The Edinburgh Fringe
Fringe 2003 Reviews (8)
The Last Night of Mankind
This must be one of the strangest pieces in Edinburgh this year. It is unlikely that even the most bizarre Fringe experiments will be much weirder.
The first act, which lasts around 40 minutes is set in a muddy pit. The five actors and as many dummies are naked and mud-covered. They act out what might be the start or end of a humanity whose initial element is primordial slime. With virtually no speech, this is more like a dance piece than a play.
This can be very shocking as the audience sees mankind reduced to an existence no better than that of the apes.
After the interval, the second act takes place in a starkly-lit white box. Now the five characters take part in an experience rather like a (slightly) crueller version of TV's Big Brother.
The three men and two women have their names replaced by numbers and forced to speak an alien language, English. Their experiences as they starve are almost all negative. They are forced to relive experiences that make them unhappy and when they think that they have found food, discover instead a pot filled with cockroaches.
The subject matter may be hard to take but the actors all give brave performances as they expose themselves in every sense.
The Last Night of Mankind is a nihilistic look at life and what may be ahead. Having seen the future, we shall have to pray that the world doesn't follow this route to an apocalyptic end.
David Harrower has returned to his roots with Dark Earth. This is another play, like his early work, set in rural Scotland. More recently, he has been working on adaptations and his new version of Tales From the Vienna Woods will be opening at the National later in the year.
Valerie (Frances Grey) and Euan (John Mackay) are having difficulties with their relationship as they live a pacy life in Glasgow. Their day out looking at the Antonine wall seems like a way to mend fences.
In fact, after their car breaks down, they meet the kind of seemingly solicitous family that got itself possessed in a stream of sci-fi movies in the 60s.
Initially, Ida (Anne Lucas) could not be nicer, forcing tea on to the coffee-drinking Euan and happy to offer refuge. At the same time, Jimmy Yuill's lugubrious Petey, a wonderful well-acted creation whose dry humour is honed by director Philip Howard's timing, rescues Val.
All end up stuck together overnight along with the couple's daughter, Christine (Suzanne Donaldson), doing well straight out of drama school.
Christine takes after her father and has a tremendous knowledge and love of local history, especially Bonnie Prince Charlie. The problem that Harrower explores in Dark Earth is that this kind of rural life will not pay. The land has been sold much to the distress of all three locals.
When Petey explodes into a tirade against the politicians that have caused this, a taciturn man's silence bursts like a dam and a whole sector of society speaks through him.
The plotting is a little uneven but this play says a lot about relationships under strain and creates some memorable characters. It also contains a superb set, designed by Fiona Watt, that smoothly adapts from moor to conservatory to living room with minimal effort.
When Car, the first play in this Street Trilogy, appeared in 2001, it deservedly won a Fringe First as one of the most exciting productions that year. Last year, play two, Raw, followed suit.
As a consequence, Kid had a lot to live up to. Once again it is a harsh tale of young people who have nowhere to go.
Lee (Paul Simpson) and Zoe (Samantha Power) are expecting a child. What kind of future it will have is open to question. They are haunted by their old friend K (Richard Oldham) and the murder that they helped him to commit.
Things get more complicated since Zoe's gender-confused sister, Bradley, is staying and K is due back from his travels in Guatemala.
The confrontation when it comes is violent and shocking but high volume doesn't make up for a group of people whose motivations do not really hang together.
One scene will live in the mind for a long time. A game of "dead man" on the rail tracks is cleverly and terrifyingly depicted by director, Mark Babych.