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Fringe 2003 Reviews (17)

Breaking Strain
By Justin Butcher
Passion Pit Theatre
C
**

In Breaking Strain, Justin Butcher has updated the Phaedra story to 2003. He has taken the basic structure used by Euripides and Racine and put a pointedly modern slant on it.

Hippolytus is now Paul while his new stepmother is Fi. The relationship between the matronly 49 year old and her Adonis-like stepson, now a long-distance runner, is incredibly strained. Her desire is never reciprocated and as a result, her revenge is pointed and murderous.

One sympathises more with innocent Fi, a woman who has never known love, than the proud God-like Paul whose self-love conquers all.

Butcher, recently very successful with Scaramouche Jones and The Madness of George Dubya, uses heightened language and some verse to give the piece a classical feel. Unfortunately, on the night of this review, he left his audience uncertain whether to laugh or cry.

Philip Fisher

The Argument - A Family Portrait
Theatre O
Assembly Rooms
***

Theatre O, creator of the successful Three Dark Tales, has created The Argument. It is a story of a family dealing with the death of the matriarch of the family; victim of an auto crash.

Theatre O’s co-artistic directors, Joseph Alford and Carolina Valdes, base influences on their training at Le Coq Theatre School in Paris. Therefore, their representation of these events take on a very coloured and strange slant.

There are moments that are hilarious while being quite tragic, like the father’s repeated recounting of the car crash leaving out more and more chunks of the story, so that, at the end, it does not describe the accident at all.

They are a very physical group; wild, extreme gestures are as important as the almost imperceptible ones. The company works well together and the production is tight. The direction/choreography (?) is exact. The sound and lighting work extremely well.

But this rather realistic incident pulls the production back and forth in the style. It does not work quite as well as Three Dark Tales. It is well worth seeing for those who have not but, understandably, not to everyone’s taste.

Catherine Lamm

Lewis in Wonderland
Devised and written by the company
Naked Productions
Underbelly
****

Charles Dodgson (Lewis Carroll) is an eternally fascinating character: brilliant mathematician, pioneer photographer, incredibly imaginative writer, and totally screwed up human being.

Using a mixture of music, physical theatre, quotation and dialogue, Naked Productions, a new company of former Birmingham University drama students, attempts to show the complexities of the man's character and comes very close to succeeding in a next to impossible task. Variously making the audience laugh, bringing them to the edge of tears and stirring their anger at the stultifying conventionality of some of the 25 characters, this very talented young cast of seven, led by a bemused Dodgson in the person of Hector Harkness and a delightful Alice (Jessica Ransome), mix together the real and the surreal to create a very satisfying whole.

This is not a re-working of Alice in Wonderland, but uses scenes and characters from the book to reflect Dodgsons's view of his world: the conventional Mrs Liddell, for example, who decides that Dodgson and Alice must not meet again, is also the Queen of Hearts, demanding the heads of those who offend her. But Dodgson himself does not escape unscathed: his mind twists a childish dance by the Liddell girls into a raunchy and crude bit of sexual exhibitionism, to the strains of "Tainted Love".

Imaginatively devised and well performed, Lewis in Wonderland is a project well worth continuing to develop after the Fringe is over.

Peter Lathan

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©Peter Lathan 2003