My final report from the festival, including shows from the Fringe and the Edinburgh International Festival.
First up: Alphonse (****), a highly imaginative one-man play brilliantly performed by Alon Nashman. Nashman plays dozens of people, including the titular character—a young boy with a knack for telling tale-tales and who has gone missing. Nashman embodies other characters, including Alphonse’s family, classmates, a police officer and the many figments of his imagination.
It’s a great production, all down to Nashman’s excellence, not only in playing the large cast but also as a storyteller. Everything about his hour-long performance is stellar: great focus, commitment and all performed with a cheeky smile. Though it involves young characters, I wouldn’t necessarily call it a play for young people; instead, it’s a play for adults who are kids at heart and remember that the call of the imagination is always more interesting than so-called reality. Highly recommended.
Also questioning reality is EIF’s The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle (****). Based on an acclaimed book, the play follows a man who’s in crisis: he’s unemployed, both his cat and wife are missing, he’s being visited by a mysterious spiritual guru, he keeps running into a spunky young woman who has a knack of getting him into trouble and he’s being threatened by his hated brother-in-law.
For those with no knowledge of the book, the play doesn’t make a lot of coherent sense (nor do I think it is supposed to), but it is quite involving. Visually impressive, well performed and with a stunning design concept, there is much to like and admire.
However, on the whole, it doesn’t quite gel together. Much has been made of author Haruki Murakami’s love for David Lynch, and in many regards that is the production’s greatest aspect and weakest component. Like many of Lynch’s films, it all feels like a living dream, and many of the best moments are its indulgences in the mysterious, but there are other moments where it all seems too forced and copied.
It is a worthy production. For every one part that doesn’t work, there’s at least two that do. Still, it is a production that is much more impressive in its parts than as a whole.
Request Programme (***) is well-intentioned theatre. Set in a woman’s one-room flat (and performed in a language school classroom that has been given a fair dress-down), the play is a slice of social naturalism. We watch in close proximity as a woman comes home from work and lives out her nightly routine. The final ten minutes do take a more dramatic turn, but to reveal those twists would be cheating.
The odd paradox of the production is that everything feels too staged. Anyone who has never seen performance in such an intimate setting may be hypnotised by the novelty of it, but it quickly becomes easy to pick the realism apart. It’s not that actress Cecilia Nilsson is bad (she isn’t); it’s just easy to see her “acting”.
The final ten minutes are well handled, and afterwards the director speaks with the audience, giving background to the play and production and expressing undeniable passion. It’s just a shame the first hour of the production didn’t share the sincerity and honesty of its finale and the post-show discussion.
Both parts of One Thousand and One Nights (****) make for some impressive theatre. It gives theatrical life to the seminal novel, proving that the vast majority of audiences aren’t as familiar with it as they think. Gone are benevolent genies, flying carpets and stories geared towards children and in are tales filled with sex, violence and relationships complicated by emotion.
At its heart, the production is a celebration of the power of storytelling: how we learn from them, how we entertain ourselves by them and how we relate to one another through the ritual of telling them to each other. There are stories, stories within stories and, for the majority of the second half of part one, stories within a story within a story.
There should be no surprise that it works better in parts than as a whole. Some stories hit true, coming across as genuine and earning laughs and/or tears while others go on for too long or make little sense. Director Tim Supple creates a visual feast that is playful in its staging, and Hanan al-Shaykh’s does a fine job in adapting the source material to the stage. The production justifies its two-part status, though each part could easily be whittled down a bit.
One of the most interesting aspects of the production also proves to be its biggest flaw: it’s multilingual, told in a mixture of Arabic, French and English. While the concept of this is great, it is obvious that many of the actors are much more at ease with one or two of the languages. The biggest problem with the performance can be found in the subtitles, for many times the person in charge of changing them was too slow, too fast or got lost, and there were several occasions where an obvious hiccup in the computer system occurred, with a swivelling mouse arrow obscuring the text, all leading to many frustrating moments within the production that had an alienating effect on what was happening on stage.
Subtitle problems aside, One Thousand and One Nights is a solid production that’s well staged. It might have a lengthy running time, but that time passes much quicker than many hour-long Fringe shows.
I began this year’s Festival with an off-site Traverse show (Dance Marathon), and I conclude this year’s Festival with an off-site Traverse show. Adrian Howells’ May I Have the Pleasure…? (***) is a collection of ideas in search of a production. Part self-confession and part examination of weddings, Howells bounces through time, looking at all the weddings he attended, both as a guest and as best man. Staged as a wedding reception with tables, music and a dance floor, the production allows Howells to engage with the audience while he shares personal anecdotes and has the occasional dance.
What’s frustrating is how much the weak gets in the way of the good. As one hears about past weddings and events, more questions are posed than answers, and the production itself doesn’t quite know what it wants to be, for right when it seems like it has set its course, it goes off in a new direction without fully exploring anything. It’s as if Howells picked up a bunch of darts and threw them all at once, with some hitting the bull’s-eye and others failing to even stick.
With a bit more focus, May I Have the Pleasure…? would indeed be a pleasure, and had this been presented as a work in progress, one would leave feeling that, with a bit of tinkering, something special was on its way. However, as a finished production, it’s a lot of build-up that simply fizzles.
Alphonse, The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle, Request Programme and May I Have the Pleasure…? have completed their runs. One Thousand and One Nights alternates between parts one and two at the Lyceum until September 3.