Odd Shaped Balls (theSpace, 17 – 29 Aug : 19.15 : 50 mins)

“Powerful, energetic and frank”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

The story follows professional rugby player James Hall as he comes to terms with his own sexual identity and deal with getting “outed” in the media. We see him as his club’s star player – someone who really needs rugby in his life – as they get promoted into the Premiership at the start of the play. We follow some very touching relationships he has with various characters – his coach, his father, his girlfriend and his teammates – all played by Matthew Marrs.

It’s a very pacey piece, packed with short scenes and snippets of conversations, which enables the audience to see the range of people in Hall’s life, and their reactions and relationships to him. While in certain sections of the play this works very well in communicating the franticness going on in Hall’s head and not knowing who to turn to, at times it also becomes quite confusing as to who he’s talking to, what scene we’re in, and how much time has lapsed in between them.

It’s certainly a commanding and masterful performance from Matthew Marrs, who manages to convey all the individual characters, as well as drive the performance with passion and vigour. He effortlessly captures the angst of Hall’s dilemma, showing a great range of emotion, while also being very grounded. What I liked about the character was that he seemed very real and that dialogue flowed naturally, without having been over-polished. My favourite of the other characters was Hall’s plain-speaking Welsh teammate who, at one point, very brazenly described “jackpot threesomes”, with hilarious effect.

While a very commendable and powerful concept for a piece, the writing and structure did let it down somewhat, as did, arguably, the decision to make this a one-man show. For almost every conversation throughout this piece, Marrs played both sides, which I feel was a somewhat lazy device in communicating the narrative. I think it would have been more powerful for at least some of these to have been shown from one side only, to allow us to connect more with the character on show, rather than the constant flip between two or three different characters played by the same actor. Alternatively, having one or more supporting actors for Marrs to play off could have simplified some of the scenes where there was a lot of back and forth.

In saying all that, this was a terrific show – powerful, energetic and frank, with a very important message.

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 28 August)

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Floe­-Joe’s Faces (Just The Tonic @ The Mash House, 24 -30 Aug : 21.00 : 1hr)

“A very entertaining show, with plenty of giggles”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Nae Bad

The premise of this character comedy show is very interesting – having three different characters discuss their contribution to the mysterious “Floe-Joe’s” new album, track by track, at its first “listening party”, hosted by the main man. The whole show is underpinned by a selection of what I can only describe as incidental hip-hop – the kind that might play in the lift of a trendy club, which sets out a very clear vibe for the show overall, and its use and styling works very well to cover the transitions between each character, as well as giving each one its own soundtrack.

First up is the drunken and ballsy Irishman Fergyl Walsh, whose brother is Louis Walsh. He rants about being misunderstood and the angst involved in creating the album. It’s a gutsy performance, even if the accent slipped a little from time to time.

Next up is recently graduated RnB singer U (yes, that’s his name), who is desperate to move on from being a hooker (the singer that just sings the “hook” of a song, while the rapper hogs most of the limelight). Compared to the brash Fergyl, U is shy and assuming, and because of that is very likeable. Through various snippets in this section, Fairey also boasts a surprisingly impressive singing voice, and it was a shame not to hear more of it.

The final character of the show is the multi-faceted and over-confident street dancer, Lydia Left, who longs to break away from her dance troupe and achieve the stardom she dreams of. While something of a stereotype that doesn’t bring much uniqueness to the stage, she still manages to get the party started and the whole audience on their feet.

As can be expected of a slightly quirky character comedy, there are various moments when Fairey interacts with the audience -asking us to recount something good that’s happened today, or to predict what song might be playing in our heads. There’s also a great moment at the end where we get the chance to try out a few dance moves on stage, which was actually very refreshing and nowhere near as awkward as one might think.

A couple of the jokes fell a little flat, and there were a few moments that Fairey seemed a little apologetic for the performance, rather than oozing with confidence that a show like this really needs. However, on the whole it was a solid and very entertaining show, with plenty of giggles, and different to anything I’ve seen before.

 

nae bad_blue

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 27 August)

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Learning to Live (Espionage, Pravda room, 24 – 30 Aug : 19:45 : 1hr)

“The craft of every word is excellent, the delivery spot on”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

Learning to Live by Isla Cowan is a collection of poems from a young woman who shares her journey of moving to university, the search for a new identity and the struggle to connect with old friends after time apart. The showcase also includes an honest and unglossed ode to a parent, a poem about poverty and a poem called Shakespeare in the sunshine – certainly not a combination one comes across every day.

Cowan’s opening poem is The Night We Went to Life – a reflection on those nights spent clubbing and not being entirely sure why. This is a piece with great rhythm and musicality, with comic moments and a story that all of us can relate to. Next up, The Library is slower and more contemplative, showing great maturity and sense of perspective. Every poem in this show is full of fantastic imagery and a sense of a captured moment, but the last in the set is one called Memories, in which she utters the inimitable line “I am nothing but memories”. To me this summed up the overall ethos of the performance – a collection of lessons learned, delivered simply and beautifully.

My favourite poem from the collection performed was The Lightbulb, which to me demonstrated an accessible and educated view on mental turmoil through clever use of metaphor. Indeed, when Cowan does use metaphor throughout her work, it’s both selective and effective. Great examples include the idea of being “between dinner and dreamland” after a night and morning with that special someone, and carrying “worries in a basket” along with the rest of one’s shopping. Though the subject matter of her work is relatively simple, there’s a lovely feel about it all that reflects her coming of age, but without trying to be too pretentious or flamboyant.

The craft of every word in Cowan’s poetry is excellent, and the delivery of her work is also spot on. She clearly knows the pieces inside out, and captures every rise and fall, rhyme and pause with precision. The tone of her voice carries perfect sympathy with the subject matter of each line, and the whole show just felt very natural and comfortable.

If I were to be really picky, I felt that some of the poems ended quite abruptly, causing the odd jar in what was otherwise a very smooth and enjoyable evening. I’d also like to see her take a few more risks, both in terms of style and content, but perhaps that’s one for next year, as, for a debut show for a novice performer of tender age this really was cracking stuff.

 

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 27 August)

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Ticket to Bollywood (New Town Theatre, 7 – 30 Aug : 21.30 : 1hr)

“Thoroughly enjoyable and an impressive showcase of the best of Indian dancing”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

Ticket to Bollywood is split into three distinct parts, each of which is given a short audio introduction to explain the style and background of the dance. The first of these covers love and marriage (very common themes in Bollywood films), and at first the six girls perform with the innocence of teenagers, being supportive and playful with a photograph of one of their loves. When the boys enter, it all gets much more flirtatious, and games are played between the two groups as if not wanting to appear to keen. There is a very brief duet between the two lovers, which is surprisingly less expressive and a bit more awkward than the group numbers, but the section ends in a big bright wedding celebration.

Next comes a section focusing on traditional dance, and three screens are brought on to stage, which three girls dance in front of, and three more make silhouettes behind them. However, it’s not long before they are all together and in the middle of another high energy group routine. The male dancers bring a real sense of bravado with their very macho and aggressive routine, which resorts into a short fight sequence, complete with weaponry.

The last section is loosely themed around celebration, and while I’m sure there were differences between this and the previous two, style-wise to me this section didn’t produce anything we hadn’t already seen, apart from an interesting array of props. It was no-holds-barred up-tempo extravaganza.

While the group routines, always in perfect unison, were very powerful and precise, for me it was the sections where added props were used that really stood out. These ranged from oversized lotus flowers to swords and shields, kites and huge poles. Their creative use made this piece really unique and made these moments definitely raised the bar when compared to the rest of the performance. I should also mention the absolutely stunning costumes throughout, which really added to the overall colour and sense of show this performance brought.

For a show that’s basically an hour of non-stop dancing it’s performed with amazing energy, attention to detail and beaming smiles. Yet despite the overwhelming sense of celebration it exudes, I would have liked to see some calmer or more restrained sections to balance out some of the franticness. I also felt a little cheated that the singing wasn’t live, and that almost all the music was pre-recorded, and I would personally call this show dance rather than musical theatre.

However, that’s not to say it wasn’t thoroughly enjoyable and an impressive showcase of the best of Indian dancing. Just not quite what I was expecting.

 

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 27 August)

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Submarine (theSpace Niddry Street: 1 – 29 Aug: 20:25 : 1hr 25mins)

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“Slick and powerful”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars Outstanding

Go see a stage adaptation of an indie film adaptation of an award-winning book they said. It’ll be fun, they said. Luckily, they were right. Popcorn Theatre’s “Submarine” is an undeniably enjoyable piece of theatre, whether you’ve even seen the original work or not – or even if you’re not a fan of indie movies.

Following the adolescent trials of misfit Oliver Tate, “Submarine” addresses themes of love lost, youth reconsidered and the nature of human emotion in relativity; if that all sounds a bit much, rest assured – it never feels overwrought or artsy for art’s sake, staying firmly rooted in it’s homely welsh drab and expertly weaved soundtrack.

Jonas Moore and Rachel Kelly are a tour-de-force as Oliver and leading female Jordana Bevan. There’s such palpable substance in their characterisation, it’s easy to get lost in their characters. Every physical tic and vocal quirk feels energetic yet realistic, aided hugely by a skilled, slick set of supporting actors. A particular favourite was Tom Titherington as the wonderfully ridiculous Graham, who managed to summon laughs up without fail every time he appeared on stage.

And the comedy really is good. Every punchline is unexpected, driven by the sustained, cerebral oddness of Dunthorne’s characters. But Submarine is also a show which pulls no punches in regard to poignant, emotional drama either. The scenes between Jill and Lloyd Tate (Catherine Prior and Josh Hunter) were often heartbreaking in their portrayal of a marriage falling apart – not with a bang, but with a disappointing slump.

But slump seems the right word to describe parts of this show also. Despite it’s strengths, it’s inescapably “indie”: meaning the often manufactured dramatic turns and heightened energy many theatregoers are used to just isn’t present. It stays at a high but disappointingly constant drone which, though it helps it succeed in imitating real life, also meant that certain scenes felt like they needed a little something more.

However, that does little to diminish the strong performances and time-tested writing underpinning a very slick and powerful show. The clever staging, the wonderfully implemented Super-8 footage and the expertly talented cast pull together what for others may have ended up being a tedious and pretentious spectacle. Taking no prisoners when it comes to left-field humour and commentary on the human state, Submarine is definitely a show with six full miles of depth.

 

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Jacob Close (Seen 25 August)

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Edinburgh Gin’s Night of Literature and Liquor (Edinburgh Gin Distillery, 10 – 31 Aug (Mondays only) : 19.00 : 1hr 30 mins)

“Thoroughly enjoyable and educational”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

The cosy Edinburgh Gin Distillery is the perfect venue for a tour of literature’s liquor references, washed down with no less than four gin-based cocktails. It’s comfortable, intimate (audience numbers are limited to 20), and a delightful escape from the bustle of the Fringe.

The show is presented by the quirky and immensely knowledgeable Ewan Angus, who welcomes us to the distillery and talks us through the first of our evening’s beverages. He soon moves on to the good stuff – the literature – starting with who else but Robert Burns.

Throughout the evening, Angus covers a complete range of work, covering writers as diverse as Dickens, Zola, Eliot and Carroll, to lesser known modern authors including Thomas Pynchon and Jim Dodge. He explains the context of each piece, including society’s attitude towards alcohol, and reads selected excerpts which wonderfully describe or talk about liquor and its effects.

Of course, there were features on the well-known gin drinkers of the 20s (Fitzgerald, Hemingway et al.) but no show about literature and liquor would be complete without inclusion of Ian Fleming’s James Bond. Indeed, one of the many surprising facts I learned during this show was how Fleming would knock back up to a bottle of gin a day while writing his last novels. To further his argument into Fleming’s obsession with gin, Angus references passages from Casino Royale and Thunderball, which both give detailed accounts of the many charms of a martini. I’m sure there are plenty more.

However, while gin is commonly known as “mothers’ ruin” – the etymology of which is also discussed in this show, it was somewhat surprising that so few female writers were included. Only works by George Eliot and Elizabeth Gaskell made the cut, though Angus explains that while his research was extensive, it seems women were generally more restrained in their references to liquor.

While Angus is clearly very knowledgeable and passionate about his subject, his delivery was at times a little introverted and rushed, and I would have liked to see more confidence and charisma come through. However, as this show is still very new, I’m sure that will come in future performances.

Overall, this is a very well-researched and informative show, and apart from leaving somewhat more inebriated than on one’s arrival, it’s thoroughly enjoyable and educational.

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 24 August)

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In His Own Write (The Voodoo Rooms, 8 – 30 Aug : 17.10 : 1hr)

“A thoroughly enjoyable performance, accessible to adults of all ages”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

In His Own Write is a delightfully bonkers collection of short stories, written by none other than John Lennon. Last staged at at the National Theatre in 1968, it seems incredulous that it hasn’t been seen since. However, perhaps this version has been given the ok due to its very simple and honest approach to just telling the stories, without any of the pomp, prestige or impersonation that could be associated with adapting such a work.

The show opens with (and indeed each story is preceded by) a short pencil-sketch animation in the style of the illustrations in the original book. Immediately the tone is set as being playful and non-fussy – embodying the spirit of the book perfectly. The trio of performers set straight to it, capturing the innocence of each story with energy and clarity, but at no point going over the top into pantomime.

What makes this collection so enjoyable is the wordplay used by Lennon on selective phrases, often changing just one or two letters to make a new word with a completely different meaning. My favourite came quite early on, in Flies on Trash, where a character is described as “a former beauty queer”, and is portrayed by the actor accordingly. Another character later on is described as “dead and duff”, and another “wandered lonely as a sock”. The deadpan delivery of every line was the perfect accompaniment to the absurdity of the writing in letting it speak for itself.

Of course, for a piece written in 1964, there are bound to be some words and phrases used that today we find a little unsavoury, and use of them could probably get one sacked from the BBC. But given the honest style of the show’s delivery – presenting the work just as it was written without any comment or spin – such phrases ring home very naturally, and don’t seem out of place in the context. If anything, they give an added layer of hilarity.

As a performance it is very slick and professionally put together, and there’s also great variety used in the techniques to share each story. A couple are sung a capella, one or two are delivered solo, some contain a few outlandish props, but all delivered clearly, with great vitality and passion for the craft. It’s well rehearsed and the transitions are smooth, maintaining the level of interest and engagement throughout.

I think for what the company were trying to achieve in the faithful presentation of the book, they succeeded with aplomb. Whether this piece is everyone’s cup of tea, or could have had more dramatic structure or development is another question. Either way, it is a thoroughly enjoyable performance, accessible to adults of all ages.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 24 August)

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