The Girl with the Edinburgh Tattoo

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Archive for the tag “Free Fringe”

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

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

 

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

 

Laurence Owen: Cinemusical

2015LAURENC_K6It’s difficult to put into words just how marvelously, stupendously good Cinemusical is. You could look up brilliant in the thesaurus and get some alternatives. While you’re there you could check out mega-talented in order to find a few more superlatives to describe its creator and sole performer Laurence Owen.

I first saw Laurence accompanying David Mills in his show Don’t Get Any Ideas (well recommended) and thought if he’s good enough for David Mills…

Cinemusical is a stroke-of-genius idea – condense the major themes of popular cinema into an hour, add a very clever pastiche soundtrack and throw in a handful of deconstructed character-types who all go on a life-affirming Wizard-of-Oz-type journey. Oh – and provide excellent live vocals by way of narration. Sounds ambitious? You bet! In the hands of an amateur it could be a disaster but instead it’s a triumph.

As well as Laurence’s undoubted musical talent his love and knowledge of the cinema radiates throughout the show. Lazy stereotypes are mocked with each of the characters – fairy tale princess/queen, cowboy, cartoon bird sidekick and Bond villain/henchman – all being given their own beautifully observed and witty back-story. Particularly good is the princess having to decide between three options for her cinematic fate – dotty old fairy godmother, sexy evil queen or tragic ingenue who dies in childbirth. And there’s also Ser-gay – the transgender henchman. Who’d have thought an exploration of gender politics could be so entertaining?

It’s clever, knowing stuff without ever getting arch thanks to Laurence imbuing his performance with infectious joy and energy. Even if you don’t get all the cinematic references – it’s packed full of them – you’ll be carried along on the staggeringly entertaining journey. And of course you could always go back for a second viewing… as many others have already. A must-see.

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

Geoff Norcott – The Look of Moron

2015GEOFFNO_OHAs far as setting yourself apart from the swarm of other white blokes – in their thirties doing stuff about domesticity and reaching their own personal mid-life crisis – billing yourself as an unapologetic Tory would appear to be quite a genius move. It could also back-fire quite horribly making you think that anyone who tries it is either very foolish or very brave. Geoff Norcott is certainly no fool but I wouldn’t list brave as one of his particular selling points.

Waiting for the big confession regarding Geoff’s political affiliations was a bit like waiting for the much-talked-about controversial scene in a film – like the horse’s head in The Godfather or when Halle Berry got them out in Swordfish. It’s difficult to concentrate on what’s going on before because all you can think of is the money shot. And of course It’s even more palpable in a live situation – we know that he knows that we’re waiting…

As I’ve said Geoff’s no fool so he doesn’t come on stage and launch straight into a Conservative party political broadcast but then he’s not that kind of Tory. When the big ‘fess-up on how he votes does come it’s more along the lines of there being no other viable option and as a working-class guy sharing certain Tory values. He does venture into Russell Brand territory with ‘politicians – they’re all the same’ but unlike Mr Brand, Geoff presents himself as a practical and pragmatic guy – however unfashionable that may be.

The political stuff – when it comes – is quite scant and is delivered quite timidly which is a shame. Also I don’t know if the voting-Tory confession/apology is necessary as the whole target of leftie lazy thinking and ideological knee-jerk responses is so huge Geoff could be getting endless hits without getting into personal disclosure. He does touch upon the above as well as dodgier areas like the NHS (game show euthanasia for the elderly) and the SNP (Scottish MPs entering the Commons in Braveheart type mode). Geoff does ask for a quick show of hands – there’s a scattering of older people and probably less Scottish people in. The older people laugh to prove they can take a joke whilst the Scottish stuff is moved along so quickly we don’t have much time to respond.

Overall the audience seemed fine with everything. They probably laughed more at the observational family-life / reaching-a certain-age type of material which served as the very thick slices of bread around the thinly sliced political meat. As for hecklers – there was one of sorts: an older woman in the front row who declared herself a Smiths fan about five minutes into the set which was bizarre but maybe an indication of the audience feeling they have to show where they’re coming from as much as Geoff does. As it is Geoff is very likeable with good comic timing and well written material but certainly when I saw him on a Sunday afternoon with a polite audience it was all quite.. nice. I imagine in the bear-pit of a late slot it would have been a very different show altogether and perhaps one I’d like to see.

Review for 16 August

https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/geoff-norcott-the-look-of-moron

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