Beginners, Unicorn Theatre

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by Laura Kressly

Kids are intuitive. They’re smart, observant and know a lot more about the world than adults think they do. Tim Crouch’s play where adults and children play each other and kids eventually run the show also proves that they aren’t that different from each other anyway. Whimsical design, innovative dramaturgical devices and an unwilling to patronise young people with obvious storytelling combine to create a marvellous and thoughtful piece of theatre for all ages.

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Dirty Little Machine, VAULT Festival

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by Laura Kressly

What’s a woman to do when she wants to have filthy, degrading sex that directly opposes her feminist principles?

Find the most degenerate, weasel of a man in the hopes that fucking him will purge her of deep-seated desires to be used, of course.

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Manwatching, Royal Court

An anonymous woman frankly monologues about taboo sexual fantasies, abortion, orgasms and what turns her on. It’s honest, personal and as a fellow woman, easy to relate to. But rather than a woman performing the text, Funmbi Omotayo is given the script onstage having never read it before. The experiment to explore the effects of a man delivering a woman’s words on female sexuality has good intentions, but it doesn’t work. Most of the content is common female experience, and there is no primary narrative thread. The reading is often clumsy and flat and with little to look at, the piece lacks much of a dynamic.

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Mr Incredible and Deal With a Dragon, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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Solo performances are popular at the Fringe, and there are some good ones this year. So far, the best production I’ve seen this year is one-woman show Torch, celebrating womenhood in all of its flaws and glory. To portray men from such a perspective is much harder what with society already granting men more privilege than women, but Camilla Whitehill’s powerful Mr Incredible does just that in order to highlight male entitlement.

Adam and Holly have recently split up, and Adam hates it. Men like him aren’t meant to be single. He has a good job, owns a flat in London and desperately wants marriage and children. Whilst he loves Holly’s youth and fighting spirit, he was glad when she started to mellow and come round to the idea of settling down. But she wouldn’t be tamed by his sedate nights in front of the telly watching trashy programmes. She wants to write about important issues and change the world for good.

Though Adam’s account of Holly betrays an obvious, fundamental incompatibility between the two, Adam is blind to it and his desire for Holly to conform, and it’s infuriating. As he details moments from their relationship and its unravelling, he blindly transfers all blame onto her. The script cleverly paints Adam as a generally good guy, making his privilege initially subtle, then growing until their relationship reaches a horrible end. His ingrained entitlement to Holly and the belief that she should conform to his ideal life is a good capture of male immovability around women’s goals and desires, and hopefully framed in a way that triggers male reflection.

Alistair Donegan fleshes out Adam with genuine grief for the loss of his relationship and fully believed justification of the character’s choices. Whitehill’s script paints Adam overly-simplistically at times, but Donegan makes the character three-dimensional.

As a solo performance, it is initially unclear who Adam is talking to, but this is revealed in the play’s final moments when the severity of their breakup is horrifyingly revealed.This moment is subtle and takes some processing, so perhaps a bit more obvious spelling out will make the intended message stronger. Overall, this is a strong, polished production with acute comment on male privilege over women’s bodies and choices.

Deal With the Dragon also looks at male entitlement, but likely not deliberately and with a hefty dose of absurd fantasy. Bren is a gay dragon who finds vulnerable gay men that need looking after and offers to help, but not without signing a contract. The Faustian pact between Bren and artist Hunter looks at artistic temperament and dependency in the arts with both comedy and gravitas, though Kevin Rolston’s piece is lacking in a concise storyline and clear message.

Rolston is an excellent performer who distinguishes between Hunter, another artist Gandy and Bren with physical skill that is delightful to watch. With no costume or props, it’s perfectly clear that Rolston is a dragon. The transformation is simple, but utterly delightful.

The script has a nice premise – What if you had a gay, German dragon to help you get through the unpleasantness of life – but it’s never made clear what the premise is trying to communicate. Are people eventually better off with Bren’s assistance? Worse? What does it say about life’s obstacles as a whole? Should men have someone at their disposal to do their dirty work? These questions go unanswered. Though Rolston’s ability as a performer is undeniable, Deal With the Dragon never makes a definitive statement.

Mr Incredible runs through 28th August, Deal With the Dragon runs through 29th August.

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Empty Vessels, Rosemary Branch

Bethany runs a work-in-progress writers’ retreat on an idyllic Greek island. Her current guests are realty TV star lad’s lad Travis who is paying her to ghostwrite his autobiography, and Eric, a hippie idealist who chucked in his comfortable life to write a fantasy novel set in the present day based in Greek mythology. When mysterious biker chick Athena turns up looking for username Ferryman4 in response to his online advert of souls for sale, Eric’s fantasy starts to look rather like reality.

This dark comedy by Greg Freeman directed by Ken McClymont has an interesting premise and is chocka with witty one-liners. A couple of the characters could use a bit more detail and the dialogue can be a bit clunky, sometimes obviously spelling out plot development unnecessarily. The main thread of the plot is quickly predictable, but doesn’t interfere with enjoyment of the character-driven comedy. With nods to online identity vs. real life, narcissistic selfie culture, and the relevance of ancient history in the modern day, Empty Vessels shares socially relevant messages with a hefty dose of humour and without being preachy.

Travis (Tobias Deacon) is the most entertaining of the four characters, an amusingly abhorrent young man epitomizing the self-obsessed who determine the value of the life by the number of followers they have on social media. He and Eric (Ben Warwick) have some frustratingly funny opening clashes that resemble Christmas dinner with your UKIP voting cousin. Deacon gleefully gets stuck into Travis’s despicable character, but Warwick has less to work with as Eric, who comes across as well-intentioned but confused much of the time, which is less interesting to watch.

The set is simple but not sparse, probably quite cheap, and clearly indicates the setting with a couple of pillars, an army of potted plants, and concrete blocks. Constructed by Jules Darker and presumably designed by McClymont, it immediately evokes Greece. It’s a lesson in how fringe theatre sets don’t have to be sparse to save money, unless there really is no budget for one. Leo Steele’s lighting is warm and inviting, with sharp transitions to show change in time of day and mood. These transitions are wonderfully quick, with no lost momentum.

This one-act also looks at humanity in a positive light despite the mocking of Narcissus’ descendants. The final scene’s revelation is both funny and endearing after the Comedy of Errors-esque soul swapping. It also gives Sophia Hannides (Athena) a chance to showcase her range. Even with the self-obsession of today’s society fostered by the dominance of online presence, there are still gods amongst us who have the power to wake us up and refocus attention onto the real here and now rather than on a smartphone screen.


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