Edinburgh

Keep on Walking Federico

09/05/19

Keep on Walking Federico is a monologue, written and performed by Mark Lockyer and apparently based around an experience from his own family history. There’s a simple set: a chair, a table, and a floor covered in sand, from which Lockyer periodically unearths items that relate to the story he unfolds. This is all about incidents buried in the past, so that makes perfect sense.

After a family tragedy, Mark arrives in a sleepy little Spanish village, where he has gone to attempt to find a resolution to his sorrows. Lockyer is an accomplished raconteur and he skilfully embodies the various people he encounters during his stay, flitting effortlessly from one to the other: the worldly-wise proprietor of the local bar; the mysterious handsome GP who appears to have criminal connections; a tragic flamenco-dancing female neighbour and a portly Dutchman with a liking for baklava and Miss World pageants. Lockyer also offers us conversations with his mother, who, we slowly begin to realise, is the source of much of Mark’s distress.

Though the performance is strong, the material is perhaps a little too introspective, a little too precious. Though this offers a pleasant enough diversion for an hour or so, it’s conclusion doesn’t really carry sufficient resonance to make it truly memorable.

As for the title, you’ll have to wait until the very end for an explanation.

3.4 stars

Philip Caveney

Advertisements

The Worst Witch

07/05/19

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Jill Murphy’s Worst Witch has surely earned a place on the ‘children’s classic’ list by now? First conjured into print in 1974, Mildred Hubble has been casting her spell over children for nearly five decades, with film, television and now stage adaptations all helping to extend her reach. Her guileless exuberance and gauche clumsiness are a heady mixture; she’s a relatable heroine – her fallibility as important as her courage and warm heart.

This production, adapted by Emma Reeves and directed by Theresa Heskins, has much to commend it. It’s a sprightly dash through key elements of the eight novels – focusing on Mildred’s breathless arrival at the school and the countless scrapes she gets into – and there’s enough energy and zeal here to keep even the youngest audience members engaged.

The conceit is that the students of Miss Cackle’s Academy for Witches are putting on a play, written by fifth-former Mildred (Danielle Bird) about her early days at the school. The metadrama allows for some deliciously lo-tech creativity, and the school-show-style solutions with their implicitly small budget are both charming and effective. I like the silliness of the blue blankets to denote invisibility, for example, and the broomstick-swings for the ill-fated flying display. The sock-puppet cats are also a delight: a daft idea that works remarkably well.

The characters are nicely drawn. These are adults playing children, but it doesn’t feel too much of a stretch. The structure means that they’re supposed to be sixteen, after all, playing at being their younger selves. Rosie Abraham stands out as uber-snob Ethel: her smug demeanour is perfectly portrayed, and funny rather than threatening. Bird is a suitably scatty and likeable Mildred, and Rachel Heaton’s embodiment of Miss Hardbroom is marvellous. The incorporation of Mildred’s classmates and teachers into the on-stage band is neatly done, with Miss Bat (Molly-Grace Cutler), Miss Drill (Megan Leigh Mason) and Fenella (Meg Forgan) rocking out convincingly. The first act is, well, first-rate.

I’m not so keen on the second act, where the action moves backstage. Despite a powerful performance from Polly Lister, the Miss Cackle/Evil-Twin Agatha sequence dominates to such an extent that it feels unbalanced; this is no longer Mildred’s tale. The transition from school play to ‘real life’ is a little fudged, and some of the children around us are confused, asking their parents to clarify. I like the sequins and campery, the panto-villain strutting and the body-swap routines, but the pyrotechnics and video projections just don’t work as well as the homespun stuff in the first half. They’re not magnificent enough to impress, and lack the bravura inventiveness of the earlier ideas.

Still, this is a fun piece of theatre, and well worth seeing. Mildred Hubble is a truly lovely character, and it’s easy to see why she has endured.

3.8 stars

Susan Singfield

Oink

05/04/19

Victoria Street, Edinburgh

We’ve been looking forward to Edinburgh’s inaugural Open Streets day, keen to see the Old Town transformed into a traffic-free zone, with activities a-plenty to entice us onto the Royal Mile. It’s a great idea: a once-a-month trial in a limited area, to see what the impact of such emission-reducing policies might be. The benefits can be trumpeted, to convince the sceptical; any negatives can be addressed. Hopefully, in time, it can be extended, to ensure better air quality for us all, making the city centre a healthier, more active place.

So far, we’ve had fun. It’s all pretty low key, but there’s a pleasant, chilled-out atmosphere. There are regular-sized people playing giant chess next to St Giles, and tiny kids navigating bikes on the Grassmarket. We play badminton – badly – in the middle of the street, and take photographs of a bubble show.

Which is all well and good, but now it’s lunch time, and we’re hungry.

We’ve walked past Victoria Street’s Oink on many occasions, commenting on the ever-present queues, and the clever simplicity of the idea. But we’ve never eaten here. We only have meat once a week, so we’re extra choosy when it comes to it. Today, a hog-roast roll seems most appealing, so we join the line and wait our turn.

There’s no other option, and that’s the beauty of the place. Owners Adam Marshall and Sandy Pate are farmers, and the meat comes straight from Marshall’s farm. There’s a pig, whole, and there’re rolls; that’s why we’re here. There are some limited choices: white or brown bread; apple sauce or mustard mayonnaise; sage and onion or haggis stuffing; crackling or… no crackling. Served quickly, without fuss, wrapped in a sheet of foil, and off we go.

We don’t go far. We’re barely out of the door before we’re tucking in. We’ve both chosen white bread (because, let’s face it, this was never about health), and the rolls are soft and light, a perfect home for the rich pulled pork. I’ve gone for sage and onion stuffing, apple sauce and – of course – some crackling. The latter is hot and sticky and very naughty; the sweet apple sauce complements the succulent meat. Philip’s opted for the stronger flavours of haggis and mustard, which he says are wonderful. He doesn’t say much else; like me, he’s concentrating on devouring this gromfy treat. We’re in no doubt now as to why this place is always busy. It deserves its success.

Usually, we don’t allow ourselves to have takeaways, because of the single-use plastic and the mounds of waste. And yeah, the foil wrapping here is single-use too, but at least it’s properly recyclable, and there’s only a small piece of it. Even so, next time we’ll try to be more prepared and bring our own beeswax wraps to the party. Because there will be a next time; there’s no doubt about that.

Maybe at the next Open Streets day, in June.

4.8 stars

Susan Singfield

The Verdict

30/04/19

King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

The Verdict might have started life as a novel by Barry Reed, but it’s David Mamet’s 1982 film adaptation that lingers in the public memory. With five Oscar nominations, this courtroom tale was a startling success, so it’s little wonder that it’s become part of the reviving-old-movies-into-plays phenomenon.

Director Michael Lunney (who also appears as Irish barman, Eugene Meehan) has created a slick production, which holds the audience’s attention despite its wordiness. The moral dilemma at the story’s heart is compelling and, despite the fact that we are rooting throughout for Frank (Ian Kelsey), we can still retain some sympathy for the defendants in the case. They’re doctors, accused of negligence; a young mother lies in a persistent vegetative state after (allegedly) being administered the wrong anaesthetic. But, while they’re clearly positioned as ‘the bad guys’, we are also invited to understand how easily an accident might happen; it’s the shameless cover-up that exposes their villainy, not their original mistake.

This is definitely Frank’s play, and Kelsey does a good job of portraying the dissolute lawyer, a borderline alcoholic, with just enough vestiges of morality to take on such a daunting case. He’s tempted by an early offer to settle out of court – he needs the money badly – but he knows that this time he has to do the right thing.

There’s a large cast (almost too large; surely it would make sense for some of these actors to multi-role?), and the characters are deftly drawn, creating a real impression of the community in which Frank lives and the circumstances in which he works. Josephine Rogers shines as mysterious barmaid, Donna St Laurent, and Denis Lill is marvellous as Moe Katz, Frank’e erstwhile mentor and proto-parent, and perhaps the production’s most sympathetic character.

The set is hyper-realistic, with a photographic backdrop and detailed interiors. In fact, if I’ve a criticism, that’s it: I don’t think this piece is theatrical enough. It feels like a film performed on a stage; it hasn’t really been adapted to the form. No one’s having fun here, experimenting with the possibilities of theatre, exploiting the advantages of live performance. There’s a moment when Frank addresses the jury, speaking out to the audience, which hints at how much more inclusive this whole experience could have been, but it’s fleeting, and then we’re back to watching something framed and distant, as if it’s behind glass.

Still, I can’t deny that I’m engrossed throughout, and this is a snappy, engaging piece of work. Courtrooms and theatres aren’t so very different, after all.

4 stars

Susan Singfield

The Eco Larder

27/04/19

Morrison Street, Edinburgh

Okay, so we don’t usually write about shops here at B&B. We don’t like shopping; the ‘food’ heading is for restaurant reviews (we do like eating out). But The Eco Larder is such a fabulous little store that we just can’t help ourselves. We want to extol its virtues.

And it’s our blog. We can stretch that ‘food’ category to include a shop if we want to. Right?

Run by the lovely Stephanie and Matt, The Eco Larder is a not-for-profit business, a social enterprise, with the laudable aim of eliminating plastic packaging. It’s encouraging to see zero waste shops like these springing up around the country, and The Eco Larder really is a bit special. We’ve all but ditched the supermarket in recent months (apart from an occasional trip to stock up on tinned food and alcohol); instead, we’re taking a weekly walk down Morrison Street, containers at the ready.

The shop is small, but bright and clean, and stocks an impressive array of goods. As well as our dried foods (pasta, rice, seeds, fruit, nuts, pulses, legumes, herbs, spices), we’re also buying our household items here, refilling old bottles with washing up liquid and hair conditioner. They sell loo roll and toothpaste, olive oils and vinegars, fresh bread and organic vegetables, reusable straws and sanitary pads. Honestly, they’ve got it all. As you’d expect, the prices vary. Some things seem expensive; others are very cheap. But overall, our weekly food bill is similar to what it was before; it’s changed the way we eat.

There are treats in store too. We especially love the freshly squeezed orange juice, and not just because it’s fun using the machine. The nut butter is delicious too, and no palm oil (or salt, or sugar) to make this pleasure a guilty one.

The recent addition of a milk vending machine is the icing on the (fair trade) cake. Those of us who live in city centre flats don’t have the option of milk delivery, and it’s rankled, seeing those endless plastic bottles filling up our recycling bag. But now we can take a bottle to The Eco Larder and fill it up with organic semi-skimmed. What’s not to like?

Shopping at The Eco Larder is actually pleasurable – a far cry from the stress of pushing a trolley around Aldi or Waitrose. Matt, Stephanie and their volunteer crew are all friendly and helpful; it’s a calm, gentle experience, and one we both look forward to.

So if, like us, you’re dismayed by the amount of waste you’ve been generating (and you’re in Edinburgh), why not take a walk down Morrison Street and try it for yourself?

5 stars

Susan Singfield

Locker Room Talk

 

23/04/19

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Donald Trump’s infamous “you can grab ’em by the pussy” brag caused international outrage: protest marches, column inches, pundits decrying him. But it didn’t cost him anything. The dismissal of his misogyny as “locker room talk” clearly resonated with voters, and he was duly elected president. What chance did Hillary ever have in such a toxic environment?

Gary McNair’s play, Locker Room Talk, is a direct response to this. Are Trump’s words really just banter, typical of what men say when women aren’t around to hear them?  If so, what does that tell us? And what should we do?

McNair set off with a voice recorder, and interviewed a lot of men. The result is an hour-long verbatim piece, performed – crucially – by four women (Maureen Carr, Jamie Marie, Nicola Roy and Gabriel Quigley), each wearing an earpiece and repeating the men’s words exactly as they hear them.

It’s chilling, listening to these words spoken by their subjects, squirm-inducing to hear women articulating the sexism that’s directed against them. The men’s voices are diverse, covering different socio-economic and age groups. But they’re united in their reductive brutality; their points-scoring systems; their adherence to stereotypes of women as sex objects, nags or domestic chore-doers. Spoken by women, the dark underbelly of the badinage is fatally exposed. The performances are stark and illuminating, the portrayals clever and detailed.

Of course this is heavily edited, the most vile and disparaging responses selected for impact. Of course the questions are leading, the responses shaped by what the participants think the interviewer wants to hear. And, of course, there are lots of men out there who’d never dream of saying things like these. But none of this matters here: it’s not a scientific study or academic research; it’s a play, a snapshot of how some men – too many men – talk about women. As a provocation, it’s perfect. We have to challenge this kind of talk; it isn’t good for anyone.

The question and answer session, expertly facilitated by Dr Holly Davis, is billed as a “post-show discussion” but, actually, it’s very much part of the play. This is the point, I think: to stimulate dialogue, to find a way forward.

Because it’s not okay to boast about “grabbing pussies” – is it?

4 stars

Susan Singfield

 

What Girls Are Made Of

17/04/19

Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

We missed What Girls Are Made Of at last year’s Edinburgh Fringe, which is a shame because Cora Bissett’s autobiographical tale was a First Fringe winner there and enjoyed great word of mouth. This timely reshowing at the Traverse gives us an opportunity to catch up with it and boy, are we glad we do.

From the moment she wanders onto the stage carrying a cardboard box full of ‘memories,’ Bissett has us clutched in the palm of her hand – and she expertly delivers her picaresque story, relating her knockabout schooldays in Kirkcaldy, her early years in rock music and her exciting brush with fame when her newly formed band Darlingheart shared stages with the likes of Blur and Radiohead at the height of the Britpop phenomenon. Bissett is a superb raconteur and she knows exactly how to pull an audience into her world.

If you’re thinking that this is a piece that concentrates only on the good times, let me assure you that it also takes in the darker side of the music industry, demonstrating how a young musician’s hopes and dreams can be ground underfoot by unscrupulous record labels. There’s a reason you may not have heard much about Darlingheart, and Bisset reveals it all in excruciating detail. This part of her story speaks volumes to me: back in my teen years, I too was a hopeful in a rock band, and went through my own long dark night of the soul at the hands of the music moguls.

Lest I give the impression that this is just a solo performance, I should add that the three members of her band (Simon Donaldson, Harry Ward and Susan Bear) not only provide a kicking soundtrack for Bissett’s story, but also take on a multitude of roles, playing key characters on her journey with aplomb, Ward in particular evincing much laughter as her indomitable mother. Ward is an arresting performer, last seen by B&B in the superb Dark Carnival, also at The Traverse.

Bissett eventually emerged from the carnage of Darlingheart, learning how to survive, and finally carving out a career as a writer, performer and director. Her conclusion – that we are all a result of the various obstacles we overcome in our path through life – is cannily encompassed in a final, rousing song.

This is enervating stuff and the standing ovation the four performers receive as the last chords die away is well earned. If you can grab a ticket for What Girls Are Made Of, do so with all haste. It’s often said, but I’m saying it anyway: this is simply too good to miss.

4.8 stars

Philip Caveney