Assembly

Post-Mortem

05/08/19

Assembly George Square (Studio Five), Edinburgh

Post-Mortem is the story of Nancy (Essie Barrow) and Alex (Iskandaar R Sharazuddin)’s teenage relationship, and the awkwardness of meeting as adults, ten years after splitting up. They have some serious unresolved issues, but is their best friends’ wedding really the appropriate place to finally confront these demons?

Both Barrow and Sharazuddin are deeply focused performers, with a physical intensity that suits this intimate play. Sharazuddin also wrote the piece, and he deploys some exquisite (and sometimes deliberately cringey) wordplay; the language is spare but poetic, the characters’ emotions deftly drawn. Nancy and Alex are not always likeable; they’re difficult and flawed – and that’s what makes this work.

The non-chronological structure is complex, but handled so well that we’re never in any doubt as to where and when we are. The show slips in time, and it slips in tone too: one moment laugh-out-loud funny, the next poignant and sad. These changing moods are as expertly choreographed as the dance sequences that punctuate the play.

Under Jessica Rose McVay’s assured direction, this is an impressive piece of work.

4.2 stars

Susan Singfield

 

 

Are There More of You?

08/08/17

Assembly Hall, Mound Place, Edinburgh

After last year’s The Power Behind the Crone (which we awarded an Edfest Theatre Bouquet), we know that Alison Skilbeck is a truly gifted player, and are keen to see her latest offering. Are There More of You? is another one-woman show, this time a series of four loosely connected monologues, and it’s a masterclass in character acting.

We first meet Claire, an ambassador’s wife, recently returned to the UK from Morocco. But their shared retirement plans have been scuppered by his revelation that he’s leaving her, and Claire is struggling to build a new life for herself.

Then there’s Sofia, who owns the trattoria down the road from Claire’s art class; she has big ambitions for the café’s future, but family problems keep getting in the way.

Sara is a “spirit weaver”, and she has a lot to say about the people that she treats. When her old school friend, Sam, a successful business woman, finds herself drunk and alone in Sofia’s trattoria, she sets aside her scepticism and calls on Sara for some spiritual healing.

Skilbeck segues between characters with almost indecent ease; she is a chameleon, transforming before our eyes. There’s not much in the way of props or costume to assist her: she simply adds a headband, shakes her hair loose, changes her jacket or puts on an apron. But her face sags or tightens, her jawline tenses, her lips purse, her shoulders drop, her hand gestures become expansive: she looks somehow completely different; each woman is distinct. Her voice changes too, from prim and clipped to a gravelly drawl, and it’s all so subtle, so nuanced, so precise – I am in awe. Every ambitious young actor at this Fringe should make a point of seeing Skilbeck’s show; it’s an object lesson – and a delight.

Her writing’s good too. There’s a Bennett-esque appeal to these four pieces: a gentle humour permeates throughout, and there’s warmth and fondness for the characters.

So, if you’ve an hour to spare one morning, why not head up to the Assembly Hall and watch this marvellous production? It really is something special.

5 stars

Susan Singfield

Sarah Kendall – One Seventeen

05/08/17

Assembly George Square, Edinburgh

Reviewing at the Fringe, as we do every year, we make a point of trying to see as many new acts as possible – but there are some we just cannot allow ourselves to miss and Sarah Kendall definitely belongs in that category. This skilled storyteller from Newcastle Australia really is a spellbinding performer, who never fails to create a fascinating and highly original show. One Seventeen is no exception, even if I’m left a little confused by the relevance of the title.

She wanders out onto the stage and launches straight into a seemingly unconnected series of events, with recollections from her childhood cleverly intercut with more recent observations of her life in London. The subject matter is so disparate – from an attempt to see Halley’s Comet to a friend’s cancer diagnosis – that, at first, you really can’t see how she’s going to tie it all together. But then she does – effortlessly, satisfyingly – utilising incredible skill and just the right amount of pathos, holding the audience in the palm of her hand all the way through.

Kendall isn’t exactly a comedian, though you will laugh out loud at much of what she says. She’s a talented writer who crafts her material with incredible precision. Little wonder she gets nominated for so many awards.

If you’re at the festival this year, don’t miss her. She’s really rather wonderful.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

 

Ed Gamble: Stampede

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23/08/16

Assembly Counting House, Edinburgh

Ed Gamble wishes to make it clear that his show is not all about cauliflower. Okay, so there is quite a bit of detail about how to make pizza by substituting the world’s blandest vegetable for the usual dough, but that’s not what this show is actually about. Not really. It’s just that, a few years ago, Ed was six stone heavier than he is now and nutrition and dieting have become a big part of his daily routine, so perhaps it’s inevitable then that cauliflower will rear its ugly head from time to time…

Gamble has an assured, confident delivery and he manages to keep the packed crowd at this afternoon’s show laughing pretty much constantly throughout it. There’s the occasional surreal notion (I particularly enjoyed the joke about a bulldog) and the fact that he’s constantly comparing his own success with his former classmates at school (one of whom just happens to be the singer from Mumford and Sons).

This may not be the most challenging comedy you’ll find on the Fringe, but it’s nonetheless cleverly put together and provides plenty of laughs on a drizzly Edinburgh afternoon, which is, after all, the name of the game.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Alfie Brown: -ism

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22/08/15

The Box, Assembly George Square Theatre, Edinburgh

Alfie Brown exudes promise. He’s seething with potential brilliance, and some of this uneven set is genuinely great. There’s real ambition on show here; this is not a cosy, resting-on-the-comedy-laurels kind of gig at all. And when it works, it really works.

Brown has an engaging intensity; he clearly sees comedy as a vehicle for challenging perceived wisdoms, and pushes himself (and the audience) to think beyond the obvious. He never seems to go for the easy laugh – even when, quite honestly, it might help the show along. There are some routines, such as the brutally honest tale of his relationship with Jessie Cave, where he is in total command of his material, and the audience responds really well. But the set lacks a coherent structure, and peaks and troughs in odd places. The final section, an attempt to discuss political posturing and the pointlessness of preaching to the converted, has the makings of a fine routine, but is derailed somewhat by the audience’s reluctance to answer his question about our own political views (I, in fact,  did volunteer a response, but I was the only one), and never really recovers from this, failing to reach any sort of conclusion, or even provoke a lot of thought. Still, I’d rather watch this ambitious young comedian experiment with an idea that doesn’t quite come off, than sit through an hour of safe crowd-pleasing with someone better-known (and there’s a lot of that about, of course).

Take a chance; give him a go. I think he will be really big one day.

4 stars

Susan Singfield

Sarah Kendall: A Day In October

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21/08/15

Assembly, George Square, Edinburgh

You’ll find plenty of stand-ups at the Fringe, good, bad and indifferent but Sarah Kendall works differently to most other comedians. In ‘A Day in October’ she gives us what is essentially a protracted exercise in skilful storytelling, something that’s clearly based around real life experiences she had in her youth, in Newcastle, Australia. From her vivid descriptions of the inhabitants, it wasn’t on the tourist routes. This is the story of George Peach, a boy at her school who was constantly bullied and it’s about the awful accident that turned his life around.

Kendall really excels here, building the story piece-by-piece, layer-by-layer, dropping a whole bunch of clues that really should warn us about what she’s going to do, but at the same time, expertly misdirecting us so that the final twist, when it comes, is absolutely shattering. I don’t want to give the impression that this is not brilliant comedy: it is, and those in search of a good laugh will not be disappointed. But there’s also a deeper intelligence at work here, something which elevates this show above much of the competition.

The term ‘comedy gold’ is often used but rarely as thoroughly deserved as it is here.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Scott Capurro

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19/08/14

Assembly Rooms, George Street

Scott Capurro strolls onto the stage at the Assembly Rooms, looking like Kevin Bacon’s half-brother. He takes one look at the (rather sparse) audience and then he’s off and running. His sly, strangely endearing, but openly bitchy persona comes equipped with an excoriating tongue and a recklessness that means no subject is beyond the range of his scorn – race, religion, sexuality, politics… you name it; each subject is set up and summarily chopped down with a series of wicked one-liners. In short, this man doesn’t care who he offends and indeed, appears to revel in it. It’s saying something when a brief allusion to Robin Williams leaves him momentarily misty-eyed and after the vitriolic tirade that has preceded it, it’s this moment that seems shockingly perverse. 

Capurro achieves a powerful rapport with his audience even as he is ripping them to pieces. A guy to my left, despite being accompanied by his girlfriend is ‘secretly gay’ – and so Capurro flirts with him throughout the rest of the act. A married couple across the room, out to celebrate their 20th wedding anniversary, are depicted as a pair of inbred knuckle draggers. And when he discovers that Susan and I have been married for exactly one week and two days, we soon find ourselves the butt of his scorn… but we’re laughing and cringing in equal measure. Capurro isn’t going to win any awards for sensitivity but this show is as funny as it is outrageous and clearly deserves a bigger audience than it had tonight. Excellent stuff.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Holly Walsh – Never Had It

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18/08/14

Assembly George Square, Edinburgh

Holly Walsh likes to paint herself as a bit of a nerd – back as a teenager, when all her mates were riding a maelstrom of illegal drugs and enjoying all kinds of sexual encounters, she was the one collecting her Duke of Edinburgh award. This pleasingly intimate performance is supported by her canny use of PowerPoint – a much neglected comedy aid. Some of her selected images have us laughing out loud, particularly her use of marginalia from medieval manuscripts (trust me, it’s much funnier than it sounds).

There’s also plenty of lively interplay with her audience, some cleverly improvised verbal exchanges and the performance never loses sight of its initial concept, that of the perennial ‘uncool’ individual beset by those who actually ‘have it.’ A sequence about a shaming event in a tapas bar was a particular highlight for me but, to be honest, the laughter never flags throughout the hour long set. Walsh may not be the coolest comedian on the block but, on the evidence of this show, she’s well on her way to being one of the funniest.

4.7 stars

Philip Caveney

Product

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Assembly Hall, Edinburgh

14/08/14

When it premiered at the Traverse Theatre in 2005, Mark Ravenhill’s Product starred the playwright himself as a desperate Hollywood producer, pitching a dreadful script to an actor who is clearly never going to take the part. I missed that version, but was delighted to have the opportunity to see director Robert Shaw’s revival of this sharp satire, this time with Olivia Poulet (Leah) delivering the monologue.

Poulet is perfectly cast; she oozes flattery and fake sincerity, skewering a character who believes that – if she just keeps talking, if she just keeps pretending – she will somehow manage to save her career and convince the actor to take the part. But the actor is us – the audience – and we can see through Leah’s posturing; indeed, the humour derives almost as much from Leah’s lack of self-awareness as it does from the increasingly ridiculous details she reveals from the script.

And how deliciously ridiculous those details are: the script emerges as a sexually explicit rom-com about Al Qaeda (improbably named Mohammed and Me), and there are laughs a-plenty as Leah attempts to make the prospect tempting. She focuses on the costume (Versace), the accommodation (a Docklands flat) – as if the actor will be as beguiled as Leah herself by the promise of such vicarious luxury.

I love this piece: I love its humour, its bite and – ultimately – its simplicity. I love the way that Ravenhill has somehow managed to construct a wonderfully written play mainly by writing an appalling film, and I love the vulnerability that Poulet brings to what is essentially an unsympathetic role.  I’ve seen (and enjoyed) a lot of student productions during this year’s Fringe, but sometimes it’s good to see what a seasoned professional can do. Sterling stuff.

4.7 stars

Susan Singfield

Sara Pascoe Vs History

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14/08/14

Assembly George Square Studios, Edinburgh

Sara Pascoe is under the weather tonight. Some dreaded Fringe lurgy has struck and her set is punctuated by her recourse to occasional slugs of Lemsip. Whenever she attempts a high-pitched voice (for comic effect) what emerges is a kind of strangled squeak. So her delivery is perhaps more restrained than usual. But her vivacity and likeable personality shine through nonetheless and we’re treated to a confident amble through her childhood, with wry digs at former boyfriends and her current partner (fellow stand-up John Robins.)

Sexuality is a major theme here and while much of the material evokes wry smiles rather than belly-laughs, it’s nonetheless cleverly written and expertly knitted together. A story about being asked to provide an ‘intelligent’ quote for FHM magazine is a particular delight and a piece about human reproduction demonstrates that there’s real intelligence at work here and a determination to push the comedy envelope a little further than many of her peers.

This is political feminist comedy at its most engaging. I left with the distinct impression that had she been in full health, this would have been an even more satisfying event

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney