Archive for Edinburgh Fringe

Beyond Our Ken

Posted in FILM, Theatre with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on August 21, 2018 by dcairns

To Terry Johnson’s play Ken at the Pleasance Dome, planned as our one Edinburgh Festival Fringe extravagance this year — but Jeremy Stockwell, the second man in this one-man show alongside its author, is also appearing as Spike Milligan in A Sock Full of Custard, and is apparently as uncanny in that role as he is as the shade of Ken Campbell.

I used to ONLY go to Fringe shows that had a Campbellian element, which was fine as there were often more than one on. This year, Campbell alumni Nina Conti and The Showstoppers are both playing. Often, Campbell would appear in one of his monologues and direct someone else. I first saw him in the never-revived Hail Eris!, chunks of which I can still quote by what I fondly imagine is heart. That one was about staging Illuminatus!, his epic science-fiction conspiracy saga. Ken deals mostly with its follow-up, the twenty-four-hour-long The Warp, by Neil Oram, whose own one-man show followed Hail Eris! back in, I think it was 1989.

I had fancied making the trip down south to see Ken, but I should’ve known it would come to Edinburgh – The Warp was performed in Edinburgh, at the defunct Regal Cinema. I would have been nine — rather too young for a 24-hr sex and drugs play. I regret missing it, though.

The theatre space has chairs and tables and bean bags and cushions. I immediately threw myself on the floor, Fiona opting to loom over me from a chair. Johnson takes to the podium, and Ken Campbell’s voice issued from behind me. I figured they had a recording of him saying his name. As the play continued and “Ken” said more lines, I realised they were issuing from a bloke directly behind me. I sort of figured I shouldn’t look at him, though, as Johnson was the star of the play. But “Ken” – in reality the brilliant Jeremy Stockwell, moved around the venue, just as actors in The Warp would, interacting with the audience, so it became impossible to ignore him. Stockwell looks different from Campbell: everyone does, unless they are a church gargoyle sprung to life. But the voice and the stare were so uncanny, you couldn’t help feel Campbell was in there, animating him.

The stories and capers and the elastic-band-and-housebrick skit are excellent, and there’s an emotional clout too. It’s all an amazing feat, not of homage, but of resurrection — the spirit of a genius captured and brought to life for a short spell.

Campbell, we are told, once gave Stockwell a hat identical to the one he himself wore. “Here you are. I think you might need this one day.”

Terry Johnson also wrote INSIGNIFICANCE, filmed by Nic Roeg, so there’s your movie connection.


Dragon Lady

Posted in FILM with tags , , , , , , , on August 13, 2008 by dcairns

In a week of belting rain, so loud right now it’s hard to shake of an illusory feeling that it’s raining INDOORS, we boldly ventured out to see a show in the Edinburgh Fringe — Dragon Lady: Being Anna May Wong.

I’ve never reviewed theatre, and the greater intimacy makes it harder to say negative things about a solo performer/playwright who was just standing a few feet in front of us in a small venue, giving it her all. So while I could recommend the piece to somebody looking to learn a little about Wong, an important figure in American cinema, as the first Chinese-American star, I couldn’t recommend the piece as theatre, but I don’t really want to get into knocking it around too much. Alice Lee is certainly beautiful enough to play Wong, and with stronger direction could perhaps have sustained a more modulated performance, but the messy sprawl of a life has defeated her efforts to structure a narrative.

But we learn —

That Irving Thalberg preferred to cast Luise Rainer as a Chinese woman in THE GOOD EARTH, leaving Wong, the only Chinese actor in a yellowface cast, to play the only unsympathetic part.

That Wong made three successful films in Germany (but we don’t hear about her rumoured friendship with Leni Riefenstahl or relationship with Marlene Dietrich).

That she has an unhappy love affair with songwriter Eric Maschwitz, who wrote These Foolish Things, inspired by his longing for her.

“The sigh of midnight trains in empty stations
Silk stockings thrown aside, dance invitations
Oh, how the ghost of you clings
These foolish things
Remind me of you…”