Theatre review: Songs in the Key of Cree | Blind Date | Sea Sick | Vigil

Patricia Cano is the singer with a take-no-prisoners act in Songs in the Key of Cree. Picture: Contributed
Patricia Cano is the singer with a take-no-prisoners act in Songs in the Key of Cree. Picture: Contributed
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CanadaHub is a wonderfully eclectic showcase, says Tim Cornwell

Songs in the Key of Cree, CanadaHub @ King's Hall, Edinburgh, Until August 18 * * * *

Blind Date, CanadaHub @ King's Hall, Edinburgh, Until August 25 * * * *

Sea Sick, CanadaHub @ King's Hall, Edinburgh, Until August 25 * * * *

Vigil, Summerhall, Edinburgh, Until August 25 * * * *

CanadaHub at King’s Hall, tied to the Summerhall venue, has presented a state-funded slate of Canadian shows for the last three years and this year’s batch sets a high standard. Songs in the Key of Cree is an earthly delight, to rank with the best jazz cabaret shows of the Fringe.

Cree is the most widely spoken native Canadian language, with as many dialects as English – and here is a chance to hear it spoken and sung, the playwright, pianist and composer Tomson Highway informs us. He has a magically whimsical personality – “I don’t sing, I just speak,” he breathes.

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Patricia Cano is the singer, and boy, does she belt it out. She has a take-no-prisoners act to send a shiver down your oesophagus, and featuring the most lascivious description of a tango known to Argentina. Then there’s another musical change of gear as the singer heads for the Grand Ole Opry to sing country. The show is as much English and French as Cree, with Marcus Ali as the soulfully charismatic saxophonist.

Cue total change of tone, for Blind Date. Comedy psychologists could explain why it’s rib-shakingly funny to see a member of the audience pulled up on stage – not for a few minutes, but more or less the full 90. Blind Date recently celebrated its 800th outing, has toured from Canada to the US and London, and tonight’s pick, Greg, becomes an astonishingly effective straight man in the hands of Rebecca Northan, who channels Graham Norton as Mimi the clown (Ali Froggatt takes the role once a week). She asks intimate questions over dinner, flashes pert looks to the audience over a red nose, and is all smiles and eyebrows over her new friend. The thought of being Greg instils both jealousy and terror. It’s the show I’m telling friends to see.

Sea Sick should be required watching for Vladimir Putin, Xi Jinping, Tayyip Erdoğan, Ivanka Trump, and Mohammed bin Salman and anyone else possibly in a position to do something.

A chalk circle. A blackboard. Enter writer and reporter Alanna Mitchell, formerly of the Canadian Globe and Mail, with the promise: “This is my extinction rebellion”.

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Mitchell takes us on a journey through the world’s oceans, like a medic hunting a diagnosis. She experiences the sexual energy of coral, joins a futile fish hunt in the blob, an expanding dead zone. She reflects how journalists need the compulsive curiosity to find the facts and the art to tell the story. Spoken word rather than theatre, but a nightmarish whistle in the prairie wind.

If we had existed, and been wiped out before, millions of years ago, would anyone even know? Sea Sick and Vigil beg that question between them. Vigil is outwith the CanadaHub programme, part of the Bruford at Summerhall season.

A solitary figure atop a box of bleached bones watches scrolling names across a giant screen. A Waterfall Swift, a Laugh Owl , a Crotch Bumble Bee. It’s a kind of blind date of the extinct and threatened species of the world, about 26,000 of them.

Why is he doing it? The piece, from performer and director Tom Bailey doesn’t answer this. It’s more performance art than theatre, calling for a little more character, but a memorable piece, a requiem against a clock that’s counting down.

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