Underbelly

Wil Greenway: Either Side of Everything

26/08/18

Underbelly Bristo Square, Edinburgh

Wil Greenway’s whimsical storytelling has been a Fringe highlight for us for the past few years, and his latest offering, Either Side of Everything, is just as beautifully crafted and delivered as his previous shows. Accompanied once again by folk musicians Kathryn Langshaw and Will Galloway, this is a gentle lullaby of a performance – but somehow it still manages to pack a punch.

The writing is lyrical and inventive; the delivery is charming. He’s such an appealing performer, all sparkling eyes and inclusivity, wrapping us up in his tales of love and loss. He lays his methods bare, shows us the mechanics: this is a metaphor; there will be four stories; you won’t understand how they connect until the end. We’re part of it – for an hour at least – our lives and his, this telling, this time. We’re all on the metaphorical boat together, not knowing where this fits in the narrative arcs of our own lives. But here, now, there is Greenway’s melodic prose, a gently strumming guitar, repeated refrains, and a surprising wealth of lol-moments.

There’s sadness in these accounts: dead dogs and grieving women, unspoken love and tender touch. But there’s humour too, and would-you-rathers, the silly stuff that keeps us all going. There’s real skill in the weaving of this show, and – somehow, as always – it leaves me with a profound sense of warmth and wellbeing. There is beauty in this world, even in the misery.

(I do miss his man-bun though. I don’t know why – but it’s true, I do.)

5 stars

Susan Singfield

 

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Six the Musical

16/08/18

Udderbelly, Edinburgh

The infamous purple cow is rammed to capacity tonight and, as the performers walk on, the audience response is loud and enthusiastic. The cast of Six set about giving it all they’ve got and, from the first bars of the opening song, it’s clear that they have the crowd in the palms of their hands. Every Fringe seems to yield a runaway hit and this year, Six seems to be the hottest ticket around.

It’s always gratifying when a show this successful turns out to be so good – trust me, it isn’t always the case. Six is an inventive and exuberant pop-opera, which focuses on the wives of Henry VIII. As one character points out, we’ve only heard of them because they had the misfortune to marry the same man, so they are here to set a few things straight. We are throughly entertained by this show, but we are also informed at the same time, learning things about these women that we really didn’t know. Just think of it as at the most vibrant history lesson you’ve ever experienced and you’ve pretty much got the measure of it.

The six women are augmented by a superb four piece female band. Things kick off with an ensemble song that features a killer hook of a chorus and then, each of the wives in turn submits a solo piece, all of them vying to be voted ‘the best’ of the Queens. They are all exceptionally talented performers (far too good to single out a particular favourite) but, for the record, they are: Jameia Richard-Noel (Katherine of Aragon), Millie O’ Connell (Anne Boleyn), Natalie Paris (Jane Seymour), Alexia McIntosh (Anna of Cleves), Aimie Atkinson (Katherine Howard) and Maiya Quansah-Breed (Catherine Parr).

The excellent band powers effortlessly through a whole range of different musical styles, from straight pop to power ballad, from soul to Germanic disco. The songs, by Lucy Moss and Tony Marlowe, feature witty lyrics which relate the women’s experiences in modern day terms. There’s much talk of Snapchat and profile pictures (the latter painted by Hans Holbein, of course) and, by the time the performers hit their final crescendo, the entire crowd is clapping and stamping along in a frenzy.

I fully expect to see this expanded and transformed into a West End smash. (If it doesn’t happen, somebody’s missing a trick.) I just hope nobody spoils it by bringing in Henry himself. This is a staunchly feminist piece and should be allowed to remain so. And anyway, we all know for too much about the King.

For the time being, if you can buy, beg, borrow or steal a ticket for this wonderful show, then do so.

It really is that good.

5 stars

Philip Caveney

 

Gulliver Returns

11/08/18

Underbelly (Big Belly), Cowgate, Edinburgh

Gulliver Returns, written and directed by Dan Coleman, is an interesting piece of work. We first meet Lil (Cathy Conneff), whose introduction warns us that her husband, Adam (Jack Bence), has recently started demanding that she call him Lemuel Gulliver, and that he identifies completely with the protagonist of Swift’s most famous book.

What follows is a clever interweaving of Gulliver’s Travels and Adam’s apparent breakdown, the novel serving as an allegory for Adam’s struggle to cope with bereavement, with loss. Lil humours him, supports him, helps him to tell his tall tales – because she loves him and she wants him to be well. As Gulliver, he moves ever further away from her; by joining in his stories, she tries to draw him back.

It’s serious stuff, with a lot to say about mental health as well as an analysis of a fine piece of literature. But it’s funny too – often laugh out loud – as Lil mediates Lemuel’s pomposity, punctures his self-aggrandisement and sets him right on a few things.

Both actors are first-rate, actually; we are drawn into the horror of their disintegrating marriage, fearing for them even as we laugh at their antics. And there’s some innovative use of puppetry, the Houyhnhnm in particular a curious spectacle. The set – three bookcases and a stool – is remarkably effective, conveying oceans as well as living rooms, simultaneously vast and stifling.

The only thing that lets this down is the venue: there’s water dripping on the bare concrete stairs that lead up to Big Belly, and it stinks in there of damp and mould. But still, it’s worth steeling yourself and putting up with the fetid air for this quirky, fascinating play.

4.5 stars

Susan Singfield

 

 

Abigoliah Schamaun: Namaste, Bitches

06/08/17

Underbelly Cowgate, Edinburgh

Abigoliah Schamaun is as bold and unusual as her name. In fact, her moniker is one of the reasons we’re here (it’s memorable; we saw it on posters last year but didn’t have time to see her show); the other reason is Global Pillage, the remarkable Deborah Frances-White’s “diversity-based panel show.” The episode featuring Ms Schamaun was a stand-out, and made me want to see more of her output.

Namaste, Bitches reveals Abigoliah to be a hot mess of contradictions: she’s a fitness freak who drinks and smokes; a tattooed shave-head who loves Hello Dolly. And she’s unexpectedly sweet and appealing too. It’s a genuinely quirky, unpredictable hour, with delightfully warm and natural audience interaction. Philip and I are even called upon to learn some Bikram yoga, which definitely makes us look silly, but we’re not the butt of the joke; it’s a friendly kind of show. We laugh throughout, and leave with big smiles on our faces, feeling good about ourselves and the evening we have had.

She might be losing her voice, but Abigoliah has a lot to say – and it’s definitely worth listening to.

4.2 stars

Susan Singfield

Francesco de Carlo: Comfort Zone

05/08/17

Underbelly, George Square

Francesco de Carlo is Italian. Of course, his name on the poster means this doesn’t exactly come as a surprise, but – in case you were in any doubt – his accent confirms it. ‘This isn’t a character,’ he tells us. ‘This is my real voice.’ And that’s pretty much what this show is about: being a visible immigrant in Brexit-era Britain (although he’s at pains to point out that he’s not suffering, that he’s not comparing himself to a refugee).

De Carlo came to the UK just as we decided to leave the EU. He’s sad about the decision. His viewpoint is interesting: the show positions him as an outsider, but he has an insider’s knowledge of the European Parliament because he used to work in its press office.His opinions are interesting and informed. He praises Britain too: reminds us of the reasons we should be proud of what we have. We don’t need to be racist or xenophobic; it’s demeaning and unnecessary. Get out, travel, see as many places as you can – that seems to be the underlying message here. If you can learn about the world, you can better understand your own place in it.

His observations are funny too; he has a disarming sincerity, which is very charming indeed. The crowd inside the Wee Coo warms to him immediately, and clearly enjoys his musings on the Italian comedy scene. It’s a lovely, enjoyable way to spend an hour, being gently coaxed to leave our comfort zones. Well worth a look.

4 stars

Susan Singfield

Theatre Bouquets 2016

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We’ve been lucky enough to see some amazing theatre again in 2016. Here, in order of viewing (and with the benefit of hindsight), are our favourite productions of the year.

Hangmen – Wyndham’s Theatre, London

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An excellent start to the year’s theatrical viewing, Martin McDonagh’s play was absolutely superb: funny, frightening and thought-provoking with an outstanding central performance by David Morrissey.

The Girls – The Lowry, Salford

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This was the biggest surprise of the year for us: on paper, it sounded a million miles away from the sort of thing we usually enjoy, and we went along reluctantly. But it was a truly delightful production – flawlessly realised.

The Merry Wives – The Lowry, Salford

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Northern Broadsides version of The Merry Wives of Windsor was a rambunctious, irreverent take on the tale, with the inimitable Barrie Rutter clearly relishing the role of Falstaff.

I Am Thomas – Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

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A strange and eclectic production, telling the tale of Thomas Aikenhead, the last person in Scotland to be hanged for blasphemy, this was essentially a series of vignettes and musical interludes, with an ensemble taking turns to play the eponymous role.

King Lear – Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

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Michael Buffong’s King Lear was a tour de force, a gimmick-free yet undeniably modern production. Don Warrington was well-cast in the central role, but it was Pepter Lunkuse’s Cordelia who really stood out for us. She’s definitely one to watch!

Stowaway – Home, Manchester

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Analogue Theatre’s troubling tale of a stowaway falling from a flying aeroplane and landing in the car park of a DIY store was fascinating, depicting a moment where worlds collide and understandings begin to take root. A thought-provoking, political play.

Royal Vauxhall – Underbelly Med Quad, Edinburgh

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A quirky and irreverent musical, telling the true story of when Freddie Mercury and Kenny Everett dressed Princess Diana in drag and took her to the Royal Vauxhall Tavern in London for a night out, incognito. We loved this production.

Wonderman – Underbelly Potterrow, Edinburgh

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Based on the short stories of Roald Dahl – and incorporating a true incident from his eventful life – Gagglebabble’s collaboration with the National Theatre of Wales was a sprightly mix of drama and music with a deliciously dark heart.

Cracked Tiles – Spotlites, Edinburgh

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This beautifully crafted monologue, written and performed by Lorenzo Novani, was the downbeat tale of a young man who inherits a Glasgow fish and chip shop from his father Aldo. Novani was quite staggering as Riccardo.

Dear Home Office – Underbelly Med Quad, Edinburgh

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This was the story of unaccompanied minors applying for asylum in the UK, performed with touching vulnerability by eight refugee boys. The play was an amalgamation of the performers’ own experiences, blended with fictional accounts. A raw and truthful exposé.

The Suppliant Women – Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

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It’s a rare thing indeed when you go into a theatre and are treated to something unique – but that is the word that kept coming to us, as we sat entranced in the stalls of The Lyceum, watching David Greig’s production of The Suppliant Women. Truly brilliant.

Grain in the Blood – Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

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A real one-off, this was a stark, unnerving chiller, at once contemporary and classical, with dialogue that was taut and ultra-modern in style, all fragments and silences and unfinished thoughts. This was a complex, angular, unwieldy play – a fascinating watch.

Jack and the Beanstalk – King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

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By far the best panto we have ever seen, this was a standout production, with fantastic performances from King’s Theatre regulars Allan Stewart, Andy Gray and Grant Stott. It brought the year to a celebratory end.

Susan Singfield

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