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Across the Festival: August 17--Summerhall

Michael Cox reviews Near Gone, Shakespeare, His Wife and the Dog, Lands of Glass and ViewMaster.

Near Gone (***) wears its heart on its sleeve. Created by Two Destination Language, the production is a mixture of drama and dance. Performer Katherina Radeva is trying to tell the audience about a heart-breaking event that happened to her family. She dances with flowers, sometimes whipping them to the point they fall apart, and she speaks passionately—in Bulgarian. Alister Lownie is on hand to translate, doing his best to depict the story with the right words.

It’s a delicate piece, one that might feel a bit padded in order to fill an hour slot. However, as a look at the difficulty in communicating, it’s potent stuff. There are moments that anger, others that touch, and the production has a slow pace that manages to keep hitting all of the emotional buttons.

Radeva and Lownie are great, both individually and as a duo. They are engaging to watch, and there is a great interplay between the two. Near Gone might seem a little over-complicated for the story it ends up telling, but it is still beautiful and moving.

Domestic dramas can be a rich pool to draw from, especially when the target is an older couple who know each other well enough to goad the best, and worst, out of each other. Such is the case for the hour we spend with Will and Anne, a couple who clearly love each other and have been through the highs and lows of a long-married couple.

The fact that the couple is Will and Anne Shakespeare makes the play all the sharper. Shakespeare, His Wife and the Dog (****) is a spousal battle of words and wits that has a smart script full of zingers and clever Shakespearean references. However, what stands out are the performances of Philip Whitchurch and Sally Edwards as Will and Anne. They make a believable, sympathetic couple who manage to one-up the other while still showing a love for each other, even when winding the other up.

Maybe the play, written by Whitchurch, is a bit knowing and relies on a general knowledge of Shakespeare that might escape the average audience member, but intelligence, humour and great performances win out.

Lands of Glass (***) has a lot going for it: a terrific company who work well as an ensemble and excellent use of music and sound through creative use of glass and bullhorns. So why doesn’t it work better than it does?

Unfortunately, the script seems to have been thrown aside in order to work more on the theatrics. What this means is that the story, about a community that’s tied to a glass factory, is hard to penetrate at times, with coherent plot skipped over in favour of theatrics, music making and characterisation. Had it not been for the programme notes, which dictates what happens in each scene, I would have been completely out to sea. There are aspects I’m still not too clear about.

Still, there is much to like. Hannah Boyde is wonderful in the multiple roles she plays, giving each character a fun, recognisable quirk, while Beccy Owen grounds the piece nicely as the narrator. And the music, much of it made by using glass (xylophones, water-filled glasses, to name a few) is wonderful to listen to while serving the production well. If only it all made more sense…

ViewMaster (****) might only last 15 minutes, but it’s an experience that lingers long after the performance concludes.

What is ViewMaster? Well, to give much away would rob audiences. Ryan Van Winkle is a poet and Dan Gorman is a sound artist, and together they take an audience of one on a journey via an old ViewMaster (a red plastic toy that allows a viewer to see a collection of 3D images).

And it’s tremendous fun. Van Winke and Gorman are excellent hosts—they’re warm, pleasant and happy to have a banter. The poetry and the music are great, but it’s the overall relaxed environment that makes this a terrific experience that should not be missed.

All productions on at Summerhall until August 24. Check website or programme for specific dates and times.

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