SceneToSeen – Permanent Scar

Written by Rachel Flynn

Directed & Edited by Ryan Alexander Dewar

Rating: 4 out of 5.

How far would you go for love? Not just any run of the mill kind of crush, but a genuine connection with someone. Would you wait? Would you be their shoulder to cry on? Or would you allow this ‘love’ to taint, decay and rot into an obsession. It’s more common than you would suspect, and easily ‘written off’ or hidden – as even the ‘nicest’ guys can be the fiercest wolves in sheep’s clothing.

A couple of best pals having a night out. One of whom is in the pangs of a break-up, her life in need of a few comfortable nights, some self-care and one hell of a hangover. The other seeks to help – or so he claims. Rachel Flynn’s Permanent Scar seeks not to place women in the role of victim, lord knows we have enough of that form of media, but instead subvert the expectations and quivering underbelly of rejection, masculine ego and the lifelong effects it leaves. 

Perhaps most concerning, and a testament to Cameron Fulton’s performance, is the credibility of the character, we know this boy, most of us have spent a night in the pub with this chap. Cheeky, charismatic, and garbed as genuine – a distressingly familiar person. A knot sits in your stomach as you reflect, realising that, to begin with, you found Fulton funny, you enjoyed the character, even though something felt off. Direction on the part of Ryan Alexander Dewar, who has already turned a trick with editing, is entirely on point, tight and refraining from grand gestures of unrequired emotion. There’s an unnerving correlation between the distinct lack of overwrought emotion, which could easily have tipped the balance, underpinning Fulton’s controlled performance.

We’ve come to expect awkward greenscreens, bathroom walls and less than stellar framework during lockdown, with various production relying on storytelling over aesthetic, but good lord – hats off to Interabang and Dewar. Those who have followed the company behind-the-scenes will understand how the team re-created the sweaty, neon-dazzled floors of a night club, hopefully without the sticky floors. Their method? Incredibly simple, the effect? Astonishingly convincing.

A distinctive piece of commentary on the part of Flynn – the authenticity of the narrative is repulsive in its accuracy. Living with terms such as ‘friend zone’, empty manifested words to preserve egos, is a tiring experience for women. The assaults, threats and gas-lights of supposed friends, family and companions are not only tiring but dangerous. More than this, there’s a poetic bounce to Flynn’s writing. As slippery as Fulton’s performance, it reinforces him by a deceptive structure where the writing is so charged with imagery and emotion, that it too surprises the audience when it shifts.

Flynn’s language is ultimately accessible, but occasionally, due to the film’s length, Flynn’s use of language has short-cuts for the exposition – which is entirely understandable. The fluid movement drops, only briefly, before thundering into a darker abyss, of brutal – needed – honesty surrounding ‘white knights’ with tarnished armour and selfish goals.

Starting their SceneToSeen season smashing expectations, Interabang productions champion a method of storytelling many are growing more accustomed with. While the short film is nothing new, the wealth of theatrical talent pouring in to maintain their creativity and promote a sustainable online platform is a brief glimmer in the ensuing bleakness. Permanent Scar is a terrific leaping point, which promises others in the series which aim to be clear, concise and thoroughly engaging. Here’s to a successful five-week run. 

Permanent Scar and subsequent ScenesToSeen videos can be found here

Birdsong – King’s Theatre

Written by Sebastian Faulks, Adapted by Rachel Wagstaff

Directed by Alistair Whatley & Charlotte Peters

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Never again”; the imperative words uttered regarding the First World War. Yet, in the darkest moments of human history, we find an enticing light to the subject. Whether it be through respect, education or simply guilt, the lessons we garner from these times are urgent. Adapted from the 1993 novel of the same name, Birdsong seeks to reignite our respect and recover history.

Beneath the moaning earth, littered with the fallen, an entirely different war was waged. Tunnels, some 100ft below No Man’s Land, carved out by British, French and Germans attempting to lay explosives below the other. Dug by ‘sewer rats’, men who dug out the London undergrounds, men like Jack Firebrace (Tim Treloar) aching for news of his son in London. Still soldiers in their own right, risking their lives in multiple ways just as those above the surface did. Laced within this narrative are flashbacks to the rumbles of war, as Stephen Wraysford (Tom Kay) arrives in France. He finds a gleam of light in the shade, Isabelle (Madeleine Knight) a married French woman.

Differing from the novel, focusing more on the stories of Wraysford and Firebrace is a respectful turn as opposed to their descendants. It eases the narrative, driving our attention into the correct areas. The fuse takes time to smoulder, and you’ll certainly find it easier to connect with one character over the other. Yet in the grand scheme their fates are entwined to the audience’s receptiveness. Deeply moved by the outcome, even with characters we hadn’t entirely warmed to.

A touching thematic exploration of fatherhood is conducted through the larger role of Firebrace. Treloar embodies the spirit of a father, the centre of his garrison keeping the men jovial and the young brave. Balancing this are Knight and Kay whose passions betray otherwise icy exteriors. The fleeting moments of fondness one seeks in desperate times are deep, showing that there is more to the tale of war than death. Even through this, love still exists, however complicated. The chemistry, more so than between the romantic leads, but Treloar and Kay as comrades is touching, leading to gut dropping moments.

Transitions are complicated in the medium of the theatre stage, unable to rely on the usual tricks screen productions can call upon. Birdsong however manages a tremendous feat, we never need to question if we are in the ‘present’ or past. More than this, simple tricks of the light and swift flat moves manifest all forms of location. From the grim trenches, deep underground to the claustrophobic tunnels. Alex Wardle’s tweaked lighting design is simple, nothing over the top but manages to shift the tone from one of song to the dreaded ‘over the top’ moments of the Somme tastefully.

With war, comes pain. One cannot sugar-coat the atrocities of the past, nor should we ever re-write them. Even in fictional works, the subject matter needs to remain as truthful as possible to real events. Throughout the seclusion of the grimness, small sparks of humanity remain. Tiny touches which, just to those brave men, lift the audience out of the doldrums. Singing, music and those symbolic birdsongs help alleviate the bleakness, whilst also reinforcing the severity of the situation.

Recovering history is of paramount importance. As memories fade, they alter, they shift and warp. Productions such as Birdsong, as too the original novel, seek to maintain a narrative. Even if fictionalised. It would be a stretch to describe Birdsong as uplifting, though it is enjoyable. Its subject matter of trauma isn’t made to entertain, more so to reignite emotions. In truth, it is a fundamentally engaging piece of adaptation, with merit behind its messages. For lest we forget (again), that what is war but hell?

Review originally published for The Reviews Hub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/birdsong-kings-theatre-edinburgh-2/

TRANSFINITE – Scottish Queer International Film Festival

“As infinite as nature itself”

Neelu Bhuman’s omnibus of short films TRANSFINITE defies the expectations of a societal construct and achieves a place as a force of nature. The sixth annual Scottish Queer International Film Festival will run October 14th to 18th 2020, with the full programme available in August, but for now, these accessible digital productions should be engaged with. 

Screening alongside a selection of Black queer short films beginning June 25th until June 28th, SQIFFLIX will host Neelu Bhuman’s sci-fi collection of series of seven short stories. Collectively, they spread across various cultures and backgrounds, as various trans and queer people use their supernatural gifts to educate, share, love, fight and thrive. Following the premiere, there will be a live discussion with Black queer UK artists taking place on Saturday, June 27th at 7 pm.

From the subversive narrative of Nova or Shayla to the blunt rally cry and empowerment of Viva, the seven films range in their capability to communicate, but each screams of the capable talents of their producers and echoes the necessity of diverse and accomplished film-makers and promotion of their voices. 

Whether a message of preserving our ecosystems, tying into the film’s value of nature or a playful piece depicting the often untalked about the parental environment of polygamy – TRANSFINITE encompasses all, while highlighting the necessity to endorse queer and black film-makers. Perhaps best demonstrated in Davina Spain’s piece Viva, and though as blunt as a hammer, it categorically addresses the issues that, in 2020, shouldn’t be issues. Shouldn’t need to be shocking revelations or be confronted with confusion and hatred, but addressed.

And even as the quality of pieces varies, none are without merit or substance. With this, the three pieces NajmeAsura and Maya stand-out for similar, yet also strikingly different reasons. Plunging deeper into myth, rather than the general sci-fi premise exudes, Najme and Asura concentrate their storytelling into an archaic form of a fable, particularly with Najme’s depiction of the Naga – a half-woman, half-serpent creature. Tempting, beautiful and cunning, the ignorant mindset of a scaley, phallic creature lurking beneath an outward aesthetic is something many cannot overcome, and more harrowingly an inward projection of aggression for the lead themselves. It’s the complex thought-process, the everyday existence for these producers, which offers insight for many and makes SQIFFLIX an important festival. 

Projecting mythos in a more positive light, Asura and Maya utilise a nature of understanding, and love, one from a familial and the other a romantic/physical dynamic. Ryka Aoki’s writing for Asura is the most accomplished as a complete narrative, tying together humour with the physicality of the role and storytelling, combining the artistry of dance with the intensity of martial arts. Dance, if anything, is the singular theme throughout the series of films, with a sense of movement, a fluidity if you will, evident in all. These freeing routines, often open with the elements, exposing bodies to the world, offers a frank connection and resistance to the bitterness of those who misunderstand.

Seeking unity through core parallels, the seven short films differ in design, capability, and premise, but throughout they share a common ideal and goal which stretches beyond movement and aesthetics. The collective speaks that, like anything, our bodies are akin to nature itself, uncontrollable by any who seek to impose a doctrine, belief, or policy onto it, despite how brutally they attempt to.

Alongside Vision Portraits, which launched earlier in June, access to both films can be located from www.sqiff.org, where online tickets can be purchased on a pay-what-you-can basis from £0-£8. Ticket holders will be able to access the films at any point during the online run. Live Q&A sessions will stream on www.facebook.com/sqiff June 27th.