Edinburgh Fringe Review 2012: The Magicians of Edinburgh

  The Magicians of Edinburgh ***** (5 stars)

Venue: Valvona & Crolla, 19 Elm Row; 15 & 23 August (5.45pm); 22 August (8.30pm)

This review published today at FringeReview.com and ThinkScotland

I followed the early evening crowd through Edinburgh’s famous Italian deli, not entirely sure what to expect from the show’s billing. It proved to be a superb combination of poetry and music by trio Dick Lee on bass clarinet, Anne Evans on flute and Ron Butlin reciting from his latest collection of poems, The Magicians of Edinburgh (2012, published by Polygon).

Ron Butlin was appointed Edinburgh’s own offical poet (or ‘Makar’) in 2008 after a lifetime in music and writing (including novels, short stories and plays); and since then he has celebrated the city’s highs and lows in some of the most original and evocative verses to come out of Scotland.

The opportunity to hear him talk about and recite his poems was something special and the music is more than just an afterthought: Butlin and Lee have worked together on operatic projects and both Lee and Evans are highly accomplished musicians. The combination of all three promised great things.

As the lights dimmed Evans and Lee took to the stage, beginning with their specially crafted piece ‘The Magicians of Edinburgh’, the lighter notes of the flute combining beautifully with the darker chocolate tones of the bass clarinet in an evocative melody. They were then joined on stage by Ron Butlin, who proceeded to take the spellbound audience through a selection of his works accompanied by Evans and Lee. The whole performance was magical, witty and a tribute to the poetic genius of Butlin: it is always special to have a poet recite his own work with special emphasis, but the experience was added to here by the beautifully arranged music. A truly wonderful experience.

Cosily, Butlin took the audience through the thoughts and inspiration for his poetry in between readings, and we were treated to trampolining bankers in ‘The New Town’s Response to the Threat of Global Warming’, ghosts and bogles in ‘Beware!’, a talking tram car in the gloriously Burns-like satire ‘Oor Tram’s Plea tae the Cooncillors O’ Edinburgh’ and the poets shining love of this city in ‘The Magicians of Edinburgh’.

Ron Butlin is the voice of Edinburgh; and for any Fringe follower intent on learning about the modern city behind the Festivals, or wishing to become the sorcerer’s apprentice, this production is a must.

Edinburgh Fringe 2012: The Iliad, The Odyssey & All Greek Myth in 90 minutes or less

Published at FringeReview.com *****

Star rating:

Greek Gods ***** Greece Lightning ****  Moussaka & chips *** Greek Tragedy ** Greek Bonds *

LOW DOWN

An Olympian performance by a talented American college cast. Five Stars.

REVIEW

I have to admit a bias here, since I am an enthusiast for everything connected to the classical world – but it can be a daunting place, full of gods, nymphs, titans and heroes whose names and stories can quickly become confusing.  This comic play, written by Jay Hopkins and John Hunter, does for the pantheon of Greek myth what the Reduced Shakespeare Company has done for the work of the bard.  Add in a precociously talented student cast of ten from Marshall University West Virginia, creative costuming, good lighting, careful direction, stage management and sound – and finally an engaged audience packed into the church hall beneath Old St Paul’s – and you have a wonderful performance.

theSpace @ Venue 45 has a long tradition of hosting highly rated Fringe performances, and this production put together by Marshall University, under the auspices of the International Collegiate Theatre Festival, is another straight from the top drawer.

Hopkins and Hunter’s text gives the starting point, but it has been reworked here quite liberally to make it contemporary and relevant, with references to the London Olympics being an obvious example.  There was good engagement with the audience, with a jaw-droppingly good performance of Semele’s death scene by a front row Fringe fan (note to self, always sit at the back).

The play begins with a clock set to count down from 1 hour 30 minutes, then a galloping introduction to the twelve Olympian gods in the manner of a sports commentary.  Once we know who’s who, the cast embark upon the Iliad at breakneck speed but with the kind of well thought out comic timing and clever dialogue which would make Family Guy’s Seth McFarlane proud.  It’s that kind of funny, with good use of cardboard horses, coconuts and plastic swords.

With the Iliad dispatched the cast move on to Greek Idol: who is the most heroic of them all?  One by one Hercules, Perseus, Jason, Theseus and Odysseus offer their story until one is found fairest by the panel of judges.  Then the cast launch into the Odyssey, and Odysseus’ journey over the sea from the planes of windy Troy to his home in Ithaca and the battle to regain his own kingdom.

This college production successfully achieved what it set out to do, in the finest Fringe tradition, and richly deserves its laurel wreath.  The audience came away entertained and better informed about Homer’s classics together with the rich mythology which is found in Ovid’s glorious Metamorphoses.

There were a number of stars in this glittering amateur performance but it has to be said that Ethan Treutle, playing Zeus, Menelaus, Achilles and others stands out as a versatile comic performer: in the end, however, the entire cast deserves to graduate summa cum laude and return to the US tired but happy.

Edinburgh Fringe 2012 Reviews: Appointment with the Wicker Man

Published today at FringeReview.comAppointment with the Wicker Man ***

Venue: The Assembly Rooms, George Street (3.10pm daily until 26 August)

Star rating:

Wicker’s World *****  Wickering Heights ****  Light my fire *** Wicker Basket Case **Appointment with the Dentist *

Low Down

A colourful (but mainly blue) send up of the 1970s film classic by means of an am-dram play set within the play.  A National Theatre of Scotland production.  Three stars.

Review

First out, a warning: there’s a muckle load of swearing in the play, a dash of nudity and enough bawdy scenes to make even a Dundonian blush.  Suffice to say, I wouldn’t recommend taking your auntie along to see it after lunch at Jenners.  If you can get past that, though, then this is good old fashioned laugh out loud pantomime stuff.  You really need to have seen the film though, in order to follow the production: but if you can’t manage that then at the very least you might see some of the film’s main scenes on You Tube.

On arrival, the stage has been beautifully set up with a giant Treasure Island-esque map of the mythical Summerisle, and the amateur “Loch Parry Players” have this year decided to put on a production of The Wicker Man.  Rory Mulligan (Sean Biggerstaff) is a bigshot Glasgow actor paid to join the Players and act out the role of Sergeant Howie together with the ‘amateurs’.  Local bigshot Finlay Fothergill (Greg Hemphill) plays Lord Summerisle, while ‘overactor’ Simon (Jimmy Chisholm) plays The Landlord.  Then there’s Fothergill’s rampant and curvaceous daughter Marie (Sally Reid) playing the landlord’s daughter, village simpleton Fran (Paul Riley) plays, well, himself, and the seductive Morag (Rosalind Sydney) is the post mistress.  To cap off the am-dram crew there’s the gloriously camp Callum (Johnny McKnight) in the role of director, who shouts stage directions to one and all.  As rehearsals of the play progress, however, Rory becomes paranoid that the Loch Parry Players are planning to make life imitate art and do away with him: a paranoia fed on his failure to get any meaningful explanation about what happened to Rodger Morgan, the actor he has replaced as Sergeant Howie…

To paraphrase Groucho Marx, don’t be fooled: this may look complicated and sound complicated but be under no illusions, it is complicated; and gets downright confusing towards the end.  The trick, though, is just to go with the flow and enjoy yourself.

The film The Wicker Man is of course deeply disconcerting; and without wishing to spoil it for those who might not have seen it, who can forget Edward Woodward’s performance when the moment of truth finally arrives?  Paganism in outlying Scottish communities is a strong theme (brilliantly explored by John Buchan in his novel Witchwood for example), and this production captures much of the downright weirdness of the mythical Summerisle and its sexually uninhibited residents, in a way that has the audience at times squirming, but more often laughing out loud.  The reality is, however, that it’s quite a task to combine laugh out loud humour with the chilling amorality of the film’s storyline, and in some places it unfortunately doesn’t quite gel.  It’s a pity, because there’s more than enough writing and acting talent here to have made something much more ambitious.  Overall though, good fun.