thoughts and frustrations on Melbourne theatre through bright young eyes

Edinburgh Festival Bites: Part 2

The Traverse Theatre is one of many in the UK which champions new writing from primarily local, but also international, playwrights. Performing several different shows a day in the main Traverse One and the more intimate Traverse Two (a feat within itself), their program within the Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year is a fantastic demonstration of their attitude towards experimentation, innovation and investment in exciting co-productions in theatre. Below are some reviews of shows that I have managed to see there so far.

Deep Cut – directed by Mick Gordon, written by Sherman Cymru. Until August 24th (only four shows not sold out at time of writing), Traverse 2, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh.

Private Cheyrl James was one of four young British army recruits who died under mysterious circumstances, all labelled as ‘suicides’ by the British Military, at the Deep Cut training facility. From transcripts of inquests, documentation, interviews and other source material, Sherman Cymru has constructed a theatrical representation of the events in the lead up and in the wake of her death, told largely from the perspective of her parents’ struggle to discover the truth. It’s a highly engaging hybrid form of verbatim theatre given life and urgency through dynamic performances and really solid direction from Gordon. He presents evidence and real people involved in the original investigation and subsequent inquests both on the set – a cross-section of the living room of James’ parents house which gradually becomes blanketed in layers of files and paperwork – and on a thick lining of fake turf, into the audience. The audience are directly addressed for almost all of the piece, suggesting that rather than a work of documentary ‘drama’, Deep Cut is a finely constructed argument. And while Cymru and Gordon don’t appear to be suggesting that there is any definitive conclusion regarding James’, or any of the others’ deaths, they want to highlight and argue for the largely untold story of frustration and exhaustion of parents attempting to seek some form of closure. It does not really matter to what extent a fair and balanced assessment of the death itself takes place; the political potency, and ultimate sadness, of Deep Cut rests in its damning attack on bureaucracy and competency at military, police and Government levels within Britain and the toll that this takes on individuals. A highly recommended piece.

Fall – directed by Dominic Hill, written by Zinnie Harris. Until August 24th, Traverse 1, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh.

I suspect it is only a matter of time until Zinnie Harris’ triology about a dystopic society engulfed by war is picked up, at least in part (the three are separate in characters but appear linked by a common war), by an Australian theatre company. Originally commissioned by the Royal Shakespeare Company for Solstice and Midwinter, which she also directed, Harris has entered into a co-production with the Traverse Theatre and allowed Dominic Hill to steer the helms of Fall. It’s the longest of the three plays and is centred on the post-war execution of fourteen war criminals. Harris is a very skilled writer, often choosing to underplay dramatic moments with poetic and sparse dialogue and dry wit, effectively building tension and suspense, but here she is at her most conventional. Part political-thriller and part relationship-drama, Fall loses much of the abstract, poetic intensity of Solstice in what feels like an attempt to sum-up Harris’ trilogy; to reiterate messages and restate what has already been said before both in the earlier pieces and throughout the play itself. The moral dilemma at the core of the piece; the execution of war criminals and a ravaged, ravenous society craving their blood; hints wonderfully at the contemporary obsession with war criminals such as Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden, alluding in particular to the dissemination of footage of the execution of the former. But the issue is explored so clumsily, with perhaps a little too much West Wing earnestness, that it loses much of its potential impact. That is not to suggest that Fall is not an effective play – the ensemble of seven do a fantastic job criss-crossing and traversing the gloriously drab stage full of screens and transparent doors (courtesy of Tom Piper) – and there are some fantastic dramatic moments, well choreographed by Hall. But Fall is never quite the play that Harris wants it to be.

Free Outgoing – directed by Indhu Rubasingham, written by Anupama Chandrasekhar. Until August 25th, Traverse 2, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh.

Aside from the fluff of von Mayenburg’s The Ugly One, another product of the Royal Court’s international writers program, the Genesis Project, is Anupama Chandrasekhar’s Free Outgoing. Having just been revived at the Royal Court Upstairs, Free Outgoing arrives in Edinburgh as a traditional, warmly comic issue-play that attempts to depict the family, and scarily social, outrage in India following sixteen-year-old Deepa’s decision to have sex with a classmate in her English room. Furthermore, the sex is recorded on the classmate’s mobile phone and spread across friendship networks, the internet, and eventually, into the mass-media. There’s nothing to especially dislike with Free Outgoing – it wears its heart on its sleeve and really attempts to provide an insight into the hypocrisy of, and obsession with, social pressures in parts of contemporary India. But it’s a very straightforward, narrow, and at times frustrating, exploration of what is such a complicated issue – it offers no real analysis of how can India be at the forefront of technological and economic development, and yet be so socially conservative. The decision to centre the drama solely on Deepa’s mother, Malini, and her brother is the main problem, as it restricts all of the ‘action’ to exposition-heavy conversations which take place in the loungeroom of their house. More interesting is the decision to never represent Deepa except for a muffled voice. This serves as a perfect metaphor for what the play is trying to say – it’s not so much about Deepa and her actions, but rather the way in which her family, and the society she is part of, receives them. Deepa is the absent woman, the scapegoat, the rallying point for rage, and yet she is never given the opportunity to speak for herself. The performances are all solid and the play, while intelligent and provocative, could have been more incisive, and perhaps less conventionally British, in its approach to such a contemporary issue.

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