Archive for the ‘ FRINGE 2013 ’ Category



An Actor’s Lament


Right from the off Steven Berkoff makes clear that opinions of critics are worthless. Actually he doesn’t put it quite so politely but in far more typical Berkoff fashion with a few necessary expletives just so we are aware of whom we are dealing with. Instead this play concentrates on the plight and hardship of life as an actor, John (Berkoff), versus that of a writer.

A three hander with support from Andree Bernard as Sarah a fellow thespian who as time takes its toll finds work becomes more elusive and Jay Benedict as David a writer who believes the scripts he creates far outweigh any performance given to them by actors and thus he will remain immortal whilst performances will eventually be forgotten as new generations of actors give his words a new lease of life.

 It is not only critics and writers that are in receipt of  John’s ire –it is hard to distinguish between John and Berkoff as the two as the latter puts so much of himself into the role- as television and film actors are treated with equal disdain. The stage and the theatre are the only medium which actually matters as there are no second takes, no technical assistance, no carefully nuanced soundtrack but only the actor, his performance and a script which he brings to life .

It becomes clear through all the verbal jousting that the writer and the performer need each other in order to realise both their ambitions and afford them gravitas. Which one has the most longevity is less clear and with Berkoff in the functioning role of both perhaps he didn’t feel the need to. A great performance can carry its own strengths through the generations and a great script will be around long after the author and performer have expired. What is clear is that it is the theatre which holds the true power as far as great drama goes.

 This is an extremely theatrical production which moves along with a balletic fluidity-both verbally and physically- and each of the trio command the stage in different ways though it is Berkoff who demands the most attention. An extremely worthwhile piece of drama to add to a Fringe which has seen great forms of theatre arrive from so many different sources


 An Actor’s Lament is on at 2.30 at Assembly Hall until August 20th



The Lost Gatsby


 This young production by 8pB set on the film set of a production of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s literary masterpiece in 1926 is more than ably handled by its cast who approach their material with a maturity beyond their years.

 Set in the year after Fitzgerald’s book was released when a silent film of the work had recently been commissioned this play focuses on the internal drams and conflicts which affected the production and in some way may have resulted in it never being released. Though the apparent reason for its non-appearance was that Fitzgerald was unhappy at how Daisy was portrayed and as she contained so many elements of his wife Zelda this only compounded his dissatisfaction. It is intercut with familiar moments from the novel being acted out accompanied only by the whirring of a camera alongside the tinkling strains of a piano in what would have been the film’s soundtrack if it had ever made it into the theatres.

Tensions between the female members of the cast are overshadowed by some sexual shenanigans by the film’s leading man trying to put the make on the actor, who in his first film role is something of an innocent and in awe at meeting his idol, playing the part of Daisy’s husband Tom Buchanan. A more fickle public who were becoming less content at shelling out for style over substance and actor’s names over acting ability as well as the arrival of the ‘talkies’ were also contributory factors into why the film never made it to release.

 This is an extremely competent production even if it is rather short-forty minutes at the most- but the actors fill every second of their time onstage with relevant material and performances. It is a good place to start if you are looking to see young talent in its earlier stages.


The Lost Gatsby is on at Space Surgeons Hall until August 17th


Gym Party


An incisive dark comedic look at a competitive culture which we most of us aren’t even aware we participate in; ‘Gym Party’ forces us to look at ourselves and become slightly more aware of our own actions. Brought to realisation by young theatre group Made In China and its own brand of innovative theatre this show is provocative, evocative and darkly funny. Its three stars –Chris  Brett Bailey, Jenna Watt and Jessica Latowicki- each approach their roles-or are they personality extensions?- with commitment and verve.

 The premise of this show is to show up our society with its obsession with celebrity culture and one upmanship  for what it actually is. Thus puerile games as who can catch the most Skittles in their mouth, or jump the longest long jump or stuff the most marshmallows in their mouth at one sitting reveal that competitive streaks are encouraged in us from an early age. Asking audience members to name a film or a pop song that the one of the trio will then attribute facts to or perform show how obsessed we are with useless facts that really don’t enrich our lives but merely show us up for being obsessive about trivia.

 The whole show is conducted as one long competition and throughout we are updated as to who is winning. It is the losers however who have to suffer the indignity of penalisation and it is in this section that no holds are barred. One has personality deficits brought to their-and our- attention whilst another has their corporeal state given a verbal savaging with no body area ignored or spared.

 An interesting show which definitely provides food for thought Latowicki and Bailey also had a strong hand in devising and writing the piece alongside Ira Brand- ‘Gym Party’ is well worth checking out if interesting and innovative new theatre is what you are looking for.


Gym Party is on at 6.30 at Summerhall until August 25th


The Poet Speaks- Patti Smith and Philip Glass


Patti Smith returns to Scotland in 2013 not as a rock and roll star but in her original guise as a poet accompanied by Philip Glass in their joint tribute to mutual friend, mentor and inspiration Allen Ginsberg. It is a role which suits Smith well as it was as a poet that she initially made her break and the rock star thing was some kind of unplanned but happy accident.

  During the seventies she realised that instead of being a poet using the medium of rock and roll she had somehow become a rock star who was now playing at being a poet and in her eyes a poet is not something you can merely play at. Subsequently she retired as a rock star and only returned to that particular arena after the deaths of those close to her and she had reconciled the dichotomy of the two art forms within herself, now able to afford her two great loves the respect they both deserve.

 So her position centre stage last night was met with the usual whoops and hollers her mere appearance merits but instead of electrifying the atmosphere with the onslaught of electric power she waited for a reverent hush to descend before summoning up a magic of a different nature.

 Her first poem ‘Notes to the Future’ was fittingly one of her own writings and it became apparent immediately that her voice, wizened, croaky,, assured but still thick with youthful exuberance punctuating every syllable with significance and nuance can captivate as much as her primal rock and roll outpourings. Accompanied by Glass’s tinkling piano strains you could hear the scream of a butterfly in the full to capacity Playhouse. Ginsberg’s ‘Wichita Vortex Sutra’ with its references to ‘Language taxed by war’ followed on from this impressive opening with accompaniment not merely assisting the words but helping them to gain flight.

 Another of Smith’s own poems followed this before she introduced Tony Shanahan on guitar and stepped briefly into her more familiar role-unable to abandon her rock and roll leanings completely and why the Hell should she when she doesn’t merely play either of these roles but actually lives them?- she gave a powerful acoustic rendition of ‘Dancin’ Barefoot’ proving her voice does not need the raw power of a full band to generate an electric warrior with savage intention.


 A reading of ‘Escape at Bedtime’ continued this feel but it was a cover of John Lennon’s ‘Beautiful Boy’ and its now classic line ‘Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans’ which consolidated her stance and stood alone as a thing of true beauty. Mawkish, lachrymose and somewhat indulgent in the hands of its composer, Smith stripped it back and transformed it into a work of poignancy and awe inducing intensity. Childhood favourite Robert Louis Stevenson’s ‘Land of Nod’ paved the way neatly for a rousing version of ‘Pissing in a River’ before Smith left the stage for Glass to take centre position and perform three small pieces cohered into one solitary lengthy piece.


 This section of the show seemed to cause unrest among several audience members-it is hard to share a stage with someone of Smith’s stature but Glass is as strong and important an artist as she- but I found it breathtaking even if  his visual dynamic and charismatic presence was not as strong as his cohort and collaborator.

 Smith returned to perform Ginsberg’s tribute to one of his favourite family members ‘To Aunt Rose’ before a totally stunning, heartfelt and engrossing reading of his ‘On the Cremation of Chogyam Trungpa Vidyahara’ a tribute to his former teacher and mentor who performed the same role for him as he performed for Smith and Glass. ‘Holy’ –a footnote to the definitive beat poem ‘Howl’- introduced verbal riffing which was rock and roll in all but name and execution and rounded off a totally stunning show.

 Pausing only for the rapturous applause to die down the trio returned to the stage for a, more than usually, relaxed version of ‘People Have the Power’ which for me is not one of Smith’s greater songs but one but admittedly preferable in this incarnation than in its more usual rebel rousing style.

 So Patti Smith proved yet again that whatever it is she has, she still has it. Philip Glass more than ably matched her onstage and Tony Shanahan was a more than welcome addition but somehow it was still Patti’s show all the way!



In Conversation with the Brothers Quay


 This intimate and illuminating evening in the company of Stephen and Timothy Quay was both informative and entertaining. Personally I have no great knowledge concerning animation but am in fact a recent convert to its cause and aspirations. The work produced by these twin brothers however seems tp operate in a sphere all of its own ,quite literally on occasion, as it seems to back itself into a corner and explore every inch of that corner from every conceivable angle. Disorientating, dark, surreal, esoteric and provocative are just some adjectives that can be used to describe their work but it is so much more than all these things also.

 The conversation was easy and amiable with anecdotal references to accompany the several clips which were shown. The first of these was a piece called’ Hopscotch’ which featured a bludgeoning, static techno soundtrack which irritated and enthralled in equal measure co-ordinating perfectly with the thudding visuals. A piece which as a work for a museum  was designed only to be seen in passing and felt even more disorientating in its entirety.. The brothers then revealed that it was a move to Holland which allowed them to explore their animation ambitions and afford their work the aesthetic they felt it deserved.

 A second piece based on Polish writer Bruno Schultz followed this and by not following a traditional narrative an even darker more claustrophobic work materialised. This was after the brothers revealed that the soundtrack came first and much of what subsequently evolved was fashioned around this.

 Talk about the metaphysics of matter and an axolotl which became a rotating screw continued to hold the attention of an already rapt audience. The fact that they work as a team of two also offered up some explanation as to why their work continues to be as experimental, as a larger team of animators would require the co-operation of many and would make following their diverse and unique process less viable. Likewise working with real actors also provided a different set of problems as unlike puppets actors are capable of talking back although they did inform us they treated the actors with the same respect as their puppets and vice versa..

 This was an extremely entertaining and informative talk and revealed the brothers as having a hermetically sealed universe where shadows and light play tricks on each other. The final film of the night ‘In Absentia’ was originally commissioned by the BBC and its evocative and disturbing imagery and soundtrack merely left me and the rest of the audience wanting more.


In Conversation with the Brothers Quay was at Summerhall.


Bo Burnham:What


Let me begin by saying that I think Bo Burnham is a phenomenal talent. I first saw him three years ago ad was wowed by the precautious confidence and sheer chutzpah of the nineteen year old who took that years Fringe by storm. Fast forward three years and he is still miles ahead and head and shoulders above the rest of the stand up comedy on show-his timing is impeccable, his facial expressions unsurpassable and energy all consuming- yet there is still something disappointing about this show.

 This year I have mainly avoided stand up as I feel it has held sway over the Fringe for too long and as a rule it is generally quite unfunny. Out at the weekend I was discussing this with a friend who commented that her big problem with it was that at some point every stands up resorts to a homophobic joke as a means of getting a cheap laugh. Well Bo Burnham didn’t make us wait too long for his references to ‘Faggots’ as he trundled it out near the start of his show.

Remarks about comedy staples such as ‘Jews’ and ‘Niggers’ came later and I am unsure why as I do not think Burnham is in anyway homophobic, racist or anti-semitic –quite the opposite actually- but using such terms of abuse is irresponsible at a late night show when a vast percentage of the audience are pissed up. I know it all comes under the umbrella of ‘irony’ but unfortunately that umbrella doesn’t shelter people when those words are hurled at them as a torrent of abuse.

 Griping aside, Burnham certainly works at this show from the off when he mimes cleverly to a rocking backing track. He slows things down-slightly- for poetic interludes but quickly snaps back to high energy mode without pausing for breath. His musical observations about One Beiber or Justin Direction- I can’t tell them apart either- were well realised as was just about everything else about this show but somehow it never attained the peaks it should have considering the talent Burnham has at his disposal.

 There is no question that Burnham is a major player in comedy circles. I often felt last night that not appreciating it as much as I felt I should have was down to a generational divide-the majority of the audience were under twenty five- but at the end I noticed that whilst a handful stood up in an ovation the majority stood up merely to leave. For that reason I find it hard to give this show a rating that is universal and have opted instead to give it four stars if you are under twenty five and still like base humour .  For anyone over this age with a more sophisticated palate it is unfortunately only a three star show.

Bo Burnham: What is on at 11.15pm at The Pleasance until August 19th


Bette Davis Ain’t For Sissies


This is the Monday when many acts take a well earned rest so I decided to make an unusual foray into the Free Fringe. There was just something about the title ‘Bette Davis Ain’t for Sissies’ which appealed and the star of this show, Jessica Sherr, more than proved herself in a demanding role of possibly the greatest screen actress of all time.

 The action takes place on the evening of the Oscars in 1939-the one where ‘Gone With the Wind’ beat all comers by sweeping the board- and nominated for a career defining turn in ‘Dark Victory’ Davis discovers beforehand, via an article in the press, that she has been robbed of her third Oscar by Vivien Leigh’s classic performance as spoilt Southern belle Scarlett O’ Hara. Deciding not to attend the diva sulks her way back to her hotel room ignoring the remonstrations of her mother, referred to throughout as Ruthie, to attend and play the role of gracious loser. In the interim she runs the audience through all the trials, tribulations and successes which have thus far driven her career and brought her to the heady heights of stardom leading her into expecting to get exactly what she wants.

 William Wyler, Olivia De Havilland, her psychic mother who is prone to premonitions and Jack Warner are all given the Davis invective as well as some less sour observations. She goes on to detail the difficulties she has faced by not conforming-nor willing to even try to do so- the Hollywood stereotypes of what is expected of their leading ladies. Fighting for every decent role she played, a hysterical encounter is fabulously acted out with Warner and Busby Berkeley over a totally unsuited part in a musical where you would swear all three participants in the scene were present.

 Jessica Sherr is a tour de force in this show and the opulent room staging this drama was full to bursting with many being unable to gain entry even after the show had commenced. Sherr’s enunciation was pitch perfect and she has the iconic Davis intonation and expressions down pat; humour and vitriol are afforded equal opportunities. She even wears a pair of Davis’s evening gloves to lend the proceedings a sense of authenticity.

 As good as anything else you will see this year catch this show now as if Sherr brings it back again guaranteed it will not languish in the Free Fringe, as the script and her performance are worth every penny she may choose to charge in the future.


Bette Davis Ain’t For Sissies is on at the Fiddler’s Elbow at 12.45pm until August 24th