Little Boxes and Stolen Futures: Double Bill – Traverse Theatre

Writers: James Beagon and Catherine Expósito

Directors: Ruth Hollyman and Catherine Expósito

Championing youth theatre in Edinburgh for over a decade, Strange Town return to the Traverse Theatre with two modern pieces; Little Boxes and Stolen Futures. Fitting for their anniversary, both productions take a leaping point of ‘future’ but differ vastly in content, narrative and structure. What they do share is a model example of Strange Town’s high standards of creativity.

Written and directed by Catherine Expósito, Little Boxes is a piece exploring the questions and troubles facing the youth today. Fuelling this issue is the very thing we love most, something you’ll likely be reading this on – our phones and social media. Labels, neat and tidy boxes we consign ourselves too. ‘Hierarchy and shite’, the pressure built-up in our own minds can often get too much for people.

Told over a year, two talented performers narrate each month, bringing their own humour, delivery and uniqueness. Despite the short run time, Expósito’s piece manages to develop character quite significantly. Little Boxes covers a variety of diverse topics, from the petty niggles which build into bullying, depression, sexuality and periods (word to the wise lads, they happen – get over yourselves).

In the closing moments, the Little Boxes cast seem ready to take a bow – though a few are missing. They bring flowers, leaving them to rest at the audience’s feet. We suspect the worst for one of the characters. What follows is instead a sucker punch of why Theatre is such an encouraging artform for the young. Creative directors Ruth Hollyman and Steve Small give such a virile slap to the audience to wake them up to the world around them that Little Boxes ending is something very few professional productions could get away with tastefully.

James Beagon’s world-building in Stolen Futures is fascinating. Housing persuasive concepts which, while recognisable from post-apocalyptic novels such as Children of Earth and Lord of the Flies, he stitches together to create something fresh. A key point of interest, which sadly isn’t looked into more is the idea of ‘pasts’ a race of monsters, humans from before the wars and destruction of the earth. These pasts are us. Me and you, not doing our part to prevent disfiguring the future.

An admirable job is done by the performers, many of whom are tremendously talented – especially younger performers Elissa Watson and Kel McNaught. They can’t save a stodgy script though. Where Little Boxesmanages to get across its message clearly, Stolen Futures is shaping up as a two-act production condensed to an hours length. While its themes are important, they are put across in a narrative which needs better pacing. What we can salvage from the multiple tribes, myths and concepts is a harrowing reminder to wake up and hold accountability.

Little Boxes and Stolen Futures offer hope. A hope that finally, this world will recognise the pertinent need to support mental health, especially in youths. Financial support and research are reasonably placed within physical ailments, so too do we need mental and emotional research. Stolen Futures offers a glimmer that if we act now, we could save the future for the present and the future.

More though, they offer hope for the future of Scottish theatre. As funding support and decisions are subject to bureaucratic mercy, the ideas springing forth from writers, producers an onstage talent of Strange Town offers a beacon of pride. Commendable efforts, with the promise of much more to come.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/little-boxes-and-stolen-futures-double-bill-traverse-theatre-edinburgh/

Information about Strange Town: http://strangetown.org.uk/theatre/

Captain Corelli’s Mandolin – King’s Theatre

Based on the Novel by Louis de Bernières

Adapted by Rona Munro

Directed by Melly Still

Something remarkable occurs on stage this evening. Amidst the inconceivable atrocity of war, the explosions and pain, Rona Munro achieves a paradox in a way only she could. To find beauty in war. A statement which feels wrong, but it’s precisely what Captain Corelli’s Mandolin reaches. It has the angst; harrowing anguish of war yet has a deep ornate construction.

Based on the 1994 novel by Louis De Bernières, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is a wartime drama set in Italian and German-occupied Greece, on the island of Cephalonia. We open with a young soldier by the name of Carlos, speaking to the titular Captain of a story. His story. Though really, this narrative goes beyond the simplistic and into the strikingly poetic in its language and storytelling. As we explore the island, a young woman, Pelagia finds desire. Only for us to come to realise that where passion ebbs, love may be found in a sworn enemy.

It may be a story of the various ways in which love may manifest; parental, passionate, harmonious or the love of comrade. At its heart though, both narratively and on stage is Pelagia, played by Madison Clare. Melly Still’s direction, in tandem with excellent writing from Munro help, lift a character who could so easily have been a throwaway ‘strong woman’ motif. What these three do, with performer Clare at Pelagia’s core is craft a determined, human character who is fleshed out, fun and engaging.

The points of beauty are found in three aspects of this evening’s production; It’s poetic language, it’s cast but also in Mayou Trikerioti’s set design. An enveloping sheet metal warped and battered like any scrap of war hangs precariously above. Its blank template becomes a visual feast with Malcolm Rippeth’s lighting. Where communication is not verbal, the shifting colours of fire, ocean and blood speak volumes. 

As always, direct comparisons between a five-hundred-page novel and a two-hour production are inherently fruitless. Instead, Munro’s adaption captures the essence of the book in spirit, losing only a little of its flesh. There’s always something wholly investing, yet terrifying about viewing history from the view of another. Our experiences in Britain are no less tormenting, but so different to an island off of Greece where these were ‘bad – circumstances’.

In trimming the gristle, a slice of taste has been lost. For the most part, a sublime balance is achievable in the back and forth interactions of the village folk, a tremendous amount at the hands of Clare and Joseph Long. There are moments, however, where we cross into (dare we say it) romantic comedy territory. It has the late eighties, early nineties vibe where we briefly confuse our characters for Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks. In pursuit of comedy, interactions sit oddly beside the intricate choreography and chilling vocals of Eve Polycarpou.

This too means pacing for the second Act stretches slightly, the climaxes of Captain Corelli’s Mandolin are numerous. With each travesty or revelation, they try to outdo the other. It works on occasion, ripping each gasp from the audience with glee, but towards the end, there isn’t much breath left. The sumptuous use of music already taking most of our breathes away.

Alex Mugnaioni’s Captain Corelli is the embodiment of quixotic intention, impossible not to warm to. It makes the slow-burn of the romance between him and Clare all the more believable. Their chemistry is superb, we invest heavily in not only the romance but the growing friendship and initial animosity between the pair. Interactions between the entire cast are emotive, with Long’s Dr Iannis a connection to the audience, regaling us with Grecian myths to draw parallels with social history.

A unique production which finds itself basking in its adoration for music, love and community – strengthening their importance against the harrows of war. As an adaptation, it serves the source material well only succumbing to a couple tropes in the process. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is a hauntingly beautiful piece of theatre, moving its audience.  

Tickets available until June 22nd: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/captaincorelli

Production Touring: http://www.captaincorellismandolin.com/

Image rights: Marc Brenner

Freedom Fields – The Filmhouse

Writer, Director and Cinematography by Naziha Arebi

Libya/UK Run Time: 97 Mins

The beautiful game. For oh so many of us, it’s a lifelong love. A trip to the pub with some friends, or maybe even a casual end of evening catch-up. Even for non-fans, it’s extensive reach makes us all fans for global events. Freedom Fields, a documentary by director and cinematographer Naziha Arebi looks for people we have never met, where football symbolises something inherently different.

As you read, the FIFA 2019 Women’s World Cup is underway. Experiencing a higher viewership and receiving a coverage worthy of its athletes. Across the nation, many are joining together to support a sisterhood of the players. In Libya, this echoes closer, going far beyond a professional level. For these women, this time on the sparse patches of grass is a breathing space, a freedom from the war, bullets and slog of their day to day endurance.

Arebi’s piece is told in three parts, adding a base three-act structure to the documentary, helping pace the film. To begin, we have hope. Hope that following the Libyan Civil War of 2011 and the death of Colonel Muammar Gaddafi, Libya would achieve a renewed moral axis. That a Western influence of democracy, gender equality and freedom would occur. We follow a group of women, as Arebi documents their lives, both on and off the pitch. For over a decade they have been Libya’s only national team of female footballers. They have, however, never been authorised to play a match.

The second and third acts follow the course of the next four years as we come to discover the cracks in this hope, failures of the government and backlash of religious bodies against the women. Some of the finer, more subtle editing occurs in these parts. As the streets of Libya whizz by, the glints of rhinestone and wedding dresses are repeated. Reminders to the expectations that many of these women face, as they say; ‘we are born to marry’.

An impressive backlog of suffering is kept at arm’s length from the camera to irregular effect. It makes for intense drama, snapping our attention, but conceals background pain we are aware of. Arebi’s cinematography is superb, the vivid colours of optimism, vastly contrast the sudden plunges into maddening darkness as Militia cut the electricity. Knowing precisely where to draw our attention, but we want to get to know these women more intimately. Never receiving a face to face interaction or interview makes for authenticity but neglects insight into a region which many audience members won’t fully comprehend.

What little atrocities we do focus on are handled tastefully, especially in terms of sound design. Giovanni Buccomino’s construct for the film is fitting, with North African themes throughout, including heavy reliance on Anasheed religious singing. As one woman attempts to make her way into Tunisia, the camera cuts. We hear implications of threats, requesting to talk with her male guardian. The dread lingers as we know she has none. Tastefully, the backing score fades, silence is thus utilised with enormous respect to heighten the tension.

The climax is not a grand victory for the team, nor is it the calming of Libya’s climate. Arebi captures the looks on the young girl’s faces as they see a training ground, run by the past players of Fadwa’s 11. Doctors, Accountants and mothers now help to educate and train a generation of players, medics and hopeful presidents. Freedom Fields is an intimate documentary, focusing on these women and their fight to be recognised amidst oppression. It looks for sisterhood, equality but far more importantly – future.

Review originally published for The Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/freedom-fields/

Film availblae for purchase and still showing in limited screenings: https://www.freedomfieldsfilm.com/