Thursday, August 23, 2007

Symphony / Nina Conti / Dracula

Edinburgh Castle, from Grassmarket

Event #29: Symphony without Orchestra
Once upon a time, long before MP3 players and LP vinyl fetishists, the only way to hear the great concert works was through home piano recitals. Symphonies and concertos (for almost any instrument) were commonly rendered as four-hand piano works, either because the composer worked out their ideas thus (Brahm, Dvorak, Stravinsky, ...) or because publication of such arrangements was an important mechanism for disseminating the work.

Today's lunchtime concert was Tchaikowsky's Symphony No.6 "Pathetique", begun in February 1893 and premiered in October that year, one week before the composer's death. The four able hands at the piano belonged to Stefan Warzycki and Adrian Sims, who really delivered an exciting reading of the work, especially in the third movement. A special round of applause for that effort.

My friend Rob put me onto the works of Jane Jacobs earlier this year. I just finished her slim but intensely rewarding volume "Cities and the Wealth of Nations" (1984). Really heady stuff, provocative and accessible. I have her "Dark Age Ahead"(2004) on my shelf, and look forward to reading her major work "The Death and Life of Great American Cities." (1961).

Event #30: Nina Conti: Complete and Utter Conti

I think I laughed more in the first 15 minutes of this ventriloquist show than in any other period during the festival. Nina's principal sidekick is a monkey, painfully "aware" of its existence as a ventriloquist's puppet. Nevertheless it attempts to take over the proceedings, hypnotising Nina so that she is "possessed" by her grandfather, also a ventriloquist, who "speaks" to his late wife in the kitchen. If you're following this, you can see there's a lot going on at one time; Nina does not restrict her voice-throwing to puppets on her arm.
She also plays a northern housewife, who is about to achieve her dream of becoming a mermaid, through the aid of a local butcher and a sturgeon with a beautiful tail. The mermaid-to-be claims that little will change in her life post-op, just a plunge-pool in the living room and getting the sofa laminated. Otherwise it will be telly and ciggies as usual.

In the close of the show, Monkey finally takes control of Nina's mind, forcing her to don a monkey-suit and hold a Nina puppet...

Event #31: Dracula / Black & White Rainbow

As far as I can tell, Black & White Rainbow is a company of young Cambridge graduates, led by Simon Evans. They're doing 2 plays and a close-up magic show for the Fringe. Tonight I saw "Dracula", a one-hour retelling of the original Bram Stoker story. Although rarely scary, the production plays up the sexual elements of blood and the vampire legend.

I was especially impressed by the unidentified actors playing Dracula and Lucy Westenra, his first victim. The staging was simple but effective, actors unused in a scene carried long mirrors to delineate a space or act as window shutters. The choreography for such a young company was also impressive, especially in a concluding fight scene.

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