FRINGE REVIEWS 2011

 

The Quotidian Revue- Bongo Club (7.00pm)

 

 

 

Certainly different from other comedy acts on the circuit ‘The Quotidian Revue’ take a look at things  making up our everyday that usually are taken for granted or else no-one cares enough to notice. Thus we are entreated to barbed, droll tales about Simulator DVD’S, Cadbury’s Twirls, Letter Boxes and Sneezing amongst others. Delivered by Peter Fletcher, James Ward and Lewis Drybrugh there is not one joke about masturbation, families or drinking all of which are usually so much an integral part of a vast majority of comedy on the Fringe. In fact for most of the show there is the distinct feeling you are attending a university lecture. It is amusing but do not go along and expect rapid fire delivery with hugely anticipated punch lines- the type that don’t usually deliver- as this is a far more subtle , intelligent approach to comedy.

 

First to take the lectern-sorry microphone- is James Ward who entreats us to a rundown of all the DVD’S that can be bought to relieve the boredom of a mundane office, or any other, job. Quite why anyone would want to use quality time to play a fork lift truck simulator is beyond me but his research proves that even a fork lift truck driver does this for amusement. The surgeon simulator, on the other hand, appeals a little more. Lewis Drybrugh then simulates a conversation about the many combinations of Boots Meal Deals Following this Peter Fletcher takes the mike and a discussion on letter boxes and their quantified usage follows. Then they each take a turn again and this time around the subject matter includes the varying price of a Cadbury’s Twirl, whilst  Drybrugh introduces us to the beauty that is car park roofs. An interesting concept, I admit, but have you ever considered how much prime real estate space they occupy and how little it is used? Not to mention the views which are apparently outstanding. Peter Fletcher rounds things off with a chart showing how often he has sneezed and the significance attached to this.

 

This is an extremely different comedy show as the performers are not desperate for laugh out loud moments and the humour is definitely more of a bemused type. It will amuse more than incite raucous laughter If you enjoy something that makes you smile to yourself in recognition of something that you already know, or even suspect, then this show will work for you. The subject matter is the quotidian which basically means the every day things that surround us but pay little attention to and often take for granted. This show highlights that there are those out there who take this into consideration and fixate on what many would consider being useless and pointless knowledge. Either that or the subject matter may provide you with answers to questions you have never dared or bothered to ask about before. Comedy for trainspotters then!

 

****

4.3 Miles From Nowhere –( Fine Chisel Theatre) Zoo Monkey House  (3PM)

 

 Apparently conceived as a modern day version of Shakespeare’s ‘A Winter’s Tale’ this enchanting production by the Fine Chisel Theatre Company manages to attain an identity all its own. This production by an –admittedly- youthful group featured performances that approached the material with bravado and verve and managed to win over the older members of the audience. It had musical interludes with a pagan feel as well as hitting on the internal dynamics of human relationships.

The cast are already on stage as the audience enters and appear to be in the grip of an internal disagreement. When the action begins proper it transpires that they are, in fact, en route home from a fancy dress party-the superhero outfits and tuxedo thus explained- before  running out of petrol and finding themselves in the  countryside or more accurately 4.3 miles from nowhere. It is then the fun begins and we start to learn about the five characters. Or at least four of them the spectral almost peripheral figure of Lucas seems detached from the internal dynamic and it emerges that none of the others really know much about him. Sam is the buoyant idiot boy with charm and stupidity in equal measure. Spending most of his energies on trying to work out how to seduce Molly a city girl whose main concern seems to be how she will cope with a night in the country without her GHD straightners. Flynn is a rich kid with his life mapped out for him by his dominant father –who wants to send out a helicopter to rescue him- but harbours secret desires for Penny a studious type who has been brought up by her single parent father and has had none of his advantages in life.

All through the performance there is music emerging from the shadows at the side of the stage creating a human surround-sound effect- conjuring up an eerie ambience then suddenly about halfway through a band make their way centre stage and the folk soundtrack lurches to the fore. The play takes on a whole new dimension and it is one that is ably handled and works very well.

This is a very worthwhile production by a company that holds a lot of young precocious but ultimately very talented performers. Whilst the demographic on the day I attended was of a youthful variety there is enough in the script, performances and musical matter for any age group to enjoy without insulting anyone’s intelligence.

****

Black Slap – Gilded Balloon (1.00pm)

Set on election night in 1964 in a Britain on the precipice of cultural change with its first prime minister not to have attended public school waiting to take centre stage – Harold Wilson- ,The Beatles storming the charts and the hearts of  the first of several generations and the Black and White Minstrel Show’ attaining  TV audiences of 18 million.  Backstage at a London theatre on this night tensions are simmering due to all these factors and a whole lot more besides. The sixties are often credited as the most influential decade in terms of cultural shifts during the twentieth century and history reveals this to be so but for those living through the decade these changes were not as apparent to those actually living through these times and this is something brought to the fore in this very accomplished and enjoyable production of Paul Haley’s ‘Black Slap’.

A riot of sequins ,feathers ,gossip and ‘Negro no.2’ make up by Max Factor all hang heavy in the air backstage at this particular stage version of the ‘Black and White Minstrels’ and true to form  paradoxically the wardrobe boy Pyrex-an excellent Marc Small-is the only  black person around. In the great tradition of comedic drama he occupies the role of the knowing underling performing menial tasks-ironically due to his colour- for those who are intellectually inferior in order to pay for a University education. His role as outsider also permit him the voyeuristic opportunities to observe any fractious situations as they arise , sorting out any disputes whilst acting as the social glue that binds them together. His outsider role also allows him to sympathise with those who are excluded from a Royal Variety Performance by consoling them with the advantages of the consolation they are offered. He, himself, as a black man has probably been in this position several times in his life. He also has a secret lover that is not revealed until much later on in the unfolding drama.

Most of the action takes place during the time the performers return backstage to change for the next routine. There is more drama occurring, due to personal rivalries and generational difference, in the dressing room than there ever can be on the stage however. Dave Lynn turns in a great performance as company queen Mary –all ‘bona’ and ‘varda’ long forgotten gay palare- and is none too pleased at being overlooked for the royal performance. The two wide boys Dave and Merv- Tommy O’Neill and Will Chitty- also turn in great performances as does Sarah Redmond as the lone female character Wendy. In fact the whole show works perfectly as an ensemble piece.

This is a perfect afternoon show that shows how Britain has changed over the last fifty years. It is shocking to think that a show as racially insulting and demeaning as ‘The Black and d White Minstrel Show’ ran until 1978 which is fourteen years after this play is set. The refusal of the old guard to admit change is in the air is validated when one of the older generation exhorts that no-one will remember the Beatles fifty years hence nor will their songs be sung by other artists. In fact what lies at the crux of the play is the changing of the guard with a whole new world with different ideas and ideals just around the corner. The times were, indeed, a-changing.

****

The Captain of Kopenick The Spaces (4.10pm)

 

This interpretation of the John Mortimer translated version of Carl Zuckmayer’s ‘The Captain of Kopenick’ directed by Paul Tomlinson and performed by Central School of Speech and Drama’s Best Kept Secret Theatre Company manages to extricate a fine set of performances from its cast that far outshines the rest of the production. Essentially it works best as a showcase for the vast acting abilities this group have at their disposal but overall the whole thing lacks total cohesion and sometimes the drama feels overplayed and some of the comic satire is lost. This is not to decry the production however as it will still appeal to anyone who prefers a more traditional form of theatre enacted by aspiring young talent.

The drama unfolds before World War 1 in Germany after Wilhelm Voigt – a small time criminal- finds himself in prison for several years and due to his criminal past is unable to acquire the necessary papers that will enable him to find employment of any kind and therefore finds himself demoralised and unable to escape the lowly circumstances that fate has conspired to create for him. Through various situations and observations it becomes clear to Voigt that a military uniform carries with it a certain amount of prestige and power that combine to create a currency all their own. This realisation sets him on a mission to acquire such a uniform for himself and he is successful in his ambitions but his tale is not over yet and being in possession of the uniform and the powers that accompany it only create a new more bizarre set of circumstances that he again has no control over.

This production does not deviate from the original text and this is an admirable quality. There is a lot of set shifting between scenes and this is also handled skilfully and the transition is relatively seamless. There is just something about the whole production that does not collate into a satisfactory whole. Despite the strength of the performances-many of them outstanding- it still feels like a student production and this is perhaps what prevents it from attaining the kudos that would move it into the realms of being outstanding theatre. With so many strong performances it really needs one to have the generosity of spirit to let someone else lead a scene rather than all attempting to out-act, rather than interact with, each other. Occasionally it was like being confronted by an over excited litter of puppies all wanting to be noticed and picked. As stated before it operates best as a showcase for the talent it houses and this may be the best way to approach it.

***

Batman- Holy Spoof Musical- St Augustines (2.50pm)

 

Perhaps the absence of the rain for the last two days had stopped me from feeling quite so pissed off therefore just to annoy myself I thought why not book myself into a musical, very rarely my first choice of entertainment. Add to that a spoof of a spoof TV series that was –after seeing re-runs on TV and,Julie Newmar as Catwoman aside- pretty awful anyway. Then on my way to the venue as if on cue the rain started. Double whammy! Unfortunately once I sought sanctuary from the downpour inside  my mood did not improve as from the outset the show was disappointing.

Sometimes a musical surprises me and I get caught up in the camp fantasy of it all- live performances of ‘West Side Story’ and ‘The Boy-Friend’ have both drawn me quite willingly into their intoxicating web over the last couple of years- but unfortunately this show does not figure among those higher echelons of the genre. Apart from a strong performance from the actor portraying Two-face, the characterisation and acting, in the main, felt weak, uninspiring and, far too often,  amateur. As for the singing it was generally dull and on occasion flat although occasionally the lyrics and the script succeeded in throwing up witticisms. The collection of villains were all there Catwoman, Penguin, Riddler, Poison Ivy, Mr. Freeze and the aforementioned Two-Face who was easily in a different league to his erstwhile partners in-comedy musical-crimes. A suggested gay relationship between Batman and, Boy Blunder, Robin felt ill conceived and cheapened the proceedings further.

The audiences for musicals are a law unto themselves however and admittedly they did seem to be quite enjoying it whilst I just cringed more and more the longer it went on. Holy-Moly Batman this show- try as it might- does not pack a ‘ Boff’ ‘Bam’ or, most especially, a ‘KaPow’!!

**

My Filthy Hunt – Underbelly (3.55pm)

This excellent production of the Philip Stokes penned ‘My Filthy Hunt’ by Horizon Arts is only one of two shows that this theatre group has on offer at the Fringe 2011. The other is the amazing ’Laundry Boy’ which shows only a couple of hours previously with the same cast- Lee Bainbridge, Aiden Ross, Hayley Shillitoe and Kate Daley- and I am amazed that after the earlier show they have enough energy to pull out performances as strong as the ones in this show. Even without factoring in the earlier performance ‘My Filthy Hunt’ is still an extraordinary and powerful accomplishment that had its audience gripped throughout.

Occupying the stage like four mannequins in a confrontational threatening, stance the action begins as they stalk around to Depeche Mode’s ‘Stripped’ , following the songs menacing request by disrobing ‘down to the bone’ or in this case their underwear. Then without clothes and very few props the chilling tale of Marvin and acolytes commences with each of the cast contributing various scenarios seemingly simultaneously. The hopelessness, despair, sexual curiosity and human nature in all its most grotesque human splendour are all touched upon in very oblique manner combining to create a narrative that is not always easy to decipher but is never anything less that totally engrossing and morbidly fascinating. A parody of the eviction scene in ‘Poltergeist’ raises the tension bar and lifts the humour quotient simultaneously.

About halfway through ‘Out To Get You ‘by James begins and suddenly cuts dead whilst the cast freeze and stand staring in muted silence for what seems like an eternity- it is probably no longer than 2 minutes- while the tension mounts into something totally palpable before they snap back into a chilling march/dance all sinister movements combined with eerie handclaps. Such actions are brave and this quartet pulls it off to create a stunning moment of cool, edgy, sexy and enthralling theatre. The pace never lets up after this point and it all reaches a climactic crescendo of an ending that has touched many raw emotional nerves simultaneously combining a healthy dose of macabre humour .

Everything about this production is exquisitely handled from the four excellent performances, the original direction, sympathetic lighting and disturbing musical choices which evoke the ambience required perfectly. It was not always clear what was going on but somehow this did not detract in any way from the drama unfolding. When it finished and the last note of music droned out the audience cheered for far longer than the two minutes silence the cast had entreated us to earlier.

*****

McNeil and Pamphilon:Which One are You- Pleasance Dome (5.40)

 

Splitting their audience into two categories McNeil’s – boring dullards who have had a style bypass but in possession of a mortgage- or Pamphilon’s- airhead barmen who have natural style but self medicate- is the premise that drive this highly entertaining show. I must admit I enjoyed this two man sketch show a lot more than I expected to and this was probably down to the fact that they seemed to be enjoying it themselves. At this stage during the Fringe most acts are tired or starting to loosen up as they are on the home stretch and it is apparent that the latter of these two is the driving force behind the loose limbed, casual insouciance of this show.

Opening with a juvenile skit over a urinal they then introduce themselves properly with a re-interpretation of ‘Right Said Fred’ –substituted alternately with Steve and Sam the duo’s given Christian names- that in other hands could be considered unfinished or half formed nevertheless worked through the sheer chutzpah of the performance. A multi accented Batman is next up and the sketches seem to be snippets that then continue to flow by fast and furious. It is an interesting concept as the humour is extremely random, often surreal, vaguely immature and complex all at the same time but somehow always amusing. A sketch wherein both try on the same jacket borrowed from an audience member shows how one- Pamphilon- can wear anything and look –reasonably- stylish whilst McNeil looks, well, not very stylish at all really. It is an amusing sketch and one that even the two participants can’t control their own amusement during. This happens several times throughout the duration of  the show and I feel their own laughter is infectious and spurs the audience on.

The charisma of both performers and the natural chemistry and camaraderie that obviously exists is the essential ingredient in this shows success. At the moment it still needs a lot of work and if they could combine this with tighter material they would have an amazing act. At the moment flashes of brilliance peek through but they are as random as some of the subject matter and sketches. Despite this I found the whole show a breath of fresh air at a time when the Fringe is winding down and provided me with the laugh out loud moments that so many others haven’t actually managed to deliver. For this alone they deserve a four star rating but unfortunately their material does not quite match their talents or infectious enthusiasm..

***1/2

Generation 9/11 So Far / So Close-The Spaces (2.05pm)

 

This one man show written and performed by Chris Wolfe concentrates on the different reactions to that fateful day- both at the time and the intervening years since- in September 2001 which has affected world order ever since. It is a sterling attempt that manages to get its message across without taking a sledge hammer and bludgeoning the point home. It is a carefully nuanced performance and Wolfe’s dipping in and out of different characters captures the vast array of emotions people felt about those cataclysmic events of the day that has, so far, defined the early 21st century.

The drama begins to the initial reactions to the first plane hitting the North Tower with the sense of disbelief and confusion turning to horror as the second plane hits the South Tower realising this is no accident. As one who watched the action unfold on live TV at the time I also felt some of the emotions that Wolfe refers to including the one where it resembled a movie- Bruce Willis to the rescue like in the Die Hard films- only to be replaced by the gut wrenching realisation that planes could now be considered weapons whilst real people were dying live on television in real life and in real time. Wolfe manages to capture this and switches to different locales of the U.S. showing the far reaching effects the events are having. It emerges that through tragedy a sense of unity arises but this is soon replaced by feelings of mistrust and suspicion. This is primarily directed towards the Muslim community but soon spreads to include Government conspiracy amongst many others and before long America is more disparate than it was prior to the attacks.

Following on from the time of 9/11 Wolfe observes that a new generation could be defined but points out that they don’t deserve to be as why should any generation be defined by circumstances they had no part in or control over? It is an interesting point and one that requires consideration. He also points out that the first ten years of  the 21st century have been beset by disaster whether it be forces of nature- Tsunamis, Hurricane Katrina- or created by man-9/11, the Iraq and Afghanistan war- and it has, so far, been a time of major upheaval.

This fifty minute show provides serious food for thought and is well executed with Wolfe giving a more than convincing set of performances. It may not have the big budget of many other more professional productions but it is definitely worth a consideration if you prefer drama with a conscience.

***

Bob and Jim – Modern Urges Underbelly (10.10 pm)

 

Bounding onto the stage with an irrepressible energy looking for all the world like a couple of normal ‘geezers’ en route to a ‘Blues Brothers’ convention Bob and Jim are here to apparently breathe new life into the rigor mortis form of old school comedy. They certainly go out of their way to endear themselves to an audience and on the night I attended they won over most of the crowd. Unfortunately I was not one of the converted as I found their act a little puerile and nowhere near as funny as it considered itself to be.

Opening with a collection of seriously bad jokes- seriously groansome time- doesn’t really signify irony but instead just a collection of one bad joke after the other. If they had finished on the high of a really good joke it may have lifted itself out of the trough of mediocrity but instead they decided to perform a song about gnomes a la the Ting Ting’s ‘That’s Not My Name’ –you get the gist ‘That’s not my Gnome’- which was decidedly unfunny not in the least because the biggest joke song about gnomes has to be David Bowie’s ‘Laughing Gnome’ recorded as a novelty single and re-released at a time when he had only just managed to re-invent himself as  the coolest man on the planet. Lady Gaga also comes under the not so dynamic duo’s re-interpretations with versions of both ‘Bad Romance’ and a song about pork pies to the tune of-you guessed it- ‘Poker Face’. Oh, how I didn’t laugh.

The main problem with this show is the time of night it is on. Previously I have noticed that late night comedy acts rely too much on the audience being a little pissed up and that to someone sober-as I usually am-it just doesn’t work. This act however would not work any better with the addition of a few drinks but instead as more of a family outing earlier on in the day as I feel it would have more appeal to a younger audience. T one juncture they try to inject their act with a little more kudos with the addition of two alter egos Barry and Martin and whilst it provides a bit of much needed sophistication it doesn’t really rescue the show.

Admittedly I did not find this show funny but most of the audience seemed to be enjoying it. I did feel, however, that much of the laughter was of the polite –‘we’ve paid our money’- variety rather than any deep rooted guttural belly laughs.

**

Helmsman Pete: Postcards from the Edge-Underbelly (5.15pm)

Writing this review posed a real problem for me as sitting through the forty five minutes of Pete Reid’s one man show I am still totally unsure what the whole thing was about or even what message-if any- it was trying to convey. Usually I am more than up for anything a little out of the ordinary but somehow I felt this show tried too hard to be too different and, in turn, became convoluted, disorientated and ultimately failed in its objectives.

Reading between the lines-or more accurately my press release- I was able to decipher that Helmsman Pete is a storyteller on a mysterious journey of those who live on the edge of the world. Incorporated into the show as a secondary narrative tool are musical interludes –several of which bear more than a passing resemblance to the works of fellow Australian Nick Cave- which provide the high points of the proceedings.  Reid certainly throws himself into his performance however and he is obviously a skilled performer with talents that are out of sync with this material. The material, in itself, seems to consist of several random ideas none of which are ever brought to fruition. At one point I was more amused by the restlessness of the hyperactive five year old sitting in front of me who had obviously been dragged along by his parents and judging by the bewildered looks they were exchanging this was obviously a decision they were regretting.

As said before I did not ‘get’ this show at all. At the end Reid announced that copies of his CD were available from the box office and I feel he should perhaps concentrate his talents in music or else hone his capabilities within an ensemble piece. As a one man show unfortunately ‘Helmsman Pete ‘is all out to sea.

**

Guy Pratt:Wake Up Call –Gilded Balloon (5.30pm)

 

Guy Pratt’s show consist in the main of him reciting tales of his time as a touring and session musician-playing bass- and reveals insider secrets of what it is really like working for such industry luminaries as Pink Floyd, Bryan Ferry, Madonna, Michael Jackson and Robert Palmer among others. Backstage traumas, hotel mishaps and stage incidents punctuated with musical interludes suffice in helping to create an ambience akin to being down the pub soaking up Pratt’s observations as an interloper on the stars worlds. It is a relaxed show that really doesn’t feel much like a show at all as Pratt is an accomplished raconteur or should that be rockonteur.

Letting the audience into secrets such as the terminology amongst the rock elite for anywhere not considered to be  a major city-such as New York ,London et al- is to dismiss it simply as ‘somewhere in the Midwest’. It is not really a putdown however as touring from city to city and hotel to hotel soon becomes a blur and each location becomes indistinguishable from the previous one. It is the insider portraits of the stars that really captivate and lend this show its edge however.

Thus we learn that Madonna liked to remind everyone in the studio that ‘Time is money and the money is mine’ whereas Jackson would hide behind a mixing desk instructing an inarticulate security man to translate his specified musical needs for him rather than simply doing it himself despite being less than six feet away. Robert Palmer liked to sing basslines as his way of attaining what he required whilst Bryan Ferry as the ultimate lounge lizard of cool never re-employed Pratt after the latter smashed up a guitar on stage in a fit of rock and roll abandon. The tales take in the corporate nature of the industry in the modern age and has a dig at Snow Patrol’s recent team up with Guiness. An amusing segment imagines how classics like ‘Ziggy Stardust’ and ‘London Calling’ could have been incorporated into this structure if this set up had been around at the time.

An extremely enjoyable hour was spent in the company of Guy Pratt and at the end it didn’t really feel as though we had been subjected to a monologue. Instead a much more relaxed atmosphere was created and although the names dropped were, in the main, household ones there was little sense of the braggadocio that usually accompanies these sort of tales.

****

Alison Thea Skot- The Human Tuning Fork- Just the Tonic (12.00)

 

Opening by introducing her character- the human tuning fork Tiff Mason- Alison Thea Skot reveals the strongest element of her act immediately in this character driven sketch show. From the outset it is a full frontal attack as Tiff Mason runs up and down the aisles high-fiving, bursts into uncontrolled operatic outbursts and generally harangues everyone in her vicinity. It is an exuberant start and the audience feel as though they are hit by a whirlwind persona of hurricane proportions. It is a hard act to follow and  maintaining that sort of energy level is an extremely tall order however and Thea Skot unfortunately hits her high notes almost immediately but does not manage to sustain them throughout the show.

After this high octane entrance a narrative develops wherein Tiff’s psychotic tendencies resulting in arson and murder reveal themselves. After a brief-well executed- recorded segment where Thea Skot changes outfit and character to emerge as a vacuous children’s television presenter, Alex Anderson, who finds herself caught up in the Mason drama but is unable to step outside the restrictions of the TV role she inhabits even when reporting on a serious crime. Other characters include an Australian social worker and an incompetent lawyer supposedly working on Tiff’s behalf. After this we are back to Tiff herself but Thea Skot never manages to regain the high level impact of both her performance and material again. The whole thing wraps up with a rousing version of ‘You’ll Never Walk Alone’ and that is more or less it.

Relatively short-forty five minutes or thereabouts- Thea Skot has wisely decided not to pad the show out with any excess filler. It is unfortunate that she did not compress a more dynamic show into her allotted time frame after such a promising start though. All said however this is a more than adequate early lunchtime experience and Thea Skot emerges as someone who has a successful future ahead of her. Give this show a try if you enjoy seeing what could be a major talent in their formative state.

***

John Robins- Lift your Skinny Fists like Antennas to Heaven- Just the Tonic (7.00pm)

 

After a while it becomes hard to review different stand ups as they tend to blend into a blur of denim and plaid. John Robins may fit into this category but he does possess a certain charisma and singular delivery that afford him an identity of his own. There is something about his ambling charm shot through with what could be termed naiveté that relaxes an audience and prevents them feeling they are being battered by an onslaught of not always funny punchlines and profanities which so many others launch into as desperate measure to engender a quick, cheap laugh if they feel audiences are not responding adequately.

From the outset Robins manages to put the audience at ease as he eases into a tale about anxiety dreams- in his case this involves poetry and a school performance-before sidestepping, giving the impression that his concentration tends to wander. It is a charming device that he utilizes to good effect and so we are rewarded with stories involving a dead kitten, his father’s disapproval concerning his vocation, religion, and stag and hen do’s. The aforementioned are all pretty standard fare on the comedy circuit but Robins doesn’t claim that originality is his forte or calling card. At one point he claims that he isn’t the best stand up in the world but counters that it is the thing in the world he is ‘least shit at’ which is decrying his abilities a little harshly. Not as harshly as he feels about street artist Banksy and more rants in this vein would imbue the act with more kudos.

If Robins’ act does have a fault it is that he doesn’t always tie his jokes together with a strong narrative thread. It is also lacking that high point that most acts need where the dialogue reaches a climax  that everything is directed towards or derived from. Without this central premise the whole thing takes on a rather directionless slant.

Robins therefore has an amiable, excitable delivery but he needs to give his act a stronger sense of construction before he can move on to the next level. At the moment it is a reasonable enough show- a distinct pleasure in comparison to much of the competition- but it is not quite there yet. Almost, but not quite.

***

Liberace:  Live From Heaven- Assembly (6.25pm)

 

I am not quite sure why I requested tickets to review this show unless it was some perverse form of self harming I still don’t comprehend. Previously the only time that Bobby Crush,-the shows star- Liberace and Musical Theatre appeared on my top three of anything it was things that must be avoided at all costs. So it was with some trepidation and dread that I made my way to the theatre but along the way I managed to coerce myself into some positive thinking and convinced myself it might be a bit of a laugh. It wasn’t. The brief illusion of happiness dissipated rapidly when I was handed a programme that had Heaven and Hell printed on opposite sides and it was the latter side up that I received. The portentous signs all signified I was about to enter some kind of living Hell and I was right.

From the moment Crush bounded onto the stage in a white fur cape with a sequinned suit underneath looking for all the world like Godzilla meets Susan Boyle via Janette Krankie with a yeast complaint I just knew this was not for me. The glittering furball was famous for his surgically enhanced procedures- if enhanced is the right word- and Crush had managed to pull off the living waxwork look perfectly, all teeth, wig and frozen movements. This is more than can be said for his abysmal attempts at Liberace’s camp drawl which were excruciating to listen to. It is hard to imagine how he was once the worlds highest paid entertainer coming off as pure old fashioned vaudeville with a candelabra and smarm in place of charm. The modern day equivalent would be the cultural behemoth Robbie Williams- another Butlins Redcoat struck lucky- but with some musical ability.

As for the music let’s just say I felt on occasion I was witnessing the murder of some great compositions. Chopin, Rachmaninov and Gershwin were grist for the mill but when it moved onto modern territory including Beyonce’s ‘Crazy in Love’, Girls Aloud’s ‘Promises’ and even Aqua’s ‘Barbie Girl’ I could hardly believe that I was forcing myself to sit through it. The final straw came when he massacred ‘YMCA’ whilst encouraging the audience to clap along which they proceeded to do but out of sync with each other and obviously to a completely different song in another timezone.

At this point I decided life was too short and I loved myself, my ears and valued my sanity too much to sit through anymore. I had lasted possibly one of the longest fifty five minutes of my life so far. I am not sure whether was some kind of reward for sitting this out to the end- it still had a full half hour to run- but I can only assume so as I can’t fathom out any other reason. Personally I think that smothering your genitals in fish food and then bathing in a pool of piranha would be more pleasurable. What I don’t understand is how heavyweight performers such as Victoria Wood and Stephen Fry – they don’t appear but are heard as God and St. Peter respectively- allowed themselves to be involved in this project. The purpose of the whole show was apparently to determine whether Liberace should be sent to Heaven or Hell. Well I know which one I had just sat through and I would not wish that on anyone.

*

Drags Aloud-Showgurl- Underbelly (10.20)

 

I had been meaning to see this lot for the last two years but my schedule hadn’t permitted it but having seen them flyering whilst I was waiting to get into other shows thought they seemed like a fun night out. In this department they certainly don’t disappoint and from the opening number ‘Viva Las Vegas’ in a riot of feathers, sequins and heels have the crowd well and truly onside. It is an act that is hard to resist and the trio comprising Jessica James, Krystle Del Vayze and Amanda Monroe work to keep the energy levels ramped up to high.

This was the opening night of their run at the Underbelly and there were a few technical glitches but somehow they made these work for them with quick witted improvisations and bawdy remarks. Each one in turn gives a detailed biography- each as a different form of showgirl- of what has brought them to the place they are now at in their lives. Jessica James is the natural joker in the pack and much is made of her more rotund figure. Amanda Monroe on the other hand gave a sincerely touching account of her life so far and after taking the audience with her on this very special journey prepared to round off with a Dusty Springfield number that she felt articulated what she felt. Unfortunately it didn’t quite go to plan as the technical staff misread their cue and played the wrong music. Turning it into a joke Monroe never skipped a beat and when the right music was eventually found it was with an added sense of poignancy.

There is not much else I can say about this show other than it is tremendous fun and a great way to round off an evening. Some may argue that the act is a one trick pony and this may be so but for an hour long show it is one trick that they perform very well.

***


 

Tuesday at Tescos- Assembly (2.00pm)I

In less accomplished hands than Simon Callow’s it is hard to gauge just how successful Emmanuelle Darley’s translated script would be. As it is the sheer breadth and capabilities of a major talent like Callow lends what would otherwise be dull-about as inspiring as an actual Tuesday at Tescos- dialogue some gravitas and breathes life into a lifeless script. Dealing primarily with the inner outpourings of middle aged transvestite Paul/Pauline and the relationship with her elderly father that revolves around a necessary weekly trip to the local branch of the supermarket chain and the reactions this provokes not just in them but the other shoppers and sales assistants.

Essentially a seventy minute monologue by Simon Callow very little is actually revealed. We are made aware that Pauline’s father is uncomfortable with the cross dressing aspects of his son but this is really no revelation considering the age group and generation he originates from. Typical of that generation he feels like it is a reflection on his own masculinity and makes little or no attempt at comprehension. As for Pauline these trips to Tescos are fraught with her own problems. Even choosing which check out to use requires a decision that anyone else may take for granted as the disparaging way a certain assistant refers to them pointedly as ’Gentlemen’ irks as it is so obviously done as a put down. Callow tells these tales with deep emotional insight that capture so much of Paul/Pauline’s inner frustrations. It certainly captures them better than the occasional spasmodic physical outbursts that punctuate the dialogue but come across more as the ‘Flight of the Bumblebee’ performing a crash landing.

‘Tuesday at Tescos’ is an extremely accomplished production. From Callow’s perfectly nuanced performance that reaches deep into the core of his characters soul to the subtle lighting shifts that articulate the emotional and verbal meaning of the script beautifully. Towards the end I felt my attention start to wander as it is perhaps over long. Despite this Callow gives a five star performance unfortunately however he was working with a three star script.

****

Federer Vs Murray – Assembly (12.30)

This production of a new tragic-comedy by Gerda Stevenson concerning the war of attrition between Flo and Jimmy a couple who are struggling to deal with the death of their son unfortunately didn’t really deliver convincingly. The performances were sympathetic enough but the whole production just came across as flat and a little amateur dramatics failing to deliver a grand slam on any level.

As already stated the loss of their son has caused a seemingly irreparable rift in the marriage of Flo and Jimmy. Recently made redundant he has settled into a moribund lifestyle of soaking up newspapers and current event television programmes. Flo meanwhile is struggling with as many shifts as is humanly possible to keep the household financially afloat. Frustrated with Jimmy’s laziness around the house matters each a head when they sit down together to watch a Wimbledon semi-final featuring Roger Federer and Andy Murray with each poignantly supporting the opponent of the other. It is a neat parallel as to how relationships reach a crisis point and they argue about each others different reactions to their sons death- in combat in either Afghanistan or Iraq- and their inability to relate to each other any longer. A suggested trip to Switzerland, where Jimmy had passed through as a child, finds them up a mountain where the calming atmosphere helps them to find some solace and common ground again.

I feel that a lot of the flatness of this production may lie in the unimaginative direction and lighting as the two actors are more than competent in their roles. The script is adequate though offers nothing much in the way of originality in the dialogue or plot line. Interludes supplied by what was supposed to be the ghost of the dead son playing a melancholy tune on his saxophone were far too frequent and did not hit the right emotional terrain to be wholly successful in pulling the whole scenario together or conveying any depth of emotion. The whole thing, simply put, left me non-plussed and after leaving the theatre realised that the proceedings had had little or no emotional impact on me whatsoever.

**

Laundry Boy- Underbelly (1.00pm)

 

Opening with a pastiche of and homage to Nick Kamen in the classic ‘80’s Levis launderette ad this well observed comedy drama from Horizon Arts with Richard Burton Productions is off to a great start that it manages to sustain throughout its duration. Tight knit, sympathetic performances give the already strong material an extra dimension that turns this drama into one of the better offerings from this years Fringe. Even the horrific- to these ears anyway- eighties power ballads have a place in the tale of teenage loner Terry Orange and his erstwhile superhero alter-ego ‘Laundry Boy’ on a mission to clean up the world. Now if he could only clean up the mess of his own life first.

Opening in the launderette owned by his father Terry’s imagination is awakened by the unexpected arrival –while he is engaged in sexual congress with a Hoover-of the girl he so wanted to impress at school, Melanie Baxter. Essentially his polar opposite and everything he wants to be, popular, attractive and confident, the encounter prompts him into a fantasy world of comic book creations –or graphic novel as he prefers- that allows him relief from the mundanities of his everyday existence. Into this bizarre world enter Hoover Girl, Perfect Girl and Bielzebubbles as well as his sixteen year old true self. Each character, in turn, has contributed in creating a world for Terry to escape to and in doing so has contributed to his fractured, uncertain psyche. Confronting his demons or in this case his comic book creations allows Terry to wrestle some control into his life and the narrative whilst comical up to a certain point moves into more a more serious domain when confronted with the reality of what his make believe world is preventing him from doing. The drama has a climactic scene played out, ironically, over the big hair and power chords anthem, Europe’s ‘The Final Countdown’. Following this the conflicts Terry feels are confronted and a resolution, of sorts, is arrived at.

This is an extremely enjoyable piece of intelligent, well crafted piece of theatre by a company who house a lot of talent and always deliver outstanding performances and a deep understanding of the material they are working with. There is so much theatre around this year but this show is certainly deserving of your attention.

*****

Scott Capurro-Scott Capurro’s Positiion- Gilded Balloon (4.15pm)

 

This afternoon chat show hosted by Scott Capurro and and Dave Mills changes its line up every day usually throwing up an interesting mix and the day I attended was no exception. The first five minutes involved Capurro and Mills informing the audience of discussions that have arisen between previous guests including Simon Callow and a chorus boy from ‘Sweet Charity’ the musical who used the stage to reveal his former career as a rent boy. No such revelations from today’s guests who are, according to Capurro’s billing, a punk, a dyke and a tranny. Translated he is referring to, respectively, Henry Rollins,  Sally Ruffell and Andrew O’Neal the latter two being  up and coming comedians on the circuit whilst Rollins, for those who don’t know, was the musclebound front man for punk band Black Flag and now a raconteur of sorts appearing in a spoken word show.

First guest is Ruffell who responds well to Capurro’s questioning. Focussing on his guests sexuality is a thread that runs through Capurro’s act but he does it without demeaning or cheapening it which is refreshing. An out lesbian Ruffell explains how sometimes she has to win audiences round after revealing this at her shows. Second guest is Henry Rollins who is probably the most high profile of today’s guests. An eloquent wordsmith Rollins reveals the downside of tattoos as the skin gets older. If somebody whose body is still in the prime condition that his is feels that sagging flesh and faded colours are becoming unsightly and unattractive then God help the multitudes stomping the streets branded for life due to an ill advised decision. Other topics include war as being for political and corporate gain and, of course, his sexuality. Straight, not even dabbled, for anyone who is interested. Last up is Andrew O’ Neal who likes to cross dress for his shows and cites Eddie Izzard as an influence. A debate then ensues whether gay marriage is a good or bad thing with interesting arguments from both sides. Interestingly the ones who are actually gay- Ruffell and the two hosts- were the ones who were the least convinced of it being a good idea or even advantageous. They put forward the interesting notion that by becoming more like the heterosexual norm this was stifling the difference that forced so many gays in the past to produce such great art in all the different spheres. It is an interesting chat and one that developed into other areas with Rollins extolling his hatred of corporate America and then revealing five minutes later that he actually owns five corporations of his own. Taking many twists and turns the conversation never lost momentum and Capurro kept a tight rein over the proceedings.

For any one who fancies catching this show Capurro’s daily guests are available from the Gilded Balloon. It was certainly interesting to hear such diverse artists in conversation and revealing things about themselves in such a relaxed and unscripted environment.

****

Briefs- Gilded Balloon-(12.30am)

 

I must confess that I was so not wanting to go to this show as it didn’t start until 12.30 and my previous show finished a good four hours previous to this so I had gone home in the interim. Also the sound of an all male burlesque-or boylesque if you prefer-threw up images of a camp extravaganza too far at that time of  night. However having made the effort to venture out I am happy to admit that I am so glad I did as the show was quite brilliant and was well worth not just my effort but that of everyone involved. It was, as our host/ess for the performance would have it, ‘a little bit of butch with a fuck load of camp on the side’.

From the moment I arrived at the venue there was an electric vibe coursing through the air and the troupe members mingled among the crowd ramping up the feverish pitch. Within two minutes I could hardly believe that I had been considering going to my bed a half hour previously so energised and up for anything did I feel. This was without consuming any alcohol either. The first routine consisted of a discofied version of the traditional burlesque tease of feathers and fans before lurching off into more acrobatic and demanding terrain. With the energy levels in overdrive we were taken on a journey involving mid-air acrobatics , a spectacular hula hooping routine to 2 Unlimited’s ‘No Limit’ which leads you into believing that there really isn’t, spinning plates and more  acrobatic displays all of which whipped the audience into a frenzy and this is only a Monday night. All through the witty repartee and incessant costume changes ensured that the audience were never bored. Occasional moments of lucidity include a back story to each of the individual acts that although shot through with humour have an underlying sense of seriousness affording the whole show a sense of gravitas rather than just a shiny camp extravaganza with more sequins than a Supremes convention. Not that it isn’t camp however but it is high camp as opposed to the cheaper, tawdrier low end version. These guys have balls under their ball gowns and they are not afraid to –quite literally- show them.

‘ Briefs’ therefore looks set to become a huge Fringe success as word of mouth and good reviews will combine to them selling out every night. I went on a Monday and it was virtually sold out whilst the audience were more than up for it whooping and hollering throughout. Having dragged myself along it was a pleasure to be so bowled over and amazed by the sheer brash audacity of the whole show. Thoroughly recommended to anyone up for a good time whatever day of the week. Go see this I am sure you will not be disappointed.

*****

David Reed- Shamblehouse- Pleasance (8.30pm)

 

The first solo outing featuring David Reed- known to many as one third of the Penny Dreadfuls- is an inspired offering that showcases his inestimable talents perfectly. Called ‘Shamblehouse’ for no apparent reason –which conversely in this surreal world makes perfect sense- from the outset when Reed struts onto the stage in the guise of a Latino/ Hispanic type called Steve it is apparent that this show is on a different level to most of what is masquerading as comedy in Edinburgh this month. The show is simultaneously and in equal measures surreal, droll, ironic, random, intelligent and extremely confident. The success lies partly in Reed’s ability to not worry about generating laughs per second and instead concentrate on building a wholly cohesive and coherent act that uses its one hour slot to its full potential. He has the confidence to go several minutes without generating any laughs at all concentrating instead on establishing the right emotional terrain to deliver a witty aside or punchline to devastatingly explosive effect.

After an impressive start with Steve , Reed moves swiftly onto his next character a gormless schoolboy who ‘loves’ Vikings and entreats us to a tale involving John Robocop and his unlikely adventures complete with sound effects from selected audience members. Deadpan asides and witty observations set the tone for the rest of the show. Next up is a story involving Milo the doughnut which is as surreal as it is brilliant. That he has the skill to engender total sympathy from the whole audience- a collective ‘aaahhh’ is elicited at one point- shows how adept he is creating a scenario and quite possibly some form of genius. This interlude, in particular, reveals the intricacies in his dialogue and is a definite high point in an already outstanding show. The only character and therefore sketch that doesn’t quite hit the mark is a South African smooth operator which doesn’t feel as fully realised as the rest of the show but things are back on track during the bizarre sequence in an antique shop and the closer involving the world’s only ghost.

The success of this show lies not only with Reed’s talents but also his ability to utilise them to their best effect. Not once does anything feel rushed as he has sufficient confidence in his material and performance to let them speak for themselves. Most of the solo stand up I have seen this year has been disappointing to say the least but Reed is in another league, as well as category, altogether. Not rushing things and exploring other emotions allows the audience to absorb the detail that lies at the core of his performance and material. Definitely a highlight of the Fringe so far and highly recommended.

*****

Chris Cox-Fatal Distraction Pleasance Dome (7.10pm)

Chris Cox has a self deprecating manner that attempts to lull the audience into the misguided and totally wrong belief he doesn’t really know what he is doing. To underestimate his capabilities is a big mistake as his charming and innocent demeanour belies his talent and abilities to manipulate. Claiming that he is a mind reader who can’t actually read minds is a great way to discredit yourself before you actually do anything. One of the great things about this show is that he leads you to believe that he is going to fail in his objectives although the audience is willing him to succeed. When he does pull through despite all the shambling uncertainty the relief in the room is palpable.

From the outset Cox’s skills are apparent. His first trick involves outguessing what three audience members are going to come up with after, during and before they have put pen to paper. It is n extremely clever and persuasive trick as from this moment on his capabilities are no longer in question. Further guessing games are then engendered and there is a narrative thread involving a failed romance that runs through each unfolding feat. A memory trick involving audience members shouting out random pages of the Fringe programme whilst Cox uses his memory to recall what exactly is on said pages is highly impressive. It may have been more impressive if I hadn’t attended Barry and Stuart’s ‘Show’ part of their latest show wherein they reveal how this type of trick is performed so therefore it is no longer a mystery to me. It is still an impressive feat and he is tackling the Fringe magazine which has over 300 pages. This is minor quibbling however as his last feat is to draw his whole show to a cohesive conclusion which he does in a very adept manner.

Cox asked his audience not to reveal too much about his show and it would be unfair to reveal most of the content. It is however safe to say that it is a great act that is certainly worth catching. I saw his show two years ago and am pleased to announce he has lost none of his charm but somehow has managed to hone his stagecraft into something even more professional. After shows end he hands out badges to every audience member which means that each one can walk around with ‘I Love Cox’ emblazoned on their front. There’s no arguing with that really!

****

Tokyo Game –The Body Tights Men Show- Just the Tonic at the Caves (5.30)

 

I saw this lot at the Just the Tonic preview the other week and their segment was spot on and pretty much stole the show. However I was unsure if they could sustain a performance over an hour and am pleased to report that in the main they do although the show itself only lasts about fifty minutes maximum. This works to their advantage as by keeping it that bit shorter there is less time for repetition-not to mention unnecessary filler material-to creep in. It is a thoroughly entertaining show and also very refreshing in comparison to the doom and gloom mongers prevalent at the Fringe this year but admittedly it is also a little flimsy in content.

A brief prelude introduces the trio to the audience before they go straight into the sequence that so wowed the press members assembled at the launch. This involves the three of them in skin tight body suits that enable them to enact various movie icons. Included in this are Marilyn Monroe, Rocky, the T.Rex from Jurassic Park and ,best of all E.T. Starting off with a sequence as strong as this could lead to accusations that perhaps they have peaked too soon and to be honest this would be a valid observation. Nothing in the rest of the show is quite as strong as this but it is still enjoyable enough nevertheless. Next up a sequence involving acting out great art icons involving the Mona Lisa and Eduard Munch’s ‘The Scream’ is followed by a collection of flatulent inflatable buttocks emitting noises that culminates in a competition farting along to the William Tell Overture. It may sound juvenile but somehow they pull it off with aplomb without sinking to a guttural level It must be something in the Japanese stylisation of the act that raises it to a higher level. Likewise a sketch that involves latex gloves applied over their heads then blown up to impossible proportions is mightily impressive though again borders on juvenile. Further segments include audience participation motivated fly-swatting and target practice and a hair tango involving hair pieces and mannequin heads. And that is more or less it save a brief encore.

Tokyo Game- also called The Three Gaga Heads- put on a good show even if it is a little insubstantial. It moves along at its own pace keeping the audience’s attention throughout and bowed out before their attention began to wander. Stylistically it is well executed but  didn’t break any barriers or push any boundaries but  highly enjoyable nevertheless and it is hard to deny the skill and dexterity of the performers. Not outstaying their welcome is a wise move and at the shows conclusion they still have the audience onside.

***

Delete The Banjax- Pigs and Ponies- Pleasance Courtyard(6.20pm)

 

Having seen this foursome last year and thoroughly enjoyed their infectious enthusiasm I was curious to see how they had progressed in the intervening twelve months. Unfortunately they seem to suffer the same affliction of the majority of acts that I have seem on two consecutive years in that they have not really fulfilled their full potential. Of all these acts the only one I can think of that has stepped up to the mark, improved and updated their act accordingly are the unstoppable Frisky and Mannish who now appear to be on the home stretch to achieving major success. Delete the Banjax-Dan Cook, Gareth Jones, Caroline Jones and Sam Champion- have at least not suffered the misfortune of so many acts who have not only not progressed but have taken a step back in the wrong direction. They may be treading water but at least they are still afloat.

Opening with a song about being positive-one thing it is impossible not to be around this quartet- that pits opposite things such as War and Kittens and cleverly segues into a version of Tom Jones’ ‘Sex Bomb’. This highlights the random, freeform thinking that lies at the heart of their sketches and is amusing, lively and therefore garners the audience’s support from the get go. Unfortunately the following sketches are quite unmemorable unlike the performances that accompany them. This is perhaps the problem in that the material still feels juvenile and unlikely to appeal to anyone much over twenty five. On the night I attended however this demographic was the one in the ascendant so they were essentially playing to their perfect audience. For anyone else-myself included- the act started to pall after fifteen minutes and twenty five minutes in was becoming an irritant. At this juncture things were getting a little screechy and overly shouty whilst the sketches were no longer brief and succinct but merely felt unfinished. They did redeem themselves with a clever musical interlude about the state of music and the industry that oversells everything decent and personal until it is merely there to sell cars or any other form of product, but unfortunately it was not enough to redeem the show completely.

Delete the Banjax are extremely likeable and they manage to create a party atmosphere that anyone is welcome to participate in. As I already said with the younger element in the audience this appeared to be going down a storm but unfortunately I felt it was a little puerile. If they were to add a little sophistication to their writing they would be able to extend their audience and not come over so much like a student revue.

***

Dave Eastgate – I Wish I had a Band – Gilded Balloon (11.15)

So comedy is the new rock and roll, right? Or is rock and roll the new comedy? Wrong on both counts, actually, comedy is meant to be funny and rock and roll isn’t. Unfortunately for Australian Dave Eastgate he doesn’t seem to succeed too well at either despite a valiant attempt at upping the energy quota in this late night offering at the Gilded Balloon. Clichéd tight spandex gold leggings, waistcoat and bandana are visually arresting and funny but the joke wears off pretty quickly. Nice v-shaped guitar though.  What really disappoints in this show is the fact that Eastgate doesn’t really create a credible character from the beginning so the joke is pretty one dimensional.

The subject matter is also pretty standard fare on the stand up circuit this year so religion, Facebook and jokes about too much time spent in the sun don’t really hit home in a city that has been rain drenched and waterlogged over the duration of the Fringe so far. Perhaps if the musical offerings were approached more skilfully and a little more lyrical adroitness Eastgate could have an act that could sustain a whole hour. It certainly doesn’t lack energy and I am sure if the audience were pissed up, as they usually are at late night shows, they would be a little more appreciative. As it was they were relatively subdued and with most of Eastgate’s humour being on the lewd, crude and rude side-bawdy or raucous even- I feel it would go down better with a predominantly male crowd rather the more mixed one on the night I attended.

It is not a show without merit however as Eastgate is a likeable character who knows how to entertain an audience it is just that he seems to suffer the same problem of most of the stand up I have encountered so far this year in that his material is neither funny nor sharp enough to sustain an hour long show. Due to this much of it feels like filler. Perhaps instead of merely wishing he had a band perhaps he should  have formed one and coerced his material into more of a musical odyssey with humour rather relying on the visual parodies and basic attempts at crudity that lie at the crux of this act at the moment. Eastgate, himself, does have a good fast paced delivery so at the moment this provides the set’s best moments. Several rock stars are doing a good enough job at sending up the genre at the moment-‘Hi Bono !’-so in many ways Eastgate’s routine is redundant as others more in the know are already doing it more successfully.

**

.

Chris Martin- No, Not That One Underbelly (7.35pm)

 

Wishing to distinguish himself from his namesake the lead singer of bland band Coldplay inspired the title of this solo show by Chris Martin the comedian. To be honest no-one can blame him for this action as I have yet to encounter anyone who is a fan of the band such a signifier of half arsed soft mock rock are they. Perhaps it would be more accurate to say it is hard to find anyone who will admit to liking them as they are, after all, one of the most popular acts in the world. To be honest Chris Martin hardly pushes the comedy boundaries himself and rarely strays outwith the comfort zone of predictability. It is not a bad act however, on occasion it is very amusing, and Martin has a great rapport and very personable manner that is hard to dislike. In fact it his inability to be in the slightest bit offensive that detracts from this show as it has little or no edge. I saw Martin on TV recently and he seemed to suit that medium. Unfortunately this is a medium I often disdainfully refer to as comedy for those who don’t, or can’t, get out often enough and sounds better with a glass of Pinot Grigio in hand.

To be fair Martin does have a cohesive, easy listening act and his audience do seem to enjoy it, laughing politely on cue. Subject matter ran from irritable people in queues- highly topical as the Fringe feels like one continual queue- and the intricacies in relationships between friends and family. Martin reveals that he finds more comedy in situations that arise when surrounded by others than when alone. One particular segment reveals his thoughts how cocktails originated at late night/early morning house parties when the mixers have ran out and improvisation is necessary resulting in the strangest combinations. It is a well observed, intelligent moment and stands out as a high point showing that Martin does possess comedic flair.

There is not really much to say about this show as I had pretty much forgotten most of its content ten minutes after I left the venue. I can see Martin probably has a reasonably successful future ahead of him and he possesses the appearance and manner of what masquerades for comedy on television in the 21st century. To paraphrase a well known advertising slogan ‘If Coldpay made comedy it would be like this’.

***

You Once Said Yes – Underbelly performances start every 10 mins between 12.30-2.50pm

 

Billed as a one on one experience this interactive show written by Morgan Lloyd Malcolm and Katie Lyons and performed by Look Left Look Right is excellent fun. It requires as much of an effort from the audience member as it does the performers but if you embrace the mood and go with the flow it is more than worth the effort.

Starting at check in point at the Underbelly you are handed a bag and a plastic cagoule- instant karma for me as only that very morning I had been ridiculing those I had seen wearing these abominations- with the bag containing certain items that may be needed along the way. I was then sent off into the breach where almost immediately I was approached by a lost tourist. To reveal what happened after that would only detract from the experience so let’s just say on my travels I was in a car, a cathedral, almost ended up in court, sat in a graveyard, was on a blind date and cajoled by an opportunistic uppity business type in a bingo hall and that is only part of the adventure. The end of my journey consisted of an especially composed song and a drink.

The whole experience was expertly handled throughout and reminded me of a time before Facebook –where I can now check people out after meeting them so I know who they are when our paths cross again- when I would wander around town not knowing who I was talking to half the time. It also allows the participant to put on a performance of their own and at least twice I was gently chided for being cheeky and on another occasion reprimanded for laughing at something I really shouldn’t have.  This must be a hard show to put on as it involves being approached in busy Festival hotspots like the Royal Mile and the Grassmarket whilst on top of that the performers are always unaware how each participant will react.

As I have already stated too much information on this show would spoil it but I can claim that it has been one of the highlights of my Fringe experience thus far this year. It was an hour and a half of which I actually felt part of something and this is what makes it such a successful, original production that is brilliant and bonkers.

*****

Ruby Wax –Losing It Udderbelly (4.10pm)

 

This one woman show by Ruby Wax also features musical backing and witty asides from Judith Owen and deals with the topic of mental illness and depression.  It is confessional and thought provoking and you may come out of the show feeling that you have paid for the privilege of Wax unleashing her own demons. In some ways you are paying for Wax to use you as a human psychiatrist couch which is certainly some form of reserve psychology. Wax herself is starting to look like her namesake having had so much botox she could feasibly step in as a stand in for Sharon Osborne. It is an interesting show if a little over long –an hour and a half- and the humorous moments are by far the most inspired complete with the momentary flashes of genius that helped her to attain her respected position as one of our more gifted, insightful and intelligent comediennes. A national treasure even if she is originally American.

Starting with a list of all the chemicals that help her to attain a balance in her life-‘I am a fan of the tines’ she jokes referring to a list of medication that all end with these four letters- she talks us through her arrival in England. Apparently believing prior to landing on our shores that everyone talked like Mary Poppins and solved every problem with ‘a cup of tea’ she delivers a hilarious sketch outlining this. Later during a similar sketch mocking the Notting Hill Housewives she now finds herself surrounded by –all Marni frocks with shoulder straps like Samantha Cameron’s- is equally funny and indeed it is the humorous moments that really hold this show together as this is when she shines as it is  unquestionably what she does best.

Unfortunately the rest although interesting and informative is ultimately over indulgent and bleak. I understand the point she is making about mental health issues being frowned upon and not understood by society as a whole. Unfortunately not everyone in the audience can afford to take themselves off to the Priory- or the time out of their lives- when they feel overwhelmed by their circumstances. The show ultimately becomes therapy masquerading as theatre and there is a certain restlessness in the audience and I do not believe they are uncomfortable with the subject matter but because they are actually bored.

Bored or boring are not terms that I would normally associate with Wax but on this occasion they are warranted. Owen’s contributions are short, sharp and well realised but they are treated as mere backing fodder for Wax’s outpourings. Mental illness and depression are serious subjects and should be treated with sensitivity and I feel that Wax succeeds in this. It is just that the public arena of theatre and entertainment are perhaps not the right setting. Wax makes a point during the show about how celebrities involve themselves in worthwhile causes as a form of self promotion and although she approaches her subject with  clarity and her own experiences I cannot see how listening to a celebrity talking about her own problems provides a solution to the problem no matter how well intentioned they are. By the end of the show although not usually prone to depression I felt rather flat and apathetic. Pass me my cyanide and strychnine pills now.

***

Josie Long – The Future is Another Place- The Pleasance (7.00pm)

 

Swimming in the sea at Portobello Beach on a wet, windy, typical August Festival day is not something to be recommended at anytime-the raw sewage floating not too far from the surface usually acts as a deterrent- but on a day resembling the depths of winter it could be considered utter madness. But a swim in the sea is an activity that Long claims she partook in on the afternoon of this show or so she informs us at the start of the show or perhaps even before the show started or was that when she had a smart phone malfunction and had to be assisted by an Apple store employee from the audience in her endeavours to fix it. In fact the whole scenario seems haphazard, convoluted and confusing and Long intends it to be that way.  The random snatches of various scenarios are all separate but somehow inextricably linked and are an essential ingredient in contributing to the charm and essence of this extremely entertaining show. It is akin to listening to someone articulating their own random stream of consciousness but that would be underestimating Long’s ability at entertaining an audience. Despite all the rambling she very much wants to get her points across and succeeds in this admirably.

After putting her audience at ease- in the process garnering their support- Long threatens to embark on the show proper. However the disjointed approach continues throughout. Claiming it is a show about politics and anger these subjects are given her very own treatment to humorous effect. Joking how the most informed people usually don’t have jobs and follow Twitter it becomes clear an observational wit is always close to the surface. Other subjects entreated to her unique approach and wrath are Tories- on several occasions-, ‘Made in Chelsea’ and Jedward. An imagined exchange between the Bronte sisters is well realised. All this is achieved with Long dipping in and out of different dialects and characterisations including a high pitched shriek that was probably having a strange effect on any dogs in the same post code area.

This is a very interesting and funny show that never seems to say very much but at the same time somehow says a lot. Long has a great rapport with her crowd and there is nothing starry about her as she for the hour long duration it feels as if she is just chatting. It is a very subtle show- compulsive swearing aside- and it would be hard not to warm to her as being so at ease with her own random qualities it is pointless for anyone else to even try to resist.

****

Gemma Goggin- Double G – Gilded Balloon (2.45pm)

 

I admittedly had high hopes for this one as I thought Gemma Goggin’s ‘Get Laid or Die Trying’ was a surprising gem discovered during 2010’s Fringe. I had hoped in the intervening year she would have polished up her act into the glittering jewel it so easily could be. However I must admit to disappointment with this show which fixates on the subject of breasts. It is not her delivery that is at fault as I still feel that her stage presence is fabulous and she herself is hard not to like it is just the material let her down slightly.

It is not a bad show however and it still had its moments it’s just they are not as raunchy or frequent as they could be. Commencing with a history lesson on the evolution of the breast and how Goggin struggles with her double G pendulous and dollopy- her description- pair. The history lesson contains facts pertaining back to the thirteenth century Ming Dynasty and takes in Marie Antoinette and eventually arrives at the unnatural conclusion of Katie Price aka Jordan. We are treated to some grotesque sights  when it comes to a discussion on the world’s largest pair, a 164 XXX, believe it or not, belonging to a certain Miss Chelsea Charms- not her real name I presume- who looks as if she may have a problem standing up. An amusing section showing Pamela Anderson pre-surgeries and then after replaced by a wizened looking Iggy Pop is cleverly realised. A quiz then ensues wherein we are tested on our knowledge on the breast and this is followed by each audience member being asked to provide their own measurements. This section is not restricted to the females in the audience however and through the methods deployed I am now aware that I am a 34B. I am not sure what this actually means and whether it is a good thing. Certainly I believe it is preferable to being 164 XXX.

At only 45 minutes long this is short, sharp and sweet. Actually it could do with being a little sharper. If only Goggin could tighten up her material to match her obvious capabilities in holding an audiences attention this act could really take shape and go somewhere. Unfortunately the only thing that is keeping it going is her natural charisma whilst the material was often as flat as my 34B chest measurements.

***

Camille O’Sullivan- Pleasance Grand( 8.00pm)


 

Emerging from the shadows swathed in a crimson cloak like a not so little Red Riding Hood and half whispering half singing a haunted lullaby before melting into a version of Arcade Fire’s ‘Wake Up’ that rocks out to maximum impact. Taking on such a huge, anthemic song to launch your show would be a daunting proposition to a lesser performer but O’Sullivan proves that she is  fearless. This is a great opener and fashions itself as a statement of intent showing that O’Sullivan has great musical instincts.

Following this she slows things down with a song which reveals her intricate exquisite phrasing then lurching into a beautifully deranged number in which she warns ‘The crack of doom is coming soon’. She then removes the remnants of the cloak- bit by bit she disrobes throughout- and shakes loose her hair before approaching the blues. These numbers are all excellently handled but the best is yet to come as she re- fashions, re-imagines and re-awakens songs that are among my very favourites of all time..

The show really ignites as she starts a whispered, unaccompanied version of Jacques Brel’s ‘Amsterdam’ that gathers momentum and swells to epic proportions with only her voice along for the journey. After this Dylan’s ‘Simple Twist of Fate’ from ‘Blood on the Tracks’ is followed by Trent Reznor’s ‘Hurt’ – amazingly covered by Johnny Cash- before she tackles two Nick Cave songs. First up is ‘Are You the One that I’ve Been Waiting for’ followed by a simply stunning version of ‘The Ship Song’. I swear when she sang the line ‘We make a little history baby every time you come around’- a line that always ‘gets’ me- I was spellbound. She could have finished then and it would have been perfect but an ovation brought her back for ‘ Motion Picture Soundtrack’ originally by Radiohead to bid adieu to a grateful audience who lapped it up.

This was a simply stunning show with a sense of drama, mystery and daring as well as great musical instinct and ability. Tackling songs usually associated with male performers O’ Sullivan proved herself more than capable of competing with the best. I never thought I would hear a version of ‘Amsterdam’ that would come close to Scott Walker’s but she definitely is the closest yet.  Even the torrential rain outside couldn’t dampen my enthusiasm on the walk home so impressed was I with this performance. Simply put this is in a different class to most other acts on the Fringe, Excellent.

*****

The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer- Underbelly (6pm)

 

I will start this review by admitting I wasn’t really looking forward to this show as I am no fan of anything that can be billed as any form of animation. It was therefore with some trepidation that I made my way to the Underbelly. However I was completely entranced, charmed and blown away by the show and must admit I totally loved and was overwhelmed by it. Essentially a one man show created by Tim Watt it details a post apocalyptic world in which our erstwhile hero ,Alvin Sputnik, journeys into the great unknown of the deepest seas on a reconnaissance mission to save the world and its inhabitants.

It is a touching tale exquisitely handled but also a morality tale that takes the audience on an emotional journey. The set is sparse and minimal centring around a screen where the bulk of the action takes place. Watt makes much use of music as a narrative tool staring off with the glacial warmth of new electronica, moving onto him playing plaintive melancholy mandolin articulating despair at what is seemingly the end of the world. A track from Vangelis’ soundtrack for ‘ Bladerunner’ supplies a comforting warmth suggesting that a solution can be found and a disco segment featuring a hilarious ‘Ain’t No Stopping Us Now’ routine  whilst the Phil Oakey/ Giorgio Moroder early synth classic ‘Together in Electric Dreams’ suggests the euphoria on discovery of a solution. Somewhere, along the way, during this production a smile unknowingly spread across my face and didn’t leave it until close to the end. To reveal too much would spoil the experience so let’s just say the smile was never wider than when a bubble machine, which I now want, spewed innumerable bubbles into the air.

Watt has done an amazing job in putting this production together. It had me captivated from beginning to end and is somehow simultaneously mind numbingly simple but somehow also deeply complex. I predict that word of mouth will help propel this show into being one of the runaway hits of this years Fringe. Alvin Sputnik may be about to go into orbit and possibly even the stratosphere.

*****

 Fascinating Aida The Cheap Flights Tour- Gilded Balloon  (6.45pm)Fascinating Aida The Cheap Flights Tour- Gilded Balloon  (6.45pm)

Fringe stalwarts Fascinating Aida certainly know how to entertain an audience throughout the duration of this very fine show.  A trio consisting of fine performances by Adele Anderson, Sarah Louise Young and  most particularly Dillie Keane they approach bleak themes captured in song that have their audience in raptures throughout. At the heart of this show is vaudeville via cabaret but its success stems from the strength of the material and the exceptional performances throughout. One thing that did strike me was that many in the audience were of advanced years and they summed remarkably au fait with songs about the unsavoury practice- and apparently the hobby that keeps Dillie’s marriage alive- dogging and were thoroughly enjoying them. In fact this show which embraces many risqué subjects and uses swear words liberally does not offend, feel unnecessary or overly forced, could teach a few of the young whippersnappers masquerading as alternative and cutting edge how it should be done. The fact the title song of the show features a chorus of very little other than ‘Feckity, feckity, feck, feck’ that is essential to the frustrations built up to in the verses sums up this show perfectly.

The aforementioned ‘Dogging Song’ and ‘Cheap Flights’ do provide the shows most riotous moments and are rapturously received. They are not alone as the whole show is consistent, coherent and cleverly constructed. Further highlights include a series of songs in Bulgarian folk song style. These barbed vignettes extend a roll call to include the likes of Cheryl Cole, Tony Blair and a totally topical London riots. Each one is carefully nuanced and perfectly executed. Likewise the rap number although slightly embarrassing is wittily incisive. Another number about boredom contains a brilliant rhyme between Justin Beiber and amoeba. The penultimate song which features Dillie alone at the piano has all the beautiful world weary melancholy of latterday Marianne Faithfull and indicates behind all the larking about there is a deeply serious talent.

The show that I attended was a total sell out and I believe they are packing them in nightly. As mentioned the audience on this night comprised an older set but I believe this act would also appeal greatly to a much younger audience. There is much here to recommend them as the subject matter they confront is totally contemporary even if the delivery is more traditional. I feel however the juxtaposition works and in the end becomes wholly irresistible.

****

The Billie Holiday Story- Assembly –George Square (5.45 pm)

Set in the opulent Dans Paleis in George Square gardens the surroundings perfectly complement this musical drama about musical legend and tragic figure Billie Holiday. Launching into a great rendition of ‘A Fine Romance’ it becomes immediately apparent that star and writer of this fine musical drama Nina Kristofferson is more than capable of capturing some of the unique delivery and intuitive phrasing of the late legend. Musically she is ably accompanied by musical director Warren Wills on piano although I must admit that I found some of the musical flourishes slipping into freeform jazz territories and become a little overbearing and irritating because of this.

These musical flourishes tended to keep the unfolding story of Lady Day remarkably upbeat for someone who was first raped at the age of ten and then again at eleven. It is with the introduction of heroin and the application of a tourniquet that signal a downhill spiral in Holiday’s life. Still able to perform and with that remarkable voice still in tact at this juncture Kristofferson positions the white gardenia that became her trademark and slinks around the audience with a seemingly casual insouciance but is so slick that it is obviously tightly rehearsed. The musical numbers are, of course, excellent. All the standards  including ‘All of Me’, ‘God Bless the Child’, ‘Lover Man’, ‘Don’t Explain’ , ‘Them There Eyes’ and many others combine to create an ambience that propels the narrative along rather than a more traditional means of interactive dialogue.

All through the show Kristofferson’s performance is faultless and she captures the nuances of Holiday’s vocal inflections if not perfectly then a good facsimile of. It is however quite a sterile production that does not evoke any of the human qualities of Holiday which lay at the crux of her work. At an hour long it would be impossible, not to mention too depressing, to capture all the heartbreak ,suffering and misfortune that Holiday endured- rapes, drug addiction, alcohol, prison and racism as well as being hounded by the police in her most fragile moments – during her life but I felt the script didn’t really capture much of it at all. Kristofferson may have nailed the phrasing and nuances of Holiday but her performance is too strident to capture her vulnerability It is however an admirable production that will not offend any purists and if nothing else the songs included are outstanding and make it a worthwhile show to see.

***

Bette & Joan The Final Curtain Assembly (12.30pm)

 

Commencing with a stage littered with familiar props- a wheelchair, a cloche and a bed with apparatus for the disabled- from the one film these two inextricably linked  uber bitches, Bette Davis  and Joan Crawford, of  Hollywood’s golden era  starred in together, ‘Whatever Happened to Baby Jane’. Lifting her head up from a pillow only to deadpan ‘What a dump’ one of Davis’s more famous lines from ‘Beyond the Forest’ the scene is also set for her deathbed scene. It then transpires that the two Hollywood gossip columnists Hedda Hopper and Louella Parsons who have assumed the role of deities – much as they did in their lifetimes with their poison pens and inked rebukes keeping the stars in line- in the eternal Hollywood version of Heaven  have decided that Bette needs someone to ease her passage into the afterlife and who better than her former sparring partner and nemesis, Joan Crawford. This is very much to Davis’s chagrin as the last person in the world that she would want to be damned to eternity with is Crawford.

This play is essentially a two hander between Sarah Thom (Bette) and Sarah Taragood (Joan) who also play the projected roles of Hedda and Louella. Both turn in more than adequate performances and the sniping that emanates from the two legends is witty, sardonic and on occasion degenerates into a delicious bitchfest with each giving as good as she gets. Bette, as in life, had the best lines and many in the play are lifted from her movies and in particular ‘All about Eve’ which still contains some of the best movie dialogue from any era ever. With neither actress particularly looking nor sounding like their screen counterparts the performances go way beyond mere impersonation and adopt characteristics of their own which take shape during the performance. The drama unfolds with old wounds being opened and scabrous tales about each other being traded to glorious effect culminating in Joan upstaging Bette on Oscar night. This night Bette was nominated for the film they both starred in and Joan’s efforts were ignored. However come Oscar night Bette lost out to Anne Bancroft who was unable to attend but allowed Joan to collect her award for her thus resulting in her being the one who waltzed onto the stage to lift the statuette and make a speech while Bette seethed silently in the audience.

This is an old fashioned slice of drama that encapsulates its era succinctly. It shows at lunchtime and feels like a matinee performance of an old movie and possesses the warmth and familiarity of an old friend. There are no shocks or surprises but it coasts along at its own pace never feeling hurried or forced. I actually thoroughly enjoyed it despite its dated appeal and as the closing line of ‘Let’s not ask for the moon when we have the stars’ from ‘Now Voyager’ was uttered it felt like the finishing touch and all that was needed were the projected words ‘The End’ to complete the mood.

****

Marcel Lucont Etc. Underbelly, Belly Laugh (9.20)

Marcel Lucont’s 2010 show was one of my top five favourites from last years Fringe as it perfectly encapsulated his smarmy nonchalance and Gallic arrogance perfectly. It therefore disappoints me to report that this years outing falls short of the mark after last year’s high point. The main reason for this lies in Lucont’s decision to share the stage with other comedians in town for the Fringe under the guise of hosting a chat/ game show with him as compere /host. All of his comic timing and effortless insouciance is still there and the first fifteen minutes of the show bode well as he is alone on stage pontificating on French superiority over every other nation. He even jokes that the audience might be disappointed that having other guests  would mean ‘not enough Marcel’ and the funniest thing about this is that for once he was not simply being arrogant he was telling the truth.

The first guest to be introduced on stage is James Dowdswell who talks with a west country lilt quoting the Wurzels and is appearing in a show called ‘Dufus’ which leads into a mildly amusing exchange over the difference between a dick and a dufus -Wayne Rooney is a dick and Boris Johnson is a dufus- before concluding it must be a class thing. When talk turned to the London riots occurring in real time comparing them with the ones in Paris he has a vague return to form- stating that the rioters would be too busy tweeting to riot properly- but it dissipates pretty quickly.  After this however any chemistry between these two comedians was pretty non-existent and Lucont struggles to hold the thing together. His second guest Loretta Maine- along with Lucont one of my top five from2010- raises my expectations and I snap out of my reverie expecting these two brilliant comic creations to spark off each other and ignite the flames of comedy genius. Unfortunately it just doesn’t happen. If truth be told it was ponderous and directionless when it so easily could have been inspired.

I’m not sure why Lucont has decided to adopt this strategy for his show for his run this year. He claims it is because he has been writing his book ‘What We French Think of You British’. Having read it I was hoping he would read passages from in his unique form of delivery. If he had done this I feel the show would have been more successful On his own he can hold an audience’s attention effortlessly. It is almost as if he has respect for those joining him on stage and doesn’t want to offend too deeply but his act works best when he shows little or no compassion. Disappointment then was the order of the night and Lucont being such an excellent raconteur is capable of so much more and perhaps with other guests-they change nightly-it might work but on this showing it was, unfortunately, nul points.

***

Katherine Ryan- Little Miss Conception Pleasance Courtyard (10.15pm)

 

Bursting onto the stage clad in a tutu and irrepressible energy Katherine Ryan makes a favourable first impression as she launches into her act. Revealing that she is originally from Canada but now resides in Crouch End which she insists is the world capital for mothers and babies. Ryan has a frantic manner but is irresistible in her charm. She is highly articulate and has a knowing, observational eye that she uses to comic effect. What she does lack however is strong material. It is not weak however it could just do with being more coherent and cohesive. She is so effusive in her delivery that nothing ever builds it is simply one joke after another until it begins to feel like a child having a tantrum. This is an idea that is only perpetuated by her tutu .

It transpires that the tuta is a reference to a childhood being forced to appear in baby beauty pageants by her embarrassingly hot mother who after divorcing Ryan’s father is now married to the High School hottie who is nearer Ryan’s age and could be mistaken for her boyfriend were he not so obviously out of her league. This information is delivered at breakneck speed and indeed the only time the show changes pace is when she bursts into song and this usually serves to up the tempo even further. These musical interludes are well constructed and funny enough but with Ryan’s maxim of ‘more is more’ they become increasingly hard to follow as she tries to cram in as many words as is humanly possible. She continues with diatribes about being crowded out by babies needing constant attention and even makes jokes about the taboo subject of cancer.

Ryan has a reasonably good show in ‘Little Miss Conception’ and it is not too hard going for a late night show. She approaches the subjects she tackles with intelligence and a sense of knowing whilst there is always a healthy dose of self deprecation. Her hot mother makes an unexpected appearance at the shows dénouement to join her in an incongruous duet for some unexplained reason and feels unnecessary. With a little work though Ryan could take this act further and I am sure we have not heard the last of her.

***

A Betrayal of Penguins: Endangered for a Reason- Gilded Ballooon (5.45)

 

A hit at 2009’s Fringe with their second appearance, a homage/parody of children’s television show ‘Don’t Run with Scissors’ the former duo Matthew Smyth  and Ross Dungan have expanded into a trio by bringing in Aaron Hefferman ,who appeared with them last year but only in a peripheral role albeit a very noticeable one. Unfortunately Oliver the Penguin- who could often be espied outside handing out flyers or inside the Gilded Balloon holding open doors for everyone- is no longer with them. Perhaps he is the endangered species that lends this show its name. Hefferman however brings a whole new dynamic to the show and on occasion actually steals it. Seemingly able to drop in and out of personas at the blink of an eye his contribution is crucial in allowing the group to move forward. The theme of this years show differs from previous ones as the narrative thread is very tenuous although in previous years it was too convoluted to follow anyway. The premise remains the same however as it comprises various fast paced sketches.

The opening sketch introduces the tuxedo clad trio who inform us that they are about to draw together three events taking place on the same day: The Oscars, Roxbury Races and a wedding. Kicking off with the wedding where Hefferman plays the role of best man who harbours a secret desire for the groom it is a highly competent start. Although the trio have grown in confidence and capabilities I must say that their material has not made the same leap forward as their performances. On occasion it felt that the performances deserved sharper material. Not that the material is not good-excellent sometimes- it is just it could do with being a little tighter so that the performances can really fly. The best sketch was one where Hefferman played a shrinking upper-class horsey type with deep rooted passions. A malfunctioning prop helped up the laughter quotient and was incorporated seamlessly frequently. A running joke based on Donna Air’s infamous remark to the Corrs –‘Where did you guy’s meet?’- was cleverly introduced and used several times to good effect.

If there is one criticism of this show it is that it often plays things a little safe. There is nothing remotely edgy or controversial about it whatsoever. Mind you during the Fringe that almost comes as a relief as one show I attended over the weekend amounted to little more than an hour long heckle. It is a show that a family could enjoy but it is clever enough not to insult anyone else’s intelligence at the same time. Now if they could only up the ante of their material to their performances then the only thing that would be an endangered species would be tickets at the box office.

***

Barry and Stuart- Show and Tell –The Show Cowbarn Udderbelly Pasture(10.15pm)

 The Tell Udderbelly Pasture the Wee Coo (11.59pm)

 

This is a show of two halves with the first half, ‘The Show’, being the ever charming Barry and Stuart performing a series of tricks in front of a highly impressed audience. The second half ‘The Tell’ is where they demystify what you have witnessed at the first show and break the general code of conduct-and very likely incurring the wrath and disapproval- of the Magic Circle by revealing how the acts you have just seen performed have actually been executed and what methods used to perform them. This is a highly risky strategy but the duo have very cleverly booked a much smaller venue for the second revealing show therefore only permitting about one fifth of the original audience into the tricks and secrets of their act. Furthermore you cannot attend the second show unless you have a ticket proving you were at the first.

Beginning ‘The Show’ with what seems like a standard magicians trick they immediately debunk any sense of mystery by outlining exactly how it was done by outlining the procedure with a series of diagrams. 3D glasses are then donned for the next series of tricks before two copies of Reveal Magazine are distributed –one in segments the other in its entirety- among audience members allowing Barry to show his skills at being able to accurately name the contents of random pages shouted out by the audience. Tricks involving smart phones, Facebook and Twitter alongside more traditional items  such as playing cards, ropes , gaffer tape, glasses and spoons follow with each one impressing as much as the last. A trick seemingly turning water into wine may appeal to many who wish they could perform this trick in real life. An escape trick didn’t fare so well for Barry as it usually does as the audience member he asked to tie him up with rope turned out to be a Marine who knew exactly how to tie a secure knot. In the end he had to be assisted in his release by a highly amused Stuart.

It would be right at this juncture to comment on the great dynamic that exists between these two as they do possess a genuine camaraderie that makes their act a cut above most others of this genre. The charisma that they both possess alongside a healthy competitiveness only contributes in making their act eminently watchable.

It would be unfair to reveal any details of ‘The Tell’ part of their show as this would defeat the purpose of seeing ‘The Show’. Suffice to say that it was an intriguing show that showed how sleight of hand combined with vocal misdirection can play some amazing tricks on the human mind. Not that these are the only two methods used however but revealing anymore I feel would be highly unethical. I would recommend that if you are one of the fortunate few able to obtain a ticket then you won’t be disappointed. You may even be able to remember the entire contents of Reveal magazine yourself and your life would then be complete.

****

Free Run- Udderbelly(6.20pm)

 

Creating a concrete, urban metropolis in a purple tent shaped like an udder may seem like a paradox but it is one that ‘Free Run’ overcome with consummate ease as for one hour nightly the venue is transformed into a sprawling cityscape wherein seven young men and one female perform their high octane version of parkour, martial arts, dance and acrobatics to spellbinding effect. Opening with a darkened room where the performers stalk the perimeters armed with only mini torches creating wavering spotlights the tension mounts slowly like a snake uncoiling itself before making a lethal pounce. Then the music explodes in a cacophonous riot and the stage is a heaving, writhing uncontrollable whirlwind of energy. Incredible leaps, jumps and flexing bodies appear to be emerging from every crevice of the imaginary city and this is only the beginning.

Armed with more mussels than a moules mariniere the team then take flight and start to enact a mini drama involving a standoff between two authoritarian figures and the other crew members. My companion for the evening- known as The Minx- who was beside herself with excitement at this juncture had moved close enough to perform invasive surgery whilst informing me that even their perineums had six packs. Aside from this information I was captivated by the drama unfolding onstage and with the action being close enough to feel that it is interactive it is definitely a show that takes flight in a big way. Things slow down momentarily for an electric themed martial arts sequence and also a balletic hip hop segment but this in no way signals a slip in the high standard or tension already attained.

It would be hard not to be impressed by this show as the feats on display are simply outstanding. To see the human body pushed to such extremes but made to look so effortless is a talent that is quite inconceivable. The set is basic and as stated the concept of an urban setting is effective as the great visual backdrop only further enhances the sense of drama the free runners elicit from their corporeal performance. The music is frenetic, throbbing and compulsive adding to the tension even further. Meanwhile the whole thing combines to create a cohesive whole that will leave you slack jawed and totally wired.

This is definitely a Fringe highlight and will probably remain near the top of my list of recommendations for the duration of the Festival. In terms of physical theatre this is the one everyone else has to beat.

*****

Randy Is Sober- Udderbelly Pasture-The Dairy Room (9.10)

 

Returning to the Fringe after a one year hiatus in 2010 Heath McIvor and possibly my favourite puppet Randy, who resembles a giant purple grape with a thyroid condition, are back and this time the formerly drunken bawdy Randy has done a stint in rehab to cure him of his propensity for the demon alcohol. Not that this spell has tamed or modified him in any way as he is still as bawdy and outspoken- thankfully on occasion even more so- whilst able to adopt that superiority that seems to naturally accompany those who have recognised the error of their former ways. There is nothing more pious than a reformed anything apparently but Randy is more tolerant than most and a streak of empathy runs through his purple stitching. A sell out already on its opening weekend the signs are good for a successful run. Unfortunately the rain has obviously forced most of the audience to seek shelter in drinking emporiums and a large number are more pissed up than usual and at one hour long and starved of the demon alcohol for the duration of the show several become restless, in particular one whiny bitch behind me who became more of a pain in the arse as the show progressed. The low spot occurred  when  she heckled with ‘I don’t want to hear the opinions of a pink puppet’ to which Randy countered without missing a beat ‘Well I’m purple’ which elicited a roar of laughter, applause and one whiny bitch put firmly in her place. Her opinion was a lone one however as from the opening slow building soliloquy over menacing beats  Randy has the audience in his hands  at least as much as he is in McIvors’.

Apart from giving up alcohol and the reasons for his newfound abstinence other subjects treated to his bulbous eyed viewpoint are vegetarianism which he is a strong advocate of . Scottish cuisine including black pudding completely befuddles him but it is the concept of vegetarian haggis that totally eludes him especially the fact that a waitress insisted that it tasted exactly like the meat version. As he wisely contends why exactly would a vegetarian want to taste something consisting of lungs et al wrapped in a sheep’s innards? Religion gets the Randy insight and is a tricky subject for any comedian and this is where whiny bitch behind me really started to become more vocal. Someone should really have informed her that the audience weren’t  there to listen to her and if we wanted her opinions then we would willingly give them to her first. Admittedly this part of the show did drag a little and I noticed when I left that though billed as a one hour show it had, in fact, lasted an extra ten minutes and perhaps this extra ten minutes could do with a little honing.

Overall though McIvor and Randy provided a top rate show that was as skilful and   intelligent as it was clever. I stated two years ago on their last Fringe outing that McIvor had, in Randy, created a vehicle to steer him through the Fringe on the wheels of success. Well it would seem that after a pit-stop, in the form of rehab, those wheels are very much turning and ready to speed through any red lights. Welcome back Randy!

****

John Peel’s Shed by John Osborne- Underbelly, Iron Belly(5.30pm)

 

To several younger generations prior to the current one John Peel provided an essential service playing ‘records you want to hear from a man who wants you to hear them’ and this very description is the caption that John Osborne used when entering a competition in which the prize was a box of records from John Peel’s shed which provides the title of this show. Peel also came across like a kindly, wayward uncle and in fact attending an aunt’s funeral a week after his untimely death my brother and I commented that it felt like we had also just lost an uncle. To those who are not familiar with Peel I suppose he was a prototype Radio 6 but whereas this station   broadcasts day and night and houses a collection of different DJ’s he was a lone operator exiled to the late night airwaves where it was felt he would not upset Radio One’s mainstream audience. Many former youths talk of huddling under blankets surreptitiously listening to his show and discovering music that you couldn’t hear anywhere else. In a pre–internet age Peel offered an essential service to many bands as well as listeners. So influential was his presence that his favourite record the Undertones’ ‘Teenage Kicks’ is as inextricably linked with him-in likelihood more so-than its creators. What Osborne attempts to do throughout this one man talk show is detail how important radio is in our lives and how much we take it for granted.

Osborne’s own epiphany arrived when Peel played The Smiths’ ‘How Soon is Now’ with lyrics from the narrative viewpoint of ‘the son and the heir of a shyness that is criminally vulgar’ and ‘nothing in particular’. It was at this juncture that he realised that shyness was an option and extrovert behaviour is not suited to everyone. His delivery during this extremely warm show is similar to Peel’s in that his lilting tones relax you into a comfortable zone whilst his humour is gentle though carefully thought out and genuinely funny. Most of the audience seemed transfixed by his dialogue and it was indeed quite compelling. At times it felt like listening to the radio and you could drift in and out of what is being said then simply tune yourself back in and pick up where you left off. Subjects covered include the state of Radio One today and the blandness of the music played and the nausea inducing banter of the presenters. This is a station that has played a huge part in British pop heritage and Osborne is angry about what it has become.

The dialogue is punctuated with a selection of music from his box of Peel discs and includes Oizone – a punk band covering Boyzone songs-and the tantalisingly named Atom and his Package. Whilst the discs are playing Osborne provides details via an overhead projector the like of which has probably not been seen since school lrooms the 1980’s. The geek shall inherit the Earth indeed. As stated before this show is much like listening to the radio and as the radio allows many to seek solace and create private worlds this show successfully reminds us that whilst we seem to unintentionally disregard its importance radio is still a huge, essential part of our culture.

****

REVIEWS

Craig Hill – Blown by a Fan …. !- Udderbelly Pasture Cowbarn (7.30)

Bursting onto the stage in a leather kilt and camping it up outrageously to Gaga’s ‘Born this Way’ then declaring ‘If you didn’t know I was a poof before then you certainly do now’ it is pretty obvious that any form of subtlety is clearly off the agenda. The crowd however initially seem in thrall to this and I am not sure whether it is simply that they don’t get out enough or that they genuinely find this cheap and tawdry kind of humour funny. Perhaps I just wasn’t pissed up enough as most of the laughter was of the type you hear in the pub. You know the type where people laugh really hard extremely loudly at something mildly amusing simply to prove what a fun person they are. I also find it uncomfortable when every punch-line is punctuated and ultimately concluded with the f-word for no particular reason. It is a bit like stepping into an argument at a tourettes convention. This is unfortunate because Hill has several occasional moments where he can be genuinely funny.

A lot of audience baiting occurs in this show and this is something else I am not overly fond of as it is a cheap tactic and although the comedian has to think on his feet it shows a lack of any real original material. In Hill’s case he just launches another volley of expletives and hopes for the best. Running the gamut of insulting most of his victim’s origins he then turns the tables and starts slagging off his own in Glasgow. These are amongst the funniest moments in his show unlike the embarrassing moment he tried to force an audience member onto the stage to perform a dance routine and persisted in his demands by simply insulting her even more. It wasn’t until she revealed she was in a wheelchair that he stopped. If someone has paid good money to see a show I don’t feel they should necessarily be forced into becoming part of that show if they do not wish to.

As stated previously the audience initially rapturously received Hill’s act though the response became notably more muted as the show progressed. Perhaps the f-word has limited appeal when it comes to making people laugh and its overuse just induced tedium in myself. So starting out with such a high octane entrance the act never gathered momentum throughout its duration and limped rather than galloped on the home stretch, in essence a definite case of peaking too soon and unfortunately falling at the last lap. A high proportion of the audience did seem to enjoy it however, so I guess it all rests on personal taste.

***

Frisky and Mannish-Pop Centre Plus- Udderbelly (9.30pm)

 

I love this act! In fact I would almost go as far as to say it is hard for anyone not to love them. From the moment they explode onto the stage like a firework that just keeps going with a ‘9 to 5’ referencing opening number until they finish on a high preceded by not one but two standing ovations they just overwhelm their audience and take them on a poptastic journey of songs dragged from the recesses of their subconscious and disturbed psyche. A dangerous place to go admittedly but an immensely enjoyable one so the best idea is to just embrace your inner- or not so inner in some cases- camp and go with the flow. As quick as the immensely talented duo on the stage are to exhale intoxicating camp glamour just as quick are their audience to inhale and breathe it in deeply.

Having moved to the more grandiose surroundings of the Udderbelly-albeit a purple tent in the shape of a cows udder- Frisky and Mannish have upped their ante accordingly .Involving the audience from the outset we are split into sections of feasible pop star wannabes. Thus we get Razorlights, Britneys, Biebers and Elvis’s all determined from absurdist reasoning varying from hairdos to dance skills. It is a highly enjoyable beginning to the show and engenders support and discourages reticence as their charms are impossible not to succumb to. Many pop favourites are treated to the F&M with Madonna and her trend application career thus far put under the microscope. This begins with an opera version of ‘Papa don’t Preach’ compares her, unfavourably, with Dame Shirley Bassey and rounds off with the famous onstage masturbation antics of her ‘Blonde Ambition’ tour. Grime- pronounced graaahm- is next up for an overhaul with the Carpenters paean to lachrymose positivity ‘Top of the World’ put through the blender to devastating effect. Jessie J , Ellie Goulding , Katy Perry and Adele are then dragged into the proceedings to be lovingly and craftily lampooned in equal measure. Lip synching is likewise torn apart but it is the boyband assembled from the various groups determined early on in the proceedings that provides the shows highlight.

This section including a version of Take That’s ‘Never Forget’ that almost raised the teats on the cows udder into orbit. From the expressions of sheer ecstasy on the faces of the groups of women around me I can only surmise that a few pelvic floors were put through their most rigorous tests yet. It was an undeniably over the top camp moment that was impossible not to enjoy and gained them their first standing ovation of the evening.

This show is one that I recommend to anyone as this duo has amazing talents including supreme musical ability and knowledge alongside being able to draw every member of their audience into the experience. I must admit however that no amount of exhortation will ever induce me to perform ‘The Macarena’. It may have a time and place but in my world that is nowhere and never. If I have one concern it is that perhaps they are being so willingly absorbed by the mainstream that some inevitable diluting of their act is already apparent and could be termed as crowd pleasing antics but I suppose that this could also be part of the joke so it is perhaps easier to succumb to their not inestimable charms. This aside the duo highly deserved both their standing ovations and if I forgot to say it already, I love this act!

*****

Time for the Good Looking Boy- Pleasance Jack Dome (2.50pm)

 

From the very outset with its introductory theme of Massive Attack’s heavy breathing shrouded ‘Heat Miser’- like some form of resuscitation or an oxygen tent- it is clear this is a drama with a difference. This Box Clever production of Michael Wicherek’s play-billed as an urban ghost story- starring Lloyd Thomas in an outstanding performance is riveting from beginning to its haunting and disturbing conclusion. Essentially a one man vehicle Thomas commands the stage and the audience’s attention with a seemingly consummate ease. He may fulfil the criteria of the good looking boy the script demands but his talent extends far beyond the corporeal with a performance which is seamless and beyond accomplished. He actually inhabits his characters persona for the plays duration.

Beginning with The Boy locked out his house after a drunken night out and an argument with his girlfriend it seems like any other 19 year old boy anywhere at any time. Moments of boyish bravado delivered in an initially humorous London gangster patois slip into moments of introspection, lurching into an inability to articulate his emotions and back into humour again almost without the audience noticing a change in the dynamic. So compelling and involved is his performance. The Boy may be on a journey of self discovery but he is taking us with him. Through every scenario Thomas is spellbinding never letting up or revealing where he is about to take us next whilst snatches of song drift in and out articulating random thoughts and creating an ambience relevant to the unfolding drama. An emotional exchange he enacts between him and his 13 year old sister is funny but deeply serious at the same time revealing how genuine emotions can be expressed without drowning in lachrymose sentimentality. As the tale unfolds and events spiral out of control the dialogue becomes more harrowing whilst the ‘human volcano’ within The Boy seems about to erupt. The outcome of what happens to one who lives on the edge becomes clearer.

Every aspect of this production is outstanding. From the bare, basic stage set which subtly changes to reflect different moods and situations to the cleverly crafted and selected musical interludes, the atmosphere is intense and gripping. It is Thomas though who captivates throughout. His magnetic performance never wavers instead it grows throughout the hour long duration of the show and he produces a captivating, totally absorbing, spellbinding performance. It may be time for the good looking boy of the tragic drama but for another one-Thomas- his time is just beginning.

*****

Dana Alexander – New Arrival – Underelly – Belly Laugh 8.00pm

 

Hailing from Canada Dana Alexander will become one of the must see comics on the Fringe this year. With a barbed delivery and rapacious wit she has an extremely strong stage presence that commands attention and manages to sustain interest during the whole show. Fearless in her approach to the subjects she covers her wit, intelligence and comic timing are immaculate and she has created that rare breed of stand up, one that leaves you wanting more. Very cleverly she has not tried to fill her whole hour slot with filler and unnecessary padding like so many other stand ups do. At 45 minutes long it never feels laboured and as such is a much better show for it.

Opening with an attack on Tottenham-where she now apparently resides- and its unique brand of inhabitants she swiftly extends her fearful gaze and volatile mouth over such subjects as drug dealers, interracial relationships, female depilatory habits, ageism and Scotland’s obsession with history. Tonight’s highlight came during an exchange with two respectable elderly ladies in the front row concerning the use of vibrators and their merits. It is a show that isn’t simply rammed with jokes however as Alexander allows her material room to breathe and grow drawing the audience in and giving them time to assimilate what she has said. There is a strength and confidence that shows she is always in control and she uses this to maximum effect.

I will refrain from revealing too much of Alexander’s act as I feel that if the audience is too prepared then the spontaneity comics aim to achieve can be deflated by expectation. Suffice to say she has a very strong act that will not disappoint anyone who likes their humour on the dark, slightly twisted, ribald side but also with more than a hint of irony and subtle intelligence. It is an act that on only the second night of the Fringe that has not only found its feet but may discover it has legs. Go see Dana Alexander sharing her sly, wry observations as she is a very welcome new arrival in town.

****

Catriona Knox Packed Lunch- Udderbelly’s Pasture –The Wee Coo (1.35 PM)

 

This single woman comedy sketch show from Catriona Knox- from the Boom Jennies trio- features its lone performer in a series of character driven episodes. Greeting the audience on their entry like an oestrogen enhanced Manuel from Fawlty Towers -albeit a Greek version- Knox in the role of Greek waitress attempts to flog a selection of toasties from a menu that is limited to say the least. This becomes even more limited when there is a problem with every order she takes from members of the audience. It is a friendly, warm ice-breaker to introduce herself and goes someway to engendering their support from the outset.

The next character inhabited by Knox after this promising start is a recent divorcee whose marriage breakdown began on her wedding night with her refusal to perform a blowjob as her wifely duty required. It seems that this is the least of her problems however as a psychopathically deranged creature starts to reveal itself in her outpourings. Following this an emotionally stunted  post GCSE male youth is the next character to be inhabited by the multi faceted Knox and his attendance at a party with tins of ready mixed Pimms prove that he will never give Keith Richards a run for his money though he is a more than adequate representative of the teenage slacker generation. Next up is a dotty old Hollywood star with reminiscences of those she has and –more likely- has not loved. Probably her best sketch however is Sarah Ferguson as the pub loudmouth offering royal secrets and a rummage through Camilla’s knicker drawer or guessing her daughters combined weight for ever dwindling amounts just to secure her next drink. Best of all is the revenge extracted for not being invited to William and Kate’s big day in the shape of Beatrice and Eugenie’s hats.

Knox holds this show together very nicely and her timing is excellent. Very often what arises during one person sketch shows is that the performer leaves the stage for too long between each episode and they lose the audiences attention. Managing to avoid this Knox looks dishevelled at the end of the performance and she certainly works at keeping her audience. Another drawback of these shows is that with no-one else on stage to interact with it means that at some point audience participation may be likely. Unfortunately for Knox the audience members she chose gave her very little to work with and as a result exposed her material as a little flat on occasion. It is however a show I am convinced she will hone to a very high standard during its run- this was the first day and artists like to initially cut their teeth on an audience before a reviewer- so it is definitely worth a consideration.

David Marren

***

The Historians – The Underbelly – Belly Dancer 12.05

 

The early lunchtime slot often considered the Siberia of times for Fringe shows seemed very much in evidence at today’s showing of Hot Ice Theatre’s performance of ‘The Historians’ as the audience consisted of myself and another reviewer. This is unfortunate as it is a well performed, amusing and thought provoking piece of theatre. Detailing the pubescent lives of Chucker and Mucker growing up in the bad old days of Thatcher’s eighties in the cultural wasteland of Halifax it is a tale of friendship and growing up with very little way out of the circumstances they are born into. The script is cleverly nuanced to capture provincial ignorance making it laughable but somehow never sneering at it.

The shell-suit – a garment synonymous with the era depicted and with the only recommendation being that they were highly flammable- clad not so dynamic duo take the audience on a journey through their formative years bringing in peripheral characters along the way. The two actors slip in and out of these characters with consummate ease capturing the frustrations of the two protagonists alongside the resigned inevitability of their elders. The humour is deft and highlights how the provinces were a universe unto themselves in the not too distant past. The two teenagers were told that babies came from London and Paris and know very little of either place but are aware that Paris has ‘something to do with France’. Inevitably one of them is to find out that babies are more likely to come from a knee-trembler up a stairwell than the tres chic exotic French capital. Moments like this give the drama a melancholy feel that contrasts greatly with the humorous dance sequences. A routine choreographed to Snap’s ‘Rhythm is a Dancer’ is well executed but some of the other dance segments felt over extended and unnecessary.

‘The Historians’ then is a more than adequate lunchtime show. I hope that audiences looking for an early afternoon show consider it as it does have a message laced with humour and pathos for its subject matter.

***

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