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Fringe 2006 Reviews (19)

Get Carter
By Ted Lewis
Red Shift Theatre Company
Pleasance Courtyard
******

It is a pleasure to watch such a polished show on the Fringe. Red Shift's Artistic Director Jonathan Holloway has taken great care over practically every aspect of this re-working of the famous Michael Caine cult film and the result is impressive.

Jack Carter, played by another Jack - Lord, is a tough gangster of the type that was so popular on big and small screen in the Sixties.

As the play opens, he swears that he will avenge his brother Frank's death. This is a bit rich coming from a man who had lost touch with Frank, having slept with his wife.

Quite why Tim Weeks' Frank should have been so offended is a little surprising since the tireless Jack sleeps his way through every woman that we see and hear about with the exception of his niece, who might just be a daughter anyway.

Jack then travels back to his old stamping ground, in Yorkshire to judge by the accents, to sort things out. There, helped by his deceased sibling, he comes up against floods of hard types (generally played by Eric Maclennan and Kieron Jecchinis) and a good number of attractive women (Lucy Cudden and Sally Orrock).

The plotting can get a little confused, as a cast of only six plays dozens of roles, but the principle of vengeance is rather more important than the detail of who is spraying blood over the stage at any point in time.

The staging is incredibly stylish, catching the period perfectly. A loud soundtrack offers music of the period, while the costumes, especially for the women could come from no other time.

Neil Irish's set, well lit by the director and David Sherman, is infinitely adaptable with a raked changing room swiftly transformed, often using a two-piece bench that proves to be perfect for anything from chair to table to bed.

Amid a welter of film adaptations for the stage, Get Carter is amongst, if not, the best, thanks to its wit, eélan and great pace, not to mention uncompromising slow motion sex and violence, all of which leaves you wishing for more at the end of just over 90 frantic minutes.

Philip Fisher

Metamorphoses
By Mary Zimmerman
Black Lens
Sweet at Grassmarket
*****

Sometimes student or graduate companies just don't understand how the world works. There are plays that they can do and those, such as Mary Zimmerman's modern language version of Ovid's Metamorphoses, that no one in their right mind would even think about, if only because you need a swimming pool as an integral part of the set.

Once in a thousand times, the impossible comes off and when it does, it proves doubly impressive. Spotting the obvious problem, Black Lens have brought 21 Mohammed's to the mountain, or in this case hotel swimming pool.

There, a cast slimmed down to five, works through most parts of Miss Zimmerman's play, which worked so well on Broadway, utilising what one imagines was a budget with five or six more noughts on the end.

These tales from Ovid, and in one case Rilke, are beautifully realised on the pool's edge but much more so in the well-lit water itself. Indeed, the pool almost becomes an extra character in the play.

After a brief, poetic description of "bodies changing into new shapes" when man was created, the space is occupied almost equally by humans and Gods.

Holding the narrative together is the tale of a Henry Finnegan's Estuarine-accented Midas, who having begged Andrew Jonson's Bacchus for the gift of changing everything he touches to gold, does exactly that to his beloved young daughter (Kirsty Clydesdale).

The remainder of the hour-long, late-night show leads back to the moment when his quest to release her is complete.

We see Orpheus following Rebecca Hawley's Eurydice into the watery underworld, and then leaving her there through human weakness; Erysicthon, the self-cannibalising cynic who sells his mother to assuage his insatiable hunger; Phaeton the son of the sun's struggle to control daddy's vehicle; and two weird marriages, blind Eros and the sweet-voiced Rebecca Palmstrom as Psyche the soul and finally a candle-lit old couple who are allowed eternal companionship.

However, the very best tale is that of Pomona the wood nymph, which leads to a tragic story within a story, as Myrrha desires and sleeps with her handsome father in the night's shockingly erotic highlight.

Under the sure direction of Deirdre Mullins, Black Lens has produced a very humorous and entertaining tale of men and Gods, making the most of their setting, the latest technology and one would guess the local charity shop for the lavish costumes that get a thorough soaking every night.

This show may not quite match the Broadway original, especially in the tale of Phaeton but, thanks to the enthusiasm of all involved, is one to watch and the members of this adventurous young company well worth following.

Philip Fisher

1984
By George Orwell
Adapted by Helen Appleton, Carole Ashcroft and the cast
Quaker Meeting House
***(*)

Edward's Theatre Company, a youth theatre group from Lincolnshire that always likes to bring a challenging piece of theatre to the Fringe, has this year created its own adaptation of George Orwell's 1984, with a script by Helen Appleton and director Carole Ashcroft, and with elements of the production devised by the cast during rehearsals. There is also a strong 'physical theatre' element to the production, which was created in conjunction with advising practitioner Ceri Ashcroft.

Orwell's post-war novel created a society in which speaking against the government is punishable by death or torture, as had been seen in Nazi Germany only a few years earlier. However the control of people's thoughts and the intrusion into their private lives has become far more extensive than the Nazis ever dreamed of, using modern technologies and projections of where those technologies could go. The government also changes the history books and records to show that they are always right and 'purifies' the language to try to eradicate words that allow radical or revolutionary thoughts to be expressed. Although terms such as 'thought police', 'room 101' and especially 'Big Brother' have lost their impact through common usage for more trivial purposes (perhaps achieving the aims of 'Newspeak' in a different way) they are still frightening concepts in their original context. Of course many of Orwell's nightmare visions have been realised in some form in order to control how a population thinks, even in the so-called 'free world'.

The central character of Winston Smith is played by Andrew Chetwynd as a very ordinary, perhaps even a dull man who gets sucked into the resistance movement against Big Brother almost by accident. Opposite him, Aryan Ramkhalawon turns in another passionate performance as the girl he has an adulterous affair with, against the law. The rest of the thirteen-strong cast play multiple parts.

The physical theatre aspects of the play work very well, demonstrating strongly the repetitiveness and monotony of the lives of the faithful workers. It also gets over the problem of showing sex scenes and horrific torture scenes on stage with a teenage cast in a clever and visually interesting way without causing embarrassment or appearing to cop out. The adaptation gets across the spirit of Orwell's novel, although some of the dialogue is still in novel form; where in a novel we are sometimes just given one character's speech and left to imagine the responses, it seems odd in performance when a conversation is so one-sided.

The cast works very well together as an ensemble, which is essential for a piece in this style to work. The pace is a little slow in parts and the production seems just a bit too long, but overall Edward's has once again produced something entertaining and thought-provoking that can stand proudly alongside many of the professional productions on the Fringe.

David Chadderton

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©Peter Lathan 2006