2008 Fringe Reviews

Wendy Wrangham's day-by-day take on the theater fest

Written by Wendy Wrangham
for Expats.cz

DAY FIVE – Thursday 29 May

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The urgency of life at Fringe for the reviewer winds down just as the tempo of the event reaches its crescendo. The glorious weather, the word of mouth buzz, the gradually more rounded performances and the whole end-of-term feeling are all adding to the vibe around Malá Strana´s cobbled streets and Fringe venues.

If you haven´t already, catch the last performance of the increasingly assured kids from England´s Shrewsbury school in The Diary of Petr Ginz today at 2pm. Sadly, the Sax to the Max! performances within the wonderful Kostel sv. Jana Křtitele na Prádle have finished, but you can still be filled with the sounds of their saxes great and small at Divadlo Na Prádle. Other musical offerings that will inspire the soul and tap the feet include the rousing pipes and drums of Fire and Sword – A Trybal Gathering, especially poignant today when Scotland and the Czech Republic play a friendly football match here in Prague, and don´t miss Fringe favourites The Voice and The Verse.

And if you haven´t already, pick up your ticket to Topping & Butch´s BIG Night Out, an outrageously askance look at this year´s Fringe in their own inimitable style – and with the help of a few surprise guests.

Picks of the Fringe
1. Forgotten
2. 40 Feathered Winks
3. Silkworm
4. Karagiozis Exposed
5. The Hallucinogenic Toreador

With a special mention to The Diary of Petr Ginz.


DAY FOUR – Wednesday 28 May


After four days of the Fringe, the community atmosphere around the venues grows ever stronger despite the fact that some shows are now reaching the end of their run – but in the spirit of the circle being unbroken, while some shows end, others begin. The all female Czech a capella group Yellow Sisters return to the stage with their mix of African rhythm and harmonious voice. The National Saxophone Choir of Great Britain blast out Sax to the Max! that showcases the amazing array within the saxophone family as well as their considerable musical talents. Festival favourites Topping & Butch discard any of their daytime niceties for their BIG Night Out on Friday and Saturday and sultry Maria Tecce captivates from Thursday to Saturday. Film buffs should head to the Short Films from Hong Kong screening Thursday to Saturday, while a two-night only show for Nowhere Here (Sat & Sun) promises a surreal exploration of insanity. Scotland´s Andi Neate performs her last evening of musical melodies tonight just as Irish poets and musicians, The Voice and the Verse begin their five-night run.


DAY THREE – Tuesday 27 May

A Stretch of the Imagination
Hallucinogenic Toreador

As we hurtle towards the midpoint of Fringe frenzy a series of themes and common threads are emerging within the wholly random set of performances we have been graced with this year. Gas masks have provided a chilling and effective prop for both Cassandra´s excellently acted visions of war and truth, both classical and modern and A Day In Dig Nation´s single-minded dedication to media. Feathers have fluttered across the boards in 40 Feathered Winks as well as The Diary of Petr Ginz. And Ginz and of course Adolf feature the Third Reich, so much so that the police arrived at Nosticovo Divadlo on Monday to investigate complaints of swastikas seen in the area. Moustaches have sprouted in various venues too (see today´s reviews) and, appropriately for the Czech Republic, beers have been opened on stage, much to the chagrin of thirsty audiences…


DAY TWO – Monday 26 May

The Diary of Petr Ginz

A later start for everyone on the second day of the Fringe, and buzz is beginning on various shows, with one man shows garnering strong accolades. Pip Utton´s uncanny portrayal of Hitler in Adolf has received quite breathless praise and another superb solo performance comes from Michael McEvoy in Not in my name!, an historical extravaganza telling of the trial of Niccolo Machiavelli. Audiences on the opening night of the Fringe were captivated by Anna Frütelova and her [H]art am Limit, a brilliant musical and vocal revue from an erudite and multi-talented performer, while splitting atoms and subsequent discoveries form the crux in a fantastically off the wall performance by Clockwork Rocket in TOMIC (divisable).


DAY ONE – Sunday 25 May

No Exit
Karagiozis Exposed
40 Feathered Winks
Day in Dig Nation

After a week of dull, lacklustre weather, the opening day of the seventh annual Fringe Festival Praha dawned as shiny as the numerous performers come to shake us out of our cultural doldrums. Sample menus have become de rigueur in fine dining establishments, and with the veritable smorgasbord of talent inherent in the 40 groups here this year, it´s no wonder organizers decided on a taster session to kick off the eight days of Fringe Praha.

First up was Sax to the Max featuring the considerable brass of the National Saxophone Choir of Great Britain. Ravel´s Bolero (a notorious piece to keep in perfect rhythm due to its complexities) was delivered in layers with more and more saxes coming forward onto the stage until the final crescendo was reached featuring the smallest sax, the soprillo and the largest, the contrabass, which was taller than the female instrumentalist manhandling it around the room. Loud and fun, this will be a hot ticket for its sheer virtuosity.

One of the most tempting morsels was Maria Tecce´s sultry voice, accompanied solely by snapping fingers and finally, harmonies from the audience, as she clarifies on this Sunday afternoon that only a chocolate Jesus can satisfy her soul. “Mahalia Jackson AND Peggy Lee” exclaimed (a satisfied I think) Jamie Marshall after the applause had died down.

The most compelling snippet was 40 Feathered Winks for its short and sharp glance at just one activity of the many we manage to spend one third of our lives doing in bed. The measured performance and frantic flicking of pages (go and see it) proved an accurate indicator of an excellent show as a spellbound audience discovered later. Calling them puppeteers and musicians barely covers the performance put on by Open Arts in Karagiozis Exposed, a very physical piece of theatre accompanied by traditional instruments that removes the boundaries of stage, actor, puppet and puppeteer. The kids from Shrewsbury School in England performed a poem written by Petr Ginz, a Czech boy who died at Auschwitz. His words on the ridiculous limitations heaped on Jews during WWII serve as a mindful reminder that some things don´t change – one of the similarly ludicrous edicts of the Taliban banned kite flying for example.

Bach-Bukowski promises to please and suffice to say for now that only this glorious merging of Bach´s compositions and Bukowski´s words can add a sense of gentility to the line “Humanity you sick motherfucker”. Get “infected” by surrealism through Dada performance art (those three words serve as a triple whammy for theatre goers, for good or bad) in The Hallucinogenic Toreador. Painted faces, Dali-esque moustaches, white lab coats and mirrors are just the beginning of this adults only show. Canada´s Black Hand Theatre previewed their new show Silkworm, with a lesson in how to spot a witch using only arsenic. After their excellent show last year, Blow This Popsicle Stand, Silkworm will be a popular ticket.

Frisco Fred did, as billed, provide Magic and More, with anarchic wit, myopia and not a little satirical lip – predicting that the child in the front row will grow up to repossess his house even as he hands her a balloon animal. The polyester-clad pyromaniac sets the stage alight, metaphorically we hope, so buy tickets ASAP.

Prague talent didn´t go unnoticed: Tajné slunce performed a haunting song about reincarnation, with the criminally underused hurdy gurdy providing an appropriately hypnotic wail. Local wordsmiths The Deepest, Freshest, Deep Down Thing showed their Prague colours with poetry referencing pink tanks, blossoms and jazz, all delivered with the beautifully velvet voice of Stephan Delbos, the sole “Thing” on stage this day. Sacred Sow comes from our own Prague Playhouse and featured the haunting Irish tinkers´ song, The Well Below the Valley, sung on Halloween and reputed to be able to raise the dead. Haunting, mysterious and melodic… much like the rest of the performance we assume.

[H]art am Limit features an Austrian chanteuse and clown whose magnificent voice persuades attendance even if the avant garde physical nature of her show doesn´t. A compelling performance despite – or because of – its oddness. Beautiful Confusion Productions introduced us to their new show, H&A Screenplay, with a luscious serving of suggestively eaten watermelon. The legendary love affair of Heloise and Abelard is the basis of this, their third offering to the Prague Fringe. Three hot pink leotard-clad ladies bounced on the stage to introduce The Tale of a T-Shirt, a story of adventure and cotton introduced to the audience by a sock puppet and an invitation to imagine… energetic and eccentric but ultimately for me, not very persuasive. Doppleganger features the wise fool Mulla Nasrudin from India, who invites us to lose our vanity in the presence of his comic ability. Nothing is exempt from his acerbic tongue, especially not God or death.

Full reviews of select shows will be put online as soon as possible.

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