+3 Review: Life According to Saki (C: 3-29 Aug: 14.15: 1hr 10mins)

“As good as Fringe theatre gets… a triumph”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars

It’s always telling when I leave a performance I’ve been reviewing with an almost empty page of notes. It doesn’t happen often, but in this case I was so engrossed that I simply forgot to write much down.

Set in the trenches in WW1, Saki writes to his dear Ethel at home, recounting stories to kill time. His fellow soldiers become the characters in each story and the piece flows seamlessly from one to the next like waves crashing against the shore.

Written by children’s author Katherine Rundell, the script maintains a playful and slightly mischievous feel throughout, expertly capturing the style and tone that Saki’s short stories are known and loved for. For those unfamiliar with his work, think Roald Dahl, but a bit more grown up. Among others there are tales of a man who becomes a living work of art, a couple who can’t get married due to already having 13 children between them, a politician forced to share a room with a pig and a chicken, and a small boy who believes his ferret has god-like qualities. It’s all good clean fun, but with a moral lesson behind each one. Oh and they are funny. Very funny.

The cast keep the piece moving at a fair pace, whipping out props and costumes seemingly from nowhere ready to set the scene the moment it is introduced. Their dexterity is something to be marvelled at, and Jessica Lazar’s direction makes the most of every look, tableau and minor character for maximum impact. It’s a show that pays great attention to detail, which I very much admire.

While the ensemble cast is fantastic, playing a multitude of characters of differing genders, ages and nationalities to comic perfection, it’s David Paisley (playing Saki himself) who stands out at as the star performer. Gentle, engaging and with great emotional sensitivity it’s almost impossible not to fall in love with him.

Yes, the props and set are quite basic and the narrative is little more than Saki recounting stories while killing time in the trenches, but the soul and spirit of this piece are really what makes it. And when I really think about it (which in this case I did, long and hard), in my humble opinion this is about as good as Fringe theatre gets. Simply, a triumph.

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 7 August)


In His Own Write (The Voodoo Rooms, 8 – 30 Aug : 17.10 : 1hr)

“A thoroughly enjoyable performance, accessible to adults of all ages”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

In His Own Write is a delightfully bonkers collection of short stories, written by none other than John Lennon. Last staged at at the National Theatre in 1968, it seems incredulous that it hasn’t been seen since. However, perhaps this version has been given the ok due to its very simple and honest approach to just telling the stories, without any of the pomp, prestige or impersonation that could be associated with adapting such a work.

The show opens with (and indeed each story is preceded by) a short pencil-sketch animation in the style of the illustrations in the original book. Immediately the tone is set as being playful and non-fussy – embodying the spirit of the book perfectly. The trio of performers set straight to it, capturing the innocence of each story with energy and clarity, but at no point going over the top into pantomime.

What makes this collection so enjoyable is the wordplay used by Lennon on selective phrases, often changing just one or two letters to make a new word with a completely different meaning. My favourite came quite early on, in Flies on Trash, where a character is described as “a former beauty queer”, and is portrayed by the actor accordingly. Another character later on is described as “dead and duff”, and another “wandered lonely as a sock”. The deadpan delivery of every line was the perfect accompaniment to the absurdity of the writing in letting it speak for itself.

Of course, for a piece written in 1964, there are bound to be some words and phrases used that today we find a little unsavoury, and use of them could probably get one sacked from the BBC. But given the honest style of the show’s delivery – presenting the work just as it was written without any comment or spin – such phrases ring home very naturally, and don’t seem out of place in the context. If anything, they give an added layer of hilarity.

As a performance it is very slick and professionally put together, and there’s also great variety used in the techniques to share each story. A couple are sung a capella, one or two are delivered solo, some contain a few outlandish props, but all delivered clearly, with great vitality and passion for the craft. It’s well rehearsed and the transitions are smooth, maintaining the level of interest and engagement throughout.

I think for what the company were trying to achieve in the faithful presentation of the book, they succeeded with aplomb. Whether this piece is everyone’s cup of tea, or could have had more dramatic structure or development is another question. Either way, it is a thoroughly enjoyable performance, accessible to adults of all ages.



Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 24 August)

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