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Across the Festival: August 4--Summerhall

Michael Cox reviews Malasombra, The Dispute, Little on the Inside and Sister.

Summerhall just might be the artistic oasis of the Fringe. With a building that has art literally pouring out of it (I’m not kidding), it’s a great place to come, even just to soak up the atmosphere. It also has a ridiculously mixed programme this year.

So, kicking things off for me is Malasombra (***), a delightful mix of music, dance, theatre and visual art. Three figures, La Chica, La Sombra and Mister Malasombra, dance before a screen, with superimposed images and animations that are dwarfed by shadow play. La Sombra gets captured by Malasombra, and it’s up to Chica to rescue her.

Maybe not the clearest of stories, but the movement is quite interesting to watch. What impresses here are the technical aspects. The use of shadows and music (mostly rock and heavy metal with other musical flourishes throughout) is quite interesting to experience, and there are some exciting moments on show. Perhaps not wholly successful, but good fun.

The Dispute (***) is a bit of an odd production. It takes a classic play from Marivaux and gives it a modern spin. A scientist is interested in which sex is more prone to betray: male or female. To discover the truth, four infants (2 boys and 2 girls) are individually raised in seclusion, with only a female voice for contact. Released in a garden arena when 18, the four are observed in their interactions, seeing what happens when they encounter humans and establish relationships for the first time.

One cannot fault Emily Kempson’s production. She has assembled a design team who have created a great set: a postmodern garden with video screens and small pools of water. The performers are uniformly great, playing comedy, wonder and heartbreak well. It looks wonderful and has a lot of fun moments.

And yet, there are a few flies in the ointment. And unfortunately, they are found in the original Marivaux play. The concept of observing innocence corroding is fine, but having the four subjects raised in their gender roles means that the women are obsessed with beauty and being adored, while the men are possessive. This might have been fine for the original audience, but in modern times it feels a bit of a cheat. It’s a shame that Kempson and her company didn’t go for a completely modern examination of relationships: that could have been interesting, rather than being a good looking production with fun performances but little substance to sustain it in the memory once it finishes.

What does linger is the short but brilliant Little on the Inside (****), a gem of a production that packs an emotional wallop. The play is about two incarcerated women trying to keep each other sane by telling stories and dreaming of life outside. They argue, goad each other, joke, reminisce and, ultimately, bond.

Maybe we’ve seen this idea played out before, but the interplay, passion and emotional connections actors Estella Daniels and Sandra Reid bring make for a rich production that should not be missed.

Also not to be missed is the very challenging Sister (****).What is Sister? Confessional? A diatribe on female roles within society? It has aspects of all of this, but in the end it is an intimate look at two sisters, their relationship with each other and how that relationship affects their own lives.

It would be very easy to label the performances of Amy and Rosana Cade as ‘brave’, but that would imply that they’ve something to be ashamed of or feel guilty about, and that is by no means the case. I prefer to describe the production instead as honest, insightful and, above all, rather fascinating. Another word that could be used is ‘explicit’. After all, they both appear completely naked for the vast majority of the 75-minute running time, leaving no aspect of their body unseen. The stage is even set to look like a stripe club, with the production beginning with a lap dance for two members of the audience.

But, in truth, if anything is explicit it is their rather intimate descriptions of their life: sexual, professional and familial. The result is a production that is warm, funny and thought-provoking.

All productions are on at Summerhall. Malasombra performs at 1440 (not 12, 19), Little on the Inside performs at 1700 (not 6, 13 or 20) and Sister performs at 2015 (not 12, 19) until August 24. The Dispute’s run has complete.

Sister is part of the Made in Scotland programme.

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