Month: May 2019

Aladdin

27/05/19

Next in line for the Disney-animations-transformed-into-live-action treadmill is Aladdin. What’s most interesting about this one is the fact that it’s helmed by Guy Ritchie, who – after the underperfroming Man Fom Uncle and the frankly disastrous King Arthur: Legend of the Sword – is clearly in dire need of a hit. (Those who, like me, were secretly hoping for a diamond geezer reinterpretation – ‘Aladdin, you slag, get off my turf!’ – are in for a real disappointment here.) Ritchie plays it safe and manages to emerge with a slice of undemanding, but entertaining hokum, which is probably the object of the exercise.

I won’t bore you with a plot description, but the classic tale has always raised some troubling questions for me, not least this one: why can’t the evil sorceror, Jafar (Marwan Kenzari), go into the treasure cave to claim the magic lamp himself, rather than sending young street-thief Aladdin (Mena Massoud) to get if for him? But, of course, Aladdin does go in, and unwittingly unleashes the genie, who gives him the opportunity to present himself to Princess Jasmine (Naomi Scott) as a potential husband – a move from which much hilarity ensues. Will Smith is burdened with the formidable task of attempting to follow Robin Williams’ memorable voiceover performance as The Genie, which, to be fair, he manages with considerable charm.

Jasmine is given a lot more to do than in her previous incarnation, and there’s an obvious female empowerment subplot going on. Even if her most memorable song owes an unspoken debt to Frozen, it nonetheless judges the zeitgeist perfectly, and seems to avoid any obvious cultural blunders.

If ultimately the film rarely dazzles, it’s nonetheless a perfectly enjoyable way to spend a couple of hours. I like this, but I don’t love it – and of course, I’m one of those annoying people who wishes that Disney would stop remaking its old hits and give us something new. You know, just for the novelty of it.

Next up, The Lion King. Ah well…

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

 

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Edinburgh Food Studio

26/05/19

Dalkeith Road, Edinburgh

Let me begin this review with a question. When was the last time you ate out and were genuinely surprised by the food you were offered? The Edinburgh Food Studio manages to surprise us on many levels and, I’m happy to say, always in a positive way. We’ve been hearing promising word-of-mouth about the place for a while, so when we spot a really timely Groupon offer –  a four course lunch for just £25 a head – we’re straight onto it.

We arrive right on time and take our seats in the large, light, open plan café. The first thing we notice is that the room is dominated by two long wooden tables with chairs arranged along each side, so it’s probably important to say is that, if you’re the kind of diner who demands your own space to enjoy your meal, this may not be the place for you. It’s a Sunday afternoon, and there’s a pleasant, relaxed buzz in the room, people enjoying their meals and maybe a cheeky drink or three. We order a bottle of reasonably priced French Muscadet and the chatty, super-friendly waitress brings us a plate of fresh ciabatta and some whipped, cultured butter.

Another thing to mention is that you don’t choose from the lunch menu; rather, you are brought what has been prepared that day and is still available. The first course arrives and it’s instantly clear that both the wine and the bread will make perfect accompaniments for a generously sized bowl of mussels and cider butter. I’ll level with you and admit that I rarely choose mussels in normal situations, because it all feels like a lot of effort for not much return, but these particular ones are spectacularly plump, and melt-in-the-mouth tender, sitting in a tangy broth that just cries out to be mopped up with hunks of fresh bread. I’ll go so far as to say these may be the nicest mussels I can remember having and I’ll also add that, by the time we’re finished, the white bowl they were originally housed in looks like it’s already been through the dishwasher.

Surprise number two comes, apropriately enough, with the second course, which is something we’ve never eaten before. This is Passatelli, with St George mushrooms and new season garlic. Passetelli is rather like pasta, except that it’s made from a mixture of bread, eggs and parmesan cheese. Resting in a delicious savoury broth, its unusual, slightly crunchy texture proves an instant hit and, pretty soon, it’s been devoured.

The third surprise is that the next course is rather special, in that it is 12-year-old rump steak, with aliums & yoghurt. (Please note, the twelve here relates to the age of the cow from which the meat comes, not how long its been stored in a deep freeze!) Thinly sliced and lightly seared, the meat is full flavoured and as tender as the night, sliceable with an ordinary knife. At first, I’m slightly suspicious about the pool of natural yoghurt on one side of the plate but, once dipped into it, the meat becomes even more delicious. ‘Inspired by kebabs,’ the waitress informs us and we have to admit, though on paper it sounds strange, it works a treat.

And so we end, as all things must, with pudding – and we are brought lemon thyme & butterscotch, which sounds fantastic but, once again, my first impression is one of profound disappointment. Can this bland-looking white mound actually taste of anything very much at all? Well, as it turns out, yes it can! The revelation here is when you dig into that snowy heap with a spoon to discover hidden layers of zesty ice cream built over the top of a crunchy, chewy butterscotch base and a tangy lemon cake. Turns out the final surprise is the best one of all (and please note our rather poor photograph doesn’t even come close to doing this dessert justice).

The Edinburgh Food Studio somehow manages to cut through all the pretensions of high end dining, offering brilliantly inventive food with the emphasis firmly on flavour. Will we go again? Well, we’ve already noted on a whiteboard above us a seven-course evening tasting menu, and this is something we mentally file away as a possibility for the next time we’re looking for an excuse to celebrate. Birthday, wedding anniversary… Thursday? We’ll think of something!

So go along, enjoy the atmosphere – and be prepared for some surprises!

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Rocketman

25/05/10

Rock star biopics are big business of late. The rather pedestrian (and factually flawed) Bohemian Rhapsody absolutely cleaned up at the box office and even garnered some ill-deserved awards into the bargain. Rocketman has the same director as Bo Rhap – or, at least, Dexter Fletcher steered the former film to fruition after Bryan Singer was obliged to step away from it. But Rocketman almost serves as an object lesson in how entertaining this genre can be when the filmakers have the balls to step away from the obvious and offer up something infinitely more experimental.

This is a fantasia, in its purest form, something that dares to take Elton John’s life story and play around with it. Ironically, in the process, it manages to get closer to the truth of the man behind the myth than Bo Rhap ever managed with Freddie Mercury.

When we first meet Elton, he’s attending a therapy session, dressed as a bright red devil, having just walked away from an important gig – and then, in flashback, we encounter young Reginald Dwight (Matthew Illesley), strugglng to obtain affection from his distant parents, Sheila (Bryce Dallas Howard) and Stanley (Steven Mackintosh), establishing a distance between them that will haunt him for the rest of his life. Reginald learns he has an aptitude for playing the piano and an ability to effortlessly pick up any tune he hears. Pretty soon, he is older Reg (Kit Connor) and, in the space of one breathless fairground dance routine, he’s grown up to be Taron Egerton. We follow his career: his meeting with kindred spirit, Bernie Taupin (Jaimie Bell), his signing with hard-nosed business manager, Dick James (Stephen Graham), and his love affair with the cruelly manipulative John Reid (Richard Madden).

There’s his career making gig at LA’s Troubador Club and then all the manic excesses of rock hedonism are unleashed – alcoholism, drug and sex addiction, bulimia, that disastrous attempt at marriage… you name it, it’s all encompassed in a series of inventively staged scenes, backed by a seemingly endless collection of solid gold songs. Ironic then, that the film’s most effective moment has Elton belting out a cover version of The Who’s Pinball Wizard, while his piano spins giddily around and he goes through a whole collection of iconic costume transformations.

This film doesn’t attempt to cover EJ’s entire career, ending after his long spell in rehab and his triumphant return with I’m Still Standing, but it’s endlessly entertaining and doesn’t drag for a moment, not even through the inevitable nods to redemption at its conclusion. I am properly engaged from start to finish. Oh, and importantly – I think –  that’s actually Taron Egerton singing all the songs, uncannily nailing EJ’s distinctive phrasing, without it ever feeling like an impersonation.

With so many reasons to go and see it, Rocketman is in serious danger of giving the rock biopic a good name. And Dexter Fletcher is now clearly the go-to man for musicians with a story to tell.

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney

TWA

24/05/19

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

TWA is a quietly compelling piece of work, a collaboration between the loquacious writer, Annie George, and the silent artist, Flore Gardner. While Gardner mutely adds red line-drawings to the edges of a vast white canvas, George weaves together two disparate tales: Philomela’s mythology of violence and retribution, and a contemporary story of love and loss. Cruelty, we see, has many forms, but so do revenge and power – and there’s more than one way to find your voice.

George is a persuasive storyteller, combining diffidence with a calm authority. She engages without seeming to do very much, just telling her tales, drawing us in. The presence of Gardner, back turned, illuminated by the doodle-style animations constructed and deconstructed as the stories unfold, is at times unsettling, at others reassuring. She’s a comfort to George, brings her wine and clears up after her, but she’s also forceful, confronting us with the graphic imagery of her drawings. We cannot turn away.

The starkness of the red and white colour palette works well here: it’s a simple idea, but so unremitting in its application that it cannot be ignored. Indeed, the whole piece is built on simplicity, duality and juxtaposition – and therein lies its strength.

TWA is undoubtedly unusual: an ambitious, intelligent production that exerts a strange hold over its audience.

Susan Singfield

4 stars

 

The Duchess (of Malfi)

21/05/19

Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

As we take our seats in the Lyceum, we’re aware of an almost palpable air of expectation. After all, this is John Webster’s most infamous play and it’s a dead certainty that, by curtain down, the pale grey set is going to be liberally splattered with Kensington Gore. I’m expecting a wild ride, and I’m glad to note that, in this adaptation by Zinnie Harris, the feel is definitely sprightly – and I’m grateful for the huge illuminated titles, that introduce all the main characters as they enter, making it very easy to keep track of the ensuing mayhem.

When we first meet The Duchess (Kirsty Stuart), she is attempting to sing, her voice faltering at first but rapidly growing in confidence, until she is rudely interrupted by the arrival of her manipulative brothers, Ferdinand (Angus Miller) and The Cardinal (George Costigan). We quickly learn that The Duchess is a young widow, newly liberated from a loveless marriage. She is young, she has money and she’s ready to express herself in a male-dominated world. Her brothers, on the other hand, want her to make a suitable marriage, to somebody rich and respectable, in order to enhance her (and their) status. However, she is in love with her humble young secretary, Antonio (Graham McKay-Bruce), and – all too aware that her brothers will not approve of the union – she marries him in secret, aided by her maid, Cariola (Fletcher Mather). All is well and good until The Duchess falls pregnant with twins; when her brothers learn of the deception via their carefully planted spy, Bosola (Adam Best), their desire for revenge has no limits…

This is beautifully staged and cleverly directed. Stuart is a delight in the title role and I particularly relish George Costigan as the oleaginous Cardinal, outwardly devout and sanctimonious, yet happy to quote the scriptures even when performing the most depraved of acts on his unfortunate mistress, Julia (Leah Walker). The play’s first half positively scampers along, and – dutifully reinforced with a glass of something alcoholic – we return for act two, where carnage promptly ensues.

I mean it in the nicest possible way when I say it works in spite of the hokey material – and largely by virtue of the fact that the bloodshed is played as the darkest of comedies, the rapidly rising body count coaxing laughter from the audience rather than silent dread. This is, I think, the only way to play it in these unshockable times, a sort of Comedy of Terrors. It’s left to hired hand Bosola to salvage something from the chaos he has engineered on behalf of his wicked employers, and it’s his redemption that lies at the very heart of this rollicking revenge tragedy.

It’s all here. Romance, comedy and lashings of Type O. How can you resist?

4.7 stars

Philip Caveney

Lost At Sea

20/05/19

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Morna Young’s seafaring play is a searing, tempestuous examination of fishing communities in the Northeast of Scotland. From the heydays of the 1980s, when the money was rolling in, to the more elitist issues of the early 2000s, when only a select few were still living it large, we are shown the strengths and divisions within these close-knit neighbourhoods and the cruel toll the sea exacts on them.

Journalist Shona (Sophia McLean) returns to the fishing village she left when she was just a child. She is looking for answers: her father, Jock (Ali Craig), died, lost at sea, and she needs to find out more, to know what happened on that fateful day. But the locals close ranks on her: they’ve lost too many; suffered too much; accepted the Faustian exchange that keeps them all in work.

Young’s own father was lost at sea, and this piece blends fiction with that reality. There are verbatim voices – telling of the fishermen’s arduous days at sea and their families’ agonising waits on land – interwoven with constructed dialogue; the authentic details of a fishing life and a fictional account of one woman’s family. It’s a powerful mixture.

There are politics here too: the cameradie and team spirit of the 1980s gives way to a far more cynical individualism and – by 2012 – the community is bitterly divided. Shona’s Uncle Kevin (Andy Clark) has taken advantage of the UK’s strange decision to enable its fishermen to sell their EU quotas to the highest bidder, often to foreign investors. (No other EU country allowed this – for obvious reasons.) In Kevin’s case, it means he’s safe, no longer endangering his life at sea, just staying home and waiting for the money to pour in. But, as Skipper (Tam Dean Burn) reminds him, this means that those around him are risking their lives for an ever diminishing slice of the pie. What price community?

This could be a heavy, sombre tale, but Ian Brown’s nimble direction ensures that it is fleet of foot, as restless as the sea itself. The ensemble work is precise and light, the movement (by Jim Manganello) evoking rolling waves, and turbulent emotions. The spare set (designed by Karen Tennent) lends the piece a stark brutality, with restless projections of a dark and ominous sea.

If we don’t quite get the cathartic thrill of a dramatic climax, we do at least get a thought-provoking piece of theatre, straddling introspection and social commentary. It’s not exactly an easy watch, but it’s certainly most worthwhile.

4 stars

Susan Singfield

 

The Lookout by Gardener’s Cottage

19/05/19

Calton Hill, Edinburgh

We often visit Calton Hill; prowling the city is one of our greatest joys. In the three years we’ve lived here, we’ve watched with interest as the scaffold-clad City Observatory has been restored, and the new-build restaurant – sister to the highly-regarded Gardener’s Cottage – has taken shape. Naturally, now that the site has been revealed in all its glory, we’re eager to sample what promises to be excellent fare.

We persuade some friends to join us for Sunday lunch; they arrive before us, and we’re pleased to see they’ve secured a window seat. To be fair, most of the seats fit that description: it’s a small, square room and two whole walls are made of glass. Its cantilever construction means that the restaurant juts out over the edge, and the views across the Firth of Forth are stunning.

We have to wait a while before we’re brought menus; the manager explains that this is because the chef has made some last minute changes, so they’re being reprinted. We’re not in a hurry so it doesn’t really matter, but we appreciate the complementary glasses of Prosecco we’re offered to compensate. A plate of sourdough bread is also very welcome, especially as it’s accompanied by whipped herb butter.

When the menus do arrive, we briefly consider the five-course tasting option before deciding instead on a three-course à la carte. We order red wine by the glass (it’s early), and are happy with the rich tones of the French grenache we choose.

For his starter, Philip has the rabbit with wild garlic and mushrooms. The meat is intensely flavoured, and the accompaniments light and refreshing. I have the egg yolk raviolo with Tunworth and burnt leek. This is a technical delight: the pasta thin and delicate, the yolk creamy, the cheese sauce robust and full-flavoured. The ‘potato hay’ on top provides some welcome crunch.

For my main, I have venison with hispi cabbage, apple and fennel and a side of salt-baked root vegetables. The meat is soft and tender, and the accompanying flavours subtly complement it. Philip’s skate with razor clam, asparagus velouté and sea veg is beautifully presented and well-cooked, the flesh falling cleanly from the bone. The clam lends the dish a salty tang.

My pudding is rhubarb, rosemary and yesterday’s bread. It’s delicious: a dainty, elegant way to finish a meal, even if ‘yesterday’s bread’ is hard to discern (it’s in the ice cream, apparently). Philip’s salted caramel, clotted cream and chocolate is rather less impressive, the only mis-step on our menu. It’s pleasant enough but it doesn’t taste of very much other than a general creamy sweetness.

There’s a bit of an issue when we come to pay, when the simple transposition of two numbers means we’re overcharged by a whopping £108! Still, this is easily and speedily resolved, and we leave sated and content. This is clever and intricate food, well worth the walk to the top of the hill.

4.2 stars

Susan Singfield