Tuesday 14th August
Life, The Universe, Whatever
JEKYLL & HYDE 13.05
The advert for this show features a picture of a dinosaur. Dinosaurs are cool. Dinosaurs are also extinct; sadly, terrible stand-ups on the free fringe are not extinct, as this show proves. They are also neither cool, nor worth having pictures of them in an advert.
The show starts with comedian-cum-beardy Ray Fordyce taking the stage for 15 minutes talking about being gay. Apparently he’s gay, and determined to tell as many (or as few) people about it as possible. What he managed to achieve in his 15 minutes of notoriety is what is all too common amongst free-fringers; saying things that make his mates laugh, and no-one else, for as the ‘headliners’ guffawed at in-jokes behind the ‘curtain of revelation’, the audience checked their watches and wondered whether it would be polite to strangle him and put him out of his misery. By deciding not to we weren’t sure whether we’d done him a favour.
Next up a ‘replacement’ popped up and at least managed to raise both the tone and the corners of our lips. He came armed with jokes, albeit weak ones, which was more than Fordyce bothered to bring to proceedings.
And finally we have Gareth Mutch, billed the ‘headline’ act of the show. Credit where credit’s due, Mutch was confident, lively and had what appeared to be a personality. He told jokes, confidently exchanged with the audience, and left us feeling like we hadn’t thrown a precious Edinburgh out of the window. Though we wouldn’t class him as ‘one to watch’, he his certainly the only thing about this show worth watching. (PW, L, DC)
When you think of ‘shadow puppets’, you think of something that resembles a dog, something that resembles a rabbit, and someone sticking their finger up someone’s nose. What you don’t think of is having to search high and low for the breath that has just been taken away from you.
Words are small, insignificant things, and simply cannot do justice to this tremendous show – even ‘tremendous’ seems ‘tremendously’ out of place. Canadian performer Jeff Achtem must not have spent a moment of the last 365 hours without a light and some sort of kitchen utensil in his hands, because surely this could not have been constructed in a year with any sort of rest.
The story is simple, which is the only thing simple about the entire show. A ‘swamp owner’ takes it upon himself to dominate the animals in his swamp, and moves from snail to snake to bird in his pursuit of doing so. His journey takes him via the insides of a crocodilian monster, through the waving arms of the audience, and on a 3D journey across the heavens. Not making any sense? Well, how could it, because we saw it and we still can’t believe it.
We were determined to see something mind-blowing this year, and we have. Mr Achtem, we take off our hat to you, so feel free to transform it into an intergalactic space station for next year’s show! (PW, L)
PLEASANCE DOME 17.20
There are many ways of choosing a show to see at the festival, reviews, flyers, adverts and blurb in the official brochure amongst many others. Well, we attended "Bane, 1,2,3" as the actor is a friend of a friend & I was fed up making excuses about why we hadn't seen it. I had been aware of the "Bane" franchise over the last couple of years after seeing regular glowing reviews but as it was featured in the theatre section of the fringe brochure I assumed (wrongly) it was a straight play.
The omens weren't good as the ticket checkers pre-warned us about the extreme heat in Ace Dome, recommending we take as much water and preferably ice with us. as possible. DARKCHATTER Anne then refused to sit in a seat without a back so we found ourselves a few rows away from the front in a packed and baking venue.
The fact that we were captivated and mesmerised by what followed is a tribute to the skills of Joe Bone. We were open-minded about what we were about to witness but we didn't expect a man appearing in an overcoat and proceeding to deliver a Philip Marlowe/ Sam Spade style American gumshoe style story for an hour. He is accompanied by Ben Roe on guitar providing an atmospheric soundtrack but otherwise this is a man show as he plays all the roles from the lead character, his nemesis, the moll etc down to the stall holders selling vegetables and the worlds largest cushion.
Not only is this an extraordinary tour de force it is hysterical throughout as well is being a slimming aid for Mr Bone as he must shed a stone in weight every day. But, the coup of this show is that as it heads towards a predictable conclusion something occurs which makes most of the audience gasp out loud. This is my 14th festival and that was one of the most unexpected events I have witnessed.
I cannot recommend this highly enjoyable show enough. So, if you don't go you are depriving yourself of a great theatrical experience. (DC & AC)
In a Handbag, Darkly
Robin Johnson is no doubt a man who once read Oscar Wilde and laughed; the problem was, it doesn’t look like he realised exactly what it was about the work that made him laugh. It’s clear he saw the word ‘spiffing’ and the culinary treat that is ‘the cucumber sandwich’, and thought that if you combine the two you have immediately recreated the genius of Wilde. Well Mr Johnson, you could not have been more wrong if you’d…crap, is there a more explicit way of being wrong?
Hats off the cast, for they perform this garbage with gusto and enthusiasm, yet there is a reason we carry garbage off into the middle of nowhere, cover it in mud and build a fence around it adorned with a ‘do not enter’ sign.
The ‘play’ starts with the two characters from ‘The Importance’ plotting the deaths of one another, for reasons unknown to even those who managed to stay awake five minutes into the ‘play’. The butler of both characters suggest they carry out the dead in Victoria Station, presumably because Johnson hasn’t the capacity to decide upon a location that hasn’t been tried and tested by Wilde himself – they say the greatest form of flattery is imitation, well how flattered do we feel when people go on a murderous rampage in the name of the Nazi Party? Anyway, once there, they are attacked by some sort of infant in a bag, which presumably suggests that Earnest’s discovery in a handbag in the ‘original’ wasn’t as unique as it sounds; apparently there are babies being left at the station left, right and centre. In fact, we urge the police to head there right now and save all these poor little infants, before the population of the UK plummets from our young having failed to survive past that challenging ‘getting past the Victoria Station challenge’ that youngsters face so often these days.
When the end finally arrived, we could not have been more grateful to Mr Johnson for having limited this trite to a mere 45 minutes. A ‘Johnson’ once became famous for creating the very first dictionary; hopefully this ‘Johnson’ will look up the word ‘suicide’ in that dictionary and do us all a favour. (PW, L)
Ali McGregor's Alchemy
Assembly George Square 21.10
Preparing an Edinburgh festival itinerary is tricky. I like to be organised and pre-book a reasonable amount of shows but I also like to leave some gaps for impromptu amendments.
Having decided not to see Simon Evans and drop a free show I had some unexpected time to visit the half-price ticket booth by the Mound & was pleased (from our point of view) to see it included one of our favourite cabaret artistes. This allowed us to see Ali McGregor in a full show for the first time, having previously seen her host a BBC radio show "Curiosity Killed The Cabaret" a couple of years ago.
The concept for this year's show was adapting 1980's & 90's pop songs and putting them into a Jazz environment and to accompany her stunning voice she surrounded herself with three impressive musicians. I'm not sure what most of the audience were expecting but I suspect "Tainted Love" wasn't high on the list, especially as this was followed by "Barbie Girl", " Song 2", "La Isla Bonita", " Push It" etc.
As well as being a fun and novelty evening it was interesting how these songs actually thrive in a Jazz setting. Anyone who knows Miss McGregor will be well aware of what a fantastic vocal range she possesses and her infectious sense of mischief she displayed in the links between songs.
Just when we thought the evening couldn't get any wierder (or better) her encore number was the Britney Spears number "Oops, I Did It Again" where she hit a note I'm sure I have never heard before. Yes, it was that kind of a magical night.
PS I bought the CD of the show and can't stop playing it. This isn't just a one evening wonder. (DC & AC)
Surgeon's Hall 22.15
In a wonderful setting, ‘Converse’ theatre group quite ironically failed to bring Bram Stoker’s classic creation completely to life. The problem? Well, let’s start by risking the wrath of ‘sexism’; this was an all-female cast, and it just didn’t work. It’s hard to say that such a thing should have been made clear from the start without sounding like a throwback to the 1950s, but surely if you went to watch an all-male production of ‘Dirty Dancing’ you’d be a bit surprised if you only found out ten minutes into the show?
Dracula was played, without an ounce of seductive charm, by a very pretty young actress with her blonde hair tied in a bob. I’ve only read the story once, but in Castle Dracula, the count is supposed to be an elderly man, and whilst we can forgive the gender of the casting, to make no effort to ‘age’ Dracula is surely unforgivable. But perhaps most damning is the failure to build up any sort of tension in the vital section of the plot. Harker’s realisation of what Dracula is drives the story along, and yet the production glosses over it far too quickly. In fact, within 2 minutes of Harker’s arrival, Dracula is off to England and a quarter of the book has been forgotten about.
And this is the problem with the production; too much time spent on the dialogue, and not enough devoted to the gothic suspense. In the end, it seems rather harsh that Dracula is ‘executed’, because it doesn’t feel like ‘he’ has really done an awful lot wrong; ‘he’s’ so nice for the entire production.
The message for Converse theatre then is to choose a play more suited to their talents; horror is not their strong point. Though special praise does go to the actress, I’m afraid I do not know her name, that played the mental patient Renfield; a sublime performance, and such a shame it was not made clear why your character was in a mental hospital, what your connection to Dracula was, or how you died! (PW)
Tales From Edgar Allan Poe
C - C eca 23.00
Today was a true Edinburgh festival day. After walking a long way to see a disappointing free show I then saw two successive five star shows. Whatever came next had some hard acts to follow and Backhand Theatre's "Tales from Edgar Allan Poe" wasn't up to it.
It didn't help that we walked straight past the venue and arrived a few minutes late. I suspect we didn't miss much as a doctor was still showing a sanitorium inspector around his mental asylum. This was their premise for the show with each inmate relating a well-know Poe story. "The Raven" had the bonus of a good performance from Sally Preston, the voice of a famous Shakespearean actor but the disadvantage of a ridiculously amateurish (and huge) paper-mache Raven (which oddly was partially obscured to anyone sitting to the right of the audience). "The Pit and the Pendulum" was well performed by Gavin Maxwell but the advertised "daring circus" generally involved wobbling in, out and around a hoop.
There was another good perfomance by Davey Kelleher but unfortunately the play also featured the worst acting I have seen at this festival. The idea itself was fine but the execution needed tightening, the ending was predictable and sadly, the show was boring. (DC & AC)
Humphrey Ker is Dymock Watson: Nazi Smasher
23.10 Pleasance Dome
Having taken a year off from Edinburgh I had missed the chance to see all three Penny Dreadful shows. So I made every effort to see Humphrey Ker in his one man show for one week only. The night before having watched an almost flawless stand-up performance by his ex-cohort Thom Tuck, tonight we were here for the tall Penny. Waiting with baited breath in the front row, the lights dimmed.
Now I knew this was gonna be a one man play. This didn’t worry me. I just was left wanting the Penny’s next to him I suppose. The ability to write a play seems to have come from this man as the other two have gone into more traditional stand up roles, or so it seems. But it also seemed that they added a bit of silliness to procedures that didn’t seem to emanate from Mr Ker’s performance.
Maybe it’s his breakthrough to mainstream that he may not have put in the effort he did last year, but it did just seem bereft of the same Penny’s magic. I didn’t see the same twinkle from his eyes or get in my gut that I had before. Not to say that it was a bad show, there’s a lot of evidence to the contrary. I guess it’s more the case of seeing the potential it could have had for a full penny’s squad pulling people’s funny’s bones until they poked out of their skin. Maybe it’s just a case of legs having to move on from what was a rare mix of sketch writing interwoven into a play coupled with genius audience interaction, lending from each of their own obvious strengths, but obviously led to their demise with differing tastes of comedy.
A man evidently capable of writing great plays but I really feel he could do with writing more than roles for himself, simply because it would give a sense of identity for each character which I didn’t get. Here’s hoping that Humphrey Ker brings a new play next year, simply because there is not enough comedy plays up in Edinburgh, but so long as it’s not the dreadful Van (from his TV Show) I’m sure I’ll be in the queue anticipating with baited breath as I were at the start of this show. (L)