Roadkill, The Author and 30 Days to Space worthy 2010 festival winners
Steve Cramer's Festival blog
This article is from 2010.
I know it’s not quite over, but with respect to the last couple of shows of the International Festival, now might be the time for the Festival’s final report card. This year’s Festival, if it has shown some good work, still creates the uneasy feeling of there being something missing. Companies have, by and large, stuck close to what they know, with familiarity in both form and content to the fore. It’s been a festival of good work, but in a comfort zone so pronounced that one pictures this as the festival that stayed under the duvet opposite the television, with the lounge room door firmly shut.
For all that, there were some delights. I’ve spoken warmly of The Author and My Romantic History in earlier blogs. In the latter days of the Fringe, I was honoured to be invited onto the judging panel of the Total Theatre Awards. This exposed me to a number of smaller-scale shows that will stick in the memory for some time to come, mixed in with such mighty undertakings as Tabu . Among the little gems, it was hard to resist the delights of The Ballad of Backbone Joe, a three-hander fuelled by live country-blues music, a toy theatre and a lot of splendid, knowing gags about the limitations of theatre itself. It tells a mock film-noir story about duplicity and dodgy dealings in an Aussie bush town of the thirties, but the fun comes in with the deliberate amateurishness in the telling. A slicker piece of storytelling occurred in Like You Were Before at Alphabet Video in Marchmont, where Deborah Pearson’s reflections upon her personal videos of friends and family, and on leaving Canada for Scotland are somehow both insubstantial and quietly moving. This is a piece with nothing to say about the world outside, but it operates like a beautifully painted miniature, reminding one of the splendid, intimate and engaging work of Adrian Howells, if not quite reaching the same emotional heights.
But personal narratives, trapped as they are in the subjective, can sometimes overstep the line, becoming self indulgent. This very line fell many deserts and oceans behind Reykjavik, a morose me-generation tale of a man who goes out with a divorced woman with children and finds the situation not to his taste. He then spends inordinate amounts of time on a white plastic-draped set, shimmying his audience around the stage in an attempt to elicit sympathy. The fact that performer Jonathan Young also required us to dress in the white boiler suits of pest exterminators seemed to me to be tempting fate. But if this was rather like being trapped in a lift with all my old girlfriends’ fathers, Emma Thompson Presents Fair Trade was arguably still less edifying. This dreadful piece of smug luvvydom enticed audiences in on Thompson’s name, then proceeded, quite remarkably, in removing all sympathy from several wretched women from Eastern Europe and Africa who were traded into prostitution. The flaws of this piece are too legion to cite, but the cut-glass accent that intruded through the mittel-European of one character seemed to particularly grate. Perhaps she was a poshtitute? Anyway, Steve Cramer resents Emma Thompson presents...
A much more successful piece along the same lines was Roadkill. Cora Bissett’s production took us first on a bus tour through the New Town before depositing us at an anonymous house, where hideous abuses are visited upon an underage girl whose passport has been confiscated by her equally degraded female minder. Skilled use of video, some nice theatrical turns, good performances and a surprising, if ambivalent denouement added up to a powerful theatrical event you’d be unlikely to forget. Well this piece, along with The Author, and an engaging, unpretentious piece of performance art titled 30 Days to Space deserved their Total Theatre Awards for Innovation.
So now it’s back to a welcome regularity of life for this old hack. No more will the rule that food can only be consumed if it banners itself with the twice duplicitous 'delicious hot or cold' operate. No more drinks and shows on the run. My significant other, the Lizard, a month long festival widow, gets her man back, and I get to eat a vegetable. Still, roll on August 2011...