Edinburgh

Declan

26/08/20

Traverse Theatre Online

First seen by B&B  at The Traverse Theatre in June 2018, Mouthpiece by Kieran Hurley scored a five star review from us and, some time thereafter, went on to a run of acclaimed performances at London’s Soho Theatre.

Now, lockdown has spawned a companion piece, once again written by Hurley and starring Lorn Macdonald, who, in this pithy, foul-mouthed monologue, offers the same basic story from a different perspective, that of the antagonist. 

Like so many lockdown projects, this thirty minute film has necessitated an inventive approach from the production team in order to make it so much more than just a static talking head scenario – and they’ve delivered big time. There are gorgeous animated cartoon inserts by Nisan Yetkin in the style of Declan’s distinctive artwork, and a series of exterior scenes shot in some memorable Edinburgh locations. 

Furthermore, there are scenes featuring ‘Declan’ (Angus Taylor), who we understand is playing the character in the fictionalised account of his story as written by Libby, the woman the other Declan meets on Salisbury Crags, who befriends him and then ‘steals his life.’

 As the play proceeds, we become increasingly unsure which of the two men is actually real. ‘Fuckin’ meta,’ as Declan is so fond of saying. (Especially, as – of course – they’re both actors and ‘Declan’ is as much of a construct as he ever was…)

This is a striking piece of filmed theatre. I’m not certain that a knowledge of the original play is absolutely essential to the enjoyment of it, but I think it helps. Having seen and loved Mouthpiece, I can’t unknow it  (which is quite meta all by itself). But one thing’s for sure, you certainly won’t be bored by this. McDonald and Taylor are clearly actors to watch out for in the future and Hurley too, is a major talent (as anyone who saw his underrated feature film Beats will surely attest). 

Short, punchy and inventive, Declan is well worth your attention.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

L’alba D’oro

l-alba-d-oro

27/06/20

 Henderson Row, Edinburgh

It should be simple enough, right?  We haven’t eaten fish and chips since well before lockdown began, three months ago, and we really, really fancy some. But good fish and chips, you understand, not the greasy lukewarm sludge that sometimes masquerades under that description around Britain’s fair cities. We certainly don’t want to repeat the experience we once had, when, fuelled by a few drinks at The Cameo, we called at a high street chippy (which shall remain nameless), waited ages for some ‘freshly prepared’ nosh, took one bite each and promptly threw the lot into the nearest food recycling bin.

I mean, how difficult can it be?

Of course, in usual circumstances, there’s an easy solution. A quick trip to Berties on Victoria Street and the problem is solved, plus you get to dine in a swish, open-plan restaurant. But these are unusual times, so who can deliver a tasty fish supper direct to our door? We put out a call for help on Facebook and three friends come straight back with the same answer. L’alba D’oro in Stockbridge is the establishment we are looking for. These are all people we trust, so we order online and the food soon arrives, packaged in cardboard and smelling suitably enticing. As the establishment doesn’t offer any Manchester Caviar (mushy peas), we take the opportunity to heat up a can from our larder. We’ve also got our own swanky home-made tomato ketchup (we’ve had time on our hands, okay?), so we are all ready to dine.

Our friends were correct. This is exactly what we’ve been craving. A generously sized portion of haddock, encased in light, crunchy batter, the fish perfectly cooked: white, flaky and aromatic. The chips are crispy on the outside, and all soft and flavoursome within. You’d think it would take quite a while to down such a massive portion, but we demolish it in no time at all.

So, in short, if you’re in Edinburgh and you’re longing for perfect fish and chips, you know where to order from. (L’alba D’oro also offer other tasty treats, plus a different fish special every day.)

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Wedgwood at Home

24/05/20

wedgwoodtherestaurant.co.uk

It’s Week Ten in the Year of Our Lockdown, and I am missing eating out. I love the whole restaurant experience: the theatre, the bustle. But, if that’s not available, I’ll settle for just the food.

Like many establishments across the country, the normally premises-bound Wedgwood Restaurant (Canongate, Royal Mile, Edinburgh) is offering a takeaway service at the moment: a three course meal for £22. This is a ‘cook at home’ menu and, to be honest, there’s a little bit too much cooking involved: we have to write down the timings so we don’t mess it up, and it doesn’t feel very relaxing. Maybe it would work better if we had an open-plan kitchen-diner, but we don’t, so we’re scuttling between the table and the stove, conversations left hanging or shouted between two rooms.

Still, the food is very good, and the evening does feel special.

To start, Philip has a smoked salmon and dill paté, which is served with crumbed oatcake, blistered tomatoes, baby gem and toast. The paté has a pleasant citrusy flavour, but there’s a lot of it and not much toast. I have roast cauliflower velouté with a coriander and cashew crumb and red pepper oil. It’s lovely: a creamy, indulgent delight.

My main is roast smoked mackerel, with a spring onion and black olive potato cake, green beans and a chorizo hollandaise. It’s perfectly judged, the intensely flavoured fish well complemented by the robustness of the olives and chorizo. Philip has a lemon and thyme scented confit chicken leg with braised fennel, lentils and a gorgeously shiny honey and grain mustard jus. The whole meal is delicious, but it’s the jus that makes it.

We add in our own cheese course, because we want to, because this is our ‘date night’ and we want it to last. We have a subscription to Pong cheese, so we share three small pieces, with some onion chutney and home-made crackers.

Then pudding. We share a sticky toffee pudding with butterscotch sauce and a dark chocolate brownie with milk chocolate cremeaux, white chocolate and sweet cicely pesto and raspberries. This final course is the winner: every mouthful feels like a treat. It’s sticky and sweet and wonderful.

Wedgwood offer wine with their menu, but we have laid in a good stock from Majestic, so we open a bottle (okay, two) of Chenin Blanc (La Baume de La Grande Oliviette), and enjoy.

And, all in all, for a night in, this is pretty good.

But I’d still prefer a night out. Without the washing up.

4 stars

Susan Singfield

Bravo Figaro

14/05/20

Go Faster Stripe and Traverse Theatre

Mark Thomas is always a delight to watch: standup, storyteller, activist – all of these terms can be applied to him and all seem to fit perfectly. We missed Bravo Figaro at last year’s festival, so this seems like a welcome addition to our lockdown entertainment options, streaming live on YouTube for just £5, with a percentage of ticket purchases going to the Traverse theatre.

Business is pretty much as usual here, as Thomas ambles onto a sparsely furnished stage and begins to unfold the story of his father, Colin, a hardworking family man, a builder by trade who, unusually for a working class chap, developed a fervent passion for opera. Thomas pulls no punches in his depiction of a man who was never slow in using his own fists when angered and who clearly ruled his wife and chidren with a rod of iron. But, when he was stricken by a rare form of degenerative illness, Colin became a shadow of the man he used to be – and his son had to look for ways in which he might remind his father of the things that used to motivate him.

This clever and moving story, draws a compelling narrative, interspersed with occasional recorded pieces featuring the voices of his parents in conversation.

It’s testament to Thomas’s considerable skill as a raconteur that he manages to flit effortlessly in and out of the various scenes, between genuinely funny observations and heartwrenching moments of realisation. Not everything here quite hits home as surely as it might, for example, a brief passage where he explains to the younger people in the audience what vinyl is seems like a misstep – they are the hipster generation, after all.

But that’s a minor quibble. This is a charming and perceptive piece, that provides an excellent way to fill an hour of lockdown. I look forward to seeing him again, preferrably in a packed theatre, with the laughter of others ringing around me.

4.2 stars

Philip Caveney

Six by Nico: Home by Nico Experience

24/04/20

sixbynico.co.uk

Running a review site that focuses on film, theatre and comedy has never been more problematic and, of course, we also review restaurants – and that’s even more difficult. While film,theatre and comedy can be sourced online, restaurants cannot.

So when we hear that Six by Nico are offering a four course meal, to be cooked in customers’ home ovens, we sit up and take notice. At £80 for four people, it’s not cheap, but neither is it too extortionate for a high-end takeaway, and it does include wine! And yes, there are only two of us, but we’ll freeze up two portions for later. (Future menus, it transpires, will be available for two diners, at the reduced cost of £50.)

In the good old days B.C. (before Coronavirus), we had plans to visit this popular restaurant with friends, but could never seem to sort out a time when we could all get there. Ah, for such problems now! SbN is best known for showcasing a different theme each month and tends to book out well in advance. So, here, finally, is our chance to try out their cuisine, albeit in the familiar surroundings of our modest home. This week’s menu theme is ‘Catalonia.’

The food arrives at 10am, neatly packaged with cooking instructions and full allergy information. It’s apparent at a glance that the portions are on the generous side. We separate two portions, put everything in the fridge, and look forward to the evening.

Unfortunately, when we approach the allotted hour of 7pm, (Sod’s law!)  a whole battalion of workers start attacking the pavement outside our front door with drills, a process that continues until the small hours of the morning. Apparently there’s a problem with the electricity supply. ‘Will it last out until we’ve finished cooking?’ we yell over the noise, crossing our fingers and hoping for the best…

It does. Phew!

For starters,we have a very nice foccacia with olive oil and basalmic vinegar. (The foccacia isn’t quite as splendid as the one we’ve been sampling from Tasty Buns, but is nonetheless an appetising introduction.)

Next up, it’s a manchego bomba with red pepper romesco: a round, firm sphere of excellence filled with a gooey, melting cheese and potato filling and accompanied by some green salad. Delicious.

The main course is a rich, chicken and chorizo ragout, accompanied by paprika & garlic patatas bravas and roasted fennel and piquillo pepper cous cous, the latter served cold. This is the most ambitious of the dishes here and it works very well indeed. There’s also a bottle of Plot Twenty Two Tempranillo Shiraz, the heavy acidic flavour cutting perfectly through the tang of the sauce.

Next up, cheese and crackers: a portion of ossau iraty, a delicious cheese from the Pyrenees (and when I say a portion, there’s a huge block of the stuff, which will be happily eaten over the next few days). We enjoy this with some charcoal crackers and a tangy chutney, noting that the cheese has been sourced from I J Mellis, our usual purveyor of choice in Edinburgh (though somebody recently treated us to a subscription to the equally excellent Pong Cheese, so it’s a wee while since we’ve been).

And so to pudding, which is slightly disappointing. St Clement’s cake  – the name conjours images of a moist citrusy orange and lemon concoction, but this, served with a vanilla crème anglaise, though a perfectly decent bake, is a little too bland for our liking. It lacks the lip-smacking decadence of a perfect pud, the final flourish that such a meal demands.

Of course, what’s missing from all this of is the theatre of visiting a top flight restaurant, the vivacity and atmosphere that the food itself is only a part of. Nevertheless, this is more ambitious (and feels much more special) than your average takeaway. Those wishing to investigate should note that only the first two hundred customers who apply for a weekend meal will be successful, so if you want to try it, book early.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

 

Five From Inside

21/04/20

Traverse Theatre YouTube

We were looking forward to Donny’s Brain at the Traverse, but then along came a global pandemic to scupper our plans. Enter writer Rona Munro, director Caitlin Skinner and the rest of the cast and crew with a plan to fill the gap: a series of five short monologues, free to view on the theatre’s YouTube channel.

Thematically, we’re in all too familiar territory: one way or another, the characters are all trapped, either physically incarcerated or marooned within their own introspection. It’s a ghastly reminder of the zeitgeist.

First up, there’s Jacob (Bhav Joshi), who’s literally locked up: he’s in prison, desperately seeking help from his brother. The off-kilter camera angles create a sense of panic and disorientation; his fear is palpable. Next comes twitchy Fern (Lauren Grace), who’s also being kept against her will, apparently in some kind of clinic. She’s struggling to ‘colour her mood’ correctly with her crayons. ‘I’m normal,’ she keeps insisting, frantically trying to banish her demons.

Mr Bubbles (Michael Dylan) is a children’s entertainer whose career is on the line after an embarrassing live TV bust-up with his partner; he’s trapped in his character, wiping at his make-up, trying to reveal the self below. And Siobhan (Roanna Davidson) is locked in a cycle of resentment against an employer who ostracises her, and refuses to recognise her contribution to the firm’s success.

My favourite of the five is the last one, Clemmy, performed by Suzanne Magowan (last seen by Bouquets & Brickbats in the thought-provoking Fibres), which takes the form of a filmed confession from a mother to her young daughter. She’s caught in a web of her own lies, and her anguish is heartbreaking. The back story is tantalising; this clearly has the potential to be developed into a longer piece.

But there’s no weak link here, and an astonishing tonal mix, considering the self-limiting nature of the project. Although each one is a stand-alone, they work best when viewed together, a series of lives connected by a sense of isolation.

Available until 9pm on 2nd May, these vignettes are well worth fifty minutes of your time.

3.8 stars

Susan Singfield

Songs of Friendship 3: Revelations

13/03/20

It’s likely that James Rowland’s trilogy will be the last stage performance we see for a while, thanks to a certain wee virus up-ending life as we know it. As mass gatherings are banned and large theatres begin to shut, we’re here, slathered in hand-sanitiser, hoping that the small, clean Traverse 2 is a safe enough space.

This is part three of the trilogy, but – at the time of watching – we hadn’t yet seen part two. That has now been rectified, which is good because it means I’m writing with full knowledge of the story – but bad because it’s playing havoc with our house-style of writing in the present tense…

Anyway.

Revelations is about an older, sadder James. The shock of losing a best friend to cancer; the awkward sadness of an inevitable break-up – these heartaches belonged to a young man, not quite fully-fledged, whatever his birth certificate might have said. This final instalment is altogether more grown up, although, of course, James is still James, so ‘maturity’ isn’t the first word that springs to mind. Still, he’s forced to confront some pretty adult issues, and there’s an endearing frankness to the way he details his response.

The main focus is parenthood, specifically the idea of being a sperm donor for his best friend and her wife. He wouldn’t be the baby’s father (it would have two mothers), but he would be an active presence in its life. And, he worries, maybe too active a presence: is he getting in the way of Sarah and Emma’s relationship?

This final instalment is, without doubt, a tragedy, albeit told with humour – and without clothes. Yes, that’s right – without clothes. Because Rowland spends the last twenty minutes stark-bollock naked. It’s a shame that we need trigger warnings (and I do understand why; I’m not arguing against them in principle) because the shock-factor is somewhat undermined by a ‘THIS SHOW CONTAINS FULL-FRONTAL NUDITY’ poster that greets us as we enter. Instead of being startling, the undressing is more: ‘Oh, okay then; here it is…’

It’s definitely brave, although I’m not sure why he doesn’t pop on a dressing gown after the key moment of revelation. Except that there’s a sense throughout the trilogy of a character who always pushes things too far, and maybe this is just the final iteration of that trait.

All in all, Songs of Friendship establishes Rowland as an accomplished and empathetic storyteller, whose friendly bumblings through life will retain a place in many hearts.

4 stars

Susan Singfield

Within Sight

05/03/20

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Ellen Renton’s Within Sight is a beautifully written piece, following a disabled athlete’s failed attempt to qualify for the paralympics. Like Renton, the protagonist has albinism, and is angry at the way the world seems set to trip her up.

Renton is clearly a talented poet: the language is rich and rhythmic, engaging and provocative. The video projections (by filmmaker Kiana Kalanter Hormoz) complement the narrative well, providing sighted members of the audience with a sense of the protagonist’s experience. And I like the running, the physical exertion, the beats that match the words. There’s a real sense of battle here, of exhaustion, of how it feels when simple, everyday actions are rendered difficult.

If there’s a problem, it’s that there’s not quite enough of anything: the play is very short (about forty minutes), and there’s certainly space within the story for more detail, more emotion, more elucidation. There’s plenty of scope for another twenty minutes’ worth, I think – although Renton might not relish the extra running that would entail…

Nevertheless, this is a thought-provoking performance, drawing much needed attention to the casual able-ism that permeates society.

3.6 stars

Susan Singfield

 

Dial M For Murder

24/02/20

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

For a playwright who purportedly ‘hated writing,’ Frederick Knott has certainly had a lasting impact. True, he didn’t write a lot but his 1951 stage thriller, Dial M For Murder, is still packing in the punters almost seventy years after its creation, and is a classic of its kind.

Predictably, the King’s Theatre is full tonight; this one is almost guaranteed to be a crowd-pleaser. But it’s subtly done: Anthony Banks’ direction avoids the arch high-campery that’s all-too pervasive in period crime dramas these days. Sure, he embraces (and even highlights) the nonsensical aspects of the plot, but not at the expense of credible characters.

Still, there’s no getting away from it: this is a schlocky tale of murder and intrigue. Beautiful heriress, Margot (Sally Bretton), has been having an affair with dashing young writer, Max (Michael Salami), and has worked hard to keep her tennis-player husband, Tony (Tom Chambers), in the dark. She has no intention of leaving her marriage, and thinks she can keep everyone happy. But Tony is onto her, and has a yearning for revenge… His plan is cunning and convoluted; can he contrive the outcome he desires?

The four-strong cast (Christopher Harper, dual-roling as Captain Lesgate and Inspector Hubbard, completes the quad) deliver slick, believable performances, even managing to sustain my interest in the overly-expositional opening half hour. After that, things become more action-packed, and we’re less reliant on hearing the detailed back story.

I really like the bold lighting and sound design (by Lizzie Powell and Ben and Max Ringham respectively), which works especially well in the scene transitions. The passing of time following the fateful incident at the core of the play is beautifully evoked, and the use of The Beatles’  Tomorrow Never Knows is perfect here.

So yes, Dial M For Murder is a well-worn piece, and it won’t win any innovation prizes in 2020. But it’s a classic for a reason, and this production does it proud.

4 stars

Susan Singfield

 

Home is Not the Place

21/02/20

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

 

In Home is Not the Place, poet/dramatist Annie George explores the story of her own childhood and that of her grandfather, the Malayalam poet, PM John. If his name doesn’t exactly resonate with contemporary audiences, that’s hardly surprising. He died in 1945 at the age of 40 and, a couple of years later, nearly all of his writing was destroyed in a house fire. As a novelist myself, the idea fills me with horror – I still have a huge trunk of my early work, which I have stubbornly dragged from location to location. It’s unpublishable but losing it would be a nightmare.

And it’s this lack of substance that makes for a slightly frustrating experience – the sections that deal with George’s own story are far more compelling than the slightly nebulous narrative concerning her grandfather. We hear recollections of George’s childhood journey to London from India, how she eventually found refuge in the more nurturing nature of Scottish society and how she developed as a writer herself. But of PM John there are only vague impressions, built around an old portrait of him, which has been badly ‘restored.’ (I would have loved to hear one of his poems, for instance, which would give a clearer picture of who he was and what he represented. Presumably this absence is even more irksome for George.)

HINTP uses still images, short pieces of film and atmospheric bursts of Indian music to illustrate the various themes. The central thrust of the narrative is about the way our experiences shape us as individuals and about what the term ‘home’ really means to each person. This comes through eloquently. George is a compelling narrator and once she’s settled into her stride, she pulls me into the poignant sweep of the piece. 

But I’m left wanting to know more about PM John – I spend some time afterwards fruitlessly searching for more information about him on the internet. Perhaps that’s been George’s intention all along.

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney