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Festival Reviews: Summerhall Reviews

Michael Cox reviews Us/Them, Denton & Me, One Hundred Homes, Hillary Clinton, Blank and (I Could Go On Singing) Over the Rainbow.

Us/Them ****

How do you explain atrocities to children? Even more unnerving: how do you allow children to explain atrocities they experienced?

Belgium-based company Bronks takes the horrible acts that happened in Beslan in 2004 as a place of inspiration. The piece isn't an historical account of the three-day siege of a school by so-called freedom fighters but instead looks at how children might comprehend the events. Two performers mark out the school boundaries in chalk and then give a combined performance of narrative and movement to tell their stories about what happened and what they saw (or at least what they think they witnessed).

There is an innocence to how it is all portrayed, but it is in no way condescending. Mixing humour and a child-like view of the world, the piece instead looks at the emotional turmoil those involved in the hostage-taking must have felt: the heat, the thirst and hunger, the confusion and the uncertainty of what might be happening outside the school.

Thought-provoking, wonderfully theatrical yet always with a cheeky smile and a twinkle in the eye, this is terrific.

Denton & Me ***

In 2011, Sam Rowe was given a book by a family friend: the journals of Denton Welch. Rowe, an aspiring playwright at the time, was struggling in life: working a job he didn't particularly like and not quite connecting in love. He found solace in the works of Welch, which include a chronicle of his relationship with Eric Oliver that started in 1943.

The production dramatises both Rowe’s life at the time and Welch’s relationship, finding multiple parallels along the way. Performed by Rowe himself, the production looks great and has many moving moments. Director Nicholas Bone has crafted a beautiful looking production: elegant in its staging and design. Rowe is also a good performer: engaging and easy to listen to.

It's a shame then that the piece feels a bit too long. Each individual scene is interesting and contains nice moments, but as a whole it feels bloated and overstays its welcome. Still, it has enough tender moments to make it worthwhile.

One Hundred Homes ****

Yinka Kuitenbrouwer’s intimate piece is played to a small audience in a wooden shed. She offers tea and biscuits while reading interviews she's conducted with people around the world about the idea of ‘home’. She clips an image of each person to a clothes peg on her head as she reads each file (only reading a select few in the 45 minutes given).

A simple concept, but one handled extremely well. It is at times touching, other times funny, and yet consistently poignant.

On the Conditions & Possibilities of Hillary Clinton Taking Me As Her Young Lover **


You know you're in trouble when the best joke a production has is its title. Arthur Meek is a very charming performer and has enough shtick up his sleeve to make the performance tolerable, but what could have been a witty or sarcastic juxtaposition of politics and sex is nothing but a hollow pseudo-lecture. A missed opportunity.

Blank ***

Blank is next to impossible to discuss in any detail. This isn't due to any complications or ambiguity: each performance is unique. An individual is invited to each performance, a person who has neither read a script nor attended any rehearsal, and is given the script to read. This means that the audience discovers what happens at the same time as the performer.

So, in fairness to this conceit, it would be wrong of me to reveal anything that is in the script or chronicle anything that happens from reading it. All I can say is that: a) it is an interesting idea that has great potential but b) the success is completely down to each audience that sees it.

For the performance attended on August 20th, I can report that the audience was medium-sized but willing to play, making for an experience that was fun and moving. The performer, Morna Young, was an engaging host, reading the script in a clear voice and quickly creating a lovely relationship with the audience.

So on this particular night, a solid success. But as the success of any performance of Blank is down to its audience and the performer, this will surely vary.

(I Could Go On Singing) Over the Rainbow

Some productions manage to pick a title that perfectly cracks the essence of itself. And so it is nearly so for Rainbow. Audiences are invited into Summerhall’s Basement. The music is thumping, and audiences are assured noise levels are safe (though earplugs are supplied). A small room is entered with three people already inside—including performer FK Alexander.

And through the course of an hour, she sings to different individuals the song ‘Over the Rainbow’, connecting with each person as she does it through a routine that is ritual-like.

And it is here where I must personally step in and state—she certainly doesn't go on singing. Maybe too many people were admitted on the night of this particular performance, but when an hour is up the show comes to an end—whether everyone has had the opportunity or not.

And I was one of those excluded. I don't state this out of any spite but out of disappointment—I didn’t have the experience that was advertised. It's like being invited to a party but refused entrance—looking at the celebration through the window only gives a glimpse of the event, and it certainly seemed like Alexander connected with each person she sang to.

But as I didn't have that experience, I cannot give a review. I can honestly say this: it looks worthwhile, so if this sounds like something you'd appreciate, then it seems worth attending. Just don't wait or let other people go before you: you might find there's no more birthday cake to be had.

All are part of Summerhall’s Fringe season. For further details, check the programme or go to their website.

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