The Red Stripe's writing cheques that my liver can't cash, I thought briefly as Late 'N' Live wound down around 4am this morning, only to douse the thought completely with another can of Jamaican loopy juice. Nevertheless, these things do come back to haunt you when you wake up the morning after with a bad case of the notorious Fringe Lurgi: your head aches, you're totally exhausted and you have that delicate feeling like someone's shaved off at least three layers of your skin in the middle of the night. And you still have this show to get to in an hour or two... As virtually all of Spank's Pals are feeling roughly the same way (except Sylvia, who had an early night, and Jon, who has all of the symptoms except the hangover-related ones), this morning involves taking things relatively easily.
The brave few capable of writing up their Monday reports do so, and I pop off to Web 13 to upload them, finding out in the process that Demon have finally fixed their email servers and are no longer USELESS SHIT-EATING BASTARDS, which I'm sure is a great relief to them. From there Jon and I head off to the Gilded Balloon box office, where we spend a surreal hour trekking to and from the counter trying to find a show to see. The Curse Of Iain Banks? Cancelled, I'm afraid. Mel and Sue at the Pleasance? Well, yes, the daily diary does say they're on, but it's a misprint, their run finished last Saturday night. Poisoning Pigeons In The Park? Sorry, we've cancelled today's performance of that too. It's The Curse Of The Curse Of Iain Banks, I tell you.
Happily, we find that The Liar is playing as advertised, and doing so to a capacity house, presumably because it's the one damn thing at the Gilded Balloon that's not been cancelled this afternoon. Although the fact that it's listed in the programme under the title Stephen Fry's 'The Liar' may have something to do with it. An adaptation of Fry's first novel, it's the story of the adolescent years of compulsive liar Adrian, following him through public school and Cambridge. Brilliantly intelligent, flagrantly bisexual, incapable of speaking a sentence without a joke in it, the obvious temptation is to identify the lead character as being a thinly disguised version of the author: Fry, of course, denies all this. In Cambridge, Adrian meets up with Professor Trefusis, who recognises the boy's talent for deception and sees a way of putting it to good use for his own purposes...
The Liar surprised a lot of people when it was first published, as it went against the trend of comedians writing books that were nothing more than a series of jokes or sketches cobbled together by an editor: it's a genuine novel, with intriguing characters and a plot that's clever, verging on the smartarse. It's a few years since I read it, but I feel that trying to hack it down to 90 minutes of dialogue is ultimately beyond the reach of adapter Jonathan Dryden Taylor. A little too much of the action involves a character reading chunks of the book from a lectern accompanied by a slide show. The plot leaps around just a bit too much, and some of the ellipses and time shifts make the story a bit hard to keep hold of. This may, however, be a deliberate design strategy. One of the most inspired touches in the production is to emphasise just how difficult Adrian is to pin down by having all four of the male members of the cast play him, swapping from scene to scene. The multiple performances by the cast of five are all excellent, and together with the usual swathe of erudite and filthy Stephen Fry gags, they help swing the balance towards making this play worth tracking down.
I've gone on record in the past as saying the Traverse is the best place for straight theatre on the Fringe. However, it's generally accepted that it's not been a terribly good year for them. Indifferent reviews and a lack of Fringe First awards (compared with previous years) are leading people to suspect it may have lost the plot a little. With a bit of research via the Fringe Notice Board (thanks, Doctor P), I eventually plumped for Simon Bennett's play Drummers, produced by Max Stafford-Clark's Out Of Joint company. Interestingly, Drummers isn't listed in the Fringe programme at all: according to that, Out Of Joint were to be presenting the world premiere of Some Explicit Polaroids, the new play by the man cursed to be known for the rest of his life as Mark 'Shopping And Fucking' Ravenhill. Drummers feels a bit like a last minute replacement for a play that's presumably not ready for prime time yet.
A drum is a house, as any fule kno: hence drummers are people who break into houses. Ray (Peter Sullivan) has just spent three years in jail for doing it, and he's gearing up to get back into the business again. We follow him as he reaquaints himself with his family and associates. Brother Barry (Callum Dixon), who's working as Ray's driver while trying to hide his dope habit from him: mother Ella (Maggie McCarthy), ashamed of Ray's past and fearful that Barry will go the same way: and father and son team George (Ewan Hooper) and Pete (Paul Ritter), who've worked as fences for Ray in the past. All of them are worried that three years in the nick may have sent Ray over the edge. All of them are right.
Playwright Simon Bennett has done time himself, and the dialogue certainly has an authentic feel to it, with lots of criminal slang and edgy humour. ("Proper upperclass gaff, pure socialites." "What's a socialite?" "Someone who pays for meals with their own cheque book.") Ultimately it's not so much a play about crime as about family relationships, tracing the rifts and reconciliations of the two families in view. Sadly, the good Doctor P has already given away the big shock scene at the centre of the play: it's surprising in these enlightened times how one tiny act of sodomy can have so many people running for the exits. Bennett, however, cunningly places this act earlier in the play than you may expect, giving a genuine sense of tension to the later scenes: what else is Ray capable of? On the whole, worth a look if you can handle the combination of crime, violence, sex and serious swearing: but I can't help feeling we've seen far too many plays like this by now.
For the second time this week, Kiwi comedy from the Sarkies family: Robert Sarkies' film Scarfies, co-written with his brother, the man cursed to be known for the rest of his life as Duncan 'Lovepuke' Sarkies. A personal interest in this one, as it's set among the scarf-wearing student community of the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, where regular correspondent Lee lives and works. She even made it to the world premiere at the opening of the Dunedin Film Festival, and was reasonably impressed. The film's about five students who move into a decrepit squat: the bathroom is a sewer, the bedrooms are falling apart, but there is the consolation of the electricity being free. Oh, and the basement is crammed to the ceiling with marajuana plants abandoned by the previous owner. The students are quick to capitalise on this discovery and make a tidy bit of cash from selling the dope. Life is looking up for them all. Until the original owner of the basement plantation comes back. And he's pissed off.
What with Edinburgh being Dunedin's twin town, and a group of flatmates profiting from criminal earnings, and the criminals coming back to take their revenge, and the flatmates dragging themselves deeper into a moral quagmire as they try to work out what's right and wrong, comparisons with Shallow Grave have been made by an awful lot of people. Sarkies himself was hit with this accusation at the Q&A following the film. ("Someone gets stabbed at the end of Shallow Grave too? Oh no! I never spotted that one!") Interestingly, Sarkies revealed that he didn't like Danny Boyle's film all that much, as he found the characters too unsympathetic. For me, that's what made Shallow Grave work so well: you realise the flatmates are arseholes within the first few minutes, you instinctively know that they'll never be able to cope with the responsibility of acquiring so much money, so you cheerfully sit back to laugh at the spectacle of them destroying themselves.
Scarfies, however is totally different: you like these people. You're happy to see them doing well from the dope money, and you initially find it amusing when they capture the real owner of the crop and lock him in the basement while they work out what to do. But as you (and they) realise that this is a human being they're torturing with electricity, superglue and runny shit, the smile slowly comes off your face. In the end you're not rooting for someone to get away with the money, you're rooting for someone to do the right thing. Scarfies is a very clever debate on moral responsibility cunningly disguised as a comedy about pothead students, and deserves the huge success it's currently receiving in its home country (number two in the box office charts behind Eyes Wide Shut). Hopefully it'll get a British distribution deal soon so it can have similar success over here.
P.S. Al Murray is now the proud father of a baby girl called Scarlet. Congratulations to all concerned. Sorry about yesterday's rant, you know what Red Stripe does to you...
Notes From Spank's Pals (including the stuff they were too hung over to hand in yesterday)
Old Lag - Late 'N' Live was nasty, brutish, disabling and topped off with a bizarre 70's singing disco. Send in Matthew Bannister! The unknown comedians would have been booed off in a scout hut. The largely 6th form audience were mesmerised like communist youth and resented any disruption to the proceedings in that seriousness of youth. The compere had the audacity to complain about the quality of heckling, but it was difficult to get a word in edgeways and little to aspire to when slumped in the back. Ross Noble does look like a rising star in the rare class of ad-lib comedians. Jason Byrne, regarded as a pretender to that crown, picked on Old Lag in the front row in '98 and got a roasting he did not handle with wit. Spank has commented on the established comedians and stars spotted in the bar, but did he spot Simon Munnery? [Can't say I did, but I did catch Al Murray doing some early baby's head-wetting six hours after the show he cancelled. No, mustn't be nasty... - Spank]
Christine - Nothing could have prepared me for Anonymous Sontata. I have known Jacques Brel's works since the 60s via Scott Walker. This is Brel for the millennium and shows his work is classic Lowlands angst - death, lovers leaving, lovers cheating, all life's sordid acts are part of Brel's repertoire. This performance of his works was stunning, leaving me drained and in need of a curry. (I can recommend a large imposing looking Indian restaurant - name forgotten - in West Maitland Street, one block away from the junction with Morrison Street.) Unmissable.
Old Lag - Often I Find That I Am Naked, presented by Rowens Productions. My real gripe with this 2 person show was the audience. As any actor knows, the audience is part of the performance. This crowd was provincial, middle aged, frumpy or bearded and drably dressed. It was difficult to decide whether they were showing polite interest or being herded unblinkingly into the gas chambers. Most of the way in, any metropolitan thirtysomething singleton would have found this woman's search for a partner through the social and sexual politics of the 90's hugely funny. Here, 97.3% of the humour was lost. It kicks off with the common endeavour to make oneself interesting. First port of call, inveigling into friends, social scenes and parties. Via the dating pages and some false directions: religion, family parties, then the journey descends to the bar room floor. There are many recognisable and not so recognisable scenes (she's a bit of a goer) and men. Insights of the alter ego are flashed onto a video board. The humour gets left behind and her descent is fleshed out into a full life by the ascent of her career and the descent of her self esteem: the latter highlighted accurately and amusingly by a cameo of the obligatory trip to the psychotherapist. The script wisely leaves to the audience's insight that the early attractions are unsuitable: a male observation of this would be women's high expectations. When the esteem fails, the relationships are of desperately low expectation. It does however allow the audience to will the heroine along hopefully in a better direction. It is resolved with some sense of understanding and self (is it always blamed on parents?) - and the right man - but that's showbiz. Great show, gassed audience.
Jon - Scarfies is an enjoyable romp set in the New Zealand city of Dunedin. Scarfies - those who need scarves - is the colloquial term for students, many of whom arrive from the more temperate north of the country, to find it too cold. A caper movie, it's about a group of scarfies who find a cannabis farm in the basement of their house. They sell the cannabis, and have to deal with the consequences when the owner returns. Director Robert Sarkies, together with his playwright brother Duncan who co-wrote the screenplay, have created an intelligent depiction of the characters, in circumstances where they are completely out of their depth. The neat denouement avoids the obvious solutions, unlike many of its Hollywood equivalents.
Old Lag - I always come out of David Mamet's plays feeling I have not really understood but have enjoyed them. Speed The Plow is without a doubt the funniest of my collection of his plays so far. It does however have one of his common themes: men's relationships, in this case that of a manager and his patron, the recently promoted Hollywood studio head of production. A big deal arrives for Junior requiring Senior's approval and participation. The premature celebration of this allows the examination of the nuts and bolts of their working relationship over the years, particularly of Junior. The self-congratulation is of whores in a whoreish industry. Act 2 sees the entrance of a naively perceptive temp sec. Her simple honesty in this environment and ability to identify Senior's essential fear - and relating that to the film's audience - reverses Senior's decision. He decides to dump the blockbuster and make a low budget, intellectual, fear laded apocalypse film. Quelle horreur! Junior sees infinite success and wealth stripped from his hands. With spectacular endeavour he turns the full force of his personality using physical aggression, salesmanship, exploitation of loyalty, exposing fear and cross examination. In the end he gets business back to normal in the whorehouse. Senior toes the line an older man, and Junior becomes more powerful. A great fun play, splendid production, and as always with Mamet a great deal to think about.
Christine - hated the subtitles on Berlin "Cinema", loved the film. It was made with "space for the audience to create their own film". Thoughts echoed by Godard's voiceover when he described modern cinema as being too full for any sort of imaginitive activity for the viewer. A beautiful film, not just about Berlin, but about film itself. The concept of urbanity in literature complemented the lively discussion between Will Self and Andrew O'Hagan I had attended at the Book Festival the previous day. Stunning.
Old Lag - I think the reason I saw the band Kenny Young and the Eggplants was because Spank stitched me up. Is he down on his review quota for today? [As if - Spank] Mellow, chattering, semi-acoustic, thoughtful bongo music from wordy wimpy New Yorkers. Pleasant, but distracted into chatting up the woman sitting in front of me. No great success in either endeavour.
Christine - Bedsit was a great bit of theatre - was the nosebleed part of it? Built around a painting of a fox hunt, the central character is himself on the run. He compares himself to the fox - always alone, always frightened, one step away from the hounds. Enjoyable.
Old Lag - The world premiere of the film Elephant Juice, from This Life's writing and directing team Sam Miller and Amy Jenkins, and featuring Daniela Nardini. Eight chic Londoners attempt to come to terms with where their lives might be meandering, and some fundamental questions about sex, relationships and love. I killed myself laughing for the first three quarters, the only person in the cinema to do so. Simmered down for the fourth warm oozy quarter as relationships, realisations and exposes consolidated or not. The director argues in print that we no longer grow up in our teens but in our 30s, and some of us may carry on as single entities beyond, and this is what he wanted to highlight. That is okay by me, as I could say I'm a participant in that. (By the way, Neil Pearson was doing sterling service in the bar of the Cameo, and I want to formally thank him for attending a performance by the Nightingale Theatre Company in Wandsworth a few years ago. Apologies that he had to leave halfway through because the central heating packed up and the theatre dropped to subzero temperatures.)
Jon - Drummers, a play written by ex-con Simon Bennett, is about relationships in the criminal underworld of South London, and what happens when the bond of trust breaks down. Although its subject matter is largely unoriginal, the manner in which the brief outburst of violence is conducted (male rape) is not often portrayed on stage or screen, but I suspect is more common among the criminal fraternity. Intelligently written and well acted, a sound but not particularly inspiring play.
Old Lag - Turbo Zone presents Cinderella, performed in the spectacular setting of Edinburgh University Quadrangle. Wow, wow, wow. A multimedia circus extravaganza, with a great soundtrack and extensive use of motors, computer technology, fireworks and cranes. Kill to see. Hail technicians and creatives everywhere.
Christine - a few general notes. Great to be able to go to the theatre in the morning. Great to be able to drink in a bar at 1am and not worry about the 5.30am alarm. A whisky is offered for the first person who can prove that Rob D exists. Best show so far: Berkoff's Women.
|<-Back to Monday 23/08/1999||Return to Edinburgh '99 Index||Forward to Wednesday 25/08/1999->|