EDINBURGH EDITION – Day Two (22 August)

Birth – Pleasance Courtyard

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

A beautiful contemporary dance piece about miscarriage which with deft simplicity spans three generations of family and meditates on the stories not shared between families and lives unlived but still full imagined by those suffering from the loss of them.

Scene changes are denoted by a large off-white cloth, swept over the characters, who in seconds beneath the fabric, morph and age seamlessly. A toddling boy grows to adulthood and fathers his own child before our eyes. A girl meets a man, falls in love and gives birth with deceptively simple gestures – there is virtually no dialogue. The story becomes circular as parents raise children who raise children who become their parents, which might be intentional or not, but it made me think about reincarnation, maybe there was a subtle nod to the idea of every human feeling loss and pain and every birth being the result of generations of care and survival. It takes A village to raise a child and a village to mourn one.

Manual Cinema’s Frankenstein – Underbelly – McEwan Hall

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

A moving, well-polished, inventive production using projection screens, puppets, live music and mime to elegantly tell a story about Frankenstein’s monster and author Mary Shelley’s inspiration behind her gothic masterpiece.

Overhead projectors have never been this exciting before – they are about five of them in a row, each manned by a performer, and switched with balletic choreography from one to the next with moving slides which appear on a projection screen like live animation. Each image is wrought with precision – from Mary Shelley’s silhouetted forelock to the monster’s ‘watery eye’. These seamlessly switch to and from the actors so a silhouette made of paper on the overhead projector blends into scenes with actors silhouetted behind a screen.

Part of the fascination for the viewer is having all the moving parts laid out on the stage – you can see the performers creating misty morning landscapes by flickering their hands above the OHPs you can watch the flautist and the drums being played – you can see the actors floating intricately cut cardboard props behind the screen – yet none of this detracts from the central story.

Best of all, the tenderly told story of a human-like creature born into a world he doesn’t understand and which views him as monstrous is leant fresh pathos by an adorable malformed puppet whose attempts to make a basic human connection are thwarted at every turn.

The production is so slick and utterly unique, it’s a real marvel to behold.

America is Hard to See, Underbelly Cowgate

4 out of 5 stars (4 / 5)

Set within the sugar cane fields of rural Florida, in the town of Miracle village, three miles east of Pahokee is a small community. The show begins with the actors, portraying the real-life inhabitants asking why anyone is interested in their small little town, with its cute little chapel and its God-fearing country folk (population 200)?

Theatre makers Life Jacket Theatre were interested because Florida’s enforcement laws have resulted in Miracle Village becoming almost entirely populated by sex offenders. The show interviews the ones whose victims were minors; children.

This community slowly became accepted by a local pastor, Patti, from Pahokee, who encouraged the men to join the choir. Turns out they sing like angels.

There are verbatim transcripts with characters explaining how Chad, the school teacher felt a deep connection with his 15-year-old pupil, how Chris was aghast to find his girlfriend was under-age.

A response from Chad’s victim, who it appears contacted the theatre company – is minimised to just one line: ‘He ruined my life’, and then we see Chad, disarmingly awkward, making sarcastic jokes about going to a Christian pray the gay away camp and playing piano in the Pajokee church choir.

Redemption through prayer and church song is a key theme. Chris and his new girlfriend, who is the progressive pastor’s daughter have a love song constucted around the real-life characters interviews, about young love and the frustrations when Chris breaks his parole agreement and returns to jail.

The quality of music and singing is very good – the lyrics are so-so – there are constructed from fragments of what real people have said. One is about a tour around a local sugarcane plant, which the performers try their best to infuse with fury but its still a tour around a sugar cane plant set to music. I’m not sure why this made the cut.

It feels like the agenda of the theatre group was to show the human-ness, the guilt, the grief, the mental torture that some of those in this community go through. With only court transcripts to present an alternative view of what really went on.

I find myself frequently asking why this subject. Why give a voice to a community of paedophiles? it makes for interesting theatre, but as a journalist I have to question the ethics of focusing a piece of work on the criminals and leaving their victims in the shadows.

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