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Tuesday, 9 August 2022

REVIEW: Hamlet at Ashton Hall, Saint Stephens at the Edinburgh Fringe

One of the most talked about shows leading up to the 75th Edinburgh Fringe Festival this year has undoubtedly been Peter Schaufuss’s concept ballet of Hamlet, starring the formidable Sir Ian McKellen. Directed and choreographed by Schaufuss, this 75-minute production is mostly dance-driven showcasing his company Edinburgh Festival Ballet except for selected monologues, McKellen as the titular character, recites. All in all, it is a very traditional retelling of one of Shakespeares' great tragedies with added novelties.

Two of the biggest questions surrounding the production have been how McKellen, who first took on Hamlet in 1971, will represent the young prince at 83 years of age and how he will interact with the dancers on stage. 

REVIEW: The Anniversary at The Pleasance Dome at the Edinburgh Fringe

An elderly couple, Barb and Jim wake up on the day of their 50th wedding anniversary. It’s going to be a big day full and love and celebration, however, 50 years is a long time and there are things that would get under anyone's skin after that amount of time. Therefore, it could be excused that, what begins as a day to mark the day Barb and Jim decided to start a life together turns into one where they want to end each other's lives…literally. Featuring bowel movements, prescription drugs, trips to ALDI, trips in general, knife fights and bloody Mary’s with a secret ingredient (think the domestic fluffy kind), this is a delightful farce and in some ways an expose of an honest marriage.

Presented by the Australian company Salvador Dinosaur who are a partnership between the Anniversary’s performers Daniel Tobias (Jim) and Clare Bartholomew (Barb) and director and co-creator Peter Haughton, they have been on the theatre circuit long enough to know how to play the game and this is a physical clowning show as good as they come. The work itself has been in development since 2019 and despite a few COVID interruptions, this unique and hilarious show is being shared with audiences around the world. If you are a fan of clowning/ physical comedy, or better still, if you have never experienced a show like this before, then this is one is for you. 

Sunday, 7 August 2022

REVIEW: Good Grief at the Underbelly Colgate in the Iron Belly, Edinburgh Fringe

Ugly Bucket Theatre are a Liverpool-based physical theatre and clown company not afraid to delve into uncomfortable subject matters and make us laugh about it. As recipients of the New Diorama, Underbelly and Methuen Drama’s Untapped Award 2022, there is clearly energy behind this young company making their latest show, Good Grief, a contender for a place on your Edinburgh Fringe Festival dance card.

On brand for Ugly Bucket Theatre, Good Grief examines the grieving process that takes place before and after a good friend dies, through physical comedy, verbatim text and… techno dancing. It follows the life of a man who we meet pre-birth in the womb of his mother through to his afterlife after suffering from cancer of the intestine. Right from the beginning, he is subject to the hard truths of life. People and animals come and go and after a montage of macabre tragedies, he is paralysed by doom and eventually must also face his own mortality when sickness strikes. Both he and his loved ones are now subject to grieve a life disappearing. Sounds grim right? Well, not today. Obviously, the best way to address all of this is through clown!

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! 
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