Monday 27 August 2007

Edinburgh Festival Review Part 3


This adaptation of Mervyn Peake's weird and macabre Gormenghast trilogy, written by playwright John Constable, was exciting, noisy, colourful and, appropriately, mysterious. It's a promenade production with the actors moving round and through the audience between different stages. The venue was moved at the last minute. I don't know what the original one was like but the replacement seemed too small and too low without the space and high stages needed for such an energetic production. Even moving round with the actors it was difficult to see everything. Despite this it was a fine production, visually stimulating and well acted by the young female cast. Some of the acting and costume design seemed influenced by the excellent and under-rated BBC TV Gormenghast series, which is no criticism. Peake's story of a decaying aristocratic family - the Groans - and their downfall at the hands of sinister young upstart Steerpike was portrayed as much by action as words and it would probably be difficult to follow for anyone not familiar with the story. Although there was the occasional lapse into mere recitation the lines were mostly delivered confidently and with passion. I was particularly impressed by Amelia Peterson as the seductive and manipulative Steerpike and Alice Hodgson as the Wild Child, who gibbered and cried furiously, while Camilla Thompsell as Swelter the evil cook was suitably disgusting.

Escaping Hamlet

The last theatre production we attended begged the questions as to how many interpretations of Shakespeare there can be. An unlimited number it seems but I doubt many are as unusual and original as this Italian production by Teatro Dei Borgia / Compagnia Delle Formiche and Andy Jordan Productions, directed by Giianpiero Borgia and written by Natalia Capria and featuring an Italian/British cast. It's set in a surreal world that slips between Shakespeare's Denmark (the Swedish army is approaching throughout the play) and the world of today(actors wearing iPODs, "Somewhere Over The Rainbow" and different versions of "My Way" ringing round the theatre). The themes of the play are duty, destiny and the nature of theatre. Two of the principal characters are transvestite performers who don't performer (played well by Alessandro Sciusco and Antonello Taurino) but whose image of themselves as on the stage is central to their identity. Rather than avenge his father Hamlet wants to run away from the alcohol fuelled debauchery of Denmark to Paris and become an actor. The tone of the play shifts from comedy to pathos and tragedy and back again, sometimes with confusing speed. The costumes and set are splendid and the acting confident and compelling, drawing the audience into the mad dream world of this fantasy Denmark. Jessica Sedler is excellent as Kate, a servant who is also a voice of sanity, and Charlie Palmer is suitably doubting and uncertain as Hamlet.

I Served The King Of England

This was reckoned to be one of the highlights of the Film Festival. Based on a novel by Czech writer Bohumil Hrabel the film is directed by Jiri Menzel and set in the 1930s, 40s and 50s. It's a satirical film that tells the story of Dittie, whose ambition is to own a hotel and become a millionaire, and who works his way up to this position, mostly as a waiter. An innocent in many ways Dittie is happy to accommodate anything that aids his dream, including the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia, until the Communist takeover after the war sees him sent to jail. The story is told by Dittie as an older and wiser man, after nearly 15 years in jail, but the key character is him as a young waiter. The film is lavish and opulent, beautifully shot with echoes of Peter Greenaway. The lushness, the graceful choreography, the light-hearted piano music contrasted with the cattle trucks full of prisoners and the war imagery gives the film a moral ambiguity that is disturbing (one of our party hated it, feeling it was a deeply immoral film). Is Dittie a hero? Should the film maker evoke sympathy for someone who joins the Nazis (though without any real understanding of what they are) and doesn't oppose the war? Perhaps Dittie should be contrasted with the head waiter at the hotel he works in when the Nazis take over who is eventually taken away, head held high, as he refuses to salute Hitler and accept the Nazi dominance. That the film raises such questions and challenges the viewer gives it a depth that belies some of the pretty filming and tinkling piano.

Martha McBrier: so you think you're a good heckler?

Edinburgh was awash with comedy shows (are there that many funny people around?) and I was assured that going to a late night comedy show was an essential part of attending the Festival. On the somewhat flimsy basis that she apparently once knew John Manning of TGO magazine and TGO Challenge fame we went to see Martha McBrier, a Glaswegian comic with a show with a rather provocative title. For some of the audience it was a bit of a challenge though sitting at the back of the cavern like room (with drips falling from the rough brick roof) we mostly missed her attentions. McBrier was everything I expected a late-night stand-up comedian to be - crude, rude and (mildly) shocking. The show wasn't so much about heckling as audience participation with McBrier getting us to vote and comment on her jokes (some good, some appalling). The humour, and much of the show was very funny, lay in her interaction with the audience rather than the jokes themselves and she did find a few people who delighted in sparring with her. The show was light relief after all the rather serious drama we saw but enjoyable and worthwhile for all that.

The picture shows a street scene in Edinburgh during the festival. Photo info: Ricoh GR-D, f9 @ 1/640, ISO 400, raw file converted to JPEG in Photoshop Elements 5 and processed in DxO Optics Pro.

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