torn apart (dissolution), Hope Theatre

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Nearly two years ago, Bj McNeill’s torn apart (dissolution) premiered at Theatre N16. Aussie/Polish company No Offence have since developed the feminist show over subsequent runs. But how much have they improved since their first go?

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a profoundly affectionate, passionate devotion to someone (-noun), Royal Court

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There are loads of jokes and stereotypes about life within a heterosexual relationship – women talk too much, men don’t understand the difficulties of pregnancy, LTRs feel like a burden, and so forth. Of course each relationship has its unique aspects, but there are common elements that often make generalisations about love ring true. Writer/director debbie tucker green discards many of the trappings of character specificity to expose universal truths about love and relationships in a powerful, moving script with elemental staging that taps into common experience.

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Electric Eden, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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Tommy Eden, a pensioner with a love for street performing since he retired, is dead. Local entrepreneur Alexander Sheldon’s security guards are responsible. Sheldon didn’t like Tommy performing outside his high end spa and leisure centre, but when the guards manhandled him off his patch, Tommy’s 87-year-old body couldn’t take it. Local young people, angry at the rapid gentrification of their town and the death of a local treasure, organise a protest/party in the abandoned club across the road, and everyone’s invited.

Not Too Tame’s Electric Eden doesn’t manage to deliver much of a party, though. Shouty political slogans and several under-developed subplots give a vague picture of a bigger problem, and staging choices fight against the attempted audience immersion. The concept promises a dynamic execution, but the delivery disappoints.

Seven characters at the party are featured, including organiser Greg (Andrew Butler) and Tommy Eden’s granddaughter, Grace (Louise Haggerty). Their stories, as well as those of the other five characters, are gradually presented through disconnected scenes in between dance numbers and party games. The audience are sometimes invited to join the dancing, other songs are tightly choreographed.

An exposition of protest rhetoric delivered down a mic, petition signing and ordering drinks from the bar is too long. Each of the characters’ individual stories only gets a couple of scenes, so they come across as generic snapshots of character types rather than real people.

The audience are provided with chairs so even though director Jimmy Fairhurst wants to create a party atmosphere, inevitably the majority of the audience end up sitting and watching for the entire performance. Choosing a club as a venue adds little with such a clear distinction between the actors and the audience, and the continuous reiteration that this is a party comes across as forced and false.

The performances are fine and there’s some tight choreography, though this also feels out of place with the attempts to create an anarchic/punk atmosphere. Electric Eden tries to be both a genuine party and a play, but the two aesthetics are so diametrically opposed that neither ends up working within the piece.

The whole experience is frustratingly flat, though it shows such promise on paper. With a script overhaul and a clear vision as to what Electric Eden wants to achieve, it would be a stronger piece. As is, it comes across as a confused and undeveloped piece.

Electric Eden 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.

Be Prepared, JOAN, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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This year, four companies are receiving support from Underbelly to produce and market their latest work. Two of those are Milk Presents and Corner Shop Events, both offering solo performances but radically different in content and style. Each distinctive piece is vibrant and immediate, with moments of power and poignancy. Typical of new work at the fringe, both feel a bit rough and ready but they have a raw, honest emotionality that plucks the heartstrings.

Be Prepared transports the audience to a Quaker funeral for Mr Matthew Chambers, where a man who never actually met him has been invited to speak. Struggling with his own grief, writer/performer Ian Bonar takes on the awkward, unprepared man reduced to a child by his inner turmoil. The character’s biography interweaves with his unconventional encounters with Mr Chambers, spinning a muddled web of good intention that is sweetly moving and honest.

Bonar’s performance is excellent. There’s a simmering anxiety that drives him forward and erupts through the characters ideas that aren’t particularly well-thought through. His underlying focus on his father’s recent death is a constant presence that bubbles through his attempts to talk about Mr Chambers. His pace becomes more frenetic as his stories become increasingly muddled, though this textual choice occasionally interferes with understanding. The script has a seeping rawness that effectively captures the chaos of grief, though there are numerous loose ends that aren’t fully developed.

JOAN addresses rather different themes but has just as much intensity as Be Prepared. This modern Joan of Arc story resonates through it’s father/daughter relationship, and teenaged optimism and arrogance that backfires despite her intentions to save France. Her struggle with gender identity also gets hold of the audience’s empathy and doesn’t release its grip until the curtain call.

Lucy Jane Parkinson’s performance is exquisite. Joan’s hope, determination in the face of adversity and ultimate desperation is skilfully crafted by writer Lucy J Skilbeck. Parkinson fully embodies Joan’s emotional journey and has the audience in the palm of her hand from her initial impersonation of her father, to her final pleas for Saint Catherine’s help.

Though there is an element of drag in the show when Parkinson plays other characters, her depiction of Joan doesn’t come across as drag at all. The character is not sent up, and her struggle with taking on female behaviour and dress is wholly genuine.

Though JOAN is the stronger production of the two, Be Prepared is still a solid production with plenty of merit. Both are moving reflections of aspects of the human condition and powerful pieces of theatre in their own right.

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.

Happy Dave, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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Dave’s a middle aged advertising executive from Yorkshire, now living and working in London. Amidst his humdrum life, he longs for his youth as a pioneering rave DJ playing to thousands of people, running events up and down the country with his ex, Molly. An invitation by a well-meaning colleague half his age leads Dave back onto the path he abandoned and his transformation into a cultural messiah to a generation focused on careers, property and conforming.

Oli Forsyth has a great script on his hands, despite a hint of judgmental condescension towards millennials. The script states they waste their lives on jobs they hate, have no cultural or creative identity and surround themselves with material possessions to make their empty lives feel full. Dave first aggressively voices this opinion, but his four comrades eventually agree that their generation is distinctly lacking in rebellion. Though this is certainly true of some people, others may find genuine happiness in their high earning, corporate lifestyles.

The opportunity to see Dave as a young man gives the story and character added depth, and there’s good continuity despite Dave being played by two different actors. The dialogue has a natural flow, though a few spoken word monologues feel out of place even though they are well written. There’s room to extend the story after the well-crafted, current climax that shows Dave hasn’t really changed his attitude since he was a young man willing to sacrifice everything for the scene. Lengthening would solve the issue of the abrupt ending by adding a dénouement that answers any questions about the consequences the present Dave has to face.

The ensemble of five is strong; they capture the anger and frustration innate to those trapped in unsatisfying lives. Andy McLeod as the present day Dave is excellent, with clear character choices and constantly bubbling rage that dissolves into bliss when raving or DJing. There’s little genuine warmth between the present day gang, which, although indicative of how self-absorbed millennials are, is unsatisfying to watch. Younger Dave (Forsyth) and Molly (Helen Coles) have some genuinely lovely moments, though a few are a touch overacted.

Happy Dave is remarkably polished for the Fringe, and a dynamic storyline with plenty of emotional rage effectively maintains attention. It’s certainly worth catching.

Happy Dave 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.

Weald, Finborough Theatre

As picturesque as agrarian life may be with it’s rustic farmhouses, sweeping land and livestock, it is not an easy one for older and younger generations who just want to make a decent living. Faded and weather worn, Sam looks after his horses as he’s done his whole life; the younger Jim is all bouncy, boyish banter. The two clearly have much affection for each other in this emotive story of a tragic hero’s fall. But Daniel Foxsmith’s Weald, though full of poetry, passion and the ability to find the audience’s raw nerves, at just over an hour it sells itself short and lacks the sweat and earthiness of farm labour.

Sam (David Crellin) and Jim (Dan Parr) spend most of their time in a barn surrounded by riding tack and looking after horses. Though everything seems well, dramatic revelations are eventually confessed, bringing fiery conflict between the two. Crellin and Parr’s performances are exemplary, with emotional journeys that are the kind actors dream of. They both relish Foxsmith’s rich language and have a wonderfully watchable presence. Their character journeys feel rushed, though; this is wholly down to the script. It’s too short to justify Sam’s final, sudden deterioration that harks of Shakespeare’s Henry V should he have failed at Agincourt.

Bryony Shanahan’s direction taps into the poetic and powerful heart of the script that addresses coming to terms with personal failure, life choices and platonic male relationships that span decades. Her regular use of the audience space shows this is a story that won’t be contained. Though a masculine play, it’s still accessible to female audience members what with the themes that transcend gender. As a failed actor having to adapt to a new and totally unplanned for life, Sam’s struggles particularly resonate and left me feeling exposed and vulnerable, but the grit endemic to farming is glaringly absent. Linguistically heady, Weald lacks a visceral-ness. Even Sam’s final actions when faced with his own ruin are stylised, distancing the audience from the characters’ emotional life.

This is still a beautiful play with fine performances and painfully relevant to present day economic uncertainty, but it’s a sanitised version of real life. Though Sam and Jim mock the wealthy city family that bought the farm house, covering it in solar panels and driving a spotless Range Rover, their daily routine as depicted in the script bears more resemblance to the unseen city man with his shiny wellies than the true life of yard workers.

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.