Our Soldier (Oxfringe)

Thu 31st May 2012

reviews

Amy Whetstone

at 22:55 on 31st May 2012

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After watching the short trailer for 'Our Soldier' on the Pegasus Theatre website I was intrigued as to what the evening had in store. Haunting rap music- if such a genre can indeed exist- there accompanies the stark aggression and brutality of the six silent soldiers, circling each other as if animalistic predators. Yet not a word or action of the three minute film hints at the play’s ‘story.’ Descriptions of content were similarly sparse. Never having been too much of a fan of physical theatre for this exact reason, I feared the worst.

That said, I must admit that it was very pleasantly surprised.

A premiere of the drama to be performed at the Edinburgh Fringe this autumn, this short play- it lasted no more than half an hour- was created by Fools Play Collective, a self-described “young, fresh and inventive” theatre company formed in 2008.

Based loosely on a modern interpretation of 'Macbeth', essentially stripped down to its bare essentials, the drama tells the tale of the demise of the noble ‘Mac’ (played here competently by Danny Kearns) through the eyes of a young and inexperienced war correspondent, Alice (brilliantly and hilariously acted by Lottie Ormerod), embarking on her first ‘big story’ in a bid to make her name. Right from the peace and happiness of the play’s opening, cracks start appearing in the characters’ blissful society. Violence and corruption spread with increasing force and vigour, seeping into every pore. And what of Macbeth’s famous witches, I hear you asking? These are transformed into sinister-looking medical surgeons. I still have not quite worked out what to make of this.

Expecting a persistently sombre and miserable atmosphere of tragedy, death and despair- as I have indeed just suggested was the case, I was stunned, and agreeably so. An overwhelming, constant energy pervades all of the action. Many moments of the play are laugh-out-loud funny, the blending of music, dialogue and physicality (much within the genre of contemporary dance) being extremely effective. 'Our Soldier' is more than anything a representation of the tragicomic, even moving the story of Macbeth at points to the realm of the absurd.

Lighting and music were both excellent, the pop songs and their often hilarious accompanying routines providing, according to your intellectual stance on the matter, either welcome respite from the overarching bleakness or a manifestation of the afore-mentioned absurd. Although one or two moments or theatrical effects did not quite work- I suggest for instance the ‘running on the spot’ of Macbeth (you will understand when you have seen the play!) - and the narrative was a little too sparse for my liking, the overall end product was striking and remarkably effective.

Dynamic, compelling and powerful, challenging concepts of power, guilt and duty as well as the traditional conception of theatre itself, this is a drama which is well worth a watch! To take perhaps the most memorable quote of the performance: “Mac is back!”

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Lucy Wood

at 07:52 on 1st Jun 2012

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Part of this year’s Oxfringe festival, 'Our Soldier' reworks the 'Macbeth' story into a thoroughly fresh and vivid interpretation. Incorporating aspects of traditional theatre and storytelling, physical theatre and dance as well as a good deal of humour, the Fools Play Collective creates a version of the story which is strikingly their own. Whilst this is perhaps not a play for traditionalists, nor for anyone who wants to go to see the established play or story, it is a must for anyone who enjoys a fresh and occasionally challenging interpretation. Which is, at the end of the day, what the fringe festivals are all about.

'Our Soldier' must come in for particular praise in their use of physical theatre, both for dramatic and comic purposes. Their use of the running motif created a sense of space and distance, geographical and emotional, in what otherwise might have become quite a claustrophobic environment; equally, in the more dance orientated sequences, one gets the impression of space and the passing of time, as the backstories and events leading up to the present are detailed and (briefly) explored. One of the play’s most interesting points was its use of humour derived, in large part, from the only original character of the play, Alice (Lottie Ormerod). The humour not only brightened the performance overall, but was used with particular effect to highlight and to draw out distinctive moments of note, which might have otherwise have reverted to their more usual stagings: the murder of Duncan (Emily Essery), the murder of Banquo, here The Solider, (Joseph Lynch) and the sighting of the ghost each surpassed expectation. The production’s use of mixed media, and particularly of lighting, was especially effective, and was always used sensitively, with care and with intelligence.

While the play certainly made no claim to be a version of the Shakespeare (or indeed any other older version of the 'Macbeth' story), the shortness (circa. 50 minutes) of the production did mean that several themes key to the story were either brushed over, or side-lined all together. The relationship, for example, between Mac and Lady Mac (Naomi Nam) could have been explored in far greater depth, as could the psychology of Mac himself and particularly that of Lady Mac which does seem to be wholly forgotten here. Equally, the witch scenes seem to be a little unsubstantiated: whilst they are certainly very eerie, there seems to be no real reason for them to be presented as bloodthirsty doctors and surgeons, as they are. Much in this production was done extremely well, and the only real objection could have been where aspects of the story were dropped. Overall, an innovative and creative production and certainly one to watch.

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