March 16, 2007

Fringe Theatre

Filed under: Archive,Fringe


What I Heard About Iraq
By Simon Levy
Holden Street Theatres’ Directors’ Choice 07

George Orwell’s Animal Farm
Adapted by Guy Masterson
Performed by Gary Shelford

Fern Hill and Other Dylan Thomas
Performed by Guy Masterson

Holden Street Theatres
Until March 31

Tom Crean –Antarctic Explorer
Written and performed by Aidan Dooley
Bakehouse Theatre until March 23

Murray Bramwell

Holden Street is again one of the strongholds of Fringe theatre this year and the manager of the complex, Martha Lott, is also making her debut in the Director’s Choice season with Simon Levy’s play What I Heard about Iraq. Perhaps it is because so many aspects of the Iraq war have left us speechless, it has not often been a subject for film makers – and playwrights even less so. Interestingly, like David Hare’s Stuff Happens, Simon Levy, basing his text on an essay by Eliot Weinberger, stays close to documentary detail. As they say in Dragnet, it is the facts, ma’am.

Martha Lott has created a simple tableau for the five performers seated on video monitors in front of a projection screen with a collage of newspaper headlines spread along the stage floor. Levy’s play is a chronology of public statements – all taken from press sources and Lott’s production intercuts archival news vision also. Each actor begins “I heard that …” and proceeds with statements from politicians, the military, journalists and the wretched citizens in the middle of this catastrophe.

Actors Renato Musolino, Nicholas Ely, Nathan Porteus, Jada Alberts and Tamara Lee present this often grimly funny narrative with witty impersonations of Bush, Blair and Howard. But the overall effect is compelling, reminding us, literally, of the order of things – and how disorderly and mischievous the telling and remembering of such recent history has been.

Also at Holden Street are some familiar UK performers returning with new shows. Guy Masterson, remembered for his Under Milk Wood has added a further Dylan Thomas vehicle, Fern Hill. Thomas’s splendid lyrical poem of childhood and death is the centerpiece of a daisy chain of lesser known Thomas pieces. The political poem The Hand that Signed the Paper and the finely observed Hunchback in the Park are admirable inclusions as are the deightfully comic radio pieces .The Dylan Thomas favourite, A Child’s Christmas in Wales – well-known from the writer’s own recordings –is performed with direct and understated humour by Masterson. By wisely avoiding the baroque theatrics of the writer himself, he reveals the work for the masterpiece it still is.

George Orwell’s Animal Farm, that parable of the corrupt cycle of power based, rather pointedly, on the Bolshevik Revolution, is given an energetic presentation by Gary Shelford but Guy Masterson’s adaptation is overlong. The tale still has more than two legs in these times of political chicanery but Shelford, proficient though he is with all the voices, is bogged down in exposition. Strategically trimmed by forty minutes, however, and this show would be more equal than most others.

The fact that we have never heard of Tom Crean is the point of Aidan Dooley’s beautifully crafted monologue on the young Irishman who joined the Royal Navy at fifteen and found himself at the end of the earth on Antarctic expeditions with Scott and Shackleton. His is an amazing story, told with engaging flair and shrewd detail. Aidan Dooley, wearing authentic looking kit, on a set comprising a tarp and upturned sled, brings to life a remarkable man whose wry observations tell us much about class and the Empire, but also about human constancy and that quiet courage which is the most admirable . This is outstanding theatre, do not miss it.

“Fringe Review” The Adelaide Review, No.312, March 16, 2007, p.21.

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