The Girl with the Edinburgh Tattoo

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Archive for the tag “Edinburgh Fringe”

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

Barbarians

The blurb for Ben Van der Velde’s show starts like this – ‘Thanks to Genghis Khan’s friskiness we’re all 8% barbarian’. The flyers and the poster have Ben suited-up and wielding an axe. So far so interesting.

To kick off there’s a quick scan of the audience with assumptions made. There’s a big bloke who must be tough; a wee woman who’s probably feisty and a couple who look as if they may be pot-heads. Tricky that last one – especially when said couple were asked how they enjoyed getting high and the guy replied ‘eating a lot of food and watching shit TV’. Back to the big bloke sitting with his mates at the back of the room who give a collective cheer when the question ‘is anyone Jewish?’ is asked. Ben looks momentarily stunned but recovers quickly with some neat ad-libs re the subversion of stereotypes.

This leads into the main part of the set which is about Ben and his being Jewish but he’s non practising and not religious at all. This brings a whoop of delight from an audience member who gets a bit of a counter-Dawkins/Hitchins put-down. But this part of the set is more about Ben with tales of doing a disastrous gig for kids at his local synagogue and whether he should get his son circumcised. Generally all good stuff – but I wasn’t sure about a throwaway line relating to FGM.

After this bit Ben tackles the thorny subject of Brexit – but not as I’ve seen a few comedians do it at this year’s Fringe: ‘What was that about, eh?’ and move swiftly on. He asks for a show of hands and of course being a ‘lefty liberal audience’ we all stick our mitts up to indicate we did ‘the right thing’. All except for one person at the back – what ensued was quite a confused/confusing exchange with Ben back-peddling a bit down the road of ‘some of my best friends are… ‘

The show ends with a story involving a backpack-carrying Muslim where the message is ‘don’t make assumptions’ but as there are so many confused assumptions already in the room the message gets a bit lost. It’s a shame as the whole idea of shared DNA suggests inclusiveness which is always good for coaxing an audience on board. As it was there was more of a pervading air of disengagement when we should have been getting gee’d up for the big finish. Ben is undoubtedly a very accomplished comedian and he proves he can think on his feet when a curveball is thrown at him. Maybe he shouldn’t invite too many to be thrown at him in the space of one show though.

(Review for 21 Aug) 

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on#q=%22Barbarians%22

Harriet Braine: Art History Songs

First off – the show has to be up for ‘the most inappropriate venue for the subject matter’ award. The whole beer-soaked sports-mad Dante’s Inferno (not even ironically arty) that is the Sportsters Bar totally at odds with the more esoteric offering of a collection of songs about art history (or ‘performance essays’ as the blurb describes).

Happily once past the Inferno entrance the Sportsters back room is quite a cosy little space well suited to a low-key laid-back show about a potentially niche subject. The show is one woman (Harriet Braine), her guitar and a set of art prints. Her first song involves a fair bit of lip-trumpeting which made me think I was in for an Earl Okin (remember him?) tribute act. In fact the trumpeting only appears in one other song so all you Fringe veterans can relax.

So is the subject of art history too niche? Well, not according to the relatively substantial audience who must have made a determined and informed decision in making their way to that back room. Accepting that – the choice of subject matter was far from niche with artists like Picasso, Leonardo, Bosch and Cezanne being name-checked. There are also nods to female artists – Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keeffe and Marina Abramovic – which is commendable but they are possibly the least effective songs because of the niche interest (hey, I don’t make the rules!).

The music itself is a straight lift from songs that fall in the period between classic(al) and modern. So we get Wuthering Heights, Roxanne, Abracadabra, 4 Non Blondes’ What’s Up? and Blondie’s Maria. Original tunes with some subtle musical referencing might have been good but probably too much of a rod for the back when a quick recognisable reference is needed to get the audience engaged in two minutes bursts.

Entertaining, educational and all in all not a bad way to spend forty-five minutes.

(Review for 21 Aug)

https://edinburghfestival.list.co.uk/event/627829-harriet-braine-art-history-songs/

 

Desiree Burch: This is Evolution

I’m going to share with you a fantasy I had forgotten about until the other night. It’s fifties New York or maybe downtown Los Angeles. I slip into an exclusive little club and watch the latest hot-ticket doing this new hip happening called stand-up comedy. It could be Woody Allen, Lenny Bruce, Joan Rivers, Richard Pryor. All I know is I’m there and I’m loving it. I pretty much had that experience the other night. Did I take a time machine? No – all I did was go along to the Blundabus and saw Desiree Burch in her show This is Evolution.

I love the top deck of the Blundabus as a venue. It’s a wonderfully intimate space which lends the perfect atmosphere to performances that are all about confessions and being frank (the amazing Luca Cupani taking this to the Catholic confessional extreme in the very same venue). Of course wonderfully intimate can also mean totally embarrassing if the audience ain’t buying it. Glad to say the audience were all on board (I promised myself I wouldn’t use that pun… ) with Desiree’s set.

As a woman the themes – including macho cat-calling; being a fag-hag; the culture shock  quality of going out with an older man (‘waking up in a bed that’s not Ikea’); the pressure for women to shave ‘down there’  – resonated with me. But that’s not to say you have to be a women to appreciate the solid-gold material. Men in the audience were getting it and loving it too. There’s also stuff about being a black American women but Desiree never distances herself as if to say ‘you wouldn’t understand… ‘

Actually that’s the main big beautiful theme of the show – you don’t have to do what’s expected of you; you can be dealt a poor hand at birth but you can rise above it. Desiree speaks from experience – she’s spent a fortune on self-help guides. But instead of a tacked-on uplifting finale filched from one of those guides she does a very clever analogy about electrons behaving differently when they’re not being watched. If that sounds horribly scientific – go with it – it’s boldly and brilliantly original.

Okay, the material is great. But what really makes the show fly is the performance. Desiree has a marvelous physical presence which is both commanding and warm; and she uses the limited space to perfection – for example doing an uncanny impression of a trotting pony or thumping the roof of the bus to punctuate a point. Her delivery is rapid and assured leaving you exhilarated rather than exhausted.

I’m so glad I saw Desiree on the Blundabus but then I’d be glad to see her anywhere. This woman has talent and star quality to spare so intimate venues may soon be a thing of the past.Take the opportunity to see her this way while you can.

(Review for 18 Aug)

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/desiree-burch-this-is-evolution

Desiree Burch: This is Evolution

 

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

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

 

 

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