Save The Forest Cafe!

Save The Forest Café!
The Forest Fringe Café on Bristo Place, Edinburgh

A shining free beacon in the middle of an inevitably money sucking Edinburgh Fringe Festival, The Forest Café is an independent social and arts centre currently located on Bristo Place. Achingly cool and run by volunteers as a charitable self-sustaining not-for-profit organisation, it has presented a refreshingly free alternative to both its artists and audience members.

Now in 2010, the year of the cuts, the Forest Café is in serious danger of being closed down. As the EUC, the charitable organisation that owned the Bristo building, has gone into receivership, the Forest Café finds itself fighting for the very home that staged the beginning of so many careers and the space that inspired the germination of so many cutting edge projects.

And it really is a creative powerhouse; for 4 years it has been home to Forest Fringe (, the brainchild of Andy Field and Debbie Pearson. An artistic collective dedicated to the facilitation and encouragement of new work, Forest Fringe has enabled the promotion and creative development of young companies and artists such as Tinned Fingers, Kings of England, Fringe First winners Little Bulb (pictured), Lucy Ellison and Nic Green whose Trilogy took the Barbican by naked storm earlier this year.

Bastioned by Lyn Gardner, Charlotte Higgins and the Battersea Arts Centre, Field and Pearson are a force to be reckoned with.  They recently tweeted this about the campaign: “Forest Fringe only exists because of everything the Forest Cafe has done to make it possible. Without them nothing would have been possible.”

For all artists coming out of training the shock of how much it costs to produce even the simplest scratch piece in the professional sphere is devastating.  Even in the boom ‘Cool Britannia’ years this was the case and under Cameron’s ‘Big Society’ the irony of the imploding nature of arts cuts is no longer funny; Big Society, Small Art.

Forest Café needs £500,000 to purchase Bristo and it is a purchase that would benefit all of us as we move into a world of stringent subsidised cuts. It would only take £10 from 50,000 supporters, or £100 from 5000.

I’m far from loaded and I donated a tenner. Donate to ensure there will always be a place for emerging artists like yourself to both show and develop their work, to be able to fail and progress without the need of daddy’s £10,000 in the bank. Just click on the link below and become part of your future.

To donate

Review: Coalition at Theatre 503 (The Blue Group)

Coalition (Blue Group)

Written for

As the competitively named Rivals opens in the West End, Theatre503 is pushing an altogether friendlier agenda with its Coalition season. Encompassing five short works in each group, the Yellow and Blue programmes will be performed in rep with yesterday the Blue group taking to the podium (tonight is Yellow and so on and so forth).

In a spirited, if slightly patchy, evening and with stringent colour loyalty (am I reading too much into this?) the focus is squarely on the lily livered Lib Dems, betrayers of left wing artists and students everywhere.

Westminster Side Story starts us off with a joyously smart, kitsch extravaganza. True satire that really makes us think, the marriage of poet Richard Marsh and Rogue Nouveau (cover name for singer/songwriter Natalia Sheppard) is a collaboration that this voter would like to see a lot more of. Full of dexterous verbal wit, it is an irreverent look at Clegg’s agonised pre-coalition quagmire with some cracking songs thrown in and a cavalcade of hilarious dance numbers. But even as it lampoons these buffoonish anti-heroes, the sucker punch ending takes us all painfully to account; as in life there are no easy options here.

A witty film of David Cameron and Nick Clegg peddling their BS around the streets of Brixton, like a suited and booted tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum, leads us in to a much weaker Altogether Now that just feels plain awkward. To round off act one, an inside look into the life of the notoriously private wife of the Lib Dem leader titled Miriam. Gonzalez. Durantez. which boasts a nice central performance but is never quite as interesting as it promises to be.

A subtle second act sees Gordon Brown’s speech writer Kirsty McNeill and playwright Daniel Kanaber take the idea of getting Nick Clegg into bed literally with the sexually fuelled Dexterity, a smooth if slight piece. To round off the proceedings The Prophets And The Puppets sees the most stylistically interesting collaboration between writer Nimer Rashed and legendary puppeteer Ronnie Le Drew. Although it’s a little lacking in power, it speaks about coalition in a beautifully lyrical fashion and is probably the only surprise response to this subject matter.

With two downright successes, three competent efforts and only one disaster Theatre503’s Coalition is so far one which should make this Government jealous. But with the majority of collaborations between writers of some sort or another, it is a little safe perhaps (so safe an ex-Prime Minister was in attendance on press night). Let’s see if the Yellow group can be a little bit more adventurous.

In rep until 05 December 2010

Review: Fabrication at The Print Room

Jasper Britton & Max Bennett in Fabrication

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In the dark before the curtains are raised the soothing voice of Sophocles tells us that we are to prepare ourselves for some poetry; it will be hard, but all we need to do to enjoy it, is to ‘adjust to its frequency’. No wiser piece of advice could be given, when heading into Pier Paolo Pasolini’s elegiac tragedy. Fabrication is a beautiful piece of work but it definitely takes time to sink into Pasolini’s baroque style.

A darkly woven tale of self proclaimed regicide, Fabrication charts the disintegration of a father whose relationship with his son is poisoned by the tormented memories of an ominous dream.

It is undoubtedly a daunting play in which long image heavy monologues mingle with snatches of normal conversation that perpetually teeter on the surreal. But Lucy Bailey’s complex production more than matches this densely layered text, fully committing to both the most poignant and ridiculous moments of Pasolini’s vision.

Jamie McKendrick’s version is intelligent and lyrical, and peppered (thank God!) with shards of wit. Mike Britton’s hellish gravel pit stage impresses both a sense of wealth and discomfort onto its voyeuristic audience. In fact this is a production which reeks of class; with a strong whiff of Federico Fellini in the classical elegance of the costumes. This pose is carried through to the hilt by a compelling cast, led with remarkable integrity by a virile Jasper Britton.

Fabrication is not an easy night at the theatre, but it’s an intellectually penetrating one. If this kind of difficult, classy work is what we are to expect from the newly opened Print Room, artistic directors Lucy Bailey and Anda Winters are posed to make some real waves with this powerful new venue.

Running until 04 December

Review: The Robbers at The New Diorama

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Highly emotive and, at points, embarrassingly earnest, Friedrich Schiller’s The Robbers is an impassioned look at the nature of good and evil. With everyone’s favourite Karl Moor temporarily banished by his father, younger brother Franz coldly conspires to make his exile permanent wreaking havoc as he slowly manipulates his way to power.

Whilst we are probably meant to feel for Karl, who on turning to robbery, mopes about leading a band of (not so) merry men from town to town pillaging as they go, it’s much more fun to watch Franz. In fact it’s hard not to like him for all his atrocities, with Schiller creating a blackguard with a strong whiff of that greatest of court manipulators, Shakespeare’s Richard III.  Richard Delaney gives a gleeful performance, clearly relishing each moment of camp villainy and stealing most of the scenes he is in.

Peppered with modern obscenities and some very funny moments of sarcasm, Daniel Millar and Mark Leipacher’s version seeks to update Schiller’s tale of Counts and castles. This works at points, with the language carrying on at a cracking pace but it also serves to underline the ludicrous nature of what is being said. It’s hard not to wince when love interest Amalia cries ‘No woman can live with the rejection of a man!’ As things descend towards the inevitable death ridden conclusion it is impossible to take any of it seriously. Furthermore the modern design makes the eponymous gang seem more like All Saints models than avenging angels.

Leipacher’s production has some nice touches of virile physicality and it is refreshing to see The Faction Theatre Company take on such an epic piece of theatre in a small fringe space. Indeed they are clearly ambitious, taking on the complete works of Friedrich Schiller over the next three years. But whilst this is a worthy endeavour, by limiting themselves to such dated melodrama it’s hard not to feel this could be a waste of a confident company’s talents.

Running until 27th November

Review: Blasted at The Lyric Hammersmith

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Sarah Kane’s work is usually the province of textual study, her words confined to student reading lists, so it is a treat to see Blasted performed on a British stage. Brutal and uncompromising, treat may appear an incongruous word to describe Kane’s shocking first play, but if you long for theatre that will engender a visceral and questioning response, then there is no other description more apt.

It is also a pleasure to see such an elegantly pared down production that allows this playwright’s blistering poetry to shine. With an eye for the dead pan, Sean Holmes succeeds in bringing out Kane’s undeniable humour. In doing so he underlines the humanity in her characters, making their harrowing actions all the more potent; these are not cartoon villains, but real people who laugh and cry, shit and die.

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Reviews (well more like historical pieces of description) The Charming Man & Reasons To Be Cheerful

Hmmmm so my timing for this poor blog is shoddy and these producitons are now over. Good work Honour.

Please therefore see these as pieces of interest instead of recommendations, or not, as the case may be.

Written for (of which I am now Theatre Editor BTW!)

The Charming Man

Theatre 503’s The Charming Man boasts some snappy dialogue, wise cracking humour and a very charming central performance, but in terms of political satire it feels about as serious as Boris Johnson.

Set five years into the future, a political void has arisen from a resounding loss of trust in the two big parties (it is unclear which of them is currently in power now, if anyone at all) and the smaller ones are jostling for power. Enter the party with an unshakeable moral core, the Green Party, to save the day in a world of headless chicken politics. But as Party High Command groom Darren, an unknown black, gay youth worker, for the role of Prime Minister, it seems rather predictably they are not as squeaky clean as the world takes them for.

Claiming to be an irreverent look at the machinations of government, Gabriel Bisset-Smith’s script is certainly full of pithy comedy but it feels under researched, with the lampooning consequently unfocused and the machinery of politics untouched.  To take a scalpel to something one must really know the subject and neither Bisset-Smith nor director Paul Robinson appear to have the insiders’ grasp that makes for cutting satire. Only the beginning of a scene depicting a live TV debate feels true enough to relish in Western politics’ inherent absurdity.

Libby Watson’s strangely confusing design equally lacks rigour. But in the midst of the headless chickens there are some intelligent performances from Syrus Lowe as the charismatic Darren and Kate Sissons, whose impassioned activist Olivia, brings fire and integrity into this political world full of caricatures and clowns.


Reasons To Be Cheerful

Defiant teenagers pogo around the stage, exploding into impassioned impressions each time an Ian Dury song is even referenced, let alone played in full. But for all this wilful wildness, Reasons To Be Cheerful feels slightly too polished, a little too planned; there’s revelry here but is there real rebellion?

This is partly to do with a story that purely acts as scaffolding to as many Dury songs as possible. Dury fans Vinnie, Colin and Janine are determined to see him live, but when a road trip goes wrong, they end up experiencing something incredibly different, although just as important. In a pub play within a play, they are here to share the events of that day and honour someone very dear to them.

It’s a slight premise for a two hour show and a rather sentimental one. It’s hard not to imagine writer Paul Sirret saying ‘To hell with character development, we need to get Wake Up And Make Love With Me in here by hook or by crook so Janine better start feeling sleepy’. This laziness is annoying as it comes mingled with sporadic moments of beautiful dialogue and flashes of poignancy that enrich this likeable gang and leave one feeling that this could have been much better.

But the cast and band are amiable in the extreme and their eagerness goes a long way in winning one over. Even if the knowingness of their bon ami becomes a little grating, they are brilliant, performing each moment to the hilt. Graeae have once more produced a fully integrated and accessible show, that bypasses discussions of disability to focus squarely on the talent on stage. And a talented bunch they are, sweeping us up in a sophisticated production which goes a long way to belaying the simplicity of the script. If a little contrived, Graeae still prove there are plenty of reasons to be cheerful in this boisterous night out.

Review: Novecento

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Mark Bonnar in NovecentoA hymn to companionship, music and the sea Novecento is a love song set in a time when romance infused the everyday and men were still legends. Alessandro Baricco’s rich monologue, part of the Donmar Trafalgar season, is an engrossing and engaging tale of “the greatest pianist who every played on the Ocean.” It may stumble into the trap of verbose sentimentality towards its explosive conclusion, but Ann Goldstein’s wry translation ensures this is, for the most part, a robust and entertaining homage.

From the moment he is found on the grand piano aboard the glittering Virginian, Danny Boodman TD Lemon Novecento’s life is bound up inexorably with the ocean and music. Never stepping on dry land, Novecento absorbs all he knows of the world from the life that ebbs and flows through the ship, pouring each new story and melody he hears into the creation of otherworldly notes and compositions.

Told through the eyes of Novecento’s best friend, trumpeter Tim Tooney, Baricco’s virile text echoes heroic fables and great myths, whilst winking at the beautiful and terrible minutiae that makes up life.

In Roisin McBrinn’s undulating and rigorous production one is transported into Tooney’s ghostly memories with wit and verve. Olly Fox’s dreamlike composition further seduces us into his reminiscences and Paul Wills’ set of swinging links and piped corridors edgily facilitates McBrinn’s dynamic staging. Fusing it all together Mark Bonnar as Tooney gives a magnetic performance colouring his adoring narration with a frayed knowingness in a voice that reeks of jazz and gin. He is at once earnest narrator and clown and he carries this story with flare and passion.

Runs till 20 November 2010