The Girl with the Edinburgh Tattoo

The Street Charm of the Bourgeoisie

More Depp than Dodd!

NygelNygel G Harrot’s Uninterrupted Jollification (Banshee Labyrinth, 16.20 until 24 August) is described as ‘old school comedy in the style of Ken Dodd, Morecambe & Wise, Les Dawson, Frankie Howerd, Peter Sellers and The Goons‘. Couldn’t be any clearer you would think but there were still members of the audience who looked a bit mystified. Happily though – those who like their humour not so much retro, but positively prehistoric, were laughing like drains. I have to confess I am partial to the genre and I’m glad to say that I was suitably jollified. If I can offer the teeniest, tiniest suggestion – I would have loved Nygel to have been more of a cheeky chappie and a bit more animated, winning the naysayers over by sheer force of will. You know – like the old adages: ‘keep moving so they can’t hit you’ and ‘if you don’t like that joke there will be another along in a minute’. Nygel must know those ones!

The major influence is definitely Ken Dodd (I’ve since learned Nigel writes for him) and visually that is very apparent, with maybe a touch of Edward Scissorhands. The thing is – and I’m sure Nygel knows it – this kind of comedy was born out of grinding poverty, the horrors of two world wars and having to face audiences who had experienced those things themselves. The humour may have appeared jolly but the gritty influences gave the performers either a manic or sardonic edge – they wouldn’t have stood for any passivity in their audience.

Nygel seems a really sweet and gentle man – and he’s undeniably talented – but I think he has to borrow his mentor’s tickling-stick and beat his audience into submission with it! (Still recommended though)

But, seriously…

Review for 12 August

I’ve enjoyed most – and absolutely loved some – of the comedy I’ve seen on the Free Fringe. However it’s nice to get a bit of variety so I decided to seek out that very rare animal on the FF – theatre. So glad I did. Started out with Lovecraft’s Monsters as performed by David Crawford. The venue (The Wee Pub) is seriously tiny and while that added to the intimate ‘gather round, people, and I’ll tell you a tale… ‘ atmosphere it’s a shame that it precludes David from getting a bigger audience. And here is a man who deserves a good audience as he’s a quality act who oozes professionalism; from his Bostonian gentleman appearance to his gentle, but commanding, voice you feel he was born to be a teller of ghostly tales.The shortish show starts with a description of H P Lovecraft’s formative years and moves onto the telling of one of his stories. It struck me at this point that I had actually never read anything by the author but that was immaterial as I was soon swept along with eerie accounts of slithery mutant fish-like people inhabiting a creepy New England town. If you are a Lovecraft virgin yourself imagine Edgar Allan Poe or even David Lynch and you’ll get the picture. If you’re a fan – like the young guy sat beside me who whooped with delight when a one of H P’s stories was merely mentioned – you will be in seventh heaven… or some other otherworldly place. (13.15 every day until 24th Aug)

My next theatrical experience of the day was another one-man-show but with completely different subject matter. Who Did I Think I Was? I say one man, but Peter Henderson plays two characters: firstly the father who is in his eighties, ex-RAF, stiff-upper-lip type moving into the winter of his life. Secondly, the son, fifty-odd, ex-punk, ex-alcoholic, still clinging onto the idea of being a bit of a geezer. The premise is the son, running out of options, is on the verge of moving back in with dad. We get to know the two characters through dad reminiscing into a dictaphone for the Imperial War Museum and son addressing the audience directly. The theatrical devices are simple – Peter puts on a dressing-gown and a pair of specs to become dad, but it’s his brilliant acting skills that make you believe you are in the company of two men. I would say ‘different men’ but the whole crux of the play is that the son becomes the father and vice versa. It’s a beautifully judged and affecting piece, brilliantly written and acted. As with Lovecraft’s Monsters – highly recommended. (The Counting House, 14.30 every day until 24th Aug)

Not Quite Eurotrash…

Review for 14 August

There was a general buzz of excitement as the near capacity audience took their seats for The EU Explained (17.05, Cabaret Voltaire until 23rd Aug, not 20th ) the other day. Looking back I wonder just what they were expecting – not what they got, presumably, judging by the slow and steady vacating of seats as the show progressed. First to go was a bonkers gibberish-singing Italian guy sat at the back, who I felt sure was going to climb over the audience – Roberto Benigni style – and become part of the show. Unfortunately he shut up and left before it even started. Next deserter was a young Chinese girl who had never seen a Fringe show and had asked to tag along with us; she lasted until the end of the opening piece: a sing-a-long version of Ode to Joy which no-one sang-a-long to. It was hard to fathom who was being made fun of here – people who can’t speak German, people who can’t speak a second language or anyone – Germans included – who don’t know the words to Ode to Joy. But that seemed to be the problem with the show – unsure of its targets or even its target audience. Not to mention a serious issue regarding the actual quality of the material itself – it’s all quite niche and the kind of thing that probably seemed hilarious sketched out in the European Commission canteen. The promo material does mention pie-charts and graphs and – no kidding – that’s pretty much what we got, along with some ‘humorous’ songs which laboured the old ignorant-Brits-abroad bit and some hideously complicated multilingual sing-a-longs which only served to further alienate the audience.

It’s a shame because there is a germ of a good idea there and the initial audience numbers prove there is an interest in the subject matter, but this is a show in definite need of a makeover– make it a bit more unhinged and Eurotrash-y, perhaps? Or get the bonkers Italian guy back in and make him part of the show – that might do it!

Glitter-tastic!

Glitter

Review for 16 August

There was me trying to give up sweet things but I was tempted into CC Blooms yesterday for at naughty-but-nice tea-time treat of Cupcake, with a side-order of Jack and loads of glitter. To explain – Cupcake and Jack are McGinn Presents: Songs for Glitter Fetishists and they describe themselves intriguingly as ‘an acoustic drag queen extravaganza’, and while that’s technically true they should also put in their blurb that they provide fifty minutes of solid-gold entertainment with camp humour aplenty and an audience-feel-good-factor turned up to eleven. Cupcake provides the glamour and the voice – and what a voice! For all of you used to ‘musical’ drag acts from the 80s with their liberal use of lip-synching, prepare to have your leg-warmers blown off! From a blazing falsetto opener of Prince‘s ‘Kiss’ to a marvellously butch Kate Bush with so many other good things along the way, including a priceless interlude where Elvis morphs into Cher and back again – this guy proves he can sing and then some. Meanwhile Jack plays the straight man role and the guitar to perfection with deadpan asides and staggeringly faithful recreations of poptastic hits from the 60s up to the present day. The audience are frequently called upon to lend support with kazoo playing and general sing-a-long stuff but don’t worry, you won’t be picked on – unless you’re a bald gentlemen of a certain age, that is. But in all honesty, the guys who were chosen to become the bewigged ‘Dreamgirls’ back-up looked happier than George Michael sitting in a trucker’s passenger seat by the end of it all. The show comes with a warning: ‘painfully frivolous amounts of glitter used at every performance’. They should also warn that anyone attending is going to be seriously entertained and have a huge happy grin on their face for hours after. If you think you can stand this much fun get yourself (and your friends – the more, the merrier) along to CC Blooms before 24th Aug. (Not the 18th, also there may be extra shows at other venues)

p.s. Cupcake wins outright my award for ‘most unusual receptacle for receiving monetary donations’… I’m not telling, get along and see for yourselves!

The Real Deal – for three nights only!

David MillsWell, two nights left now – so you’ll have to be quick if you want to catch the peerless David Mills (@ the Hive, 19.00, 16-18 Aug). From the Commonwealth Games to a dissection of Sandra Bullock’s career to date there’s not much that escapes his gloriously bitchy gaze. David’s show this time – Gimme Some Sugar – is a shorter piece (30 mins) but it has more quality material, class and sheer professionalism per minute than most hour-long, rambling and faffing-about Fringe shows you may have the misfortune to wander into. Like Mr Mills himself there is not an ounce of extraneous flab or padding. So ‘focus, people!’ and get yourselves along tonight or tomorrow.

The Divine Miss D

Caught the marvellous Miss D (aka Daphna Baram) ‘s show at Cowgatehead 3 (20.30) the other night. Ballsy, bold, bolshy – it’s a brilliant show with tales of serving in the Israeli army to having a heart attack at age 39. There’s the reliable Jewish schtick of constantly disappointing her mother – for example not marrying the doctor that treated her or just not marrying at all. Daphna moves with ease between the political and personal in a riotously funny show. Be quick though – she finishes up on the 16th. Go see! 

Two lovely men and a few myths…

Very enjoyable hour spent in the company of Samuel Warner and John Pendal (Men & Myths, @ Cowgatehead 2 , 17.00 until 24th Aug). Both guys are hugely likeable with Jack chatting to the audience as they arrive and even handing out packets of Haribo. It’s Jack who opens the show with general observations which slip into the slightly surreal. It’s fast-paced with the emphasis on wordplay and references to 80/90s culture (‘Do you know B A Baracus is the only member of the A-Team not to have a degree?’). In the second half John takes to the stage with a laid-back and quietly confident style. Lots of gay references with John – being the perfect host – checking we’re OK with certain things before he starts. His USP is that he’s a ‘bear’ with a tendency to dress like a lesbian, and there’s also quality material about being a bit of a neat-freak and borderline OCD. Highly professional show with both guys keeping the energy up even in the face of the dreaded afternoon slot. Also their attention to detail (neatly printed signs on the door) and their lovely hospitality is a welcome blast of fresh air in the sometimes mingin’ atmosphere of The Fringe. Recommended.

Careful what you wish for…

GrockOnce upon a time there was a man who, suffering from depression, went along to see his doctor. The doctor recommended that he go out for the evening and enjoy himself, get a few laughs, perhaps go and see the famous clown Grock. The man turned to him and said: ‘But, I am Grock.’

It’s a story that may – or may not – be apocryphal but it’s a famous example of the whole ‘tears of a clown’ thing with Robin Williams being the latest casualty. I heard about Robin Williams death last night after another packed day of Free Fringing which made the news all the more poignant.

Yesterday morning I’m sure if you’d asked any one of the performers setting up their act in any of the last broom cupboards or mingin’ cave spaces available here in Edinburgh they’d have bitten your hand off if you’d offered them a career like Robin Williams had. In fact, never mind that, most of them would kill for a four star review and an audience member count in double figures. It’s no wonder melt-downs happen when someone pours their life and soul into something and finds that a) they’re put into dog-eat-dog competition with thousands of others, and/or b) nobody is really that interested in what they’re doing in the first place. As well as seeing a good few shows so far I have also seen  a few of those melt-downs happen. So why do they do it? Fame – I guess, for many of them. Get that and all your problems will be solved, but people like Grock, Robin Williams and countless others prove that is hardly ever the case.

What’s impressed me most on The Fringe has been the example of the older guys and the professional performers who have schleped their act around for years and they realise that fickle mistress of fame is a heartless bitch who’s never going to look twice at them. Most importantly, they know IT DOESN’T MATTER!!

Images of Edinburgh

For those of you who know the city – here’s a  wonderfully evocative poem by Richard Mulvey. It comes from his collection: ‘Poetry for the Divided’. Check it out at:

Poetry for the divided cover 2

Edinburgh

I walk through history, on these Edinburgh streets

The monuments to time and place soaked in the summer rain

Princes Street gardens invites in all dreamers

George Street drunken amongst the revelling night

Edinburgh castle dominates you

With the majestic moment of time passed

See the castle everlasting in your passing

As you head to the pubs on Rose Street.

The Scottish enlightenment awakens you

After the night of drinking pints of heavy

The Edinburgh sky will cover you

So you can touch it at your pleasure in this moment of pain.

Ebola at the Edinburgh Fringe shock!!

Wil HodgsonWell, not actual Ebola but certainly the equivalent in terms of entertainment: comedy! It’s everywhere – in-yer-face stand-up, gentle comic observational stuff, groan-worthy puns, smart one-liners, character pieces, political, retro, surreal, old-school, nu-school, silly, clever, Scottish, Irish, Jewish, German, Swedish… aaaaargh! (a much-used Fringe show prefix). It’s great though… if you choose wisely (keep visiting for top tips).

Even so, I find that my ribs can only undergo so much tickling and I start to tire of the comedy-audience-interview (where are you from? what’s your name?) Aaaaargh! So…. it’s nice to seek out something different. Though I wouldn’t insult Wil Hodgson by saying that was my reason for going to see his new show (You Will be Taken From This Place), after all I don’t have to be convinced of his toweringly brilliant and completely unique talent. But a show on capital punishment with an emphasis on the particularly British mode of dispatch – hanging? And not a general trip through the history and the ethics (although these do feature) but a forensic account of every mundane detail and grisly outcome of this method, making it appear as both a science and an art. I suppose most reviewers would use the word dispassionate to describe Mr Hodgson – which is fair enough for a first impression but after five minutes in his company you realise that is just the veneer on a multi-layered experience. He always reminds me of a resident storyteller sitting in the corner of a windswept-Moors-pub whose forefathers would have done much the same but perhaps in a highwayman’s tavern or a medieval mead-hall. You know the character – you’ve no sooner said ‘who’s this guy?’ then you’re sucked into his weird and wonderful world, transfixed and ultimately left chilled to the bone.

The location (downstairs at Cabaret Voltaire @ 12.00 until 23rd Aug) is perfect, having the appearance of a subterranean torture chamber or perhaps an execution observation room. The material itself is expertly constructed starting with a (black) humorous account of the crime that implicated the last two men to be hanged in the UK (more bunglers than burglars), but soon we’re subsumed into the whole sad and sordid history of the hangman. We learn it was a way to achieve social status and – less surprisingly – that it was a career choice particularly prone to alcoholism, madness and suicide. It’s 50 years since the last hanging took place in the UK – 13 August to be exact – so various programmes and articles will be available but if you find yourself in Edinburgh, get along and hear the full and shocking real-life tale told as only Wil Hodgson can.

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