Edinburgh 2018

Hemma

27/08/18

Holyrood Road, Edinburgh

It’s the final day of Edfringe 2018. We’re tired after three weeks of running around like headless chickens and, more worryingly, we’re somewhat hungover from an enthusiastic booze-up with friends last night. Now we’re due to meet two other friends for ‘coffee’ before they get their train back to Manchester. We choose to meet them in Hemma, the Swedish-inspired café-bar, a popular haunt from our early days in the city and a decent walk from the hustle of the city centre. It was better known to us back then as ‘the Bill Murray bar’ because of a random and completely unexplained assortment of paintings of said actor hanging on the walls. They’re gone now, and we kind of miss them.

Hardly surprisingly, we decide that mere coffee isn’t going to be enough to cut through our fuzzled senses – a hearty brunch is much more what we we need. I order the Hemma breakfast and Susan, determined to be at least a little bit healthy, goes for the avocado, pea and mint smash, to which she adds  poached eggs and feta cheese.

The former meal is rather like the venue – quirky, with unexpected elements. It’s by no means perfect. The bacon isn’t as crispy as I’d like, but the haggis and sausages are exactly what’s required. The presence of hasselback potatoes is a surprise, to say the least, but they slip down nicely enough and I have to hand it to whoever thought of adding a little bowl of spicy chilli to the plate. Chilli, in my humble opinion, works at any time of the day or night, and makes a great addition to this meal. My poached eggs are nicely done, though Susan’s prove to be a little on the hard side. She pronounces the pea and avocado delicious however. The chunks of feta add a tangy saltiness to the meal that goes down a treat.

Our hangovers are suitably vanquished and, after a long and enjoyable natter, we’re ready to head back out in to the world, rejuvenated. Hemma, by the way, is the Swedish  for ‘at home.’ If you’re in Edinburgh and you’re suffering from the events of the night before, you could do a lot worse than head out to Holyrood for a little rejuvenation. But don’t expect to see Bill Murray on the walls. He’s just a memory now.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

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

 

 

Wil Greenway: Either Side of Everything

26/08/18

Underbelly Bristo Square, Edinburgh

Wil Greenway’s whimsical storytelling has been a Fringe highlight for us for the past few years, and his latest offering, Either Side of Everything, is just as beautifully crafted and delivered as his previous shows. Accompanied once again by folk musicians Kathryn Langshaw and Will Galloway, this is a gentle lullaby of a performance – but somehow it still manages to pack a punch.

The writing is lyrical and inventive; the delivery is charming. He’s such an appealing performer, all sparkling eyes and inclusivity, wrapping us up in his tales of love and loss. He lays his methods bare, shows us the mechanics: this is a metaphor; there will be four stories; you won’t understand how they connect until the end. We’re part of it – for an hour at least – our lives and his, this telling, this time. We’re all on the metaphorical boat together, not knowing where this fits in the narrative arcs of our own lives. But here, now, there is Greenway’s melodic prose, a gently strumming guitar, repeated refrains, and a surprising wealth of lol-moments.

There’s sadness in these accounts: dead dogs and grieving women, unspoken love and tender touch. But there’s humour too, and would-you-rathers, the silly stuff that keeps us all going. There’s real skill in the weaving of this show, and – somehow, as always – it leaves me with a profound sense of warmth and wellbeing. There is beauty in this world, even in the misery.

(I do miss his man-bun though. I don’t know why – but it’s true, I do.)

5 stars

Susan Singfield

 

Impact

25/08/18

Pleasance Courtyard (This), Edinburgh

As we take our seats in Pleasance This, our narrator, played by Richard Henderson, invites us to choose from a rack of envelopes set out in front of us, to read their contents and discuss them amongst ourselves. He’ll ‘be back soon,’ he assures us. The envelopes contain various victim impact statements, all relating to the same terrible tragedy – but the details of the incident are nebulous enough to keep us guessing. (A note to the producers: maybe think about printing out the letters in a larger font. I’m sure we’re not the only ones who have trouble reading them in the subdued light.)

The narrator returns and begins his story. He is an office worker, an average guy searching for something more in his life. A chance encounter on a train leads him to visit a group of animal rights activists, an group with whom he becomes more and more involved. As the story progresses, it begins to dawn on us that this narrator is not a very nice person at all… and we eventually learn how far this man will go in order to achieve his aims.

Henderson is compelling in a very difficult role, holding our attention even as he makes us begin to despise the narrator and all he stands for. The juxtaposition of his warm smile and gentle voice with the monstrous nature he gradually reveals is subtle but most effective.

The narrative sags a little in the middle, and it’s disappointing to see some of the most enticing set-ups fizzle into not-very-much, but the denouement is genuinely climactic and ultimately justifies what’s gone before.

4 stars

Philip Caveney & Susan Singfield

 

A Librarian

24/08/18

The Space on North Bridge, Edinburgh

NKP Theatre Company’s A Librarian is proof indeed that it’s often worth deviating from the beaten track when selecting which Fringe shows to see. The sheer volume of what’s on offer can be overwhelming, and it’s not hard to understand why so many people stick to the familiar, to what they know. When time (and money) is short, taking a risk is unappealing. But then you see what an amateur company can bring to a small venue for a limited run – and remember what the Fringe is all about.

The success of this piece owes a lot to an impressive central performance by Ruth Cattell: she brings lonely librarian Anne Poole convincingly to life, ensuring our sympathy for the unlucky woman, whose life is changed irrevocably when she witnesses a minor car accident. The characterisation here is excellent – a fully realised depiction of a vulnerable person.

In fact, this might actually work better as a monologue: although the supporting actors are all perfectly good, there isn’t much for them to do, and using the split in the backdrop for entrances and exits makes the stage traffic a little messy. There’s also perhaps too much exposition in the denouement: there’s a neat twist here, but it’s over-explained, and thus loses some of its initial impact.

But these are quibbles: this is an engaging, idiosyncratic play, and most enjoyable to watch. Definitely worth forty-five minutes of anybody’s time.

4 stars

Susan Singfield

 

On the Exhale

22/08/18

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

During the madness that is the Edinburgh Fringe, it would be all too easy to overlook the delights being offered at the city’s established theatres. On the face of it, On The Exhale,  written by Martin Zimmerman and directed by Christopher Haydon, seems perfectly engineered for festival audiences. This powerful monologue, brilliantly delivered by Polly Frame, was written in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting of 2012. It’s a searing examination of the subject of gun control and, unexpectedly, it’s also about the compelling seduction that deadly weapons can exert upon those who use them.

Frame plays an academic in an American University. In the play’s opening moments, she talks about her steadily building paranoia at the thought of one of her more headstrong students suddenly deciding to walk into her study with a firearm tucked into his waistband. She mentions the cool, clinical steps she is taking in order to prepare herself for such an awful eventuality, about what she will do in such dire circumstances. But, when tragedy does decide to rear its ugly head, the danger comes from an entirely different quarter…

The nature of the unfolding story is so important that it would be impossible to chronicle it in any more detail without giving too much away. Suffice to say that there are some genuine surprises here, the story heading from its initial premise into entirely unexpected areas. Frame is a compelling narrator, her vulnerability enhanced by the spare setting, which has her pacing barefoot through a tangle of fluorescent light fittings as she talks, the potential danger of a misplaced step all too evident.

As she draws us steadily deeper into her confidence, I find myself virtually holding my breath, not wanting to miss a single detail of her heartbreaking story. This is a masterful piece of theatre and my only regret is that I didn’t find time to see it earlier in the month. It’s on for just a few more days, so do take the opportunity to catch this while you still can.

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney

Gutted

22/08/18

The Space Triplex, Edinburgh

Gutted is the story of three young Irish women, living in Dublin in the 1980s, all of them faced with difficult decisions. They spend their days in drudgery, working in a factory, gutting fish, but spend their nights tirelessly chasing the elusive concept of fun, each of them yearning for her own happy ending. But in an Ireland where abortion is still illegal and contraception hard to come by, sowing those wild oats can often have disastrous consequences, and things finally come to a head when a long-awaited big night out builds, inevitably, to disaster.

Written by Sharon Byrne and superbly acted by Eleanor Byrne, Niamh Finlay and Sarah Hosford, this is a little gem of a play, with plenty to say and a captivating way of speaking its mind. Byrne’s ear for dialogue rings out from just about every line and the three actors nail their performances, keeping the action bubbling along, switching effortlessly from narrative to narrative, handling comedy and tragedy with equal aplomb. I love the simple staging of this, the use of three microphones to emphasise particular lines of dialogue and I love the snatches of close harmony singing that occasionally punctuate the proceedings. Moments of tragedy are expertly and economically conveyed, as the women create a whole cast of characters to populate their respective stories.

This play is only at the Fringe for a short run, so you have just a few days in which to see it. If you still haven’t made up your mind what to see in the final week, grab some tickets and head down to the Space Triplex.

Gutted is certainly worth your time and money.

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney

 

Hillary’s Kitchen

Hillary's Kitchen

21/08/18

The Space @ Surgeons’ Hall, Nicolson Street, Edinburgh

Hillary’s Kitchen sounds promising: following the 2016 election, Hillary Clinton wakes up with a hangover, surprised to find a group of women in her kitchen. And not just any women either, these are women of historical significance: Virginia Woolf, Eve, Dido, Frida Kahlo and Lady Mary Wortley Montagu. Knocking back the Chardonnay, they share their stories, with the aim of helping Hillary, to give her strength to carry on.

The intent is clear: a kind of Top Girls for the modern age, a fourth-wave feminist version of Caryl Churchill’s second-wave hit play. But it lacks the sophistication of Churchill’s earlier piece: the political depth just isn’t there, and neither is the clever dialogue. It’s a laudable ambition, but it seems the playwright has bitten off more than she’s quite ready to chew. It’s a shame. But any audience drawn in by this particular premise is likely to be demanding: it’s clearly marketed as a topical satire, referencing world news, art and literature – people buying tickets are going to be clued-up about this stuff. They’ll be expecting a level of insight and wisdom that sadly isn’t here.

The cast is huge and I can’t work out why; I can’t see any benefit to this. Why not double up more roles, like Churchill does, making connections between the historical figures and their modern domestic counterparts? The stage feels cluttered with people and props, and the constant entering and exiting through the backdrop is a definite mistake, especially when the curtain flaps open to reveal the backstage area, all lit up and chaotic.

Let’s be clear, there are some decent actors on this stage, doing their best with what they’ve got. The woman playing Virginia Woolf, for example, is particularly strong, as is the drunken Hillary Clinton. Their initial conversation is a highlight of the piece. There are some good performances in the over-long ‘Prince Charming’s job application’ section too, but too many weak jokes to call the scene an overall success. In fact, most of those on stage are clearly capable performers; sadly, this piece does not allow them to show what they can do.

Look, I can’t pretend this works; it doesn’t. A good third of the audience walks out before the show is halfway through. (Which is, actually, indefensible I think – shockingly rude and disruptive, with no thought for how the performers are supposed to soldier on. It’s live: they can see you. Where are your manners, people? It’s only an hour. If you don’t like it, tough luck. You took a punt and it didn’t work out. Stay in your seats and be polite.)

The Fringe is a place to try stuff out; sometimes it flies and sometimes it doesn’t quite take off. But that’s the point, surely – there has to be room to experiment, to learn. Next time, maybe?

2 stars

Susan Singfield

Base Camp

 

20/08/18

Gardens at C South, Edinburgh

We left our lodgings at midday and, under low cloud, made the long and arduous trek across the Meadows towards Summerhall. We reached our rendezvous at C South in good time and were introduced to our climbing companions for the day. Alannah struck me as affable and relaxed, and I was relieved to be chosen to join her group. Her companion, Shian, was brusque and sarcastic and she promptly instructed Susan to join her team. We were somewhat dismayed to realise that our usual duo was to be disrupted in this decisive manner and, furthermore, sensed an uncomfortable rivalry between the two leaders, but we were properly equipped for our task and determined to make the best of things. We waved each other farewell as we set off for our respective tents…

Fever Dream’s Base Camp is site-specific theatre. The audience is divided up and herded into separate tents, where we are told the stories of two ambitious young climbers and their upcoming expedition to reach the peak of a dangerous mountain. As their respective stories unfold, we learn something of their shared history and the rivalry that has always been an element of their partnership. From time to time, the two women converse via walkie-talkie, or pay brief visits to each other’s tents. Seated on cushions on the floor, we can hear them squabbling outside and we start to become part of their story. ‘Do you think they are real climbers?’ asks a woman in my group.

Afterwards, when Susan and I compare the two individual stories we’ve heard, we realise that they differ only in minor details and we both find ourselves wishing that they had diverged even more – how satisfying would it have been to learn that the two women have entirely different accounts of how they came to be here? But this is nonetheless an intriguing and ambitious idea and surely one of the most unusual pieces of theatre we’ve encountered at the Fringe.

Those with an adventurous nature should check this out, but if sitting on the floor is a problem, the show may not be suitable for you. Please be aware that audience size is restricted to the number of people you can fit into two large tents, so book early to avoid disappointment!

4 stars

Philip Caveney & Susan Singfield

 

 

A Work in Progress

20/08/18

Gilded Balloon, Rose Theatre, Edinburgh

It’s a good idea: if you’re a young actor and you’re not getting enough work, then why not write your own roles? And, if you’re really canny, why not go all meta, and write a play about a young actor who’s not getting enough work, and embarks on a mission to write her own roles?

And so A Work in Progress is born: Hannah Morton’s play about two friends, John and Jane, who – after a brief prelude, where we are shown the spirit-crushing nightmare of failing auditions – barricade themselves into John’s flat, determined not to leave until they’ve had their Ruth Jones/James Cordon epiphany, and penned a veritable hit.

Morton, who stars alongside director Daniel Cullen, is an engaging performer, and there are some genuine laugh out loud moments here, notably the Porpoises in Space routines, which are wonderfully daft. The playful bickering between the two is nicely drawn, and Cullen has an appealing cheekiness, which helps create the atmosphere.

It’s a shame that the script focuses so much on banter, I think; I know the relationship is central to the piece, but there’s so much badinage that it becomes a little repetitive. I’d have liked to have seen them trying harder to write their play, to have been shown more of their putative scripts – a range of genres, for example, would have made the piece more varied and interesting to watch. There’s a bit of corpsing too, which is a pity – although it can, of course, happen to anyone, and maybe today is a one off.

It’s good to see young creatives making their own opportunities, and this piece is certainly good fun.

3 stars

Susan Singfield