Friday, 27 July 2012

It's War

Mark E Smith out of the Fall - a man I have to thank for my enthusiasm for contemporary dance and ear-splitting music that respects no boundaries - has a song about people like me: Beware the Middlemass. I think it is about how a generation that has grown up without a war will be less wary of the dangers of armed conflict, and see it as a bit like a computer game.

He wrote it before the Gulf Wars, which suggests that he has some interesting clairvoyant skills, as well as a knack for a tuneless melody.

My firm belief that theatre can bring home those issues that I have not experienced is usually tested and broken: it's too easy to use war, and violence, as a metaphor on stage, reducing literal horror to a trite parable. But what if war can be portrayed on stage?

Sunflower Theatre are giving it a shot with Adele's Heart. Originally in Italian, the show has had great reviews in the Italian press - the writer, Giampiero Rappa, has been called “one of the greatest talents of Italian theater” by Il Manifesto, but has been translated for its UK debut.

The play is a modern love story set against the backdrop of an unnamed war. Two contrasting characters are forced together, and act out the stages of a relationship in the high pressure situation of being surrounded by guns and fighting. A little bonus is that the two actors are lovers in real life: they met on a film set and the rest is history.

The Space on North Bridge, Theater 1(V36) August 6-11 @ 22.30

Next up is an interesting one: it won an award from the Daily Mail.

For any readers outside of Scotland, I would like to make it clear that I do not endorse the opinions of the Daily Mail. Most people in the arts like to make cheap jokes at the newspaper's expense - it's obsessed with house prices, immigrants, cancer scares and that. And doesn't Richard Littlejohn write for it?

Hang on, is that the Daily Express?

Having said that, theatre is all about the challenges, and a play that seems to celebrate the plucky British spirit in the face of World War II is so unexpected, I am thrilled. The Picture House was devised by a group of students at Mountview Academy; the action begins in 1939, when a new cinema is opened in Yorkshire and becomes the pride of the community. Through all new songs and dances, the tribulations of WWII and the titular building are sketched as... I have to admit that this isn't my kind of thing, because I am a miserable pessimist with a typical pseudo-intellectual cynicism about patriotic feelings. And musicals. However, it has a cast of thirteen, plus band and gets away from the sort of po-faced seriousness that I call art.

theSPACE on North Bridge (v. 36) 3rd-4th Aug (Previews) 6th-18th Aug @ 6:20pm

Being properly confused by the idea of a musical about war, I spoke to Michael Wilkinson from Revolution! The Musical. Billed as a politically appropriate staging in the wake of the Arab Spring, it goes back to the 1993 Bosnian battles.

"Musicals have never been more relevant, especially British ones," he explains. "We all seem to have a real appetite for them these days. At last though the Lloyd-Webber stranglehold on musical theatre is being dismantled and emerging and relevant musicals like ours are catching the public eye for the first time."

"When we first set out writing the show we had no idea that the Arab Spring was just around the corner. But just months down the line we soon found ourselves being surrounded by headlines coming out of Egypt, Libya and now Syria. The show is set in Bosnia in 1993 but the parallels are simply astonishing. We hope that this is going to make us one of the most topical shows out there at the Fringe in 2012."

Revolution's composer Nicholas Keyworth added: "One of the great things about the musical as a genre is that it can contain an eclectic range of musical styles which know no bounds. In our case this ranges from epic, classical moments to traditional Balkan music, show-stopping blues, jazz and razzmatazz to 1990s turbo-folk."

Paradise in Augustine’s (Venue 152) 6-27 August 8.25pm (excl. 13 & 20)

Back to my inbox, with a vague feeling that my original project - to discover whether war could be depicted on stage with accuracy and meaning - is in ruins. I am tempted to give up and mention Allo Allo, Practical Magic's live version of the Lloyd and Croft sitcom (Spotlites@The Edinburgh Fringe, 4th – 11th August, 2012), but I am clinging to my hope that there is a work that brings it all back home...

If I go back in time, I turn up a possible trump. Everything I Own presents Rémy, set during the Napoleonic Wars. It does have a love story - I guess that is inevitable, and a hint of hope but it is a one person show, written and performed by East 15 graduate Claire Gaydon. Plus it is set in a prison and is in the Vault at St Augustines, which makes it site relevant, if not specific!

Remy is inspired by Napoleon and his story leads him through Europe - he sees the first use of guerilla warfare, which is now so popular amongst insurgents, the charisma of the totalitarian leader and tells the tale of those broken by the mad grab for power. There's a sense here that history can teach us lessons and that the reality of war and political greed does not change across time...

And I am rather keen on the idea of a woman telling the story of a man. It has that "magic of theatre" vibe, where the illusion is obvious but powerful...

Paradise in The Vault4th – 5th Aug 8:45pm (previews) 6th – 27th Aug (not 15th, 30th) 5pm.

I am on the home straight now... and thank God for Freshblood Theatre. They are doing a mash-up of two Brecht texts - How Much Is Your Iron? - the explores the build up towards WWII in the way only that German fourth-wall smasher can.

The plot is nicely pitched between allegory and realism: Dansen has pigs, his neighbour Svendson is an iron trader. Then people start to get murdered, a mysterious stranger rolls up and Freshblood got out the puppets, went for the dark laughter and won the Warwick Clive Barker Award in 2011.

The company are from Warwick University, and have a reputation for both cabaret shows and some neat satires - Vile Bodies is on their list of past shows, so I like them already.

The promise of a "new" Brecht is bold, but the style looks intact: the mundane and the mythical, the bleak humour, the willingness to use whatever helps get the message across. It's another young company, so it's a relief to find that there is still a market for tough theatrical choices and the heritage of Germany's master maker.

Sweet Grassmarket, Apex International Hotel, Venue 18 Aug 11th-17th@14:25

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