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Tuesday, 20 August 2013 00:00

Pointed plays of global concern

by Gordon Parsons

More than political commentary or TV news coverage, theatre can capture the individual pain at the heart of our stressed world. Among the fun of Edinburgh's Festival Fringe many shows underline this truth.

David Greig's The Events (Traverse) is clearly influenced by the mass killings at a Norwegian youth camp by Anders Breivik. Here a youth choir, on stage throughout, have been the targets and Claire (Neve McIntosh), a young priest who survived the massacre, struggles with her own survivor's guilt and the gnawing need to understand the dark seed within human nature that can lead to such evil. We share 98 per cent of our genetic identities with chimpanzees. What lurks in the remaining 2 per cent that we call humanity?

Rudi Dharmalingam, initially an aboriginal boy contemplating the first European colonisers bringing their violence and "class, and religion and disease," memorably takes a number of roles in a series of interviews with some of those involved as the search for elusive answers proceeds.

Ali J (The Pleasance) deals in personal terms with the tragedy of the Indian subcontinent rooted in the 1947 partition. Ali J, a Muslim living in India, is on death row, having been mistaken for one of the 2011 Islamist terrorist Mumbai bombers.

Terrified, unbelieving, desperately hoping for his sentence to be commuted to life imprisonment, he tells his story. The girl he loved passionately was Hindu and the political and the personal become one as her family brutally reject him.

He almost wishes he had been the terrorist. At least he would have left a mark behind.

Written by Shekinah Jacob and performed by Karthik Kumar, this simple drama captures the human predicament in a world torn and distorted by conflicts of religion and history.

Chalk Farm (The Underbelly) takes a slice of our recent history, the 2011 London riots.

Opening with a cacophony of high-voltage sound and a barrage of video images, this two-hander presents a single mother cocooning her teenage son in their high rise Chalk Farm sanctuary only to have their illusory peace ripped apart.

Thomas Dennis as the smothered adolescent knows that the explosion of violence on the streets outside has not been owing to any one of the publicised causes - it's about all of them and more frustrating the lives of a lost generation.

The plot, rather over-contrived, has Julia Taudevin as the mother of "Little Pickle," who hands herself in to save her son whose sense of excitement in a media-comatose life leaves him declaring: "I'd do it again. Why not? Best fucking day of my life."

The Confessions Of Gordon Brown (The Pleasance) brought light relief and was highly recommended by Star critic Chris Bartter in last Saturday's paper. It's already got itself a London transfer this autumn.

Ian Grieve's brilliant portrayal of a man whose fall from almost power had Shakespearean echoes steers between satirical destruction and moving sympathy. Treading the tightrope of explosive anger with all those who failed or betrayed him The Leader constantly returns to his bete noir, Tony Blair, responding to a mobile phone interruption from the audience with "If that's Tony Blair, tell him to fuck off." These "confessions" tell us nothing new but they do reveal something likeable if not admirable in yet another toppled power seeker.

Two shows at The Space on the Mile make for startling contrasts of moods. Chaos by Design sets out to show the lot of Congolese women. The statistics from that war-torn country reveal one rape every minute as the soldiery treat women as animals.

Co-writers and performers Benedict Lombe as a rescued female child soldier and Raynar Rogers as a researching photo-journalist provide a snapshot of everyday reality for women. Raped and humiliated, Lombe appeals to the audience in front of her and the world outside to act. We leave chastened and informed about a lost corner of western consciousness.

Next door in the same venue The Bancroft Players, a sixth-form school drama group, present The Actor's Nightmare.

George, who thinks he may be an accountant or something, wanders onto a theatre set. The cast all recognise him and inform him that he has to stand in for the leading man.

But who they are and what the play is all becomes a matter of wild guesses as in Hamlet costume he finds himself playing Eliot in Coward's Private Lives or is it Beckett's Endgame or even A Man for All Seasons?

As George draws desperately on distant memories of bits of muddled dialogue and appeals for audience assistance, this enthusiastic and talented young company joyfully rejuvenate a corny situation comedy.

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