“That desire to experience more fully is at the heart of immersive theatre, which can place us in situations that we are unlikely to encounter in our everyday lives, rather than merely placing them before us.”
– Matt Trueman
After an easy start to the Fringe yesterday, I was curious to see shows in the Edinburgh International Festival rather than at the usual fringe. Nat had left before me to go and see Shakespeare for Breakfast, so I had a nice lie in to get ready, put on a decent amount of makeup and bussed into town. I met with Nat at the first venue of the day:
1. Dahling, You Were Marvellous
(written by Steven Berkoff, directed by the company of Les Seige of Herons)
This satirical piece was under Nat’s suggestion, and she sold the play to me as an immersive play about theatre. Being that my favourite show of all time was a Punchdrunk production (a well-known immersive theatre company) I was already a big fan of immersive theatre. We were greeted outside the venue by the company, dressed in reds and blacks with painted white faces, decorated with jewels, glitter, and spots of red and black (I wish I could tell you the makeup designer but there is no trace of programme whatsoever for me to reference). One of the actors even took a selfie with members of the public, leaving Nat and I feeling tremendously excited.
The cast guided us all into the venue, all asking us questions about whether we saw their latest hit on Broadway and other pretentious theatre questions. It got me feeling included in their world, imagining how else the audience was going to be involved. The set was more of a decoration of the bar at the venue, adding black cloaks around the room, red cushions with roses on them to indicate that the audience should not sit in those seats – and of course, Nat and I sat practically next to one of them. Above us had light bulbs with intricate chicken wire to attach different kinds of flowers, which I thought was a lovely, hidden touch to the room.
I actually did not know it was a pre-written play until after the show, and it made complete sense that it was a Berkovian style play, as all the actors aimed to be such grotesque caricatures of their different personas. It was fascinating to watch and helped a lot when actors had multiple roles to juggle throughout the piece.
It was disappointing that where Nat and I sat in the theatre we felt very left out of most of the action, as most of the performance was faced away from us. Whilst we did have the odd short scene where the actors came to sit with us, because the actors were projecting in a different direction to us, neither Nat or I could really follow what was going on. There were a few actors where they effortlessly made sure their voices could be heard, most of the cast just faced the actor they were speaking to, and thus their voices were lost to me.
The idea to put this play in an immersive setting is an intriguing one, and I would like to see it again in future once all the staging errors have been tweaked. For now, I can only appreciate the aesthetic of the piece and the odd scene in my ‘section’, rather than the play as a whole.
Caption: Grossly Berkoff.
Dahling, You Were Marvellous had its last performance on the 12th August at 12.45pm, Greenside @ Infirmary Street.
Nat and I parted ways once more to see our own productions. I trekked for about 15 minutes across the city to see the splendorous wonder that was the Edinburgh Castle:
Feeling satisfied with my ‘tourist picture of the day’ I continued moving towards the Lyceum theatre. It is a smaller venue than what I expected, though the theatre’s bar was a lot larger than the West End bars I was used to. I found nowhere to sit as it was already 15 minutes before the start of the show so everyone was having their last round of drinks. Instead, I waited patiently until the staff opened doors to our seats. I must say that considering I paid a low price for my ticket, I had a spectacular view.
(written by Eugène Ionesco, adapted by Zinnie Harris, directed by Murat Daltaban)
The play starts slightly earlier than the 2.30pm mark, a person with a cat’s head walks onstage and looks at us and then walks off. Suddenly, a hotel manager hurriedly goes around tieing chairs up to pieces of string that came from the ceiling (a set trope which I do love I might add). We are then introduced to the protagonist of the play, Berenger (Robert Jack), being horrifically defecated by a passing bird. The first scene’s events begin to unfold in a French village, revealing that two different types of rhinoceros (one being middle-eastern and one being European), has trampled into the village, crushing a villager’s human-cat.
Oğuz Kaplangı (the play’s composer and lighting designer) sits in a tech cavern on the side of the stage, playing his score throughout the performance. The show’s literal translator (Deborah Natanson) was on the opposite side. The set (Tom Piper) was designed to become more compact in every scene transition, interpreting that the social pressure to conform becoming greater and having tougher consequences for Berenger. The tech (Chris Davey) was colourful and very literal in its use, leaving no subtlety for the most intense moments, which is not a bad thing mind you as it highlighted critical moments of Berenger’s character arc. The audio clips of President Trump’s rallies were a bit too on-the-nose for me, but I could appreciate the message it was trying to deliver.
Zinnie Harris has written a great modern interpretation of the 1959 play but did not update its old-fashioned values for a contemporary audience. The play’s treatment of Berenger’s love interest, Daisy (Ece Dizdar), is somewhat 2-dimensional and left no room for a well-developed relationship arc. However, the intensity of their relationship in the final scene was an emotional rollercoaster.
What really got me thinking about this piece was the political message, as Berenger cries repeatedly at the climax of the play, “I will not change”. As I try and wrap my head around the events of the play I realise the play has left me with more questions than answers. Is Berenger a representative of the antagonised right-wing folk? Are we supposed to sympathise with his character when he revolts against the new social norms? One could interpret it as whilst liberals believe that this generation’s actions are leading towards a brighter future, the right-winged conservatives see that liberals are doing more harm than good. On the other hand, it could be interpreted as the conservatives being afraid of change and resisting it, leading them to feel isolated when their liberal peers leave them. Or is it the other way around and the liberals are feeling left out?! I wish it was clearer as to what the actual message was, though it is an ambiguous political message that has me thinking.
I would recommend this play (if it was still running) to anyone who wanted a strong (though unclear) political message, and yet highly entertaining evening. Every cast member had clean-cut punchlines and had the audience laughing throughout, even in the direst of situations. Steven McNicoll and Robert Jack have great onstage chemistry, and Sally Reid fantastically portrayed an ignorant reporter who denies any form of socialist change occurring. I will probably still be wondering about the meaning of Rhinoceros until the next fringe, which surely is the best kind of theatre?
Caption: Great show… But what was the message again?
Rhinoceros had its last performance on the 12th August at 7.30pm at the Lyceum Theatre.
Pondering about the message of Rhinoceros, I immediately walk over to my next venue, The Hub. I kill the time before my next show by having an early dinner containing salmon and jacket potato (a combination I did not know existed) whilst working on my reviews. I even managed to trade reviews with an American lady sitting next to my table, as she noticed I was frantically typing away and asked if I was working (I did feel very professional proclaiming I was a blog writer). I use up my last hour waiting to see my next show:
3. Meow Meow’s The Little Mermaid
(written and performed by Meow Meow, directed by Michael Kantor)
I sit in a booth with a perfect view of the stage, chatting to a lovely woman who booked to see the show on a whim and went to the same university as my sister. We acknowledge the complete transformation of the vast hall space into a complete, elaborate stage with booths and raked seating. The decor was almost Carrie-esque with the silver, plastic strips hanging from the ceiling, with chiffon flowers surrounding the room.
With a clash of lighting and flashes, Meow Meow enters onstage in tears whilst proclaiming ‘This is a show about happiness’, leaving the audience laughing at the opening gag. Meow’s sense of humour is satirical, mocking the stage-diva tropes and is a lover of well-placed innuendos. Meow’s charisma is effortless and entices the audience into the world of the play, which was also incredibly immersive in terms of how extravagant it was. The way Meow used the audience was truly in the cabaret style, as I witnessed three men in wigs and mermaid tails doing half-arsed dancing whilst Meow Meow sang a song. The show as a whole is a great evening of entertainment, with a captivating story behind it.
If I were to recommend this I would tell them that it is not a literal retelling of The Little Mermaid in cabaret form, which is what I expected. The show starts with Meow Meow as herself, then we slip into her subconscious of her as a mermaid, and then (without spoiling the show) the performance is interrupted and we see Meow go into a fantasy of her going through the Little Mermaid character arc. I think because I was trying so hard to find the fairy tale’s narrative, I did not let myself go along with the story whilst it subverted the traditional sense of storytelling. However, it was still a highly entertaining evening and it was the most fantastically surreal experience I had witnessed for a while.
Caption: Bizzare yet fascinating.
Meow Meow’s The Little Mermaid is running until the 27th August (albeit the 15th and 22nd) at 10.30pm, with additional performances at 7.30pm on the 19th and 26th, at The Hub.
I say my goodbyes to my theatre buddies for the last hour and a half, and I head straight to The Space @ Surgeons’ Hall to find the venue filled with outside tables. I find the studio my next show was in, and wander out to find a table, and I see one table was occupied by my uni friend Laura and her partner. Nat decided to tag along for this show in the end, and we all had a few drinks whilst catching up before we saw our last show of the evening:
4. The Shambles
(directed by Lewis Crook, games led by Kate Weedy)
I have seen a few shows now with the University of York ComedySoc troupe, The Shambles, and it has always been a fun experience. Going into the studio I knew I was going to have that experience again as always. The troupe exploded onto the stage, trying to high-five the audience and in general just bursting with infectious energy. The evening then proceeded with multiple improvised games, testing the troupe’s limits with audience members throwing wacky suggestions and scenarios left-right-and-centre.
All in all the entire troupe have a keenness to push their boundaries and display a great sense of camaraderie, and also trying to include the audience in said camaraderie. Whilst there were flustered moments here and there, I could not imagine being able to pull off improvised comedy as well as this troupe. It was a fantastic way to end the evening, laughing along with some good friends and seeing new audience members becoming so enthralled in the show. There are different troupe members on different nights, so it is worth seeing multiple shows to see what other members can bring to the table.
Caption: Good banter amongst banterous pals.
The Shambles troupe are running until the 26th August (albeit the 13th and 20th) at 10.15pm at The Space @ Surgeons Hall.
So day two of my fringe experience contained many different genres of theatre. Immersive, political comedy, cabaret, and improvised comedy. Though that is indeed the way it should be, trying new things and exploring new types of theatre that you might not have tried before. I wonder what day three will bring… Come back tomorrow and find out!