Wednesday, 7 August 2013

The Chocolate Ocelot’s 2013 Fringe - Day Five

Lots more shows on the timetable today, including our first two physical theatre events. This genre of event tends to involve two words which when combined may send you screaming. They are French and Mime. But fear not, it’s going to be alright.

Sword And I
Laughing Horse @ The Counting House

This is one of the major Free Fringe venues – a rambling multi-storey pub south of the old town, and as with most venues, plastered with posters, flyers, and lists of show times scrawled on whiteboards and blackboards. The stairwells are somewhat narrow at the Counting House, and with queues of Fringe goers snaking down them several floors to street level, it’s a good way to meet people, whether you like it or not.

Sword And I is a highly entertaining hour of mime from Bruce Faveau, a tall and agile Frenchman with an exotically globe-trotting background (and accent). There is a linking storyline of a man and his incredible (invisible) sword threaded throughout. The sword seems to confer superpowers on the man, or at least super celebrity. His portrayal of flying up into the atmosphere using just his body would have shamed the special effects team on the recent Man of Steel film.

Not so sure that the small segment wherein he employs his voice talents to tour a blow-up globe is so effective, but his vocal sound effect skills are nonetheless commendable and an excellent complement to his miming ability. A couple of segments – one involving his highly prominent and mobile Adam’s apple – are not appropriate for youngsters, so do be aware; there was at least one family in the audience who’d ignored the 14+ age restriction and were doubtless not looking forward to explaining to their nippers what the lanky French guy was miming doing to the invisible lady with his bobbly throat thing.

Brain Sex
Assembly George Square

Or more accurately, one of them temporary portakabins around the edge of George Square, so don’t waste time wandering around the magical astroturfed central square itself, though it does look very pretty with its Spiegel tents and scrubbed-up carny atmosphere.

BrainSex has everything a modern popular science show should have: Diagrams! Brain scans! Actual doctors (on film)! Electrocution! A cheeky live rat! And no Brian Cox.

Timandra presents a properly researched piece on the differences between the genders - whether apparently real or perceived – from a variety of perspectives: measurable, biological, social and so forth. Plus there are filmed sequences involving motorbikes and planes. She covers chromosomes and cortices, neurons and axons (no, not the old Doctor Who monsters, more’s the pity), with a variety mixed media (as I understand the young people refer to ‘bits with films’), costume changes, noiresque torch singing and finger measuring.

As ever, yours truly is both fascinated by the subject and afeared of being brought out of the audience for a Merrick-like display of my uncommonly configured status. But I need not have feared, as Timandra’s approach is inclusive of the whole spectrum of sex and gender. Plus some meathead show-off guy was only too eager to jump up and volunteer for the electric pain test anyway.

Props also to co-stars Socrates the rat and Giles on the control panel. Extra nibbles for them both.

Inspector Norse
Assembly George Square

Or more accurately, one of them big anonymous conference centre / university hall buildings vaguely near George Square. Follow the chalked directions on the pavement to venues One, Two and Three (how they think these themed venue names up, I’ll never know).

Lipservice Theatre bill Inspector Norse as a ‘self-assembly crime thriller’ and they’re not wrong. A lot of thought and hard physical effort has clearly gone into staging this show, much of which (literally) revolves around a hulking wooden fold-out backdrop which serves as police station, cabin in woods, morgue and so forth. Also worthy of note is the sheer volume of knitted items on display, from the inevitable Lund sweater worn by the inspector to the tree leaves to the knitted props. The coffee was my favourite, even if it did plop out of the woolly pot in a distressingly scatological manner.

A two-woman show from Maggie Fox and Sue Riding, this show is an entertaining, silly spoof on all things Scando, from IKEA (natch) to the Killing to Bergman to the inevitable ABBA. I probably could have done with less dated material about the long defunct super group and more spoofing of Nordic Noir thrillers, but there is still much to recommend: the easy Vic & Bob / Eric & Ern chemistry of the performers, the silly costumes (I rather liked the spooky Walpurgisnacht trolls, even if their noses looked rather genitular), and most of all the sequence involving hapless fluffy animals hitting the front of the car.

Some of the scene transitions could possibly do with either a stage hand in black to lend a hand or else made intentionally more haphazard, the transitions are currently somewhere between not really slick and not really hilariously clumsy. Most refreshing to see two older female performers doing this sort of show, and not leaving it all to the chaps and younger folks. Plus, they are having a mass knitathon for more woolly props this coming Saturday.

Greyfriars Kirk

Then we went off to Mums Great Comfort Food on Forest Road, just round from Teviot Square, for a la carte sausage and mash. Bespoke bangers are yum.

This left us just enough time to nip round to Greyfriars to experience a bit of their NiteKirk set up. Basically they transform the old church into a sort of quiet contemplative (I’m sorry, I have to overuse the word) ‘space’, for sitting, meditating, praying and so forth. There are tea lights and sand gardens and origami Hiroshima cranes and harpists and Latin chants.

All of which appeals to the Ocelot not one jot, as enforced silence is Kryptonite unto my fidgety, insecure need to constantly chatter, read, pull faces and generally act like an ADD sufferer after a few Red Bulls. Herself is far more still and spiritual than I, so a compromise is reached and we leave after she has soaked up the benign quietude but before I explode, or at least start humming to fill the ‘space’.

Note of warning: the Kirk has an oak planked wooden floor, which creaks like a pirate ship as you walk around. Not conducive to quietly sneaking out of the NiteKirk experience halfway through in your walking boots, as we discovered. Take slippers.

Assembly George Square

Or more accurately in the big theatre building on the southern edge of the square. We have literally no events in the astroturfed bit at all. Probably because we’re too tight-fisted.

LEO (I suspect the capitals are important – is it an acronym?) is our second bit of physical theatre of the day, and yes it is Mime. And quite possibly French or French-Canadian. Mime appears to the primary francophone export.

What we get is an hour of masterful physical strength and balance, combined with a simple but effective set and some technical cleverness. A man with a briefcase and a hat sits in a room. He soon discovers the room’s gravity is at 90 degrees to the rest of the world. Before long he is inching up the wall, levitating by the ceiling and having great difficulty drinking from a bottle. The performer – I’m going to call him Mr Leo because I haven’t time to look him up right now – is bloody fit.

The stage is divided between the room set wherein he is sliding and hefting his body around in contravention of the laws of nature, and a full-size screen which twists the ‘real world’ 90 degrees so we can see the world as he experiences it. You really have to flick back and forth between both to get the full effect. Simply watching him throw his hat up and down looks magical.

Midway through, we get some chalk drawing and then later some unexpected CGI enhancements – a persistence of vision effect toward the end is particularly effective. Very clever, very skilful.

Greg Proops
Gilded Balloon Teviot

Right to the top of the highest tower of Hogwarts – sorry, that Teviot building – for a long awaited (by me) hour with Mr Proops, who once billed his Edinburgh show as One Fine Bitch. Age has not wearied him, nor blunted his teeth, as he rails against most everything with equal venom. The audience is not spared his barbs, though I am not a fan of comedy sets where the comedian repeatedly measures and judges our responses (Oh you didn’t get that / C’mon people / Wooo tough crowd etc) as I find this just tends to alienate the crowd.

The ghost of Bill Hicks rears up a few times, which is always welcome to this old Goat-Boy devotee, with swipes at Bush, Clinton, Iraq and so forth. Some of it does feel like a set from the 90s, and some of the American-oriented material – rednecks and NASCAR for example – went a little over even my Amerophile head. But any Proops is better than none. Come back to Britain Greg; then you can take the piss out of us with every bit as much bitter familiarity as you do America and Ireland. (But maybe drop the attempted Scottish accent)

Real Horror Show
Assembly Roxy

Two reasons for going to see this late night black comedy theatre: one, it’s brought to us by the excellent Colin Hoult and two, the title’s a Clockwork Orange gag. In many ways, this is more like Mr Hoult’s previous comedy shows – a series of dark, freaky sketches with a small number of fellow performers (in this case him off of Kinky and Mannish and some other fine people). Where his solo show Characthorse this year is all Gilliamesque whimsy and comedy, Real Horror Show displays his talent for macabre in your face characters and bleakness. In retrospect, it would sit well along TV offerings like Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror.

There’s torture, screaming, chavs, murderers and sellotape, strung together in a shared setting which I contend is a dystopian future Britain, and Herself counters is the World Outside Our Window, which I think adequately reflects either our political differences or at the very least our varying impressions on what a benefits office looks like. The segment in pitch blackness is atmospheric, but don’t worry, there’s not too much jumping out at the audience. Or maybe we just got lucky that night.

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