Edinburgh 2019

How To Use a Washing Machine


Zoo Southside, Edinburgh

And so here it is: our final show of Edfringe 2019. And for Bouquets and Brickbats, it’s Slam Theatre’s latest production. We really don’t know what to expect from this, but the presence of a string quartet on stage is promising. How To Use a Washing Machine is a new musical, and, as it turns out, a fairly unusual one.

It’s the story of James (Max Cadman) and Cass (Amelye Moulton), two disaffected siblings called back to the home they grew up in because their parents are going through a marriage breakup. They are required to help put things in order, to sort through the detritus of their childhoods, so they can decide what to keep and what to dump. Max is a successful banker, who has sacrificed his youthful dreams of being a dancer to make a repectable living. Cass hasn’t quite given up on her artistic ambitions and is leading a rather less comfortable existence in a rundown flat in London. The two have respective axes to grind. They have fallen out in the past, but neither of them is quite prepared to take the blame for the rift.

There’s much about this production that I like: the urgent, strident rhythms of the music by Joe Davis, the acerbic lyrics by Georgie Botham, and the performances of the two young leads are also top notch. Narratively though, the story feels a little one-note. After a powerful opening section, which depicts the siblings’ travails as they travel to the  parental home during adverse weather conditions, the middle stretch feels as though it needs to progress a little more than it actually does. It seems to take Max and Cassie an age to settle their differences.

Furthermore, though we’re told that the warring parents are somewhere else in the house, arguing with each other, there really isn’t much sense of their presence in this production. I want to have a better picture of them.

The piece regains its momentum in the final third, and goes out on a rousing note, with a reprise of the memorable opening song. How To Use a Washing Machine makes a unusual culmination to Edfringe 2019 and, ultimately, that’s what this festival is all about.

Anyhow, it’s been emotional – and now we need to get some sleep.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney

Flo & Joan: Before the Screaming Starts


Assembly George Square Gardens (Piccolo), Edinburgh

Our penultimate Edinburgh show is chosen simply by virtue of its convenenient time slot, rather than for the act itself. The truth is, I know very little of Flo and Joan’s work, other than the quirky advertisements for the Nationwide that first brought them to wider attention. They are clearly having a very good Fringe. The Piccolo tent is completely sold out and, when comedy luminaries like Hannah Gadsby and Alan Davies are sitting in the audience, it’s evident they’re doing something right.

Flo and Joan (real names Nicola and Rosie Dempsy) are an eccentric sister-act who specialise in amusing songs about everyday experiences – waiting for a parcel delivery, for instance, is something we’re all much too familiar with, but they manage to take the song into unexpected, fantastical realms. They have a sharper edge too. The song addressed to anti-vaxxers doesn’t take any prisoners.

There’s something very endearing about this duo. I love the silent, accusatory stares they direct at a few hapless latecomers. ‘The show loses momentum when we talk,’ says Flo. It doesn’t, but I feel almost contractually obliged to say it does, after their references to what other critics have said about them. Actually, I enjoy their deadpan patter.

The theme of this (if there is one) is siblings who sing together. The Osmonds, The Bee Gees, Bros, etc. That title, of course, is a reference to the recent so-bad-it’s-good  documentary about the Brothers Goss. But really, this is just a series of amusing ditties, skilfully played and nicely sung; when the sister’s harmonise, it’s clear that their voices were made for each other. If I were to make a comparison with any other comedian, it would be with the late great Victoria Wood. Flo and Joan seem to share her delicious sense of the ridiculous, her flair for amusing one liners.

At any rate, this is their last night in Edinburgh, so if you’re planning to catch them, it will have to be somewhere else. Wherever you encounter them, you’re likely to enjoy the experience.

4 stars

Philip Caveney


How to be Brave


Roundabout at Summerhall, Edinburgh

Katie (Laura Dalgliesh) isn’t in a good place. She’s moved back in with her mum, because she needs help looking after her littl’un. She’s clearly on a downward spiral, relying on her routine to keep her focused and on track. But today is different; today is difficult and new. Today she has to take the littl’un to the hospital, for heart surgery. Today Katie is scared.

And Katie doesn’t cope too well with fear.

Siân Owen’s one-woman play follows single-mum Katie as she flees a situation she can’t face, dashing impulsively out of the house and onto the streets of Newport, ricocheting from one panicked moment to the next. As she darts around the town she grew up in, she gets lost in childhood memories, the past and the present blurring into an incoherent howl.

It’s very funny. Dalgliesh’s energetic portrayal of a woman on the edge incorporates laugh-out-loud sequences, the breathless pace taking us along for the ride: we’re on that stolen BMX with her; the dread humiliation of her past failures fills us with shame as well. Katie is having a breakdown; we’re cringing even as we giggle. But still, it’s a positive piece, the kindness of strangers and, indeed, old enemies, a warming reminder that most people are actually pretty nice.

Catherine Paskell’s direction is spot-on, the small circular stage inventively utilised. Dalgliesh frequently darts towards the exits, seeking an escape, but she’s hemmed in (and supported) by the audience, hemmed in (and supported) by Newport and her past.

But will confronting her demons be enough to help her ‘find her brave’?

There’s only one more showing of Dirty Protest Theatre’s sparky Welsh play here in Edinburgh, but North Wales readers, take note. It’s coming to Theatr Clwyd at the start of September, and is well worth the trip to Mold.

4.1 stars

Susan Singfield



Gilded Ballon , Rose Theatre, Edinburgh

We’re at that stage of the Fringe where we’re experiencing WWSTE (Wish We’d Seen This Earlier). Searchers is a good case in point. Happening nightly down in the bowels of the Rose Theatre, it’s hidden away from the crowds, and that’s a real pity. This powerful, adrenalin-fueled fusion of high-octane rock, physical movement and poetry is something that’s crying out for a bigger audience.

Singer songwriter Taigé Lauren relates a cerebral road-movie of self-discovery, as her character, Mary, impulsively leaves her partner of three years and drives off into the heart of the American West, looking for a new beginning. Inspired by John Ford’s celebrated film, The Searchers, this is a trip in every sense of the word.

Lauren is a charismatic performer, and her three-piece band provides a kick-ass aural landscape for her vocals. She also moves with incredible grace and precision, using every inch of the stage. I love this show – it has me stamping my feet along to the urgent rhythms, even singing the choruses of songs I’m only hearing for the first time – and I’m totally suckerpunched by a climactic revelation that I really, REALLY don’t see coming.

There are just three nights left to catch this little gem so, if you don’t seize the opportunity, you’ll only have yourselves to blame. Get on down to Rose Street and share the experience. You won’t regret it.

4.6 stars

Philip Caveney



Paradise in the Vault, Edinburgh

Stalking. It’s not a subject I’ve given much thought to. I mean, I know about it, of course; I’ve read stories of celebrities frightened by obsessive fans, of women killed by men who refuse to let them go. But it’s always seemed rare and niche, the kind of thing that never happens to people that you actually know.

UCL Runaround’s documentary drama, Souvenirs, disabuses me of this notion. An estimated one million people are stalked in the UK every year. Their experiences are not sensational enough to make the news; guilt and fear might mean they don’t even tell their friends.

Based on interviews and research, and supported by the Suzy Lamplugh Trust, Poppy Crumpton’s script focuses on four monologues, showing the various forms stalking can take. Alice (Becki Pauley) can’t seem to shake off her ex. They met at uni, so all their friends are mutual. No one really believes her when she tries to reveal what’s happening.

Oisin (Dan Barber) regrets a one-night stand he had; the guy’s infatuated with him, texting him, phoning him, the first to respond to every social media post. Oisin works in theatre; he can’t do his job without an online presence

Rex (Sam Jones)’s problem is a neighbour, an old woman hellbent on causing him grief.

Lucy (Lizzie Miesenboeck) seems sweet. She’s earnest and articulate. But the crush she has on her lecturer is ruining his life.

This is an ambitious project, but co-directors Crumpton and Joey Jepps succeed in making it work. The cross-cutting between stories is nicely handled, and the real impact of such behaviour – online as well as in person – is cleverly exposed. The ever-present paperwork – screwed up, tossed aside, straightened out, boxed up – is a neat illustration of how stalkers insinuate their ways into their victims’ lives, obliging them to collect and store evidence, forcing them into mutual obsession. It’s horrible.

All four actors present their characters with real conviction; this is an eye-opening production with a strong message. 

4.1 stars

Susan Singfield

One Duck Down


Pleasance Courtyard (Above), Edinburgh

Festival-goers with young children to entertain will find plenty to enjoy in FacePlant Theatre’s One Duck Down. This lively family show is a charming mix of comedy and music, with an ecological theme.

Billy (Owen Jenkins) is a seventeen year old paperboy, who has lost his heart to the – clearly rather horrible – Cecilia Sourbottom (Alice Bounce). She keeps setting him Herculean tasks, telling him that only when he has achieved every one of them will she return his affection. His latest mission? To relocate the seven-thousand rubber ducks accidentally dropped into the ocean in 1992 (an event famously featured in David Attenborough’s Blue Planet television series).

Intent on proving his devotion, Billy sets off in a little boat, with only his unfailing optimism and a couple of sandwiches to get him through. En route, he encounters a rock’n’ roll-obsessed polar bear (Maxwell Tyler), a batallion of plastic-worshipping crabs, and a fearless bearded lady (Lydia Hourihan), who soon proves to be a worthier contender for Billy’s affection than the odious Cecilia.

It’s all done with good-natured zeal and bags of ingenuity: a myopic whale is somehow conjured out of a couple of sheets of painted cardboard; a host of skittering crabs are created using nothing more than pairs of red mittens. The costumes are garbage – quite literally; they’re made from throwaway items rescued from the trash. On the ecology front, however, it might have been preferable to concentrate less on recyling and cleaning up detritus and more on preventing the creation of waste in the first place, but this does get the idea across to even the youngest members of the audience that we all need to take drastic action if the planet is to be saved.

As the story romps amiably along, we’re treated to a selection of catchy songs, which soon have the audience joining in on the choruses – and those who enjoy groan-inducing puns will have an absolute field day here. My particular favourite? That famous seafaring novel, Moby Duck.

There are just a few days left to enjoy this, so gather up the kids and get on down to The Pleasance Courtyard, where the quest begins.

4 stars

Philip Caveney



Ophelia Is Also Dead


theSpace at Niddry Street, Edinburgh

Ophelia is also Dead is – as you might infer from the title – Ophelia’s story, given more weight than Shakespeare ever intended. Here, the sketchy image of the deranged drowned girl is developed into a fully-rounded character, with a disctinctive voice.

The script, by Aliya Gilmore, is insightful and inventive, almost a forensic study of Hamlet and Ophelia’s function within it. Dripping with water in a ravaged wedding dress, Ophelia tells us who she really is.

Fionna Monk’s performance is impressive: all anger and anguish, determined to be seen. I like the meta-theatricality, particularly the notion that she is all Ophelias in all productions, facing a never-ending raft of badly-interpreted Hamlets.  She has been Ophelia for four-hundred years; she’s seen herself portayed in many ways.

However, for all its quirky originality, this Durham University play somehow feels a bit too essay-ish, like a student trying to demonstrate everything they know about Shakespeare. And I really think it needs to be a monologue; the rest of the cast are under-used, serving only as a distraction, interrupting Ophelia’s flow. The intensity of Monk’s interpretation is undermined by these pointless cameos.

Still, this offers a new and interesting perspective on a criminally overlooked character.

3 stars

Susan Singfield


Who Cares?


Summerhall (Main Hall), Edinburgh

Co-produced by LUNG and The Lowry, Who Cares? is a truly heartbreaking piece of verbatim theatre. Based on a year’s worth of interviews with young carers from Salford, writer/director Matt Woodhead has created a devastating account of children taking on responsibilities many adults would shy from, and of a system that callously ignores them.

A level student Jade (Jessica Temple) is old before her time. Her mum’s moved in with her new boyfriend, leaving Jade to look after her dad and brother. Jade’s dad is paralysed; he needs help to shower and use the toilet. Her older brother can’t assist: he has profound learning disabilities, and is deaf as well. Several times a day, Jade FaceTimes her brother from the school toilets to check everything’s okay. She’s struggling to focus on her studies.

Nicole (Lizzie Mounter) is in Year 9. She’s been caring for her mum since she had a stroke when Nicole was four. Nicole keeps acting out at school; she’s on a ‘behaviour plan.’ But no wonder she’s angry: she’s only a kid, struggling to navigate a punitive benefits system, filling in forms to help her mum apply for PIPS. No one at school knows what she’s going through.

Connor (Luke Grant) is a gentle soul. He’s a bit of a geek, devoted to his computer. But his mum has mental health problems, and his dad is physically disabled. Luke’s struggling to balance Year 11 with looking after them. And he’s scared to go home after school, because he never knows what he might find…

These three stories are not unusual. I used to teach in Manchester; I knew children just like these. There are an estimated 700,000 young carers in the UK; it’s about time their voices were heard. It’s hard to be a carer anyway, but at least adult carers get paid (albeit a pittance), at least adult carers aren’t questioned every time they try to pick up a prescription or attend an appointment. These are children, forced to inhabit a grown-up world. Why isn’t there support in place?

The performances are note perfect: these are real people with real lives. I like the high-octane rock music and the choreographed transitions between scenes; I like the onesies, the phones, the games console – reminders that these are normal teenagers, with the same needs as all their peers. The locker-room set (by Jen McGinley) is particularly effective, indicative at once of school, bureaucracy and shuttered-off feelings.

This is a must-see play, a well-deserving recipient of the 2019 SIT-UP award.

Find out more at http://www.whocarestour.org.uk

5 stars

Susan Singfield


Rocket Girl


Underbelly, Cowgate (Iron Belly), Edinburgh

Parents seeking a quality family show at this year’s Fringe should get themselves down to the Cowgate without further delay, for Ditto Theatre’s delightful Rocket Girl. This charming blend of puppetry and theatre has a poignant story at its heart.

It’s 1969 and NASA has just put the first man on the moon. Young Maisie Robinson (voiced by Polly Byecroft Brown) lives with her father (Aaron Baker) and is obsessed with the idea of being an astronaut. The two of them have a daily ritual where they train Maisie for the special mission she plans to undertake when she grows up: to be the first woman to walk on the moon. But Maisie’s father works as a coal miner – and, when he is overtaken by serious illness, it’s clear that things are about to change for Maisie – and not necessarily for the better.

‘Maisie’ herself isn’t played by an actor but by a puppet – one that is so convincingly manipulated by her human co-stars that I soon start to think of her as a real person. Six actors embody a whole host of roles, ingeniously using simple props, physical theatre and lighting effects to help them tell the story. And what a delightful story it is, heartwarming, empowering and, moreover, it covers some pretty emotive themes with absolute confidence. The youngsters at the show we attend are spellbound by what’s happening onstage. And so am I.

There are just a few more opportunities left to see this play in Edinburgh. Don’t let them slip away. The countdown to the end of Edfringe 2019 has already begun…

4.4 stars

Philip Caveney


Jo Caulfield: Voodoo Doll


The Stand Comedy Club (Stand 3), Edinburgh

We weren’t going to see Jo Caulfield this year. We always enjoy her shows, but we’ve reviewed her a few times already. We know her schtick; what can we say about her that we haven’t said before? But, two-and-a-bit weeks into the Fringe, we find ourselves yearning for some guaranteed laughs, for quality comedy without a message or a solemn life-lesson.

So we’re here. Again. And we’re delighted with our decision. Because Caulfield is positively crackling with ire, her trademark causticity dialled right up to eleven. Voodoo Doll is loosely based on the idea of Jo trying to purge her anger by writing a list of all the things that annoy her. It’s a long list. She’s outraged – and outrageous. From her ageing mum to her hapless husband; from couples on holiday to millennial bar-tenders: no one is safe from her scathing putdowns. (Although the joke, usually, is more about her impotent fury than the ostensible target.)

Some of her subjects might seem worn: men vs women; young people nowadays. But every gag lands; every punchline takes us unawares. Clichés stop being clichés when surprises are revealed. The laughs keep coming, one sucker-punch after another, Caulfield never afraid to test the audience’s boundaries, always at ease and in total command. The funniest Brexit gag I’ve ever heard is almost throwaway, delivered with a lightness of touch that stops the show from becoming serious or overtly political.

So do yourself a favour and see Voodoo Doll before the end of its Fringe run. You’ll be hard-pressed to find a funnier hour.

5 stars

Susan Singfield