The last day of the Fringe, and it was a good 'un. Quite apart from visiting the International Exhibition of Photography as I have done each year now for about a quarter-century, I went to three shows at the Pleasance.
(1) Girl Blog From Iraq: Baghdad Burning
This was an adaptation of Riverbend's blog
put on by Barrow Street Productions. Four women and a man covered a range of Riverbend's posts, after which we knew a hell of a lot about the place of palm trees in the Iraqi national psyche; the descent of the country into total lawlessness
since the invasion (including the abduction for ransom of a family member - presented with a wry Iraqi humour as well as real drama); arbitrary arrests and detantion; the loss of infrastructure (electricity, water); and most especially the shift in the place of women in Iraqi society. From having been arguably the most sexual equally society in the Middle East (along with Israel) Iraq has now degenerated into something like Afghanistan under the Taliban, where women cannot work, or leave home unaccompanied by a male relative, and where any female (even non-Muslims) seen outside without a hijab is inviting acid attacks or murder. Sing hey for freedom and democracy. But it's all OK, because Ding Dong the Wicked Tyrant Is Deposed, and you ragheads should all be grateful for being 'liberated', right?.
There were a few unscheduled pauses and dialogue overlaps that suggested that even on the last day of the run a few more rehearsals wouldn't have gone amiss, but the cast weren't put off by them and the overall effect was faithful to the original blog. Maha Chehlaoui and Heather Raffo made a very good impression in their various characters.
Now go and read the blog, helpfully blogrolled on the right, near the top.
(2) Chanbara - The Samurai Sword
This was a show featuring the Taiko drummers of Yamato, and a group of Samurai swordsmen (and -women) performing intricate martial arts routines choreographed by (and in many cases starring) Tetsuro Shimaguchi. He is best known for his work on the "Crazy 88" fight scene in Quentin Tarantino's "Kill Bill Part 1". Some of the routines were abstract and balletic; some were little fight scenes; and one was slapstick (though very Japanese) silent comedy, with an inept teacher trying to teach two pupils a choreographed fight sequence. The mostly female drummers were almost as watchable as the swordfighters and produced a heck of a racket. The final sequence involved eight fighters weaving in and out in close-to-suicidal proximity to each other while performing intricate kata-type exercises, accompanied by a Japanese xylophone, a tam-tam, two medium size drunms and The Biggest Bastard Bass Drum You Ever Did See. Fascinating.
(3) My Name Is Rachel Corrie - Royal Court Theatre, directed by Alan Rickman
A one-woman tour de force, and while as I wrote that I meant Josephine Taylor's stunning performance it might as well serve as an epitaph for Rachel Corrie herself. One thinks of Rachel Corrie as being famous, but in fact it's only the last five minutes or so of her life which have become well-known, whereas there was much more to her than victimhood, as this play shows brilliantly. It takes her on an emotional journey, beginning as a bouncy, disorganised but idealistic student, and gradually becoming better organised, less bouncy and more appalled at the horrors she was confronted with in Gaza, particularly the IDF's policy of collective punishment of villages suspected of having connections with terrorists. As it's a solo show we don't see any stereotyped Israeli soldiers or Palestinians: we hear of them mostly via Rachel's emails home. Rachel moves from initial shock and confusion at the reality of life in Gaza, to determination and finally close to despair at the level of suffering which the world, and the UN in particular, was happy to turn a blind eye to. in the new post-9/11 world. Her last email home is extremely moving, not because we know it's the last one, but because of her determination to take something positive from the whole sorry mess and devote herself to campaigning back in the USA for the Palestinians. She signs off because one of her neighbours is offering her some peas and won't take no for an answer. Then she walks off to eat the peas. We hear, via a recording of an eyewitness, of her death (let's be kind and call it negligent homicide) when an Israeli bulldozer ran her over, twice, on its way to demolish somebody's home. And then as a final surprise we see video footage of Racehl herself, aged ten, addressing a press conference at some schools conference on world poverty, one of those things schools do as part of civics education. Even at ten, she was remarkably eloquent and focused, and watching the tape reminds us that this was a real person, with potential and a future. It may have been a brief future, but at least she made every day of it count, which is more than most of us can say of our lives.
While I'm not quite reduced to eating my words regarding the RSC's Troilus and Cressida as the best thing I saw in this year's festival, I think I'd have to allow that Josephine Taylor's was the best single performance.