Edinburgh 2005

Reviews by Willard Manus

EDINBURGH, SCOTLAND -- 2005 was the year of the pedophile at the Edinburgh Festival. Two plays about that particular kind of taboo sex were performed, one at the Fringe, the other at King's Theatre (produced by the Traverse).

NYMPHS & SHEPHERDS (A Paedophile's life) by David Hines was a solo play starring LA-based Barold Phillips, who turned in a scintillating performance as an aging pederast looking back on his tormented life. Although he has served five years in prison, been beaten up by various irate fathers and brothers--not to speak of his fellow prisoners--he considers himself a good man, considerate of others, hard-working, courteous, honest. His only flaw is this terrible, compulsive need to seduce underaged girls.

Phillips manages to find the man's humanity by probing the guilt, pain and bewilderment that rule him, making him wish he were dead. He is a tragic figure, a man who is despised by all, but thanks to Phillips' skill as an actor--and to Hines' brilliant text--we listen spellbound to the long, sad defense of his misbegotten life.

In David Harrower's BLACKBIRD, the pedophile (Roger Allan) is not a serial sexual predator, just a man who had the misfortune, at age 27, to fall in love with a 12-year-old girl (Jodhi May). The two of them spend a night in a motel, an act that proves to have disastrous consequences. He is arrested and the girl is ostracized by her family, who blame her more than him for what happened.

Harrower's play deals with their reunion fifteen years hence, in the dingy canteen at his place of work. It's after hours and they soon turn the garbage-strewn room into a battleground. BLCKBIRD is essentially one long confrontation scene during which the girl unleashes all her pent-up emotions, which zigzag between rage, resentment, contempt and--surprisingly--sympathy and even love. He in turn reacts with equal complexity, one minute groveling, abusing himself, expressing remorse and guilt; the next erupting with fury, lashing out at the hypocritical world which deemed his pure, strong love for her a crime.

Harrower's dark, claustrophobic tale ran just under two unbroken hours. At that length it became repetitive and overwrought; it's a pity that director Peter Stein did not pay as much attention to the text as he did to the actors (who rehearsed for two months at his home in Italy). Instead of cutting and compressing, he allowed what might have been a tight, lean tale to balloon up and topple of its own weight. Tacking on a kitschy, B-movie ending didn't help either.

(Both NYMPHS & SHEPHERDS and BLACKBIRDS were world premieres).


AMERWRECKA, written and directed by J.D. Drew, a wellknown, Los Angeles-based acting teacher, was one of the hot plays of Fringe 2005. An unapologetic piece of agit-prop theatre, a rude, defiant, hard-hitting anti-war satire, the play was performed by twelve members of Lewis' Actors Lab company, all of whom traveled to Edinburgh to work on the piece.

The story kicks off with a swift re-creation of the Kent State massacre in 1970, when four Vietnam war student protestors were gunned down by trigger-happy National Guardsmen. In AMERWRECKA they come back to earth in the guise of guardian angels on a mission to implant the spirit and militancy of the 70s in the hearts and minds of four Bush-era Americans: a fireman, a stripper, a Latina lesbian and a would-be congresswoman.

At first the latter resist being radicalized--political rebellion seems beyond their ken--but with prompting (and songs from the 60s) they finally begin to take action (in the form of a hunger strike). This in turn triggers a right-wing reaction, led by a gun-toting, super-patriotic redneck. God (in the guise of an Elvis impersonator), a bible-spouting president and his controlling wife, are also heard from, loudly.

Lewis' satirical strokes are broad, his characters types, but he keeps the show's pace and pizzazz up, and his largely youthful cast, some playing multiple roles, deliver the laughs with much aplomb and relish.


This clever and moving feminist deconstruction of Macbeth mixes lines from the play with modern speech, quotes from the Salem trials and other wide-ranging literary and mythological sources to paint a portrait of witches down through the ages. The point is this: that, instead of blaming women for the weird and terrible things that happen in life, men should look to themselves as the source of evil and oppression.

Writer/director Terri Power and her six-person cast (all advanced drama students at the UK's Exeter University) skilfully employ the techniques of movement, masque, choreography and chorus--powered by the beat of a drum--to weave an hour-long hypnotic and challenging experimental theatre piece.

The same group (the Shake-Scene Players) also performed DRAG KING RICHARD in rep.


Guy Pratt, the legendary bass-player, is also an accomplished racounteur. In the course of his one-hour, one-man show at the Fringe (MY BASS AND OTHER ANIMALS) he talked about how he became a musician and ended up playing with bands in Australia, USA and Britain. Punctuating his talk with rock, disco, pop and funk riffs, he also drew laughs with his witty recollections of such fellow musicians as Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page and Pink Floyd's Roger Waters, not to speak of Michael Jackson and Madonna. His imitation of the latter's gruff, bossy manner--"Come on and hurry, time is money--and the money is mine!" was hilarious, ditto his takeoff on MJ and his family entourage.


Waneta Storms won a rare Fringe standing ovation for her intense, multi-dimensional portrayal of Pvt. Lynndie England in Judith Thompson's MY PYRAMIDS--OR HOW I GOT FIRED FROM THE DAIRY QUEEN AND ENDED UP IN ABU GHRAIB.

Thompson's 40-minute play offered a fictional soliloquy by Pvt. England, who came to notoriety, along with her then-boyfriend, for the abuse they heaped on Arab prisoners in the infamous U.S. army prison, By turns defiant, angry, defensive, jeering, boasting, petulant and, finally, remorseful, Storms becomes a chillingly real and believable character during the course of the monologue, which was masterfully directed and designed by Ross Manson.

A Traverse Theatre production in association with Canada's Volcano Theatre, MY PYRAMIDS cuts to the heart of the Iraqi war and occupation, showing it for the bloody, awful mess it is.


BlueGreen, a London-based arts organization "set up to further the possibilities of combined disciplines," brought its production of THE DROWNING POINT to the Fringe. A solo show written by Nicholas Earls and performed (flawlessly) by Claire Porter, THE DROWNING POINT proved to be a bleak, powerful one-hour drama about the consequences of betrayal and deception. Beth is devastated when she discovers that her husband not only died in a boating accident but did so in the arms of his mistress (her best friend).

Assaulted by grief, anger and pain, Beth's life begins to unravel as she struggles to comprehend what happened to her--and why it did. Aided by Katherine Shannon's video projections, Mike Willox's moody soundtrack (which echoed the voices in Beth's head), and by Scott Williams and Lucie Pankhurst's direction, Porter gave a scarifyingly real performance of a woman slowly but inexorably descending into madness.


VASCO DA GAMBA is the name of a band which plays unusual music, a funky fusion of Celtic, Latin, Arabic, reggae and jazz. Featuring a virtuosic quartet comprised of electric bass, mandolina, West African drums and trumpet/French horn, plus vocals by the band's leader (in a swirl of languages), the band lit up Sweet Ego's venue on Picardy Place, beating out an hour's worth of infectious, toe-tapping melodies.