So, what’s special about it, I hear you asking? (Yes, I hear your voices in my head, because that’s how I roll. At least when I haven’t taken my meds.) The specialitude of this post comes from the following: you’re unlikely ever to check out any of what I’m writing about below, because it’s all about this year’s Edinburgh Fringe – so, unless you’ve already seen some or all of the shows I’ll be talking about, you’ve missed them! Ha! Cue comment about the fleeting, ephemeral nature of art, followed by silence as the tumbleweeds roll by.
“Everybody’s got the right to be happy… everybody’s got the right to their dreams.” Sounds like common, especially American, musical fare, doesn’t it? Cheerful, inspirational, and simplistic hogwash, most likely? Well, in Sondheim’s Assassins, the protagonists’ right to be happy finds its expression in killing the President of the United States, or at least doing your darnedest to reach that goal. The show we caught – and it was sheer luck, down to two wonderful people who didn’t pick up their tickets for some reason – wasn’t perfect, not least because we sat more or less right next to the small orchestra, which made the non-mic singing difficult to understand at times… but even under these circumstances it’s clear that Sondheim’s musical is sharply written, very funny, and surprisingly chilling. If your culture is founded on the lie that you can make it if you really try, that even a nobody from a small town can become a millionaire – or a president – where does that leave you when your dream just won’t come true? Does it leave you permanently disaffected – or do you pick up a gun and show that you can make a difference because, after all, this is America?
Statements After An Arrest Under The Immorality Act
The title of this play by South African playwright Athol Fugard almost rivals that of my favourite deconstructivist western of the last, let’s see, forty or fifty years – but the play itself isn’t unwieldy or overly long in the least. Performed by a amazing, fearless cast in an effectively minimalist staging, Statements is a beautiful, poetic and essentially tragic story about lovers who, by decree of the state, shouldn’t be. Even 40 years after it was originally written, addressing the racial segregation under Apartheid, the play feels fresh, relevant and utterly touching.
We saw two further South African productions – a raw, sweltering Mies Julie (adapted from Strindberg) and Woza Albert!, but it’s Statements that made the deepest impression.
… last but not least
Where to begin? Not everything we saw was brilliant, and a couple of plays were dismal (The Intervention, I’m looking at you!), but there were lots of moments of magic, from the beautiful, sad and endlessly inventive The Fantasist (manic depression, with puppets! see below for a trailer) to Centralia (equal parts WTF?!, mad giggles and poignancy) to Rites and Regulations (a fairly simple but moving play about funeral rituals in Singapore, pressing all my funereal buttons), from Educating Ronnie (about a young man’s exploration of friendship, charity and guilt – another trailer waiting below) to Pierrepoint (about Britain’s last hangman – again, great performance and chilling ending – and another trailer, seriously, when did stage plays start having trailers?) and Planet Lem (socio-critical sci-fi – on stilts! did you know that Polish people are a bit off their trolley?). All in all, to anyone who’s got an interest in theatre and what it can do, Edinburgh during the Fringe is well worth visiting – we’ve seen 25 shows in one week and feel utterly invigorated. Well, we would, if it weren’t for that nasty cold bug we picked up travelling back on easyJet…