Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Back in the Box

So, having had a few days to recover, I caught the early train back up to Edinburgh yesterday for more Fringe adventures! It turned into a good day. I saw four shows, all very different, and all excellent.

First up was another in the Korean season, Binari.

Early off the train, I bumped into two of the performers out on the street promoting the show. It was great to be able to say, "I'll see you in the theatre in a short while!"

I knew it was going to be a Korean mask play with 'shamanic exorcism where unhappy souls are entertained and are finally able to leave the world'. I thought it might be a bit dark. It was anything but. Song, dance, drum, and even lots of humour - I was reminded of the various theatre performances I went to see when I was living in South East Asia. Always, there were comedy interludes in even the most serious and traditional stories. Binari was great. It was a charming way to start my day.

I've seen four shows in the Korean season. All were different, and all really enjoyable.

Then it was a return to the little performance space, the Box, where I had my best theatre experience last year, see here.

Now, I have to admit that it had not been my original intention to go to see Octopus. But I had kept the flyer in my bag (rather crumpled as you can see) because it had come with a free bag of crisps as an incentive! (There's probably advice out there that says 'Never accept crisps from a stranger', but I did check over the pack carefully and the sell-by date. And they were very tasty.) So, suitably bribed, I made my way to the small, hot venue to join a full house (how many bodies can you fit into a container?) to see three women act out an 'anarchic satire' written by Afsaneh Gray.

It is about what it means to be British. The women have been called to an interview to ascertain if they qualify for benefits. Sara 'looks kind of Asian'. Scheherazade looks Middle Eastern. And Sarah is 'kind of white'.

I was sitting beside a visitor from New York. I'm not sure if she would have caught the subtlety of all the political references, and she must have wondered just what I was guffawing at. Very funny at times. It was extremely well acted, and definitely thought provoking. You don't need to be bribed by packets of crisps to go and see, and enjoy, this performance. Full marks.

So, that was me batting two from two for the day. What next?

Time for coffee. One of the best free shows in Edinburgh is to sit with the hot beverage of your choice anywhere around the University area and watch those trying to distribute flyers for their own performances. Gimmicks abound. I've already mentioned the crisps. This couple had their own innovative way of catching attention!

For me, it was a hunt for a venue I'd not been in before. Venue 45 is in a church in Jeffrey Street, surrounded by lots of building work, just along from the south entrance to Waverley Station. I knew I had found the right place when I saw these young Japanese performers waiting to get access to the space for their show.

More drums! I had heard that UTO was an amateur group, but there was nothing 'amateur' about this performance. It was thrilling. Youthful energy and wonderful skill. The ten strong group are from Uto city in Kumamoto prefecture. A loud, exciting performance with flutes too, cymbals, the biggest gong I've ever seen on stage, and a strapping lad, clad only in a loin cloth, beating a sweat session on the biggest of the taiko. (You had to be there!) Wonderful stuff - a different type of performance than that on offer by Hibiki and Drum Ikki elsewhere on the Fringe.

Here's the group afterwards.

Right then, three from three. I had time for one more show before catching the train home.

This was special. Fourth Monkey's production of 'The Ark' was the great theatre I've been struggling to find this year. It is one of a series of shows by the company at Venue 9, theSpace@Niddry Street.

The show tackles the modern day refugee crisis with those fleeing Africa across the Mediterranean to Europe. The performance switches amongst three groups of actors, the people traffickers in Libya in this instance, the refugees themselves, and a group of EU commissioners. The performance does not hold back on satirical condemnation of these last. Very funny, and very well acted!

There are very moving scenes depicting the journey of those fleeing their homes, and their reasons for so doing. I'll not spoil it by giving details. You have to see it.

Great theatre should be memorable. This was. I certainly will not read newspaper stories or watch television reports of the refugee crisis again without thinking of 'The Ark'.  A powerful theatre performance which was absolutely first class.

First Monkey Theatre Company's website is here, if you want to find out more about them, and an article about how 'The Ark' performance was put together is here. There's only a few more days to catch the show, 6.20pm until the 27th.

Four from four. Days at the Fringe don't get better than this!

Images from flyers, and photos © Skip Cottage

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