Author Archives: Edward Wren


About Edward Wren

Edward Wren is a theatre maker, performer, musician and puppeteer. Founded in 2007, his company The River People won a Total Theatre Award in 2009 and has since toured nationally and internationally.

Annie Siddons: Raymondo

Adobe Photoshop PDFRaymondo is the whimsical tale of a boy and his brother, and their adventure after they escape from an underground cellar in which they have been trapped for six years. Told by writer Annie Siddons, the story is intricate and lyrical, performed in a style akin to a spoken word poet, musical and rhythmic storytelling. Siddon’s warm northern voice is melodious and engaging. She feels a welcoming and familiar guide to this increasingly edgy adventure, for this is a fantastical storytelling world that is nevertheless peopled by some of the most brutal features of recognisable life. It feels almost like a story you might tell to mask a trauma. Siddons is joined on stage by musician Daniel Green, who underscores the piece with an electric guitar, adding both tone and a driving rhythm that gives the piece a feeling of fatal inevitability.

The language sways between subtle beauty and sharp insight as we are introduced to lovely concepts such as Raymondo’s ‘Cape of OK’ which makes the wearer feel better, and the dark impulses that drive child neglect and corporate sweatshops. It is clear that Siddons has superb skill in storytelling and wordsmithery, and the music does well to evoke a dreamlike atmosphere for the storyteller. The homely stage design – all tasselled lampshades and comfy carpets – effectively embodies the tension at the heart of the piece, unsettlingly undercut by the tale’s sharp tail. There’s some lovely use of quite stark colour in the lighting design through these practical lamps.

At times the story is a little too dense and the constantly unfolding narrative becomes a little hard to follow as the imagery is so rich and fantastical. The sporadic musical interludes break up the rhythm of the piece, which can border on repetitive. What I most longed for, though, was a sense of release and this is a tall order in single-voiced storytelling world where the control of the storyteller and her presence in the room with you interrupts your identification with the story itself. This is a lyrical piece whose commentary is studded with sharp teeth in true fairy story style, but the real world qualities and consequences that Siddons also seems to want to bring into play are left toothless in a context that constantly emphases authorial control at its heart.

The Neutrinos & Sal Pittman: Klanghaus

klanghausIt happens on occasion at this festival, which presents such a wide and variable spectrum of art, that one comes across a show that stubbornly refuses to be put into a category. There are shows that avoid definition by genre, and sometimes even make it difficult to describe them as either good or bad: they are an experience, they happen to you, and that is all the quantification they need. Klanghaus is one of these. So with that in mind, this review aims to relay that experience as faithfully as possible.

Devised as a collaboration between ‘noise-artists’ The Neutrinos and Sal Pittman, Klanghaus deconstructs the live music experience and mixes it with visual art, projection and immersive surroundings. It starts with a journey in a small lift up to Summerhall’s Small Animal Hospital, a maze of winding corridors and small claustrophobic rooms, the walls lined with cages and medical paraphernalia.

We are left there to wander through the halls, past images of black and white birds escaping through iron bars, through examination rooms doused in the startling light of projectors throwing shifting colours on to the walls. Everything is eerie, unsettling, unstable. I find myself checking the dark corners of the rooms, searching for some suspected horror. All the while there is a clamour echoing down the corridor, the sound of growling bass and the the sharp clatter of metal being struck with sticks, some unseen doom drawing us closer.

And it’s at the source of the noise that we find the band, shut in the cages, making imposing noise. They lead the audience through a series of rooms, large and small, menacing and welcoming. In each they perform a piece of music or sound, it wanders through shades of industrial punk, metal, tones of David Bowie, Lou Reed, Tom Waits amongst a plethora of other influences. But there is always something strange happening, musicians playing unseen or in peculiar places, that keeps the audience fascinated as to where they are or what is coming next. Their style of performance is also very engaging, it’s direct and provocative and odd, and it adds to the eerie atmosphere.

The piece conjures up themes of incarceration, of torture, of animal testing, and, most effectively, of mental illness. We feel we are walking through the themes, immersed in them, we understand them not through an academic analysis or through language, we feel them in our bones. And by the last song, ‘a song for the small animals,’ I found the journey to be quite moving, a tender song that contrasts with the sonic aggression that has preceded it.

It was something quite unique, an experience, infringing on something undefinable, and I’m exceptionally pleased to have undertaken the journey. It’s an assault on the mind. If you’re phobic of small places or of loud noises it’s perhaps best avoided. If you are looking for comfort, for narrative or something familiar it might not be for you. But for the adventurers it is perfect, I would certainly encourage you to experience it for yourself.

Unfolding Theatre: Lands of Glass

Unfolding Theatre - Lands of GlassAlessandro Baricco’s novel Lands of Glass is brought to the stage by Unfolding Theatre in this spellbinding production, containing charming storytelling, enchanting singing, and a whole orchestra made entirely of glass.

Set in the fictional town of Quinnipack, Lands of Glass is an intricate tale of imagination and destiny told by an incredibly strong ensemble of five. The group move through an impressive number of characters whilst singing and playing an array of glass instruments, from glass chimes to glass blocks, bowls, vases, and glasses.

The piece starts with Beccy Owen, our narrator, singing in a silky voice whilst layering vocal parts through megaphones that are handed out to the audience. This originality in the use of sound mixed with audience interaction is refreshing and does well to engage the audience throughout the piece.

The performances are excellent, confident and assured, we are quickly pulled into the intriguing atmosphere of the town as we are introduced to its curious inhabitants along with their dreams and their pursuit of destiny. Then one by one the glass instruments appear, and their presence onstage is as magical as the sound they emit. Ethereal and beguiling, they are the perfect accompaniment to the mystical tone of the script, and the designer Andrew Stephenson and their creator Brendan Murphy must be praised for their originality and technical skill.

Despite all that is great about the piece, I found it very hard to follow the intricate storyline. By the latter half of the play I was quite lost and I feel I missed a lot of narrative. The company seemed to have struggled to get what sounds like a very dense text into an hour, where perhaps a more sparse approach would have suited the Fringe better.

But in many ways I didn’t mind, I was quite content with the brief period I spent in the company of such talented performers and such a rapturous sound. Go spend some time in the magical town of Quinnipack, where great steam locomotives carry people ceaselessly towards their destiny, where each individual has a musical note all of their own, and great inventors dream of crystal palaces made of glass.

Catherine Ireton - Leaving Home Party - Photo Mark Dean

Catherine Ireton: Leaving Home Party

Catherine Ireton - Leaving Home Party - Photo Mark DeanLeaving Home Party is the story of Catherine Ireton’s journey from Ireland to Scotland, a neat little show about the search for the self. The story is told mostly through song while Ignacio Agrimbau provides a masterful musical accompaniment.

The music in the piece is mostly excellent, leaning heavily on musical theatre in its composition and arrangement; Agrimbau spends most of his time on a keyboard. But when he picks up a peculiar array of world instruments the tone lifts and takes on a more unconventional folky sound that really makes the piece shine. In particular, a song about Ireton’s mother’s mother’s mother had the audience tapping along.

Ireton’s delivery is very charming; when she isn’t singing she talks us through her journey, smiling at us warmly through dulcet Irish tones. She does very well to engage us throughout, even walking through the audience at one point to sing directly to us, which was surprisingly effective in breaking up a method of delivery that wanders the borders of repetition.

The real sensation in the show is Ireton’s voice, effortlessly beautiful with a pure and clear tone, it really is a pleasure to listen to. It evokes  shades of smoky jazz mixed with a traditional Celtic sound, and it is the thread that the whole piece hangs on.

Unfortunately the same cannot be said for the narrative: it is a piece distinctly lacking in drama. As Ireton tells us more than once, ‘This is not an epic,’ and she’s right. In spite of her charm there is little in the journey from Ireland to Scotland that is gripping, either in the physical task or the internal struggle she experiences as she tries to find her place in the world.

In addition the over-abundance of singing and rhyme eventually creates a distance between audience and performer. The form is rather repetitive, and, considering the fact that a party is promised in the title, it’s a real shame there’s a missed opportunity for a shared celebration. By the end there is a lack of any meaningful connection between us, and it’s difficult to empathise as we get yet another song in a similar vein to those that preceded it. I was desperate for something I could relate to, for an interesting perspective to shed light of understanding on her situation.

But nevertheless, this is still a charming and honest piece of theatre. For beautiful music done well seek it out, for a more moving experience seek elsewhere.

Wilton’s Music Hall & CulturaMobila: Father Nandru & The Wolves

Father Nandru - Photo James Ford)Anyone who has stepped into Wilton’s music hall will know the majesty of the place. The building alone, imbued with the history of decades of countless performances, is riddled with a tingling theatricality. Father Nandru & The Wolves is the last large performance that it will hold before it undergoes a period of renovation, and the piece certainly does its best to live up to the prestige of the venue.

This puppetry piece is written and directed by experienced fringe playwright Julian Garner, and it’s an old folk tale inspired by true events that winds up with some very contemporary concerns. It is told in rhyming verse with puppets made by Hannah Horte (Pickled Image) that are quite striking and reminiscent of Peter Schumann’s Bread and Puppet theatre.

It is the story of a village in Transylvania in which there is a small church presided over by Father Nandru. He is our guide through the story, and only character perfumed solely by an actor, as a disfigured girl and a gypsy get married, and the government seek to develop their village and threaten the church with demolition. All the while this main narrative is punctuated by stories of and the arrival of the wolves who act as sort of spiritual guides to watch over the proceedings.

There is much to be commended in this performance; the design of the puppets, the lighting and sound are all great. The music too, which is played live by a genuine three piece gypsy band from Transylvania. Also some of the large set pieces are very impressive indeed.

But there are some crucial elements left neglected that drain any magic from the piece and stop it from being the awe-inspiring performance set up by its premise. This is first evident in the opening minutes of the show when one of the wolves wanders on stage in a pantomime cow fashion while Father Nandru looks on and feigns fear. In one early and devastating miss-step any mysticism surround the show’s key symbol has been drained away, and it never quite recovers. I felt alienated quite early, in a moment that could just as easily have been electric.

The main element that holds the piece back however is the tyrannical grip of the text. The rhyming verse quickly becomes suffocating and the repetitive rhythm had me playing ‘guess the approaching rhyme’. The quality of the language deteriorates as it becomes more concerned with sticking rigidly to the form than with telling the story well. There are more words than there need to be, and all too often the frankly mundane choice of rhymes stripped away any magic or even presence of character.

The puppets too are subjugated by the text and are treated merely as little actors. They are doomed to trot on, speak and get dragged off, denying them any chance to add the air of wonder that the piece desperately craves. What’s worse is some of the puppeteering. With a few notable exceptions, the puppeteers speak as if their puppets were not theirs at all and act over them. Puppets are left dangling in mid air without due cause or they are strewn lifeless over the set. It’s enough to make a puppeteer’s toes curl, and it seriously undermines the credibility of this as a ‘puppet piece’ as it doesn’t feel as if the director has a great deal of sensitivity or imagination for the form. Indeed it is all too obvious that the director is also the writer, as all the focus is on the text.

Quite regrettably, by the end these mounting grievances had suffocated my empathy. Which is a shame because I wanted to care so much: as the story wanders into the uncertainty of the future in a world bent on modernisation, it resonates well with the true to life story of the building itself. But even though the packed audience rewarded the cast with long and healthy praise, ultimately I left feeling disappointed for thought of what, with a little more performance craft and magic, might have been.