The Girl with the Edinburgh Tattoo

The Street Charm of the Bourgeoisie

Happy Festive Families!

WaltonsWell – did you manage to survive the ridiculous Christmas bubble where people – through an accident of birth and not through any choice of their own – are forced together to make merry and perhaps even make conversation with other? Most people manage one day of festive torture when the pressure is put – witch-trial-like – on some poor individual to stage-manage the perfect day by providing food, presents and refereeing/counselling services and then getting tut-tutted at when she lobs the empty bottle of Bailey’s at dirty Uncle Billy’s head? I believe there are some people who attempt more than one day of this Big Brother-type set-up but then I suppose that is why we have pubs, shops and A&E!

Families have always been something that can drive you off the edge. They are endlessly fascinating though because – even if you’re lucky enough to be an orphan or choose to cut loose from your own – you can never escape. You will be subsumed into someone else’s at some point. And pick up a book or watch a film – your surrogate clan will be there. From Game of Thrones to Eastenders; from The Godfather to I Claudius; from Star Wars to Emile Zola’s Rougon-Macquart dynasty – we can’t get enough.

Personally speaking I like to keep with the fictional and give the real people a miss. As they say – ‘you can choose your friends… ‘


The Rachel Revolution – Chapter One

The Rachel Revolution

The French embassy in Abuja.

Mark checked the safety catch on the small handgun tucked into the waistband of his trousers. He would have preferred to be armed with something more substantial but this was a children’s party. Little kids of all colours jumped and hopped and danced in that funny disorientated way that little kids do. Some were dressed in mini versions of traditional Nigerian dress, others were kitted out in suits and evening dresses. Mark had never really had much to do with children – he could take them or leave them but he had to admit they looked cute and funny. Plus he was getting paid pretty handsomely for providing the security at the birthday party of the French Ambassador’s six-year-old daughter which had to count as one of his easier assignments. Still, he couldn’t shake a dark feeling that kept trying to invade his thoughts. He…

View original post 2,453 more words

The New Normal? (Looking out for a hero)

Paris Peace imageDoes it seem that this big bad world can’t get any worse? Have the deepest pits of depravity been well and truly plumbed? It’s a living visceral nightmare with wall-to-wall shootings, beheadings, burnings, bomb-blasts, lifeless floating bodies – any horror you can imagine – and more besides.

Was it always like this? Or is just more extensive news coverage?

Back in the 1980s – being young and depressed – I thought this surely had to be the worst of times… imminent nuclear destruction, the Cold War... How could I ever think that in the future I would look back and feel nostalgic? True – there was the Ayatollah, Gadaffi and various hostage-takings but the middle-east wasn’t even the secondary story-line in our western thinking but rather an opening scene in one of the Timothy Dalton Bonds. Africa was a poor starving child who needed help but we could stick some coins in a tin and feel better about that. Any tangible mortal danger to ourselves was the occasional explosion carried out by unwashed people in flares and long hair. These usually happened across The Channel or in London though so if you stayed indoors in your northern town you were OK. Except of course being in Manchester in 1996.

A quick skim through the history books should have made me feel better. Wars, torture, genocide. Yeah, that was in the past – we’ve got to be getting better, right? Wrong! And don’t try dragging out the old ‘imagine no religion…’ either. Religion doesn’t cause wars or conflicts – it’s just the window dressing. Some people will always be greedy and aggressive and find it necessary to push the less greedy and aggressive around. (I always suspected those unwashed people in flares and long hair were less ‘freedom fighters’ and more weed-smoking petty criminals desperate for a life less ordinary – these days it’s robes and beards but they’re still the same people) Every country, every race, every religion has – and has had – its bad guys. And when you have bad guys – you have to have a hero to take them on. From Spartacus, Beowulf, Boudicca and Joan of Arc to Superman, Batman and Captain America we’ve always needed someone to take on the bad guys and make it better. And even if they are hugely flawed themselves, at least their intentions are good.

If this all sounds horribly western and euro-centric – I’m sorry – I’m a child of my upbringing. But at least I can recognise there’s something wrong when the media here concentrate on the week-long anniversary of the Paris attacks rather than an on-going situation in Mali.

The call has been for artists of all descriptions to carry on doing what they do and show that creation is better than destruction. We can offer up our own take – however naive, small or personal – on how to save the world.

For myself – as much as I’d like to strap on armour and drive a chariot over the goons who want to slaughter their way into the history books – I know my limitations. Instead I’m mobilising my characters from The Rachel Redemption to take on the bad guys. This time it’s The Rachel Revolution and I’ll post chapters up as they’re written. It might not save the world but at least I’ll have tried.






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 Borough 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…

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!

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!

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.

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.

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.

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

Post Navigation


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 35 other followers