+3 Review: Ameé Smith – Relax, it’s not about you (Underbelly Med Quad: Aug 3 – 29: 15.00 : 1hr)

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“Optimistic, off-the-wall and unapologetically human”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars Outstanding

I try my best not to judge shows before they’re done. But, finding the queue as lonely as a tarantula’s birdcage, I confess to some trepidation as I waited for Ameé Smith’s “Relax, it’s not about you”. Shows with sub-dozen audiences can be tense at the best of times, and given the very personal nature of Smith’s themes, comedy’s need for reactivity and my own creeping paranoia about audience interaction, it seemed a bespoke recipe for awkwardness.

But, for once, it appears the mantra of the 2* performer rings true: the reviewer was dead wrong.

Who exactly “Relax, it’s not about you” is about could make for an excellent piece of theatre analysis – could be Smith’s ex’s, could be Smith herself; and, perhaps overarchingly, it could be about every person watching. Complete with examinations of toxic relationship types, explorations of what makes something TMI and confessions of Smith’s own foibles, “Relax, it’s not about you” is a frenetic, laugh-filled odyssey through the minefield that is interhuman relations.

Whilst it all might sound a bit metaphysical, it’s certainly entertaining. It’s somewhere between hearing stories from a drunk aunt and hanging out with an unlucky-in-love best friend: sometimes rambling ,sometimes short and sharp, and always cringingly self-aware. And whilst the occasional semantic meander leads to a dead-end, Smith seems to be an expert at winding back her own train of thought. And rest assured, despite the heavy premise, it’s a set with its fair share of laughs. You’ll never look at ceramic owls the same way again, and that’s a promise.

For such a blurry and ill-defined subject, it’s impressive how consistent the show feels for its duration. Smith’s nervy, almost fractious energy is a wonderful constant, even when presented with an audience of two. Never before have I seen a performer approach a nearly-empty house with such vigor. In truth, my greatest disappointment with this performance is that I never got to see how Smith would play off a full house. She is (fittingly and obviously) the greatest asset this show has, having cracked the comedian’s riddle of creating an obvious gulf of wit between her and the audience, whilst simultaneously closing it with an almost tactical show of real honesty and vulnerability.

This is perhaps the only time I’ve ever regretted that the jokey offer of a pint after the show was not capitalised upon, so enthralled I was with the sheer openness with which Smith presents herself. Even her dodgy guitar skills, though they open the show on a slightly jerky note, have their significance later. This is feel-good theatre, despite being based on one of the worst parts of romance.

This is a show which deserves far, far more than what I saw it receive. Ameé Smith has crafted a difficult and beautiful thing: a comedy show which thrives on universal truths, yet doesn’t claim to have any answers. And despite a few momentary stumbles, “Relax, it’s not about you” is exactly the kind of show that typifies the Edinburgh Fringe: optimistic, off-the-wall and unapologetically human. Ameé Smith isn’t making a show about you – but that doesn’t mean everyone shouldn’t see it.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Jacob Close (Seen 25 August)

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+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.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: The Glummer Twins (Paradise in The Vault: 22-28 Aug. 11.35am 1h.)

“The guys are genuinely funny”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Nae Bad

On a small, well-lit stage, deep in subterranean Edinburgh, The Glummer Twins start their set with Just Turned Sixty and Taking it Badly: a really good bemoaning of being the owner of an ageing body.  Through the medium of beat poetry and music, the Glummer Twins (David Harmer and Ray Globe) take a look back to 60’s childhood, 70’s aftershave and 80’s yuppies.  They ask the important question of whatever happen to the mods?  Autobiography is included, such as after moving from south London, the warm welcome David received from his new Doncaster school chums.

The Twins look forward to the future with the poems  Old Bloke Blues and Fiery Jack: the latter a must-hear for any pharmacist or person taking a large range of medications.  Groans and laughs are generated in equally generous measure as we follow the puntastic adventures of poet-noir detective Percy Shelly – private dick.  The poems comes thick and fast, with fifteen being delivered over the hour.

The theme of the show is ageing and reminiscing because there comes a time in life, theirs in particular, that there is a lot to look back on but not so much to look forward too.  The Glummer Twins state they have been coming to the Fringe for thirty one years and obviously love what they do.  The audience are in the safe hands of veterans.  Both were members of the performance group Circus of Poets, which in the 1980s appeared on nation television and toured Europe.

The style of comedy is, fair to say, gentle.  That does not mean unfunny: far from it.  While Percy Shelly is undoubtedly the comedic highlight, the spirit and black humour of South Yorkshire is also evoked.  Whatever will happen to Derek the Trainspotter?  One also has to ask, in the wake of the recent Brexit vote, whether there is deeper meaning to the poems Mediterranean Homesick Blues and Speak Scandi?

Harmer and Globe are good, solid performers who deliver rhymes and laughter.  Globe handles the musical side with electric guitar, pedal beat boxes and shares vocals, while Harmer’s performance is spoken word and costume change.  The show is squarely aimed at older generations.  They know that their style and material are not going to rock the foundations of comedy but that does not matter.  The guys are genuinely funny.  Watching The Glummer Twins is a fine way to wind up a morning on the Fringe.

P.S. – if one wants to know the origins of the name, Google “The Glummer Twins” and see what comes up.

nae bad_blue

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

Reviewer: Martin Veart  (Seen 26 August)

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

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: Penetrating Europe, or Migrants Have Talent (Paradise in Augustines: until 28th Aug: 21:35: 1hr)

“Sandalovych doesn’t simply engage the audience, she immerses us in the tumultuous narrative.”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars:  Nae Bad 

Our host (Dave Strudelbar) for this evening’s episode of Migrants Have Talent bounds down the stairs before introducing the evening’s two judges: immigration officer, Nigel Nobson (Uilleam Blacker) as well as glamorous former illegal immigrant, Nigella Smith (Lesya Liskevych).  Nigella explains that she was talent-spotted after five years of cleaning the toilets at Television Centre. She cleaned toilets under her original name, she minor celebs with a new one, changed by deed poll. Together Nigel and Nigella decide who stays and who is deported, with the audience voting in the event of a tie.

There are five contestants. Actor Iaroslav Tsigan’s character is from Ukraine. He traveled to Britain on false Polish papers. A likeable character, his honesty fails to impress the stern judges. Interwoven with the talent show format are the stories of two young people, who relate how it is to travel and cross borders. One is going east to Ukraine for an adventure; the other west, by land and sea, to join family already in Britain.

These paired stories, delivered solo with other cast members playing the role of various officials, are the most effective part of the production.  The contrasting experiences and expectations of the two young people are increasingly moving. Actor Ira Sandalovych compellingly portrays a descent into fear. Sandalovych doesn’t simply engage the audience, she immerses us in the tumultuous narrative.

Most of the large cast are employed in the Migrants Have Talent sections.  Writers Blacker and Olesha Khromeychuk deploy a tongue in cheek style of satire that seeks to lighten what are, in reality, stories of genuine human suffering. At no point are we allowed to forget that not a million miles away from the Fringe, real people are really living through such uncomic tragedies. Still, this is above all a theatre piece. How effective (as opposed to affecting) is it?

The message is crystal clear. Humanity is common: borders and suffering man made.

If there is a problem it’s is one of counterpoint. Does the satire sparkle bright enough against the darkness of the immigrants’ tales? The lighting is handed well and sound, with the ensemble song describing cranes flying away to die in foreign lands (a poem from 19th century Ukraine) is truly beautiful in such a small venue.  However, with such a large cast, the staging does slip into awkward moment but, overall, this is a more than likeable production whose heart is definitely in the right place.
nae bad_blue

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

Reviewer: Martin Veart   (Seen 23 August)

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

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: The Free Association – Jacuzzi (Pleasance: 4-21 Aug: 23.00 : 1hr)

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 “Wild, witty and wickedly funny”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars Nae Bad

I always approach live improv shows with a degree of trepidation: though a lot of the fun lies in its often wild unpredictability, it’s easy for a forced joke or sudden case of comedian’s block to sour an entire set. However, from the moment the Free Association players arrived on stage, I felt as if the audience was in very safe hands.

Basing scenes from improvised monologues by “special guests”, it’s a streamlined one-two punch of comedy flavours. The changeover from stand-up style presentation to off-the-wall improv is smooth, sharp and very crisp, handily overcoming the transitional inertia that would threaten less cohesive groups. From start to finish, it’s this veneer of professionalism that really brings the Free Association together; very seldom is improv so akin to a well-oiled machine.

But far from it to say the comedy is mechanical: I’d almost recommend a helmet to protect against the ideas bouncing off the walls. From Blue Peter themed suicide pacts to rad skateboarding private-school bait-and-switches (it somehow made sense at the time), you’d be hard pressed to try and follow the cognitive bead of sense for more than ten minutes – and this show is all the better for it. Despite a few jokes which fell flat or dampened the usually excellent energy, when the material’s good, it’s hysterical.

This unpredictability was aided by the novel way in which the Free Association goes about its work. They tout themselves as being “based on the American style of long-form improv but with [their] own unique spin”, and the latter is pointedly true. Jacuzzi often blurs the line between short form and long form improv, with overarching plots and characters weaving in and out of the utter chaos on stage at breakneck pace.

For a more amateur company, this may have been a tall order, but the talent driving this show can’t be denied. Despite the extreme difficulty in discerning a favourite from such a strong cast,  Comedy MVP inevitably must go to Alison Thea-Skot: I’ve never seen such a wide comedic range – it’s a hard job to make an audience really believe they’re watching a heavily-scottish football coach who’s forcibly making their players fat to win games  – again, plenty of sense at the time – but I’ll be damned if I didn’t expect a true-life biopic about it to be in the works by the time the set ended.

The Free Association is certainly deserving of its acclaim. Wild, witty and wickedly funny, “Jacuzzi” is a classic example of improv comedy done right.

 

nae bad_blue

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

Reviewer: Jacob Close (Seen 17 August)

Visit the  Pleasance, Potterrow & Teviot archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+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.

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

Reviewer: Martin Veart (Seen 17th August)

Visit the Assembly Roxy archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: Mixed Doubles: Fundraiser (Just the Tonic @ The Caves: until 28th Aug: 17.25: 1hr)

“A really enjoyable show, I’d thoroughly recommend it”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

Having seen Mixed Doubles trying out new material in London a couple of years ago, it’s pleasing to see them back in Edinburgh after a year off to present a new full length show. Fundraiser is set up as a village fete where four assorted characters from the village are trying to raise funds to replace the old pavilion, and this is their show. Yet while the framing of this piece is charming and shows intelligence and professionalism beyond a let’s-just-perform-some-sketches approach, at times it also works against them a little, as the changing in and out of these characters between different sketches does get a little confusing.

For me, Mixed Doubles’ trademark is all about the delivery. Timing is everything (they know how to work and audience and let a joke settle before moving on), while facial expressions from all four performers throughout are priceless. In this performance there were a couple of times when jokes fell a little flat, or weren’t quite delivered with the knock-out punch of confidence that they really needed, but given then fast pace and slickness of the show these are quickly forgotten, and the overarching impression is one of playfulness and enjoyment.

My favourite sketches include a parent who takes their child to see a doctor as they suffer from “the g-word” which has a hilarious twist, while the one where a young man introduces his friends to his bizarre flatmate is absurdly funny. Overall there’s a great blend of topical humour, creativeness and recurring characters to make it a really well thought-out and balanced show.

As well as being a traditional sketch show though, fundraiser incorporates a couple of improvised or more random elements. In one sketch two of the performers are challenged to instantly embody objects one might discover when showing someone around a house, and one audience member is pulled on stage to join a stag party… These touches add a nice variety to the piece and show that the group have more depth than simply being able to spout pre-learned lines.

On entering the venue, we’re also asked to come up with a new name for the village bowls club, writing suggestions on slips of paper which get added to the “hat”. While at least one of these is picked to be read aloud, it’s a shame more isn’t done with this device – perhaps a live debate between two or more of the suggestions that the characters debate on the spot would have really tested the group’s mettle.

Overall though, a really enjoyable show and I’d thoroughly recommend it.

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 17 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED