Michael Cox reviews Flesh and Blood & Fish and Fowl, Apples, Markus Makavellian's International Order and two of the Invisible Do stories.
A relatively calm day of reviews, when compared to the previous week. And the first was a play I saw last week.
The first two reviews are of plays that are part of the Traverse programme, even though they take place in an alternative venue: St Stephen’s Centre, which is just off of Queen Street.
If hell were a workplace, it would probably look a lot like Convenience Foods, the setting for Flesh and Blood & Fish and Foul (****). Here, animals run rampant, vines and leaves spill out of crevices and flies annoy to the point of madness. The play is an abstract look at corporate hell. In an hour’s time, we watch two people become completely dehumanised through a series of absurdist events, each bigger and crazier than the last.
Both actors are fantastic. Their sheer talent at abstract movement, over-the-top gestures and speaking in voices that sound both human and unintelligible is heartbreakingly hilarious. So what does it all mean? I have no clue, but it did make me laugh, quite loudly at times. Still, here’s a show that’s geared more for the emotional core than the brain.
Down in a smaller studio space is Apples (****), an adaptation of a celebrated novel by young rising star Richard Milward. This production, adapted and directed by John Retallack, is actually a touring production that has been around since June (and concludes in September in Newcastle) and sounds like the plethora of teen dramas that have been done to death: young people play with sex and drugs and do bad things, to themselves and each other.
But something rather remarkable happens halfway through. Rather than forcing the plot along to inevitable points, the story takes some twists that are in line with the characters but are still startling.
It is a production that surprised me, both in plot and character, which when it comes to theatre for young people is very hard to do these days. It is also performed with full gusto by an ensemble of six actors, each of whom play up the bad behaviour required by such tales, and ends on a rather odd mixture of optimism and despair.
Markus Makavellian’s International Order (***) begins on a crude note that promises a horrible hour to come. And yet, what is downright extraordinary, magical even, is that there is one clear moment where the play goes from sluggish first to brilliant fifth gear, and the production suddenly sparkles with imagination.
Makavellian tells us that he’s a poet, and he spends forty minutes looking at different relationships he’s had, real and imagined. And though the first few cracks at storytelling through verse are predictable, what becomes clear is how excellent he is with words, and by the end he launches into stories that are both powerful and beautiful, both in composition and in performance.
I really liked the production in the end, but if he wants it to have a future Makavellian really needs to look at that first part. Had I walked out after the first ten minutes I would have slapped it with one star and called it one of the worst things I’d seen in years, and yet had I come in late at that very moment I would have given it four stars and called it one of the cleverest and most fun productions I’ve seen this month.
Speaking of clever, Invisible Dot have put four red telephone boxes in key areas, each playing recordings of eight short stories written and read by well known people. I’d seen them around but didn’t bother entering one until a few days ago, and I’m glad I did. If I have one complaint, it is that it is hard to hear due to passing traffic. The volume is pretty loud, for a handset, but there were still moments that I missed, and without a ‘pause’ or ‘rewind’ option, one’s enjoyment is down to whether the passing crowds are of a tolerable noise level throughout.
It might be a bit ambitious, but I now intend on reviewing each of the short stories by the end of the festival.
The first story I chose, in a box on South Bridge, is Tim Crouch’s The Snake and the Crocodile (***). The tale, an allegory, might be a bit too edgy for people sensitive to the depiction of religion or religious figures in fiction, but I found it to be a smart and rather moving story.
I listened to Will Self’s The Minor Character (****) in a box by the Assembly Rooms. The story, about a circle of friends, is on the long side but is both well-written and funny. It makes one question just how close one is to their friends and has clever observations throughout. Just get comfortable before it begins.
That’s it for today. Tomorrow I look at three productions: En Route, Road Kill and Imperial Fizz.