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Show Fatigue

UNITED KINGDOM | Wednesday, 20 August 2014 | Views [194]

We began Wednesday with our newest friend- the Half Price Hut part of the Fringe app. No Belles was there, which my sister had expressed a strong interest in, seeing as it was a play about women in science and math. While we were standing in line, we figured we might as well try for The Outback Games, which was another musical that had looked interesting. But by this point the half-price tickets were getting kind of stale, so we started looking towards the other shows we wanted to see.

Shortly after my sister had arrived, we'd gone through the Fringe booklet for musicals and operas, giving everything a rating of no, maybe, yes, and very yes. Most of our very yesses had been in the Half-Price Hut. A day or two later we'd finally gotten through the theater section (there are a lot of plays at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.) Henry V, reworked to be about England and Scotland had gotten Elishabet's attention. The Picture of Dorian Gray, an “immsersive promenade musical” was a clear “very yes” for me. So we agreed to see those shows as well, though we could get tickets later.

My sister was prepared to go to stand in line at the Half-Price Hut, but then she and my mother remembered that they'd not yet had the opportunity to redeem my sister's mother's day gift-- mother/daughter tea in Scotland. They were trying to figure out how to fit that in when my sister realized that just because she'd stood in the Half-Price Hut line every other day didn't mean she needed to go today. So we split up. They went for their tea, my father and I went to stand in line, and we agreed to meet at the venue (not in that order.)

The line was short and simple. We showed up and were immediately able to stand next to the dividing tape, because the line was still short. It wasn't quite open yet, bu as we watched door after door opened, and the line moved forward. We got our tickets without any hassle, and were on our waywith plenty of time to spare. As an added bonus, we knew exactly where we were going (the same venue No Name was in) so we didn't get lost. We did get a chance to wander High Street for a bit, and I bought yarn that was sold by the kilo (or fraction of a kilo) so I was quite happy.

Side note: Venue 45 has the nicest waiting room that I saw. It's kind of small, and they have tables and regular chairs that aren't that nice. But they also have a matched sofa/chair set that is incredibly comfortable. The only downside is that it's hard to get out of them afterwards, because you just sink into the couch.

The Outback Games was about an Australian theater troupe during World War II. There's the swimmer who has dreams of winning gold in the Olympics, because she's timed herself beating the current records. There's Stella, with dreams of going to New York and making it big. There's a man who's concerned about how girly the shows are, and another one who has a clear if unacknowledged crush on the other. And then there's the director. We see them put on a show, and hear the complaints (“Stella, you're not allowed to change the backstory during a performance just so you can sing about Broadway. Dave, don't try and dismiss the audience halfway through a performance.”) And then they learn that Olympics have been canceled. The would-be gold medalist is devastated, but then she comes up with an idea- their small Australian town can put on the Olympics!

The director agrees, because she wants to do something that will bring people together. Then she takes advantage of the other's foibles and, in a song that uses a funny pronunciation of a lot more words than “foibles “ naturally rhymes with, brings the others on board. They start preparing and, although they've sent out the invitations, they can't be sue if other people are coming. But they work hard making everything ready.

There's just one problem- Australia is in the middle of a drought. The body of water that they were planning on using for a pool “couldn't drown a wombat. I know because I saw a suicidal-looking wombat with a disappointed expression.” So the swimming event has to be canceled. The swimmer is devastated and, just to rub salt into the wound, learns that her stopwatch runs slow. She storms off and pours out her heartbreak. The director catches up to her to tell her that they still need her, because they need her leadership. She comes back and manages to end the squabbling, and the play ends with them the day others are supposed to arrive, staring out at the vehicles they see coming towards them.

This was neither the best show I saw nor the worst. It was pretty solidly in the middle, in fact. I can't think of anything it did wrong, it just wasn't as solidly engaging as some other shows I've seen. The music wasn't bad, but neither was it fantastic. The story, while interesting, hadn't been enough to make anyone say “very yes!” Mostly, though, in under a week we'd all seen between 13 and 17 plays. It takes something extraordinary to stand out from that kind of background. And The Outback Games, while good, was nothing extraordinary.

We went back to the apartment for lunch. We had tickets for our next show (No Belles) and a rough idea of how to get there. And with that in mind, we split up. My sister and I found each other back at the apartment and decided to go together to the theater. We headed off down High Street, and when we reached a set of stairs we went down. Then we walked along until we found Grassmarket and followed that until we saw the theater. Having found the theater, we had enough time that we could go back up the steps and walk along High Street for a bit. Because who doesn't love steps? We did pass the cast of the Henry V we were preparing to see, because they were performing on one of the stages near our apartment. Unfortunately we didn't have the time to see how they were. We also passed people in Victorian dress handing out fliers to Sweeney Todd. We weren't interested, but we did notice that the fliers were connected Sweeney Todd/Picture of Dorian Gray, both under the label “Victorian Vices.” So we grabbed a flier and glanced at it.

At the venue for No Belles, we astonished ourselves by successfully starting a queue. Our previous failures had included waiting to get past a fairly steady stream of people and being asked “is this a queue?” and sitting down near the proper place to queue only to have a line form behind us. This is why you shouldn't trust Americans to start a queue.

 When we walked in, the actresses greeted us. Not just “hello,” but more complex questions like “what interested you in this?” and “what other shows have you seen?” They listened to our answers and asked follow-up questions, which was unexpected. They were cut off from that portion of audience interaction when their lighting guy dimmed the lights over the audience.

 No Belles was a story about several of the woman who were a Nobel laureates in the sciences, or who weren't but came really close (like Rosalind Franklin, who probably would have received a Nobel Prize along with Crick and Watson if she hadn't died first.) Unsurprisingly, most of the women they talked about were biologists, and none were mathematicians.

 The show was highly informative. Even when it was talking about the woman I had heard of before, they gave more information about them then I knew previously. They also introduced some truly phenomenal women who I'd never heard of before.

 One of the things they handled brilliantly was varying their story telling. It began with a poem about Marie Curie. Then a description of the work of Rosalind Franklin with sock puppets. They presented Rachel Carson by having one woman quote her own words and the other two give additional information about her, and at another point switched positions to have one woman be talking about the life of Maria Goeppert Mayer while the other two were universities telling her what she was allowed to do. (“We're hiring your husband, but we'll let you teach. Part time and for no salary.”You're a full-time salaried professor of this woman's college. But remember to keep it simple because they're girls. Science is hard.”) They read aloud letters from grateful patients and family members written to Gertrude B. Elion and used giant picture flashcards to illustrate points about Rosalyn Yalo. They came up with creative ways to present each woman individually and not just as another “woman in science” story. They did a fantastic job of creating a show that was both informative and entertaining.

We walked to our next venue and bought tickets. As we were preparing for a walk, it started to rain, so my mother retreated back to dry venue and my father and I only went as far as the grocery store for crisps and brownies. Then we settled back into the venue to wait.

The seating for Henry V was simple. The stage was minimal, and there were two rows of movable chairs to three sides. The audience was small enough that only the rows directly in front of the stage and two seats to the left were occupied.

Henry V, England vs. Scotland. Where to begin?

The names were taken from Shakespeare. I'll give it that much. A few of that play's most famous speeches ended up in there as well, though that did more harm than good, in my opinion.

It began with the funeral of Falstaff. Henry and his friends are sitting around reminiscing about him. Henry is technically Falstaff's nearest relative, although he didn't leave a will, so it didn't matter. But he did have a very nice cottage. Convinced that the cottage should be his without too much of a struggle, Henry immediately calls his landlord to give him notice, telling him he's moving into his late uncle's house. His landlord informs him that actually, the cottage is his because he lost it in a bet, and the landlord's family is now staying there. Henry hangs up and consults with his friends. Legally, the cottage might e his, but because the cottage is technically just over the border and in Scotalnd, it's very complicated. So Henry does what any sane person would do and calls up the landlord's daughter Kate, a crush from college.

He tells Kate and her brother, the Dolphin (he was a swimmer) that he wants Kate to convince the father to give him the cottage. Kate says she can't betray her family like that, to which Henry makes a terrible attempt at a proposal. (“What if I were your family.) Kate does what any halfway sensible person would do and says she has to know that his feelings for her were genuine. (A fully sensible person would say “Ew, no. Get away!”)

Cue their courtship. For Christmas Henry goes to Edinburgh to wait in a line for several days so he can buy a limited-edition Luis Vuitton purse and give it to Kate. “Limited edition” meaning “there is only one of them in that store.” Henry quotes from the play, to no effect whatsoever, and runs into the store, where rather than competing with hundreds of angry shoppers, the only other person interested in the bag is Dolphin. For Valentine's day Kate gives Henry an expensive and fragile gift which his friends pretend they've dropped. Henry doesn't speak to them for another 3 weeks because of that. Finally, he confesses to a different set of friends that he's no longer sure whether he's doing this because he likes Kate or because he wants the cottage. In any event, he decides to propose.

When he decides this, it is St. George's Day. Since Kate is Scottish he can't propose to her then. Rather than waiting a day or two, he waits several months until St. Joan's day, even though he acknowledges Kate probably doesn't know that's what day it is. But since he needs to propose on St. Joan's day (because the English hated Joan) he follows Kate and her family up to Glasgow for a football game. Henry gives the famous St. Crispin's Day Speech, modified for these new circumstances, and then gets injured in the ensuing riot. But Kate agrees to marry him, and for unclear reasons the landlord decides to punish dolphin and agree to a rent-free lease from Henry. Yay.

It had almost as little to do with England vs. Scotland as it had to do with Henry V. To make matters worse, I've seen Henry V. Last April, I saw it performed at the Chicago Shakespeare company with a cast of wonderful actors and enough of a budget that they could do things like make a thrown rise out of the ground. The St. Crispin's Day Speech was genuinely inspiring. It was phenomenal.

The best thing I can say about Henry V was that the children in front of us behaved magnificently. They sat through the entire play without squirming or complaining, which was almost more than my family can manage.

Besides the weakness of the script and the lies of the fliers and blurbs, listening to the actors was painful. One of them had a really thick accent that was nearly impossible to understand. Another had a raspy voice. Everyone else spoke in a monotone. And, for unclear reasons, they seemed to think Henry needed twice as many friends as actors. So they wore shirts with a different pattern to represent the change of character. Except during one scene where one actor forgot to change, so Dolphin appeared on stage as one of Henry's friends. Finally, the director was in the audience, laughing any time a line that could have maybe been funny in different circumstances was delivered. She was the only one laughing. 

As the play finished, we the audience were asked to fill out a survey about it. We were the first ones out the door, and as we went up the stairs we met someone coming down. She asked us if we'd just come from Henry V, and if we had time to fill out a survey.

“No, sorry,” my mother said.

“We're in a rush,” I explained.

We reached the outside and strolled towards the direction of our apartment, looking for a place to eat dinner along the way. We found a restaurant that looked good. When we went in it was not raining. After we ordered our food, it was pouring. By the time we stepped back and continued our walk, it was mostly clear.

 The venue that The Picture of Dorian Gray would be in was near our apartment. My father, sister, and I went out to find where it was. (My mother opted out. She'd seen a lot of shows and needed a break. She'd been planning on skipping Henry V as well, but had wanted to eat dinner with us. Dinner was good, but not worth it.) We loitered around for a bit without buying tickets. After the last show, it was difficult to commit to paying for another show. But we'd been standing there for long enough that we needed to either buy tickets or leave. We chose to buy the tickets.

I wasn't entirely convinced that was had been a good decision. It was my fourth show of the day and my 19th of the week. I was getting tired. I needed something new and interesting and extraordinary.

Tags: fringe, musicals, shakespeare

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