In the spirit of music hall
Fitting Hamlet into the constraints of the Fringe isn’t easy. A play which lasts more than three hours unabridged and needs at least half a dozen principle actors not to mention the supporting cast, is not tailor-made for a festival where most shows last an hour and take place on a stage not much bigger than the average living room. A Hamlet that succeeds must be radically slimmed down, but it must also turn that process into a virtue, drawing out fresh aspects of the story.
In this regard, Hamlet – Horatio’s Tale looks promising. Horatio, Hamlet’s university friend, is a witness to much of the action, and is the one tasked by the dying prince to “draw thy breath in this harsh world to tell my story”. What would it mean to reconfigure the play so we see it from Horatio’s perspective?
In fact, we don’t find out, because this is not what this play is doing. Rather, it’s a fast-paced accessible solo Hamlet where the action is reported rather than witnessed. It even includes scenes where Horatio would not have been present. Adapted and directed by Nick Hennegan, it abbreviates and (slightly) reorders Shakespeare’s text, adding a few linking sections in “Shakespearese” which stand out like sore thumbs next to the elegance of the original.
Any actor who takes on Hamlet, however abbreviated, deserves some sort of a medal, and Kizzy Dunn gives a fine performance, working with just a handful of props and using accents to differentiate the characters (for some reason, Claudius is American, Laertes a Yorkshireman). While the background music on the soliloquy scenes feels like a mistake, it’s generally a sound production, but doesn’t bring anything very fresh to the masterpiece.
Hamlet (An Experience), working within a similar set of constraints – just over an hour, a function room as a theatre space – offers a more radical solution. Lone actor Emily Carding welcomes us into the space, which is set up in the round, with Hamlet’s welcome to the players at Elsinore. Soon she is handing
For the past 21 years, children around the world have had the privilege of watching the many clever creations of Tall Stories, from The Gruffalo to Emily Brown and the Thing. And, of course, the grownups sitting next to them have enjoyed the shows, too. But now, in this anniversary year, the company is giving adults their own slice of inventive theatre – and it’s delightful.
Oscar Wilde’s 19th century novella The Canterville Ghost is at the centre, but an amusing framework has been built around it, taking us into the heart of music hall entertainment. A group of players, performing for one last time, deliver Wilde’s tale in stages, interspersed with their own speciality acts. And it’s here that the real joy of this production lies.
All four actors spent months learning new skills, including magic, ventriloquism and
out scripts and parts.
Carding and Kolbrun Bjort Sigfusdottir, who directs, have abbreviated the text, adding little apart from a misplaced epilogue. Carding is superbly expressive and the adaptation has been done cleverly, so no one in the audience has to say more than a few well placed words.
However, when we shift from audience to participants and become invested in making the play succeed, the relationship with the work changes. We are complicit, whispering rumours about Hamlet’s madness and singing at Ophelia’s funeral. Whether you leave with a fresh insight into the play might depend what part you get, but the “Experience” does offer fresh insight into the theatrical process.
User Not Found
Traverse at Jeelie Piece Cafe (Venue 526) Although the great millennial wave of theatre staged “mind-reading”, and the results are impressive and hilarious. Tom Jude as the
in non-theatre spaces is beginning to recede from the Fringe, there’s something that’s both charming and ingenious about Dante Or Die’s new show, staged under the Traverse banner at the Jeelie Piece Cafe in Tollcross.
Created by Daphna Attias and Terry O’donovan, and written by the inimitable Chris Goode, it observes the emergence of the corner cafe with good wifi as a new centre of community life, albeit an individualistic and relatively silent one, where people tend to sit absorbed in their laptops or smartphones; and it uses the space to explore the dilemmas faced by a young man who discovers, the day after his ex-partner’s death, that he has been left in charge of his former lover’s entire online legacy and identity and given the passwords to the dead man’s Twitter, Facebook and email accounts.
In narrative terms, User Not Found amounts to little more than a standard bereavement story, in which the central character finds out a few uncomfortable things about his dead ex-lover, and gradually comes to terms with his loss, at least enough to make the necessary decisions.
In that sense, the engaging illusionist delivers sleight of hand magic that’s slick and baffling, with walking sticks
O’donovan has relatively little to do in performing the show, which seems slightly overlong, even at just 70 minutes of actual storytelling. Yet with the audience mainly listening to O’donovan’s voice on headphones, while watching powerful related images and messages on specially issued smartphones, the show plays inventively with new means of delivering visual content to an audience, as part of the theatre experience; and alerts us to the way questions about legacy, inheritance and remembrance are changing thanks to the online social media footprints that increasingly define our lives and survive when we are gone.
Gilded Balloon Teviot (Venue 14) Every trick in the book of solo biographical theatre is pulled out in playwright Owen Thomas’s revisitation of the life of the internationally famous British comedian Benny Hill; from the pretend interview format, with Liam and flames conjured out of thin air.
As the psychic, Lauren Silver gets some witty audience banter going, and pulls an unexpected pay-off out of the hat. Steve Mccourt holds the gang of players together with his expert compering and gorgeous singing. But it’s Matt Jopling’s smart and funny ventriloquist act that wins our hearts, and a lot of laughs.
Meanwhile, Wilde’s central character – the 300-year-old ghost Sir Simon de Canterville – has an increasing inability to frighten the American family who have moved into his former home. Again, with humorous results.
Although not short on laughs, there’s also a poignancy to Tall Stories’ adaptation that quietly builds. Until the two stories – Wilde’s and the music hall turns – suddenly become one, in a beautiful, unexpected conclusion. Tobin’s infamously reclusive Hill opening up in the presence of his “interviewer”, the audience, to the weird, somewhat forced way of recounting Hill’s personal history, as though Tobin were somehow performing a Wikipedia article. The degree of real insight in such pieces generally leaves them aimed at fans who know every detail of their career, or casual observers who know none of these.
Yet Tobin’s impersonation of the comedian is a good one and his delivery of staple music hall gags and Hill’s trademark rude wordplays add a rich sense of his comedy; during the show I saw there were loud guffaws amid the audience, not least for one of the filmed interludes’ accurate recreation of Hill’s famed Yakety Sax chase scene sketches. Although the sense in these pieces – and it isn’t avoided here – of the character offering postmortem justification for his acknowledged foibles, his lonership and the dated sexism of his work, is somewhat clichéd, the contextualisation of Hill’s work in pioneering the adaptation of music hall comedy for the technologies of television is well-observed. In one of the most thrilling, heartfelt and recklessly full-on shows on this year’s Fringe, Elbow Room’s Prehistoric – created in Brisbane, developed and produced in Melbourne – tells the story of what it was like to be young, rebellious and white in the intensely conservative Queensland of the 1970s, perhaps best understood as Australia’s version of the Deep South. Deb, Nick and Pete are a punk-inspired band, playing gigs in the city, while Deb also tries to earn an honest crust as a lab technician; but like British students at that time, they also drink hard, smoke a lot of dope while occasionally trying harder stuff and hang out in rambling, squalid flats that seem to be easily available.
They are joined by Rachel, an anthropologist up from Sydney to study the strange ways of Queenslanders, who becomes their lead singer; but as the police net begins to close in on them, their drug habits, and the hastily arranged gigs and concerts where they often play, tension and distrust grows within the group, even while Rachel narrowly escapes rape by a group of cruising policemen, Deb is warned to give up the band, and Pete is abducted and beaten up for wearing a dress in the street, by way of a warning from a senior police officer.
In a tense 80 minutes, punctuated by roaring, brilliant bursts of the band’s hard rock music, Prehistoric perhaps tries to cover too many related themes, reflecting on how young people’s lives and possibilities have changed since the coming of the internet, on the culture of police brutality and impunity that still stalks so many cities world-wide, and even on the deep malaise in Australian culture that comes from the knowledge that the whole civilisation is built on land brutally taken from Aboriginal peoples.
Yet the passion, anger and raw talent of the show is a sight to see; and with Grace Cummings, Zachary Pidd, Sahil Saluja and the wonderful Brigid Gallacher playing, acting and singing out of their skins, this remarkable company succeed in holding the evil-doers of 40 years ago to account, at last.