Sean Hughes Wins Fringe First
Date: 31 August 1999
It has only been my privilege to hold the ring on the discussions for The Scotsman Fringe First awards six times so far but without doubt this week has seen the widest divergences of opinion. There have been strong reactions both for and against almost all of the shows, often as much to do with eligibility criteria as to the quality of the shows. Does Sean Hughes need any more awards? Can we really give an award for new work to a play where half the lines are by old Will himself? Is a play originally commissioned by a fertiliser company as a piece of education the right kind of stuff? In the end, the answers were yes, yes, and yes.
Previous success on the Fringe (Hughes won the Perrier award a few years ago) is no bar to future success; the fact is that his collaborations with Owen O'Neill are two first-rate pieces of writing. Jim Sweeney, after a career of making it up as he went along, did the really scary thing of writing it all down first. We think, having broken his duck, he will get even better. The same applies to Patrice Naiambana's outpouring of emotion about Africa. And Roysten Abel's play about rehearsals for Othello is so skilful that it makes you want to see the production the cast would have gone on to perform. For Jonathan Hall, winning a Fringe First two years ago was the catalyst for giving up teaching and turning to writing full-time. Sweet As You Are is his first play as a professional writer - which is the kind of story we like to be able to tell about these awards.
This week's winners will receive their awards from John Gordon Sinclair, fresh from his success in Gregory's Two Girls at the Film Festival.
The Man Who Committed Thought
Written and directed by Patrice Naiambana, with assistance from Ian Leonard
An Observer Assembly production
Assembly Rooms, until 30 August
A BRAVURA solo performance of Naiambana's own script which is by no means perfect but which packs more power into its 80 minutes than most would-be writers manage in a lifetime. It plunges fearlessly into the whole teeming, ghastly mess of post- colonial Africa, hand-wringing Western liberals, casual greedy dictators, corrupt aid programmes and economic distortion. You are left gasping for breath.
William Shakespeare's Othello - a Play in Black and White
Conceived and directed by Roysten Abel
United Players Guild, India
Augustine's, until 30 August (not Sunday)
A BRILLIANTLY clever play about a multi-racial company rehearsing a production of Othello in which an outside director thrusts the humblest non-English speaking cast member into the name part, who then falls in love with Desdemona to the jealous rivalry of the white actor playing Iago. Shakespeare's words, spoken as part of the rehearsal, become part of the actors' off-stage lives as well.
Dehydrated & Travellin' Light
Written and produced by Sean Hughes and Owen O'Neill
Assembly Rooms until 30 August
HUGHES and O'Neill, on this evidence, are the bastard children of the never-before-revealed union between James Joyce and Flann O'Brien. Each of these two blackly hilarious self-contained two-handers, both co-written, are full of death, priests, mothers, families, drink, the IRA, and Michael Flatley. You expect Hughes to come up with the goods these days but in O'Neill he seems to have found a partner which has taken both of them on to an entirely new level.
Written by Jim Sweeney
Directed by Lee Simpson
Produced by Paul Merton
Gilded Balloon until 30 August
YOU could do Jim Sweeney for larceny, so perfectly does he rip off the things people say and the speech patterns of ordinary life. But that would be to downplay the craft at work in what our reviewer likened to Pinter, only with laughs. In this two-hander, two old schoolfriends catch up at the wake of a third and the home truths tumble out. Not a huge play, but a huge step forward for a fast-talking comedian, and beautifully performed with his old improv partner, Steve Steen.
Sweet As You Are
Written by Jonathan Hall
Directed by Nigel Townsend
Touring Theatre Company
Theatre Workshop, until 30 August
RIGHT on the money in terms of topicality, this is about an anti-GM-$ food campaigner who proves that espousing the right causes does not always make you a nice person. At the same time, it expertly sets out the key arguments in the whole GM debate. We could have done without the staged debate at the end, with $ the cast still in character, although it is no doubt valid in the context for which this show was originally intended, in schools and colleges. But the play itself, by a previous Fringe First winner, is exemplary.
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