My Edinburgh Festival and Fringe 2019.


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It’s been great.

It always is.

Have I seen a life-changer yet?

Not sure I have, but I’ve seen a lot of class.  (Update, since I first wrote this I have.)

I hate star ratings, but for convenience I have chosen this methodology to save time.

Those in bold are official Edinburgh Festival shows

5*****

The Rite of Spring by Yang Liping’s Peacock Dance Company – This is the life-changer.  A mind-bogglingly beautiful contemporary dance show, weaving together the quiet innocence of Nepalese temple dance with the power and fury of Stravinky’s masterpiece.  Truly outstanding.

Ontroered Goed, -Are we not drawn onward to new erA – I’ve seen this bonkers Belgian political theatre company, from Ghent, before, doing LY£$.  They specialise in Climate Change polemics.

But this was a step up in class.  The entire play is a palindrome; as you will have spotted from the title.  This means it is performed backwards and then replayed in reverse as a film.  How they manage to speak backwards is simply brilliant.  And funny.  And thought provoking

The Patient Gloria – Traverse.  Outstanding theatre about a psychotherapy experiment from the 60’s by Abbey Theatre

Baby Reindeer – Richard Gadd’s masterpiece in the Roundabout at Summerhall.  Awe inspiring performance and story

Efterkalang – The Festival Music strand was a triumph this year.  Few household names but curated with love and real knowledge of quality.  Efterklang closed this year’s offering and they were simply terrific.

Villagers – The best live performance at Leith Theatre. Perfection

This is the Kit – (No this was).  A sublime performance both by TITK and support and beautifully lit by Grant Anderson.  Outstanding sound quality.

The Incident Room – superb story about the Yorkshire Ripper enquiry at The Pleasance

Peter Gynt – outstanding and hilarious take on mid 19th century classic at Festival Theatre

The Shark is Broken – Jaws – the back story at Assembly.  An amazing and very, very funny three-hander by actors playing Robert Shaw, Rod Steiger and Richard Dreyfuss

4****

Anna Calvi – wonderful performance at Leith Theatre

Matt Forde’s Political Podcast – Interviewing Nicola Sturgeon.  (Scotland’s First Minister.)  A delightful hour of Boris-bashing and independence speculation.

Crocodile Fever – tremendous co-pro between The Lyric Belfast and The Traverse.

Fish Bowl – Hilarious French physical comedy at The Pleasance

The Last of The Pelican Daughters – very funny Pleasance show that I had to leave after 30 minutes due to fire alarm

Oedipus – Would have been five stars but for the subtitles. The Kings

Shit – Ultra-sweary, hilarious but deeply moving Ausie show at Summerhall.  Brilliant.

Nightclubbing – Grace Jones inspired Summerhall Performance art.

Kala Kuti Republic – Tremendous dance show about Fela Kuti.  Met, and made best mates with, Bobby Gillespie at The Lyceum

Elgar’s Kingdom – Great tunes from The Halle and Edinburgh Festival Chorus.  Rubbish lyrics. At the Usher Hall

Total Immediate Collective Imminent Terrestrial Salvation – outstandingly original NTS show by Tim Crouch. At Festival Theatre Studio.

Once on This Island – Forth Children’s Theatre. My own company’s show.  A truly beautiful musical with a fabulous ensemble and several great performances .

Tartuffe,  Assemble Rooms – a great Scottish cast performing an abridged version of Liz Lochhead’s classic Moliere adaptation.  Very funny.  Great work from all four in the case (including Grant O’Rourke and Nicola Roy)

3***

The Burning – great performances but treacle-like script, at The Pleasance

Cométe – nice festival opener – pub band that may have gone to 4**** with a bigger audience

Who Cares – polemical Summerhall stuff about the care system but no narrative to properly engage with

The Crucible – too hard a story to tell through dance at The Playhouse

Best of the Fest – mixed bag, not the best of the Fest or it would have been 5*****

Ed Gamble – Work in Progress gig. Great warm up chat but the ACTUAL material was…meh.

Trips and Falls –  The spirit of the Fringe alive in this interesting but poorly cast and largely poorly performed Glasgow Uni production.  The Chief of police and the Granny were good though.

Square go – Started great but fell away, Scottish playground romp at the amazing Roundabout, at Summerhall.

If You’re Feeling Sinister by Avalon and BBC Arts in association with Tron Theatre at The Gilded Balloon.  Thios was always going to be tough to deliver a play about an album by Belle and Sebastiane, but by and large the two hander cast pulled it off .

2**

Teenage Fanclub – Boring.  At Leith Theatre – left after 45 mins.

Twin Peaks – Show about breast cancer billed as a comedy but not funny.

1*

Dynamite – it wasn’t – utter student improvisational crud by Bristol Uni Improv Soc.  Felt sorry for the excellent small girl with a pony tail (Katie) – not enough to save her blushes.

 

 

 

 

 

Review of The Patient Gloria by Gina Moxley and Abbey Theatre in association with Pan Pan Theatre at The Traverse; Edinburgh Fringe.


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I’ve seen some cracking stuff this year already; The Incident Room, Shit, Baby Reindeer, Nightclubbing and Peter Gynt (EIF) are all there or there about the 5 star mark, and I expect all to win prizes this year.  There are at least two Fringe Firsts in that bunch.  Richard Gadd’s Baby Reindeer Summerhall, in particular, left me speechless.

But tonight we went super A-list with the classic Abbey Theatre of Dublin in a co-pro with Pan Pan Theatre Co and Gina Moxley.

It’s a three woman piece written by and starring the diminutive Gina Moxley who is a dab hand at playing male psychotherapists.  She shares the stage and the story with the titular Gloria; a 1964 divorcee aged 30 with a still high sex drive and a nine year old inquisitive daughter in tow.

In an experimental film in 1965 the real life Gloria was a guinea pig in three psychotherapy experiments that were filmed to observe different approaches to understanding Gloria’s motivations and drives.

The play brings these sessions to life against a rich tapestry of theatrical techniques and outrageously brilliant acting from both Moxley and Liv O’Donoghue (the beautiful Gloria).

The two make an odd couple, not least because of the notable difference in height.

They are wonderfully supported by Jane Deasy as the one-woman bass-playing Greek Chorus.

I can’t begin to describe how many moments come together to make this piece of theatre so magical; obviously the script, story and acting are the foundations but the direction by John McIlduff is like a master class.  The set design and costumes are stunning and the sound design an important contribution too.

It’s gripping, thrilling, ballsy feminism at its extreme best.  I’m a feminist so I wasn’t in the least uncomfortable: but bring an ounce of misogyny into The Traverse and you’ll be going home with your ball sack shrivelled inside you.

Catholisisim gets a good kicking (or at least its Irish educational sub divisional torture chamber).

It’s brilliant, inventive, hilarious, thought provoking, visually and aurally stunning theatre at its very, very best.

 

 

 

 

Underground Railroad Game by Ars Nova at The Traverse.


Soho Theatre presents the Ars Nova production.

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The Traverse is ON FIRE this Fringe.  I expect them to win three, maybe four, Fringe firsts at the weekend. (This show, Ulster American and What Girls are Made of, for sure.  I hear great things about others too, including Class and Coriolanus Vanishes.)

But this one troubled me last night.  To say it’s shocking would be an understatement (as shocking as Ulster American?  No.  But very, very challenging).  The two stand comparison because they touch on American political issues with nerves of steel and no apologies for their subject matter – in both cases they are rooted in America’s past, its heritage, its DNA.

What UA does is present that as befuddled birthright to Ireland.

Here too it’s based on a confusion about heritage.  But the much darker heritage of slavery.  America’s shame.

In a society where mixed race relationship, marriage and family upbringing is hardly uncommon, particularly in democratic cities like New York, LA and so on, what this play examines is the underlying racism that says those relationships are actually outliers, that racism is endemic EVEN in those that truly believe they are in touch with their African American side.  No, not in touch with it, IN LOVE with it.

And so Ars Nova have written and perform this shocking exposition of that endemic racism by playing two school teachers, one black, one white who seem to fall in love, set against a backdrop of a participative (and mandatory) school history lesson.  We, the audience, are the pupils playing the Underground Railroad Game.

Any one unaware of this phenomenon should read Colson Whitehead’s Pulitzer winning novel The Underground Railroad.  It’s a semi-metaphor for the work of the white  abolitionists who took their own lives in their hands to shepherd slaves into freedom in the north and Canada for nothing other than pity (and perhaps shame).

The teachers are played by Jennifer Kidwell and Scott R Sheppard who wrote the play and what performances these are.  Brave, energetic (sweat drenched), vulnerable, funny and, oh yes, challenging.

So far, so good.

Where it becomes harder to deconstruct is where the humour stops and the hatred starts.  It also challenges the Scottish audience with quite a few North American cultural references I didn’t understand, but you can get over that.

Clearly some of the audience had done their homework better than other because the opening scene in which a slave woman (Kidwell) is discovered in the barn of a quaker abolitionists (Sheppard) both dressed in cliched, almost cartoon, costumes drew howls of laughter whilst the rest of us thought, what’s funny about that?  In the context of the whole and in hindsight it is, of course, funny because this play is about undermining the tropes of slavery.  It’s out there to DESTROY the tropes. To smash the fuck out of them.

In a series of disjointed vignettes the story (as it is, it’s not really a story, it’s a polemic) takes shape and we realise that the protagonists although falling in love do so from different perspectives. White man Sheppard is actually falling in lust, but maybe in love with the idea that ‘a bit of black’ would be a pretty cool thing to experience and would possibly add to his street cred. (Not among the real racists, mind – and if you know Avenue Q you’ll know that “Everyone’s a little bit racist’.)

Black woman Kidwell quickly spots this because seemingly innocent statements made by Rockwell are deconstructed very differently in the brain of a Black African American woman whose ancestors were almost certainly slaves.  And she doesn’t like it.

So we’ve established the premise.  It’s brave enough in its own right.  As an idea.  But to make it sing Ars Nova just go ‘Fuck it, let’s make this thing sing. Let’s not beat around the bush” – yes that’s a deliberate vagina gag).  And so it goes full tilt into DESTROYING those tropes.  I’ll not go into any detail because that really would move me into spoiler territory.

Let me just say that it goes where most liberal theatre fears to tread and for that Ars Nova deserve all the credit they will get.  I personally found it a little hard to follow the narrative thread – I think I was trying to read to much into it at the time – and I found it troubling.

But having reflected on it overnight I am more sure of its message.  An important and brave one.

And so I conclude, not without indecision, that this is a tremendous piece of theatre that should be seen and enjoyed by its sell out audiences.  But do not go to this if you are easily offended – or you will be poleaxed.

 

 

The bastard child of Aaron Sorkin, Frankie Boyle (maybe Jerry Sadowitz) and Martin McDonagh – Ulster American @ The Traverse Theatre *****.


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You know those things Frankie Boyle says that few of us even think?

You know the way Martin McDonagh captures the Irish ‘thing’?

You know the pace and eloquence that Aaron Sorkin brings to TV writing?

This is the mash up.  Kinda.

It’s actually a symbiosis of the three:  1 + 1 + 1 = >3

Written by David Ireland (I HAVE to see more of his work), brilliantly directed by Gareth Nichols and impeccably acted;  no, ferociously acted, by Darrell D’Silva, Robert Jack and Lucianne McEvoy.  This is joyous, mind tingling, laugh out loud, sick to the stomach farce, and political machination brought together in an unholy alliance that led to whoops, cheers and a standing ovation from a sold out Trav 2 audience that were simply blown away by total theatre.

90 minutes passed in the blink of an eye and you could have wrung us out after.

By revealing ANY of the plot would be a spoiler but you’ll never think of Princess Diana the same way again.

This will win every award going.

The Edinburgh International Festival and Fringe. The final Reckonings.


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You’ve put up with me so far so here’s the final evaluation.  And the Gorman Awards.

Best show:  Nederlands Dans Theatrer.

Best Musical (excluding Pippin):  Les Miserables.

Best Play:  The Divide (Part 1)

Funniest Show:  Guru Dudu’s Silent Disco Walking Tour

Best Venue:  Summerhall

5 stars *****

Nederlands Dans Theater

Rain

Guru Dudu’s Silent Disco Walking Tour

Border Crossing

Richard Gadd: Monkey See, Monkey do

The Divide (Part 1)

Meow Meow’s The Little Mermaid

£¥€$ (Lies) by Ontroerend Goed

Gus Harrower

Adam

4 Stars****

Les Miserables 4.5*****

Lilith: The Jungle Girl

The Gardener

Dolly Would

Meet me at Dawn

Charlotte Church’s Late Night Pop Dungeon

Staffa

Sweeney Todd

The Divide (Part 2)

Into the Woods

Nina

3 stars***

Flight

Blanck Mass

Guy Pratt

Seance

2 stars**

Party Game 2.5***

The Performers by Irvine Welsh

 

 

 

 

Lilith: The Jungle Girl by Sisters Grimm at The Traverse: Edinburgh Fringe Review.


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Sisters Grimm is a multi-award winning Melbourne based experimental queer theatre group and Lilith is the barmy brainchild of Ash Flanders (who plays Lilith) and Declan Greene.

The three person cast includes Candy Bowers as the hilarious Sir Charles Penworth a Dutch based brain surgeon and Genevieve Giuffre as his assistant, Helen Travers, who is deeply in love with him (her as it happens).

The show concerns the civilisation of a feral jungle girl Lilith, who has been brought up by Lions in the jungles of Borneo and has an irrational fear of Penguins.

From the off it is obvious that Lilith is actually a man as Ash Flanders makes his entrance completely naked and ‘soaped up’ in a pink gunge that makes the vinyl floor of the set a veritable ice rink and creates many off script moments of hilarity.

Bowers’ hilarious Victorian bombast creates belly laughs a plenty.  Her performance is at the heart of the show but all three are excellent.  In a particularly amusing ongoing gag he can’t (or won’t) pronounce Helen’s name correctly; it’s a gift that keeps on giving.

There is a degree of Pygmalion about this because if Lilith cannot reach an acceptable level of civilisation and language she will be lobotomised by Sir Charles (or worse).

The threat pushes her onwards and the transformation is real until it all goes wrong and we are transported to London Zoo where Bowers has now assumed the persona of a South London Rapping Lion.

It is again hysterical.

This show is brilliant.

I’m not sure it has any deep meaning, but with its mix of a fine ‘Ripping Yarn’, slapstick, gender bending, extreme full frontal nudity and terrific acting it’s an absolute treat.

4.5*****

 

 

Dolly Would by Sh!t Theatre at Summerhall: Edinburgh Fringe Review


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Well, this one comes from left field.  It’s a mash up of love, real love, for Dolly Parton (in which her legendary breasts feature very prominently and not just in the image above – from near the show’s conclusion) and the fact that Dolly the Sheep (named after Dolly Parton) was created near to Summerhall in the Rosslyn institute.  Given that Summerhall was previously a Veterinary School this is perhaps also appropriate.

The cloning theme is developed by showing the veneration Dolly Parton creates with clone fans galore (famously Dolly herself entered a Dolly Parton lookalike show and lost).

We are left in no doubt that Sh!t Theatre’s two players, Louise Mothersole and Rebecca Biscuit, are lesbian lovers and their love for each other and of Dolly Parton (not uncommon in the gay world as I realised with no uncertainty when I was in the crowd for her legendary Glastonbury legends gig) was a relationship-saving writing project.

Their love for Dolly has no bounds and this reunited them and has led to a totally insane celebration of her life during which the ridiculous treatment she received from the media, focussing largely on her looks and her assets, is ridiculed.

But also her own sexuality is deeply questioned.  Was her great friend Judy really her lover?

I liked the way they used the 1977 Barbara Walters interview with Dolly as a narrative musical device that was a recurring theme in the show, supported by a neat live music loop.

I suppose more questionable was the way they cut their vest tops to expose their breasts for most of the show.  It might make some of the more strident feminist wing of their devotees uncomfortable, but I was fine with it.

Some of Sh!t’s performance is shambolic (the balloon bursting scene for example) and wilfully amateur in its look and feel (a fair bit of corpsing occurs) but that’s all part of its charm.  And I have no doubt it is intended.

I loved it.  My wife hated it.

I guess that’s part for the course.

4****

 

 

 

 

Richard Gadd’s Monkey See, Monkey do at Summerhall: Review, Edinburgh Fringe


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I was taking no risks seeing this.  Voted the hit of last year’s Fringe Gadd has toured the world performing it over 200 times.

what I was not prepared for was its kick in the heart emotional trauma.

This is billed as comedy but it’s so much more than that. (But, yes, it’s outrageously funny.)

The ‘more’ is an entire treatise on sexual abuse and the resultant depression.

The monkey of the title is Gadd’s subconscious creating massive panic attacks and extreme self doubt.  The show is a metaphor about running away from money demons (the monkey on your back) and so, to bring that metaphor to life Gadd performs it from a tread mill and his vest top gradually saturates as his one hour run slowly overwhelms him physically.

But the low-fi technical brilliance of the show with his sound and video designer, Phil, is what makes it so original and ultimately extremely moving.

My wife is not one to demonstrate her emotions by way of leading a standing ovation.

Until last night.

Bravo.

Bravo indeed Richard Gadd.

*****

Blanck Mass at Summerhall: Edinburgh Fringe Review.


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I only discovered Blanck Mass the other day.  But have immersed myself in his magic vibe since then (but only when the Mrs is down corner shop, cos when she heard me training for the gig she said TURN THAT FUCKING SHITE DOWN. She is deluded.)

He is half of Fuck Buttons.

He is loud.

He is proud.

He is loud.

Really fucking loud.

And quick.

I clocked one number (the closer) at 200bpm, so I will probably need a fucking hip replacement next week. ‘Cos I was dancing along.

And a hearing aid.

And his videos are like sick (maggots and intestines doing peristaltic movement).

When he weren’t fucking our hips he went for ballads (80bpm), it was a wee bit dull.

But when he cranked it; it was FUCKING great.

Here’s to 200bpm.

Cheers man.  Short but sweet.

 

Sweeney Todd by Captivate: Edinburgh Fringe Review at Rose Theatre


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Another day, another sweat in the Rose Theatre.  (Aircon please for next year).

This time it’s Captivate’s older group and their excellent telling of Sweeney Todd – surely Sondheim’s masterpiece.  (We’d already seen The Conservatoire do Into The Woods this Fringe and that was equally compelling, but in a very different setting.)

The first thing to say is this…those boxes.  Great in Les Mis, brilliant in this.  Superb direction by Sally Lyall and Tom Mullins to make a few crates tell the multi storey (well two, and a basement) story of the demon barber of Fleet Street on one storey, with boxes.

(Christ I’m glad that is out of the way.)

This was a great show. Really great.

For Sweeney to work you need an electrifying double act between him and Mrs Lovett.  Darren Coutts and Hazrel Beattie did exactly that.  She, a brilliant character actor, he, a nuanced demon with a stunning voice.

Lovett ran the show with her hilarity and brooding love for Sweeney.  Todd just underscored, smouldered and grimaced and grunted and groaned and was suitably obdurate from start to finish (with some light relief during the hilarious “A Little Priest.”)

The thing about Sondheim’s masterpiece is that he develops song themes for all the characters and as the show develops they overlap, clash and evolve.  I love this about Sweeney.

It’s a brilliant piece of classical musical theatre learned from the classical composers and not only do the cast, but the orchestra too, deliver in spades (special shout out for Liz Woodsend on RedII).

Judge Turpin (particularly aggressive) and Beadle Bamford pull their roles off well but I was staggered by Colum Finlay’s finale solo which was more castrato than falsetto and just amazing.  He was a highlight of the show throughout.

Alistair Robertson pulled off the tricky Pirelli part really well.

The others did well without standing out but the company was outstanding at every turn (I have sung the company pieces in Sweeney and know how tricky and dramatic they can be.)

It’s a tricky venue but hats off to both sound and light.  Both delivered impeccably (if a little strong on the gobos for my liking).

****

Border Tales by Protein Dance at Summerhall: Edinburgh Fringe Review


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Another day, another Summerhall 5 star show.  This time it’s dance, but with a BIG twist.  It’s political and it features dancers that sing, act and deliver spoken word monologues that never outstay their welcome.

First off, can I just say the choreography is beautiful with monologues often delivered in brilliant flowing double-hander dance movements where the dancer/actor seems to flow like water supported by their counterpart whilst delivering their insights.

It’s mesmerising and the first time I’ve ever seen anything even remotely like this.

The show is about Britain’s rise of immigrantion from all over the globe.  The cast is led by a gruff Yorkshireman who displays many of the traits we regard as cliches, but performed with a humour and lightness of touch that protects it from parody.  I’m afraid there was no programme so I can’t name names but this central and leading character pulled a difficult gig off with ease.

The six dancers were supported by a Colombian multi instrumentalist who worked in tandem with excellent backing music and beautifully held the show together (he too could act when called upon to do so).

The remaining five in the cast represented a second generation African (Nigerian) Londoner fully immersed in UK culture, a Hong Kong Chinese man, A Taiwanese Chinese girl who, with her poor enunciation of English, became the butt of many of the Yorkshireman’s jokes, An Irish Catholic man and a hirsute Egyptian (parodied as an ‘Arab’) is he african?  Is he middle Eastern?

It all paves the way for questions about the value or otherwise of multiculturalism, some nice subtle digs at Brexit, debate about religion and which one (including trendy atheism) is best.

And it’s at times funny, always brilliantly delivered, original and downright fascinating.

A true melting pot of our times in a show you should do your best to get tickets for.

Les Miserables by Captivate Theatre: At the Rose Theatre, Edinburgh Fringe Review


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I know how difficult Les Mis is for a youth group, trust me.  But Captivate have been honing their skills on the Fringe with this show (different casts each year) for a while now so they should know how to go about it.

And they do.

The Rose Theatre is a welcome addition to our theatrical real estate in Edinburgh and when they sort out their technical teething problems it will be a brilliant venue.  Today’s was more succesful than the National Youth Jazz Orchestra gig that I reviewed earlier in the year, but it’s not quite nailed on yet.

But let’s forget about that, shall we, and concentrate instead on this stupendous production.  The nature of working a shared venue necessitates a parsity of set design but Director, Sally Lyall, has done a good job in utilising a bunch of grey wooden crates that come into their own at the barrier scene which works really well.  I also liked her devise for transporting the ‘souls’ of the many fatalities in this celebrated show off the stage and through the audience.

It’s a lovely visual leitmotif.

In general her direction is assured and light handed, but at times there is a tendency for ‘enthusiasm’ that I’d like better if it was dialled down to 9.  But in the quieter, more poignant, moments such as Empty Chairs at Empty Tables, I Dreamed a Dream, On my Own and Bring Him Home she creates an electrifyingly intense audience connection.

The ensemble is brilliant.  Every number they perform is welcome, solid, and really well pitched.

The orchestra (it’s not a band) is big, beefy and boisterous.  They do a fine job

But it’s the succession of excellent principle performances that really gets you.

I loved Conall Ross’ Marius (one of my favourite parts in the show) and I adored his Empty Chairs (for me the song of Les Mis).  He’s nicely soppy but engaging with it.  The scene with his comrades, prior to battle, where he declares his undying and sudden love for Cosette is really well done.

Cosette herself is simply wonderful with Naomi Anderson reminding me of a young Irene Allan (her delightful soprano voice really resonates with emotion).

The Thenardiers are both brilliant (but especially Georgia-Lee Roberts who would give Les Dawson a run for his money in any gurning competition), Eion Mullen though is also great.

Rosie Graham’s hapless Eponine gathers momentum throughout the show and she puts in a lovely understated performance.

Kara Chalmers is beautiful as Fantine and she totally hits the spot with her show-stopper moment.

The youngsters; Little Cosette (Isla Manson/Georgia Sim/Kayla Travers) and Gavroche (Tom Barclay or Seamus Cross – I know it wasn’t Andrew Gilbert as he used to be in my Youth Theatre) were also excellent.

But, for the show to really work, you need a strong Valjean and Javert.  Both were outstanding.  They bounced off each other convincingly and Benjamin Collins’ rendition of On my Own hit all the high spots with an assured use of falsetto.  That can be the death of many a Valjean; long before the Epilogue. Finlay McKillop sounds like an opera singer and is destined for good things in the future.  I would’t be surprised if he turns up at the Conservatoire.

Collectively, their excellent diction really helped move an extremely complex story along, at a fair old clip, in a very coherent way and that can be another real problem with Les Mis.

Not this one.

That was a 4.5 stars for me guys.  Enjoy your run.  The standing ovation at the end proved I was not alone in this view.

 

Sasquatch, The Opera: Review. Summerhall.


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To describe this as bonkers is approaching understatement.  Ina production desperately let down by both lighting and design teams Roddy Bottum’s opera is still a great success.  The sound, in particular, is so all  over the place that it’s hard to follow the storyline but that doesn’t matter so much as the band is brilliant, the score outstanding and the performances excellent.

Two keys, (one is Bottum), a drum machine, Tympani and two trumpets make up the ‘orchestra’ and the synth led score is simply brilliant, certainly not what I expected from a metal band member.  It’s nearer early Human League than it is Faith No More.

Certainly it left some audience members cold with several walk outs, but the rest of us (notwithstanding the shoddy tech) loved it.

Go see.

Nina – A Story about me and Nina Simone. The Traverse Edinburgh Fringe, review.


 

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This is an ambitious theatrical piece but I wonder if it was playing in the wrong place to the wrong audience.

Because the audience is 99.5% white.  We’re all middle class.  We’re mainly liberals.

I want to see this show in Alabama.  In Mississippi. In Detroit.  (as a fly on the wall) Because Josette Bushell-Mingo’s anger, pride and passion for this first lady of Jazz infused political outcry is great.  But I am not her constituency;  much as I might want to be.

It’s part play, part gig and brilliantly defines the anger and political influence of dear departed Nina Simone.

The design is, at times, with the use of an ingenious metal back cloth, absolutely stunning.

 

The band; Shapor Bastansiar on keys, Shaney Forbes (fuck me he’s good) on drums and Jair -Rohm Parker Wells on double bass are electric (but acoustic); but sadly the afternoon we saw Josette the vocal delivery was a big fight as her mic seemed underpowered.

As for Josette. Her voice is amazing.  Her performance is amazing.  The gig part of the show is amazing.

But the point of it.  The politics. In Edinburgh in August?  I’m not convinced.

Josette, if you read this, (I don’t suppose you will) I hope you don’t take this the wrong way.  It’s a brilliant production I just think it could have more impact, rather than luvvie appreciation in other more relevant places.

 

Into The Woods. Royal Conservatoire of Scotland. Assembly Hall, The Mound, review. Edinburgh Fringe 2017.


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Many lovers of Stephen Sondheim’s classic, Into The Woods, were disappointed with Disney’s movie version as it strayed too much off point. Not me, I liked the way Disney popularised a bloody difficult show.

But RCS is big enough, and talented enough, to go back to basics and stage an authentic labyrinthian production with so many characters, so many sub plots, but one whole, that demands a faultless ensemble to deliver (and a faultless band/orchestra).

This delivers.

The show itself is a blockbuster, with many great numbers and much classic Sondheim nuance, noodling and conundrumery.

In the world of musical wordplay Sondheim has no equal.  This is his masterpiece in that respect.

It might not reach the heights of his MUSICAL masterpiece, Sweeny Todd, but it ain’t far behind.

And if you want to put the next generation of Scotland’s (in fact beyond Scotland) best talent through their paces this is an inspired choice.

My one complaint is that the man behind us appeared to be breathing through some sort of oxygen mask and proved a great distraction but hey ho, you’re not going to say ‘Gonnae no dae that?’ to a man in an oxygen mask; are you?

At the interval we perused the situation.  He wasn’t in a mask he was just, you know, a show spoiler.

So we moved to shite seats, with a restricted view and poorer acoustics, but no sub-soundtrack of Holby fucking City.

Anyway, to the show.  Decent design.  Great lighting (whyever not, as Grant Anderson designed is in the chair).  Outstanding band. And brilliantly choreographed.

But, at the end of the day it’s about the ensemble.  There’s essentially 17 main parts and several secondary roles.  In a perfect ITW you need a 17/17.

This wasn’t that, but I’d say 14/17.

And the key parts delivered big style. (There seems, from the programme notes to be some doubling up of parts so apologies if I have called names wrongly and I will correct if need be)

Abigail Stephenson as Little Red Riding Hood steals the show in her skippy, dippy, innocent but vicious rendering of the role. Eu Jin Hwang pulls off the Baker’s role sympathetically.

Philippa Cassar is excellent as Cinderella and I liked Andrew Sowrey’s Steward.

Caroline Lyell is brilliant as the witch.

It’s an absorbing engrossing production in a great venue.  Go see it.

 

Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour at The Traverse. National Theatre of Scotland.


ourladies_prod

Alan Warner’s hilarious novel, The Sopranos, has finally made it to the stage with a fancy new name and a soundtrack featuring a phalanx of ELO songs plus a stunning acapella rendition of No Woman No Cry.

The six strong female cast and three female instrumentalists vent more filth and spleen onto the Traverse 1 stage in 100 minutes than a score of submariners could muster in a month at sea.

Name a taboo and it’s delivered with gusto; spunk, jiz, shit, spew, piss and blood all make bawdy appearances in a play that makes Bridesmaids look like Play School.

Adapted by Billy Elliot writer, Lee Hall, and brilliantly directed by Vicky Featherstone it bowls along at 100 miles an hour yet pauses periodically to allow the bitter sweetness of the story to take root. It concerns a day trip from Oban to Edinburgh by the school choir of Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour to take part in an annual choir competition. Given a day to explore Auld Reekie the six characters we follow go apeshit in an orgy of drink, drugs and sex as a long line of male suitors (also played by the girls) have varying degrees of success in attempting to conquest what look like easy challenges but invariably end in failure.

It’s belly laugh out loud from start to finish but has fantastic moments of poignancy and features a number of outstanding vocal performances in keeping with the girls’ status as high-class choristers

I’ve been waiting a long time to see this and the wait was worth every minute. This is certain to be one of the hottest tickets on The Fringe and predictably is completely sold out even before the preview.

But it’s touring throughout Scotland in September so travel as far as you have to, to see this magical production.

Edinbugh during the Festival and Fringe. Surely the best place on the planet. (Maybe even compared to Glastonbury, dare I say it.)


So far 22 people have stopped me in the street to admire my T shirt.  That's The Festival for ya.

So far 22 people have stopped me in the street to admire my T shirt. That’s The Festival for ya.

Yesterday Jeana and I had the perfect festival day.

We started at 12 with Avenue Q by The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland’s MA students.  So, not a professional production, but as near as damn it because these guys are the cream of the student crop in Scotland, and beyond, and they’re in their final year.

It was devastatingly funny, extremely well sung and technically appeared flawless.  I had no previous benchmark to compare the show unlike many of the audience (the guy sitting next to me had seen it seven times in the West End and on Broadway – he loved it).  If you don’t know the show try to see it this week.  In a nutshell it’s Sesame Street gone bad.  Featuring a cast of human operated puppets it’s set at the seedy end of NYC (on avenue Q) where a melting pot of nationalities, sexual orientations and monsters live in a run down street.  We hear in musical form how everyone is a little bit racist, what to do if you find out you’re gay, How it ‘sucks’ be me, what to do with a BA in English and the pleasure of schadenfreude.

The numbers are universally good, the script cracking, the puppetry mostly really good but what makes the show sparkle is the interaction between the actors and their puppets.  You can’t decide which to focus on as the performance behind the brightly coloured characters by an all black dressed ensemble is electrifying.

An absolutely stand out show in a terrific venue (Assembly on the mound).  The future of Scotland’s (musical) theatre is assured on the basis of this.

After a light lunch and a pint of the highly superior Caesar Augustus (by Williams Brothers of Alloa) we returned to Assembly for the much lauded, multi-award winning Nirbhaya.  (The Indian word for fearless).

This was a stark contrast to our earlier entertainment.  If indeed it could be branded “entertainment”.

It was inspired by the brutal rape and murder on a Delhi bus of Jyoti Singh Pandey in December 2012 and brings us six cameo stories of Indian sexual abuse survivors.  These women all went through the stories they tell, for real, and one in particular by Sneha Jawale tells us how she was attacked by her husband with acid.  The result is there as plain as day to be seen,; her face and body mutilated and scarred, her story told through a flood of tears.

The show is book-ended by Pandey’s story and is dimly lit throughout with snatches of Indian and Western music that add atmosphere.

The stories are harrowing and half of the audience were openly sobbing their eyes out.  A young man we met in the Queue on the way in told us this was a life changing event.

I’m sad to say that for me (and Jeana) it was far from that.

You can’t take away the honesty and integrity of the piece or the clever staging, or the excellent performances but something failed to grip us.

Both of us.

Perhaps it’s too voyeuristic.  There was no programme and no notes about it so we weren’t aware if we were listening to stories of others or biographies.

For me I think the flaw lay in the direction which made it feel too staged, almost contrived in a strange sort of way, which is a shame because it is anything but.  As Lyn Gardner says in the Guardian “it veers dangerously close to well-meaning theatrical misery memoir”, and I agree.

Despite my reservations I have to recommend it though because you cannot ignore the importance of the message or the response (including a standing ovation) of many of the audience.

Afterwards the cast stood waiting to talk to anybody who felt the need.  That, for me, was the most moving moment.

After the show we had a beer with my Pals Mark and Fiona and my pal Vince’s daughter Louise which was great

Last stop of the day was a few relaxed drinks at Summerhall (the Dick Vet Bar) with David Reid and his lady Nicola Dunn.  I love Summerhall, it somehow recalls a bygone age of Fringe scuzziness.  It feels real, fresh and amateur despite its arms length awards list.  And they sell Barney’s Beer.

I also met the star of HeLa, Adura Onashile, a new one woman show who had been the case worker in Cora Bissett’s much lauded Roadkill.  And lovely she was too.

 

Forth Children’s Thearte. The Chess Game


Well, we’re three nights into our run with OK sized audiences  ; good for an unknown show.  But we need to up the ante on that if we are to cover our costs.  So that starts at 1.50 when we preform on the Lower Stage on The Royal Mile.

It’s an open air event and this is the scene from my window…

But we will carry on regardless with 39 kids and a battery operated generator.  Should be fun…

After that, a bit of flyering and back for a Barbeque at base.

The first review of the show has come in from Thom Dibdin.  He was very complimentary ad even used a couple of my pictures.

Apps, Happiness, Casablanca and The Chess Game

 

When Two Queens Go to War… Rebecca Gilhooley and Julia Carstairs in FCT’s The Chess Game. Photo © Mark Gorman

By Thom Dibdin

Start it up and lets go! Day One of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe dawned bright and clear. No monsoon, no rain, just a crisp morning with light wind and sunny skies.

A perfect day for a play called Happiness, it would seem, at a sparkling new venue to boot: The Playhouse at Hawke and Hunter Green Room. Good timing too, for the Tron Theatre’s revival of Casablanca, the Gin Joint Cut – which arrives in Edinburgh with a slew of four and five star reviews under its belt. And to round off the day, a visit to the first Edinburgh Local Hero, with the fabby FCT’s The Chess Game, at Inverleith.

 

The Cast of The Chess Game, by FCT. Photo © Mark Gorman

Finally the Local Heroes, Forth Children’s Theatre. I always enjoy reviewing their productions but was slightly concerned to be there on first night of The Chess Game, particularly when the company has just said good-bye to a very successful generation of young performers.

No worries, though, The Chess Game was excellent. Not perfect yet, but the voices will mature and grow in confidence over the years, as will the acting. There are several in the company who need to learn to speak up and out, as the mumbled spoken lines into their boots. Director Vic Laing could also have improved some of the blocking. He left several of the more diminutive members of the company stuck out of sight at the back in big ensemble numbers and tableaux which should have given everyone a chance to shine.

That said, the young company tackled this piece about war, redemption and taking responsibility with real maturity. There are several very problematic moments which they made pass by with a natural fluidity to their pacing. Their musical performances pushed right to the edge of their abilities too – well beyond their comfort zones – and they made the tricky arrangements sound simple.

Of course they do have some cracking support, and those responsible for the wardrobe did an excellent job. The live band were crisp and supportive under the leadership of Iain MacDonald who wrote the words, music and lyrics of the show – which FCT first performed back in 1984. A thought-provoking treat. And I found myself humming the tunes on the way home.

So, come along to our venue…at Inverleith Church Hall, Ferry Road (Top of Granton Road), from August 5th – 13th at 7.30 with matinees on Saturday 6th and 13th at 2.30 pm.

Tickets are priced £12 (£10 conc). All tickets are £8 on Sat 6th Matinee.

Call the FCT Ticket Hotline to place your order on 07794 144372.

And so the festival lies before us…


We saw the Wheel at the Traverse to kick off our festival and next we have the show that FCT is doing; The Chess Game.  I chair this youth theatre and we have 40 excited youngsters treading the boards for the 33rd year in a row at the Festival.

Next, I have Wondrous Flitting, which The Lyceum is staging at The Traverse;  The Lyceum Theatre Company’s first Fringe outing in many years.

Then there’s the shows I’ve booked so far.  I’m seeing Steven Berkoff in action in Oedipus next Friday.  That should be utterly sensational.

But also one of the hot tickets which I have is to see Marc Almond  In Ten Plagues.

But my aching hollow in my chest is for Dance Marathon.  Who will go with me to this experiential play in which the audience dance for four hours in a real life “They Shoot Horses Don’t They?’

There is more…all at the Traverse at the moment, a site specific piece in Edinburgh’s Medical Hospital which is about death and the afterlife called “What Remains” and David Greig’s reputedly wonderful “The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart” with its promising Kylie Minogue finale.

You’ll notice I am not doing the Fringe Cancer; Comedy.

I may do Dave Gorman, and I’ve been invited to The Stand opening night pre-fest jolly with CBS, but I don’t do comedy because I’m a miserable Quantas flyer.

Oh, and a snob.

Tempo’s Fringe Production of ‘The Rink’


rink-poster

I was fortunate enough to take in not one, but two of Tempo’s fringe shows tonight.

Nobody Does it Better is not billed as a big show but believe me it is a great treat. It showcases around 20 James Bond movie theme songs in a variety of solos, company and dance numbers. It’s great fun but this is really only the support (no disrespect) to Tempo’s main production – the rarely performed “The Rink”.

The music is written by Chicago and Cabaret’s Kander & Ebb and is in that style.

The script is brilliantly written by The Full Monty writer Terrence McNally.

What a great show. It’s a delightful mix of comedy and pathos and the singing is universally excellent; as is the acting.

The show’s glue is the mother and daughter duo of Norma Kinnear (wow) and Gabrielle Pavone (wow) but is monumentally supported by the male wrecking crew who take on a variety of parts as well. One criticism is that Tempo’s programme doesn’t establish who is who so I’m not sure who the excellent Dino was. This is musical theatre at its best.

It’s only on till Saturday so dither ye not. Get there pronto.

I promise you will enjoy both shows and particularly The Rink. (Oh. And the band is brilliant. Especially the trombonist!!!)