Memory, migration and a male Holocaust are key concerns in the shows covered by our critics at this year’s international and fringe festivals
Krapp’s Last Tape
The Church Hill Theatre
The Kings Theatre
WE MAY all talk to ourselves at times but Samuel Beckett came up with a novel twist in Krapp’s Last Tape, in which the isolated, 69-year-old protagonist, having recorded his daily experiences throughout his adult life on his reel-to-reel tape recorder, listens and comments on that stranger who was his younger self.
Beckett wrote this short play in 1958 for the Irish actor Patrick Magee and it has since become a piece favoured by the greats.
Fellow Irishman Barry McGovern has become the leading contemporary exponent of Beckett’s works and expectations were therefore high for this questing exploration of identity.
McGovern extracts all the quirky humour of the part, making a comic spectacle of peeling bananas stowed in his desk drawer and puzzling over the meaning of his younger self’s vocabulary.
But the essence of the play is in the painful search for a lost life and love and, above all, meaning.
But McGovern’s performance is somewhat disappointing, as if the piece has become too well worn.
What has been seen as masterly combination of the pathetic with the irritable doesn’t quite cohere.
McGovern’s body language, with its arthritic shamble, seems a little too “unpainful” and a play where the rhythm of time is so important, despite the long mute opening, seems to move too quickly.
Maybe the problem is that this is an iconic Beckett role and the exponent, rather like a great instrumental soloist, is bound to raise comparisons and these are inevitably subjective judgements.
I am sure that many in the audience who know the play will have recognised McGovern as their very own virtuoso Krapp.
It comes as no surprise to learn that Britain’s most popular playwright Alan Ayckbourn originally intended his seven hour, two-part play The Divide — a departure from his cuttingly observed social comedy to dystopian science fiction — to be a novel.
The problem with dramatising the novel form is coping with the weight of detailed narrative and Ayckbourn resolves this by having the central character recount her epic tale throughout the play.
Set in a future totalitarian world stricken by a plague resulting in the decimation of the male population, it is believed that it has been spread by women who all carry the infection. After puberty, the sexes have been rigidly divided geographically into southern and northern areas.
Consequently, heterosexual relationships are banned and homosexuality is the official norm, with the women choosing female partners to form family units.
In a southern village ruled by the “Book of Certitude,” reminiscent of Salem in Arthur Miller’s The Crucible and run on the lines of Margaret Attwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, a brother and sister find themselves tragically entangled in a Romeo and Juliet situation.
The references to other works are relevant, as spotting Ackbourn’s sources generates a modicum of interest during a lengthy theatre experience in which the performances carry the play.
The narrator, Erin Doherty’s naively innocent Soween, is drawn to her fellow schoolgirl, Weruche Opia’s Giella. She’s the daughter of a “progressive” couple, who falls in love with Soween’s artistic brother Ellu (Jake Davies).
With fiercely conformist parents, it all gets very difficult for Soween who suffers from awful eczema and maliciously spiteful bullying from the Angela Brazil-type girl gang she belongs to.
Christopher Nightingale’s music increasingly sentimentalises a plot which Ayckbourn seems unable to conclude, finally tying up loose ends with a romantic suicide pact and a happy ending for the hapless Soween.
There may be warnings in this broadly entertaining but overlong mishmash but The Divide needs heavy editing before it goes on its travels.
Gilded Balloon Teviot
The Hope Six Demolition Project
The Stand 3
IMMIGRATION and asylum is an important theme in this year’s festival, particularly its impact on women, and Henry Naylor’s new play Borders is a powerful example.
Another tour de force from the writer’s Middle East series, its focus is on a Syrian opposition graffiti artist and a Western celebrity photographer who lead very different but parallel lives.
Their paths cross as she flees Assad and Isis and they come together as a refugee boat sinks.
While Borders doesn’t quite rise to the heights of Angel, Naylor’s smash hit of last year’s fringe, it is still an exceptionally prescient dramatic depiction of a key political issue today.
Avital Lvova and Graham O’Mara are impressive as the protagonists and the action grabs from the start and doesn’t let up.
That intensity could help Lebanese writer Maya Zbib as she too explores a woman on the run from Lebanon to Europe via most of the Middle East in Ghalia’s Miles.
Zbib asks the question whether her journey is personal or political and, while her concerns about the treatment of women makes an impact, it’s a piece which suffers from a bit too much deus ex machina intervention.
PJ Harvey and her nine-piece band triumphed in their delivery of the Hope Six Demolition Project, an album released following Harvey’s visits to Kosovo, Afghanistan and Washington, which is where the title comes from.
It was a concert full of passion, with songs dealing with war and destruction and with those on the demolition of communities concentrating on the impact on people.
Harvey’s voice is as good as it has ever been and the band were better than I’ve ever heard them.
Comedian Sajeela Kershi started to wonder what is it like to be an immigrant in Britain shortly after the 2012 Olympics.
So she put together Immigrant Diaries, a series of sessions getting different guests to tell their stories about being an immigrant in this country.
As Kershi says: “Statistics don’t tell the story about immigration in this country, people do.”
That’s what this show does, and how.
Obviously the guests determine the content and actor Jing Lusi (China), comics Dana Alexander (Canada) and Patrick Monahan (Iran/Ireland) blast through issues like typecasting and expectations with humour and understanding.
If Kershi hadn’t put this show together, we’d have had to invent it.