The Cat Man Curse

21/08/17

Bedlam Theatre, Edinburgh

Once in a while you encounter a show on the Fringe that is so off-the-wall bizarre, so downright inspired, so bat-shit crazy, that it develops its own momentum. The Cat Man Curse feels like just such a show. From its crazy coconut shy opening, through its clever spoof of a dumb 70s TV show, this is quite simply one of the funniest productions I’ve seen in a while.

The brainchild of three former Cambridge Footlites members, it tells the story of TV star Charles Heron (Guy Emanuel) famed for his portrayal of TV lawyer, Harry Hardtruth, constantly in competition with his wily onscreen nemesis, Libel (Sam Grabiner). When Charles is asked to star in the role of Cat Man, he thinks his future is assured – but then he learns about the terrible curse that has struck down every single actor that has previously played the part. Understandably anxious to get out of his contract, he engages the services of slick solicitor, Mark Swift (Jordan Mitchell) and the two men go undercover to try and find out who is behind the curse.

Described in those terms it all sounds fairly straightforward, right? But the story takes some very wild diversions along the way – a spot of French cookery aided by a very long-armed gibbon? You’ve got it. A roller-disco dance routine? Well, why not? Endlessly inventive and laugh out-loud-funny throughout, this is the kind of show that could easily spawn a hit television series. An ambitious producer should give these boys a call before somebody else snaps them up.

If you like a laugh riot, don’t miss this one.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

Safe Place

21/08/17

Rose Street Theatre, Edinburgh

Safe Place is the drama I’ve been waiting for: a sensitive, insightful examination of the uneasy relationship between trans-activism and feminism. It asks (and answers) many questions, and all within the framework of a genuinely good play with convincing, well-rounded characters. It’s nuanced and intelligent, and it’s entertaining too.

Martine (Jennifer Black) is a Germaine Greer-type figure: a well-respected academic with unimpeachable feminist credentials. But she’s out of touch when it comes to transgender issues, dismissive of the idea that one can ‘choose’ to become a woman. She is forced to confront her beliefs head-on when Rowan (Shane Convery) arrives at her door in the early hours of the morning, starving, homeless and begging for help. Because trans-woman Rowan, despite her desperate need for food and shelter, is uncompromising in her demand that she should be accepted for who she is: not as a lesser, ‘unreal’ kind of woman, but as an equal – different but every bit as valid.

If the conceit is a little contrived – and it is – then it doesn’t really matter. Because the conversation between the two women opens up an important debate. We need to listen to each other, young and old and in-between, to reach a mutual understanding. I leave this play better informed, having witnessed the interrogation of some of my beliefs. I’m glad that Martine is given the chance to express her doubts, and that she’s treated with respect; she might be wrong, but she deserves to be part of the conversation.

But the starring role here, quite rightly, is Shane Convery’s: Rowan is a fascinating character, played with charm and subtlety by the young actor. She’s delicate but strong, wounded but still fighting. And she wins the day – because she’s clearly right. It’s a stunning performance.

This isn’t quite a two-hander: there’s a bit of light relief in the form of Martine’s agent, Nina (Shonagh Price), who helps illuminate Martine’s position, and slyly undermine it too.

This play, beautifully written by Clara Glynn, is an important piece of theatre. I’d love to see it taken into schools – not so much for students as for teachers, although I’m sure teenagers would gain from it too. But it’s my generation that most needs to learn this stuff and here is a ‘safe place’ for us to do just that. The only thing that could make it better would be a companion piece about trans-men.

5 stars

Susan Singfield

Lost in Translation: A Bilingual Journey

20/08/17

French Institute, Edinburgh

Lost In Translation is a charming one-woman show performed by Marion Geoffray that sets out to try and reveal what goes through the mind of a bilingual person when they find themselves living in a foreign country. Marion tells us her story of growing up in France and how she falls in love with Prince William and the works of Charlotte Brontë – how she later travels to London to go to RADA and how she eventually winds up living in Scotland. Geoffray is an appealing performer and anyone concerned about the ‘bilingual’ elements of the show needn’t worry too much. Even my rudimentary schoolboy French is enough for me to follow what’s happening in the earlier segments and the largest part of the monologue is delivered in English. (Theres a bit of Gaelic thrown in for good measure but it doesn’t hurt a bit.)

It’s very much a game of two halves though – while I thoroughly enjoy the first, where Marion’s story unfolds, I am rather less enamoured of the second, where she engages in interplay with the audience, conducting little quizzes and asking them to contribute opinions – not that there’s anything wrong wth that, but I prefer the narrative drive of the story. It’s no surprise to learn that this production has toured Scottish schools, where I have no doubt it really comes into its own. I myself wind up onstage with Marion, as her guest for a rather awkward tea party.

This is a lively and entertaining way to spend an hour. Go and enjoy it… and learn a little in the process.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

Shappi Khorsandi: Mistress and Misfit

19/08/17

Assembly George Square Studios, Edinburgh

‘I don’t think you should be allowed to review a prostitute until you’ve seen her – live – at least three times,’ says Shappi, near the top of her show. Pause. ‘Or a comedian.’ So maybe I shouldn’t be writing this at all, as Mistress and Misfit is my first foray into her live work, although of course I’m well aware of her, having seen and heard her on countless TV and radio shows, as well as comedy podcasts. I’ve enjoyed these, but I concede her point: the Shappi we see here, with a full sixty minutes to flex her comedy muscles, and without the constraints of a TV format, is far superior. Sometimes you think you know what you’re going to get, and then you realise there’s so much more. (I’m sure the same applied to 18th century sex-workers too.)

As the Fringe wears on, I’m becoming increasingly drawn to comedy with a distinctive theme or arc, and growing impatient with shows comprising random bits cobbled together in a bid to make up an hour. It’s so much more satisfying to see something that utilises the form: a carefully crafted piece that fits the time and space. Shows like this, where the skill and effort are apparent, deserve a decent audience. And, I’m glad to say, Ms Khorsandi has a full house tonight.

Her show is about Lady Emma Hamilton: model, actress, prostitute and mistress, most famously George Romney’s muse and Lord Nelson’s lover. It’s about Shappi herself. And it’s about how women and sex are perceived more generally: in the modern world, in history, in different societies. Oddly, wonderfully, it’s also kind of celebratory: despite the horrors Emma endured, she’s remembered here as a strong, spirited woman, wronged but ultimately, at last, admired. I’m glad Shappi put the work in: Emma Hamilton was worth the hours of research.

4.8 stars

Susan Singfield

Hari Sriskantha: Clown Atlas

19/08/17

The Counting House, Edinburgh

Every year at the Fringe you’ll encounter plenty of hopefuls with their gazes fixed on the glittering prize of a critically-acclaimed stand up show. Currently plying his trade every afternoon at the Counting House is likeable young comic, Hari Sriskantha, who tells us that his main ambitions are to get people to pronounce his name correctly and for them to stop confusing him with Romesh Ranganathan (which is puzzling, since the two men look nothing like each other). Sriskantha is a former physics graduate and a Chortle award finalist in 2012. He’s played short sets at the Fringe before but this is his debut full-length show. It’s basically about ‘Happiness’ which, let’s face it, makes a refreshing change from the usual misery and desolation.

Sriskantha has an appealing presence but still needs to develop a little more confidence in his material. At the moment, there’s a tendency for him to push the pace, hurrying on from a punchline before giving it enough time to properly strike home and that’s a pity, because there are some real zingers in there. A linking device he employs using musical accompaniment struggles to work here, mostly because he’s got too much competition in the form of a noisy band playing in a nearby courtyard – and I would have liked to see the printed cards he occasionally holds up incorporated into a PowerPoint display – but he’s definitely one to keep an eye out for in the future. The more he gigs, the more his confidence will grow and I certainly won’t be at all surprised to see him making a much bigger splash in 2018.

As ever with the ‘free’ Fringe, please ensure you take cash along to throw into the bucket at the show’s conclusion. Tomorrow’s greats need funding today if they are ever going to reach their intended destination. Sriskantha may not be there yet, but he’s certainly on the right road.

3.2 stars

Philip Caveney

La Vie Dans Une Marionette

19/08/17

Gilded Balloon at the Museum

It’s ten-thirty in the morning and we’re feeling slightly hung over from the excesses of the night before… so what better way to start off the day than with a bit of traditional French mime? Except this show comes courtesy of New Zealand-based company, The White Face Crew, who are only pretending to be French for comic effect. They deliver a whimsical tale about a lonely and reclusive piano player (Tama Jarman) and a life-size puppet (Chris Ofanoa), who helps him rediscover his old self.

This is gentle, knockabout stuff, that will enthrall young viewers (the children at our performance laugh delightedly throughout) but also has enough allegorical depth to keep the parents on board. There’s a bit of audience interplay courtesy of La Luna (Nikki Bennett), some lovely movement sequences and plenty of slapstick humour. As you’d expect from a show like this, it’s not all laughs – there’s a little bit of heart-tugging too – but trust me it doesn’t hurt a bit.

Those who can’t face quite such an early start may be interested to know that there’s another showing at 16.30 every day. Those parents who are frantically trying to keep their youngsters occupied during the Fringe could do a lot worse than head for this. As the oldest kid in the audience, I can assure them they’ll wind up feeling every bit as charmed as their offspring.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Geoff Norcott: Right Leaning but Well Meaning

18/08/17

Underbelly George Square, Edinburgh

I’m not sure what to expect from this show and, I have to confess, I’m not really looking forward to it. I’ve been a little bit disappointed with the political comedy I’ve seen so far this year: it’s been good on the comedy, but a bit lightweight politically, mainly lefties – and yes, I am one – criticising other lefties for caring about identity politics and calling out racism. It’s not that the comics don’t have some good points, just that it all feels a bit hackneyed, and it hasn’t opened my eyes at all, or made me look at anything differently.

Geoff Norcott, on the other hand, manages to do just that. I’m relieved to find that he’s quite serious (for a comedian); he’s not a novelty shock-jock right-winger, which is what I feared he’d be, haranguing socialists, making the same points as the other comics, just more forcefully. Instead, he’s thoughtful and insightful, and clearly more of a centrist than anything else. I don’t agree with his politics, but I like the way he expresses them, and he makes some very convincing arguments. Mostly, he demonstrates what gets lost in the world of BTL comments that I read on-line: it’s possible to express right-wing views without being – or even sounding – remotely fascist. And it’s possible to debate a point of view, being open to having your mind changed if the other person says something that resonates, that you realise is right (his line about EU fruit pickers, for example, really gives me pause for thought). And he’s prepared to listen, inviting the audience to contribute their ideas (although we don’t; we seem to be a reticent crowd tonight, despite our laughter showing that we’re happy to be here).

He is funny too, mocking himself as much as anyone. There’s an intensity to his delivery that makes me warm to him, and I’m genuinely interested in what he has to say. If politics could always be this engaging and enjoyable, I don’t think it would be such a dirty word.

4.4 stars

Susan Singfield