Reviews from the Home Front – Dulce Et Decorum Est: The Unknown Soldiers

Dulce Et Decorum Est: The Unknown Soldiers by Polymorph Theatre was a captivating two-person historical drama performed at theSpace Triplex. The year is 1941, two strangers are united as they take shelter from an air raid. Tommy is a World War One veteran; haunted by his past as he saw the rest of his regiment wiped out in the Battle of the Somme in 1916. Ellen, a young American woman, is awaiting word of her fiancé who has gone to war. They confide in each other in this confined space, sharing their stories and slowly realising that they may have more of a connection than they thought.

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The premise of the play piqued our interest, rocketing the show to the top of our illustrious ‘shows to see’ board before we even realised we were next-door neighbours as well as WW2-show-buddies! The interweaving stories of the two World Wars is something we’ve not seen explored in any other play here at Edinburgh Fringe. It was a really interesting to hear the two experiences compared and contrasted and the characters’ perspectives on the other’s experiences.

Emilie Maybank (Ellen) did a wonderful job of capturing and portraying the feeling of being the one left behind and the agony of not knowing the fate of a loved one. Meanwhile, Jan van der Black gave a powerful and emotional performance as Tommy. Particularly poignant was his tale of going over the top with his pals at the Somme. You could truly believe that he had been there and seen the horrors of war.

The theatre space lent itself well to the setting of a make-shift shelter, with its low ceiling and intimate seating. The set design was simple yet effective, with period appropriate props pulled out of an up-turned vintage tea chest (almost identical to the one tucked away in our Greyhounds set!).

I’d be really interested in seeing more work from Polymorph Theatre in the future as Dulce Et Decorum Est: The Unknown Soldiers was such an evocative piece of historical theatre with beautiful detail. Jolly good show chaps!

Reviews from the Home Front – The House of Edgar

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A bleak Thursday night (it was drizzling a bit) nearing midnight (10pm) and we waited outside an old church (lit with bright green lights and manned by some friendly Fringe staff, but shhh) to see Argosy Arts Theatre’s The House of Edgar.
The atmopshere was tense and palpable, sort of, but we were most definitely ready to feast our eyes on this ‘gothic masterpiece’. The play promised to blend musical theatre with gothic horror to tell the story of Edgar Allan Poe, after his death, as a rival tries to seize his estate, and it certainly delivered.

The music was provided by a pianist and violinist who were simply brilliant. They kept time perfectly, instantly evoking an eerie atmosphere with their sliding chromatics and discordant melodies. As the cast began to sing the first number, we knew we were in for a treat. It was both snappy and smart, traits which continued throughout the performance, the transition from each number to the next seamless.

I’ve read some of Poe’s poetry and short stories (though after this I’m definitely keen to read more) and it was particularly powerful to see his famous words brought to life by song. The Tell-Tale Heart and The Raven were especially captivating, particularly the brutal physicality brought to the former. But for me, the stand out performance of the night was Rufus Griwold (Eoin McAndrew). Right from the opening, he captured the audience’s attention and delivered a multi-layed performance as Poe’s former friend and rival.

I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this to anyone – definitely one of the best shows of the Fringe! We demand a soundtrack!

Reviews from the Home Front – Dear Lucy

With 2018 marking the centenary of the end of the First World War, it is no surprise that this year’s Edinburgh Fringe has many shows based on the Great War. Dear Lucy… by Flying High is one such show. Part of their Heritage Lottery funded project, ‘Then & Now: Rebuilding lives after the Great War’, Dear Lucy… focuses not on the conflict itself but rather its aftermath as the Lucy of the title has to pick up the pieces of her life which is shattered by the news that both her brother and fiancé were killed in action.

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The stage was adorned with poppies, old photographs, and letters to Lucy which were read aloud, transporting us back to 1918. This set a very poignant and sentimental tone which remained throughout the play, which featured contemporary dance, music and scenes of family life after the war, which were beautifully acted. I liked how female-focused this production was, as they explored women’s roles following the end of the war and female friendship. The family relationships portrayed – particularly between the sisters – felt real and well observed. All the actors did well with the multi-roling that this play required, creating characters that were distinct and believable.

My favourite storytelling device used by Dear Lucy… however was the recorded interviews. The play is very much a family affair as it is based on a true story, with Lucy being played by the real Lucy’s great granddaughter, and interspersed between the scenes were clips of recorded conversations with Lucy’s grandchildren. I love hearing people’s family stories, and the inclusion of these memories were heartwarming and made Lucy seem that much more real to the audience. It is clear that she was adored by her family, and the show was lovely tribute to her.

Reviews from the Home Front – I, Sniper

I, Sniper tells the true story of soviet sniper Lyudmila Pavlichenko, deemed one of the deadliest female snipers in history. Plucked from obscurity as a teenage mother, she joins the red army and fights to take on the traditionally male task. This was an aspect of World War II history none of us knew very informed upon so we were interested to find out more from the Scotland-based student group from Acting Coach Scotland

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The play opens in a powerful fashion, with rows of young women marching in military uniform and responding to the barks of their commander in Russian. This instantly sets the evocative tone of the piece and establishes its context in a very clear way.

The story is told in a candid diary-like style, drawing the audience into her story. This clues us into her thoughts, feelings and emotions throughout her wartime journey, helping to ensure that the character of Pavlichenko is sufficiently humanised. The lead role is passed amongst the predominantly female ensemble cast, with each actor’s portrayal impressively as strong as the next. They use the clever device of pinning a military medal on and tucking their hat into their belt so that the audience is left in no doubt as to who is portraying Pavlichenko at present.

This is a very slick and well-rehearsed production which totally hits the target. Coming out of the production, I felt well-informed about an aspect of history I’d never explored before and like I wanted to research more myself. An impressive feat for the production indeed!

Reviews from the Home Front – Fall of Eagles

Fall of Eagles by Green Ginger Productions charts the political situation unfolding during the early 20th century, told in the style of the era’s music hall and vaudeville performances. Two soldiers, acting as compères, introduce the leaders of the Austro-Hungarian, German, Russian and British empires, as they sing and dance their way through the growing tensions and family feuds building up to the start of the First World War.

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The production is filled with easily recognisable caricatures of political figures, which is no mean feat for the young company from Hull. The three youngest performers were especially confident and assured in their multiple roles – as Russian duchesses, serving girls and holiday-makers amongst others. Liam Asplen, who plays Katharina Schratt – the actress from Vienna who Franz Joseph grew close to in the later years of his life provided an excellently flamboyant performance, with strong vocals which really carried through the venue.

The show is well rehearsed and very slick. Multiple scene changes and large props were handled with no trouble. Fall of Eagles has a good pace which keeps the audience entertained throughout. In true music hall style, the audience were encouraged to join in with the rousing songs. Large boards adorned with the lyrics were brought onto stage which was a lovely touch.

If you’re looking to take in another historical show with a fun spirit, musical Fall of Eagles is a great choice!

Reviews from the Home Front – Shit-Faced Shakespeare

Shit-Faced Shakespeare: Hamlet by Magnificent Bastard Productions

Shit-Faced Shakespeare first came onto my radar 5 years ago, when I spent the summer at the Fringe performing with Paperfinch Theatre. I was sitting in the bar of our C venue surrounded by frog puppets – don’t ask – when I heard a small voice pipe up: “Daddy, what does ‘shit-faced’ mean?”. Rather than regale the little girl with my own definition of ‘shit-faced’ based on years of personal experience, I decided to let her father handle the situation and made a mental note to try and see this show that sounded right up my street: drunken debauchery and Shakespeare – what’s not to love?

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Sadly I didn’t get to see it that year, but upon returning to the Fringe this summer I was thrilled to see that Shit-Faced Shakespeare has become something of a Fringe staple, going from strength to strength. The venue has changed from the much smaller C Venues to the grandiose McEwan Hall, which has a beautifully ornate ceiling and seems to be a perfect fit for some classy Shakespeare.

Unsurprisingly, given the name and concept of the show, we didn’t actually see any classy Shakespeare. Instead we were treated to a production of Hamlet where the actor playing Claudius had downed a bottle of tequila prior to the show, and was also plied with beer throughout to keep him suitably sauced. From the offset, the audience were put in the party mood with music and a lively compere who explained the premise of the show and gave the all-important sick bucket to an audience member in the front row, who seemed a bit too enthused by the prospect of being the potential target of tequila-laced vomit.

There is no point in summarising the plot because this was pleasingly the least Hamlet production of Hamlet I’ve ever seen, particularly once Claudius had insisted that Laertes and Ophelia dress up as each other in order to protect Ophelia from Hamlet’s apparent madness. Claudius was even hornier than usual (a bit too much passionate snogging which I’m hoping the actress playing Gertrude was OK with), rather unsteady on his feet, a big fan of calling everyone a ‘twat’ and surprisingly progressive with his views on gender which is, to quote, ‘fluid at the moment’. The Saturday night audience were in the mood for a laugh, and this production provided plenty. Although Claudius was obviously a main source of humour, credit must also go to the other performers who responded well to his antics and even managed to do a bit of Shakespeare between all the drunkard-wrangling. A most enjoyable evening!

Reviews from the Home Front – Cry God for Harry, England and St George!

Cry God for Harry, England and St George! by Mulberry Theatre Company

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Given the fact that Henry V plays such an important part in our show, team Greyhounds was excited to see that another production at the Fringe was using Shakespeare’s play to create their own story.

Rather than the 1940’s home front, Mulberry Theatre Company took us to East London, where we meet a group of teenage girls who are attempting to stage their own production of Henry V. However, they initially struggle to relate to the play as it’s about a load of white men in a situation seemingly very far removed from their own. This in itself raises the issue of diversity (or lack thereof) in the stories that are told in theatre and the actors who get to tell them. The key turning point in the play comes when the cast – along with many other Muslims in the country – receive an anonymous letter, declaring April 3rd as ‘Punish a Muslim Day’, thereby inciting people to commit violent crimes against Muslim people and communities.

Sadly, this letter was not a fictional dramatic device made up for the purposes of the play, but was actually a real letter that was widely circulated across the UK earlier this year. It was a very poignant and uncomfortable reminder that Islamophobia is still rife in our country, and that it is all of our responsibility to stand up for, and alongside, Muslim communities. I thought the actors handled this sensitive issue with great maturity, showing a range of responses from angry defiance to fear, raising some really thought provoking questions about what it means to be British which tied in well with the Shakespeare.

Though the subject matter was serious, there were some really lovely and inventive moments in the play to enjoy. I was struck by the set when I first walked in the venue, which effectively gave the impression of a community centre and was used well by the performers throughout. Technical aspects of the play were also executed well, such as when the girls were reading comments about their production of Henry V (both supportive and abusive) and scrolling comment feeds were projected onto their bodies. There was also a lovely moment with a skull, suit of armour, sword and crown – I don’t want to give too much away, but it was a surprising and creative use of what I had previously just thought of as a nice bit of set-dressing!

All in all, Cry God for Harry, England and St George! was very impressive for an entirely student-led production and these young people should be commended for what they have achieved with this show.