Michael Cox reviews White, Reykjavik, The Tailor of Inverness, Jacobite Country and Private Dancer.
Sometimes, like yesterday, you purposely search out a theme or parallel link for two events. And sometimes, like today, you find yourself in the middle of a happy coincidence.
The day began with White (****), a play by the much lauded Catherine Wheels. The show, targeted at very young audiences, follows two caretakers of eggs who have to make sure that no colour falls into their little perfect world of white.
It would be easy to find undercurrents of racism in the play, and indeed the script and production are handled in a way that adults could treat it as a parable about equality. Or, you can take it at face value and appreciate it for what it is: a 35-minute play that is constantly charming, well executed and a ton of fun from beginning to end.
I had a huge smile on my face the entire time, and there were moments I laughed as hard as the young children in the front row. Any production geared towards youths that allows me to enjoy it on the same level is expertly done. In the end, White is not great children’s theatre; it is great theatre. It also has one of the best design concepts I’ve seen in some time, creating a plausible and beautiful world that begins in white and ends in splotches of colour. This is a rather special production and should not be missed, by young and old alike.
Where White took me on an emotional journey into the colour white, Reykjavik (***) took me on a literal journey into whiteness. The audience are given white boiler suits and goggles and told to wait before a large white cloth, where flashes of light and sound are experienced before being invited into the playing area, where a story about a British expatriate’s life in Iceland is told.
In truth, the story itself isn’t that remarkable. How much of it is based on truth, fractured memory or mere imagination is unknown, but the events that unfold are all plausible as it follows the man’s attempt to integrate into Icelandic society and live a life with his girlfriend along with her children and parents.
What is rather remarkable is how the whole production is staged. Set pieces whizz past and the audience are not only allowed to move around but are at times placed in the middle of the dramatic action. The result is a production that is fantastic to experience and leaves a great impression, even if the story it tells feels rather mundane.
What is by no stretch of the imagination mundane is Dogstar’s The Tailor of Inverness (****). I had seen the play two years ago in a pre-festival tryout at the Arches, and I am happy to report that the production is as well-performed and brilliantly executed as it had been then. Matthew Zajac (a very worthy winner of the CATS best actor award last year) is still mesmerising onstage, going back and forth between characters, mostly playing his father and himself. I had had some reservations about Zajac’s ending when I first saw it, but upon this second viewing I found his personal involvement in the story to not only be crucial but fascinating. It is one of the best productions I have seen in years, and it should not be missed.
What should be missed, unfortunately, is Dogstar’s play that comes after Tailor, Jacobite Country (**). It’s been a few days since I saw this, and I am still unsure about what really happens in the play (but not in a good way). All I know is that its main character is named Haggis McSporran. Whether Haggis is mad or not, or whether most of the action is dreamed up by him or not, is unknown.
The play is written by Henry Adam, and he meant for the concept to be turned into a TV programme. And while having the benefit of multiple episodes, a larger cast and the ability to shoot on location may have allowed the idea to have satirical legs, here it feels like a sorry excuse for a theatre production. Adam is a very good writer, and he has written many funny one-liners that help lessen the pain of sitting through the play, but it is till almost unforgivable.
What is most unfortunate is that it actually has four good performers in it, primarily lead Sarah Haworth. She is great at playing Haggis, and at no time does the cross-gender casting get in the way. She is constantly funny, energetic and willing to go where her mad character will take her. She really is quite good, and the four actors all deserve better than being stuck in this misfire.
Private Dancer (***) is well-intentioned theatre. It wears its heart on its sleeve and has all the right ideas. A large construct, made of six rooms, stands in the middle of a space that the audience walks around. Music is played, and dancers perform inside and outside the rooms. We are told at the beginning that we may or may not be invited to watch a ‘private dance’ and are guaranteed that we will not be able to see the whole production.
It does work, rather well at times. All of the performers move gracefully and the whole thing is sharply stage managed. The audience happily shuffled around the space, peeking into doorways and watching projections. There are also some fun and touching moments throughout, and it all ends on a huge party that the audience are encouraged to join.
And it was all very nice. In fact, that is the best word to describe the event: nice. Nothing happens that will change the way you see dance, and much of the private dances seemed more like homage than personal discovery or expression, and that is perfect fine. Private Dancer is not a production I will probably remember clearly in a few years time, but that won’t stop me from having a nice memory of it all.
Tomorrow’s schedule is a bit limited, mostly due to personal reasons, but I will still be looking at three of the bigger productions at this year’s Fringe.