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

Louise Reay: Hard Mode (The Stand Four: 3-27 Aug: 17.55: 60mins)

“A unique and insightful project perfect for Fringe audiences”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Nae Bad

This is a very clever show. Through a healthy mixture of character work, pre-recorded videos, impressive knowledge of modern Chinese society, and truly human moments, Louise Reay has crafted a unique and insightful project perfect for Fringe audiences. Some fine tuning of the details and the flow of the show would be useful to make its 60 minutes shine brighter, but overall Hard Mode is a worthy offering.

The show’s title derives from the idea that in modern China, life is lived as if in ‘hard mode.’ Reay takes care to share a genuine taste of what that kind of life means, from tampering intrusively with audience members to stationing masked cronies around the room to watch and possibly punish the viewers at all times. She uses clever techniques like distributing identical napkins for all audience members to wear (to recall authoritarian homogeneity), and leading the room in hive-mind chants in between musings on what having a free society means now and what losing it could mean later. The masked guards do stay unsettlingly in character the whole time, even banishing non-compliant individuals who dare to remove the napkin to the ‘jail,’ which is the corner of the room. Though some of the points on surveillance are presented somewhat simplistically, the dark sense of forced enjoyment is done well. This show, to its credit given its subject matter, is effectively unpleasant.

Reay bases this societal reenactment on her lived experiences in China, thankfully. A few lines and jokes would seem like sweeping (and potentially offensive) generalisations if she hadn’t proven her extensive knowledge of Chinese culture, from the language to the media to the in-jokes. On the comedy end, the highlights of the show are her stagings of a possible future where the Chinese government has bought and hawkishly runs the BBC. Her David Attenborough-centered skits are hilarious, and her all-Chinese rendition of ‘Far-EastEnders’ is impressive for her sheer capability with the language, as a native English speaker.

On the dramatic side, and yes, there is a somewhat unexpected dramatic side, Reay mixes in her own real life in ways that teeter on the edge of too much. Without giving anything away, the sense of ‘hard mode’ in a societal sense is re-purposed in a personal sense, which at times is truly affecting, and at others feels like retreading and backtracking on points that have already been made.

Reay’s use of an actor to portray Chinese artist and social activist Ai Weiwei in a pre-recorded video conversation Reay apparently had with him feels strikingly off-kilter with the rest of the piece, and not only because it is never truly verified that Weiwei actually said any of the statements in the video. The actor’s timing is jarring, the delivery is confusing and flat, and points are muddled and indistinguishable — under what is admittedly fabulously intricate facial hair. For me, these filmed asides are revisited too often, and though most of Reay’s recurring jokes are quite funny and/or poignant (special nod to the unforgettable Loneliest Newsreader in the World), the Weiwei scenes feel poorly executed.

Overall, if you are looking for a bizarre yet poignant hour at the Fringe, and happen to be in the relatively far away lands that house the Stand Four, Louise Reay’s Hard Mode might be for you. Just be sure to set your expectations to Weird Mode.

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

Reviewer: Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: Dad’s Army Radio Hour (Pleasance Dome: 4-28 Aug: 2.40: 60 mins)

“Like a couple of thoroughbreds taking the jumps with ease”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

This joyful show teased smiles from even the flintiest faces in the Queendome audience. The theatrical concept of ‘watching a live radio recording’ is not one I will ever be a fan of, but here the simplicity of the staging is entirely justified. With words this good, and performances this sharp, little more is needed.

The public appetite for Dad’s Army is seemingly limitless. Like Only Fools and Horses, it is one of those rare TV programmes that people are willing to watch infinite times. This does not mean that a stage version of Dad’s Army is a guaranteed hit: in fact the stakes are raised to get it right and do justice to something held so dear in so many souls (consider the fate of the recent film version). But from the moment David Benson and Jack Lane speak, we know we’re in hugely talented hands. They cover the entire cast of dearly-loved characters effortlessly, like a couple of thoroughbreds taking the jumps with ease. More than ease: there is a grace and good-spiritedness about both performances which makes them a genuine pleasure to watch, and which reminds one of why we fell in love with the originals. There are many treasurable moments, but particularly striking is Benson’s bullseye John Le Mesurier, whilst Lane’s effortless switching from a repressed, frustrated Captain Mainwaring to a good-time floozy, with barely pause for breath, is a delight.

Four scripts are performed, two at each performance. When the production tours, it would be great to see this cast perform the episode Mum’s Army somewhere in the mix. It’s the one where Mainwaring falls in love with another woman, and comes within a razor’s width of leaving his eternally-unseen harridan of a wife. It was one of Dad’s Army‘s rare excursions into genuinely moving pathos, and in amongst all the laughs it would be the icing on an already sumptuous (upside down) cake.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Mark Farrelly (Seen 5 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+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