Formation Festival: Cowards Anonymous (10-12 July)

“Leaves you feeling pleasantly contemplative”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

Cowards Anonymous – a support group for shy people who don’t like to make tough decisions. Hosted by some very colourful characters (who begin wearing masks), the welcome given feels more like you’re about to participate in a bizarre shared event, rather than sit back in the shadows to merely observe. And a shared event it becomes, as audience members are picked on at frequent intervals to give their views on a variety of topics and questions.

For many, the term ‘audience participation’ is the stuff of nightmares – the thought of being dragged up on stage, laughed at, or even just spoken to from the comfort of your seat by a performer with a big personality and a microphone – can send shudders down one’s spine and bring on the cold sweats alarmingly quickly. And while one of the aims of Cowards Anonymous is to create a sense of discomfort and awakening to some rather sticky issues, it is mediated in a relaxed and comedic way that nurtures a safe space in order to openly discuss difficult topics – mainly moral choices and philosophical debates.

Indeed, the main strength of this production is the pace and personality driven through it by performers Izzy Hourihane and Eilidh Albert-Recht who do the bulk of the direct addresses to the audience. They bounce off each other well and successfully navigate the tightrope between likeability and authority throughout. Their performance also gives the frequent sense of having gone completely off-book, adding to that feeling of awakening through nigh-on cringeworthy uncertainty of what happens next. Gripping stuff.

Josh Overton’s script dissects the notion of what it means to be a coward, and indeed what it means to be oneself – given the acting up we all do in different situations to please those around us. Posing several thought-provoking scenarios and more than a fair whack of comedy, it leaves you feeling pleasantly contemplative, even if the killer punch of the piece is somewhat lacking. Many excellent ideas are presented, but none quite strongly enough to elicit purposeful action.

Director Tyler Mortimer does well to highlight the comedic and playful aspects of the production, yet while the pacing is generally quite rip-rollicking and upbeat, some more variation in tone and timbre might help emphasise the points being made by this piece.

For many reasons, this show is likely to be divisive, yet for those open to something new, it’s an enlightening way to spend an hour. For me, this production just needs to shake off some of its scrappy and unpolished edges, embrace its direct and intelligent confrontational approach and go full steam ahead. It’s refreshing to have one’s mind challenged in this thoughtful way, and I’d encourage more people to do the same.



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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 11 July)

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Formation Festival: Conspiracy (11-12 July)

“A sterling effort”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

Loring Mandel’s Conspiracy, which many may know from the 2001 HBO film starring Kenneth Branagh, dramatises the 1942 Wannsee conference in Nazi Germany – where several powerful members of various agencies and government departments met to discuss and agree upon a “final solution” to the “Jewish problem”. Undoubtedly one of the major turning points in global history, it is almost sickening now to witness the frank discussions from these men of how best to be rid of millions – millions – of Jews. Strap in.

Upon entering Assembly Roxy’s large Central space, you get a feeling something big is going to happen: the impressive design encompasses a crescent shaped 15-seat conference table – complete with place names, glasses and cigarettes – while a full-on buffet spread is arranged behind it. This is a production that doesn’t shy away from details, as the excellent vintage costuming also pertains to.

Stylistically, Mandel’s script doesn’t quite have the wow-factor of some of its comparable contemporaries: the dialogue doesn’t sing as much as in Aaron Sorkin’s A Few Good Men, while it lacks some of the narrative drive of Reginal Rose’s 12 Angry Men. What it does have, though, is a gut-wrenching sense of inevitability as the decision is reached with a pitiful defence of humanity, and it’s this short journey which makes it a powerful ensemble piece – achingly relevant to the political landscape unfolding in America now.

Director Robin Osman gives himself a mammoth task in pulling off this production, and a real strength is managing the cast of 16 at all points to maintain interest and relevant focus. Indeed the down-time moments of the meeting are almost more impressive than the lengthy debate, which often seems at odds with itself when it comes to levels of tension, frustration and power with each character. The overall presentation comes across as slick and well-rehearsed, though some cast members are somewhat guilty of overacting their smaller parts, creating a bizarre sense of imbalance to those with a more subtle approach.

For me, the standout performers are: Alexander Gray as Dr Wilhelm Stuckart, who navigates the most complex emotional journey throughout the piece; Chris Pearson as Dr Wilhelm Kritzinger, for exuding a natural quiet authority; and Ben Blow for his compelling and convincing turn as Otto Hoffman.

Overall, this is a sterling effort for an amateur production of this challenging play. It’s a bit of a slog to sit through, but well worth it for the vital history lesson, if nothing else.


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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 11 June)

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Formation Festival: Mr & Mrs She (7-8 July)

“Pleasingly disquieting”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Outstanding

It’s not often I’m lost for words when coming out of the theatre, but Mr & Mrs She is one of the most bizarre plays I’ve ever seen. Yet, while its incomprehensibility may be perceived as a negative, there’s something to be said for a play whose questions stay with you for many hours – even days – afterwards.

The show opens with what appears to be a fairly stereotypical wealthy couple enjoying a generous amount of their favourite tipple and getting rather merry. Cue the entry their very eager-to-please staff, a comment about enjoying oneself too much before breakfast, and suddenly the play takes a much darker turn.

Hollie Glossop’s script may well be abstract, but there’s something gripping about the subversion of power from these seemingly stock characters that becomes pleasingly disquieting. The level of detail and pace at which the action develops is masterful, and while I would prefer a greater sense of grounding and cohesion to be able to connect more with the action, Glossop has created a world that begs to be explored further.

Sofia Nakou’s direction embraces and extends the quirkiness with intelligent physicality and proxemics, making the most of the large performance area to highlight the power struggle between each character and the vast emptiness each one is in. As the action creeps closer to the audience, the level of discomfort rises on all fronts and it’s impossible to predict what will happen next, or how you should feel about it.

Kudos to all of the young company performing this work, embracing its weirdness and committing to their roles in it. David Llewellyn in particular demonstrates fantastic range and risk-taking throughout his demise, while Grant Jamieson is suitably sinister as his butler.

It would be fantastic to see this show developed further – it has the makings of a truly memorable piece of theatre. That being said, it seems somewhat unfair to attribute a star-rating to a piece like this, which might easily alienate some audiences while titillating others. Either way, if you’re on the lookout for something different that will leave you with many unanswered questions to debate afterwards, this may well be for you.




Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 8 July)

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Formation Festival: Straight Outta Saughton (7-8 July)


Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Nae Bad

Straight Outta Saughton presents the unlikely but intriguing scenario of two recently released inmates (and cellmates) from HMP Edinburgh banding together to perform as drag queens, having struggled to find other employment. The senior, and more confident of the two, Peter (Callum Thomson) is old hat and knows his way around a wig and a pair of heels, but his younger (and very vocally heterosexual) counterpart Dave (Greg Sives) is most certainly not in his comfort zone, setting up a potentially juicy 45 minutes of real-time action before the two must take to the stage and lip-synch for their living.

Katy Nixon’s script is charming throughout, setting up a very believable situation, peppered with relevant and laugh-out-loud witticisms. It teases out revelations about each character at a good pace, setting up a fair amount of twists and turns to maintain interest.

What’s missing though is a real sense of narrative drive and urgency to keep the action moving and create more dynamics within the piece. While director Deborah Whyte does well to make the most of the small performance space and create different levels throughout, it does sometimes feel a little flat and laboured. The action often comes across as very “blocked” and unnatural, while it’s disappointing not to see more made of the make-up makeover, which feels a bit rushed and underutilised, both artistically and metaphorically.

It’s the actors who really make this piece shine though. Thomson is a natural on the stage, and commanding in his portrayal of the flamboyant Peter. He also shows great emotional range when opening up about his more personal life and demonstrates great dexterity throughout. Sives is more subtle as the reluctant Dave, but every inch believable in his frustrations and discomfort about the situation he finds himself in. The pair have great chemistry together and I could easily watch them for longer.

There’s definitely something here, that with a bit more workshopping could become a really gripping play. Still, it’s a very enjoyable production as it is, and I hope we see more of it in the future.


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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 8 July)

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