Month: August 2017

Loyiso Gola: Unlearning

23/08/17

Gilded Balloon Teviot, Edinburgh

Loyiso Gola was one of our favourite acts last year. Although Dude, Where’s My Lion? (https://bouquetsbrickbatsreviews.com/2016/08/21/loyiso-gola-dude-wheres-my-lion/) was his first Fringe show, it was by no means the work of a newcomer: Gola is an experienced comedian, famous in his home country, South Africa, where he is best known as the host and co-creator of the TV show, Late Nite News with Loyiso Gola. So we were excited to see his new show, and looking forward to an evening that would both challenge and entertain.

Unfortunately, I think we got Gola on a bad night this time. It’s bound to happen sometimes. The Fringe is long, and this last stretch can be tough, especially midweek when audience numbers are down. It can be hard to keep your head up, and yet, somehow, the show has to go on. I don’t know if I’m right, of course, but I do know that Gola seems to be lacking energy tonight, and that his performance appears a little lacklustre.

Unlearning is primarily about confronting stereotypes, and about changing the behaviour patterns that seem ingrained by what you’ve learned. There are tantalising hints as to what this show could be (and may well have been on other nights), as Gola deals with issues of masculinity, race, white privilege and our ignorance of human history. I’d have liked to have seen these elements explored further: a bit less low-level grumbling about the service in Edinburgh shops, and more of this incisive stuff. There’s a lot of fascinating material hovering beneath the surface of this show, and I know this gifted comic is more than capable of bringing it to light.

Just not tonight, I guess. Ah well.

3 stars

Susan SIngfield

Daniel Kitson: Possible New Bits for a Pre-Existing Show

23/08/17

The Stand, Edinburgh

Daniel Kitson occupies an enviable position for a stand-up comic. While so many at the Fringe struggle to fill their venues, he has no such problem. The tickets for this ‘work in progress’ performance went on sale at noon yesterday, which is when I confidently slipped two of them into my online basket. By the time I’d managed to key in my card details (roughly one minute later), all one hundred and twenty tickets for the show had gone, including mine. Grrr. In the end, we only get to see this because we are prepared to queue for an hour in the pouring rain for two of the twenty tickets that have been kept in reserve on a ‘first come, first served’ basis. I know, I know, we must really want those tickets – but since we’ve been trying to see him for something like three years now, we’re prepared to make the sacrifice.

Oh, one other thing. Kitson doesn’t like reviewers. So we make a point of not wearing anything that will identify us as such, and now here we sit in the front row of The Stand, as Kitson shambles quietly out with a notebook and a collection of Post It notes tucked under his arm…

And perhaps it’s unfair to review a performance that so unabashedly announces its intentions – and is not ‘the show’ – but we’re going to do it anyway, because hey, that’s what we do.

He explains how this all came about. He has an upcoming booking in Manchester, for which he doesn’t have anything prepared, so this is an opportunity to ‘try out some ideas’ on a live audience, something that will hopefully frighten him into writing new material. Now, we’ve all seen shows like this in our time and they are generally hit and miss affairs – the comic pausing to study the notes, trying out gags that don’t quite work and crossing them off a list. Kitson, is much more open about the process, commenting when things go badly and using each failure as a launchpad into a whole new angle, occasionally even bursting into an improvised song about what’s just happened. You might describe it as ‘stream of consciousness’ material, but the results are way funnier than you might reasonably expect from such an approach.

There’s obviously no strong thematic narrative here but Kitson’s observations and canny put-downs always seem to hit home, whether he’s admitting to his own privilege, or pedantically examining popular sayings to demonstrate how wrong they can be. ‘It’s the way he tells them’ was the catchphrase of an entirely different sort of comic, back in the day, but has never been truer than it is here. Kitson has the knack of making the most unpromising line sound hilarious. When he’s putting us down with vicious accuracy, we laugh all the louder. He’s an expert at deflating pomposity, at making us examine our own middle-class guilt. ‘Does anybody here have a cleaner?’ he asks at one point, and then, ‘How do you justify that?’

So, was the wait worth it? Yes, definitely. Is Kitson a gifted comic? Yes, undoubtedly. And will his show be slicker and more polished by the time it reaches Manchester? I’m guessing, probably not. Because that rambling, thrown-together quality is kind of what makes Kitson unique as a performer and may just be the chief reason he has so many avid followers.

Go and see him in Manchester and let us know what you think. But, word to the wise – don’t hang about making a booking. Those tickets can have a nasty habit of doing a vanishing act.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

Demi Lardner: Look What You Made Me Do

22/08/17

Underbelly Cowgate, Edinburgh

We’re in the dank and dingy Dehli Belly for Demi Lardner’s show, but we’re not aware of our insalubrious surroundings for long. Because as soon as Lardner bursts onto the stage, we’re transported to a surreal world, that’s equal parts man-cave and subconcious.

Lardner is Gavin, a forty-six year old man, deserted by his wife and trapped in his basement, with only the disembodied voice of telemarketer Sandra (Michelle Braiser) to keep him company. It’s a deliberately ropey characterisation: Gavin, like Lardner, looks younger than twenty-three, and appears to be dressed as a sporty schoolboy. Lardner affects a gruff voice (at times) and a swaggering physicality – it’s peculiar and it’s very funny indeed.

It’s a difficult show to pin down in a review: the appeal is in the shonkiness. It’s essentially a series of quirky vignettes loosely tied together to form the narrative. Lardner is utterly engaging, and some of the best moments are those when she breaks character to giggle or berate the audience. The jokes are goofy and daft with no great meaningful reveal, and there has to be a place for humour such as this.

If the show runs out of steam a little at the end – and it does – I think we can forgive it that. Because we’ve had a fun fifty minutes in Demi Lardner’s silly company.

3.8 stars

Susan Singfield

Atomic Blonde

 

 

22/08/17

All those idiots who perpetually bleat that there could never be a female James Bond might care to check this out. If there were any lingering doubts that Charlize Theron can convince as an ass-kicker after Mad Max: Fury Road, then this should dispel those notions completely. Here she plays MI6 agent, Louise Broughton, a kind of Jane Bond figure who apparently subsists on a diet of neat vodka-on-the-rocks and cigarettes, whilst rocking a series of 80s fashions and performing extreme chop socky moves to the strains of classic rock songs. (This is the second film this year to use Flock of Seagulls’ I Ran to excellent effect. Just sayin’).

It’s November 1989 and the Berlin Wall is about to take a permanent dive. Broughton is sent over to Berlin to team up with fellow agent, David Percival (James McAvoy), a man who presents such a dodgy persona, it’s a wonder he can find his own reflection in a mirror. Somebody – Code Name ‘Satchel’ – has procured a list of British agents and their nefarious dealings during the Cold War, a list so incendiary that it mustn’t be allowed to fall into enemy hands. Broughton’s job is to find the list (and hopefully Satchel) and bring them both back to Blighty. But it isn’t an easy task when she can’t trust anybody…

What this basically boils down to is an excuse for a series of bruising action sequences, in which Broughton takes down what seems like a whole army of men, using any weapons at her disposal – a stiletto heel, a frying pan, a bunch of keys – she’s not fussy, she’ll employ anything that comes to hand. The highlight here is a long fight scene on  a staircase. Shot in a continuous take, it sets the bar high for pain and punishment and there’s no doubt that director David Leitch, fresh off John Wick: Chapter Two, knows how to stage a convincing punch-up. I loved the fact that people don’t emerge from one of these skirmishes with a polite spot of blood at the side of their mouth, as we so often witness in this kind of film – no, we regularly see Broughton’s bruised and swollen face and limbs and we quite understand her habit of taking occasional ice baths.

Rather less successful, however, is the plot, which is so labyrinthine as to defy all understanding. Virtually every character we meet is double-crossing somebody else or working for somebody else or pretending to be somebody else. By the conclusion, I thought I had a handle on most of it but I wouldn’t want to testify to it in court – or indeed, in the kind of rigorous debriefing that is used as the framework for Atomic Blonde. There are excellent supporting roles from the likes of Toby Jones, Eddie Marsan and John Goodman, as various men in suits, but this is undeniably a showcase for Theron’s star power and she makes the most of it.

A simpler plot would certainly have made this a better film, overall, but action junkies will love the fights and I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t find them thrilling. If Leitch can marry those superior action chops to a simpler, more convincing storyline, who knows what might be achieved? Here, he manages to win on points rather than achieving a knockout blow. But it’s certainly worth the price of a ringside seat.

3.5 stars

Philip Caveney

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 own unwitting prejudices. 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