The Bodyguard – Edinburgh Playhouse

Screenplay by Lawrence Kasden

Book by Alexander Dinelaris

Directred by Thea Sharrock

Basing its structure on the 1992 film, Alexander Dinelaris’s screenplay makes a decent attempt in capturing the original Bodyguard, but sadly refrains from expanding upon it. Lawrence Kasden’s cinematic release told the developing love story between singer Rachel Marron and her bodyguard Frank Farmer.

The Bodyguard contains numerous Whitney Houston classics. Marron, stubborn to the interference Farmer poses, attempts to live her life. Together with her envious but vastly more talented sister, she stays with her young song. With her PR team desperate for an Oscar to boost her career, Farmer and Marron begin to realise that the most important things aren’t the fame or fortune.

Beginning with a literal bang, one may notice that our first impressions of The Bodyguard are that this might just be something extraordinary. To use the term spectacle is too simplistic, Tim Hatley’s set design is of incredible construction. It frames the production marvellously, honing our focus into the correct areas. Expanding for us to take in the bigger picture. If only there had been this much dedication in the adaption of the script or direction.

Returning is Alexandra Burke, who receives an eruption of applause from a ravenous crowd. First portraying the character of Rachel Marron back in 2012, Burke takes to the character well-enough, seeking to show off a younger, less experienced diva than Whitney’s version. It’s always promising to hear a performer take the role and make it their own, but the first act highlights that Burke is first and foremost a singer before a stage performer. Her control for standout numbers, I Will Always Love You and Jesus Loves Me are the exceptions where she finds a balance between the two.

Vocally, she is there. There is no question to her capabilities to hold a tune, but her characterisation is lacking. Chiefly this is down to the script, which seems to have severe issues with Rachel’s identity. She flips in the span of a single scene from staunch, headstrong mother into a whimpering lovestruck teenager. The whiplash from such a turnaround does Burke no favours. Attempting to save Rachel in the second half, Burke does well to inject some humour, but it’s not enough.

We seem to be watching the wrong sister for the majority of the production, for as evidently talented as Burke is – she is simply outshone by Micha Richardson’s envious sister Nicki Marron. Her emotive voice far surpasses anything we have seen this evening. In reality, her connection with the bodyguard himself Benoit Marechal is superior to that of Burke. Marechal, who is as charismatic as possible turns in an impressive Farmer.

Issues with narrative show more in the second half, but by these are largely overlooked by the finale, which, truth be told, is rather phenomenal. It’s what most of the audience has been waiting for. Burke belting out the notable tracks of the production, with some surprise vocals from the ensemble and antagonist Phil Atkinson who we discover is vastly underused.

You know you have an issue when your antagonist receives laughter upon arrival. Especially, given the nature of the character. We’re informed that this ex-military man could have a potential history of sexual violence, assault and is a masterful tactician. The stage version toys with a Travis Bickle inspiration for their antagonist. Atkinson is capable of the role, he has the manner to be intimidating, but the stage direction places him more as eye-candy than a genuine threat. One really has to think if the phrase “sexual assault” should follow your audience’s wolf-whistles.

What’s hugely frustrating about The Bodyguard is that this has the potential for a five star, stellar production. The components are in place, but they devastatingly underutilise the talents they have. This is the genre of production which resurrects a cinematic counterpart but fails to build upon it.

The Bodyguard has some of the finest set design and backing orchestral touring the country, but it has little sense of identity. Unsure if it wants to be a large-scale jukebox musical or serious drama. It deserves it’s standing ovations as much as it deserves its criticism.

Runs until July 20th, tickets avialable from The Plahouse: https://www.atgtickets.com/shows/the-bodyguard/edinburgh-playhouse/

The Vagina Monologues – Festival Theatre, The Studio

Play by Eve Ensler

Information relating to the Edinburgh Rape Crisis Charity can be found at their website: https://www.ercc.scot

Say it with me everyone: “Vagina”. Say it even louder for the men in the back. The Vagina Monologues, for all its criticism, may be one of the most influential theatrical texts ever put into production. There’s a reason why two decades later it is still built upon. July 7th saw a reading of Eve Ensler’s episodic play which looks into female body image, sexual experiences (consensual and non), sex work and a variety of other topics. Monologues from the play focus on sexual assault, comfort women and body image are given a platform in aid of Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre, with 100% of all profits benefiting the charity.

Despite a mere two weeks rehearsal time, the five performers onstage channel a staggering level of commitment, professionalism and heart. Their performances are nothing short of heart-wrenching. Not only because of their embedded talents, but a tremendous amount lies in the fact that these women aren’t acting, despite the accents, the laughs and the characters. The stories they are telling, the cause they are hosting this evening for – is their lives.

In aid of Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre, the reading is compressed into appropriate material to remain on subject. There’s a clever balance of topic foundation, easing those unfamiliar before communicating the facts, hatreds and degeneracy of reality. For over forty years, ERCC continues to provide emotional, mental and practical support for women, non-binary, young people and the trans community. As if this service wasn’t enough, they engage with a plethora of preventative discussion, information and much-sought advocacy for those who have experienced sexual violence at any time in their life.

Every year, a new ‘chapter’ is added into The Vagina Monologues following the inspiration day known as V-Day. In 2006, a segment on Comfort Women was added, this is what closes out our performance – tightening the link between the chosen text and tonight’s charity. Last year TIME magazine tore open a subject many prefer to forget, the ‘punishment’ many women faced following the Second World War. The sequence is nothing short of a mountainous emotional smack of truth. All of the frustrations and agony women suffer placed on the floor in-front of us with the utterance “now what”. Anyone who has given their time for the evening has done something noteworthy, from the performers to the lighting operators and of course, the front of the house.

A heap of gratitude is to be given to Capital Theatres and Linda from customer service who listened to one women’s cry of: “I’m angry, and I need to do something about this”. Help is precisely what we in a creative community can strive to do. We have a position of accessibility, a presence to mobilise and a space to offer those who not only have a production to stage, but a message to encourage and even better a charity to empower.

Productions like these make you want to write. They make you want to type furiously for days and days and weeks and years until something, anything is done. There’s only so far outrage can extend before action is the response. Because here’s the secret. People are tired. They’re tired of rape culture, rape jokes and judicial decisions on what constitutes rape. We’re tired of putting our keys between our knuckles on a late walk home. Tired of seeing wealthy, ‘good family’ men walk free, and we’re beyond exhausted of the shaming, punishment and hushed words around women who courageously come forward.

I use the term ‘we’ rather than women because it is we. It’s you, me and everyone you know. This evening isn’t only about performance. It’s a rallying call that after all this time, we still need to have charity evenings like this. One day, The Vagina Monologues will (hopefully) stage its performances for history, rather than to protect the future. It will be staged as a way to remind ourselves what we fought for, instead of what we are still fighting for.

Until then, dig deep. Donate your time, your money and offer your support to the likes of Edinburgh Rape Crisis Centre. Sometimes it isn’t all about the money. You can help challenge abusive behaviour, encourage and support others to speak out – but most importantly to believe those who come to you disclosing sexual violence. This evening isn’t solely about the harrows of life, but the joys in coming together to establish a conversation. From a women’s first period, to the thrill in discovering her body – and the insecurities around this. You’ll be left curious, angry, empowered, enraged and have had a few chuckles too.

And if, like these five young women you are able – perform. Write, sing, shriek, holler, dance – do whatever we can to keep these stories alive and in the faces of those who would rather they faded into obscurity. That’s precisely what an archaic system would like – silence. So, let’s say it one last time: “Vagina”, because nothing upsets the Patriarchy quite like a pussy which roars.

Toast – Assembly Roxy

Written by Benjamin Storey

Directed by Ryan Alexander Dewar

Here’s a fun game to play: If you had to choose, which would you rather? Eat nothing but pizza forever, or never have a slice again? How about condiments? Ketchup or Mayo? What’s your favourite utensil? How about choosing between 18 months to live or five years. Appears quite a simple choice, right? Written by Benjamin Storey, who also portrays Joe, Toast features the C-word: Cancer. In their second appearance at Assembly Roxy’s Formation Festival, Interabang Productions examines the stress, anguish and yes, even laughs, a young couple face when one faces the reality of terminal cancer.

In an age of scaremongering headlines, genuine medical advice is overwhelmed by clickbait articles. It’s laced throughout the production through the tubs of ‘pro-life’ butter, Facebook articles and even the title – because burnt toast (as we all know) causes cancer. That’s how Joe likes his toast, feeling that you can’t micro-manage everything, to just chase your dreams. Living with his partner Mel (Rachel Flynn), the two of them share a life we can relate to: soon graduating, arguing over TV and coming to grips with life’s shitty curveballs.

Storey’s performance, as well as his writing, is mortal in composition. There is no place here for melodrama. The points of hyper-reaction are the moments in which we would respond this way. It’s an incredibly subtle performance, channelling the stages of anger, depression and denial we all find in grief. Yet, it’s also strikingly funny; you’ll never find yourself laughing so much at mortality again. The production takes around ten minutes to get into its rhythm, but from this point it’s a powerful piece of turmoil, love and – above all – humanity.

Framed against multiple projected backdrops, the lighting does an enormous job in setting the tone. The clean set design too complements Ryan Dewar‘s straight-forward direction. The use of multimedia adds to the drama’s impact; one critical scene where the narrative moves to a live video-feed, where Flynn and Storey share a tender 3am moment, is as compassionate as it is gut-wrenching.

Following on from her creative and performing role in Interabang’s other production, Being Liza, Rachel Flynn is laying all her talents bare. Toast would simply not work without capable leads. The emotional dexterity demanded by Toast is tough, as both leads not only have to convey cancer’s destructive path but the love these two share. In such a short space of time, Flynn bounces off of Storey, heightening his performance while driving her own. Her natural charm effortlessly conveys to the audience why this relationship works. Getting away with the cheesiest of routines, lifting them into reality, both Flynn and Storey have an uncannily rare ability to capture those genuine moments of realness.

It is in the final moments of the production – in a promise made by Mel to Joe – that Flynn’s ability is evident. Albeit a brief and perhaps predictable scene, the direction, the pain and the connection Flynn achieves with the audience is more transparent than any forced moment of empathy. It’s beautiful in how haunting the ending manages to be.

Toast carries weight to it, which isn’t grotesque enough to put people off but maintains a dignity to be proud of. So what would you do, given the choice? It’s one we would never wish to make, especially so young. Interabang Productions seem to be taking bold steps in their outing productions, not shying away from the raw emotion underneath. Given the evident and commendable talent demonstrated by their performers, writers and creatives, there’s surely a promising future ahead for all involved.

Review Originally published for Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/toast-2/