8/16/2017 0 Comments
Samuel Beckett’s play of a mystified 69-year-old Krapp, enigmatically performed by legendary Irish actor Barry McGovern, raises questions of aging, memory and recollection, as Krapp reflects with some frustration on the tapes of his 39-year-old self. Krapp's Last Tape is a short one-man play about those conversations we have with ourselves, the internal dialogue. Except Krapp has recorded his thoughts each year of his birthday in an annual ritual. This means his internal dialogue is externalized by the taped record.
Beckett had had his play All That Fall broadcast by the BBC in 1957 and he arranged to hear the recording in full at a Paris studio; his first encounter with the technology. Such was his fascination he undertook to see how such technology could be used in drama. Krapps Last Tape was the outcome, and when first staged in the following year we are referred to it being set in the future, as the technology was not commercially available. Today we assume the play is set in the present, or perhaps even the past, and can only marvel at the retro quality of the technology.
This is a powerfully subtle new production directed by Michael Colgan, a longtime Artistic Director of Dublin’s Gate Theatre, bringing together two experienced and fine interpreters of Beckett’s work in McGovern and Colgan. The actor has been performing Beckett’s stage works for more than three decades, while Colgan was Artistic Director at the Gate for over 30 years. McGovern is visually and verbally impressive, someone we can join in silent dialogue with as he takes us through his own trajectory of bewilderment and bemusement.
Krapp’s internal dialogue with his younger self is with a man who has some confidence, who has a desire for a more engrossing sex life, but also recalls a farewell to love for one woman. He berates himself for being the “young fool he took himself for” and forsaking a life’s love for literary ambitions. He reflects also on his 39-year-old-self explaining his mother’s death after a long viduity, a meaning that sends him to his dictionary in search for the meaning of the word, finding out it is a quality, state, or period of being a widow.
Yet, do we really want to revisit earlier times? In our social media age we are perhaps forever recorded. This Krapp's Last Tape is a genius of work both by the playwright and McGovern the actor, but what would Beckett make of our current obsession with recording, narrating and curating our lives in public electronic format? The technology gives us a special time dimension to this play, not just the distance between the ages of this man, but the time he has to reflect on his inner self. Harder to do in the 24/7 communication environment of social media.
At the end Krapp disappears into the darkness, leaving us to reflect. When we look at world events and the impact of social media on these events, we might want to reflect on the technology that allows it and the lack of reflection and attention to words that fuels our vacuous social dialogue. If only such reflection could be translated into more thoughtful politics, we might have less darkness.
Dr. David Cowan
A political event widely celebrated at this year’s festival is the 50th anniversary of decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales. Though Ironically here in Edinburgh, Scotland had to wait until 1980. There is a veritable variety of shows on offer to celebrate this landmark legislation. One of the funniest on offer is Lord Dismiss Us, which rises above the comedy to offer sensitive messages about times then and now for those in, or exploring, same-sex relationships.
Lord Dismiss Us is written and directed by Glenn Chandler, and is an adaptation of Michael Campbell's novel of the same name, which came out, as one might put it, in 1967. The play is set in a boy’s boarding school seemingly rife with sexual activity among the boys, aided and abetted by the staff, comprising 14 unmarried masters. The premise of the play will bring to mind films like Lindsay Anderson’s If with Malcolm McDowell, released in 1968, and Another Country with Rupert Everett, with a little of Brideshead Revisited thrown in. However, the play escapes these parallels by proffering its own take on relationships, and giving us a slice of unique comedy.
Chandler is the creator of the wonderful TV series Taggart, and this no doubt attracted some of the audience along with his reputation as a successful stage writer and director. As the audience makes its way into the theatre they are greeted by the boys of Weatherhill School taking the register, posing the sorts of questions school masters quiz their charges with at the best of schools. We are then into the play and enveloped in a feverish sexual atmosphere under threat from a new headmaster, deftly played by the delightfully versatile David Mullen in a dual role as the effete chaplain, who has proclivities for artistic pictures of nude boys. The headmaster is determined to stamp such nonsense out and to this end he starts a purge with his wife, charmingly played by Felicity Duncan as a keen helper to her husband while ambiguously attached to the chaplain.
Caught in the middle of all this is Terry Carleton, a wonderful new talent in Joshua Oakes-Rodgers. Terry has been previously entangled with Peter Naylor, but becomes infatuated and idealistically in love with a new boy Nicholas Allen, who has arrived under something of a cloud from Eton and has plans to enter the church. Allen, played by Joe Bence with a knowing strut that seems to entice and evade Terry, leaves clandestine notes for him to communicate their relationship. Naylor, played with great range by Jonathan Blaydon, wreaks revenge on Terry in the best way a schoolboy knows, he eventually rats to the teacher.
In the midst of this increasingly fetid atmosphere, which leads to an attempted hanging and the chaplain losing his job, is the compromised master Eric Ashley, who had himself been a boy at the school of an earlier gay vintage. Ashley, sensitively played by Tom Lloyd, is caught at the nexus of master and boy, headmaster and master, just about everyone and the headmaster’s wife, as he alternately offers diplomacy and subversion. Matthew McCallion is masterful as John Steele, playing it straight in more ways than one as the military brat who wants things to be “normal” while watching out for the wayward Terry and others.
Directed by Chandler, the play hurtles towards its conclusion at a pace just short of an Orton farce, culminating in a Wildean pastiche of a school play Peter Piper and the most intentionally atrocious Canadian accent you’ll ever hear, climaxing to Terry’s proclamation of victory as a writer.
Dr. David Cowan
I’ve only seen this production once before, in Toronto where Mary was played more in a more demure performance. We don’t get that in this absorbing production, with Jean Wilde as an earthy and distraught Mary.
Testament of Mary is a solo performance depicting the mother of Jesus telling the gospel story from her side and questioning his death and divinity. In a New York Times interview author Colm Tóibín explained “I thought of writing a play in which the Virgin Mary, the silent woman we prayed to, would speak. But the impulse to write the play was not political, was not to intervene in a debate about the church, but rather to work with a voice that had mattered to me personally, a voice that was iconic as well as human.” He added, “I wanted to create a mortal woman, someone who has lived in the world. Her suffering would have to be real, her memory exact, her tone urgent. But she would also have to live at some distance from the rest of us.”
Mary can’t bring herself to say Jesus’ name. She relates how she told the disciples they couldn’t sit in a chair she deliberately leaves empty for her son, which is an allusion to the Jewish tradition of the empty chair left for Elijah at Passover. The production gives us a sense of the claustrophobia of Mary’s loss and resentment towards the disciples after the death of Jesus. The early Christian community was one of hiddenness. It was an underground movement that was communal in its arrangements not out of ideology but out of necessity. This hiddenness is recognised in this production by the audience being addressed as friends and the use of torches when darkness ensues, giving us the impression we are all being watched, like Mary herself.
In historically Protestant Edinburgh, home of Scottish Reformer John Knox, the attack on Mary is less problematic than it has been in Tóibín’s homeland of Ireland. The book and play have proven controversial in Catholic circles, with one critic referring to it as a “by-the-numbers hatchet job.” I’m not a supporter of religious controversy, it rarely achieves much and usually misses the point. However, the peek behind the curtain taken by Tóibín is not controversial for anyone who studies theology, so I find the “shock! Horror!” of it all a bit of a ho-hum.
The play posits a Mary devoid of a son who is saviour, but once you take his divinity away then you either have a patchy iconoclasm or a drama about parental loss. I suggest it lacks the power or originality to achieve the former, and can be enjoyed more as the latter. No parent ever wants to bury their child, and in the climax Mary grieves with a power only a parent feels for the loss of their child, railing against the world, "When you say that he redeemed the world, I will say that it was not worth it. It was not worth it."
Poor ticket sales on Broadway led to the original show closing early, suggesting the New York theatre-going audience didn’t think it was worth it either. The Catholic News Agency, wrote the show “depicted the Virgin Mary as a doubting skeptic who thought Jesus died in vain, and failed to attract a large audience and closed on Sunday less than two weeks after it opened.” I suggest it is simply a sign of the secularity of society, which is less connected to the biblical Mary or concerned by the religious devotion of believers today.
Perhaps as a play it fails to break through the established religious barriers, neither achieving popularity based on laughing at religion like The Book of Mormon, nor challenging us enough spiritually to get beneath the skin of believer and disbeliever alike. Like Mary the play remains bereft of a firm place in the audience imagination. There are not many places you will get to see this play, and rarely will you see such a powerful portrayal of parental embitterment and loss as that performed by Jean Wilde, so if you want to see the play for its own sake or for such a powerful portrayal of loss then you will find an excellent testament of this Mary in Edinburgh until August 28th.
Dr. David Cowan
Aristeia Theatre, a young Dorset theatre company, made the brave step of bringing a modern interpretation of Euripides' ancient tragedy Electra to the Fringe. It tells the tale of Electra, played engagingly by Lizzie Morris, and her brother, Orestes, played by George Haviland, as they take their revenge on their mother Clytemnestra for murdering their father Agamemnon. It all comes to a tragic end, as once the revenge is satiated Electra and Orestes realize the mother they hated is also the mother they loved.
Electra came late in Euripides’ work, after the 410s BCE. Euripides wanted to portray the characters in the play realistically rather than in an idealised way, be they gods or humans. This production has sought to do the same, with the delightful chorus of four dressed in a simple black and white costume and faces made up most strikingly. Electra and the other characters wear contemporary everyday clothes. I would have liked a more stylised use of dress with the main characters like the Chorus, but I can see why a contrast was offered here. The use of a blackboard to keep score of the lineage was a nice touch. The poster artwork also deserves a mention, it is one of the most striking posters around Edinburgh this year.
I would love to see this production in a darker and more intimate setting than the venue in Edinburgh. That said it’s a welcome chance to see this classical play, and Aristeia Theatre offers an intriguing introduction to Euripides for anyone who hasn’t seen his work or much Greek theatre. The great glory of the Festival is there are so many nooks and crannies to discover classic and great works, often, as in this case, in short slithers which can be the best way to encounter such works for the first time.
Dr. David Cowan
Church Blitz, staged by Naughty Corner Productions, is a chaotically funny late night show, perfect if you’ve been to a few intense pieces of theatre earlier. This young cast energetically tells the story, and fate, of seven people taking refuge in a church from an unknown, perhaps extraterrestrial, enemy. Each one of them is somewhat suspect, and suspicious of each other.
Bursting out of Liverpool’s Edge Hill University, Church Blitz is slickly written by 2013 graduate Mike Dickinson. The space is used creatively and at a dazzling pace, and there are some great one-liners. As the six strangers shelter in the church, they warily accept another stranger into their midst. Nick Sheedy is Jude, who arrives for reasons no-one is ever sure of, and he plays the part wickedly. Warren Kettle is subtle in playing Ray, as we feel sorry for him while feeling there is something we’re missing.
Playing with great panache Samantha Walton is Blue the Nun who is not all she seems to be, just like her Irish accent and the allusion to the wine, which means more to some of us of a certain vintage – well, we once thought it was cool! The huggable Adam Nicholls, as the poet Clarence, was clearly an audience favourite, tempting one of the audience to cry out in a sorrowful “aww” when he was shot.
Callum Forbes is authoritative as The Priest, playing him in a foul-mouthed Scots accent and comically demonstrating the Scots lilt does lend itself to obscenity. Niall Ross Hogan as Sarge and Megan Bond as Ida bring us some great comic moments too, and round off a well-formed ensemble.
On a final note, I don’t believe Jammy Dodgers have ever played such a pivotal role in the history of theatre. Well worth getting to at the Festival to round off the evening or put you in party mood!
Dr. David Cowan
One of the great murder mysteries in the history of art is that of the fate of Caravaggio the Italian artist, who killed a rival in a botched attempt to castrate him and was later killed himself. For some 400 years historians asserted that Caravaggio murdered Ranuccio Tomassoni in 1606 in a row over a tennis match.
However, more recently, a leading art historian Andrew Graham-Dixon, claimed that the killing followed a dispute between the two over Fillide Melandroni, a female prostitute, whose services both men procured. Using documents held in the Vatican and Rome State archives, the evidence suggests that Tomassoni was a pimp, who died in the act of Caravaggio attempting to cut off his testicles.
Carravaggio’s sexuality has been the subject of much speculation since the 1960s, as new forms of criticism reexamined the male nudes he painted and classified them as homo-erotic. This was extrapolated to the theory he was an homosexual. There is no clear factual evidence he was, though what evidence there is can be interpreted as such. There is though clear evidence he was licentious in sex and made liberal use of prostitutes.
So, along comes Caravaggio: Between the Darkness to the Edinburgh Fringe, along with an art exhibition Beyond Caravaggio at the Scottish National Gallery. The play hits on the twin themes of his sexuality and the artistic theme of the revolutionary use of light and darkness in his work.
The darkness of the action and the play of light on the scene, like Caravaggio’s works, are often juxtaposed, but the lighting for this show created more darkness than light. For those like myself banished to the back of the auditorium it was difficult to see much at times, particularly the action at ground level. Such are the challenges of Fringe venues and the need to jump in and out of spaces.
Mercifully perhaps we are spared the drama of castration, though I can’t be sure because I couldn’t see the initial action happening at the feet of the audience. The play takes us into the aftermath of that act and Caravaggio’s journey towards his own death, which the play follows based on the theory that he met his death at the hands of the Knights of Malta.
Thomas Lodge, as the melancholic Annibale Carracci who shelters Caravaggio for a while, played his part with subtlety and is a contrast to Alex Marchi (who does bear a striking resemblance to the artist) as Caravaggio, played in turns of the broodiness and fits of anger one would expect.
Richard Unwin offered us a well-studied camp portrayal in Cardinal Del Monte, who has the job of overseeing the acquisition of Caravaggio’s painting. My reservation being that frankly camp priests in religious portrayals are a little worn out surely?
The imaginative use of empty picture frames to represent the various works of art was a nice touch. If you go to the exhibition Beyond Caravaggio, featuring his works and those who imitated and followed him, it makes a pleasant enough combo.
Dr. David Cowan
One of the joys of the Edinburgh Fringe Festival is the opportunity to see plays that are not so often performed. This is because it may not be fashionable or for economic reasons. Brecht’s ensemble plays are a case in point. So, it was great to catch up on Brecht at the Fringe with the Italia Conti Ensemble 2017 performing The Good Person of Sichuan.
I’ve seen a number of Brecht plays over the years, and I usually enjoy them. His economic understanding leaves a lot to be desired frankly, and even those further on the left of politics tend to treat his brand of Marxism with faint nostalgia. That said, I think he does understand the human predicament in the economy. This predicament applies whether it lies in the crushing of the human spirit in communism or the spiritual ennui in a market economy.
We follow three Gods who are on a fact-finding mission to reward any truly good person they can find in Sichuan province. They come across Shen Te, who despite being a prostitute, decide she seems a good person and so provide her with her means to start a small shop. However, this generosity and gift of financial stability is threatened by people taking advantage of her generous nature. The threat is dissipated by the sudden arrival of her ruthless ‘cousin’, Shui Ta. He takes matters in hand to protect Shen Te’s interests. The double act is undermined by Shen Te falling in love as Shui Ta starts to do very nicely out of other people’s hardship.
In looking for the good person, we are invited to wonder what a good person is, and how it can be possible for people to be good within the construct of economic relations. I suggest it is certainly possible, but as Brecht shows us it is also very difficult.
The Good Person of Sichuan is performed admirably and entertainingly by a young ensemble. Using a basic space with few props, imaginatively moved around as the scene allows, the action, directed by Katherine Landon-Smith, moves along at a good pace. I thoroughly enjoyed the combination of Natasha Calland and Hannah Morrison jointly playing Shen Te/Shui Te, but the whole cast thoroughly deserved the enthusiastic round of applause they got from the audience.
This show is definitely worth seeing, especially if you’ve never seen a good person before!
Dr. David Cowan
Science on stage is not easily done but it does offer so many dramatic opportunities…. if done right. Paper Doll has done it right. This absorbing new play deals with the troubling ethics of cloning, but doesn’t get the audience lost in the science. Instead the audience is invited to peer into the messiness of the human condition as a counterpoint to the possibilities of science.
Set in a near future, Paper Doll is a play about love, fulfilment, the human condition. Married couple Jen and Rog are celebrating their tenth anniversary. As the evening progresses they play games, drawing each other into a series of dangerous engagements but they disengage just before any real violence is done. These are two people who have known love, but after ten years something is missing, something is not working. Their individual and common troubles keep pulling each towards the other and then they push back, in the kind of dance that we see in relationships of love.
Yet all the time, Rog wants to give Jen a gift. Jen is insecure, vulnerable, and very sensitive about her mother, and can’t have a baby. Jen is at turns naive and frustrated. And so the dance goes on. The cloned baby Rog has arranged becomes the jarring turn in this dance. What Rog sees as an act of love sends Jen into retreat. He tries to convince her about the nature of the gift. Does he succeed? Go and see Paper Doll, you’ll want to find out.
Cloning a baby may seem far-fetched, but here in the city where Dolly the Sheep was cloned, playwright Susan Eve Haar gives us a thought-provoking insight into the nature of human love and the possibilities of science. She raises questions that demonstrate how essential it is for society to engage in the philosophical issues related to cloning. Just like Hume’s Is/Ought, because we can do these scientific processes does not mean we should, nor should we be passive in the journey we are taking into this new brave world.
We need to have a dialogue, and people need to be both educated and sensitized towards the issue. Paper Doll takes us a step in that direction. In the troubled relationship between Jen and Rog we also witness the dissonance between the science of cloning and what it means to have love in creation.
Diana Ruppe is enigmatic as Jen, playing her with tenderness and vulnerable bravado, as she switches between being temptress and tamed. Chris Stack playing Rog is a physical force, and in contrasting with his slender lover he manages to use this physical presence through his voice and emotions rather than the physical. So often in theatre we see actors throwing things about and hitting things to show they are emotional. We don’t get that here.
Abigail Zealey Bess directs with a deep sense of the meaning here, deftly choreographing the drama through its ups and down, the pushing and pulling, keeping the audience engrossed in a play at turns tragic and comic.
Not performed here in Edinburgh, this play has a second act to follow, which is wonderful to hear. Those of us who passed by the performing stages on the Royal Mile got a tantalizing look at that second act in the Paper Doll dance performed to promote the show. Who knows, we may get to see the whole play brought to the Fringe next year - I truly hope so!
Dr. David Cowan
Comedian Robin Williams had a great take on the Second Amendment, “the right to bear arms and the right to arm bears!” It is curious though to talk about guns in Edinburgh. Gun crime is low in Britain, and the police have historically been reluctant to bear arms, and there aren’t a lot of bears in Britain.
However, heightened security for such major festivals and in places like airports and the streets of London, means we do see more hardware in use. Police in special situations have become more militarised. The problem of guns is looming ever larger.
Yet in America, the nature of the problem is quite different. It is in the American mind, going back to the origins of the first purpose-built nation. Guns are in the Constitution. They are also useful if you live an hour away from the nearest police help in rural Oregon, where Ellen Lewis the writer of The Gun Show grew up and where the play starts.
The play tells five stories. I won’t spoil the structure or ending, but I don't think it is spoiling things to say intriguingly a male actor is sharing her story. The play has performed across America, having premiered in Chicago, the gun crime capital of America. It has had different actors playing her part.
Vin Shamry is the opposite of Ellen in many ways, right down as it happens to the coincidence that both are from Oregon and he is from urban Portland. He is also a marvellous actor, and gives a performance that absorbs for some 80 minutes. The direction is slick, keeping the stories alive to the audience.
This play pulls no punches, but nor does it preach or bully the audience into taking a position. Ellen has her views, but she recognises the real tragedy is that people are so entrenched on both sides of the debate that no progress is made, and so the killing goes on. Children die. Domestic incidents end in death. In the case of Ellen… well, I’ll let Ellen, or Vin, tell that story.
Go see it. Well worth the price of admission and more. You’ll be stimulated. You’ll feel conflicted. You won’t go away with the barrels emptied, no blanks fired, the Gun Story has unloaded the weapon for you.
Where better to launch my new blog Is/Ought than Edinburgh, birthplace of David Hume from whom the name comes, and what better way to start than with a review of Rhinoceros at the Edinburgh International Festival. I’m here reviewing the Festivals for the Catholic Herald, and will feature this production in my forthcoming piece, but this space allows me to stay a little more focused.
There are politics aplenty at the Festival, with views and statements from all over the world at this most international and oldest of festivals. There are over 23 shows, a count I take on trust from the erudite Daily Telegraph critic Dominic Cavendish, on Donald Trump alone. Brexit, independence and a host of political issues are paraded in places large and small within closer proximity than a political scandal.
Much of the political commentary is of the dog whistle variety, which simply reinforces hard set views on whatever side of the political debate one is. However, there comes along a show that hits the right note in the right way, and Rhinoceros is just such a performance. We don’t need lecturing or hectoring about (or by) Donald trump, Brexit or Scottish independence, to see we have been poleaxed in western democracy. Rhinoceros highlights the problem faced today in western democracy better than many an academic volume, newspaper opinion piece, celebrity soundbite in search of humanitarian status, or shouty “political” performance.
We are faced with a technological world inundated with communications from all corners of the world and at the speed of 24/7. Identities are being questioned. Modernity is being doubted. The economy is being battered. In such a world, where individuals cannot be an expert in everything, it is perhaps inevitable that people will simply take up entrenched positions rather than enter into dialogue.
This is the human problem we face. This is the problem Rhinoceros shows us so vividly, manically and humorously at Edinburgh. It is fitting it is an Istanbul company in partnership with a Scottish theatre doing this show - two ends of the European conundrum.
In the end, the often clueless Berenger, brilliantly mastered by Robert Jack, who stands in defiance and devastated by the loss of his friends and co-workers, who cries out for human fallibility against the herd.
Zinnie Harris, playwrighting professor at St. Andrews University (one of my alma maters, making me jealous I’m not still there), has adapted this in a thrilling and refreshing way for our times, keeping the vibrancy of the original 1959 script intact.
Murat Daltaban’s direction keeps the almost two-hour non-stop drama consistently absorbing, and the staging by Tom Piper and Chis Davey’s lighting was visually stunning. The bath scene where Berenger’s friend Jean, played in handbrake turns of power and subtlety (I’m running out of superlatives!), was powerful and showed the transformation into a rhinoceros in a believable fashion and with no tricks or shams, just all the tools of theatre used to the max.
The whole ensemble deserved every sound and whistle of applause at the end, they were each wonderful and endearing.