Paper Boats, Booby-Trapped Umbrellas and a Pile of Old Wardrobes… just another day in Edinburgh

If it is true that ‘nothing succeeds like excess’, then Brent and I have had a very successful few days indeed. Seeing up to six shows a day as well as a far from quantifiable load of street theatre, we’ve absolutely binged on the stuff… and I’m starting to feel a little full. While I’m still enjoying myself to the core, it must be said that it’s starting to take a lot to impress me. Beware, Cardiff. I’m going to be a much less forgiving critic when I return.

Thankfully, refreshment came in National Theatre Wales’ The Dark Philosophers ★★★★. Now. I understand that you perhaps won’t trust me when I sing the praises of this particular show. If you feel this will be the case, please listen to these other people instead. However to those still with me, I can say with complete honesty that I was so happy to be shoe-horned into the packed audience of such a powerful and playful piece that is an utterly fitting way to represent the company.

Dark Philosophers heartily mixes Gwyn Thomas’ biographical details with quirky adaptations of his collection of stories of the same name, forming a patchwork quilt of valleys experience that is strung together with haunting song and inventive movement.

Made up of a chaotic stack of wardrobes, the set is exquisite. As the actors devilishly metamorphose from miners to TV personalities to bodily components of an imposingly puppet, the set endures similar transformations as the compartments beyond the wardrobe doors represent pubs, train carriages, coffins and more.

Next stop was Idle Motion’s The Seagull Effect ★★★★ at Zoo Sanctuary. So far, so very very good. Just like yesterday’s 2401 Objects, The Seagull Effect enriches its narrative with an informed scientific tone, making the diverse backgrounds of the company’s founders quite clear.

The work takes us back to one night in 1987, where a freak hurricane played its part in sculpting lives. With video projection, genius use of props (including a particularly effective scene where water is poured between umbrellas to neatly represent a torrential scene) and an emphasis on movement, The Seagull Effect is an exceptionally visual piece which ultimately reminds us that it’s not just the big events that make a difference but rather ever single little movement plays its part in driving us through our lives. Intelligent, subtle and beautiful, I would urge any Edinburgh-goer to pay this a visit and everyone else to look out for this ‘brilliant emerging company’.

After this, it all started to go downhill. Following a great review from box office staff which gave us an unwarranted lesson in the power of bias, we headed off to see Tonight Sandy Grierson will Lecture, Dance and Box ★★. In this show, the passion of the single performer was undeniable and his demand on the audience to gradually fashion origami boats out of a fact-sheet about his relative was a clever inclusion. Yet the story he told (channelling the experience of his great-grandfather) was far from engaging and his attempts to engage the audience were far from completely accomplished.

Unfortunately, What Goes Up ★ completely lacked any lifting moments to help us out of our theatrical slump. Full of toilet humour, two-dimensional characterisation and irritating twists, this was an extremely disappointing way to finish the evening. Tomorrow I shall really try to go out on a high – have booked two tickets following Lyn Gardner’s recommendations on Twitter and shall be heading off to see Alma Mater and I Hope My Heart Goes First. Fingers crossed that these will restore my faith in theatre.

first blogged on National Theatre Wales Community

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