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.

 

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 10 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

The Battle of Frogs and Mice (Assembly Roxy: 12-19 Aug: 16:10: 60 mins)

“Appease the Gods and pay homage at the earliest possible moment to this crowning achievement of the dramatic arts.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

It’s the late afternoon. Daughter 1.0 and I are standing outside Assembly Roxy waiting for our third show of the day. Neither of us have had naps and one of us didn’t like the lunch they were offered and only ate half. Our energy levels are being sustained solely by caffeine (me) and a the memory of a large chocolate cupcake (her). We’re both more tired than we care to admit and it’s odds on that one of us will go bang in the not too distant. I want the next show to be good. I need the next show to be good.

Daughter 1.0 (aged 3 going on 14) picked out our first shows, Finding Peter and Paddington Bear’s First Concert. I chose The Battle of Frogs and Mice because I’m more of a philhellene than Lord Byron dancing in a bucket of equal parts taramasalata and hummus singing The Hymn To Liberty. Frogs and Mice was the original introduction to epic poetry used by ancient parents to clear their progeny a path to The Iliad and The Odyssey. An improvised epic poem after a long day, with a tired 3 year old. Hubris. Now for Nemesis. I feel like Dedalus when he first sniffed the melting beeswax from the emptying airspace above. This could all come crashing down. Oh Dionysios hear my prayer.

3 actors and 3 musicians set out to tell the tale of the enmity that grew up between frogs and mice. Of how that enmity turned violent, and how (finally) peace was restored. Puppets, movement, visual gags, and amphorae of audience participation transform the Snug Bar at Assembly Roxy into a bubbling cauldron of noise and excitement. Director Hayley Russell orchestrates 60 minutes of genuine improvisation which maintains a graceful pace and flow while enabling the kids to really feel control and ownership over the narrative’s twists and turns.

“Dad, I thought you said this was going to be educational!” laughs a boy in the row behind confident that, once again, he has outsmarted his old man just like when Odysseus convinced Laertes to buy a puppy, “so we can name him Argos and everyone will remember that you were a brave and fierce Argonaut.”

The performances are some of the strongest I can recall at any Fringe. Individually they are strong, powerful enough to complete the heavy lifting demanded by Caspar Cech-Lucas’ bold dramaturgy. In combination both the actors and musicians generate a pulsing rhythm that never once lets up, soaring on the updrafts of the combatants’ jingoism then plunging down when it turns out that war is good for absolutely nothing.

Daughter 1.0 is dancing on stage, hurling ping-pong balls during the volley of arrows loosed by the mice against the frogs, keeping the mouse princess stuffed toy so safe and quiet that everyone forgets about the regal rodent and she isn’t included in that day’s telling of the tale.

The Gods of the ancient world had punishments both cruel and unusual for those headstrong mortals who displeased them. Why take the risk of incurring the wrath of a petulant Fringe deity? Why risk spending eternity drinking from an endless glass of G&T that contains no gin, or constantly eating artisanal honey that’s actually made by wasps? Appease the Gods and pay homage at the earliest possible moment to this crowning achievement of the dramatic arts.

outstanding

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Reviewer: Dan Lentell (Seen 9 August 2018)

Visit the Assembly Roxy archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Kate Berlant: CommuniKate (Assembly Studios: 1-26 Aug: 21:15: 60 mins)

“It has been a long time since I experienced a set as effectively hilarious.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

The nicest thing about watching Kate Berlant’s Fringe debut CommuniKate is that you can rest assured you will find something to laugh about for just about every minute of the show. No disrespect to the more serious-minded comedy offerings that speckle a great deal of the Fringe’s stand-up lineups, but judging by pound-for-pound side-splitting material, it has been a long time since I experienced a set as effectively hilarious as Berlant’s. 

The most difficult thing about the show is how remarkably hard it is to explain to the unconverted. Berlant’s entire persona — even onscreen, in brilliant comedies such as Search Party and Sorry To Bother You — is very, very specific, even verging on one-note. She is obnoxious, endlessly, obliviously egocentric, and a perfect manifestation of just about everything older generations seem to disrespect about “millenials,” whatever that means. She claims she is brilliant, gifted, destined for greatness, artistically burdened by her loving upbringing and uncomplicated life, and here to better us with her presence. But somehow, the overwhelming egocentrism is delivered with note-perfect confidence and consistency that it all results in deliriously fun. 

The supposed ‘hook’ of the show, though only introduced halfway through the set, is that Berlant is psychic, and can effortlessly sense facts and details about the audience at will. This leads to some delightfully specific premonitions about the assembled crowd, which are sure to elicit reliably amusing results every night, making this approach a fruitful and clever Fringe offering. 

Outside of the supernatural, Berlant mainly hopscotches around from topic to topic, delivering so many great punchlines and character ticks that it can be hard to keep up with this egomaniac’s self-obsession and sickening self-assuredness, but the whirlwind miscellanea is all part of the act. For those who prefer their comedians humble, perhaps look elsewhere, but for those who appreciate a vicious lambasting of the “I can do anything”-ness of certain members of society, perhaps you might appreciate Berlant’s thorough bollocking of the art of overconfidence. (At times, however, I must admit, as a deep fan of Search Party myself, Berlant’s schtick veers questionably close to comedian John Early’s general vibe, yet at the risk of comparing comedic methods unnecessarily, let’s leave that line of questioning there.)

Even the way Berlant says the word “bread” is funny. Odds are you will leave CommuniKate having laughed at quips, jabs, and ruminations you never thought could be remotely amusing, but as the Fringe is a hub and a home for comedy that finds hilarity in the strangest approaches, Berlant’s show fits right in and excels commendably. It might inflate the onstage ego more than ever, but bravo on this one, it’s a great show. 

 

outstanding

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Reviewer: Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller (Seen 7 August)

 

EIFF: “The Gospel According to André” (27 June ’18)

Gospel according to andre

“A captivating, unique form of ‘The American Dream’ that is both inspiring and honest.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

I don’t think biographical documentaries get any more delightful than this. The latest unsung cultural icon to get the documentary treatment is gentle giant and “Black superhero” André Leon Talley, a true larger-than-life figure. Director Kate Novack has wisely just let Talley’s remarkable story tell itself, through a combination of interviews with the man, his friends, and his colleagues, and a period of simply following him around his daily life over 2016 and 2017. Along the way, The Gospel According to André reveals a captivating, unique form of ‘The American Dream’ that is both inspiring and honest, and not afraid to examine the darker, crueler sides of fame, success, fashion, and race. 

Talley is known the world over as a fashion writer with a flamboyant pen and a deeply knowledgable eye. He rose high in the ranks of Vogue magazine, at one point leading its Paris edition, and has in many ways come to represent the diverse possibilities of the fashion world. Talley is a tall, wide Black man from Durham, North Carolina, raised in a conservative household by his loving but stern grandmother. From an early age he was fascinated by accounts of the fashion world, such as John Fairchild’s novel The Fashionable Savages, and of course, the covers and contents of Vogue and its ilk. From there, his story just grows more and more awe-inspiring, as he climbed higher and higher in the fashion industry through his unique eye and captivating personality. Editor-and-chief of Vogue at the time, Diana Vreeland, took one look at the way he had assembled a vintage Hollywood costume for an exhibition and selected him to be her right-hand-man on the spot. He worked with Warhol at Interview Magazine, he befriended Karl Lagerfeld and just about every other designer and model since the early 70s with ease and charm. The film captures all this miraculous story with clever montages of clips, magazine pages, archival footage, and, best of all, long stretches where the film just lets the inimitable Talley talk. 

 

And talk he does. This may go down as one of the best individual-focused documentaries where the individual in focus tells their own story. Unlike the recent head-in-hands bore that was Westwood: Punk, Icon, Activist, Novack’s film does not resort to hagiographic worship of the protagonist as if the viewers are automatically joining in from the off, but instead convinces you, remarkably quickly, that Talley is a figure worth exploring, understanding, and uplifting. The murderer’s row of stylish interviewees seem to agree: everyone from Anna Wintour to Marc Jacobs to Tom Ford to Fran Lebowitz to Whoopi Goldberg has something lovely to say about Mr. Talley, both about his work and his character – and his importance. These interviews and Novack’s framing, in a way that reminded me subtly of Mark Cousins’ The Eyes of Orson Welles, turns the spotlight on the societal implications of the subject’s life and work, and leans heavily into Talley’s groundbreaking achievement as a large, verbose, delightfully charming Black man who became widely beloved and respected by the usually homogeneous, cold fashion world. Though brief, the film’s revisiting of Talley’s progressive work within the pages of Vogue is utterly fascinating — I instantly made a note to look up his “Scarlett in the Hood” series from the 1990s, starring Naomi Campbell as Gone with the Wind’s Scarlett O’Hara, which is brilliant and brave in multiple ways. 

The film achieves real gravity at times, in between the celebrations. Aside from the (slightly extraneous) discussions of the 2016 election, as Novack happened to be filming during the lead-up to it and its aftermath, many of the serious aspects are deeply, movingly personal. Talley has moments of great reflection and sombre reckonings with treatment he suffered in his life, from outright racism lobbed at him from ‘dear friends’ in the fashion world, to the overarching question of whether he was so successful simply because of his talent, or possibly because he was considered an ‘exotic’ ornament to keep around for amusement. Talley himself suggests this and more heartbreaking ideas that he has had to grapple with over the course of this remarkable journey, and he deserves immense credit for his honesty and heart.

It is clear that the filmmakers, the assembled guests, his legions of fans, and the majority of the fashion world absolutely love Mr. Talley, and by the end of this film, I expect you will too. See this film as soon as possible. 

 

outstanding

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Reviewer: Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller (Seen 27 June)

Go to The Gospel According to Andre at the EIFF

 

EIFF: “The Eyes of Orson Welles” (24 June ’18)

“A gem of cineast cinema.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

If you have ever wondered whether Orson Welles’ larger-than-life persona could get any more layered with creativity, Mark Cousins has delivered the answer: more than most would imagine. With The Eyes of Orson Welles, Cousins has produced a gem of cineast cinema: a story of a filmmaker, told masterfully through the medium Welles dominated so masterfully himself, which illuminates forgotten tales of history with striking relevance and a remarkable amount of fun. It’s great. 

The documentary builds its approach from a literal treasure trove of artworks big and small, all hand-made by Welles himself, who produced over 1,000 drawings, paintings, sketches, and the like — many of which directly influenced his designs for films and documentaries of his own. It is structured in numerous parts, with the overarching hook that they are meant as a letter directly to Welles, delivered by Cousins in a second-person voiceover. The narration produces a fascinating narrative; the drawings function as pictorial evidence of Welles’ immense creativity and eye for visual complexity, while the shots by Cousins and his team breathe life into the diverse settings and characters within the brushstrokes. From Ireland to Morocco, from New York City to his western later-life abode, Cousins follows Welles’ travels and matches them flawlessly with the art he created in those spaces, partially with the help of his third daughter, Beatrice Welles, who offers priceless information and first-hand takes on how his personality influenced his artwork, and vice versa. 

The chapter-based structure works excellently, as Welles was such a complicated figure, both as a creative and simply as a man, that every side of him could warrant its own documentary. Most captivating is the chapter that Cousins wisely positions first in the progression, regarding Welles’  unfailing pursuit of social justice. There are some truly moving examples of his feelings towards the powerful, the powerless, and the power-hungry, especially along racial lines. For the detailed and remarkable story of Welles’ ‘Officer X’ broadcasts alone, this film ought to be seen the world over, especially anyone debating the relationship between art and social justice. When done well, this film suggests, one complements the other. Later chapters on his romantic entanglements and approach to film as art are just as immaculately well-measured, yet perhaps strain the runtime a tad. That is, until a delightfully surreal turn late in the film, which offers yet another reason why Cousins has made a fabulous choice of subject, and approach. 

Intriguingly, Cousins’ film offers a pleasant, optimistic take on the relationship between past and present, history and future, of talent then and of talent now. Welles’ astonishing creativity, and perhaps even genius, are not presented nostalgically, as if we will never see another like him and we should all give up now (a conclusion to which numerous reverent biographies unfortunately default), but rather as a beacon of inspiration for all who share his outlook on justice and the power of art as a healer and an educator. We should not give up, it seems to say, but rather take a cue from creators as wonderful as this. 

Helped along by a buoyant score by Matt Regan and splendid animation by Danny Carr, The Eyes of Orson Welles is a stupendously well-conceived and well-made presentation, and worthy of its multifaceted subject’s legacy. 

 

outstanding

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Reviewer: Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller (Seen 24 June)

See The Eyes of Orson Welles at the EIFF

 

EIFF: “Cold War”, UK Premiere, 21 June ’18.

“One of the best films of the year. “

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

Pawel Pawlikowski has crafted a film that breathes life into multiple mid-century time periods and settings with the ease and authority of a master instrumentalist at play. Cold War, though not his first feature, is the Polish director’s second in a row shot in meticulously framed, gorgeously composed Academy-ratio monochrome. This approach began with the immensely celebrated Ida, which won the Academy Award for Best Foreign Language Film in 2015; yet while Ida’s plotting and method achieve their affecting levels of character development and artistic storytelling through a more bleak, distanced tone, Pawlikowski has imbued his latest with a pleasant amount of levity, joy, cinematic tricks, and transcendent musical sequences. It is no understatement to say Cold War ought to be regarded as one of the best films of the year. 

The story follows fifteen years of two parallel paths: that of complicated, tragically-fated lovers Wiktor and Zula, and that of complicated, tragically-fated Poland itself. The first scenes follow Wiktor (Tomasz Kot) and his team as they traverse the Polish mountain area in 1949, as part of a post-war effort to reinvigorate national pride through revitalizing traditional music. Through their search for singers and dancers for a government-sponsored traveling troupe, Wiktor meets Zula (Joanna Kulig), a captivating and immensely talented young woman, whose beauty is complemented well by her snarky wit. (During her singing audition for the troupe, she is told by Wiktor’s colleague that they have heard enough, to which she responds “Just the chorus,” and plows ahead, singing over the ‘Halt’ order — an example of the film’s wry and welcome sense of humour.) Their romance develops as the troupe’s tour radius grows larger and larger, encompassing more and more of the Soviet Union, until they are so well-known that the government decides to use them as a mouthpiece for its propagandic interests. More humour, albeit a darker tone of it, is on display as a government official suggests that they edit the carefree and poetic lyrics of the age-old folk songs the troupe normally sings, to better acquaint the citizenry with the government’s achievements, such as agricultural reform. 

Pawlikowski explores these dichotomous paths — a growing, twisting romance and a gradually  darkening society — in masterful contrast. Stalinism creeps in the edges of the love story with a breathtaking and unnerving progression, at one point literally coming out of nowhere as a massive depiction of Stalin rises above the dancers with nightmarish grandeur in one of their later performances. Most remarkably, the story of Wiktor and Zula becomes intractably interwoven with the imbalanced levels of freedom and artistry inside and out of the Soviet Union, for as Wiktor longs to leave and stay out, so does Zula question where her home truly is, and should be, leading her to some ill-advised returns to hostile territory. The perverted display of the traditional dancers performing Stalinist messages is contrasted with the liberally expressive Parisian musical scene as the action shifts to the mid-fifties, with some pitch-perfect jazz sequences offering some of the most pleasant monochrome pieces of filmmaking in my memory. Whatever possessed Pawlikowski to include so many musical scenes, from the introduction of Paris through a jazz solo to Wiktor’s alarmingly cacophonic piano playing as he experiences great loss, to the magnificent sequence where Zula throws herself around a bar to the tune of “Rock Around the Clock” by Bill Haley & His Comets, and most briefly but beautifully in a romantic moment between the two as they share a dance to “Is You Is Or Is You Ain’t My Baby,” this film treats its soundtrack incredibly well.

Credit must also go to the leading couple of Kot and Kulig, who ground the artistry in their compelling faces and physicalities; there are times where entire monologues of meaning are delivered in a silent glance or movement of the face. Also remarkable are the supporting performers, who represent the world outside Wiktor and Zula’s bumpy romance, from the stocky government stooge with a surprising amount of heart, Kaczmarek (Borys Szyc), to the stern but defiant musical director Irena (Agata Kulesza) to the amusingly pretentious French poetess Juliette (Jeanne Balibar). 

It came as delightful news when Pawlikowski was awarded Best Director at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, where Cold War premiered, and where I first saw the film. At the time, I would have said it was pretty good, maybe a niche art film crowd will like it. But on second viewing, I must say Cold War is much more: just as riveting as it is beautiful, just as musical as it is dramatic, just as prestigious as it is fun. Highly recommended viewing — and an excellent example of last minute scheduling .

outstanding

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Reviewer: Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller (Seen 21 June)

Go to Cold War at the EIFF here

 

Dunedin Consort, Vivaldi’s ‘La Favorita’ (Queen’s Hall: 6 April ’18)

Dunedin Consort: Vivaldi’s La Favorita

“The very essence of live music making”

Editorial Rating:  5 Stars: Outstanding

 

Was this going to be, if not too much of a good thing, well, just too esoteric? It was a risk, and, while the stalls were a little over half full and just a few concertgoers in the balcony, such attendance levels are not unusual at the Queen’s Hall for chamber music. With Vivaldi, take away The Four Seasons and the Gloria and what have you got? A series of mostly string concertos that all sound very similar.

 

That is the perception. Friday’s concert by Edinburgh’s own Dunedin Consort proved it wrong. A cleverly chosen selection of seven string concertos from a cache of 27 manuscript volumes of composition discovered in Northern Italy in the 1920s provided a glorious treat of baroque music that whilst not having the gravitas or structure of his German contemporary Bach was a rewarding example of the Italian Baroque, and in many ways gentler on the ear. If Bach is the master of counterpoint, then surely Vivaldi is the master of ritornello? The tutti passages are more rounded.

 

The programme was titled La Favorita and this writer’s wicked sense of humour wondered if it was sponsored by a smart Edinburgh pizza group with its blinding, wood-fired, Cinquecentos. Not so, the title would have referred to one of the star female pupils under Vivaldi’s tutelage at the Ospedale della Pietá in Venice for whom a number of these works were written, possibly the mysterious “Anna” about whom we know very little. The boys learned a trade and had to leave the orphanage when they reached the age of fifteen. The girls received a musical education, and the most talented among them stayed and became members of the Ospedale’s renowned orchestra and choir.

 

La Favorita was reincarnated in a sense in the concert by Music Director and Soloist Cecilia Bernardini, leader of the Consort, who backed by two violins, cello, bass and harpsichord led us though an assortment of musical treats that entertained from start to finish.

 

The band kicked off with “Il Corneto da Posta” (RV 363), a joyful, simple work with a highly effective interplay between soloist and cello (honourable mention to Andrew Skidmore throughout the evening) in the first movement. Each work followed the classic three movement construct that was Vivaldi’s late Baroque hallmark. The Concerto for Strings and Basso Continuo (RV156) did everything it said on the tin and was an excellent, satisfying example of the continuo genre. There followed two Violin Concertos (RVs 387 and 224) where the players brought real verve and commitment to the music that otherwise might have seemed repetitive. We were being treated to some seriously good playing by the ensemble as a whole.

 

Following the interval came three more works, the first, very much in the Venetian tradition, being played up above us in the balcony, with the exception, for logistical reasons, of the harpsichordist. Stephen Farr wittily told us that the music he was reading from his iPad was an early 18th century Venetian model. Well, I guess we were only a few days past April Fool’s day. The Violin Concerto “Il Riposo” (RV270a) was tranquil, calming, and beautiful. A further Concerto for Strings and Basso Continuo (RV 128) and Violin Concerto (RV283) and a charming pizzicato encore brought the evening to a close.

 

In trying to summarise what made this evening so special, when to many a collection of unknown minor works from a late Baroque Italian composer famous only for a couple of numbers might seem at best, obscure, I have concluded that there were two drivers. Intelligent programme selection, and – here I am again extolling the joys of live music – truly excellent, committed playing on the night. The very essence of live music making. Bravo!

 

outstanding

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Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 6 April)

Go to the Dunedin Consort

Visit Edinburgh49 at the  Queen’s Hall archive.