Stiff & Kitsch: By All Accounts Two Normal Girls (C Royale: 14-28th Aug: 16.40: 60mins)

“Two extremely talented comedians who deserve to be playing to full houses”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars

There’s something to be said for taking a label someone gives you and owning it, turning it into a badge of honour. It takes guts and good humour. And that’s exactly what Rhiannon Neads and Sally O’Leary display by the bucketload in their latest outing as Stiff & Kitsch in By All Accounts Two Normal Girls – a show so named after a quote from my review of them last year.

The premise of the show is a discussion and self-help guide on how to achieve the level of “normality” the two girls have (according to, erm, me) by taking a comedic look at different aspects of their lives from jobs, to health, wealth and everything in between. Opening quip “things are about to get normal” sets the tone for a witty, honest and accessible hour of fun.

Each section is punctuated with a trademark musical number, which work really well to summarise and highlight their main comments, with choruses including repeated lines as blunt as “Keep your bullshit to yourself” (in reference to seemingly narcissistic social media use by their peers), and “I haven’t a fucking clue”, which we’ve all felt about one thing or another. What pleases most about this duo is their slick back and forth – in both the songs and general banter – the whole performance maintains a beautifully unrehearsed aura, like they’ve put it together especially for you in that moment.

The professionalism and confidence from Stiff and Kitsch have pleasingly stepped up a notch from last year – there is a bit more a swagger and presence within their performance, not un-aided by the life-size cardboard cut-outs of themselves that adorn the back of the stage. Yet with this growth as performers what they haven’t lost is their likeability: the sense that they are still one (or two) of us with the same flaws and insecurities as everyone else. What they do really well is to make each one into something to laugh about, and there are certainly plenty of laughs to be had in this show.

While my main criticism of their show last year is still largely accurate – the variety and creativity within the musical numbers is somewhat lacking – it is the only blemish on an otherwise polished and very funny show. I didn’t stop smiling once throughout the whole hour.

It’s not always easy to admit that you were wrong, but this time I’m glad to: Stiff & Kitsch aren’t two normal girls: they’re two extremely talented comedians who deserve to be playing to full houses. And if they call their next show that, I am retiring.

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 19 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: Price (still) Includes Biscuits. (the Space @Surgeons Hall. Until Aug. 27 18:15)

“Paul’s deadpan delivery casts a spell over her audience.”

Editorial Rating: Stars: 4 Outstanding

When Naomi Paul comes out to the soundtrack of Sweet Dreams Are Made of This and plants herself stock still in the centre of the brightly-lit stage, one immediately gets the impression that this show is going to be different. So it proves to be. 

Paul reassures the audience that the price does indeed include biscuits but they come later. It is then straight in with her observations on living in modern Britain. Paul uses her home city of Birmingham to illustrate the ridiculousness of current government policy and the effects of prolonged spending cuts. Slowly her body starts to move and her stance becomes more natural as Paul starts her first piece of audience interaction. On a small side table, she displays her latest certificate: Radicalisation General Awareness Training. Do you need to take the test? Are you aware of the signs? Perhaps you are a radical already and need to be reported?

Moving on from modern multicultural Britain, Paul then reflects upon her own Jewish and Eastern European roots. Through the media of spoken word, song and a coat, Paul tells how her America-bound ancestors to ended up in the Welsh valleys. The story moves from the ancestral selling of haberdashery to the fitting of industrially-constructed bras. The best laid plans of her mother, attempting to preserve the virtue of the teenage Paul, didn’t exactly go as expected.

Through further songs and stories of poverty and the workhouse, we return to the present with a treatise upon the dangers of Thinking. Especially dangerous is being careless with the incriminating evidence of Thinking. Rubbish bags and computers should be treated with caution, as should the practice of speaking with strangers. With that due warning, it’s time for the audience Biscuit Break.

From biscuits and budding (if potentially subversive) audience relationships, Paul continues with the subject of modern social contact. For some, the most meaningful conversations are with the call-centre operator or a visiting Jehovah Witness. This sweeps into the area of mixed marriages, diversity and religion. Where is the best place to be Jewish at Christmas?

Price (still) Includes Biscuits goes beyond the normal boundaries of observation comedy and satire. Over the course of the hour, Paul’s deadpan delivery casts a spell over her audience, leading to an outcome which is different from any other show on the Fringe. Maybe she hasn’t got the best singing voice  but the show is funny, it works and, what’s more, it gets one thinking.

Thinking. Dangerous business that nowadays.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Martin Veart (Seen 25 Aug)

Visit the Assembly Roxy Bedlam Church Hill Theatre Festival Theatre King’s Theatre Other Pleasance, Potterrow & Teviot Summerhall The Lyceum The Stand Traverse archive.

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+3 Review: Triple Entendre: Love, Life and Other Stuff (C Nova: until 29 Aug: 21.50: 50 mins)

“Clever, stylish and hilariously performed”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Nae Bad

Three microphones, three young women, a lot of songs and a lot of sass. Triple Entendre don’t mess about. Taking to the stage in coordinating black outfits and bursting into an a capella fifties style song, everything about their presence at the beginning of this performance shows they mean business.

Given the subject matter of the first few numbers (and interludes) I was worried that it would be a purely “girl power” all-we-can-talk-about-is-men-and-sex kind of show. Thankfully the group soon move on to show they do have more depth and gumption about them than the Spice Girls, with catchy songs including Resting Bitch Face and my personal favourite Can’t Scat, about the jazz singer who couldn’t scat – clever, stylish and hilariously performed.

While the show is mostly singing (there’s precious little chat in between numbers), a few poems are interspersed which do show great creativity and add variety to the piece. My favourite of these was Anger – a short but fast-paced tirade that we all wish we had the guts to spit at someone who’s screwed us over at some point. I must also mention the touching song Mind the Gap, which, as well as cramming a lot of London Underground wordplay (to my great amusement) into a few short verses, also showed a glimmer of fragility in comparison with the quite up tempo and feisty feel of what had gone before.

Throughout the piece the singing and musicality of the performers is excellent – note-perfect with great range and adaptability to suit different styles. And while it’s clear that the trio have a close bond and easy way of working with each other, we don’t get to learn much about their individual personalities – for a cabaret show it seems quite guarded. There’s not a lot of openness or up close and personal moments between numbers so it all seems to go quite quickly and I was left feeling slightly cheated by not having gotten to know the girls better by the end.

Overall there’s some great original content in there and the singing is spot on, but I feel the group need to work a bit harder to define their identity and open up a bit more.

nae bad_blue

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 15 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: Tony Roberts – Card Magic (Assembly Roxy, Aug 5-28 : 21.30 : 1hr)

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“Absurdly clever card trickery”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars Outstanding

I’ve never been very good at card tricks. As someone for whom maths lessons loomed like Banquo at the feast, knowing the number work at play in even the simplest sleight veered me sharply away. So when presented with someone who can do it with skill, I’m naturally impressed; and when presented with Tony Roberts, I was delighted.

Though the audience I saw him in was small, I feel this made no difference: Roberts is an expert at playing a crowd as if it was a one on one conversation, turning what could have been a small show in the Roxy downstairs into a warm, intimate and deeply interesting conclave. Hosted by the titular lauded businessman-cum-acclaimed street performer, ‘Card Magic’ (as Roberts so quickly and happily points out) is what it says on the tin – though perhaps without fully advertising the sheer quality of the product inside. And what that exactly is, much like the man himself, is hard to describe. Part comedy show, part biography and with a heaped helping of absurdly clever card trickery, this was a performance which never failed to intrigue and entertain.

This show’s greatest asset (quite fittingly) is Roberts himself. Deeply charismatic from the moment he opens his mouth, he fails to fall into the trap of braggadociousness which plagues so many contemporary street magicians. It’s like hanging out with an Australian uncle down the pub, if that very same uncle had spent a few years trapped in a Johnny Ace Palmer show. It’s clear from the get-go exactly how Roberts can draw crowds on a busy street – not only his wit, but his genuineness and warmth.

But, of course, being an ace with his suits doesn’t hurt either – and Roberts is clearly one of the best. Even with repeat viewings, his tricks would boggle the mind. Shaking his hand at the end of the show (as he humbly asks of every audience member), it’s almost surreal to recall the sheer dexterousness with which his fingers move. Although some of the tricks flowed a little too subtly on from his storytelling (though with shuffling skills like his, it’s difficult to tell when the real show’s starting), their denouement is always satisfying, whether you know you’re there at first or not.

This is the kind of show that makes children wish to grow up to be magicians, and adults wish they’d had the chance. But, as Roberts own story proves, it’s never too late to start seeing the magic – and I can think of no better show to pull back the curtain.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Jacob Close (Seen 7 August)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: Hot Brown Honey (Assembly Roxy, 5 Aug – 28 Aug : 20:20 : 1hr)

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“Gleefully challenges stereotypes of sex and race with a full grin, bared chest and raised middle finger.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars Outstanding

I sat for some time before writing this review trying to think of an introduction which best captured what I thought of Hot Brown Honey. But the truth is, there’s not much else which can compare to the bombastic gut punch of a burlesque show Assembly Roxy has somehow managed to contain inside their theatre. From the second that the glass-panelled hive lights roar to life, this show is a nonstop ride that has the audience welded to their seats.

Hosted by unapologetically badass MC Kim “Busty Beatz” Bowers, Hot Brown Honey is a raucously funny and entertaining trip through acrobatics, beatboxing, song, dance and everything in between. But don’t be fooled – despite considerable comedy thrills, it never strays from what makes it so compelling: a show which not only celebrates the power and complex femininity of women of colour, but gleefully challenges stereotypes of sex and race with a full grin, bared chest and raised middle finger.

To talk too much about the acts would lessen their impact, but it cannot be said enough that each segment of performance was distinct, feverishly well executed and consistently jaw dropping. Every single honey from this hive is impressive enough to warrant their own review, let alone packing every single one into a single critique. Of course, for those who aren’t fans of audience participation, proceed with tentative caution: a show like this one demands to spill out into the aisles, to surprising and hilarious results.

The honeycomb that links up this show, however, is both more subtle and infinitely more loud than the performers themselves. There are West End shows that could learn things from the tech team behind the burlesque extravaganza. The sync between every technical element and the behaviour of the set is nothing short of breathtaking, for those who can bear to concentrate on anything but the inspired spectacle going on centre stage.

But what makes Hot Brown Honey such an outstanding show goes beyond its strength in immediacy. When the applause stops and the doors are open, that doesn’t mean the show is over: the messages, ethos and enthusiasm for equality, sexuality and sensuality stick around far after the day is done. As a piece of burlesque, Hot Brown Honey is outstanding simply by merit of its performance. But as a complete show, its greatest triumph is that it fully achieves the vision set out by creators Bowers, Lisa Fa’alafi and Candy B: not simply social activism masquerading as entertainment, but a genuinely thought provoking thrill which, at least personally, will open the eyes of many to any issue they never even know existed.

If you like your shows sexy, superbly skillful and socially conscious, you cannot miss Hot Brown Honey this Fringe. It’s a rare show indeed.

 

outstanding

StarStarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Jacob Close (Seen 6 August)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: A Lady’s Guide to the Art of Being a Wingman (Gilded Balloon: 4-28 Aug: 23.30: 1hr)

“Performed with great energy… the trio really can sing”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars

This show sees three young Australian women in suits and huge pink beehive wigs attempt to adopt the traditionally male “wing man” mentality to get them laid on a night out. To assist them in their farcical mission they follow the steps of a recorded self-help manual, and a lot of pop songs.

Of course it’s all a bit ridiculous, but it’s a (fairly) light-hearted comedy show that doesn’t take itself too seriously. However, it took me 10 minutes or so to work out what was going on to start with, as the show opens quite frantically with a lot of attitude and numerous snippets of well-known pop songs, all sung by the girls live.

Once the piece settles down it becomes much more enjoyable, and I was able to appreciate more of the artistic merit behind it. Three interesting characters emerge, each representing women with different levels of sexual confidence and experience, and we follow their plight through every step of their night.

At every juncture the girls burst into song, each of these being a well-known pop-song with lyrics cleverly and subtly adapted to suit the message. They are performed with great energy, and the trio really can sing, making the whole experience infinitely more enjoyable than having to sit through seemingly endless karaoke car crashes. The accompanying choreography is slick and performed with pizzazz, so on the whole, the actual performance element ticks almost all the boxes.

The surprising a capella rendition of Imogen Heap’s Hide & Seek towards the end is the best showcase of just how talented the girls are as vocalists, even if this number seems a little out of place among the rampant and upbeat pop numbers throughout the rest of it.

I was a bit disappointed in the over-reliance on the recorded advice, and would have preferred a more creative technique to keep the action on track and flowing from one section to the next. A little more focus on control and less mayhem at the beginning of the piece would also make it seem more professional and easier to engage with from the off.

This show won’t be to everyone’s taste – it’s loud, unapologetic and very fast-paced. But it is funny, full of life and contains a surprising amount of depth, particularly towards the end.

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 4 August)

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+3 Review: Bonita & Billie Holiday (Assembly Roxy: 4-28 Aug: 21.50: 1hr 10mins)

“An alluring performance that I couldn’t take my eyes off”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars

I wanted so much to be blown away by this performance – a tribute to one of my favourite singers, by an actor coming to Edinburgh with a very good reputation and bags of experience in the States. Unfortunately, this opening night was somewhat nervy, and while it was difficult to tell how much of that was the actor and how much was the character, either way it left me with a sense of unease that stayed with me throughout the performance.

Bonita Brisker clearly has bucketloads of talent, even though in this performance it took her a while to find her feet. She seemed to struggle with range a little bit in the opening couple of numbers, but by Good Morning Heartache she really hit her stride, with the high notes floating with all the ease of Billie in her heyday and an alluring performance that I couldn’t take my eyes off.

Bonita also beautifully captured the mood and personality of Lady Day in the spoken sections in between each number, and the script enabled her to show different sides of the singer from her career to her relationship with her family, her drug habit and time in prison. We also see her irreverent disregard for the FBI and a very touching portrayal of her relationship with drinking and her views on racial inequality, which was rife during the 1950s. Indeed, signature song Strange Fruit, which I didn’t realise had such personal and political meaning, is a standout moment of the performance, accompanied by horrifying projections of public hangings and mutilations. It is heartfelt and very powerful.

Structurally I found this show a bit peculiar, with a short opening section in Billie’s dressing room, before the bulk of the show is delivered cabaret style as Billie on stage, and then another section in the dressing room with a bizarre twist that almost subverts everything that went before. Suffering from a bit of an identity crisis, I don’t think it has quite worked out whether it is a cabaret or a theatre piece so I think there is still some work to be done to give it a real sense of completeness.

This does have the potential to be a really special show, but the performance I saw unfortunately didn’t quite live up to that potential. Look out for it over the next couple of weeks, I believe it could be a real grower.

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 4 August)

Visit the Assembly Roxy archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED