk/

Universal Arts website for New Town Theatre

Leitheatre website: www.leitheatre.com/


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