Edinburgh 1999 ... the flying Fringe

My word for the 1999 Edinburgh Fringe Festival has to be "Aerial"; there are so many shows with trapeze, rope and other forms of aerial performance in them that I haven't tried to count. I've seen at least 5 - which might not sound like much but in the space of two and a half weeks it feels like a lot.

Naturally you would expect aerial performance in an animal-free circus, and Quebec's Cirque Eloize does lots of it and very well in their show "Excentricus". Marie-Eve Dumais makes the trapeze look easy and fun, while Ariane Darche and Antoine M. Gagnon transform it into a symbol of sensuality.

There was also hilarious juggling, bicycle balancing, acrobatics and physical comedy, not to mention a live band of eccentric musicians who couldn't help but stray into the action from time to time.

Marcus used the rope to great effect to convey lonliness, but for me the most breath-taking performance was Daniel Cyr and his ladder, displaying not only impeccable balance, but also creatively lateral choreography.

Turbozone's production of "Cinderella" is also in the genre of spectacular theatre; in their own words, "Cinderella is dragged kicking and screaming into the millenium" - she's also suspended high above the university's stone quad, dangling from a trapeze on the end of a crane, and chased around by flame-throwing stunt motorcyclists, to the beat of pounding dance music.

At the other end of the scale were the many wonderful European physical theatre companies with their Leqoc-trained performers and wordless stories. I loved:

  • "Turul - Grotesque Myth of a Plucked Angel", which told of Hungary's loss of cultural identity;
  • La Compaigne Orange Sanguine's simply beautiful and beautifully simple story of the sinking of the Titanic, "L'Embarquement";
  • "Drink Vinegar Gentlemen", an absurdist exploration of the writings of Daniil Kharms by Poland's Teatr Biuro Podrozy;
  • the charming "What If ..." by Tohu Bohu, and their sibling company Pig Iron's production "Gentlement Volunteers" - Emmanuelle Delpech is brilliant in both;
  • the dance and mime collaboration between Russia's Do Theater and Germany's Fabrika - "Hopeless Games";
  • and the passionate political street theatre "War" from Spain's Teatro Margen.

Shibboleth's "Square" would have made it into that list if they had only ditched the bizarre birdman character who ruined the evolution of a beautiful tale about death, grief, and love.

For pure entertainment, nothing could beat the Amsterdam Parade production "Bingo", returning after it's huge success here last year. It's completely crazy - and I won 5 and two glasses of wine - had to be good!

In the straight theatre category, the British productions "Riddance", "Mojo Mickybo" and "The Juju Girl" are great examples of the Traverse Theatre's continued support of excellent new writing. New Zealand play "Krishnan's Dairy" was also at the Traverse, where it won a Fringe First.

"The House of Pootsie Plunket", from Canada's Catalyst Theatre, can't really be contained by a "straight" theatre category, as its gothic surrealism pushes the boundaries wide apart. It's based on the story of Electra, but set in the frozen far north and played out by a plucky lass and her simple sibling. A more straight-forward yet equally challenging interpretation of the myth was Theatre Cryptic's "Electra", which used film, soundscape, song and text on an illusory set to give a powerful scream.

And there's more! The extraordinary voice of Polly Phillips; the intensity of Gorky's "Lower Depths"; the energy of Talipot Theatre from the Reunion Islands in two epic productions; the quirky charm of "Rocket Girl"; the kiwi humour of "Bare"; the sexual energy of Mika; and Gareth Armstrong's arresting performance in "Shylock".

I haven't mentioned everything I saw, I can't ... it's all become one big blur. My articles will be appearing in the DANZ, Playmarket and Magdalena Aotearoa magazines over the next couple of months and in Express newspaper (all New Zealand) - if you would like copies of the articles please email the organisations directly or email me.

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© Helen Varley Jamieson 1999-2019