The Edinburgh Fringe
Fringe 2004 Reviews (5)
Glasgow-based theatre babel seem to collect major awards. In recent years, they have mainly done so for reworkings of Greek dramas such as their Medea, featuring an unforgettable performance from Maureen Beattie.
This year, for their tenth anniversary production, they have appropriately turned their attentions to The Scottish Play. This was selected, in part, for its similarity to the Greek dramas that they thrive on and has the feel of Greek Tragedy, leaping from one major dramatic action to the next.
Artistic director Graham McLaren has reduced Macbeth to one and a half hours and, along the way, lost large parts and several characters.
In exchange, he has gained a major substitute. When he is stuck for links, the sinister, omnipresent Seyton (pronounced Satan) (Malcolm Shields) steps in and obliges. He is a combination of Macbeth's servant and alter ego.
This Macbeth is underlit and has constant dry ice to create a haar (mist), similar to the one that has hung over Edinburgh of late, making it remarkably atmospheric.
It also has a great soundscape that features echoing, ghostly white noise. This reaches a scary crescendo at each bloody murder (and they all are), mostly committed by a masked Macbeth with help from Seyton.
Almost all of the men have shaved heads and wear armour, while the accents are largely Scottish. This creates a real sense of period. Above the action, suspended swords dramatically prefigure the violence to come.
The acting shows great feeling, especially from John Kazek as a haunted, nervous Macbeth and Rebecca Rodgers as his scheming wife. Together, they prove the predictions of the cutest weird sisters ever seen.
After his wife's descent into madness and death, Macbeth is haunted by the ghosts of almost the whole, slaughtered cast. At the last, he enters into the most thrilling of swordfights with the bitter, widowed MacDuff, Ian Grieve.
This stripped-down Macbeth catches the play's essence, if losing much of the poetry. The exciting presentation and fast pace will undoubtedly win theatre babel more awards.
The Situation Comedy
Robbie Gringrass looks like a lawyer on holiday, in blue shirt (sweat-soaked by the end) and jeans. If his fly was done up, you would expect him to talk about the politics of Israel and whether we need a Lord Chancellor.
The subject matter of The Situation Comedy is important and moving. Gringrass tells the parallel stories of his daughter, Tali, and Muhammed the Baker.
The latter is a suicide bomber, driven to it by the loss of his home in a clearance and his family to a tank. Tali is a sweet teenager who likes going shopping.
The brief history of one Palestinian family is charmingly delivered and brings the horror of ordinary people's lives into focus. The terror of yet another bombing when your only daughter goes missing can get diluted and lost.
While the underlying situation makes for great drama and wry humour, as demonstrated in Robin Soans' The Arab-Israeli Cookbook at the Gate earlier this year, Gringrass' delivery can grate.
He is a stand-up comedian and too often, the tragedy is lost in his manic performance and excessive joking. It deserves a slightly more serious treatment and could easily get it. Some levity helps but too much devalues such important subject matter.
Thom Pain (based on nothing)
Occasionally, there is a play that passes much of its audience by while leaving others roaring with laughter.
Thom Pain (based on nothing) is by American playwright Will Eno, who had a hit at the Gate with The Flu Season, is such a one. It seems to live up to its subtitle, as a well-dressed young American preppy type talks for just over an hour about not very much.
He scares his audience by rudely attacking someone who leaves after a few minutes but largely delivers a monologue on existential angst.
There is a disfigured boy and the girl of his dreams but more often meanderings into philosophical thoughts on life.
Hollywood actor, James Urbaniak performs so well that reality and performance blend together but this makes for an uncomfortable stay, in fear of being the punter selected for public humiliation, as several are.