Jo Caulfield

Edfest Bouquets 2019

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It’s that time again when we award (virtual) bouquets to the best shows we saw at this year’s EdFringe. From a plethora of performances over three weeks, here are our highlights. Congratulations to all concerned.

Theatre

Endless Second – Theo Toksvig-Stewart/Madeleine Gray/Camilla Gurtler/ Cut the Cord

Who Cares? – Jessica Temple/Lizzie Mounter/Luke Grant/ Matt Woodhead/ LUNG & The Lowry

Shine – Olivier Leclair/Tiia-Mari Mäkinen/Hippana Theatre & From Start to Finnish

Ripped – Alex Gwyther/Max Lindsay/Robin Rayner Productions

On The Other Hand, We’re Happy – Toyin Omari-Kinch/Charlotte Bate/Charlotte O’Leary/Daf James/Stef O’Driscoll/Paines Plough & Theatr Clwyd

Comedy

Jo Caulfield: Voodoo Doll – The Stand Comedy Club

Daliso Chaponda: Blah Blah Blacklist – CKP and InterTalent Group

Showstopper! the Improvised Musical – The Showstoppers/Something for the Weekend

Fishbowl – SIT Productions with Le Fils Du Grand Réseau

Beep Boop – Richard Saudek/Crowded Outlet

Special Mentions

Chris Dugdale – Down To One – Chris Dugdale Int Ents

Sexy Lamp – Katie Arnstein/Victoria Gagliano

 

Philip Caveney & Susan Singfield

Jo Caulfield: Voodoo Doll

20/08/19

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

Brexit

06/08/18

Pleasance Beyond, Edinburgh

The Pleasance Beyond is packed: the cast’s pedigree or the subject matter or a combination of the two mean that the three-hundred-plus seats have all been sold. Which is great, obviously, but also… hot. It’s a muggy day, so we thank our lucky stars we remembered to bring bottles of cold water, and hope the play is worth it.

It is. Hurrah! I’m not sure at first: there’s an air conditioning unit running, and it’s swallowing the sound a bit, so I have to strain to hear, and it’s a wordy piece, so it matters; I need to catch the nuances. But I get used to it, and am soon drawn in, enjoying the intrigue and barbed repartee.

We’re in the near future – a year or two hence – and Adam Masters (Timothy Bentinck) has just been elected as our new Prime Minister. He’s inherited the Brexit stalemate, trying to tread a line between opposing factions in his cabinet, his main aim being to do nothing, to ride out the status quo. Adam’s best friend and advisor, Paul Connell (Mike McShane), slyly suggests allocating key roles in the negotiations to arch rivals Simon Cavendish (Hal Cruttenden) and Diana Purdy (Pippa Evans), forcing them to work together, appeasing both the right and left wing commentariat. Chief EU negotiator Helena Brandt (Jo Caulfield) looks on in disbelief as the British government ties itself in knots, kiboshing every idea Adam presents with acerbic ripostes.

Adam’s strategy – using his inaction to force others to act – is bound to end in disaster. And as the inevitable betrayal approaches, he becomes increasingly desperate.

Although Brexit is billed as a comedy – and there are plenty of laughs along the way – it’s actually quite a serious piece. It’s a smart move to cast comedians in the supporting roles – so that Adam is isolated, alone, facing an onslaught of expertly timed quips and snide putdowns. The performances are uniformly strong – Jo Caulfield is a real revelation, and we love her middle-European accent, which is subtle enough to avoid parody.

The staging is simple: a fixed set representing a series of offices, some neat cross-cutting highlighting the cut-throat nature of events. I feel for the actors in their three piece suits and formal dresses (especially Mike McShane, who seems to be wearing clothes he’s borrowed from a much larger man – or perhaps they were his, several sizes ago); luckily, the characters are supposed to be stressed and sweaty, so their shiny faces don’t seem out of place.

Sadly, the story is just too prescient; I can believe every word of it. It’s Shakespearean in its exposure of human frailty and brutality – and sobering in the extreme. Still, it’s definitely one to watch. Et tu, Boris?

4 stars

Susan Singfield

Jo Caulfield: Killing Time

 

04/08/18

The Stand, Edinburgh

I don’t go to see Jo Caulfield in order to be surprised. I’ve been a fan of her comedy for long enough to know what to expect – and I’m looking forward to another helping of her sly sarcasm. I’m not disappointed.

It’s Saturday night and the room is packed; Caulfield’s reputation means an audience is guaranteed, and she well deserves it. She makes it look effortless – her stage persona is all shrugs and don’t-give-a-fuck – but it would be a mistake to underestimate the skill that makes this show. She’s sharp, assessing her audience at the same time as engaging us, pushing boundaries with deceptive innocence.

In Killing Time Caulfield sticks to what she knows. ‘There won’t be a theme or a message to this show,’ she says, ‘If you want that, you’ll need to go elsewhere. This’ll just be me, talking about what I’ve done, what I’ve been thinking…’ And it is, kind of – but it’s so much more as well. It’s observational comedy, sure, but a clear illustration of why that genre persists: in the right hands – in her hands – it’s funny. She’s outraged, regularly, by other people’s behaviour, by their rudeness or their lack of awareness, by their sheer stupidity. She maintains a straight face throughout, a wide-eyed insouciance belying the audacity of some of what she says: she’s the queen of bitchy put-downs but she keeps us on her side. It’s an impressive tight-rope walk.

Okay, so there’s quite a lot of men-do-this-and-women-do-that stuff, but she makes it work – it doesn’t seem hack. The observations are fresh and precisely delivered, and the audience response is proof they hit their mark.

There’s a real joy to be had in watching someone so confident and assured. And Jo Caulfield can be relied upon to deliver a great show.

4.5 stars

Susan Singfield

Mervyn Stutter’s Silver Jubilee Charity Gala

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Assembly Theatre, George Square, Edinburgh

15/08/16

If the Edinburgh Fringe has anything resembling royalty then Mervyn Stutter is arguably first in line to the throne (now that Richard Herring seems to have abdicated). Amazingly, Mervyn has been running his Pick of the Fringe show for twenty-five years and this special gala has been arranged to celebrate the occasion and to raise money for charity. Think of an old-school variety show, offering short selections of comedy, theatre and music, and you’ve pretty much got the idea. As well as helping those in need, it’s doubtless a great way of alerting the public to performers they might enjoy in more depth – fliers for all the featured acts are available on the way out.

On comes Mervyn in his trademark pink suit, and treats us to a few of his risqué ditties from down the years, before introducing the first act, Tom Binns, in his role as ‘Hospital DJ,’ Ivan Brackenbury. It’s a great start to the show. Binns’ comedy comes from the ineptness of his character, who makes a series of clumsy announcements and then compounds them with selection a toe-curlingly inappropriate songs. It’s a great comic premise and Binns delivers on it, big time. You’ll find his show at The Assembly George Square.

The next act, I Am Rhythm, features a lively troop of eight South African men who perform a couple of frenetic traditional dances from Soweto, which involves them slapping, clapping and chanting in a dazzling display of syncopation. Fans of this kind of music (and there are many) will find their show at Dance Base (Venue 22).

It’s always a pleasure to see comedian Jo Caulfield, even if the short selection she offers here is already familiar to us from earlier shows. No matter, her tales of a louche Londoner adapting to a new life in Edinburgh are cannily observed and very, very funny. You’ll find her at (where else?) The Stand Comedy Club.

Circa are difficult to describe. This four piece contemporary circus troop offer a short extract from their current show, Closer, which is all about relationships and combines incredible balancing with a series of bodily contortions that will astonish you. They are currently appearing at Edinburgh’s infamous cow-shaped venue, Udderbelly.

Angel, a play by Henry Naylor is set in Kobane, Northern Syria and is the true-life tale of an acclaimed female sniper, credited with over one hundred kills. Lead actor Fillipa Braganca treats us to a short extract and I find myself wishing that she’d been granted more time. Naylor’s last play, Echoes, won him the 2015 Fringe First Award and this one is also garnering great reviews. You’ll find Angel at the Gilded Balloon, Teviot.

 Next up is Sarah Louise Young (who we have already seen and loved in Royal Vauxhall). Here she’s in her Cabaret Whore role as La Poule Plombée, a French chanteuse in the vein of Edith Piaf, but played (expertly) for laughs. She sings about baggage (pronounced to rhyme with Farage) and milks the song for every bit of humour. She’s accompanied on the piano by Michael Roulston and, just in case you think she’s not working hard enough, you can also catch the duo in their show Songs For Lovers (and Other Idiots) at Maggie’s Chamber on Cowgate. La Poule Plombé, on the other hand, can be seen at The Voodoo Rooms.

In an extended set, the cast of Showstopper: The Improvised Musical stroll onstage and create songs inspired by suggestions shouted out randomly by members of the audience. They settle on a show set in 10 Downing Street, starring Theresa May and her cleaning lady. It’s quite uncanny how they do it, but there they are, producing lyrics that actually make sense and rhyme, working in the style of Stephen Sondheim and Andrew Lloyd Webber. This Olivier award winning show is at The Pleasance Courtyard twice a day. Go along and marvel.

Rory Bremner is a name that surely needs no introduction, but he gets one anyway. He wanders onstage, tells us about his long relationship with Mr Stutter (they’ve been bumping into each other at the fringe for quarter of a century) and then he throws in a few of his brilliant impersonations. (His Barack Obama is quite something.) His show, Rory Bremner meets… is at The Gilded Balloon at the Museum.

Last but not least, we are treated to a couple of songs by The Jive Aces – purveyors of old time swing. Dressed to the nines in their yellow outfits, they soon have everybody clapping along to their song, before leading the crowd in a chorus of Happy Birthday, as somebody brings out a special cake to mark Mervyn’s anniversary. The Jive Aces are at Assembly George Square Gardens – and Mervyn Stutter’s Pick of the Fringe is at The Gilded Ballloon, Teviot every day at 13.00, with a fresh set of acts each time.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

An Evening with Jo Caulfield & Friends

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12/04/16

The Stand, Edinburgh

We missed Jo Caulfield at this year’s Ed Fringe, so here’s a golden opportunity to rectify the situation. It’s an unusual gig – she’s recording her stand up set for a new CD, Disappointed With You; and also an episode of the podcast gameshow The Good , The Bad and the Unexpected.’ The UK’s most iconic venue is packed with eager punters, ready for a good laugh, which is pretty much what they get tonight.

After a brief good-natured warm up from another Jo entirely – Jo Jo Sutherland, on comes Ms Caulfield, clearly in a mood to take no prisoners. A luckless Australian visitor, picked out in the intro session, is bluntly told that his country is of ‘no interest at all.’ ‘I’ve looked into it,’ she adds, ‘but… no, nothing.’ She then proceeds to take on a whole series of scattershot targets, knocking each one down with glee, revelling in the cantankerous middle class persona she habitually adopts. Subjects range from indecisive shoppers in queues, buying a fitted kitchen and the over friendly staff in Marks and Spencers – not the most promising list of subjects, I’ll grant you and yet, her world-weary, bitchy demeanour manages to extract the maximum amount of laughter from each subject. Her occasional potty-mouthed utterances are delivered with perfect timing and one childhood memory concerning being disciplined by her Irish Catholic father results in a punchline so shocking, we feel guilty even as we laugh out loud. She finishes by thanking us for laughing ‘for the recording’ but it was ridiculously easy. She’s a funny woman and I can’t help but wonder why we don’t see more of her on TV.

Next up, Jo introduces a short set by a young newcomer, Tony Sloan, looking like a chunkier Rick Moranis. He expertly plays the persona of the helpless loser, still living with his mother (‘It’s OK, she has the top bunk!’) and looking for romance – (‘You know what Tony is, backwards? Y-not?’)  One or two of his more obvious puns draw audible groans from the crowd, but there’s an interesting idea to be developed here and I’m sure we’ll be hearing more from him in the future.

After a short interval, on troop the four comedians taking part in the podcast – Keir McAllister, Stuart Murphy, Richard Melvin and Gareth Waugh, together with Jo acting as question master. Getting them all onto the tiny stage is quite an achievement in itself. Like so many of these podcasts, the show stands or falls by the quality of the comedians in any particular episode and it is well served tonight, particularly by Stuart Murphy, who must be one of the most quick-witted comics currently treading the boards. (Interested parties should check out his free Sunday lunchtime improv shows at The Stand, with partner Garry Dobson). He manages to reduce Jo to helpless laughter at several points so perhaps it’s little wonder that his team win by a wide margin. There’s a whole series of these shows which can be found, free of charge via iTunes.

Then it’s all over and we troop off into a rainy Edinburgh night.

Jo Caulfield  – 4.6 stars

The Good, the Bad and The Unexpected – 4 stars

 

 

Jo Caulfield – Cancel My Subscription

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10/08/14

The Stand Comedy Club, Edinburgh

In Cancel My Subscription, Jo Caulfield doesn’t confound expectations so much as revel in them. She gives exactly what her audience expects: a caustic, bilious and gloriously profane account of the world as she sees it. The humour is largely narrative, and none the worse for it; Caulfield demonstrates with admirable aplomb how it is possible to push the boundaries of taste and decency without ever descending into “look-mum-no-hands-I-just-want-to-shock” territory. But shock she does: acutely timed references to polar opposites Jill Dando and Josef Fritzl leave the audience gasping, but with delight at her chutzpah more than anything else.

I really enjoyed this show. It didn’t surprise me, but then I didn’t go to be surprised. I went because I am a fan, and because I knew I would laugh myself silly.

And because I was born in the same hospital as her.

4.3 stars

Susan Singfield