Tuesday, 31 July 2012

Top Five Circus

This is why internet searches during the Fringe are hopeless. I tap in "circus" and get a bunch of shows that have nothing to do with clowns or trapeze routines: I'll give Fourth Monkey's Nights at The Circus a pass because it is at least based on a novel about an aerialist, but when I want to see a man swinging from the ceiling or a clown entering the absurd, don't give me tap dance or burlesque. Besides, I might want to write about them later.

So it's hats off to Casus, who have former members of C!RCA, Briefs Collective, Flying Fruit Fly Circus and Polytoxic. Their first show, Knee Deep, promises a subtle blend of the big tricks and human frailty, an attempt to bridge the gap between spectacle and intimacy.

I read one review that describes Knee Deep as a meditation on the universe itself - being no stranger to pretension, I was pleased to see another critic really go for it. The acrobatics, since they challenge and test the laws of physics, become symbolic of the human condition and the stage echoes the wider universe.

That's enough to get me along.
Spiegletent, Assembly George Square, 2– 27 August.

Simple Matters has five clowns, no red noses and a surreal bent. They have ex-members of 

Cirque Du Soleil, Dell’ Arte School and The San Francisco Clown Conservatory. Their website has all these quotations from smart people about "simple matters" on it, suggesting that the comedy has a serious intent - the repeated comment that "people turn to clowns in times of uncertainty" confirms this.

Gilded Balloon Teviot, 1 -26 August

I've always assumed that the Europeans do circus better than the British (this is probably based on Cirque Du Soleil having a French name rather than research). I'll admit I get excited by the thought that Simple Matters stars a Russian clown - I imagine that the harshness of the Russian winter makes their clowns deadlier. Such stupid prejudice has generally done me well: and I have high hopes for

(remor), coming from Spain and promising a story of freedom inspired by cinematic thrillers.
It's also a damn short show, which means I can fit it in between hardcore Polish Live Art and psychedelic Brazilian comedy.

The audience (only twenty at a time) get to inhabit a custom built space and share the adventure of a couple as they try to work out how to escape. It's a thriller, it's a philosophical puzzle, it's an acrobatic theatrical mash-up and it's part of the "micro-theatre" movement, an attempt by artists to battle the cuts in art provision and funding.

Res de Res is one of the pioneering companies in circus-theatre in Spain: (remor) showcases their skills on a small scale and in a quick show. 
2–27 Aug (not 13)

Still in Europe, and we have Circle of Eleven's Leo. Perhaps less driven by theatre than (remor), it is a one man spectacular, it mixes up projections and a war against the laws of gravity. This is a return gig for Leo, as it won all sorts of awards (from rival publications, so I won't mention them) last year: but it also deals in the tension between the artist's talent and the confines of the stage. 

Circle of Eleven come from Berlin, and have been owning the Fringe for a few years: their trick is to link the advances in acrobatics in the last decade (the tricks are getting better), contemporary technology (which may account for the tricks...) and a classic vaudeville intention. In other words, they entertain and not just impress.

2 – 27 August. 

Hmm. That's only a top four. Any other Circus companies want a shout out? Contact me to fill this space...

Monday, 30 July 2012

Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide

Reluctant as I am ever to say a nice word about a fellow critic - if I can't be nasty about them, the performers will probably get it instead - I heartily approve of Mark Fisher's programme in support of his book The Edinburgh Fringe Survival Guide. I wouldn't go so far as to say I've read it - the emphasis is on helping creatives through the Edinburgh maze - but I applaud both his willingness to support artists and risk his reputation by getting up on the stage.

I would like to point out that Mr Criticulous was doing chat shows over two years ago, and just because  Fisher is wittier, more professional and has a reason to be on the stage, there is no need to forget who the original performing critic is.

Having said that, I do recommend these events, so long as you mention that you read about them here.

Thursday 9 August
How to make your show a success
Fisher talks to the chief exec of the Fringe Society, the artistic director of the Traverse and a performer from Sexytime! I am pretty sure I can guess how Sexytime! got their audience - I saw the title and checked whether I was booked in to review it yet - but advice from a top producer and a consistently impressive theatre's boss can't help but help.

Friday 10 August
Are you giving the media what they want?
Lyn Gardner, Guardian theatre critic, Brian Logan, Guardian comedy critic, Miriam Attwood, former media manager for the Fringe Society now press officer for the National Galleries of Scotland, and Finn Anderson, writer of Streets the Musical... my advice is not to send pdf files as press releases. Bloody hard to cut and paste. 

Thursday 16 August 
How to keep body and soul together
Essential advice about surviving week two and beyond from Cora Bissett, Oliver Award-winning director of Roadkill, Guy Masterson, Oliver Award-winning director of Morecambe, Ian Fox, author of How to Produce, Perform and Write an Edinburgh Fringe Comedy Show, and Teresa Burns, co-director of How It Ended Productions.

Friday 17 August
Comics on comedy
How to have the last laugh as a Fringe comedian with Phil Nichol, Edinburgh Comedy Award winner, Josie Long, Edinburgh Comedy Award best newcomer 2006, and Jessie Cave, comedian, actor and Harry Potter star.

Thursday 23 August
Riding the highs and lows of Fringe fortune
How to deal with disappointment and make the most of a hit with Hannah Eidinow, five-times Fringe First winning director, Judith Doherty, producer of the multi-award winning Grid Iron, Peter Michael Marino, writer of West End flop Desperately Seeking Susan, and Nicola Foxfield, assistant producer with Fringe first-timers Hecate Theatre.

Friday 24 August
Life beyond the Fringe
Expert advice on developing your post-Fringe career from Vicky Featherstone, artistic director of the National Theatre of Scotland, Camille O'Sullivan, singing star of the Fringe and the Edinburgh International Festival, and Toby Gough, Herald Archangel-winning director. 

Cabaret Bar, Pleasance Courtyard ), 9, 10, 16, 17, 23 & 24 August 2012

Sunday, 29 July 2012

Brains on the Fringe

I am fortunate enough to possess a large library of Beginners Guides, which have allowed me to pick random quotes from Great Thinkers and convince myself that readers will be fooled by my seeming erudition. To further my reputation as the intellectual voice of performance criticism, I looked for those shows that suggest I am familiar with philosophy and reason.

Nietzsche is one of my favourite philosophers, mainly because his later works express an arrogance that matches my own. And he had a habit of throwing out one-liners that are open to misinterpretation. God is dead - an easy statement of atheism or a carefully balanced contradiction that can never be resolved?

Two shows are grappling this grand-dad of post-modernism: The Most Dangerous Toy, and The Jhiva of Nietzsche. One's performed by a yoga teacher and describes how the Big Man's soul might have viewed his life. The other's about his relationship with Lou Salome, who could give him as good as he gave. There's a picture of her about to whip him. 

The true man wants two things: danger and play. 
Therefore he wants woman, as the most dangerous toy.
Nietzsche: Thus Spake Zarathustra.

The Most Dangerous Toy takes its title from Nietzsche's comment on women - he didn't quite manage to ever pin down a stable relationship, so it's hardly his wisest moment. Playades Theatre Company are committed to exploring images of women, and Salome is a good image to brush against Nietzsche - a man so radical in much of his thought, but so pedestrian in his gender politics (even by the standards of the late nineteenth century). Playades devised the work from private letters, historic documents and poetry: the two iconic figures clash and throw light on the grand battles at the heart of civilisation: genius and madness, man and woman, philosophy and reality, being a big show-off in the classroom and a total fail with the ladies. 

 The Spaces @ Surgeons Hall,  August 3 – 18 (not 5, 12) 7.05pm (50 min)

Theatro Transcendental, meanwhile, are all about the snazzy technological at the service of the metaphysical. 
Digital projection represents Nietzsche's mind, while Korina Kontaxaki is his Jhiva (Soul – in Ancient Indian). The split between live performance and the screen evokes a disjuncture between the realms of thought and the spiritual (Nietzsche did utterly reject the later): The Jhiva of Nietzsche attempts to reveal the tension behind his increasingly extreme declarations.

It's intriguing to guess whether the love story or the theological speculation would be more acceptable to the philosopher (odds are, neither, as he had a taste for sex and death, and liked Wagner until he got all soft). But he'd appreciate the multi-media, as his final public act did involve a self-consciously dramatic break-down.

theSpace @ Surgeons Hall, 3 -18 August (not Sundays)

Beulah by Alexander Wright gets in my Brains Trust Five on the grounds that the title is a word I don't know, looks at the liminal space between sleep and wakefulness, and mentions Blake in the press release. I'm not sure Blake counts as an intellectual, but he has the same knack for the pithy one-liner as Nietzsche ("the road of excess leads to the place of wisdom," indeed). It's a musical, and has puppets and live music (two performers and ten instruments). 

The company behind Beulah, The Flanagan Collective, are part of LittleFest, an attempt to create an enclave in the confusing mess of the Fringe free-for-all, and the foundation of the show rests on complex calculations about the time spent sleeping. And after the thunder and lightning of my first two choices, I need a rest.

C nova 2–27 Aug (not 13)

Because I know that Puppet. Book of Splendour won't let me snooze. It's a lively take on the Book of Job, using the Kabbalah and echoes from the life of Polish theatre maverick Kantor. There are angels in fuzzy white wigs, singing gospel, long readings from Jewish mystical texts, the darkest light projections I have ever seen and a healthy dose of avant-garde chaos. 

Essentially, the Book of Job  - once an early attempt to question the nature of evil, now a good place for atheists to source quotations that put God in a bad life - is translated into a guide to creativity. A cool kid learns about the divine, while Kantor, disguised as a painter, splashes about in the via negativa towards understanding.

Fearful as I am of being labelled pretentious, I feel I have captured the flavour of Puppet: I like theatrical mayhem and the quest for the holy, and support any effort to mix up theology and theatrical criticism. 

Summerhall, 3 -13 August

And finally - some comedy. Mark Allen presents The Humble Quest for Universal Genius, a panel show that tries "to find a modern-day Renaissance Man/Woman by testing contestants’ skills in rounds such as maths, languages, etiquette, science, anthropology, poetry, wit, literature and hunting."

Frankly, my opinion of stand-ups being less than respectful, I am hoping no-one wins, and that they recognise me as the true mad genius of criticism - without me having to face off against their contestants. The line up includes Sara Pascoe, Andrew Maxwell, Josie Long, Mark Watson, Josh Widdicombe. Actually, I am conceding already. These people have quick wits, whereas I steal most of my lines off Wikipedia and press releases.

Still, just doing this top five makes me feel smarter.

Gilded Balloon Teviot – Billiard Room, 4– 10 August

Friday, 27 July 2012

Respect Lecoq

A couple of years ago, I saw a Lecoq trained man do a storytelling version of The Odyssey. I'm pretty grumpy about storytelling when it gets into telling a big story - I really dislike those one man Lord of the Rings and Star Wars specials - as it ends up recounting a big load of plot and ignores the underlying themes and nuances which made it interesting in the first place.

So, for many years, I did not respect Lecoq. Then I saw the Red Bastard. He is a bouffon, and now I understand. Lecoq is one of the great strands of physical theatre, where every muscle is trained to perform. The Red Bastard managed to look like the devil and a strained chicken at the same time, and his brutal philosophy inspired me both to be more aggressive in my life (that lasted a week before it blew up in my face) and pay attention to the French school.

And my time has come. There is Lecoq all over the Fringe.

Tom Corradini is potentially in any real top five I come up with for Fringe 2012. Superheroes is about the link between childhood trauma and comic books. I am just worried that he has been reading my diary and has stolen my autobiography as the plot.

It's no accident that the press release mentions Marvel heroes: when Stan Lee and Jack Kirby invented the Marvel Universe (616, fact fans), they spent more time working on the character's backstories than the costumes. Not only does this explain why both the Hulk and The Thing run around in their skidders, it accounts for their popularity. A six year has a choice: a bright green raging monster, trapped by forces beyond their understanding, or a firm chinned alien in red, white and blue who barely breaks a sweat when saving the world. Which one reflects the experience of childhood the best?

Back to the act: 
Comedian, actor, writer and clown, Tom Corradini studied at the Atelier Teatro Fisico di Philip Radice (Lecoq method) in Turin, Italy. His likes include experimenting with every comical genre, being pushed by a troubled inner soul and being a funambolist suspended over the abyss.

For our delight, he will be connecting childhood pain and adult romantic problems, using the lives of the superheroes as object lessons. I hope he gets into Batman's philandering and Iron Man's alcoholism.

theSpace on North Bridge (V54), August 13 to 25 (not 19) - 16:35

Theatre Ad Infinitum have become Fringe regulars: Translunar Paradise has wowed Edinburgh for the past few years, and it is back again. Although the company get up to all sorts, including puppetry and masks, both director George Mann and performer Deborah Pugh did their time at Lecoq.

"The play’s about love, shared memory, loss and a relationship spanning 60 years told through the memories of an old widower, William," says Mann. "He has recently lost his wife and instead of moving on he gets lost in past memories.  The story follows William and Rose as they share wonderful memories together - from their courting days through to their last days together."

The originality of Translunar is in the way Ad Infinitum have used the language of movement and object manipulation. Mann adds. "
We break the traditional ‘mould’ of using mask - by combining it with puppetry: our masks are handheld.  It’s also one of a very few plays that attempts to communicate a story of complex themes and emotional content without text. For the first time we’re attempting a kind of ‘time travel’ through the use of masks, posture and movement.  One minute we’re young, the next we’re much older and we have to portray that in a split second using the masks and the way we stand and move.  There’s so much the body can and does say, but we seldom realise this."

In those last words, Mann gets to the nub of physical theatre: opening up the body as a tool of expression.

The Pleasance King Dome between 1 – 27 August at 5.25pm

Superbolt actually formed at Lecoq's school, and if their mix of dance, puppetry and text is not enough, they are rotating two plays at the Fringe. Centralia turns out to be about the 1960s, so I am saving that for another top five: but Piatto Finale concerns a piece of music that has never been heard, an opera house in Moscow and a crime comedy.

I guess that is something that made me worry about Lecoq - my original doubts were that it was too heavily based on clowning, and involved waving hands about the place like a French silent comedian. There is more to it than that, but it does hark back to old films and exaggerated performances. I think that is what has made it more accessible than other forms of physical theatre.

Zoo Venues, 4- 26 August, 10.20pm

 Having already done articles on Rhum and Clay and Clout, I feel that I can cheat. Here's Rhum and Clay talking about what makes Lecoq special.

"Lecoq inspires creativity. Its theatre is engaging and accessible; when done well it is absolutely captivating. Lecoq generates a community of artists with a shared language.  A testament to this is the amount of companies that have come out of the school.  From Complicite to last year’s hit company Theatre Ad Infinitum, success from Lecoq companies is carried by the quality of the work. It’s always our aim to create original theatre that meets those standards and creative values."

Bedlam, 9pm, 3-25 August (not 13th, 20th)

And the lad from Clout on the same question..

"A lot of people go to Lecoq, or LISPA or any of the other Lecoq based schools, because they crave a living theatre and are dis-engaged with a neck-up psychological acting style. Also for a lot of people we trained with the best show they have ever seen has been by a Lecoq trained company. For the Brits Complicit√© have had a great deal of influence. There are in fact 4 companies from our year alone at the Fringe this year: Rhum and Clay, Let Slip, Superbolt and us. As for the success of Lecoq trained companies, I think this comes from the fact that at the school you are always collaborating and creating together so when you leave, rather than waiting to get handed a job you simply say ‘let’s just keep going’. The highly critical nature of the teaching also plays a part. After that it is very difficult to kid yourself that what you’re doing is good if it isn’t. This being said success is never assured, especially in theatre, which is part of what makes it so exciting."
Summer Hall, 3.30pm, 3-26 August (not 17th, 18th)