Spar for the course
Mark Fisher talks to Berkoff—protegé George Dillon about the art of the one-man show.
‘The best example of someone to watch how to perform is George Dillon,‘ Steven Berkoff told me earlier this year. and from such an opinionated man-of-the-theatre that’s not a recommendation to be lightly dismissed. ‘He uses tremendous ﬂuidity of movement. almost balletic grace. giving the distance that it needs. and he almost flatters my work.‘
For all this. Dillon tends to do things the hard way. I ﬁrst came across the thirtysomething actor on the I990 Fringe in a ﬁne one-man show called Stunning the l’unters. but he was an unknown act. outside the magic Princes Street circle and lost several thousand pounds as a result. Then for the past couple of years. Dillon turned up at the last minute with no Fringe Programme mention and against the odds managed to attract sizeable audiences. This year he‘s back in the programme. but has chosen to perform not one. but four plays: two Berkoffs. a Dostoevsky
George Dillon: continuing the organic process
adaptation and a new reworking of the writings of Edgar Allan Poe.
To retain four-and-a-half hours of material, which is what this amounts to. sounds like a daunting task. but that‘s not the way Dillon sees it. ‘Three of them I‘ve done so many times.‘ he says. ‘that they‘re kind ofthere. The trick with those is actually not to rehearse them. My technique has always been to allow myself room to change everything on stage. l like to be able to respond to the circumstances that are prevailing in the performance — that might be my mood or the mood of the audience or I might feel I've been doing this the same way for the last 70 performances. let‘s scream. I like to be able to change that.‘
Like Berkoff. Dillon has a long-term
vision for his productions. Far from wasting his energies on weekly rep. he keeps his work alive for years: Decadence has had l40 airings, The Dream of a Ridiculous Man has had I30 and Say a Prayer for Me getting on for 60. Despite these ﬁgures. staying fresh is not a problem because his creative work continues on the stage. ‘You have to trust your instincts. you have to trust that you are a creative artist,‘ he says. ‘I think one ofthe problems oftheatre is that it is dominated by a very intellectual style. I favour performer’s theatre and the visceral qualities that come out of that. The technique means that it is always growing, the creative process is organic. From one day to the next you change what you do. Even when you reach the ﬁrst performance you still haven't decided how you're going to do it, but in rehearsal you‘ve tried it a number of different ways. It’s a bit like preparing for a ﬁght. In sparring you practice certain techniques that you think might be useful against an opponent. but you can‘t choreograph the ﬁght because you‘d get bashed down in the ﬁrst round. You rehearse a number of techniques which you then use spontaneously in the ﬁght. And it's the same with performance. The organic process continues in front of the audience.‘
I Four plays (Fringe) George Dillon/Vital Theatre. Pleasance (Venue 33) 556 6550. various times, ll Aug—4 Sept. various times. £6.50/£6 (£5.50/£5).
murm- [logged Dreams
There has been a dog waiting to get
! out of Canadian actor Robert Astle for
some time now. In the late 703, when he was at Jacques lecoq’s famous Paris theatre school, his muttiness was remarked upon, but it was not until he discovered Bulgakov’s novella, ‘ileart of a Dog’, years later, that he really found a voice for the hound within him, and it is this satirical, blackly humorous story that forms the basis for the one-man show he is bringing to the Traverse.
Bulgakov, best known for his strange and fantastic novel The Master and Margarita, tells of a starving stray lured off the street with sausage by a famous Russian scientist. Before the dog knows it, his benefactor has transformed him into a mutant dog- man by implanting the pituitary gland and testicles of a dead human criminal onto his body.
As Astle explains, ‘lt’s truly about
Stalin and his shocking attempt to create the perfect, completely obedient Russian man. But what happens in the story is he’s really foul-mouthed, he smokes, he spits, he swears at everything in sight, and generally gets out of control. We’ve taken the story from a moment when he’s thrown out on to the street by his master, and we’ve tried to update it, so it’s really about someone who doesn’t understand what has happened to him or why, but is trying to get his justice. When we wrote this piece, it was just when the Berlin Wall was coming down and we would see people dispossessed, thrown out, because things had changed completely — it’s a modern issue, the flotsam and ietsom, where do they end up? In North America it’s on the streets begging with a bunch of crazy stories.’
One thing about Bulgakov which particularly inspired Astle and his collaborators was the wonderful fantasy element. Their show includes two dream sequences based around installations which grow out of the two suitcases which are the character’s only possessions. ‘There’s this big Ferris wheel with
Heart of a Dog: bowling and humping and other does! "lines Chagallesque dogs turning round it, a kind of park with trees and dirt and miniature dogs that cavort and play and eat and hump and other doggy things - it’s a yearning back to the innocent days before the knife. Basically, the show is about the horrors that we can do to each other, but also about resilience. This dog will live on, with ‘his sense of humour and his suitcase of dreans . . .’ (Catherine Fellows) Heart of a Dog (Fringe) Les Etablissements Astle & Caffonnnette & limbos, Traverse Theatre (Venue 15) 2281404,12,15,19, 22 Aug 1pm, 13, 17, 20 Aug, 4.30pm,14,18,21 Aug, 8pm, £7 (£4).
Some of the most promising choices on the lunchtime menu, as picked by Catherine Fellows.
I Death in Venice Fringe First winners Red Shift. celebrated for their imaginative literary adaptations. present the ﬁrst ever stage version of Thomas Mann‘s story of an ageing man of letters overcome by love for a beautiful young boy.
Death in Venice (Fringe) Red Shift. Assembly Rooms (Venue 3 ). l5 Aug—4 Sept. 1.30pm, £6.50/£7.50 (£5/£6).
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I Tempura Girl New York actress
Lisa Kotin draws on her own experiences as an ofﬁce temp in this one-woman, ﬁve-characters comedy. with fantastic ﬁlm interludes. Temporary Girl (Fringe) Lisa Kotin. Assembly Rooms (Venue 3). l3 Aug—4 Sept (not 18. 24, 3/ Aug), 2pm. £7/£8 (£6/£ 7).
I The Academy of Fools First time in Scotland for this highly acclaimed Russian clowning show. Huge success in London last year. By all accounts, black. but brilliant, and deﬁnitely not for children.
The Academy of Fools (Fringe) Assisyai Revue, FEAST (Venue 73) 16,18Aug. [.30ptn. 24. 25 Aug [2.30pm. 31 Aug, 1 Sept. 2pm, £6 (£4). Also Acropolis on the Hill (Venue 26) [9—22. 26—30 Aug. I —4 Sept. 2.45pm. £6 (£4).
I 1080 Original Gravity Fifty minutes of theatre and the actors' feet don't touch the ground once. This remarkable performance by trapeze artists Matt Costain and Sarah-Jean Couzens embraces everything from love and desertion. to birth on board the good ship Jezebel. and is accompanied by live sex. flute and guitar.
I 080 Original Gravity (Fringe) Exstatic, Pleasance (Venue 33) 15—19. 22. 24—26. 30 Aug. [—4 Sept. 2.30pm. £5 (£4); 20. 21. 27—29 Aug. 2.30pm. £5.50 (£4.50).
I Festival Lectures Lunchtime sees a succession of talks complementing Festival events. At the Queen's Hall the subjects will be Aeschylus’s The ‘ Persians. and Festival-featured composers Janacek and Schubert, and on Aug 15. hear Peter Sellers and Mark Morris in discussion at the Senate , Room. Edinburgh University.
See Festival Programme for details.
The List l3—l9 August I993 29