Friday 19th August
Jamie Blake 9.25/10
Looking through the fringe brochure gets harder every year. So many (some might say too many) choices means that it is almost impossible to decide what to see. Occasionally though even a general blurb in the listings creates a resonance and you have a gut feeling that this is a show worth investing your time and money in. This is how we ended up at Zoo Roxy on our last afternoon following a delightful and unexpected walk around Arthur's Seat in glorious sunshine beforehand.
After joining a surprisingly long queue we entered the venue to hear Rhys Lewis' s dulcet singing voice whilst accompanying himself on guitar. Immediately we meet Jamie Blake struggling to speak on the phone. My first thoughts were that like "Rose" (see yesterday's review) we were watching a man with a stroke but soon I realised it was just the emotions of a dumped lover begging for another chance. In flashback, we then see our hero meeting the love of his life, Jade, and the events which lead us to the conclusion. Along the way we meet their friends who experience the highs and lows you would expect from free and single twenty-somethings just having fun.
It sounds fairly generic theatrical fare but succeeds because the writing and acting is real and believable. Like a good referee, the control of director Ashley Scott-Layton (also the writer) is not noticed, as although there are a lot of scenes, often quite complicated, they all allow the story to flow naturally.
The large cast are all exemplary but I must single out Rupert Lazarus in the title role. On stage for virtually the whole show you must believe and care about him to get involved in the story. It is a far from easy role as he has to start at a highly emotional state, regress to a level of innocence and naivety and work himself back up into this dramatic ending. If this sounds heavy and dramatic you couldn't be more wrong. All along the way it is funny with bursts of musical energy, dancing and beat-boxing that are truly life-affirming.
Credit must also go to Rhys Lewis who remained on-stage throughout the show, coming alive to deliver his own songs as well as creating a great party atmosphere with cheesy disco favourites. For anyone suffering Fringe-lag this is the perfect pick-me-up. I can also recommend getting hold of Rhys Lewis's mini-CD as these songs grow on me with each listen. A company to be enjoyed not just this festival, but hopefully for plenty more to come. Highly recommended.
Toulouse-Latrec The Musical 5.5/10
DarkChat chose to see this one man musical performed in Japanese with subtitles rather than attending one of the performances in English.
Undoubtedly one of the most charming and gracious performers on the Fringe this year, Jun Sawaki explained at the outset that it had been his dream to bring his show to the Edinburgh Festival but of necessity the piece was being performed in a truncated and simplified version, with the audience having to use their imagination.
This was indeed the case: Jun Sawaki has a great voice and performed with great conviction but the brevity of the subtitles led DarkChat to suspect that much was being lost in translation, while time constraints meant that even a life as short as Toulouse-Lautrec’s had to be tackled at a cracking pace.
Inevitably perhaps this resulted in the delivery of a ‘bite sized revision notes’ version of Toulouse-Lautrec’s life although Jun Sawaki gets full marks for the passion he obviously has for his subject and for bringing such an ambitious project to the Festival.
The Three Englishmen: Optimists 6.67/10.
Devotees of the reviewers of DARKCHAT (and why wouldn't you be) will know we favour sketch comedy. The Penny Dreadfuls and Idiots of Ants generally battle it out at the top of the league with The Ginge, The Geordie and the Geek leading the chasing pack although Wit-Tank are making a bid to seize the trophy this year. We do, however, always try to see newer acts with visits this week to Betrayal of Penguins and Late Night Gimp Fight & 88 MPH (proof that we're not perfect.) Today it was the turn of The Three Gentlemen to show what they have got.
The bigger names generally inhabit the Pleasance Courtyard but I have a soft spot for The Caves. It's title gives you an idea of the sartorial elegance of the venue but it gives you the chance to see lesser known talent on the way up and more importantly it offers (and provides) two for one pricing which helps a reviewers pockets at the end of a long week.
A big queue ensured we weren't going to get our usual front row seats but by splitting up we managed to get single seats near the stage, essential for Rick who lost his glasses the night before. I thought that for once I wouldn't be involved in a show until I realised I had a dreaded aisle seat & I was wearing a Monty Python T-shirt which had already been mentioned by one of the Englishmen on the way in. This is an increasing trend, performers greeting the audience before and after the show. It did provide the first laugh of the show that despite appearances " the venue was structurally sound". Not just a funny line but some re-assuring Health and Safety advice.
If you are not aware of The Three Englishmen there are actually four of them, all likeable. They started with a series of quick sketches which often are a bit of a mess but they all struck home, I especially loved the horse with a particular party trick. As the show progressed the sketches lengthened but they bucked the trend of returning characters though I felt there was the opportunity for a further appearance of "Shirley Bassey". It is odd that despite the effort performers put into honing their material often the biggest laugh occurs when someone goes wrong or corpses on stage. So, it proved here with a hysterical French spy scene especially when he actually eats his cigarette. Oh, and my involvement? Naturally it occurred when a (huge) eagle escapes from its master to hover over me while an Englishmen constantly yelled at me to soil myself. They are not the finished product yet, but worth following.
Doris Day Can Fxck Off - Zoo - 6.15pm - 6/10
Greg McLaren commenced his one man show exploring communication and mis-communication with an explanation that for two months he chose to sing rather than speak at all times, secretly recording the results. These recordings are used throughout the show to great effect, as is audience participation, with one DarkChat member memorably singing his name.
There are a lot of ideas in this show and DarkChat is divided as to the clarity of some of the material. The structure could perhaps have been tighter, with some repetition in the later part of the show. However, an interesting and amusing way to spend an hour – although McLaren’s best efforts still haven’t made the DarkChat reviewers less self-conscious about singing in public.
Henry Rollins - Queens Hall - 7pm - 10/10
Some years ago, a friend of mine went to see Henry Rollins when he toured his spoken word show. This friend (not a small guy himself) said that he was scared of Rollins; he was too scared to leave his seat to go to the toilet. That was over 15yrs ago and I have waited to see Rollins ever since. I’ve seen Rollins in various films and dabbled with his music. But it is the images of him that stay with me the most. So, it was with great expectation that I finally got to see him at the Queen’s Hall. And for sure, he was worth the wait.
Basically, this was “An Evening with Henry Rollins”, where he retells
tales of his not so ordinary life. He shares his experience of visiting
North Korea (one of only a few Americans to do so); a story of when
he was in Black Flag; his relationship with Heidi and his recent work
with National Geographic. Yes, that’s right. Rollins really does work
with National Geographic.
His quip about baby mamas at Walmart being akin to a casting session for
Deliverance 2 gets the crowd on his side where they stay for the rest of the
evening. Rollins goes to great pains to convince the audience that he’s not
a funny guy, but just someone who witnesses and records events. But he is
a funny guy. He can hold an audience too. He manages his exuberance so that it never rolls over to sentiment and has mastered the art of public orating. And considering this is just a guy telling some life stories...you want to listen. Because, boy...can Rollins tell a story. By the end, you want to know more. From his abstinence from drink, his unwavering endeavour to be polite to having to wear the same style of clothes, you want to know what makes him tick. Eventually when Rollins signed off, one of the women next to me turned to her friend and exclaimed, “God, I love Henry Rollins!” I couldn’t have agreed more. The guy is funny, compassionate, polite and rational. Go see him. And have your expectations blown away.
Barb Jungr 9.25/10
Each year the quality and quantity of shows at the Edinburgh fringe is astounding. The only area that seems to be diminshing is music. Just when I thought I wouldn't see anything other than drama and plays up pops Barb Jugr to save the day. ( Where was Patti Plinko this year?)
This is the silver anniversary of my first trip to this festival and the person I have seen the most is Miss Jungr, starting in 1989 with her performances with Julian Clary and guitarist Michael Parker, through to Christine Collister and Ian Shaw and her tentative solo steps to her current position as Britain's foremost female interpreter of song. In recent years she has followed the trend of themed shows and after the success of 2009's show "Sings Songs Of War and Peace" tonight's is devoted to the works of Bob Dylan. These are great songs not always easy to follow and certainly not a barrel of laughs. The justification (should there need to be one) is to promote her latest CD based upon the songs of the great singer/songwriter " Man In The Long Black Coat", though a lot of these featured come from her previous tribute album " Every Grain Of Sand".
No-one should be surprised by her ability to inhabit a song and turn a perennial favourite upside down and inside out with a great arrangement and perfect piano accompanyist from Simon Wallace. However it is the patter between songs that lifts her out of the category of a great singer into an all-round entertainer. She tells stories about the songs like a true connoiseur bringing them to life with her sheer enthusiasm, injecting them with great humour and such comic timing that many comedians would envy.
After a disappointing audience in 2009 it was gratifying to see the Queens Hall full of adoring fans. Even though she over-ran by nearly half an hour causing me to haul myself at great speed to my last show of the week I don't begrudge a second of it. Musical and comedy perfection.
The Great Big Sketch Off! 7.83/10
So, the best Edinbugh fringe for quality and diversity that I can remember for a long,long time comes to an end. DARKCHAT's festival finishes as I spent most of the week, rushing from venue to venue, mainly thanks to over-running-shows.
For a group of sketch comedy fans what better ending could you have than The Great Big Sketch-Off. Basically, it does what it says on the tin. The best sketch groups split into 9 teams, with 3 teams performing over 3 heats with the winners qualifying for a final on the last Friday of the month. We came on the last heat where a fired up and relaxed audience welcomed host Lee Griffiths from Late Night Gimp fight to welcome the teams, featuring a Penny, an Idiot, a Wit-Tanker, a Sheep, Lady Gardener and another Gimp etc.
Some teams had obviously worked harder than others and it wasn't hard to eliminate the middle group featuring Elliott Idiot, whose set included an over-long sketch about " tiny, tiny weapons". Initial favourites The Beard Group fell at the final hurdle as their mainly inprovised effort could not compete with the genius idea of Thom Tuck in a kimono playing a geisha hosting the Generation Game.
The image of him browsing through a copy of the Fest, raising his eyebrows when reading " Mark Dolan - One Star" has stayed with me for a week and makes me smile when the real world drags me down. Sometimes sketches can be overly honed!
A perfect ending to a fabulous week. Roll on 2012, we have booked our flat already!