Base Camp

 

20/08/18

Gardens at C South, Edinburgh

We left our lodgings at midday and, under low cloud, made the long and arduous trek across the Meadows towards Summerhall. We reached our rendezvous at C South in good time and were introduced to our climbing companions for the day. Alannah struck me as affable and relaxed, and I was relieved to be chosen to join her group. Her companion, Shian, was brusque and sarcastic and she promptly instructed Susan to join her team. We were somewhat dismayed to realise that our usual duo was to be disrupted in this decisive manner and, furthermore, sensed an uncomfortable rivalry between the two leaders, but we were properly equipped for our task and determined to make the best of things. We waved each other farewell as we set off for our respective tents…

Fever Dream’s Base Camp is site-specific theatre. The audience is divided up and herded into separate tents, where we are told the stories of two ambitious young climbers and their upcoming expedition to reach the peak of a dangerous mountain. As their respective stories unfold, we learn something of their shared history and the rivalry that has always been an element of their partnership. From time to time, the two women converse via walkie-talkie, or pay brief visits to each other’s tents. Seated on cushions on the floor, we can hear them squabbling outside and we start to become part of their story. ‘Do you think they are real climbers?’ asks a woman in my group.

Afterwards, when Susan and I compare the two individual stories we’ve heard, we realise that they differ only in minor details and we both find ourselves wishing that they had diverged even more – how satisfying would it have been to learn that the two women have entirely different accounts of how they came to be here? But this is nonetheless an intriguing and ambitious idea and surely one of the most unusual pieces of theatre we’ve encountered at the Fringe.

Those with an adventurous nature should check this out, but if sitting on the floor is a problem, the show may not be suitable for you. Please be aware that audience size is restricted to the number of people you can fit into two large tents, so book early to avoid disappointment!

4 stars

Philip Caveney & Susan Singfield

 

 

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A Work in Progress

20/08/18

Gilded Balloon, Rose Theatre, Edinburgh

It’s a good idea: if you’re a young actor and you’re not getting enough work, then why not write your own roles? And, if you’re really canny, why not go all meta, and write a play about a young actor who’s not getting enough work, and embarks on a mission to write her own roles?

And so A Work in Progress is born: Hannah Morton’s play about two friends, John and Jane, who – after a brief prelude, where we are shown the spirit-crushing nightmare of failing auditions – barricade themselves into John’s flat, determined not to leave until they’ve had their Ruth Jones/James Cordon epiphany, and penned a veritable hit.

Morton, who stars alongside director Daniel Cullen, is an engaging performer, and there are some genuine laugh out loud moments here, notably the Porpoises in Space routines, which are wonderfully daft. The playful bickering between the two is nicely drawn, and Cullen has an appealing cheekiness, which helps create the atmosphere.

It’s a shame that the script focuses so much on banter, I think; I know the relationship is central to the piece, but there’s so much badinage that it becomes a little repetitive. I’d have liked to have seen them trying harder to write their play, to have been shown more of their putative scripts – a range of genres, for example, would have made the piece more varied and interesting to watch. There’s a bit of corpsing too, which is a pity – although it can, of course, happen to anyone, and maybe today is a one off.

It’s good to see young creatives making their own opportunities, and this piece is certainly good fun.

3 stars

Susan Singfield

A Serious Play about World War II

19/08/118

Underbelly, Cowgate, Edinburgh

As you’ve probably already guessed, Willis & Vere’s A Serious Play about World War II is anything but serious. At the outset, however, it suggests that it fully intends to be. The play we are about to watch, we are gravely informed, is based on the life of Holocaust survivor, Hirshel Gunzberg. Not only that, he’s here tonight, sitting in the front row, an elderly bearded man in a yarmulke.

What follows is the theatrical equivalent of farting in a lift – wrong on so many levels. We watch a turgid attempt to portray Gunzberg’s youth, replete with slo-mo action sequences, inept racial stereotypes and lines of cringe-inducing dialogue, all interspersed with dramatic blackouts. It’s irreverently funny, and I find myself laughing out loud at incidents that really shouldn’t be suitable subjects for humour; I just can’t help myself. But I’m soon wondering how award-winning comics Adam Willis and George Vere are going to sustain this idea for a full hour.

The answer is, of course, that they don’t try. A sudden interruption from the audience (it seems that Mr Gunzberg is far from happy with the way he’s being depicted) sends the whole vehicle careering off the rails and into the realms of full-blown farce. As the two leads, and their hapless straight-faced sidekick, Ian Coulter, run around like headless chickens trying to defuse a desperate situation, incident piles upon incident, ramping up the potential disaster to almost unbearable levels. The sudden appearance of two police officers, sent to investigate ‘a disturbance,’ adds an extra layer to the mayhem. We are made complicit in the deception, repeatedly warned not to tell anyone what we’ve seen.

We are subsequently treated to a whole series of unexpected events: gunshot wounds, murder, dismemberment, nudity, super glue, handcuffs, power tools… it’s quite a list and, happily, no opportunity to up the stakes is left unplundered.

The result is one of the funniest shows I’ve seen at this year’s Fringe. A serious play? They’re ‘avin’ a larf. And so, I believe, will you.

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney

 

Nick Hall: Spencer

19/08/18

Underbelly, Bristo Square, Edinburgh

If anybody has heard  the name Spencer Perceval before, they are likely to know only one thing about him – that he has the dubious distinction of being the only British Prime Minister ever to have been murdered while in office. (Of course, there are several others we might like to see  murdered, but that’s an entirely different matter.) Interestingly, Perceval was not killed in a crime of passion or even as a result of great political upheaval. He was shot by a merchant who felt that the government owed him a sum money and decided to make his feelings known in no uncertain terms.

Stand up comedian Nick Hall is also a former history graduate and has decided that the world (or at least the Edinburgh Fringe) needs to know a bit more about the man who was affectionally dubbed ‘Little P’ because of his short stature. Perceval had wanted to be Prime Minister since childhood and, once in that position, did his level best to eradicate British involvement in slavery. Unfortunately, this made him very unpopular with those who were making vast amounts of money from it and might have accounted for the cheers of delight that were heard when his death was announced.

This is a gentle, whimsical show, that manages to inform and entertain in equal measure. Hall is an engaging host, full of witty one liners and wry observations. I particularly like his ‘time in reverse’ scenario, where many of history’s greatest tragedies are cleverly set to rights and turned into triumphs. Towards the end, he even does a kind of recap, just to make sure we’ve all been paying attention. Happily, we have. We pass the Perceval test.

I leave the Underbelly Clover room knowing  a lot more about the man than I did when I arrived – and having had a thoroughly good laugh into the bargain.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Showmanship

18/08/18

C Royale, Edinburgh

In the American dust bowl of the 1930s, a travelling carnival is pluckily plying its trade, still managing to part the locals from what little money they have left. Myra Collins is their resident fortune teller, a woman who happily admits to having no supernatural gifts whatsoever, just an ability to look the part and say all the right things. Sure, it’s dishonest, but a woman’s got to make a living, right? It’s only Showmanship.

In this monologue, written and performed by Lucy Roslyn, Myra tells us how she came to be here – about her former life as a showgirl, about her vulnerable mother and the hard drinking man she became entangled with – and she explains how, even in the depths of the darkest depression the world has ever experienced, people are still willing to pay up front for a little shot of hope. And hope is what Myra offers them, dangling it just out of their reach, keeping them hooked so she can slowly reel them in.

Roslyn is a charismatic performer, giving Myra a sly, knowing demeanour and spitting out sarcastic lines that are often laugh-out-loud funny. Perhaps there’s not quite enough incident in her story to sustain the piece for a full hour, but I enjoy the performance and the atmosphere she creates – and I particularly love the clever ending, which sends the audience out in a state of wonderment.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Kit Finnie: Mabel & Mickey

18/08/18

Underbelly (Belly Dancer), Edinburgh

While not exactly what you’d call a crowdpleaser, there’s always room on the Fringe for a show like Mabel & Mickey, an ambitious and quirky look at a story from the early days of Hollywood. Mabel Normand was one of the greatest stars of the silent era and something of an innovator at a time when few women were able to make inroads in the film industry. Many would say that not much has changed since then…

In 1915, Normand produced, directed and starred in a very successful movie called Mickey, which she made for Mack Sennet’s studio, Keystone. But her career was subsequently tainted, both by her association with fellow actor Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle and his infamous rape trial – and by her mysterious relationship with film director William Desmond Taylor. The latter was murdered in 1922, just after he’d announced that he was to marry another woman. Normand was one of the key suspects and, though she was eventually acquitted, her career never recovered.

In this inventive monologue, Kit Finnie plays Mabel, who, when we first encounter her, is being interviewed by the police about Desmond’s murder. She occasionally breaks the illusion to talk with her tech person, reverting to her own accent and pointing out that she’s forgotten certain lines or that she needs to try something again – this is jarring, but then, it’s clearly meant to be. There’s also some nifty use of an OHP (retro tech equipment seems to be one of the recurring tropes of this year’s Fringe) used in conjunction with simple paper cutouts. Finnie even offers us the occasional bit of  poetry, which keeps winging its way onto the stage in the form of paper aeroplanes. Oh yes, and there’s quite a lot about pigeons too.

This is esoteric stuff that demands concentration, mostly because Normand’s story has largely slipped into the mists of time. Interested parties should seek out Karina Longworth’s excellent podcast You Must Remember This, which devotes a whole episode to Mabel Normand and makes a useful companion piece to this show.

This is an interesting attempt to do something a little bit different and really, that’s exactly what the Edinburgh Fringe is for.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Six the Musical

16/08/18

Udderbelly, Edinburgh

The infamous purple cow is rammed to capacity tonight and, as the performers walk on, the audience response is loud and enthusiastic. The cast of Six set about giving it all they’ve got and, from the first bars of the opening song, it’s clear that they have the crowd in the palms of their hands. Every Fringe seems to yield a runaway hit and this year, Six seems to be the hottest ticket around.

It’s always gratifying when a show this successful turns out to be so good – trust me, it isn’t always the case. Six is an inventive and exuberant pop-opera, which focuses on the wives of Henry VIII. As one character points out, we’ve only heard of them because they had the misfortune to marry the same man, so they are here to set a few things straight. We are throughly entertained by this show, but we are also informed at the same time, learning things about these women that we really didn’t know. Just think of it as at the most vibrant history lesson you’ve ever experienced and you’ve pretty much got the measure of it.

The six women are augmented by a superb four piece female band. Things kick off with an ensemble song that features a killer hook of a chorus and then, each of the wives in turn submits a solo piece, all of them vying to be voted ‘the best’ of the Queens. They are all exceptionally talented performers (far too good to single out a particular favourite) but, for the record, they are: Jameia Richard-Noel (Katherine of Aragon), Millie O’ Connell (Anne Boleyn), Natalie Paris (Jane Seymour), Alexia McIntosh (Anna of Cleves), Aimie Atkinson (Katherine Howard) and Maiya Quansah-Breed (Catherine Parr).

The excellent band powers effortlessly through a whole range of different musical styles, from straight pop to power ballad, from soul to Germanic disco. The songs, by Lucy Moss and Tony Marlowe, feature witty lyrics which relate the women’s experiences in modern day terms. There’s much talk of Snapchat and profile pictures (the latter painted by Hans Holbein, of course) and, by the time the performers hit their final crescendo, the entire crowd is clapping and stamping along in a frenzy.

I fully expect to see this expanded and transformed into a West End smash. (If it doesn’t happen, somebody’s missing a trick.) I just hope nobody spoils it by bringing in Henry himself. This is a staunchly feminist piece and should be allowed to remain so. And anyway, we all know for too much about the King.

For the time being, if you can buy, beg, borrow or steal a ticket for this wonderful show, then do so.

It really is that good.

5 stars

Philip Caveney