Cold Light Singing

Sweet on the Grassmarket, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Cold Light Singing features some strong performances. Set in Lancashire, 1612, it is inspired by the story of three women accused of witchcraft. The writer, Yvonne Pinnington, makes much of her affinity for the special ambience of Pendle Hill and the myths associated with the surrounding landscape. To this end, perhaps more could have been made of the eerie Macbeth-like setting. But its not really that sort of play.

Though based on public records of the trial, this is largely a fictional account of what might have gone on in the cells before they walked to the gallows. If I had a criticism it would be that the local significance of the piece doesn’t really come across. However, as a piece of theatre following in the long tradition of bringing historical biography to life, it makes the kind of imaginative leap into the unknown that beats the straight life story hands down.

And in the End

C, Edinburgh

Written by Alexander Marshall, And in the End makes for an entertaining if inconsequential hour or so. Valentine Pelka is mesmerising as Lennon, portraying a likeable and humane if troubled and deeply flawed man.

Reflections on his childhood, tragic family circumstances, humble beginnings and troubled relationships abound. But why should we be interested? Why does his death at the hands of a crazed authograph hunter become the focal point of the play? We learn little about why the public figure John Lennon came to represent the hopes and dreams of so many of his generation.

Being outnumbered in the audience by so many of them – ironic given the character’s rather love/hate relationship with his fanatical fans – was a slightly disconcerting experience. If you’re a diehard Lennon-ist you’ll no doubt enjoy it. But if you’re looking for fresh insights it will disappoint.

Till 30 August 2004


Komedia Roman Eagle Lodge, Edinburgh

Nicole Harford plays schoolgirl Katie, determined to gain the affections of the awkward Tom. Writer Pip Nixon handles their shy, unsure fumblings with humour and sensitivity. But Katie’s brother Liam played by the convincingly creepy Justin Palmer has an unhealthy interest in his younger sister.

He is ‘seduced by the instincts most of us manage to ignore’. Liam and his brother have custody of their younger sister but neither seems sure of her age. They also have an unsettling interest in each other’s rather troubled nocturnal activities. But perhaps they are not related at all. After all, they don’t look alike.

Nixon’s achievement is to sow the seeds of uncertainty in the audience’s mind. That the idea takes root at all suggests she is not dealing with barren ground here. The brutal torture and eventual murder of Victoria Climbie wasn’t regarded as the rare though preventable horror it was. Instead the little girl confirmed the already widely held suspicion that familial relations are not all that they seem. This play isn’t just about an abusive relationship. It is about the distorted intimacies that can potentially poison family life, any family life.

Engrossing theatre, but with a perverse view of what goes on behind closed doors. See it but don’t believe it!

Delicates and Smoke

Pleasance Dome, Edinburgh

The writer, Rebecca Russell, seems to be saying something rather disturbing with these two monologues.

Moira (played by Russell) is a single mother with a stack of ironing to do to make ends meet. She exhibits the familiar anxieties about her health, her children and, in turn, the health of her children. However, she turns out to be more than just another of the ‘worried well’.

An arsonist fireman – intriguing – longs for the heroic afterglow of 9/11. But his health & safety advice turns out to be rather sinister.

Are these psychological case studies or an insight into how otherwise ordinary people lose the plot (so to speak)? In the case of ‘Delicates’ for instance, the programme makes reference to the Munchausen’s Syndrome by Proxy controversy; and on ‘Smoke’, the blurb speculates on what makes a serial killer.

The link – other than the laundry destined for Moira’s ironing board, but instead stoking the inferno of the second piece – seems to be that murder lurks in the dark heart of ordinary life. These pieces come dangerously close to giving credence to the dubious and already clichéd slippery slope argument. Despite, or perhaps because of, this, the writing and the performances are compelling and rather believable.

Getting On

Sweet on the Royal Mile, Edinburgh Fringe

This Alan Bennett play, first performed in 1971, is a rather inconsequential piece of theatre, or at least that was the impression I got from this version of it. Apparently Spy In The Blue Dress Productions formed specifically to put on this play. But one has to ask why.

It is about a jaded and cynical minor MP, his young wife with a eye on the handyman, and a politician friend haunted by the possible disclosure of an indiscretion in a public toilet. Sam Masters, in the lead role, carries much of the performance through sheer presence more than anything else. He is somewhere between the bumbling wordiness of a Boris Johnson – not least when he mumbles and stumbles over his lines – and the grumpy if affecting discontent of Tony Hancock’s Half Hour.

Which brings me to my second point. It is too long. Apparently Bennett himself is of the opinion that the text needs editing. Ironically, or perhaps deliberately, the verboseness and rambling of the MP becomes too much for his wife. She accuses him of reducing everything to words, becoming himself a ‘figure of speech’. No doubt there was some profound significance in this particular utterance but it was lost on me.

As you’d expect, Bennett’s affection for this characters, and the attention to the details of what are otherwise banal lives, is there. The moments when you hear something of the poignancy and touching humour of the Talking Heads, however, are few and far between. The threads of the piece are never really pulled together and it is hard to fathom why we are supposed to be interested in the characters’ rather pathetic private lives in the first place.