Sarah Louise Young

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

Royal Vauxhall

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06/08/16

Underbelly, Med Quad, Edinburgh

Did you hear the one about Freddie Mercury, Kenny Everett and Princess Diana? The one where the two closet gay stars dressed the unhappy Princess in drag and took her out for the night to the infamous Royal Vauxhall Tavern in London? No, me neither. And, if it sounds like the unlikeliest story you’ve ever heard, then just take a moment to consider that it actually happened. And now it’s a musical. Not only that, but it might just be the best thing we’ve seen at The Edinburgh Fringe so far this year.

Desmond O‘Connor (not that Des O’ Connor!) has written a collection of witty and irreverent songs for the piece and this production is blessed with three stellar performances from a trio of gifted actors. As Everett, Matthew Jones (of Fringe stalwarts Frisky and Mannish) gets the voice and mannerisms just right. Tom Giles’ Freddie is also very accomplished, while Sarah Louise Young manages to portray Diana, Maggie Thatcher and (at one point) an Irish priest with aplomb. The events portrayed here are fast, funny and occasionally extremely rude (you’ll find it very hard to unsee Maggie Thatcher with a strap-on penis doing something very rude to Everett whilst quoting his infamous ‘Let’s bomb Russia’ remark).

I’ll be honest, I hadn’t really expected to rate this. The premise seemed too off-the-wall for comfort, too far-fetched by half. Discovering that it has some basis in fact was a revelation and the realisation that I was enjoying every minute of the show was the icing on the cake. The songs range from full on rock bombast to poignant ballads. You’ll be howling with laughter one moment and on the verge of tears, the next. There’s even an Everett dream sequence that features a delightful appearance by a puppet David Bowie.

Those who like their musicals quirky and irreverent should investigate this at their earliest opportunity. It’s a cracker.

4.8 stars

Philip Caveney