The Girl with the Edinburgh Tattoo

Enjoy yourself – it's later than you think!

Milo McCabe: The Unflappable Troy Hawke

For those who saw Milo McCabe‘s Genesisocide at last year’s Fringe you’ll know what to expect from the man. Excellent characterisation, a range of impeccable accents and a slightly bonkers story-line. Last year there was a lot of Back to the Future obsession on the Fringe and Milo did his own take as a would-be assassin travelling back in time to take out the schoolboy Phil Collins. It was breakneck funny with a big physical performance and a range of characters using up every inch of the Counting House big stage. Cut to this year and the more intimate surroundings of the City Cafe downstairs. There is only one main character – the unflappable Troy Hawke.

Troy Hawke is a distillation of every mustachioed matinee idol from Ronald Colman to Douglas Fairbanks (Errol Flynn is named as the preferred blueprint). But there’s also shades of the classic comedy cad (Terry Thomas to Leslie Phillips) with a purred catchphrase (‘oh, stop it’) punctuated with a saucy little shimmy. So far – so impeccable. So what’s the big bonkers twist? Well Troy Hawke isn’t actually a film star or any kind of star. He was home-schooled by his mother and fed on a diet of Errol Flynn movies (see above). He is what you might term ‘special’. Casting off the cotton wool chrysalis he goes on an eye-opening journey of Weatherspoons bars and encounters with bampots (his Scottish bampot/ned/radge voice is irreproachable).

The whole fish-out-of-water story-line is always a winner. There’s a little bit of it in most British situation comedy with social anxiety and getting it wrong (from Tony Hancock to David Brent). And when it’s opened up and the main protagonist is plunged into an alien landscape (as in Edgar Wright/Simon Pegg movies) it can be hilarious. And so it is with Troy Hawke, There are some marvelously funny lines and routines (the whole idea of Hawke becoming the ‘Weatherspoons’ Nutter’ after discovering ‘the wonderful place’ is inspired). Another essential element of this kind of situation is the hero becomes just that and triumphs at the end of the day. Does that happen here? Go and see!

I loved the show but if I was to have one teensy gripe I would cite the very end just before the bucket speech where Milo brings in a bit of political commentary. Now, I totally agree with his views (beware the Eton educated Tories) and they are delivered as Troy Hawke but for me it jarred a bit and broke the perfectly pitched spell he’d cast over the preceding forty-five minutes. A bit like Charlie Chaplin at the end of The Great Dictator – maybe that was the intention!

All in all though – an excellent show.

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/milo-mccabe-the-unflappable-troy-hawke

Punel Show

There’s always going to be potential for a very diverse – and possibly sparse – audience when performers decide to slip in an extra show  when it’s meant to be their day off. The two extremes are: the super keen Twitter users only too glad to hot-foot it along to a Free Fringe hot-ticket and those who haven’t heard of the performers and have wandered in by chance.

Out of the seven audience members I think two of us were in the first category; two in the second; two open to debate and one was Darren Walsh’s mum-in-law. There was another couple at the start but they were definitely in the second category and made a hilariously inept phone-assisted escape when they decided after five minutes it wasn’t for them. (I’m not sure what they expected – the name of the show pretty much tells you everything you need to know. It’s a panel show with puns)

Also did they not know they were in the company of punning royalty with Darren Walsh and Mark Simmons as hosts? Those of us who know and appreciate their work (and use Twitter) were a bit stunned by this point. Great comedy, packed houses so far in the run, seven people in the audience today – really? I think the hosts were stunned as well but they were far too professional to call off or give us a stripped back show. I can’t be sure what happens on other days but I can’t imagine having any more fun than we did.

I don’t know if it’s a bit silly to try and describe the set-up of an essentially silly show but here goes. Darren and Mark are team captains each with one panel member in the shape of a guest comedian. On the day there was Fraser Geesin (quite grumpy but I think that’s his comedy persona) and the excellent and completely bonkers  Trevor Feelgood (I believe he’s a resident panel member so that’s a treat on its own). There are rehearsed puns, there are ad-libbed puns and much general silliness. The fun and games extends to the whole audience but as we were seven this was probably inevitable. It was a bit like being at the best family get-together – if you’re lucky enough to have some top-notch comedians in your family.

Of course it will be different each day and you may have to fight to get in. But I’m sure you’ll have a gloriously fun time – I know the seven of us did!

(Review for 16 Aug)

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/punel-show

 

 

Madame Señorita: The Expector

Audience reviews of Madame Senorita: The Expector remind me a bit of the rules of Fight Club. Nobody is prepared to fully disclose what actually goes on. The reviews are effusive though and it has ‘true spirit of the Fringe experience’ written all over it – so good enough for me!

I can understand the reticence to give a complete account because it would rob the performance (I won’t call it a show or an act) of the element of surprise and that is a major element. However without giving too much away – let me share some memorable images. I say images because it is for the most part a visual event with a handful of words uttered.

It starts with Madame Senorita entering the room as if in a funeral procession. Stately, ghostly, veiled – it’s effectively creepy. Once on stage and unveiled we see a face both mask-like and achingly expressive as she searches the audience – for what? We’ll see. The next stage finds Madame becoming an ungainly figure balancing on one leg and stretching out her limbs as if to make herself as big as she can. She greets everything with child-like wonder and a repeated ‘wow!’ She’s like a new-born animal or perhaps the creature from Frankenstein. She searches the audience again for her true love and there’s a marvelous interlude using classic farce techniques. There is more effective imagery to follow – getting a (male) audience member to place a pair of rubber gloves on her hands (handcuffs?) before she obsessively and suggestively scrubs away at a glass. Her face is a picture of tortured disappointment and disillusionment.

It’s about love, loss, beginnings, endings, expectations, gender roles and probably a lot of other things as well. It’s art in the way you can interpret it how you like. It’s entertainment in the way it’s a stunning performance.

Is it theatre, comedy, cabaret? It’s all of those. It’s also of the calibre of an official Edinburgh Festival show but with the added plus of having an intimate setting and therefore the potential for everyone to become part of the action. And if that puts the fear of God into you – please reconsider. We – as an audience – loved it and I’ve rarely heard such natural hearty laughter (and I’ve been to quite a few comedy shows!) from an audience.

Madame – without coming out of character too much – thanked us at the end and suggested that not every night works. So please go and please engage, you’ll be glad you did.

(Review for 18 Aug)

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/madame-senorita-the-expector

Madame Señorita: The Expector

 

 

Jonathan Hearn: Jontitled

The charmless stark Cowgatehead room has ordinary lighting  and the settling down music is a selection of whispy girl cover versions of soul classics and the original Me and Mrs Jones. So there’s no obvious clues as to what to expect from Jonathan Hearn. Fey mummy’s boy or Mr Afternoon-luvva-man? Forgive me for describing the practical concerns but I’m a great believer in setting a mood. And when you’re doing comedy and the audience don’t have a clue who you are or what you’re about things like opening music, visuals and making an entrance do help.

Jonathan comes in and turns off the music (he has no tech support) and tells us what to expect: mild and gentle humour with three  expletives used (as a warning to a young teen in the audience). There will also be some other stuff including catchphrases, call and response and even some puppetry. On the stage there’s a large picture of Jonathan riding a huge magpie in front of a full moon, and there’s a few bits and pieces by way of props lying on a table. We’re still not getting many clues as to his USP though.

I would guess at whimsy and probably some shaggy-dog tales. Those are there but there’s also some one-liners, mild rants, surreal segueways and the promised (naked hand) puppetry. So a bit of everything then. That kind of thing can be fantastically funny when delivered at a break-neck speed by a larger-than-life character but when we’re still not very sure of our host’s identity it can just be a bit puzzling.

Jonathan seems a very likeable young guy and I’m thinking when he goes into actorly mode that’s giving the biggest clue as to where he’s coming from. There was also a lot to like with his material but it was a bit all over the shop. And it didn’t inspire much confidence when he made it an early finish. It could have been down to mid-run blues so don’t let me put you off going. It was a perfectly enjoyable forty minutes or so and there was no shouty ranting or audience degradation. Always a plus!

(Review for 15 Aug)

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/jonathan-hearn-jontitled

 

 

Laurence Owen: Cinemusical High

Laurence Owen’s Cinemusical was one of the big hits of last year’s Fringe. With all the popular (deliriously happy full houses) and critical (Malcolm Hardee award winner) acclaim resting on those shoulders – can the man do it again? Oh yes!

This time round it’s the 80s teen flick serving as inspiration. Now I have to ‘fess up and say I was more Betty Blue than Breakfast Club in the 80s but I know the main tropes and I did enjoy Heathers so I’ve seen them pulled apart. Laurence’s incredible talent though is he can take quite a niche theme, write narrative lyrics which border on an Asperger’s attention to detail and set it to a score which sounds both familiar but fantastically fresh. Put it through the Laurence Owen feel-good-factor-machine – always cranked up to eleven – and you’re guaranteed a level of entertainment that’s almost freakish for a one man show.

The story is pretty much The Breakfast Club (I think, see above) with five main stock characters: the popular girl; the nerd; the ‘bad’ sassy girl; the jock and the goth girl who doesn’t say much. They all get their own character-setting song which collectively serve to propel the (intentionally) predictable-but-hugely-satisfying-all-the-same story-line along. A lovely touch though – which just may become a Laurence Owen trademark – is the uplifting finale as delivered by a completely unexpected icon from sci-fi/fantasy cinema.

You may be asking can one man really play all those roles convincingly? Yes, actually. As well as being a ridiculously talented composer, musician and singer Laurence also has fine acting chops. Watch him become the sassy bad girl with a subtle change of tone and physical stance and be totally convinced. The Hollywood originals may have been created in one dimension but with his musical breath of life each one becomes a multi-layered character study. And -this is the cleverest bit – the musical motifs are so richly informed and full of love for the subject they manage to encapsulate every bad boy, bad girl, loser, outsider you’ve ever seen portrayed as they underscore the narrative (I particularly enjoyed the Officer Krupke from West Side Story influence used for ‘the jock’)

You know the joke about Andrew Lloyd Webber audiences whistling the tunes before going into the show? The great thing about Laurence Owen is he wouldn’t think it an insult if you said it about his work. But for my money – Laurence is a lot more subtle and a lot more talented. As with last year’s show this is really becoming the hot ticket so get along early to make sure you can get in.

(Review for 16 Aug)

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

 

 

Luke Benson’s Big Night Out (In the Afternoon)

I usually make it a rule not to go and see people I’ve seen before at the Fringe – however good they were. I broke that rule big-time the other day when I had my Super Tuesday of seeing five shows all featuring tried and trusted performers. I know that sounds a bit like faint praise or the equivalent of slipping on a pair of comfy shoes but sometimes you just want impeccable entertainment and guaranteed good times – don’t you?

It was a couple of years ago when I first saw Luke Benson at the Fringe. And out of the stacks of comedians I’ve seen before or since he was definitely in the handful people  I expected to see on the telly at some point. Then I thought – am I the comedian here? If your only access to comedy is through the medium of TV (and for a lot of people it is) you could be forgiven for thinking there’s only a few big names who are capable of dishing out the laughs. Of course that’s not true. But they may have put in years of hard slog playing to tough crowds and learning their craft. Again, probably – increasingly – not true.It’s criminally tragic how certain comedians don’t get seen by a wider audience. And Luke Benson is one of those certain few.

Luke has played the tough gigs and tales of which were included in the show I first saw him in (Luke Benson Makes Something of Himself). This time round the main theme is alcohol. The beautiful thing about Luke’s material is it’s never one note. There’s no simply – isn’t drink great? – and have I got some drunken escapades for you…  He touches on how drink can change us – for good and bad – but he never abandons the laughs to start on anything remotely resembling a lecture. Luke’s far too good for that. Instead he weaves the personal and the thoughtful in and out of the fantastically funny material which includes stuff about Geordie nights out, awkward family relations and his giant-of-a dad’s propensity for keeping little dogs.

So we’ve got great material brilliantly performed. Is there anything else? Well, Luke seems like a genuinely nice guy and his style is very much like your funniest mate but without the pushed-onto-a-stage-shambles of a performance. He’s stand-up professionalism to his fingertips and knows how to work – and look after – an audience. Maybe he’s too nice to be trampeling over other comedians or has too much self respect to climb the greasy pole and ‘make it big’ but all that aside – if you want fifty or so minutes of guaranteed laughs, good times and a nice little glow that lasts for a while afterwards get yourself along to the Banshee Labyrinth at 16.20.

(Review for 16 Aug)

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/luke-benson-s-big-night-out-in-the-afternoon

 

 

 

Cook It How You Like, It’s Still a Potato!

There are an awful lot of people (and a lot of awful people) doing comedy at the Fringe. When you’ve seen a few you may feel tempted to ask them – ‘who told you you’re funny?’ I get the feeling with Romina Puma people will have been saying to her for years ‘look, love – you’re hilarious – get on that stage!’

I caught Romina’s show – Not disabled, enough! – last year and had such a brilliant time I definitely had to catch her again this year. The noon start was a bit of a big ask for me (think how she feels!) and I imagine for the rest of the audience as well. Therein lies a potential problem but it’s a problem that afflicts the vast majority of Fringe performers who find themselves doing a night-time show during a daytime slot. An audience with very little alcohol and a whole lot of inhibitions can be a very tough gig.

The inhibitions thing is a big deal when it comes to Romina’s material. She deals with subjects some people may be uncomfortable with – sex, disability, the two together. And even if the audience are okay with the themes – that next step of actually laughing out loud might just be too much for them.

Another thing they may have an issue with is the use of language – PC or otherwise. That could be a problem with Romina’s show this year as it’s all about that. The title comes from an Italian proverb and features in a set-piece comparing and contrasting Italian (obsessed with food) and English (a bit mundane). More potentially controversial is the quiz about PC and non-PC words used around disability.

Actually the only way I would use the word controversial when talking about Romina Puma would be if someone said: ‘this woman isn’t funny’. With her beautifully physical knockabout style – which in many ways harks back to classic Hollywood screwball – Romina is one funny lady. End of controversy!

(Review for 17 Aug)

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/cook-it-how-you-like-it-s-still-a-potato

Bob Blackman’s Tray 2

What can I say about Bob Blackman’s Tray that I haven’t said already? Furthermore how can I convince you to go and along and see them?

As ever the guys are keeping well below the radar of the thundering Fringe PR machine that propels and destroys performers in unequal measure. There are no posters, there are no flyers. The promotional pic is a silver-coloured paper plate. Of course if anyone wanted to explore further they could Google Bob Blackman and find out all about northern humour. They could then go along and see Bob Blackman’s Tray, get some more references (Charlie Drake, Roger de Courcey, Bernie Clifton) and maybe do some more research. Then they’d realise that BBT is a brilliant distillation of old time Variety shows, working-men’s clubs and classic kids’ telly. I guarantee they would laugh themselves silly as well.

The terms surreal, absurdist, anti-comedy are always bandied around during the Fringe. A lot of times it’s shorthand for ‘not funny, but we’ve got a degree and have studied Lecoq in Paris’ or some such poncy crap. Bob Blackman’s Tray can’t be doing with any of that. True – it is surreal in the way that the host of characters (played by the two guys) appear and disappear before our very eyes like apparitions from a past where times were tough and we laughed at daft things. Daft, silly, uncultured? I’ll tell you what’s uncultured – all the bland nonsense that clogs up the TV channels and rinses The Fringe of any originality. Sorry – rant over. (If you want to see a classic rant look no further than BBT’s Trevor Never still campaigning for winter in-door bowling facilities in the Kirklees area)

The bottom line is – would Bob Blackman’s Tray be something you’d like? Well – I’ve seen them a few times now and audiences have been young and old; people knowing what to expect and people who didn’t have a clue beforehand; various nationalities. We all have something in common now – we’ve all had the Bob Blackman’s Tray experience and we’ll never be the same again.

Wonderful, nostalgic, truly original and very, very funny. Get the experience.

(Review for 16 Aug)

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

Ed Aczel’s Foreign Policy

If I’d Googled Ed Aczel before going to his show I would have discovered he’s an anti-comedian. Not necessarily a bad thing as Count Arthur Strong also is – apparently. I have to confess I still have love-that-dare-not-speak-its-name feelings for the Count which the strangely anodyne TV series couldn’t destroy. All that obsession with the mundane and the everyday and ‘will he sodding well just get on with it?’ routine so rooted in classic northern comedy is always a winner with me.

Ed Aczel doesn’t appear to be from the north – but I won’t hold that against him. He’s an older gentlemen with more than a passing resemblance to the BBC radio presenter James Naughtie (if using a radio reference for a visual reference isn’t too anti). His style is deadpan and minutiae-obsessed.

I’m not sure if the show itself is anti-comedy. I’d say it’s more deconstructed with Ed signposting the stages of a ‘successful’ comedy routine – the set-up, interaction with the audience, some edgy bits, the uplifting finale – and taking them to levels bordering on the ridiculous (an exchange with an audience member on his shopping habits goes on for a very long time). Therein lies a serious timing issue – with people running off for trains/toilet/other shows – as the show tipped over the hour mark.

There are videos (which are good and professionally done) and pre-prepared surveys and questionnaires which are used to riff with the audience. But even with all the prep it depends on the audience on the day and whether they’ll provide good comic value (I think we were quite middling). I’d say – if you’re up for it – go along. It could fly, it could bomb – it’s up to you.

(Review for  14 Aug)

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/ed-aczel-s-foreign-policy

 

Adam Hess: Feathers

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Adam Hess. As he’s performing under the Heroes@the Hive banner I was expecting something quite out-there or perhaps expletive-ridden. Instead Adam Hess is a very polite and well spoken young man with a well constructed and professional routine.

I should have known when Adam stepped onto the big room stage at The Hive and made reference to the rank smell (try playing the Bunka next door… ) that he wasn’t an habitue of venues like this. This leads into a bit about how his parents came to his show the other day and didn’t quite ‘get it’. His parents are a touch eccentric and provide good comedy fodder throughout the show. As does a recurring image of a bald pet parrot – hence the title. The main set-pieces however are – hooking up with a girl he knew from university and their (semi) disastrous first date – and – a (completely) disastrous job interview.

There is much nervy paranoia about social situations and overthinking the situation ad absurdum. ‘How do you politely leave a conversation you haven’t been taking part in? and ‘How to cover up a dodgy stain on a sheet without your new date noticing?’ That – along with the embarrassing parents – is a touch Jack Whitehall. But glad to say Adam is totes less annoying.

All in all though – a very engaging and enjoyable 50 minutes (or thereabouts). And apart from the occasional F-bomb and talk of bodily fluids a pretty much family-friendly show.

(Review for 11 Aug)

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/adam-hess-feathers

Adam Hess – Feathers

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