The Edinburgh 2012 Ginger Wig Awards

We took up this website again in August 2015 at the Edinburgh Festival and in doing so created our first Award – The Edinburgh Ginger Wig Awards. However in August 2012 when we originated the website we had not thought about making awards. We have nonetheless decided to make a retrospective award for the best show we saw at our first Edinburgh Festival. Although it was over three years ago there are a couple of performances that have lasted long in the memory. Here we recall our top three shows of Edinburgh 2012 and we present our Edinburgh Ginger Wig Award!

3. Inheritance Blues

Six chaps told the story through stories, songs and flashbacks of a father’s death and the impact on his three sons. The quality of the acting and the music from DugOut Theatre made such a lasting impression that, over three years later, this piece of theatre still stands out as one of our 2012 highlights.

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2. Les Naufragés du Fol Espoir

When it comes to epic theatre nothing has come close to beating Ariane Mnouchkine and Théâtre du Soleil’s piece for style, scale or length. Using a huge cast and a gigantic space, they wove a cinematic tale that left us utterly overwhelmed by its magic.

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1. Meine Faire Dame

And so our retrospective Edinburgh Ginger Wig Award of 2012 goes to Theater Basel’s bizarre Meine Faire Dame – ein Sprachlabor (My Fair Lady – A Language Laboratory). This was the first thing we saw in Edinburgh and it has stayed with all our critics. It was one of the strangest yet compelling pieces of theatre we have witnessed. It was an extraordinary exploration of language and meaning and it has stood the test of time, and we therefore have given it the Edinburgh Ginger Wig Award of 2012. Congratulations Theater Basel and all those involved in Meine Faire Dame – ein Sprachlabor

MFD

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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

The Horne Section

Review by Ginger Wig

Any other show interrupted half-way through by a fire alarm would have seriously weakened its chances of getting a good review.  However, being the likeable and talented band they were, they led the audience out of the Pleasance Grande and started performing in the dark.

A couple of fire related numbers and their Olympic melody were all that were needed to hold our attention through the unplanned interval. A good show with music, comedy, special guests and beards.

3/5 WIGS

Review by Looby Loo

The Horne Section were an enjoyable and friendly band but they did not have the jokes or the material to sustain a really amusing evening. They had their own music and they had four special guests with their own acts all introduced by Alex Horne. Des Bishop and Piff the Magic Dragon were good. Incidently, I had tried to see Piff at a Brunch organised by the Circus restaurant in London but it was cancelled, so I was really delighted to see him.  Piff brought Piffles, a chihuahua, on stage. I struggle with any kind of animal cruelty and so dressing up a dog for comedy and “breaking his leg” I found difficult.  The Horne Section is like being on holiday with some very old friends that are musical and are having a good evening. So I’d rather just go on holiday with my friends and have a good evening.

Audience wriggling: problems after the fire alarm with audience members complaining about their new seats

Bows: a few

General spot: too much tacky pink from the Horne Section

Venue: (heart) Pleasance Courtyard

WIGS 2/5

Dr. Brown: Befrdfgth

Review by Looby Loo & Ginger Wig

Where to begin with this guy?  This is like no other comedy show I have ever seen.

Dr. Brown is enigmatic from the word go.  He uses mime, physical jokes and repetition to create an unbelievably funny one-hour show in which he plays a cast of fictional and animal characters…  An encounter between two soldiers turns into a bull fight.  The bull is killed. Dr. Brown gets inside and finds a female bull.  They have a calf… and thus it goes on with one scene morphing into something entirely different. It was like watching someone else’s dream.  The power of mime is not be trifled with, and Dr. Brown brilliantly uses audience participation to realise the full potential of his act. His jokes are incredibly simple but because of the force of his personality they are real crowd pleasers.  On one level, audience participation is always a cheap gag because everyone finds awkward audience members doing things funny. It is, after all, what pantomime thrives on. Dr. Brown is really talented and his show has been nominated for the Foster’s Best Comedy Show 2012. For sheer originality and humour his show probably merited the prize.

Audience wriggling: when he clambered through the audience

Bows: 1 and hugged every audience member

General spot: Dr Brown’s outfit

Venue:  Underbelly is very dank

WIGS 4/5

Cambridge Footlights

Review by Looby Loo & Ginger Wig

This was a very good sketch show.  Five young comedians showcased great comedy talent from a university that constantly seems to deliver:  from the sketch about a liberal couple with a son who informs them he is a homophobe to another where the performers act out a game of Monopoly.  One of the Ginger Wig team was unhappy about one female comedienne amongst four males.  The set was simple and the performance was polished.

Audience wriggling: uncomfy seats at the front, I don’t like stools

Bows: 1

General spot:  magic telephone

Venue: Good venue for this show, just the right size

WIGS 3/5

Mies Julie

Review by Linny

Strindberg’s Miss Julie is here transferred by Baxter Theatre Centre, (South African State Theatre and Assembly) from its origins (Sweden, 1888) to South Africa under apartheid.

Julie, an unloved child of a mother who committed suicide, is the daughter of a wealthy Afrikaans farmer.  John is a house-servant and favoured by the farmer whom we never see. The job of John’s mother, a house servant, (whose role replaces that of Christine, the cook) has been to look after Julie from childhood and John has had to take second place.   John is, therefore, introduced early on to the unnatural and unjust conditions of apartheid.

At the opening of the play Julie’s engagement has been broken off by her fiancé and, separately, there are festivities going on for the black farmhands outside.  Julie, when little, played with John and they have grown up together.  As young adults, when the play opens, their relationship is much more problematic.  They are both aware that they are separated and allocated unequal roles informed by the economic realities of the master-servant relationship, the overt values of the state and the cultural prejudices informing both sides. Julie’s rejection has produced in her a febrile state of mind which looks to exert some little autonomy in a known sphere of influence given to her by the acquired authority of race.  She alternately taunts John and flirts with him playing with the, as yet, uncalculated force of his final response.  Hilda Cronje’s characterisation is the taut pacing female determined to exercise her powers of attraction whilst afraid of the power it might unleash.  We learn quickly from Julie that if there is a physical relationship, her father will kill John first and then Julie.  Bringing all these forces together never mind just the tragic circumstances of her young life in the original play is a tall order for a young actor and I have yet to see a truly convincing production whatever its setting. The apartheid context makes the issues very obvious and the underlying issues of parental neglect are swamped by the violent interpretation.  This is an extremely physical production, both violent and bloody, which actually lets the actors, both Hilde Cronje and Bongile Mantsai, off the hook in terms of the emotional range they need.  Julie has to be manipulative and malicious and not just flirtatious; she has to wield a power that she did not know she had until her pride as a woman is galvanised by the failure of her engagement into the predatory white, disenfranchised and vulnerable, girl she becomes.

The best performance was given by Thokozile Ntshinga who takes the role of John’s mother.  She has to care for Julie when required and any feeling behind the care may be genuine, but there is no disguising the subtle disgust and disappointment she feels for her son having discovered the two of them lying together in an all too obvious state of undress.  In her we witness another kind of derangement and one caused not by the absence of childhood love but by an opposite scenario:  the power of ancestral spirits emanating from burial places beneath the floor occasionally overwhelms her rationality.  It is apparent that there are two kinds of ownership in this setting; one is the possession of land and workers by the white landowner and the other that very different kind of ownership:  the belonging to the land of the indigenous peoples.  Both exert powerful forces which prevent any of the protagonists escaping.

The last word has to go to the absent patriarch.  His boots remain on stage the whole time – an ever-present reminder of unjust power legitimising personal violence.  When John puts them on at the end of the play he literally steps out of the confines of his world and towards the power that will surely bring about his end.

3/5 WIGS

Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act by Athol Fugard

Review by Linny

1966 South Africa.  A white woman is having an affair with a black man in contravention of The Immorality Act of 1957.

The couple can only meet in a dark room under darkness.  They live with fear.  She lives with a generalised fear that permeates her experience of life.  He lives with immediate fear: the fear generated by his secret walk every night to the back of the library where their relationship is carried out in her office.  Their conversations and their covert love are subtly and overtly conditioned by the more deep-rooted unconscious adjustments they have made to the political framework in which they live.  This is a relationship which cannot last.  Emotionally it is too vulnerable to the larger factors that rule their lives.  The man is also committing adultery and his work ambitions have foundered and he is all too aware, that as a black man, his life is profoundly proscribed.

The couple are reported by an informer.  In court, a third character who stands for the South African state requires that the woman describes in detail, until told to stop, the start of their physical relationship.  For the whole piece the couple are in the nude and during the court hearings the man and woman attempt to cover themselves with their discarded garments.  Nudity was never so effective when partially covered up and when each has to give a testimony about their first act of intimacy.

Fugard’s writing is extraordinary for translating the effects of political repression into the language of the individual.  But more, it is poetic and rhetorical as in the famous speech by the man at the end in which he considers the rhetorical and grotesque possibility of each limb being removed whilst he, the man, is denied the fundamental instinct to love.

Bo Petersen, in particular and Malefane Mosuhli give wonderful performances.

4/5 WIGS