Posts Tagged ‘ FRINGE 2014 ’

JUST AN OBSERVATION

The_Trama_Dolls_LogoJust An Observation Thursday August 28th

Ahhh, relax and breathe!
That is the Fringe over –the Festival proper continues until the weekend but no-one really pays that much attention anymore- and I can honestly say that I have felt it this year to be particularly strenuous whilst finding it hard to recall when I felt more disengaged with the whole thing. Don’t get me wrong I saw some excellent shows, ‘Silk Road’, ‘Travesti’, ‘Boxman’ and Bianco: No Fit State Circus were obvious highlights, but for some reason I found the whole thing quite insufferable and on occasions thoroughly irritating.
It would seem for Edinburgh residents-of which I am one- there is little consideration at this time of year when profit margins and late night licences are all that matter in what has become a profit making enterprise where the artistic endeavours of its founding principles are forgotten. Of course the Fringe is good business but I fear that Edinburgh Council have little or no regard for its residents who are subjected to having their town invaded and taken over for the best part of a month.
Fair play to the Gilded Balloon however who at least offer some recompense to the city’s inhabitants by offering them discount prices to shows two days a week as a means of encouraging them to feel part of the events surrounding them as opposed to merely finding it an inconvenience; try getting served in your usual local bars and eateries never mind getting a seat in them if you don’t believe the Fringe is an irritant. As for the nightly fireworks well I can only say that whilst I disagree with the Ice Bucket Challenge there were several nights when trying to get some peace at home I would quite happily have doused those fireworks in several balloon loads of iced water to dampen the noise, if not the spirits.
It would also seem that the Fringe seems to be spreading geographically and areas which previously provided a bolthole from the madness are now also getting involved. Therefore Leith and the New Town which in the past provided a safe haven for those who needed to escape the madness after a hard day’s work are now also getting involved and the success of these ventures means that next year many more will attempt to replicate their success.
Unfortunately this is not always a good thing as there seems to be little in the way of a filter system in place and more doesn’t always mean more when it comes to quality. Unfortunately I feel this will only serve to disconnect the Edinburgh people even further with the Fringe when in reality something to make them connect with it as more than an inconvenience would be preferable.
Back to my other gripe of the week then: The Ice Bucket Challenge! Right let me start by saying that charity is important and the fact that people want to contribute is heartening. What isn’t so heartening is that some don’t seem to consider their actions and it becomes closer to coercion and bullying which in my mind is not charitable no matter how you look at it.
Many of the same people who took part in this also took place in many of the marches and demonstrations for Palestine only several weeks ago. The irony that the cause they were marching for was for a population who have very little fresh water at their disposal due to it being deliberately contaminated. How these same people are able to console throwing buckets of water away needlessly then is beyond me. It would seem it is now a matter of charity of the week and even then only if it is a spectator sport.
I was nominated twice for the Ice Bucket challenge and twice I refused not because I disagree with the motives behind it- I am playing a charity gig with The Trama Dolls tonight in the Safari Lounge and have volunteered to work in a charity shop so I give my time as well as money- but because those who nominated me were doing it as a means of ritual humiliation. Yes, very charitable!
Elsewhere it would seem that Kate Bush’s return to the stage after thirty five years has been met with predictably rapturous reviews. I was pleased to note that her set list dispenses with much of her early work –apart form a few notable exceptions, mainly the singles, I found her early repertoire hard to swallow- and concentrates almost exclusively on her later work. For me personally ‘Hounds of Love’ is where her interesting work truly begins-‘The Dreaming’ started her experimental phase but ultimately falls short- and where she started to make sense to me. Very brave of her to adapt the second half of that album, the conceptual piece ‘The Ninth Wave’, and put it in a live setting. I am sure that the start studded audience on the opening night including Grace Jones, Madonna and Bjork, were all taking notes for future reference so expect to see them all upping their game.
Anyway the first weekend after the Fringe is nearly upon us and as I mentioned earlier The Trama Dolls are making an appearance at a benefit gig tonight at The Safari Lounge at 7.45. It is not however a gig proper and they will merely be debuting their own new material as well as a couple of other more familiar tunes. It is worth noting however that the bad weather which plagued the city during tourist season seems to have departed with them, as it arrived with them also it must be said, and apart from the final round of Fireworks this Sunday- Ice Bucket Challenge anybody?- it is all nearly over for a few weeks and Edinburgh belongs to its residents for a few weeks. Well at least until the next round of students arrive.

AND THEY PLAYED SHANG A LANG

‘And They Played Shang A Lang’ ended my run of good productions by a very long mile! By far and away the worst thing I have seen this year its banality was not really enhanced by its late night slot and the fact the venue was less than a quarter full. I tried to enjoy myself and force myself into liking it- honest!- but it just wasn’t happening and the less I tried to cringe the more I felt the need to.
On first inspection the idea of drawing events of seventies Edinburgh together with a narrative driven with some of the best music of the era-as well as some of its most turgid- seemed like an entertaining idea. I am just unsure how a ramshackle production such as this made it to the Assembly Rooms whilst shows which probably have a fraction of its budget but twenty times its professionalism and innovation languish in tiny theatres or even on the Free Fringe.
It seemed like every random idea had been thrown at this show in trying to create something out of the flimsiest of premises. Therefore as a means of covering all bases the musical interludes include ‘Block Buster’, ‘Waterloo’, ‘Shang A Lang’, ‘Chirpy Cheep Cheep’ and –God help us- even ‘Anarchy in the UK’.
Just when I thought the show had reached its nadir and things could only improve- a Nativity scene which was more tortuous than the real thing- a moment of sentimentality was tracked with the turgidity of a drawn out version of that pile of steaming shit, ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’. No edited highlights were offered up as a salvation for this particular lowlight. Oh no, a full length drawn out unedited version was served up lacking even the emotional void the original tried to cover up with bombastic excess and florid musicianship.
I felt sorry for the cast who I felt did not understand the material they were working with but I sense they realised it was not going to be their finest hour so in turn responded with performances which resembled a non stop infant stomping party. At times I wondered whether I was merely witnessing a series of tantrums held together by musical interludes.
Definitely not a show I would recommend to anyone I like-even those I don’t particularly care for merit more than this it must be said- it certainly has been the worst show I have seen so far this year.
**

CUTTING OFF KATE BUSH

cutting_off_kate_bushCutting Off Kate Bush

‘Cutting Off Kate Bush’ is that weird anomaly, a show wherein its greatest strengths are also its greatest weaknesses. Built on the flimsiest of premises involving an obsession with Kate Bush-insert your own icon of choice here if Bush is too much for you to bear- which the lone protagonist of the piece Cathy, after her musical and counterpart in ‘Wuthering heights’ of course, relates the Bush experience with the highs and lows of her life.
Written and performed with undeniable verve and gusto by Lucy Benson-Brown the musical pieces rely generally on Bush’s recorded output – therefore ‘Running Up That Hill’, ‘Wuthering Heights’, ‘Red Shoes’ and ‘The Man With The Child in His eyes’ are some of the impressive canon offered up- and this is no bad thing. At first Benson-Brown’s whirling arms and flailing limbs routine seems based on parody but as she carries it through to its logical conclusion it becomes clear that her performance and study of the moves is extremely competent, bordering on reverential.
The narrative darts around the fact that it is Cathy’s 27th birthday and as a dreamer, who has suffered the heartbreaking loss of her mother a few years before, feels it is time to put her life into perspective and order. Outside influences are encouraging her in this path also but Cathy seems as fixated on following the guiding light of her heroine’s music as a means of living her life.
This fixation on celebrity as spiritual guru is basically the play’s central premise and it is indeed an interesting one where we are surrounded by celebrity and faux-celebrity everywhere we look. Bush though is an entity all her own and has waged her own way through life on her own terms and in her own fashion seemingly untroubled by outside influence. Perhaps, by choosing someone as iconic and independent as Bush this is no bad thing after all in Cathy’s mind.
Another great thing about this play is that although the central idea is quite flimsy it seems to recognise this and doesn’t hang around long enough for you to notice this. It finishes without trying to resolve the issues at hand and this works in its favour considerably. Oh, and the music was fabulous. Of course!
***
Cutting Off Kate Bush is showing daily at Gilded Balloon at 1.30pm

THE SECRET WIVES OF ANDY WILLIAMS

secret-wives-of-andy-williams_2014SECRETW_N6The Secret Wives Of Andy Williams

This play based on tales of love and sacrifice through the eyes of a young novice nun, Caitlin, in the late ‘60’s is an eccentric and occasionally very funny production. However it often trips itself up on those very eccentricities but when it slows itself down, takes its time and lets more insightful moments occur it gathers more strength revealing more depth. Performed by an exceptionally strong and gifted cast Sadie Hasler-who also wrote the piece-, Sarah Mayhew-who directed it- , Charlie Platt and Edward Mitchell it is economical but effective in its execution.
The narrative focuses on the tale of Caitlin who enters a nun’s order with every intention of joining but along the way finds herself unable to reconcile her I ternal feelings and desires with what is expected of her if she is to continue on this path. Starting off at a frantic pace which verges on skittish slapstick the mood soon shifts and the feelings she reveals are not wholly exclusive to novice nuns but to every teenager. What makes them more intense for Caitlin however is the fact thay if she ignores them then she has to put them aside and not allow them back in.
Each cast member takes on various roles extremely effectively and the whole production is expertly handled. There were times I felt they tried to cram too many things into a short space simply to show how versatile they were but this is minor quibbling and also what the Fringe is all about. All in all an enjoyable show with lofty ambitions that it occasionally met.
The Secret Wives of Andy Williams is on at Underbelly until August 25th at 3.30pm
****

THIEF

_2014THIEF_YIThief

Definitely uneasy and unsettling viewing, ‘Thief’ embraces all the elements of what used to make the Fringe so very vital: coy sexiness, nudity and exotic subjects exploring the demimonde. Written by Liam Rudden and performed by Matt Robertson ‘Thief’ is based on the tales of Jean Genet and in Particular ‘Quenelle De Brest’, a fact highlighted by the main character being referred to throughout as Sailor. Definitely Robertson gives a taut and brave performance- a lot of nudity is involved- which allows for silences in the dialogue which merely adds potency to the script rather than any sense of hesitation.
Sailor lives a life away from the gentility of society, earning-if that is the right term- a living as a rent boy who stalks his quarry then dissuades them of their money, jewellery and anything else of value; sometimes using violence and at others merely the threat of violence or, worse, exposure. Occasional dips into his past allow us a glimpse of hiw things got this way for Sailor, revealing a dysfunctional relationship with his mother and a sexual relationship with his one true friend, Blue.
Inevitably this lifestyle comes with danger-which acts as an addictive drug to Sailor as it is the only way he knows- and eventually seeking solace in heroin which leads him into even further depths until the drugs and violence conspire in creating a life spiralling ever downward into a pit where he can find no redemption either in himself or the rest of the world.
‘Thief’ is no easy watch and throughout your discomfort is palpable and this is its intent. Robertson gives a bravura performance in a set which is as stripped down as he frequently is. Nudity aside this is shocking tale of a life in the shadows with little chance of light bruising the darkness. It is however a great theatrical performance!
****
‘Thief is on at Hill St. Theatre until August 25th at 9.30pm

OUTINGS

Outings

This show features a regular cast-Andrew Doyle, Adam Riches, Camille Ucan and Zoe Lyons- but also features a guest star which changes every performance. On the day I attended this guest was Jo Caulfield whose contributions fitted seamlessly and it is hard to tell as the cast refer to scripts throughout. It focuses on the process of ‘coming out’ amongst gay people –although it does state quite falsely in its blurb that this is something every gay person goes through although I would hotly contest that assertion through first hand experience, but this is minor quibbling- and how it affects those coming out and those they come out to.
Families, friends and lovers all figure in this entertaining show as do celebrities, sportsmen, transgendered people and those who attempt a heterosexual lifestyle as a means of postponing the inevitable. Mind you there are many who never make that transition and spend a lifetime in denial of their true sexuality.
Fortunately there are none of those in this show which takes real and imagined scenarios to concoct a varying and varied look at different approaches to the coming out process and the different reactions it engenders. Obvious celebrities such as the most famous of recent times –Tom Daley- are held up against others such as Justin Fashanu-the footballer who stood alone within the football world as gay and was eventually found hanged in his garage-, Rock Hudson and Boy George. Ellen Degeneres are also notable ‘out’ celebrities but the question still lingers as to why there are still so obviously-especially within football and other sports- many others who are still uncomfortable about speaking about their sexuality. Surely in the twentieth century they cannot imagine it is career suicide anymore as society as a whole has progressed-of course there are those who are not so accepting but they are becoming more and more of a minority. There is also the belief that it is no-one’s business but their own and whilst I agree with this thinking and right to privacy I also feel it can only become less and less of an issue, and therefore a matter of interest to muck-rakers who use it as a means of salacious gossip, if more people come out and remove the stigma further.
An interesting show which deals with some serious issues with moments of humour and pathos. I hope for the day when such matters are no longer wortgy of debate and discussion and someone’s sexual orientation should not be in question. There are a lot more obvious things we need to worry about in the world-including other sexual predilections- other than whether someone is gay or straight!

THE GOD THAT COMES

_2014GODTHAU_6CThe God That Comes

Loosely-very loosely some might say- on Euripides’ Greek Tragedy The Bacchae, Hawksley Workman in collaboration with Christian Barry is a musical extravaganza which seemingly incorporates several genres, often at once, to create a substantial whole which is gripping and enthralling. If it strays into dreaded prog rock territory- last week I attended The Furies also at Summerhall and reported then that I had popped my prog cherry- then it is excusable as in the context it serves. Anyway think more Kate Bush’s ‘Hounds of Love’ prog-concise, melodic and vital- rather than anything by Yes or Genesis. Definitely musically accomplished it tells each sequence of the tale then moves on.
Thus we are entreated to Workman showing us his musical chops as he shifts between drums-after a spoken prologue- megaphones, keyboards, keyboards, ukeleles-whilst serenading the art of cross dressing in ‘Ukekeladyboy’- and some imaginative harmonica playing which brings new meaning to the term mouth organ. Throughout his voice dips into a magical musical dressing up box all of its own: shades of Bono, Jim Morrison and Wayne Coyne of the Flaming Lips all make a spectral appearance although it is still very much Workman who takes eventual control.
Definitely an impressive show which is sure to be a highlight of Summerhall’s Fringe offerings ‘The God that Comes’ definitely holds the attention and takes you somewhere. Workman is more than talented; he is expressive, charismatic and captivating. As for the prog rock thing, whilst I cannot envisage I will buy an album of this genre I must admit in this setting and context it worked perfectly.
****
The God That Comes is on at Summerhall until August 24th at 6.10pm

SILK ROAD

_2014SILKROA_AAXSilk Road

Bruce(Jack Baxter) is nineteen, unemployed, living with his Nan but desperately seeks to better himself. Setting his sights high he becomes involved with a girl from the right side of the tracks but this fizzles out when she chooses to better herself by going to university he realises he must deploy other methods in which he too can raise himself to a higher social strata gaining respect and financial clout.
The easiest means of doing this, he believes, is by selling drugs via the internet-the Silk Road of the title is the journey such drug transactions take on the black market- and in this venture he enlists his unknowing Nan’s assistance at setting up a decoy business to detract attention. Unfortunately he manages to attract some attention of the most unwelcome kind; a local ‘businessman’, Shaggy, who is none too happy about an interloper encroaching on what he considers to be his territory. What ensues is a situation which goes from bad to worse and then gets even worse as time runs out for Bruce, who cannot meet the unfair demands of his new ‘partner’.
A veritable tour de force, Baxter gives what must surely be a major contender for best performance of the Fringe 2014. Slipping in and out of characters-Shaggy, Nan and even a brilliant Michael Jackson at one ludicrous moment- each perfectly nuanced with a seamless ease; sometimes using a sucker punch motion to indicate a change of scene or situation and sometimes not. His performance is electric, compelling and palpable, never letting up or losing your attention once throughout.
Alex Coates has provided Baxter an excellent script to work with: imaginative, well constructed combined with well thought out and provocative dialogue. The setting is minimal but this only adds to the plethora of talent and energy seething from the stage. I would recommend this show to anyone and in a year when I have yet to see a disappointing piece of drama and the standards are high ‘Silk Road’ and Baxter are the best yet by quite some way.
*****
‘Silk Road’ is on at Assembly George Square’ until August 25th at 1.20pm

BIANCO: NO FIT STATE CIRCUS

_2014BIANCO_WSBianco: No Fit State Circus

Opening with a slight flurry of activity and voices arising from seemingly everywhere and nowhere simultaneously the 2014 No Fit State Circus begins unobtrusively enough, The calm is short-lived however because after this deceptively low key beginning we are almost straight into a formidable display of trapeze trickery which impresses and captivates in equal measure. A quick shift to the left and we are again left open mouthed at the ball skills extraordinaire going on in another part of the space-pod cum circus tent which often feels like being on the Mad Max Thunderdome set.
Next up is a sequence of what can only be described as rope twisting pyrotechnics before we are entreated to a tightrope segment which includes a bit of comedy and stripping. A tranced out mellower sequence allows you to catch breath and actually realise how effortless all this looks but how much actual hard work and skill is actually involved and this is only the half way mark.
After a short respite where stage manoeuvrings are required we are off into the second half with a combination of trampolining and swinging which all seems so haphazard but is still probably exquisitely choreographed. The pace of the second half is less frantic and more sensual and after some stunning hula hoping and more rope trickery the show concludes.
The thing about this show is that it is almost impossible not to love and the fact the performers seem to love what they are doing only helps to ramp up the atmosphere and the audience’s enjoyment. Definitely the circus I want to run away with when I grow up although I fear growing up is niot an entry requirement: I am fine there then.
*****
Bianco: No Fit State Circus is on until August 25th at the No Fit State Big Top in Fountainbridge at 8pm .

CHRISTEENE: THE CHRISTEENE MACHINE

320x320_fitandcropChristeene: The Christeene Machine

Walking into the venue the feeling that you have walked into a club setting in the nineties is inescapable: dry ice, throbbing, incessant electronic sounds and a feeling of expectation. In fact let’s be honest clubbing-in Edinburgh particularly- hasn’t change much since this heyday and the sense of expectation has long since been replaced by a sense of weariness.
However I was prepared to give this show a chance as it had been described as a cross between Alice Cooper and Hedwig-he of the angry inch- although I also got a sense of Jayne-nee Wayne- County in its lewd bawdy intentions to shock and outrage with pure filth. Admittedly the music was first rate even if one song deployed the use of the electric hoover on a rampage sound, last heard on Human Resource’s ‘Dominator’ circa 1991, although the lyrics I could make out were simply designed to shock-one song saw two scantily clad men thrusting their arses into the air whilst shouting about butt plugs- and often came across as a bit puerile and obvious. It is often the case that when people use sex as a tool to outrage and cause controversy they usually always either forget or omit to make it remotely sexy and this is perhaps this shows major flaw; it was not sexy in the slightest, merely bawdy.
The inter-song banter was witty enough but suffered from this overkill too, although I suppose when you have only an hour in which to make your mark during the Fringe perhaps going for it is the simplest option. I would have preferred a little more subtlety but I have the feeling subtlety was not even on the agenda. It is certainly a high octane show however and after a few drinks- I was also completely sober which might offer some insight into my reluctance to feel overly enthused- it may be a great way to set yourself up for a late night on the town. If, like me, you feel you have seen it all before then you might actually find it all a bit tired and try hard.
**

The Christeene machine is on at the Underbelly every night at 10.10pm