Comedy

No Such Thing As A Fish

24/03/19

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

We initially hummed and haahed about this one. A podcast? Live? Would that actually work? But of course, in the end, we were always going to go along to it, because NSTAAF is pretty much our favourite podcast. We have now listened to every available episode and what’s more, we sleep with these people almost every night.

(Ahem. Allow me to quantify that statement. When we settle down in bed each night, we have an episode running to lull us to sleep. If we nod off before we reach the end, we listen to the second half the following night, and so on). This is not to suggest that the show is soporific – anything but. It’s endlessly fascinating. But those four voices are now an integral part of our lives.

So here we are at the King’s Theatre and it’s clear from the get-go that a lot of other people like NSTAAF – the place is rammed. The show is divided into two sections. The first half has the team taking turns to deliver a presentation about potential ways in which the podcast might develop in the future. It’s good-natured if undemanding stuff, with James Harkin’s reimagined Shark Song the best of the bunch. (Little known fact: Harkin was working as an accountant in a Portakabin in Eccles when Dan and producer John Lloyd lured him to London to join the QI team.)

But of course, it’s the second half of the show that provides the main course – the recording of a live podcast with the team contributing their meticulously researched collection of weird facts. It’s great to have the opportunity to watch them at work. Obviously, the foursome have been doing this for quite a while now and it’s immediately apparent that what makes this work so well is that their four very disparate personalities slot seamlessly together to create the whole – so there’s Dan’s puppyish enthusiasm, Anna’s witty cynicism, Andy’s droll wisecracks and James’ uncanny ability to locate a pun in just about any material he’s offered. Put them together and it’s little wonder that the show has generated such a faithful following.

As we leave the theatre we spot them at a signing table, besieged by legions of ardent fans, clearly destined to be there for hours after the event. And later that night, what podcast do we choose to drift off to?

Take a wild guess.

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney

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Edfest Bouquets 2018

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It’s that exciting time of year again, when we award bouquets to the very best shows we’ve seen at this year’s Fringe. We’ve seen some amazing productions, and our final choices reflect a mixture of old favourites and new delights. Congratulations to all concerned.

Theatre

The Swell Mob – Flabbergast Theatre

Not in our Neighbourhood – Jamie McCaskill / Kali Kopae / Tikapa Productions

Velvet – Tom Ratcliffe / Andrew Twyman / @workTheatre

Are There More of You? – Alison Skilbeck / Hint of Lime Productions

The Basement Tapes – Stella Reid / Zanetti Productions

Big Aftermath of a Small Disclosure – Alice Malin / ATC

Gulliver Returns – Dan Coleman / Dawn State Theatre

Gutted – Sharon Byrne

 

Comedy

A Serious Play About World War II – Willis & Vere

Flies – Oliver Lansley/ Les Enfants Terribles / Pins and Needles

Beetlemania: Kafka for Kids – Tom Parry / Russel Bolam / Punchline

Either Side of Everything – Wil Greenway

 

Special Mentions

Six the Musical – Lucy Moss / Tony Marlowe

Stardust – Miguel Hernando Torres Umba / Blackboard Theatre

Up Close! – Chris Dugdale

 

Philip Caveney & Susan Singfield

 

 

Wil Greenway: Either Side of Everything

26/08/18

Underbelly Bristo Square, Edinburgh

Wil Greenway’s whimsical storytelling has been a Fringe highlight for us for the past few years, and his latest offering, Either Side of Everything, is just as beautifully crafted and delivered as his previous shows. Accompanied once again by folk musicians Kathryn Langshaw and Will Galloway, this is a gentle lullaby of a performance – but somehow it still manages to pack a punch.

The writing is lyrical and inventive; the delivery is charming. He’s such an appealing performer, all sparkling eyes and inclusivity, wrapping us up in his tales of love and loss. He lays his methods bare, shows us the mechanics: this is a metaphor; there will be four stories; you won’t understand how they connect until the end. We’re part of it – for an hour at least – our lives and his, this telling, this time. We’re all on the metaphorical boat together, not knowing where this fits in the narrative arcs of our own lives. But here, now, there is Greenway’s melodic prose, a gently strumming guitar, repeated refrains, and a surprising wealth of lol-moments.

There’s sadness in these accounts: dead dogs and grieving women, unspoken love and tender touch. But there’s humour too, and would-you-rathers, the silly stuff that keeps us all going. There’s real skill in the weaving of this show, and – somehow, as always – it leaves me with a profound sense of warmth and wellbeing. There is beauty in this world, even in the misery.

(I do miss his man-bun though. I don’t know why – but it’s true, I do.)

5 stars

Susan Singfield

 

A Work in Progress

20/08/18

Gilded Balloon, Rose Theatre, Edinburgh

It’s a good idea: if you’re a young actor and you’re not getting enough work, then why not write your own roles? And, if you’re really canny, why not go all meta, and write a play about a young actor who’s not getting enough work, and embarks on a mission to write her own roles?

And so A Work in Progress is born: Hannah Morton’s play about two friends, John and Jane, who – after a brief prelude, where we are shown the spirit-crushing nightmare of failing auditions – barricade themselves into John’s flat, determined not to leave until they’ve had their Ruth Jones/James Cordon epiphany, and penned a veritable hit.

Morton, who stars alongside director Daniel Cullen, is an engaging performer, and there are some genuine laugh out loud moments here, notably the Porpoises in Space routines, which are wonderfully daft. The playful bickering between the two is nicely drawn, and Cullen has an appealing cheekiness, which helps create the atmosphere.

It’s a shame that the script focuses so much on banter, I think; I know the relationship is central to the piece, but there’s so much badinage that it becomes a little repetitive. I’d have liked to have seen them trying harder to write their play, to have been shown more of their putative scripts – a range of genres, for example, would have made the piece more varied and interesting to watch. There’s a bit of corpsing too, which is a pity – although it can, of course, happen to anyone, and maybe today is a one off.

It’s good to see young creatives making their own opportunities, and this piece is certainly good fun.

3 stars

Susan Singfield

A Serious Play about World War II

19/08/118

Underbelly, Cowgate, Edinburgh

As you’ve probably already guessed, Willis & Vere’s A Serious Play about World War II is anything but serious. At the outset, however, it suggests that it fully intends to be. The play we are about to watch, we are gravely informed, is based on the life of Holocaust survivor, Hirshel Gunzberg. Not only that, he’s here tonight, sitting in the front row, an elderly bearded man in a yarmulke.

What follows is the theatrical equivalent of farting in a lift – wrong on so many levels. We watch a turgid attempt to portray Gunzberg’s youth, replete with slo-mo action sequences, inept racial stereotypes and lines of cringe-inducing dialogue, all interspersed with dramatic blackouts. It’s irreverently funny, and I find myself laughing out loud at incidents that really shouldn’t be suitable subjects for humour; I just can’t help myself. But I’m soon wondering how award-winning comics Adam Willis and George Vere are going to sustain this idea for a full hour.

The answer is, of course, that they don’t try. A sudden interruption from the audience (it seems that Mr Gunzberg is far from happy with the way he’s being depicted) sends the whole vehicle careering off the rails and into the realms of full-blown farce. As the two leads, and their hapless straight-faced sidekick, Ian Coulter, run around like headless chickens trying to defuse a desperate situation, incident piles upon incident, ramping up the potential disaster to almost unbearable levels. The sudden appearance of two police officers, sent to investigate ‘a disturbance,’ adds an extra layer to the mayhem. We are made complicit in the deception, repeatedly warned not to tell anyone what we’ve seen.

We are subsequently treated to a whole series of unexpected events: gunshot wounds, murder, dismemberment, nudity, super glue, handcuffs, power tools… it’s quite a list and, happily, no opportunity to up the stakes is left unplundered.

The result is one of the funniest shows I’ve seen at this year’s Fringe. A serious play? They’re ‘avin’ a larf. And so, I believe, will you.

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney

 

Nick Hall: Spencer

19/08/18

Underbelly, Bristo Square, Edinburgh

If anybody has heard  the name Spencer Perceval before, they are likely to know only one thing about him – that he has the dubious distinction of being the only British Prime Minister ever to have been murdered while in office. (Of course, there are several others we might like to see  murdered, but that’s an entirely different matter.) Interestingly, Perceval was not killed in a crime of passion or even as a result of great political upheaval. He was shot by a merchant who felt that the government owed him a sum money and decided to make his feelings known in no uncertain terms.

Stand up comedian Nick Hall is also a former history graduate and has decided that the world (or at least the Edinburgh Fringe) needs to know a bit more about the man who was affectionally dubbed ‘Little P’ because of his short stature. Perceval had wanted to be Prime Minister since childhood and, once in that position, did his level best to eradicate British involvement in slavery. Unfortunately, this made him very unpopular with those who were making vast amounts of money from it and might have accounted for the cheers of delight that were heard when his death was announced.

This is a gentle, whimsical show, that manages to inform and entertain in equal measure. Hall is an engaging host, full of witty one liners and wry observations. I particularly like his ‘time in reverse’ scenario, where many of history’s greatest tragedies are cleverly set to rights and turned into triumphs. Towards the end, he even does a kind of recap, just to make sure we’ve all been paying attention. Happily, we have. We pass the Perceval test.

I leave the Underbelly Clover room knowing  a lot more about the man than I did when I arrived – and having had a thoroughly good laugh into the bargain.

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