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Festival Review: Summerhall Round-up 1

Michael Cox reviews Katie and Pip, War With the Newts, Flight, Happy Hour, Erehwon and Closed Doors.

One of the great things about Summerhall as a venue is how eclectic its Fringe seasons can be, serving up a variety of productions in its labyrinth of corridors.

There is much to like about Katie and Pip (***), particularly if you’re a dog person. The production is not a ‘dog show’ with circus tricks but is about a relationship between a 15-year-old teenager and her service dog that assists her with managing her Type 1 diabetes. Joined onstage with two other performers, the production might be a bit slow and repetitive but is a sweet look at Katie and Pip’s relationship. Pip’s also an adorable dog that’s well behaved and loves playing with her toys, which makes for some charming, if unpredictable, moments.

Down in the basement is War With the Newts (***), an ambitious if not completely successful production. In the future, mankind has lost a war with a race of intelligent newts. We, the audience, are refugees escaping to a safe colony, and as entertainment (through VR simulation) we are presented with the history of the war, showing how first contact grew to exploitation and battle. Using screens, sound effects, clever design and some participation with the audience, the production feels a bit adrift, balanced between moments that work and those that don’t. Sometimes a satire and other times deadly serious, the production comes across as a great work in progress that needs much more dramaturgical development.

Taking place in a crate in front of the venue, Flight (***) is Darkfield’s latest theatrical installation. As with many mysteries, to give too much away would spoil the game. The basics: you board a flight (on a very convincing-looking half of an airplane) that may or may not be travelling between dimensions. Using persuasive sound through headphones and other theatrics, you experience the 25-minute simulation in total darkness. It’s very well done, with some credible effects and a rather cheeky sense of humour. Those looking for jump scares will probably be disappointed—it’s not at all a horror but plays with the uncanny—but as an experience it’s rather good fun, if not a bit inconsequential in the end.

Happy Hour (***) is a recorded experience one can have anywhere on the Summerhall grounds. I’d highly recommend taking a seat in the outdoor seating area (weather permitting) when it’s reasonably full. What is it? Well, part of the charm of the experience is figuring out what’s happening, who the female speaker is and who you are meant to be. It might not have a great deal to say or offer, but it’s a perfectly fun way of enjoying a drink at Summerhall.

Also perfectly fun is Magnetic North’s latest: Erehwon (***). Using a magic lantern, we are told the incredible story of George, a Victorian era orphan who craves adventure and finds it on a sea voyage, where he discovers a mysterious civilisation. This charming two-hander, with writer Arthur Meek playing both himself and George and Eva Prowse performing live music, has a lot going for it: the slides are fun, Prowse’s music adds enjoyable texture and Meek is a personable performer. It all adds up to an entertaining hour-long ditty that’s fun if not overly memorable.

There’s no denying that the production of Closed Doors (***) is well meaning. Set in a Glaswegian neighbourhood, it’s a musical poem of community and tolerance. A number of different characters are prevented from leaving a building because of an incident the police are handling. What is the incident, and what repercussions will it have? All is revealed through Belle Jones (vocals), Lauren Gilmour (piano and vocals) and Audrey Tait’s (drums and percussion) rather nice performances. Maybe it’s all a bit simplistic in the end, but there are some moments of raw beauty told through some nice songs.

All productions are part of Summerhall’s Fringe 2018 season. Check venue for dates and times.

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