Frankenstein: How to Build a Monster ★★★★☆ / Trying It On ★★★★☆
Beatboxing theatre seems to be in the midst of a mini-comeback at this year’s Fringe. Between the return of Shlomo with two shows, one for adults and one for children, the prevalence of the form alongside tapdancers in Noiseboys, and the enjoyment of Boar at Pleasance Courtyard, it has hardly been better represented. To the above roll call we can also add Frankenstein: How to Build a Monster at the Traverse, one of the most crowd-pleasing shows of the year at Edinburgh’s new writing hub.
Performed by Battersea Arts Centre’s BAC Beatbox Academy, the show is described as “a mashup, a live concept album… like Frankenstein’s monster”. There are six young beatboxers in the crew, who each have a small podium to stand on when they aren’t prowling the stage; the show isn’t a straight adaptation of Mary Shelley’s classic, but there are heavy intonations of a sense of horror as the group perform what’s essentially a live gig split into “chapters”.
With their voices not just creating dense, dark rhythms, but also rich, atmospheric sound effects – and some gorgeous singing, in the case of Aminita Francis – a sense of contemporary foreboding of what lurks along darkened city streets, and the unconscious fear of the monster within, pervade the work.
There’s one great scene inspired directly by Shelley and subsequent film adaptations, as one figure playing Doctor Frankenstein engages in a beatbox battle with the monster itself; four writhing beatboxers, their bodies contorted together as though one stitched-together carapace. Elsewhere, the music touches lightly upon more universal feelings of perceived ugliness and regret for a terrible mistake made. There’s an hour of the show, followed by a mind-bending half-hour beatbox battle, and finally a new understanding of how whole worlds can be created from voices alone.
Staying with the Traverse, but moving up at least a couple of generations, Trying It On is the new solo(ish) play from playwright David Edgar, in which he celebrates his 70th year by reflecting upon what his Baby Boomer generation actually achieved, and wondering why the revolutionaries of 1968 became the reactionaries who voted for the current world order. The short answer – at least as far as he ever actually divines one, for his gaze soon turns upon himself – is that Thatcherism proved to be just as attractive a revolution for those who had become comfortably well-off by the time it arrived.
Amid a set stacked high with brown boxes doubling as screens operated by an onstage tech – whose role in the play is deeper than expected, ultimately confronting Edgar with his own sense of smug generational security – he engages in “discussions” with the likes of Paul Mason, David Aaronovich and Tariq Ali to try and divine a sense of the old left’s fate.
Masterful in its rug-pulling structure, with only Edgar’s limitations as a performer to challenge it, what has begun as a eulogy to the good old days and the achievements of Edgar’s life becomes an elegant statement that all of this means nothing unless you can and are willing to pass on responsibility with a sense of generational harmony.
Frankenstein: How to Build a Monster is at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, until Sunday 25 August
Trying It On is at the Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh, until Saturday 24 August.