Further outings to the virtual Edinburgh Fringe

In Edinburgh Festival, Online shows, Opinion, Regional theatre, Reviews by John ChapmanLeave a Comment

For my first Edinburgh Festival “visit” last week, I found myself following a theme (more by accident than design) but this week I thought I’d freeform it a bit more. After all that’s what the Fringe is all about, isn’t it? Picking stuff at random, seeing what takes your fancy, taking a punt on something new. Except it didn’t quite work out like that….

My first port of call was two monologues by Marcia Kelson for the Putney Theatre Company; both deal with aspects of the pandemic. In The Plague Thing we meet Enid who is in her room at the care home. She’s not sure what year it is or whether the woman who keeps appearing is, as she claims, her daughter. She is aware, however, that she’s lonely and would gladly take on a modicum of risk in exchange for more company. Carol Hudson plays Edith but as the piece only lasts five minutes there’s not a great deal to go on.

The second piece Stranded is a duologue for mother and daughter. Caroline Salter plays Sarah who is travelling round South America when lockdown strikes, has dumped her boyfriend and is unable to get home. She Zoom calls her mother, Helen (Lesley-Ann Jones) who has some surprising revelations of her own which are also pertinent to the title. At double the length of the previous piece this seemed like an epic in comparison. It was an enjoyable watch, fuelled with a good twist and well performed but I found myself craving something more substantial.

I noticed from the online Fringe listings that an actual live performance was due. It rejoiced in the intriguing title of A Young Man Dressed As A Gorilla Dressed As An Old Man Sits Rocking In A Rocking Chair For Fifty-Six Minutes And Then Leaves…12 and curiosity got the better of me. Well, full marks (and no downgrades from the Minister for Education) for having a title which so accurately reflects the content; for it does exactly what it says on the tin. The venue appeared to be a park somewhere and someone dressed as a gorilla with spectacles, pipe and obligatory mask occupied said chair for exactly the time stated. Approached by very few passers-by (although a film crew did try for an interview) the performer maintained a dignified silence throughout in what was surely a pastiche of Beckett and his plays about alienation.

Perhaps the real point is to get the audience (You Tube showed over 70 participants at one point) interacting and this they were more than willing to do via the online chat. I’m indebted to my fellow audience member Tom Bell for a succinct review far better than I can muster: “It’s an incredible performance, both comfortingly familiar and yet breathing new life into the piece. When the pipe swapped hands, it sent out a message that change is possible. 5 stars for sure.” It was a real one off but apparently this is its 12th incarnation so only another 11 months or so to wait. Meanwhile, all hail the gorilla!

For my next show it was back to the lockdown scenario again; this time for Front Window performed by Ashley Forde and written/directed by Karen Louise Linton for Los Angeles’ Owl & Pussycat Theatre Company. Clearly it models itself after Hitchcock’s famous film Rear Window involving, as it does, the business of watching the neighbours and becoming unsettled when one of their routines changes. The protagonist knows them all – not to speak to you understand, just by the nicknames she awards them such as Screamsneezer and Peeled Banana. She phones the Neighbourhood Watch with her suspicions but spends most of her time talking about herself; as an actress she tends to over dramatise but again this is more about her life than the case on which she is supposedly reporting. It transpires there really is blood on the sidewalk but at that point the piece ends – just as it starts to get interesting. Although intriguing on one level it left me with a sense of disappointment for an opportunity wasted.

Now Maybe Sunbeam features another solo performance by Ron Zank and has been artfully constructed by writer Justin Maxwell. Zank’s character is not named but he has a online meeting with his HR Department in half an hour – he has been working from his New Orleans home during lockdown – and is clearly concerned about making a good impression. In between time he whiles away the minutes by telling us how two cats, Big Guy and Little Guy, came into his life and demonstrates their behaviours, habits and actions with a pair of sock puppets. Clearly there is something not quite right somewhere but we are nearly at the end of the piece before we discover the truth. Unlike the previous monologue, this ones hits its mark mostly through an accomplished central performance from Zank who shows us a man going stir crazy as he examines his life and what lockdown has done to him. I have to say owning a cat myself, the writing about them is bang on.

My final choice pretty much returned me to my starting point as Lockdown Drag-Out is a solo piece about being on your own during the last few months. Audrey Stanton-Harcourt suffers from arthritis and other conditions and has been told to shield. She does so reluctantly at first but following abuse while out on her mobility scooter and a resurgence of her condition she quickly becomes more withdrawn and reclusive. From the life and soul of the party she finds herself reduced to a cowering wreck. Jane Martin is adept at showing Audrey’s slide into solitude in a number of short scenes written by herself (and if the end credits are anything to go by she has a number of other talents too). This short piece made its point well, didn’t outstay its welcome and provided a good way to round off this visit.

So, having attempted to randomise this week’s outing, nearly everything I saw had to do with the virus, lockdown, social distancing, pandemic panics, shielding and all the other hideous concepts with which we have had to become familiar recently. Even the gorilla was wearing a mask!

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John Chapman
John Chapman works as a freelance education consultant, writer and copy editor. Prior to this, he was an Assistant Headteacher specialising in English and Drama. John first took to the stage as a schoolboy pretending to be a Latin frog. Decades later, he has been involved with 150+ productions, usually as an actor or director. He is currently a member of Tower Theatre in Stoke Newington, London. In 2016, he was in their “mechanicals” team that worked as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s A Midsummer Night's Dream: A Play For The Nation, appearing both at the Barbican and in Stratford-upon-Avon. In 2004, he served as a panellist on the Olivier Awards; he is currently an Offies assessor. He reviews for a variety of websites, writes his own independent blog 2ndFromBottom about his theatrical life.
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John Chapman on RssJohn Chapman on Twitter
John Chapman
John Chapman works as a freelance education consultant, writer and copy editor. Prior to this, he was an Assistant Headteacher specialising in English and Drama. John first took to the stage as a schoolboy pretending to be a Latin frog. Decades later, he has been involved with 150+ productions, usually as an actor or director. He is currently a member of Tower Theatre in Stoke Newington, London. In 2016, he was in their “mechanicals” team that worked as part of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s A Midsummer Night's Dream: A Play For The Nation, appearing both at the Barbican and in Stratford-upon-Avon. In 2004, he served as a panellist on the Olivier Awards; he is currently an Offies assessor. He reviews for a variety of websites, writes his own independent blog 2ndFromBottom about his theatrical life.

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