The Prague Fringe Festival is done and dusted… but we’ve got some reviews to share with you still. Here’s what Megan and Liam had to say about the shows they saw on the 1st and 2nd of June!
Today I saw a few shows as a punter, but I was able to squeeze in one review as well, for Teuchter Theatre Company’s other show: ADA. It’s a spoken word show; a science fiction tone poem written and performed by Daniel McGurty, Colin Bramwell and Criss Roden. I’d heard a few things about the show going into it, that it was a bit like Black Mirror. I disagree with that observation to be honest; this play has a very unique tone and voice. After an OTT prologue that calls to mind Shakespeare, it explores a morning in the life of a programmer, Kai, who works for an advertising company that’s bought the rights to ADA, a powerful AI, and neutered her, turning her into a superficial ‘annoying alarm clock’ who reminds Kai of his daily tasks with no personality.
Kai was involved with her original development, it turns out, and decides to bring back her old personality. But ADA isn’t quite happy to see him when her original programming is re-activated. I won’t give away any more of the plot, but it gets right to the heart of those existential questions about artificial intelligence, what makes one human, all that good stuff you’d expect. It’s keenly aware of what’s come before it too, with carefully placed references to Blade Runner, Star Wars, and more. These references don’t come off as being a sort of ‘HEY REMEMBER THIS SCI FI THING’? They’re used to ground this fiction in our world, or rather, a future world we could have.
The trio of performers cultivate this atmosphere perfectly. Colin Bramwell’s a natural performer and storyteller, subdued and relaxed and effortlessly funny. Daniel McGurty adds a fantastic aural element to the show; adding live synthesised compositions and distorting and glitching ADA’s voice out as she gradually becomes more sentient. A kaleidoscope of distorted and datamoshed images are projected on the back as the AI waxes lyrical. Criss Roden’s performance deserves singling out; he plays the titular character. There’s a fantastic subtlety to his performance and physicality. From still, calm and expressionless to tense and excited and angry, as the AI begins to tease out the emotions and thoughts flooding through them.
I think my brain got a bit full towards the end with some of the long intense spoken word monologues, but even so, ADA is a taut, engaging and intelligent piece of sci-fi. Sorry. Spoken word. They insist that this show isn’t a sci-fi. And they’re good enough at what they do for me to trust them on that.
On the Penultimate day of the Fringe, I went up to Inspirace to see (Can this be) Home. It’s a sweet piece with a mixture of poetry and music, a protest against the Brexit Referendum. I personally dislike theatre that gives direct answers and opinions, I would much rather have an experience that leads me to find answers to new questions, than spoon feed me the opinions and answers I should have. That said, I do think (Can this be) Home is a brilliant piece of poetry, though I disagree with the directness of the message. The music was the best part of the show, blending folk music from around the world and sharing their roots with the audience. I’m not sure who the show is intended for, however, and that’s my main issue with it. A remainer will enjoy the show, as it echoes their beliefs. I don’t believe it will convince many leavers however, as the message is so direct and confrontational that the natural reaction will be to pick it apart – as people do when told to drop deeply felt beliefs.
The next show in Studio Rubin took the tone of the evening to a much darker place. And The Rope Still Tugging at Her Feet is a one hander. It’s told by a radical feminist lesbian who helped a young girl trapped in Ireland’s legal system, accused of crimes she was not guilty of in the shame of having a child out of wedlock. The performance is magnetic and engaging, the most shocking part being that this story was from 1984 – it’s too close for comfort. The horrors of inaccessible contraception, abortion and the social wreckage that a child could cause are disgusting. The set is incredibly simple but the use of lighting becomes even more powerful when there are no props or other visual distractions. This show is the only one besides Nathan and Ida that had me leaving my seat with tears running down my cheeks.
Following that show, I bounced back up to Inspirace to see Bump! It’s a show about two people who meet by banging into the other’s car, then bang each other that same evening. The couple’s relationship is explored in a wonderfully comedic sequence, until the inevitable problem arises and it is put to the test. The story itself is nothing new or groundbreaking, and I do have qualms with ending, though I can’t describe them without ruining the plot, but the performance is brilliant to watch. The performers are talented and the energy never drops throughout the show.
The final show of the evening was Measure of a Man, a show about a gay man dealing with erectile dysfunction and the psychological pain that comes with having a body that won’t cooperate. The incredible part of doing this binge is the way I come across powerful performances I would have never considered watching in the past, and yet am so thankful to have experienced. I am often shocked by how little attention there is to sexual ‘etiquette’ in the Talk. Beyond consent, this monologue shows how we should be communicative, fair and respectful partners when we begin our relationships, without laughing at their body and respecting the trust that comes with being at our most vulnerable with another. The show’s message is uncomfortable, but important to hear.
The final day of the festival is always bitter sweet. It can also be a bit nerve-wracking; in the sense that there’s not much time left to see what you want to see, and you might also be keenly aware that you need to make the last shows you see good ones. Don’t want to end on a bum note. That didn’t seem to be much of a concern in this year’s Prague Fringe, but honestly I think the shows I saw tonight were among the best in the whole festival.
First, I saw Hopeless, performed by Leyla Josephine, the last show in the Museum of Alchemists. With a title that downbeat, it might be easy to expect that it’s going to be an introspective, mopey show, full of self-pity. That, or an unrelenting torrent of depressing imagery. Hopeless is neither of those things.
It does come from a dark place, in a sense; Leyla talks about how there was a period where she was incredibly depressed and simply couldn’t leave bed, for example, and it’s a funny, relatable ode to self-care; I know I’ve spent a fair few days lying under my duvet and feeling sorry for myself.
She uses this story as a way in to talk about her family – her great grandfather who made a pilgrimage across the north of Ireland to get a ferry to Scotland – and her own life experiences – working in a refugee camp, and having to leave, seeing how the children she worked with coped with her leaving.
The refugee crisis and this innate desire we have to do something meaningful, to save the world, runs through the whole piece, and towards the end there are some heartbreaking twists and reminders that come to the fore. Remember Alan Kurdi? Leyla reminds us of him in one particularly powerful moment in the show.
Leyla’s performance is relaxed, welcoming, and effortlessly entertaining, and her prose is mesmerising and muscular. She’s a fantastic storyteller, and I hope she comes back next year!
My last show of the Fringe was We Are Ian, performed by In Bed With My Brother. I was excited for this one, because it felt like it’d be a great show to end the Fringe festival on. It seemed like it was going to just be a fun hour of dancing to acid house music, a nice little lift for the evening before we all went to Malostranska Beseda for the closing party.
It was far, far more than that, however.
We are Ian is a piece of biographical theatre it turns out; it’s an attempt by the three performers to re-create the atmosphere and energy of the acid house rave movement in the UK around 1989, just when Margaret Thatcher made them illegal. The anchor is the testimony from Ian himself, a friend of the three female performers, who reminisces on that sweaty heyday. Biscuits are crunched on liberally, standing in for Ecstasy, and the three performers gurn and dance and hug the audience, getting us to join in.
When things become illegal, however, the dancing takes on a more frantic, nightmarish bent, until eventually the performers are dancing for a solid 10 minutes straight, trying to ignore the constant projection of images behind them of Thatcher, of Theresa May, of Trump, of Grenfell; trying to push the spectre of austerity away, dancing for their lives. It’s a powerful moment, and an incredibly sad one.
But then we all joined in for one last dance, crowding onto the Divadlo Kampa stage to give them a second wind. To dance and get lost in a crowd. To put those worries away for a while. To be part of a group. We Are Ian isn’t just a show or a rave. It’s a summoning. It felt like they conjured up the spirit of this era beautifully, but it also felt like it conjured up a spirit of community, of communion, something that we all desperately crave. And that’s a hallmark of the best kinds of theatre for me. Something that turns a room full of strangers into a room full of friends, experiencing the same thing together at the exact same moment. Something that leaves them changed.
We Are Ian is the best show I saw in the Prague Fringe. I implore you to see it if you ever get the chance.
reviews in progress