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Fringe 2008 Reviews (110)

Instruction Manual
Questi Fantasmi and Sons
The Space @ Venue 45

We are ushered into the auditorium by the ringing of a bell. A single performer, surrounded by suitcases, recites a monologue. At times, a saxophone accompanies the speech. Various sizes of suitcases are opened and emptied. A puppet, skeletal and fearsome, appears. Metronomes are placed around the stage, and the performer exits. The ringing bell ushers us outside.

The intervening surrealism is held together by a strong, clear delivery. The words may not make much sense- and the sheets of music flung around the stage, or the trickling sand, or the banana that covers the face do not clarify - but they are crisply expressed. Taking its cue from Magritte and perhaps Dali, Instruction Manual delves into the subconscious, emerging with an undefined paranoia and an obsession for ordering trivial details.

Aside from the pure pleasure of the voice and sporadic free jazz, it is difficult to take much away from the performance. It is uncompromising and obscure, alluding to profound understandings of time and space, but ultimately revealing nothing. This isn't uncomfortable. At the Fringe, it is refreshing to see a work that is so unconcerned with cheap laughs and accessibility, without descending into a painful, chaotic aggression.

It may be a slight piece, but it does pay homage both to the attempts by the beats to fuse word with jazz, as well as capturing the arch, arid modernism of much surrealism. It alludes to Dada in its confusion, without appropriating any punk emotionalism. There are interesting ideas lurking around in this work's subconscious and repressed desires.

Gareth K Vile

By Sarah Kane
3Bugs Fringe Theatre
Sweet ECA

Never having seen any of Sarah Kane's plays before, I was stunned into silence by Crave's vicious torrent of words. Four characters, each one struggling against the disintegration of relationships, society, their very selves, shout their desperation in a mixture of dialogue and monologue. Nothing is resolved - the cast end on the floor, unmoving, daring the audience to leave. This is an hour of brutal, emotional theatre that takes the bleakness of Beckett, removes the humour and adds a millennial despair. Kane was an astonishing author, and it seems strange that her work has not had a greater impact on subsequent English writing.

3Bugs do struggle with the material. It does slip into occasional melodrama - the ferocity of the lines, the frequency of yelps and howls make the script very difficult to keep realistic. The play itself seems to beg a more complex production - perhaps PunchDrunk could make it more personal, or projections replace the voices to vary the atmosphere. Yet for the most part, all four performers manage to let the material speak through them.

Crave is a tight study of the impact of desire on the self. There are a vague narratives threading through the relationships - possible child abuse, loveless sex, a failed affair - but these are less important that the overall impact of horror and despair. Tenderness, compassion, humour, sex: everything become a weapon, a razor to slice the self into thinner layers. Quotations from pop songs, allusions to other playwrights, frantic, despair pleas are juxtaposed to create an overwhelming flood of fragmented imagery.

However, the play isn't just about the emotions: the way that Kane has deconstructed the usual baggage of character and plot makes this a formally disturbing work as well. The audience are left with no reference points, no development, only relentless repetition, grievance, frustration. Apart from a few desperate attempts to find the humour, even applause is prevented when the end comes: the stage lights go up, the actors lie still and the audience leaves their bodies prone across the floor. Breathtaking.

Gareth Vile

Fletch Productions
Baby Belly

It is rather dishonest for Esoterica to be advertised as theatre: it is an old school magic show, even if Eric Walton does recite a poem during one of his card tricks. For fans of Derren Brown, Esoterica is a fun-packed hour: Walton's charm, feats of memory and sleight of hand combine to make up an entertaining package. His strength is in his relaxed, erudite delivery. The tricks themselves are relatively commonplace, although usually impressive.

At an hour, the show is slightly too long and doesn't build to an amazing climax. He does end up doing three tricks at the same time, but he doesn't quite manage to convince the audience that this is impressive or difficult. If anything, his delivery counts against him. He seems to be performing tricks in a distracted mood, tossing off apparently psychic answers while wanting to be doing something far more stimulating. As part of a cabaret, the close-up magic would be stunning. In isolation, his attempts to include meditations on philosophy feel like padding.

Walton is a talented magician and his persona is both intelligent and attractive. However, there isn't really enough in this show to keep the attention, and the wonder at each trick isn't developed into something profound or astonishing.

Gareth K Vile

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©Peter Lathan 2008