Manual Cinema’s Frankenstien – Underbelly McEwan Hall

Original Novel by Mary Shelley

Directed by Drew Dir

Runs at Underbelly Bristo Square, July 31st –August 26th (not 12), 14.45pm

Eternally inventive, Chicago based company Manual Cinema are known for their talents of shadow puppetry. Of all the texts in all of the gothic horrors, Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein is a notable difficulty to adapt. With numerous versions – could they do anything new with it? They not only breathe life into the Monster, but they also pay tribute to almost all incarnations which have come before.

It goes further, however, giving not only an account of Shelley’s novel but of her creative reasoning. From the loss of her child to the wager with Lord Byron – the history of Mary Shelley is given some limelight alongside her infamous creation.

You don’t know whether to watch the magic on screen, or the innovation behind the scenes. Your eyes, somehow transfix as the shadows swirl, shimmer and streak across the smoke-stain screens of gothic design, yet still, dart around trying to absorb it all. There’s almost a little too much going on, and at times a distracting sense of chaos.

What’s truly impressive is Manual Cinema’s uncanny ability to demonstrate why this was cinematic. As the Monster takes its first steps, a shift in dimension occurs. Frankenstein crosses the threshold of spectacle at this moment as the camera shadows a puppet of the creature taking its first steps into the world. The angle work here is breathtaking, offering a force of perspective you wouldn’t achieve as efficiently with Theatre.

The puppet, a mess of intricate stitches, spare-parts and emotive eyes is but one of their tools. Performances from the cast as shadow people hark to the aesthetics of expressionist film makers or Robert Wiene and Paul Leni. It is the sound design which lifts the production. A collection of self-playing drums, musicians and effects work to provide a feast for the ears to compliment the already entranced gaze.

Mary Shelley was a revolutionary of science-fiction and gothic horror. Manual Cinema are paying her in kind, improving the relationship between theatre and cinema. A connection as old as technology would allow, it is garnering praise for embracing artistries tools of puppetry, make-up and lighting.

In the final moments, there’s a beautiful addendum to the tale, the monsters swansong, its final moments are given new life, by Manual Cinema. Reminding us that the only person to ever love the creature, was its creator – and no, not the Doctor. Shelley needed her Modern Prometheus just as he was longing for a parent. Manual Cinema’s Frankenstein is the result of a team with near mastery of their craft.

Tickets available from:

Avenue Q – King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Image Contribution: Matt Martin

Music and Lyrics: Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx

Director: Cressida Carre

We’re back on Avenue Q, running for fifteen years the street is still offering up an evening of filth, wickedness and yet holds a mirror up to its audience more than ever. Just when you thought bright colours and puppets were for kids, Avenue Q proves that nothing is as it seems.

Just what can you do with a BA in English? It’s a question I’ve been asking myself for the past three years… For Princeton, a fresh-faced and bushy-tailed graduate, he wanders into Avenue Q in search of his purpose. It’s a peculiar street with friendly faces, some furry and other childhood stars. Meeting Kate Monster, Princeton finds his goals in life share a track with love. Unable to balance the two, a pair of bad idea bears drive him down the wrong path.

An issue with ‘edgy’ humour is that with age It tends to dull. Namely with references to childhood stars of the 80s such as Gary Coleman, who worked as a gag in the 2000s but a current audience has a weaker connection with the actor. In steps Nicholas McLean who portrays Gary in a more energetic performance than past touring productions. It offers rejuvenation to an otherwise tired character. Who does seem to suffer is Brain, a jobless aspiring comedian. Oliver Stanley is perfectly adequate, Brian is already the weakest written part, but he just lacks an oomph required.

There is no doubt that Avenue Q’s crucial selling points are still as impressive as they were 16 years ago. First, it’s slapped up and intoxicated version of Sesame Street puppets. They wouldn’t look out of place on a Saturday morning, through Rick Lyon’s design, they all have an individual personality. In particular the Bad Idea Bears. Those fuzzy inner voices who harmlessly tell us to have one more drink or to treat ourselves. Megan Armstrong and Tom Steedon do a sinfully wonderous job of breathing life to these imaginary tempters.

Besides its puppets, what gives Avenue Q longevity is its soundtrack by Robert Lopez and Jeff Marx. Covering power ballads, catchy tunes and perverted showstoppers. The touring cast does an admirable job delivering the numbers, with Steedon and McLean bringing their A-game as Trekkie and Gary Coleman. The Internet is For Porn and Everyone’s a Little Bit Racist still bringing grins to the crowd’s eyes years later. It is Cecily Redman as the downhearted Kate Monster with the tragically underrated There’s a Fine Fine Linewho moves the audience from laughter to genuine heartache.

With emotions clear, there is an issue with projection. Redman herself being able to belt out Peggy Lee inspired notes from Lucy the Slut but tails off on the bolder notes from Kate Monster. Her voices for the two are enjoyable, particularly for Lucy bringing in a husky sultry vibe. Lawrence Smith has just as grand a time with Princeton and Rod. When on stage with Redman, the two are giving it their all with You Can Be As Loud As The Hell You Want.

Does it still cut as deep? Not really. Is it still deep enough to leave a mark? Definitely. Avenue Q was once the filthiest show in the West End and Broadway, now it’s spreading that muck across the nation. It’s raunchy, still hilarious and contains a few surprise emotional moments with some poignant commentary of racism, purpose and reality.

Review Originally Published for Reviews Hub:

Tickets available from Capital Theatres:

Paper Memories @ North Edinburgh Arts

Image contribution:
Beth Chalmers

Director: Rachael Macintyre

Writer: Mariem Omari

Imagine in ten minutes time, you’re fleeing home. You can only take four objects. Whilst tempted by the glitz or price tags, many would pick items instilled with fragile memories. 

In Jabuti Theatre’s Paper Memories, Tali and her family find themselves relocating to Scotland from an undisclosed location. At first the family find themselves out of place, their mother wishing for nothing more than move on and forget. Tali brings four treasures, each with a memory attached. As each one is cast aside, destroyed or de-valued, her memories begin to tear away, harming Tali further.

We shackle ourselves to memories, and in the attempts to break these we quite often do more harm than good. The more Tali’s mother pushes for these memories to be buried, the tighter Tali clings to them. Mariem Omari’s writing draws deep vivid connections from such small objects – a tuft of fur, a skirt and a wishbone from Grandmother’s special chicken.

What really sells the emotion of loss and family ties are the performances from the cast, Helen Parke’s Tali alongside Jusztina Hermann’s role as the mother especially. Hermann’s mother is a character we can identify with, not questioning why she would want to leave the past buried. Parke’s flippant bursts from sorrow to childlike glee playing with her sister or at the sight of a small paper rabbit are exquisite.

This bunny, hopping onto the audience’s laps, is joined by several chickens and a small, charming dove spiralling around the feats of aerial movement. This audience interaction, whilst aimed at the younger audience members, can be appreciated by adults for its craft, humour and intention. The crisp white of Kim Bergsagel’s puppet design stands out against Simon Gane’s atmospherically rich light design.

Both Parke and director Rachael Macintyre perform aerial feats that are certainly impressive in scale for a smaller venue. It adds wonder to the production in opening up the limited space. We travel the seas, the skies and find ourselves living through the eyes of Tali, all high above the ground below. 

Paper Memories is an approachable look not only at memories and family dynamics, but also on immigration and identity for a younger audience. It’s present, but not a focal point, because the memories and slivers of what the family fled from are enough to open eyes and encourage questions.

Production still touring:

Review originally published for The Skinny: