Today’s the last day of the Prague Fringe; see what you can before it’s gone!
We’ve got more reviews coming of course, but for now, here’s what Megan and Liam saw on the 31st of May!
Both shows I saw today turned out to be script-in-hand deals. I’m not very used to seeing Fringe shows like that, funnily enough. The Dublin Fringe, another curated festival, seems to ensure everything is extremely polished and slick, even the small scale shows. But that’s a very different festival, with a very different ethos to the Prague Fringe, so it makes sense! It’s a novel experience for me anyway, and not an unwelcome one!
First, I saw Umbrella Man in Studio Rubin, one of the two shows Teuchter Theatre Company has brought us this year. Colin Bramwell’s the writer/performer of this goofy, offbeat, and subtly sad mishmash of monologue, spoken word and live music. Stylistically it felt like Spalding Grey’s work – Bramwell’s writing sounds spontaneous and off the cuff, but there’s gorgeous lyricism and recurring imagery that really caught me off guard.
The show’s set in Hanoi, where a lonely Scottish man who plays piano and gives tours overhears someone who’s from Scotland and talks to them – or, more accurately, at them – telling them how he ended up here, on his conspiracy theories and philosophies, and also his love of spoken word poetry. As more and more funny and tragic details of this man’s life get revealed, it assembles this really beautiful and sad little picture of someone adrift in the world, homesick and grieving for the life he could have had.
As I mentioned at the top of this roundup, Bramwell performs with his script in hand. And for a brief moment I thought “oh boy, this might be rough” – but it wasn’t, not in the slightest. From the moment he started his performance, it was clear he knew what tone to strike for every single line, even if he didn’t have them memorized. In fact, the script disappeared midway through. Not in the literal sense, I mean; I simply ceased to notice that he had it in front of him. That takes some skill. Go see this little heartbreaker of a show.
Next up was Games by Henry Naylor, in Divadlo Kampa. Now, full disclosure: I haven’t seen any of the collaborations between Henry Naylor and Avital Lvova before now. I’ve only heard the rave reviews and the hype, and I tried my best to not let this color my review.
Games is a semi-biographical play set around 1936, exploring two Jewish-German athletes; Helene Mayer and Gretel Bergmann. Helene wants to reclaim her Olympic Gold Metal for Fencing. Gretel looks up to Helene and wants to make her own mark in the Olympic High Jump. Both would be competing with Germany, of course, but then the rise of Nazism throws numerous obstacles in their way; some of them are insurmountable.
I thought the writing of this piece was pretty solid, it has to be said. I can see why Naylor’s work is popular; the storytelling and scenes are tight and taut, the unique voices of the two women intermingle, and it explores racial identity, the Olympian ideals of exceptionalism, and relates it to our world today.
Once or twice though, there were a few very direct allusions to Trump which I felt weren’t needed; the similarities between Nazi Germany and Trump’s administration don’t need to be underlined further.
It’s tricky to review this piece, because it honestly felt like more of a relaxed readthrough than a performance. Avital Lvova and Tessie Crange-Turner are both confident performers, and you can really see the potential for where it can go from here. The tone felt a little even throughout, and I desperately wanted the actors to be involved in each other’s monologues more; as it stands, Helene and Gretel tell their stories alone, referencing things other people said to them – Gretel being tripped and called a ‘Jew’ by a bully, Helene being delivered bad news by a teammate- and it feels a bit too sterile. I think it would add a lot if the actors had the opportunity to play roles in each other’s stories – or even a third actor, maybe dressed in fencing gear, their face totally hidden away? But that’s not my place to decide, of course; I’m not the director. I do look forward to seeing how this show develops, and I have a feeling it’ll be back in Prague soon.
The first show of the day was Young Oscar: Wilde in San Francisco in Golden Key, a one hander based on a trip Oscar Wilde made in his youth to San Francisco. I love Oscar Wilde, not just as a writer and poet but also as a historical personality. He’s well known for his mannerisms and odd appearance and I was really hoping for something that would shed light onto some lesser known element of this well known figure. I ended up finding the show rather dull, Oscar Wilde’s accent is played as slow and aristocratic and has an aura of fakeness about it. I was hoping to see a “Young” Oscar Wilde, rough around the edges, still finding out who he is and it didn’t help that the actor himself did not look like the 26 year old he was supposed to be playing. Oscar comes off as more of a wizened performer who sees himself above the world, and though he was probably more than a little pretentious, I would have liked to see him as he was before this persona became all that people saw of him.
After that show, I stayed in Golden Key to watch The Last Burrah Sahibs, a monologue about growing up in India during the time of the Jute Mills from Dundee and the subsequent move back to Scotland. It resonated particularly with me, as I spent my early childhood in North Western Africa, benefiting from the remnant of French colonialism, with two servants to help cook and clean. I did not have the life of utter luxury described in the performance, but it was still absurdly privileged. Max Scratchmann is unpretentious and understands just how ridiculous and artificial his childhood was and speaks of the struggle adapting to Scotland on his return, and his subsequent early teens in Bangladesh. Nowadays I think this would be described as a “Third Culture Child” who has so many cultures, from parents and from surroundings that they struggle to find a way to define their identity.
The third show of the day was a Fringe miracle! Hamlet (an Experience) was completely sold out when I arrived. I stayed at the bar with my boyfriend and a new fringe friend I had made and we hoped that somehow, magical tickets might fall from the sky and allow us to see this play. Luckily, Hamlet is not Macbeth, and good luck befell us in the form of a lovely gentleman with not one, not two but three spare tickets. We all got to see Hamlet that day.
The show itself was incredible, members of the audience are assigned the largest roles of the play: Horatio, Ophelia, Laertes, Claudius, Gertrude and Polonius. They are given scripts which they are asked to keep secret with instructions as to their actions. Hamlet speaks mostly in monologues with short interactions with the characters. Hamlet seems perfect for such a show due to the strength of Shakespeare’s monologues. The performance is powerful and the audience’s performances keep it light and slightly silly, which I think is perfect to contrast the heavy themes of Hamlet and keeps the show very accessible. Thank the theatre gods for the miracle tickets!