The Girl with the Edinburgh Tattoo

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Archive for the month “August, 2013”

Another Marriage of Convenience?

ImageWhat is it about world politics that it always plays out as a soap opera? Are the stakes and implications so immense when a situation like Syria arises that – in order to get our heads round it – we have to distil it down to individual personalities and relationships like they’re playing out in an episode of Hollyoaks? Picture it: the US is the posturing, crotch-grabbing local big-boy – owner of what he thinks is the only club in town. GB is his shell-shocked ex who has finally risen up and found herself a bit of backbone after years of being his girlfriend of convenience. France of course is the sexy exchange student who has always played hard to get but has now decided to drop her drawers for reasons best known to herself. Now Big Boy is experiencing a bit of bother from the Muslim boys round his club. He’s going to get everyone’s support right?

Well, as in all soap operas we know that things are never that simple. And whether in fiction or in real life we knew there is no black or white. There is no one evil despot that can be cleanly and clinically taken out. Military action, taking the initiative, taking a stand – call it what you will – is always bloody, destructive and indiscriminate and after it’s over leaves a deeper and irreparable fracture. The US should know that.

But there I go again – thinking of countries as people – confusing the will of entire groups of people with the popularity-motivated actions of individual politicians. A helluva lot of people – most likely the majority – in GB, US and probably France don’t want to make a bad situation worse. We’ve seen what’s happened in Iraq and elsewhere – we’re not stupid. We know there’s no quick fix – even if Big Boy can muster together a dodgy bunch of hangers-on and crack a few heads with baseball bats we know it’s all going to end in tears and run for at least ten seasons.

Post script

Most recent polls show that the majority of French people do not support taking military action. Dieu merci! We knew it all along. Good to know that the French aren’t represented by ridiculous characters like Bernard-Henri Levy who managed to set on edge the teeth of almost everyone here yesterday with his ubiquity in the British media. Well, I suppose we needed a bit of light relief but it would have been funnier if someone had actually said ‘Piss off and do something with that hair – you big nonce!’ or ‘Philosopher? Get a job!’

BH Levy

I Really Must Talk About Kevin…

At this late stage of the Fringe I would have thought that my must see list would be closed – but happy to say I’ve been proved wrong. Went along to Joke Thieves (Espionage, 10pm) the other night and the definite stand-out of the stand-ups was Kevin Dewsbury. So… went along to see his full show Out Now and had a tremendous time. Now in the vast sea of comedians on the Fringe (free and otherwise) originality is going to be a issue. There are blokey blokes aplenty and more than a bit of gay/camp humour. Kevin’s USP is that he’s a ‘blokey gay’. Along with that he is also very, very funny with a hugely engaging personality. From his easy banter with the audience when setting up his show (no prima donnas here!) to keeping us all entertained over an hour that just flew by. One-liners, camped-up versions of well known songs (‘Going Homo Down at the Gay Disco’ to the tune of ‘Going Loco in Acapulco’ still has me smiling) as well as hilarious – and at times poignant – tales of coming out. There’s such a lot to like about Kevin – and you don’t have to be gay or a bloke – see for yourself by catching him at The White Horse at 6pm tonight or tomorrow.

Hot Picks of the Free Fringe – Toby Muresianu

For those who may have come late to the Free Fringe – for whatever reason – and now realise that it is indeed the true Fringe you will probably be in a desperate situation right now – so much to catch up with and so little time. Let me help with my must sees.

Toby Muresianu is American Jewish, LA based, part of the Facebook generation – in the literal sense as he was a classmate of Mark Zuckerberg, former software engineer, app designer, atheist, vegetarian. All these topics and more inform his material which is sharp, insightful and intelligent – reminds me a bit of classic Woody Allen with that style of drawing you in on the personal and mundane and ending up talking about the Universe and the meaning of life. Clue is in the title of the show, I guess… His delivery is refreshingly laid-back with quiet confidence which is a nice change from the in-yer-face brashness that many stand-ups feel they have to employ to grab your attention. Imagine an updated Groucho Marx or a Jackie Mason with better diction. Another thing I like is despite having impeccable geek credentials he doesn’t take the easy route of ‘laugh at me cos I’m a nerd’ school of comedy a la Big Bang Theory or ‘let’s laugh at everyone else’ a la Infinite Monkey Cage (god help us!). And you have to admit the guy has balls when he lays into inept rich kids who dabble in the arts (‘I’m a photographer. No, I think you just have a camera…’) when that kind of person will more than likely be sitting in your audience. Toby also comperes the Free Samples show every day at Whistlebinkies at 11am where you can catch part of his act but either way do yourself a favour and see this guy before he becomes huge.

Three Charming Men and One Devil!

Sunday, 18th August

Sunday at the Free Fringe and the first charming man of the day at the Canons Gait at 14.25. Now Wil Hodgson might not be your typical dreamboat – ex-wrestler, skinhead, beer belly, tattoos (lots of them, proper ones, mind – care bears and the like), slightly monotone west country accent. But after ten or so minutes in his company you will be smitten as he moves effortlessly and eloquently between his favourite obsessions which manage to be both brilliantly bizarre and achingly nostalgic at the same time. In anybody else’s hands the main topics of comic books and porn would be tawdry and obvious. But Mr Hodgson has such a head-swimmingly comprehensive knowledge and deep, deep love of his subject matter you’re hanging on his every word (he goes quite fast so you have to concentrate!) Porn? Yes, I know, girls – but imagine if you will ‘genteel porn’ with W I type women indulging in some lesbian action, the film of which being handed around in a raunchy version of Dad’s Army (just one of the gloriously surreal scenarios that is conjured up). What I love about Mr H though is his unashamed love of women – real women – big women – tough women. An hour in his company is better than any course on empowerment with his rejection of size zeros and tales of overcoming the bullies. Oh and you’ll learn a whole lot about the history of comic books and lots more besides!

Next up George Telfer in his one man show about Richard Burton. Set in the tiny Mata Hari space of Espionage the action is up close and personal. The predominately female audience no doubt attracted by the glitz and glamour of the whole Burton/Taylor legend. This Burton however is post Liz and more a burnt out case as the great man prepares for his stage comeback in Equus. Whilst Mr Telfer doesn’t deliver an impersonation of Rob Bryden proportions there is a Welsh lilt and pieces are genuinely moving such as when memories of the death of his beloved brother are evoked. The consummate professional Mr Telfer effortlessly incorporates late-comers and noises off from the bar into the show. Making a nice change from stand-up this is a classy treat for fans of the golden area of Hollywood.

Onto the third charming man of the day – Mr Meredith with his staggeringly entertaining singalong show – Knees Up Around The Organ. What? Singalong? Yes, yes, yes! Honestly Mr Meredith and his organ should be available on the NHS such is the pure, unadulterated, joy that they provide. Now if the thought of dreary singing classes at school or mouthing hymns (does that sound rude?) fills you with dread get yourself along to The Voodoo Rooms before Saturday and put yourself in Mr M’s capable hands. Starting with some delightfully camp (‘I’m an old fashioned homosexual – I crook my pinky when I…’ well you can guess!) banter, there’s a warming up of the vocal chords with a quick tongue twister before diving in with real oldies like ‘Roll Out The Barrel’ and the like. There’s time later for requests – and this gives you some idea of what a star Mr M is – he sang a song in Mandarin to whoops of delight – and tears of laughter – from a Chinese contingent in the audience! Finishing up with more ‘modern’ crowd pleasers like ‘Daydream Believer’ and ‘500 Miles’. The hour just flew by leaving a roomful of very obviously delighted people. It might not seem trendy, it might not seem cool but when you’re having so much fun, who cares? Mr Meredith – what a charmer.

Now on to the ‘devil’. What can I say? Lewis Schaffer comes well recommended and there is no denying he is good at what he does. Which is out-there, unhinged, confrontational comedy. Lulled into a sense of false security with Mr S looking dapper and shaking audience members’ hands before the show. Five minutes in though and a borderline racist, tourettes-like outburst directed towards a late arriving Canadian/Chinese party set us pretty much on course for the rest of the show. I, being a woman, was described as Satan – and I probably got off quite lightly compared to others in the audience. Revmulvey was a ‘nazi’ , a Scots-Muslim came in for a verbal attack (you can guess…) and other people accused of being ‘gay’, ‘ugly’, ‘stupid’. Men in the audience seemed to be enjoying it more than the women – no surprise. A bit like being on a scary fairground ride that you got on by accident. Probably made worse by the whole mingin’ atmosphere of the Heroes @ The Hive venue with its superglue floor and pervading smell of vomit – glad to get out. If that’s your kind of thing though – go see – and at least you’ll be able to say you went… and survived!

Fact or Fiction?

Lady DiInteresting to see Scotland Yard have reopened their investigation into the death of Princess Diana and Dodi Fayed. Don’t know if reading about the conspiracy theories contained in my book The Rachel Redemption put them on the trail!




RR Cover

Geordies, Germans and Beer!

Friday, 16th August

ImageAnother day – another ‘pick of the Free Fringe’. Good choices all round. Started with Gary Colman at Whistlebinkies at 14:45. Described in FF programme as Jack Dee-like deadpan comedy which I think is doing Mr Colman a great disservice. He’s actually very animated and his routine about his family and life-so-far is very upbeat. Ex-squaddie, ex-professional snowboarder, happy family man, late forties – but not ready to hang up his comedy boots yet – he wrings every bit of comic potential out of his descriptions of everyday domestic situations including having to perform an intimate daily procedure on his pet dog and just stopping short of TMI on his wife’s birthing experience. There’s a lot of the ‘cheeky chappy’ about Gary and a touch of the Frankie Howerds with his summation of the audience – ‘I really must try and get a younger, trendier crowd’. The joke being that wouldn’t be his audience at all. Very good natured and engaging with a constant flow of laughs Gary is another comedian which makes you think ‘why haven’t I seen him on the telly?’ Well recommended. By the way – I know I have this tendency to compare acts with long-dead comedians but Gary did mention Arthur Askey at some point – got a big laugh from me at any rate!

Onto the Grassmarket Community Project at the foot of Candlemaker Row for tea and scones – very rock n roll, I know! But honestly – if you’re looking for a little oasis of non-alcohol-fuelled-calm in the sea of mentalness that is the Cowgate/Grassmarket at the moment – check it out.

On to Base (part of the grubby-club triumvirate along with Sneeky Pete’s and Opium) just a couple of minutes along the Cowgate to see Christian Schulte-Loh in Attack of the 50 Foot German Comedian. Pretty self explanatory except he’s a mere six foot seven not 50 foot. Big international crowd queueing to get in probably making the other acts due to start feel just a bit inadequate. Again another top notch comedian. Quote in programme promises ‘a funny German – the only one’. Now that was the joke some time ago but it seems these days that there’s a bit of a bumper crop. Personally speaking – I’ve seen/heard Henning Wehn and that’s been about it. As you can imagine there are the usual topics – WWII, football, the Euro economy, Teutonic precision and efficiency… Effortless working of the audience – focusing on the different nationalities of which there were a few – including an American couple in the front row who provided Christian with a rich seam of comic potential. But as well as the US (having the best record of invading other countries), the English (always apologising), Scots (drunkards), Austrians (cellars, the one who shall not be named) the Germans came in for most ribbing with perceived arrogance and their over-fondness of forming rallies. A consummate professional, Christian didn’t let the energy drop for a second. Definitely well worth putting him on your FF timetable of must-sees. He also performs nightly at The Kilderkin pub with other comedians in a show called World War III – will be checking that out. Also good to hear him talking up the FF and – with expected German attention to detail – giving a concise political history of the movement to date. Ausgezeichnet!

Final FF stop along at The Three Sisters for A Brief History of Beer. Now out of the main cluster of dank, sticky-floored, urine-scented pubs and clubs that serve as FF venues around the Cowgate The Three Sisters (or ‘Slappers’ as it’s known) has to be the skankiest – but hold your nose (and possibly use the toilets somewhere else) and brave Edinburgh’s answer to Dante’s Inferno to check out this show. A young American couple with bags of energy present a whistle-stop journey through time to explain why beer is so wonderful. The home made set (a la Starship Enterprise) and props are delightfully quirky and they also use to good effect stock and home movie-like footage projected as way of illustration. The material is actually quite educational and fact-driven but performed at break-neck speed so it never gets bogged down. Both the performers have more than a bit of star quality about them and I don’t want to get you too excited but they put me very much in mind of a quick-fire, character-driven sketch show that I saw at The Fringe some years ago (as a child, you understand…) with a double act called Mullarkey and Myers featuring a certain Mike Myers. Wonder whatever happened to him? So if you want to possibly bore generations to come with I remember when I saw… remember the names of William Glenn and Trish Parry. Oh, and go and see them first of course!

Festival Thursday with stalkers, religion, Phillip & Marjorie…

Thursday, 15th August

Curious day of festing. Bought tickets a while ago for the show Histoire d’Amour on the official Festival. That started at The Kings at 8pm so took the chance to fit in a couple of Free Fringe shows beforehand.

Kicked off with Phillip and Majorie’s Marriage Preparation Course for Regular People and the ‘Gays’ at the Dram House (Fantoosh) at 14.30. From the moment Majorie collars you in the street and you get delivered into the – not so – capable hands of Phillip upstairs as he sets up his ‘technical thingummyjig’ to present said course – you know it’s going to be fun and games all the way. And that’s exactly what it was. Marjorie (small, American, feisty) and Phillip (tall, Yorkshire, a bit useless) are your classic comic double act but are that rare and quite beautiful thing – when you get it right – the husband and wife team. Think George Burns/Gracie Allen or Lucille Ball/Desi Arnaz (yes, we do have to go back quite far!) but here there is no straight man/woman or even a ‘gay’ – that’s a typical P&M joke so that’ll give you some idea… It starts out as as a Power Point type presentation of how to sustain a perfect union with faint shades of scientology about it but very soon we get to the party games and just general silliness. Have to say though – P&M do keep to the script and keep the well-planned visual aids flowing. I know you can’t pick your audience but I think P&M would have a ball if they could organise a ‘couples-only’ event as their comedy really flies when the usual couples’ bugbears get aired (money, sex, family…) but they did their best with getting the singletons involved as much as possible. All in all – recommended for a good hour of fun, fun, fun.

Next – downstairs in the same venue (Sneekit Room) at 16.00 – was The Human Being’s Guide To Not Being a Dick About Religion with Matt Thomas. Now I must confess at the start Matt’s whole middle-class, Home Counties, did-I-mention-I-was-a-graduate? – persona put my Scottish, working-class woman’s teeth on edge. It wasn’t helped by members of the audience – friends, perhaps? – blokes (see description above) naturally – laughing just a bit too uproariously at every joke. For myself I found the matter-of-fact statements near the start about ‘watching football’ and ‘having sex’ the funniest. But do you know what? I stuck with it and felt a right mean old cow by the end as Matt delivered up a satisfying and heart-felt fifty minutes or so taking pot shots at most religions including Rationalism (yes, I meant that). And yes, he did – tentatively, at the end – address that big old Islamic elephant in the room. All in all a bit like a would-be-groovy-agnostic-minister giving you his best sermon. So go see if that sound good to you. And sorry Matt for being judgemental at the start– it’s not you, it’s me…

Time for dinner at Indaba at Tollcross. Have been meaning to go there for a while but it always looks busy. This time got in at the back of five and were first ones there – started to fill up quite quickly though. Not sure why it’s so popular unless the meat and fish options hold some special cache for those that like that kind of thing. Tapas type dishes were pretty pricey for what you got (three thin slices of halloumi on some salad leaves for £5.95? Hmmm…). Fifty pounds for two has bought us a whole lot more – and better – elsewhere. Also change (which had been intended as a tip, still…) wasn’t returned to the table which I always think is a bit cheeky!

On to the main feature – Histoire d’Amour by Chile’s Teatrocinema at The Kings. Now I know that I’m a complete devotee of the FF but sometimes it’s nice to see something big and fancy on a big official Festival stage. I chose this as a good few years back I saw a fantastic show called Cegada d’Amour by a Catalan theatre group which had a similar ‘teatrocinema’ technique which merges cinematic and live action on stage. Cegada d’Amour was a marvellous, gaudy Almodovar-type comedy but Histoire d’Amour is altogether a darker and more challenging affair. Presented as a black and white graphic novel / comic strip it worked well as the super-titles (it’s in Spanish) appeared like comic book text. All well and good – but the subject matter is a completely other enchilada altogether. The story is basically that of a stalker repeatedly capturing and raping a young woman he becomes obsessed with in what becomes a vile and sick game of cat and mouse. Now as one of my favourite past-times is fantasising about female retribution I was pretty much looking forward to when the victim (and yes, she can only be described as such) gets the gun and blasts her tormentor’s brains out or chops off his limbs a la Sin City (which it resembles in places). But unfortunately we are not given that satisfaction – she marries him in the end, has his child and then has the cheek to die on him. What is even more distasteful is the way he describes both her and her family as being some kind of sub-species that he can control – Crime and Punishment-like. No doubt a piece like this is meant to challenge and I did feel exactly that. Retired to Ventoux afterwards to fathom the meaning of it all – it must have been symbolic of Chilean political history, right…right? Any road up – what a downer! Also back of ten and Ventoux had stopped serving coffee – 24 hour Festival city? Don’t make me laugh! Had a whisky instead, walked to the bus-stop in the pouring rain to get bus home.

Misplacing the Zeigeist

ImageAs the Free Fringe (FF) gets bigger and bigger and continues to grab the ‘Official’ Fringe (OF) by the scruff of its neck and give it a good kick up the arse, it’s interesting to see the ‘official’ print media arriving a bit late to the party. For the last couple of weeks they’ve steadfastly ignored the FF concentrating on reviews of shows on the ‘other one’. But as we head into the last week and we enlightened people – and we are many – have laughed, cried, marvelled and generally felt smug at picking out the-next-big-thing, and probably the most beautiful thing being is that we can post up comments and reviews as soon as – giving an instant tasting guide to the vast smorgasbord that is the FF. We haven’t felt the need to pick up anything as Dickensian as a magazine or a newspaper. Such is their irrelevance they are giving them away for free now. So how do they make their money? Well, from advertising of course – ads for established comedians playing the OF, ads for OF venue sponsors. Fair enough if it’s a full page ad for something like Aperol (although that is not a classic Spritz recipe – post to follow) we know where we are but when we stray into ‘infomercial’ territory with interviews and articles about David Baddiel (oh, I’m famous – look at me, don’t look at me..)or the latest YouTube phenomenon that Avalon have staked their pension fund on – it all looks a bit sad and tired. “I know”, say these guys, “Why don’t we review the Free Fringe? I believe it’s very popular and we may just be able to find ‘the-next-big-thing’!” Some chance guys – you wouldn’t know the zeitgeist if it came up and gave you the old leather-glove-double-slap!

p.s. Here’s a good example of being out of touch – a (free) copy of The (festival) List gave the mind blowing piece of advice to visit Leith for general feeding and watering respite from the Festival. So far, so good – but while they recommend the nobbier and more expensive watering-holes down at The Front I pride myself on already having given you tips on eating and drinking cheaply and well mainly on and around The Walk. Please refer to my earlier Edinburgh Guide posts. Slainte!

Porn Again?

If you haven’t done so already I urge you to visit The Edinburgh Tattoo Man blog. OK OK he is my partner in crime and any Fringe reviews will be for the same shows I’ve done, but… if you want punchy, snappy, Gonzo-like views, reviews and possibly libelous commentary. Check him out!

Porn Again?.

Return of the Curate’s Egg Fringe


Saturday, 10th August

Started my Free Fringe day with the marvellous Joan Shepard in Confessions of an Old Lady #2 at Fingers Piano Bar. Not the greatest of venues with entrance directly off Frederick Street and noises off from the bar including a ringing phone. Needn’t have worried – Joan is every inch the pro and held the audience in the palm of her hand with her tales of over seventy years in showbiz. And what tales! A child star given her big Broadway break by Laurence Olivier, sharing scenes with Tallulah Bankhead and Ethel Waters, turning down Elvis Presley (and a career in film along with it), starring in a ground-breaking revue with Lenny Bruce… But this is no mere name-dropping exercise and it’s testament to this astonishing woman that what shines through is a life-long devotion to the two great loves in her life- her husband and the theatre. Joan’s voice is still strong and commanding, only using a microphone when she does her musical numbers but I think this is more for visual effect as sound-wise she sure doesn’t need it. Warm, funny – ‘I never got real famous, well none of you has heard of me, right?’ Joan is the kind of person you wish you had as a friend so you could have regular access to her brilliant anecdotes. If you love theatre, classic showbiz tales or just want a life-affirming hour during the Festival madness do yourself a favour and get yourself along to Frederick Street at 2pm any day before the end of the Fringe.

Didn’t have a plan for the next show – whole George/Princes Street area quite mental what with Saturday shopping and confused stag/hen parties getting added to the Festival mix – decided to get respite (of a sort) on the Royal Mile, ended up doing a Nigel Farage and got stuck in the Canons’ Gait pub. Show there is The News at Kate presented by Kate Smurthwaite. Unlike Nigel though I was lucky and didn’t get barricaded in and was allowed to leave when I’d had enough (about 30 mins). Don’t get me wrong Kate’s really funny and is an engaging host but the whole set-up that followed (and seems quite popular at the mo): inviting mates/acquaintances to do ten minutes and then have a natter with them, is fraught with quality control issues. Get the right guests and this could be great, if not you’d be better off listening in on a random bus journey conversation or making up your own entertainment.

Quick sprint down to Calton Road and along to The Fiddlers Arms on Picardy Place in time for The Anti Social Network – a short piece (30 mins) regarding the dislocation of personal relationships in the age of social networking. Basically a one woman show (with assistant ‘sound-man’ working the laptop) written and performed by Paula Varjack. Sensitively written and with fine, understated acting this is an effective and affecting piece. Well worth a look.

A two minute bus journey down Leith Walk gave some much needed refuge from the city. Dinner at Origano and coffee/drinks in Tourmalet. Both excellent as usual. Could have stayed longer but there was more Fringe festing to be done! Stopped off at The Street to see An Evening with Samantha. Now Samantha Mann is technically a drag act but owes more to the Hinge and Bracket (look it up, kids…) school rather than Divine or Madame Jojo’s. Now this could lead to a degree of misunderstanding on the part of the audience which pretty much happened last night – we were constantly reminded that it was ‘spoken word’ rather than ‘comedy’ – I really don’t think we had to be told! The persona is that of a wittering, dithering, rambling woman past the first flush (think perhaps Mavis from Coronation Street) but stand-up it most definitely is not. Maybe there is some deeper meaning or intention going on here but I’m afraid I didn’t get it. Sorry, Samantha.

Stopped off to see what the Voodoo Rooms had to offer but as this seemed to be a fat guy in a Nazi uniform (offensive) and a local councillor who likes to get his face in the local paper (even fatter and even more offensive) decided to make a quick exit before I was tempted to give one of them a leather-glove-double-slap!

Evening ended on a high though with Anil Desai’s Another Night at the Movies at the City Cafe. Effortlessly entertaining, with excellent quick-fire impressions (de Niro, Pacino, Homer Simpson). Great routine with Anil charming the audience from the very start as he placed bowls of popcorn around the room. This guy is a mega talent – another one to see before he hits the big-time.

Wandered around a bit after that but Old Town was getting a definite ‘End of Days’ feel so hopped on the bus back home.

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