Pleasance Dome

Happy Hour

25/08/19

Pleasance Dome (Queen Dome), Edinburgh

Aldo (Silvia Gallerano) and Kerfulle (Stefano Cenci) are two children, living in an unspecified future world. Initially, they present as ordinary kids, full of enthusiasm for whimsical things, both of them vying for the attention of their parents.  Kerfulle longs to be a footballer – or at least, for once, to be allowed to play for his team, instead of sitting on the benches, derided for his shortcomings. Aldo wants to be a dancer, to be adored for her abilities to move gracefully around a stage, but the ‘auditions’ she attends are unsual to say the very least…

As the story progresses, a darker subtext emerges. The world in which these two live is a twisted, nightmarish version of the one we’re familiar with – and every bit of adversity that the duo face has to be greeted with a cheerful gleefulness, a willingness to meet it head on and embrace it. After all, this is Happy Hour!

Christian Ceresoli’s play offers a challenging depiction of a dystopian society in entropy. The imagery evoked here recalls scenes from the holocaust, the rallies of fascism, the irresistible rise of the far right, all set to a bouncy disco beat. This is a challenging piece in every sense of the word, because the meaning of any given scene isn’t immediately apparent: it needs to be pondered, dissected and above all else, discussed. Both Gallerano and Cenci offer powerful performances, catching the nuances of these weird children with great skill, simultaneously eliciting both our affection and revulsion.

This won’t be for everyone; indeed, those looking to finish off their Fringe on a lighter note should not be fooled by that deceptive title. But it’s undoubtedly a fascinating slice of contemporary theatre.

4 stars

Philip Caveney

Beetlemania: Kafka for Kids

12/08/18

Pleasance Dome (Queen), Edinburgh

Kafka? For kids? Really? It doesn’t sound like a goer, to be honest. But – it turns out – Kafka can indeed be repurposed for kids, and rendered funny and entertaining for adults too.

I’m vaguely familiar with Kafka’s work. I first encountered Die Verwandlung while studying for a degree in German literature, and then – during a second degree course, this time in theatre studies – met up with its English translation (Metamorphosis) via Berkoff’s infamous production. I’ve read The Trial, too, and The Castle, but not recently; in short, I know just about enough to be sure that Beetlemania: Kafka for Kids will have to pull something rather special out of the bag if it is to hit its mark. And does it? Oh yes, it really does.

The show is a delight from start to finish, the deceptive simplicity of the knockabout comedy concealing some clever structural stuff, and layered references to Kafka’s obsessions and stylistic tics. It’s all there: humanity-crushing bureaucracy, alienation, despair. There’s poverty too, and hope – and much absurdity. And, in Tom Parry (he of Pappy’s fame)’s script, it all comes together to make a genuinely funny and illustrative hour of fun – for all the family.

Parry stars in the show as well, as Karl, the hapless entertainer who’s inadvertently robbed a Royal Mail van, the contents of which serve as makeshift set and props. He’s joined by Will Adamsdale, who plays the troupe’s frustrated leader, Karter, and Heidi Niemi (Kat), who speaks Finnish throughout. The trio are interrupted, intermittently, by the marvellous Rose Robinson (last seen by Bouquets & Brickbats in Great British Mysteries: 1599? earlier this week), who plays a series of officious bureaucrats, each one more demanding than the last.

We’re introduced to miserable tales, where Poseidon is crushed by the weight of his paperwork, where a bridge loses faith in its ability to connect. We’re drawn in, made accomplices; we tell lies to officials to protect the performers. The kids in the audience are utterly enthralled. We don’t have any kids with us, but we are entranced too.

It’s a rainy day, so numbers are down; it’s a shame to see so many empty seats when the material is as good as this. Any families out there looking for something quirky, something different – I urge you to give this a go.

5 stars

Susan Singfield

Stardust

 

11/08/18

Pleasance Dome, Edinburgh

Stardust is all about cocaine – its history, its usage, its properties. It’s about the way a tribal drug, used for thousands of years in religious ceremonies has been taken up by the Western world, exploited and commodified; how people are enslaved by it, murdered because of it and how casual users across the Western world, no matter how they might protest, now have blood on their hands. Make no mistake, this is a hard-hitting piece.

Our MC for this show is Miguel Hernando Torres Umba, a charismatic artist/performer making his debut at the Fringe. He uses many different techniques to get his story across. There are dreamy back projections, and ethereal music. For one section he adopts the persona of a game show host and gets the entire audience to interact with him. In another, he spoofs the famous scene from Scarface where Pacino takes all those bullets. Oh, and did I mention that he’s also an incredible dancer? One section where he depicts, through dance, the way that cocaine acts on the senses is a real highlight for me. He dances like he’s just inadvertently stepped on a 60,000 volt cable… leaping and scrambling around the stage until the inevitable comedown hits him and everything goes eerily into slow motion.

There are plenty of laughs scattered throughout this exciting multi-media show, but it clearly has a very serious message. Umba now lives in London, but was born in Colombia and is understandably sick of the way his nation is habitually depicted, how everybody in the West assumes that his countrymen are all drug dealers. He demonstrates very effectively how the people that grow coca are themselves victims of the organised crime that has grown up around the harvesting of the plant. There are the harrowing testimonies of people too scared not to grow it, people who have seen their relatives tortured and murdered in order to make them obey.

This is a powerful polemic delivered as a slice of entertainment, sharp enough and affecting enough to change hearts and minds. Go and see this and, whatever your views on cocaine, prepare to be enlightened.

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney

 

Butt Kapinski

 

03/08/17

Pleasance Dome, Edinburgh

Butt Kapinski is a strange man. Called upon to investigate a series of murders, he embodies every  cliché of film noir: he stands beneath his portable streetlamp, pulls his trenchcoat around him, mimes an obligatory cigar – before regaling us with tales of life as an NY PI. The brainchild and alter-ego of American performer Deanna Fleysher, he is an oddly engaging creation, and the audience joins in willingly with this funny, interactive show.

Okay, so maybe it doesn’t dig as deeply as it could – several thought-provoking ideas are introduced and then left hanging – and the narrative, such as it is, could do with a more convincing pay-off. But it’s gutsy and it’s fun, and Fleysher works wonders with what the audience gives her. The character-exaggeration is pushed to extremes (those vocal contortions!) and has us laughing all the time. I can’t say more here without giving too much away, but this is a fascinating and unusual performance, well worth catching if you can. And don’t worry about being ‘picked on’ – the audience participation here is entirely voluntary, and Fleysher has perfected the skill of homing in on those who want to get involved.

4 stars

Susan Singfield

 

Garrett Millerick: The Dreams That Stuff Is Made Of

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18/08/16

Pleasance Dome, Edinburgh

Garrett Millerick is a welcome breath of foetid air. This is not a show about a nice chap who’s a bit rubbish at relationships, nor a rueful but essentially chipper trip down memory lane. No, this is a searing, blistering, visceral howl of a show, railing against a world where everything – except for Amazon Prime Now – is shit.

We’re a small audience, which helps propel the show’s narrative of failure (this really wouldn’t work in a bigger, fuller space), and the stories Millerick tells are a curious mix of the extraordinary and the mundane. This makes them utterly compelling. TGI Fridays and documentaries about ballroom don’t usually share space in a single anecdote, for example.

His anger is palpable – if manufactured, it’s expertly done. We laugh. A lot. He’s really very good. This is definitely one of the best stand-up acts we’ve seen this year.

4.8 stars

Susan Singfield

Tom Neenan: The Andromeda Paradox

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24/08/15

Pleasance Dome, Edinburgh

Professor Bernard Andromeda has devoted his life to researching strange phenomena – so when a mysterious prehistoric artefact is discovered in a disused London tube station, his curiosity is immediately aroused – especially when said artefact is inscribed with his name. He sets about trying to discover its origins and finds himself embroiled in a mystery that will challenge his scientific beliefs to the core, one that leads to the realisation that alien forces are at work. Soon much of the population of London has been turned into hordes of zombies all chanting his name and he is the only man who can avert disaster…

Tom Neenan has written a wonderfully affectionate parody of Nigel Kneale’s landmark sci-fi tale, The Quatermass Experiment, in which he plays all the characters – from a strange German professor who has taken his experiments with flowers a bit too far, to Andromeda’s adoring female assistant who is prepared to use her feminine charms to help him solve the mystery. Neenan is an expert story teller and he milks the comic potential of the 50s setting with great skill, aided and abetted by a script that is laugh-out-loud funny – the scene where one of Neenan’s hands transforms into an adorable alien creature… ‘no bigger than my hand,’ is a particular delight. There’s wonderful stagecraft here too. A whole range of locations are evoked simply by the positioning of a table and chair and Neenan’s sweet posh-boy persona is exploited to the hilt.

The performance is peppered with plenty of in-jokes but you don’t need to be familiar with the original material in order to enjoy this deliciously silly slice of nonsense, which is designed to appeal to people of all ages. Fabulous stuff, I urge you to catch it.

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney