I returned to my university city of Edinburgh about a week ago from the time of writing and am still undergoing all the typical back-at-uni rites of passage. One is adjusting to self-catering: I took a while to realise that sell-by dates are null and void in the freezer, and only after I had defrosted the entire three weeks’ chicken supply believing it was going out-of-date the day after. Another is saying goodbye to parents (once again, dry eyes from my dad – he’s used to it by now). Another is realising that one must keep oneself busy amidst the silence.
The latter is not so difficult. I am back in Edinburgh this early because I am lucky enough to be reviewing some Fringe shows with the Student Newspaper. The diversity of the acts’ topics, scope and quality is wide-ranging: acts vary from Alistair Barrie’s hilariously political comedy monologue Woke in Progress (he’s not a fan of the Tories), to theatre pieces where the fictional Lady Marbles (no prizes for guessing whom she’s based on) investigates the disappearance of Agatha Christie, to entirely improvised performances where members of the audience are selected to play the lead role because the actor “hadn’t turned up” (or so the performers say). It gets one thinking about the versatility of theatre.
However, as varied and entrancing as all this is, I could not forget the two theatre shows I had seen before even reaching the Fringe: the ones back at home in the Norwich Theatre Royal just half an hour away from Wymondham. Brilliant theatre exists everywhere, and my most recent two local outings have especially reassured me of that.
The first was the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Julius Caesar directed by Atri Banerjee and described by the EDP as “one of the best things [the writer] had seen onstage in years”. My neighbour very kindly took me to see this, and upon entering the theatre, we could have been forgiven for feeling sceptical. The set (consisting of what appeared to be one square block centre-stage) bore an unnerving resemblance to the set of RSC’s Romeo and Juliet… which came to the Theatre Royal several years ago and was a decidedly mixed bag. We stared at each other from the corners of our eyes and made a quiet agreement that we could leave the theatre halfway through if it was dire.
Fools were we ever! This production of Julius Caesar is stunning and earns its EDP review with flying colours. Bizarrely, it even opens with a dance number. Accompanied by shrill, warbling screams of darkly-clad actresses, the youthful cast performs slow-motion dance moves whilst shadowy images of the Earth and sun are projected behind them. This back-projection continues throughout the performance. This unapologetic rejection of naturalistic theatre, whilst potentially alienating to traditionalists, provides a phenomenal onstage visual spectacle. The production maintains its brilliance throughout. Shakespeare English Lit students will also be rewarded: the frequent back-projection of the sun moving planets on stage even leans into the original script’s ecopolitics, regarding how storms and shifting forces in the natural world influence the plot.
The second was a musical called The Land of Might-Have-Been about Vera Brittain and her brother Edward. She was a feisty proto-feminist who sought to go to Oxford University; he was gay (at a time when it was illegal). They both fall in love, then World War One hits, and what follows is a true-to-history saga that is simultaneously dark and uplifting. The musical’s songs are taken and reinterpreted from the oeuvre of Ivor Novello.
Once again, I was accompanied by my lovely neighbour, this time joined by two other older ladies who were also staunch feminists and already knew a lot about Vera Brittain. I knew next-to-nothing about her but could claim some stake in the conversation by having seen Ivor Novello in Alfred Hitchcock’s film The Lodger. Teens like me may benefit from attending the play with people who know about the issues involved far more intimately, but it will provide you with a moving and stirring night of theatre regardless. It is a new production and deserves all the word-of-mouth possible.
Here's to Wymondham and all it has to offer!