Author: bobthebiker

Showmanship

18/08/18

C Royale, Edinburgh

In the American dust bowl of the 1930s, a travelling carnival is pluckily plying its trade, still managing to part the locals from what little money they have left. Myra Collins is their resident fortune teller, a woman who happily admits to having no supernatural gifts whatsoever, just an ability to look the part and say all the right things. Sure, it’s dishonest, but a woman’s got to make a living, right? It’s only Showmanship.

In this monologue, written and performed by Lucy Roslyn, Myra tells us how she came to be here – about her former life as a showgirl, about her vulnerable mother and the hard drinking man she became entangled with – and she explains how, even in the depths of the darkest depression the world has ever experienced, people are still willing to pay up front for a little shot of hope. And hope is what Myra offers them, dangling it just out of their reach, keeping them hooked so she can slowly reel them in.

Roslyn is a charismatic performer, giving Myra a sly, knowing demeanour and spitting out sarcastic lines that are often laugh-out-loud funny. Perhaps there’s not quite enough incident in her story to sustain the piece for a full hour, but I enjoy the performance and the atmosphere she creates – and I particularly love the clever ending, which sends the audience out in a state of wonderment.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

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Kit Finnie: Mabel & Mickey

18/08/18

Underbelly (Belly Dancer), Edinburgh

While not exactly what you’d call a crowdpleaser, there’s always room on the Fringe for a show like Mabel & Mickey, an ambitious and quirky look at a story from the early days of Hollywood. Mabel Normand was one of the greatest stars of the silent era and something of an innovator at a time when few women were able to make inroads in the film industry. Many would say that not much has changed since then…

In 1915, Normand produced, directed and starred in a very successful movie called Mickey, which she made for Mack Sennet’s studio, Keystone. But her career was subsequently tainted, both by her association with fellow actor Roscoe ‘Fatty’ Arbuckle and his infamous rape trial – and by her mysterious relationship with film director William Desmond Taylor. The latter was murdered in 1922, just after he’d announced that he was to marry another woman. Normand was one of the key suspects and, though she was eventually acquitted, her career never recovered.

In this inventive monologue, Kit Finnie plays Mabel, who, when we first encounter her, is being interviewed by the police about Desmond’s murder. She occasionally breaks the illusion to talk with her tech person, reverting to her own accent and pointing out that she’s forgotten certain lines or that she needs to try something again – this is jarring, but then, it’s clearly meant to be. There’s also some nifty use of an OHP (retro tech equipment seems to be one of the recurring tropes of this year’s Fringe) used in conjunction with simple paper cutouts. Finnie even offers us the occasional bit of  poetry, which keeps winging its way onto the stage in the form of paper aeroplanes. Oh yes, and there’s quite a lot about pigeons too.

This is esoteric stuff that demands concentration, mostly because Normand’s story has largely slipped into the mists of time. Interested parties should seek out Karina Longworth’s excellent podcast You Must Remember This, which devotes a whole episode to Mabel Normand and makes a useful companion piece to this show.

This is an interesting attempt to do something a little bit different and really, that’s exactly what the Edinburgh Fringe is for.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Six the Musical

16/08/18

Udderbelly, Edinburgh

The infamous purple cow is rammed to capacity tonight and, as the performers walk on, the audience response is loud and enthusiastic. The cast of Six set about giving it all they’ve got and, from the first bars of the opening song, it’s clear that they have the crowd in the palms of their hands. Every Fringe seems to yield a runaway hit and this year, Six seems to be the hottest ticket around.

It’s always gratifying when a show this successful turns out to be so good – trust me, it isn’t always the case. Six is an inventive and exuberant pop-opera, which focuses on the wives of Henry VIII. As one character points out, we’ve only heard of them because they had the misfortune to marry the same man, so they are here to set a few things straight. We are throughly entertained by this show, but we are also informed at the same time, learning things about these women that we really didn’t know. Just think of it as at the most vibrant history lesson you’ve ever experienced and you’ve pretty much got the measure of it.

The six women are augmented by a superb four piece female band. Things kick off with an ensemble song that features a killer hook of a chorus and then, each of the wives in turn submits a solo piece, all of them vying to be voted ‘the best’ of the Queens. They are all exceptionally talented performers (far too good to single out a particular favourite) but, for the record, they are: Jameia Richard-Noel (Katherine of Aragon), Millie O’ Connell (Anne Boleyn), Natalie Paris (Jane Seymour), Alexia McIntosh (Anna of Cleves), Aimie Atkinson (Katherine Howard) and Maiya Quansah-Breed (Catherine Parr).

The excellent band powers effortlessly through a whole range of different musical styles, from straight pop to power ballad, from soul to Germanic disco. The songs, by Lucy Moss and Tony Marlowe, feature witty lyrics which relate the women’s experiences in modern day terms. There’s much talk of Snapchat and profile pictures (the latter painted by Hans Holbein, of course) and, by the time the performers hit their final crescendo, the entire crowd is clapping and stamping along in a frenzy.

I fully expect to see this expanded and transformed into a West End smash. (If it doesn’t happen, somebody’s missing a trick.) I just hope nobody spoils it by bringing in Henry himself. This is a staunchly feminist piece and should be allowed to remain so. And anyway, we all know for too much about the King.

For the time being, if you can buy, beg, borrow or steal a ticket for this wonderful show, then do so.

It really is that good.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

 

Ponyo

16/08/18

During the month of August when the Edinburgh Fringe is in full swing, we don’t have a lot of time to visit the cinema – but when we saw that Ponyo was showing at the Cameo Cinema, we had to make an exception. We’ve only recently started to discover the joys of Studio Ghibli and this is, quite appropriately, the one that got away. This quirky ‘boy meets fish’ story has so much to recommend it – gorgeous visuals, a powerful ecological theme and an almost overwhelming cuteness that’s never allowed to tip over into full-blown mawkishness.

Scientist/magician Fujimoto (rather disturbingly voiced, in this version, by Liam Neeson) lives deep beneath the sea in a Nautilus-like submersible, where he conducts a series of mystical experiments. When one of those experiments, a little red-headed fish, goes exploring, she is swept up by a dredger net and carried far away. She eventually gets washed ashore where she hooks up with a boy called Sosuke (Frankie Jonas) and, when she licks a drop of blood from his hand, a weird transformation occurs…

There’s something of the selkie myth to this tale, but as ever it’s shot through with that unique Hayao Miyazake world view. Odd though the story is, it’s an absolute joy to watch. The animation of the water itself is a particular delight, at times recalling Hokusai’s famous watercolours and, while this might not be quite up there with the likes of Howl’s Moving Castle or Princess Mononoke, it’s nonetheless a charming and spellbinding film.

If the opportunity occurs to see this – particularly on the big screen – don’t miss your chance.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

 

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

 

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