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The Empire Podcast

19/09/19

Cameo Cinema, Edinburgh

Can we review a podcast? Well, we reviewed No Such Thing As a Fish, didn’t we? And, nobody complained about that. Besides, me and Empire, we have some history…

The first issue of Empire came out in July 1989 and I purchased a copy. It wasn’t a particularly auspicious month to launch a movie magazine. The featured film was, if memory serves correctly, Great Balls of Fire starring Dennis Quaid and Winona Ryder. This isn’t a film that lingers long in the memory, nor one that’s likely to feature in The Criterion Collection, but nonetheless, I liked what I read in the magazine and, being the absolute obsessive that I am, I’ve purchased every single copy published since then. I’ve been reading it for more than thirty years, Indeed, anyone who possesses a copy of  issue 100 will find a picture of yours truly, grinning like an idiot, dressed in my grey Empire T-shirt (which I still own) and proudly showing off my collection of one hundred pristine magazines.

Somewhere back down the years (probably around the time when a copy started taking a bit less than three hours to download), I switched to a digital edition and I now read Empire from cover-to-cover on my iPad. The podcast, a relatively recent development, is something I listen to on my daily visits to the gym. Consequently, I know things about these people. I know, for instance, that Chris Hewitt’s greatest shame is giving a 5 star review to Attack of the Clones

So imagine my delight when I hear that the regular team of Chris (resident clown-prince), Helen O’ Hara (resident sage), James Dyer (resident grumpy-git) and Terri White (resident snappy dresser and editor-in-chief) are coming to Edinburgh – and, moreover, that they will be hosting their podcast at our beloved Cameo Cinema, less than a ten minute stroll from Caveney-Singfield Towers. Are we going to buy tickets? Are bears Catholics? Does the pope shit in the woods?

And sure enough, here we are. The Cameo is completely sold out, Chris is performing his rendition of Call Me By Your Name (as requested by yours truly via Twitter) and Scottish actor Jack Lowden is explaining why his greatest ambition is to play a character a foot shorter than his actual height. I even get to ask the team a question (“Which film would you nominate as the biggest ‘Emperor’s New Clothes’ contender of recent years?”). Chris goes for Suspiria (agreed!), Terri chooses Once Upon a Time in Hollywood (agreed!), Helen opts for La La Land (Susan definitely agrees!) and James chooses… The Shape of Water (really don’t agree, but I did warn you he can be a curmudgeon).

Afterwards, there’s time to score a Bangily Bang! T-shirt and get a photograph with the team in the bar. And I reflect that podcasts really are weird things because, when you hear those familiar voices over and over, you start to feel that you are friends with these people, that you know them intimately – and, of course you don’t, and surely never will.

But I enjoyed their visit to Edinburgh and I’m already looking forward to getting on the old crosstrainer and listening back to that recording…

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney

 

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Chris Dugdale: Down To One

04/08/19

Assembly Rooms, (Drawing Room), Edinburgh

What is the mysterious hold that Chris Dugdale has over us? We first saw him back in 2015, where we awarded his show maximum stars and one of our first Edinburgh Bouquets. We’ve been back for more every year since. Are we simply suffering from an acute case of FOMO? Or did he somehow manage to hypnotise us?

Whatever the case, here we are again in the front row of Down To One, watching in slack-jawed amazement as he runs an enthusiastic crowd through his latest set of bewildering, bamboozling and downright heart-stopping magic. The evening is regularly punctuated with gasps of astonishment and bursts of applause.

This year is mostly about numbers and predictions. Seemingly impossible feats of mathematics and memory are thrown out with consummate ease. An audience member, chosen by a series of random events, suddenly appears to be able to speak foreign languages without breaking a sweat. There’s close up card trickery, the magician’s hands shown live on a giant screen behind him, so we’ve every opportunity to spot that cunnng sleight of hand… but, of course we don’t, because this is so faultlessly executed it’s little wonder that Chris is banned from playing in many casinos in America. His generous offer to meet members of the audience for a hand of poker afterwards go unanswered.

Look, when it comes to superlatives, we’ve pretty much used them all up when talking about Mr Dugdale. All I can say is, if you’re a lover of magic shows (and there are plenty of them on the Fringe this year), this is the one you really mustn’t miss. Get in early and watch his hands very carefully.

And I’m thinking, this year we might be slightly less generous with those stars… maybe we’ll just give him… ah, no. Can’t do it.

Looks like we really are under his spell.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

 

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

The Spotty Bag Shop

17/02/19

Old Market Place, Banff

We’re in Aberdeenshire for the weekend because Philip’s visiting a school here tomorrow. We’re staying in a beautiful converted barn in Fordyce: it’s luxuriously appointed and has a stunning view of the coast. But although Fordyce is undoubtedly a lovely place – all winding streets and historic buildings, it’s tiny, and we saw it all yesterday. So today, we decide, we’ll head into Banff, and investigate what the seaside town has to offer.

A quick Google search informs us that there’s an aquarium in nearby Macduff, so we go there first and, after we’ve enjoyed the sea life, the helpful young receptionist answers our request for ‘somewhere good for lunch’ with four words we’re really not expecting to hear. “The Spotty Bag Shop,” he says.

“The…?” I trail off. “For lunch?”

He smiles. “Yes, the Spotty Bag Shop.”

This oddly named restaurant turns out to be based in a large, if unprepossessing building, tucked away behind the Co-op. Downstairs it’s all logs and pet food and outdoor pursuits equipment. If you want a Regatta fleece or a dog bed, this is certainly the place to come. But lunch? But then, we spot a staircase and when we follow it up, we find ourselves in a large dining area. It’s packed, and there’s quite a queue too. We’re handed a pager and advised to ‘have a look around the shop’ while we wait. This oddly named venue is certainly popular!

The service is brisk and friendly, and the menu pleasing – if a little predictable. There’s a Sunday roast on offer, but neither of us is in the mood for that. Instead, Philip opts for haddock and chips, and I have a quiche with salad and baked potato.

Look, this isn’t fancy food. The chips are frozen, and the sauce comes in sachets. But the fish is perfectly cooked – all soft flakes of flesh encased in hot, crispy batter, while the homemade quiche is also very flavoursome. The portions are large: perhaps too large, because not even I can face a pudding after this. Which is a shame, because the sweet treats in the display cabinet look really good, especially the scones and the millionaire’s brownie. I suspect that pastry may be this cafe’s real strength.

If you’re in Banff and you fancy a bite to eat, the Spotty Bag Shop will fulfil your needs. It’s a friendly, pleasant place, with a bustling atmosphere.

3.6 stars

Susan Singfield

Cyrano de Bergerac

13/10/18

Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

Since its debut in 1897, Edmond Rostand’s most celebrated play has seen many reboots, reimaginings and reinterpretations – perhaps most unusually in Steve Martin’s 1980s movie, Roxanne, which pitched the American comedian as the head of a fire station, opposite cinematic newcomer Darryl Hannah – and of course, many will remember a more traditional movie version of the tale starring a never-better Gerard Depardieu.

This co-production with The National Theatre of Scotland and Glasgow’s Citizens Theatre, directed by Dominic Hill, is a revival of Edwin Morgan’s 1992 translation, which envisions Rostand’s celebrated hero as a Glaswegian, complete with unflinchingly authentic dialect. Why? Well, Morgan felt the character of swashbuckling soldier-poet Cyrano was perfectly suited for such a transformation, and who am I to argue with him? Ihave to confess though, that it takes me a little while to adjust to this particular aspect. Despite living in Scotland for over two years, some of Brian Ferguson’s earlier utterances in the leading role are initially hard for me to decipher, something that isn’t helped by the huge false nose he’s obliged to wear. However, as I gradually adjust to that undiluted accent, so I begin to warm to the character and there’s no denying that Ferguson’s performance here is a veritable tour de force, as Cyrano jokes, swaggers and bellows his way through the proceedings, barely offstage for more than a few moments at a time. One can only wonder if his voice will hold up to such a battering.

Of course, the central premise of this story is one of unrequited love. Cyrano is madly in love with his cousin, Roxane (Jessica Hardwick), but she has eyes only for the handsome Christian (Scott Mackie), the new recruit to Cyrano’s regiment. She begs Cyrano to help her win the newcomer’s heart. So besotted is Cyrano that he is powerless to resist her entreaties and so pledges to do his level best to help her achieve her aims. Christian, of course, is a plain speaking sort of fellow, so Cyrano uses his poet’s intellect to open a series of heartfelt letters to Roxane, passing off his own devotion as Christian’s. The deceit works like a charm, but of course, tragedy is always waiting in the wings to throw a well-timed spanner into the works.

This rumbustious production has much to recommend it, not least the spectacular set designs of Tom Piper and Pam Hogg’s eye-catching costumes, which combine traditional elements with an irreverent dash of punk rock. There are live musicians onstage throughout the proceedings, that infamous ‘nose-insults’ routine is delivered into a microphone in standup style and there’s a beautifully executed sword fight to help to keep the action flowing.

But there’s no denying that this is a long play, a full three hours in the telling – and, with most of the most memorable scenes occurring in the first half, it feels as though a little judicious editing in the second would make this feel a wee bit more fleet-footed. See this for Ferguson’s barnstorming performance and for those audacious costume designs. And whatever you do, don’t mention the size of Cyrano’s nose. He’s touchy about that kind of thing.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

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

 

 

Chris Dugdale: Up Close!

26/08/18

Assembly Rooms, George Street, Edinburgh

The three week blitz that is the Edinburgh Fringe is finally, tragically, coming to a close. On George Street, workers are already taking down the helter skelter and dismantling the outdoor bars. We can’t help feeling a twinge of sadness. For us, this is the busiest time of year, but also the most exciting. In all likelihood, the next show we see will be the last one of Edfringe 2018.

With this in mind, we’re not taking any chances. We want to be sure that our final show will be something that will amaze and delight us. We need a shot of something magical – and Chris Dugdale is a pretty safe bet to deliver the goods. Born in France, based in New York and a regular visitor to the Fringe, his shows combine dazzling sleight of hand, with mind bending manipulation and a slick, polished delivery. We love his droll delivery, his winning way with the people he brings onto the stage.

OK, so this year’s show incorporates many of the elements from last year’s – there are those complex card tricks, performed mere inches from disbelieving onlookers. There’s that little tin that somehow magically refills itself with different contents. There’s that thing he does with a Rubik’s cube… I mean, how? Somebody tell me how! And for 2018, he’s added a brand new illusion called ‘The Triangle,’ in which he manages to manipulate three people picked from the sell-out audience into arriving at the same conclusion.

It’s a phenomenally entertaining hour, so packed with incident that it sprints by like an athlete at full stretch. We gasp, we shake our heads, we applaud. And I tell myself that this year, there’s no way he’s going to make me put the tips of my index fingers together… no way at all. And once again, he makes me do it.

It’s already too late for me to urge you to go and see this show – but I’m looking forward to Edinburgh 2019.

5 stars

Philip Caveney