Barry Humphries’ Weimar Caberet

usher's hallWe have visitors at our George Square Edinburgh Festival house, amongst them my dear friend Rob Hain, an artist from the Scottish boarder s who created this wonderful canvas of Edinburgh’s Usher Hall from where all her scholars take their graduation honours and where all the great orchestras of the world come to play.

 

 

And it was to the Usher hall we went to listen to Barry Humphries introduce and compere a programme of songs and music from the German Weimar Republic, the music of Weill and Krenek, the music of the cabarets of the smokey “degenerate” Berlin, before it was all banned and outlawed by the rise of the third Reich.

Yes, presented by Barry Humphries, he who as the legendary Australian Cultural attaché sought to persuade us that the one thing Australia did not have was any cultural appreciation of the finer things of life. The lying bastard! He evoked for us an Australia of the 1940’s and 50’s of tea shops and book shops, where sheltered the refugees, Jews and Germans, fleeing the horrors of Europe. A Melbourne where as a boy, he bought a battered European suitcase, in a barrydusty second hand book store, full of the sheet music of the Weimar. He could not read music but he treasured the hoard and now, he opens the suitcase, so full of music and memories, and shares them all with the Usher Hall. It was an Australian night, a European night, a Berlin night, a night of Jazz and of Tango and of cabaret and of sexy smokey songs, including the sultry Erwin Schulhoff’s Sonata erotica. It was the music and the writing and the musicians and the songs of those who either escaped from or were consumed by the Holocaust. It was all in Barry’s rescued suitcase.

The Australian Chamber Orchestra, provided the music, talented beyond the size of their continent, and Meow Meow sang in throaty German. Barry danced the tango, how old is he, in his 80;s now, and he sang too, with passion, in the ruins of Berlin.

He didn’t say so but it was also a tribute, the most wonderful of tributes to all that our fathers fought for, for all the bits and pieces of civilisation that they saved, and rescued and preserved, for their children and their grandchildren and among what they rescued among the treasures they saved for the world, was surely, this magical night at the Usher Hall.

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Steve Larkin’s retelling of Tess of the D’Ubervilles – George Square Underbelly

tesYou get a bit nervous when there are only a dozen or so people queuing for your chosen show. Great flows of festival folk are streaming past to go to something much more popular at a much bigger venue just round the corner, and you wonder, have I made a mistake here?
But what happened inside the small dark theatre at the George Square Underbelly was so powerful that any doubts were quickly set aside as you become completely absorbed in Steve Larkin’s brilliant prose and powerful poems as he re-imagines Hardy’s Tess of the D’Ubervilles, taking it away from the West country to the North East of England, to Newcastle and to Leeds, in a dark contemporary recreation of the Hardy tragedy.
He catches you by your emotional nerve ends and doesn’t let go for the hour or so of astonishingly good story telling. It may have gone on for slightly too long, but a small price to pay for a proper good festival theatrical experience. I shall seek out more of this bloke.

Sam Simmons – Spaghetti for Breakfast – Underbelly at Potterrow

1381-Sam_Simmons_Spaghetti_for_Breakfast_511_274_60_c1Sam Simmons is billed as being weird, surreal, absurdist and producing comedy that feels like it was created while drunk on absinthe. It’s a billing that is pulling in the festival audiences up at the Potterrow Uunderbelly but I suspect quite a lot of them, like me, leave thinking that was basically a load of over billed Australian crap.
He uses one of those head mounted microphones favoured by the likes of Madonna, really trendy. How weird is that? He shouts a lot and swears a lot. How surreal is that? He doesn’t tell too many jokes, now that is weird and he insults and exploits members of the audience sitting in the first two rows. How absinthian is that?
Shouting and swearing a lot is, I am told, a trait common amongst Australians. Not unknown amongst Brits. Even been heard of in Ireland. To make it on the fringe you have to work on your shouting and swearing. As we all know if you say “fuck” a lot then that’s very very funny. If you shout “fuck”, well, the louder you shout it the funnier it sounds. That’s the core value, the central structure around which he builds his act. Oh yeah, the other word he shouts a lot is “shit” Another key element of the shows structure.
The show was dire. There are a probably a couple of swear words that could be used to properly describe it but I wouldn’t want infringe his copyright.
We have had weird surreal absurdest comedians before. The best of them was in fact Anglo-Irish being none other than Spike Milligan. He really merited such a billing.

Titus Andronicus: An all female cast at the Edinburgh Fringe

titus andronicusTitus and Andronicus by an all-female cast looked intriguing. All that assassination, murder, ravishing of virgins, maternal betrayal, slicing off of hands and the tearing out of tongues, feasting a father on the flesh of his children, lots of revenge and corruption – all performed by a female cast. Could be fun.
But this was awful. Firstly they killed, cut, sliced and stabbed each other not with daggers or swords, perhaps they are too phallic, but with paint brushes. I am sure there is some deep symbolism about this which has escaped me, but it was very odd, perhaps it was decorative, possibly reinforced in a later scene when ferocious spear carriers appeared armed with long handled paint rollers.
The lighting was terrible. i checked twice that my glasses were clean. At time it was as if we were viewing the production through a slight mist, not at all helped by the set, comprising as it does of great white translucent plastic boards.
I am afraid the acting was very sixth formish. Women’s voices, or at least these women’s voices, do not have the range and scale required for such terrible drama and there was a drone like similarity in the sound of these daughters of the middle classes.
In the end I didn’t see the point of an all-female production It lacked the visceral power of the performance last year by Hirath Artistic Productions and in truth it’s a bit of an indulgence. They are welcome to it.

At the Pleasance Dome

August 2015

An Edinburgh Festival Diary (with apologies to Pepys)

577735_396656340379960_182273187_nUp early from my fine apartments in the Ramsey Gardens and a brisk morning walk, passing of Boswell’s close, upon the Royal Mile and to the Presbyterian Church of St. Augustine wherein a pretty Polish wench served unto me a freshly baked bread roll of bacon and the eggs whereupon I dallied in the pleasant gardens of the noble church and took of my breakfast and checketh upon my emails.
Then unto the underbelly by way of the terrace that graces the curve of the fine street that descendeth to the grassmarket to see of the players performing of a tale of dark revenge against a noble family that hath by poor judgement caused to a poor and desperate girl, played prettily by a handsome young wench, a great grief. They talk of an evil place wherein the grief was caused, by name of Beeston and I would greatly fear to go unto that place.   After to the University to see of a comik piece upon the political parties that do vex the publick so. The player there, one Forde by name, claimeth knowledge of the politicks of the world by virtue of having tarried in Nottingham. Know I well the politicks of that miserable city and know I well that it never was so noted for its humour nor yet for the quality of its civic principles. And Forde doth well reflect this aspect of the most unfortunate place. Me thinks it may of sounded with wit upon the tavern table, with sack and claret there partaken off, but it transfereth not well to the comik stage. Even doth Forde mock the great Galloway, saying of him that he sayeth of Forde that he be a supporter of great wars and haveth gore upon his hands. But this not be wit, for tis true TIS THEIR FUCKINGETH FAULT. Yet say I this, I do yet concede that he maketh one or two quips of the Miliband that were of quality: yet may the mob not yet get to the thinking that time for jesting of this most despairing fellow is long past the hour. It sufficed me for a lazy hour but left me believingeth this Forde to be but a provincial player seeking his greater fortune withouteth those witty skills to so doeth. And then to the Ushers hall to hear sweet music of the choirs praising to our Lorde I being mightily pleased and it lifteth my heart and thought I that amongst those noble singers of such sweet harmonies there be but not one single soul that would have supporteth the wars of the player Forde.
And so to bed.

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Dermot Bolger’s adaptation of Ulysses – Edinburgh Fringe

JoyceIf you were to seriously sit down and attempt to adapt Joyce’s Ulysses for the stage then you possibly ought not to do so without being supervised by a consultant psychiatrist. Alternatively you could prepare for such an epic task by ensuring a good supply of whiskey, perhaps a bottle per chapter, a continuous intravenous drip feed of strong espresso coffee, several lines of cocaine, perhaps two lines per chapter, a high performance shredding machine and a loaded revolver.

And yet Dermot Bolger has penned this stunning adaptation of the novel without any of the above. Or at least without admitting to any of the above.

He uses a cast of eight to recreate that crowded fateful day in Dublin. It’s a Victorian Dublin that appears on the stage with its brown furniture, its brown doors, brown snugs and mirrors and the  brown clothes of the characters. And from all that brown bounces the brilliant sparking language of educated Dublin, on its uppers. They crowd the stage with words and it becomes the streets of Dublin.

The text of Joyce. How dare Bolger mess with the text! Poor old Stephen Joyce must be having great fits of rage that someone, Bolger, ugh Bolger, has dared to mess with Stephen’s rights over the sacred text . But in fact he hardly messes with it at all. Oh it’s out of sequence with the sacred printed pages, yes, and abridged of course, but the words, the words, are of Joyce, not of Bolger. He allows the talented cast to catch the wit of the words, much better than most of us will ever catch it by the reading of the words upon the sacred pages. And he allow Molly, adulterous Molly Bloom, to luxuriate in the carnal reminiscences, much more erotic than I recall reading on the page.

The production is by the Tron Theatre company from Glasgow is simply a triumph. It will be enjoyed as much by scholars of Joyce as it will by those of us who have struggled for so long to truly appreciate the book.

Of course Dermot Bolger should keep the loaded revolver (if he had one). For if anyone, on the back of this astonishing achievement, asks him to do an adaptation of Finnegan’s Wake, he should blow their fucking head off.

Titus Andronicus at the Edinburhg Fringe

The greatest power struggle ever staged.  Shakespeare. 

titus Assassination, murder, the ravishing of virgins, betrayal by mother, slicing off of hands and the tearing out of lounges, feasting a father on the flesh of his sons, revenge, honour corruption and  barbecuing your enemies face.   What authoritarian monsters what power hungry goths are called before us.  Why skinheads, who else. Tattooed, doc martined, imperial the red of their braces with flags of St. George, stamping and stomping their unbridled unchecked inclination to death and chaos and absolute power.

It works so well, this improbable idea brings a raw power to the sometimes difficult text of the play.   The skinheads are perfect.  They may well be the most articulate skinheads you are ever likely to meet but as storm troopers of the power struggle that unfolds they are astonishing.

If this performance, this interpretation of Titus and Andronicus, by Hirath Artistic Productions does not end up on the West End Stage or in a Television studio then a lot of talent scouts in Edinburgh have been wasting their time up here.

August 2013

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