Author: Bouquets & Brickbats

The Plough at Lupton

19/09/21

Cow Brow, Carnforth

We’ve been in Manchester for a joyful occasion – my daughter’s wedding, thanks for asking – and we’re all too aware that, after our enthusiastic celebrations of the previous night, we’ll be somewhat delicate and in poor shape for the long drive back to Edinburgh. So it seems eminently sensible to break up the journey with a relaxing stopover somewhere in the Lake District. We put out an enquiry on the Elis James and John Robins Podcast Devotee Facebook group and The Plough, just an hour’s drive out of Media City, is heartily recommended to us.

Which is why, the following morning, we find ourselves heading off the M6 in search of the place.

It’s ridiculously easy to find and turns out to be a charmingly rustic establishment, nestled invitingly amidst the greenery. Our suite – The Torsin – turns out to be positively palatial with a bathroom big enough to house the entire room where we’ve spent the previous night (The Holiday Inn, Salford Quays, whose idea of luxury is a couple of sachets of Nescafe and an ironing board). At The Plough, there’s a proper espresso machine, and the massive bathroom contains a shower, a freestanding bath and a pair of wash basins. There are cotton bathrobes, comfortable sofas and a level of design that both pleases the eye and offers supreme comfort. (Maybe I’m not mad about the dining table mounted on a bronze horse’s head, but it really is my only niggle.) What’s more, here, a fabulous breakfast is included in the price, whereas, at the Holiday Inn, mediocrity is an extra eleven pounds a head. There are even some delightful country walks beginning just a few steps from The Plough’s front door. I’m already regretting that we didn’t book in for longer.

Ah, but what of the food?

There’s many a charming location that’s let down by the standards of its cuisine – but not so here. After a couple of bracing aperitifs in the beer garden, we wander into the dining room and order our evening meals. We both go for fishy starters. There’s a splendid prawn salad served on crunchy toasted sourdough and a crab, avocado and tomato creation that’s zesty and mouthwatering. It’s a promising start.

It’s a Sunday, so we’re in the mood for a roast dinner and we both opt for the lamb. I have a few misgivings about missing out on the huge Yorkshire puddings I spot on somebody else’s table, but it turns out that they aren’t reserved just for the beefeaters in the room. The lamb is suitably succulent, the selection of vegetables nicely al dente and there’s even an accompanying bowl of cauliflower cheese. The portions, though generous, are just enough to allow me to finish everything on the plate.

We take a wee break and share a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc and then, purely because we feel no place can be properly judged unless a pudding is sampled, we eventually order a sharing fondue, with doughnuts, a selection of fruits, some marshmallows and a delectable chocolate dipping sauce. We make short work of it and it provides a satisfying ending to an enjoyable meal.

So, those in need of a luxurious break in the Lake District, should look no further than The Plough. I really can’t recommend it highly enough.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Charlie and Stan

17/09/21

The Lowry, Salford Quays

Told by an Idiot’s Charlie and Stan is a charmingly whimsical piece, a musing on what might have happened when Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel first met – as cabin-mates on a steamer bound for New York, both members of Fred Karno’s music hall troupe. Fittingly, it’s a largely silent piece of theatre, reliant on mime, music and physical comedy.

The performances are as peppy as you’d expect from Told by an Idiot, and it’s a fascinating premise. There is lots of potential for silly jokes and tomfoolery, which writer/director Paul Hunter enables his ensemble cast to utilise to full advantage. The choreography (by Nuna Sandy) is sharp, and the movement (courtesy of Jos Houben) is precise, as it needs to be in a piece like this. Danielle Bird’s Chaplin is glorious, all verve and spirit, while Jerone Marsh-Reid’s Laurel personifies sweetness and likability. The piano and drum accompaniment (Sara Alexander and Nick Haverson) works well too, and I like how it’s incorporated into the action.

I am also impressed by Ioana Curelea’s set: the wonky ship’s interior and hanging bunk beds contribute to the sense of impermanence and making do.

There’s so much to admire here, and yet – for me – it doesn’t quite come off. I think it’s to do with the tech. I need lighting that directs my eye; some of the physical jokes don’t land because I don’t know where I’m supposed to be looking, and simple sound effects to underscore some of the more obscure punchlines would also be helpful. Without these guides, I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the business of the stage, and I miss a lot in the mayhem.

I’m also unconvinced by the flashback and flash forward sequences. The former – depicting Chaplin’s troubled childhood – seems tonally wrong. It’s a weighty topic, but it’s depicted in exactly the same way as the rest of the piece; I feel it needs to be markedly different. The latter just seems grafted on: Haverson’s portrayal of Oliver Hardy is uncannily accurate, but the scene doesn’t fit with the rest of the story.

So, for me, this is a bit of a mixed bag. A nice idea, a pleasant way to spend an evening, and some undeniably strong performances but, in the end, a little disappointing.

3.4 stars

Susan SIngfield

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings

14/09/21

Cineworld, Edinburgh

I’m somewhat late to this but the word is that Shang-Chi has been one of cinema’s biggest hitters – though the three other people in the audience for my showing doesn’t exactly suggest that Cineworld is being overrun.

This film is an important addition to the Marvel Universe in the same way that Black Panther was – and those like me, who are old enough to remember the impact made by the original Bruce Lee films, will understand how important it is that American Asians have their own superhero to root for. So here he is, played by the extremely likeable Simu Liu as ‘Shaun,’ an unassuming lad working in a valet at a hotel in San Francisco, parking the cars of rich customers, ably assisted by his best friend Katy (Awkwafina).

But Shaun has a secret. He isn’t quite as unassuming as he appears. He is, in fact, Shang Chi, the son of the ruthless – and immortal- Xu Wenwu (Tony Chiu-Wai Leung), the possessor of ten mystical golden rings that give him the power of a thousand men, enabling him to vanquish entire armies single-handedly. Always a useful thing. But when Shaun is attacked by a bunch of armed warriors on a bus, who have been sent by Xu to steal the fancy green amulet that Shaun has worn since he was a little boy, he begins to realise that his toxic dad is seeking to renew their acquaintance – and that Shaun’s sister, Xialing (Meng’er Zhang), is probably going to be drawn into his father’s orbit too. It’s time to stop pretending and step up to face the consequences.

The film opens well (once we’re past a rather po-faced introduction) and the aforementioned bus punch-up is nicely done, with Awkwafina providing some much-needed comic relief as the put-upon-friend in a difficult situation, but it isn’t very long before Shaun and Katy are off on a mission to the mystical village of Ta Lo, where an ancient community lives surrounded by mystical creatures and a helpful water dragon. They also meet Trevor Slattery (Ben Kingsley), a former actor, who can somehow talk to mystical creatures. (Again, file this one in the comic relief section.)

From this point, the story seems to ramp up the pomposity, as Xu Wenwu, who believes he’s being summoned by his late wife, arrives with an army of warriors in tow, intent on setting free an ancient evil dragon who has been locked away in some forbidden cavern… and a massive cosmic punch-up dutifully ensues.

I have to say that, in the film’s latter stages, it loses me somewhat. The stodgy, leaden feel of the story makes two hours seem like three and I feel sorry for the wonderful Michelle Yeoh, who is saddled with a ‘wise auntie’ role and is therefore required to say something profound every time she opens her mouth. While it’s clear that much money has been lavished on the CGI budget and it’s certainly a handsome film, but the final dragon-on-dragon conflict just seems cumbersome and goes on and on, until I’m reduced to checking my watch at regular intervals.

A final coda, with Benedict Wong summoning Shaun and Katy into the extended Marvel Universe, doesn’t feel remotely enticing and I’m unlikely to watch whatever comes next.

In the end, Shang Chi‘s main failing is that it can’t seem to make up its mind what it wants to be. As a kung fu kick- about, it works well enough, but director Destin Daniel Cretton seems intent on making it more than that, overburdening the film with meaning in order to cover all the bases and – for my money at least – he doesn’t really succeed.

3.4 stars

Philip Caveney

Candyman

05/09/21

Cineworld

Horror remakes can be decidedly tricky customers. Like those endless Halloween sequels, for instance, they can turn out to be pale retreads of a brilliant original. I have good memories of Bernard Rose’s 1992 Candyman, which was so much more than just another creepy slasher movie. That said, I’m also uncomfortably aware it had its own slew of inferior sequels, so I’m not exactly filled with anticipation at the prospect of Candyman 2021. But, with Jordan Peele attached as producer, I’m hopeful that this new offering from director Nia DaCosta might have something different to offer.

It’s clear from the get-go that this is intended to be more than just a straightforward reboot. For one thing, the opening credits (even the Universal logo) are reversed left to right, as though reflected in a mirror – a delightful reference to the film’s central premise – and then the startlingly stylistic cinematography takes a grip on my senses, aided and abetted by delightful shadow-puppet sequences, depicting the history of the film’s infamous urban legend. There’s also a powerful ‘black lives matter’ subtext running through this version. Some critics have derided it, claiming that it is hammered home a little too forcefully, but I disagree. The message is an important one and it’s clearly stated. It adds to, rather than reduces, the power of the story. And that has to be a good thing, right?

Twenty-seven years after the events of the first film, visual artist Anthony McCoy (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II) is living in a swish high-rise apartment in the area of Chicago that borders the old Cabrini Green housing project where the original Candyman strutted his grisly stuff. This part of the city has been gentrified over the years and now, Anthony and his art-dealer partner, Brianna (Teyonah Parris), spend their time sipping expensive wine and attending flashy art exhibitions. But Anthony has lost his painting mojo. It’s been some time since he came up with anything new.

When Brianna’s younger brother, Troy (Nathan Stewart-Jarrett), tells him about an old urban legend, Anthony is interested enough to wander into Cabrini Green with a camera, looking for inspiration. It’s there that he meets William Burke (Colman Domingo), who tells him more about the story of the Candyman. And it’s there too that Anthony is stung by a bee and begins to experience some startling reactions to the venom…

Cinematographer John Guleserian creates a world where everything seems inverted. The sinister glass towers of Anthony’s home are depicted upside down as though plunging into sinister depths, rather than reaching for the sky. Much of the ensuing action is glimpsed via reflections in mirrored surfaces – and one sequence where an art critic is murdered in her high rise apartment, filmed in a distanced silent long shot actually makes me gasp. I have been made to feel like a helpless observer. The film doesn’t shy away from its slasher roots either. There are some genuinely wince-inducing murders and a couple of instances of extreme body horror that almost have me looking away from the screen. But the violence, though savage, never feels salacious – and DaCosta has the canny knack of knowing exactly when to cut away from the action.

Ultimately, this feels like a palpable win, a film that treats the original with reverence but also manages to develop the story in coherent and inventive ways. The stylish art direction adds a dazzling sheen to the whole enterprise. There’s also a wonderful joke in here that provides, once and for all, the definitive answer to an age old question: ‘Why do people in horror movies go wandering down staircases into dark and gloomy cellars?’ I won’t reveal what happens but, in the midst of all the dread, it actually makes me laugh out loud.

There will always be reboots of popular horror movies and many of them won’t be worth the price of admission. But this one, I feel, is a cut above.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

Our Ladies

04/09/21

Cineworld, Edinburgh

Our Ladies is a joyous film, both raucous romp and celebration. It’s a coming-of-age tale, centring on six teenage girls, caught on the cusp between childhood and adulthood. It’s 1996 and they’re straining at the leash during their final few weeks at Our Lady of Perpetual Succour Catholic School in the Scottish Highlands. Fort William is a beautiful town, but it is very remote, and the girls are desperate for new experiences. So, when Sister Condron (Kate Dickie) organises a trip to Edinburgh, they’re eager to go. Okay, so they’ll have to participate in a choir competition, but so what? There will be a few sublime hours in the afternoon when they can do whatever they want: go shopping, go dancing, get pissed, get laid.

Finnoula (Abigail Lawrie), Chell (Rona Morison), Kylah (Marli Sui), Orla (Tallulah Greive) and Manda (Sally Messham) are the cool girls, the natural inhabitants of the coach’s back seat, with vodka in their Coke bottles and cigarettes in their bags. They’re on a mission to take Edinburgh by storm. Finnoula has her own agenda: she wants to experiment a little away from the confines of home, while Kylah has a list of obscure CDs she needs to buy. Chell’s just along for the giggles, and Manda doesn’t care what happens, as long as she’s with Finnoula. Leukaemia survivor Orla has the most specific aims: she wants to buy some thigh high boots and have sex, so that she can stop being the only virgin in the crowd. One thing’s for sure, none of them wants anything to do with straight-laced doctor’s daughter Kay (Eve Austin), with her Head Girl badge and shiny, mapped-out future.

What I like about Michael Caton-Jones’s film (based on Alan Warner’s novel, The Sopranos) is the gloriously realistic and non-judgmental way the teenage girls’ sexuality is portrayed. They’re horny as hell: they’ve all had sex with local hearthrob Dickie Dickinson (Alex Hope), and rumours of sailors coming ashore send them rushing to the town’s one nightclub, on the lookout for fresh meat. On the coach, they flash their bras at passing drivers and hold up signs saying, ‘Shag Me.’ I’ve read reviews that see this as problematic in a post-MeToo world, but I just can’t agree. The girls’ overt sexuality isn’t the problem; the issue is the way some adult men exploit it. And that’s shown here, clearly.

There are only a few false notes. Orla’s light BDSM fantasy doesn’t quite ring true, and I’m never really sure why she’s wearing a headscarf over a perfectly lovely pixie cut. She’s had chemotherapy, but her hair has grown back, and it’s beautifully styled, so the moment of revelation when she removes the scarf to show her new boyfriend, Stephen (Martin Quinn), doesn’t make any sense.

That aside, this is a great little movie. Denis Crossan’s cinematography perfectly captures the majesty of both Edinburgh and Fort William (Loch Linnhe’s singular charm is particularly breathtaking). There is, however, one abiding mystery: how did they manage to film the Edinburgh sequences at the end of my road without me even noticing?

The young cast are wonderful, vivacious and wild, and I’m caught up in their seize-the-day revelling, with its undercurrent of self-knowledge, that this might – for some of them – be as good as it ever gets.

4.1 stars

Susan Singfield

Annette

03/09/21

Cineworld Edinburgh

Director Leos Carax has a reputation for the unusual. Anyone who witnessed Holy Motors (2012) will testify that he loves to embrace the absurd. So Annette would seem like a good fit for him. This surreal rock opera, created by Ron and Russel Mael of Sparks – who themselves are suddenly enjoying some time in the sun after a long sojourn in the ‘whatever happened to?’ file – gives Carax free rein to unleash his bonkers world-view. There are some gorgeous visuals in here, strong performances and several scenes that feel genuinely unique. How ironic then, that what ultimately lets the film down is the songs.

There’s a really upbeat start to proceedings as the cast and crew parade through the streets singing about how excited they are to get this show started. And then it begins…

This is the story of Henry McHenry (Adam Driver), a ‘provocative’ stand up comedian who seems to love insulting the poor saps who buy tickets to see his shows. If it’s supposed to be funny, well, it isn’t working for me, but perhaps that’s the point. Henry is in the throes of a passionate love affair with world famous opera singer, Ann Desfranoux (Marion Cotillard), to whom he sings even when they are in the midst of sexual intercourse. Not wanting to be left out, she joins in with him.

But when Henry’s ‘comedy’ career suddenly hits the rocks and Ann’s operatic trajectory continues to soar, in true A Star in Born fashion, Henry becomes ever more Machiavellian in his attempts to bring her down, even after she’s given birth to their daughter, the titular Annette. The child is unusual to say the very least and not just because she appears to be made of wood.

It would perhaps be unfair to give away much more of the plot, but suffice to say that what starts out as very strange becomes increasingly bizarre. So there’s plenty here to keep a viewer entertained.

Which brings me back to the aforementioned songs, too many of which seem to consist of characters singing the same six words over and over again in a minor key. After a while it begins to feel like a particularly irritating ring tone. It also makes me think that the bum-numbing running time of two hours and twenty minutes could easily have been reduced by a good forty minutes, if the Maels had done a bit of judicious trimming.

It’s also doubly bewildering when a final duet between McHenry and his daughter is the film’s undoubted musical highlight, but by that time it feels too late in the day to save it. A shout out is due to the astonishing Devyn McDowell, who kind of steals the film in its closing moments. I think she’ll be a huge star in the future.

Driver also deserves full credit for playing it straight and giving his role total commitment. Cotillard – somewhat underused for reasons that soon become clear – at least gets to sing some classic arias with great skill. (And yes, she does perform them herself.) But the current plethora of four and five star reviews for Annette seem wildly overstated. And much as I enjoyed Edgar Wright’s documentary about Ron and Russell, this is not their finest moment. I fully expected to love this, but in the end, I’m somewhat disappointed by it.

3.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Wahaca

01/09/21

South St Andrew Street, Edinburgh

We’re slowly getting used to the loosening of Covid restrictions, but it’s tricky, navigating our way through a world that is, still, much riskier than ‘normal.’ We’re desperate to enjoy ourselves, but a little nervous too. We’re deliberately choosing quiet times when we venture out (Wednesday is the new Saturday, right?), and at least Scotland’s approach is more measured than England’s “let’s pretend it’s all over” free-for-all. Thankfully, Wahaca is the perfect place for the Covid-cautious: it’s big, airy and spotlessly clean, with lots of space between groups and perspex screens separating the tables. Phew!

We start with a freebie from the ‘summer specials’ – a cricket salsa served with tortilla chips. It sets the tone: this is going to be fun. The chips are fresh and well-seasoned, and the salsa tastes great, although I’ve no idea what part of the flavour combo is the insect’s doing. Philip orders a bottle of Corona, and I opt for a glass of a Picpoul de Pinet. Both arrive quickly, and we’re soon sipping contentedly.

We’ve decided in advance to try the ‘favourites’ set menu, because we’ve never been here before and want to sample a range of what’s on offer. It’s £42 for the two of us, which is, let’s be honest, great value. It consists of seven small dishes, and each one is, I’m pleased to say, delicious.

The Trealy Farm chorizo quesadillas arrive first, and they’re sumptuous, filled with crushed potatoes and a generous portion of cheese as well as the titular chorizo, the crisply baked tortilla providing a welcome crunch.

The next three dishes arrive at once: crispy cauliflower bites with lime and a roast jalapeno allioli, Devon crab tostadas and buttermilk chicken tacos. I’m quite fussy about deep-fried food; I tend to avoid it usually, because I don’t like it at all if it’s greasy, and can tell immediately if the oil’s not been hot enough. But the cauliflower bites are done just right, and so’s the chicken, so it’s a pleasure to eat them both. The cauliflower in particular is very more-ish. My favourite, though, is the crab; it’s so fresh and absolutely bursting with flavour. It zings. I love it.

The final three dishes arrive, along with a second round of drinks. There are pork pibil tacos, which Philip loves, but which are a bit too rich for me, although I like the intensity of the flavour. I prefer the grilled halloumi ‘Al Pastor’ tacos, which are vibrant and a little lighter on the palate. The chipotle lime slaw is crunchy and ‘clean’ and flavoursome; it’s good.

It’s all good. And, of course, we were never going to leave without sharing a portion of churros with a dulche de leche caramel sauce. It’s sheer indulgence. Oh my.

So, all in all, we’re delighted with the way our Wednesday’s turned out. We’ve put off visiting Wahaca because, you know, it’s a chain, and chains offer bland, uninteresting food, don’t they? But tonight’s dinner proves that Wagamama isn’t the only exception to that rule.

4.2 stars

Susan Singfield

Edfest Bouquets 2021

Once again, it’s time to award our virtual black bouquets to the best performances we saw at this year’s Edinburgh Festival. But of course, it has been a year unlike any other. We were relieved and delighted to see the return of the Fringe, but nobody could ever claim that it was fully back. This was a shadow of its former self.

Still, that said, having fewer shows to choose from did mean that the smaller productions attracted bigger audiences than they might usually hope for – and there was something wonderful about seeing a modest student show pulling in sell-out crowds.

And we did see some brilliant stuff.

So, without further ado, we present our choice of the best shows we saw at Edfest 2021.

THEATRE

Screen 9

Piccolo Theatre’s powerful and compelling slice of verbatim drama was based on the testimonies of four survivors of the 2012 The Dark Knight Rises cinema shooting. Stark and immersive, it was ‘an enervating and thought-provoking theatrical experience, not to be missed.’

Shook

Twisted Corner’s production of Samuel Bailey’s affecting play was handled with aplomb by director, Rebecca Morgan and featured memorable performances as three young offenders attempted to get to grips with parenting classes. ‘Powerful and yet humbling – a fascinating examination of masculinity and fatherhood.’

Wish List

Katherine Soper’s play detailed the travails of a young woman, trying to care for her housebound older brother whilst also attempting to earn a wage by packing goods in an Amazon warehouse. This engaging four-hander, performed by actors from Edinburgh Napier University, showed ‘the extraordinary resilience of everyday people.’

Myra’s Story

Fionna Hewitt-Twamley’s knockout performance in Brian Foster’s engaging monologue made this one of the festival’s biggest hits, playing to sellout audiences. It was wonderful too to see that it had partnered with two Edinburgh homelessness charities. Twamley delivered her heartbreaking tale ‘with wit and aplomb.’

COMEDY

Skank

Clementine Bogg-Hargrove’s wry look at millennial life, based on her own experiences, was charming and off-beat. Though it was mostly very, VERY funny, it had some tender moments too. Cleverly directed by Hargroves and Zoey Barnes, this was an excellent example of ‘art doing what art is meant to do.’

Myra Dubois: Dead Funny

No Fringe is complete without a decent drag act and Myra Dubois was exactly what was required. Providing the oration for her own funeral (why not?), the Yorkshire Diva interacted (or more accurately, picked on) people who sat too near the stage and the result was ‘silly and audacious, eliciting helpless laughter.’

The Importance of Being… Earnest?

Director Simon Paris offered us a radical interpretation of the classic Oscar Wilde play, where certain members of the cast (including Ernest) were missing and members of the audience cajoled into taking their place. ‘Roistering, good-natured stuff, fast, frenetic and farcical. A truly interactive experience.’

SPECIAL MENTIONS

On Your Bike

This sprightly musical from Cambridge University’s Musical Theatre Society, written by Joe Venable and Ben James, was all about food delivery riders for… ahem… Eatseroo. All the right ingredients were in evidence. ‘Fabulous voices, upbeat zesty songs, humour and tenderness.’

Cameron Cook: It All

There’s always room on the Fringe for a true eccentric, and Cameron Cook was a perfect example. While it’s hard to define, this was a mesmerising piece, as Cook sang, danced, mimed and performed poetry, whilst inhabiting what seemed like a huge cast of characters. At times it felt like ‘the services of an exorcist might be required.’

Philip Caveney & Susan Singfield

The Nest

31/08/21

Cineworld

Commodities trader Rory O’ Hara (Jude Law) is an outwardly successful businessman. He is happily married to Allison (Carrie Coon), with whom he has two delightful children, his son, Ben (Charlie Shotwell), and stepdaughter, Sam (Oona Roche). The four of them dwell in a lovely home in New York and Allison is working successfully as a riding instructor. All things considered, Rory ought to be content with his life.

But something is bugging him, something he finds hard to deny. He wants…well, more – and he thinks he’s spotted a perfect chance to achieve it back in London, working for his former boss, Arthur (Michael Culkin). After all, it’s the 1980s, an era when any get-rich-quick scheme should be grabbed with both hands and dragged kicking and screaming into submission. This is an opportunity not to be missed!

Before any of his family can utter an objection, Rory has uprooted them and dragged them off to a mouldering mansion in the dark heart of Surrey. Yes, the place is virtually falling down around them, but Led Zeppelin once recorded an album here! Rory sets to work, purchasing a horse for Allison, building a stable for it and doing his utmost to push Arthur towards a lucrative contract with some America buyers he’s encountered. If it comes off, Rory will be rich beyond his wildest dreams. But what he’s clearly lost sight of is the happiness of his own family. Allison is struggling to tame that new horse. Ben is having trouble at the private school he’s been enrolled at. And Sam just feels as though she’s always having to settle for second best.

As Rory’s overpowering drive to be successful at any cost moves into top gear, the O’ Haras start to unravel, and there’s something about the house they’re living in that feels more and more unsettling…

The Nest demonstrates an unusual – perhaps unique – approach to its theme, utilising all the tropes of a contemporary horror movie and applying them to a story about a family in turmoil. The oppressive atmosphere and Richard Reed Parry’s creepy soundtrack continually hint at the possibility of something supernatural lurking in the woodwork, but it gradually becomes clear that the ravenous beast that haunts this home is Rory’s vaulting ambition – that constant yearning for success that he can no longer control.

Rory’s brief visit to his mother (played by the ever-dependable Anne Reid) goes some way to explain how he’s become the venal, boastful creature that he is, but it doesn’t really excuse him, when he can no longer seem to open his mouth without attempting to impress whoever is unfortunate enough to be listening. A horrified Allison witnesses his descent and begins to go off the rails herself.

Both Law and Coon offer superb performances here, capturing the rapid disintegration of the couple’s relationship. Writer/director Sean Durkin helms the piece with great control, gradually racking the tension up another notch as he steers his ship into tragedy. And as for those supernatural possibilities… well, there is one thing here that is never rationally explained – and it will play on your mind after you’ve left the cinema.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Myra’s Story

26/08/21

Palais du Variete, Assembly, George Square Gardens, Edinburgh

Myra’s Story is a compelling play, and Fíonna Hewitt-Twamley is perfectly cast, delivering the ninety-minute monologue with wit and aplomb.

Myra’s story is a commonplace tragedy: she’s an alcoholic on the streets of Dublin, drinking to numb herself, to mask her problems. But, in the words of John Irving (and, later, Voice of the Beehive), ‘sorrow floats’ – and Myra soon discovers that she can’t drown her emotions in vodka. Instead, her troubles multiply, and she finds herself homeless, stumbling from hostel to park bench and back again. She’s the woman on the street from whom we avert our collective gaze, but here, in Brian Foster’s play, we are forced to look. To listen. To learn about the person behind the bottle. To see that she is just like us.

Hewitt-Twamley’s performance is flawless; she has a particular gift for eliciting empathy, as well as for delivering an impressive range of other voices. Foster’s writing is strong, and the story matters (it’s wonderful to see that the production has two Edinburgh homelessness charities as partners, namely Social Bite and Steps to Hope).

There’s only one problem here, and it’s the venue.

This is an intimate but popular play, which always poses a conundrum: it’s difficult to find a space that can accommodate a large audience as well as allowing the personal, confidential nature of the material to shine. Some compromise is needed. However, the Palais du Variete is not a compromise: it’s just wrong. It’s a huge brash place, gorgeously mirrored and with a large bar area, perfect for a late night variety show, and utterly wrong for a lunchtime monologue. There’s a party-vibe that seems at odds with the play; this is surely a piece that demands our full attention, but most people are clearly out for a laugh, knocking back pints of beer or glasses of wine, and there are loads of latecomers, trooping past us again and again, obscuring our view. Then there’s the endless trips to the bar and the toilet, causing further disruption, so we keep missing little moments and nuances.

I’m also irritated, I have to admit, by the fact that there are is no mention (beyond a pre-recorded line that everyone talks over) of the fact that masks are still a legal requirement here in Scotland, and that – apart from when people are actually drinking – they should be worn throughout the performance. Almost every other Fringe venue (including other Assembly sites) has someone on the door politely reminding people, and the vast majority comply. Here, it’s ignored, and the audience take their cue from that. It doesn’t feel particularly safe.

So there’s a disconnect between the quality of the play and the quality of the experience. The star rating below is for an excellent script, delivered with consummate skill. But I won’t be going back to the Palais du Variete.

4.5 stars

Susan Singfield