I’m not a critic, but I wanted to get my thoughts down on ‘paper’ about the fine work I’ve seen in the past few days. I came up to Edinburgh for the festival to see some venues, look at potential producing opportunities and storytelling collaborations. I found all that an more. I saw ten shows, and of those I enjoyed nine — a pretty good return on investment. But five stood out. So here are my thoughts in the order I saw the shows:
The Humble Heart of Komrade Krum by Babolin Theatre is the story of a young woman’s quest to find her legendary uncle. It untangles the way stories create meaning and identity. The ensemble are exceptional. From the moment you walk in they craft an atmosphere that they hold for the next hour. The story is told in translation which allows for some wonderful comedic play. But the real treat with this show was its simple physicality and sound. Everything comes from the bodies on the stage and the table they’re sat at. Magical stuff and a true demonstration of how you don’t need bells and whistles when you have a good story and talented company.
Ada/Ava by Manual Cinema is magic of an altogether different kind. Here the magic comes from seeing the how as well as the what. The performers use analogue tech in the shape of four over head projectors and acetate film to create an hour long journey that leaves you gobsmacked with its creativity. The show puppet ‘film’ alone would have been a wonderful sight along with the great live score. But here you get to see the performers create the show — you see how the shadows are cast as well as the result. In this age of digital everything, to see a story told and made with something as simple as light and shadow connects to something primal within you. I looked on in awe and wonder at the way the images were crafted. By taking away the mystery they enhanced the magical.
Dead Awaken from CalArts Festival Theater is a mesmerising piece of performance art. It’s a re-imagining of Ibsen’s When We Dead Awaken , his last work which is often described as dream-like. That quality is evoked here in both the performances and the sound. The story (of the battle for an artist’s soul) is fragmented, but always coherent, delivered with a performative style that plays a hybrid of concert and theatre. It reminded me of The Wooster Group in its experimental style, but blended beautifully with songs by Preston Butler III and Brian Carbine. There were strong vocal and acting performances from of all four of the cast. It feels unfair to single any one of the four out as they were all so good, but when Jasmine Gatewood sings… well, it’s easy to see why she’s playing an artist’s muse. She has a voice that transports you. It is, however, when all four voices join together that I was really moved. The sheer vibration in the room impacted me physically as well as emotionally. All in all a great piece of performance music theatre.
Myth Mouth by Dandy Darkly is a one man storytelling extravaganza. The images that Dandy conjures up in his dark, dark tales are completely cinematic. Bejewelled and painted to the nines like a fabulous psychotic nightmare clown, he tells stories that are entrancing and hypnotic. Using a soundtrack to underscore the narrative, Myth Mouth moves us through the stages of storytelling itself, from the foundation of mythology to the fables of our celebrity obsessed culture and beyond. This was my second full Dandy show, and while last year’s Trigger Happy was a wild and wonderful rollercoaster ride, Myth Mouth is a masterpiece. The depth of the stories is incredible, with perfectly painted detail. A central tale binds the hour’s performance together around three separate yet connected smaller stories. It’s a history lesson, a horror show and glimpse into the future. As if the exceptional quality of the writing itself wasn’t enough, Dandy’s performance and the fantastic score propel the show from oral storytelling into a psychedelic hour of performance art perfection.
Ghost Quartet from Dave Malloy and company is a wonderful interactive musical adventure. A series of interwoven tales told by four musicians. A nice addition to this piece was getting audience members to play instruments to create a truly immersive sound experience. It’s billed as a song cycle and the music is played as the track of an LP (side one, track one, etc) This device works well and draws us into the strange and often chilling narratives. The songs of course are the show and they are sumptuous, both in their off-kilter musical theatre styling and the way they are built by the musicians on stage. I’d wanted to see Natasha, Pierre & the Great Comet of 1812 Malloy’s off-Broadway hit, but never managed to, so seeing this was a great next-best thing!
It’s been a whirlwind trip, but so valuable in terms of research and development of our own work and practice. Loads to inform how we’re working with individuals and brands, but most importantly how we craft and share our own stories. Let the making begin!