Jenny Bede: The First Pregnant Woman in the World


Underbelly Bristo Square (Clover), Edinburgh

We first encountered Jenny Bede way back in 2013 at the Fringe, when she appeared alongside Jessie Cave in Ain’t Too Proud to Beg. We enjoyed that show a lot, but haven’t managed to see her since. Until now. And, while a lot has changed (she’s the first woman in the whole world to have ever been pregnant, you know), she’s still the same sweet-faced, potty-mouthed, musical comic we remember.

The theme here is – unsurprisingly, given the title – motherhood, but – as should also be evident – Bede is very, very self-aware. She’s brutally honest about the toll pregnancy and parenting take (the struggle to work while breast-feeding; the hormonal rage of the second trimester; the absolute carnage of giving birth), but also conscious of the self-absorption and entitlement ‘a white woman with a buggy’ sometimes displays.

Bede is an engaging performer. Her style is chatty and intimate, and she doesn’t seem to have a filter – some of her tales are very personal (and all the better for it). The show’s high points are the musical numbers, all original pieces, with bitingly witty lyrics. The standout is the song about things that make her angry, that soon descends into a rant, interrupted periodically by cheers and applause from the audience as she highlights issues that have affected us all (not least the fact that Boris Johnson was enjoying a party at the exact same time she was giving birth without her partner present, because WE WEREN’T ALLOWED TO MIX!).

There’s a weird heckle early on that unsettles her briefly, but Bede is an experienced comedian, and she soon settles back into her stride. This is a funny and appealing show, with some serious points playing peek-a-boo behind the jokes.

3.5 stars

Susan Singfield

The Actress


Underbelly Bristo Square (Dairy), Edinburgh

It’s 1660, Charles II has claimed the throne and, after eighteen long years of bans and closures, the theatres of London are finally open again – but something is different. This time, women are allowed on stage. Written and directed by Andrew Pearson-Wright, Long Lane Theatre Company’s The Actress focuses on the first of these new performers, highlighting the issues they faced and their determination to succeed.

Theatre was still tightly governed, and only two royal patents were issued: one to Sir Thomas Killigrew (Andrew Loudon), the other to his competitor, Sir William Davenant. This story, however, focuses on two women who present themselves to Killigrew, Anne Marshall (Charlotte Price) and Margaret Hughes (Eva Pearson-Wright), both vying for the accolade of being the first woman on the English stage.

They couldn’t be more different. While Anne is only eighteen years old, an intellectual, bookish kind of girl, Margaret is thirty and a woman of the world, a courtesan, who has travelled to Paris and Amsterdam, and is mistress to a prince. Pearson-Wright’s well-crafted script presents a complex, nuanced relationship: the two are competitors but also reluctant allies, aware that their gender both separates and binds them. Anne helps Margaret towards a deeper understanding of Shakespeare, while Margaret pushes Anne to be more assertive. They’re both fighting a losing battle to be taken seriously – “Men have to want to fuck her!” says the wonderfully boorish theatre patron, Charles Sedley (Matthew Hebden) – but at least they’re not being ignored, unlike Anne’s illiterate friend (Hattie Chapman), who’s working backstage all hours, waiting in the wings…

There’s a lot to admire here. The writing is strong: the play is pacy and the storyline is clear and engaging. The characterisation is also assured, and Price in particular stands out, imbuing Marshall with a disquieting intensity. The small stage is well-utilised and never feels cluttered, even when there are five actors almost filling it; the movement is dynamic and everything flows well.

I’m a little uncomfortable with the dressing room scenes, however. It’s a fascinating (and disturbing) period detail: apparently, men could pay to sit backstage and watch the actresses undress. These are important moments, and certainly need to be included in the play, but I don’t know why the women need to actually be topless; it feels as exploitative as the sleaze it’s supposed to be skewering. This level of realism doesn’t sit well in a production where moustaches on hand-held sticks are employed to differentiate between male roles.

That aside, The Actress is an interesting and compelling play, shedding light on an important piece of theatre history.

4 stars

Susan Singfield

Myra DuBois: Dead Funny


Underbelly, George Square Gardens, Edinburgh

Myra DuBois is dead. Except for the fact that she is very much alive. But she wants us to pretend she’s dead, because this is her funeral. Clearly, she has to be here! If she waits until she’s actually dead, there’s no telling how it’ll go. This way, she’s in control, and can ensure it’s a suitably fabulous event.

As a conceit, this works well. It’s silly and audacious, and affords DuBois the chance to posture and self-aggrandise to her heart’s content. Actor Gareth Joyner’s alter-ego is an acerbic delight, bitching and carping her way through the proceedings, and eliciting helpless laughter from her audience along the way.

There’s nothing especially new here: DuBois clearly revels in exploring the old traditions of music hall, drag and cabaret. But it’s all so well done, so consummately performed, that it serves to remind us why these entertainment forms are so prevalent and popular. She’s funny. All the time.

If you’re shy, don’t sit on the front row. The Yorkshire diva’s best moments are when she’s interacting with (okay, picking on) the audience. She’s adept at choosing her victims: they’re lapping it up. Tonight, two men called Ross and Paul are singled out for special attention, along with a woman dressed in leopard print, whom DuBois keeps calling Lyndsey, even though she says her name is Louise (I can’t work out if this is part of the put-down or a genuine error). Someone shouts about a plot-hole in the punchline of a joke, and is told to fuck off, before being treated to the most venomous look I’ve ever seen. It doesn’t sound very funny when I write it down. It is though. The place erupts.

DuBois treats us to a reading, a poem by her sister and a few songs along the way. And oh, that voice. Annie Lennox somehow never managed to make Why sound quite like this…

RIP, Myra. You did yourself proud.

4 stars

Susan Singfield

Jon Long: Planet-Killing Machine



Underbelly Bristo Square (Clover), Edinburgh

We’re not sure what to expect from this: we’ve never seen Jon Long before. We’re heading into his comedy show because we like the poster, and because the environmental theme appeals to us. We’re glad we take the punt, because this young comedian is really very good.

I say ‘young’ because that’s how he seems. He tells us he’s thirty, but he exudes the charm of a diffident teenager; he has a gentle, appealing approach. It’s a pleasure to spend an hour in his company, being entertained by his songs and gags.

The show is loosely eco-focused – based on what he’s experienced working in a recycling centre, and his guilt at being the titular planet-eating machine – but there are lots of diversions and asides. It’s punctuated by witty, catchy songs, and we’re invited to join in. There are jibes at millennials, which might sound hack but work well here; there’s a self-deprecating tone to the mockery, which warms us to his ideas.

Long doesn’t look ravaged enough for his alcoholism material to be true, but I guess that angelic face masks what he’s been through. I’m just glad he’s in recovery, because this is one performer with a lot to say and a rather lovely way of saying it. Even when he’s singing about dildos.

4.2 stars

Susan Singfield


Detour: A Show About Changing Your Mind


Underbelly Bristo Square (Buttercup), Edinburgh

Detour is Diana Dinerman’s account of how her life has taken unexpected turns: from dancer to historian to stand-up comedian. In this solo show, she charts the twists and turns of the path she’s trodden, using modern dance as an illustrative technique.

Dance – and its allegorical associations – is the strength of this show. The standout moment for me is when Dinerman performs the key features of three leading practitioners, a precise and economical demonstration that even non-dancers like me can understand. These ideas – of taking up space, contracting, separating out the limbs – are then interwoven into her story, physical metaphors for emotional discoveries. It’s a neat concept.

The opening third is very funny, with some wry witticisms and keen observations. From thereon in, there are fewer jokes, as Dinerman details a period of emotional distress and subsequent self-discovery. She speaks well, and the tale flows easily, but this section is a bit too self-help-manual for me. I admit, I’m not generally good with publicly-voiced introspection (I’m a “roll-your-eyes-and-call-it-naval-gazing” cynical kind of gal), so I’m really not the ideal audience member for this show. Certainly, as we left, the people behind us were most appreciative, enthusing about how insightful and thought-provoking they’d found it.

So, if you enjoy soul-searching with a dash of comedy, this could just be the show for you.

3 stars

Susan Singfield

Wil Greenway: Either Side of Everything


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


Six the Musical


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


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


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


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