Edinburgh Festival Reviews

Reviews by Willard Manus


When in Edinburgh recently, I attended two of its major festivals, the International and the Fringe. The former has taken place every year since 1947. This year it featured 180 performances and events, including 51 concerts, 11 theatre shows, 4 dance productions, 10 operas and 11 visual arts displays.

The Fringe, meanwhile, offered a staggering 34,265 performances at 265 venues. More than 2200 human performers took part, with artists filling 8000 hotel places before tourists were even considered.

The best thing I saw at the Fringe was THE DENTIST. Written and directed by Razia Israely, this 75-minute monologue was a shatteringly powerful piece of theatre, a drama of rare and remarkable quality.

Israely plays a woman whose Jewish-Greek father was arrested in WW II by the Nazis and shipped from Thessaloniki to the infamous concentration camp of Auschwitz. The father somehow survived the experience and, once the war ended, managed to build a life for himself again, marrying and fathering two children.

It wasn't a happy life, though. Beset by fear and resentment, given to savage bursts of rage, he abused not only his wife but his young children, whom he often tied up in a dark basement when he left the house. The marriage didn't last. His wife filed for divorce, taking the children with her. Unlike her mother and brother, though, the narrator refused to hate her father. Not only did she remember the warm, loving things about him, she was driven by a need to understand him, come to grips with the reasons for his rage and abuse.

She sets out on a personal journey of discovery, seeking out the few people who were close to her late father, including a fellow-Greek who was with him in the camps. What she learns is that the two of them were sonderkommandos--special helpers to the Nazis who were forced to do the horrific work in the crematoriums of stacking and burning the dead bodies. Her father was then given an even worse task (one which ultimately explains the play's title). It plunged him even deeper into the camp's circles of hell.

In all the years she knew her father, he never once talked about his experiences in the camps. It is only now, long after his death (the play begins at his gravesite), that she can finally come to understand and forgive him.

THE DENTIST was adapted by Israely and Chaim Marin from Dr. G. Grieff's book, We Wept Without Tears. The play was ably directed by Malka Marin.

Israely gives a tour-de-force performance in THE DENTIST. The play's theme of reconciliation and compassion in the face of unmitigated evil is fully realized in this deeply moving, unforgettable play. It's one of the best things I've ever seen in the theatre. (A taped version--in Hebrew, though, with English subtitles--can be ordered from raziaisr@smile.net.il)


A major disappointment was the Gate Theatre's production of Brian Friel's FAITH HEALER, presented by the Edinburgh International Fest at King's Theatre.

FAITH HEALER was first produced in 1979 and has gone on to worldwide critical and box office acclaim, but this was the first time I had caught up with it. Expected much; got back very little.

Consisting of four long--way too long--monologues, FAITH HEALER is a Rashomonlike story in the way it deals with reality from three different viewpoints. The main character is Frank Hardy (Owen Rae), a smalltime, self-styled miracle worker who travels around the Irish provinces, putting on shows in bars and town halls. Part entertainer, part-con man, part genuine (or at least well-meaning) healer, Harry didn't merit, in my opinion, the kind of attention Friel has given him. He just isn't that interesting or compelling enough of a character to deserve 2 1/2 hours of the playwright's attention.

Harry talks about his life and failures, then his wife Grace (Ingrid Craigie) chimes in from another angle, followed by Teddy (Kim Durham), Harry's ex-manager. Friel uses language in a skilful way, but for all the impassioned talk in the FAITH HEALER, all the clashing viewpoints and peeling away of layers of truth, I found the play to be a load of Irish blarney.