Theatre reviews: The Boss of it All | Kubrick³ | Birdhouse
Edinburgh Festival Fringe Scotsman review: The Boss of It All, Kubrick³ and Birdhouse, reviewed by Mark Fisher.
The Shawshank Redemption has the star names and the bankable title, but it’s not the only movie-related show in Edinburgh. Along with various studies of Hollywood actors (among them Grace Kelly, Richard Burton and Bette Davis), the Fringe offers several plays that have film as their starting point without sacrificing a sense of the theatrical.
Best of the bunch is Lars Von Trier’s 2006 comedy The Boss of it All (★★★★) which makes a seamless transition to the stage in the hands of New Perspectives. This is especially so because it focuses on such a theatrical subject: the nature of acting. In Edinburgh, a city full of people pretending to be someone else, the dilemma of Gerry Howell’s Kristoffer is instantly recognisable. He is an actor who has been hired to play the part of the boss of a real-life company at an important meeting. He knows nothing about what the meeting will achieve nor even what line of work the company is in, but he’s done his share of naturalistic theatre before, so he reckons he’s up to the challenge.
It turns out he’s not the only one with little idea of what the company does, or what its key product, Brooker Five, is for. He finds himself drawn into a comedy that’s equal parts Pirandello, Ionesco and Kafka – or, as he would prefer, Gambini, a fictional master of anti-theatre whose play The Hanged Cat was a formative influence.
With an elegant Nordic design by Lily Arnold and a clutch of magnetically understated performances (plus a tongue-in-cheek voiceover by a Von Trier soundalike), it’s a very funny exploration of authority, identity and our need for affirmation. The pace of Jack McNamara’s production is on the slow side, but it captures the filmmaker’s left-field wit and wry sense of social satire.
There are a couple of movie references on the soundtrack of Kubrick³ (★★★), but the subject of this tightly drilled true-life tale is not the director of 2001: A Space Odyssey but Alan Conway, a serial fantasist who passed himself off as the Hollywood legend despite almost complete ignorance of his films. Seeing as few people knew what Stanley Kubrick looked like, it didn’t take much to hoodwink the unsuspecting. Conway’s victims included actor Julie Walters and theatre critic Frank Rich of the New York Times.
The clever trick of David Byrne’s production for New Diorama Theatre is to cast four actors in the role of Conway. They huddle together in cinematic grey and white like shards of a fragmented personality, incapable of telling the truth, unable to tell one lie from another. Despite the psychological pressure this inflicts on Andy McLeod as Conway’s son, the tone of the show is comic, presenting Conway as a wayward cartoon adversary, a quirky irritation more than a real threat. It means Kubrick3 is funny but superficial. For a much richer study of forgery and deceit, go to David Leddy’s Long Live the Little Knife at the Traverse.
Birdhouse (★★) is the work of Jammy Voo, one of a rash of companies whose actors give the impression of being more interested in themselves than the material they work with. It means what starts off as a promising idea – a post-Hitchcock take on The Birds – turns out as a sequence of thin sketches in which gurning expressions, tortured accents and contorted body language take precedence over insight, humanity and substance.
Decked out in early-1960s woollen suits splattered with bird poo, the four actors prefer to run through their repertoire of Lecoq-schooled tricks than tell a story of any depth or coherence. It has nothing to say about Hitchcock, the film or the period, although it is redeemed by their gutsy harmonies and Greg Hall’s excellent live score.
Originally published in The Scotsman