TEDDY AND TOPSY by Robert Shaw, inside intelligence
Hill Street Theatre, Venue 41, 19 Hull Street St, Edinburgh EH2 3JP, 0131 226 6522. 5 to 29 August (no performance 17 or 24) at 1400 hrs.
Running time: 1hour 12 minutes, no interval
Review: Mark Courtice 11th August 2011
Revealing letters from an important artist
Isadora Duncan must have been hard work; at least, if her letters are anything to go by. Perhaps it just that she was hard work for Edward Gordon Craig, the impossibly handsome director and designer with whom Isadora was in love. Herself one of the most important and famous artists of the early 1900s, she danced in every capital in Europe until her untimely death in 1927.
This show is created from her letters to Craig, often desperate with longing, often revealing about the business of being a dancer, and sometimes about the difficulty of art. Craig seems to have been as much an erratic correspondent as he was lover, so he doesn’t appear, except in a not particularly revealing reading of one of his letters by Hugh Bonneville on tape. This is much more Topsy (as Duncan and Craig would occasionally winsomely refer to her) than Teddy.
The problem with a one-person show, with one character, is that it is all one voice. And this show doesn’t overcome this. For interest the show relies on Isadora being a fascinating writer, and she just isn’t. There is a moment half way through when real disaster strikes, and Duncan’s day by day reportage and anxious enquiries as to whether Craig has received the money she sent him is replaced by the real dead voice of pain and it’s very affecting.
That’s not to say that her words aren’t given a good shot by Nellie McQinn’s excellent performance. She is consistently inconsistent in character, and controls tone and pace with skill. When the emotional pressure is increased as Isadora faces real tragedy she is genuinely moving.
McQuinn choreographs and dances too. It feels like she’s got that right, though what Duncan really looked like as a dancer must mainly be conjecture.
It seems right because it is a bit obvious, a bit heavy handed, a bit self obsessed, but at the same time brave and committed – like the woman herself as revealed through these letters.
Isadora Duncan Nellie McQuinn
Hugh Bonneville as the voice of Edward Gordon Craig
Writer and Director Robert Shaw
Design Gordon Craig realized by Jessica Weisner
Costume design Jessica Weisner