Eine Kleine Nichtmusik

Witty and pertinent observations on matters of great significance OR Incoherent jottings on total irrelevancies OR Something else altogether OR All of the above

Thursday, July 31, 2008

Festival Fringe - Charlie Victor Romeo

As the film festival has now moved forward so it doesn't coincide with all the other Edinburgh festivals, I declare today to be the official start of the festivalling season. Yay!

And I began with a play, Charlie Victor Romeo: that is, CVR, that is, Cockpit Voice Recorder. We didn't get any programmes or anything like that, so all I can tell you about the production is that it was by Scamp Theatre in association with Mercury Colchester and Theatre Royal Bury St Edmunds. The six actors (4 male, 2 female) were from their accents clearly American (or possibly Canadian). (Update: they are named in this slideshow from the play's website.) The play is based on real-life transcripts of cockpit voice recordings (well, duh) from air emergencies, six in all. At the start of each segment they flash up when, where, what kind of aircraft, what airline, how many people on board, and what went wrong. After each segment they repeat the information, with the addition of the numbers saved/killed. And it was absolutely gripping. It begins with a flight where the altimeter had been wrongly set, and where there were no casualties. Then there is a series of "no survivors" crashes, ranging from a flight where the crew had been happily chatting, unaware that their wings were icing up and about to wipe them all out, to an AWACS flight out of a USAF base which struck a flock of Canada Geese on take-off and lost the contest (shortest segment: about one and a half minutes). There is also a tragedy that seems all the worse when you know before it starts that it was totally avoidable: a maintenance crew had forgotten to remove protective tape from the inlet ports for the altitude and airspeed instruments after cleaning the aircraft. The penultimate crash I thought sounded familar, and when I looked up the play on Wikipedia I realised it was the worst single-aircraft crash in history: just four survivors from a loaded 747. The cause was a catastrophic bulkhead failure, which sounds eerily similar to last week's Qantas event, though that fortunately didn't take anything important with it when it failed.

But it's the last, and longest, segment that really takes the breath away. and I mean really: I spent a good part of the hour and a quarter of the play holding my breath, while my mouth dried up and my adrenaline levels rocketed. The final scene is a DC10 bound for Chicago, which lost an engine in an explosion which took out all three hydraulic systems and left the plane with very little vertical control and the ability to turn right but not left. After sitting with the crew for twenty-five minutes or so as they fought the stricken craft into Sioux City, Iowa with a surprising amount of residual wit ("You are clear to land on any runway" "Oh, you're getting specific: it has to be a runway, does it?") you really, really do not want the screen to flash up that they all died, and it is with great relief that I read that only (only!) 110 people died, while 198 passengers and 10 crew survived.

For anyone within range of Edinburgh over the next few weeks, it's on at the Cow Barn (which in normal life is the Reid Concert Hall) in Bristo Square. Tonight was the first performance at the Fringe: it's on until August 25th. I can't recommend it too highly: and if you can't see it in Edinburgh, watch out for it somewhere else. Fantastic theatre (and I have encountered at least as many duds as must-sees among Fringe dramatic productions over the years). I can only hope that the remaining six plays (and a musical) that I've booked to see on the Fringe delight me as much.

A great start to my festivalling, then.


At 31 July, 2008 23:04, Blogger Persephone said...

We have a Fringe in Ottawa (several Canadian cities do), so I wonder if this will show up at our next one? Or (horrible thought!) maybe it already has? I wasn't really paying attention this year...


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