Summer Highlights

We’ve had a summer of snooping around festivals and showcases, sampling some exciting new theatre. Now that September is here, the time seems right for a round up and perhaps to commit ourselves to a top 10 summer experiences of theatre, writing and performance. Of course this is all done in the hope that you will take issue with us and offer alternative theatrical top 10s of summer 2009 – a vintage year at the Edinburgh Fringe according to The Guardian.

Here goes………

10: Stand By Your Van – Menagerie Theatre Company’s latest show written by Anna Reynolds and directed by Paul Bourne. This show follows the format of the popular American competition in which a group of people compete to win a shiny new truck. In the play 12 characters compete to be the last one standing and with their hand on the van. The audience is the “supportive” crowd. The compere leers, patronises and enjoys each contestant’s  failure as one by one they give in to their tiredness.

9: Been So Long by Che Walker – a contemporary musical – a study of heart break and desire told in drama and music which is funny, moving and uplifting. The characters are complex and sensitively portrayed – and their emotional lives are immeditaely engaging. It is a chamber piece with just four or five characters, set in a bar. The writing is economical and the songs reveal the truths of the inner lives of the characters. The emotion in a scene or in a moment between characters seems to build and tip naturally into song. The performers are fantastic and the production is clear, simple and really gives them space. I saw it performed at the Latitude Festival in a tent with no set and no costumes – it was a perfect way to spend an summer afternoon.

8. Susurrus by David Leddy. An audio journey through Edinburgh’s Botanical Gardens. Written by David Ledddy this was a radio play to be experienced in different locations within the Botanical Gardens. It told the story of the family of a successful opera singer who fell from grace during rehearslas for a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Benjamin Britten. It was a series of monologues and music, edited and woven together to tell the story of the singer’s adopted son. It was sublime experience which had the greatest impact as I turned a corner and walked up a hill and there was the Edinburgh skyline above the trees complete with castle, spires, domes, hills, crags and sky. I felt overwhelmed at the synergy between what I could hear and what I could see.

7. Dryfight – a bizarre event from the ground breaking London based Drywrite who challenged playwrights to create a series of short plays in which up to three characters came to blows. Taking the form of a boxing match – the audience were introduced to the characters at the start “and in the red corner we have …..” and then were encouraged to put on a paper hat in the colour of the character they thought would win the fight. The the scene commenced and as the fight intensified the audience started baying in support of their chosen character. I can’t say it offered much in terms of complex drama but it was a good way of engaging a large audience in a noisy tent in a field. The crowd was rowdy (they’d had a few beers), the stage fighting was somewhat terrifying and I was – scared!

6: The Post Show Party Show by Michael Pinchbeck. A live art piece featuring Michael and both his parents on stage. Using all the music from the original film sound track of the Sound of Music, the show revisits the post show party of an amateur production of the Sound of Music in 1970 at which his parents met. I was mesmerisied by watching father and son perform on stage side by side with such precision. It’s an abstract reconstruction of events presenting fragments which gradually come together. I found this a satsifying process but like the nosey parker and story seeker I am I wanted to know more…..5: Home of the Wriggler – Stan’s Cafe. A response to the closure of the Longbridge plant in Birmingham which seems even more relevant now than when I first saw it in 2006. Set in the future in a disused industrial building, four characters relay fragments of the narratives of the car workers moving cleanly backwards and forwards in time to create a human map of the car plant and its satellites. All the energy needed to power the show is generated by the four actors on stage.

4: Hugh Hughes in 360 – a Hoipolloi production at the Edinburgh Festival. I have a soft spot for Hugh Hughes who is the fictional creation of  actor/director Sion. Hugh Hughes finest hour was definitely his last show “The Story of a Rabbit”. 360 was an exploration of the nature of friendship and the power and fragility of friendships that go back to childhood in particular. Hugh Hughes monologue revealed a challenging moment in his relationship with his old school friend Gareth from Llangevny in Anglesey. It’s a deceptively show and some of the audience responded as if they were watching stand-up but this was a beautifully crafted theatrical monologue. It didn’t deliver gags in a regular machine gun fire pattern, it had a more complex structure and delivered humour, pathos, tension and leaves you with a good feeling.

3: Amateur Girl by Amanda Whittington at Hull Truck. This has all the charisma and stayle you would expect from amada’s writing but with a dark underbelly which she doesn’t shy away from. IT is the story of a nurse in her late 30s who finds herself slipping into a cycle of exploitation in the dark world of  homemade internet porn. It’s a story of survival. Great writing, brilliant performance which genuinely opened my eyes to a hidden world.

2: Power Plant at the Botanical Gardens in Edinburgh. No script, no actors, just light, sound, plants, water and ornate hot houses. This was a beautiful and magical journey through a series of installations made by a variety of artists. It was a unique experience and wonderful to be free of words and left to be part of your own story. It keeps coming back to me. I wish I could do it all over again.

1. Orphans by Dennis Kelly. Shattering.  Terrifying. Brilliant writing. Reminded me why I work in theatre and why I think it’s so important. It must be seen by all. Go and see it at Birmingham Rep.

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