07 August 2009

Fringe: Don't Forget to Breathe and White Tea

On Thursday I went to my first two Fringe shows of the year, Don't Forget to Breathe and White Tea. They had some similarities in that they were both performed in quite intimate spaces by two actors playing contrasting characters, with quite conversational and realistic dialogue.

Don't Forget to Breathe

Don't Forget to Breathe was, for me personally, just about as perfect a theatrical experience as is possible. I'm don't know whether everyone would necessarily love it as much as I did, but to me it was something very special.

It's the story of two people who meet on a station platform: Charles, a straight-laced assistant lawyer, and Saz, a free spirit and a bit of a mystery. The set consisted simply of a bench, wastebasket, planter of flowers, and a station sign. Ambient sounds of birdsong played before the play began. The audience were encouraged to sit as close to the front as possible, so I sat in the front row, which I'm glad I did because the actors were often just a few feet away. The actors were wonderful and really made me believe in the characters.

The story was reminiscent of many of my favourite films, like Brief Encounter and Last Life in the Universe, which have a theme of spending a short time with someone who affects you in a way that you will never forget. I savoured every second of it, not wanting it to end, knowing it was a performance I would never forget, with characters who really made an impact on me. Oh, and it had a lot of humour too!

White Tea

Before the performance of White Tea, the audience dressed in white paper kimonos before entering a small square room with benches along the sides, each side having space for about 5 people. The two actors (one Japanese, one Scottish) served tea to the audience. Footage about Hiroshima was playing on four data projectors pointing at the walls which were covered with the same white waxy paper the kimonos were made of. Paper cranes hung in the corner.

In the centre of the room was a large low Japanese table with small drawers on the sides (from where all the props were produced when needed) and 3 tatami mats on the top. The table was used as many things, from aeroplane seats to beds to a boat. The actresses passed within inches of the audience as they moved around the room.

There were lighting and sound effects, and it was a fascinating experience being completely immersed in the performance, despite the fact that it was uncomfortable wearing a paper kimono in a tiny room on one of the few hot days of the summer!

The Scottish actress who played the character Naomi wore a short dress fashioned from one of the paper kimonos. The Japanese actress wore a paper kimono, with white origami cranes and flowers in her hair. I found the character Naomi a bit irritating (but she was probably supposed to be). The story was moving, with a shocking revelation about Naomi's family history.

I also took lots of photos on the Royal Mile.

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