Michael Cox concludes this year's run of blogs with a look at The Songbird, Teenage Riot and Sin Sangre and a quick final word.
There might be a few days left of the Fringe and a whole week left of the Edinburgh International Festival, but today marks my last day with this feature for this year. And though the three productions I saw were of varying quality, it was a good day to end on.
First up was Giant’s production of The Songbird (****), a remount of a production they’d performed earlier. I’d missed the first run and, due to multiple reasons, almost missed this as well, but luckily I made the final performance. Told completely through music, the play follows a young bird from its happy life in a forest to life in captivity, held by a logger who enjoys hearing the bird’s music all for herself.
Songbird is an odd production to write about because almost any description doesn’t do it justice. The idea might seem a bit obvious, even clichéd, but it is so well told and beautifully handled that the whole production feels fresh. More so, it is constantly engaging, filled with wonderful musical flourishes and poignant moments that had me both in laughter and in tears. It is an emotional roller coaster ride that packs a greater punch than most so-called adult dramas out there, and it proves once again that theatre for children doesn’t have to pander to the lowest denominator just to be taken seriously.
Speaking of pandering, Teenage Riot (***) is a production that isn’t nearly as clever or shocking as it seems to think it is. A group of teenagers lock themselves into a cube that sits on the Traverse One stage and mostly communicate with the audience through video cameras and microphones. They’re angry, they’re horny and they’re convinced they’re right and adults are mostly wrong, meaning that they are like almost every other teenager in the world.
The production has some good moments and might play well to people who have never seen professional theatre devised by teenagers, but those who have will find little new. Director Alexander Devriendt has created a montage of interesting visuals and moments, but most of them just don’t add up to anything significantly original. It also seems more intent on alienating the adult audience than it is in honestly communicating any fresh insight into the psyche or lives of its young cast.
And yet, there are just enough aspects to make it worthwhile. The production can be seen as a litmus test of sorts, for every outrageous act is followed by a moment of genuine angst, and it does seem rather telling that most reviews I’ve read and audience members I’ve spoken to remembered most of the former but not the latter. It’s a piece I admired more than I enjoyed, and though much of it disappointed there was still enough substance to justify its outrageousness, but only just.
Sin Sangre (***) is an exceptional example of style over substance. Created by the Chilean company Teatro Cinema, the production cleverly mixes live performance and projected images to tell a complicated story of revenge and aftermath. To pull it off, five actors wear masks to allow them to switch roles quickly while performing between two screens, with images projected both in front and behind them. It’s all impressively handled and flawlessly executed.
The irony of the play is that, for a production based on such a high concept and visuals, the story is actually rather...talkie. The visuals are all impressive to look at, but the crux of the play comes in a number of key scenes where people simply speak to each other. The cinematic flourishes seem to exist in order to punch up the dialogue-heavy moments rather than add context or depth. Furthermore, as a story, it all feels rather pedestrian and trite. No new ground is covered, and no character emerges as either completely evil or sympathetic.
In the end, Sin Sangre is all about the moving parts rather than the whole. It’s extraordinary in its delivery but flat in its soul.
And that brings a conclusion to this year’s Across the Festivals blog (with this last one being a fortnight late—very sorry about that). In the end I saw far less than I’d planned, partly down to scheduling conflicts but also down to unfortunate miscommunication. Still, it was an adequate year with a number of productions, talks and events that will linger with me for some time. The Great White Whale of a production didn’t happen as the only five-star production for me was Tim Crouch’s The Author, a play I absolutely adored but would only recommend to a select few. Perhaps I was lucky, but I also didn’t have a lot of bad experiences either, with even the weakest of productions having one or two moments of redemption.
Technical problems have led to a few interviews not being posted. I shall rectify this over the next few days as they are worthy of reading, even if half of the productions are no more.