Review: Few Are Angels

Three Chairs and a Hat

Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Online@theSpaceUK

Setting several of Shakespeare’s famous women into modern-day settings, Few Are Angels invites its audience to revisit the Bard’s female characters in a new light. Directed by Wayne T. Brown, Cleopatra sits in a dark cell, wearing a striking red dress, and performs her monologue to a CCTV camera, Helena from A Midsummer Night’s Dream finds herself on a nondescript suburban path, and Much Ado about Nothing’s  Beatrice lights up a cigarette and texts the first few lines of her dialogue.

Some texts transfer more easily into their modern settings than others. Mistress Page’s monologue lacks some of its original context, and Beatrice’s one-sided dialogue with the silent camera standing in for Benedict loses some of its meaning without Benedict’s lines. In contrast, the setting of Cressida’s monologue in the scenario of a woman on a dating site transfers easily and brings a new humour to the monologue as Cressida sits in front of her laptop in her tiger onesie with a box of chocolates and a glass of wine to hand. Similarly the Courtesan’s monologue from The Comedy of Errors fits perfectly into the setting of a neighbour in her marigolds and curlers chatting over the garden fence. Those monologues which find a foothold in the zeitgeist, whether through cultivating a garden as many of us did in lockdown, online dating, or chatting with neighbours from a distance, find the most success in their updating.

The highlight of these is certainly Julie Todd’s tear-jerking rendition of Fear no More the Heat o’ the Sun from Cymbeline. With new music composed by Nia Williams, this dirge accompanies the story of a recent widow, with a montage of scenes from her husband’s final moments as he lies in bed wearing an oxygen mask, and her gradually adjusting to an empty house. Touching on a grief that is familiar to many people in the past year, this scene stands out as a heartfelt example of how an old text can apply to new settings.

Just as the updating of Shakespeare’s text is mixed in its success, the quality of execution in the filming of the work is patchy. I found myself reaching for the remote control at the start of each monologue, having to adjust the volume between levels 5 and 20 to keep up with the unstable volume levels of the work. Though the monologues have clearly been directed and performed with filming in mind, the technical quality means that the work feel uncomfortable in its digital setting, leaving its audience with the feeling that they have not seen it to its full potential.

Bringing these characters, who would originally have been written to be played by young men, into the present day played by a large cast of women, Few Are Angels begins with a strong concept, though stumbles in its adaptation and digital execution.

Few Are Angels is available to stream on-demand until 29th August.

Review: Taiwan Season Online Performances 2021 – A Glimpse of Taiwan

Summerhall

Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Online On-Demand

***

Ai-sa sa

Tjimur Dance Theatre

“Peel away each layer
And behold what lies behind
Away it goes; tears well in your eyes
Off it falls; you can’t help but smile
Layers collapse; laughing, weeping intertwine”

At the core of Tjimur Dance Theatre’s Ai-Sa Sa is an awareness of balance, of stripping away layers to find the basic balance of things – red apple/green apple, laughter/tears, care/violence. Even in form, with its blend of filmed stage work and made-for-film scenes, Ai-sa sa holds balance at its heart.

No emotion lasts long in its portrayal on stage, and the four strong cast of performers (Ching-Hao Yang, Ljaucu Tapurakac, Tzu-En Meng, Sheng-Hsiang Chiang) flit naturally between contemporary dance, physical theatre and song. With a rapid, but not rushed, pacing, Ai-sa sa brings its audience on a colourful journey through the mercurial moods and shifting relationships of the characters on screen, deftly portraying themes of impermanence, changeability, and equilibrium.

Drawing its name from a modern Paiwan phrase, used as an interjection to laugh at your own attitude, Baru Madiljin’s exuberant work reminds its audiences to get over themselves and go with the flow – “Ai-sa sa, and shake it off!”

The Back of Beyond    

Tai Gu Tales Dance Theatre 

Another work which explores ideas of balance and equilibrium, Hsiu Wei Lin’s The Back of Beyond is an intense and absorbing work. Bringing together elements of both Eastern and Western aesthetics, choreography, ritual and spirituality, this work from Tai Gu Tales Dance Theatre composes cycles of birth, death and rebirth.

Opening with the dancers engulfed in shrouds which they will return to and cast off at several points in the performance, like chrysalides, The Back of Beyond takes a pace that is at times meditative, at others almost uncomfortably slow and at yet others, frenetic and unsettling. The company demonstrates skill and focus as an ensemble, sometimes breaking away into individual movement, but often moving as though part of a single powerful organism, lead by the heartbeat of the work’s entrancing elemental score.

Though not a work for those who like a pacy, direct narrative, The Back of Beyond (which was originally designed as an immersive live experience)is a captivating show in which you can lose yourself to the powerful choreography and the design which delves into the spaces between light and dark to mesmeric effect.

Fighters

Les Petites Choses Production

Based on a classical work of Chinese literature, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Nai-Hsuan Yang’s Fighters is a light-hearted work which examines dancers’ relationships with their bodies and minds in this global time of uncertainty and isolation. Where its source text is famously lengthy and complex, Fighters is a condensed fifteen-minute work which, even though I could not understand the narration or find subtitles, is engaging and accessible.

Staged in spaces that sit between the domestic and mythic, Fighters blends hip-hop and contemporary styles to create an entertaining new depiction of heroism, which many people will recognise after the past year of pandemic-life.

Touchdown

Incandescence Dance

A dance work based on physics, which culminates in a visual art installation was always going to catch my attention, but Hao Cheng’s Touchdown went beyond that and captivated me.

Asking the core question, “How can one entity be recognised as two things at once?,” Touchdown uses a discussion of the nature and action of electrons to delve into deceptively philosophical ideas. By flipping the camera angle, Cheng and the dozens of sticks of chalk around him initially appear to be magnetically attached to ceiling, and this sets the tone for the inversions, diversions and contradictions that will be uncovered in this twenty-minute work.

From using himself as a compass to draw concentric circles, to examining the history of concepts in physics, Hao Cheng draws his mathematical background into his choreography and in doing so finds new avenues of creative exploration, which address age-old questions in innovative ways.

All performances in the Taiwan Season are available online via Summerhall as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe from 6th August to 29th August 2021.