Theatre in Wales

Theatre, dance and performance reviews

Wales at Edinburgh Fringe

Various companies , EDINBURGH FESTIVAL FRINGE 2008 , August 15, 2008
Wales at Edinburgh Fringe by Various companies I've set out to wander the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in search of things Welsh or Wales connected. Apart from the high profile, multi-award winning, hot-ticket Deep Cut, which I hope to catch on its triumphal return to Wales, there's not a lot to be found at first glance. However second glances and judicial questioning have gradually revealed a few things round and about.

I managed to catch the final performance of Vista Theatre/University of Wales, Newport's OFFICE 212 at the Sweet ECO venue. This proved to be a visually inventive satire on office politics, rivalries and downsizing, stronger on physical than on verbal theatre. There were some good jokes but some of the flights of delirious dialogue lost their power because the young actors tended to run the words together.

However the physical comedy was often superb. A slow motion race/scrum to reach a telephone, performed to the Chariots of Fire theme, may by now be a cliché but when done as well as this then even a cliché can seem fresh. And the dance of office chairs while the sitters are eating someone else's bread rolls, all to the tune of The Blue Danube, was inspired. For that alone this was a show well worth seeking out, and I haven't even mentioned the nicely integrated video or the delightful animation of a sperm race.

The venue's press office drew my attention to HOW IT ENDED, a piece by an international storytelling company called You Need Me. One of the great things about the Fringe is that you often have no idea what the performance space is going to be like beforehand. At C Cubed on the Royal Mile a crowded landing and a narrow stone stairway took me into a dark, stiflingly hot, low ceilinged room. Even before the audience crammed themselves into chairs on all four sides the room seemed crowded. Some women in 1940's costumes swayed to music of the period while another sat on a chair in the centre.

The story that unfolds is familiar and might seem slight to an outsider but the intimacy of the venue and the intensity of the performances made us feel just how major those events are for the people concerned. The women are sisters in wartime Pontypridd. One of them meets, falls in love with and marries a French trainee pilot, so testing the strong family bonds almost to destruction. After the war she moves to his home in France and becomes the outsider in another strong family. She moves back to Wales where the circle is rejoined, recreating the scene we walked into.

That's all there is but ritualised movement, perfectly judged live music and sound, elegant simplicity of props and quiet truthfulness in the acting made this a gentle, low key yet very moving theatre experience.

There a growing buzz to be heard in the Fringe queues about THE EXQUISITE CORPSE at C Central. This fascinating piece, commissioned by the Wales Millennium Centre, is causing excitement both because of its unusual form and because of the high level of its execution.

Five Welsh writers have between them written fifteen short scenes. Each scene is numbered and the numbers are picked at random by the audience on the way in. The actors only know which scene they are to do next when the number is projected onto a screen, at which point they must set it up, dress in character and then play it.

It sounds like a gimmick but it really isn't. It's rather like reading a book of enigmatic short stories that have occasional links, with some characters who may recur. Some scenes you want to last longer (I would have loved to see far more of the nighttime elves), some are disturbing, some bleak, some whimsical, some funny. In an extraordinary way they do form a whole, albeit a different whole each time.

It's a genuinely intriguing project, totally absorbing and entertaining. The five actors show fantastic skills and concentration.

Reviewed by: Victor Hallett

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