Edinburgh Fringe 2014
"A wannabe playwright has had his play accepted by a play festival, but he has not written one yet. He types frantically as the real theatre people, the producer, director, designer, actor and intern, show him how a play is produced, especially for a festival. A very physical comedy with iconic characters that anyone can relate too."
This is a play about doing a play. This is a play about the process of theatre. This is a play about the generic craft of writing and realising a play for the stage. What Do You Mean, written by Bruce A! Kraemer, directed by Joan Kane, is set at a festival, “The Festivius”, and we have all main protagonists here. This is an offbeat comedy that visits the realms of the absurd, clowning, black comedy and drama, via a highly amusing and cleverly written romp through show business, dissecting all of the main ingredients along the way.
What Do You Mean takes a pot shot at just about everybody in “the business”, exposing them, evoking them, demonstrating them, parodying and satirising them. Yes, we have caricature; sure, we have over-the-top stormers off stage and rehearsal meltdowns. What we also have is sharp observation.
Our writer is on stage, clueless, tactless and, of course, restless. The word-obsessed writer, this is a tightly written, often manically acted comedy. Often Groucho-Marxesque in the way the characters banter, conflict and try to make a show, our festival producer is a cigar-toting business man, an uber-realist, our anchor to the near zero budget that most fringe plays base themselves on.
Our perspective and stance as an audience is constantly shifted during the seventy minutes or so; we are presented with creativity in all its grotesque wilfulness, its intense neediness (as it manifests in self-obsessed humans), and its relationship to structure. Structure supports, but to the writer it can weigh down. There’s a "way of doing things" in the theatre that is a mystery to the writer in this piece. Bruce A! Kraemer (the author of What Do You Mean) has written a play that skis us at breakneck pace down its learning curve, with knocks, blows, gags and lessons along the way and plenty of off-piste parody. The thing I most appreciate, as a fan of Kurt Vonnegut, is that Kraemer has given himself permission to sit unashamedly in the thick of his own words, the writer on the edge and also in situ, whilst challenging us to shout “You’re not invisible!”
The writer, the director, the actor, the designer, the producer, the intern, and the audience (protected by a flimsy fourth wall) are all here, all placed under the spotlight centred on a naive writer In the process of making a play.
What Do You Mean is a quintessentially fringe play – a play on the fringe of itself, poking a stick at its own essential process and offering us an informative, darkly comic take on the process of theatre. No, not inviting us, demanding our attention with its loud, verbal knockabout style. Nothing stays still for more than a few moments and this invokes the authentic chaos, not only of so many panicky fringe productions here in Edinburgh, but also the unchained restlessness of the writer’s mind.
The cast work very well together in what is an intimate space. All are able comic performers. The director has really tapped into their skills and create an ensemble synergy.
This is a play that needs and deserves a big audience. On the night I attended, the cast gave every ounce (and some) to a small house. It is a testament to their abilities to aim the show with such ease and passion at those who were there, and that they kept the energy and pace of the show pretty much on full throttle. There are plenty of laughs to be had, so what we need here is a bigger audience to laugh with it and at it. That’s an irony for a play about exactly that – “Have the audience bought any tickets?”.
Occasionally it strained so far into its own often manic energy that some of the physical set pieces were a little rough round the edges. That said, the screw-ball nature of some of the comedy, coupled with dialogue from a writer who knows what he is talking about, gives the production the ability to be engaging, interesting, occasionally disturbing, and, most of all, funny.
There’s plenty here, not only for the theatre-loving audience but also for anyone who professes to create art and to bring it to the public eye. With over three thousand shows in Edinburgh that is a big potential audience I am more than happy to highly recommend this production to.