Finale! Or Intrusion, Contortion and Confusion

My final day in Edinburgh was quite possibly my favourite. I saw some wonderfully varied theatre today, all if it good. So without further ado let’s get on with it.

Things From Before are an LA based performance collective in Edinburgh with an adaption of “The Intruder”, originally by Maurice Maeterlinck. I am unfamiliar with the original text but from what I’ve gathered Things From Before have really worked to make it their own. The text is a one room play about a family waiting as a woman gives birth to their newest member in the next room and an unseen party enters the house and stalks closer to them. What Things From Before have done is update the setting and add in music, choreography and other surreal staging ideas. For example the stage itself is surrounded by picture frames hanging at various heights, a tree made of digital clocks stood at the back and the play opens with a jive-esque dance number punctuated by the actors standing with their heads framed by the hangings and contorting their faces. It’s a striking, intriguing way to open the play.

The text itself was delivered in a haunting, awkward style, designed to unhinge and unnerve. An original soundtrack of low bass rumbles and unsettling sounds was a constant undercurrent to the speech, the effect being deeply uncomfortable. Sometimes the actors would be frozen as one of their number danced and mimed to an obscure pop-number, only to return to their starting place and continue as if nothing had happened. Noise, movement and intonation were all used to create an overwhelming mounting tension as the play shuddered towards a climax of dark, terrifying emotion, punctuated my moments of awkward black humour. The effect was, overall, one of watching a David Lynch film brought to life before your eyes and to me this is the highest of praise. It’s an effect I’ve sought to capture in my own work, one I will continue to try to do, and although I said Red Bastard was the Fringe’s must see show I consider this my own personal gold standard. If you’re in to weird, quirky, dark theatre then it’s one to see. The only real shame being Things From Before are LA based, although their director mentioned planning an international residency so I made sure to get his details. Really interesting, bold work.

It’s a unique emotion when you see the performer you’re on your way to see running away from the venue you’re going to see him in. One which, I suspect, is unique to the Fringe. Apparently Richard Tyrone Jones (or RTJ as I’m lazy) had turned up to find his venue closed and so had to go find someone to open it. Still it felt an appropriate for a show called “Crap Time Lord” to start with the Doctor running somewhere in a panic. RTJ is a spoken-word artist who recently suffered from heart failure (I believe) in his early 30s. He now has a pacemaker-esque contraption. This led him to believe he’s a “Crap Time Lord”. To steal his joke: He has two hearts, a failed BBC series and a sequence of beautiful companions who have all, ultimately, left him. So he did what all performers and comedians do; make a show about their trauma and emotional pain. Yaaaaaaaaaaaay! RTJ is an excellent spoken word performer and this show was part of a work in progress BBC radio show which I now eagerly anticipate. His word play and imagery is frequently hilarious and always inventive. I certainly won’t be forgetting “H.R. Giger counter” any time soon. He’s self-deprecating and really remembers to put the performance in to performance poetry. Contorting his body, changing his voice, really making a show out his words. Like many other fine acts I saw he’s performing in the Free Fringe and is someone not to be missed. Keep an eye out for his show!

I then trekked through torrential rain to arrive at my next venue, Edinburgh’s Dance Base. I was here to see “147 Questions About Love” from Wales based group Volcano. Appropriate to its venue this was a piece that involved dance, to quote the poster/flyer “she mostly dances, he mostly speaks”. As one performer asked the audience questions ranging from the absurd to the serious and everywhere in between his partner danced. This was interspersed with unique join physical performances. The show is, at heart, one with a simple message examining communication in relationships. However the telling is elegant and thought provoking, and wonderfully intimate. The space only seats around 15 (maybe even less) on beanbags, right up close with the performers. It makes the questions feel very direct, compelling answers when none were expect, and allowing us to get up close with the physical movements. A joy to watch I found optimism in its message and left feeling lighter for it. Perhaps a bit too abstract for those weaned on traditional theatre but if you’re interested in physical performance or in the mood for something provocative without being dark or controversial this will suit you nicely.

“YOU AWAKE TO FIND YOURSELF IN A DARK ROOM”. There’s something about that phrase that will grab people like me by the throat and drag them to the theatre and John Robertson knows it. He’s one of us you see. Growing up on the text-based adventure games and their cruel Old-Testament God style fickleness and judgement (for those of you that are unaware these games required users to type commands. Unless the command was exactly what the game wanted, including grammar, you more often than not died. You also died if it glitched. Or failed to load. Or just plain felt like it) and decided to create his own. Originally a youtube based game (which can be found here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hvkjP6dqpfY) it’s now a live comedy sensation. A screen displays your options. Robertson asks an audience member what they wish to do. The game proceeds. OR YOU DIE. There’s even prizes (should the game be won there’s £100 up for grabs, as well as an inflatable whale, super noodles and a cyber-man’s spine) to be won. I received a much coveted whale, which I proceeded to murder, too much hassle you see. Anyway Robertson clearly revels in his role, a cross between Gamesmaster (as played by Patrick Moore) and sadistic, uncaring god. Mocking the audience for their choices, cajoling, cackling, prodding and revelling in each untimely death he stalks the stage in darkness, save for his head which is lit to give a floating-head style effect. Sort of. He’s brilliant at it in the way only a confident professional comedian can be, always the right side of funny, inventive, quick witted and strangely lovable. The surreal twists the game quickly takes lend another level of absurdity to an already pretty absurd comedy/game/group abuse session. John Robertson’s “The Dark Room” is culty, geeky fun and would be a great fit for Cardiff’s own PlayARK festival.

My last day of the Fringe was an absolute treat from top to bottom. Thank you so much to NTWTEAM for the opportunity to go, and I hope my discoveries and words have been useful. I saw a lot of new, inventive shows that have inspired me and also made me want to get them seen by as many people as possible. Thanks Edinburgh, thanks Fringe, thanks ntwTEAM!

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