The Girl with the Edinburgh Tattoo

Enjoy yourself – it's later than you think!

Dharmander Singh

The show’s full title: Dharmander Singh from Bollywood and Birmingham to Berlin and Brexit is clarified pretty early on in the proceedings. Dharmander shares a name with a Bollywood actor; he originally comes from Birmingham (although he doesn’t have to explain that one – the accent rather gives it away); he now lives in Berlin so obviously Brexit will be mentioned.

However as the show isn’t overtly political the Brexit element is quite low in the pecking order. This is a wise move as Dharmander (or Da – as he helpfully invites us to call him) isn’t your hectoring politico type of comedian but rather the kind who invites you into his world and introduces you to all its quirks and oddities. In Dharmander’s case this means a fair amount of culture-class comedy centering on the Berlin psyche – on one hand avante-garde and anything goes – on the other petrified when the ticket-inspectors board the train. Even if life in Germany in general – and Berlin in particular – isn’t a hot topic for you Dharmander’s mega-watt smile and brilliantly energetic style will win you over. And of course there’s the Brummie accent which adds to the cheeky chappie persona and is always good value in the comedy stakes.

Dharmander is also appearing in two other shows for the whole Fringe run. Hopefully he’ll be able to keep those energy levels up!

(review for 4 August)

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/dharmander-singh-from-bollywood-and-birmingham-to-berlin-and-brexit

 

Juliet Meyers

There’s an old adage that if you want to have a friend in politics – get a dog. You could also stretch that one to Edinburgh Fringe shows – get a dog if you want to experience a noticeable spike in audience numbers. I couldn’t possibly comment but according to Juliet Meyers – ‘co-star’ of This Flipping Rescue Dog Has Ruined My Life – this adage has empirical truth.

Okay – Juliet did have healthy audience numbers yesterday on a typically dreich and disgusting Edinburgh weather afternoon. And that could possibly have had something to do with the other co-star – Homer, the adorable rescue dog. Here’s the irony though – Juliet is a fine comedian and doesn’t actually need a gimmick. But the paradox is – her show is all about Homer the rescue dog so there would be a big dog-shaped hole if he wasn’t there.

Statistics and philosophy aside – let’s talk about the show. Juliet is warm, funny and weaves some cracking material about middle-class pseuds, Mumsnet and everyday casual sexism into the main tale (hmm, I promised I wouldn’t do doggy puns… ) of how Homer came into her life. Homer – for his part – isn’t made to do that much which is a relief for those dreading Britain’s Got Talent – type animal exploitation. He’s just there – and he’s absolutely gorgeous.

Dog existentialism aside – although there is a fair bit of that – this is a very funny and heart-warming show which is definitely worth an hour of your time.

(Review for 4 August)

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/juliet-meyers-this-flipping-rescue-dog-has-ruined-my-life

A Gentle, Shy Antichrist

Can anyone remember when the stereotypical Italian twin obsessions were food and music? Anyone who knows Italians of a younger vintage though will confirm it’s religion and sex. Well… maybe that’s more an Italians on The Fringe thing. And Daniele Fabbri is no exception.

Daniele is a welcome addition to the impressive roster of Italian talent which has graced the Free Fringe in recent years. As for the title – I wouldn’t say particularly shy – he’s a confident performer who was unfazed by the smallish audience (an occupational hazard due to a noon start in a venue off the usual beaten Old Town track). And if the epithet of antichrist conjures up the image of a head-spinning, vomiting demon – you’re going to be disappointed on that count too.

What we do get are tales of a disconnect with his parents, an early obsession with Michael Jackson and the forced purchase of a Papal fanzine. The separate strands being brought together in a neat conclusion.

There are only two more shows left in this very short run so you’ll have to be quick if you want to sample an early lunch of skewered and barbecued Catholic faith with no guilt offered!

(review for 4 August)

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/gentle-shy-antichrist

 

 

 

 

 

Letter from America / World Watch Out

I’ll say one thing about that Donald Trump. He’s going to be good for artistic creation. As you may have read in my last post I had the germ of an idea for a Twilight Zone type story which had elements of Back to the Future and Brigadoon (I admit, a bit of an obsession for me!) Well, here’s the finished article.

Hopefully people will find it humorous and a little chilling but I felt incredibly sad when writing it (and not for the obvious reasons of looking ahead to the next four years!). The whole idea of people having to leave a land they love for whatever reason – to make money, chase a dream or perhaps because their own land isn’t fit to live in anymore. So it is anti – Trump but it’s also an early valentine to immigrants, the LGBT community, all those who stand up to bullies – in the past and in the future… and of course the beautiful Western Isles.

Apologies to The Proclaimers for pinching their title – although they pinched it from Alistair Cooke first! (I’ll square it with them if I bump into Charlie or Craig down in Colinton Woods anytime soon!)

Talking of Scottish music legends. Rev Mulvey from Lone Head Records tempted me out of musical retirement to collaborate on this track. Could be a creative four years – if we survive, that is!

 

 

Back to the (No) Future

 

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You have to hand it to The Donald – he has succeeded in uniting the world. The show of solidarity across nations is impressive. Particularly with women. Particularly with people who won’t be taken in by grubby, rabble-rousing politics delivered by a rebooted Mussolini brought back to life as a Simpsons character. Particularly in Scotland – but then we’ve always been united in our disgust for the big bully who Trump-trampled his way over large areas of our bonnie land.

Everybody knows the story regarding the Scottish connection now. The young Scots lass leaving the Western Isles to seek her fortune in the U.S. Which got me thinking – surely a new version of Back to the Future is on the cards? In this one the main character would travel back to make sure sweet and gentle Lachlan from the local croft ends up with the young Mary and not the big American blow-hard visiting businessman*. Get it wrong – history is changed and the world is doomed.

There are lots of other Twilight Zone style twists in the real tale. The grandfather settling in America only because he got kicked out of Germany. For the full – and chilling – story check out Matt Frei‘s excellent documentary on Channel 4.

Back to the real world though so I guess we just have to get on with it. That doesn’t mean sticking your head under the duvet and self-medicating with your drug of choice  – however tempting that may be. Get up, stand up and don’t let the big bully win!

*Biff was based on Trump – spooky!

https://www.theguardian.com/film/2015/oct/23/back-to-the-future-writer-bad-guy-biff-was-based-on-donald-trump

http://www.channel4.com/programmes/meet-the-trumps-from-immigrant-to-president

 

 

 

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… ‘

Spencer Jones is The Herbert in Proper Job

In the queue for Spencer Jones – with Richard Osman also waiting to get in – I couldn’t help thinking ‘please don’t sit in front of me’.  I was also thinking if the show’s good enough for Mr Osman… That coupled with the excited buzz being generated by the waiting audience gave me the feeling I was in for something special.

Please don’t think me a deliberate late-comer to the Spencer Jones party – I was all set to see The Herbert in Proper Job last year at The Hive but it was cancelled on the night I went due to technical problems. I’m getting my disclaimer in early because reviewing the show a year on from the awards and the rave reviews what’s there left to say? I could say Spencer Jones is the new Tommy Cooper with shades of Mr Bean – but that’s all been said already. Those comparisons are completely valid – the collection of daft props; the mastery of nonverbal communication. I’ll throw in a few other references if I may though – Max Wall (the outfit); Moe from The Three Stooges (the hair) and Frank Spencer (the storyline). The last one definitely as the Herbert man-child has to face up to family responsibilities and find a job (in a nuclear power plant so a bit like Homer Simpson?).

As I’ve demonstrated there – there’s nothing new under the sun. See any comedian and you can say ‘isn’t he/she a bit like… ?’ It can be downright plagiarism masquerading as a ‘tribute’ or it can be a lovingly crafted act informed by a deep love for what went before. Of course he/she could be in either camp and the audience could still be left cold. People like Tommy Cooper didn’t debut on telly as fully formed national-treasures. They worked the Variety circuit and faced the tough audiences who more often than not would respond with ‘What the hell is he meant to be doing?’ Cut to the pinnacle of a career and that same comedian can faff about and the audience will love it. It’s all about currency. So does Spencer Jones have comedy currency? Judging by the joyous reaction of the audience he’s well on the way to building up a healthy balance.

The show itself is unbridled silliness with Spencer displaying impeccable clowning technique. However there are vivid streaks of poignancy and almost macabre surrealism (due to the job at the power plant his baby is born with a the head of a fox) which makes you think you’ve wandered into experimental theatre as performed by an existentialist company from Chernobyl. The next minute we’re snapped out of the mood with a cheery ‘He’s my boy, I love him all the same’.

The big question is can Spencer take the Herbert to the mainstream? He’s already made it to the BBC in other guises and Harry Hill has proved that silly surrealism does get a chance on prime-time TV. The bigger question is however does Spencer want to take the Herbert to the mainstream? The show is very much a theatrical experience and so much would be lost in the confines of a TV studio with the audience possibly asking: ‘What the hell is he meant to be doing?’.

My guess is Spencer Jones is going to do very well – in whatever guise. Meaning that the Herbert may remain a rare live treat. That could be enough to prompt you to go along but you’d also get to see the work of a great natural clown and be imbued with the classic existentialist message of always looking on the bright side of life – however dark things get. More simply you will just have a great time.

(Review for 24 Aug)

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/spencer-jones-is-the-herbert-in-proper-job

Dominic Frisby: Let’s Talk About Tax

Here’s a tip for appearing younger. Join the queue for a show that’s all about tax. Of course this theory may not stand up to statistical or empirical scrutiny but it was anecdotally and personally true when I went along to see Dominic Frisby’s Let’s Talk About Tax yesterday. Dominic asks for a show of hands when he asks if most people think they are in for a masterclass on being creative with their tax returns. And the majority of the mainly unfair-to-say-but-I-would guess-they’re-retired audience raise their hands. Also – sorry to make assumptions again – but most of them also look pretty well-to-do.

Dominic ponders on how he can make tax sexy. More to the point – can he make tax funny?  The stage is set with colourful home-made pie-charts, graphs and tax quotes. His visual image is somewhere between Hector the Tax Inspector and Laurence Olivier’s The Entertainer. But like the latter is there something behind the flashy suit and the ready grin? To give us some idea Dominic – after asking us to guess his political persuasion – reveals he spoiled his ballot paper at the last general election. So disillusioned lefty or complete anarchist then? Well neither actually. He also reveals he’s the voice of Werther’s Originals – which creates a little frisson of excitement – and has been involved in the making of two successful films. At this point we’d have every right in expecting expert advice on canny investing.

Instead Dominic wrong-foots us again. After presenting the stats he presents the big theory: that we have to re-think tax completely. No tax on work or endeavour or goods but instead there should be a tax on land. Of course as The Queen and the landed gentry own most of Britain land-wise and therefore would be getting clobbered the most tax-wise – this is a pretty radical notion. And one where you could almost hear the heads of some audience members being turned inside-out.

Dominic’s strength is that he’s the polar opposite to your shouty lefty comedian or plastic anarchist (as in Russell Brand who gets short shrift) and can deliver a radical message with polite charm. The jokes are delivered in a knowingly awkward signposted way which is fine for a show about an awkward subject. With his other interests he possibly doesn’t have to fret too much about his stand-up career but a big question would be what does he do next and will the subject matter capture the imagination of an audience as (err) tax does? Dominic did make a casual comment about how he’d voted for Brexit and that did make me prick up my ears. With so many of this year’s Fringe shows rife with lazy assumptions about the Brexit vote this was a truly radical statement and made me want to know more. Maybe next time?

(Review for 24 Aug)

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/dominic-frisby-let-s-talk-about-tax

 

Helping Aamer

How can anyone not like a show where tea, coffee, biscuits and boiled eggs are on offer? Not only that but our host, motivational speaker and performer – Dr Mark Silcox – prepares the refreshments for us. Actually – scrub the word ‘performer’ because at no time does this feel like a performance.

Polite, softly-spoken, older Indian gentleman invites us into the cool downstairs room at Ciao Roma. On the one of two baking-hot days in Edinburgh this respite from the heat would have been enough to get the audience on his side. But there are also the aforementioned refreshments – too nice really! I have to admit I become a little obsessed with the practical concerns when bits of business like this are carried out. Are the eggs going to be properly cooked? Will there be enough water in the kettle to make tea for everyone? Where’s the milk kept? As a detail-obsessed person I’m getting the vibe our host is like that too – so we’re going to get along just fine.

In fact getting – or more accurately sending – ‘the vibe’ is a major part of the fifty minute experience. To explain – Mark Silcox’s mission during the time is to send love to the very angry ‘reverse-racist’ comedian Aamer Rahman with the hope of making him a little less angry. There’s a motivational-tool recording of Kipling’s If played at the start followed by compare and contrast biographies (his and Rahman’s) presented in an attempt to ascertain the reverse-racist’s anger source. There is also much scrutiny of Rahman’s Twitter account with ridiculous, pompous (and of course angry) tweets defused with perfect little put-downs which are a mix of naivety and sharp wit.

By this stage of the Fringe – actually at anytime – I get pretty fed-up with ‘comedy categorisation’. The idea of ‘well, I didn’t find it that funny or engaging but it’s meant to be anti-comedy so that’s alright’. What a lot of (Free) Fringe shows have to remember is most audiences will wander in just wanting to be entertained and engaged. If a show can deliver that – great. If it can inspire and actually make you feel good about yourself and the world for a while – even better. If it can be subtly done and make you suspend disbelief for the best part of an hour – that’s pretty special.

A lovely little gem of a show. (And by the way – the eggs were cooked to perfection!)

(Review for 24 Aug)

https://edinburghfestival.list.co.uk/event/615813-helping-aamer/

 

Joz Norris: Hello, Goodbye

Man in a box with only head visible inviting audience to come in and sit down. Now that’s what I call absurdist silly comedy.

What follows is a quick visual introduction to the man via family album photos spilling out of the box fax-machine like. The last one is of an elderly gent. The man breaks free of the box – changes his clothes with donations from the audience. A balloon with a drawn-on face and Princess Merida auburn wig takes the man’s place in the box. The elderly gent is the grandfather; the balloon is the girlfriend and the man is Joz Norris.

There is a story involving all three with much stopping and starting, false jeopardy and going off at tangents. The story itself is not so much shaggy dog but woolly mammoth and tangents include stopping off at the Beatrix Potter museum; allowing a tiny man hand-puppet to try stand-up and getting audience ideas for a – very structured – improvisation. But somewhere within all the mayhem there’s a fragile little tale of love and loss.

There’s quite a bit of absurdist silly comedy out there – especially on The Fringe – and if it’s done with a lack of conviction you’re going to be sussed. What joy then that Joz Norris seems like the real deal. Bags of energy with a madcap style reminiscent of a young Jim Carrey – his interplay with the audience is genuine and warm. In fact – you can almost feel everyone relax as we realise Joz is a nice guy whose main aim is to give us forty-five fun-packed minutes (many shows have the intention but can’t deliver).

By the end the fragile little story – more or less – is told and Joz hands back the borrowed shirt now covered in sweat. The owner could be keeping it as a souvenir in anticipation of Joz Norris making it big. Who knows? It could very well happen.

(Review for 21 Aug)

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/joz-norris-hello-goodbye

Joz Norris: Hello, Goodbye

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