Edinburgh Fringe #8 – Dirty, Decadent and Dark

I saw a lot of shows at C Venues at this year’s Fringe – no wonder, when you look at their line-up. The two I’ve reviewed here were probably my favourites, putting their own individual stamp on established art forms with dark and decadent works.

Dirty Decadence, a new contemporary ballet from university dance theatre company Theatre With Teeth, is described as ‘Matthew Bourne on LSD.’ While I wouldn’t exactly agree with that, I was impressed by just how much the group managed to pack into 45 minutes. The story is inspired by Laura Wade’s play Posh, and exposes the dramatic events of a drunken weekend at a country house occupied by a group of wealthy young people. The setting and the relationships between the characters in it are established well and early on – no mean feat for a piece of dance – and the group also do exceptionally well with such a tiny studio stage, using a table to add another level to the space. However, there is a marked difference in the skill levels of the performers. As relationships start to unravel and new clandestine ones begin, the pace of the piece quickens and the weaker dancers make some mistakes – this is understandable though, with increasingly frantic entrances and exits and a lack of space onstage. I also felt that, in the moments of highest drama – when two characters are outed as gay or love rivals face off – gesture and facial expression are relied on over dance to communicate emotion. The stronger dancers are a joy to watch however, and I was pleasantly surprised to see ballet en pointe in a contemporary piece. The choreography is an intense blend of traditional and modern, just like the remixed classical music that underscores it – both provide the perfect vehicle for a modern tale of wealth, privilege and their inherent dangers. I would love to see Dirty Decadence mounted on a grander scale, by professional dancers on a larger stage.

Jethro Compton’s uniquely immersive brand of theatre is this year applied to a trio of plays based on mythological stories and set in Capone-era Chicago. As with last year’s Bunker Trilogy, the audience are herded into a tiny, contained set and forced to sit uncomfortably for an hour – but as with my experience of Macbeth last year, close proximity creates atmosphere and encourages concentration. Squeezed onto my share of a wooden bench, I was able to admire all the little details of Compton’s fantastic hotel room set – from the peeling brocade wallpaper, to the bottles in the old wall cabinet and the whirring ceiling fan. Loki – the only part of the trilogy I was able to witness – is billed as the comedic episode, and for 99% of the piece it certainly is. From inside Lola Keen’s hotel room, we are able to observe the husky-voiced, shamelessly manipulative protagonist as she juggles an unwanted fiance, nosy parents, subconscious apparitions, policemen and an Italian lover… all played with unfailing energy and detailed, distinct characterisation by two male actors. Laughs come thick and fast as Lola smuggles her lover under the bed or out of the window, only to have the same actor appear at the door in a different guise – it’s a clever twist on the traditional door-slamming farce. Even as the body count increases and Lola plots to abandon her wedding, I still felt intrigued by the trickster and hoped she would triumph. But Lola’s drug-taking and constant drinking – even her bowler-hatted, vaudeville clown hallucinations – have pointed to something more sinister all along, and in a final dark and devastating twist she commits suicide.

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