Wednesday 15th August
Seussical, The Family Musical
The Space @ Surgeons’ Hall 12.40
This show was a Fringe first for us, over the years DarkChat have seen hundreds of shows, many memorable (for a variety of reasons) but this show will live long in the memory for a special reason. Never have we attempted to take two 3 year olds to a show, not knowing how they might react or behave, and a transport delay and a rush across town didn’t fill us full of hope in this respect.
We needn’t have worried as our mini-reviewers are captivated from the moment the cast take the stage with an impressive performance of ‘Oh the Thinks You Can Think’ the first of a number of tunes from the Lynn Ahrens & Stephen Flaherty. We are taken through the story of Horton the Elephant in this show both Hearing a Who and Hatching an Egg, a combination of two of Dr Suess stories.
Richard Cooper is convincing as the troubled Horton and his excellent voice soon helps us forget his slightly elephantine dancing! There are a number of great voices amongst the cast, not least Laurie Brown who owns the stage as Horton is accused ‘The Biggest Blame Fool’ when he hears voices on his speck of dust. Twins causing us a problem is nothing new, happily for once it wasn’t our own boys but the Templeton twins on-stage who initially led us to believe that the quickest costume changes in stage history were taking place! It soon became apparent that there were two of them, performing impressively as the Mayor of Whoville and the Cat in the Hat respectively. The Cat particularly memorable to one three year old who constantly asked ‘when is the cat coming back?’ each time he left the stage.
All round we have a great bit of Musical Theatre by Caught in the Webb Productions, although already finished their short run at Edinburgh they are definitely a company worth looking out for in the future, whether you are three, or ever so slightly older! (CB and family)
The Life and Death of Eric Argyle
15 Oak Productions have, quite frankly, brought a lovely piece of theatre to the Edinburgh Fringe. It is nice to see so much thought put into a production; faultless casting, music that weaves itself seamlessly into the plot, and humour combining with drama to create a devastating force. Hats off to them!
The premise is of an ageing man discovering that he has died, and faces some sort of ‘trial by jury’ for reasons both he, and we, are unclear of. The evidence is presented to the audience through a series of flashbacks, as Eric’s life is acted out by a younger version of himself (though quite amusingly by an actor over a foot taller than the older Eric!) during some life-changing events from schoolboy to middle-aged shopworker. Thankfully, each flashback is relevant, poignant, and adds an additional layer to the complex story. In the end, we discover the decision is not about entry to heaven to hell, as the initial hour suggests, but a dilemma over the publication of a novel that Eric has written at the rate of a page a day for the last thirty or so years. It was a truly lovely ending!
But if the production has a flaw, it is in fact in the script itself. Although ‘lovely’, the script simply isn’t risky enough. The character is all too likeable, if that’s a fair criticism, and it’s hard to imagine anyone actually living the clichéd life he actually leads – making the correct moral decisions, having a friend die at an early age, an unfulfilled love that lasts for decades…it’s good, but what’s new? So, as excellent as the production is, it would be nice to see something a bit original, but that probably falls into the ‘picking holes needlessly’ category! (PW & L)
The MIller's Tale: Wahala Dey Oh!
Having watched a lot of comedy in the early part of the week it was time to look for some unusual drama. And shows don't come much odder than a Nigerian version of Geoffrey Chaucer's " The Miller's Tale", from his epic "The Canterbury Tales".
Classic drama transcends time and culture and, amazingly, this unlikely mix works incredibly well. African theatre is generally lively and their natural exuberance perfectly fits this 14th century morality tale of laziness, infidelity, the perils of marrying a young wife etc. This isn't a production where you can hear every word but this doesn't matter. You can easily follow the plot and most importantly, get carried away with the liveliness of the performers.
It disappoints me that each year people increasingly feel Edinburgh is just a comedy festival. This was a highly enjoyable show with 8 in the cast and (on the day I went) just 12 in the audience. So, if people want to experience something different to generic stand-up and experience what the real fringe festival is about head to C on Chambers street.
PS. I would love to see Overo Productions tackle another of Chaucer's tales next year. (DC & AC)
Pleasance Courtyard 14.15
Sketch comedy is one of the most common things at the Fringe; right up there with unwanted flyers and almost getting run over by a bus whenever you try to cross the road. So for a new group to stand out they have to offer something different, as in every industry. Do BEASTS manage this? Well…to an extent, but not quite enough to make them a must-see group.
The hour of sketch comedy they produced was solid and occasionally very funny – particular highlights included a
stive biscuit, and an edition of ‘Spot the Dog’. The sketches were, as you’d expect at Pleasance, performed remarkably well by odd-looking individuals, but also far too often ended abruptly, and varied slightly (though not considerably) in quality.
A unique factor they did introduce, however, was a remarkable ending in which all of their characters returned briefly for a ‘what happened next’ sort of moment, which proved to be by far the funniest and most entertaining part of the show. So, perhaps BEASTS do have a chance to make a name for themselves at next year’s Fringe, but work is definitely required on tightening up those sketches. (PW & L)
Cabaret Voltaire 15.50
As requested, we took our seats, got out of our seats when the teacher entered, and received our lesson expectations for the upcoming 45 minutes. Thankfully, our ‘teacher’ was to be the hilarious Mark (with a K) from WitTank, and not your ‘run-of-the-mill’ boring old geography teacher…
With extracts from his love-life (thankfully what it lacked in originality it made up for in hilarity) and work-life (again, funny), Cooper-Jones delivered what has to be the funniest bundle of minutes the Free Fringe has to offer. With the confidence of someone twenty years in the business, he exchanged with the audience and always came out on top, no matter how hard individuals tried to better him. His innate smugness was never in danger of alienating the crowd, which is surely a great skill for someone to control at such a young age. The show then ended in a superbly fitting manner, with Cooper-Jones taking on the audience in a ‘Capitals of the World’ quiz, in which he narrowly came out on top by a single point!
We went into the show hoping to see an improvement on WitTank’s disappointing efforts, and we came out with more than even we’d bargained for. Because not only had we been taught a wonderfully enriching lesson, but also Mr Cox managed to participate in his very first Edinburgh show of the year (by correctly knowing the capital of Lithuania). (DC, AC, PW & L)
The Beta Males in The Space Race
Pleasance Courtyard 17.45
Despite being a little disappointed by their alternative show " The Midnight Movie" we were back for their latest comedy play. Upon arrival we are met by the unexpected sight of them Morris dancing, with occasional help from audience members.
This introduces us to the quaint village of Lower Birchley which we later discover houses a secret military base where they plan to launch a rocket and beat the Americans and Russians to land on the moon. Oh, did I mention we were back in the 1960's? Naturally, all does not go well and in the best traditions of science fiction movies there are evil aliens determined to take over the world.
This is the style of comedy the Beta Males excel at. Silly situations, silly characters and silly audience interplay. They are clearly following the gap left (hopefully only temporarily by the Penny Dreadfuls) in the comedy play genre. (Though they had better watch out as Sad Faces have shown a change of style this year and are close on their heels).
As usual the performances are impeccable ( Guy Kelly excels with his facial contortions and Richard Soames does some real acting) and they rapport well with an adoring audience. The plot could be tighter and some jokes are predictable but there are few shows on the fringe as funny as this. (DC, PW & L)
Adam Hills : Mess Around
Assembly Mound 19.40
When a comedian opens his act by telling you that he has next to no prepared material this would usually be a cause for concern, when the comedian is Adam Hills you are prepared to give him the benefit of the doubt as he prepares to ‘Mess Around’ with his Edinburgh audience.
Hills is quickly at ease with the packed crowd who are soon equally at ease with him with various members of the audience eager to ‘assist’ with the performers. Latecomers are welcomed in directly by Hills who has assistance from Graeme in the front row (more of him later) with his mic cable letting him reach the back of the room as they try to sneak in.
As always Hills is warm and entertaining and any concerns of a lack of material are soon forgotten as we weave our way through a transfer of the ‘show James Bond,’ a suggestion of Mother & Daughter threesomes with the new Bond and a potential new advert for Irn-Bru from Graeme who lets us know that “It’s no’ as bad as Coke!”
The show is topped off by the appearance of Australian swimmer and London 2012 medallist Brenton Rickard who had brought his bronze medal which was drooped over the show mascot Hector to rapturous applause from the previously cynical (of the Australian team) audience.
The evening went by in a flash, so much so that I didn't have time to make myself known to Hills with my story of taking 'his carrot' to the Arctic Circle and making a stranger help me take a picture of it on a frozen river!
Hill’s run has finished early as he prepares for the London Paralympics (presenting not participating) but you can still catch him at a charity show this Thursday and hopefully touring again soon – we intend to. (CB)
Ginge, The Geordie And The Geek
Just The Tonic 19.45
The power ballads were as loud as ever in this immensely fun bundle of sketches from the Darkchat favourites. As usual we were treated to a variety of unusual characters, more costume changes than seems humanly possible in an hour, and ‘The Geordie’ displaying a new found knack for pulling ‘what the devil is going on?’ faces.
There were several notable highlights; a ‘smooth operator’, a football referee who just couldn’t leave matters on the pitch, a horse who just didn’t seem to get the career breaks he so deserved, a shadow with a new owner, and a truly hilarious ‘my scar’s bigger than yours’ duel between two old men at a duck pond, competing for the affections of a lone duck. Thankfully, there was very little filler, making up for a disappointing effort last year. At the end, the show was rounded off nicely with a pre-recorded montage from all of the main characters, filmed as usual around the streets of Edinburgh during Fringe-time.
All in all, this was a good return to form for the trio, yet there is a nagging doubt; have these peaked already? Sadly, in our opinion it seems they have. The sketches, though funny, remain rooted within their comfort zones; heavily reliant on props and amusing costumes. Perhaps it’s time for a change; a new theme, audience participation? G3 are good, but then they were just as good 4 years ago! (PW & L)
Three words; ‘sketch’ ‘horror’ ‘play’. Such words are heaven to the ears of some Darkchat members, and we headed off for a late-night viewing of what we hoped would fill a definite void in Edinburgh in recent years. Constructing such a concept is extremely difficult and challenging, so were ‘Heretical Productions’ up to the challenge?
Well, sadly, not on this occasion, but they showed sufficient promise to suggest that, with greater fine-tuning and maturity, they may be worth checking out at next year’s fringe. Of course, on the other hand, they may not be; the risk is your own!
The plot, if it can be called one, involved a series of murders on young women that required the services of a big-city detective to ‘up sticks’ and head to a remote, dark, forbidding village in…well, somewhere in the countryside I guess. Once there, the detective encounters the usual sort of in-breeders, cotton-pickers and castle-recluses you’d expect from a company so hell-bent on ramming clichéd stereotypes down your throat.
Though the performances were admirable, but were all too often used to cover up a montage of lame, tacky jokes – this show has to win the award for the number of gay jokes in a single hour. Also, the lack of props made it hard to separate one character played by a performer from any of the other 5/6 played by the same performer. But still, this has to be given credit as a ‘work in progress’, so hopefully we’re not wrong on that front! (PW & L)
A Dastardly Fiction
In a way, we found ‘A Dastardly Ficiton’ strangely satisfying, because hidden away from the Fringe at an ungodly hour, it would’ve been a shame for a work of genius to have gone unnoticed purely on the basis of geography. Thankfully, this was not the work of genius, but that’s not to say it didn’t have several redeeming features.
The plot concerns a struggling writer, played to perfection by star of the show ‘Charley Merkell’, having made a deal with a demon to enable him to produce a series of novels over a number of years. The contribution the demon makes to this deal is unclear, because the writer is struggling, and about to be visited by the characters in his novel who are growing increasingly annoyed by the slow and confusing procedures, which is mirrored by the audience if truth be told! Amongst them is the wonderful ‘David Delves’ as a promiscuous gardener, and the highly competent ‘MeenaBhamra’ as the heroine of the piece. In addition, it transpires that Merkell is also amongst the characters, having secretly written himself into the piece to the other’s ignorance.
From here, the characters plot the murder of the author, as for some reason it is suggested this will allow them to live their lives as they so choose, though where exactly it is unclear. But this is the smallest of problems when compared to the slow nature of the plot, the real lack of interest in the remaining characters (Hester Welch as Maple has to be the pointless character creation since Poochy the Dog in the Simpsons, and writer/actor Melanie Leong simply cannot be understood at any point in the show, which made her five minute dialogue liable to induce nausea in the audience), and the feeling that this play suffers from a real lack of editing. From this evidence, Leong’s involvement in the show is far too dominant, and needs guidance from someone who can show her that it is possible to write, direct and star in a show, provided you are not doing it for the sake of it! (PW & L)
Mark Watson’s Edinborolympics
Pleasance Courtyard 23.10
It’s tense, very tense, the honour of 3 Nations is at stake and it will take something special to decide who is going to come out n top of the medals table. A man with a bucket covering his head tries to throw an orange into another bucket and (unbelievably) he makes the shot, the crowd roar and our presenter exclaims “I can’t believe he actually bloody did it!”
Richard Herring has made the shot on behalf of Team GB but it’s not enough to overhaul Ireland’s David O’Doherty or (the injured) Al Pitcher of New Zealand. It’s the culmination of an hour of alternative Olympic Challenges set down by the master of late night Fringe silliness Mark Watson. (Almost) athletic events including the Standing Jump and Backwards Run are put together with events including the Lucky Challenge (scratch card each, see if anyone wins) the Name Challenge which involves assistants runnig out into the Pleasnce Courtyard to find as many people named David, Al and Richard to represent our Olympians.
The evening is only as good as the competitors taking part and all three throw themselves into the challenges – O’Doherty in particular showing his competitive nature in all events including the ‘Admin Pentathlon’ which involves more oranges, some loose change and for one competitor a pint of lager full of frozen veg.
Watson holds the evening together well as it threatens to descend into total chaos, descending instead to a level somewhere around mild bedlam, the inner commentator he has alluded to in previous shows allowed to burst forth as he shrieks a running commentary of each orange being peeled or text message received from the competitors.
The evening is finally won out by O’Doherty who celebrates by running up and down the audience of Ireland supporters who had also been promised a share of his £1 Lottery winnings (I’m still waiting David!)
This performance coming only 4 days after the closing ceremony of London 2012 soon helps everyone forget all about the real ceremony and everyone leaves having enjoyed an hour in the company of some very funny men.
Just Don’t Tell Coe! (CB, DC & AC)