The Verge of Strife, Edinbrugh Festival Fringe

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The Wildean young poet Rupert Brooke revels in the self-absorbed, upper classes of Edwardian Oxford and London at the turn of the twentieth century. He finds virtue in beauty, love, poetry and little else. Vain, pretentious and excessive is his behaviour, he manipulates his friends and lovers, all in the name of art and pleasure. Though not a particularly likeable person, his poetry betrays emotional depth and inner conflict, and his social circle flocks to his talent and intensity. Verge of Strife largely focuses on his young life of frivolity, turbulent relationships and their reflection in his poems. Eventually known for his war poetry, this play celebrates his writing’s evolution through the lens of his life’s eras and the women he loved. The poetic but sedate script needs more action as it meanders through Edwardian summers, and nuanced performances are appropriately restrained, making this a somewhat sleepy aural bath.

Much of the story involves parties, encounters with friends and suitors, and a life of indulgent leisure and writing. The dialogue is pretty and light, with beauty but little substance. The narrative flutters rather than sharply rises and falls, presenting snapshots from his life rather than a continuous plot line. Though this mirrors real life, it does not make for particularly dramatic theatre. There is also a sharp change of direction in the final section of the play, presenting Rupert in a completely different role than that of his carefree youth. The contrast is sudden and not clearly explained; the lack of gradual change from wafting, emotional poet to no-nonsense commander jars and feels like there are scenes missing that explain how his life so dramatically altered. The minor characters and their potential to conflict with Rupert are also underused – Rupert is the sole focus throughout, with everyone else merely supporting.

Jonny Labey takes on the verbose Rupert, meticulously sculpting delicate and flirtatious mannerisms. The character is frustratingly shallow for much of the play, denying Labey much freedom to achieve any depth. He does effectively capture Rupert’s growing instability building up to his remarkable transition into a man of real responsibility, and his chemistry with the female characters is undeniable. Emma Barclay as the solemn intellectual Katherine Cox, and Sam Warren as his openly gay friend, are excellent and full of character.

With most of the cast delivering strong performances and pretty language enveloping the senses, The Verge of Strife certainly has its positives but the script needs further work to add clarity and substance in order to communicate its message about the impact of war on a young artist.

The Verge of Strife runs through 29th August.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.

 

Torch, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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We’re in a club toilet. Not a nice one, either  – there’s no loo roll, lipstick and graffiti pepper the cubicle walls and door. Jess Mabel Jones is an unnamed woman out with a friend, but after a lot of vodka and some coke, she feels self-conscious, past it and wants to hide. Reflecting on the life choices that brought her to this newly-single moment of remorse, she chronicles past lovers, committed relationships, eating disorders, panic attacks, and youthful exploits. Whilst longing for her youthful, perkier self with thinner legs and a tighter arse, she manages to celebrate the woman she has grown up to be in all of her flawed glory. Jones is an absolute firecracker of a performer who slams herself around a robust script baring lived female experience in all its rawness.

Phoebe-Éclair Powell’s text is an extended monologue of fragmented experiences and memories punctuated with pop songs. It doesn’t shy away from visceral topics, though the transitions from text to music are abrupt with little lead-in. The character she paints alternates between vulnerable and endearing, and ferociously bold. She is an everywoman with experiences that most women can relate to on some level and reminds us that despite going through moments of absolute despair and self-loathing, women are incredible.

It’s not just about girl power, though. The character’s anecdotes are funny, moving and compelling stories that are accessible to any human that has grown up, had sex, been in a relationship or felt they don’t meet society’s expectations. She is haunted by the woman she hasn’t become and simultaneously unapologetic about her.

Director Jessica Edwards incorporates plenty of movement, though some seems gratuitous it prevents the performance from becoming static. Amelia Jane Hankin’s set is both industrial, messy and glittery, an outward expression of the character’s spirit.

Jones’ performance is what makes this production worth seeing. She has a stunning voice, emotional vulnerability, and electric charisma. The songs she covers become the millennial generation’s torch songs as she delivers them with a power and depth. She rallies the audience to her side despite behaviour that could be viewed disapprovingly by more conservative audience members because her commitment and connection to the script is as truthful as it possibly can be. Torch is not one to miss.

Torch runs through 28th August.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Gotham, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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The American High School Theatre Festival is wonderful. It gives school students from the US and Canada the opportunity to perform at the fringe as well as travel abroad, and is often the first chance participants have to travel outside their home country. Teacher-directors also have a platform for showcasing their skills in front of an international audience, so it’s sad that these student productions are often ignored by press. Shakespeare is regularly produced along with a fairly standard programme of musicals and plays for young people, though the bard gives directors more o to be flexible with the text. Whilst these show are far from the standard you’d expect from professionals, they are enthusiastically executed and sheer joy in performing is evident throughout.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Gotham by Caddo Parish Magnet High School in Louisiana is one of the festival’s offerings, and whilst it certainly has its issues, it has plenty of merits. A comic book world could certainly work for the action-driven, over-the-top fights and comedy, but director Patti Reeves only consistently applies it to the fairy world. She changes names and locations from Shakespeare’s original which is hard on the ear to begin with, but soon becomes less so. Adapting pronunciation so syllables fit Shakespeare’s verse would minimise this. The lovers remain unadapted – a lost opportunity for an added layer of humour and clashing with the gritty caped crusaders.

Reeves has innate instinct for physical comedy and a clear skill in developing that in her students. There are plenty of chuckles to be had in the mechanicals’ scenes that steal the show. The performances are hammy and over-the-top, but that’s the sort that works best for these characters who are rooted in Commedia stock characters and slapstick. She has some wonderfully confident pupils in her cast, with Echo Patriquin as Helena and Scott Martin as Flute/Thisby the most consistent examples.

Though most of the performances are typically pedestrian school fare and the concept has potential to be developed with further time and resources (something teachers generally lack), the dedication these young people show for Shakespeare is truly inspiring and a great trip down memory lane for anyone who found their love of theatre whilst at school.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream in Gotham runs through 10th August.

The Play’s the Thing UK is committed to covering fringe and progressive theatre in London and beyond. It is run entirely voluntarily and needs regular support to ensure its survival. For more information and to help The Play’s the Thing UK provide coverage of the theatre that needs reviews the most, visit its patreon.