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Across the Festival: August 6--Summerhall

Michael Cox reviews KlangHaus, Klip, A Journey Round My Skull, Head in the Clouds, The Future for Beginners and Dead to Me.

It’s no secret: most critics hate star ratings. A critic can ponder a response, working hard to coin a phrase or perfectly word a statement that best sheds light on how they felt towards something, only for all of that passion to be distilled into a marking system. And star ratings don’t tell the whole story. A two-star production might have an outstanding aspect and a four-star production might not work for all audiences.

For me, it is the ‘three-star review’ that is the hardest to write. Three stars equal a recommendation, even if the show doesn’t necessarily dazzle nor do something ground-breaking. In many ways, they are the most honest productions: they succeed in achieving what they set out to do, no more but no less.

Take KlangHaus, a mixture of rock concert and conceptual art. Before going into the performance space, you are warned that it will get loud—they are NOT kidding. The 50-minute set is a promenade album, with a song for almost every new space you walk into. The concepts are interesting, the music mostly great and the technical execution quite fun—with some rather stand-out moments when all three aspects collide. But there’s nothing much original here, and a lot of the music and experience will fade before the ringing in your ears stop.

Klip’s subtitle is: a cacophonic darkly comic live collage. I’m not too sure about ‘darkly’, but the rest of the words are all fair enough. The company of four acts out songs, speeches, dance moves and just about anything else one can get away with onstage and blends it all together. They warn the audience in the very beginning that ‘meaning’ is not an objective and that instead they’re up for creating a sense of tomfoolery. So, if there’s any irony to be found it is that the piece feels a bit too structured to be seen as free-flowing. The performances are great across the bar, and there are some terrifically fun moments. But like a surreal dream, most of it will escape you shortly thereafter.

In some ways, I feel the publicity surrounding A Journey Round My Skull isn’t doing the production any favours. Much is being made about the soundscape, particularly the fact audiences wear earphones for an auditory experience. All of this is true enough, though the soundscape is minimal and the headphones go on around the 40-minute mark. Though they are effective, they are by no means the stand-out part of the production.

That goes to Olivia Winteringham, the co-creator and performer of the piece. Playing a doctor who must deal with letting go of a patient she has grown intimate with, Winteringham is consistently wonderful. If only the use of sound felt more inclusive rather than a gimmick that sometimes upstages it terrific performer, this would have been something rather remarkable. As it is, it’s a very good one-woman production with well-executed tech.

Also containing an excellent, spirited performance is Head in the Clouds: The Peregrinations of Marie Marvingt. I’m a sucker for history pieces, particularly those that introduce me to an interesting figure I hadn’t heard of. Marie Marvingt sounds like a terrific figure too good to be true: an adventurer, athlete, champion of women’s rights and aviator, to name but a few of her talents. Brought to life by Helen Aldrich, the play is an hour-long crash course in the life of the remarkable woman. Aldrich is a joy to watch, always engaging with a cheeky smirk that’s easy to warm to. It’s a solid production that manages to pique an interest in Marvingt’s life rather than giving a full-bodied celebration. Here’s a piece that could have easily been expanded upon, and perhaps would have benefitted all the more for it.

The Future for Beginners treads a dangerously thin line, for it is close to being a short comedy sketch bloated out of proportion. The idea of two data cleansing clerks deciding to take seven years to script out a day-to-day life schedule in order to ensure a happy ending in old age is a very funny idea, but over the course of an hour it’s a gag that could have run out of steam long before the end. Luckily, cast members Jennifer Adams and Matthew Bulgo inject much needed charm and comedic energy, creating a couple easy to root for. Bulgo’s comedic timing and Adams’ beautiful singing voice add an extra dimension to the production, resulting in an hour that whizzes past with a constant smile.

Another play with a deadly idea (in more ways than one) is Dead to Me. A sceptical man gets a gift certificate to visit a psychic woman. The first scene plays out as one would expect, just pleasant enough to get by even if the end of the scene is all but inevitable. Yet playwright Gary Kitching has a few tricks up his sleeve, tricks which manage to surprise and lead to an unexpectedly funny (and somewhat outrageous) ending. Kitching performs opposite Tessa Parr, and together they create an engagingly odd pairing that manages to bring the best, and worst, out of each other. It’s a short play (at 45 minutes) that correctly ends right when it feels like it’s just about to begin.

Even if they have their flaws, all of the above come recommended (though from this list I’d favour Klip and Head in the Clouds). Maybe none of them are game-changers, but they are all good, solid theatrical experiences worth having.

All shows perform at Summerhall until August 24. KlangHaus performs at multiple times (not 11, 18), Klip performs at1720 (not 11, 18), A Journey Round My Skull performs at1935 (not 11, 18), Head in the Clouds: The Peregrinations of Marie Marvingt performs at 1325, The Future for Beginners performs at 1540 (not 12, 19) and Dead to Me performs at1730 (not 14, 21, 24).

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