Festivals · Music · Theatre

Edinburgh Festival Day Eight.

Edinburgh Fringe 2017 Bright Colours Only

We attended six shows on Wednesday 9 August, only one of which I’ll gloss over (“it’s not you, it’s me…”)

Delightfully, predictably, charmingly, C theatre‘s Shakespeare for Breakfast was as hilarious as ever. In its 26th year of performance, each year always seems to have been the best ever. Enough said.

Pauline Goldsmith‘s Bright Colours Only was a pleasant surprise. I knew nothing about this play/performance, which she originated and first staged in 2001.
It’s billed as an Irish Wake Show and as we enter the room (complete with coffin and set as an Irish parlour,) we are offered tea (in cups and saucers,) sandwiches, whisky, biscuits and swiss roll and are shown to our seats to join in the wake. Over the hour, Goldsmith explores with humour, poignancy and depth our reactions to death and mourning – and ultimately, chillingly, our own certain demise. A great piece of staging and indeed street theatre, as the audience is enjoined to follow the coffin out into the hearse awaiting in George Street at the climax of the show.

Ghost Light Players come from Massachusetts and bring their take on Hamlet to The Fringe in an unshowy and inventive production. Their sets and production values are simple but effective.

Our second American High School Theatre Festival production at Central Hall was Romeo and Juliet ; a little more ambitious than the Tempest we saw there on Monday and the problem with the echoing of the hall did not seem so pronounced; but then I knew tonight where the best seats to counter this were and went there straight away.

Tonight’s nightcap was Droll from the Owle Schreame players and was the second good surprise of the day. The show consists of a series of bawdy sketches from the sixteenth and seventeenth century theatre. Theatre was outlawed in England in 1642 and supposedly died, but as was pointed out in this show, three things happened; the superstar actors went abroad and continued acting; actors who could turn their hands to other professions did so; but he middle ground of the talent who could not do any other work just carried on acting in this sort of thing. The show is acted in character (and yes, I started out thinking they had been in the pub all day) by five superb actors and they say it changes every night.

Festivals · Theatre

Edinburgh Festival Day Six.

Translunar Paradise Edinburgh Fringe 2017

In retrospect, it was insanely optimistic to think I could update the blog at the same time as going to so many shows over the week commencing 7 August, so here goes with the backlog…
The first show on Monday 7 August was the excellent Kafka and Son by Theaturtle and Richard Jordan Productions. A monologue co-written and performed by Alon Nashman, it examines the correspondence of Franz Kafka to his father, positing the idea that much of what informed Kafka’s work came from the dysfunctional relationship he had with his father. Not a subject which is debated much in Stratford’s Bar, but it made for a captivating hour in a really interesting venue I had not been to before, Bunker One at The Pleasance. The performer was going to make himself available in the Bunker Bar afterward for discussion of the play and the “increasingly Kafka-esque world.” The show continues until 27 August and is highly recommended even, or especially if, you know as little about Kafka as I do. If you Google the title, there is a complete performance on a platform called Vimeo, but I don’t think it would be as good as being present at a performance.
For many years (although not all 26) one of the highlights of our Fringe has been C theatre‘s Shakespeare for Breakfast – this year they are also presenting Dickens for Dinner, a similarly formatted show where the five mega-talented members of the company riff around aspects of Dickens (mostly A Christmas Carol today) to huge comic effect. Always reliably hilarious. C theatre are presenting a total of six shows throughout the Fringe, at least three of them with the same five-strong cast.
Bristol’s Theatre Ad Infinitum first performed Translunar Paradise at the Fringe in 2011 and it’s back this year. I would say it is inspired a lot by the great sequence in the Pixar movie Up! that everyone knows, where the old man reflects on his life with his recently deceased wife; a real tear-jerker, as is Translunar Paradise judging by the sniffles I could hear around the theatre. A very cleverly devised and expertly acted show.

American High School Theatre Festival are always worth a look. As you would imagine, this is a banner for a number of American High Schools to present work. They have used various venues throughout Edinburgh, this year it is Central Hall at Tollcross and the show tonight is The Tempest. As per usual, there is no lack of skill in the acting and costumes, but they go at some pace and tonight were defeated by the natural echo of the huge hall – I eventually found a third seat where the reverberations were minimised and I could follow the rapidly delivered lines. But a good effort.

Gigs · Music · Theatre

Edinburgh Festival Days Three, Four and Five.

Edinburgh Fringe 2017

I got a bit behind over the last few days. We went to fourteen shows, only one of which I won’t mention, so quite a good strike rate. There does seem to be far fewer duds on the Fringe than say, fifteen or twenty years ago.
Friday kicked off with Chris Davis’ One-Man Apocalypse Now at Sweet Grassmarket, an hour long one man solo reduction of Coppola’s masterpiece, a film I think I have seen more often than any other. It was good; Davis seems to be a Fringe professional, doing some hard flyering and indeed another free show after midnight at The Counting House.
An hour or so later, we were at The Space in Niddry Street to watch our favourite company, Fourth Monkey, who have given so much pleasure over so many years now with their singular style and adventurous productions. This year they are visiting Edinburgh with a triptych of plays under the banner Women of Greece, based on Greek myths, opening tonight with Persephone. The company did not disappoint, all the familiar tropes were in place in the venue that they use so well. Every year seems like the best year. It was a shame they started about twenty minutes late, but I put that down to it being a first night.
Then we went a bit off-piste (for me anyway) and went to Underbelly’s Circus Hub in The Meadows to watch Elixir, performed by Head First Acrobats. If you enjoy watching handsome young men performing unfeasible acrobatic stunts, this is for you. I’m neutral.
Today’s Annoying Festival Git is shared among those who think their whispering is inaudible. By definition, it is not.
Saturday started gently with Bob Kingdom’s The Truman Capote Talk Show. This genre has become very popular; an actor appears in the character of a dead writer, actor or musician and addresses us from beyond the grave, including all the subject’s “greatest hits” and pithily assessing the successes and failures of their life. I’ve seen similar on Oliver Reed, Tony Hancock and Nina Simone in previous years. Kingdom’s show is fine and will get better as it eases into the run – it made me think and has given me a couple of additions to my reading list.
Big Brother Hamlet: A Surveillance Adaptation by International Collegiate Theatre Festival is a mouthful and a title that didn’t augur well. What it was turned out to be a perfectly fine Hamlet interpretation with some great ideas and acting that really didn’t need the “Big Brother” conceit of having about a dozen supernumerary actors on stage in cowls mechanically observing the action surveillance cameras. Maybe the show was devised so that all the members of the company could come to Edinburgh, hence these other parts? (In the UK now, we think of the Endemol show when we see the words Big Brother; the reference here was more to Orwell’s original Big Brother, however obliquely. It’s interesting how the phrase Groundhog Day now means something quite different to its original connotation subsequent to the film of that name.)
Pike St. at Roundabout in Summerhall was next and would be the first outstanding thing I’ve seen this year. The venue was deeply impressive, a bespoke theatre-in-the round with excellent sound and lighting options. This allowed the amazing Nilaja Sun to perform her piece most effectively, where she used her body and a variety of voices to portray several characters going about their lives in the Lower East Side of New York City (I think it’s called acting…) This would have been the second show in Edinburgh and it’s already entirely in place.
In the evening, we were back to The Space to see Fourth Monkey‘s Persephone, the second of the Women of Greece series. They went up twenty minutes late with no explanation or apology, really annoying because twenty minutes is not an inconsequential amount of time during the Fringe. People will have other shows to go to. The fact that Persephone was brilliant doesn’t sweeten the pill; rather, the fact they were late for the second night leaves a bitter taste. Once is maybe understandable, twice is arrogant. They know they are great, no-one is going to leave. I was discussing this very loudly in the queue because the guy in front of us had been in the queue for the Hamlet I was at in the afternoon and had been telling people he knew someone from Fourth Monkey who was in Edinburgh. It must have been the girl in the red dress, because that who he was filming covertly (annoyingly) one seat away from me. Saturday’s AFG.
We had limited time to get to the day’s last show, Frankie Boyle at the EICC. My heart lifted as I saw numerous signs around the venue saying if you left, there was no readmission, including toilet breaks (spelled out for the vodsels -put eight pints in, something will come out during Frankie’s marathon one hour set.)
The threat was balls. Fifteen minutes in, the exodus of weak bladders started and they all got back in. At least the couple in the first seats I went to had cut to the chase and already spilled their drinks on the floor, so I reconsidered and sat in row W next to quite a friendly bloke who texted and took videos throughout Frankie’s marathon ONE hour set. He at least didn’t need a piss.
Oh yeah, Frankie Boyle. He was quite funny, but not as funny as taking £17.50 a ticket for ten nights in a 2,000 seater. Sheep. More power to Frankie’s elbow.
Sunday then. At the back of twelve we were at Underbelly to watch the excellent Harry by Poor Michelle. Performed by the writer Caitlin McEwan and Sophie McQuillan, this is a play about two late teenage girls who grow up together devoted to the fandom of Harry Styles, then grow apart as one of them grows up and another crashes and burns because she can’t let go of her devotion to Harry. It was a great experience because it was a play about one of my favourite subjects – not Harry Styles, but being a pop fan; but slightly compromised by one of the actors not having as good projection as the other.
Peer Gynt by Gruffdog Theatre at Zoo was absolutely fine for fans of physical theatre. Lovely venue.
Blank Tiles at Assembly in George Square was better. A monologue by one Dylan Cole about the ravages of Alzheimer’s disease on a Scrabble winning, Star Trek loving, Rubik cube solving geek, it is at once funny and touching.
Later that evening, we went to Dance Base to watch Lady Macbeth, an investigation of the motivation and psyche of that imaginary character rendered in the medium of interpretative dance. It was very good, but sometimes I think “Stuart, you need a word with yourself…”
The evening finished with another visit to The Space to watch Fourth Monkey‘s take on Titus Andronicus. Predictably great. On time tonight, but running overtime. No problem, got the night bus home, which is a Fringe show in itself.

Music · Theatre

Edinburgh Festivals – Day Two

Edinburgh Fringe 2017

Easy day really, mainly because I forgot to take a camera.
Only one show today, which was called Trump’d, performed by a company called Two Thirds Comedy. The Fringe programme calls it a new “comedy musical from the Cambridge Footlights.” Bennett, Cook, Moore et al it’s not, but it is performed with brio. The action is set in a future world where American people are pretending to be Muslim or Mexican precisely to be expelled from President Trump’s United States. There are a couple of zingers in the script, but they are not delivered well enough to make the throat laugh while the brain is admiring. That may come as the players ease themselves into the show. I’m sure it will get very much better.
There was one excellent scene tonight, a song and dance between the guy dressed like the Milk Tray man and the blond plaited girl, which was charming as much for its clumsiness as its grace. Sorry I don’t know the actors’ names, Fringe productions aren’t great at identifying people, but if they ever read this they’ll know what I mean.
Annoying Festival Gits – Part Two…when we arrived at the performance space at C Venue in Chambers Street tonight, we saw this outside the theatre.

C Venue Chambers Street Edinburgh Festival

Which seems reasonable. So we went up the stairs and outside, a little suspicious that ten minutes before showtime, there was only one other person docilely waiting outside.
Five minutes before showtime, we went downstairs and found that people were being admitted. We told the ticket lady we had been outside as instructed and wondered if anyone would have come to get us. Could have been speaking Swahili, she looked through us, personality free zone. Today’s AFG!

Tomorrow should be more interesting.

Festivals · Gigs · Music · Theatre

Edinburgh Festivals – Day One

Edinburgh Fringe 2017

Today was the first day (I believe) of previews for The Fringe.  Certainly it was my first show of about eighty events I’ll be attending over the month of August.  My partner became a Best Friend of The Fringe this year, which entitles her to loads of “2 for 1” tickets, invitations to Fringe parties and a programme cover that looks like you.

I made that last bit up…

Edinburgh 2017 - The Fringe

Anyway, she bought loads of tickets and asked in return that I try to write about as many shows as possible, which I will try to do within my usual rules of never writing about anything I don’t like.  I picked that up from Paul Williams, who made the point that if you write something negative, you might put off someone who would have actually have enjoyed the show/album/film.  So, never miss the chance to say nothing.

Edinburgh Fringe posters 2017

Edinburgh is jam-packed (or maybe “ram-packed” in Corbynese) with people, even over the last few weeks, so I imagine it will get unbelievably busy over the next few weeks.  I assume these are visitors taking advantage of the weakness of sterling, and fair play to them.  In theory this will bring lots of business and spending to the city, which is a good thing; I do seriously worry if we have the infrastructure to handle it though – trams which stop about 10:30, overflowing bins, narrow roads and pavements.  Time will tell.

The BBC are using the grounds of George Heriot’s School again this year for broadcasts and events – they were still setting up today and it looks much bigger than last year, both in size and intent.

Edinburgh Festivals - the Old College

Edinburgh Festivals 2017

BBC at Edinburgh Festival

From there I took a walk to George Square, which has been developed as a Fringe hub over the years and now seems at tipping point. I cannot imagine a taste in food or drinks that was not being catered for around the perimeter of and in the square. The rain was gently pouring as I took these pictures, a familiar feel in August.

Sunny Edinburgh Festival

Underbelly George Square Edinburgh Fringe

My purpose was to see Richard Carpenter is Close to You, a new show by Matthew Floyd Jones, who is also known as the piano player in Frisky and Mannish, who have been doing well at the Fringe these last few years.

It was a first night, a preview, and there were still a few bits to be smoothed out, but I expect on this evening’s showing this will be one of the hits of this year’s Fringe.  Richard Carpenter welcomes us to yet another night in Purgatorium, where he mulls the implications and frustrations of being “the piano player in The Carpenters.”  Jones mixes musical pastiche with comedy and a bit of Kundalini yoga in a one man show which is sometimes cruel but ultimately coming from a place of love for its subject.  I certainly hope it does really, really well.

Richard Carpenter is close to you - Edinburgh Fringe 2017

wee coo Edinburgh Fringe 2017

Annoying Festival Gits – Part One of a possibly interminable series. The middle aged guy with the wife and grown-up daughter who just stood in front of me in the queue for tonight’s show. I had to tap him on the shoulder and explain that the queue had formed behind me, not in front of me. I know my inner Begbie is not wrong and I was pleased to start as I mean to go on with AFGs over August.
Peace, out.

Music · Theatre

Fringe programme launch party

Edinburgh Festival Fringe defying the norm since 1947

I got to attend the Fringe programme launch party on Wednesday evening, which was a beautiful cloudless sunny evening between two days of persistent rain.  The party was held at the newly re-opened Leith Theatre and featured a free bar, with all the ramifications and consequences of these magical words.

Some of us can see a trough and turn it into a gutter…sometimes it’s effortless.

Edinburgh Fringe launch party 2017

(The foyer of Leith Theatre.)


Leith Town Hall and Library

Leith Theatre Edinburgh Fringe


Here is a picture of an actual foot-on-the-monitor washboard solo, which is a sentence I never expected to write.

Washboard solo Edinburgh Fringe Leith Theatre




Truant Company “Care Takers.”

Edinburgh Fringe 2016 Truant Company Care Takers


The second show I caught tonight, on the first preview night of the Fringe, was Care Takers by the excellent Truant Company
A subtly presented and brilliantly acted two-hander, ostensibly about the clash between a deputy head teacher and a keen new teacher about the correct approach to suspected homophobic bullying, it’s actually about a lot more than that – the business of education, how much teachers should care for their pupils, ambition and how we balance all these things. Dizzyingly fine writing by Billy Cowan, one of the founders of the company, twisting and turning all the time to describe the arc of uncertainty along which the characters ride. As the audience, our ambivalence is invoked throughout, our sympathies alternating between the characters whose hostilities are so well acted.
There were about six people in tonight’s audience, but I’m sure this will be packing them in and be highly regarded by the end of its run. At C Venue, Chambers Street, every night until 29 August except 15th.
Here is the trailer they put out, featuring the striking Penny McDonald…