The Girl with the Edinburgh Tattoo

The Street Charm of the Bourgeoisie

Bob Blackman’s Tray

2015BOBBLAC_2ASometimes you will find something different on the Fringe. Sometimes you will be visited by an enigmatic man wearing a pin-stripe jacket and a red balaclava who will sit silently in the corner of the room and use thought-waves to will you to his show. That show will name-check people like Charlie Drake, Bernie Clifton, Roger de Courcey... and will feature the ‘funniest men in Newcastle-under-Lyme’.

Apart from the thought-waves Bob Blackman’s Tray is astonishingly below the radar so the tiny Three/Free Sisters’ Staff Room (fast getting a reputation for class acts) at yesterday lunch-time was sparsely occupied. Never mind – those of us who were there can boast in future about the experience or else wonder if it was some kind of acid-spiked dream.

There’s Richard Drake (wearing the balaclava) who provides segueways of an existential nature – a bit like Peter Cook’s E L Whisty but with a Northern accent. The totally wired component is the other bloke who takes on the guise of Johnny Sorrow – comedian from yesteryear – and Trevor Never – outraged indoor bowls fan with a grudge against Kirklees District Council. Physically he’s like a cross between Bez from the Happy Mondays and the ‘Committee’ MC from the Wheel Tappers & Shunters Social Club for those who remember or who have maybe studied UK social history.

I don’t want to give too much away but imagine a working man’s club run by the Theatre of the Absurd or an end-of-the-pier at the end-of-the-world show. It’s like Vic and Bob before they got on the telly but with less props. It’s a glorious vinegar-soaked valentine to northern comedy. It’s Frank Randle, the Crazy Gang and of course – Bob Blackman. It’s delightfully unhinged but never steps outside itself with Johnny providing some cracking lines and Trevor showing how a convincing meltdown should be done.

For all those who thought cult comedy had disappeared – don’t despair Bob Blackman’s Tray is here. Well, in Edinburgh until tomorrow…

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/bob-blackman-s-tray

Not Disabled… Enough! – Romina Puma

2015NOTDISA_J8There’s no doubt about the contingent of Italian comedians being an absolute revelation at the Free Fringe this year. By yesterday I had already caught the (both brilliant) shows of Giada Garofalo and Luca Cupani. Could the third person in the triumvirate really be a triumph? No worries – Romina Puma absolutely was!

Romina describes herself as ‘work in progress disabled’. She has muscular dystrophy, a progressive condition which means – as she tells us – things she can physically do now she probably won’t be able to do in a years time. So while Romina is recognised as being disabled by some parts of ‘the system’ for others parts she’s ‘not disabled enough’. A prime example being the government’s disability test which she describes in all its farcical detail – ‘sorry, muscular dystrophy isn’t on the system!’

The running theme of ‘not being… enough’ is well done with Romina taking us back to her teenage years and thinking herself ‘not pretty enough’ and then up to more recent times with an unsuccessful attempt at becoming an ‘undateable’ on the Channel 4 series. Yikes!!

The show really flies however when Romina expresses her wishes and desires – yes, usually of a sexual nature. Her tales of attempting to disguise her disability when trying to pull a guy is gloriously funny. And her piece about smear tests and vajazzles is comedy gold (I won’t spoil her punchline – you’ll have to go hear!)

Beautifully liberating stuff from a naturally funny woman. And for all those repressed people who have problems with themes like these being explored or perhaps you have a condition which limits your mobility or your outlook – you should take the opportunity to see Romina’s show – it will change your attitude and may even change your life!

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/not-disabled-enough

Daphna Baram – Something to Declare

2015SOMETHI_AUEHere’s the way I’d deal with immigration at The Fringe – I’d definitely limit the influx of white blokes in their 30s going on about not getting a girlfriend/domestic life does the funniest things. Instead I’d welcome with open arms savvy, ballsy, wonderfully witty women like Daphna Baram.

People who’ve seen the Divine Miss D before will have already checked and passed her comedy credentials. What’s great is that she never tries to smuggle in any dodgy old material. What she’s declaring this year is her take on becoming a British Citizen and taking the required test. Cue extracts from the test and doing a Q&A with the audience which is good fun and pretty eye-opening as far as the questions go. The whole exploration of British-ness thing is hackneyed-free with a really good routine about comparing a typically inept social invitation from an Englishman (‘did he actually invite me… ?’) to a no-doubt-about-it demand from a Jewish momma (‘you will come to dinner’).

We also get something in the way of personal disclosure with a very intriguing tale – about a potential marriage of convenience with a feckless, floppy-haired member of the English upper class – which has a jaw-dropping denoument. If it’s true – and I have no reason to doubt Daphna – it’s staggering stuff. Also heart-rending and blackly comic is her recollection of her very first client as a human rights lawyer in Israel – an inept terrorist who repeatedly failed in his attempts to blow up a bus-stop.

Well paced and well balanced – with the Q&A’s serving as light to the darker humour shade. Not that Daphna ever lets it stray into a laughter-free zone. On the basis of my visit I would stamp Daphna’s passport comedy approved with unlimited leave to stay!

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/daphna-baram-something-to-declare

Luca Cupani – Still Falling

2015TOMBINN_AOGSo glad I managed to catch Luca Cupani’s show yesterday just before he ran off to be crowned So You Think You’re Funny winner of 2015. Partly because the beautifully quirky venue of Bob’s BlundaBus – the top deck of an old double decker – isn’t that huge and I have a feeling it’s going to be packed out in the next few days. Such is the power of awards – you can be cynical about them but when they draw attention to guys like Luca maybe they do serve a purpose.

My main reason for being glad however is I’ve now seen Still Falling and I feel so much better for it. Now if that sounds all evangelical – that’s not Luca’s style at all. There’s no shouting, hectoring, badgering or pleading with the audience to laugh or to love him. Other men-in-their-30s-who-can’t-get-a-girlfriend, with comedy shows on the Fringe, please note.

Luca does tackle some of the more shop-worn themes of the Fringe – like lack of a sex/love life and showbiz casting knockbacks but in his hands they are gloriously re-energised. He recounts – in quite some detail – a couple of excruciating (non)romantic encounters but as there’s no hint of awkwardness it’s like hearing your best friend confide in you. Luca also talks about his now deceased mother and while he prefaces it with saying all her funny little ways were typically Italian – which I guess they were – there is so much there that is universal and that everyone can relate to. There is talk of death and religion but instead of being heavy-handed there’s lightness of touch and a gentle leading in to a slightly surreal world of photographing corpses and thinking his mum would find the dressing of her own funeral a bit tacky.

Still Falling is a marvelously genuine show (I don’t think Luca could tell a lie to save his life, maybe that’s why he isn’t getting more acting work!) shot through with optimism which never stalls or stops to give directions to the audience. It doesn’t need to as we’re laughing and enjoying it so much already.

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/luca-cupani-still-falling

Laurence Owen: Cinemusical

2015LAURENC_K6It’s difficult to put into words just how marvelously, stupendously good Cinemusical is. You could look up brilliant in the thesaurus and get some alternatives. While you’re there you could check out mega-talented in order to find a few more superlatives to describe its creator and sole performer Laurence Owen.

I first saw Laurence accompanying David Mills in his show Don’t Get Any Ideas (well recommended) and thought if he’s good enough for David Mills…

Cinemusical is a stroke-of-genius idea – condense the major themes of popular cinema into an hour, add a very clever pastiche soundtrack and throw in a handful of deconstructed character-types who all go on a life-affirming Wizard-of-Oz-type journey. Oh – and provide excellent live vocals by way of narration. Sounds ambitious? You bet! In the hands of an amateur it could be a disaster but instead it’s a triumph.

As well as Laurence’s undoubted musical talent his love and knowledge of the cinema radiates throughout the show. Lazy stereotypes are mocked with each of the characters – fairy tale princess/queen, cowboy, cartoon bird sidekick and Bond villain/henchman – all being given their own beautifully observed and witty back-story. Particularly good is the princess having to decide between three options for her cinematic fate – dotty old fairy godmother, sexy evil queen or tragic ingenue who dies in childbirth. And there’s also Ser-gay – the transgender henchman. Who’d have thought an exploration of gender politics could be so entertaining?

It’s clever, knowing stuff without ever getting arch thanks to Laurence imbuing his performance with infectious joy and energy. Even if you don’t get all the cinematic references – it’s packed full of them – you’ll be carried along on the staggeringly entertaining journey. And of course you could always go back for a second viewing… as many others have already. A must-see.

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/laurence-owen-cinemusical

Puppet Fiction

I knew I was going to like Puppet Fiction. I’m a fan of Team America and I think Adam and Joe‘s best work was when they got their doll collection to re-enact films like Fight Club. Basically I like when dolls and puppets do bad things in a framework of cultural references. I guess I’m not on my own judging by the healthy audience the shows have been getting.

2015PUPPETF_LHThe premise is simple – Pulp Fiction with the main characters played by some cracking marionette doubles. The action is performed to a backdrop of a TV screen with static room scenes and some clever footage taken Edinburgh locations (using scenes from the actual film probably would have been a copyright issue too far). The original dialogue is used as a base but it’s not long before the improvising and riffing begins as strings get tangled and puppet body parts go astray. The three strong troupe from New Zealand are very talented and as well as coping with the strings provide very impressive voice doubles. Their Christopher Walken is worth going for on its own.

There are three different shows – I saw The Watch – to check out on different days. If I didn’t have so many other shows to cram in I’d definitely go and see the other two. One tiny criticism though if you’re not sitting in the front row it’s pretty difficult to see what’s going on – so get there early and bag a good seat.

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/puppet-fiction

An Audience With Gorgeous George

an-audience-with-gorgeous-george-lst172813In my continuing quest to seek out quality theatre on the Free Fringe I was overjoyed to happen upon An Audience With Gorgeous George. Great work from Alex Brockie who wrote the piece as well as being the director, producer and sole performer. I should say ‘star’ – because star is what George Raymond Wagner undoubtedly was in the days before reality TV and fifteen-minutes-of-fame entitlements.

To explain George was born in dirt poor Nebraska in 1915 and started his wrestling career in the early 1940s. He met the beautiful Betty – a cinema attendant – whose imagination had been fired by the countless movies she had seen. She effectively became his manager and stylist, encouraging him to camp it up before that term was thought of. National fame followed and then international renown with the dawn of the television age. Gorgeous George was huge and as in the best tradition of larger-than-life and colourful characters you know there’s going to be a sad decline. Drink and infidelity being his main vices along with the recurring guilt of not serving in WWII – the reason for which being revealed in a neat little dramatic device.

I have to admit I wasn’t familiar with the legend that was Gorgeous George before seeing the show. But doing some research afterwards I was astounded at how much Alex is physically like the man. Of course that could be great acting! From the screamingly flamboyant cloak and curly blond wig to the southern drawl and cocksure swagger it’s a wonderful evocation of the man. Either way whether you’re familiar with the legend or not it’s a stunning piece of theatre.

Review for 16 August

https://edinburghfestival.list.co.uk/event/493262-an-audience-with-gorgeous-george/

Rory McSwiggan Wants Nothing to Do With Himself

2015SELFARM_1URory McSwiggan comes with good comedy credentials – gay, middle-class catholic from Northern Ireland. Nice big tick on my to-see list then. He doesn’t want to talk about these things in his show though. Maybe I should have read that disclaimer before I went along the other night instead of just going on his personal profile. As a result I thought I had walked into the wrong show.

We had the expected niceties of ‘where are you from?’ etc… – usually done with a selection of the audience – but Rory actually covered us all. True, it was a smallish gathering but it did start to feel a bit like a work training day – but less structured. After the introductions it was established that some people watched Game of Thrones and others didn’t. Cue a song – there is an accompanying guitarist on stage – inspired by Game of Thrones. It was then time to throw things open and get other suggestions for songs. More people wandered in and the roll call was taken again but as their suggestion wasn’t that inspiring they didn’t get a song. Some people managed to sneak out at this point which did provide a bit of a laugh when Rory later asked ‘where did that guy go…?’ A bit like a useless supply teacher losing control of the class.

Best bits were probably his impression of film critic Mark Cousins (well, a few of us got it) and his take on people from N Ireland who preface their recollections with ‘it was at the height of the troubles…’

I’m not sure if Rory has a regular stand-up show but wanted to try something different. It’s a shame but there’s potential there if he could only be persuaded to talk about himself.

Review for 14 August

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/rory-mcswiggan-wants-nothing-to-do-with-himself

Mike Wozniak: One Man Dad Cat Band

2015ONECATM_J7I don’t think Mike Wozniak is going to struggle for Fringe audiences with One Man Dad Cat Band – such is the power of being ‘off the telly’. There’s also that intriguing title which more or less gets explained.

Brits do the ranty misanthrope – with or without a moustache – expertly well. And from Basil Fawlty to Victor Meldrew they are the stuff of classic comedy characters. It can be hugely enjoyable and liberating but it can also be shouty and tiresome. Mike Wozniak avoids the latter pitfalls by taking a central route of a ‘shaggy cat tale’ and then veering off into family life references and quick call-and-answer ‘facts’ with the audience. Like a breakneck therapy session with a series of grounding techniques employed to stop himself from tipping over the edge as well as giving the audience a rest on the journey.

An awful lot (and a lot of awful) comedians try to do the rambling – will he ever get to the point? – anti stand-up routine. The difference with Mike Wozniak is a lot of talent and the knowledge that for comedy to appear convincingly shambolic it has to be meticulously rehearsed. Another expert move is that he steers clear of the predictable ‘grumpy old… ‘ franchise topics and responses when going into rant mode. He wants to be an ethical guy and rails against evils like meat eating and corporate gigs but then confesses he does both but has very good reasons for doing so.

A bit like free form jazz or an abstract painting with stories, opinions, jokes, facts and observations all thrown into the mix. From making sure his children never get invited to Katie Hopkins’ house to a sexy sea bass there’s something for everyone.

Review for 11 August

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/mike-wozniak-one-man-dad-cat-band

Geoff Norcott – The Look of Moron

2015GEOFFNO_OHAs far as setting yourself apart from the swarm of other white blokes – in their thirties doing stuff about domesticity and reaching their own personal mid-life crisis – billing yourself as an unapologetic Tory would appear to be quite a genius move. It could also back-fire quite horribly making you think that anyone who tries it is either very foolish or very brave. Geoff Norcott is certainly no fool but I wouldn’t list brave as one of his particular selling points.

Waiting for the big confession regarding Geoff’s political affiliations was a bit like waiting for the much-talked-about controversial scene in a film – like the horse’s head in The Godfather or when Halle Berry got them out in Swordfish. It’s difficult to concentrate on what’s going on before because all you can think of is the money shot. And of course It’s even more palpable in a live situation – we know that he knows that we’re waiting…

As I’ve said Geoff’s no fool so he doesn’t come on stage and launch straight into a Conservative party political broadcast but then he’s not that kind of Tory. When the big ‘fess-up on how he votes does come it’s more along the lines of there being no other viable option and as a working-class guy sharing certain Tory values. He does venture into Russell Brand territory with ‘politicians – they’re all the same’ but unlike Mr Brand, Geoff presents himself as a practical and pragmatic guy – however unfashionable that may be.

The political stuff – when it comes – is quite scant and is delivered quite timidly which is a shame. Also I don’t know if the voting-Tory confession/apology is necessary as the whole target of leftie lazy thinking and ideological knee-jerk responses is so huge Geoff could be getting endless hits without getting into personal disclosure. He does touch upon the above as well as dodgier areas like the NHS (game show euthanasia for the elderly) and the SNP (Scottish MPs entering the Commons in Braveheart type mode). Geoff does ask for a quick show of hands – there’s a scattering of older people and probably less Scottish people in. The older people laugh to prove they can take a joke whilst the Scottish stuff is moved along so quickly we don’t have much time to respond.

Overall the audience seemed fine with everything. They probably laughed more at the observational family-life / reaching-a certain-age type of material which served as the very thick slices of bread around the thinly sliced political meat. As for hecklers – there was one of sorts: an older woman in the front row who declared herself a Smiths fan about five minutes into the set which was bizarre but maybe an indication of the audience feeling they have to show where they’re coming from as much as Geoff does. As it is Geoff is very likeable with good comic timing and well written material but certainly when I saw him on a Sunday afternoon with a polite audience it was all quite.. nice. I imagine in the bear-pit of a late slot it would have been a very different show altogether and perhaps one I’d like to see.

Review for 16 August

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/geoff-norcott-the-look-of-moron

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