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Monday, 24 August 2020

INTERVIEW: Anthony Alderson, Director of the Pleasance Theatre Trust

Anthony Alderson is the director of the Pleasance Theatre Trust. The Pleasance opened as part of the 1985 Edinburgh Fringe with two theatres facing onto a deserted courtyard-come-car-park at an unfashionable eastern end of Edinburgh’s Old Town. Thirty-four seasons later the Pleasance has become one of the biggest and most highly respected venues at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe with the Pleasance Islington also being one of the most exciting Off-West-End theatres in London since it opened its doors in 1995. We chat to Anthony about what the pandemic has done to the Edinburgh Fringe and his hopes for the future. 

The cancelation of the 2020 Edinburgh Fringe was a devastating blow but of course, was vital in protecting people’s health. How did it feel to initially cancel the festival? 

So many mixed feelings. It was completely the right thing to do, but it was heartbreaking to know how many shows and performers we would be turning away. 

And of course, the plan is for the festival to come back stronger than ever in 2021! How do you think the work will be affected by the pandemic? 

All shows in the 2020 programme will be invited to return in 2021. It is a great line-up. However, with so many freelancers and independent small theatre companies affected, with long stretches without any income, I just hope they are able to survive to next year. 30% of our fundraising effort on Crowdfunder will go to assist shows doing their debut next year. 

The Pleasance Theatre Trust is such a fantastic organisation who are running a fabulous raffle to raise money where you can win a free pair of tickets to every Pleasance Show at the 2021 Edinburgh Fringe! Can you tell us a bit about the charity and your work with it?

Developing artistic ideas is not only challenging, but it is also expensive. At the Pleasance, we believe it is important to give people affordable space and the freedom to take risks, both on and off stage. From this spirit of innovation springs personal confidence through which they can flourish/ We give great careers a springboard. Giving our audiences the widest possible diversity of performance from the farthest reaches of the cultural spectrum is also central to the Trust’s aim. This spirit has embodied the Pleasance throughout the past 35 years, during which we have become world-renowned for spotting great talent both on and off stage, building an environment that nurtures, encourages and develops the brightest new ideas, raw talent and skill. Providing these opportunities is why we exist.

Monday, 10 August 2020

COMPETITION: Win a pair of free tickets to every show at the Pleasance next August!

The doors to the Courtyard may be closed this summer but the Pleasance Theatre Trust are already thinking ahead to 2021. To mark the first day of what would have been the 2020 Edinburgh Fringe, they are giving one lucky Fringe fan a chance to win a pair of free tickets to every show at the Pleasance next August. All you need to do is enter their extra special raffle, as part of their Crowdfunder campaign, to be in with a chance of winning the Pleasance Golden Ticket!

One lucky winner and a friend will have the opportunity to see hundreds of shows next year at the Pleasance in Edinburgh, including their annual Opening Gala. The first-class treatment doesn’t stop there: the winners will even have their own dedicated member of the Pleasance Team overseeing all their reservations and recommendations. The winner will also receive exclusive access to Brooke’s Club for the duration of the festival. This is the ultimate VIP Fringe experience, for only £5!

A chance to unlock the doors and peek behind the curtains, visit all of Pleasance’s amazing venues across Edinburgh: start your day with coffee and breakfast at the Dome then do lunch at the EICC, pop by the Courtyard for drinks and pack in as many shows as you can! This is your opportunity to ensure your Fringe 2021 is as full of pure imagination as it possibly can be.

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Edinburgh’s August Festivals Will Not Take Place in 2020

1 April 2020, Edinburgh: For the first time in over 70 years, the five festivals that transform Edinburgh into the world’s leading cultural destination every August are not going ahead this year due to concerns around the Covid-19 pandemic. Edinburgh Art Festival, The Edinburgh Festival Fringe, Edinburgh International Book Festival, Edinburgh International Festival and The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo are not happening as planned in 2020. 

Together, the five August festivals comprise over 5,000 events across Scotland’s capital each summer, welcoming audiences of 4.4 million and over 25,000 artists, writers and performers from 70 countries, making them the second biggest cultural event in the world after the Olympics. 

The festivals’ history stretches back to 1947, where in the aftermath of the Second World War the Edinburgh International Festival was founded to reconcile and reunite people and nations through art, in an event that transcended political and cultural boundaries. Many years later the International Festival continues to present the world’s leading theatre, dance and music artists in Edinburgh’s magnificent venues. The Fringe story began when eight theatre groups turned up uninvited to perform on the fringes of the very first International Festival. Since the dawn of this spontaneous artistic movement, millions have flocked to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to produce, and to enjoy art of every genre. Conceived in 1950 the iconic major event, now known as The Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo, brings together a huge cast of international military and folkloric performers to perform live to 220,000 visitors each August, with many millions seeing the show on BBC TV around the world.

Friday, 16 August 2019

Top 10 Things to see at the Edinburgh Fringe

At this year's Edinburgh fringe I saw 35 shows, around 1% of the total on offer but here are my top recommendations. There were a couple of notable shows that did not quite make the top 10 recommendations: “Keith Moon: the real me” for Who fans, “Now that is what I call Brexit” for musical satire fans and “Paris de Nuit” for circus fans but here are my favourites ten.

The Dots are a sophisticated singing trio, elegantly dressed, stylishly choreographed and word perfect least they were until the soprano stormed out and the mezzo died. The remaining Dot Helen played by Helen Colby decides to carry on with under rehearsed understudies, Macey Cherett who wants to incorporate magic and Nerine Skinner an enthusiastic amateur. The joy of this show is that they each totally inhabit these comic creations.

It is devised and performed by the Founders of Hot Coals Theatre, Clare-Louise English and Jo Sargeant who work so well together. You hardly notice that there are no words as they use movement and facial expressions synchronised with the beautiful underscore to tell their story. With their comical noses and Harris's sumptuous beard, so much of the emotion is expressed through their eyes and they exploit this wonderfully, never rushing the moment and always aware of the audience watching them. 

Wednesday, 14 August 2019

EDINBURGH FRINGE REVIEW: Could It Be Magic? at Just the Tonic at The Caves

For my 5th day at the Fringe and 32nd to 34th shows I planned an afternoon of magic. 1st up was the Just Tonic venue at the Cave in the vault under the bridge for an important annual event. The Magic Ring Magic Society 2019 competition between four international magicians in a show called "Could it be Magic".

The host of the event and a past winner was Reg Kettle, a northern magician in a green Fez and the first finalist from an intensive selection of ten's of entrants. He even has a catchphrase "sounds proper lovely". His familiar tricks of converting a £20 note into a $100 bill and guess the numbers were executed with all the charm of a Wheel Tappers and Shunters club chairman. 

Next up was the American tattooed mind reader Zanto Thorne daringly recreating the Darren Brown trick of slamming his hand on a bag with a spike in it before guessing the word from an invisible book selected by an audience member.

Tuesday, 13 August 2019

EDINBURGH FRINGE REVIEW: If I Die on Mars at theSpace @ Venue45

The Queen Mary (University of London) Theatre Company have booked four shows into theSpace and If I die on Mars is the latest to open for the first of six performances. It seems a timely play as we are engulfed by the effects of Global Warming , celebrate the 50th anniversary of the first moon landing and talk of travelling to Mars and space holidays grows. The play is partly verbatim theatre, partly reimagined and explores the process of recruiting for a one way trip to Mars and the real life failure of the Dutch company that started that process. As someone notes there is only a 30% chance of reaching Mars. 

The five young actors play multiple roles and at times we lose track of which they are and the whole show is simply staged using five white stools and a screen with projection of planets on. The direction by the writer Clarice Montero keeps them moving for much of the opening scenes which is a little distracting from the words being spoken but the stools are put to good use shining torches through the whole to create a star sky scape. 

The stand out performer is Peter Smart who has the most authoritative voice and the best comic timing. When he takes centre stage he takes control and even eating a bag of Quavers he makes a delightful mouthful of every bite as he sits with the others watching a reality TV show to select the first astronauts. There is good support from Andrew Atha as a twin competing to join the trip and from the three actresses Abigail Whitney, Sophie O'Connor and India Raniol. We seem them being interviewed for the job and for some explained reason discussing no sex in space.

EDINBURGH FRINGE REVIEW: 007 Voices of Bond at theSpace @ Symposium Hall

As the 25th Bond film is in production and hitting a variety of production headaches it was perhaps appropriate to find that at this performance of the Voices of 007 the advertised singer of Phoebe Katis had to be replaced by Hannah Richards. Fortunately she did a seamless job delivering nine classic Bond themes in the course of this 45 minute concert backed by an excellent band of four.

The format made this an easy transition as each song is introduced by a short video from the man from MI 5 giving historical details on the selected film themes, composers and singers and no chat is required from Hannah between songs. Indeed there is very little opportunity for the musicians personalities to come through at all and it is left to the music to sell the show. Only the guitarist Alex expresses himself through his grimaces and energetic playing!

However the music is what we came to hear and we get a really good sense of the range and enduring appeal of the film tunes.

Monday, 12 August 2019

EDINBURGH FRINGE REVIEW: Joyce at the Assembly Roxy

The Edinburgh Fringe offers something for everyone and there are plenty of children's shows to fill the morning and early afternoon slots. What is fascinating in these shows is getting the balance right between entertaining the children and the adults. Joyce advertises itself as suitable for all ages and certainly there were plenty of babies in arms as well as toddlers in the audience as well as Mums and Dads and Grandparents. For most of the 60 minute running time they were thoroughly entertained.

It helps that the two main characters are a puppet called Joyce operated by three actors whose father is too busy working to take notice of her and a giant hamster Bobo played by Marc Zayat, who won Best skin costume at GB Panto awards for his debut role at Watford Palace last December. Both enthral the younger audience member although as one young audience member blurred out "I don't know what is going on!"

For the adults there is the father, Adam, who has lost his sense of humour through work absorption, his wife leaving and forgotten about his own childhood memories of drawing in his book until he is transported back into his memories. The transformation scene from black and white drab office to bright colourful children's drawings is slickly and simply done.

EDINBURGH FRINGE REVIEW: The Dots at the Imagination Workshop in The George Hotel

One of the joys of the Edinburgh Fringe is when you accidentally stumble on a hidden gem and on a very wet Sunday night we ventured into the George Hotel and nearly joined the Fawlty Towers Dining Experience in the Foyer . However down an unmarked staircase we found the Princess Room and met the Dots rushing around to prepare for the show. 

The Dots are a sophisticated singing trio, elegantly dressed, stylishly choreographed and word perfect. At least they were until the soprano stormed out and the mezzo died. The remaining Dot Helen played by Helen Colby decides to carry on with underrehearsed understudies, Macey Cherett who wants to incorporate magic and Nerine Skinner an enthusiastic amateur. The joy of this show is that they each totally inhabit these comic creations.

Everything that could go wrong does. Costumes that don't fit, choreography learned in a mirror, lip sync that's not quite there and then a power failure all combine to create a frenetic, chaotic hour of hilarious Cabaret. Even the venue is not quite right with its low ceiling limiting their movement.

EDINBURGH FRINGE REVIEW: Knock Knock at the Assembly Roxy

Hot Coals Theatre have hit headlines this Fringe as their unique charming style of theatre without words has not been classified as d/deaf accessible because it does not have BSL signing and yet both performers are BSL trained and have designed the show to be accessible for all without signing.

It is an extraordinary mix of physical comedy, clowning, mime and dance used to create emotionally engaging storytelling. "Knock Knock" explores what happens when a botanist, Pepper, knocks on the door of a forest dweller, Harris. 

It is devised and performed by the Founders of Hot Coals Theatre, Clare-Louise English and Jo Sargeant who work so well together. You hardly notice that there are no words as they use movement and facial expressions synchronised with the beautiful underscore to tell their story. With their comical noses and Harris's sumptuous beard, so much of the emotion is expressed through their eyes and they exploit this wonderfully, never rushing the moment and always aware of the audience watching them.

Sunday, 11 August 2019

EDINBURGH FRINGE REVIEW: Kemp's Jig at the Space on the Mile

This short play provides a fascinating insight into Elizabethan England's Entertainment using the famous story of Will Kemp's famous jig over 125 miles from London to Norwich in February 1599 as Steve Taylor recreates the celebrity comedian/Morris dancer and his relationship with Shakespeare and the audiences of the time.

Kemp was a big star and shareholder in the Theatre alongside Burbage and Shakes Rags as he calls him but conflict arrived as he liked to add his own comedy and dance which detracted from the bard's words and in the playwrights eyes mutilated his plays. As a result despite the adoring groundlings, he is forced out of the Lord Chamberlain's men and set off to exploit his own popularity on the journey to Norwich. 

Over the course of the nine actual day's journey, which were actually spread over 27 days, he describes the horrific Bear baiting and public hangings that were alternative forms of public amusement. He provides a vivid description of the effect of the Black Plague which was ravishing London at that time and may have been a reason for his journey to Norwich to escape the effects. It paints a picture of the society in which Shakespeare's plays were first staged.

Friday, 9 August 2019

EDINBURGH FRINGE REVIEW: A Rock'n'Roll Suicide! at the Zoo Southside

Edinburgh Fringe is full of a wide range of shows and performers of vastly different experience and talents all of them hoping to make that break through into fame and success from their Fringe performances. With 3500 shows it is a competitive world and many will have stories of what might have been. One artist, Lee Mark Jones has put his whole life story on stage in a incredibly raw autobiographical performance at the Zoo venue. He calls it a Rock and Roll suicide and in the course of a powerfully honest 50 minutes we begin to see why.

It is of course a tribute to his music hero, David Bowie, especially in his Ziggy Stardust incarnation and the tone is set when he enters the stage to "There is a star man" although he undermines himself immediately by apologising for the mistakes that will follow. We learn that this Kidderminster lad made his stage debut in a hail of spit and bottles in 1976 as part of the punk era but was deeply hurt by the death of his younger sister shortly afterwards. Tragedy and musical fresh starts seem to be the story of his life. 

EDINBURGH FRINGE REVIEW: Apollo: Take 111 at the Zoo Southside

It seems very appropriate in the 50 anniversary year of the first moon landing when Neil Armstrong said those famous words "one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind" to revisit the conspiracy theories that it never actually happened. This is the premise of this show at the Zoo venue as a cast of five young students imagine that the moon landing was filmed by a hairy film director in the basement of someone's house. 

The show starts bizarrely with a man interviewing people about their moustaches for no obvious reason only to be plucked by a government agency to project manage the filming in his house. The three actors selected to play the astronauts are a method actor who can't remember his lines as Armstrong, a Brit famed for his Hamlet as Collins and a British girl as Aldrin. It does not make any sense and the joke soon wears thin.

EDINBURGH FRINGE REVIEW: Shakespeare! the Panto at the Space on the Mile

It was amazing to discover that Bristol University has a student Pantomime society and that they have decided to take their 2018 Easter show to the Edinburgh Fringe. Now I like a great Panto and I like Shakespeare too so the combination was irresistible. The writers demonstrated a real appreciation of the Bard's work littering the script with puns and references and used the structure of Pantomime to create the show. For the most part it works but occasionally the joke wears thin.

Bill is in love with his Bottom and casting for a new show to rival the Pantomime at the Rose theatre, so we soon meet Portia , the Dame character and Iago, the Panto villain in audition. Iago comes between bill and his bottom and it is up to the Dame to sort it out. We get the traditional Panto calls of "Oh no it is not " and " It's behind you ", a bench scene and a pantomime horse (well half of one). In some ways they did not take the Panto idea far enough, where was the songsheet and the princess? 

EDINBURGH FRINGE REVIEW: Agatha is Missing! at the Gilded Balloon Teviot

Agatha Christie is missing promises an interactive murder mystery but this is very different to the successful improv murder mystery show "Murder she did not write" as the interactivity involves dragging a succession of audience members on stage to be interviewed by Clarissa Marbles, an elderly spinster type trying to solve the mystery of Agatha's disappearance. The problem is that most of us already know although she famously disappeared in December 1926 only to reappear eleven days later so wasn't murdered so the whole exercise seems fairly pointless. 

Each victim from the audience is asked to explain some murder weapon or read aloud a note found and while they characters appear to be based on real life acquaintances of the writer, the audience members have very little knowledge or information to contribute. Occasionally they do manage a quick response to get a laugh but it is left to Clarissa to react and keep her story on track. It is a hit and miss affair. Golf clubs, a cat, hedgehogs, poison bottle, knife and knickers are produced as potential murder weapons for the murder that has not happened. 

EDINBURGH FRINGE REVIEW: Genesis: The Mary Shelley play at C Cubed Main Space

It is always refreshing when someone takes a familiar true story and characters from history and reimagines the sequence of scenes that created their fame. Mary Humphrey Baldridge has taken the story of Byron's challenge to his friends on Lake Geneva in 1816 to write a ghost story which led to Mary Shelley writing one of the most famous horror stories of all Frankenstein. I was not familiar with his challenge or relationships but in this extremely well written seventy minute play, she hooks us into the hedonistic world this group inhabited and their obsession with Death and the after life.

In the intimate cramped surroundings of C venue 50 on Lawnmarket with a minimum of props and furniture, the Artists Collective Theatre recreate the houses that Byron and Shelley hired that summer in Switzerland and we see the influences that led Mary Shelley to respond to Byron's challenge in writing her story. The costumes are generally good although I failed to understand why they were all bare footed throughout and the two white knitwear jumpers they wear when going sailing looked like they had just been bought from a Scottish knitwear shop on the Royal Mile! 

Sunday, 26 August 2018

EDINBURGH FRINGE REVIEW: F**k You Pay Me at the Assembly Rooms

Joana Nastari's intoxicating femininity fills the room when she appears on stage. Like a modern priestess, she reads from an ancient book the ten commandments of her show and the audience cheers loudly when she gets to the one that says 'no shame'. This is the purpose of F**k You Pay Me, a performance intended to fight the stigma that surrounds sex workers and remind the world that 'sex work is just work'. 

Blending fiction with reality (more reality than fiction, me thinks) this is the story of Bea, a stripper in her late 20s whose family is about to discover her real occupation. We follow her to work, in the club where she needs to deal with internal politics and the competitiveness of the industry even before getting to talk to her first potential client. Opening up on what the profession entails, we learn about hefty fines for being caught chewing gum or using a phone. We also learn about tariffs and average income. 

Her portrayal of the men who attend the club is quite primal, although many will recognise in it some familiar features. She admits that she's picked up lots of dad jokes along the way, as her crowd is mainly composed by dads, and she emphasises the necessity to lie about her real name and age. The first to protect her identity from potential stalkers and the second to reassure her clients. '23 is the perfect age,' she says, 'if you're younger, that's creepy, and if you're older, that's desperate'.

Tuesday, 21 August 2018

REVIEW: Angry Alan at Underbelly, Cowgate (Big Belly)

Fired from his unrewarding job and stuck in an ordinary life, Roger (Donald Sage Mackay) is scanning the internet for something interesting to read, when he bumps, almost accidentally, into some content published by the Men’s Rights Movement. What he reads makes sense to him and some videos, posted on YouTube by their motivational speakers, draw him into wanting to know more. Now actively reaching out to the Movement's comrades, he runs into the profile of Angry Alan, some sort of guru within the league who inspires a great change in his views.

This sudden mutation doesn't go down well with his feminist partner and, feeling misunderstood, he's even more convinced to support the cause, donating more than he can afford and hoping for special recognition from his peers. Meanwhile, his son has got something important to tell him.

The videos projected in between scenes are excerpts from genuine propagandistic material that appeared on the internet. In these, a bunch of enraged men denounce the 'oppressive gynocratic regime’ and accuse women of being the first cause of male suicide. Whilst watching, everyone in the room laughs out loud, but a chill runs down my spine. It is disturbing to think that these people really exist.

Thursday, 9 August 2018

EDINBURGH FRINGE REVIEW: Stardust at Pleasance Dome (10Dome)

Colombian artist Miguel Hernando Torres Umba is building a cultural bridge between Latin America and the United Kingdom and has started his mission by addressing his country's greatest stigma: the production and export of cocaine. Weary of the joking comments he receives about his nationality and the endless checks he's submitted to, every time he goes through an airport, he analyses the subject-matter with verve, offering 60-minutes of pure exhilaration and piercing truths. 

His solo performance is deeply rooted in the responsibilities that western countries hold towards Colombia. From the Hollywood and Netflix glamorisation of narco-trafficking to the soaring demand generated by those supposedly-conscious consumers who turn vegan, reduce plastic, use hybrid cars and snort cocaine as regular features in their trendy lifestyle. 

Saturday, 26 August 2017

EDINBURGH FRINGE REVIEW: How to Suffer Better at Laughing Horse at The Newsroom

One of the most exciting features of the Edinburgh Fringe is the great selection of free shows offered by the Laughing Horse festival. Often in bars, pubs and makeshift venues, these events involve hundreds of performers, who work exclusively on tips and are, most reasonably, prepared to bully you into putting a fiver inside their hats. 

Because of all the mayhem generally undergoing in Edinburgh during the whole month of August, you might find yourself attending one of these open shows with just a handful of other punters, as was my case when I went to see Amanda Erin Miller's solo comedy How to Suffer Better. 

In these circumstances, an artist should be particularly aware of the different impact that their voice and stage presence can have on their – arguably sober but most realistically hungover – 1pm audience, and hopefully adjust their levels of enthusiasm accordingly.
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