Edinburgh International Festival: My Romantic History

Posted on: 23 August 2010 by Mark O'haire

Laurence Green reviews the new ‘non-rom-com’ by Glaswegian writer DC Jackson at the Edinburgh International Festival.

“If you haven’t met someone by the time you graduate, you’re going to marry some idiot from your work. It’s that simple. Do you know how they get animals to breed in captivity? They put them in the same cage”.

This amusing, pertinent remark is made by one of the characters in the new ‘non-rom-com’ by Glaswegian writer DC Jackson appropriately titled My Romantic History. The play which would have benefited from being trimmed by about 15 minutes is less a battle of the sexes than a study of people who are trying to work out what relationships hold for them, harking back to past misadventures and heartbreak to rationalise the thoughts and feelings in the present.

Two other productions in the festival repertoire are also worth catching – Michael West’s Freefall, a sharp, humorous and poignant look at the fragility of human life, blending impressionistic beauty, insight and comedy, and Shared Experience and Sherman Cymru’s Speechless, a new play by Linda Boogan and Polly Teale, inspired by the best-selling book The Silent Twins by Marjorie Wallace. The story focuses on identical twins |June and Jennifer Gibbons who, refusing to speak to adults, communicate in their own private language, their only relationship being their intense and turbulent bond with each other.

Back to the official festival and for me the highlight was Jose Montalvo and Dominique Hervieu’s thrilling production of Gershwin’s operatic masterpiece Porgy and Bess, performed by the Opera de Lyon (Edinburgh Festival Theatre). Set in a nondescript, crumbling tenement on the waterfront in the deep south of the USA, it is a tale of broken dreams and faded hopes, of dignity and betrayal. The story centres on a decent, crippled and lonely man called Porgy and his love for the beautiful, bewitching Bess whose drug dealing boyfriend exerts a powerful influence over her.

Written at the very end of Great Depression in 1935, this work has become perhaps the quintessential American opera – a symbol of hope in a time that was so often hopeless, a demonstration of love and loyalty in desperate times. Montalvo and Hervieu have updated the story in their spectacular, visually stunning new multi-media staging using video imagery and archival film to provide an exhilarating hymn to the black experience. George and Ira Gershwin’s marvellous score which includes such classics as Summertime (we actually see fish jumping and a crying child), I Got Plenty O’Nuttin’, It Ain’t Necessarily So and Bess You Is My Woman, masterfully conducted by William Eddins, still captures the heart and stirs the emotions 80 years after they were written.

But no production of Porgy and Bess would work without the right cast and here it is spot on. Derrick Lawrence, with his strong tenor voice, brings out the untapped passion within the protagonist which is ready to erupt in expressions of impatience and frustration, longing and love, while Janice Chandler-Eteme makes a seductive, sympathetic Bess. The high energy dancing by the Montalvo-Hervieu dance company adds both colour and excitement.

This then was a production epic in scale but intimate in nature which I will long cherish.

By Laurence Green  

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