Month: August 2019

Crawl

29/08/19

There’s something refreshingly straightforward and unapologetic about Crawl. This isn’t a film that comes loaded with subtext or, indeed, any kind of ‘message.’ It is essentially a creature-feature, the story of two people desparately trying to avoid being eaten by alligators. Director Alexandre Aja keeps the narrative to a lean, mean one-hour-twenty-seven minutes, during which time he racks up the suspense to almost unbearable levels. You want jump scares? There are plenty of them here, timed with enough precision to make you jolt in your seat. You want creepy oppressive atmosphere? That’s here too, in abundance.

Hayley Keller (Kaya Scoledario) is a competive swimmer, who, since her parents’ divorce, has become somewhat estranged from her father (and former trainer), Dave (Barry Pepper). However, when a hurricane wreaks havoc on the stretch of Florida coastline where he lives and he repeatedly fails to answer his phone, Hayley is concerned enough to drive over to the family homestead to check on him.

Big mistake. Dave, it turns out, is trapped in the cellar, having been chomped on by a big ‘gator. To add to his woes, the water levels are rapidly rising, giving more ‘gators easy access to the house. Once down in the cellar with her stricken father, Hayley realises that, if they don’t get out of there fast, they’ll both be goners. But escaping turns out to be a whole lot more complicated than she could ever have imagined.

Having quickly set up the scenario, screenwriters Michael and Shawn Rasmussen proceed to put Hayley and Dave (and by default, the audience) through the wringer. Okay, so maybe there’s one attack too many here and some of the hair-raising escapes will prompt the occasional raised eyebrow – particularly when the few other featured characters are made such short work of – but this is largely successful, and the result is sufficiently entertaining to hold my attention to the final frame. A word of warning though. If injury details make you nauseous, this might not be the film for you.

Oh, and one other thing. Any ambitions I might have had to pay a visit to Florida have now been put on hold. Just saying.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

 

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Hail Satan?

28/08/19

Members of The Satanic Temple (TST) call themselves Satanists, but they don’t worship the devil. Instead, they deploy his iconography to rile America’s right-wing Christians, and to protest the creeping coalescence  of church and state. Led by Harvard graduate Lucien Greaves, they believe in goodwill, benevolence, open-mindedness and free expression. They support LGBT+ rights, and embark on charitable missions: litter-picking, giving dry socks to homeless people, donating tampons and sanitary towels to women’s shelters.

Penny Lane’s documentary is a wry, amusing exposé of this underground religion/political movement, and its impact on the easily outraged. TST’s creed is strictly non-violent, which repeatedly wrong-foots their targets, whose expectations are based on hysterical horror-movie imagery. Angry politicians don’t know quite how to denounce these gentle, mild-mannered ‘Satanists’ with their reasonable demands and humanitarian goals. It’s hilarious to watch.

There are some serious points being made. One TST adherent recalls being rebuked by his Catholic church for playing Dungeons and Dragons and listening to heavy metal. But, as he points out, while he was just a kid listening to music and playing games, real evil was being carried out by priests, and covered up by those in charge. The fingers were pointing in the wrong direction.

It’s a fascinating watch, told with engaging lightness and a sense of frivolity, but actually showing how provocation can be an effective form of activism. Fundamentalist Christianity can’t be allowed to dictate laws, and TST are determined to prevent them from doing so.

4 stars

Susan Singfield

Edfest Bouquets 2019

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It’s that time again when we award (virtual) bouquets to the best shows we saw at this year’s EdFringe. From a plethora of performances over three weeks, here are our highlights. Congratulations to all concerned.

Theatre

Endless Second – Theo Toksvig-Stewart/Madeleine Gray/Camilla Gurtler/ Cut the Cord

Who Cares? – Jessica Temple/Lizzie Mounter/Luke Grant/ Matt Woodhead/ LUNG & The Lowry

Shine – Olivier Leclair/Tiia-Mari Mäkinen/Hippana Theatre & From Start to Finnish

Ripped – Alex Gwyther/Max Lindsay/Robin Rayner Productions

On The Other Hand, We’re Happy – Toyin Omari-Kinch/Charlotte Bate/Charlotte O’Leary/Daf James/Stef O’Driscoll/Paines Plough & Theatr Clwyd

Comedy

Jo Caulfield: Voodoo Doll – The Stand Comedy Club

Daliso Chaponda: Blah Blah Blacklist – CKP and InterTalent Group

Showstopper! the Improvised Musical – The Showstoppers/Something for the Weekend

Fishbowl – SIT Productions with Le Fils Du Grand Réseau

Beep Boop – Richard Saudek/Crowded Outlet

Special Mentions

Chris Dugdale – Down To One – Chris Dugdale Int Ents

Sexy Lamp – Katie Arnstein/Victoria Gagliano

 

Philip Caveney & Susan Singfield

How To Use a Washing Machine

26/08/19

Zoo Southside, Edinburgh

And so here it is: our final show of Edfringe 2019. And for Bouquets and Brickbats, it’s Slam Theatre’s latest production. We really don’t know what to expect from this, but the presence of a string quartet on stage is promising. How To Use a Washing Machine is a new musical, and, as it turns out, a fairly unusual one.

It’s the story of James (Max Cadman) and Cass (Amelye Moulton), two disaffected siblings called back to the home they grew up in because their parents are going through a marriage breakup. They are required to help put things in order, to sort through the detritus of their childhoods, so they can decide what to keep and what to dump. Max is a successful banker, who has sacrificed his youthful dreams of being a dancer to make a repectable living. Cass hasn’t quite given up on her artistic ambitions and is leading a rather less comfortable existence in a rundown flat in London. The two have respective axes to grind. They have fallen out in the past, but neither of them is quite prepared to take the blame for the rift.

There’s much about this production that I like: the urgent, strident rhythms of the music by Joe Davis, the acerbic lyrics by Georgie Botham, and the performances of the two young leads are also top notch. Narratively though, the story feels a little one-note. After a powerful opening section, which depicts the siblings’ travails as they travel to the  parental home during adverse weather conditions, the middle stretch feels as though it needs to progress a little more than it actually does. It seems to take Max and Cassie an age to settle their differences.

Furthermore, though we’re told that the warring parents are somewhere else in the house, arguing with each other, there really isn’t much sense of their presence in this production. I want to have a better picture of them.

The piece regains its momentum in the final third, and goes out on a rousing note, with a reprise of the memorable opening song. How To Use a Washing Machine makes a unusual culmination to Edfringe 2019 and, ultimately, that’s what this festival is all about.

Anyhow, it’s been emotional – and now we need to get some sleep.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

Flo & Joan: Before the Screaming Starts

25/08/19

Assembly George Square Gardens (Piccolo), Edinburgh

Our penultimate Edinburgh show is chosen simply by virtue of its convenenient time slot, rather than for the act itself. The truth is, I know very little of Flo and Joan’s work, other than the quirky advertisements for the Nationwide that first brought them to wider attention. They are clearly having a very good Fringe. The Piccolo tent is completely sold out and, when comedy luminaries like Hannah Gadsby and Alan Davies are sitting in the audience, it’s evident they’re doing something right.

Flo and Joan (real names Nicola and Rosie Dempsy) are an eccentric sister-act who specialise in amusing songs about everyday experiences – waiting for a parcel delivery, for instance, is something we’re all much too familiar with, but they manage to take the song into unexpected, fantastical realms. They have a sharper edge too. The song addressed to anti-vaxxers doesn’t take any prisoners.

There’s something very endearing about this duo. I love the silent, accusatory stares they direct at a few hapless latecomers. ‘The show loses momentum when we talk,’ says Flo. It doesn’t, but I feel almost contractually obliged to say it does, after their references to what other critics have said about them. Actually, I enjoy their deadpan patter.

The theme of this (if there is one) is siblings who sing together. The Osmonds, The Bee Gees, Bros, etc. That title, of course, is a reference to the recent so-bad-it’s-good  documentary about the Brothers Goss. But really, this is just a series of amusing ditties, skilfully played and nicely sung; when the sister’s harmonise, it’s clear that their voices were made for each other. If I were to make a comparison with any other comedian, it would be with the late great Victoria Wood. Flo and Joan seem to share her delicious sense of the ridiculous, her flair for amusing one liners.

At any rate, this is their last night in Edinburgh, so if you’re planning to catch them, it will have to be somewhere else. Wherever you encounter them, you’re likely to enjoy the experience.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

 

Happy Hour

25/08/19

Pleasance Dome (Queen Dome), Edinburgh

Aldo (Silvia Gallerano) and Kerfulle (Stefano Cenci) are two children, living in an unspecified future world. Initially, they present as ordinary kids, full of enthusiasm for whimsical things, both of them vying for the attention of their parents.  Kerfulle longs to be a footballer – or at least, for once, to be allowed to play for his team, instead of sitting on the benches, derided for his shortcomings. Aldo wants to be a dancer, to be adored for her abilities to move gracefully around a stage, but the ‘auditions’ she attends are unsual to say the very least…

As the story progresses, a darker subtext emerges. The world in which these two live is a twisted, nightmarish version of the one we’re familiar with – and every bit of adversity that the duo face has to be greeted with a cheerful gleefulness, a willingness to meet it head on and embrace it. After all, this is Happy Hour!

Christian Ceresoli’s play offers a challenging depiction of a dystopian society in entropy. The imagery evoked here recalls scenes from the holocaust, the rallies of fascism, the irresistible rise of the far right, all set to a bouncy disco beat. This is a challenging piece in every sense of the word, because the meaning of any given scene isn’t immediately apparent: it needs to be pondered, dissected and above all else, discussed. Both Gallerano and Cenci offer powerful performances, catching the nuances of these weird children with great skill, simultaneously eliciting both our affection and revulsion.

This won’t be for everyone; indeed, those looking to finish off their Fringe on a lighter note should not be fooled by that deceptive title. But it’s undoubtedly a fascinating slice of contemporary theatre.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

How to be Brave

24/08/19

Roundabout at Summerhall, Edinburgh

Katie (Laura Dalgliesh) isn’t in a good place. She’s moved back in with her mum, because she needs help looking after her littl’un. She’s clearly on a downward spiral, relying on her routine to keep her focused and on track. But today is different; today is difficult and new. Today she has to take the littl’un to the hospital, for heart surgery. Today Katie is scared.

And Katie doesn’t cope too well with fear.

Siân Owen’s one-woman play follows single-mum Katie as she flees a situation she can’t face, dashing impulsively out of the house and onto the streets of Newport, ricocheting from one panicked moment to the next. As she darts around the town she grew up in, she gets lost in childhood memories, the past and the present blurring into an incoherent howl.

It’s very funny. Dalgliesh’s energetic portrayal of a woman on the edge incorporates laugh-out-loud sequences, the breathless pace taking us along for the ride: we’re on that stolen BMX with her; the dread humiliation of her past failures fills us with shame as well. Katie is having a breakdown; we’re cringing even as we giggle. But still, it’s a positive piece, the kindness of strangers and, indeed, old enemies, a warming reminder that most people are actually pretty nice.

Catherine Paskell’s direction is spot-on, the small circular stage inventively utilised. Dalgliesh frequently darts towards the exits, seeking an escape, but she’s hemmed in (and supported) by the audience, hemmed in (and supported) by Newport and her past.

But will confronting her demons be enough to help her ‘find her brave’?

There’s only one more showing of Dirty Protest Theatre’s sparky Welsh play here in Edinburgh, but North Wales readers, take note. It’s coming to Theatr Clwyd at the start of September, and is well worth the trip to Mold.

4.1 stars

Susan Singfield