The Edinburgh Dispatch
Direct from the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, director Nisha Madhan, who's there with acclaimed show Power Ballad, lets us in on some of her top picks at the 70th year of the performing arts juggernaut.
Each day this August, and every August, the largest flyer run in the world happens on Edinburgh's Royal Mile. Amongst the crowds, over 20 of our artists are there peddling their wares and bringing a wildly varied array of theatre and comedy from Aotearoa to the world's most immense performing arts festival. The New Zealand crew isn't just hanging in the background either: they're getting those precious full houses (like Trygve Wakenshaw's Trygve vs a Baby and Trygve and Barnie Duncan's Different Party); they're getting five stars in Broadway Baby and solid four stars in the all-important The Scotsman (like Eleanor Bishop's Jane Doe), and they're being nominated for some of the coolest awards going.
A couple of days ago it was announced that Binge Culture's Break Up (We Need To Talk) and Julia Croft and Nisha Madhan's Power Ballad – two shows which are both on Zanetti Productions formidable slate – have been nominated in the Total Theatre Awards, a series of awards that are dedicated to innovative contemporary performance at Edinburgh. It's a pretty big deal: 538 shows are seen by 28 assessors, who, after debating online for 30+ hours, then sit down to a 10-hour shortlisting meeting, to finally agree on 23 nominations over 5 categories. Basically the UN.
In 2017, this has resulted in a shortlist which includes some of the sharpest minds and companies in contemporary performance today, including Belgium's Ontroerend Goed, England's Ridiculusmus and Australia's Zoe Coombs Marr, Adrienne Truscott and Ursula Martinez. It's a total coup that work from both Binge Culture and Julia and Nisha has been nominated alongside these artists; in the cacophony of voices in Edinburgh, live art from New Zealand is being heard loud and clear.
So, in the middle of the theatre marathon, mainly to feed my FOMO, I asked the award-nominated director to tell us about some of her fave international shows so far. We might even get treated to another series of Nisha's top picks once the madness is over.
As for Edinburgh Team New Zealand, they all have another week to go before they can put down their puppets, hang up their wigs, clean their banana suits, and come home to sleep for a week. See you at the ticker tape parade.
– Kate Prior
Feature image: Adrienne Truscott, Ursula Martinez and Zoe Coombs Marr in Wild Bore. Photo: Tim Grey.
Bertrand Lesca and Nasi Voutsas / FellSwoop Theatre
There's no story. There are very few words. There are wheels, a ladder, a hammer, a broken plate, two people and the audience. Palmyra is an ancient city in Syria known for its incredibly preserved temples and artefacts that have now been reduced to rubble by ISIS. Palmyra was a beautiful thing that has now been broken. The city is broken. And no one yet has said, "I'm sorry for breaking your city." And I had never really thought about it so simply. I have a city. You broke my city. That's a bit rude. All this – with the complexities of power play, destruction, violent cycles and hopeful spinning (trying and trying) – is gifted to us through the simplest yet touching of metaphors, an astonishingly clear dramaturgy and two performers who so effortlessly prove to us that personal is political.
Adrienne Truscott, Ursula Martinez and Zoe Coombs Marr
This is that show that seems like it's just a passing joke you made at a table with some fellow artists after a show one night. You know, the one where you're like "what if we made a show out of every shitty review we’ve ever received from a critic who obviously missed the entire fucking point..? We should totally make a show like that one day, that'll really show 'em!" Adrienne Truscott, Ursula Martinez and Zoe Coombs Marr not only actually did it, they took it so far it's sickening. It's biting, cutting, smart political satire that leaves you feeling so free and relieved that someone finally had the guts to say it, do it, live it, and risk it all. They have me convinced that there's nothing to lose by being fierce and unrelenting towards the assholes in power.
P.S. Two things I love:
1. They are proudly wearing their 2- and 1-star reviews on their posters like a badge of honour.
2. A friend I respect and admire for his taste in theatre walked out of this show and went to Edinburgh Castle instead. And somehow that makes it even better.
(I Could Go On Singing) Somewhere Over The Rainbow
FK Alexander and Okishima Island Tourist Association
I squash into a corridor in the basement of Summerhall with 30 other people. There is noise spilling out of a room. A person is yelling over the top to us. “We know it’s noisy. It’s supposed to be noisy. But this noise is safe. Even so we have earplugs if you want them. You don’t need them, but they’re here if you want them. Just remember, this noise was made with love.”
I go inside. There’s a fierce looking woman who makes me understand the phrase “if looks could kill.” It’s noisy as fuck. Behind her, two figures in black with sunglasses. One makes the noise, the other lights the space. They give nothing away. Am I underground in Berlin? New York? Japan? I don’t know, but I know I’m underground. Far underground. That’s the only place a noise like this could come from. There’s this repetitive bass that feels like it's hot on the tails of my heartbeat. An X in gaffer tape on the concrete floor.
She steps forward. Someone takes the cue and steps up to the mark. Hands over a token. She smiles. Goes away. Starts a track of Judy Garland’s last ever performance of Over the Rainbow. She puts on a sparkly jacket, some ruby red slippers and freshens her red lipstick. She grabs her microphone, takes the person’s hand and sings the song into their face. She kisses them on the cheek. They sit down. She takes off her costume. Has a sip of water. And then does the same thing. Exactly the same thing. Over and over and over and over again. And then for some reason. You are crying. And you think. I will never forget this moment for the rest of my fucking life. When people ask, what is the gift you are giving to the audience. You will think. I know what the gift is. I was given it once. She gave it to me. And I will never ever forget it.