A day of new work, to differing levels of success.
Cloud Man (****) is an utterly charming play for young people. Staged with a delicate hand, the 40-minute play follows a young woman’s obsession with clouds and her unshakable belief that, within the clouds that float above, live miniature people.
And of course she’s right. The cloud people are brought to life through puppetry and miniature props and costumes – all very cute and sweet. It’s a play that is just the right length and performed with the right touch.
Children are notoriously difficult critics, and I can report that all the children in my performance seemed engaged, with a few loudly asking their parents what’s going to happen next. It must also be mentioned how approachable the cloud people are; such a concept could be seen as scary, but it’s all done with such a light air that there is never a threat. It’s all sweet-but not too saccharine for parents. A real winner.
Another winner can be found out in the Inverleith Allotments. Simply entitled Allotment (****), the play follows two sisters and the relationship they forge while working an allotment plot.
Part of the charm of the play is its site-specific location. By setting the play in an actual allotment, the audience not only engage with the play and characters but also get to see, smell and hear the environment that is so dear to the sisters.
As a play it’s a touch short, but as a production it all works well. Director Kate Nelson makes excellent use of the space and Jules Horne’s script is actually deeper than it first appears. However, the true success lies with Nicola Jo Cully and Pauline Goldsmith as Maddy and Dora. They give great performances and are convincing as sisters.
One of the most magical productions currently on the Fringe is Leo (****). The concept seems simple enough: Tobias Wegner inhabits a room that is turned at a 90-degree angle, and he moves in tandem with a filmed performance that makes the space look upright, which in turn creates a gravity-defying effect. Perhaps it’s just a little too long, but the whole production is so smart and fun-filled that it works wonderfully, making Leo a happy combination of live performance and technology.
What isn’t quite a happy combination, but still a clever use of technology, is Alma Mater (***). It’s an intriguing performance/installation that has an audience of one watching an 18-minute film on an iPad while standing in a room similar to the set used.
What’s it all about? I’m still not sure. Using eerie images and haunting music, the film is more of a cinematic nightmare than a coherent film. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. It’s well done and intriguing, though it actually feels too confined by the small space. Still, it’s interesting enough, yet like a dream most of it soon evaporates from memory.
To be blunt, I have no idea what the makers of Last Orders (**) were shooting for. Dance nightmare? Post-modern experiment? If it’s anything, it is an assault on one’s patience.
I could be really nasty by calling it a waste of time and accuse it of being pretentious-the type of work political conservatives point to as evidence of how art is a waste of taxpayers’ money. However, I cannot; nor can I accuse it of being lazy. There are clear characters, and the company of five perform well. The result isn’t necessarily horrid, just horribly misguided.
Also misguided is Ethometric Museum (**). It appears to be two productions, with neither very satisfying. Audiences are given a guided tour of a museum of Ethometric devices-machines with unknown qualities. Background is given on the machines and their mysterious nature, all promising an interesting production involving perhaps time-travel and intrigue. Then Ray Lee enters and gives a 20-minute performance by activating the machines, making a symphony of buzzes, bleeps and static. Interesting, but with no ties to the tour guide’s opening and difficult to appreciate given that it is staged in a small, almost claustrophobic space.
What is Ethometic Museum? Installation? Auditory experience? A juxtaposition between technology and the senses? If it’s anything, it is a lost opportunity, a potentially good piece ruined by opposing ends and a space that doesn’t allow the experience to breathe, resulting in a performance I could give a buzzing bleep about.
In fact, I have to wonder if the people behind Last Orders or Ethometric Museum would list their productions as examples if they were to attend The Oh-Fuck Moment (***). Cleverly staged in a messy boardroom and chaired by two human resource workers, the production looks at those awful moments in life we wish could be taken back. Cups of tea are handed out, demonstrations are given and the audience are asked to participate, all wrapped up in a non-threatening production that is well managed.
If anything, the production is so lightly handled that it is hard to remember that it is an actual performance. It also has a slight identity crisis-it’s not too sure if it’s more on the side of the comedic or the dramatic. But those are slight quips, because overall it is a fun production that makes it clear that, deep down, we are all screw ups who have committed acts we regret. That goes for theatre makers as well as audiences. And critics.
Cloud Man performs at Hill Street Theatre at 1100 until Aug 24 before touring. Allotment performs at Inverleith Allotments through Assembly at multiple times until Aug 28. Leo performs at St George’s West at 2030 until Aug 29. Alma Mater plays at St George’s West every 10 minutes between 1020-1850. Last Orders plays at the Traverse until Aug 28 before touring. Ethometric Museum performs at Hill Street Theatre at multiple times until Aug 28. The Oh Fuck Moment plays multiple times at St George’s West until Aug 27.