Brand New Ancients
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Our Glass House
It may have something to do with the economies of scale, but spoken-word and performance poetry is becoming increasingly prevalent on the Fringe, and Kate Tempest's Brand New Ancients which takes up the Traverse's late-night slot until this weekend, is a perfect example of an old oral tradition reinvented for the 21st century.
In a South London patois, Tempest's epic 70-minute verse takes Greek mythology by the scruff of the neck and relocates it to the spit-and-sawdust streets, where everyday tragedies happen.
Initially seen as a scratch performance at Summerhall on last year's Fringe, and now co-produced with Battersea Arts Centre, Brand New Ancients is performed by Tempest with a four-piece band who add a jittering urban back-beat to a story already full of life and soul.
Tempest's delivery of a work that resembles a hipper, estuarised take on Tony Harrison's V is beguiling.
As her story unfolds, she recites, raps and rolls with the punches of the verse in a glorious telling that's as much gig as theatre performance in a show of white-trash Greek tragedy that breathes rude life into old stories with thrilling results.
The Common Wealth Theatre Company's Our Glass House is performed in an actual house in Wester Hailes, where four women, one man and a little boy lay bare a litany of horror stories taken from real-life incidents of domestic abuse.
As an audience of 30 or so move from room to room, little fragments of each story can be eavesdropped on, whether it's the woman whose husband slammed the piano lid on her hands so she couldn't play any more, or the teenage girl whose boyfriend nearly drowns her in the bath for talking to another boy.
All the while the little boy moves around each floor, drawing pictures house that were once safe, but are now broken forever.
Researched, created and directed by Evie Manning and Rhiannon White, this is pretty harrowing but essential stuff, which highlights still hidden crimes in one of the most theatrically-powerful ways imaginable.
Who Wants to Kill Yulia Tymoshenko?
In a Fringe notably short on timely political drama, Croatian actress Ines Wurth is to be commended for shining a light on the plight of former Ukrainian prime minister Yulia Tymoshenko, whose imprisonment two years ago sparked international condemnation before the story fell out of the headlines. It's just a shame Who Wants to Kill Yulia Tymoshenko? isn't a better drama, and that Wurth is lumbered with a cheap wig and a clunky, exposition-heavy script.
The piece at times feels like a party political broadcast, but the archive footage played at the start - of a luminously charismatic leader surrounded by crowds of supporters - sets an almost impossibly high bar before giving way to a workmanlike two-hander set in prison. Yulia's cellmate Lina (a suitably flint-eyed and fidgety Katarina Arbanas), is doing time for the manslaughter of her boyfriend/pimp and professes to know nothing of politics, so there's some justification for a potted history of the Orange Revolution. However, a handful of fluffed lines further break the spell and there's little build-up of tension before an ending that's easy to see coming.
The end of Anna is also no surprise, since it's about Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya, who was stopped not with a show trial but with bullets.
Assigning a rating to any show by Badac Theatre Company is difficult, and Anna's four stars should be considered alongside the fact that some audience members were forced by fatigue on to the floor, others stuck their fingers in their ears and most looked shell-shocked upon exit.
The company would no doubt take these as signs it has done its job, and there's certainly an argument this extreme approach - bellowing, heavy breathing, repetition and relentless accounts of torture and degradation - is appropriate to the story of a woman who risked everything time and again.
While the experience isn't for everyone, the journalist's grim reporting on the Moscow theatre siege, Chechen death camps and her own beatings at the hands of Russian soldiers simply aren't the stuff of polite, arm's-length theatre. The stamina and physical discipline of the uncredited performers is astonishing, and the testimonies hard to forget.
Both run to Sunday