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 …

 

Glory Dazed, Underbelly

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Originally written for IdeasTap.

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.

As Ray returns to the local boozer in a misguided attempt to win back ex-wife Carla, the bar becomes a vodka-doused pressure cooker in this new piece from Second Shot Productions, stitched together by writer Cat Jones with help from ex-servicemen at HMP & YOI Doncaster prison. Knocking back shots with Carla, old mate and pub landlord Simon and ditzy barmaid Leanne, the invisible wounds begin to split open and weep.

The production is knotted together by an explosive performance from Samuel Edward-Cook as “wounded lion” Ray. Dripping with sweat and radiating aggression, he is as pathetic as he is dangerous, yet still with a spark in his eyes that hints at former charm. Like Carla, we are unable to fully detach our sympathies, no matter how broken and violent he becomes.

This is not the first piece of theatre, or even the only piece of theatre in Edinburgh this year, to tackle the bitter legacy of the conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Where it demonstrates nuance, however, is in its dissection of the relationship between the world of war and the domestic battlefield. As terrifying and as impossible to understand as warfare may be, Jones does not play down the struggle and drudge of everyday life, a drudge that might just be enough to make someone prefer the danger that war entails.

We are also left staring down the barrel of the bleak fact that no one really cares. The struggle goes on in the warzones and the suburban streets and all we do is sit and watch The X Factor on a Saturday night. In more than one sense, this loaded production departs with the perception that the world is indeed, in Simon’s words, a “fucking scary place”.

Photo: Jassy Earl