Edinburgh Fringe Review: The Vanishing Man and The Extinction Event, Pleasance - magic, clever and lots of fun

They are plays of sleight of hand, seemingly explaining how tricks are done while performing another that just bamboozles and astounds even more.

Simon Evans and David Aula
The Vanishing Man and The Extinction Event (David Aula and Simon Evans). Photo: Michael Wharley.

Simon Evans and David Aula have written and are performing in not one but two shows back to back at the Fringe. Mad? Perhaps.

Known for directing dramas such as Killer Joe and The Cement Garden, here they play magicians - are magicians - performing a series of spellbinding card, vanishing and mind-reading tricks.

But there is a narrative too, these are more than magic shows and each play has a theme and a personal story - and lots of amusing and clever audience participation (sit further back if that makes you uncomfortable).

They are plays of sleight of hand, seemingly explaining how tricks are done while performing another that just bamboozles and astounds even more.

The Vanishing Man

This play centres on a trick by Edwardian magician David Cedar in which he seemingly vanished into thin air, never to be seen again.

Described as the magic trick that got away, Evans and Aula explore the concept and theory of magic in order to work out how it was done - recreate it to explain it. Sort of.

They cleverly work the audience or rather get the audience working not just with assisting and close up observation of tricks - picking cards etc but also feeding lines of dialogue.

It is funny but not at anyone's expense and cleverly draws you close while distracting you with amusement.

Fast-paced, there is a lot that is impressive from the magic itself to the way the narratives weaves and how seemingly random threads come together.

It is frolicking, clever fun and ends with a poignant punch line.

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Edinburgh Fringe Review: A play losing its way in The Journey, Pleasance Dome

There is good writing here and some good ideas but it loses its way.

0e1c6c_1222776cfa4c4214bab8b51024501b7a~mv2_d_1500_1500_s_2_555x500The Journey is the story of a romance set on a lonely spaceship but it's also a play within a play, the trials and tribulations of two actors putting on a play at the Fringe.

Written by stand up Stuart Laws, it starts off with an interesting premise, a couple in the first flush of their relationship win a trip on a spaceship - it's a solo trip and will take the best part of a year. 

At first, the couple are still in that cute phase with their own jokes and language shortcuts but the isolation - and lack of decent reading matter - inevitably begins to put a strain on the relationship.

Emotional baggage is revealed and history comes back to haunt them and petty squabbles start.

The actors break the fourth wall to occasionally narrate their performances and comment on how they've adapted to certain logistical challenges in the production.

It's amusing and cleverly blurs the lines between the two narratives leaving you guessing where one story ends and the other begins. 

However, you know the cute romance phase is not going to last forever - otherwise, where would the drama be?

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Review: Peaky Blinders comes to the Edinburgh Fringe in Tobacco Road, Pleasance #edfringe

Incognito Theatre’s style is to blend segments of more conventional dialogue with movement and it is the latter which impress

Incognito Tobacco Road Tim Hall
Incognito Theatre Company - Tobacco Road. Photo: Tim Hall Photography

If you’ve watched Peaky Blinders then with Incognito Theatre's Tobacco Road you’ll be on familiar territory.

The real-life, Birmingham-based gang whose world is depicted in the BBC TV series is not only name-checked but so are several other characters.

Tobacco Road is set in London between the wars and charts the rise and fall of the Tobacco Road gang from their early days involved in petty theft and organised fights to large-scale organised crime and hedonistic notoriety.

Incognito Theatre’s style is to blend segments of more conventional dialogue with movement and it is the latter which impress.

From a boxing ring sequence to bar brawls and nightclub revels, each is brought evocatively to life with skilful and imaginative choreography.

At the start is it two female gangsters that are on top, using their brains as well as a bit of brawn and running rings around the more muscle-heavy local male gang.

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Some things I've learned about the Edinburgh Fringe on my first day #EdFringe

Fringe  media pass 20181. OMG, there are venues everywhere. Everywhere. And posters for shows.

2. People queueing to get into the venues are lovely and chatty; great camaraderie, sharing recommendations and tips.

3. The actors say a few words at the end of a play and often will big up each others' plays.

4. The venues can get very warm.

5. Actors walk around the streets in costume like its normal.

6. And Barry Loves me.

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Edinburgh Fringe: Ladykiller or how to use gender stereotypes to get away with murder, Pleasance

'Her' is a perverse figurehead for female empowerment and it is that contradiction and the darkness that I loved.

Pleasance_4A hotel room, a dead body, a maid covered in blood with a knife in her hand. This isn’t what it looks like, it definitely isn’t.

Writer Madeline Gould’s pitch black play perverts stereotypes to explore female criminality but more than that.

Her (Hannah McClean) uses female stereotypes to her murderous advantage.

Gould has done her research. She knows the psychological profiles of different types of killers, knows the assumptions and the boxes into which criminals are placed.

When Her describes blood it is sensuous and she revels in it as you would a more innocent substance.

Gould has created a deliciously complex character: duplicitous, despicable, clever, brutal and admirable. And McClean superbly captures the contradictions at times vulnerable, fun, charming and terrifying.

Her is a perverse figurehead for female empowerment and it is that darkness and contradiction that I loved.

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From the archives: A Ben Whishaw Hamlet interview

Don't ask me why I was googling Ben Whishaw and Hamlet but I came across this interview which I don't think I've seen before and it struck me because it's probably the most candid he's been about playing the part - and the audition process. 

Asked how he sees his own Hamlet, Whishaw describes him as "still a boy, hypersensitive and hyperactive. His relationships with his mother and his girlfriend are perhaps more fraught than a 35-year-old might suggest on stage, because we make strides to remind everyone he's only 19."

You can read the full interview with Ben Whishaw on the Evening Standard website. 

And my Hamlet review, which I described as my 'Hallelujah moment', written after watching it at the V&A archive.

 


Review: Teenage suicide told through the eyes of teenagers in Breathe, Bunker Theatre

Despite the continual presence of others, the feelings of isolation and vulnerability remain.

Breathe is a play about teen suicide told through the eyes of teenagers.

Breathe  The Bunker - courtesy of DF Photography (1)
Breathe at The Bunker - courtesy of DF Photography

In fact, it's produced by youth theatre company Athenaeum which gives it an interesting and insightful lens through which to explore the topic.

We know right from the start how this play is going to end, the story is the journey: What leads three teens to step over the edge?

Jack (Byron Easmon) displays symptoms of manic depression and is obsessed with how he looks, Sam (Martha Hay) has got herself into an inappropriate relationship with an authority figure and Leo (George Jaques - also the writer of Breathe) is struggling with his sexuality - and grief.

Overwhelming turmoil

Each story is told via a relationship to a significant person in their life: Girlfriend (Elizabeth Brierley), boyfriend (Douglas Clarke-Wood) and older brother (Gus Flind-Henry) and the narratives interweave with sometimes two or three playing out simultaneously.

It has the effect of giving the play spikes of an almost overwhelming turmoil. Frustrations are not just expressed verbally but also in action, often repetitive behaviour such as hammering on a laptop keyboard.

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Edinburgh Fringe interview: Writer Kat Woods on frustration with theatre elitism and breaking working class stereotypes

Award-winning writer/director Kat Woods returns to the Edinburgh Fringe with Killymuck, here she talks about breaking working-class stereotypes - and why you should always perform like its press night. 

What inspired you to write Killymuck?

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Kat Woods

Killymuck is a piece of theatre inspired by my own council estate, benefit upbringing. I have become increasingly frustrated with the elitism that exists within the realm of theatre and the constant portrayal of the benefit class stereotype which is perpetuated in the media. This constant negative ideology that becomes almost biblical rhetoric needs to be rewritten. 

Why is it important this story is told?

If we don't start to tell stories from all classes and all minorities then we are not representing society as a whole. How do we open up the doors of the theatre to the underclasses or the working classes if they are not reflected in the narratives that are being told?

You won an award for a previous fringe piece - Belfast Boy - does that make it easier or harder coming back?

I've actually had two pieces on since Belfast Boy - Wasted and Mule. I found it incredibly difficult coming back after having a success.

My follow-up play was Wasted, a piece about consent. That was in 2015 and I think we may have been a year or two too early with it. It has had more success now and is returning to America this year. 

I wasn't really mentally prepared for how tough I would find it. The scrutiny can be so overwhelming and it’s very easy to slip mentally when reading reviews and comments on the piece of work that you have worked so hard on. 

 

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Edinburgh Fringe interview: 'We don’t go to the theatre to watch sane people talking about normal things' - Simon Evans and David Aula

Not content with performing one play at the Edinburgh Fringe director/performers Simon Evans and David Aula are performing two - back to back. The two plays - The Vanishing Man and The Extinction Event - are described as a 'marriage of poignant theatre and spellbinding close-up magic'.

Two plays back to back, are you mad?

The Vanishing Man (Simon Evans and David Aula) - courtesy of Michael Wharley_3
The Vanishing Man and The Extinction Event (Simon Evans and David Aula). Photo: Michael Wharley

Probably, but we don’t go to the theatre to watch sane people talking about normal things. We’re actually very lucky: both these shows are very audience-centred. We don’t like to throw “audience involvement” around much, as it tends to induce feelings of horror and fear of embarrassment, but we do ask a thing or two of the very kind people who’ve chosen to see us (and not just “Pick a card”). 

The audience is our uncredited third character, and that means the show takes on an energy and momentum that you just don’t get from more there’s-a-fourth-wall pieces. The energy is infectious, so we tend to come out the other end more elated than fatigued.

That said, David is also the recipient of a brand new baby boy. It’s possible that the added pressure of looking after a one-month-old might be the straw breaking our camel’s back. Also, Simon tends to get very sleepy around 3 pm and that’s far from ideal in a 2.10pm-4.40pm slot.

Honestly (and I’m aware these words may come back to haunt me) it’s two 60 minute shows separated by a generous 30-minute interval, so we’ve got it better than a lot of other actors currently treading the boards. I’m optimistic. What I mean is, you certainly won’t see two tired performers up there.

How are you preparing?

That’s a good question when you consider that there are two separate elements in the shows we’re presenting. The more standard elements (dialogue/staging/storytelling) are handled in a fairly standard way.

Both of us are established theatre directors (Simon currently has Killer Joe on in the West End with a Donmar show coming up, and David’s production of The Cement Garden recently headlined the Vault Festival) so we enjoy the process of building the show up physically.

We’ve spent a lot of time in each other’s company as we've written the script, re-written it, shown it, learned from it, re-written it, tried it again, cut it, cut more of it, re-written it, learned it, worked out where to stand while we say it.

On the other hand, our plays are also magic shows of a kind. There are individual tricks and a more arching idea that an entire show can be an effect in-and-of-itself if handled right.

Magic is entirely audience led; you can see a play that refuses to acknowledge an audience and still think “That was a good play”, but a magic trick which fails to amaze/delight/confound an audience, is a dead thing.

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Interview: Circa's hula hoop artist Jessica Connell talks making Peepshow and common misconceptions about acrobatics

Jessica Connell is a hula hoop artist performing in Circa's Peepshow at the Underbelly. She talks about creating the show, training schedules and popular misconceptions about acrobatics.

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Jessica Connell performs in Circa's Peepshow

What was the inspiration behind Circa’s Peepshow?

The inspiration behind the show is about seeing and being seen. We were inspired by the idea of how people see one another. The action we take, how we dress, what we say all influence how we are seen by others. 

Why should people come and see it?

Peepshow is a raw, risky, honest show that I am still excited to have helped create and be performing. We are seven acrobats on stage. We work together as an ensemble and we all have something to share with the audience. There is humour, great skills, great music including an original composition and we have worked hard to explore new acts and styles to express our art-form.
 
The lighting is also exciting. There are moments in the show where I am performing acrobatics in different styles of lighting I have never performed acrobatics or hula hoops in before. It creates great challenges and opportunities for us in our show.

How do you put a show together?

The Ensemble with our Director Yaron Lifschitz and associate director Libby McDonald work to explore concepts and themes. Sometimes our director comes in with a track or an idea and we explore that idea physically.

There is a lot of experimentation and a show can change a lot from day one. Some ideas change beyond recognition, others grow and some don’t make it in the show at all.

It is also a very free environment to work in. We have lots of discussions and are free to bring ideas into the room.  

What is the hardest bit?

Everyone will find different aspects of the show hard depending on their role. I perform hula hoops with the ensemble; they lift me, twist me and throw hoops to me.

Performing my skills like this is new and an exciting and challenging act we have created for Peepshow. 

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