Author: bobthebiker

Rhys James: Snitch

17/08/19

Pleasance Courtyard (Above), Edinburgh

One thing’s for sure: Rhys James is technically very good. There’s a full house tonight, and he has the audience in the palm of his hand. He’s confident, delivering his act at breakneck pace, never missing a beat. Structurally it’s masterful: the laughs keep coming, the callbacks are well-timed, and every – seemingly unrelated – strand is gathered together in a bravura finale.

And some of it is marvellous. I love the stuff about our peculiar atttitudes to serial killers – and the eerily accurate Tom Allen impression that accompanies it. There are some sharp observations about renting a flat, and the faux-advert-poetry is very droll indeed.

But, when the delivery is this impressive, it’s disappointing that some of the material is so mundane: lots of Peter Kay-style ‘do you remember that?’ material, and a long routine about bathing, which doesn’t really take us anywhere.

Maybe it doesn’t matter: certainly, tonight’s audience is roaring with laughter – and I’m joining in too. He’s funny. It’s just that I prefer my comedy a little more challenging, and James clearly has the ability to create something more memorable.

3.9 stars

Susan Singfield

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Wil Greenway: The Ocean After All

17/08/19

Underbelly Bristo Square (Dexter), Edinburgh

There are certain artists you see at the Fringe, who seem to define it so totally that the thought of not seeing them the following year is somehow unthinkable. Wil Greenway is just such an artist. Not only is he arguably the nicest chap you’d ever hope to meet (and a man with a constantly changing beard), he’s also kind of unique. Not exactly a comedian, not quite a storyteller, he inhabits a world somewhere in between these two disciplines.

The Ocean After All is another of his delightful shaggy-dog tales, a simple story about a man who drives off a jetty, lands in a boat and drifts across the ocean until he finally finds himself marooned on a tiny island with nothing but seagulls and bananas for company – except, of course, it’s not about that at all. His stories feel like richly embroidered tapestries, where what’s described in those lyrical, sumptuous lines of his aren’t necessarily what meets the eye. Somehow, he always manages to pull together the various strands of his narrative and tie them up in a gloriously satisfying bow.

This year, he’s without his familiar onstage musician Will Galloway, who always seems to be such an integral part of his act. Kathryn Langshaw is still there with some atmospheric recorded music, but I have to admit, I miss the duo’s live contribution. Nevertheless, this is a delightful and engaging performance, and the two friends we bring along with us to see Wil for the first time are suitably enchanted. I feel almost jealous of them, remembering back to 2016 and The Way the City Ate the Stars, my own introduction to the charms of this Australian dreamweaver.

I write nice things about Greenway every year in the certain knowledge that he’ll remain oblivious to them. He told me, the first time we spoke, that he never reads his reviews. But, if you’re reading this, do yourself a favour. Grab a ticket for one of Wil Greenway’s last few shows before he heads back to Oz.

You won’t regret it.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney 

Richard Herring: RHLSTP

17/08/19

The Stand’s New Town Theatre (Grand Hall), Edinburgh

Let’s face it, it’s a pretty poor Fringe without some Richard Herring in it. His was the first show I saw on my first ever visit to the Fringe (Christ On a Bike; The Second Coming) and I’ve been a firm fan ever since. Okay, so this year, he hasn’t brought a new comedy show to Edinburgh, but he is doing daily recordings for his podcast, RHLSTP – and, as luck would have it, he’s talking to one of B&B’s friends, Malawian comedian, Daliso Chaponda. Win win.

RHLSTP is a regular thing in our lives these days, and it’s fascinating to watch a recording and know that we’ll be listening back to it on our phones in a day or so. The New Town Theatre is rammed today. (The last act we caught here? Er… Jeremy Corbyn.) It’s a Saturday and, come to think of it, we’ve never seen the Fringe quite as busy as it is right now. The streets are so bustling, it’s hard even getting to the venue.

A somewhat slimmer Richard Herring resides on an ornate wooden throne, fitting for the self-styled ‘King of the Fringe.’ First up is comedian Sunil Patel, a charming and laid back chap, whose show, White Knight (he says he regrets that title), is showing daily at 2.30pm at the Pleasance Courtyard (Bunker). He looks somewhat nonplussed by his Emergency Question. What would it take to persuade him to fellate the actor Keith Allen? Hmm. Answer: A trip to Japan. Okay.

But its Daliso we’re really here to see, particularly after catching his fascinating and challenging show Blah Blah Blacklist at The Teviot Wine Bar (6.30pm daily). Here’s a link to our earlier review:  https://bouquetsbrickbatsreviews.com/2019/08/14/daliso-chaponda-blah-blah-blacklist/

As RHLSTP is a podcast featuring interviews with (mostly) comedians, there are different interviewees every day, so be sure to check the schedule carefully before booking. Daliso makes a perfect match for Richard’s easygoing interviewing technique, delving into his influences and, I’m sure, winning over a lot of new fans in the process. His best Emergency Question? What artefact from any museum would he like to keep? Daliso chooses the Liverpool Museum of Slavery and opts for…  a Ku Klux Klan uniform. Unexpected, to say the very least. To find out why, you’ll have to listen when the podcast…

So, go catch RHLSTP. You’ll have a whale of a time. And it’s funnier than Mr Corbyn.

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney

Jammy Dodgers

17/08/19

theSpace on the Mile, Edinburgh

Jammy Dodgers is a prime example of a student play: the sort of chorally spoken, minimally-propped, sentence-sharing ensemble work that you only ever really see in drama exams – or at the Fringe. This is not to denigrate it. I love this style of theatre: it requires precision and focus and a well-drilled team.

Performed by members of the UCL Drama Society, the story is simple, with an Animal Farm-style message about how humans – always, inevitably – fuck up. We’re in an all-too-imaginable dystopian near future: the world’s population has exploded and the housing crisis has escalated to monstrous proportions. But salvation may be at hand, as another planet has been colonised, and volunteers are required to people this brave new world.

Writer/director Amy Tickner offers a host of reasons individuals may choose to leave all they know behind: they’re either running to, she says, powered by idealism, or they’re running from, driven by the belief that it’s worth the risk, unlikely to be worse than the life they’re living now.

Young optimist Si (Will Bennett) fits firmly into the former camp. He’s nervous but excited, hopeful that this new society won’t replicate the same mistakes. Aleece (Zsuzsa Magyar), on the other hand, is cynical. She trusts no one, not even Si, not even after he lets her eat his smuggled jammy dodgers. She rolls her eyes at The System’s rules, but doesn’t join The People’s protests. She remains an outsider, her vision unclouded by dreams.

I like the direction of this piece, with its staccato scene changes and stylised movement. The synchronised, robotically sing-song speech of the two women representing The System (Ishaa Mane and Jade Armstrong) is chilling, and the ensemble (James Armitage, Klara Grapci-Germizaj, Suzy Palmer, Alice Popadopoulou and Kathryn Ravey) create a convincing populace for the new colony.

It’s a pessimistic piece,  for sure – but pessimism is, sadly, an apt response to our times.

4 stars

Susan Singfield

 

Blinded By the Light

16/8/19

Javed (Viveik Kalra) is a Pakistani teenager living in Luton in the 1980s. Struggling under the leash of his dictatorial father, Malik (Kulvinda Ghir), Javed harbours a longheld desire to be a writer. But, assailed on an almost daily basis by the racist taunts of brutal skinheads and the depravations of the Thatcher government, he realises his first need is to get a decent education and then get the hell out of there.

On his first day at sixth-form college, he meets up with Roops (Aaron Phagura), a Sikh teenager, who – like Javed – is always plugged in to his Walkman. When Javed asks what he’s listening to, Roops lends him a couple of Bruce Springsteen cassesttes. ‘You can thank me later,’ he says. Javed is of course, doubtful. Springsteen? That’s dad-rock, isn’t it? But when he finally does listen, the first track he hears is Born to Run – and he has something of an epiphany. Springsteen seems to be singing about Javed’s life, about a kid on the edge who dreams of escape. And pretty soon, Javed is seeing the Boss as something like his spirit guide. Perhaps there really is a brighter future waiting for him. But then Malik loses his job and all bets are off.

Gurinder Chadha’s film is an eminently likeable affair, based on Sarfraz Manzoor’s autobiographical book, Greetings From Bury Park. Javed is a charming hero and there are plenty of scenes here to keep audiences entertained – though it definately helps to be Springsteen-literate. The film’s at its best when protagonists are joyfully interracting with the music – a frantic chase around the streets of Luton to the strains of Thunder Road is a standout and I also love the scenes where the Boss’s lyrics are projected onto the landscape as Javed strides determinedly through a storm.

The film’s uneven though, and the hostility between Javed and his father feels a little over-familiar. Furthermore, I’m not sure I quite buy the adoring English teacher, Miss Clay (Hayley Atwell), who enters Javed’s composition for a prestigious award without running it by him first. At one-hour-fifty-seven minutes, the film is overstuffed – it  could lose twenty minutes of running time without sacrificing anything in the way of storyline.

That said, this is an entertaining tale and it is nice to relive those early Springsteen tracks in all their glory. I also worshipped at the Boss’s altar back in the day.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

Tokyo Rose

16/08/19

Underbelly Cowgate (Iron Belly), Edinburgh

This lively, 40s themed musical tells the true story of Iva Toguri d’Aquino. Never heard of her? Well, hers is an intriguing story.

Of Japanese descent, Iva was born and raised in California but, in 1941, was asked by her mother to go to Japan to  help her ailing aunt recover from illness. While Iva was there, Pearl Harbour was attacked and America and Japan were suddenly at war with each other. She tried to leave the country but, because the State Department had failed to arrange a passport for her visit, she was prevented from returning to her homeland. Pressured to renounce her American citizenship, she refused.

Against her will, Iva was recruited by The Zero Hour, a radio programme designed to demoralise the American troops that tuned in to listen to it – though the show’s director, Major Charles Cousins, could only persuade her to join by insisting that he had cunning methods to ensure that no anti-American propaganda would ever go out. Iva’s contributions were minimal (she did occasional broadcasts calling herself Little Orphan Anne) but, in 1949, when the war ended, she returned to America, only to find herself accused of treason, identified as the mythical Tokyo Rose.

The story is told through song and movement and it’s beautifully put together, Hannah Benson’s direction ensuring that it moves smoothly from scene to scene using a few well chosen props. Maya Britto is adorable as Iva, her expressions registering her helpless astonishment as her defence crumbles beneath the racially-motivated slurs of the prosecution. Lucy Park, Yuki Sutton, Cara Baldwin and Hannah Benson play a host of supporting roles, flitting effortlessly from character to character – and because this is a complicated tale, the large captioning screen at the side of the stage is helpful even for those of us without a hearing impairment. If I have a nitpick, I’d like to see dialogue spoken rather than sung, just to offer something in the way of contrast – but it’s not a deal-breaker.

Playing to a packed house and sending audiences out on a high, Tokyo Rose is a delight. It also illuminates a fascinating (and little known) story from the Second World War.

Grab a ticket if you can, and strap yourselves in for a bumpy ride.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Sugar

15/08/19

Sweet Novotel (Novotel 2), Edinburgh

Sugar tells the tale of flatmates Steph (Kate Wilson) and Rhona (Ellie Squires), fed up with their dead-end jobs and dead-end lives. They’d just like to be able to pay the bills without borrowing from Rhona’s boyfriend, Mark (Matthew Ogden), again. When they realise – via Steph’s listless trawling of Tinder – that there are men who will pay quite handsomely for a pair of… used tights… they set aside their qualms, nylon up and set up a small business. Surely nothing can go wrong?

The script, wittily penned by Catrin Evans, is Sugar‘s greatest strength. It’s a quirky, original idea, and the writing is sprightly and lively. There are plenty of laugh-out-loud funny lines, but also some serious points being made – about poorly paid jobs, for example, and the fact that even full-time workers can’t pay their modest bills. I would like a bit more detail about their workplace, though: they are dressed as if they work in retail, but their talk of HR, etc. makes it sound more like they are based in an office. It’s a small thing, but I find myself wondering about it, which is somewhat distracting.

The direction by Evans and Robbie Crow is generally good, allowing dynamic movement in a tiny space, although I do find myself a little irritated by the pointless exits and entrances, where characters leave the stage, only to return five seconds later to exactly the same position. A simple lighting change would be far more effective here, and would look less clumsy.

Although funny and engaging throughout, the acting is a little uneven, with some of the cast playing up the humour to the detriment of credible characterisation. Squires stands out, convincing even when Rhona’s behaviour is utterly ridiculous.

This, though, is partly what the Fringe is for: giving creatives the space to try out new ideas. And this one, I think, has (nylon covered) legs.

3 stars

Susan Singfield