Edinburgh review: Beats

Written for The Stage

On the face of it, Kieran Hurley’s Beats is a coming of age story set at the end of the rave scene. But listen through the trance and techno, and you’ll hear timeless political questions about our right to meet communally and protest.

Hurley sits in front of a shabby table while around him swirl the psychedelic visuals and rave beats of the 1990s. He tells the story of 15 year-old Johno going to his first rave, his anxious mother and Robert, a policeman and unwitting member of the establishment.

In this post-industrial town, these are ideologically broken times and dancing together is a means of escape. But the 1994 Criminal Justice and Public Order Act has made it illegal for people to gather to hear “a succession of repetitive beats”. As Hurley jumps forward to the 2010 student protests, an overarching question hangs in the air – if we don’t have the freedom to gather together, what have we got?

Jamie Wardrop’s acidic projections and Johnny Whoop’s techno soundscape and circling lights place us right in the action. At the table, Hurley is the white-hot centre. With searing focus, he passionately invokes these intricately drawn characters, whose small story asks huge questions about community and democracy.

To follow Kieran Hurley go here.

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Edinburgh review: I Heart Peterborough

Written for The Stage

A bump of London overspill in the middle of the flat Fens, Peterborough is more famous for its trains than inspiring love letters. For a town at the centre of so much travel, the dreams of many of its locals are at a standstill. But in his glittering new play, Joel Horwood has penned a heartfelt note to those inhabitants who aren’t simply “human cul-de-sacs”.

There’s more than a dose of sparkle in this story of cabaret transvestite Michael/Lulu and his son Hew. Thrust together unexpectedly, they attempt to get through life’s ups and downs in a place designed to flatten them. They also form a rather good variety act – flaky Lulu flicking on the switch when a performance is needed and Hew solidly providing the ever brilliant accompaniment. He has the voice of an angel, and can do a fabulous gossipy neighbour impression too.

As always with Horwood’s work, music beats through I Heart Peterborough like a pulse. The bombastic soundtrack underscores Lulu and Hew’s strange and isolated suburbia. Horwood’s script is full of funny touches, and he is a compassionate director.

Milo Twomey as Lulu is a fragile and fierce narrator, while Jay Taylor’s Hew provides a compelling and tragic foil.

For more information on I Heart Peterborough at Soho Theatre go here.

Edinburgh review: Elephant Man, Institute francais d’Ecosse

Written for The Stage

Even to this day, pictures of Joseph C Merrick inspire feelings of faint terror. He sits somewhere between us and the monster – out of his eyes shine a soul but his deformity makes him a freakish outlier. In Elephant Man, showing at Institut Français, Benoit Hattet manages to combine both in an often unbearable performance.

We are ushered into Mr Merrick’s room at the London Hospital by his stern nurse (a sophisticated Isabelle Bouvrain). She is both Merrick’s showman and his carer – a nurturing but controlling presence. Though supposedly interactive, those of a nervous disposition shouldn’t be afraid – in this respect at least – in what is a very gentle game of to and fro.

Elephant Man plays with ideas of ghoulish voyeurism and human compassion as we walk the fine line between fascination and pity. While Hattet and Bouvrain’s relationship is fascinating in itself, it is – perhaps rightly – the Elephant Man who demands your focus.

Hattet is electric at Merrick, a wheezing and twisted form with a witty, passionate and intelligent human soul. Without any special effects his body is utterly transformed into deformity with a skill that is at times breathtaking, while his tragic longing to be normal is utterly heartbreaking.

Edinburgh Review: Boy in a Dress

Written for The Stage

Full of philosophical poetry, sardonic wit and haunting vocals, if Boy in a Dress is anything to go by, La JohnJoseph is surely the artistic love child of William Blake and Penny Arcade, whose favourite uncle is Hedwig from the Angry Inch.

An autobiographical account of life as a third-gendered person, La JohnJoseph’s story is full of highs and lows. But though you care for this waif it is not empathy for his personal plight that hits you. Rather, as this fragile show unfolds – at some points falling down, at others teetering on the edge of brilliance – what is very clear is that this is a star in the making and he knows it.

Boy in a Dress proves that in a world where gender is dictated by genitalia, to be different means carving out your own path. While his glamorous stooge, Erin Hutching, looks unsure throughout this tumbling hour, La JohnJoseph owns the space he has carved out for himself. Through a sophisticated mash up of vaudeville, cabaret, live art, modern pop music and monologues – and an impressive amount of costume changes – La JohnJoseph proves to be a glorious role model for the fabulousness of ‘otherness’.

For more fabulousness from La JohnJoseph go here

Edinburgh review: The Awesome Show

Written for The Stage

What is awesomeness? In our pop culture world it’s associated with teenagers rolling the word around their mouths and extending it in a languid vocalisation of ‘cool’. But it can also mean ‘extremely impressive or daunting’ or ‘inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear’.

Wish (tonight William Glenn, Trish Parry, Jamie Sanders and visual scenographer, Max) have been taking this question very seriously. So seriously they have conducted a series of experiments into the subject.

Resultant titles have been written on pieces of bunting that zigzag across the stage – ‘Jamie’s bag’, ‘Explosion’, ‘Tea lady’, ‘Campfire’. Glenn gives us choices of which ones we’d like. We get to bang pots and pans with childish abandon, listen to philosophical musings around a fire, talk about what we think is awesome, experience the disturbing inevitability of population growth, experience the disturbing vision of a cupcake competition and drink shots.

As a work in progress the show is not fully formed – appearing ramshackle at times. But perhaps this is the point. An exploration into something so vast will never lead to a conclusive answer – for everyone it means something different. But for an hour at least Wish share with us a little bit of what it means to them.

For more information on Wish go here.

Edinburgh review: Othello – The Remix

Written for The Stage

After blowing up a storm at Globe to Globe, the Q Brothers bring Othello – The Remix to Edinburgh. Elizabethan iambic pentameter is swapped for 4/4 rap beats in a ridiculously enjoyable remix.

MC Othello has risen through the ranks of the music industry to become the man with the biggest medallions and most expensive cars. But disgruntled crew member Iago is waiting in the wings with malicious intent.

Written and conceived by the superb Q Brothers, Othello – The Remix is nonetheless a joyous piece of ensemble work. From Jackson Doran’s adorable pop prince Cassio to Postell Pringle’s kingpin Othello via Gregory Qaiyum’s dastardly Iago and Jeffrey Qaiyum’s hilarious Bianca, we are offered a smorgasbord of downtown delights.

The Q Brothers are masters of comedy but they also nail the sinister side of a world as obsessed with macho pride as Shakespeare’s was. In making Desdemona a bodiless angel – whose vocals soar through the earthy rhythms below – from the start they highlight her powerlessness in this male-led, ego-fuelled industry.

Contemporary versions of Shakespeare often miss the point, but with this hip hop version of Othello, full of greed, rap rivalries and jealousy, the Q Brothers have nailed it.

For more information on the company go here.

Edinburgh review: How to Start a Riot

Written for The Stage

What sparked the fires that spread across the UK’s cities last August? David Cameron may have blamed it on ‘mindless violence’ but Worklight Theatre think there’s more to it than that and How to Start a Riot is trying to find out what. Working closely with social psychologist Professor Alex Haslam, and crowd psychologist Dr Clifford Stott, this small but punchy show is full of facts and figures that explode our personal misconceptions of what a riot really is. The cleverly crafted changes of pace and darting torchlights that illuminate their experiment mean for all the stats it’s never dry.

Tribalism is discussed, along with reactionary escalation. The points of view of the protesters and the police are put forward though politicians are simplified into devilish beasts.

But this isn’t just about protesters versus the establishment. This is about ignorance and fear versus information and understanding. Callum Elliott-Archer, Joe Sellman-Leava and Michael Woodman have jumped into the fray not to dictate conclusions but as part of their own process in working out what happened in August 2011.

Seeing not only their civil consciences but their imaginations ignited in the process is a thrill, in a show that is as visually exciting as its insight into civil unrest is fascinating.

For more information on Worklight Theatre go here.