Corruption, manipulation and death… just another day in Edinburgh

With a busy day ahead of us, Mr Morgan and I decided to warm ourselves up with a thirty-minute production by south Wales based Bandwagon Theatre Company at Greenside. A Rotten Little Story ★★★ exposes the corruption of the British Government as they acquired Diego Garcia for the US by coercing the island’s original inhabitant into moving away: ‘Didn’t they offer you the trip of a lifetime? Well that’s how long it lasts.’

The strength of this production lies in the deceptive simplicity of its telling. In a clever nautical pastiche of stories recounting the heighday of Britain’s colonial influence, actors walk upon a map that is tea-stain brown below, and a grey blue as it reaches up to the sky. To each side of the set are wooden signposts, locating the victims of colonisation at the various point in their involuntary placements. On top of this, the original soundtrack adds an urgency to the tale.

Masked, the four exiled Ilois are again robbed of their identities. As a result, the overall work acts to tell the tale that its characters can’t quite articulate. The Ilois’ rights are later fought for in a generic deed which is unravelled and sits alongside the characters like the writing in a picturebook, again bringing simplicity of telling and depth of meaning together in a powerful way.

Unfortunately, with aviator-sporting Americans against a background of stars and stripes and haughty Brits uttering such exclamations as, ‘Crumbs!’ ‘Gosh’ and ‘Crickey’, the Western characters are played to a similar level of caricature, preventing us from viewing the full brutality of the situation.  However, the tense discussions of a certain American George with his wife and the nightmare sequence that follows – where the president pictures the reaction of his citizens if the story hits the headlines – are particularly effective, and root the tale in a very specific history. It is this, together with the company’s partnership with The UK Chagos Support Association that cements A Rotten Little Story‘s status as a worthy play.

Next, was a classic twentieth century play that I’ve been meaning to catch for a while as we headed toIbsen’s Hedda Gabler ★★★★. Hedda Gabler tells the story of a newly married woman frustrated by her place in society and keen to play those around her like pawns in an assertion of her own significance and aesthetic on life. Texan company Palindrome Theatre has not just presented a tired old play. No, it can assess an actionwell and have made a fitting reviver of a foreboding canonical work – complete with lashings of melodramatic pathetic fallacy and urgent, fiery monologues.

Deciding that was just about enough murder and manipulation for one day, we had Brent’s choice of show in aone man and one puppet show called Ricketts Lane ★ which had a nice colourful flyer with no mention of derangement on the back. For Brent, who expecting far more rude jokes and on-stage smoking, it was a mild disappointment; for me, it was a tedious lesson in the benefits of cultivating a closed mind. However, while we were both left feeling a little let down, I did find amusement in the couple behind us who laughed… and laughed… and laughed. Taste is a funny thing.

What is a man? Is it the devoted father? The result of thousands of years of evolution? The guy next to the urinal with the biggest penis? Muscle ★★★★ is a rich discussion of masculinity, merging symbolic physical representation with gripping emotional monologues. The result is mesmerising, raising two big questions:

-How do you justify a show like this by recommending it enough? Do you Tweet reminders on a half hour basis? Do you borrow the cannons by the castle and spell it out in military morse code? Edinburgh is such a deliciously saturated place, you wonder what it really is that makes a show successful.

– Why did I travel so far just to prove that Welsh performance has reached such a strong point? With productions like Muscle, we have developed a confident voice with which to speak to the rest of the world.

OK, I lied: I hadn’t quite had my fill of derangement and darkness for one day. While Brent chilled out with a litter of kittens, a collection of nursery rhymes and a cocktail with an umbrella in it (well – this is what I imagine, but you’ll have to check his blog post for confirmation), I realised I could catch Witzelsucht and Moria ★★★, an absudist solo show by GC Morgan. Given in the form of a speech at a convention of retired psychiatrists, this piece is a quirky celebration of big words and the peculiar nature of the mind. The implied audience was fitting: throughout, as madness permeated between content and presentation, the talking cure became something that was not merely described, but seen in action. As he became increasingly stained in black bile and blood, our monologist continued to describe surreal journeys into the human body which were brought to their extravagant climax as the speaking doctor entered – organ by organ – through a wound in a patient’s skull.

The day ended, as I think far more good days in Edinburgh probably should, with a beer at the Forest Fringe. This was the moment where Brent redeemed himself beyond the puppet show moment and regained my trust.

Right – day three here I come!

(@ameliaforsbrook / @dextartuk / #TEAM_ed)

first blogged on National Theatre Wales Community

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