WOS Edinburgh Inspired Blogs

All that glitters IS gold.

“Life is a cabaret, old chum” is perhaps one of the most iconic lyrics in film history but it’s not the one that most stays with me. Instead I’m drawn to this one describing poor old Elsie: “The day she died the neighbours came to snicker: ‘Well, that’s what comes from too much pills and liquor.’”….read more.

Edinburgh – season to season

In the post Olympic glow talk has arisen of continuing a biannual Cultural Olympiad (or should I say London 2012 Festival – is there a difference?). While LIFT (or indeed the Manchester or Edinburgh International Festivals) may have good reason to quibble that this is precisely what they do, and do very well, the idea of a curated festival on this scale every two years is tantalising…read more.

Acting with a capital A

This year I’m on the panel of The Stage Awards for Acting Excellence at the Edinburgh Fringe. It’s meant that I’ve been able to see some stunning shows that I would have missed otherwise – most notably Thread and Mess (which, if you get the chance I urge you to catch)...read more.

The politics of performance.

As politicians warm up their vocal cords ready for party conference season, voters are feeling not only powerless but voiceless. For a theatre world determined to respond to the needs of its audience therefore, now is not the time for traditional political language – now is the time to literally go left field…read more.

Adventures in Audio Part 1: HighTide

Honour sees bucolic cutting-edge at Hightide

Exeunt Magazine.    HighTide Festival Theatre

I was recently given a Zoom. They are wonderous things with many mics and the ability to record in such high quality that it took me an entire day to transfer this file to the lovely Daniel B Yates (that or my computer’s as slow as I’ve always suspected). ANWAY. Scroll down on the Exeunt main page and you’ll see little old me. Have a listen. What do you think?

Exeunt Magazine

Just Tell The Truth…oh alright then (Mike Figgis’ Ignition)

Written for Exeunt.

Deloitte Ignite returned for its fourth year with a contemporary arts festival curated by Mike Figgis over the weekend of the 2nd -4th September 2011 under the title Just Tell The Truth. Figgis’ core aim was to discover what we think about the state of the culture in which we all exist. Over a period of three days the public were invited into the Royal Opera House for a series of talks, performances, film screenings and installations with artists from all fields, including Matthew Herbert, Alber Albaz and Marina Abramovic. I went along on the Saturday and the below is my diary of the day: the statements in italics Just Tell,explain the facts of what occurred, whilst the others are ‘The Truth’, as experienced by me that day and as such are more personal, occasionally silly, but always true.

Just Tell | The Truth

Deloitte Ignite 2011; a contemporary arts festival curated by internationally renowned English film director, composer and writer Mike Figgis | Figgis mingles with the crowd, blending throughout but marking his presence with a shocking pair of attention grabbing lime green shoes | It’s a weekend packed with artistic exchanges | Some events are outlined in big black marker, interviews, film screenings. Others are completely incidental taking place in and around the audience: “Wait…is she a dancer or just a crazy person” |

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Gone In 60 Minutes: Edinburgh

Last week the iron grip of the 1 hour show was dissected by Matt Trueman in his Guardian blog “The Fringe seems to favour the sort of short and punchy show that is easy to package. But, in most cases, an hour can only achieve so much” he concluded.  And he’s right; in an hour you can only achieve so much. Or can you? Perhaps by letting go of the idea of a polished Edinburgh show, companies could actually achieve much more.

Received wisdom has it that audiences want to be given a complete package when they go to see an Edinburgh show. They want fulfilment for their £10. This need to tie everything off seems to validate Trueman’s final conclusion; if you need to fit in a beginning, middle AND end into 1 hour how much can you really achieve? But why do we feel this need to round off everything we do? Sometimes incomplete work can be just as successful.

The word completeness seems to have an inherently positive tilt to it, a competent state where everything has been thought out. But just as the negativity that haunts the word ‘critic’ could be questioned (constructive criticism for example) so the default position that ‘completeness’ is a good thing can be. In fact I can disabuse both assignations as I saw three good shows this year that proved that incompleteness can be just as brilliant and more over, often more interesting.

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Edinburgh is like a box of chocolates, or it should be…

‘Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get.’ I spent most of this year’s Edinburgh with Forest Gump’s infamous hallmark card platitude twanging through my head. It may be a statement that stinks of cheese to high heaven but in terms of the Fringe it’s something we could learn from. For a lot of people the festival isn’t like a box of chocolates at all, but rather a very carefully chosen menu and it means they’re missing out on many of the Specials (ok I’ll stop this analogy now).

I’ll admit my new found admiration for pot luck comes from necessity. For the first few years of going to the Fringe my viewing output matched the input of artists that I knew, before slowly moving out to companies I admired and shows I’d heard would be ‘good’. Consequently for the first 8 years of my Fringe history my world was a very small place, full of people who agreed with my theatrical leanings. But in 2011 it exploded as I was plunged into shows and audiences I would never usually see.

Since I have begun writing about theatre I have been sent to things in all corners of the Edinburgh kingdom. Averaging around 6 shows a day it’s been an experience full of highs and lows. Of course I’ve delighted in some but others were a lifetime away from anything I would choose to attend; who really wants to see Paul Daniels: Hair Today Gone Tomorrow? (Actually he was quite good, review here).

It’s been exhausting but invaluable. Not only have I found a couple of hidden treasures (Real Men Dream in Black and White and At the Sans Hotel particularly) but I’ve had my eyes opened to a much more holistic view of the Fringe. And it’s HUGE.

Stop rolling your eyes at me. Of course I know that that’s a received wisdom but how many of us actually experience it in all its messy vastness? I certainly never used to. Now I’ve shared early morning coffee theatre with old American tourists, and marvelled at puppetry with 5 year olds, agog. I’ve despaired at a one on one performance that was meant to be for more than just me (being thanked at the end of that one for simply being there was a low point), relished obscure performance art, endured HORRENDOUS sketch comedy (Sketch Off – consider yourself named and shamed) and watched a lot of mediocre musical theatre. I’m only now really beginning to see Edinburgh for the tapestry that it is, warts, beauty spots and all.

£10 tickets begin to add up so I’m not advocating 40 unknown shows whilst you’re up there. But in between your carefully pre-planned schedule maybe take a dip in the chocolate box just once in a direction you wouldn’t normally tread. Sure, you may get a stinker, but either way you’ll share something with people you’d normally just storm past in the street.


The Crash of the Elysium, Punchdrunk and the BBC

Written for Exeunt Magazine

Here’s the question that’s been bothering me since I saw Punchdrunk’s The Crash of the Elysium at the Manchester International Festival: was this a brilliant piece of immersive theatre or just essentially a 3D version of an episode of Doctor Who?

Don’t get me wrong; I loved this production, loved it. As a Doctor Who fan I was bound to; like many fans I’ve always wanted to be part of one of the Doctor’s adventures and The Crash allowed that happen – for that it won my heart. And yet I kept wondering if it all wasn’t one big advert for a BBC TV show? Was it Punchdrunk’s innovation I was responding to or a more basic, childlike excitement about getting to enter the Doctor’s world?

I still get a warm glow from looking at the crumpled letter from the Doctor that was addressed just to me and remembering the wonderful feeling of companionship that was created in our group of audience members, previously strangers to one another. I’m grinning now as I think about our shrieks and gasps as we fought one of the scariest Doctor Who villains, of seeing the Tardis up close, of being part of an army patrol led by a valiant captain. I’m trying to equate my own delight as a 30 year old adult to that of an even more (though not much more, to be honest) excitable 13 year old or even a brave one of six. As thrilling as I found the whole experience, it must have been incredible to be a child and be part of this.

The one sticking point for me is that this was an adventure that anyone could have given us. There’s a Doctor Who Experience raking it in at Olympia in London; is The Crash of the Elysium really very different? I don’t think it is. It’s designed with the fans in mind, and for young fans at that, but perhaps this limits rather than liberates the potential for originality and imagination.

Though I love everything Who-related, I wanted more in the way of Punchdrunk’s vision. I wanted them to deviate from the path a bit, to break away from the creation of a real life TV experience and into something more theatrical and unexpected; I suppose I really wanted something more of the Punchdrunk aesthetic to merge with this Doctor Whouniverse. In all honesty I’m not sure how they could have done that, but on the evidence of the genre-bending Adam Curtis-collaboration, It Felt Like A Kiss at the last Manchester International Festival – another syncing of TV and theatre – I feel that Felix Barrett and co might have been capable of pulling it off.

The production has so much going for it. The cast are masters of making each team mate feel important at all times and the thrills are undeniably there – for adults and children alike. But I do wonder if there was a degree of complacency at work here, a little bit of laziness – or maybe it’s simpler than that, maybe Doctor Who is just too big and well known, the brand ultimately constrictive to  a company of proven imagination.

Dr Dee – Manchester International Festival

Written for Exeunt Magazine.

Welcome Ladies and Gentleman to the world of Dr Dee. Images are presented for your delectation: an astral monarch is festooned with gold cloth, projected algebraic algorithms and magical incantations stain the stage like tattoos across skin, the planets dance for your pleasure and the spirits are conjured while Damon Albarn gives voice to English folk ballads with exquisite orchestrations.

Albarn’s opera charts the life of Dr John Dee – the 16th century astronomer, mathematician and occultist – from his days as am eager student, devouring reams of literature, to his time in the court of Queen Elizabeth; from young lover to tormented husband. Dee is said to have inspired both Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus and William Shakespeare’s Prospero.

Rufus Norris and Albarn’s production is visually dazzling, a true feast for the eyes, and it’s not too harsh on the ears either. But their Dr Dee rarely transcends spectacle; the storytelling throughout remains fairly basic, a children’s picture book with glorious illustrations. Perhaps it is John Dee’s silence that makes this a weirdly 2D affair. Bertie Carvel feels underused as this Renaissance monolith because for the most part he is mute, a silent figure at the centre of a storm. Surely in the opera that bears his name, John Dee should be allowed to speak? What this production lacks is the confidence and guidance of a writer, someone capable of shaping Dee as a character and not just staging the happenings of his life.

What it does do is live up to Albarn’s subtitle: this is a very English opera. The lyrics and gentle melodies are pierced by an occasionally edgy discordant note and Albarn is brave enough to leave things incomplete, whilst his orchestrations, composed with Andre de Ridder, are sometimes breathtakingly complex and always highly polished. In his composition Albarn manages to recreate both an epic and intimate sense of England. He is also a compelling performer, completely absorbed in his playing.

Paul Atkinson’s versatile set of white harpsichord bookshelves and Katrina Lindsay’s wickedly punkish Elizabethan costumes are full of wit and ingenuity. Let it not be understated how truly beautiful this production is, with Frantic Assembly’s Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett working as movement directors and giving Norris’ production a balletic fluidity.

In a scene of distressing betrayal you get a glimpse of what this production could have been. As John Dee shares his wife with his grotesquely salacious medium the movement and music combine to give the scene real emotional gravitas; it’s a skin-crawling  depiction of an act  tantamount to rape. It scenes like these that demonstrate just how powerful this collision of artistic imaginations can be when used in the service of both storytelling and spectacle.

Sampled, The Junction

Based entirely within the Junction (a compact art centre in the middle of an industrial and shopping estate) Junction Sampled is as mini as micro-festivals come. But far from squashing any ambition, its comfortable size means that an audience of festival goers bonds in a way that those at Glastonbury (it’s just so large now you know?) could only dream of. That going from show to show you see the same people can only be a good thing when random conversations about the work at hand emerge amongst hitherto strangers.

Sampled is a rich mixture of fully formed shows, playing alongside pieces in their absolute infancy. The result is a relaxed hub for both exciting new talent and old voices flexing their muscles. Hostess Bryony Kimmings is a fabulously down to earth diva who none-the-less infuses the café space with a shot of decadent glamour. The sweet jars perched temptingly on tables lend a sense of silly fun and the Pimms Bar and bunting add to the party atmosphere. There’s a distinctly village fete feeling to the whole shebang which is mirrored in a Sunday programme with a wholesome bent. This is more arts and crafts than polished commercialism and it’s all the better for it.

In a day brimming with potential two shows in particular stick out for me. Imaginative Brighton based company non zero one provide a discombobulating 20 minutes in a sports changing room with the time out. I feel an easy going but piercing sense of companionship with my fellow swimmers and a little breathless as I exit. As part of the excellent JAM section (The Junctions’ experimental scratch platform) Dan Canham’s haunting 30 Cecil Streetevokes a lost theatre once at the heart of a now crushed community. With a transporting and deceptively effortless skill Canham brings these ghosts to life in what succeeds in being an immensely human and in a strange way powerfully political piece.

Rounding off my experience is Michael Pinchbeck’s mischievous The End which takes a cheeky wink at Shakespeare’s most famous stage direction ‘Exit pursued by a bear’. Just as Pinchbeck is finishing his career, so his performing partner Ollie Smith is beginning his, one character exiting pursued by another. It’s a sweet piece of meta-theatre, a show about a show. But it’s also a love song to an art form Pinchbeck believes he will be leaving, a tender goodbye to an audience he feels he can no longer reach.

One-on-One Festival at BAC

Written for Fourthwall

I feel like hiding tonight so it’s lucky that I’ve been moved to The Immersive menu at BAC. Given a chilli rating of 2 it’s a perfect middle ground between mouth watering ‘Challenging’ (a smoking hot 3 chillies) and ‘Reflective’ (a cooling 1 ½) and it proves to suit my mood perfectly.

Along with the main course and two side dishes, your menu card gently advises you to take on some one-on-one challenges; ‘Phone someone you love and tell them something you’ve never told them before’ (I do but that’s another story) or ‘Find a stranger and ask them what their greatest wish is’ (I don’t, did I mention about feeling shy?).

As people mingle in the bar, corridors and hallways there is a very gentile atmosphere hanging in the air. If last year’s One-on-One Festival was a rough and ready house party, in 2011 it has transformed into a rather more sophisticated soiree; that is apart from the sporadic kidnappings or sumo wrestling with fat suits no less. But for all this charming silliness it definitely feels much more ordered in the Battersea Arts Centre this year which (whilst it makes me pine a bit for the chaotic joyous ‘fit to burst’ feel of 2010) is no bad thing, with less waiting time and yummy tapas on tap.

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I tasted Sprint, and it’s playful.

Written for http://exeuntmagazine.com

The fourteenth Sprint festival at Camden People’s Theatre kicks off with a taster evening which embodies the festival’s lively and playful essence – and while I’d be reluctant to call it a theme, an abundance of childish delight runs through the work in this opening showcase.

The evening begins with Mamoru Iriguchi’s Projector/Conjector. Iriguchi has a projector on his head, while his eponymous heroine has a TV on hers. Projector/Conjector is a low-fi/high tech love story where boy meets girl in a world of deceptively makeshift illustrations of rockets, ponds, ducks, pieces of coral and even the piercing of a still beating heart. Clad in crumpled forensic whites our performers combine po-faced seriousness and physical prowess (some of the crouches they hold would make a yoga instructor jealous) with a wonderfully silly premise and an odd poignancy as Projector creates his own reality and Conjector captures it.

Greg McLaren

The immensely likeable Francesca Millican-Slater presents I Promise To Swim The Channel (or the story of how I might); a lovely piece of personal passion on stage. With poetic fluidity and a healthy dose of science and history, Millican-Slater takes us through each stage of her training so far, cheerfully highlighting each exhausting obstacle. Armed only with some goose fat, bowls of water and a whistle, this self-deprecating adventurer is as brave as the first channel swimmer Captain Matthew Webb and as witty as one of the most famous, David Walliams. At the end, in a brilliantly simple act of complicity, you can formalise your belief in Millican-Slater by signing an agreement stating you believe that she will achieve her mission – and I’m sure that she will.

Clad in a distinctive Chinese bomber jacket, Greg McLaren (above) combines a palpable sense of bombast with a trembling vulnerability.  Doris Day Can Fuck Off he tells us, or rather, as this is a one-man opera, he sings it to us, in a pleasantly melodic voice. A bundle of contradictions, McLaren’s silly endeavour to sing everything he would usually speak (a task he’s been accomplishing for the last few weeks) seems to have left a rather dark mark on him and his wonderfully funny mash-ups of befuddled traffic wardens and passers-by are tinged with the loneliness of an outsider.

No such darkness infects The Balloon Gardener, a children’s circus act combining tremendous skill with a touch of idiocy. Set against a hip-wiggling soundtrack of 60s TV music and performed with boundless energy, Danny the Wild Balloon-Tamer performs a series of tricks with the tacky flare of a children’s party entertainer. He manipulates brightly coloured latex shapes into a piece of artistic horticulture that won’t fail to put a smile on your face.


Physical prowess and a sense of mindless fun merge into a hundred-words-a-minute with The Honourable Society of Faster Craftswomen’s (right) mega-monologue Patchwork. This spoken word extravaganza has a throbbing punk backing-track and a thrusting energy that leaves the audience breathless. Guileless (but one suspects highly-skilled) animations fill the screen behind the performer. Enthroned on a high-backed chair and clad in a wild-thing suit with requisite ears, this is one cool chick.

This high-octane and razor sharp performance make for an exhausting but exhilarating end to an evening that’s often been punctuated with giggles. Perhaps the most resounding feeling is one of warmth, a sense of welcoming towards all this strange and wonderful work. It is sensation that may well embolden and encourage even those alarmed by the prospect of performance art.

Sprint runs at CPT from the 1st to the 27th March 2011. For a full line-up of events, visit: Camden People’s Theatre