Month: August 2018

Zach & Viggo & Thumpasaurus: Where Does the Love Go?

15/08/18

Underbelly (Belly Button), Cowgate, Edinburgh

‘Where Does the Love Go?’ asks the most memorable song from this show and it’s evident from the kick-off that there’s plenty of it in evidence in the dank surroundings of Belly Button. It’s all directed at Zach Zucker, Viggo Venn and LA-based funk-punk band Thumpasaurus in this riotous, rickety sci-fi punk opera, which is basically a comic attack on Jeff Bezos and his Amazon empire.

Alexo (Zucker) is Amazon’s newest product, an AI that’s a big step up from Alexa. It can do a lot more than set an alarm and turn up the volume on your stereo. Created by Gepetto (Venn), Alexo experiences emotions that go way beyond the usual AI. He thinks of Gepetto as his father, so he’s devastated to learn that he actually belongs to Bezos (Jonny Wooley), who intends to assert his absolute authority over the creation he has funded. It’s clearly not going to end well.

By all the usual standards, this is ropey stuff that really shouldn’t fly – and yet, it’s done with such warm hearted zeal, such brio, that you somehow can’t help but go with it. This show has ‘cult’ written all over it. It’s evident that much of tonight’s enthusiastic crowd have already watched this more than once, reacting to ‘in’ jokes and clearly having a whale of time. In a nod to a repeated joke, Thumpasaurus really do create ‘a great vibe’ and Zucker’s continual nods and winks to his devotees, which ought to be irritating, somehow add to the show’s appeal. Venn too, is howlingly funny, in a shambling, ‘don’t give a toss’ kind of way, while Wooley’s performance as Bezos is just downright hilarious. His speech at the launch of his latest product has me in stitches.

You’ll leave singing that titular song over and over. Resistance is futile. Round up a bunch of friends and go and enjoy this show. It’s as rough as the proverbial bear’s backside, but an absolute hoot just the same.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

 

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Edinburgh Fringe Magic Gala

 

15/08/18

Gilded Balloon Teviot, Debating Hall, Edinburgh

Ah, magic! With the weather in Edinburgh taking a sudden nosedive and the threat of Fringe fatigue constantly hovering in the background, a bit of magic is surely going to help matters – and what better way to sample it than this handy package, which offers visitors a taste of five different acts every day at 4.30pm?

Our host for the event is Elliot Bibby, voted Scottish Comedy Magician of the Year 2017. You can easily see why he won the title. He has a nice line in engaging patter (particularly in his interplay with a truculent audience member) and is very good at the old sleight of hand stuff. He takes the truculent one’s ten pound note, turns it into a worthless scrap of paper and hands it back to him. (Don’t worry, after a bit of persuasion, he changes it back again!)

The first guest is Tomas McCabe, who calls himself a mind reader. He brings a young woman up from the crowd and invites her to slam the flat of her hand down on a series of paper cups, one of which we are assured has a deadly metal spike hidden in it. To give the lady her due, she manages this without turning a hair, but most of the audience is holding its collective breath.

Next up is Polly Hoops, who  – as her name might suggest – does things with hula hoops (not the edible variety). She’s soon striding around the stage whirling several plastic hoops from various parts of her anatomy. It’s incredibly skilful and must takes hours of practice, but, I can’t help feeling, it isn’t really magic. ‘More like highly evolved PE,’ whispers Susan, and I have to agree with her.

Tom Crosbie is very quick to point out that he isn’t a magician either, just a full blown nerd. Mind you, what this man can do with a Rubik’s cube is nobody’s business and it certainly looks pretty magical. At one point he manages to ‘solve’ a cube while it’s in mid air. He assures us that anybody can do this provided they put in the requisite study time, which in my case would be 24 hours a day for the rest of my life.

The final act is Ben Hart and, happily, there’s no doubting this young man’s abilities in the abracadabra stakes. He performs an astonishing routine with a pack of cards, that keep getting smaller and smaller and smaller – until he’s able to blow them away in a puff of dust. He then borrows three rings from three members of the public and somehow manages to fuse them together. We have good seats near the front and I watch him like a hawk, but… no, no idea how he did that. Astonishing stuff.

All of these acts can be seen in their own shows elsewhere on the Fringe and, let’s face it, we all need a little more magic in our lives.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Michael Wilson: My Adventures in Mental Health

15/08/18

Three Broomsticks, South Bridge, Edinburgh

We’ve been looking forward to this event. We’ve been familiar with Michael Wilson’s keenly-observed lyrical poetry for a long time now: we’ve heard drafts of earlier pieces in workshops, and have seen him perform several times in Manchester. No doubt about it, he has real talent, and we’re keen to see what he’s been working on in recent years.

As the title suggests, My Adventures in Mental Health is a personal chronicle of mental illness. In his brief introduction, Michael is keen to point out that his own experiences are just that – his own; he’s not claiming any kind of universal insight. And yet, this deeply personal collection of poems is genuinely revelatory: there is an appealing Everyman quality to it, despite uncommon individual circumstances. I think it’s in the humanity, the vulnerability, that shines through every line.

The narrative is thematic rather than chronological, leading us through a cycle of depression, mania, hyper mania, hospitalisation, drugs – and finally to wellness, to hope, to love. It’s strangely uplifting – the structure allowing us the relief of a happy ending, the ability to smile at the man sitting in front of us, who has just laid bare the horrors of a severe illness. This is the sort of writing that should make it easier for others to talk, to open up. Michael makes it look easy. His poems make it beautiful.

Take these lines, for example:

His hand on my shoulder holds little in it…

But I thought if I could describe this pain

it would transfer –

like the ones we had as kids.

Apply water.

Apply pressure.

Lift and reveal.

But temporary.

Colour smudge bright.

His hand on my shoulder

leaves a tattoo on my skin.

I love the wistful nature of this section, the brightness of the child’s memory suffusing the present pain. Michael’s poetry is all like this: pain made palatable through gentle imagery, savagery tempered through the beauty of sound.

The venue isn’t ideal for his performance – the open window and the busy road combined with Michael’s melodic Northern Irish accent and soft voice mean that it’s hard to hear at times – but it’s worth leaning in and concentrating hard. This is a lovely piece of work.

5 stars

Philip Caveney & Susan Singfield

 

 

 

The Lampoons: House on Haunted Hill

14/08/18

Pleasance Dome, Edinburgh

No visit to the Edinburgh Fringe is complete without at least one late-night, mad-as-a-box-of-frogs comedy event. The Lampoons: House on Haunted Hill fits the bill perfectly. Based loosely (very loosely indeed) on William Castle’s 1959 schlock horror movie of the same name, this is a production where audience members are issued with loaded water pistols and ping pong balls as they enter the venue. We are then encouraged to use said water pistols and ping pong balls at certain cue moments during the story, though – this being a late-night, alcohol-fuelled crowd – few people stick closely to the rules. (Although I’d like to point out that, as dedicated critics, we are steadfastly sober.)

Rich weirdo Frederick Loren (Vincent Price, played at one point by all four members of the cast, simultaneously) invites four guests to stay one night in a notorious haunted mansion. If they manage to survive until morning they will each receive 10,000 dollars. That’s about as much as you need to know plot-wise but, suffice to say, much fun is manufactured from running in and out of doors, the donning of fright masks, hilariously odd shadow projections, the eating of pickles (both dill and Branston), the wearing of false moustaches and, in one memorable sequence,  the full frontal ordering of pizzas. There’s more, but you probably wouldn’t believe me if I told you.

The Lampoons comprise writer/actor Oliver Malam, Josh Harvey,  Christina Baston and Adam Elliott. It’s all gloriously ramshackle and exceedingly silly and I guess that’s exactly the point. If at times there’s the suspicion that this could all be a little bit tighter, a little more controlled and that, if the cast approached their roles in absolute seriousness, this might be funnier still, such notions quickly disappear under a deluge of water and the aforementioned projectiles. The cast are clearly having a lot of fun and, happily, so are the audience.

As we join in with that well known anthem, We Are Vincent Price, it occurs to me that I probably won’t remember much about this in the morning… but I’m wrong. I remember every deranged detail. I’ve even got a false moustache as a souvenir.

Full frontal pizza, anyone?

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Big Aftermath of a Small Disclosure

14/08/18

Summerhall, Edinburgh

What I love most about the Fringe is the sheer variety of what’s on offer. Two weeks into a rigorous viewing timetable, patterns start to emerge (for example, table lamps and portable cassette recorders are popular props this year); I start to think maybe I’ve seen it all. And then I find myself in Summerhall, watching ATC’s Big Aftermath of a Small Disclosure and am reassured that theatre still offers endless possibilities, that I can still be surprised.

We start with a bare stage and two characters, Jon (Abhin Galeya) and Louise (Wendy Kweh). They cross, meet in the middle, and Jon tells Louise he is thinking of leaving town. Their dialogue comes in short, staccato bursts, spare and unrevealing. It’s an intriguing opening, the bare bones of an idea. When Johan (Sam Callis) and Sjon (Mark Weinman) join them, the stylised he-said-she-said repetition is both funny and strangely alienating – but slowly, slyly, the power dynamics are revealed, and we see the characters pacing, circling, approaching and retreating, vying for control and understanding of the crisis created by Jon’s simple announcement.

This is choreography as much as direction: the moves become more complex as the drama is fleshed out, and it’s beautifully crafted by Alice Malin. Layer by layer, we learn about the group: who they are, what they mean to each other, what Jon’s leaving really signifies. The set grows with each round of revelations too: now we have grass, now chairs, now beer bottles and other props. The whole piece is an illumination of the storytelling process, how we start knowing nothing and are fed details piecemeal.

Magne van den Berg’s script, translated by Purni Morell, is oddly ethereal; the characters’ speech patterns are slightly jarring – it has a disorienting effect. I like it: it’s the opposite of naturalism; nobody speaks like this, with such precision and control. And yet, even in its strangeness, it’s all very recognisable: the unuttered agendas, the circling around real issues.

A thought-provoking, unusual piece – and one I highly recommend.

4.5 stars

Susan Singfield

 

Flies

14/08/18

Pleasance Two, Edinburgh

Flies, by Oliver Lansley, is a story of overpowering obsession. Dennis (George Readshaw) has a phobia of flies, one so all-consuming that he has taken to sealing up the doors and windows of his flat, even putting tape over the plug holes in the bathroom every night. Driven almost to distraction by his fears of the little buzzers, he decides to look for an insect-free environment in which to live. An internet search informs him that his best bet is Antartica, so he promptly sells all his belongings and books a flight. But, on the journey over there, things start to go spectacularly awry.

You see, it’s not easy to get such matters out of your mind when you’re being followed by one fly in particular, a white tuxedoed lounge lizard who looks and talks uncannily like a young Kenneth Branagh, striding about and telling the audience, with great relish, how he’s going to defecate into their food and then vomit it all up again. In the role of the fly (not to mention, Dennis’s psychiatrist, Dr Rickman and occasionally, a polar bear) Piers Hampton has an absolute field day. And then there’s the third member of the cast, Harry Humberstone, a tall, gangly all-rounder, who plays a range of smaller roles, provides various sound effects and bashes out a bit of rock guitar.

Throw in some ramshackle special effects, a programme note that assures us that this is a sustainable show and ‘all cling film is recycled’ and you might begin to get the measure of this spectacularly loopy production. It’s quite clear from the large and enthusiastic crowd at Pleasance Two that what we have here is a palpable Fringe hit and one that fully deserves all the attention it’s getting.

Go and lap this up, but be sure to keep a close eye on the plate of food you eat in the Pleasance Courtyard afterwards. You never know what might be in there…

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney

 

Our Boys

13/08/18

PQA Venues, Riddle’s Court, Edinburgh

In the ward of a military hospital, a group of injured soldiers are recuperating from a variety of injuries. Keith (Christopher Lowry) is suffering from mysterious leg pains which the doctors seem unable to correctly diagnose. Ian (Michael Larcombe) has been so badly injured by a sniper’s bullet, he can barely form words. Parry (Charlie Quirke) has lost some toes, Mick (Alastair Natkiel) has recently been circumcised for ‘health reasons’, while Joe (Declan Perring), the longest serving inmate, sees himself as the wheeler-dealer of the group, forever wangling perks for the others, forever pulling strings on their behalf – and we do not learn what has actually happened to him for quite some time…

Into this powder keg limps Posh (Nick Seenstra), a young trainee officer currently suffering from the indignity of a pilonidal abscess. He is immediately seen as an outsider, a threat to the squaddies whose space he will now be sharing. Playwright Jonathan Lewis has first hand experience of the situation, having spent time himself in a military hospital in Woolwich.

This is an intensely masculine drama, where at times the levels of testosterone bubbling away onstage threaten to explode into the audience. Though it deals with the very serious issues of PTSD and the callous way in which disabled squaddies are casually tossed onto the scrapheap, it’s also periodically very funny. A sequence spoofing Robert De Niro’s The Deerhunter is hard to resist and so is the scene where the lads lay on a birthday party for Ian, only to discover – well, I won’t spoil it for you. It’s certainly not all laughs though. When somebody tips off the authorities about the presence of illegal alcohol on the ward, suspicion inevitably falls on Posh; of course he’s going to revert to type – he’s a would-be officer, right? But is he really to blame?

The performances here are all pretty good, though Natkiel’s Mick is a particular delight, forever managing to say the wrong thing at the wrong time in a wheedling Brummie accent. Be advised, this important play’s hard-hitting conclusion will surely send you out into the night with a lump in your throat and a tear in your eye.

4 stars

Philip Caveney