Gogol’s short story of The Overcoat, about a hard-working but overlooked clerk whose fortunes change for the better – and then, spectacularly and fatally, for the worse – on the acquisition of an expensive new overcoat, receives an imaginatively modern reworking by Finnish writer Sami Keski-Vahala.
After visiting Shakespeare for Breakfast on Saturday morning, on Sunday I headed to the Pleasance Dome for a collection of short playlets. With five separate pieces within a single hour, it proved a great way to see some new writing and standout performances.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, there was a strong element of comedy in the plays I saw (the cast offered three programmes of plays), but there were some terrific displays of poignancy as well.
How to explain Chris Cox to someone who’s never seen his act? Probably the best way to sum him up is to say that he’s a mentalist in the Derren Brown mould – ever insistent that he’s not using magic or psychic powers, but various methods of suggestion, body language and the like. For those who find Brown a bit full of himself, a little pompous maybe, Chris Cox’s endearingly self-effacing style should be a breath of fresh air.
There is a type of storytelling to which we often subject children – the cod interactive one, where the narrator of a story asks the attentive audience what they think happened next, or what they think a character may have been thinking. Whatever the answer, the story them progresses as intended.
A similar technique is employed by Lucy Farrett in this one-woman show. Farrett, looking for all the world like a delicate Victorian china doll, speaks as if a dotty old woman who frequently loses her place in her storytelling. Her digressions involve some gentle sparring with the audience, sitting at her feet across scattered sofa cushions. Too often, though, her predilection for giggling at “naughty” words puts one inn mind not of an old woman, but a precocious little toddler.
When the story itself unfolds near the end of the hour, Farrett demonstrates that she is a masterful storyteller who doesn’t need ricks or gimmicks to hold audience enrapt. But there is a little too little of genuine storytelling here to feel really satisfying.
After one too many bottles of cheap wine, Judith leaves a drunken message on her ex-boyfriend Jack’s answer phone late one night, saying that she’d bought some razor blades and some henna – and come the morning, she’ll have either killed herself, or dyed her hair. When the doorbell rings, it’s not Jack, but his new girlfriend Ros – the replacement.
Henna Night was one of playwright Amy Rosenthal’s first pieces, and in places it shows. While she has an ear for dialogue and is able to find wry comedy in the darkest of lines, there are places where the gags are a little too frequent and forced, and others where Judith breaks into overlong, overwritten monologue.
Rather than being a confrontational piece, Rosenthal makes both women ultimately likeable, creating a comedy of awkward manners than anything more explosive. That’s no bad thing, but it makes the whole play risk feeling flat What saves the whole piece are the two performances from Stephanie James as Judith and, in particular, Lauren Garnham as Ros, who imbue their slight characters with real warmth.
A mini-review for This is Soap, performed by the same cast as Shakespeare for Breakfast. An improvised soap opera with a story that has been progressing over the course of the Fringe, by its nature this show’s content varies every show.
There are a number of breakfast-time shows in the Fringe, laying on coffee and croissants to entice people out of their beds after a late night of theatre/comedy/clubbing/whatever. One of the longest running is Shakespeare for Breakfast, which the publicity posters proudly proclaim is now in its twentieth year.
For all its longevity, though, I didn’t know too much about it, other than a friend of mine was closely involved in the production. So I was completely bowled over by an hour of comedy that was the perfect start to a full day of fringe theatre.
After arriving into Edinburgh much later than intended thanks to delays at Heathrow, by 10pm last night I was dying to see some theatre. Where better, then, to try out the official Edinburgh Fringe iPhone app’s “Near me now” feature?
That showed me that Violet Shock were “return[ing] to the Fringe with their much-praised take on the cult musical” Little Shop of Horrors, written by Alan Menken and Howard Ashman and based upon the Roger Corman film.
Finding local shows at a relevant time is clearly the app’s strong point. Its failing, though is that unlike the full website, it doesn’t link to published reviews. If it had, I might have been spared.