Comedy

Bravo Figaro

14/05/20

Go Faster Stripe and Traverse Theatre

Mark Thomas is always a delight to watch: standup, storyteller, activist – all of these terms can be applied to him and all seem to fit perfectly. We missed Bravo Figaro at last year’s festival, so this seems like a welcome addition to our lockdown entertainment options, streaming live on YouTube for just £5, with a percentage of ticket purchases going to the Traverse theatre.

Business is pretty much as usual here, as Thomas ambles onto a sparsely furnished stage and begins to unfold the story of his father, Colin, a hardworking family man, a builder by trade who, unusually for a working class chap, developed a fervent passion for opera. Thomas pulls no punches in his depiction of a man who was never slow in using his own fists when angered and who clearly ruled his wife and chidren with a rod of iron. But, when he was stricken by a rare form of degenerative illness, Colin became a shadow of the man he used to be – and his son had to look for ways in which he might remind his father of the things that used to motivate him.

This clever and moving story, draws a compelling narrative, interspersed with occasional recorded pieces featuring the voices of his parents in conversation.

It’s testament to Thomas’s considerable skill as a raconteur that he manages to flit effortlessly in and out of the various scenes, between genuinely funny observations and heartwrenching moments of realisation. Not everything here quite hits home as surely as it might, for example, a brief passage where he explains to the younger people in the audience what vinyl is seems like a misstep – they are the hipster generation, after all.

But that’s a minor quibble. This is a charming and perceptive piece, that provides an excellent way to fill an hour of lockdown. I look forward to seeing him again, preferrably in a packed theatre, with the laughter of others ringing around me.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

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

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

 

One Duck Down

23/08/19

Pleasance Courtyard (Above), Edinburgh

Festival-goers with young children to entertain will find plenty to enjoy in FacePlant Theatre’s One Duck Down. This lively family show is a charming mix of comedy and music, with an ecological theme.

Billy (Owen Jenkins) is a seventeen year old paperboy, who has lost his heart to the – clearly rather horrible – Cecilia Sourbottom (Alice Bounce). She keeps setting him Herculean tasks, telling him that only when he has achieved every one of them will she return his affection. His latest mission? To relocate the seven-thousand rubber ducks accidentally dropped into the ocean in 1992 (an event famously featured in David Attenborough’s Blue Planet television series).

Intent on proving his devotion, Billy sets off in a little boat, with only his unfailing optimism and a couple of sandwiches to get him through. En route, he encounters a rock’n’ roll-obsessed polar bear (Maxwell Tyler), a batallion of plastic-worshipping crabs, and a fearless bearded lady (Lydia Hourihan), who soon proves to be a worthier contender for Billy’s affection than the odious Cecilia.

It’s all done with good-natured zeal and bags of ingenuity: a myopic whale is somehow conjured out of a couple of sheets of painted cardboard; a host of skittering crabs are created using nothing more than pairs of red mittens. The costumes are garbage – quite literally; they’re made from throwaway items rescued from the trash. On the ecology front, however, it might have been preferable to concentrate less on recyling and cleaning up detritus and more on preventing the creation of waste in the first place, but this does get the idea across to even the youngest members of the audience that we all need to take drastic action if the planet is to be saved.

As the story romps amiably along, we’re treated to a selection of catchy songs, which soon have the audience joining in on the choruses – and those who enjoy groan-inducing puns will have an absolute field day here. My particular favourite? That famous seafaring novel, Moby Duck.

There are just a few days left to enjoy this, so gather up the kids and get on down to The Pleasance Courtyard, where the quest begins.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

 

 

Jo Caulfield: Voodoo Doll

20/08/19

The Stand Comedy Club (Stand 3), Edinburgh

We weren’t going to see Jo Caulfield this year. We always enjoy her shows, but we’ve reviewed her a few times already. We know her schtick; what can we say about her that we haven’t said before? But, two-and-a-bit weeks into the Fringe, we find ourselves yearning for some guaranteed laughs, for quality comedy without a message or a solemn life-lesson.

So we’re here. Again. And we’re delighted with our decision. Because Caulfield is positively crackling with ire, her trademark causticity dialled right up to eleven. Voodoo Doll is loosely based on the idea of Jo trying to purge her anger by writing a list of all the things that annoy her. It’s a long list. She’s outraged – and outrageous. From her ageing mum to her hapless husband; from couples on holiday to millennial bar-tenders: no one is safe from her scathing putdowns. (Although the joke, usually, is more about her impotent fury than the ostensible target.)

Some of her subjects might seem worn: men vs women; young people nowadays. But every gag lands; every punchline takes us unawares. Clichés stop being clichés when surprises are revealed. The laughs keep coming, one sucker-punch after another, Caulfield never afraid to test the audience’s boundaries, always at ease and in total command. The funniest Brexit gag I’ve ever heard is almost throwaway, delivered with a lightness of touch that stops the show from becoming serious or overtly political.

So do yourself a favour and see Voodoo Doll before the end of its Fringe run. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a funnier hour.

5 stars

Susan Singfield

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

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

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

Will Duggan: Class Two

14/08/19

Pleasance Courtyard (Bunker), Edinburgh

In the great gamble of the Edinburgh Fringe, location is all important. Comedian Will Duggan has somehow wound up in the unprepossessing Bunker, a grim sweatbox a short stroll from the Grand. Even in the current showery weather conditions, it feels disagreeably sticky, despite the presence of an air conditioning unit chugging gamely along on the sidelines. It doesn’t help that the guy on the door instructs us not to occupy the front row, which leaves Duggan with the discouraging prospect of a line of empty seats right in front of him. He gives it his best shot though, pitching himself as a perennial loser and getting the audience firmly on his side.

This is mostly about the poor decisions he’s made throughout his career. He always believed he was destined for greatness but now finds himself positioned in the middle ranks of the comedy circuit and wondering how he might take the next big step up. He tells us about the four (imaginary) childhood friends who guided him through the hard times and whom he hasn’t spoken to for twenty-five years. Perhaps they can help him make sense of it all.

Duggan is an affable chap with an engaging line of patter and a self-deprecating honesty. Today, he seems a little rushed, hurrying through his routine. I’d like to see him take his foot off the accelerator and cruise a little more, giving his one-liners more time to connect. I enjoy his story about learning sign language, but am rather less impressed when he reveals the reasoning behind it – and the sequence where he recreates his end-of-term school concert appearance might have been even funnier (and braver) if it were conducted in total silence.

Still, grim venue and lousy weather notwithstanding, Duggan is a comedian we’ll try to catch again the future – hopefully in a more agreeable setting.

3.4 stars

Philip Caveney