Bruce, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Who knew a block of yellow foam could be such fun? Bruce is the not very bright, cop-turned-novelist-turned-astronaut, stuck in a time warp, lead character of Bruce. Created and controlled by Tim Watts and Wyatt Nixon-Lloyd, Bruce is a rectangular, Sponge Bob-like head with a white pair of hands. All of the other characters are played by the same head and hands, but Watts and Nixon-Lloyd use an array of voices to effectively distinguish them from each other.

The pace is relentless, perhaps too much so at the beginning as the audience starts to work out the story. When the time travel element is introduced at the end, it is similarly a lot to process at speed. The script is wonderfully funny, with a mix of humour styles and jokes catering to a wide variety of tastes. The puppetry is well rehearsed, with the two actors working in smooth tandem without any lag between the one controlling the head and the one playing the hands.

The entire concept is simple, but well executed and without self-referential flourish. The most complex aspect is the script, which has sufficient detail to keep audience interest. Laughs were widespread and regular. There isn’t a deeper level of social comment; Bruce is silly for the sake of it. I generally prefer my comedy with a heavy dose of social commentary, but after the serious shows I’ve seen over the past few days, this is a welcome break.

The Play’s The Thing UK is an independent theatre criticism website maintained voluntarily. Whilst donations are never expected, they are hugely appreciated and will enable more time to be spent reviewing theatre productions of all sizes. Click here to make a donation with PalPal.

Tether, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Mark is an aspiring Olympian who just isn’t good enough to make Team GB’s marathon team. Becky is a completely blind marathon runner who needs a guide when she runs. Tether isn’t about running, though. Two deeply flawed individuals find themselves in an unusual relationship where they must navigate clashing aspirations, inherent selfishness and potholes.

Playwright Isley Lynn’s script is some of the best new writing I’ve seen in a long time. The characters are intricately detailed and exquisitely sculpted with enough contrasting goals to create natural dramatic conflict without excess. Using Mark’s girlfriend and Becky’s running club mate as a point of reference in their conversation prevents the play from becoming just about Mark and Becky, placing it in the real world even though we only ever see the two of them. The story’s dramatic arc is textbook, but hugely effective with a satisfying resolution. My only issue is the length – this play simply must be lengthened so the story can be continued. I was so engrossed that the abrupt ending was frustrating.

Lee Drage’s and Maisie Greenwood’s performances are similarly excellent; the characters are a gift for any performer. Considering they are actually running for a large part of the play, their endurance is admirable. Both embark on a journey of softening and discovery: Mark realises how selfish he is; Becky gradually drops her prickly guard and is able to trust Mark. The massive argument they barrel towards is a necessary and inevitable wake up call for both of them. Also commendable is casting visually impaired Greenwood as Becky. Director Bethany Pitts uses simple but effective staging and the clever use of harnesses allows for a realistic run and an obvious metaphor.

This is an unmissable new play from a Royal Court graduate that offers insight into a world rarely considered before the London Paralympics 2012. It is a great step towards increasing the visibility of disabled performers and deserves further attention beyond Edinburgh Fringe.

The Play’s The Thing UK is an independent theatre criticism website maintained voluntarily. Whilst donations are never expected, they are hugely appreciated and will enable more time to be spent reviewing theatre productions of all sizes. Click here to make a donation with PalPal.

Edinburgh Festival Fringe, 13 August: Part Two

Camilla Whitehill’s Where Do Little Birds Go? tells the true story of Lisa Prescott, an 18-year-old nightclub hostess kidnapped by the Kray twins in 1966. Re-named Lucy Fuller, Jessica Butcher tells Prescott’s story through this harrowing solo performance. Humour and music are used to break up the horror of Fuller’s imprisonment with an escaped murderer who rapes her for hours on end, but some of the music transitions feel forced. Lucy loves singing; Butcher shares this love with gusto. She also wonderfully and ever so slowly transitions from the bright eyed, bushy tailed girl from Hastings who moved to London with hopes, dreams and £5 in her pocket, to a quietly streetwise, mature young woman.

Whitehill’s script contains some witty one-liners but doesn’t shy away from graphic incidents, like Lucy adventures as a nightclub hostess who offers “afters” to her best clients, and her experiences at the hands of the Krays. Justin Nardella’s set is Winston’s, the Mayfair club where Lucy worked before her capture and after her release. It cleverly uses sturdy levels to break up Fuller’s movements, but some of director Sarah Meadows’ blocking feels arbitrary. Meadows does have a good sense of storytelling, but struggles with the script’s abrupt ending. The audience never learns the how Lucy regained her freedom, though Butcher’s excellent performance draws attention away from this issue. Overall, this is a good offering from Duckdown Theatre and Heavy Weather Theatre that with further script development could be an excellent play. last production of the day is Katharine Rose Williams Radojičić’s Love Letters to the Home Office, which receives a one-off table reading at Summerhall. This is one of the most important plays of contemporary British theatre. Not because of innovation or style, but content: it exposes the consequences of the 2012 Home Office legislation that breaches the human rights of an estimated 50,000 families in the UK.

This new ruling states that in order for a UK citizen to bring their non-European spouse into the country, the UK partner must earn a minimum of £18,600 a year or have £62,500 in savings. With travel and technology connecting people unlike that in past generations, couples forming from all corners of the globe are becoming more and more common. The income requirement discriminates against the working poor, though. It means that if the UK partner earns the minimum wage, they must work 60 hours a week. People who work in many jobs vital to UK societal function would not be able to living in the UK with their non-EEA partners. Such roles include teaching assistants, cleaners, caretakers, administrators, technicians, support workers, receptionists, and so on. The non-EEA partner’s income and savings are not considered in the application. Basically, if you are poor, you better fall in love with someone that is a European citizen or you will not be able to live together as a married couple unless you leave the UK.

Love Letters to the Home Office uses verbatim theatre from real-life people affected by this ruling. It is a politically charged play with a clear agenda: to spread the word about this home-wrecking Tory ruling. The stories are heart rending. A little boy stranded with his mum in America calls his Samsung tablet Dada. A single mum who can’t earn the required income because she is caring for her daughter must wait until her daughter’s old enough to go to school before increasing her working hours. A woman from the Philippines is unable to attend her husband’s funeral in the UK because her visa application had been rejected. These stories go on and on. There’s also a lot of factual information in the script that quotes from government legislation and academic studies amongst the actual stories. I struggle to imagine a dynamic staging and want to hear more first-hand accounts, but the script content is still hugely powerful and a motivational call to action.

The programme contains advice on how to engage politically if you are moved to act. It also has links to the project’s website, with many more accounts from people affected by this law. The website also allows for contributions, which opens the play to potential of constant change. The script could alter with every performance in order to provide a voice for these oppressed people who did nothing more than fall in love with a non-European whilst earning less than £18,600 a year.

The Play’s The Thing UK is an independent theatre criticism website maintained voluntarily. Whilst donations are never expected, they are hugely appreciated and will enable more time to be spent reviewing theatre productions of all sizes. Click here to make a donation with PalPal.