Paines Plough

Half-Empty Glasses

11/08/22

Roundabout at Summerhall, Edinburgh

Toye (Samuel Tracy) is sixteen years old and good at just about everything he turns his attention to. A piano exam for a prestigious private school is fast approaching, and his best friends, Ash (Sara Hazemi) and Remi (Princess Khumalo), have learned to accept that he has to devote long hours of his spare time to piano practice. But not everything in Toye’s life is perfect. His father is gradually declining, thanks to Parkinson’s disease, and Toye is grimly aware of a gulf opening up between them.

And then, after reading a whole pile of books about black history, Toye suddenly decides he wants to change the world – to become a black activist.

He enlists Ash and Remi to help him and holds an impromptu meeting at his school at lunchtime, talking about black cultural icons, but quickly realises that it’s not enough. He has to reach more people, make real changes! His increasing obsession alienates first Remi, who – as head girl – feels compromised by his planned events, and then Ash, who is of Middle Eastern descent and is aware her own issues are being side-lined. Toye struggles on alone but is in danger of putting his musical ambitions at risk…

Half-Empty Glasses by Dipo Baruwa-Etti is a fascinating and beautifully nuanced play that gradually exerts a powerful grip over the audience’s emotions, making its complex themes easy to navigate. The depiction of Toye’s father – either Hazemi or Khumala speaking quietly into a microphone – is a simple stroke of genius, effortlessly demonstrating the distance between father and son. And I love Toye’s reactions to the music he’s making, the way it orders his world, helps him to navigate his way through life. When things start to go wrong, the discords this generates are genuinely jarring.

Sensitively directed by Kaleya Baxe and with superb musical input by Roly Botha, this is an absolute delight from start to finish. Hats should also be raised to the young cast who, as well as starring in Half-Empty Glasses are also appearing daily in two other superb plays at Paines Plough, working their collective socks off. We’ve yet to see a disappointing production at Roundabout and this year their offerings are flying particularly high.

Don’t miss your chance to see what they have to offer.

4.7 stars

Philip Caveney

The Ultimate Pickle

06/08/22

Roundabout at Summerhall, Edinburgh

The Ultimate Pickle is our first show of Fringe ’22 (previews and showcases aside), and it’s a corker, albeit intended for an audience many decades our junior. Touring theatre company Paines Plough is dedicated to new writing and, as we’ve come to expect, this latest offering is a lively, imaginative and thought-provoking piece, played deftly and with precision.

This play, by Laura Lindow, is ostensibly for children, but there’s plenty here to keep us entertained. Princess Khumalo plays Dill Pickleton, an almost-eleven-year-old whose life is turned upside down when her granddad – or Gran-Ted – dies. Her mum (Sara Hazemi) goes to pieces and, before long, the duo are facing a financial crisis, necessitating a move from Gran-Ted’s beloved ‘lighthouse’ by the sea. For Dill, this also means a new school, and she struggles to keep a lid on her feelings. And then the wolf (Samuel Tracy) emerges from her story book, and Dill’s adventures really begin…

It’s a simple tale, and the metaphor isn’t exactly subtle, but that doesn’t matter because it’s beautifully told. Paines Plough’s “pop-up, plug-and-play” theatre, Roundabout, is well-equipped with state of the art LED lighting (Rory Beaton) and surround sound (Roly Batha), and so the tech does a lot of the heavy lifting: there’s no set and very few props, but we always know exactly where we are, and the atmosphere is vibrant.

The three actors play the parts with sincerity and commitment: these are endearing performances that don’t trivialise Dill’s feelings. It’s too easy for children’s shows to talk down to their audiences; this one, directed by Eva Sampson, respects them, and I think any similarly-troubled young person watching it would feel understood rather than patronised.

The Ultimate Pickle is funny and moving – and perfectly-pitched for the whole family to enjoy. This trio of actors are also performing in two other (not-for-children) plays, and I’m looking forward to seeing more of their work.

A lovely reminder of the joy of Fringe, and of how much we’ve missed it for the past few years. What a way to herald a new beginning! Bravo.

4.5 stars

Susan Singfield

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

Dexter and Winter’s Detective Agency

18/08/19

Summerhall (Roundabout), Edinburgh

Surely the hardest working trio in Edinburgh, Toyin Omari-Kinch, Charlotte Bate and Charlotte O’Leary are performing daily in not one, not two, but three plays here at Roundabout. I don’t know how they do it: so many lines to learn; such physicality required. But even now, as we head into the final stretch of the Fringe, they all look perky and healthy. Maybe they’re revelling in the joy of working with such interesting scripts, or maybe they’re just good at faking it. Whatever.

We’ve already seen them in heartbreaking, thought-provoking mode in Daughterhood (https://bouquetsbrickbatsreviews.com/2019/08/09/daughterhood/) and On the Other Hand, We’re Happy (https://bouquetsbrickbatsreviews.com/2019/08/11/on-the-other-hand-were-happy/). This time, we’re here for their children’s show, an altogether lighter affair, all high-octane energy and fast-paced storytelling.

Dexter and Winter’s Detective Agency, written by Nathan Bryon and directed (again) by Stef O’Driscoll, is all about friendship. Dexter (Omari-Kinch) has his world torn apart when his mum, Ange (Bate), is arrested, accused of jewellery theft. But his best friend, Winter (O’Leary), has a plan. Of course Ange is innocent. All they have to do is prove it, by finding out who the real culprit is.

There’s a serious undercurrent to the piece – there’s debt and immorality, betrayal and loss – but there are lots of jokes too. The performance is exuberant, the characters larger-than-life, and yet still credible. Special mention here to Bate, who plays countless roles, switching at breakneck speed, adding a hat here or an apron there: she’s Winter’s mum, she’s a policewoman, a train guard, a butcher, a bailiff… it’s endless.

Once again, Paines Plough deliver quality theatre, the direction totally in harmony with the performance space. Roundabout is the Fringe venue I can most rely on; I’ve never yet been let down by what they have to show.

4.2 stars

Susan Singfield

On the Other Hand, We’re Happy

10/08/19

Summerhall (Roundabout), Edinburgh

On the Other Hand We’re Happy is a play about adoption – the hopes, the perils, the joys and pitfalls of the process. Like most productions by Paines Plough, it’s brilliantly staged and powerfully acted. Written by Daf James and directed by Stef O’ Driscoll, this is an object lesson in how to toy with an audience’s emotions, and it succeeds admirably on just about every level. It’s a powerful, compelling story.

Josh (Toyin Omari-Kinch) and Abbi (Charlotte Bate) are a young couple in love, who – like so many others before them – plan to become parents. When they discover that they can’t make babies in the usual way, their thoughts turn to adoption, and they even elicit the opinions of the audience when discussing its merits. (The action regularly breaks the fourth wall, but it’s handled so cleverly, it never feels like a gimmick.) When the couple learn of a young girl, Tyler, who could be the right fit for them, they are naturally excited at the prospect of meeting her – but then fate deals them a cruel blow and it looks as though their dream may be an impossibility…

I love the direction of this piece, the way the actors appear to tumble and lurch from scene to scene, cutting back and forth in time, seeming to literally fall from one sequence to the next. Charlotte O’ Leary plays Tyler and also her mother, Kelly – a deliciously sweary Welsh woman, who may have taken some wrong turns in her life, but still wants the best for her daughter. All three performances are top notch, but Omari-Kinch’s physicality stands out. His is a character caught up in a maelstrom of wild emotions, flinging himself recklessly around the circular stage of Roundabout like an out of control automaton.

The conclusion is almost overpoweringly emotional and I watch the actors taking their well-deserved bows through a film of tears. If you like quality theatre, head down to Summerhall and catch this vibrant, beating heart of a play before it moves on.

It’s one of the best shows we’ve seen at this year’s Fringe.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Daughterhood

Summerhall (Roundabout), Edinburgh

We enjoyed last year’s Paines Plough/Theatr Clwyd collaboration, Island Town, so we’re keen to see what they have to offer us this time. Philip and I are from North Wales, and Theatr Clwyd featured heavily in both of our young lives. It feels good to have a slice of home right here with us in Edinburgh.

Charlotte O’Leary is back, this time playing Rachel, a Little-Miss-Sunshine younger sister with an exciting job in London. Her sister Pauline (Charlotte Bate), who’s nine years older, still lives at home, caring for their disabled father, growing steadily more miserable as life passes her by. Daughterhood is an examination of their relationship, of duty and fairness and doing the right thing.

It’s brutal: Pauline is stuck; she can’t find a way out. Someone has to look after Dad. Bate exudes despair, her face locked in a silent scream; it’s a stellar performance. Rachel cares too, but she’s busy lobbying parliament for access to better medication; she’s not there, clearing up the shit. When she does visit, Pauline’s resentment bubbles over, and they find themselves trapped in an endless argument, repeated ad nauseam each time they meet.

O’Leary portrays Rachel as sparky and likeable, her energy and sense of purpose a stark reminder to Pauline of what she could have had. The dynamic between the two is compelling; they’re on opposite sides but I’m rooting for both of them.

Toyin Omari-Kinch plays a range of supporting characters: Rachel’s colleague, her teenage bestie, a doctor, a professor – and their sick father. The first time he switches roles, I’m momentarily confused, but I soon work out what’s happening from the context – and he changes his accent and demeanour too. From thereon in, it’s always clear who he is, and he steps up to the challenge most impressively.

I like this play. Stef O’Driscoll’s direction means that the frequent flashbacks are well signalled, and we’re always sure of when and where we are. Despite the bleak subject matter, Charley Miles’ script is often laugh-out-loud funny, the humour helping us to engage with both women. I like the relentless repetitiveness of the sisters’ rows, entrenched as they are in the roles they’ve come to inhabit. And I like the fact that redemption, when it comes, is small and tentative.

A lovely piece of theatre in my favourite Fringe venue.

4.3 stars

Susan Singfield

Island Town

13/08/18

Paines Plough at Roundabout, Summerhall, Edinburgh

We’re big fans of Roundabout here at B & B. Paines Plough’s portable, in-the-round theatre is a wonderful space and we’ve  seen some fantastic performances here. Island Town is an especially exciting prospect for us, being a co-production between Paines Plough and Theatr Clwyd; as North Walians, we’re keen to see what this collaboration brings.

Writer Simon Longman clearly knows about small towns, about the stifling going-nowhere feelings that make people feel trapped. The location here is unspecified, ‘this town surrounded by fields’, circled by a ring road, is impossible to escape. It’s anywhere and everywhere, as symbolised by the actors’ regional accents: one Derby (I think), one Manchester and one Welsh.

This is Kate’s story, and Katherine Pearce is captivating in the role of the angry teen, full of impotent fury, raging at the injustice that sees her marooned, caring for her dying father, permanently drunk because it’s the only outlet she has. She yearns for something better, longs to head off beyond her narrow horizon, to see more of the world. But she’s tethered: too poor, too tied down, too ill-equipped to leave.

Her friends, Sam (Charlotte O’Leary) and Pete (Jack Wilkinson), are more accepting of their lot. Sam’s main concern is protecting her little sister from their violent dad, while Pete’s only ambition is to be a dad himself. Pete in particular is a tragic case: he’s a sweet character, positive and hopeful; he doesn’t ask for much. But the system seems designed to grind him down. He hasn’t any qualifications and there are no jobs locally. He can’t even get the benefits he’s entitled to, because the bus service has been cancelled so he can’t get to the job centre to sign on.

There’s no doubt about it, this is a bleak play, but there is humour too, a nicely balanced tug of war between hope and despair. And, as we draw towards the teens’ inevitable fate, we start to make sense of the strange jerking movements they’ve been making in the transitions between scenes…

Perhaps the penultimate section is a tad too long, a little too spelled-out, but all in all this is an impressive piece, a darkly accurate commentary on those society leaves behind.

4.5 stars

Susan Singfield

Edfest Bouquets 2015

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It’s been an amazing August for us at Bouquets & Brickbats. We’ve spent the entire month running from show to show, and have seen some truly brilliant performances. Here’s our pick of the best we’ve seen at this year’s Fringe:

Drama Bouquets

  1. Phantom Owl Productions – Filthy Talk for Troubled Times by Neil La Bute
  2. Phantom Owl Productions – Fault Lines by Stephen Belber
  3. Paines Plough – Lungs by Duncan McMillan

Monologue Bouquets

  1. Noni Stapleton  – Charolais by Noni Stapleton
  2. Thom Tuck – Scaramouche Jones by Justin Butcher
  3. Tom Neenan – The Andromeda Paradox by Tom Neenan

Stand-up Comedy Bouquets

  1. Stewart Lee – A Room With A Stew
  2. Sarah Kendall – A Day In October
  3. Garrick Millerick – A Selection of Things I’ve Said to Taxi Drivers

‘Ones to Watch Out For’ Bouquets

  1. Alfie Brown – Isms
  2. Morro and Jasp – Morro and Jasp Do Puberty
  3. Master of None Productions – Foxfinder by Dawn King

Philip Caveney and Susan Singfield

Lungs

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14/08/15

Roundabout@Summerhall, Edinburgh

He suggests that they should have a baby – but she has so many reservations. After all, she argues, the world is becoming increasingly polluted and a baby creates an awfully big carbon footprint. ‘Ten thousand tonnes of CO2. That’s the weight of the Eiffel Tower. I’d be giving birth to the Eiffel Tower.’ And… on reflection, maybe the checkout queue at Ikea wasn’t the best place for him to broach the subject in the first place.

On a grey, rainy day in Edinburgh, Lungs by Duncan Macmillan is a breath of fresh air. The witty, sparkling script picks you up by the scruff of the neck and hurls you along in a series of perfectly created flash-forwards as the couple argue, chatter, break up and make up. On route, they suffer all the emotions under the sun as they attempt, by hook or by crook, to become parents. Will they get there? We they end up together? You’ll have to see the play to find out but the snug confines of Paines Plough are the perfect place to watch such a delicious confection and I’m happy to report that the venue was packed. I laughed a lot and in a couple of places my eyes filled with involuntary tears because there are moments in here that everyone can identify with and some moments we all hope we’ll never experience. You’ll emerge from the experience feeling wrung out.

As the young couple, Sian Reece-Williams and Abdul Sallis are every bit as assured as they are in Dennis Kelly’s Our Teacher’s A Troll (also at this venue) and as the story accelerates towards it’s poignant but inevitable conclusion, you’ll be with them every step of the way. Clever, dazzling, intelligent, this is a perfect delight and it’s not to be missed.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

Chicken

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13/08/15

Roundabout@Summerhall, Edinburgh

As we queue to go in to Chicken, the guy on the door gives us a strange warning. ‘If you’re allergic to straw or chicken feathers, don’t sit in the front row,’ he says. As it happens, we’re not, but this must count as a first, even for the Fringe.

Set in a near future dystopia on the Eve of ‘the separation’ – when East Anglia declares it’s independence from the rest of great Britain – the play is an examination of folklore, superstition and ‘Nationalism.’ Emily (Rosie Sheehy) works at a Tesco store, but she has a reputation for not speaking much, preferring instead to sing traditional folk songs and visit the places where witches used to be ‘swum.’ Her father, Harry (Benjamin Dilloway) and Mother, Lorraine (Josephine Butler) both work at a nearby chicken farm (hence the straw and feathers strewn liberally around the stage). Into this setting comes a ‘returner’, Layla (Beth Cooke), who having tried her luck in London has come back to her home town and is eager to reconnect with old crush, Harry. But he’s been dehumanised by his years of organising the slaughter of chickens on a massive scale. Chickens (along with bicycles) are now East Anglia’s biggest export. Meanwhile, Emily seems to be planning something very strange indeed…

The play is beautifully acted by all the cast, but we were somewhat distracted by a noisy fan that blew a stream of cool air into the theatre, making much of the dialogue hard to follow. It was happily dispensed with for the final third, which helped enormously; but I have to admit I found it hard to swallow the play’s conclusion or to feel at all terrorised by the prospect of marauding chickens attacking a family home.

This is a decent play with an intriguing premise. Just make sure you sit well away from that pesky wind machine!

3.8 stars

Philip Caveney