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Festival Review: Summerhall Round-up 2

Michael Cox reviews The Flop, Status, First Snow/Premiere Neige, Famous Puppet Death Scenes and Drive-By Shooting.

While Summerhall might have started out as the place to see edgy European theatre (and in many ways, it still is), there isn’t really a specific identifying angle to their shows.

Take The Flop (***), a comedy set in pre-revolutionary France. The premise: a Marquis is sued by his wife for impotence. Hijinks ensue.

The production isn’t really interested in telling a compelling story or presenting complicated characters—it just wants to make the audience laugh, and for it’s 60-minute running time it mostly achieves it.

There are a lot of scenarios that end up being overcomplicated and go on for too long, but the production has such an eager to please aura about it, and the cast are clearly having such a ball, that it ends up being irresistible. By no means a ‘flop’, the production isn’t quite the winner it feels it should be, even with its cast who thankfully rise to the occasion.

Performing on the same stage but only a few hours later you have Status (****), a brilliantly insightful piece about nationality and identity.

Writer/performer Chris Thorpe is disgusted with being British. He’s angered by Brexit, confused by the fact his nationality got him out of hot water in an event with a police officer in Serbia and troubled by Teresa May’s quote of ‘if you believe you are a citizen of the world, you are a citizen of nowhere’. In search of identity or ‘status’, he goes on an international adventure.

The combination of monologue and song that uses projections to emphasise the journey works well enough, even if, when all is considered, it might not add up to as much as it thinks it does. However, it also includes several thrilling moments that linger in the mind, and its final moment where Thorpe must look at himself and consider who he really is makes for a rather moving ending.

Another production that’s also about nationality and identity but far less successful is First Snow/Premiere Neige (**), a pretentious excuse of a performance that uses the attempts of independence in Scotland and Quebec as a catalyst to explore numerous themes.

In many ways it can be called ‘kitchen sink’ drama, as in it has everything but a kitchen sink thrown into the mix. A company of actors swing back and forth between reality and characters to explore…well, a mess of topics. Don’t like what they’re arguing about? Don’t worry—the subject will change in five minutes, with absolutely no mention of any previous point whatsoever.

The actors might be engaging, but good performances and passionate political ideas cannot paper over what can best be described as a dramaturgical disaster.

Not much better is Famous Puppet Death Scenes (**), a production that can best be summed up as something for the easily amused but not for the easily offended. To its credit, it does exactly what it says on the tin: it features the deaths of numerous puppets.

The joke wares thin very quickly, with only a few moments earning rather large laughs. Funnily enough, it is the production’s more poignant moments where it actually feels like it’s trying to do something interesting. These moments are, sadly, few and far between, and for every one stellar scene there are at least three that pass from memory before the next even begins.

Perhaps also lacking in taste but much more successful is the nine-minute long operatic film Drive-By Shooting (***). Projected onto the Summerhall building, headphones allow audiences to listen in on a sung-through conversation between an older woman and her best friend, discussing how she discovered her husband’s been having it off with a neighbour. Her solution: shoot his pecker off!

What it lacks in taste it certainly makes up for in charm. It might be short, but it’s outrageous and has far more laughs than a lot of things passing themselves off as comedies.

All productions are at Summerhall until August 26th.

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