Edinburgh 2015

Edfest Bouquets 2015

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It’s been an amazing August for us at Bouquets & Brickbats. We’ve spent the entire month running from show to show, and have seen some truly brilliant performances. Here’s our pick of the best we’ve seen at this year’s Fringe:

Drama Bouquets

  1. Phantom Owl Productions – Filthy Talk for Troubled Times by Neil La Bute
  2. Phantom Owl Productions – Fault Lines by Stephen Belber
  3. Paines Plough – Lungs by Duncan McMillan

Monologue Bouquets

  1. Noni Stapleton  – Charolais by Noni Stapleton
  2. Thom Tuck – Scaramouche Jones by Justin Butcher
  3. Tom Neenan – The Andromeda Paradox by Tom Neenan

Stand-up Comedy Bouquets

  1. Stewart Lee – A Room With A Stew
  2. Sarah Kendall – A Day In October
  3. Garrick Millerick – A Selection of Things I’ve Said to Taxi Drivers

‘Ones to Watch Out For’ Bouquets

  1. Alfie Brown – Isms
  2. Morro and Jasp – Morro and Jasp Do Puberty
  3. Master of None Productions – Foxfinder by Dawn King

Philip Caveney and Susan Singfield

Yianni: Why Did the Chicken Cross the Line?

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30/08/15

The Stand 2, Edinburgh

This is a show about the nature of comedy: what makes it work and why it can sometimes seem offensive. Yianni Agisilaou is a likeable performer, who approaches the difficult subject of ‘how far is too far – and why?’ with an affability sometimes at odds with the ideas he is exploring. He’s effortlessly charming, and there is a real warmth in the room, as he establishes a clear rapport with the audience. He’s funny too: there are plenty of laughs in this hour-long consideration of what constitutes offensiveness.

If there’s a problem here, it comes from a good place. I enjoy being in this room with this cheery, intelligent comedian, but I think the work would have more impact if it were all a bit less nice. If Yianni were able to bring himself to truly offend – to make the audience gasp in real shock, perhaps – then his deconstruction of human hypocrisy and self-delusion would be far more powerful.

But still, this is a solid set from an experienced performer, who knows how to please a crowd. There are far worse ways we could have spent our last day here at 2015’s fringe.

3.6 stars

Susan Singfield

Amy Howerska: Sasspot

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29/08/15

Gilded Balloon, Teviot, Edinburgh

Amy Howerska opens the gig with a warning: it’s the end of the festival and everyone’s gone a little bit stir-crazy. She’s probably right: a whole month of gigging in this hot-house of creativity and competition is bound to take its toll. But she, unlike a lot of others, at least looks like she’s maintained a healthy balance – all glowing skin and shiny eyes. She doesn’t look tired or defeated or in dire need of some clean air. She’s ebullient and fresh, and the whole thing starts off well.

The show centres on Howerska’s unusual background. She boasts a familial line of ex-military (SAS?) men, and grew up in a sky-diving drop-zone run by her father when he left the services. It’s wonderfully unusual; she doesn’t have to work too hard to pique our interest. There are tales of near-death in the Brecon Beacons, and a large cast of aunties and other relatives are vividly brought to life. She’s sparky and likeable, and the audience is on her side.

It’s a shame, then, that she seems to lose confidence part way through the set. There are only twenty or so people in the audience, and so of course our laughter is more muted than it would be in a larger crowd. Maybe we don’t respond as she expects at a key moment? It’s hard to tell. But she loses focus, leaves the stage to switch on a fan, and then starts commenting that we’re not laughing at particular lines. She seems to panic a little, derailing her momentum.

Luckily, this doesn’t last too long, and Howerska soon regains her stride, explaining with gusto why funerals are better than weddings, and why hen parties are hell on earth. She’s funny, smart and different – and definitely one to watch.

3.5 stars

Susan Singfield

Garrett Millerick: A Selection of Things I’ve Said to Taxi Drivers

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29/08/15

Underbelly, Med Quad, Edinburgh

It’s the last few days of the Fringe and many acts are understandably beginning to feel a little bit jaded, but clearly, the affliction has completely bypassed Garrett Millerick. He stalks out onto the stage and launches himself headlong into a vitriolic set which is fuelled mostly by anger. Millerick is a grumpy sort. He seems to have a beef with just about everything and everyone, from the people who leave one star reviews on Amazon (for batteries!) to the supermarkets who have the cheek to charge five pence for a plastic bag. He even offers a routine about why Page Three is the least offensive thing in The Sun; you don’t necessarily agree with what he says, but you have to applaud the skill with which he puts his arguments together.

He is a confident performer, his voice ranging from a sly, conspiratorial hush to a ranting bellow and he soon has the early evening audience in the palm of his hand, eliciting plenty of well-earned laughter and let’s face it, that’s the name of the game here. He even apologises for not actually mentioning taxi drivers in the set and tells us about a guy who came up to him after a show and complained that the poster promised something that wasn’t delivered. ‘Are you a taxi driver?’ Millerick asked him. ‘No,’ replied the guy. ‘But I’m interested in taxis.’

Oh boy…

We have no complaints about this assured set, which delivers on so many levels –  it’s frank, visceral and occasionally controversial – but I’m not sure whether to tweet him a link to this review. After all, another of his pet hates is people who voice their opinions. What do you think? Should I?

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

The Wonderful World of Lieven Scheire

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29/08/15

Gilded Balloon, Teviot, Edinburgh

Lieven Scheire strolls onto the stage of the Wee Room and announces that he’s about to do something that to me, seems an impossibility: he’s going to make science interesting; more specifically, the subject  of special relativity. It’s to his credit that he manages to do exactly that, whilst making a room full of punters laugh out loud into the bargain.

Scheire is Belgian. He has the puppyish demeanour of everyone’s favourite primary school teacher and is able to convey quite complex information with effortless simplicity. As somebody who suffers from dyscalculia, I’m probably a challenge for him, but he softens the blow by allowing me to pilot a rocket ship. OK, it’s an imaginary rocket ship, measuring 12 meters in length, but Scheire explains how it can be momentarily parked in only 10 meters of space and I don’t end up with a brain ache. In a Fringe that seems to be dominated by nerdy young comics explaining why they don’t fit in to the generally accepted term of what constitutes a ‘lad,’ Scheire is actually a genuine nerd, who revels in being exactly what he is. This is one of the most original comedy shows we’ve seen this year, part stand up, part lecture. With just a couple of days to go before it’s all over, it may already be too late to recommend him, but he’s certainly a name to look out for in the future.

Just not one that’s easy to pronounce.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Derby Day

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28/08/15

Gilded Balloon, Teviot, Edinburgh

The Ballard brothers have just attended the funeral of their father. What better way to celebrate the old man’s life than to head to the Oaklawn Park race track and lay down a few bets? Eldest brother, Frank (Robert M. Foster) is over from Chicago and has booked a luxury box for their private use. He’s soon joined by loose-canon middle brother Ned (Malcolm Madera) and youngest sibling, Johnny (Jake Silbermann), newly released from prison and looking to pick up the pieces of his shattered life. The trio begin to gamble, they drink alcohol and as their inhibitions break down, so the realities of their troubled upbringing start to manifest themselves. It’s no great surprise to discover that Ballard Senior wasn’t a very nice man at all. Little wonder his sons still carry the scars of unresolved issues. Meanwhile, waitress Becky (Teresa Stephenson) is charged with the thankless task of dealing with the Ballards as they hurtle towards alcohol-fuelled oblivion.

Samuel Brett Williams has written a gritty melodrama about familial love and hate and the three male leads of Camisade Theatre Company throw themselves into this powerful drama with gusto, delivering strong performances with the accent on physicality. A scene where Frank throws Johnny onto (and through) a table is shocking in its impact, though ultimately maybe there’s a little too much fighting in there for comfort – these guys seem ready to punch each other at the drop of a hat. We’re even warned as we come in to avoid sitting in the front row, in case we get caught up in the affray!

I particularly liked Silbermann’s portrayal of the not-very-bright Johnny, a man who may as well walk around with the word ‘doomed’ tattooed on his forehead, but the play doesn’t always convince us that these are real characters in a real situation. Too many of the lines seem to be addressed directly to the audience and there are places where the pre-recorded race commentary overpowers the characters’ dialogue.

However, this is a credible production that’s worth catching before it’s gone. As the story gallops into the final furlong, it’s clear this is not going to end well… and all bets are off.

3.5 stars

Philip Caveney

Charolais

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27/08/15

Spotlites, Hanover Street, Edinburgh

With such a variety of shows on offer at the Fringe, there’s inevitably a range of quality here too. Now and again, though, it’s possible to see something really rather special.

And Charolais is one such thing.

Written and performed by Noni Stapleton, this is an unlikely comedy about a young Irish woman and the jealousy she feels towards a beautiful heifer. The cow, a Charolais belonging to her farmer boyfriend, takes up far too much of his attention, and his mother, Brede, demands what’s left. Siobhan, it seems, must fight to win his love.

It’s an unusual tale, as beautifully written as it is acted. This is truly an object lesson in characterisation: a one-woman performance that not only makes us laugh and cry, but also brings to life a horny cow. Really, the episodes where Stapleton embodies ‘Charolais’ are extraordinary: she drops her jaw, lowers her stance, sticks out her backside, and becomes the cow. The lowing-singing is a lovely touch, and the French accent an added delight.

As this year’s festival heads towards its end, there are only three more chances left to see this show. Don’t miss out: get a ticket now.

5 stars

Susan Singfield

Rhys Nicholson: Forward

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27/08/15

Underbelly, George Square, Edinburgh

In what can only be described as an oblong black box on Underbelly, Rhys Nicholson introduces a welcome splash of colour. With his red hair, pale skin and flamboyant clothing, he’s keen to let us know about his unconventional life in all its endless variety. He hails from Newcastle, Australia (strangely enough the same home town as Sarah Kendall, another Aussie comedian doing well at this year’s Fringe) and at twenty five, his main preoccupations are sex, Tony Abbott and making collages. He’s quick to let us know that tonight, the conversation will be a decidedly adult one, or as he likes to call it ‘climbing aboard the filth train.’

He has a nice line in pithy, self-deprecating remarks and quickly has the audience on his side, milking the laughs skilfully. He’s consistently funny throughout, even if his material is more entertaining than challenging and he maintains a lively rapport with his punters. There’s no particular standout routine here, though his recollections of being ‘politely mugged’ raise the night’s biggest laughs. As the Fringe noses into its last few days, this show is a good bet for early evening laughs, before you descend into the madness of booze, music and fireworks.

Oh yes. He has a sideline in making novelty bow ties and sausage dog brooches, which he offers for sale after the event.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Patrick Morris: Fairly Premature Bucket List

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27/08/15

Underbelly, Edinburgh

It seems unfair to judge Patrick Morris on this gig: there are only seven of us in the audience, and we really don’t represent his natural demographic. The twenty-three year-old tries his best to keep his head up and make light of the situation, but there’s no disguising the truth of his opening gambit: “You all look like my parents’ friends.” I suspect that’s how we’re responding to him too: all he’s a lovely young lad; let’s laugh at this bit to show our support. It’s dispiriting, I’m sure, but it’s all we’ve got to offer him.

He has an engaging – if familiar – comic stage persona: a not-very-cool guy trying to fit in. He’s a very nervous person, he tells us, scared of everything – especially bees. His daily routine is too safe to yield much comedy material, so, in order to prepare himself for his first full-length solo show, he has spent seven months trying out new things that frighten him. He’s committed a crime, taken drugs and dabbled with the supernatural – and none of it has worked out well.

Some routines are very successful (the dominatrix sequence is a highlight) while others seem to peter out (the drugs tale doesn’t tell us much) but, to be honest, it’s clear the whole set would fly better if there were more of us and we were more his age. Put a young crowd in front of this comic, and I’m pretty certain he would know exactly how to raise his game. Perhaps if we’d attended on a different night, we would have seen what he can really do.

3 stars

Susan Singfield

Acts of Redemption

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26/08/15

Underbelly, Cowgate, Edinburgh

Ken Jaworowski’s Acts of Redemption is a series of six disparate monologues, presented with pleasing simplicity by director James Wren.

First, in Never Smile, Never Wave, we meet a spoilt little rich girl: self-satisfied, judgemental and very privileged indeed. But, when a stranger in a bar tells her she looks sad, her vulnerability is revealed, and we are left wishing that we could find out more. This is, I think, the strongest of the set, exquisitely performed by Akila Cristiano, who manages to make us root for someone quite unlikeable.

Next comes Pulse, where three separate stories are interwoven. They’re loosely linked, each dealing with familial love, and this is another success. A young man (James Huntington) comes out to his father; a man (Dan Lees) teaches his little boy to fight the bullies who are hurting him; a young woman (Amee Smith) sacrifices her dreams to care for her ailing dad. All three pieces are well-crafted, and the acting powerful.

The last two monologues are perhaps the weakest. In Luck of the Draw, Rachel Parris plays a miserable woman, who dreams of winning the lottery and leaving home. The character is interesting, and there are a few nice twists, but it feels a little under-developed, and perhaps a tad cliched. Timberwood Drive, performed by Joe Wreddon, is the slightest of all, telling the rather far-fetched tale of a hapless womaniser whose wife and mistress co-own the same dog. It’s a little bit silly, and doesn’t connect with the audience in the way the others do.

All in all, this is a decent production, and I certainly enjoyed the hour spent watching it. I couldn’t help but wish, however, that the pieces were more unified, and that there were something more to hold them together than the tenuous idea of ‘redemption’ (especially as they’re not all redeemed).

An interesting – if mixed – show, with some genuine talent on display.

3.3 stars

Susan Singfield