Annie Haag, Blair Simmons, Blair Simmons and Nathan Sawaya Productions, C on Chambers Street, C Royale, Edinburgh Fringe, Eleanor O’Brien, Johanna O’Brien, Language, Linguistics, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Niall Carmody, Nikita Lebedev, Patrick Flannery, Play on Words, Roxana Kadyrova, Staging Wittgenstein, Theatre Review, Tiger's Eye Theatre Company
I swore to myself at the start of this year’s Fringe that I would no longer review plays in pairs or batches. But I have to hurry up now – it feels somehow wrong to be still writing about the Fringe after the fireworks are over. I am going to start resembling one of those forlorn guys who is trying to continue to dance after they have turned on all the lights in the nightclub. Moreover, the two plays that I saw on my final circuit of the Fringe were both, quite coincidentally, about words and linguistics. Both felt like slight pieces of theatre, because they were concerned more with representation than with really representing anything, but the playfulness and dynamism of both shows also rendered their slightness unexpectedly steely.
You will be no doubt conscious of Blair Simmons’ “Staging Wittgenstein,” which was lately showing at C on Chambers Street, for it seems to have its heart set upon being the most eye-catching production at this year’s Fringe. The publicity photographs feature unearthly-looking young women with their heads protruding from latex balloons, like infant dinosaurs that are hatching out of huge, perfectly white eggs. The show is as enjoyable as the photographs promise. The stage and seating are garlanded with white balloons. Two performers, Annie Haag and Roxana Kadyrova, climb into their latex balloons and clown about every which way, delving into every new possibility, shrinking and expanding, singing and bickering, until they pop. They pop periodically. Improvisation is henceforth fuelling this show and the balloons are, so to speak, always kept on their toes.
Pop! A previously jolly balloon person suddenly squats frozen and ripped apart in a terrified human body, like an obese woman who has been instantly reduced to a skeleton. The air still rings with the detonation. She must be experiencing the nearest thing to how it feels to be a suicide bomber. Thankfully, she is the nearest thing to a suicide bomber to so-far strike the Fringe.
Which came first, the baby dinosaur or the egg? The question that “Staging Wittgenstein” poses for me is which came first for Simmons? Did she begin by wanting to make a show about Ludwig Wittgenstein and subsequently chose latex balloons as her medium? Or did the cast first devise a theatrical repertoire of deft clowning and then apply Wittgenstein as way of pitching their show to a pretentious Fringe audience? Fortunately, I had attended the production with a reader and admirer of Wittgenstein. He was able to quickly correct me that Wittgenstein was a twentieth-century philosopher (I might have walked into the theatre confusing him with Schopenhauer). He was convinced that Wittgenstein is at the centre of this show and that the latex’s place is peripheral.
Gosh, it would make a fantastic Henry V though, with the cast bouncing and waddling around Agincourt, ready to pop at any moment. “Once more unto the [POP!], dear friends!”
At first the Tiger’s Eye Theatre Company’s “Play On Words” looks off-putting, with two women screeching gibberish and jumping about on a floor that is… yikes, littered with Scrabble tiles. There is a special type of pain that comes from standing unexpectedly on a Scrabble tile – let alone accidentally jumping on one. The theatre at C Royale is small and sweltering. There is this farcical scenario in which you buy the tickets in the spacious foyer, walk down a staircase and along a long corridor, before arriving in a room that is basically an airing cupboard. The heat adds to my initial discomfort.
Yet Niall Carmody’s play soon grows mysterious and unpredictable; the emotional range on stage broadens and the show also has lots of sneaky extra tiles hidden up its sleeves. In the story, two lexicographers (Johanna O’Brien and Eleanor O’Brien) are imprisoned in a bunker and forced to meet a daily quota of newly devised word meanings. The play swings from cheerfully puerile jokes – in which, for example, the pair persuade a menacing guard (Patrick Flannery) that “arsehole” is a term of respect for your boss – to more harrowing scenes. There are really cases in which women have been locked in sheds and basements for years on end. “Play On Words” becomes suddenly engrossing when it commits to hinting at this terror and dismay.
It is mostly gibberish though. Indeed, Carmody appears to have gone to tremendous lengths to ensure that his play is flatly un-interpretable on any level of realism. I write this kindly – skilful gibberish is always preferable to inept realism. The company, Tiger’s Eye, comes from Limerick and I will aim to investigate them earlier if they are at next year’s Fringe, before my words are once more running out…