The Edinburgh Fringe
Fringe 2008 Reviews (6)
On Traverse 1's press day, one could be mistaken for wondering whether the Irish have taken over Edinburgh's principal Fringe venue.
Enda Walsh's The New Electric Ballroom was followed by this play from the Abbey. The two might be considered distant cousins with their emphasis on language and attempts to mystify before bringing diverse strands somewhere near to each other towards the end.
The language in Terminus is often dazzling, especially in the mouth of Andrea Irvine, who either gets the best lines or makes the most of them. Jon Bausor's set, too, is tremendous, a large black picture frame with the glass front smashed, the performers separated on broken shards, each remaining in darkness until they speak.
Miss Irvine is first off in what resembles a relay race as three actors deliver monologues for 1¾ hours, briefly crossing speeches each time that they hand over but also overlapping in subject matter.
Miss Irvine's A is a former teacher turned Samaritan with a big skeleton in her own cupboard. In mazy verse, intricately rhymed in various different styles, she tells the tale of pregnant Helen who falls for violent Celine, while at the same time talking of a rift with her own daughter.
She hands on the baton to B (Catherine Walsh). B gets jilted and then. in an unlikely tall tale, ends up in a sexual foursome on a crane high over Dublin before plunging into adventure rather than instantaneous oblivion.
Karl Shiels as the third character - whose name you can guess - is a man who wants to sing but lacks both the voice and confidence. He sells his soul to the devil in return for silvery tonsils and begins a murderous race through town in truly diabolical mode.
Terminus contains writing that is often dazzling and challenges actors, all of whom prove themselves up to the job. The storytelling borders on magical realism but can be obscure and while at times amusing, is not in the end entirely satisfying.
In an unnamed state that is clearly intended to be Pinterland, one totalitarian government has been deposed by the next in a long line that shows every sign of extending forever.
Zinnie Harris, with the assistance of Traverse Artistic Director Dominic Hill, addresses the terrors from a number of perspectives.
In a week when the Serbian leader Radovan Karadzic has been flown to trial, he inevitably comes to mind as a model for Cliff Burnett's long-haired Evener, the embodiment of evil but tough beyond belief throughout a long programme of torture.
Geraldine Alexander is the wife of his comrade in crime who, having lost her husband, is persuaded to intercede on TV to bolster the new regime, before doing an about-turn. That regime is nominally led by Pierre, a weak man played by Darrell D'Silva, who seems to be the puppet for his blowsy wife (Meg Fraser) and her sinister lover, Paul Hickey's Howard.
Hope for the world is provided by Samantha Young as a fresh-faced idealist from the equivalent of Amnesty International. She inexplicably gets invited into the presidential antechamber and there begs for the lives of the last cabinet.
Fall takes time to tell its tale and succeeds in making one think about the experiences of those in states like this, both the leaders and those who have to survive their excesses. On that level, it is worth seeing, although the writing lacks the tautness of a Pinter or an Ariel Dorfman.
Somehow, drama is not the right word for much of Simon Stephens' output. Pornography is an example of a play that, like the industry it tantalises but eventually stops short of the final act.
The first week of July 2005 was, in retrospect, a significant one for London. It started with the Live8 concert, promising hope for global change, and peaked with the announcement that the city would once again host the Olympic Games, in 2012. Within 24 hours the euphoria was replaced by fear after a series of bombings on public transport shook every inhabitant, killing dozens.
Stephens looks at these events obliquely using a cast of eight to look at different scenes of contemporary life. Sean Holmes directs in a space that looks like an unused TV studio or theatre rehearsal space, embellished with sizzling lights to add a sinister touch.
A cheeky schoolboy, played by Billy Seymour, whines about his family and distantly lusts after a fellow pupil Lisa; a brother and sister collapse into incest; Sheila Reid as a retired professor with a highly developed and most amusing sense of schadenfreude worries about an academic paper; another academic near retirement makes a pass at a former student half his age and a working mother worries about her family and sends industrial secrets to a rival company after her boss shouts.
Each of these stories that drift in and out tells us something about society today and many of the characters spend time around what were to become the bomb zones of Bloomsbury and other parts of the city.
The only direct connection is the man played by Sacha Dhawan, an Asian with a backpack who slowly negotiates his was from Lancashire to London with murder in mind.
Even he stops short, as the play ducks the moment of truth, getting no closer to the terror than an old lady's sore feet as she fails to find transport in the aftermath.
This would have been a far more dramatic piece had Simon Stephens kept the camera running to show the consequences of the bombings but instead of raising the heart rate with the theatrical equivalent to Pornography, he prefers to look at the political equivalent of a prime time sitcom.
While he maintains the attention through 90 minutes, this might be considered a missed opportunity to portray the anger and mistrust that took years to die down. Maybe that will come in a sequel?