RENT (Gilded Balloon @ Rose Theatre: 16-26th Aug: 17:15: 2 hrs)

“A production bursting with raw talent, featuring some of the finest vocals on Edinburgh’s amateur stage”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Nae Bad

RENT is a searing rock musical from the 1990s that was only recently knocked out of Broadway’s top 10 longest running musicals of all time by Wicked. It follows the story of a group of friends dealing with love and loss against a gritty New York backdrop, and is loosely based on Giacomo Puccini’s opera La Bohème.

Local company Captivate Theatre’s version is a slick and minimalist endeavour, editing out many of the smaller roles and songs to focus more on the main characters themselves, rather than the community of artists they move within. Yet what’s lost in pulsing power in some of the bigger moments is made up for in subtle sensitivity and slickness elsewhere, making this a clean and refreshing take on a musical that’s been doing the rounds for decades. This stripped back approach also spawns some interesting interpretations in the musical numbers, such as Today 4 U, which is almost unrecognisable as a nigh-on a capella song, though somehow works within Director Tom Mullins’ overall vision.

Yet while the minimalist ideology of this production creates many unexpected delights, the main downfall of this show is the staging and use of space, which is far too small to effectively mount a musical of RENT’s epic stature – even with the cuts and styling carried out. Unfortunately, this results in too much awkwardness on stage too often, given how important movement and isolation are to several scenes. At times Mullins makes the action work well within the constraints – in Santa Fe and La Vie Boheme in particular, the scale of the choreography matches the music, space and overall mood, but more often than not, the overwhelming feeling is one of potential – how great this show could be in a venue where it could breathe and run free.

Despite this, this is a production bursting with raw talent, featuring some of the finest vocals on Edinburgh’s amateur stage. Megan Grace in particular delivers a real powerhouse performance in every scene and song as Joanne – not to mention nailing that riff in Seasons of Love. Alex Peters as Roger and Anna Macleod as Mimi combine to create some spine-tingling harmonies in their duet moments, and it’s a shame Grace Cowley doesn’t get more time to sparkle as Maureen after her raw and gutsy Over the Moon.

RENT will always be a fantastic show, and this slick and super-streamlined version is packed with highlights and the heart needed to make it soar. But I’d love to see it return with more depth and detail in a bigger venue to really be blown away.

 

nae bad_blue

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 19 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Signals (Pleasance Courtyard: 1-27 Aug: 13:10: 50 mins)

“A mature hour of philosophy and high-grade workplace dramedy.”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Nae Bad

Until we know for sure, which might never be the case, the extraterrestrial is endlessly fascinating. One some level, the entirety of human existence is hinged on this question: is there anyone, anything else out there? Footprint Theatre’s engaging two-woman show Signals asks this question with an intelligent script, grounded performances, and an excellent climax, and while it is not exactly pulse-pounding, this production is a mature hour of philosophy and high-grade workplace dramedy.

Eve Cowley and Immie Davies play two data analysts on the night shift at a facility dedicated to scanning the cosmos for alien contact. For the majority of the play, they simply sit and swap comments about their co-workers, life in general, and whether their job is completely meaningless. The set is commendably simple yet effective; with only two desks and a rat king of wires and plugs, the feeling of a dingy office is created very well. Cowley and Davies’ performances are also well-suited to the piece; all their interactions, from casual chats to fiery arguments, are enjoyable to listen to and cleverly written. 

Overall, however, the show itself cannot quite muster any significant feeling other than ‘enjoyable’ for the first two thirds. While the stillness of the show is nicely reminiscent of naturalistic theatre trends, its interludes where nothing happens are overlong considering the theme of the show. Thankfully, the portion of the events when alien contact is actually realised is fabulously crafted, and genuinely thrilling — especially the two workers’ disparate reactions to the possibility that we might actually answer the ultimate existential question. This is, without a doubt, the best part of the show, and I can confidently say the final third is an excellent piece of theatre.

The rest, however, does not do the ending justice, and while the technical and performative aspects are solid, the runtime is not as well-measured as it could be. If the establishing segments of Signals took a few more notes from its ending, this still, gradual approach could have come across with a bit more verve than it currently does. This is a well-made production, but it could be much sharper, and with an injection of just a bit more energy it could be a seriously impressive two-hander. 

 

nae bad_blue

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

Reviewer: Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller

 

Death is the New Porn (theSpace @ Venue 45: 13-18th Aug: 22:40: 60 mins)

“Another fine example of a gripping, character-driven play that Blazing Hyena really excel at”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

Death is the New Porn tells the story of a trio of vigilantes who get their kicks from following, luring and killing local criminals – all in the name of service to their society. They brag about how crime rates have fallen since they began their campaign – not just from physically stopping the perpetrators, but by spreading fear to prevent those would-be bad guys from meeting the same end. It’s a tough-talking and electrifying opening that sets up the potential for a thrilling noir-drama.

Yet rather than being an action-packed adventure about the number or profile of bodies they stack up, or police investigations they dodge, the narrative evolves to be more personal, and by the end, becomes a deeply emotional unveiling of three people trying to make sense of their own broken lives. What has driven each one to become a killer, and just how strong are bonds of blood?

The opening half of this performance has a very filmic quality, with director Catherine Exposito using the large thrust stage cleverly to create interesting angles and sightlines, with musical interludes and quick changes of pace adding to a Tarantino-esque feel. It’s a little confusing to begin with given the choppiness, but as the meat of the play unfolds, the compelling narrative and relationships between each character become more prominent, and ultimately, engaging.

Imogen Reiter, Jack Elliot and Jack Jarvis Gouther each turn in gutsy and gritty performances as the three anti-hero vigilantes, but Rosie Milne in particular impresses as supporting character Sheila – the recently released from prison recovering addict attempting to get her life back together. There’s a raw delicacy to her performance of a woman just about holding herself together that is utterly captivating to watch.

Jack Elliot’s script is on the whole very clever in its structure and development – the dialogue is natural and the sense of tension and anticipation are always high – though it would be good to get a bit more background and levelling early on. Some characters seem more well-developed than others causing a few too many gaps for the audience to fill in. There’s also quite a lot of faffing with props (especially drinks and glass) throughout, but these are minor criticisms for a work that is, on the whole, made to a very high quality.

In short, Death is the New Porn is another fine example of a gripping, character-driven play that Blazing Hyena really excel at. Highly recommended as a late-night comedy alternative.

 

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 16 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Solarplexus: An Alternative Energy Play (ZOO Charteris: 3-27 Aug: 19:35: 60 mins)

“Affectingly haunting musings.”

Editorial Rating: 2 Stars

Oddly, there are more shows than ever this year where I personally have felt a performer is too good for the show they are starring in. This is particularly true of Melissa Mahoney and Solarplexus: An Alternative Energy Play. The show, written by Michael Galligan, deals with a near-future where solar fires are plaguing Earth and a mega-corporation known as Syzygy has proffered a ‘solution’ to the problem by creating a giant space station that will bathe the world in constant daylight. A genius inventor/farmer/tin-foil-hat wearer (played by Gilligan), however, has made an energy-producing bike named Mercury Daniels, that can somehow stop all of this and save the world. His daughter, Ellen (Mahoney), contacts him and tries to help stop the plot, while his son Frank (Sam Metzger) has started working for the corporation and its evil boss (Justin Picado), leading to a frenetic mission and intergalactic madness.

There are standout elements of this show that really shine. Mahoney, first and foremost, delivers a strong performance and an excellent onstage presence; she holds the show together in more ways than one. Another stellar presence in the production is Justin Picado, multi-roling as the maddened Syzygy CEO, a messenger from the Sun, and a few other surreal presences; Picado has very clever comic timing and physicality, and similarly to Mahoney, could and should really knock it out of the park if given more compelling lines to perform. Also onstage but in the corner is composer Robert Fernandez, who live-scores the show with remarkably fun musical motifs and sounds. Credit to director Jaye Hunt for placing him in view of the audience, for most of the entertainment in the show can be derived from watching him work.

The rest of the production is unfortunately a let-down. The plot dissolves into flat, unconvincing absurdity, which could be entertainingly surreal if it was not constantly interrupted by uninteresting arguments and character moments. The constant bickering between Ellen and Frank, as siblings who took very different paths in life, possibly due to their father’s treatment, is so overplayed it becomes simply irritating to listen to. The same jabs and judgements are repeated over and over and over, never improving in form or content; the interjections from their father, also played by Galligan, do not particularly help, possibly because his characterisation seems straight out of the notoriously neglectful Rick from Justin Roiland’s Rick And Morty. Some lines and concepts are fascinating, yet most are delivered during the intermittent cacophonies of the characters simply talking over each other, so they have little impact. The jokes, of which there are surprisingly few, are also quite unmemorable; thankfully, Mahoney and Picado are quite good at stepping in to save the moment when certain punchlines fall conspicuously flat.

Solarplexus is an odd watch, and contains some affectingly haunting musings on what could result in the end of the world: corporate greed, public disinterest, and personal irresponsibility. Yet though these concepts are raised, the show is not particularly risible to an audience, and perhaps could do with a slight rewrite and a more dynamic second half. 

Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller

 

Alfred Hitchcock’s Writers’ Room (theSpace on North Bridge: 13-18 Aug: 12:05: 50 mins)

“Admirably boisterous, with plenty of breathless comedy flowing from every scene.”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars

Reading University Drama Society has made a delirious, heartily amusing comedy out of a sharp and clever setup. The show revolves around the four members of Hitch’s Los Angeles writers’ room in 1961: the well-dressed socialite Kevin (Thomas Sparrow), the mousy, prim Lila (Rebecca Penn), the stringy jittery Scott (Conor Field), and the snarky, forward Maya (Jess Davies). A hapless rookie detective (Luke Cox) introduces the show, blustering through some exposition about a former member of the writers’ room who has turned up disfigured and murdered in the L.A. river. From there, the detective hides — in one of the show’s funniest running jokes — just behind a sofa and barely out of view as the writers go about their business. As they share their ideas of new scripts, the four of them act each out, donning wigs and swapping accents with reckless abandon and generally putting on a flamboyantly silly show of it all. Needless to say, there are Hitchcockian jokes and references aplenty, and it is certainly recommended to have seen more than a few of the films in question if you want to laugh along with the lion’s share of these parodic sequences.

Writers Ades Singh and Cameron Gill clearly take great pleasure in their cinematic references and endlessly silly humour, which to their credit, are both exceedingly well-suited to the Fringe atmosphere. In his role as director, Gill has commendably let the performers have oodles of fun with and the performers, who in turn each give a high-energy performance.

Indeed, there’s plenty of boisterousness all round, with breathless comedy flowing from every scene. Unfortunately, though many of the character moments are well set-up for big laughs, even the performances cannot save some of the lazier impulses of this show. Some of the earlier jokes are clever — such as Davies’ scene-stealing personification of a haunting mother character who is totally not a rip-off from Psycho, or Sparrow’s charming, standout smugness as he explains his own ‘brilliance’ — the play eventually just has the same punchlines over and over: the script seemingly intentionally falls apart into improvisations, repetitive shrugs about why what is happening is happening, and the apparent hilarity of just saying the word “bitch.” In addition, the amount of fourth-wall-breaking becomes tiresome after the first joke of its kind, not to mention to fifth. Thankfully, this is possible to overlook in favour of appreciating the fanciful character comedy on display, such as Cox’s amusing John-Candy-esque slapstick, or Penn’s clipped and funny diary scene, or Field’s admittedly hilarious impression of a pigeon.

It should also be noted that, the three-sided venue Alfred Hitchcock’s Writers’ Room is staged in makes more than half of the play and its gags completely invisible to anyone not in the front row of the centre of the room, not to mention anyone unfortunate enough to be sitting in the eyeline of one of the blindingly bright, oddly low-hung lights. Choose your seat wisely.

Overall, this is a clever setup with a disappointing payoff, that could be helped with a little tightening of the actual story and a few more jokes that aren’t just naughty-word-humour. Credit where credit is due, however, the ensemble — Thomas Sparrow and Jess Davies in particular — turn in such vivacious performances that this reviewer would be curious to see what this team does next. 

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

Reviewer: Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller (Seen 17 August)

 

+3 Interview: Little Shop of Horrors

“I feel privileged to haven been given this opportunity to perform with Delicious Theatre at this year’s Fringe Festival alongside such talented, lovely and sometimes human-hungry people.”

WHO: Morgan Meredith, Audrey

WHAT: “‘I’ve given you sunlight, I’ve given you rain. Looks like you’re not happy unless I open a vein!’ Delicious Theatre invites you into the New York City underworld, where a young florist named Seymour is attempting to grow a mysterious-looking plant. The plant will only grow in exchange for one thing: human blood. Stumbling across it after a solar eclipse, he names the plant after his crush and co-worker, Audrey. As he discovers the true cost of keeping the plant alive, a series of moral dilemmas make him realise his own capability for true human monstrosity.”

WHERE: theSpace @ Venue45 – theSpace @ Venue 45 (Venue 45) 

WHEN: 11:10 (100 min)

MORE: Click Here!


Is this your first time to Edinburgh?

Yes, it is which is simultaneously exciting and daunting but I feel so lucky to be performing alongside such a brilliant cast! Although this is my first time at Fringe, the company are returning this year after their successful run of “The Best Play Ever” in 2017. After 5-star ratings and excellent audience reviews, “The Best Play Ever” returns to the festival this year alongside the musical, which the entire company are buzzing about.

What’s the biggest thing to have happened to you since Festivals ’17?

From a personal stance, the biggest (and scariest) thing that has happened to me since last year’s fringe is graduating from the University of Manchester, obtaining a degree in Drama. My undergrad allowed me to establish both personal and professional relationships that I’m sure will last despite my return home to the South Wales Valleys. I feel privileged to haven been given this opportunity to perform with Delicious Theatre at this year’s Fringe Festival alongside such talented, lovely and sometimes human-hungry people.

Tell us about your show.

Little Shop of Horrors is such a weird, wonderful and witty little show. Although the original performance is set during the 1960’s, Delicious Theatre’s production reimagines a world of terrifying impact of temptation in our current capitalist civilization. The satirical musical by Howard Ashman and Alan Menken is both ridiculously silly and tragically poignant and has a talking sassy plant; what more could you want from a musical?! Delicious Theatre is a company set up in 2017 by University of Manchester graduates (and one Durham graduate!). The aim of the company is to contribute bizarre and comical work to cities’ fringe scenes that pushes the boundaries of convention and showcases young adults’ interpretations of the world around us. We want to reflect the hilariously ironic and messy planet we’re making theatre on. For Little Shop of Horrors, the cast are under the direction of Emily Oulton and the musical direction of Charlie Perry.

What should your audience see at the festivals after they’ve seen your show?

Delicious Theatre’s sister show ‘The Best Play Ever’ of course (20-25 August, TheSpace on the Mile, V39)!! There’s a great deal of shows going to fringe this year that have originated from the University of Manchester such as new musical “The Fear” which is brilliant, alongside the drama societies productions of “Duck Gutters” and “Pomona” by Alistair McDowall. “Man Presents: Woman” is a girl power cabaret comedy has had great reviews AND has been produced by our very own Sophie Graci. (Co-founder of Delicious Theatre) “Flushed” by Catherine Cranfield was brilliant at the Manchester preview so everyone should go see that too! No Door Theatre Company are taking up “Bitter” this year after the success of “The Voices in Annie’s Head” at last years fringe, again, brilliant at the Manchester preview. “Living with a Dark Lord” by sisters Cait and Meave O’Sullivan had a fantastic audience response so I’m excited to see it at Edinburgh. Spies Like Us Theatre are taking both “Our Man in Havana” and “Woyzeck” this year and as I’ve seen work by the director Ollie Norton-Smith, it’s going to be super interesting! Physical theatre play “Action Man”, produced by Plaster Cast Theatre was fantastic in Manchester so I can not wait to see it again. Festivus Collective’s “The Henriad” looks like a must see as its a collaborative project with the University of Edinburgh and Manchester and retells shakespearean tragedies and comedies within a contemporary setting. Our other co-founder Katie O’Toole has produced a mint production of Sarah Kane’s ‘Crave’ from Durham University, and one of Emily and Katie’s friends Dan Richardson is in an amazing play called ‘Eat Me’ about people suffering from and surviving through the horrible mental illness that is anorexia.

We cannot recommend all these shows enough – from working with these people over the last three years I’m sure you’ll be in for a treat.


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+3 Interview: Joe Sutherland: Toxic

“It’s me doing my funny talking words for 55 minutes. It’s about gender, masculinity, my grandma, the Midlands and the Spice Girls.”

WHO: Joe Sutherland, Star

WHAT: “Masculinity – isn’t it, like, over? Or are there new ways to model manliness? Growing up Joe felt less like a boy, more like a Spice Girl. Now he’s sort of grown up, and technically a man. This is a show about embracing girl power to create your own brand of manhood. ‘Richly entertaining’ **** (ScotsGay.co.uk). ‘An engaging hour of stand-up with an important message and many laughs to be had’ **** (Edinburgh Festivals Magazine). ‘So much originality’ **** (VoiceMag.uk). ‘Oozing star power from every pore’ (Mirror). ‘Edgy and unpredictable’ (ToDoList.org.uk). ‘Definitely one to watch’ (Chortle.co.uk).”

WHERE: Underbelly, Bristo Square – Dexter (Venue 302) 

WHEN: 20:10 (60 min)

MORE: Click Here!


Is this your first time to Edinburgh?

No, this is my second solo show, and I’ve been coming to the Fringe for pretty much my whole life, so a good 59 years now. I know, I look good. I’ll have to show you the painting in my attic at some point.

What’s the biggest thing to have happened to you since Festivals ’17?

I decided to consider veganism which means I’ve had to cut out Frazzles, so I’d appreciate some privacy at this difficult time of transition in my life.

Tell us about your show.

It’s me doing my funny talking words for 55 minutes. It’s about gender, masculinity, my grandma, the Midlands and the Spice Girls.

I was very lucky this year to have direction from the fab Jess Fostekew and production support from the top lads that are United Agents.

You see what I’ve done here is used ‘lads’ ironically because the team is, in fact, entirely female. How edgy of me.

What should your audience see at the festivals after they’ve seen your show?

Their own reflection in a toilet mirror in a portacabin as they take a deep breath and ask themselves, “what now? How could it possibly get any better?”

Oh and Sarah Keyworth, Harriet Kemsley, Sophie Duker & Lulu Popplewell (Duke Pop) and Mawaan Rizwan. Top lads.


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