+3 Review: Guy Masterson: Love and Canine Integration (Assembly Roxy: until 28th Aug: 17.40: 1hr)

“Masterson is a great gift to the stage”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

When Guy Masterson punched above his weight and married the beautiful Paris-based model Brigitta, he forgot the first rule of life: no person is an island. Brigitta’s personal little slice of Alcatraz comes in the form of her oh-so-cute German Spitz: Nelson. Never in the course of human history has one man fought so hard against one dog for the heart of a beautiful woman.

In this show, Masterston relates the autobiographical story of how first he met his (now) wife Brigitta and her “other man”, Nelson.  Only one of the matches here are made in heaven. Masterson uses the entirety of the small stage to reveal the darkest recesses of this epic battle of wills between man and dog. Plots are hatched. Fantasies are spun. Opportunities taken. It is a sign of character that Nelson is able to rise above these foolish webs laid at his feet by a mere human. Nelson is channelled through his rival, with Masterson performing every snarl, growl and sniff of contempt.  In suitable tones, he explains Nelson’s stratagems: exploring the options that could lead to victory over the new would-be Alpha male.

As an award-winning actor and story teller, Masterson is a great gift to the stage. Extensive experience of one-man shows means that the audience is in the hands of a consummate professional. That is, once the story gets going. I think the preamble, where he explains the genesis of the show, while “enjoying” a cold jacuzzi in a bargain four star spa retreat with his wife, does not work so well. Hearing Masterson relating Brigitta’s question “Why can’t you be more funny?” led me to think, at that time, she may have a point mate. Fortunately once the main course is delivered, it is no dog’s dinner. The story is taut: Masterson’s exasperation palpable as failure is piled upon defeat.

As to the overall effect though, I have to ask the question: is it funny enough?  The material is all there.  The delivery is flawless.  I think the basic issue is that Masterson is an honest man.  This is his first foray into standup and I suspect he has stuck too closely to the truth and, in doing so, has sacrificed some laughs for the sake of integrity.  A more experienced comic may well have hanged truth from the nearest lamppost and had the audience rolling in the aisles.

A certain truth is this: Masterson has a problem. He thinks it is all over but it isn’t. Guy Masterson is suffering from PTPS: post traumatic pet syndrome.

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Reviewer: Martin Veart (Seen 17th August)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: The Master & Margarita (Zoo at St.Cuthbert’s: until 29th Aug (not 19-20, 25th) Aug: 22.00: 1hr 30mins)

“A Hell of a show”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

It was with a certain amount of trepidation when I met The Sleepless Theatre Company on the Royal Mile and discussed with the crew their production of The Master and Margarita. How on earth are they going to do it?, I thought.

Action opens with the procurator of Judea, Pontius Pilate, in court session over an apparently worthless vagrant, Yeshua Ha Nostri. The procurator is ill and it would be so simple to dismiss this tramp with two words: “Hang him.” Nineteen hundred years later, it is a hot May night in Moscow and the committee members of the exclusive Communist Party writers’ guild, are sweltering in a small meeting room, waiting for the Chair, Mikhail Berlioz, to arrive. He is late. None of them can know that dark powers have already entered the city.

For Russians, The Master and Margarita by Mikhail Bulgakov is the Soviet Union’s most famous novel. It is a wide-ranging satirical fantasy and the changes in location (across Moscow and Jerusalem), space and time are a daunting challenge for any adaptation. In this interpretation Sleepless Theatre does well at capturing those changes, using the magnificent setting of the St.Cuthbert’s Church to great effect. Like the cast, the audience too are expected to be mobile, following the action around the hall and even being participants if the scene demands. I found the flight of Margarita (Iona Purvis) over the rooftops of Moscow particularly effective: Purvis is obviously dance-trained and her graceful physical acting really added to the dreamlike quality. Against my expectations, the company’s low-tech approach often overcomes the staging challenges inherent in the novel and they should be highly commended for this.

The central relationship between Margarita and The Master (Jonny Wiles) is wonderful: both actors touchingly portraying the sacrifices each make for the other in the cause of their mutual love and Woland (James Blake-Butler) is suitably all-powerful and sinister. Gwenno Jones captures the tortured soul of Frieda perfectly; though as Yeshua, to me, Jones fails to show the calm and almost playful wit possessed by the character, even in the face of death. Coupled with Pilate (Georgia Figgis) lacking a real menacing streak, the opening scene rings slightly less true than the others, which are on the whole excellently delivered.

Narration is a large part of this production, with actors taking this in turn, and in the first scene I did have some concerns about the delivery (and, indeed the existence of) some crucial lines. During the interrogation Pilate lays too much emphasis on a certain word than is appropriate and leads the witness. The script sees the narrator point this out, rather than it being obvious from the acting, and it is a shame that writer Alexander Hartley keeps to narration here, rather than letting the acting speak for itself. Apart from this minor blip, the rest of the narration remains faithful to the book, and dedication to original text should otherwise be praised.

The Master & Margarita is a massive challenge for any company to take on, and for the most part Sleepless Theatre Company do a really good job: the central themes of the book come shining through. If you know the book, see Master & Margarita for the joy of seeing it live. If you have never read the book, go see. You are in for one hell of a show.

outstanding

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Reviewer: Martin Veart (Seen 16th August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: Clare Plested – Flock Up (Ciao Roma: 6-27 Aug: 17.50: 1hr)

“Squeezes the last dregs of pulpy laughter “

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

As folk descend into the basement of the Ciao Roma Restaurant, Clare Plested wastes no time in working the audience, asking if they are up for being selected and happy with participation. Plested is an excellent warm-up and soon the entire audience are settled in with the expectation of a good show.

Plested does not disappoint: soon the first character of her creation is ripping into the audience like a barracuda through a shoal of baitfish. No one is safe: even after coming out of character she utters “Christ! I’ve just picked on the reviewer.” I was eviscerated with the rest but everybody, including me, was left laughing instead of floating belly-up.

The laughter is leavened with some pathos for the next persona: Kala Kale. It is clear that Plested is a fan of old television because there is little doubt that, physically at least, her model is Diana Moran, a.k.a The Green Goddess from breakfast TV of the 1980s. Character development for Kala is done perfectly and she culminates in a real belter of a gag. Less successful to my mind is Missy Marple. Perhaps her motivational drive is revealed a bit too soon, leaving the performance with less options. What openings there are left though, Plested really goes for them with good results.

Gaps between costume changes are filled in by videos of another of Plested creations: #KellyZee, the girl addicted to hashtags and stick-it notes. Some gags work, others not so much. We are going to need a bigger Twitter.

For the finale, Plested combines all the elements that go before and adds a thick layer of social satire with excellent effect. The laughter was loud and the applause, long.

Clare Plested is both funny and genuinely witty, which allows her to interact fully with audiences, whether in or out of character. She is also energetic and physically brave performer who squeezes the last dregs of pulpy laughter from people.

If you enjoy banter, interaction (or love seeing it happen to others) plus comedic character creation, invest an hour at Ciao Roma. Please feed the artists on the way out. Oh, and Clare: hope the rash clears up soon.

If you want to know what that means, see the show.

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Reviewer:  Martin Veart (Seen 16 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED