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Festival Review: Traverse One

Michael Cox reviews The Red Shed, Daffodils and Milk.

Anyone who has seen any of Mark Thomas’ agitprop productions will have an idea of what to expect. Politically astute with a righteous anger, Thomas is spoiling for a fight but comes armed with facts and wit.

The Red Shed (****) is no different. Thomas’ production serves a few purposes: to supply a living history of the titular shed, an actual place in Wakefield that has seen 50 years of political action within its walls, as well as introducing audiences to a few of its most colourful characters. This is where Thomas got his start, not only as a performer but also as an activist, so it is a place near and dear to him.

But Thomas is also after something much harder to achieve. He has a specific memory of observing school children singing to a bunch of miners as they walked to the pits at the end of the strike. This is a memory that haunts him even if many doubt its truth, and so he wants to confirm its accuracy.

His journey is a colourful one that sees him interacting with a large cast of people (hinted at by having audience members hold up images of their faces) while he speaks about those events decades ago. It covers a lot of ground, but it does so with as much heart as one is likely to encounter on the Fringe. It is constantly interesting, frequently funny and occasionally poignant.

Also interesting but not nearly as funny or poignant is Daffodils (***), a musical tribute to writer Rochelle Bright’s parents. Allegedly, her parents first met on the same daffodil meadow as her grandparents. Using music and film clips, the play looks at the decades-long romance and marriage of Eric and Rose—its ups and (more frequent) downs.

As it’s supposedly based on real life events, it seems hard to be critical about the lack of dramatic tension or of a halfway decent resolution. That said, there are some wonderful moments throughout—funny, frustrating and sometimes tragic. It’s just a shame that there are also several lulls and that, at the end, it comes across more as a morality tale (always remember to communicate with your partner, boys and girls).

But it certainly has some terrific highs, primarily found in its performing company. The three-piece band are great in live performance, cranking out different tunes throughout the running time. But the real anchor is in its two lead performers, Colleen David and Todd Emerson. Both give solid performances, balancing between song and confessional monologue. They present two characters whom are easy to like and are more than worth spending time with.

Which is a damned sight more than can be said for any of the characters in Milk (**), a car crash of a script populated mostly by annoying, cliché-ridden figures (calling them ‘characters’ gives them too much substance).

Ross Dunsmore’s script introduces us to three couples: teenagers Steph and Ash, mid-aged married couple Danny and Nicole and pensioners Cyril and May. Each character is missing a vital need (be it food, sex, warmth and so forth) that puts them in crisis mode. Lives intersect, desperate acts lead to more desperate states and everyone becomes more and more frantic in searching for a form of solace.

Director Orla O’Loughlin’s production sure looks slick: the staging is fluid and the design works well. Her cast of six also turns in excellent performances, many of whom actually manage to rise above the trite script at hand. But when such a vital theatrical substance like a good script is lacking, there is only so much nourishment one can receive.

All are part of this year’s Traverse Fringe Festival season on the Traverse One stage. Check website or programme for further details and information.

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