Gilded Balloon Teviot



Gilded Balloon, Teviot (Balcony) Edinburgh

I can’t pretend that Vermin is a pleasant theatrical experience. On the contrary, this two-hander from Triptych Theatre, directed by Michael Parker, makes for harrowing viewing. But the piece is superbly acted and this twisted tale of a young couple working through the aftermath of grief is undeniably affecting.

Rachel (Sally Paffett) and Billy (Benny Ainsworth, who also wrote the play) are here to tell us their story from their first meeting on a train, which is delayed while a random stranger on the platform commits suicide, through their whirlwind romance and marriage, to their move to the ‘perfect’ flat, which, as it turns out, is infested with rats. A word of warning here – those with a phobia for rodents may not want to watch this play. No actual rats are shown, you understand, but they are talked about in some detail.

Billy has clearly had psychopathic tendencies from an early age, telling us in a disconcertingly affable – even proud – manner about the cruel escapades of his youth. But Rachel is in love and has a child on the way, so she’s prepared to put such minor issues aside.

Later, however, she proves not quite so ready to forgive Billy’s transgressions…

Vermin heads steadily deeper and deeper into disturbing territory, but it’s the naturalistic performances that make this piece fly, with both characters breaking off to bicker, or to dispute the other’s memory of a certain incident – and the play’s climax brings everything sharply into focus.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Daliso Chaponda: Blah Blah Blacklist


Gilded Balloon Teviot (Wine Bar), Edinburgh

A heads-up for readers new to Bouquets & Brickbats: Daliso Chaponda is a friend. We don’t usually review our mates’ work (waaaay too awkward), but we transgressed this unwritten rule a long time ago with Daliso, so it seems silly to stop now. Especially when there’s so much to say about his latest show.

Blah Blah Blacklist is deceptively genial: the tone is light, but there’s a controversial undercurrent. The show is about our reactions to fallen heroes: do we need to ‘cancel’ them or can we continue to enjoy their work whilst despising what they’ve done?

But it’s about more than that too. Daliso is an advocate for nuance: Bill Cosby’s criminal activities are beyond the pale, but maybe Louis CK can be redeemed? It’s a brave show in many ways, challenging woke responses as much as racist ones. Daliso has no time for easy answers: this is an intelligent, thought-provoking hour, the gentle, questioning approach belying the force behind it. Oh, and did I mention? It’s very funny too.

The theme is expanded, as Daliso moves from disgraced celebrities to something more personal: his own father (a much-loved government minister in Malawi) is accused of committing a crime. Another potentially fallen hero, and this one much closer to home. He stands by his dad – ‘80% sure he’s as innocent as he claims’ – and witnesses first-hand the ire of those convinced of his guilt.

Daliso has a wider perspective than most: he’s lived in nine countries on four continents; Britain is, he says – despite the polarising views expressed online – the most accepting place he knows. But that doesn’t mean he’s going to let us off the hook…

An astute, perceptive and laugh-out-loud show – you really shouldn’t miss this one.

5 stars

Susan Singfield



Gilded Balloon Teviot (Balcony), Edinburgh

Shattered is an intense and bruising journey into Diana Varco’s psyche, as she details her struggle to piece herself together after facing several traumatic events. Her fragmentation is physicalised, the warring factions within her performed as distinct personae. Shame, for example, is a snivelling wretch, all malice and insinuation. Security means well, but is sometimes out of its depth, defensive when it lets her down. Truth is a nagging ‘actually…’and Denial a fixed fake grin. In all, some thirty-five traits are personified here; Varco’s performance is a real tour-de-force.

But it’s a difficult watch, and not just because of the disturbing subject matter. Maybe I’m just too British (or too old), but – if I’m honest – I find this level of self-analysis a little alienating. It’s a brave, soul-baring piece, but a bit too introspective for my taste.

Still, there’s no denying the quality of Varco’s acting, nor the strength of character required to emerge triumphant from such calamity.

4 stars

Susan Singfield

The Pat Hobby Stories


Gilded Balloon Teviot (Sportsmans), Edinburgh

Until today, I’d never heard F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Pat Hobby stories. I’ve read Gatsby, of course, and Tender is the Night, but these witty so-called ‘throw away’ tales are completely new to me.

And I like them. Pat Hobby is a dissolute writer (think Ed Reardon, but in 1930s Hollywood), clinging to the vestiges of a once illustrious career. His meagre writing skills have been rendered obsolete by the arrival of talkies, and the subsequent requirement for actual scripted dialogue. He hangs around the studio lots, blagging food and calling in favours, taking on odd bits of jobs to earn a buck or two. He’s a gift of a character: all bluster and envy, lurching perilously from scrape to scrape.

No wonder Fringe Management wanted to put him on the stage.

Paul Birchard brings the loveable rogue to life with consummate ease, telling the stories as written, describing Hobby’s actions in the third person, yet still embodying him convincingly. There’s real warmth in the performance, and personality; the grit behind the Hollywood glitz is revealed in this small room.

The room, however, does not do this production any favours. The soundproofing seems to be non-existent, and the show next door is some kind of rollicking romp, with loud music, mic’d performers, and lots of raucous laughter and applause. I have no idea how Birchard manages to concentrate, but he’s clearly a seasoned professional, ignoring it completely, not letting the disruption interrupt his flow. It doesn’t spoil the show exactly (I get used to the noise after a while), but it is annoying, and threatens the intimacy of this detailed portrayal. Hopefully (sorry Jacob Rees-Mogg), the venue will get this sorted for tomorrow, and Birchard will be able to perform in peace.

A clever, amusing show – this deserves to be seen.

4 stars

Susan Singfield

Loyiso Gola: Unlearning


Gilded Balloon Teviot, Edinburgh

Loyiso Gola was one of our favourite acts last year. Although Dude, Where’s 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 are excited to see his new show, and looking forward to an evening that will both challenge and entertain.

Unfortunately, I think we get 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 like to see 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