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Festival Reviews: Summerhall

Michael Cox reviews Mungo Park, Micky and Addie, The Dwelling Place, Under Ice and The Castle Builder.

Mungo Park ****

Mungo Park manages to do two things at once. First, it is a celebration of the real-life Scot, who was entrusted in exploring and mapping West Africa twice, first in 1795, and then on a second excursion ten years later. Audiences are also given a love letter to the art of theatre: three actors use props, costumes, a turntable, chalk and about as much energy as actors are able to muster in playing multiple roles over a 90-minute period.

And it is all great fun. Matthew Zajac plays Park, not as a ‘white settler’ but as someone with academic curiosity who genuinely wants to build bridges of peace. He is a hero who is easy to side with, even when he makes hard choices in his life. Anders Budde Christensen and Kingsley Amadi have the task of playing every other role: male/female, young/old, rich/poor, European/African. Their commitment, mixed with Zajac’s towering Park, makes for an entertaining and at times touching production.

Mikey and Addie ****

Mikey is a kid who obsesses about space because his father works for NASA. Addie is a stickler for the rules who takes pride in ensuring school breaks go without incident. When Mikey and Addie come into conflict over the rules one day, their lives become entwined as they both go looking for answers to questions they didn’t know they had.

Andy Manley delivers a moving solo performance, telling the stories of both protagonists while maintaining a twinkle in his eye. It's all very charming, with a healthy mix of the bittersweet and the humorous. Manley is terrific, and the production is wonderfully engaging throughout its hour-long running time.

The Dwelling Place ***

On holiday in the Outer Hebrides, Jamie and Lewis Wardrop discovered a ruined cottage. Recapturing the building’s essence, the brothers have created a production that mixes slides, music, installations and design to take audiences on a journey of history and discovery, not only of the cottage and its mysterious contents but of its surrounding community.

It’s an interesting piece with great flourishes throughout. And the Wardrops are both good in their performances, playing narrators and, on a few occasions, other people. Intriguing stuff all round.

Under Ice ***

Calling Under Ice a play would technically be correct but doesn’t quite hit the nail on the head. It is instead an angry theatrical reaction to modern capitalistic life. The stage is littered with empty water bottles, and three actors sit on stage: one on an armchair surrounded by microphones, the other two at a table in judgement.

‘Judgement’ feels like the right word here: in the production’s running time, just about every aspect of modern life is questioned and mocked. The actors scream, images flash and music bleeds out at high rates that almost hurt.

All but impossible to enjoy, Under Ice is easy to admire: not just for its energy and ideas but more so for its gumption.

The Castle Builder ****

Vic Llewellyn and Kid Carpet’s celebration of eccentricity and the art of creation is a joyous production from start to finish. Through song, props, skits and recordings, Llewellyn and Carpet tell stories of people building things—mostly homes, or castles as the title suggests.

And it is all good fun. Is there a dramatic through-line? Not really, though everything is connected by the theme of construction. Every tale is told through different creative ways, all while an invited artist builds something to be shown to the audience at the end of the production.

Hilarious, touching and poignant, this production is as much a celebration of the need to create something as it is a tribute to those unique individuals who dare to dream and build tangible things—whether or not others support their desires.

All productions are part of this year’s Fringe festival at Summerhall. For more details, check their programme or website.

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