Les Naufragés du Fol Espoir

Review by Linny

A wonderfully indulgent large-scale piece of pure theatricality four hours in length brought by Ariane Mnouchkine of Théâtre du Soleil.

The basis of the work is En Magellanie by Jules Verne, posthumously published in 1909 but also extensively rewritten by his son and with a new name, Les Naufragés du ‘Jonathan’, about, amongst other things, the survivors of a shipwreck on the island of Hosta near Cape Horn and their encounters with the indigenous tribe, a charismatic leader and his socialist ideals. This is a grand metaphor for the Théâtre du Soleil itself which has always practiced socialism in the way it is run.

Théâtre du Soleil has collectively created this piece using the vehicle of silent film in its infancy at the start of the 20th century to present seven key scenes from the Verne story.

This is a story about the fulfillment of socialist ideals at a moment in history when new ideas in all fields of endeavour seemed to promise a dazzling century of human achievement.

The production glories in maximising the full mime talents of the cast all of whom take two or three roles. They are the characters in the Verne story which, here, is about the passengers who, seeking a new life or wealth, embark on a ship bound for Australia and only to be shipwrecked off Hosta.  These characters have been cast from the varied and motley individuals who have been casually and randomly invited by the brother and sister film-maker team to become technicians and actors in their groundbreaking project.  The project is run out of an attic space attached to the restaurant, Félix.

Imagine then this ‘theatre’ space about 25 or 30 metres wide and extending almost as far back.  It lies beneath the skeletal roof structure of a hangar (Lowland Hall, one of the show halls at the Royal Highland Ground).  Transform this space with primitive film-making paraphernalia, beautiful painted flats, full-scale props, including bits of a Habsburg palace from the historic scene at Mayerling, a massive ship’s prow scene,  a blizzard-struck snow landscape of Hosta at the very tip of south America, Queen Victoria meeting Charles Darwin, bits of scenery all brought on or dropped down with a pulley-system of ropes all fully visible and you see the full workings of the show, together with off-stage spaces intended as off-stage rooms where other processes relating to the film take place.  Imagine this diverse team of ‘amateurs’, full of excitement and anticipation starting to make a film conceived on a vast scale and you get boundless energy, brilliant mime and slapstick and the sheer comedy of professionals playing amateurs playing acting roles or other roles.  In blizzard scenes, violently flapping coats and swirling snow are all created by primitive wind machines or simply by hand as explorers, bent double, force their way through snow and wind to a remote destination in Patagonia to negotiate a treaty between Chile and Argentina.

The seven scenes introduce the political backdrop to the turn of the century culminating in the scene on Hosta where the charismatic leader exhorts all to accept the egalitarian ideas of socialism and to create a utopia. This is subverted all too quickly by convicts suggesting alternative and quicker routes to power.  The final scene shows the leader abandoning his grand plans to the smaller but not less heroic, goal of rescuing future shipwrecks and protecting the indigenous tribe from bounty hunters.

A truly enjoyable spectacle.

4/5 WIGS

Dickens’ Women – Miriam Margolyes

Review by Linny

This is a very entertaining 90 minutes on Dickens’ life and his female characters.  We have Mrs Gamp, Mr Bumble and Widow Corney, Miss Mowcher, Flora Finching, various timid 17-year old girls and others besides.  Margolyes is truly brilliant at bringing these characters to life.  If you love Dickens you should see this.  Only very slightly less satisfying than seeing Simon Callow do the two short stories, Dr Marigold and Mr Chops, but simply because these give you two complete narratives.

4/5 WIGS

Graham Rex

Review by Ginger Wig

A very funny sketch show from four young comedians from London. Sketches encompass physical gags, Gandalf’s parties, prejudice relating to the Muggles and House Elves from Harry Potter and swipes at Mitt Romney. This is interspersed with their own troubles and efforts to take a show to Edinburgh, comically interpreted. All actors brought their own humour and styles to the show. More racy than footlights, and slightly more current. Overall a very humorous hour. Free stampings as well.

4/5 WIGS

My Elevator Days

Review by Linny

A monologue by Bengt Ahlfors brought by Svenska Teatern.

An elderly man reflects on his life.  A native of Sweden, he has always lived in Finland.

This was a fine performance by Alexander West ruminating on the very limited compass of his life both as a child and as an adult (he never married) and the strategies he has engaged in to create relationships.  Grace Kelly features as a picture of ideal womanhood;  the elevator in his apartment block stands in as a kind of bleak stage where he encountered a bully when little and which itself then becomes the object of a relationship later in his life.  In passing we have observations on casual racism and the dismal lack of sociability amongst people who live on the other sides of walls or on other floors whilst all share the same public spaces in the building.  His interaction with others in his recent past is limited to being an interloper at the funerals and weddings of strangers as well as a sex worker. This is a sad and poignant piece with its modest dramas skilfully managed by West out of the small exigencies of his character’s life.  There is a hopeful end.

3/5 WIGS