Wednesday, August 24, 2011

"David Leddy's Untitled Love Story" - Edinburgh Fringe 2011

It's been almost two weeks since we saw the show, but I've wanted to allow some time to reflect on it. The question isn't whether it worked for me or not - it didn't. What I've been desperately trying to do is work out why it didn't work for me. And I'm not sure I'm any closer to doing that...

David Leddy has shown before in "Sub Rosa" and "White Tea" that he can transport an audience a century into the past or halfway across the planet , but "Untitled Love Story" never gave me any sense of Venice. Yes, there are references to the church of Santa Maria della Salute and the Grand Canal but there was no sense of time or space created. Venice should have been the show's fifth character, yet its appearances are only fleeting.

The show's guided meditation elements break up an already fractured narrative and are an acquired taste. One, I'm afraid I grew tired of long before acquiring. Of course, that's my problem and not the show's, but I doubt I was alone in the audience. What I can't fault are the performances from Keith Fleming, Robin Laing, Adura Onoshile and Morag Stark - yet I cared so little about their characters that only Laing's "Priest" managed to retain my interest to the end.

And now I've got a problem. Because I'm not confident enough in my recollection of the show to comment much further. But then, perhaps that speaks more strongly about it than anything I could say.

David Leddy's Untitled Love Story runs at St Georges West until Monday 29th August.
Image by Tim Morozzo used with permission


"Remember This" - Edinburgh Fringe 2011

For a variety of reasons (some relating to the play and some due to an on-coming head cold) I'll keep this one short and sweet. Written by Florence Vincent and Lizzie Bourne, "Remember This" is an engaging show with a well judged balance of light and dark. Annie Hardy's direction deftly handles a number of potential hazards, if perhaps signposting things from a little too early on. Daisy Badger gives a well crafted and considered performance as Helen while Paul Brotherston takes a more natural approach and brilliantly succeeds in making Nick the most believable character I've seen at the Fringe this year. In a supporting but crucial role, Emma Friedman-Cohen is tasked with a number of scenes that could make or break the show and sells them beautifully every time.

The Fringe is full of small scale personal dramas; few will pack the emotional punch of "Remember This"

Lastly, a bit of housekeeping. We have a policy of not accepting press tickets, but we're happy to take advantage of any offers available to the general public, and in this case I received a free ticket through the Theatre Ninjas website.

Remember This runs at Bedlam until Saturday 27th August
Image by Dan Harris used with permission


Tuesday, August 23, 2011

"Viewless" - Edinburgh Fringe 2011

There's a significant disconnect between the show and its blurb in the programme. What sounds like a fairly subtle, if humourous, take on witness protection is in fact an absurd comedy set in a fantastical realm a la Wonderland / Dissocia / Neverwhere (choose your own pop culture reference). Sometimes daft (funny); sometimes daft (stupid). Often funny (ha ha); occasionally funny (odd). Always entertaining. Ultimately disappointing.

There are some great set piece moments, but too often they feel like they have been bolted-on to get a laugh and lack any relevance to rest of the show. When it does focus the audience attention on the impact being placed in witness protection has on a person, it only serves to highlight wasted opportunities elsewhere.

Fortunately, the production has plenty of tricks up its sleeve to distract from its failings in the shape of superb sound and video effects. It also benefits greatly from three fine performances from Finn Den Hertog, Robbie Jack and Richard Addison.

"Viewless" may fail to explore the depths its subject deserves, but if you accept it for what it is, it will reward you with a slick and polished hour of entertainment.

Viewless runs at Hill Street Theatre until 29th August (not 24th)
Image used with permission


Monday, August 22, 2011

"Hairy Maclary" - Edinburgh Fringe 2011

We tend not to review children's shows for the simple reason of not having ready access to small people. However a day out with some friends, who happen to have an almost 3 year old* and a 5 year old, gave us the perfect excuse to visit Nonsenseroom Productions's Hairy Maclary. As unashamed fans of their productions for an older audience we were keen to see what they produced for the wee ones.

I think the show can be best summed up with some quotes from the target audience. "Excellent" said the 5 year old (although worryingly he did want to know after the show if they were real dogs - they're not), and our almost 3 year old* visitor wanted to "take the doggies home". Her mum is considering a repeat visit if it tours near her.

At an hour long we had wondered how well it would hold the attention of both big and small but there are no worries on that front. Nonsenseroom have put together a show that moves at a nice pace, intertwining 4 or so of the tales with songs and audience participation so there's always something new for the little ones to look at or be involved with. For our two guests there was rapt attention - even sitting near the back of the large auditorium. For the grown ups there's no attempt to work at two different levels, it's very much a children's show; but helping the little ones join in with the actions and songs certainly brings out your inner child. Apparently I can pant well...

Carrie Mancini and Mat Urey, as the main human characters, do a great job keeping control of an audience that certainly isn't into sitting quietly. Audience interaction is built in to give them plenty of chances to release that noise in a (semi)controlled manner. The 'canine' cast bound around the stage with such energy that makes you tired just watching them and the songs and music are catchy enough to earworm you for the rest of the day. It helps that most of the children and their adults are familiar with the books and the characters from countless bedtime retellings. I think the man behind me had them all memorised.

My one criticism would be the size/type of venue. Although it's a nice 'proper' theatre with good raking we had the children on our knees for whole show, as if they'd been in their own seats visibility would definitely have been a problem. I may be being too harsh here as our children had no problem joining in, but I did feel they would have benefited from being a little closer to the action.

And I can't stop singing "Hairy Maclary...from Donaldson's Dairy".

*Yes we know that makes her two, but she'd give us into trouble for not pointing out that she's very nearly three, apparently you want to be older when you're that age. And she's scary when she's grumpy.

Hairy Maclary has completed its run at the Fringe but now begins an extensive tour including London and locations around the UK.
Image used with permission


Sunday, August 14, 2011

"Handling Bach" - Edinburgh Fringe 2011

Forget any assumptions you may have made about a play based on a fictional account of a meeting between composers Handel and Bach. A meeting that never happened. The most important thing you need to know is that Paul Barz's play (translated by David Bryer) is a comedy. And a very funny one at that. Music lovers will undoubtedly get more out of the piece, but we know even less about music than we do about theatre, and we enjoyed this immensely. Having had the misfortune to encounter the stage version of "Yes, Prime Minister" recently, it was a joy to see something here that approaches the charm and wit of the original TV series. Think of Handel as Sir Humphrey, Bach as Jim Hacker with Handel's deadpan servant Schmidt as Bernard and you'll get an idea of the show's tone.

But it would be a mistake to dismiss it as inconsequential gentle humour. For part of the second act, the laughs take a back seat as Handel and Bach's initially polite chat develops into a 'frank exchange of views'. There's also a very contemporary discussion on the value society places on art and artists; and of the nature of celebrity.

James Bryce makes Handel a larger than life character, but it's clear there are layers to him that Bryce skillfully strips back as the evening progresses. As Bach, Simon Tate gives a wonderfully subtle performance: much of it with mere glances, while Andrew Dallmeyer completes the cast as Schmidt and is in danger of stealing just about every scene he's in. Bruce Strachan's direction in-the-round ensures a lively pace for what could otherwise be a rather sedentary piece and makes great use of Rosslyn Chapel's acoustics.

As the play takes place over a dinner shared by the characters, we advise eating beforehand to avoid becoming too envious as they tuck into a veritable feast. A post show enquiry revealed that this is prepared for each performance by Mike Osborne & Cathie Owen; and that although most was exactly as it appeared, what had been passed off as 'oysters' on stage was in fact a rather less appetising alternative.

Seeing this show from Nonsense Room does require a bit of effort due to its location outside of central Edinburgh, but there is a good bus service and it can be combined with a visit to the chapel during the afternoon and a meal nearby before the evening performance.

Handling Bach runs at Rosslyn Chapel until Saturday 20th August


Saturday, August 13, 2011

"Death Song" - Edinburgh Fringe 2011

You Need Me should seriously consider if the Fringe is the best way to showcase their work. For any theatre company bringing a show to Edinburgh there will inevitably be compromises that have to be made due to the performance space and tight running time. And You Need Me's shows are so lovingly crafted that it's distressing to see the finished product with metaphorical corners knocked off or chips to the paintwork. This is a beautiful piece of theatre, and it has the potential to be much more. In many respects it is simply too good for the Fringe.

In what has to be one of Edinburgh's smallest performance spaces (the usual 'toilet' and 'car' based shows excepted) the show shoehorns in a cast of five, a cellist and sound equipment. Although the cast are rarely (if ever) all on stage simultaneously, it only takes three to make things look cluttered - and in a show with such a focus on movement and physicality, anything affecting its aesthetics is unfortunate.

The difficulties created by the restricted space are mitigated by having the cast spill into and through the audience at times, and for those who watch them, it creates some wonderfully unexpected moments. But on looking round, it was clear that most of the audience continued to stare straight ahead at the stage - we suggest sitting at least half way up the raked seating as you'll then be able to view the scenes that spill up the aisle and at the rear without craning your neck too badly.

The strict 'timeslot' also impacts on a show that feels somewhat curtailed - with a final reveal that seems more suited as a turning point in a longer show. And there is certainly the scope to build on the material here - indeed as it stands we are deprived of what could be one of the story's most powerful moments. We'll avoid talking about the plot here as its incremental storytelling could easily be spoiled by knowing too much in advance - and we'd urge caution when reading reviews elsewhere.

The ensemble cast give carefully constructed performances - Heriberto Montalban strikes the perfect note of helplessness and frustration during Juan's prison scenes with the underused Rosamond Martin's sympathetic teacher. Roger Ribo makes his character's interest in Juan's daughter Paulina suitably uncomfortable to watch, while the portrayal of the developing relationship between Paulina (Miren Alcala) and Juan's new girlfriend (Fran Moulds) is particularly touching. The cast's clever use of self-generated sound effects add a nice element to Greg Hall's musical accompaniment without becoming a distraction.

This isn't a show for everyone - its complex chronological structure demands effort from an audience, and it won't meet the 'fun night out' criteria of many casual Fringe-goers. However, for those who like their theatre to be artistic and intelligent, but with an honesty and simplicity that lacks pretension, I doubt there are many shows they will find as rewarding as Death Song. And despite my original comment about You Need Me needing to find better ways to present their work, if they keep coming to the Fringe, we'll definitely keep buying tickets.

Death Song runs at Udderbelly's Pasture until 28th August (not 15th)
Image used with permission


Thursday, August 11, 2011

"After the End" - Edinburgh Fringe 2011

Dennis Kelly's "After the End" is perfectly suited to the Fringe. While many shows struggle to overcome the restrictions of their performance space, it doesn't require much of a leap of the imagination to turn a Fringe venue into a dark, underground, claustrophobic nuclear shelter. In fact, should the 'Bomb' go up on a day I'm in Edinburgh, I've mentally filed the nearby 'Pleasance Underneath' as the place to head for.

That's the situation facing Louise as she wakes to find herself in the fall-out shelter Mark has brought her to after a nuclear explosion that took place during her work leaving do. It was lucky for Louise that Mark's flat had this relic from the cold war - and that he'd kept it stocked up. All they have to do is wait two weeks for the fall-out to pass before emerging from the shelter to the devastation Mark has told her about. That shouldn't be too hard - after all, they like each other. But control freak Mark doesn't think Louise appreciates what he's done for her. And Louise doesn't like being told what to do. Two weeks is suddenly a very long time.

Tony McGeever and Helen Darbyshire give impressive performances that develop as each character lurches between moments of power and vulnerability. Kelly's writing feels like it wants to use the individuals to make a wider statement about society - contrasting the paranoid, untrusting Mark who feels undervalued by his peers, with the open and popular Louise. It doesn't quite work for me, largely because I think it leads to Kelly making the wrong choices for the play. His decision as to which character's position is vindicated misses the opportunity to really ask uncomfortable questions of its audience. The play also doesn't know when to end - the long walk back from the 'Pleasance Baby Grand' affords the opportunity to listen in on audience reactions, and there were a lot of comments that the show didn't benefit from its final scene.

Dundee Rep's show works fantastically well as a character study, and builds the tension well. Just don't spend too much time analysing it afterwards, or the fairly significant plot hole will start to irritate.

After the End runs at the Pleasance Courtyard until 28th August
Image by Douglas Robertson used with permission


"Cul-De-Sac" - Edinburgh Fringe 2011

There may be those that will argue that this is pretty slight stuff; that middle class suburbia is an easy target; or point to the audience's tentative response to some of the less politic views expressed by the characters. But none of that matters. What matters is that it's funny.

When Tim (Alan Francis) moved his family into the Cul-De-Sac in search of a better quality of life, he wasn't expecting just how far the influence of community idol Tony would impact on his family. We never meet Tony, but we learn all about him through Tim's new neighbour Nigel (Mike Hayley) and local GP Dr Cole (Toby Longworth). Francis and Hayley bring their obvious comic talents to the piece, but it's Longworth who gets the chance to really show what else he's capable off. "Menacing" doesn't come close to covering it - he wouldn't be out of place as a playful psychopath in the next series of Luther. There's a great deal of skill in the writing too - including a gag that takes a long time to develop but pays off brilliantly with one of the funniest fight scenes you're likely to see at this year's Fringe.

I suspect word of mouth is already spreading about this one - on a wet Wednesday afternoon I bought the last ticket an hour before the show.

Cul-De-Sac runs at the Pleasance Courtyard until 28th August (not 15th or 22nd)
Image used with permission


"Rose" - Edinburgh Fringe 2011

This show is full of surprises. Firstly, it's a proper play. With a proper set. At the Fringe. At the Pleasance! Secondly, despite being promoted as "starring Keira & Art Malik", the performance of Keira Malik quickly dispels any suspicions of 'stunt casting'. Lastly, and most importantly, it completely challenged my preconceptions of a show examining the tensions between 1st and 2nd generation immigrants within a family.

Hywel John's play takes that already complex father/daughter relationship and adds an alcohol problem and a wife/mother who died giving birth. All this could easily overwhelm the characterisations, but John's writing carefully balances the 'issues' with moments that remind the audience these are people. And that they matter.

Art Malik gives the performance the audience is hoping to see from an actor of his standing, both as the young father and as his hospitalised older incarnation. As his daughter, Keira Malik gives a performance every bit as impressive. Her portrayal of the very young Rose is sensational, giving her clear childlike qualities without delivering a cartoon style interpretation of a child. Both actors enable the humour in the writing to come from the characters without forcing it or allowing it to dominate the play's tone.

This is very close to being a show audiences will leave raving about, but at the very last moment it loses its way and instead many (us included) were left a little confused by the final scene. A quick read of the script book and chat over a coffee and we think we understand it now - and in fact we were in danger of over-complicating things. As it would only require changing a line or two to provide the required clarity, we hope this might be addressed as the run progresses. (We saw the show on Sunday 7th)

Rose runs at the Pleasance Courtyard until 29th August (not the 16th)
Image used with permission


Wednesday, August 10, 2011

"The World According to Bertie" - Edinburgh Fringe 2011

Those of you reading this review will almost certainly fall into one of two camps. One group who have read Alexander McCall Smith's '44 Scotland Street' stories and want to know how true this adaptation is to the novel. The second group needs to be reassured that your lack of knowledge of the books won't prevent you enjoying the show. Between us, Waldorf and I can answer your questions. It's been a while since she read them, but she confirms that Lydia Bruce and Sandy Burns' adaptation remains true to the spirit of the originals. And despite never having encountered the characters before, I absolutely loved it.

While much of the credit for its success has to go to McCall Smith, adapting such a complex set of interlinking tales could very easily have gone horribly wrong. Bruce & Burns have clearly given much thought to their approach, ensuring that although the central focus is on young Bertie and his family, there's no shortage of stage time for the other characters' stories to be played out. I say 'stage', but that's not really correct. In director Warren Cooper's inspired concept for staging the show, the audience are seated on (surprisingly comfortable) stools while the scenes are presented all around them - with Bertie's bedroom situated right in the middle of them. It's a high risk approach, but it pays off beautifully - giving a real sense of place to each location. The production is also blessed with an impressive cast who pitch their performances perfectly for what must be an awkward venue to perform in.

This is a charming piece of theatre told with such style that seeing it is a memorable experience. For those of us who don't choose to finish our evenings in Edinburgh with some late night comedy, this is the perfect show to round off your day. And it deserves to have a life far beyond the end of August.

The World According to Bertie runs at C Soco until the 29th August with performances at 19:20 and 21:00 each night (not the 15th)
Image used with permission


Monday, August 08, 2011

"Showchoir! The Musical" - Edinburgh Fringe 2011

Although we wouldn't class ourselves as Gleeks, we do enjoy our weekly dose of "Glee", and being quite partial to 'mockumentaries' we should  be the perfect audience for the One Academy's "Showchoir! The Musical" (One Academy is a production company set up by the RSAMD). So it's surprising that it left us a little disappointed. It's a good, solid, entertaining show but there is a definite 'sparkle' missing.

Following the "Symphonic Sensations" on their path to glory, the mockumentary element works well and the technique of playing to the audience via large mirrors is surprisingly effective. Unfortunately, as the show progresses, the subjects featured on 'camera' become too wide-ranging with many unnecessarily adding to an already cluttered character set. The plot drags at times and script would benefit from a liberal amount of red ink.

But the writing's weakness is to the benefit of the cast who grasp the opportunity to play multiple roles with both hands and considerable skill. Vocally, the performances (intentionally or unintentionally) feel like a high school glee club made good rather than what we might expect from the RSAMD. It leaves us questioning the wisdom of featuring the cast in multiple full scale shows (the cast also perform daily in "Sunday in the Park with George").

In the main, the show is funny in a gentle chortle kind of way but rarely gains the laugh-out-loud moments the concept should be capable of delivering. For hardcore Glee fans this will fill an off-season gap nicely, and for those overwhelmed by the options available in the Fringe programme it makes for a safe, reliable choice. For those looking for something a bit special, this probably isn't the show you are looking for.

Showchoir! The Musical runs at C until 29 August (odd numbered days only)


"Commencement" - Edinburgh Fringe 2011

TheatreM provide an entertaining look at the unforeseen consequences when a group of students follow their teacher’s advice to “Think Global; Act Local”. They're starting a revolution.

Brent Boyd’s writing is lean and focussed, generating plenty of laughs while making a point or two along the way. As with many 'issue raising' plays it does veer slightly towards the 'preachy' but it isn't a huge problem. The direction from Douglas Lowry and Anne Scarbrough is as slick as you are likely to see in any ‘black box’ space at this year’s Fringe - the large ensemble are perfectly drilled and the moments when our attention shifts to events elsewhere are adeptly handled. The core cast all give strong performances and succeed in creating a believable group of friends (with all the usual internal cliques and rivalries).

There is a danger that it’s too entertaining for its own good and risks smothering some of the more subtle issues raised. In particular, the students’ claims that the world is a worse place now than when the teacher was their age, don’t quite get the attention they deserve.

So many shows get the whole ‘darkly comic’ vibe badly wrong, but this one really delivers on both counts.

Commencement runs at C in Chambers Street until 20th August (not 15th) at 1.15pm


"Beef" - Edinburgh Fringe 2011

In the Fringe programme, "Beef" describes itself as "A witty and radical reinvention of Noah's Ark."

Not even close. Even for regular theatre and Fringe-goers like us, this was hard going. God help a poor unwary soul looking to fill a gap in their schedule who falls for the publicity. This is the kind of show that gives the Fringe a bad name.

That sounds dreadfully unfair of us, but we have to report we have absolutely no idea what this was about. We got the 'strangers forced together by circumstance' aspect; we got the 'marriage in trouble' stuff; but the significance of the biblical flooding and the cow related prophecies (yes, really) left us bemused (and in Waldorf's case dozing off).

And it had all started so promisingly, with a pidgin english retelling of how the post-flood world had taken shape. But once we travel back to the events of that evening, things deteriorate sharply. Why has Mark been chosen to receive visions and lead the small group of survivors? What's his relationship with the pregnant Kate? Why have these people been saved? What's with the wooden boxes? Where did Seb come from? Who was broadcasting details of the group's location on the radio? Why is Friday dying? And why is she called Friday? All these questions and many more won't be answered.

There is one redeeming element in some effective use of movement and music - but it's nowhere near enough.

We don't like being so negative about a show, but sometimes it's unavoidable.

Beef, from Nottingham New Theatre runs at C Soco until 29th August
Image used with permission


Edinburgh Fringe 2011

The weather forecast is for rain, rain and more rain. It takes Waldorf an extra 15 minutes to wade through the crowds between her work and Waverley station. Hotel rooms are almost unattainable - and reasonably priced ones most certainly are. It can mean only one thing - the Edinburgh Fringe has started.

We'll use this post as a kind of index page for our Fringe coverage including links to previous posts and a list of shows as we see them.

Our Fringe 2011 Preview

Our tips for Fringe goers

And here's what we've seen so far:

Showchoir! The Musical (review posted)
Commencement (review posted)
Beef (review posted)
Rose (review posted)
The World According to Bertie (review posted)
After the End (review posted)
Cul-De-Sac (review posted)
David Leddy's Untitled Love Story (review posted)
Death Song (review posted)
Handling Bach (review posted)
Hairy Maclary & friends (review posted)
Viewless (review posted)
Remember This (review posted)
Dust (review coming soon)

We'd also point you in the direction of other sites that will be providing Fringe coverage. Do let us know if we've missed any..
Three Weeks
Broadway Baby
Edinburgh Festivals
Onstage Scotland
Edinburgh Festival Punter
A Local's Guide to the Fringe
Fringe Guru


Thursday, August 04, 2011

"Prom Night of the Living Dead" - August 2011

When the Scottish Youth Theatre selected Brad Fraser's musical "Prom Night of the Living Dead" as their main Summer Festival show, comparisons with Rocky Horror and Buffy were inevitable. Despite a cracking start with an ensemble number that sees the cast filling the Tron's aisles, it soon becomes clear that musically - and particularly lyrically - this isn't the strongest source material to work with. The humour in Fraser's dialogue is rarely as sharp as the Werewolf's claws; the lyrics are overly repetitive (and sometimes just awful); while parts of Ross Brown's new score for the SYT make little impression. It's very much to the credit of the cast that this turned out to be an enjoyable evening.

There’s clearly a variety of experience and ability on stage – some of the cast are here as a confidence builder; others for fun; and a few have serious theatrical ambitions. The beauty of SYT shows is that everyone seems comfortable in their roles - there are no ‘startled rabbits’ and no I-should-have-got-a-bigger-part grabs for the limelight. So it's fitting that the show is at its best in its big numbers – the opening/closing “Come on Fate” (that's what we're calling it anyway) and the title number are both brilliantly choreographed and performed, giving glimpses of what the show might have been.

The main parts are all well performed with Kyrah Harder and Lauren Kate Robertson as our plucky heroines Fern & Dawn, Martin Quinn and Andrew Still as Lon / ‘Werewolf Lon’ making the most of some painfully written duets. As is often the case, the villain of the show gets the best moments – and Katie Barnett knows exactly what to do with them. Producing a gloriously over-the-top performance (without ever being in danger of taking it too far) she wouldn’t look out of place on any professional stage. Add in her pop-friendly vocals and it's clear Barnett is a name for the future.

Mary McCluskey's direction moves things on at pace - impressive when working with a cast of over 40 - although the finale is a little frantic and left us slightly confused. I got grief at the interval for the fact that it took the second 'transformation' scene before I realised that Lon & the Werewolf were played by separate actors, but it just shows how well executed it was (and overhearing conversations leaving the theatre I know others didn't realise until the curtain call).

Please note that in keeping with our long standing policy, we treat all youth/student/amateur theatre in the same manner as professional productions - to do otherwise would be patronising to all involved.

Prom Night of the Living Dead runs at the Tron until Saturday 6th August.