Roberta Jean – Edinburgh Fringe dance

At City Chambers, Edinburgh Royal Mile, 16 – 17 Aug 2018.

The setting of Edinburgh’s City Chambers is an unusual one for a contemporary dance show. Brocade by Roberta Jean is part of the Made in Scotland showcase and the Dance Base programme, and she and her three dancers challenge us with their “loom of movement glosses that, when woven, makes a numinous tissue”-  in the words of the programme.

The broad rectangular performance area has audience on the two long sides. At one end is the window overlooking St Giles Cathedral and the lights of the clock tower comes on in the gloaming as the house lights dim.

St Giles

Standing with their backs to us, clad in black shorts, baggy T shirts and matching knee-length socks (as in L-E-V Dance Company’s Love Cycle), one woman starts a jump-skip, a regular rhythmic and simple step. One by one the others join in and they allow their labouring breath to be audible and their facial expressions to be naturalistic as they slowly turn while doing it.

In unison, they continue. Vertically they pound the floor like human pneumatic drills, creating their own soundtrack with foot-percussion, arms and torsos relaxed and still as in Irish dance, so they carry on for the majority of the piece. This pedestrian movement, and the few motifs in which the feet or hands have minds of their own leading the rest of the body a merry dance, is reminiscent of Yvonne Rainer and Trisha Brown at the Judson Church and New York lofts of the 1960s. (Rainer said that her work “sometimes takes the form of a disorientated body in which one part doesn’t know what the other part is doing.”)

Sometimes they zig zag, sometimes they smile. One peels off and dances behind the audience. They could be stitching an enormous embroidery, stopping every now and then to make a knot, bouncing on in their patterns, never stopping despite the sweat caused by the neverending pace.

Roberta Jean

The repetition allows us to relax as we watch and notice the subtle alterations – facing north-north-east not north-east for example. There are distinctions between them: one drops slightly more heavily than the next; a second holds her hand at nose- rather than mouth-level. Is it in this idiosyncracy that the message lies? Is it that however hard we try to keep on doing what is expected, to ‘repeat after me’, to ‘toe the line’, we are all human and have our own personalities?


Stiffs – theatre review

Stiffs are at The Space , North Bridge. (Hilton Hotel) Aug 6-11 21.05

Two stiffs wake up in a morgue with no idea where they are and no memory of what went before. In a laddish sort of a way, the two guys then slowly figure out what might have happened to bring them here and there’s a good deal of banter and argy-bargy along the way.

The company was set up in 2017 by students from Barnsley, Mark Olzsewski and William Batty. Billed as ‘absurdist comedy’,  Stiffs by Marcus and Wilhelm is part of the Death on the Fringe and it does not have a complicated plot, nothing much to get your head around, rather this is simple, fun Fringe theatre played for laughs.

Or is it? The ‘absurd’ part is a nod towards theatre which enquires into the meaning of human existence, and comes to the conclusion that it really has no purpose, with the result that communication breaks down. Here, on the surface of it, the writers seek for the silly, but because their protagonists have no way of actually discovering their true backstories, what was initially a slow unfolding of the truth, turns out to be a play of only one possibility. The final scene, though simplistic, hints at the endless repetition of options, with no guarantee of any final or ‘true’ understanding of why we are all here on this earth doing this stuff and going to shows in Edinburgh in the first place. But you’ve got to laugh!

Set in one of Edinburgh’s temporary but well-run theatres with audience on three sides, the performers do very well in opening up so everyone can see. In fact, overall, this new company have a very open style of performing – confident, bright and pretty slick.

tiffs 2

Sandra from the service station, is an amusing excerpt with apt gestures, expression and nuance but
the script is patchy, giving the characters, especially the one we mostly know as Vince, variable personalities ranging in his case from the erudite, using terms like “logistically speaking” and “recoup myself”, to the banal “I aint done nuffin never”. This isn’t absurd, it’s inconsistent writing.

The accents are bizarre: Vince speaks in a cockney cum posh English cum Liverpool one. Does it matter? This is a goofy, farcical, two-hander which mainly aims to entertain, but yes it does matter if they want to further develop from a company touring the student circuit into one which people take seriously.