Today is perhaps the best day I’ve ever had on the Fringe. Seven events, and all of them worthy productions.
I’d missed The Monster in the Hall (****) during its initial run, and I’m very glad I got the chance to see it. Initially written for schools, David Greig’s play is a bittersweet story about a 15-year old girl and her MS-suffering father.
Greig’s script is not a typical school play. It deals with issues and has a teenaged protagonist who seems a bit too savvy for her age, but the plot is convincing, the characters enduring and the direction engaging. It also has subplots involving drugs, oral sex and caregiving, making the play much more mature than most plays geared towards teenagers.
And as a production, it really is first class. Director Guy Hollands keeps things animated, and the music by Nigel Dunn is top notch. But the production is lifted by all four of the performers, particularly Gemma McElhinney as lead Duck, a worthy nominee at last year’s CATS awards for best actress. Not just a great school production, but a great piece of theatre for everyone.
The Overcoat (****) is a charming gem of a production. A modernised version based on Nikolai Gogol’s classic, the story follows meek Akaky, a bank clerk who, despite being great at his job, is perceived as a loser. When he decides to buy a new coat, his life takes a drastic turn.
What’s great about this production is how modern it is while maintaining the basics of Gogol’s original. It is sharply directed and filled with a great ensemble performance that’s brilliantly led by Billy Mack. Brimming with creativity from beginning to end, The Overcoat is one of the bright stars of this year’s Fringe.
One of the oddest and enjoyable experiences to be found is Mirazozo (****). More of a holistic experience, you are allowed in an inflatable device that, through clever design and engineering, lights itself with lovely hues. Based on Islamic architecture, the space is a marvel and, depending on the amount of screaming children, can be a soothing experience. Make sure you go in when you aren’t rushed and let the space take hold. If only such a structure was available year-round…
A key piece of advice one can heed during the festival is to pay attention to what people are saying while standing in queues or sitting in theatre spaces. I’d read about Beowulf – A Thousand Years of Baggage (****), but it just didn’t click with me. After all, I’d spent time in a lit class at university dissecting it, and I’d endured the recent film, so sitting through another rendition was not a priority.
But word of mouth was strong, and boy am I glad I listened because theatre company Banana Bag & Bodice have come up with a real winner. Using jazz, funny costumes and outlandish props, the production is a laugh riot, sending up its classic status while doing a competent job in summarising the tale. Forget the blurbs, just get a ticket and enjoy, though be warned that the language is at times quite colourful (in the performance I saw, an old couple dressed in tweeds walked out). Now if only all the classics were taught this way.
From a tale from the past to a fable set in the future, The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer (*****) is without question the best thing I’ve seen so far this festival. What’s funny is that this is another production I initially gave a pass to but had heard nothing but raves.
I think it comes down to the fact that a 45-minute play set in a world ravaged by climate change and about a recently bereaved hero who goes on an underwater adventure to save the world and find his wife’s soul that’s told through puppetry and projections just doesn’t sound appealing. However, performer and creator Tim Watts gives a wonderful performance, so much so that he had me laughing myself silly and weeping openly, many times simultaneously. It is highly imaginative, expertly executed and quite simply live performance at its best.
Shappi Khorsandi is a performer I’d seen on TV but never live. I found her to be a clever and energetic performer on TV, and I’m happy to report that she is just as good live. Her show, Me and My Brother in Our Pants, Holding Hands (****) is an affectionate look at her relationship with her brother and her son, but there are also undertows of seriousness as she also looks at racism and her family’s experience in Iran and with the Ayatollah. Some of the jokes are repeats from recent televised appearances, but for the most part the show is a sharp act filled with good humour and insights.
Ending the night for me was Rich Hall (****), a performer I’ve followed for over 20 years. Perhaps I was the perfect audience member, as a politically aware American who lives in the UK, but his entire act was chalk full of shrewd discernments on the modern world, especially the UK and US. He was a bit repetitive but came across as cynically sincere, and his rather affectionate song celebrating Scotland and its people is one of my festival highlights.
The Monster in the Hall performs at the Traverse at alternate times until Aug 28. The Overcoat performs at the Pleasance Dome at 1225. Mirazozo is in George Square and open from morning till dusk until Aug 29. Beowulf-A Thousand Years of Baggage is at the Assembly’s George Square at 1600 until Aug 29. The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik performs at Underbelly at 1800 until Aug 29. Shappi Khorsandi performs at the Pleasance Courtyard at 1950. Rich Hall performs at 2140 at the Pleasance Courtyard until Aug 28.