Assembly Hall, Edinburgh
I’m not usually a big fan of the circus. The glitzy outfits and macho posturing tend to put me off and prevent me from concentrating on the undoubted skills of the performers. But here I sit amidst a packed crowd at the Assembly Hall. My heart’s in my mouth and I’m thrilled to the core as I watch a team of acrobats hurtle up and down on a trampoline. They land like soaring birds on a precarious wooden perch high above me.
Flip Fabrique hail from Quebec and they are unlike any troupe I’ve seen before, presenting a strange but enchanting blend of circus skills, theatre and music. The conceit of Blizzard is that it takes place during ‘adverse weather conditions.’ Snow flakes drift down onto the stage as people trudge out of the wings wreathed in hooded parkas – but, within moments, the sensible clothing has been cast off and an aerial act is whirling magisterially overhead.
A snowball fight turns into a symphony of frantic leaping and somersaulting. A performer is thrown effortlessly through the air and caught, an instant before her head makes contact with a wooden floor – no safety nets here! And, throughout the show, Ben Nasrellah performs a live score, tinkling away on a state-of-the-art keyboard cloned with an upright piano, strumming on a guitar and, at one point, compelling the audience to clap gleefully along with him. He’s as integral to this act as the other performers.
I love the precision of this show, the way that every component (including that amazing keyboard) is wheeled smoothly around to accomodate the next sequence – and the next. The finale features a huge metal rectangle, hoisted up to balance improbably on one corner while the entire troupe clambers around inside it like a swarm of industrious insects. The result is breathtaking.
If you see only one circus act during the Fringe, Blizzard is the family-friendly spectacle you don’t want to miss. It is, quite simply, stunningly good.
Assembly Hall, Edinburgh
The once hirsute Tony Law has undergone something of a change of image since I last saw him. His face is cleanly shaven and his comic shtick, which was always somewhat on the surreal side, now seems to have thundered headlong into a tunnel of utter weirdness. As he prances onto the stage, dressed in an odd-looking khaki uniform, lengths of black gaffa tape wound tightly around his abdomen, (because he confides, he is ‘newly fat’) I’m somewhat nonplussed; and then he starts to talk and I am left bewildered.
This manic stream-of-consciousness psychobabble, delivered in a multitude of comic accents, seems to have only the barest relationship with any kind of perceived reality. It’s all done with absolute assurance, but he never seems to pause for breath and the result is that it all feels a bit… relentless. No sooner have I got a handle on Tony’s time spent as a professional trampolinist, or his adventures as a cavalry officer, then he’s telling me about his chance encounter with a miniature moose with a glittering star for an eye. (Incidentally, anyone thinking that the title we’ve put up for this is a mistake – it isn’t.)
Make no mistake, this is the kind of comedy that polarises audiences. I’m aware that some people in the room are virtually doubled over with laughter, while others, like me, are looking on in bemused silence. I don’t mind surrealism, per se, but I do require the occasional lump of reality on which to tether the more absurd notions. Consequently, I have to confess that this show is really not for me. If you’re the kind of person who loves your humour to be as absurd as is humanly possible, this might well be your cup of haemoglobin.
But as they say in Dragon’s Den, sorry, I’m out.
Assembly Hall, Edinburgh
Wow. This is a hidden gem of a show if ever I saw one, and well-deserving of a bigger audience than tonight’s meagre crowd. Maybe it’s the title that’s uninspiring and failing to draw the punters? It’s certainly not the performance.
Because Vivienne Acheampong can REALLY act. This is a one-woman show that packs a heavy punch: it’s a sharp and witty piece that engages right from the very start. We’re in Tiddlesworth Primary School, where we meet a whole host of characters: there’s Miss Marshall, the pregnant teacher whose vocation means she has no life outside her job; Ty’Quan, the challenging student with ambitions to make it as a rapper; Sheila, the casually racist lunchtime supervisor, who misses the way things used to be. Acheampong embodies each one effortlessly; this is clever, sly, insightful stuff, and it’s beautifully done. We’re reduced to helpless laughter when a terrifying supply teacher forces us to take part in a recorder lesson, and I’m in floods of tears when Acheampong ends the piece with a heartfelt poem about the state of education in England today, and how it lets our children down (this has a particular resonance for me, as I’ve just quit teaching after twenty-two years because of the very issues that she highlights here).
There’s real talent at play in this show, and it merits a wide audience. Miss it, and you really will miss out.