Archive for August 7th, 2012

JOHN PEEL’S SHED

John Peel’s Shed by John Osborne- Underbelly 11.35am until August 12th

 

To several previous generations John Peel played the role of a kindly uncle who we all wished was our own. His late night radio show was a coming of age introduction to new music and the delights and possibilities which were out there waiting to be discovered. For a pre-internet age he was the essential link many had with the outside world. His passing in 2004 was, for many, like the loss of a national treasure. This show by John Osborne who –in 2002- won a competition in which the prize was the treasure trove of one of his eclectic boxes of records. Recounting how this inspired him to turn to writing after a series of dead end frustrating jobs and the realization that radio had become a disregarded medium which no longer even took itself seriously.

Osborne’s epiphany arrived at the moment he heard ‘How Soon Is Now’ by The Smiths on Peel’s show and immediately related to the lyrics as they seemed to sum up his own feelings. From that moment on he was hooked to Peel’s show and the pursuit of music he could relate to.

The show itself is Osborne relating tales of his life with a disarming and amiable manner which makes you feel as if you are having a conversation with a close friend in the shed referred to in the shows title. I am unsure whether the dripping sound which was persistent throughout the hour was sound-tracked or an authentic leak but, whichever one it was, it added some authenticity to the proceedings.

The music which Osborne plays on a tinny record player throughout the show all comes from the prized box of records he won all those years ago. We are thus treated to forgotten- or never heard before- classics such as Oi-Zone- a punk band that play thrash versions of Boyzone tracks – and Atom and His Package. He also tells of how after speaking off the record to a journalist he found himself the scourge of a pro Radio 1 forum for slagging off Jo Whiley by referring to her as ‘the acceptable face of dull indie’.

This show which has a late morning slot only has a 6 day run and tickets are selling fast-it was a sell out today- and is seriously worth catching. It ambles along at its own pace-much like the late John Peel who was always so in step with the times by being so preposterously out of step- and is a delight.

****

HALF A PERSON: MY LIFE AS TOLD BY THE SMITHS

Half a Person: My life as told by The Smiths –Zoo Southside 7.50pm.

 

The Morrissey quiff is big on the Fringe this year, set in motion by the great man himself with a performance at the Usher Hall last week and another play ‘Unhappy Birthday’, which I am seeing tomorrow, also focussing on the iconic frontman for a legendary band. This highly impressive production by Cross Cut Theatre- and the rain was more than falling down on this humdrum town as I made my way to the theatre- is a one man show which is an excellent and absorbing drama which even pulled on my emotionally resilient heartstrings with a performance which ranged from humorous and  caustic right through to angst and despair effortlessly. Just like The Smiths then.

The drama revolves around William a drifter who floats around filling his days with loathing, self obsessing and infatuation with the unattainable, all the while relating these various things to classic Smiths tracks. When he does eventually succeed in pulling the object of his desires- Salome- the conflicting emotions he feels when he tries to relate this new relationship to the complicated one he has with his gay best friend-and fellow Smiths enthusiast- Rick, tear away at his already confused state of mind.

The story which William then tells as his relationship flounders and Rick falls prey to a terminal illness is one shot through with humour but as Rick’s illness takes hold things adopt a more serious and eventually tragic note. These scenes are played with a pathos which had more than one audience member choking back the tears-including me- and it is a performance of understated and effortless intensity which cannot fail to coax a reaction out of even the most stoic of hearts.

It isn’t very often that I see a live stage performance which is so heart rending and sincere. To add to this the breaking up of narrative by allowing the protagonist to burst into Smiths songs appropriate to the tale being told manages to do so without feeling contrived, ridiculous or-like musicals which despite the inclusion of impromptu song this is not- incongruous.

Ah, the music! Having a great backlog of tracks to choose from the production chooses some of the best. Thus ‘Cemetery Gates’, ‘Bigmouth Strikes Again’, ‘There is a Light that Never Goes Out’ and ‘This Charming Man’ are just several of many peppered throughout the show and whilst the performer has more than Morrissey’s three notes at his disposal he gives convincing renditions and a more than capable interpretation of the Mozzer’s twisted and agonised dance moves.

This is an extremely simple production which utilises its strengths to great effect. The central performance is assured and accomplished, perfectly capturing every nuance of the emotional torment of the protagonist. It is not a prerequisite to be a Smiths afficianado-obviously it helps-  to enjoy this show either as the production is strong enough, on its own terms, to win over those previously impervious to the charms of Morrissey, Marr and co. It took me on an emotional journey during its hour long duration and was consistently outstanding. William, it was really quite something!

*****

LORETTA MAINE:BIPOLAR

Loretta Maine:Bipolar Just The Tonic at The Caves 6pm until August 26th

 

Taking to the stage the trailer trash country and western Courtney Love is resplendent in her raggedy, deshabille style. All black panda eyes, dragged through a hedge several times hair, and an expression which somehow incorporates a smile, grimace, scowl, sneer and stare all at the same time Pippa Evans’s alter ego makes a commanding stage presence. Accompanied by her band, Penis Envy, Maine launches into her opening number Bipolar withgusto andverve offering it up as a statement of intent. It is an impressive opening and as one of my favourite acts from the Fringe in 2010 all bodes well, on initial inspection, for this show.

Unfortunately the show does not maintain this momentum and is nowhere as nearly coherent as her last offering. It is still highly entertaining nevertheless and Evans knows how to hold the audience in her enthral. Usually by scaring the shit out of them but at other times by simply having a commanding stage presence and it is her presence which this show hinges on as occasionally her material does not meet the high bar she has set herself.

The usual subjects are grist for the mill however and these include her drinking, family issues, failed relationships and of course being bipolar which Maine suffered from long before it became trendy in celebrity circles. It is perhaps because she is treading water from her last show here that the material does not measure up as it has not evolved. Not that the trailer trash diva she is portraying was ever likely to evolve and those seeing her act for the first time can hardly fail to be impressed. Unfortunately anyone who saw her act before may be a little disappointed-as I was- as it seems a little tired in format. Loretta is still the same cheap white wine swilling foul mouthed vixen she always was but I can’t help feeling Evans could have dome more with the character rather than allow her to fall into cliché and repetition.

The songs are great however and ,as before, brilliantly titled’ ‘I am Sixteen if You Want Me to be’ and ‘White Wine Witches’ are just two such titles and a dance track about Barbie was a  welcome addition to the show. Evans has created a great character in Loretta Maine and if you have not seen her before then I recommend you catch the act. If you have seen her before then it is highly probable that you may be let down by this years model.

***