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Fringe 2011 Reviews (22)

The Billie Holiday Story
Nina Kristofferson
Assembly George Square
****

If you like Billie Holiday, you'll love this. I do, and I did.

Nina Kristofferson tells Holiday's story from childhood on through a little chat to the audience - and talking to God! - but primarily through her music, around a dozen songs chosen for their relevance and impeccably performed. She has Holiday's physical mannerisms in performance perfectly and her phrasing is spot-on but, above all, she invests each song with deep emotion. In particular, that most moving of songs, "Strange Fruit", sends the same shiver through the listener as it did in Holiday's own performance right from the first notes.

She is accompanied on piano by the excellent Warren Wills and together they produce a splendid recreation of a very idiosyncratic and powerful singer.

It's very much a show for the aficionado but if you like jazz and the blues but haven't yet tried Billie Holiday, give it a go!

Peter Lathan

Turandot
neTTheatre / Grupa Coincidentia
New Town Theatre
*

This Polish production, the advertising tells us, is inspired by Puccini's last (and unfinished) opera Turandot, his letters and William Burrough's Naked Lunch. It uses voice-over narration, video (not always clear), signing and some what can only be described as puppetry. It can also be best described as physical theatre. The opera's music is played over the PA system except for a drunken and occasionally (deliberately) off-key version of "Nessun dorma", sung by Puccini and a tall, androgynous figure whose significance escapes me, which ends in a punch-up.

I struggled to make sense of what was going on, both during the performance and after, and failed. As we left the theatre, I heard one lady ask her friends "Why?" Why indeed! It neither held the attention nor added anything to our understanding of Puccini or the opera.

Peter Lathan

Gogol's The Portrait
Adapted and directed by Amy and Tony Trigwell-Jones and devised by the company
Newbury Youth Theatre
Quaker Meeting House
*****

There was a moment of unintended humour before this show even started, an announcement from one of the front of House staff that "The house is now open for Google's The Portrait." A sign of the times!

The Newbury Youth Theatre has an excellent record at the Fringe and they certainly did not disappoint this time. A company of 17 and the tiny stage space of the Quaker Meeting House seemed like a recipe for, if not disaster, at least confusion, but it wasn't so. The members of the company are not only well drilled but sensitive to what is happening around them so that if there was very occasionally a fractional delay in someone being in the right place, it was hardly noticeable and so didn't matter.

This is a true ensemble production with very high production values in Fringe terms. Some of the company play musical instruments to accompany the action and the set, a wall covered with the frames of numerous paintings which opened for the actors behind to speak through them, was impressive. Impressive, too, was the huge puppet of the central character, the Moneylender, which was mainly seen through the top frame but did make one appearance in all his glory on stage.

The piece is full of humour but tells a serious story, typical of Gogol, and this young cast do it full justice. This is a production worthy to stand alongside others by more experienced and older companies.

Peter Lathan

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©Peter Lathan 2011