New Voices in Edinburgh

As part of the giddy, hectic and slightly insane experience that was my first fringe, I was lucky enough (thanks to IdeasTap) to catch all five plays that made up the Old Vic New Voices Edinburgh season at Underbelly. This is just one example of what seems to be a growing trend towards curation within the uncurated, amorphous bubble of the festival; other models along these lines include those adopted by Escalator East to Edinburgh and Northern Stage at St Stephen’s. While the hit and miss nature of the fringe is part of its quirky charm, there is something quite comforting about having these reliable miniature programmes to retreat to through the haze of clumsy adaptations and misplaced whimsy.

The emphasis of the Old Vic New Voices programme is, unsurprisingly, very much on “new writing”. The pieces are small, with a bias towards monologues and two-handers, but the writing and productions all proved themselves to be solid and often exciting. The whole season was, as Edinburgh goes, a pretty safe bet, though without the safeness of subject matter that implies. The advantage of a curated programme was also in seeing how these different pieces refracted through one another, experiencing them both as standalone plays and as part of a wider context.

If they have a future life, which I suspect they will, it would be fascinating to see these plays reformulated into double bills. Chapel Street and One Hour Only would be my top pick for a pairing, but Bitch Boxer and Strong Arm could also make a fascinating juxtaposition. While Edinburgh can easily become a distorted blur of production after production, seeing pieces whose placement alongside one another actively informs their reception is a refreshing and intriguing exercise. Here are a few more of my thoughts on the programme …

Glory Dazed

While his friends come home in coffins and wheelchairs, Ray knows that war can make you lose something other than life or limb. Returning to Doncaster with frustrated aggression and tortured memories, the only thing that Ray is any good at these days is fighting. But there’s no memorial service or prosthetic aid for being messed up in the head. Read more …

Bitch Boxer

Every fighter has a reason.

That’s the thinking behind this new show written and performed by Charlotte Josephine, taking a particularly timely dive into the world of female boxing. Read more …

One Hour Only

AJ’s mates have bought him a banging present for his 21st birthday – quite literally.

Out of place in a classy London brothel, the gift he ends up with is Marly, a cash-strapped student in her first night on the job, with whom he has more in common than he expected. Read more …

Strong Arm

Sporting ambition and athletic excellence are high on the national consciousness as the country continues to ride the wave of Olympic success. When competitiveness goes up a weight class into pure obsession, however, that same determination to succeed becomes altogether more disturbing. Read more …

Chapel Street

On Chapel Street, “every week it’s shit”.

Same people, same bars, same drinks. Or so we’re told by Joe and Kirsty, both out on a Friday night and each with their own reasons to seek oblivion. Through these two characters, Luke Barnes’ viciously funny and quietly devastating two-hander sketches out a searing, booze-stained portrait of the Pro-Plus generation, grabbing at their next energy kick while putting off tomorrow. Read more …

 

Chapel Street, Underbelly

chapel-street-ed-review_540_306_Crop

Originally written for IdeasTap.

On Chapel Street, “every week it’s shit”.

Same people, same bars, same drinks. Or so we’re told by Joe and Kirsty, both out on a Friday night and each with their own reasons to seek oblivion. Through these two characters, Luke Barnes’ viciously funny and quietly devastating two-hander sketches out a searing, booze-stained portrait of the Pro-Plus generation, grabbing at their next energy kick while putting off tomorrow.

In a culture that seems determined to paint its youth as violent rioters and benefit-sponging lost causes, Barnes and his characters are paradoxically both embodying and kicking out against those stereotypes. There are shots, kebabs and smashed glass, but there are also concealed depths peeking through the fake-tan facades. Kirsty, it transpires, has ambitions to go to university and would rather go on holiday to Paris than to Kavos; Joe remains unemployed not through a desire to dodge work, but due to a dread of wasting his life in a soulless office.

Such fragments of personality are revealed through overlapping monologues spoken into microphones at opposite sides of the stage, an initially static set-up by director Cheryl Gallacher that gradually unravels into a frenetic reflection of the characters’ escalating intoxication. Performers Cary Crankson and Ria Zmitrowicz weave and stumble around the small space, making convincing and disarming drunks, yet tempering the humour with a poignant strain of vulnerability. The laughs, of which there are many, have a habit of souring in the mouth.

It is a piece that feels very much of the now, offering grim reality but few solutions. Barnes’ lyrical yet gritty language crystallises the brief euphoria and crashing despair of a whole swathe of young people emerging into a world that seems not to want them, with references to useless master’s degrees and the lie of an Olympic “legacy” that delivers very little opportunity. In a telling touch, we are told that the local church has been converted into a bar – home of the new religion. As Joe and Kirsty argue, with the way things are, you “might as well just get fucked”.

Photo: Jassy Earl