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Chotto Desh © Dennis Alamanos

OX at Edinburgh International Festival

From Tennessee Williams to dancing over chairs; Sam Bennett hops on a plane so as to sample Edinburgh International Festival
The Glass Menagerie © Johan Persson

"O’Flynn neatly brings the character out of her shell before us, revealing a sweet, kind and unique young lady who it is hard not to love"

The Glass Menagerie @ King's Theatre | American Repertory Theater

Described by Alexandra Juckno as “one of the most enduring portraits of a family ever staged”, The Glass Menagerie presents the borderline unbearable Amanda constantly on her son Tom’s case over his life and attitude, and embarrassingly desperate to find a gentleman caller for her introverted and disabled daughter Laura.

“Being a memory play, it is dimly lighted, it is sentimental, it is not realistic […] I am the narrator of the play, and also a character in it.” In the role of Tom, Michael Esper’s opening speech would witness a slight accent slip to start with. But in a sense this is in keeping with the text, which drums it into us that this is a play with actors playing characters – and actors’ accents do slip from time to time.

Wind Resistance © Mihaela Bodlovic

 

As Amanda, Cherry Jones does not try and force any of the laughs her portrayal frequently earns, all the time exercising total command of pace and – that thing we all praise without properly explaining – great timing. Playing Laura, Kate O’Flynn communicates a character you truly pity, and is able to evoke laughter just using the words yes and no. Never over exaggerating Laura’s physical disability, O’Flynn neatly brings the character out of her shell before us, revealing a sweet, kind and unique young lady who it is hard not to love – making the moment the gentleman caller (Seth Numrich) breaks her heart all the more unfair and gut-wrenching.

Though for me it took a while to get going, the characters in this Tennessee Williams classic keep you fixated throughout, and an energetic second act supported by tacky lanterns and dancing made any weariness I had at the start of the night a quite distant memory.

Shake @ The Lyceum | Eat a Crocodile

The last time Shake director Dan Jemmett was at Edinburgh Festival was about 30 years ago, performing a Punch and Judy show with his girlfriend.

“We weren’t even in the Fringe,” he tells me a fortnight before Shake opens at EIF. “We lived off money shoppers at the Waverley put in our hats.”

Performed by Eat a Crocodile, Shake is a version of Twelfth Night involving beach huts and vaudeville. “There’s a link between Punch and Judy and Shake,” the director considers, “a seaside kind of link, so it’s kind of poetic and right to be going back with this show.”

The production is in French with English subtitles. When I spoke to Dan he was not 100 per cent sure how this would go down with the Edinburgh audience. As it turns out, it isn’t the easiest of tasks to watch, listen, read and decipher for two hours without an interval. However, the show being done in French couldn’t blind me to the outstanding performance Antonio Gil Martinez gives as Malvolio. His facial expressions and physicality had us laughing, and it’s a talented actor who can show all the unpleasant aspects of Malvolio and still make you feel sorry for the character following the trick Sir Toby and Sir Andrew play on him.

Shake uses five actors who share multiple parts between them. This is the basis for more humour when Orsino and Malvolio (both played by Gil Martinez) have to appear in a scene together. Malvolio vanishing from the scene is supposed to be promptly followed by a line from Orsino relating to his fleeing. A necessary costume change, though, creates a lengthy pause. But still Orsino’s line is said as if the silence never occurred. Eat a Crocodile are seen here to celebrate the impracticality of multi-rolling, as part of a theatre offering that, in the words of its director, “lends itself to a wistfulness or a nostalgic feeling” and is “taken away from the realistic.”

Wind Resistance @ Rehearsal Studio – The Lyceum | Royal Lyceum Theatre Company

On my first day in Edinburgh this year I got directed to EIF’s The Hub by a woman who gave directions as if she was telling me a murder mystery, her Scottish accent dripping with animation and her hand gestures partnering what she said.

The same sort of thing would take place later that week in Wind Resistance as Karine Polwart explained the whereabouts of the locations featured in the production, with soft hand movements, quiet excitement, and a tone that may not have fitted in an Agatha Christie adaptation but had a warm, maternal quality I was pleased to listen to for an hour and a half.

In a set with bits that could feature in a sort of countryside themed liquid deli, Polwart tells us about her life paying special attention to the environment it has taken place in, involving her highly impressive skill as a musician and the teachings of Sir Alex Ferguson.

In Act Two Polwart responds to audience reaction bringing us even closer to her in this beautiful and informative piece of theatre that I found myself lost in – with no want for directions out.

Chotto Desh @ Edinburgh International Conference Centre | Akram Khan Company

Getting a standing ovation in the UK is not easy, and you couldn’t really say this show absolutely got one, but it came reasonably close, provoking a fair number of people to their feet at the end. In Chotto Desh Dennis Alamanos (or Nicolas Ricchini for the evening showings) presents a variety of dance styles as we watch the story of Akram Khan (one of the stars of the 2012 Olympics opening ceremony) unfold before us.

This Billy Elliot type tale is strengthened by intricate animation that Alamanos slickly integrates himself into.

Part of Chotto Desh sees the protagonist refrain from sitting on a little chair when instructed to, choosing instead to dance around it. Later a much larger chair appears in the performance space, which he also dances around and over before pushing it back into the wings, a symbol of his desire to dance and refusal to sit still at a desk in a dull job.

Enjoyed by kids and adults alike, this is a graceful two fingers up to those who tell you not to follow your dreams.

- Sam Bennett

 eif.co.uk

 

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