Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Edinburgh Festival Fringe - The Book of Love - Review

The Book of Love by Lindsay Benner
Venue 88, Just the Fancy: The Caves – 8-12 Niddry St. S.
August 6 – 29 (except 18 & 25th)


Lindsay Benner - Love as a Juggling Act

She's dressed in vivid red and throughout her act she doesn't say a word. Of course if I had read the flyer properly I would have known this. But sometimes it's the surprises that make all the difference, the delightful quirks of the unexpected.

This year's Fringe has been like that for me, full of serendipity. I decided to go and see Lindsay Benner's show a) because I liked the look of her flyer, which instead of the usual slip of glossy paper, is an A6 card, a work of art in itself, b) because I enjoyed talking to her as she was handing them out, I liked her friendly manner which was warm and personal and c) because I'd got the date of another show wrong and was unexpectedly free at 4.30 pm, just enough time to find the venue and get a ticket.

It just so happens that I enjoy mime – because of the way it bypasses the intellect and leaves you free to focus on the skilful evocation of moods and feelings through the body's movement and the facial expressions, and so your attention is captured in a different way. And Lindsay certainly holds your attention.

The Book of Love is a comedy, Lindsay acting out the different stages of love, from Finding Mr. Right to loss-induced madness, with 2 or 3 stages in between. But there is a further stage, I hasten to add.

The background music certainly helps, as do various members of the audience she invites to share with her – in movement or, in one memorable scene, a 'meal' (which turns out to be rather unusual!). Her warmth and ability to engage with her audience certainly comes across – but what particularly impressed me was her very real juggling skill. Balancing an increasing number of cups and teapot on her head, she then lies down, gets up again, and proceeds to start juggling with swords as well!

Lindsay's Fringe Poster, designed by R. Black, a Berkeley artist, was one of only 5 selected to be featured in the Art Works? Section of Fest magazine, a free Festival Guide.

Monday, 10 August 2015

Edinburgh Festival Fringe - The Element in the Room Review

John Hinton as Marie Curie and Jo Eagle as Pierre playing accordion

The Element in the Room
Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh
Tangram Theatre
5-10, 12-14, 17, 21, 24, 28 and 31 August

You might learn quite a bit about different elements and their half-lives from The Element in the Room, although what remains most clearly in my memory are the strange sounds emitted by members of the audience called upon to play the rarer elements such as helium, radon and polonium! You will almost certainly learn more than you already knew about Marie Curie, and her unstoppable ambition to separate the element radium, which has come to transform our lives, leading to among other things X rays, and radio therapy, in the treatment of cancer.

But it is all done in a spirit of comedy – including song – as John Hinton takes us on a roller coaster of characters leaping – sometimes literally – from Marie herself, to an American journalist, Marie's daughters, and workers in a factory which make watches with glow-in-the-dark hands. He switches accents seamlessly – from Polish, to French, to American.

He brings to life – not just science itself, but the very human side of these famous characters so that we come to appreciate and love their foibles and weaknesses as well as their tremendous strengths, intelligence and insights. We laugh with them, cry with them and even – sing with them!

This is the third act in Tangram Theatre's Scientrilogy, the first two being Albert Einstein: Relativitively Speaking and The Origin of Species. I saw the former in the 2013 Fringe production and was blown away by the energy, exuberance and fantastic verbal wordplay. The Element in the Room continues this tradition of seriously well-informed scientific understanding, dressed (and what about that dress!) in fast comedy. We're taken on a quick tour of Marie's life, which began in Poland, brought her to France where she made her scientific breakthroughs, then whisked her off to the USA on a 7 week tour, which included meeting the President, a tour which she initially hated, and then came to enjoy.

But as with 'Einstein' there is a serious side too, to her amazing discoveries. One is that radium can both cause as well as cure, cancer. Another is that she regretted that her dedication to her life's work meant that she did not pay enough attention to her close relationships, particularly to the one with her husband, Pierre. And we won't forget her stirring speech, when she refused to take out a patent on her discovery, saying that her work was for knowledge, not cash, and was for the benefit of everyone.

This is a delightful, fun, and moving performance, with non-stop action and verbal virtuosity, another hilarious success by John Hinton, with 'Pierre Curie' (Jo Eagle) providing a great backdrop of accordion music, subtle or dramatic, as the mood requires.

Friday, 7 August 2015

Edinburgh Festival Fringe - Titus Andronicus Review

 Titus Andronicus – Smooth Faced Gentlemen (an all female production) at the Pleasance Dome, Kingdome, Venue 75.


Tamora the Goth Queen and Aaron

This is a fast paced production, with some background music and sound effects used sparingly but effectively. Dynamic and full of energy, we are immediately caught up in the sparring and infighting of the disputed succession to the Empire among the brothers Bassianus and Saturninus. 

The general Titus Andronicus, returning after years away fighting the Goths – with the Goth queen and her sons as prisoners –  is offered the position of Emperor. He is generous and gives this position to Saturninus, who is clearly boastful, egocentric and stirs up trouble deliberately. At first he claims Lavinia, Titus' daughter, as his queen, but she is already bethrothed to Bassianus who is furious at this suggestion. Saturninus then claims Tamora, the defeated Goth queen, as his Empress, and she is outwardly happy with this decision. She had pleaded with Titus for her eldest son's life but according to custom, he had to be put to death. And Saturninus' trouble-making is no match for his Queen's double dealing and plotting. Tamora is determined to get her revenge because she has begged in vain for her son's life in front of all the Romans, and because of this humiliation, she hates the Empire and all things Roman.

Further plotting between her and Aaron her lover, means that Tamora's quarrelsome sons Chiron and Demetrius murder Bassianus and rape and disfigure Lavinia, Titus' daughter. Titus' sons are blamed and put to death. Titus then seems to have lost his reason but after he finds out who was to blame for Lavinia's rape and torture he engineers things so that all the guilty parties are punished.

The vivid energy and emotional authenticity at times had me damp-eyed – as well as laughing, (yes, there is humour here too!). What struck me particularly is the movement, the choreography which has the lithe and sensuous beauty of dance – this light, sure-footed movement both accentuates the horror and destructive nature of the darker human emotions – and creates too the masks of drama and so – both reveals and detaches from the action. There's also clever use of lighting and shadowplay and terrific performances by all the cast.

This takes place in the far-off days – in historical time – of the Roman Empire. But it is viscerally in the present. The part that revenge plays, however denied, in humanity's self destructive acts, that has not gone out of fashion. 

If you're not afraid of dollops of blood (red paint) and bucketfuls of woe I highly recommend this production.

Monday, 3 August 2015

Walking the City 3 - Berlin, Past & Present, Imagined & Sunlit

 Bison - Lonely? Reflective? My absolute favourite Tier in Berlin's Tiergarten

What was it that triggered that feeling – quite suddenly – of a far deeper connection with a place? A feeling of – almost of sinking into something. The feeling is very recognizable. It connects with place, with self, with a more expanded awareness. And you enter it, like walking into a familiar building. There is no conscious intention to walk into that building or that feeling. It just happens as if by magic, the way things happen in dreams.

I felt it at some point today during the Warsaw train's slow arrival into Berlin – but where exactly? Was it when I saw a red brick building I recognized, and knew that I was near Lichtenberg? Or was it the familiar heaps, ditch ramparts almost, of sand, near Warschauer? Or at Ost Bahnhof? It could well have been at Ost Bahnhof, when the group of teenagers with their soft-spoken and beautiful teacher got out. All very well behaved. And the train waited. And the sky was deep blue. And this curious, so simple feeling of returning, of touching something so familiar – again. Of being back in some place that welcomed me. (Impossible to reach without a welcome).


And from Alexanderplatz, the train went very slowly, so I looked out at all these familiar buildings. After Hauptbahnhof, Bellevue, Tiergarten...


Horse sculpture outside the Hauptbahnhof

quiet, peaceful, people in a slow dream, the red brick elevated building of the train station, and the greenery of the gardens – tree tops and bushes thickly clustering around the areas of flat grass, the wooded pathways, the street lamps from different cities – Leipzig, Freiburg, Hamburg, London, St. Petersburg, Paris –


lining the silent walkway, and none of this visible from the train station, where no one gets off and only two or three people stand, as if waiting for the right time to wake up, waiting to be told it's time, waiting to remember what they came here for.

Meanwhile the Tiergarten is enveloped in greenery, hiding movement or life, it could be empty, for all that the trees reveal, for all that the trees hide with their shade and leafy patterned secrets, the life lived below their branches, lived in patchy shadows, unseen, mostly. Until the path emerges onto a bridge. On the other side (I crossed it you see, when I was here before) the path continues by the river and a notice declares that it was here that Rosa Luxemburg was killed and her body thrown into the water.....

It hit me on that hot day in sunshine, how much opposition, how much violence, how much struggle, in the shade of bushes by the water, with the small flies dancing on the surface – how much intimidation and oppression this city has seen. If some people are seen as other, seen as enemies, or against you – who believe in the rightness of your own cause or your own authority – it is extraordinary what people will feel justified in doing. As if they forget their own humanity, caught up in some non-human frenzy.

Now in this sun and tourist filled city, all the darkling deeds live safely in a place called past. Because they don't live here, trinkets and reminders can quite safely multiply and be sold as charms for sightseers. This place called past might as well be a source of profit, as it was a source of pain. The trams might as well go there. Have their lines extended so that the touring visitors can also extend their stay and their sight-seeing, to every stop on the way to Past, each Einbahnstrasse looping round any possible obstacle to revealing the wires and the ways of this other country. The gadgets and the tram lines. The odd-looking boxes of cars, the bitter winters. The wire-topped walls.

Photo from the Stasi Museum - the wall goes up

The hidden microphones in radios, telephones, watering cans and ties.


From the Stasi Museum - examples of hidden microphones

The lives that went on, unseen, beyond the wall. The way that our eyes adjust to seeing something that blocks the horizon, get used to living in an Einbahnstrasse of our own, not thinking of the ways beyond the wall. Beyond the loops of barbed wire. How many dreams were entangled in that wire. Snagged and torn. Or nestled there, feathers among the birds. How many dreams were built beside the wall, standing there, shoulder to shoulder, invisible, feeding on the smell of metal expanding in hot sun, the smell of bricks, mortar, concrete. Did any plants thrive in the cracks? Any stunted trees find purchase for their tiny roots, in crevices between the bricks?


Photo from the Stasi Museum. The tattoo reads: Only when I dream am I free


When I first arrive in Berlin I enquire about Tageskarte. You get them at the U Bahnhof. And where is that? Just a few meters away. Go out of the Zentrale Bahnhof, links. And there it is. I don't look at the street ahead, but that's where we come later, a few days later, the street where Annemarie Schwarzenbach lived, when she was in Berlin. It just so happens.

How it all became transformed a few days later, when I returned. How I knew my way around, from Hauptbahnhof to Zoologisher Garten. How the S Bahn moves sedately, higher than the streets, looking down on pavements and people, passing the buildings within intimate distance so you could reach out and touch them. So you feel. Gliding – quiet.
So quiet in fact that the announcement, though perfectly clear, sounds like an intimate whisper. 

Ausschied – links. (Exit - left) 
It isn't like the London underground, which hurtles through the tunnels like a frenzied mole. And there's so much noise, bangs, clatters, engine sounds, you can't hear what the announcer says, something about change here for other lines – Circle and District.
Stand clear of the doors.

I take my case to the left luggage area, where there's a bike auction going on. Put the case in the locker, turn the key....then outside, into the warm afternoon, and head along Kantstrasse, to Fasanenstrasse and to the Käthe Kollwitz Museum.


Käthe Kollwitz sculpture in the garden of the Käthe Kollwitz Museum, 
                               Fasanenstrasse, Berlin

It is all deep in an enchantment, this afternoon and early evening. The city has slid into that deep place of connection. It had seemed harsh before. Unter den Linden was a building site. The linden trees – I felt sorry for them, in their inadequacy.

Later, I discovered the Kurfurstendamm. This is where the trees leaned over the pavements, trees in the central area shade it entirely, lean over the street, almost touching the others on the pavement. Steeped in late light and wonder, the city has come to rest in me, spreading its green and shady fingers, splintering the light so that it paints and shifts, rocks slightly, as if the city was at sea, became a boat, turned a key, unlocked itself.