Fringe Online 2021
Facilitators for Edition 5 include Milli Bhatia, Debbie Hannan, Ellie Horne, Lucy Morrison, Izzy Rabey, Anthony Simpson-Pike and Vishni Velada-Billson. Till April 25th.
Living Newspaper is a vital series, a cutting-teeth opportunity for so many writers, actors, directors. Sheer storytelling’s necessarily the backbone in these shorts: resolution signals wildly to be let out.
#5 asks what the country’s past is, and who’s shaping the future. Time to rip up that E word Michael Gove loves so much. And talking of rippings-up, what about that renaming of the Court?
The formula persists: a collaboration then individual works responding to the way slow defiance unlocks the frozen lockdown. It’s also great to watch every corner of the Royal Court get recruited into short plays, identifying within and without, from lifts, back entrances, rehearsal rooms as well as the two stages.
Each week the diverse sub-edits as it were produce the ‘Front Page’ item, the ‘Con-Troll Room’ and ‘Horoscope’ slot for a particular take. It’s intriguing to see how each writer or team responds to that brief. Some choose not to use this format.
Zia Ahmed, Nick Cassenbaum, E V Crowe, Iman Qureshi, Dalia Taha, Joel Tan
The Front Page
A Slice of the Empire
‘British history is changing – give it some Botox!’ Listen up Gove and stop telling us the empire was a good thing… A lone intro rather mock-elegaic in tone sets up our Front Page this week, and the costumes are just getting better. It’s a harlequinade of hype versus hope, a series of solo spots and open mic effects versus chorus, or indeed accompanied by a wordless croon – and simple vignettes of lives.
There’s a high lyric energy this week too, punctuated by spoken solos and a refusal to push sheer explosiveness as this time the teams want to get out pauses, contrasting with high-energy numbers and sheer zest. The cast are reflective, keen to pin down stories and let things sink in. And joyous: they’re Nadia Albina, Olatunji Ayofe, Alex Chang, Le Gateau Chocolat, Laura Hanna, Simran Hunjun, Stuart Thompson.
There’s one magnificent addition. MC in chief Le Gateau Chocolat reveals the People’s Democratic Court of Imagination and…. Somehow this gets reduced to the acronym TEA. We’ll work it out sometime.
Revolutionary-beret’d Olatunji Ayofe’s got all the luck – neat graphic overlays, a comradely reminder that we’re not unique, and then with some neat corner of the Court mostly blanked off. With a few stones. And he’s a Leo, well he is here.
With signs rolled off in their sequence, each gets fitted into the radical scheme of things with a refrain. It’s fun. Sometimes Ayofe picks up a stone, raises a candle lighter or tears up a paper dart. When we get to Aquarius we see Ayofe through an electric fan.
Cassenbaum’s kept this original take simple. Revolutionary struggle rarely has much time for astrology so there’s tensions that might be wittily explored. Like ‘As compassionate Pisces Walter Benjamin said of the Angel of History…’ In Ayofe’s hands though Cassenbaum’s conception comes across memorably, pithily and with a wry capacity to haunt.
Cartoons (Of The Week)
gardening tales for girl bosses
And an elaborate gardening shop with Ponchielli’s ‘Dance of the Hours’ as Simran Hunjun and Alana Jackson mime around a flourishing of more and more flowers aided by graphics. Bubbles like Flowergility flip up and there’s some unexpected spade action. As metaphor for what capitalism does to alienated female rivalries, say it with flowers. Or the tools of flourishing.
In Memoriam with Helen Peacock
Nathalie Armin has fun with those casualties of 2020, Prince Andrew’s sweat glands, ten pledges, some winsome personifications. Debate, child of democratic Greece found gagged bound and dead. While Nuance a child of the Renaissance took her own life at a detention centre. Their fate’s often blotted with bleeped swear words.
But can even harmless liberal Helen be cancelled and – you might be able to predict this? Armin revels in a vocal switch. A good swipe and an audio piece in under five minutes. Butler’s polemic as in Boy tends to be incremental. This is refreshingly neat without a dash of water.
We’re in that evocative corner. Kayla Meikle is asking questions abut Syria. A man who has to pay tax on books written in Hebrew. We’re in Ramallah. The monologue’s a quietly rising incendiary of resistance and the will to fight.
The Long Look and Long Listen
Zia Ahmed interrogates a shadow-play of herself and Simran Hunjun’s voiceover – we see the actors, but they’re not speaking, their voiceovers a reverse colonising of silenced bodies moving in shadow dance. An art attack, a stolen artefact? The actors prove hypnotically watchable, mesmerising quietly as they pour a leprous distilment into white ears. We’ll come back to Shakespeare in a mo.
The trope works. The British Museum’s built on theft and silencing voices, especially anyone subjected to the usual, northern brown in white suburbia. To say this is necessary is a condemnation of Britain – but watch this instead.
There’s memorably quiet invective. The litanic repeat of ‘how do you empower/at the expense of/brown bodies’ and ‘collect Asian writers to hide them’ – is a manifesto of fighting exclusion… ‘the cast list, the classists….’ Make Shakespeare, Ibsen Chekhov Indian. ‘Fuck your empathy, it should already have been there.’
There’s an epilogue though. With a warm difference to the preceding. The visuals texture a relatively straightforward if poetically infused polemic. Litanic and generalised, it’d be interesting to see this extended with a specific storyline.
Museum of Agony
Past a familiar entrance stretch and near the lifts a violet corner snuffed in candlelight. We seem in a small pottery gallery… then some singular objects lit by a torch.
We’re in a museum of past hopes, a life spent out in labels. We only see Alana Jackson’s hand on occasion as her mostly quiet voice enacts an arc of irony, passionate abandon, ludic anomie. It’s mesmerising.
‘A crushing archive of hope’, says Jackson’s agony aunt of her Filofax. Her life. Small labels pop up, a museum of hope, a free Paris cactus plant crushed by her cat Norah; bathroom items, celeriac.
The Filofax records moments at twenty-four when Jackson’s character dreams commitment. Of a near rape she rebuffs recording: ‘It wasn’t great … but it’s fine.’ Prophesy for the rest of her life. And floating on coke the man donates adds to the oppression of Bolivia she feels, sort of off-hand, finding cacti. It’s not great but it’s fine.
Another ‘avant-garde version of The Cherry Orchard’ – it often seems to pop up as a go-to joke.
‘I thought of writing on sexuality for Pride.’ Jackson’s sassy litany explodes: ‘I want you to drink my body as if I’m dipped in the ocean….’ Before subsiding into default laconic. And silence over a label ‘Sloth’… She’s on UC but dreams of items from the Royal Court bar.
Can someone stay in such a chic place? We’re out the way we’ve come. ‘Seven point eight miles. I’ll be fine.’ We’ve heard that chillingly before. Jackson’s voice enacts its own tonally flawless eulogy.
Asifa Lahore’s broken into the tech room, flicks switches and dances into us. Till near the end voiceover – quite a regular resource in the Newspaper series, separating actor and body – kicks in with polemic appeals versus grim stats. ‘Spaces to dance in, spaces to be free…’
It’s worth quoting, a fine polemic. ‘My brothers and sisters… Our queer non-Muslim friends cannot know what it’s like to value community over individuality….’
Lahore voices over her dancing self. School edicts: ‘You mustn’t wear a hijab, you must wear a hijab’. Another Muslim conspiracy, another ITV drama… BBC dramas. A catalogue of racist category errors.
Another Muslim schoolgirl gone missing. Another speculation she’s gone to Syrian or buried by her very own father for kissing a boy being gay or being herself. It’s the mainstream culture doing most of the burying. In its sleep. Even so, coming out? Really? ‘We do not need their sympathy… their criticism, we are not their good Muslims. We do not have to choose which part of us we have to lose.’
An upbeat necessary piece which ends that way. Iman Qureshi’s Papatango winning-play of 2018 The Funeral Director shows her developing some of these themes. It’s warm and affirmative. The anger here is darker – something we also need at full length.
Marcelo Dos Santos
Intro Rule Britannia and the Court’s frontage: you know we’re going to get culture in the crotch, indeed Britain in 2021, ‘Grate Britain’ and as one shot suggests, as a neo-fascist pisses next to a statue, it’s Britain down the drain.
Philip Arditti shows Olatunji Ayofe and Laura Hanna round a cramped flat, with a panorama when they clamber up to the top of the roof. ‘And all of this is also yours…’
As the couple laugh incredulously over the rooftop scene, Arditti leers closely at us. ‘No.’ It’s the whole of Britain, railways sidings, The Angel of the North and lochs where pictures are given a breathy voiceover of possession, a country for rentier investment. ‘Escape the country.’
This is punchy, Newspaper-as-newspaper sketch stuff. The key drama’s in the storyboard editing, and – alarmingly – actors apparently clambering to the roof. Tax havens beckon as we end. Killer punches land in the rolling writing with images nailed to them, like an eviction notice.
The News Stand
Daniel Cerqueira voices – sotto voce to start with – his character’s isolation. He can’t return to London: he’d be part of a carbon-rich jet trail. London’s an enchantment. Such transitory witness we once took for granted and now forget. It’s worth the refresh.
Divorced at 29, his wife falling for someone else, Cerqueira’s character suggests they keep their pre-arranged London trip; which eventually makes parting easier. Three years later he meets his current partner there.
Is London a place for being wise in? Giving life to the inanimate Guillermo Calderon’s character confers a touch of magic realism, or is it just weather? And if he can’t return, that litany of rain spells loss, including loss of London rain.
We leave him at the front desk, which – full of pot plants, gazing on the entrance – gives the Court its most sibilant outro to date
The Weather Room
And Now, The Weather
There’s jump-cuts from TV blandness to an interior boldness that gets bolder and soon isn’t interior any more.
Red-jacketed against a green backdrop Kayla Meikle’s announcing the weather. But her challenge to her breast-staring boss – who thinks only sex, violence and sexy violence works – is more interesting. We’re shifted to another location with quite a bit of sand; the weather behind glass isn’t the sunniness predicted.
The weather as news? Relevance? The boss would like new pics of a woman her clothes ripped off by hurricanes. At the least. Meikle’s character has a few other ideas. And what’s that on her shirt? Meikle’s performance is adamantine, a pillar of respectable delivery. And contained ferocity.
A compelling brief take on the weather as news.
E V Crowe
The tree, the leg and the axe
E V Crowe is great at singular communities, or alienated workers, and in duologues edged with weird chic and super-smart, brittle friendships. Think her Cry Babies Radio 4 series twisted and that’s what Alana Jackson’s farmer, Letty Thomas’ visiting Mhairi deliver in The tree, the leg and the axe, out here in the mountains. It’s a neatly red sofa’d corner, perfect for chintz cuppas and chatting. But out of Ivy Compton-Burnett.
Where they’re away from the madding and ever maddening crowds; no face-masks needed in such a remote environment, but watching TV for cliff-hangers. Villager Mhairi’s brought a bag to this shepherd family, they’ve been chopping wood.
‘Did you manage to get the sheep down?’ That occasions a small update from Thomas’ firmly controlled drip of info. And perhaps Mhairi knows something. ‘Cliff-hanger’ as Jackson’s spookily bland Mhairi points out.
Crowe’s endings are often open, mysterious. This is mysterious, but comes with a decided edge.
The Blank Space
This End of the Year Thing
We’re in a blank space of elaborate white. With overhangs. Nadia Albina, Philip Arditti, Daniel Cerqueira, Laura Hanna, Letty Thomas all wear masks. Most are harlequins, exquisitely wrought. And one has an appropriate kind.
It’s New Year. This ensemble, smugly privileged, toss political and social balls back at each other. You might think it’s Christopher Hampton on acid. It feels that: curiously 1970s modern.
‘Lebanon isn’t really a country. It’s an exercise in living’ says Hanna. Thomas has an announcement but it occasions an argument with Cerqueira‘s noisy boorish male, and most move off for a snort in the bedroom and Thomas and Hanna try confidences. Thomas announces the hours. Albina’s and Arditti’s characters flirt.
A neat exercise in ludic anomie, the pointlessness of expensive educations, living and false consciousness.
It Matters, The Way We Say Goodbye
Alex Chang begins to tell how he flies back to Singapore at the start of the pandemic. We pan out to a curious guru space with fruit at the centre, and youthful therapist Stuart Thompson attempts to guide him, perhaps to another centre. ‘Call it back.’
There’s some delicious moments, recalling that flight back with both actors side by side as passengers with a metal wing attached to their outboard arms. The filmic cuts here take us to other locations, cluttered Britain full of chintz and plants, as Chang’s character talks to another character taken by Thompson with a northern twang. Who doesn’t think he’s worth missing.
The filmic cuts to different scenes lend weight and amplitude; the slow litanic speech makes this an absorbing watch. Tan’s writing is beautifully controlled, and he’s strong on co-dependency and letting go. It’s there at greater length in his When the Daffodils whose premiere live-steamed as one of the Orange Tree’s Inside trio of plays, in March.
Though conceived as newsy shorts, each writer displays their pitch of writing or preoccupation. Some sketches – like Cassenbaum, Murthy, Butler and Dos Santos – are perfect cuts. Some brilliantly polemic pieces by Taha, Ahmed, and Segal suggest development might mute impact, or produce something dazzling. Some breathe an ideal length like Calderon and perhaps the intriguing Zbib which might go anywhere. And there’s profoundly suggestive takes from Dromgoole, Qureshi, Crowe, Tan, whose quiddity suggests development in either serial or as embryonic drama.