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Theater on a Rainy Day

UNITED KINGDOM | Sunday, 17 August 2014 | Views [272]

I woke up to rain and the information that my family was going to the half-price hut to see if they could get tickets to shows. I was welcome to go with them, but if I wanted to take my time showering, eating breakfast, and drinking coffee, I could stay in the apartment instead. I chose that option.

They came back having been met with huge success. They'd gotten all the shows that we wanted to see if the tickets were half price. All five of them. Starting at 11:45 with Ernest; or Much Ado About Muffins. Then time to try and find a quick lunch before A Split Decision at 1:30. After that we had a more leisurely walk over to the next venue for The Girl Who at 3:50. We had a better time frame to find a restaurant and eat before going to see Working Title: The Orpheus Project at 6:35. Finally, we could return to the apartment for tea and desserts. My mother stayed behind when the rest of us left to see Dracula at 9:20.

Ernest; Or Much Ado About Muffins was a take on The Importance of Being Earnest. Specifically, a musical take.

The Importance of Being Earnest is probably the play I'm most familiar with. I've read it more than any other length, seen it performed once, and even read it aloud with my family. I'm so familiar with it that, despite the Ernest; Or Much Ado About Muffins being relatively faithful to the original, I could still point out at least four times they changed the line and say what the original had been.

The musical was very good. They ha the right levels of utter ridiculosity, with things like a huge umbrella being used for a dance about Algernon's good friend Bunberry or hear Gwendolyn croon “Ernest. It has to be Ernest.” The actors were wonderful and their voices were good, making the musical aspects sufficiently enhance the show. Their only musical backing was a pianist, which made their full production more impressive.

A Split Decision began with a man on the phone, telling his girlfriend that he didn't want to jump into moving in with her because it was a huge decision. Then his client, wearing tartan-print pants and jacket and speaking with a thick Scottish accent came in. After a bit, he managed to settle down into complaining about his overcontrolling wife. His phone buzzes, he reads it, throws it across the room in a panic, and tries to hide in a lamp. A little bit later, his wife walks in, wearing a blue dress and white shoes and carrying a red purse. She spoke with a British accent.

 

The play proceeded into a joint marriage-counseling of the two of them. They complained about the things they hated about the other. The woman was convinced her husband wouldn't be able to survive without her, and how all he did was complain, complain, complain. Meanwhile, the man wanted to be independent, because she was overbearing and he couldn't stand her constant nagging. The woman had bought guard dogs which the man had to clean up after, and he drove her around in a rather old car. At the end of the play, the counselor was revealed to be their child. He said he didn't want them to split up, but unless things changed they would have to, so he suggested his mother be more attentive and accomodating. Then they left, and he called back his girlfriend to say it was a serious decision- could he have some more time? A month should do it.

 

 

It was the upcoming referendum about Scotland's independence, restaged as a marriage drama. And best of all, the entire thing was written in verse. I remembered that part of the description only when Britain and Scotland spoke in unison about his complaints, and the rhymes became closer together. For most of the play, the rhymes were far enough apart not to be distracting, but to still be there if you were listening for them. After the play was over and everyone clapped, the actress who had played Britain took out a “Yes” pin and showed it to the audience, which was a nice additional touch.

 

 

The Girl Who was a choose-your-own-adventure musical. It began with us deciding which door to walk through- either “lives” or “dies.” There were people with a chalkboard there, tallying up the votes as we walked through. We were talked into sitting in the front row, because that would be “more fun.” It was Anna's 12th birthday, and her parents had arranged for a surprise party, so we were supposed to scream “surprise!” when she came out. But before that, we played a game of passing a present around and unwrapping one layer at a time. When we reached the final layer, the woman who opened it had to choose between a blue and a pink balloon. She chose the blue balloon.

 

 

Anna came in, we surprised her, and she had a fun birthday. Then she lost her parents and went out looking for them. She couldn't find them, but she could find her shoes. A clown popped out of a tree to tell her she needed to decide whether her parents had climbed the tree or descended the tunnel next to it. She thought hard, and an audience member decided she should go down. So down and down and down she went, and there she was met with the Gurdian of Mulchland. He was initially frightened of the spy, but when she assured him she wasn't, he finally recited the rulesbabout the rite of passage necessary for an audience with Lord Screwtape. She needed to beat him in a battle of wits, or Tic-Tac-Toe. Another audience member was called up to help her win that game.

 

 

With that out of the way, she went down to Mulchland to await Lord Screwtape. He didn't like people from above the ground, but she ignored the advice of the guardian and spoke out anyway. He was going to punish her, but the guardian said that Anna was his sister, and he'd dared her she couldn't lie to Lord Screwtape. When forced to say which of these things was true, she thought hard, and two members of the audience were called out to arm wrestle and play rock-paper-scissors to decide whether she tells a lie or the truth. The lie won. The man who had helped her was killed, and she was set to be imprisoned, but someone, noting the sacrifice, gave her instructions to reach an elevator instead.

The elevator brought Anna up to a room where a lot of losers were competing for the consolation prize. "No one here can leave until they get the prize, and since they're all losers, none of them are able to get through prize," the receptionist explained with a sinister laugh. When it came to be Anna's turn, she brought everyone into a rousing song about how through teamwork they could win the prize. She won and, with the help of an audience member who chose a hand blindly, she left her new friends behind. As they all turned to the receptionist, she fled back to the elevator.

The elevator brought her to a matchmaker, but a woman in the audience decides she should kiss her "true love." So Anna fled and ended up in a fairground, where she met Elle, the girl who did find her parents. Elle had made different decisions, and her clothing was the opposite of Anna's. (Black shirt with white socks as opposed to white shirt and black socks, etc.) Anna had a choice- accept her choices, even the bad ones, or regret. The blue balloon from the beginning had a note labelled "regret."

When she was done singing about that, the clown came back to help her see the truth she'd already known deep inside- her parents were dead. Now the board from the beginning was revealed. 30 people had walked through the "dies" door and 31 through the "lives". Anna was left to pick up the pieces of her life and go forward.

It was good, and certainly an interesting concept. However, it went dark very quickly, and there was the question of whether any of Anna's decisions could have helped her find her parents. (After all, "to lose one parent may be regarded as a misfortune. To lose both looks like carelessness.")

After finsihing The Girl Who (Lived), we went to go find dinner, heading roughly in the direction of our next venue. We found a restaurant about 2 minute's walk from the place our next show would be. I ordered fried brie with cranberry sauce, which was great if you ignored the breading and put the inside of the brie onto real bread. My father had an enchilada, my mother had mussels, and my sister had shrimp, which turned out to be the best meal by far. Not that the others weren't good, hers was just that much better. It was good food for a reasonable price, and it happened to be right next to our venue. Win-Win-Win.

Working Title: The Orpheus Project advertised itself as Kafka meets Greek mythology. It began with a man connected to a computer while his head rolls around. It looked like torture. (It wasn't, but it was still a little torturous to watch.) Fortunately it moved on to tell the story of the rapper who must hide underground, Johnny O., his girlfriend, Elia who is the niece of the dystopian world they live in, and a hapless government employee who is beaten up, has his apartment burglarized, sleeps with Elia, and is arrested all in the span of 24 hours, but dies giving Johnny O. the code word he needs to escape. Kafka is there, the Greek mythology less so.

There were only 2 actors, but they did a good job of conveying different characters. The story was good, though there was a bit too much dancing, and I didn't like the ending, which was the same as the beginning. It could have used a better working title and a little less direct commentary on exactly how things became a dystopia, but it was still interesting.

My mother and sister went back to the apartment to start tea (and discover a coffee press capable of making several cups of coffee) and my father and I went out to buy fancy desserts. We came back with a fruit tart which we split by fruit (blackberries to my sister, blueberries to my mother, kiwi to me, and whatever was on the last fourth to my father) and a chcocolately cake which we split more normally. We also had scones and jam for breakfast the next day.

Then Dracula. Specifically, steampunk Dracula. The steampunk elements mostly had to do with costuming, though even there it was a little harder to tell because it was Victorian dress. They would have been wearing corsets anyway. Probably not skirts that cut away above the knee, and not gears.

They made Dr. Seward a woman, which led to her having some interesting conversations with Lucy and Renfield. And the timeframe was a lot more compact- the period between Lucy being bitten and them needing to kill her again was a couple of hours.

They did some playing with the varying levels of familiarity with the original book. For example, there was a dramatic pause and scene change right after Harker's boss tells him that he's going to Transylvania. After Lucy rejects Quincey, the two promise to be “friends for life,” eliciting snickers from the members of the audience who remember that they are the two main characters who die before the book is through.

 There was a lot of blood, though at one point it flowed like chocolate syrup, and at another the distinct odor of raspberry jam rose towards the audience. And way more shirtless male actors and feamle actors in scanty nightgowns than was strictly speaking necessary. There was also a gratuitous and very steampunk crossbow that Van Helsing had when they entered to fight Dracula at the end which created a perfect snapshot of the vampire hunters, but was immediatley dropped o the floor and forgotten about when it came to actually fighting.

 There was also music. All of the songs they played was covers, a fact which escaped me until I was discussing it after the play. They used especially steampunk-looking guitars and a piano, and normal-looking violins and flutes. There was also a trombone player who at one point looked like he was going to hit Jonathan Harker on the hea with his instrument.. At least he was into the music.

 As we left, we could see the actors running around throwing things into a pile in the center of the stage and dismantling their larger props. As we exited, we walked past the queue for the next show, starting in approximately 15 minutes. Our schedule for the day was positively leisurely compared to the people who needed to set up their shows.

 Leisurely in comparison, but not in actuality. It had been a long day, and while I was glad to be seeing a lot of shows, I don't think I could keep up with that kind of schedule for more than a couple days on end. It had been gray and rainy the entire day (welcome to Scotland) and this was the first day that everyone had felt up to sitting through a lot of shows, so in many ways it started our stay at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival off with a bang. We still had nearly a week left to see many more shows.

 

Tags: fringe, musicals, referendum, scones, steampunk, tea, wilde

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