Dazed and Abused

Sweet on the Grassmarket, Edinburgh Fringe

On leaving the theatre, I was determined to write something to the effect that the acting was horrendous, and that I found it impossible to sympathise with any of the rather shallow caricatures of a young and monied elite. Until I realised that they – and the writer Kinvara Balfour (a kind of Tara Palmer Tomkinson character, only less cerebral) – were actually playing themselves.

My initial confusion over whether the sujects or the writing was self-indulgent, cliched and pointless was thus resolved. The answer is both. There may perhaps have been a sitcom in the making here, a kind of Men Behaving Badly for those who have it all – the coke habit, ‘adultescent’ outlook and aversion to commitment, that is. But that would still require evidence of some talent from those involved. A psychiatrist – who really did look like he was acting, and badly – opened the whole farce. At the end when the misogynist and the suicidal friend of the woman he is supposedly dating look like falling in love, the good doctor intervenes because falling in love is not in the script.

It is not only the ultimate in theatre as therapy, but is also remarkably self-loathing when you consider the kind of advantages these extremely unlikeable characters supposedly have in life. Their descent inot psychobabble really isn’t very funny to watch. I’d rather they kept it to themselves. What on paper might have seemed intriguing in reality is – for this critic at least – the first dud of this year’s Fringe.

The Donahue Sisters

C cubed, Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Group: Attica Theatre Company

In this beautifully acted piece, written by Geraldine Aron, three sisters find themselves in their old playroom of an attic on hearing their father is ill.

What looks like being a parochial meander through their reminiscences is transformed as they re-enact the terrible shared secret of their childhood.

‘All for one and one for all – the Donahue sisters stick together’ takes on a malignant resonance as we learn of their sibling complicity. The inconsequential to and fro of the opening of the play is thus sent into disturbing relief.

11 to 24 August


Trojan Women

Komedia Roman Eagle Lodge, Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Group: Cambridge University Amateur Dramatic Society

Watching Euripides’ Trojan Women brought to mind contemporary attitudes to the idea of a just war. This young cast powerfully portrayed the aftermath of the mythical end of Troy.

The women recall the ‘honourable deaths’ of their men in the face of a ferocious onslaught. The eventual sacking of the city and their being taken as slaves and concubines by the Greeks doesn’t diminish their spirit – for ‘Troy will be famous’ and ‘time will remember us’.

Tony Blair said history would judge whether he was right to wage war on Iraq. But this is in the absence of any commitment to ‘fight and die for a good cause’. Instead there was a passive opposition at best, or general indifference to the war, whatever it’s for. The moral certainty of having right on their side, of the superiority of their civilisation against the ‘barbarians’ of Greece, is at odds with our cowardly new world.

Blair, like the women of Troy, may well ask ‘where are the gods now?’

1 August to 24 August


The House of Bernarda Alba

The Orange Tree Theatre, London

The play opens with the funeral of Bernarda’s husband, and centres around her efforts to contain her daughters brooding sexual desires. Lynn Farleigh’s convincing matriarch, however, towers over the all too meek and still daughters. Her barbed exchanges with Poncia, the ageing maid (Rowena Cooper) become something of a double act by default.

Federico Garcia Lorca’s portrayal of the ‘battle to break free [of a] suffocating society [where] behavioural censorship is the norm’ has considerable relevance today. However, instead of a critique of the encroaching familial state of the here and now, we were confusingly treated to a period piece on ‘domestic fascism’ that nevertheless allegedly has ‘enormous resonance for women today’.

But the Spain of the 1930s couldn’t be more different from our feminised times, which are characterised by subservience to the work-life balance rather than a rural patriarchy.

Lorca completed this, his final play, just three months before his murder by anti-Republican forces. The circumstances in which he was writing are reduced here to a case of ‘Repression breeds repression in an unending cycle’, with Bernarda just another victim in the continuum of abuse. The characters’ tragic fates are in this way wedded to a contemporary prejudice, that they must be forever subject to the psychic scars inflicted on them in their youth.

When Bernarda insists ‘In this house there are no mysteries’, I’m inclined to agree with her. I understand the director, Auriol Smith, was drawn to the play’s ‘claustrophobic intensity’. His and artistic director, Sam Walters’, visit to Lorca’s home of Granada, however, was apparently in vain. The characters’ talk of the ‘breaking storm’ and ‘oppressive heat’ never materialise.

At the close, Bernarda’s desperate plea for ‘silence’ is chilling – yes, because it anticipates the Franco regime – but more so because it speaks of today’s censorious climate. Fascism may have had its day, but the defence of the imagination, and of freedom of expression, are as important as ever.

The House of Bernarda Alba is about frustrated desire. This was trivialised by a too literal and overly ‘social’ interpretation. Faithful to everything but the text, the production fell flat, failing to capture either the ‘authenticity’ of Lorca’s Andalusian tale, or to engage with the universal themes that could make it contemporary.

Till 19 April