Pleasance Grand

Fishbowl

11/08/19

Pleasance Grand, Edinburgh

This quirky, captivating production from French theatre group Le Fils Du Grand Réseau is a recent winner of the Molière award for Best Comedy, and is playing to packed houses at the Pleasance Grand. It’s easy to see why. With its impeccably timed visual gags and ingenious production design, it contains beautifully devised sequences that are comparable to the work of Mack Sennet at his best. It is, essentially, a silent comedy, one that – again and again – elicits absolute gales of laughter from the auditorium.

This is all about the eccentricities and indignities of city living. We observe the lives of three neighbours, living cheek by jowl in adjoining attic apartments in Paris. There’s a shambolic hoarder, eking out a lonely existence amidst chaotic heaps of detritus; a karaoke-loving guy who inhabits a zen-like, white painted box; and a new arrival, a woman who styles herself as a holistic healer-hairdresser-masseur, but who clearly has none of the necessary training to practise these skills with any degree of success. When both men cast an asquisitive gaze in her direction, the scene is set for a series of rivalries and madcap misadventures.

There’s something deliciously old school about this production. I love the way it tells its unfolding story over an extended period of time, showing how people have the capacity to change – and I particularly like a brief moment where the technicians toiling behind the scenes are ‘accidentally’ put on display. If the story occasionally leans a little too heavily on the toilet gags, it’s nonetheless endlessly inventive, and I can truthfully say it isn’t quite like anything I’ve seen before.

Book your seats for the Grand. You’ll laugh mightily, even when the merde hits the fan.

4.5 stars

Philip Caveney

Showstopper! The Improvised Musical

07/08/19

Pleasance Grand, Edinburgh

Showstopper! is an Edfringe institution. The Olivier award-winning show has been here for the past twelve years, playing to huge crowds at the Pleasance Grand, but – apart from a brief extract at a Mervyn Stutter showcase – I’ve somehow repeatedly failed to catch up with it. This year, I decide, it is time to rectify that situation.

‘This had better be good,’ I mutter, as we make our way along the rainlashed streets of the city. (Edinburgh currently appears to be caught up in a monsoon.) Well, happily, it is good. In fact, that’s an understatement. It’s extraordinarily good. I’ve seen lots of improv comedy over the years, but never have I seen it performed to quite such a degree of excellence.

The preamble will be familiar to all improv fans. An MC announces that his performers need to create a brand new musical at very short notice. Suggestions for themes and styles of musical theatre are elicited from members of the audience and chosen by gauging which ideas prompt the most enthusiastic cheers. And so we arrive at our scenario. This musical will be set in a salsa class and will feature songs in the style of Calamity Jane, Hair and several other shows. The live band cranks out a Latin-American tune and six performers race onto the stage. They begin to dance around in an astonishingly co-ordinated fashion and, as they do, compose a song on the spot, moreover, a song that is tuneful, amusing and – get this – rhymes perfectly!

I sit in wonder. How the hell are they doing this? Seriously, I’ve seen ‘straight’ musicals that are done with less alacrity than this. Clearly these performers are well attuned to each other: they respond to every move, every visual prompt like well-drilled soldiers. At regular intervals, the MC jumps to his feet and suggests a change of direction and the team go with it, devising ever more bizarre but hilarious twists and turns. There are stirring, hand-clapping anthems, plaintive love songs and mighty power ballads, before the ensemble bring everything together for a rousing finale. Somehow, the plot actually makes perfect sense.

Seriously, if you’re looking for the perfect show to make you forget your woes, Showstopper! is an ideal choice. My only regret? Why have I waited so long to see it?

5 stars

Philip Caveney