Edinburgh knights

Mark Fisher looks forward to the return of Poland’s Wierszalin with its new twist on Arthurian legend.

Roll-A-Pea was one of the great discoveries of last year's Fringe. A simple folk tale performed in an hour. the production took a bewitching hold on the audience. so rich and resonant was its choral singing. so seamless its integration of performers and chunky wooden puppets. The company. Wierszalin from Poland. seemed to have direct access to an ancient. folkloric tradition. driven by the fundamental forces of paganism. yet steeped in the arcane rituals of Catholicism. it was theatre created with the precision and detail of visual art. infused with layers of meaning and repaying second viewing.

The three-year-old company comes back to Edinburgh this year. after touring Roll-A-Pea through Europe and North and Central America. with Merlin. its version ofthe epic tale of King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. ‘There is no parallel story in Polish folklore.‘ says the company's Maja Karwowska when I express surprise that they should have chosen such an essentially British story.

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Mass movement: Viierszalin mixes paganism, Catholicism and Arthurian legend

‘Nevertheless. the history ofthe Kinghts of the Round Table seemed to us the most interesting metaphor of Polish history and political life after the fall ofthe communist system in 1989. That is why we have chosen only those threads which tell about the opportunity to create a just. perfect kingdom. and people‘s weaknesses which made this idea collapse.’

The cast of Merlin is bigger than last year’s play. though most of the actors will be familiar. Familiar too will be the wooden hand-held puppets and the religious imagery: the Mass. according to Polish reviewers. degenerates into an evil anti-Mass as the holy chalice becomes a common wine goblet and then a bowl awash with the blood of war. The moral tension ofthe piece lies in the proposition that evil is as much a part of God's plan as good these Knights. far from being paragons of

virtue. are continually prey to the Seven Deadly Sins.

~ To create work that is at once visually arresting and philosophically engaging takes time. and Merlin is the result of eighteen months' sustained development. ‘lt took us eight months to create the sculptures that our actors play with.‘ says Karwowska. ‘First the play was written to our order. then we started rehearsing. Rehearsals on the stage are of the greatest importance it is on the stage that actors try to bring into being the vision created by director and scenographer. Like Roll-A-Pea. Merlin is a spectacle where the text is only one of the means of communication. music and visuals play i an extremely important role.‘

I I Merlin (Fringe) Wierszalin (Poland) Theatre Workshop (Venue 20) 226 5-125. 13 Aug—3 Sept (not Suns). 7.30pm. £7.50 (£4).

Torquato Tasso

Goethe is one oi those playwrights whose name, in Britain at least, is a lot better known than his work. You may associate him with Faust, but even that epic drama was written to be read and is rarely seen In Its entirety. Glasgow’s Citizens’ Theatre, however, has a long and honourable tradition oi swimming against the tide oi British theatrical isolationism and has staged productions oi Goethe as casually as it has Coward, Wilde and Shakespeare.

The particular champion oi the 18th century playwright In the Gorbals Is multi-llngual director Robert David MacDonald who was asked by EIF director Brian McMaster to stage the 1790 blank-verse drama Torquato Tasso as an International Festival

Robert David MacDonald provides a rare chance to see Goethe production. MacDonald iirst produced the play in Glasgow in 1982 and relishes the chance to tackle It airesh, sharpening up his own translation and taking time to get to grips with passages oi text which

previously had seemed elusive. It’s not 3 Citizens’ production and is unlikely to be seen anywhere outside Edinburgh, but it does have a cast iamiliar to regular Citz-goers and a set design by the exciting young Citz’ protege, Julian McGowan.

The play, which Goethe was inspired to write during a two-year stay in Italy, is ostensiny a biography oi Tasso, a leading 16th century poet whose emotional tonnents have a close parallel with Goethe’s. MacDonald is amused by the tact that one oi his other great favourites, Carlo Goldini, whose robust comedic ster could hardly be iurther irom the classicism oi Goethe, also wrote a play about Tasso at much the same time. ‘Pedant that I am, I made the eiiort to read one oi Tasso’s longer poems,’ says MacDonald, a ian oi his short pieces, ‘and non-pedant that I am, I gave up aiter three pages.’ (Mark Fisher) Torquato Tasso (Festival) Edinburgh International Festival Production, Royal lyceum Theatre, 225 5756, 16-20 Aug, 7.30pm, its—£18.


Mark Fisher suggests iive good reasons ior bolting your dinner.

I Antony and Cleopatra The legendary Berliner Ensemble with Peter Zadek‘s production of Shakespeare's romantic tragedy starring some of Germany's leading actors. including Gert Voss who played Mark Antony in last year's massive-scale Julius Caesar. Antony and Cleopatra ( Festival) Berliner Ensemble. King '3 Theatre. 225 5756. 16—18Aug, 7pm. £6—£18. I Phil Kay Every show different and every show a winner as Perrier also-ran Phil Kay freewheels through a routine that is half-mad. half-biscuit. Phil Kay (Fringe) Gilded Balloon (Venue 38) 226 215/. I2 Aug—3 Sept (not [5, 22), 7pm. £6 (£5). I Poor Super Man A Play with Captions Sexual feeling. sexual dealing and sexual healing in Brad Fraser's follow up to Unidentified Human Remains. a tragi-comic tale of AIDS- generation Canada that makes a further attempt to fathom the true nature of love. Poor Super Man A Play with Captions (Fringe) Traverse Theatre (Venue I5) 228 1404, various times. [2 Aug—3 Sept. £8 (£5). l Caught Still/Ranging The Gandini Juggling Project turns throwing balls around into an art form in a return visit to the Fringe after last year's beguiling surprise hit. Caught Still/Hanging (Fringe) Gandini Juggling Project. St Bride '5 Centre (Venue 62) 346 1405. 15—27 Aug (not 2]). 6pm (£5 (£3). I Circuit Breaker The Kosh makes a late entry into the programme with the premiere of a solo dance performance by Sian Williams inspired by a poem by Judith Wilkinson. Circus skills and love affairs. Circuit Breaker (Fringe) The K osh. Gilded Balloon 1/. Stepping Stones (Venue 5/) 225 6520. 12—29 Aug. 6.15pm. £6 (£4).

The List l2—l8 August 1994 39