Edinburgh Fringe 2013
"It’s Samuel Beckett meets Larry King in this new play by CJ Hopkins. When an expert on terrorism appears on a TV talk show, the conversation becomes a perverse satirical rant on the increasing alienation of the individual in the modern world."
When FringeReview opted to trial replacing star ratings with ‘Recommended’, ‘Highly Recommended’ and ‘Outstanding’ friends asked if we were doing anything special. “Surely” they opined, “this is but a star by anyother name.” Not true. The great liberation for me and my colleagues this Fringe has been the ability to recognise the swing of bold, innovative and daring theatre irrespective of whether it’s a hit or a miss. We want to help celebrate the dash, the flare, which great talents bring to Edinburgh’s cultural crossroads every August. The Extremists is just such a braggadocio – in the nicest possible way. It’s about 24/hr rolling news, its content and its frame. The poison spread. The fear-mongering falsity.
Carol Scudder as the anchor and David Calvitto as her guest pundit have a job on their hands. The script demands a constant unhesitating delivery of service. Together they ace it back and forth across the net. At several points I attempted to gauge a sense of their average words per minute but simply could not keep up. It’s an obvious question but how on earth did they learn all those lines? A less obvious question is did they master them – did they find the characters and subtexts within? The process by which the anchor ceases any pretence at critiquing her guest, focusing her efforts instead on helping him to expand his doctrines of evangelical democracy / Pax Americana, is slow but of a rising intensity. It’s a shame the script has the woman playing such a subservient role in such a modern seeming drama in which at no point is she permitted to lead the agenda.
There is a moment when Scudder is able to amplify her character’s regret at not having been a real journalist, nothing better than a corporate spokes-shill. Then there is pathos. Then the drama rests on the actor’s skill and not just the author’s prowess – but like Didier Delsalle’s 2005 helicopter landing on the summit of Mount Everest it’s short, sweet, and full of peril from the surrounding maelstrom.
We enter to find two elderly oversized executive chairs beside a rickety table. Edinburgh Southside, with its students and young professionals, has a fine tradition of leaving unwanted furniture on the street to be freecycled and this set is a witty tribute to that practice. This production needed more properties. Given the setting is the set of a TV talkshow even some (gawd help us) premade audio and visual material might have lightened proceedings. I got to thinking about the Juul og Friis – the news talkshow on the Danish political drama Borgen in which the characters stand behind a tall desk and of the scope such a setup affords to the actors.
There are battery hens with more room for manoeuvre than this set and script afford to two unarguably brilliant acting talents. Where there is room for it Calvitto is fluid and funny. He has a secret stash of comic tricks, chairs sliding, arms waving, legs twitching. I had a sense that he had developed this physical punctuation during rehearsal much like a naughty schoolboy would get up to mischief when Sir wasn’t looking. And I must admit to disliking his character all the more intensely because Calvitto’s tie knot is so perfect – that man can really wear a suit.
Opening to the theme from ITN’s The News At 10 made sense except that the bongs were left out – bloody yanks coming over here taking our bongs. Two chairs, two actors. Twenty minutes were to pass by before a change in blocking . If I’d have watched this talkshow from the bar at O’Hare waiting for a connecting flight, I’d have seen ad breaks – lots of them. For a script which shines a light full in the face of the corporate news factory, it was odd that no reference was paid to why all this brash unedifying editorial guff is chucked out into the ether, namely to sell ad space.
A terrifying gonzo script does to the actors figuratively what gonzo does literally to the actresses in that genre’s take on gentlemen’s special interest films. Was it worth it? Some might wonder if all this bluster is justified by a script which essentially boils down to a baby-boomer narrative about a passing generation’s intellectual disorientation. Analog minds in a digital world. For me this production separates the men from the boys – it was a Wimbledon final of performance. Hardcore political satire and social commentary delivered by a pair of actors with all the force and recoil of a double barrelled howitzer.