Fringe Theatre Reviews: Gig Plays

We look at some of the 'gig-plays' blending live music and theatre at the 2015 Edinburgh Fringe, including The Sunset Five, The Girl From Nowhere and Weekend Rockstars.

Feature by Neil Weaving | 27 Aug 2015

For straight-up entertainment value, The Sunset Five [★★★★★] has to be one of the best shows of the Fringe. Its story of a pub quiz team's intrepid attempt to rob a casino to save their favourite local from being bought out and turned into a titty-bar is heart-felt and hilarious, with Dugout Theatre successfully assembling a winning combination of snappy writing, live music, quirky sound-effects, and great comedic performances to relentlessly charm its audience. Its characters are quickly but efficiently drawn, each given just enough personality to make them pop on stage as individuals – archetypes that manage to be more than stereotypes. The Sunset Five isn't high art, but it's thoroughly likeable and funny. What more do you want?

Written and performed by Victoria Rigby, one-woman-show The Girl From Nowhere [★★★★☆] is presented as a taped confession from Jeannie, a girl from small-town Texas at the height of the rock and roll revolution. Though she briefly managed to escape the claustrophobic environment she was raised in as a rock singer, the frame narrative finds her back in her parents' home, with her mother banging on the garage door as she talks to a cassette deck. Her tale is compelling and nuanced, interspersed with sung interludes adeptly accompanied on an acoustic guitar, and a necessary portrayal of how the free love revolution didn't do as much for women as we might like to think.

Weekend Rockstars [★★★★☆] is a gig-play in the truest sense of the phrase. Middle Child Theatre's piece is a performance by a five-piece rock band with the musicians acting in different roles when they're not playing their instruments; a live concept-album of sorts. The narrative of Terry, a 25-year-old man whose comfortable life is put on the rocks when he loses his job, his girlfriend, and his gran in the space of a week, is told through original songs and film clips projected behind the band. Understated enough to add to the storytelling without detracting from the vitality of the live show, the film clips are a good addition. A funny, grounded portrayal of contemporary British working-class life, Weekend Rockstars is Peep Show meets The Streets over rock instrumentals.

In the deeply allegorical Current Location [★★★☆☆], tempers in a small village start to fray under the ominous portents of an ancient prophecy and a strange blue cloud. The translation from a Japanese script by Toshiki Okada is evident in the dialogue, which can slip at times into the awkward phrasings of the anime fan-sub and an air of J-horror weirdness permeates everything. As in the best horror, even innocuous events are charged with the potential for danger. The company make good use of the Summerhall dissection room – eerie enough that no further set is needed. FellSwoop Theatre implicitly move the proceedings to an English village for their adaptation, but the cultural translation feels sadly incomplete (too British to be Japan, but too Japanese to be England) and some of the cast struggle with the awkwardly translated lines.

Independence [★★★★☆] is a concert of instrumental music with accompanying commentary from the composer. John de Simone's band Ensemble Thing perform, and between tracks he explores how the music reflects his own personal, familial, cultural and even political identity, with particular reference to last year's independence referendum – an event that had more personal resonance for de Simone than most, whose grandfather John MacCormick was a leading figure in the SNP during the 1930s. The music is beautiful, especially when so imbued with deeper meaning by de Simone's reflections.

The Sunset Five, Pleasance Dome, 'til Aug 31, 5:40pm, £8.00-£11.00

Girl from Nowhere, Pleasance Courtyard, 'til Aug 31, 12:45pm, £8.50-£11.00

Weekend Rockstars, Underbelly Cowgate, 'til Aug 30, 11:10pm, £8.00-£10.00

Current Location, Summerhall, 'til Aug 30, 10:30am, £11.00/£9.00

Independence, Summerhall, run ended