Edinburgh 2017

Loyiso Gola: Unlearning

23/08/17

Gilded Balloon Teviot, Edinburgh

Loyiso Gola was one of our favourite acts last year. Although Dude, Where’s My Lion? (https://bouquetsbrickbatsreviews.com/2016/08/21/loyiso-gola-dude-wheres-my-lion/) was his first Fringe show, it was by no means the work of a newcomer: Gola is an experienced comedian, famous in his home country, South Africa, where he is best known as the host and co-creator of the TV show, Late Nite News with Loyiso Gola. So we were excited to see his new show, and looking forward to an evening that would both challenge and entertain.

Unfortunately, I think we got Gola on a bad night this time. It’s bound to happen sometimes. The Fringe is long, and this last stretch can be tough, especially midweek when audience numbers are down. It can be hard to keep your head up, and yet, somehow, the show has to go on. I don’t know if I’m right, of course, but I do know that Gola seems to be lacking energy tonight, and that his performance appears a little lacklustre.

Unlearning is primarily about confronting stereotypes, and about changing the behaviour patterns that seem ingrained by what you’ve learned. There are tantalising hints as to what this show could be (and may well have been on other nights), as Gola deals with issues of masculinity, race, white privilege and our ignorance of human history. I’d have liked to have seen these elements explored further: a bit less low-level grumbling about the service in Edinburgh shops, and more of this incisive stuff. There’s a lot of fascinating material hovering beneath the surface of this show, and I know this gifted comic is more than capable of bringing it to light.

Just not tonight, I guess. Ah well.

3 stars

Susan SIngfield

Daniel Kitson: Possible New Bits for a Pre-Existing Show

23/08/17

The Stand, Edinburgh

Daniel Kitson occupies an enviable position for a stand-up comic. While so many at the Fringe struggle to fill their venues, he has no such problem. The tickets for this ‘work in progress’ performance went on sale at noon yesterday, which is when I confidently slipped two of them into my online basket. By the time I’d managed to key in my card details (roughly one minute later), all one hundred and twenty tickets for the show had gone, including mine. Grrr. In the end, we only get to see this because we are prepared to queue for an hour in the pouring rain for two of the twenty tickets that have been kept in reserve on a ‘first come, first served’ basis. I know, I know, we must really want those tickets – but since we’ve been trying to see him for something like three years now, we’re prepared to make the sacrifice.

Oh, one other thing. Kitson doesn’t like reviewers. So we make a point of not wearing anything that will identify us as such, and now here we sit in the front row of The Stand, as Kitson shambles quietly out with a notebook and a collection of Post It notes tucked under his arm…

And perhaps it’s unfair to review a performance that so unabashedly announces its intentions – and is not ‘the show’ – but we’re going to do it anyway, because hey, that’s what we do.

He explains how this all came about. He has an upcoming booking in Manchester, for which he doesn’t have anything prepared, so this is an opportunity to ‘try out some ideas’ on a live audience, something that will hopefully frighten him into writing new material. Now, we’ve all seen shows like this in our time and they are generally hit and miss affairs – the comic pausing to study the notes, trying out gags that don’t quite work and crossing them off a list. Kitson, is much more open about the process, commenting when things go badly and using each failure as a launchpad into a whole new angle, occasionally even bursting into an improvised song about what’s just happened. You might describe it as ‘stream of consciousness’ material, but the results are way funnier than you might reasonably expect from such an approach.

There’s obviously no strong thematic narrative here but Kitson’s observations and canny put-downs always seem to hit home, whether he’s admitting to his own privilege, or pedantically examining popular sayings to demonstrate how wrong they can be. ‘It’s the way he tells them’ was the catchphrase of an entirely different sort of comic, back in the day, but has never been truer than it is here. Kitson has the knack of making the most unpromising line sound hilarious. When he’s putting us down with vicious accuracy, we laugh all the louder. He’s an expert at deflating pomposity, at making us examine our own middle-class guilt. ‘Does anybody here have a cleaner?’ he asks at one point, and then, ‘How do you justify that?’

So, was the wait worth it? Yes, definitely. Is Kitson a gifted comic? Yes, undoubtedly. And will his show be slicker and more polished by the time it reaches Manchester? I’m guessing, probably not. Because that rambling, thrown-together quality is kind of what makes Kitson unique as a performer and may just be the chief reason he has so many avid followers.

Go and see him in Manchester and let us know what you think. But, word to the wise – don’t hang about making a booking. Those tickets can have a nasty habit of doing a vanishing act.

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney

Demi Lardner: Look What You Made Me Do

22/08/17

Underbelly Cowgate, Edinburgh

We’re in the dank and dingy Dehli Belly for Demi Lardner’s show, but we’re not aware of our insalubrious surroundings for long. Because as soon as Lardner bursts onto the stage, we’re transported to a surreal world, that’s equal parts man-cave and subconcious.

Lardner is Gavin, a forty-six year old man, deserted by his wife and trapped in his basement, with only the disembodied voice of telemarketer Sandra (Michelle Braiser) to keep him company. It’s a deliberately ropey characterisation: Gavin, like Lardner, looks younger than twenty-three, and appears to be dressed as a sporty schoolboy. Lardner affects a gruff voice (at times) and a swaggering physicality – it’s peculiar and it’s very funny indeed.

It’s a difficult show to pin down in a review: the appeal is in the shonkiness. It’s essentially a series of quirky vignettes loosely tied together to form the narrative. Lardner is utterly engaging, and some of the best moments are those when she breaks character to giggle or berate the audience. The jokes are goofy and daft with no great meaningful reveal, and there has to be a place for humour such as this.

If the show runs out of steam a little at the end – and it does – I think we can forgive it that. Because we’ve had a fun fifty minutes in Demi Lardner’s silly company.

3.8 stars

Susan Singfield

The Cat Man Curse

21/08/17

Bedlam Theatre, Edinburgh

Once in a while you encounter a show on the Fringe that is so off-the-wall bizarre, so downright inspired, so bat-shit crazy, that it develops its own momentum. The Cat Man Curse feels like just such a show. From its crazy coconut shy opening, through its clever spoof of a dumb 70s TV show, this is quite simply one of the funniest productions I’ve seen in a while.

The brainchild of three former Cambridge Footlites members, it tells the story of TV star Charles Heron (Guy Emanuel) famed for his portrayal of TV lawyer, Harry Hardtruth, constantly in competition with his wily onscreen nemesis, Libel (Sam Grabiner). When Charles is asked to star in the role of Cat Man, he thinks his future is assured – but then he learns about the terrible curse that has struck down every single actor that has previously played the part. Understandably anxious to get out of his contract, he engages the services of slick solicitor, Mark Swift (Jordan Mitchell) and the two men go undercover to try and find out who is behind the curse.

Described in those terms it all sounds fairly straightforward, right? But the story takes some very wild diversions along the way – a spot of French cookery aided by a very long-armed gibbon? You’ve got it. A roller-disco dance routine? Well, why not? Endlessly inventive and laugh out-loud-funny throughout, this is the kind of show that could easily spawn a hit television series. An ambitious producer should give these boys a call before somebody else snaps them up.

If you like a laugh riot, don’t miss this one.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney

Lost in Translation: A Bilingual Journey

20/08/17

French Institute, Edinburgh

Lost In Translation is a charming one-woman show performed by Marion Geoffray that sets out to try and reveal what goes through the mind of a bilingual person when they find themselves living in a foreign country. Marion tells us her story of growing up in France and how she falls in love with Prince William and the works of Charlotte Brontë – how she later travels to London to go to RADA and how she eventually winds up living in Scotland. Geoffray is an appealing performer and anyone concerned about the ‘bilingual’ elements of the show needn’t worry too much. Even my rudimentary schoolboy French is enough for me to follow what’s happening in the earlier segments and the largest part of the monologue is delivered in English. (Theres a bit of Gaelic thrown in for good measure but it doesn’t hurt a bit.)

It’s very much a game of two halves though – while I thoroughly enjoy the first, where Marion’s story unfolds, I am rather less enamoured of the second, where she engages in interplay with the audience, conducting little quizzes and asking them to contribute opinions – not that there’s anything wrong wth that, but I prefer the narrative drive of the story. It’s no surprise to learn that this production has toured Scottish schools, where I have no doubt it really comes into its own. I myself wind up onstage with Marion, as her guest for a rather awkward tea party.

This is a lively and entertaining way to spend an hour. Go and enjoy it… and learn a little in the process.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

Shappi Khorsandi: Mistress and Misfit

19/08/17

Assembly George Square Studios, Edinburgh

‘I don’t think you should be allowed to review a prostitute until you’ve seen her – live – at least three times,’ says Shappi, near the top of her show. Pause. ‘Or a comedian.’ So maybe I shouldn’t be writing this at all, as Mistress and Misfit is my first foray into her live work, although of course I’m well aware of her, having seen and heard her on countless TV and radio shows, as well as comedy podcasts. I’ve enjoyed these, but I concede her point: the Shappi we see here, with a full sixty minutes to flex her comedy muscles, and without the constraints of a TV format, is far superior. Sometimes you think you know what you’re going to get, and then you realise there’s so much more. (I’m sure the same applied to 18th century sex-workers too.)

As the Fringe wears on, I’m becoming increasingly drawn to comedy with a distinctive theme or arc, and growing impatient with shows comprising random bits cobbled together in a bid to make up an hour. It’s so much more satisfying to see something that utilises the form: a carefully crafted piece that fits the time and space. Shows like this, where the skill and effort are apparent, deserve a decent audience. And, I’m glad to say, Ms Khorsandi has a full house tonight.

Her show is about Lady Emma Hamilton: model, actress, prostitute and mistress, most famously George Romney’s muse and Lord Nelson’s lover. It’s about Shappi herself. And it’s about how women and sex are perceived more generally: in the modern world, in history, in different societies. Oddly, wonderfully, it’s also kind of celebratory: despite the horrors Emma endured, she’s remembered here as a strong, spirited woman, wronged but ultimately, at last, admired. I’m glad Shappi put the work in: Emma Hamilton was worth the hours of research.

4.8 stars

Susan Singfield

Hari Sriskantha: Clown Atlas

19/08/17

The Counting House, Edinburgh

Every year at the Fringe you’ll encounter plenty of hopefuls with their gazes fixed on the glittering prize of a critically-acclaimed stand up show. Currently plying his trade every afternoon at the Counting House is likeable young comic, Hari Sriskantha, who tells us that his main ambitions are to get people to pronounce his name correctly and for them to stop confusing him with Romesh Ranganathan (which is puzzling, since the two men look nothing like each other). Sriskantha is a former physics graduate and a Chortle award finalist in 2012. He’s played short sets at the Fringe before but this is his debut full-length show. It’s basically about ‘Happiness’ which, let’s face it, makes a refreshing change from the usual misery and desolation.

Sriskantha has an appealing presence but still needs to develop a little more confidence in his material. At the moment, there’s a tendency for him to push the pace, hurrying on from a punchline before giving it enough time to properly strike home and that’s a pity, because there are some real zingers in there. A linking device he employs using musical accompaniment struggles to work here, mostly because he’s got too much competition in the form of a noisy band playing in a nearby courtyard – and I would have liked to see the printed cards he occasionally holds up incorporated into a PowerPoint display – but he’s definitely one to keep an eye out for in the future. The more he gigs, the more his confidence will grow and I certainly won’t be at all surprised to see him making a much bigger splash in 2018.

As ever with the ‘free’ Fringe, please ensure you take cash along to throw into the bucket at the show’s conclusion. Tomorrow’s greats need funding today if they are ever going to reach their intended destination. Sriskantha may not be there yet, but he’s certainly on the right road.

3.2 stars

Philip Caveney