Edinburgh International Festival reviews: Medea | Windows of Displacement | Wayne Marshall plays Gershwin | Malcolm Martineau & Steven Osborne | Squarepusher
The Hub, until 28 August
“I wish it had never sailed, the Argo…” It’s 22 years since the magnificent opening line of Liz Lochhead’s version of Medea first rang through an Edinburgh Festival theatre, at Assembly in George Street, but it has never been delivered with more ominous force than in this thrilling new staging by Michael Boyd, formerly of Glasgow’s Tron Theatre and the Royal Shakespeare Company, now reunited with a superb Scottish cast in this long-delayed but magnificently timely project for the National Theatre Of Scotland.
For in a festival – a world – full of angry women, raging at the continuing violence against women and attempts to roll back their hard-won rights, Medea remains the mother of them all, a figure first seen on stage 2,500 years ago, who simply will not accept the patriarchal rule which says it is acceptable for her husband Jason, the father of her children, for whom she has left her father, her country, and her status as a princess, to abandon her for a younger woman, the daughter of the king of Corinth. The lengths to which she will go to express her rage continue to shock the world.
All of this is captured with a simmering and terrifying eloquence in Boyd’s production, set on a sandy-gold catwalk stage thrust through the heart of The Hub’s main hall by designer Tom Piper, and surrounded by a promenade audience, among them a magnificent ten-strong chorus of “women of all time”. The nurse – a superb Anne Lacey – speaks her introduction, the chorus surges up out of the throng, tension builds; and then Medea is there, in the shape of Adura Onashile, a burnished candle-flame of fury, grandeur and alluring sexual power.
In Lochhead’s brilliant and scathing Scots-language version of Euripides’ mighty text, the men come off badly by comparison, their laughable arrogance almost an occasion for comic relief. Robert Jack’s Jason offers a well-observed satire on the faithless ambitious husband, mouthing nonsense about how his new marriage “isn’t what it seems”, and denying Medea’s contribution to his fame.
At the core of the drama, though, the mighty chorus of women – led by stars in their own right including Eileen Nicholas, Janette Foggo, Wendy Seager, Fletcher Mathers and Pauline Lockhart – remains the driving force of the show, alongside Onashile’s towering Medea; common-sense popular wisdom rolling deeply through their voices, and shock tearing across their faces in the final scenes, along with that deep, timeless undertow of rage and sorrow that helps define the very meaning of tragedy. Joyce McMillan
Windows of Displacement ****
The Studio, Potterow
It’s not often a performer makes you feel relaxed, entertained and uncomfortable all at once. The relaxation comes from Akeim Toussaint Buck’s languid style – even when he’s moving at a pace it feels leisurely, as if this was something his body was born to do, no effort required. The entertainment comes from watching him blend myriad dance forms together so seamlessly you can’t tell where one ends and the next begins. Contemporary, capoeira, hip hop, Caribbean – they’re all in there.
Now for the discomfort, which originates from Toussaint Buck but takes root in our own conscience. Speaking as he dances, he describes the hell on earth experienced by his ancestors during slavery. Then the very different, but inextricably linked, experiences he himself endured moving from Jamaica to England as a boy and seeking UK citizenship as an adult.
With a smile, he asks us to turn on our phones, take selfies and post them on social media. Without a hint of judgement, he then points out that behind every smartphone lies a young, exploited cobalt miner in the Congo. But, professing love for his own smartphone, he includes himself in this problematic scenario.
A first-class graduate of the Northern School of Contemporary Dance, Toussaint Buck is wonderful to watch. As a dancer he commands your attention with every step, as an activist he invites you to think a little differently with every word. A touch more gravitas and his work will be essential viewing. Kelly Apter
Wayne Marshall Plays Gershwin *****
After great success at last year’s Covid-restricted Festival, conductor Wayne Marshall was back in town on Saturday night, but now in the Usher Hall rather than a tent and with the full forces of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra at his disposal. In an all-American programme, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue set the bar high. Leading from the piano, Marshall completely fused with Gershwin in natural affinity and the result was electric. As he jumped up and down from the keyboard to conduct the orchestra with a clean, clear beat, placing every smallest nuance of detail precisely, the SCO responded with buzz and fresh vitality to Gershwin’s youthfully exuberant score. Likewise, everything at the piano was flawless in Marshall’s polished performance.
Bernstein wrote the ballet music for Fancy Free as his first big stage commission. Tight rhythms abound, with jumpy syncopation alternating with reflective passages, the SCO’s strings sounding lush and full, and the drama of the New York storyline rippling across the orchestra. More slick Gershwin followed in Robert Russell Bennett’s arrangement of Porgy and Bess, with a phenomenal improvisatory encore of I Got Rhythm. Carol Main
Malcolm Martineau & Steven Osborne ****
There was an overarching sense of affection at the Queen’s Hall on Saturday morning, both the obvious affection of the two sets of Brahms’ Liebeslieder-Walzer but also the affection in which piano duo Malcolm Martineau and Steven Osborne – both international artists with Scottish roots – are held by EIF audiences.
Regularly returning performers, yet this must surely have been the first time that they had shared the same piano, alternating their place on the piano stool at each change of repertoire. Why there isn’t more music written for four hands is a puzzle. Ravel’s Ma Mère l’Oye (“Mother Goose”) suite is a wonderfully pictorial set of scenes, to which the duo brought highly evocative fairy-tale character as well as a vulnerability for Tom Thumb as the tweeting birds ate his breadcrumb trail.
So many sound-world possibilities open up to piano duet scoring, as exemplified even more in the stunning Schubert Fantasie in F minor. Martineau and Osborne played as a team of equals, although more could have been heard of them in the Brahms, which favoured the well-matched strong voices of the quartet when it came to balance. Carol Main
Essex electronic music polymath Tom Jenkinson is a poster artist for the dedication to new and challenging music forms instigated at the Edinburgh International Festival by outgoing director Fergus Linehan. Since the mid-1990s he's recorded albums filled with dense, machine-manufactured beats which wouldn't have sounded out of place in an illegal countryside rave at the turn of that decade, yet his compositional style and method of playing owes as much to the influence of jazz.
That EIF has revived its pre-pandemic concert series at Leith Theatre offered the perfect venue for Jenkinson's set, with the venue's thunderous but sharp concert hall acoustics complementing its still somewhat weathered and off-the-beaten-track ambience; the perfect combination for a set with this clubby ambience. The artist was a near-anonymous figure throughout, with a bank of blazing lights spreading down from his raised platform and a screen of digital visuals framing him in silhouette.
Although the guitar Jenkinson clutched was somewhere in the mix musically, the bulk of the set was musically one-paced, a bellowing techno rhythm which shifted in intensity for each new song, but continued to overpower the experimental glitching melodies hidden within each track. His music is bass powerhouse and exemplar of IDM composition, but the live volume of the former doesn't allow a lot of space for the latter. David Pollock