A Very Brexit Musical (La Belle Angele: 2-26 Aug: 17:00: 60 mins)

“Freddie Raymond as Joris Bohnson impresses with scene-stealing buffoonery, powerful vocals and a shining stage presence”

Editorial Rating: 2 Stars

It’s no surprise to see many Brexit-themed shows at the Fringe this year, and A Very Brexit Musical is a newly developed work from students at Robinson College, Cambridge. While for any student group it’s a tremendous achievement to start from scratch to compose, write, produce and bring to Edinburgh an hour-long musical, the end result in this case, leaves a little to be desired.

To begin with, the narrative of this show is about as convincing as the argument for Brexit itself – painfully thin. Journalist at the Maily Dail, Peter (Rory Russell), is caught between wanting to please his editor, Roland (Will Debnam), and office crush, Jen (Emily Webster), by producing pro-brexit propaganda articles, while staying true to his own values – and potentially losing his job and lover in the process. As a set-up it’s a pleasing way into the political argument, but in reality, the development of this storyline (and characters within it) is so limited and lost in amongst the other stage capers that it almost becomes worthless.

Many of the key political figures surrounding the vote are characterised and given scenes and ditties, though few of these add anything to the artistic merit of the piece, other than being somewhat amusing. Figel Narage and Joris Bohnson (no points for guessing which real-life people these characters are based on) seem to be constantly trying to meet on the down-low to sing bad-guy songs, Cavid Dameron bemoans not knowing what to do, and Mheresa Tay positions herself as the sexy bad girl perfectly placed to take over as the leader of the party. Were this production a Brexit cabaret, such interpretations and stand-alone songs would make for witty entertainment, but in the context of a narrative musical, it’s all very disjointed and seemingly thrown-together for the sake of it.

Overall the score is pretty good – there’s some nice variety from tune to tune, though lyrics could pack more punch and help drive the narrative. There are also some impressive attempts at choreography, including an unexpected tap routine, and while not everyone in the cast is a natural dancer, movement sequences are delivered with enough panache to be enjoyable.

In terms of performance it’s Freddie Raymond as Joris Bohnson who impresses most, with scene-stealing buffoonery, powerful vocals and a shining stage presence. Jessica Philips turns in a sassy and controlled performance as Mheresa Tay, while Will Debnam also elicits several chuckles as Maily Dail editor, Roland.

Overall, this is quite a fun show if you’re not expecting anything too deep or intelligent from it, but given its lack of convincing narrative, purpose or call to action, unfortunately, for me, it’s uninspiring.

Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 11 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

One-Man Pride and Prejudice (Assembly Studios: 2-12 Aug (even dates only): 15:50: 60 mins)

“Intelligent, funny… solicit this production for your next dance”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars

It takes real bravery to present an hour-long version of Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice – condensing the numerous scenes and chapters into a cohesive highlights reel – yet even more to do so as a one-man show. Madness, perhaps? Fortunately, in this instance it’s a stoke of genius. Perennial Fringe favourite Charles Ross (best known for his One-Man Star Wars™ Trilogy in recent years), is at the helm with this adaptation based on Andrew Davies’ 1995 television series.

The script for this venture has been developed by Ross and his wife Lisa Hebden, and while early on it feels rather too whistle-stop in how quickly the story is told, the final result feels like a fair overview, keeping all the major plot points, with a pocketful of laughs scattered along the way. One can only imagine how much editing went in to ensuring this rip-rollicking performance lasts exactly one hour, but credit to both for achieving it.

As well as being a proficient dramaturg, Ross shows himself as an adept performer in taking on almost every character in the book without ever venturing into farce, or needing props and costume. The whole piece pleasingly embodies a fitting controlled and restrained Georgian air, though a few modern quips are very well received. Odd moments of improvisation are handled with verve, and internal monologues and animalistic interpretations of some of the smaller characters bring much merriment. Overall, this production just oozes confidence in the base material and mastery in performance.

The only slight downfall is that you’ll need to be fairly familiar with either the book or televised adaptation to really appreciate the many witticisms and character interpretations on display – it won’t be particularly accessible for any ignorant plus-one you might want to drag along, even though the craftmanship of the performance itself would still be impressive to an Austen novice. With some scenes reduced to just a line or two and so many characters to follow, there’s a lot to keep up with, but for those in the know this really is a treat.

This is an intelligent, funny, and professionally delivered show that scores top marks with me. Take the opportunity while you can of soliciting this production, reader, for your next dance.

 

StarStarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 10 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

skirt (Royal Scots Club: 6-11 Aug: 18:30: 90 mins)

“Current and compelling”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Nae Bad

Becs is leader of the opposition party in Scotland, and first choice of its head honchos to take over as party leader at Westminster (with a good chance of becoming Prime Minister at the next general election). But when opportunity knocks, she’s got to act quickly, and what unfolds is the story of how Becs reaches her decision to follow her dream to lead the country – or not. She must consider her mother’s degenerative disease, her children (one of which is fostered), her best friend’s family breakdown, and the fact that she’s single – wouldn’t having a partner make her so much more electable?

The themes and issues presented in skirt are very current, and it’s compelling to see how the various conflicting interests might be resolved in today’s social climate. The overt opinions of her political colleagues elicit their fair share of gasps and giggles, though her personal politics and views are barely mentioned – that’s not what’s important here. Indeed, the wider discussion of the piece is about choice and the power we (especially women) have over our own destiny.

While Becs’s is the primary storyline within the play, the main scene (which makes up the bulk of the 90 minutes running time) is a birthday party for one of her friends, attended by a host of characters who all share their personal woes. Throughout this scene it’s quite challenging to keep on top of who everybody is, how they are related, and how their story connects to the main narrative. Some interesting scenarios and tensions are shared, but as the characters leave one by one, it feels like there are many loose ends still to be tied up.

Indeed, what’s most frustrating about this performance is how many extraneous branches and avenues Claire Wood’s script attempts to sidle along simultaneously – for me there are simply too many characters and threads running through the piece detracting from the most important one, which could be expanded to give more depth and tension to the dilemma faced by the central character. There’s a lot of excess chat, meaning that important decisions and revelations come about far too quickly to be wholly believable.

From a performance perspective, it’s a tough ask for Helen Goldie as the leading lady to cut through the very busy scenes – especially early on – but in the quieter moments and political meetings she comes across as very natural and personable, carefully balancing sensitivity with authority. In addition, Leanne Bell impresses as moody teenager Bea, Gregor Haddow brings a pleasing calmness to proceedings as Toby, while Dan Sutton is wonderfully repugnant as politician TM.

Overall, it’s really encouraging to see a new piece of feminist writing on this topic being developed in Edinburgh, and while this version isn’t perfect, there is so so much potential for it to become a powerful piece worthy of large audiences. I hope this isn’t the last we see of it.

nae bad_blue

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 9 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Cry God for Harry, England and Saint George (theSpace @ Surgeons’ Hall: 3-11 Aug: 16:35: 45 mins)

“Sings with the integrity of a story that comes from the heart”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

“Cry God for Harry, England and Saint George” – those immortal lines from Shakespeare’s Henry V – where the title character rouses his troops into the defence of what they hold dear. And what an apt title for this play – which sees a group of eight British Muslim school girls in East London attempt to mount a production of the bard’s classic saga, while defending their right to do so. Yes, this is a politically charged play.

In the opening scenes the group struggle with normal teenage girl problems of agreeing with each other and putting aside their petty quibbles to get the show performance-ready – all of which comes with the irreverent comedy young people so unashamedly excel at. The glimpses of ego and creative differences begin to tease out the individual characters in the company, though it’s a shame these aren’t developed further.

Then the bombshell drops. Letters are distributed to Muslim households in the neighbourhood, informing them all to prepare for the vicious ‘Punish a Muslim Day’. With the content of these letters taken directly from the abusive vitriol spewed during that fateful event just a few months ago, it’s a poignant and sobering moment to hear the threats read aloud and immediately responded to.

Naturally, the tension within the performance goes up several notches, as families start to keep the girls home from rehearsal, their personal safety is put at risk, and, of course, the performance date draws closer. What follows is a touching display of leadership and courage where the girls somehow find the strength to continue despite all the barriers. Not only is this production an example of a disenfranchised group of people overcoming a huge danger to stand up for who they are and their basic human right to exist, but also of young women banding together and putting aside their differences to achieve that end – so on both counts it is heartening and uplifting. It’s also performed with all the confidence and pride one would expect from the company who devised this show themselves, and it sings with the integrity of a story that comes from the heart.

Yes, the script is a little fudged and, at times, twee – the ending in particular lacks the killer punch to make it truly outstanding – and yes, subtlety and depth of acting is sometimes lacking, but considering the oldest of these girls is just 17, what they present is an impressive feat. This is a vital and urgent production that deserves to be developed further and toured widely. I sincerely hope this isn’t the last we see of it.

 

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 9 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Definition of Man (Greenside @ Infirmary Street: 3-25 Aug: 11:25: 60 mins)

“Powerful and emotive”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Nae Bad

Two performers enter the space, wearing rags and looking dishevelled. It appears they have been alone in a post-apocalyptic wasteland for some time – though for how long doesn’t seem important. What follows is a journey of how two people might survive (purely from a psychological perspective) in this situation.

Definition of Man is created by performers Jason Rosario and Nikki Muller, and could crudely be described as part Waiting for Godot, part DV8 physical theatre piece. After the initial wasteland scene, the performance darts back and forth between mini lectures about chemicals within the brain, personalised accounts of growing up as the child of an immigrant or ‘other’ in the USA, and much more besides. The level of detail in each section demonstrates impressive research and creativity, though comprehension is the main sticking point.

To begin with, there’s a bizarre jarring between the words in the script and the action on stage: the upbeat voices and physicality of the performers seem at odds with the sense of desperate survival implied by the words they say. Then the whistle-stop tour through all the other elements makes it hard to decipher just what, when, and who this show is about.

Only in the second half of the piece do the threads start to come together, and the crux of the relationship between the two characters comes to the forefront – just what happens to two lovers when they are left alone in the world for an inordinate amount of time? The final moments between Muller and Rosario are a powerful and emotive interpretation of this, though it’s a shame this depth comes so late on.

The action is punctuated throughout by some genuinely impressive lifts, balances and counter-tensions, which are an effective way to highlight apparent changes in power and focus between each character, and the emotions at play. When combined with colour design and subtle sound-scaping, moments within this performance really do shine.

To me, though, it feels like there are almost too many themes and ideas crammed into this piece, diluting what could be a compelling discussion into and presentation of the relationship between two people in an extreme environment. With so many different strands, it’s really difficult to get into and connect with the performance and work out what it is and where it’s going.

Overall, Definition of Man is an interesting and intense production that certainly gets the cogs whirring, but unfortunately, for me, it’s all a bit too confused and busy to have the impact it has the potential for.

 

nae bad_blue

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 9 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Action Man (Paradise in Augustines: 4-11 Aug: 17:35: 75 mins)

“The benchmark that all young theatre companies should aim for”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

Action Man follows the journey of army Corporal Liam Drury (Michael Moulton), who, upon returning home after eight years’ service, is severely affected by PTSD, causing the breakdown of his marriage and other relationships. Performed as an ensemble piece with seven actors in addition to Moulton, it pulses with the urgency of a tale that needs to be told, and interweaves choreography, sound and silhouette to convey the intensity of the action.

Rather than being a linear piece, Action Man flashes back and forwards in time, covering key moments and influential characters in Corporal Drury’s life. While early on it’s difficult to grasp the structure of the piece (when and where each scene takes place), everything soon slots into place and what’s presented is an intelligent and concise story that maintains interest and tension from start to finish. At 75 mins this performance is slightly on the lengthy side for a Fringe show, but there’s little fat to cut given the complexity of the relationships and emotions at stake – writer Lizzie Morris does very well to gauge just how much to present from scene to scene.

Moulton turns in a powerhouse performance as Drury, with seemingly unflagging energy. His impressive range of emotions across each scene makes him compelling to watch, and his emotional monologue at the PIP meeting really does tug at the heart strings. The supporting cast more than capably do their bit to build and sustain tension and drive the emotive choreography, and there’s an earnestness about their performance that demands attention.

Though while the company generally handle the topics covered in the show very well, and with sensitivity, at times they do seem slightly out of their depth. The army scenes in particular are perhaps too naïve, and the difficult conversations Drury has with his current and former partner occasionally lack the presence and power in performance for them to ring true. But given how young this company are, a little slack can be given.

In many ways this production of Action Man captures the very spirit of the Fringe – a talented and ambitious group of artists sharing a powerful story with every weapon in their arsenal – and there’s plenty of exciting stuff happening on this stage. For me, Plaster Cast Theatre are the benchmark that all young theatre companies should aim for. Bravo.

 

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 8 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

The Sensemaker and Drop the Gogo (ZOO Charteris: 3-11 Aug: 18:00: 60 mins)

“Slick, fun and packed with charisma”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

Often contemporary dance can come across as very abstract and inaccessible to normal people. Narratives or themes can be lost in conceptual musings, and it becomes hard for audiences to connect with the action on stage. With this double-bill, however, Swiss company Woman’s Move are presenting work that is more down-to earth – where dancers are people in situations we can all relate to – and the result is enjoyable and engaging.

First up is solo piece The Sensemaker, which sees dancer and choreographer Elsa Couvreur arriving on stage dressed and ready for a job interview, only to be greeted by a ringing phone and a disembodied voice giving her instructions. The tension is palpable through the awkward waiting and uncertainty, though frustration soon builds as the repetition of the automated voice continues. Throughout this sequence there are several comic moments when progress through ‘the system’ is made, only for it to be undermined later, and Couvreur’s facial expressions communicate all we need to know. It’s a fun and simple piece, with a charming interlude to set up the next.

In contrast, Drop the Gogo features six dancers performing an energetic and upbeat routine, where they seamlessly drop in and out of cannon, unison and extended motifs as befits their personalities. There’s a playful, childish element to the piece, highlighted by the costumes and roles each dancer takes on when reliving what they wanted to be when they grew up – something we might all cringe at now. Overall, it’s slick, fun and packed with charisma.

A loose theme of career and expectation threads the two works together, yet the playful irreverence of the choreography shows that this is a company not too concerned with following convention and who are determined to have fun in their own way. Throughout both pieces there’s just enough comprehension to follow what’s going on, though the overall creativity and mood is what comes across most clearly. This isn’t stuffy or stuck-up dance you need to labour through.

Overall, The Sensemaker and Drop the Gogo as a double-bill is fun show that’s full of charm, and well worth watching as your “something different” choice this year. It also once again strengthens ZOO’s leading position as the destination for contemporary dance at the Fringe. Dance fans, please go and check out this show and more of ZOO’s programme, I’ve yet to be disappointed by anything they present.

 

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 5 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED