Late Night – Edinburgh Filmhouse

Directed by Nisha Ganatara

Written by Mindy Kaling

USA/2019/102mins

There’s an issue with American media (in the movie, far too many in real life). One of the highest-rated talk shows ain’t down with the kids. Viral-free, Tweet-free and with a revulsion of shameless reality star guests, Late Night finds national treasure, Emma Thompson, playing Katherine Newbury.

With more Emmys and Golden Globes than most people have silverware, Katherine hits out within a male-dominated field. Her issue? The show sucks. Seeking help, chief writer Brad hires Molly for diversity, played by Mindy Kaling who also writes the film.

Thompson does a tremendous turn in deflecting away from Meryl Streep’s Miranda Priestly of Devil Wears Prada fame. Her portrayal of Newbury is in essence far closer to that of David Letterman’s later years hosting. Her tongue is scathing, her emotions quite raw when a vulnerability is right for the occasion. Without question, the films steadfast assets are Thompson and Kaling, who elevate an otherwise decent flick into an earnest comedy which has a weighty degree of commentary.

As a diversity hire, Molly faces three key hurdles: she’s not white, has zero experience and she hasn’t got a dick. We avoid drudging into the tropes of an old genre. Kaling’s writing, no doubt relating to her time on The Office as the only female writer in its infancy, takes a concept and elevates it into a respectable, and thankfully humorous premise. Molly is the reverse of Katherine: highly strung, anxious and emotionally super-charged.

Behind the laughs, Late Night looks into what a female anchor can draw attention to, which her male colleagues couldn’t. When it seems to be heading into a predictable route, a few sharp turns take us away. Drenching itself into the discourses of ethnic hiring and slut-shaming, Kaling doesn’t go for the climax we would expect. In a well thought out manoeuver, they choose a realistic end in favour of an accessible ‘moral win’.

You can’t shake off a hunch that two incarnations of the film were in production. Kalin’s, and the other which was for trailer shots and to keep the studio content. Where Late Night wants to, it can draw blood with a smirk. In the next scene, however, it can slip back into areas which feel watered-down. Kalin sets them up, Thompson strikes the performance out there, but little resonates from the rest of the film.

With much construction on character, the cinematography is not a focus. Moments do come, when lighting is toyed with to heighten emotional states, particularly in the ‘reveal’ and the suffering which follows. It leads to the framing of a tender moment between Thompson and her husband, played by John Lithgow, who, as you would expect, is utterly adorable. It’s a scene which serves as evidence that there’s a solid, emotional film hiding beneath the sniggering and smirks.

Late Night requires a touch re-working (ironically) at the writer’s table. There are a few awkward one-liners, which feel like pulled punches. The duo of Kaling and Thompson are the force of this movie. Together, they spark, bouncing from each other, accentuating the talents of the other. It’s a partnership which we would eagerly watch again, the two showing without much effort that they can bring the fight to the old boys of comedy.

Review originally published for Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/late-night/

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/

Ballet Black – The King’s Theatre

Founder and Artistic Director – Cassa Pancho

Choreography by Martin Lawrence, Sophie Laplane and Mthuthuzeli November

Design Work by Yann Seabra and Peter Todd

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Marking their 18th season in March, Ballet Black bring their world premiere to the UK. Now in Scotland, Edinburgh is honoured to play host to contemporary ballet performers with mold-breaking movement married with tradition. A trio of pieces, each as staggeringly impressive as the last, serve to showcase the immeasurable talents of this troupe. From the combative piece Pendulum to the glorious colours in Click, closing with the downright hauntingly gorgeous Ingoma.

Dance conjures emotion. Emotion fuels dance. The two are inseparable in productions of movement. Pendulum, choreographed by Martin Lawrence, finds dancers Sayaka Ichikawa & Mthuthuzeki November gradually succumbing to a closeness which cuts through aggressive competition. There’s no accompanying score to start with. It’s jarring, but its intent is clear – focus on the movement and the athleticism of each muscular movement. These dancers create their own rhythm within one another, synchronising without a rhythm, only eachother and their control to rely on.

Moving from a vast-scape of pale light, Click could not be more different, certainly standing as the most energetically colourful of the trio. It is a piece which openly blends multiple dance forms, highly creative in its designs by Yann Seabra, and explores the multitude of ways we can interpret such a simple action. To click, can mean to hurry, to silence or of course, in time to the beat. Our five performers are led by Isabela Coracy, clad in a shade of yellow only she could pull off. Contrasting Pendulum, the troupe is dressed in vivid tones. They explode in vibrancy as the spotlights strike off these colours. Beginning with a group piece set to the medley of scores, we break off into separate performances. Coracy’s is exhilarating, disgustingly cooler than anything most of the room will ever accomplish. Jose Alves and Cira Robinson’s duet captures the intensity of movement. Set to a more serious tone by To Rococo Rot’s composition, the colours shift from light-hearted and fun to dark passion. In a blitz, we return to the spectrum, the clicks growing faster and flurries of feet flash amidst the fusing rainbow of lights – making for a terrific end to the first half.

It is Ingoma, however, which sets Ballet Black apart from the rest. We move from the straight medium of dance to one of pure storytelling. Choreographed by November, danseur of the first piece, it depicts the African Mine Worker’s Strike of 1946. The scene is laid before us, the gravel and coals spilled onto the stage as the company don hard hats and pickaxes. There is no rush with Ingoma, time is taken to build atmosphere, leading to a dramatic, drawn out payoff of sublime emotional release.

The sun beating on their backs, the Isicathulo techniques of heavy stomps, synchronise perfectly with the foreboding score. Ingoma tells the story, not only of a young miner who perishes but of those left behind, arguably the real point of the narrative. In terms of dance technique, this is human. The tie between pathos and movement is gorgeous. We see every muscle, flex and sharp pinpoint movement, as Ebony Thomas is illuminated by the gleam of the hardhats, before the dusty air envelopes him.

On occasion, dancers engage en pointe, a firm reminder of the tribute to the artforms core movements. Ichikawa’s performance transcends this beauty, adding the desperation of loss. The more she dances, the more physically exhausting the performance feels. Ballet usually makes us see the performers as neigh superhuman, holding poses and leaping in ways we cannot. Ichikawa strips this back, collapsing in the moment, she is lifted. For just like the workers, exhaustion is no excuse to stop. So she dances. Dances for the pain and for those still suffering on the sidelines.

Ballet, traditionally, has a glossy aesthetic. Primped and polished until it glows with pride. This contributes quite heavily to its image as a bourgeois artform, pushing its perceived accessibility away. Ballet Black, however, is raw movement of the utmost standard. Its polish comes from capable dancers; its aesthetic shifts from natural dusk to a blaze of tone in what is a remarkable evening, redefining the rules of ballet.

Images & Production Information: https://balletblack.co.uk/