The South Afreakins

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25/08/16

Spotlites, Edinburgh

The South Afreakins is a duologue performed as a monologue, a two-hander expertly performed by a single actor. And, my word, it’s really very good indeed.

Robyn Paterson is a playwright and actor, and she’s clearly talented in both fields. This piece, inspired by her parents’ immigration from South Africa to New Zealand, is all about displacement and belonging, and the difficult relationship so many immigrants have with ‘home’ (is it where you live or where you’re from, where you fall in love or where you lose someone?). We see Gordon and Helene, newly retired, scared by the violence erupting in South Africa, and keen to start a new life elsewhere. New Zealand appeals to Helene far more than to Gordon; he wants to stay where his roots are. But Helene refuses to live in fear; she knows she’ll be poorer in New Zealand – no servants for her there! – but she wants to live a peaceful life. And Gordon loves her, of course he does, and so he goes along.

Paterson switches effortlessly between characters; a simple shift in the body language, a tilt of the head or a shrug of the shoulders, and we know exactly who she is supposed to be. It’s captivating; we are completely drawn into their story, and our emotions are wrapped up in theirs.

It seems a simple tale, but it covers a lot. There’s a lightness of touch which means that, although it’s not the focus of the piece, Helene’s instinctive racism is exposed, as well as her wish to deny it, even to herself. We know that the violence that frightens Helene is that of the oppressed rising up against the oppressor, and we know that Helene represents the oppressor here. But she is just a woman, living the life she was born into, coping, like we all cope, with the cards we are dealt.

It’s a subtle, thought-provoking piece, that has us laughing and then stops us short. I highly recommend you catch it while you can. It’s only here in Edinburgh for three more days!

4.8 stars

Susan Singfield

Yuri

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24/08/16

Underbelly Cowgate, Edinburgh

Who is Yuri? It’s a good question and one that lies at the heart of this entertaining and unsettling farce from August012, in association with Chapter Arts Centre and the National Theatre Wales. Maybe he’s exactly what he appears to be – a teenage Russian orphan, discovered by Adele (Carys Eleri) sitting amidst the pretty Christmas things in Lidl, all ready to be taken home. Or perhaps he symbolises the inevitable fears and anxieties visited upon any couple when they become parents for the first time, bringing a demanding, wordless stranger into their home and relationship. In any case, Adele and her husband, Patrick (Ceri Murphy), have been wanting a child for ages and now, it would seem, they have been blessed with one. But Yuri (Guto Wynne-Davis), is challenging to say the very least…

Despite being staged in one of the scuzziest venues on the Fringe, Yuri is a warm, absurd and, in many respects, rather scary play, that exerts a powerful pull on the audience’s emotions. The cast work hard to embody their characters – and do a fabulous job of it. There is a certain deftness at play here, which makes the complex issues at the heart of this piece seem somehow light and whimsical. It’s fascinating to watch. We might not always be entirely sure of what’s going on, but by golly, we aren’t bored for one moment.

This is a challenging piece that’s well worth seeking out.

4.8 stars

Philip Caveney and Susan Singfield

Unseen

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24/08/16

Spotlites, Edinburgh

Unseen is a play about homelessness, and it’s clearly been meticulously researched. Holly (Ashley McLean, who also wrote and directed the piece) is homeless after losing her job and falling out with her friends; Maria (Lara Fabiani) is an old acquaintance, whose world-view is challenged by a jolt of recognition: someone she actually knows is huddled under a sleeping bag in the street. This makes her question her own security, as well as her attitude to the rough sleepers she passes every day.

Maria is ‘us’; she’s the filter for the audience.Holly is ‘them’, the nameless, ignored men and women, whose shattered lives should shame us all. What sort of a society is this, where the safety net is so full of holes? We live in the world’s sixth richest country; how can this be acceptable?

The issues are well articulated here. Holly is a believable character with credible responses to the situation she finds herself in. Maria’s sense of unease, her feelings of guilt, sympathy and fascination, are conveyed with conviction. If there’s a problem, it’s with the narrative drive. Sometimes it all feels a little too much like a lecture; the same ideas could be conveyed with a lighter touch, perhaps? And I’d like to learn more about Maria and to see how their friendship develops – and the complications their unequal positions might create. I’d like a stronger character arc, I suppose, to really draw me in to the girls’ stories.

But, all in all, this is a very worthy piece, which certainly wears its heart on its sleeve.

3 stars

Susan Singfield

Henderson’s Salad Table Restaurant

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24/08/16

Hanover Street, Edinburgh

Henderson’s is a bit of an Edinburgh institution, with several outlets across the city, including a shop and deli, and a vegan restaurant (on Thistle Street). Today we’re visiting the Salad Table Restaurant on Hanover Street, where the vegetarian and vegan menu also has a number of gluten-free options, which is a necessary requirement for the friends we’re with.

It’s easy to see how this place has earned its reputation; it’s a bright, cheery, self-service cafeteria, and absolutely everything looks delicious. It’s hard to choose.

Philip and I both opt for the vegetable quiche, served with a mixed leaf salad and coleslaw. We can’t resist adding a couple of extras: a beetroot and olive salad that is very flavoursome indeed, and a quinoa concoction that, while perfectly nicely dressed, just can’t escape the worthy dullness that seems synonymous with its main ingredient. But it’s the only thing we don’t enjoy.

Our friend samples the vegan pizza and declares it’s “lovely.” She’s most impressed though by the fruity vegan coleslaw, which tastes just as good as it looks. Her son tries the chickpea curry; he’s eight, so he doesn’t have a lot to say about it, but he eats a decent portion and concedes that it is “nice.”

Overall, we’re really delighted to add another excellent establishment to our ‘list of places we enjoy eating in Edinburgh.’ At £10-£15 per head, this isn’t especially cheap, but the quality of the food is undeniable, and it’s definitely worth it.

4.2 stars

Susan Singfield

Ed Gamble: Stampede

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23/08/16

Assembly Counting House, Edinburgh

Ed Gamble wishes to make it clear that his show is not all about cauliflower. Okay, so there is quite a bit of detail about how to make pizza by substituting the world’s blandest vegetable for the usual dough, but that’s not what this show is actually about. Not really. It’s just that, a few years ago, Ed was six stone heavier than he is now and nutrition and dieting have become a big part of his daily routine, so perhaps it’s inevitable that then cauliflower will rear its ugly head from time to time…

Gamble has an assured, confident delivery and he manages to keep the packed crowd at this afternoon’s show laughing pretty much constantly throughout it. There’s the occasional surreal notion (I particularly enjoyed the joke about a bulldog) and the fact that he’s constantly comparing his own success with his former classmates at school (one of whom just happens to be the singer from Mumford and Sons).

This may not be the most challenging comedy you’ll find on the Fringe, but it’s nonetheless cleverly put together and provides plenty of laughs on a drizzly Edinburgh afternoon, which is, after all, the name of the game.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Tony Law: A Law Undo His-elf What Welcome

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22/08/16

Assembly Hall, Edinburgh

The once hirsute Tony Law has undergone something of a change of image since I last saw him. His face is cleanly shaven and his comic shtick, which was always somewhat on the surreal side, now seems to have thundered headlong into a tunnel of utter weirdness. As he prances onto the stage, dressed in an odd-looking khaki uniform, lengths of black gaffa tape wound tightly around his abdomen, (because he confides, he is ‘newly fat’) I’m somewhat nonplussed; and then he starts to talk and I am left bewildered.

This manic stream-of-consciousness psychobabble, delivered in a multitude of comic accents, seems to have only the barest relationship with any kind of perceived reality. It’s all done with absolute assurance, but he never seems to pause for breath and the result is that it all feels a bit… relentless. No sooner have I got a handle on Tony’s time spent as a professional trampolinist, or his adventures as a cavalry officer, then he’s telling me about his chance encounter with a miniature moose with a glittering star for an eye. (Incidentally, anyone thinking that the title we’ve put up for this is a mistake – it isn’t.)

Make no mistake, this is the kind of comedy that polarises audiences. I’m aware that some people in the room are virtually doubled over with laughter, while others, like me, are looking on in bemused silence. I don’t mind surrealism, per se, but I do require the occasional lump of reality on which to tether the more absurd notions. Consequently, I have to confess that this show is really not for me. If you’re the kind of person who loves your humour to be as absurd as is humanly possible, this might well be your cup of haemoglobin.

But as they say in Dragon’s Den, sorry, I’m out.

2.6 stars

Philip Caveney

The Guilty Feminist with Sofie Hagen and Deborah Frances-White

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22/08/16

Gilded Balloon Teviot, Edinburgh

The Guilty Feminist is one of my favourite podcasts, and I enjoy being a member of the associated Facebook group, so I was very excited by the opportunity to see a live recording of the show.

Let’s be honest, though, a live recording of something that’s intended for another medium is rarely going to be a five star experience (sorry, Sofie! the podcast itself definitely merits the top rating, but the live show doesn’t… not quite). But this one certainly comes close.

The venue is packed out; the podcast’s popularity shows how well it chimes with the zeitgeist, and how appealing its non-preachy, inclusive approach to feminism is. And today’s topic, independence, is an interesting one, with special guest Mary Lynn Rajskub contributing some fascinating insights into a comic’s transient life.

In truth, all three women seem a little fringe-frazzled (Sofie complains of a hangover; Deborah, we learn, went to bed at 6am), but that’s only to be expected at this stage of an Edinburgh run. And the podcast is none the worse for it; their honest appraisals of how they feel and where they’re at are, in fact, what makes the programme so compelling. I’d like to hear more about Sofie’s mother and her “men leave; you have to learn to do it for yourself” philosophy, but there’s plenty here to hold my attention, and it’s as funny, challenging, emotional and demanding as regular listeners will have come to expect.

I wish I had the time to attend further recordings this week. I don’t. But I’m glad I’ve seen this one.

4.2 stars

Susan Singfield