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.

 

Whatever gets you through the night?


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What gets you through that odd time between midnight and 4am (the most common time for people to die in their sleep – and known as the hour of souls)?

That’s what Cora Bissett explores in this part hilarious, part melancholic exploration of life in Glasgow, although it could be any city in the world really.

It came to the Edinburgh Fringe on the back of rave reviews and awards and I can tell you they are justified.

There was no programme handed out so I can’t be sure who was performing but they ranged from a babe in arms to a bunch of thirty/forty somethings.

This band of troubadors included actors, singers, musicians, dancers and gymnasts and feels like a modern day Chaucer’s tales.  It’s all supported by a, sometimes beautiful, video backdrop that blends effortlessly into the action

I counted 22 performers at the curtain call (to  a standing ovation) including the aforementioned Cora Bissett (Roadkill).

This is more of a polemic on life in Scotland and a curation of Scottish culture than a story as such.

And the result is a thing of great beauty.

“Chips and Cheese” a late night drinking song had me rolling in the aisles but the closing number that spelled the end of the night, and indeed life itself, was hauntingly beautiful.

The great and the good of Scottish music were involved in creating the show; Withered Hand, Emma Pollock, Ricky Ross, Rachel Sermani, Errors, Swimmer One, RM Hubbard to name but a few  and it’s nothing if not eclectic.  You might have thought that would make for a hotch potch of styles but it all knits together beautifully.

There are two moments of aerial acrobatics (in very different styles) that are simply breathtaking and in the second case deeply poignant.

Without ever reverting to kitsch or kailyard or tradition of any sort this performance brews up an homage to Scottish culture that is right on the money for the 21st century.  It’s the sort of thing that, on a good day, National Theatre of Scotland embraces so well and this is right up there with the very best of what NToS does.

I eagerly await my trip to Dundee to see Bissett’s very different, and even more lauded, Roadkill in September.

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.

 

fct 2008


It’s been a crazy day.

Golf, driving lessons (more later) and at the end of it the latest FCT festival Show. Their 29th and the first with no hand of my dad involved.

The Director, Claire Stewart, speculated in her programme notes that parts of it would have given him ‘the tingles’ and there can be no doubt that she called that one right.

This show is actually so impressive that it makes you step back and re-evaluate this theatre company. But please don’t expect what follows to be unchallenging.

FCT has staged 58 productions and it’s fair to say they’ve seen the good, the bad and the ugly with a very strong leaning to the former. But, folks, The Lords of Creation? Everyone screws up sometime.

This show though? This was FCT on steroids.

A Cockerney setting.

FCT loves Cockerney – great excuse to do ‘accents’

However, it had a bleakness that was, unusually for FCT, not offset by a few gags and a singalonga happy chappy come on it’s not all that bad, number. (Doin’ the Lambeth Walk and all that.)

No, this was tragi-comedy without the laughs.

This was bleak.

But, hey, was Robbie LS looking for laughs?

No.

He wrote a very focussed morality tale about good v evil in which (of course) good wins – well, the Victorians were a bit predictable.

Technically this was the most accomplished show in FCT history (perhaps Oh, What a Lovely War had more technical innovation but the lighting, sound and set in this show were awesome.) I sat in the back row and heard every word.

The choreography, I don’t know if you’d call it that, movement might be a better word, (see previous reference to lack of Lambeth Walks) was so considered and impactful as to punch you.

Aggressive, in your face.

Magic.

Low, moody eyelines prevailed and worked fantastically . At one stage the chorus lined the auditorium, turning and looking pointedly and uneasing the audience. I loved that.

The costumes were probably the best I’d ever seen, so themed, by colour especially and such high quality. They contributed greatly to the sense of time.

The band? How insulting to call them a band. This was an orchestra. Their role in this performance was fundamental and flawless. At times I thought it must be a CD playing, it was so flawless. And boy, you guys owe a debt of gratitude to your sound man for mixing it all so brilliantly!

So, turning to the show itself. I’ll caveat the rest of my views with a question, a challenge I suppose, and one that I wasn’t alone in asking!

Was this show ‘on-brand’ for FCT?

At the interval I thought not. Even after it, and despite how good it was, I’m still asking myself that.

As Thom Dibdin said in his review in The Edinburgh Evening News the material causes problems for a Youth production, and I agree with him.

In the first act, at least, it seemed to me that it had been a little too unremitting in its gloom and too heavy on reliance upon the principals’ performances. The second act (nearly) changed my mind. Mainly because the highlight of the show ‘Murder Murder” opened the act, drew your breathe away and established the chorus as a vital part of the energy of the show. And the chorus is fundamentally what FCT has always been about. I’d be sad to see that go.

FCT need never consider a festival production of Waiting for Godot. (musical or otherwise.)

It was a small cast by FCT standards – only 33 – and I wondered, for a while, if less was really more, but the second act reassured me.

All of this sounds a bit negative, but the experience was far from negative. Because, cutting to the chase, this was singularly the most impressive FCT performance I have ever seen.

I’ll have to revert to superlatives now. Hannah Scott was awesome, just collosal in her performance as the hooker with a heart, Lucy, she very nearly stole the show.

But let’s be honest, how could she? She was supporting Matthew Smith who played both Jeckyll and Hyde with a maturity that has to defy his age. (I have little doubt that he will fulfill his ambition of singing on the West End because he is a major talent.) It so happens I also saw him in lighter mode at the Holy Cross Players Panto and he was a hoot.

Every single principal was on the nail, but ultimately it comes down to direction and I have to say Claire Stewart has once again performed a PB.

Whatever your views of the script/libretto (and in our group they were mixed) what Claire Stewart drew out of this group was simply brilliant. “Murder Murder” was one of the finest moments I have ever experienced in a theatre.

As a whole I feel the show is flawed. It’s a bit too bleak, and lacks light and shade during a lot of the, quite long, first half storytelling stage but every opportunity to squeeze a bit of interest out of it Claire Stewart took.

Overall verdict? Outstanding