Palmyra, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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Two men glide around the floor on small wheeled platforms. Like children, belly down on skateboards, they relish the speed and inability to control their paths. There’s a sense of freedom and joy in their movements, but collisions soon turn happiness into hostility. The fights increase in aggression, and the audience is made complicit. No one is innocent here.

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Hamlet Fool, Lion & Unicorn Theatre

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A lesson: always read press releases in full. Why? Because you might turn up to a show and discover it’s performed in Russian (when you don’t speak Russian). At least in this instance knowing the source material for Hamlet Fool, a one-woman street performance style retelling Shakespeare’s classic, provides a base knowledge.

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I Hear You and Rejoice, Tricycle Theatre

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by guest critic Maeve Ryan

I Hear You And Rejoice is a tribute to the power of the single storyteller.  Lighting, costume and staging are simple, revealing the power of the skilled actor. The result is a joyful play full of sentimentality that is also hugely funny.

This is the followup to the much-loved The Man In The Woman’s Shoes, also written and performed by Mikel Murfi. Both plays began their journey following a research period  interviewing older people in Murfi’s native Sligo. Having performed the play back to the very people he had interviewed for inspiration, The Man In The Woman’s Shoes debuted at The Hawkswell in Sligo. It has since toured extensively to audiences at home and abroad.

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Coulrophobia, Greenwich Theatre

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by guest critic Rebecca JS Nice

Pickled Image Theatre work with John Nicholson to produce and write Coulrophobia, which has been touring on and off for seven months. Coulrophobia – Two Clowns Trapped In A Cardboard World is performed by Dik Downey (company director) and Adam Blake. The tragic twosome pull out a series of cardboard puppets as they frolic about a set full, but not quite full enough, of cardboard boxes.

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Jeramee, Hartleby and Ooglemore, Unicorn Theatre

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Hartleby, Ooglemore and Jeramee are at the beach. It’s a beautiful, sunny day and the three are having a grand time, even though they can only use three words. The beach is full of potential for adventures – some happy, same scary, some frustrating. The language limitation doesn’t matter because it’s not what you say, but how you say it that matters. The colourful, clowning performance for kids ages 3 and up is a fun exploration of emotions without a storyline.

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Only Bones, Soho Theatre

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by guest critic Rebecca JS Nice

Short and sweet, classic and comical. Thomas Monckton performs a solo piece glued to his spot, centre stage beneath a low hanging lamp, which obscures his body from the shoulders up for at least half of the work. Only Bones is a classic example of body manipulation that playfully explores all the possibilities that a clown can find and make with only his body, one square metre of space, and one light. These creative boundaries have been stretched and tested but remain in performance to give the show a formal identity and context for Monckton’s shenanigans.

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Feature/Review: Children & Shakespeare, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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Whilst there’s plenty of Shakespeare at the fringe, it doesn’t get much coverage. It’s understandable – the Bard doesn’t count as a potential Next Big Thing, and he’s favoured by student and international groups that usually have short runs and are deemed less worthy of critical attention. It’s obviously necessary to recalibrate expectations and vocabulary when evaluating children and young people’s performances, but directors and teachers can and should be held accountable for the quality of their own creative work and bringing out the best in their students or young cast. They do have the additional pressure of incorporating an educational element and ensuring that their work is suitable for the children and young people they are working with, but that specialism is no more or less different than any other in the performing arts.

To completely ignore young people’s work at the Fringe when sampling the Shakespeare on offer cuts out a large segment of the Shakespeare productions on offer, and considering that these are often international schools as well, the cultural differences can be considered when critiquing. Over one day at the fringe, I watched three distinctly different Shakespeare adaptations – a Scottish stage school including children approximately aged eight through sixteen that looks at Twelfth Night, an American university’s analysis of Shakespeare’s baddies and a Notts young people’s dance-theatre company’s deconstruction of Macbeth.

Admirable Fooling or What You Will by Little Shakespeare School’s Michelle van Rensburg had the most challenging remit in that it is a show suitable for performers over a big age range, but the show she invents is a nonsensical mess. When she sticks to her simplified script with sections of original text more the more able students, it is standard children’s fare – able to be followed, giving the kids a chance to show their skills and including everyone. The random sections from Titanic, though? Inexplicable. None of the children on that stage or in the audience would have even been alive when the film came out, so crowbarring in pop culture references that they wouldn’t understand is gratuitous and self-absorbed. There are also numerous off-text clowning sequences that are unconnected to the story, and a lengthy exposition setting up a storytelling premise that isn’t consistently followed through. The one, shining moment of kitschy, creative inspiration that epitomises fringe Shakespeare is the tiny blond girl who plays the letter Malvolio finds in the garden. She wears a bright yellow sack with felted letters on either side and enthusiastically delivers the text that Malvolio reads from the letter in Shakespeare’s original. She looks about eight years old, maybe nine, certainly no more than ten, and it is an adorable thing of wonder. There are some good actors who are confident and speak well, particularly the eldest girl who plays Olivia, but the show itself is a baffling construction with little through-line or sense.

Bad Shakespeare, by Oklahoma State University drama students, isn’t bad, but it’s just as much of a lecture as it is a performance. Showcasing their intensive summer Shakespeare studies, they work their way though Shakespeare’s development of his villains. The exposition that sets up their five act structure is too long, but the acts’ increasing complexity is a nice touch. Most of the ethnically diverse ensemble are good performers, and all bar one are women – great work towards increasing diversity from the programme director. They handle the language and verse with muscularity and confidence, though there is no evidence of work towards convincingly playing men. Their emotions tend to read more as upset rather than angry or vindictive, and their physicalities are distinctly feminine. The show’s director has chosen faux-period costume; some are in dresses and some in doublet and hose. Neutral, modern dress would suit much better, especially considering the large amount of instructing the audience with contemporary language and pop culture references. Bad Shakespeare is great for learning more about Shakespeare’s characters and some of the scholarship behind them in a relaxed, easy to follow format, but it’s more of a learning experience than a show. However, they wear their confidence and passion for Shakespeare on their sleeves, which is a wonderful thing to see.

Fortitude Dance Theatre’s Macbeth has potential to be the most promising of these three adaptations, and whilst it certainly has some great moments, there are also some misguided creative choices and interpretations, and an inconsistent application of style. The young company demonstrates competence in their dance and verse delivery, though as a whole, they struggle with achieving moments of emotional intensity and staging on a  thrust. The pace was great, but tone consistently conversational. Their opening sequence was a great capture of the 90’s club scene with text and contemporary dance obviously inspired by Frantic Assembly, but the dance element is absent until the discovery of Duncan’s body, about half way through this abrupt edit. There are missed opportunities to incorporate movement into Macbeth and Lady Macbeth’s scenes showing their fluctuating power struggle. This dynamic between characters later between Macbeth and the witches inspires some good tribal, threatening choreography. Macduff’s monologue on hearing of his wife and children’s deaths is a stunning blend of movement and text that the company could to stylistically inspire their future work. They could also do with a stronger director, or dramaturg familiar with Shakespeare pronunciation, to confirm any line interpretations – “Out, damn spot” is not referring to blemishes on her face.

It’s brilliant to see young artists finding their way through making work and discovering styles and forms that work for what they want to communicate in their Shakespeare interpretations. Even though they won’t be up to professional performance standard unless they are extraordinarily gifted, their teachers and directors should be strive for clarity. Though none of these three productions quite reached that point, they each had their merits and watching children and young people discover and explore the joy of performing is a marvelous thing.

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