Archive for the ‘ THREE STAR REVIEWS ’ Category


Me Before Marilyn- The Space UK, 4.10pm


The story of Hollywood legend Marilyn Monroe is a familiar one but one that also keeps evolving and is subject to change, even now fifty years on from her mysterious death. Still an icon to new generations she is still one of the most recognizable faces of the twentieth century. The legend is kept alive by the mystery shrouding her demise and also down to the fact Marilyn was obviously a compulsive liar during her short life. Even her original name fluctuates from being either Norma Jean Baker or Mortensen- Mortensen is more widely accepted as the genuine article- and her early years as related to various psychiatrists takes on many different perspectives depending on who she was relating her tale to.

Capturing the fractured psyche and the schizophrenic nature of Marilyn/Norma Jean this play opens with various voices zooming in from different areas of the small theatre throwing questions at the doomed star. It then moves onto her first marriage to James Dougherty which was merely a ruse to prevent her from going into further foster care. Ending the marriage whilst her husband was serving in the second world war Norma Jean then bleached up her hair, perfected her wiggle, pout and impossibly sweet breathy voice  to re-invent herself as Marilyn Monroe.

The play continues by detailing her marriage to American hero and baseball star Joltin’ Joe Dimaggio which only lasted nine months and ended in acrimony and tales of domestic abuse. Following on from this she was ‘rescued’ by photographer Milton Greene and his wife Amy who helped instil her with a sense of self worth which had previously been lacking.

However as always with Marilyn the Greenes were shunned and dismissed from her coterie after she met and fell for the great American playwright Arthur Miller. This marriage lasted longer than the Dimaggio debacle but was also doomed from the outset. What followed after they divorced remains cloaked in scandal, intrigue and confusion and the truth will probably never be unearthed now as all the major players are dead.

This production by the young and aspiring Innovative Theatre Company Caged Theatre is an extremely adept effort by four actors who take on various roles. The central performance of Marilyn- Lucy Snowden- captures not only the legend’s beauty and poise but also her fragility. The other performances are also well executed and by not attempting American accents they have not allowed anything to detract from the performances by rendering it mere impersonation. The use of white clothes hanging on a black background showing footage of scenes of the stars life being played out was both clever and effective. I could have done without the Dire Straits soundtrack but that is a personal dislike and probably unnecessary griping.

All in all a valiant production and the only major flaw I could find was that at just half an hour long it was rather short. However they did cram a lot into that half hour without it ever feeling rushed.



Joyced –Assembly 4.45pm


There are two separate and very different schools of thought when it comes to James Joyce’s uber-novel, Ulysses, in twentieth century literature. One is that it is the greatest book ever written and changes the reader’s whole attitude to how books should be written and read whilst the opposing view is that it is an impenetrable bore and merely a dictionary in the wrong order. I subscribe to the latter view and was forced to read the damn thing during my tenure as a student and this play was a means of seeing whether I had perhaps judged it too harshly.

I have attempted to read it since the time I was force fed it to see whether it became any clearer, but to little avail and seeing this show was a way of discovering whether its prizes would eventually reveal themselves to me. Unfortunately the theatre this production is set in is the very lecture theatre where I sat and found more interest in the plain walls and an errant crack in the ceiling than Joyce’s stream of consciousness discourse.

Written by Donal O’ Kelly ,directed by Sorcha Fox and performed by Katie O’Kelly Joyced is a swift flight through Dublin in 1904, the year Ulysses is set in. On her journey which begins with Kelly in a very fetching pair of black wings she takes in a whirlwind tour of the city encountering the people who became the basis for the main characters in Ulysses as well as Joyce , his wife Nora-the inspiration for Molly Bloom- alongside other members of his family.

Kelly gives a great performance dipping in and out of characters seamlessly and capturing the essence of them intuitively. It is clear she has studied her subject matter and can imbue the characters with their defining nuances and conjure up something totally believable.

The dialogue is delivered at a breakneck speed and I must admit I found it hard to follow-much like Ulysses- and eventually gave up and submitted to just enjoying the performance without having a clue what was going on. Devotees of Joyce will love this show and there were many gathered outside before the performance discussing the book and the whole Joycean myth. Unfortunately it merely convinced me that despite a desire to get to grip with the book this show convinced me that perhaps I should continue to read literature I actually understand and enjoy and leave Ulysses to these converts and scholars.



Truth-Underbelly –10.25pm


 This latest offering from Australians Slow Clap is a freeform storytelling show which has frantic shifts of pace and characters and, at times, is exceptionally funny. Hinged on the talents of Vachel Spirason who carries this show virtually single handed with only the smallest of assistance from fellow creator-or conspirator if you prefer- Stephanie Brotchie it is fast paced and slightly surreal collection of different tales which for most of the shows duration feel as if they are not connected at all.

Billed as a storytelling show-a point hammered home by Spirason continually for the first five minutes- it appears to bear very tenuous links to any storytelling you may have previously encountered. Instead we are introduced into different scenarios including naked men, being stranded on an island and probably the most surreal version of Copacabana and its star Lola you are ever likely to see. Probably the best of all is Juan-‘The Juan and only’- a flamenco dancer like no other. Attired only in his double layered underpants, white vest and a rose between his teeth Juan is a great comic creation and probably the strongest point and highlight of the show; so good he re-appears again later for a further appearance.

If the show does have a flaw it is that it seems to be stretching itself out a little and therefore goes on about ten minutes too long. The night I attended it actually exceeded its one hour duration so perhaps it had overrun on this occasion. It definitely has some extremely funny moments and Spirason is an extremely charismatic performer even if the crazy dancing routines become a bit predictable. It is worth seeing however simply for the ‘Juan’ sections alone.



Punch- Underbelly 3.40pm


This very dark comedy drama will certainly not be to everyone’s taste. Featuring one half of the frothy popsters,-Matthew Jones- and Fringe favourites, Frisky and Mannish in a role which is perhaps the polar opposite to his more popular doppelganger as it is a work which will split critics and audiences alike. A two hander with Jones playing John- a really rather malignant character- and Kirsty Mann as Anne a social worker sent to investigate bruises and marks on a child allegedly perpetrated by John.

It requires some suspension of belief to be convinced that either of the two very young actors onstage are old enough to have the cynicism and experience- Anne’s early line of ‘You think I’m too young don’t you’ is perhaps the most believable of the whole show-to be relating such loaded lines. Attempting to broach taboo subjects the play often falls flat because of this attempt at being too outré.

Therefore jokes about paedophilia, child abuse set against spontaneous outbursts which ‘dance a jig on the borders of morality’ and some old fashioned vaudeville given a contemporary and dark twist collide to create a show which is somewhat unfulfilling as a whole but still has something interesting and valid to say.

The two performances are extremely strong once you get over the fact that the actors are perhaps too young for their roles and they both give everything to their parts throughout. It is the material which I found hard to get to grips with and I generally prefer pieces which stalk the dark side. It just somehow never convinced and as such it felt as if the two actors were always swimming against the tide.

It is however a brave role for Jones whose continued success with his other show continues to grow-several hours later I saw him sell out the Assembly Main Hall and perform in front of a rapturously appreciative crowd- and it is admirable when an artist takes risks during the Fringe as that is the very nature of the beast. Unfortunately on this occasion it was not wholly successful but full marks for trying.



I,Tommy- Gilded Balloon 3.15pm


 This interpretation by writer Ian Pattison of the far left’s new great hope in Scotland, Tommy Sheridan- performed by Red Aye productions- is an attempt to tell the rise and rise of the charismatic politician before the sex scandals, fame and perjury gave him the recognition he didn’t need and brought him to the public’s attention in ways he never could have contemplated. Told through the eyes via the memoirs of associate and former acolyte Alan Mc Combs I, Tommy is the downfall of a politician who had everything and fell for the trappings of fame which swiftly led to infamy. The central performance of Sheridan as portrayed by Des Mc Lean is extremely credible and the driving force of the whole drama but unfortunately the other performances are capable enough but not in the same league.

The tale begins around the time Sheridan started to come to the notice of his fellow socialist party members. We are left in no doubt that he is very much loved by the ladies and that this feeling is more than reciprocated. Straight from the beginning the die is cast and we are aware that sexual proclivities with the fairer sex are going to play a leading part in his downfall.

Meanwhile, however, his political career is going from strength to strength and for the first time in decades through his involvement and becoming the new poster boy the Socialist party is gaining not just credibility but more importantly the support and votes of the public. Firmly installed as an MSP it seemed as if Sheridan was unstoppable but at this juncture rumours about his attendance at and participation in sexual swinging scenes started to crawl out of the woodwork and into the press, in particular the now defunct News of the World.

What followed was a defamation of character case which Sheridan won but this was succeeded by a counter claim from the newspaper which saw Sheridan charged with perjury. After he and his wife were found guilty he was sentenced to three years imprisonment but was out within a year. The story of Sheridan then is a typical one of idealistic values being turned by the fame game. He was not the first-nor will he be the last- and his downfall was so spectacular as he had scaled such great heights in such a short time and gained substantial number of believers along the way.

 I, Tommy does the script justice but somehow misses the mark. It is a more than adequate production and the tale is an interesting, if familiar one, but, on occasion it lapses into parody and seems too full of bluster to be taken seriously and not sharp enough to be truly funny either. Thus it splits itself down the middle between comedy and drama and compromise is not something normally associated with the dogmatic and determined Tommy Sheridan



Unhappy Birthday-Assembly 6.40pm


Walking into any room which is blaring out ‘The Queen is Dead’ by the Smiths I am immediately disarmed into a good mood. This is the second show I have seen this Fringe which hinges on a Morrissey obsessive but whilst the other- Half a Person my Life as Told by the Smiths– was an emotionally resonant work this is quite the opposite; all party poppers , birthday snacks and an abrasive, hyper American- Amy Lame- at its epicentre. It is a distinctly lively work adopting the format of a birthday party to which Morrissey has been invited but whether he will appear is open to debate.

The action begins with a game of pass the parcel-actually this is the bulk of the show- and the audience are invited- forced really- to join in and each wrapping reveals some Morrissey related paraphernalia. Generally the relationship lies in Amy’s head but that is what makes this show entertaining.

The pace very rarely lets up throughout the one hour duration and it really is an hour of pass the parcel, party poppers, and Amy dancing, stomping about and running around like some nutty professor’s hybrid of Ruby Wax and Kathy Bates in Misery. An extended segment where Amy rips off her wig and re-creates her own demented version of  the Mozziah’s quiff is vaguely funny and awkward in turns. There is also an amusing segment giving thirty valid reasons to hate Morrissey towards the end.

The music is of course wonderful. From a singalong –Mozzioke- version of ‘Sheila Take a Bow’ to an everyone in the audience stand up and wave your arms around-proving again how little natural rhythm so many people possess- ‘This Charming Man’.

This show thinks it is a lot wackier than it actually is. It didn’t really do it for me but the atmosphere was great and the music consistently brilliant but as far as parties go I have been at many parties much more deranged than this one. Some of those even in the last week.



The Lad Himself-The Gilded Balloon-1.30


This comedy drama written by Roy Smiles, directed by Roy Hodson and featuring a strong performance by Mark Brailsford as the legendary comic Tony Hancock is, for the most part, perfectly pitched. For an audience of a certain age it will conjure up memories of a bygone era and as this is what made up most of the audience on the day I attended, it matched the mood of the show.

The drama centres on Hancock arriving in limbo after he has committed suicide in Sydney after battling depression and alcoholism. He arrives not knowing whether he is going to Heaven or Hell and within the first five minutes has made a reference to being a blood donor, immediately drawing attention to his most famous sketch. What follows is basically an hour of Hancock’s finest –if on several occasions slightly dated- material.

During his wait he encounters a cleaner –a slightly over the top Caroline Burns-, a Kenneth Williams type character called Burt –also slightly overplayed to the point of parody rather than homage- and a paedophilic vicar. Interesting devices include introducing the idea that God may be of female gender giving rise to the comment that there is no way such a deity could merely be ‘a bit of skirt’. This merely shows the rampant chauvinism which was not only common place in this era but also the acceptance of it. There are some other highly amusing exchanges but the focus and attention never really deviates from Brailsford’s performance which is always outstanding.

If the production does have a fault it is that I fear younger audiences may find it all rather dated and corny. The over the top performances often stray into panto terrain and could maybe do with being toned down a little. Saying that, the day I went the audience that were there loved it and laughed uproariously throughout.



Bourgeois and Maurice-Sugartits- Underbelly 10.15pm


There are often moments when reviewing shows which are not quite hitting the mark that I wonder at what point did the performers feel this was ready to take out of the rehearsal studio and onto the stage? Sometimes when it is a really bad show I wonder when did this really bad idea germinate and become discussed as an option to perform in public. Fortunately the cabaret styled Bourgeois and Maurice did not stray into the latter territory but unfortunately the sentiments of the former crossed my mind on a couple of occasions.

I am not sure where the problem lay with this act but I feel it is something to do with the fact it has not made its mind up exactly what it wants to be. It, on one hand, wants to be a little bit Scissor Sisters-the visual aura certainly suggests a Jake Shears , Ana Matronic vibe- whilst there is also the feeling they are trying to inhabit the same universe as Fringe stalwarts, and stars in this musical duo genre, Frisky and Mannish. Both are reasonable acts to aspire to however but somehow Bourgeois and Maurice fall short on several levels.

The first problem seems to be the lack of dynamic or chemistry between the couple. Maurice does not sit well in the role of being her partner’s stooge. A further problem was the songs were not strong enough in their own right and the comedy material not particularly funny or original. Matters were further blighted by bad sound which made most of the lyrics inaudible and as the bulk of their act relies on the latter this was unfortunate. This is the technical setback you would expect in the first couple of days not when an act has had a week to sort it out.

It is not all bad however as their vocals and instrumentation were spot on. The frantic dancing did detract a little but not enough to spoil things and their interaction and chemistry with the audience managed to keep them onside throughout the one hour duration of the show.

All in all Bourgeois and Maurice have a more than adequate show whilst although it is not all that bad and the sequinned costumes are all glitz, glamour and sparkle but unfortunately the rest of the act lacked sparkle.



Casablanca: The Gin Joint Cut


This thoroughly charming play, incorporating some of the most famous scenes from one of the most famous movies ever, is a pleasurable delight which is easy on the senses. It features three totally capable and professional performances from Gavin Mitchell- as a Bogart/ Rick Blaine hybrid- Clare Waugh- Ingrid Bergman and Nazi officer- and Jimmy Chisolm – Peter Lorre and ‘play it again’ Sam- and each contributes in many additional ways. A light-hearted look at a film within a play scenario which does not take itself too seriously-the interchangeable role playing assist in this- and, on more than one occasion is more than capable of sending itself up.

The drama revolves around re-creating the iconic film’s scenes in a small time bar- Rick’s of course- and apart from the obvious lines and use of set pieces which also have a multi-tasking role there is also some insight as to how some famous lines not previously in the script wound their way into the final cut. Thus the immortal kiss off line’ Here’s looking at you kid’ and its origins via a late night poker session between Bogart and Ingrid Bergman are explained.

There is also an ongoing joke about the smoking ban which is consistently amusing especially as smoking played such a huge role in the original work and often stole the scene. It assisted the actors in creating an irrepressible haze of glamour and, in fact, may actually have been nominated for an award.

It is refreshing to come across a show on the Fringe which is not a one man performance as they seem to be proliferating this year. The fact the cast constantly switch roles lends something of the farcical to the proceedings but unlike other attempts at this genre I have seen during the Fringe this production never indulges itself in the annoyingly juvenile elements.

Despite this Casablanca: The Gin Joint Cut is not going to exceed anyone’s expectations being a safe predictable outing and pretty forgettable a short while after, as opposed to anything which is likely to provoke thought or stimulate interest. Mind you I have seen a few things this year which have provoked thought, but of the ‘wish I hadn’t bothered kind’ so at least it wasn’t one of those.



Sammy J and Randy-The Inheritance –Udderbelly Pasture 6pm

I must admit to being slightly disappointed with this show. The combined talents of Heath Mc Ivor’s Randy combined with Sammy J –both more than capable of carrying off solo shows- promised much but somehow failed to deliver convincingly. It came across as lacklustre and traded on familiar formats- juvenile farce seems to be big this year- and shattered the first illusion of puppetry by allowing the puppeteer movements to be witnessed by the audience thus destroying something of the illusion which calls for the audience’s belief in reality to be suspended.

The most successful sequences were in the first twenty minutes when the dialogue and chemistry between Sammy and Randy was at its peak but shortly after this other characters were introduced and the bad jokes, which were tolerable when delivered by these two already familiar characters, simply became nothing more than bad jokes. The musical sequences however were well crafted, and among the shows highlights,even if they did stray into vaudeville territory on occasion.

The plot revolved around the death of one of Randy’s uncles in Scunthorpe leaving him in receipt of a fortune from the will. A trip to England then ensued and in the process- via a witty joke about Heathrow- managed to run over a gnome, have a dig at the Olympics and eventually arriving at the stately home- haunted obviously- of the recently deceased uncle. The story lost its way around this point and the tightness of the script suffered greatly before descending into cheap farce- the second badly staged sword fight I have seen in as many days- and to be honest I was rapidly losing interest anyway.

The rest of the audience seemed to be split into two camps, between those who laughed loyally at every utterance and others- like myself – who were just bemused by the whole proceedings. The laughter never reached raucous levels- as it usually does at some point with either of these two- and always felt a little contrived. The whole show limped on for a whole hour and some ruthless editing or script reprisals could improve on the talent that these two are not fully exploiting.

As said before the show was uninspiring as I expected so much more than this and I know that both artists are capable of far superior work .The feeling-all over the Fringe this year- is one of safety and no-one wanting to rock the boat but instead of furnishing audiences with a feeling of comfort I feel it is one of ennui which will prevail.