THEATRE – Jasper Jones – Playhouse – 4.5K

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Alexander Ewers

Set in the small country backwater of Corrigan, the rich fabric of this eponymous fiction, Jasper Jones, is fashioned anew by the SA State Theatre Company. Following in the footsteps of much acclaimed text and screen forebears, this stage iteration does not disappoint.

Jasper Jones is a murder story. It is a coming of age story. It is a story of injustices familiar to the Australian psyche and yet which feel freshly painted in this telling. It is a story of a country town: the people are uninspiring, the town is unlovely. And yet it is all acutely identifiable, uncomfortably familiar in its Australianness [sic]. Set among stringy-barks and hot idle summers, Jasper Jones is a tale woven to the tune of the distant drone of an attritive Vietnam stalemate, and the droning attrition of a distant Ashes test match. Against this backdrop, a dispiriting paralysis of community apathy weighs heavily: jaded routines, the meaningless repetitions of daily tedium, and generational cycles of the unimaginative and the intransigent. In some ways the plot feels predictable, or rather inevitable, a story destined to unfold according to a pre-determined template against which none can prevail. The atmosphere of dulling torpor harnessed in this production is a worthy achievement. Herein Nescha Jelk (Director) and co have excelled, capturing that latent national spirit, a force neither in and of itself good or evil, and yet determinative for both – that uniquely Australian lethargy.

For a two hour show, Jasper Jones spotlights an impressive array of the faces of jaundice and prejudice to which the narrow-minded resort. The tropes are familiar territory – racism (both overt and subliminal), female disenfranchisement, xenophobia, domestic violence. And yet an attempt to define or categorize Jasper Jones by any one of these topics is to diminish the weight of the grander narrative. Rather, like the towering stringy-barks that dot the stage space and dwarf the elegant simplicity of the locative scene props, these loudly declarative, and in some ways fashionable motifs threaten to obscure the forest for the trees. It is useful for perspective, to consider that to all intents and purposes, Corrigan is still Corrigan at curtain fall. Jasper Jones remains the target of racism; the molestive father remains unchallenged; the town remains parochial; and the immigrants remain marginalized. Yet Corrigan has birthed a groundswell of unlikely, often subtle, and always intensely individual revolt against the societal inertia that lies beneath each of the injustices rife in the Corrigan (and Australian?) community. This insurgence takes form in the open revolt of Jasper and his allies, the escapism of Charlie’s mother and the bitter disengagement of Mad Jack, the despair of Laura’s suicide, the impervious optimism of a Jeffrey, and in the stoicism of Jeffrey’s father. The trees may have barely moved, and yet the forest and its denizens are much-changed.

This is no easy idea to convey. Indeed, the performance as a medium grapples with the complexity inherent to the original written plot. The necessarily reductive nature of a stage adaptation struggles at times to balance individual character trajectories against the wider plot superstructure, lacking the author’s or cinematographer’s privilege of temporal and descriptive luxury to support multiple narratives. Consequently, peripheral characters suffer oxygen-deprivation, and absent the sufficient support infrastructure, transitions between the grim and the whimsical feel sometimes dissonant. Similarly, the resorting to explanatory narrations of internal dialogues is at times faintly disruptive rather than facilitating. It is no doubt an unenviable task conveying the inertia that defines Corrigan whilst convincingly advancing the action, a balancing act only complicated by the imperative for faithfulness to the original text. The stage medium is perhaps simply unable to completely satisfy on that front. To the tribute of those on stage though, such captious technicalities do not dim a whole-hearted and convincing performance by all the cast. The thespian commitment runs deep, with even the supporting characters invested with impressive authenticity. As the play progresses, any moments of disconnect are ironed out, so much so that post-interlude, the coherence of the performance commands the total absorption of its audience.

Jasper Jones is compelling, in person and in play. It strikes close to home, perhaps closer than is comfortable. It is relatable across multiple layers of the individual, communal and national experience. In closing, one notes that much mention is made throughout the performance of the idea of “The Great Australian Story”. It is not difficult to muse that perhaps in this adaption of Jasper Jones, one can find a convincing retelling of a story that is candidate for just such a title.

Kryztoff Rating 4.5K

BABY REINDEER – Summerhall – 4.5K

By Peter Maddern

Richard Gadd has made his name as a comedian; his last show at the Edinburgh Fringe (Monkey See Monkey Do) saw him win that year’s Edinburgh Comedy Award. Baby Reindeer is this year most certainly rightly placed as theatre; an intense, tightly woven affair about stray relationships that can turn from fun to sour to frightening as the pleasures of random sex morph into stalking warfare.

Whether the story is true or a concoction is not obvious, maybe it is, as the program notes, a mix of the two but there is a certain conviction and lack of the droll to suggest this is more autobiographical than a work of pure fiction.

Beyond the mysteries of the works is the marvel of the production, successfully taking on the performance complexities of the Roundabout and making everyone there feel very much a part of it all. From sitting amongst us in the available aisles, to the rapid fire emails and texts that flicker onto the ceiling flaps above to the use of a rotating stage, Gadd proves this is no ‘one man’s confession – take it or leave it’ but a work of a skilled actor and performer.

Gripping story and brilliant delivery make for a riveting hour or high quality theatre.

Kryztoff Rating. 4.5K   

WENGERBALL – Assembly – 4K

By Peter Maddern

This is Raphael Wakefield’s first show and who knows if he’ll manage another; not because this is a dud (hardly, as this is very good) but because it has been no less than 22 years in the making.

As the name suggests, Wengerball is about Arsene Wenger’s time as manager of Arsenal but not so much about him personally but the profound changes in the top flight of English football across his time, from being a radical to the game to one swept up in the corporatisation of English football, through the arrival of Russian oil oligarchs to the dash for new stadia and the like. 

The show is a series of voice and character impersonations of various luminaries of the club (mostly owners) and others well known in the game; his moments as Jose Mourinho are more than worth the price of admission. About the only time we actually hear from Wenger are his poignant comments about what matters at the time of his retirement.

Obviously Gunner groupies will lap this up but the show is more than a love-in for the fans of N1 but for all footballer followers. Wakefield’s voices are excellent, his patter amusing and his commentary about football spot on.

Kryztoff Rating 4K

CATCHING COMETS – Pleasance Courtyard – 3.5K

By Peter Maddern

Manchester’s Ransack Theatre has brought an engaging new work to the Edinburgh Fringe. Dressed in a pick-up volleyballer’s kit, Toby, aged 27, lives unfulfilled fantasies involving making it with girls, action heroes and making sense of the universe around him. Into his orb comes challenges on all fronts but whether he can be as strong in the real world as he believes he would be in a Rambo movie; well that’s the question.

This is a stylish and sophisticated production where ‘Toby’, (one can’t find the name of the actual actor – with apologies to him), working three sides of the stage, transitions, perhaps more appropriately described as snaps, between his worlds with great dexterity and confidence, aided by strong work in the lighting and sound departments. He is a fresh and talented performer.

The work, in this reviewer’s eyes, could do with some thinning out in the last 15 minutes and one questions whether any audience can build much sympathy for a 27 year old male, who tend, as a breed, to be absorbed with their own knowledge and rights to property of all kinds. Perhaps, a character pitched five or more years younger may better present the challenges of a young man still making his way.

Notwithstanding, if you’re looking to catch a good show, Catching Comets should not to be underestimated as a satisfying way to spend an hour at the Pleasance one afternoon.

Kryztoff Rating. 3.5K  

THE SHARK IS BROKEN – Assembly – 4.5K

By Peter Maddern

The new visions of the new film directors that came to our silver screens in the 1970s still remain fresh in many instances. None more so than Stephen Spielberg’s Jaws, with its haunting trademark notes opening this easy to like work.

The Shark Is Broken takes us onto the Jaws set, the boat indeed, with its three players sitting around waiting days, weeks even for the mechanical beast of prey to work properly in order to film the last scenes. Co-writer Ian Shaw plays his father, the heavy drinking Irishman, Robert Shaw (who plays Quint), Liam Murray Scott plays a dopey, self obsessed Richard Dreyfuss (who plays Hooper) while Duncan Henderson is Roy Schneider (who plays Chief Brody). It should be noted that all three bare great resemblances to their actual characters, though obviously in the case of Shaw this may not have been hard.

It may also be appropriate to suggest the play is, in a Seinfeld tradition, not about very much. However, under Guy Masterson’s pin-point direction, insult and observation, both of their present and ours, are delivered deliciously; wit as razor sharp as the shark’s, put downs as cold as the sea that supposedly surrounds them, all done nonetheless with a warmth to match a swig of Shaw’s whiskey.

Great fun and a sure hit at this year’s Fringe.

Kryztoff Rating 4.5K

FISH BY SHINEHOUSE THEATRE – Summerhall – 4K

By Peter Maddern

Taiwan’s Shinehouse Theatre takes on the admirable aim of producing work for minorities, in this case, the hearing impaired. Based on a novel by Taiwanese author Huang Chunming, Fish combines puppetry and sign language in a touching story about a fish that doesn’t make it home one night, setting off a conflict between a boy and his grandfather.

Po-Yuan Chung’s direction is precise as his young puppeteer crafts the boy’s movements and emotions with the roles of speakers and narrator shared around the other cast members on a, at times, crowded stage.

For the hearing impaired this work makes for a break from those shows that can provide so many challenges and delivers much more than a token production. For those fuller of faculties, the craft exhibited makes for an enjoyable hour too. 

Kryztoff Rating. 4K

MANUAL CINEMA’S FRANKENSTEIN – Underbelly – 4K

By Peter Maddern

While the viewing screen up front at the impressive McEwan Hall is relatively quite small, all the stage is required to produce and present this terrific work.

Combining the classic story of Frankenstein with Mary Shelley’s own biography, this internationally acclaimed multi-media company lets its audience in on the creation of the creation. The all female cast work their silhouettes, their screens, their poses for the camera while their musicians biff and bangle their way through the accompanying score, a mobile camera makes big the small work at the front while lighting and thunder cracks keep their audience well wedded in the Gothic theme.

The finished product on the screen is only half the thrill of seeing this production; how it is done is the other. 

Something different and worthwhile with both aspects of the show riveting entertainment.

Kryztoff Rating.  4K

COMFORT FOOD CABARET – Imagination Workshop – 4K

By Peter Maddern

It’s an unfortunate side effect of Festival season in Edinburgh that one’s eating experiences, even at the best restaurants, are pretty much defined by meals being delivered within moments of giving up one’s menus. 

No such problem exists when Michelle Pearson takes up the challenge with her delightful Comfort Food Cabaret delivered in the Kings Hall at the George St Intercontinental Hotel. For not only does one get a delicious three course meal cooked before you, Michelle adds to the delight by describing not only the influences on the ingredients chosen but also the influences on her course selections – a first date, a lost loved one and so on – and I need to mention Michelle can sing.

For this girl from Adelaide, Australia, this is a gift to the world and what a gift; for this Fringe season, arancini balls, pasta ragu and choccy mousse. While you eat, her band, brought with her, plays, giving the event a feel that mixes a wedding reception with a private concert, and oh, did I mention Michelle can sing. 

Food warriors may squeal at the menu choices but the name of the show gives you forewarning – this is no place for vegan and vegetarian vultures (though nor is it exactly a recasting of Two Fat Ladies dishing up the bowls of whipped cream as they whirled their way across the English country side.) 

So, give yourself a break from hurried curries, bashed up burgers or limp lentils and sit back and savour a show that will embrace all your senses, not forgetting to mention that Michelle can really sing.

Kryztoff Rating.  4K 

FEMME by ERIN FOWLER – Imagination Workshop – 4K

By Peter Maddern

Erin Fowler is a most attractive woman, her model looks matched by a sports girl’s physique. But coming from an older white male this type of portrayal is pretty much exactly what this work is aimed to counter. So, let me explain why such a view may assist you in buying a ticket to her next and last show but also why this work will have you talking about it after.

As Fowler explains, being spoken to and not allowed to have a discussion with is what drove her disillusionment with the fashion promotion industry. In Femme, she tackles not just this but the seemingly ingrained perceptions of people about others in various stages of life and roles held. 

Through numerous costume changes, Fowler performs down what is otherwise a fashion show’s catwalk, her persona changing from school girl, to wedding belle, pole dancer to one climbing the corporate ladder. Throughout her audience hears testimonies, reflections and instinctual commentary from those who judge and who have been judged in those roles.

As such, all the elements together make for a powerful message and commentary on identity, lived and perceived, leaving audience members to discuss from their various perspectives, defined by their gender, age and own lives as to the merits of the issue and solutions to the problem.

Kryztoff Rating.    4K 

NIGHTS BY HENRY NAYLOR – Gilded Balloon Teviot – 4K

By Peter Maddern

For 2019’s edition of Henry Naylor’s work, again held in the Dining Room of Gilded Balloon’s HQ, Naylor returns to the desert or at least a work themed from there. On Valentine’s Day this year the press reported that an ISIS bride had decided she wanted to return to England, a right enshrined in law to her as a UK citizen but otherwise a proposition many would find abhorrent.

Carter (Caitlin Thorburn) is a reporter at The Times who is sent to Leeds by her pressing editor to get a reaction from Kane (Henry Naylor), a former soldier in Syria who has recently been cleared of war crime charges. What starts out as the search for a seemingly obvious marriage of viewpoints gets lost as the realities of both characters get revealed and start to cloud the path. 

Thorburn does an excellent job – ripe for her character and more than capable of not only sustaining her at times lengthy monologues but also her push back and counters to the force conveyed in Kane’s character. I have not previously seen Naylor on stage and it may well be he was chosen for his imposing physique, one not necessarily easily found at Central casting. In that dimension he fits the bill for if I felt intimidated by his performance and presence in Row 7, goodness knows how he must have come across for those along the front.

Notwithstanding, the two players combine well, the development of their views credible and balanced. 

Another powerful work from Henry Naylor.      

Kryztoff Rating.  4K