Women in Parliament – Lauriston Hall

Original Play – Aristophanes

New Translation by Andrew Wilson

Stage Director and Design by Michael Scott

Tickets available for June 27th and 28th from Usher Hall at: http://www.usherhall.co.uk/whats-on/aristophanes-women-parliament

In translating, an impressive feat, to begin with, Andrew Wilson does an exceptional job in capturing the original structure, satire and levity of Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae or Women in Parliament. It has all the comforts of ancient Greece; hookers, cross-dressing and poo, but it has a distinct Lothians stamp of lively dance, song and self-depreciation.

Athens of the North, Edinburgh to you and I. She shares a tremendous amount with her sister to the South, they both value a feast, a tremendous sense of culture and a responsibility towards democracy, right? Well, far from it really. Time moves forward, we evolve, we advance – but politics roughly remains the same. An assortment of privilege, wealth and lacking in diversity. Aristophanes wrote a series of plays in which the foolishness of men, was highlighted by women. He wasn’t a revolutionary feminist, however. Instead, the women are merely a way to highlight the absurdity of government, how they ‘argue solutions but never come to conclusion’.

Pictured: Hazel Eadie

If for a second you suspect this to have a hidden agenda, with a profound political message and commentary – then all the power to you. Women in Parliament, in keeping with its ancient counterpart, revels in the ludicrous nature of its construction. It isn’t pushing a ‘feminist’ agenda but instead firing pointed harpoons at the current states of government. No one is safe. Not Tory, nor Liberal, Nor defenceless Jeremy Corbyn.

While in the North, it seems fitting to amend the text with Scots dialect and reference. Outside of the Political, Wilson’s translation achieves some of its distinct humour through Aristophanes second favourite pastime after sex – defecating. Oh yes, scatological witticism is rife in the Streets of Athens this evening, so please watch your footing. For those unfamiliar, you will need a slight adjustment time to the toilet humour, but once consigning yourself to the loose bowels of Blepyrus (Mike Towers) you’ll be sure to snigger along.

He, along with Chris Allan, brings a sense of false patriarchal grandeur to the proceedings. Allan, in particular, holds the constant stage presence this evening. Standing against this – leading a procession of marching women determined to undermine the Men of government, who were clearly doing such an exceptional job, are Prazxagora (Angela Estrada) and her crew of disgruntled, beard-clad women.

Pictured: Angela Estrada

Estrada, arguably our lead turns a stellar performance with what is an undoubtedly complex script. While others may stumble and fade, she keeps her pacing and level of authority. She has a way with words which draws our ear immediately, illustrating parallels with other ‘silver-tongued’ world leaders.

Mainly on the fault of Aristophanes (easier to blame the centuries deceased) than Wilson, classical texts traditionally have an altogether different style of pacing. Any accustomed to the likes of Lysistrata will recognise the structure, short finale and bloated early scenes. Scott, along with the cast, seems to anticipate this – making jabs at the audiences snoozing’s and interacting to keep their attention.

Design in mind, Michael Scott’s thrust style staging places the action in the centre of Lauriston Hall. We’re effectively on the back benches observing the baboons dance before us. A backdrop, a tart’s boudoir pink splashed across some doors and windows make for comical entrances, exits and scene change signage. This, along with Gordon Hughes’ lighting design makes for an intense richness from this evening’s performance. Never has a brothel looked quite as sinisterly appealing, or so we are informed…Emily Nash and Gordon Horne doing their best to both entice and repulse us.

Pictured: Colin Povey and Charlie Munro

With such a large venue, quite often our eyes drift to something happening far across the stage. The inclusion of slaves David Cree, Robert Seaton and Alasdair Watson make for slapstick scene changes, but when their buffoon antics occur several feet from where our attention should be focusing, it’s quite distracting.

So, no need to take a visit to ancient Greece, we seem to be living it. Athens of the North’s presentation of Women in Parliament is a delightful homage to Aristophanes’ original, injecting its own Scottish heritage through rhyming verse. It has issues with pacing, a few wayward performances and complexity in a narrative which will be lost on many, but it’s an appealing text, rich in satire and playfulness. A production worthy of support, a delicate blend of classical literature and toilet jokes – what’s not to love?

Runs until June 28th, tickets available from Usher Hall at: http://www.usherhall.co.uk/whats-on/aristophanes-women-parliament

Valentina’s Galaxy @ Assembly Roxy

Video rights: Frozen Charlotte Productions

Produced by Frozen Charlotte

Presented by Imaginate and Edinburgh International Science Festival

Intended for viewers aged around two years old, Valentina’s Galaxy speaks in particular to girls in the audience. Inspired by the first woman in space, Valentina Tereshkova, and the first black woman in space, Mae C. Jemison, Frozen Charlotte’s production introduces kids to the universe with immersive detail and visual splendour.

Astrid is celebrating her birthday when a letter arrives from Nasa. Astrid has more or less given up on her dreams of being an astronaut, but with some gentle encouragement, she is reminded of why this was once her goal. This protaganist is relatable, falling out of love with her childhood passion, but also a tad two-dimensional.

As Astrid, Melanie Jordan engages with the children in the audience, becoming more involved as time progresses. There’s a sense that the production team had a little too much faith in well-behaved viewers – furthermore, it feels a little like information’s being flung at the audience, rather than letting us unravel the story ourselves.

With inspiration as poignant as the first female astronauts, much is done to commemorate them. The old banger of a telly in the corner serves to show footage of Tereshkova’s launch and time in space. The set is right out of a 1960s catalogue, but much of the lighting by Gerron Stewart is utilised for tricks and locale changes – kitchen instruments and cupboards double as spacecraft consoles and a plethora of buttons, and a screen in place of a window makes for fluid trasitions from kitchen domesticity to the darkness of space. 

What lets it down slightly is that the design and intent overshadows the story and delivery. Valentina’s Galaxy as a performance is methodical and somewhat constrained, never quite living up to the wackiness of its set.  

A blanket of celestial astonishment canopies the theatre at the end of the production. If nothing onstage has moved you thus far, the sparks of passion on the faces of all those beneath the stars is an embodiment of hope. Valentina’s Galaxy pays homage to the first women in space, while encouraging the next generation of stargazers. This is theatre looking not only to the past but well into the future; it’s worth seeing for its rich, magical visuals, even if it could do with some recrafting. 

Review originaly published for The Skinny: https://www.theskinny.co.uk/theatre/shows/reviews/valentina-s-galaxy-assembly-roxy-edinburgh

Imaginate: https://www.imaginate.org.uk/festival/whats-on/valentinas-galaxy/

Locker Room Talk @ Traverse Theatre

Image contribution:
David Monteith Hodge

Writer: Gary McNair

Director: Orla O’Loughlin

Post Show facilitator: Dr Holly Davis

There are few things more powerful than a word, spoken or otherwise. The championed word shouted on the streets and in the press can have the widest impact both for resistance and oppression. The most dangerous word is the one they didn’t want you to hear. The words said about women which would never be uttered to women – until now.

Associate artist to the Traverse Theatre, Gary McNair offers insight to both the importance of outspoken words and the toxicity of those unheard. The concept is simple, it’s stretching potential is vast. To record around fifty men, from various classes, races and ages about one topic: women. Or more importantly, the sort of ‘laddish’ banter conducted when women aren’t present. One year ago, we reviewed the same show, in the same venture with different women reciting the same words spoken by the same men. Nothing has changed, for good reason.

We open with the beaming orange-faced voice of self-conceited, misogynistic and *ahem* leader of honest viewpoints – Donald Trump. Snippets of his now infamous interviews, off-the-record responses and campaign proclamations are echoed into the darkness as cast Maureen Carr, Jamie Marie Leary, Gabriel Quigley and Nicola Roy enter the stage. We hear the toxic masculinity, anti-feminist statements and goading’s of these men read in real-time by these women.

All of our readers add an element which lacked slightly from the previous year. There’s an ounce more of delivery in conveying the men. Not as characters but as people. Accents, physical movements and the odd wink or nudge. The script is already believable, but this adds a sense of weight to the production. Voices we would hear in the pub, at the bus stop or in the doctors’ surgery.

There’s humour to be had, though this is more out of familiarity than genuine laughs. We chuckle as we need an outlet at the deplorable speech on offer. Some of the audience will find the script disheartening. Others, shocked. Most worrying are the ones who are ambivalent or complacent.

Where all matters of recordings or interviews are concerned there is human error. The interviewees range from honest, deflecting and to entirely innocent in the case of the children. At points, we can feel where men are lying to McNair or bending the extent of their own personal misogyny to push themselves out of the light. Though, this also showcases the reach of patriarchy – that complacency is its tool, as people who recognise it themselves can’t or won’t confront it.

What is implored is to stay for the post-show discussion. Usually a phrase many dread in relation to theatrical productions. Led by Dr Holly Davis, a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow this part is the kind of outlet which is needed. Encouraged to open up dialogue, we are presented with no filter of a topic, no judgement and invited to publicise the need for this sort of discussion.

I said in the previous year’s review that one day, productions like Locker Room Talk won’t be required. A year on they still are, even more so. Locker Room Talk serves as an insight into the often-unseen locker room mentality. This production serves to uncover a truth that, whilst many will still ignore – that at some point this talk will become action. The action of sharing, calling-out or calling-in abusive behaviour and driving writers, performers and the public to help drain the poison under the surface.

Production Touring:
http://www.garymcnair.co.uk/locker-room-talk/

Review originally published for Reviews Hub:
https://www.thereviewshub.com/locker-room-talk-traverse-theatre-edinburgh-2/