The Girl with the Edinburgh Tattoo

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Archive for the category “Edinburgh – guide to the city”

Expect the Unexporcupine

2015EXPECTT_ATXOriginal and entertaining is always going to be difficult but I think Olaf Falafel and Michael Stranney may just have cracked it in Expect the Unex-porcupine.

‘Absurdist’ and ‘silly’ makes you hope for the Goons or the Mighty Boosh but more often than not (certainly on the Free Fringe last year) what you get is a deconstructed gameshow format plus crappy props plus puerile humour. I have to admit my heart sank a bit when I saw the homemade ‘wheel-of-fortune’ on stage but was bolstered by the fact it was high quality homemade. Also heartening was the strangely charismatic Olaf Falafel – very tall, slightly laconic with a lost-in-translation (he’s Swedish) type jokes. He’s so engaging that I actually forget there was meant to be another guy (as promised in their lovingly crafted ‘collect and swap’ set of flyers).

The other guy is Michael Stranney and he appears when the music starts and the wheel is spun (the loose ‘gong-show’ type premise). His first character is a bit of a simpleton going on about the comings and goings in his wee Irish village. I could sense the audience starting to shift about at this point – I have to admit I wasn’t sure myself. It’s when Michael comes back after the next changeover as a bit-of-a-radge from Edinburgh trying out stand-up that a large chunk of the audience at the back baled out.

Well – the joke was on them! Michael came back a third time and this time the character was American skater-dude-type J J Hopes. Reminiscent of Bill – from Bill & Ted – J J’s attempts at comedy involve a large bag of visual props and puns. The jokes are very silly but also very funny. Everything to him is ‘awesome’ but there’s a bit of the ‘tears of a clown’ thing going on as he starts to relate everything to his girl going off with another dude. When he gets increasingly obsessive about following their relationship online but always keeping positive – like, he’s over her, right? – it’s comedy gold and I think Michael may have created a classic character who I’d love to see again.

I was having so much fun with J J I’d almost forgotten Olaf (how shallow!). When Olaf does return it’s with more good stuff including relating his clever strategy for getting over ‘stage-fright’ when using public toilets.

We’re nearing the end now but when Michael’s Edinburgh-radge character returns with his inept attempts at stand-up – ‘Anyone here single?’ ‘Anyone here in a relationship?’ – we’re in on the joke.

Likeable, original and bold. Particularly as the setting-up of many of the jokes and characters requires the audience sticking with them for the pay-off. Please go and please stay to the end – you’ll be glad you did.



Late With Lance!

LanceIt was a rainy grey Edinburgh afternoon and I wasn’t expecting to find my big glittery highlight of the Fringe so far… but I’m so glad I ‘took a chance with Lance’! I was thinking Bonnie Langford meets Alan Partridge with a large measure of Glee thrown in… I wasn’t far wrong but there was so much more…

Lance is a bit of a deluded man-child who manages to cope with past traumas – like witnessing his mother being strangled by her own feather boa mid-performance and alienation from his two gay dads – by putting them in a big sparkly bin and living his life in the eternal sunshine of an MGM musical. There’s a touch of Tennessee Williams there but also a lot of Dorothy and Gypsy Rose Lee and just about every classic character from the musicals who smiles and sings through their tears and believes that the show must always go on. Lance’s big problem however is that he’s never had the chance to get out on that stage – or ice rink – and show people what he’s got.

That’s the biggest laugh – that Lance (or rather Peter Michael Marino) has no talent. The guy has it in trailer-loads! And energy? You know the old joke about the showbiz performer who does an hour long set when they open the fridge door and the light goes on? That pretty much sums up Lance/Peter. Only instead of a kitchen think dingy room on a grey Edinburgh afternoon although I have to say our surroundings were magically transformed by Lance’s stardust (well, some charmingly home-crafted stage props).

Along with the back story the main premise is that Lance will fulfill a dream by hosting his own chat show but when his star guests don’t turn up a couple of audience members take their places. Now – frigid-Fringe-goers don’t be put off as Lance doesn’t make (too much) fun and the conversation soon turns back to his favourite subjects – himself and his celebrity idols.

The show is packed with so many good things from a very witty summing up of how to get noticed on the Fringe (say you’ve survived addiction, abuse etc) to The Sound of Music performed in five minutes. The whole back story thing is so well crafted as well with Lance even handing out his resume at the start. Like Lance the music and the comedy are unstoppable but what is perhaps the greatest joy of the show is its lovely big irrepressible heart. The end of the show distills just about every Broadway/Hollywood final moment of optimistic magic – I won’t describe it, you’ll just have to go and see…

Comedy Mash

press_3995_img_002Kicked off the (Free) Fringe 2015 in style with Comedy Mash at Espionage. Our genial host for the run is Jack Gleadow. Now, in a Fringe world full of bland guys going on about junk food and shopping in Ikea you should never underestimate the gift of funny bones which usually means having an expressive face which looks – you know – funny. So Jack – I’m sure you’ll take it as a compliment when I say you have funny bones. Adding to that a slight air of Norman Wisdom or a northern comic from yesteryear with his flat cap and waistcoat – the guy makes an effort which is always appreciated. His humour is well pitched for the time of the day with jokes about being sponsored by Morrison’s (potatoes, mash… ) with an easy going style essential for hosting duties. I was there on the first day of the run (6 August) and call it luck or serendipity but nearly all the acts were from the north (of England) with Hull, Stoke, Leeds and Salford being represented (Peterborough was the southern most point).

Call me biased but give me a northern accent and I’m half way to comedy satisfaction. Good quality from everyone but for me standouts were Jo Darcy with her stories of escaping from teacherdom and confessions of feeling weirdly flattered by the school bad-boy’s crude gesture – all deftly re-enacted showing she has a knack for physical comedy.

Other highlight was Red Redmond. A tense wire crackling with nervous energy packaged up as a ‘ginger goth’ (his words). Effective routine about comparing the mean streets of Salford to staying in Leith. There’s also original stuff about life with his pet rabbit. All a refreshing change from the deepfriedMarsBars routines. So full marks to the Comedy Mash for serving up a tasty treat – and not merely reheated leftovers. With a daily changing menu and Jack Gleadow as your maitre d’ I’m sure you’ll be well satisfied.


DSC00079The warning cry of gardyloo* may be ringing through the streets of auld reekie once more due to the latest council cutbacks. In a bid to save a few thousand on the council bill the majority of little black and white – plus pink for girls blue for boys – vaguely art deco sanitary palaces are due to close. No longer will these havens of bladder relief appear like a subverted version of an oasis on the horizon. How many times have I been in the situation of doing a long walk of the city environs – and probably having overdone the tea/beer – have almost cried at the sight of one of these ceramic sanctuaries. I can’t overstate the feeling of desperation, with the lack of a Tena Lady and no pub or cafe in sight. But that means another drink and the vicious cycle begins again…

Of course the whole business of finding relief is going to be more problematic for us women. Apart from the physical logistics, after a certain age it’s certainly more difficult to keep hold. City centre isn’t so much an issue with a variety of museums, galleries and department stores offering sanctuary but stray a little bit further and you’re in trouble.

So what to do? How about a – if not dirty – slightly grubby protest? Gather up your pee and leave it on the Council steps – that should do it! Remember – hurling it from a tenement window may incur a fine…

*gardyloo. It is likely that gardyloo comes from the French term regardez l’eau.Used by servants in medieval Scotland to warn passers-by of waste about to be thrown from a window into the street below. The phrase was still in use as late the 1930s and ’40s, when many people had no indoor toilets.


The Casual Shoo-in

When the anonymous launch of The Casual Vacancy happened there was barely a flutter of interest.  Of course the launch wasn’t totally without help from a whole team of publishers, publicists and PR people. Even then, there was probably little to distinguish it from the hundreds (thousands, if you count self-publishing) of books released every week. When word got out (I wonder how that happened?) it was penned by none other than JK Rowling it started flying off the shelves. Phew! So glad! I hate to see publishing companies and billionaire authors losing money… So, I guess it was a no-brainer to get it adapted for the screen PDQ. Even though, by all accounts, it’s a pretty slim tale. Again, so glad – I hate to see the BBC spending out too much money – those quality foreign dramas can’t come cheap!

It’s similar to the whole 50 Shades hype-machine – and I must repeat I’m not bitter. (methinks the lady is saying that a bit too much lately… ?) In a blatant attempt to draw attention to my own work – I’ll mention ‘Edinburied‘ which features a fabulously wealthy and internationally famous author who just happens to reside in Edinburgh and gets targeted by an unhinged Welsh writer who accuses her of plagiarism – the results are explosive! The question is – is Jolly Rowntree based on JK? I couldn’t possibly comment…

Happy Bah-humbug-hogmanay!

Hogmanay‘What are you doing tonight – for Hogmanay? Are you celebrating with Cath?’

Fraser smiled. ‘Easy seen you haven’t lived in Edinburgh for very long. When you’ve been here a few years you find it’s a case of just trying to get through the whole sorry farce with as little involvement as possible. Same goes for the Festival and all that crap!’

Patrick threw his head back and gave a throaty laugh which filled the small, sparsely furnished room. ‘You Scots are so funny. So cynical. You do not want to get involved with things that are on your doorstep.’ (Edinburied)

How true! The vast majority of people crowding into Edinburgh city centre tomorrow night will not be Edinburgh residents. We prefer to huddle up on the settee with our bottle(s), watching Only An Excuse and commenting on Jackie Bird‘s appearance. However I am due to break with tradition and head into town to be convivial with Italian friends. I’m sure their enthusiasm and love of life will be truly infectious but – to be on the safe side – I’ll probably bail out early and head back home. Well – Jackie does need the viewing figures!

A wake-up call for us all

So that’s it, eh? All over. Half of Scotland relieved and half with broken dreams. Well, slightly more than half and slightly less than half respectively. It’s strange though – even though I believe the vote went the right way for Scotland and the UK – I don’t feel particularly like celebrating. Why?

Firstly, it was scary. It was edge-of-seat stuff at some stages – if maybe not as near the edge as the media was making out, such was their need to avoid the accusation of appearing one-sided or partisan. Or perhaps they were trying to make it seem more neck-and-neck in order to ratchet up the tension. Either way – they’re still being accused of bias. Sometimes you just can’t win, eh?

Secondly, it’s incredibly sad. Seeing tearful yes supporters today doesn’t make me feel good. One of the reasons I was ‘no thanks’ is because I have a deep distrust of nationalism – whatever country, colour, shape or form – it’s divisive, nasty and the oldest trick in the book to exploit people who feel themselves dispossessed. And when the ‘who’s the more patriotic?’ thing started – that was a low point. Plus the whole celebrity-endorsement-industry when applied to something this important is ridiculously redundant and is something that has to die a natural death.

Reasons to be proud though – the turnout was a record-busting 84.5% and people who had never voted before did so. And – even with a minority of muppets misbehaving – the whole thing was carried out fairly and largely corruption-free.

The next few weeks are going to be crunch-time. All parties have to work together and Westminster has to deliver. The biggest message however is that Scottish Labour has to get real and engage with their core voters again. They can’t – and mustn’t – be allowed to bumble along and only visit the housing estates and areas of deprivation when they’re looking for votes. When it comes to promises they can’t forget because the people won’t.

Just Another Dream?

BrigadoonIn my half-awake state this morning I heard Justin Webb report on increased food prices, decreased supply and general hardship due to newly erected border controls. By Christ! I can’t have slept that long, can I? But I was quickly assured it was Africa – and its ebola restricting measures – he was talking about and not Scotland. As I allowed myself a bit of a lie-in (I have until 22.00 to vote after all) so many surreal images and events started to creep into my head. Did I really witness the following – Alan Cumming expounding political theory; Vivienne Westwood wearing an unfashionably large ‘yes’ badge; David Cameron looking like a dead man walking; Brian Cox (actor) spending so long over here you have to wonder if he’ll ever get back into the US; revitalised careers from Ricky Ross to Franz Ferdinand, George Galloway to Tommy Sheridan? All these things and more have appeared in my referendum-waking-dream-bubble. 

Knowing the only way to banish these images was to get up out of bed and get on with it – I did just that. But what about tomorrow, eh? Whatever is decided, all of us who live here are going to have to get on with it day after day after day…

I live near a polling station and the guy across the road has bedecked his home with an orgiastic flurry of ‘yes’s while his neighbour has a simple ‘no, thanks’. Does Mr Yes think he can influence voters Derren-Brown-like or will his enthusiasm look like hectoring? We Scots don’t like being told what to do, remember!

Who knows what influences people? The Ad-men used to think they had it all sewn up but these days they are finding themselves increasingly emasculated with soshul meedja taking their place. But is that way of coercing any better than what the Mad Men in sharp suits used to do? In so many ways it’s worse with no form of regulation and the huge potential for bullying on a grand scale.

Grassroots campaigns can be great – they’re passionate, they’re exhilarating, they’re furrapeepol! If maybe not for all the people, right? So in the cold light of day when the prating slebs have headed home to Hollywood and people and communities over here have to carry on living and working together – maybe the great party won’t seem worth the almighty hangover.

Another news report I heard in my half-sleep this morning was about the increasing radicalisation of the disillusioned and dispossessed via social media. It may have been radical Islam they were talking about but I can’t be sure…

Never Mind the Ballots – a parable

Madame BovaryA while ago, in an attempt to give a friend a few words of big-sisterly-like pre-wedding advice, I came up with the following – ‘a few years down the line you might look around and think you can do better but it’ll just end up being the same, so better to stick with it’. I hope it wasn’t as clumsy as that and as cheesy cliches go, that’s pretty much up there but I thought I’d dig it out again at this historic time for our country. Okay, okay the divorce analogy has been done to death of late, achieving a cliché status of its own but like all clichés – they exist because they’re true and apt.

What am I suggesting? Stay in a loveless marriage when you can break free and do what you want? Well… it doesn’t work like that – you still have to hook up with someone/be governed by someone (that’s the deal in parables/real life). And even if it’s totally wonderful at first living in a shack, reading poetry to each other and dancing barefoot in the woods – you will get sick of the new Mr Dreamboat when all his annoying little habits begin to seamlessly join together, he starts to question how much you spend on getting your hair done and you never have the money to go out anywhere. Finally you will look at him one day and realise he has a creepily familiar look. OMG – you married your cousin!!  You’ll hark back to the days when you were in demand – wooed and courted by politicians, footballers, pop stars and Hollywood actors. You’d get in touch to ask them to help you but they’re busy trying for a cameo in the latest Tarentino and besides they’ve got a new pet charity project on the go now. (You were sooo 2014… )

Ah, but you’ll have proved something to yourself, surely? Maybe so, but it’s cost you a bit and you’ll still have some bozo telling you what you can and can’t do. Never mind, you can say you did it all for your grand-kids and see how grateful those little bastards are.

Okay – end of parable – allow me to be sick – sick of assumptions – assumptions about being working class, ‘arty’, patriotic, having a social conscience, having more in common with a care worker in Liverpool than the laird of the manor down the road, or vice versa… if you’re that, you must be this…

What am I trying to say? Think for yourself and about yourself. Don’t become a mindless muppet for someone who shouts louder than the other guy and drags  you along on some bandwagon. Be proud of who you are and don’t be bullied into fitting some stereotype. It’s your life – you can make your own decision – but you have to free your mind first.

A Class Act

InderGlad to say I had a bumper last day on the Fringe with one particular jewel in the crown. I hope Inder Manocha will forgive me for using the colonial reference but as his show White Man’s Burden doesn’t as much play with political correctness as give it a good smack around its sanctimonious chops I think he’ll be OK with it.

Inder is Anglo-Indian, he’s also middle-aged (46), middle-class, loves the theatre and Shakespeare but being brought up in 70s England – as well as having experienced direct, casual racism – he has an inner Bernard Manning giving him a running commentary on everything he does. As such he’s a bit crap at being politically correct. He gets a hard time from a young girl at a diversity training workshop for joking about the absurdly lengthy list of ethnic categories on offer and using the ‘P’ word. He feels alienation when his grandfather speaks of the corner shop family business or the traditions of the old country. He challenges a burka’d woman for making him feel uncomfortable and feels ashamed at his own feelings of prejudice against Americans. So nothing is clear cut, he’s a sum of many different parts and can’t be squeezed into a diversity-training tick-box.

The small and intimate space of The White Horse back-room suits Inder and his semi-confessional tone perfectly. As you would expect from such an accomplished actor the show is expertly performed; but as a gifted comedian – for every moving passage there is a satisfactory pay-off with some quality punch-lines. I’m still laughing at the concept of having ‘gay teeth’!

Another lovely aspect of the show is Inder’s actorly eye for detail – like a simple two-move hand gesture, borrowed from his granddad, that expresses a world of hope turning to despair. You’ll recognise it in an instant along with so many other things to do with life, love, family, identity…

That’s certainly the ‘message’ I took – no matter what your ethnicity is, you are still held hostage to a myriad of fears, paranoia and expectations from others. But the marvellous thing about Inder is that he never appears like a ‘messenger’. Enthralling, moving and very, very funny.

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