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.

 

 

 

 

 

De Fuut by Richard Jordan Productions at Summerhall.


Big in Belgium, Richard Jordan Productions, Theatre Royal Plymouth, RBC

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De Fuut is a bird.  That bird above.

Birds feature thematically in Bastiaan Vandendriessche’s eery, creepy, threatening, really, really scary creepshow.

“What I would really like to do
is go to a desert island with Leda and Emma,
or sail away with the sperm whale
we are lying on the deck
in our swimming costumes
and I tell them stories about
the destruction of the world
about the futility of life
we compose 200 songs together
with the best ironic poetry there is
and I would never hurt them
I would just be very kind and they would too
and we would never go to sleep
they would kiss me on my neck
they kiss me on my neck”

You see, he’s a child molester.  A groomer.  A Sea Scout leader with a penchant for 13 year old girls.  But you know, not just little girls, he’s slept around with men and women.

He’s all cooled out at his desk, telling us of his exploits.  Not boasting, just sharing.  In his green Kaftan, His love of a Scandi solo performer (Ride?) is apparent as he shares his love for him with us.

The set is a shambolic corner of a large venue with us crammed in so he can get close and personal.  A lot of whispering happens in this show.  Sick whispering.  And shouting. Real anger directed at audience members.  This is not for the faint hearted.

It’s an emotional bastard of a piece.

It’s a bit sick, but it’s also a bit brilliant.

Vandendriessche is amazing.  Utterly hateful.  Utterly charming.  Utterly handsome. Utterly Nabokov.

You have to make your own decisions about seeing this very challenging piece of theatre.  It’s not for everyone, in fact it’s hardly for anyone.  But it’s why theatre is important and can challenge society.  It’s uber-Summerhall.  Thank fuck we have this venerable establishment.

Alongside the Traverse, that is pulling no punches with Underground Railroad Game and Ulster American, I have had a Fringe that already has delivered spine-tinglingly challenging thought provocation on a grand scale.  This does it in a very small, very intimate, very creepy, very Belgian way.

Then again, you might just think it’s a thing by a peado. (I didn’t think it was!)

Island Town opens my 2018 Fringe and Festival. ****


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A good solid opener from Wales in the magic Paynes Plough Roundhouse (I think they tour with it) at the incredible Summerhall.  It’s an intimate 150 seat theatre in the round and this talented young cast made sure their story was shared equally with all the audience.

It starts hysterically and becomes gradually more hysterical as the humour of a life of deprivation loses its lustre and the laughs just aren’t funny any more.

I don’t want to spoil it by hinting at the storyline.  Just go and enjoy it.

Three great performances and an amazingly (in a good way) wordy (Sorkinesque) script by Simon Longman.

I recommend it.

 

Edinburgh Festival and Fringe 2018: my top picks


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I’ve done a lot of research into the Fringe and Festival this year and have booked a lot of tickets – for 25 shows so far. All are based on strong recommendations from either myself, The Stage, What’s on Stage, The Independent or The Guardian. So to save you some research time you might want to look at what I’ve booked as a starter.
Top tip. Look at 1/2/3 August for cheap previews and 6/7 August as it’s 2 for 1 days. The restricted view seats at the Kings are not restricted and are a bargain too.
Festival
Five Telegrams – The free opening show featuring music of Anna Meredith
La Maladie De la Mort – theatre
Home – theatre
European Young Musicians 2018 Semi Final
Autobiography – dance
Love Chapter 2 – dance
Xenos – dance
Fringe
Goblin perform Suspiria (film and live music accompaniment – Sold out I think) – Summerhall
Sister Act – FCT
Guru Dudu’s Silent Disco Walking Tour
Ulster American – Traverse
Janis Joplin: Full Tilt – with Hannah Scott on 7/14/21 August
8 Songs
My Left/Right Foot – The Musical (NTS)
Vertical Influences – a canadian Ice skating show – participative
All We Ever Wanted Was Everything
Island Town – Summerhall
De Fuut – Big in Belgium at Summerhall
No Kids
Lights over Tesco Car Park
Carmen Funebre – outdoor spectacle
Killy Muck
Underground Railroad Game – Traverse
What Girls are Made of – Traverse
The Greatest Play in the History of the World – Traverse – with her from Corrie
Also on my list but not yet booked:
Jessie Cave
Our Country
Nele Needs a holiday – The musical
Insert slogan here
Giselle
The Moira Monologues

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

 

 

 

 

The Gardener by Cumbernauld Theatre at Summerhall: Edinburgh Fringe Review


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My goodness has Summerhall had an immense Fringe.  And I’ve only seen part of it.

It has been my main home for the Fringe having seen this show ****, Dolly Would ****, LIES *****, Charlotte Church ****, Richard Gadd *****, Blanck Mass ***, Border Crossing ***** and Seance ***.  (2 x 3 star shows, 3 x 4 stars and 3 x 5 stars.  That’s a pretty good investment in my book).

My main reason for seeing The Gardener was because Nicola Roy plays a supporting role in it to Crawford Logan.  She’s an unsung star of Scottish Theatre and one of our best comic actors. (It just so happens she is a delightful human being to boot.)

Any way, it did not disappoint.

To a deliberately very small audience of  20 we are shown into the bowels of Summerhall – the brightly lit ‘Machine Room’ which, it transpires, is the meeting room of the Pine Grove Villas ‘Retirement Community’.

There are no pines and “it’s an Old Folks Home” observes Frank (our host) “Should be called Altzheimers Acres.”

Frank is hosting a lecture on gardening to us, his 20 fellow ‘inmates’, but the lecture is merely a device to reflect on his love of gardening.  Fecund as he is in his ‘Cultivation of the Soil’ he is sadly less fecund in his life, with his beloved wife Joan who is three years passed.

Gardening is the great metaphor for a life that he constantly breaks off from the lecture to retell.

Initially hysterical, thanks largely to Roy’s interventions as the “only nice” carer in the home, it becomes increasingly sad, but Crawford Logan (brilliant as Frank) doesn’t milk the pathos.  He is a stoic character who sees life as what it is, with it’s inevitable outcome.

Tony Cownie has beautifully crafted a lovely Dramaturg by Lynda Radley and the cleverness of the design by Ed Robson has an ace up its sleeve as the show comes to an end, with no bows.

A poignant, heartfelt piece that will surely keep popping up around the country.  If you get the chance to see it.  Jump.

 

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.

 

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.

£¥€$ (Lies). Review. At Summerhall. (No spoilers)


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Belgian shockmeisters, Ontroerend Goed, are renowned for creating immersive theatre that freaks out its audiences.  I’ve never had the balls (or got in fast enough to buy tickets) to actually see them, but I was quick off the mark this year.

I’m very, very glad of that because this fully immersive metaphor for the 2008 crash is a compelling and unpredictable experience; part casino experience, part theatre part competition it’s brilliantly managed from the sound design through to the temperature control of the room.  Both contribute to creating an atmosphere that winds up the audience from the get go.

It’s hilarious and fascinating in equal part.

I don’t want to say any more for risk of spoilers.

It’s completely sold out so I count myself lucky to have experienced this monumentally clever and wholly original theatrical experience.

Seance. Review, Summerhall


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I saw Fiction at last year’s Fringe by the same creators (Glen Neath and David Rosenberg).  It was a mega creepy aural experimental show in a blackened out Potter Row and I loved it.  So I was full of anticipation for a Seance in a blacked out shipping container.  Whilst it’s creepy it’s by no means terrifying,  not by a long shot.

Some may be freaked by it.  Not I though.  Having said that it’s clever and brilliantly sound designed.  So, for a fiver, you get something good, just not great.

Retina Festival 2017. (Celebrating photography at its very best)


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Get yourself along to Ocean Terminal in Leith to view the outstanding Emerging Talent show at the Image Collective Gallery on the top floor.

Retina is in its fourth year and over that period it has done more to showcase great photography in Scotland than just about anybody else.

This year is no different.  Indeed next Tuesday sees the opening of the Association of Photographers 2016 Photography Awards Show at Out of the Blue.

And there’s a great show by Hellen Van Meene and Bryn Griffiths at Summerhall until the 15th July.

But last night was about the newbies and I had the great pleasure of talking to two of them.  Both delightful human beings. Rod Penn

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In particular we had a long chat with Suzanne whose architectural series called Ethereal Industry multi layers images of beautiful industrial and agricultural units to creat a ghostly world of weird but truly beautiful structures.  She rightly won a BIPP award for this collection.

It’s brilliant.

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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.