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Glasgow Principal Steve reflects on the Edinburgh Fringe

31/08/18

To be honest, my festival visits tend to be as much about the venues as about the shows. I normally think about the spaces permanent or temporary I haven’t visited recently – or ever – and pick interesting shows that give me an opportunity to experience them.

Meek at the Traverse Theatre. Image by Sid Scott.

Meek at the Traverse 1

I’ve been to many meetings at the Traverse and as a Technical Director I have sent a couple of shows there, but to my shame, I’ve never seen a performance in the space, so I was keen to see how it worked. The foyer of the Traverse is below ground and is a hive of activity at festival time. Traverse 1 has a very steep seating bank, dropping down two floor levels from the foyer entrance to the stage. The result of someone’s idea to make use of an office block basement.

Meek is a precise and surprisingly gentle piece, (as the title suggests). It concerns a young woman being imprisoned for her seemingly rebellious, perhaps treasonous, actions. Technically I found the show well-polished, although there were a few annoying costume changes, presumably to signify the passage of time, without these it would have been easy to lose any sense of time, but to be honest I’m not sure if that was important as the story moves forward regardless, and her fate becomes more obvious.

State control of the media, freedom of expression and the role of social media to drive an alternative narrative are all explored in the piece, but I wasn’t hooked, I found myself looking up into the technical bridges, trying to work out what I was looking at – not a good sign.

Waiting for Godot at the Royal Lyceum, Edinburgh. Image by Ryan Buchanan.

Waiting For Godot at the Royal Lyceum

I love the Lyceum auditorium, designed by Phipps in the 1880’s. It remains largely unaltered and still works well. It only has 650 seats which makes for a compact and intimate experience as no one is far from the stage.

I’m not certain if I’ve seen Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot before, but I certainly know of it and have seen excerpts on TV. I think it was on the school curriculum, but as I was ejected from my English literature class for calling Shakespeare piffle...(I hated being made to read aloud in class and would do anything to avoid it) I subsequently dropped the subject, so I think I may have missed it. I’d heard good reviews about this company, so was keen to see a show in it and this ticked all the boxes.

Firstly I have to say what beautiful imagery. The set, lighting and human forms created serene picture postcard snapshots. Subtle lighting changes leading you through the day and night. I was reminded of days spent on remote beaches watching the tide and the changing light, perhaps occasional encounters with other human beings, but where nothing is required to happen for the day to be of value. All this serenity was punctuated by hilarious slapstick physical moments and witty linguistics, charming relationships so trivial, so absurd and yet so human. Intense and meaningful. Loved it.

Carmen Funebre by Teatr Biuro Podróży at EIC The Square. Image by Murdo MacLead.

Carmen Funebre at EICC The Square

I generally like open-air evening theatre, where the changing light and the occasional unwanted external intrusion adds another dimension to the theatre. Players have to work a little harder to keep your attention which I like. Why this piece? Well, I walked past a few days beforehand as they were setting up and it looked interesting. That’s one of the joys of the festival, it can be so spontaneous. Having done a little research, I had been warned that “my eyes might pop out and bounce back in again”…. sounds like a challenge.

Scary, menacing masked men on stilts cracking whips against a thunderous soundtrack certainly got my attention. Rounding up presumably subversive characters planted in the audience was a nice touch, but the subsequent brutality and shaming were all a bit predictable. My eyes didn’t pop out but there was certainly a great deal of spectacle, more stilts, lots of fire and a bottle of red wine (you had to be there) all used to illustrate the brutality of war and the oppression by an authoritarian state. Another nice touch was the lighting and releasing of small paper lanterns on helium balloons into the Edinburgh night sky, sending messages of hope into the wider world. But I couldn’t help worrying about where they were going to be landing. Perhaps I’ve seen too many stories of war in Eastern Europe, but it all seemed a bit formulaic to me.

The cobbled square made for an interesting, although uncomfortable venue, I’ll be reminded of the performance as I make my customary cut through to Lothian Road in future. I’ll certainly remember the loud fan noise from the air handling plant discharging into the square, which droned through the entire performance.

The exterior of temporary theatre Beside. Image by David Edelstein.

In Loyal Company at the Beside temporary theatre in the Pleasance Courtyard

Beside is adaptable temporary theatre built by Triple E from ModTruss, and also used by Pleasance as a rehearsal and performance space in a slightly altered format in London. The subject of temporary spaces often comes into conversations with clients, so I’m always keen to see what’s around. It seats about 100 in a wide thrust format, with 4 rows of gently tiered seats. The venue sits in the corner of Pleasance Courtyard close to a bar and a children’s play area. Once inside you can hear the general buzz of life outside, but to be honest, it’s not too distracting, and I was soon drawn into a powerful piece of drama by David William Bryan, the solo performer telling the tale of his great-uncle Arthur’s (known as Joe) war-time experiences.

Whilst Joe is the central character and narrator, David introduces us to a myriad of other characters who come and go over the course of 5 years. Storytelling at its purest – very few gimmicks, mostly just the skill of one person, holding your attention and playing with your emotions.

The storytelling was supported by a handful of subtle costume changes which thankfully didn’t spoil the flow of the piece. Lighting and sound design were very effectively and subtly used to support the narrative, I especially liked the underwater sequence, brilliant…

Oh, and the venue is quite good too, definitely a smart way to create a temporary flexible space.

My Left/Right Foot - The Musical at the Assembly Roxy. Image by Tommy Ga-Ken Wan.

My Left/Right Foot - The Musical at the Assembly Roxy

Nothing to do with the venue this one. A co-production between one of our clients, National Theatre of Scotland (NTS), and one of our fellow tenants at Scottish Youth Theatre, Birds of Paradise (BOP). It tells the tale of a Scottish Am-Dram society’s plan to win the national one-act play competition by “embracing inclusion”. A plan is devised to create a new musical based on the life of Christy Brown (or is it based on Daniel Day Lewis’ portrayal of Christy?).

I grew up in an Am-Dram household and my dad used a wheelchair. I’ve also met Robert Softley-Gale the Creator/Director on a number of occasions, so I had many reasons for wanting to see the piece. I wasn’t disappointed.

My left/right foot uncomfortably and hilariously breaks down our preconceptions and the boundaries of political correctness. If it hadn’t been created by Robert (Artistic Director of BOP, who also has Cerebral Palsy), this show would be considered highly offensive by many, and it may still be by some, but surely that’s point. Unless we push the boundaries and deconstruct and analyse these perceived taboos, it won't be possible for us to tell and hear these important stories honestly and completely. The show actually pokes fun at the “able-bodied” who clearly aren’t really that able, as they blunder their way to creating the musical.

With BSL interpretation woven into the action and captioning projected onto the set, technically this show is potentially very tricky but as I’d expect from NTS it's carried off very slickly and rather than these elements just being add-ons, they were embraced and used to reinforce moments to hilarious effect.

To finish, I recount the tale of a friend who got talking to an American couple in a café. They had seen the Military Tattoo at the castle the night before. When asked “are you enjoying the festival?”, “what festival?” came the reply. They simply thought Edinburgh was always this crowded and full of performers.

Meet Steve, our Glasgow Studio Principal

Steve is the Studio Principal of our Glasgow studio. A keen eco-self-builder, Steve spent more than ten years as Technical Director at Scottish Opera and a further four as Technical and Operations Director.

Steve’s consultancy work with Charcoalblue includes the Grand Opera House Belfast, King’s Theatre Edinburgh, Leeds Beckett University and Rockvilla, the new home of the National Theatre of Scotland.

Steve Green

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+44 (0) 141 280 9280