Saturday 14th August
Flat Pack Radio – 3.5/10
The first Darkchat show of the festival has a lot to live up to, competing with such previous Dan Mckee-driven atrocities as ‘The Comedy Bus’ and ‘Terrors of the Black Museum’. Thankfully, we can report that ‘FPR’ got us off to a good start with a modern day twist on the radio shows of the 1940s. Led by a wonderful host, the sketches were of a mixed bag, but we came away remembering the 3 strong sketches fondly, rather than dwelling on the 6/7 mediocre. More comedy in the sketches was needed, but faith fully restored in the dreaded ‘first show’.
Cannonball – 7.75/10
Improvised comedy at its very best. An extremely talented cast of four, and that vital ingredient to any comedy show, a bald bloke with glasses and a guitar, seamlessly performed plays, sketches, poetry and scenarios to audience suggestions. Such classics as a love triangle set on the Death Star, a letter of complaint to Benson and Hedges for cigarettes not being cancerous enough, and Russian gymnasts saving to go to the North Pole to collect ice, ensured the laughs were almost continuous. The only downside is, being a different show every day, we only get to see it once.
The Comedy Manifesto – 5.25/10
Darkchat returns to the Beehive for its third helping of this topical cross between ‘Have I Got News For You’ and ‘Mock The Week’, and is pleased to report it is very much hoping for its fourth course next summer. Kate Smurthwaite and her quartet of comedians, including Jools Constant and David Mulholland, return with 60 joyous minutes of newsworthy fun and stand-up competitiveness. Answering many topical questions, it left perhaps the most pressing unanswered; just how short was the guy in the pink polo shirt?
Ginger & Black – 6.75/10
A personal favourite of renowned Darkchatter Phil ‘The Power’ Williams, the G and the B return to take their audience on another sketch-driven romp through modern society, this time into the dark depths of prison life. On our travels, we met a compulsive suicider, a woman looking for that special someone to sew herself onto, a dolphin rapist with a pet goldfish, and Angela Lansbury; we ask you to decide which of those is the true crime against humanity. Good fun, though we feel the duo really needs to move on by next year.
The Importance of Being Earnest – 8.75/10
An impeccable portrayal of the timeless Oscar Wilde classic. Legs may have dozed off, but that was more to do with an absence of sleep for over 30 hours than the show itself; props were minimum but effective, the costumes, perfect, and the acting…well, we simply can’t begin to describe just how impressive this young cast were. Hopefully we will see more of them in the future, particularly Matthew Huntbach who could not have been more incredible as Algie. It proved to be the last night in an all-too-short Edinburgh run, and ‘Tread The Boards’ have a lot to be proud of. Stunning.
Jim Jeffries – 5.75/10
The man with a ‘c’ word for every occasion. Legs’s first big call of the week was to plump for an hour in the company of the foul-mouthed Aussie; if crudity was what he was after, there was enough on offer to keep him happy until the Sun expanded sufficiently to engulf the Earth. Beginning with examining how a blind person knows when it’s safe to stop wiping his arse, and ending with a story (which proved to be fictional) of his heavily-disabled 32-year old mate losing his oral virginity in a brothel, everyone but the easily, moderately and lightly-heavily offended went home smiling.
Remnants Of Once Fine Girls - 7.5/10
Death. Loss. Memories. Basically if you are looking for laughs " The Remnants of Once Fine Girls" is not the play for you. However, if you want intelligent writing of an intense subject with an unexpected poetic turn of phrase you should seek out Stephen Todd's play.
Aberystwyth company Louche theatre boldly bring to life a current story of a murder of twin causing hre sister absent in Darfur to re-examine her life and relationships. This simple, melodramatic tale is given unexpected resonance by putting it within a Jewish religious context of remembrance and acceptance.
Solid ensemble acting (and choral singing) create a sombre atmosphere although the performance of Sarah Mair Gates in the ket dual roles of Hannah/Sarah is truly astonishing. I may have travelled at speed from one part of Edinburgh to the opposite area but it was worth it. Certainly, an interesting start of the festival.
Meow Meow - 8.5/10
With the popularity of cabaret being at an all time high, a cabaret show really does need something
different to shine out. And Meow Meow definitely has this. A witty and fun singer, this is a great send up of a cabaret act. Demanding audience adulation, Meow glides through songs in French, German and Spanish. Not adverse to a spot of crowd surfing or on stage dress changes; she may be catty, but she has a tender heart.
Otway - 9/10
When arranging our Edinburgh itinerary I try to balance new acts against old favourites, comedy with music, drama and dance etc. There are however, some performers DARKCHAT cannot resist returning to, especially when they cross boundaries and John Otway is one of them.
Even though we knew most of his material, both written and song this somehow only enahnces his charm. His show revolves around his 2 top thirty hits (25 years apart) and the surprise appearance of " Beware of the Flowers" in the top 10 best songs of the 20th century. But between these songs (and extraordinary performances of " Blockbuster" & a great Bob Dylan impersonation) he displays a true comedian's patter and timing.
He is also a better musician then he gives himsef credit for, especially when playing a double guitar, showing melatron skills and using his body as a drum machine which have to be seen to be truly believed. Credit must also go to his long-suffering roadie, Deadly (also doubling as Otway's left buttock). And it was free. A true fringe legend even if 4 Japanese tourists looked completely shell-shocked.
On the way out a couple were overheard saying they had their timings wrong & thought they were seeing a different show but were glad they did. Now that's a real Edinburgh review!
Richard Herring - 10/10
All those years I watched Herring on TV and thought how unfunny he was...how wrong I’ve been. One of the funniest stand ups at the festival. This is intelligent comedy at its best. The basis of the show? An examination of why a belief in Christ and the bible is ridiculous. The subject matter may seem old hat, but Herring breathes new life into the material. If Jesus was Jewish, why was he given a Spanish name? And an ability to recall word for word sections of the bible, bring the house down. Inventive, clever and sharp, Herring reinstates himself as a gifted comedian.
John Cooper Clarke - 7.3/10
To end our 1st day at this year's fringe we chose the legend that is Cooper Clarke. He came to prominence at the end of the 1970's as that rarest of beasts - the Punk poet - and is now enjoying a renaissance. He is undoubtedly a survivor but unlike our previous show, John Otway of similar vintage he has not chosen to became a parody of himself.
For the moment he appears on stage with the tightest of jeans show-casing the thinnest of legs to be seen outside of a female cat-walk he is truly the centre of attention. I can't say that I was overly impressed by his old-fashioned stand-up routine but the moment he embarks upon his poetry the years literally fly away and we are all thirty years younger.
Given his obvious past addictions it is amazing that he is still with us and able to have the memory, stamina and breath control to deliver those astonishing poem rants as in his heyday. His more recent offerings "I've fallen in love with my wife" shows a more tender side and stands up well against his classics. Again JCC is another performer everyone should witness as least once.
Following on from Mr Otway this promises to be a great festival.
Sunday 15th August
Base Notes – 0.5/10
Starting on a high note (as funny a pun as anything in the actual show), both the words ‘Base’ and ‘Notes’ were spelt correctly in the title. Downhill from there I’m afraid as Jeremy Miles, unaided by instrument, microphone or talent, ‘sang’ his way through his own crude versions of hit songs, albeit he forgot the words quite often. Ooh, another positive; it was completely free, for as the a‘base’mal artist attempted to sell his CDs for a fiver a pop at the door, your reviewers snuck out the back entrance to avoid having to say the sentence Mr Miles will hear often during his Edinburgh stint; “sorry, haven’t any change”.
Seven Deadly Sings – 6.6/10
Darkchat favourite Ashley Frieze returns to Edinburgh and we are drawn like a mouse to a lump of cheese. Although the main theme of the show was…questionable, at best (an hour trying to prove that all songs can be fitted into one of 7 vague categories? Hmm…), the artist himself as is enthusiastic and enjoyable as we remember. Nothing really stood out as exceptional or cutting edge, but he sufficiently kept a tough early-afternoon buzzing; considering the alternative option was the Leeds-Forest match, some Darkchatters chose wiser than others.
WitTank – 8.75/10
For Darkchat, ‘The Caves’ has become synonymous with top-class sketch comedy, but not even we were expecting something this good. WitTank is a phenomenally accomplished sketch show – hilarious at times, extremely funny when not. Arguably the best combination of writing and performance seen in a sketch show at Edinburgh; both were of such a high standard we struggled to find any faults, other than the sadness we felt when it finally ended and we have to wait till next year for more (hopefully!!).
Joe Bor : The Man With Two Bumholes – 7/10
We managed to squeeze in the man with two bumholes (apologies) thanks to the selling out of Jack Whitehall (though that didn’t stop us sharing a pint with him during the football match), and as is often the case with crack-fillers (apologies once more) it turned out to be pretty funny. We laughed, we cheered, and ‘the guy in the back row with the deep voice’ came away sporting a new hat. Five pounds well spent on this tongue-in-buttcheek comedian (I know, I know).
Foil, Arms and Hogg – 6.75/10
Back to the caves and back to ‘Foil, Arms and Hogg’ for the second year running. The Irish trio return with new characters, new sketches and new clothes, it seems. As performers, we were extremely impressed with the way they have blossomed, but feel it has come at the expense of the quality of the writing. Individually, the sketches were neither as funny nor memorable as last year, and the show itself not quite as polished or complete as some other offerings at the Fringe. Still, this is high-quality and we firmly recommend.
A Nifty History of Evil – 8.5/10
‘Nifty’; any show with this wonderful word in its title must deliver or be shunned into the dark, frowned-upon terrain of ‘false advertising’. This one did indeed, with spades (not actual spades)! It’s rare to see a comedian in a free show so adept at controlling and reacting to the audience. In fact, the weakest aspect was perhaps the rehearsed story-telling, but thankfully he was easily distracted by heckling. We hope to see him as part of the paid fringe next summer!
My Name Is Margaret Morris 7.5/10
My Name is Margaret Morris was 50 minutes of the unexpected. Instead of a physical theatre piece, this is a one man show designed to elevate the life and works of Margaret Morris to a more deserved place in dance and arts history.
Stuart Cobbs, the renowned choreographer, lovingly plays an overview of Morris’s life; depicting her as a multi talented, ahead of her time and just as important as Martha Graham. Gentle, humorous and warm, this is an appealing, but uncontroversial piece. The respect and love Cobbs has for Morris, shines through, as does his hope that Morris is duly recognised in history for her dedication to dance and the arts.
Helen Keen - It is Rocket Science 7.5/10
Following her charming show last year " The Primitive Methodist Guide To Survival" we couldn't wait to see Helen Keen's take on rocket science. Unfortunately, it soon became apparent that we had already seen most of the show at a gig in Cardiff a couple of years ago.
Even though a lot of the material was familiar there are few more pleasant ways of spending an hour than watching Helen Keen's gentle old-fashioned way of engaging with an audience. A show at 1.15 pm meant that young people were present although this didn't prevent her funniest routine about being a super-virgin.
The first of this year's interestingly themed lectures masquerading as a comedy show and probably the only one to feature a topless rocket scientist.
This was my 2nd surprise of the day, but a disappointing one. Billed as a short film festival, the event runs on a 3 day rolling programme. Two days show up and coming shorts, while the third is a film making seminar. And yes, I got the third. The two instructors made the session interesting and informative, explaining the benefits of using DSLR and how to be creative on a budget. Both are young professionals who departed practical advice. The short, Reverie by Vincent Laforet, epitomised what can be achieved with this camera. A useful session for amateurs and students alike.
Aaargh ..... Malcolm Hardee Documentary Preview 7.25/10
Not a great start to our first full day at festival. Our first show ( It is Rocket! - Helen Keen) was basically material we had already seen and " Waiting for Malcolm" was unexpectedly replaced by " Aaaardh .. Malcolm Hardee Documentary Preview".
On the plus side we did get to watch a preview of a forthcoming documentary about the Malcolm Hardee. A few nice words from Norman Lovett ( strangely directed straight to me) and we were into the enjoyable and surrisingly emotional film. ( My first and not last tears of the fringe).
As my DARKCHAT wife had actually been to the Tunnel Club in Greenwich it seemed an historical document as well as showing alternate comedy in its heyday with all the ups and downs that involved.
I had seen the late-lamented stand-up comedian a couple of times and never found him particularly funny but he certainly was a one-off, with personality and stories to match.
If this was a paying show I would have said this was for officianados of the man or the myth but as it is free anyone with an interest in comedy should attend.
Plague - The Musical 6.25/10
This could have been painful. But wasn’t. It could have been great. But, no. Instead, this was OK. Not bad. The musical pieces were well sung, and there were some great comedy turns. Death was played as if she was a Bette Middler wannabe. And the rats as 1920’s Bugsy Malone types worked well. But if it weren’t for the musical number, this show would have been dire. Some awful acting and casting spoilt what could have been a great chance at musical parody. Disappointing.
The Wake 9/10
A coffin on an empty stage. A dead man dramatcially emerges from this coffin, He announces he is dead. Then the same actor in a different voice and stance contradicts this and suddenly we are plunged into " The Wake".
It takes a while to realise that Alec Duncan is unable to relate to people
as himself and has to express himself by impersonating other characters. Once you have worked this out you can relax and enjoy the energy & skill of Jonathan Brittain ( also the author) as he literally leaps from one member of his family to another.
Just when you think you have come to grips with this tour-de-force another
character makes a dramatic entrance. Suddenly, the dynamic of the piece is completely changed leading to one of the greatest theatrical moments I have witnessed, 2 performers acting in complete darkness at opposite ends of the auditorium.
The play may only last 40 minutes but it contains more memorable moments than most much longer plays. Probably not for everyone, but if you like
brilliant acting and a show that constantly, unexpectedly changes direction head to the Bedlam theatre.
Oh, did I forget to mention it is VERY,VERY funny.