TOP 10 BEST REVIEWED SHOWS OF EDINBURGH FRINGE 2012 – THE LIST
Fest Theatre (FEST BEST) – ★★★★★
The year is 1945, the war is over and a beautiful red-nosed clown (Leela Bunce) waits eagerly at a bunting-covered station, a banner in her hands lovingly embroidered with the words ‘Welcome Home Stanley.’ As you may guess, Stanley isn’t on the train.
What starts out as a simple premise blossoms into an exquisitely realised ode to the women of World War II, a one-woman homage to the mothers who watched their babies grow into children who had never met their fathers, only to see them evacuated to the countryside; the women who rode motorcycles, worked shifts, kept their chins up and all the time waited for a husband who may or may not come home.
With endearing warmth and beguilingly subtle humour Bunce conjures up scenarios where Stanley has run off with a sultry French woman, imagines his war heroics in the field and pictures him as a tiny mechanical puppet writing her letters about his socks. Her stage craft is as ingenious as any you’ll find at the Fringe but it is the depth of pride and hope she finds in her clown persona that has us rooting for her from the bottom of our hearts.
Just as people in times of war have to find unique solutions to problems, so do clowns, and in this sense Bunce has found the perfect medium to honour both the terrible pain and the uplifting spirit of war wives. It’s a little embarrassing to admit that a clown show made me cry, but in this case it was for all the right reasons.
Cream of the Fringe – ★★★★★
This charming solo performance by Leela Bunce captured my attention and my heart from the off.
Set in a 1945 train station, the show depicts a woman waiting the return off her partner from the war, exploring the trails and tribulations of those left on the home front.
Bunce uses a mixture of mime, puppetry, animation and song to narrate her story. The performance is compelling and affecting; humours, moving and vibrant.
The design of the piece is stunning and inventive, with beautiful use of props and music. Highly recommended!
EdinburghGuide.com – ★★★★★
It’s been a long time since I’ve been swept off my feet. But tonight, my heart remembered the joyous call of love. My insides were in all kinds of a flutter. My pulse buzzed like a bee in a jar and the immovable smile on my face was positively slapable.
Waiting For Stanley is the reason the weather has been so nice at the Fringe this year. It is the friendly glow and cosy warmth that the city has been missing. It is the sunshine of the Fringe.
It is 1945 and an anxious wife waits at an English railway station for her husband to return home from the War. When there is no sign, we look back at her experience of the wartime Britain and her torturous wait for news of her beloved. This one-lady extravaganza is without doubt the sweetest and most lovable show at the Fringe this year. It sickens me to say it, but it really will have you leave the theatre with a spring in your step and a song in your heart.
Endlessly inventive and blessed with a charming central performance by the female lead, the beauty of this show can be felt all around. Wonderful puppetry and delightfully clever shadow play add further magic to what is already a truly spellbinding piece of work.
Hilariously funny as well as deeply poignant, this is a show that you simply have to see. A work of pure genius.
Hairline Fringe – ★★★★★
Set in the closing hours of WW2 this poignant exploration of survival shows the inner thoughts of an unnamed wife as she waits at the platform for her husband to return. Devastated by his last minute absence she first imagines the various scenarios that might have kept him from her and then remembers her own war.
The sole weakness of the performance is that at times it becomes difficult to decipher whether the moments portrayed are fantasies or memories. As there is one main transition from fantasy to memory this confusion doesn’t last very long and if anything after the transition to memory the story of love absence and loneliness becomes even more powerful.
The performance of Leela Bunce is simply delightful. Whether she is leading the audience in a rousing chorus of daisy-daisy or miming the characters stiff upper lip as her son is evacuated from the city, the audience can find easy empathy with her portrayal. With her wide-eyed beaming smile it is easy to imagine and share in the simple victories of getting a child to sleep in an air raid shelter or finding her husband’s letters delivered through the door. Sentimental without being sappy this play successfully shows the ultimate adaptability of the character without sacrificing her humor or humanity.
Superb and extremely touching, ‘Waiting for Stanley’ might just be the show not to miss at the Fringe 2012.
Theatre Guide London – ★★★★★
Deviser-performer Leela Bunce audaciously chooses to tell the serious story of the WW2 home front through unabashed and inventive clowning, and the combination proves both touching and immensely entertaining. Bunce appears in realistic 1945 garb but with a clown’s red nose, and through much of what follows she is silent, depicting through mime, dance and puppetry a woman awaiting her husband’s return from the war. When he isn’t on the expected train she imagines (and acts out) a French seductress holding him or a battle casualty she hasn’t been told of. Reassured by a letter, she uses found objects scattered about the stage to help her mime and clown through her days of domestic tasks (trying to bake with rationing limitations), comforting her puppet child in an air raid (opportunity for an audience singalong), and going to work. Each episode is simultaneously funny, sad and theatrically inventive, as when a string of paper dolls represent children being relocated to the country or a grumbling postman delivers each precious letter. A warm, moving, cheering hour, this is a theatrical experience that cleanses your soul and sends you out feeling that life is, all things considered, pretty good.
The List – ★★★★
A woman with a red clown nose waits on a luggage-filled railway platform for her wartime sweetie to return. As her wait grows, she raids the suitcases around her, each contributing props to a captivating series of tales drawn from the experiences of London women during WWII: being a mother, waiting out the Blitz, and making do and mending.
Leela Bruce is the architect of this captivating one-woman performance, opening each box of tricks to reveal a world rich in imagination. Never has a pile of socks had such an illustrious career in metaphor. She turns an abundance of tenderly manipulated puppets, lighting effects, sound cues and other trickery into an affecting narrative that teeters between all-out comedy and heart-rending tragedy, with a few songs from the era thrown in for good measure.
Like the way in which her wide-leg trousers, khaki jumper and two-tone brogues work to convey both 1940s landgirl style and traditional clowning costumes, Bruce’s biggest achievement is her balancing act and via her inventive stagecraft and charismatic persona she revitalises national wartime myths. Not bad for a clown.
Fringe Review – ★★★★★
A woman waits at a railway station, clutching the much read letter with news of her husband’s return from the war. The train comes, but he doesn’t, so she waits for the next train. While she waits she shows us her war, her life on the home front – made up of the minutiae of daily life. There is work, there is cooking and caring and sharing… and always the wait for news. Her war is punctuated by waiting for letters.
Waiting for Stanley is devised by Leela Bunce and Alexander Parsonage of ‘Finger in the Pie’ theatre and is based on the stories of women who lived through the war. So much reminded me of the stories my mother told me of her war as a young wife and mother.
This is fast paced physical theatre combining clowning, puppetry, mime and visual storytelling delivered with panache, humour and warmth. Bunce’s performance is outstanding, the pace never flags and each story element moves seamlessly into the next, punctuated at intervals by the next delivery of letters. Her endearing approach and carefully devised story pays tribute to all those women, who like my mother, got on with life while they waited for news of distant husbands.
One of the joys of mime is the way that, once an element is established, we need only the merest hint of it to know exactly what is happening. The sense of time passing shown by the journey each batch of letters becomes more economical with each rendition but we shared the joy or the disappointment with the same intensity.
The set is deceptively simple, a stack of suitcases in keeping with the starting point, a railway station, but nearly every one of those cases has a secret to reveal or contributes to the action in some way. Our imagination recreates the space as the interior of her home, her kitchen, the shelter… whilst the suitcases become kitchen tables, typewriters, a child’s bed…
The action is supported by a sound track evocative of the war years – the air raid siren, war time radio with cookery hints and music of the period. The action moves seamlessly from one story to the next often recasting a prop or suitcase en route. I particularly enjoyed the fruit bun dough morphing into Churchill via a scene as the baby.
The audience were drawn in throughout, at one point cast as fellow neighbours in the shelter, joining in a spirited rendition of A Bicycle Made for Two – she even had me dancings!
It was funny, evocative, sad and heart warming – I doubt I was the only one with a lump in my throat or a tear in my eye at times.
There is tremendous power in working without words, as an audience we have to concentrate, to watch. We hear by watching, there can be no glancing away as we might in other shows leaving the story to reach our brains via slightly inattentive ears. It is a quite different experience and, as someone who tends to be rather text bound, I found my gradually increasing awareness of the subtle details of the visual story one of the joys of watching an expert at work.
This show offers so much more than an entertaining hour for physical theatre enthusiasts – it is a master class for any performer, as well as a poignant reminder of the incredible resilience of our mothers and grandmothers who fought on the home front.
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