“Alasdair Beckett-King: The Interdimensional ABK” (Pleasance Dome, until AUG 26 : 18:50 : 60mins)

“Perhaps Alasdair Beckett-King, ABK’s, greatest quality and asset is that he dresses the part – he looks very much like Alasdair Beckett-King.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Nae Bad

Alasdair Beckett-King is clubbable. Firstly he has the large eyes expressive eyes of a baby seal as well as a fine red pelt that would look sensational as somebody’s sporran. He is also clubbable, in the less bloody, cruel, and senseless sense that, were his name to turn up in the book of candidates, the endorsements from existing club members would be so numerous that one would struggle to find space sufficient to signify one’s support. Perhaps Alasdair Beckett-King, ABK’s, greatest quality and asset is that he dresses the part – he looks very much like Alasdair Beckett-King.

And this is not a small or trifling thing. Slanted on the axis of space-time so that things tend to run from good to bad, from bad to worse, this dimension finds itself in eternal need of an ABK to put our self-destructive behaviours into whimsical perspective. The one we have is dressed in muted dandy splendour, as though he’s the moralising star of an ‘80s cartoon franchise who has popped round in-person to add a little gravity to an ungrounded world. Which he is. I wasn’t planning on seeing any standup this EdFringe, that was until I saw ABK’s trailer in his #Plus3 interview. Could the show possibly be as awesome? In a word, a word requiring no lengthy preamble or overly-wordy explanation, yes.

This show made me laugh. This show made me think. This show made me want to see ABK again. This show was perfectly timed. This show had nice visuals. This show had something to say and said it well. This show does not want to build a wall. This show does not want to eviscerate our trading relations with our nearest neighbours for the sake of the kind of nostalgia Sammy Johnson was talking about. This show had a beginning which was very good. This show had a middle which was also very good. This show had an end which was not so good in as much as it was an end and, like I say, I want to see more ABK.

nae bad_blue

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

Reviewer: Dan Lentell (Seen 17 August)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

How to Mend the World with a Student Play (TheSpace on the Mile: Aug 16-17, 19-24 : 21:55: 45 mins)

“Delivers on every comedic promise it makes.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Nae Bad 

It’s not much of an exaggeration to say I’ve spent a sizeable chunk of my time in the arts. From HSLC Stage School (Hi Karen!) to these years at Edinburgh49, it’s been at least a few hundred hours of devotion sunk into the discipline of playing pretend. And, like a new parent, whilst this longterm commitment has given me an unquenchable affection for the stage, it has also filled me with a deep, bitter disdain. Disdain for self-righteous, zeitgeist-y directing; disdain for “visionaries” who make a lot of noise yet do nothing new; and dark, roiling acidic disdain for shows made to be edgy for the sake of fashionability.

There are many, many reasons to like How To Mend The World With a Student Play. In the service of objectivity, I will go through all of them at gleeful length. But my greatest admiration of this play is entirely personal, and entirely biased: Hyde-like, it has given voice to my worst impulses, and done so beautifully.

The premise of the play is simple: four students try and put together a new, #groundbreaking production of The Crucible in the forty five minutes they have before a funding meeting. To say any more than that would ultimately be pointless: How To Mend The World is a masterclass in comedic farce. There is no great plot twist or consolatory ending. In truth, there’s barely even a plot at all. This is a show that relies entirely on the ability of its actors and the quality of its character writing to justify its existence, and does so in spades.

The show presents itself with gleeful scathingness from the moment its actors arrive onstage: characters Jonty (Francis Nunnery) Felicity (Matilda Price) and Christian (Liam Hurley) offer deliciously satirical yet lovingly realised portrayals of the variously smug, unstable and utterly pathological millieu of the student stage scene. This entire review could be a rote praise-list for the talent of these three actors. Price somehow combines pitch-perfect character work with machine gun delivery speed, bouncing from outburst to outburst like an anxious pinball. Hurley, a man very obviously at home in physical comedy, presents the emotionally unstable Christian as equal parts likable, pitiable, and utterly infuriating. And Nunnery, saddled with the hardest character to make standable, brings a precise yet cartoonish spark to Jonti Bailey-Higgins that somehow justifies every terrible, terrible thing he does.

Special praise must also be given to Ollie Tritton-Wheeler, portraying the piece’s straight man Ben Hackett. Foils in comedy walk a constant tightrope between obvious audience mouthpiece and smug know-it-all, yet Tritton-Wheeler is content doing cartwheels on the rope instead. He is aggressively relatable and damn funny in his own right, managing to take an essential part of the comedy formula and really make it his own.

There is a raw consistency present in How to Mend the World, which runs systematically through every component of production. Though its staging is simple and its theatrical techniques basic, they’re incorporated like gears in a pendulum clock. The intent behind even the smallest FX flourish is at once immediately apparent, and completely fulfilled. Every comedic swoop and dive, whether reliant on human or technical resources, stuck the landing. Despite appearances, this production is clearly one where the idea of theatre as craftsmanship has flourished.

With craftsmanship in mind, special dues must be given to the writing. Devised pieces are mercurial creatures, entirely made or broken in the rehearsal room and unfortunately prone to acute textual bloat. Here, not so. The script for this production is undeniably tight, unavoidably witty and – perhaps most importantly – unmistakeably written from a place of first hand knowledge. I’ve met every character in How to Mend the World in jaundiced dressing rooms and smoky back exits. The genuineness of director Joshua Silverlock’s work lends it a palpable solidity, and keeps the material fresh by nature. Creating work like that is hard enough to do alone, let alone by committee. And yet, it is so.

I savoured every moment of How to Mend the World with a Student Play. It is a precious thing: a theatrical product which delivers on every comedic promise it makes, and doesn’t stop until its subjects are wrung out husks. If that alone isn’t worth the price of admission, then I don’t know what is.

nae bad_blue

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

Reviewer: Jacob Close (Seen 14 August)

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“Too Pretty to Punch” (Zoo Southside, until AUG 26 : 13:25 : 60mins)

“This is a tech-heavy, content-rich show, delivered with a light and graceful touch.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

Walking from EH10 to Zoo venues is a very pleasant experience. For once this rainy auld EdFringe the sun is shining. The people smile and say good morning. The mood music is what would happen if you were to shut Sir Harry Lauder and Ronnie Hazlehurst up together in a telephone booth and not let them out until they’d written something smile-inducingly pleasant. The gentrification wave that swept through EH9 before and after the crash has receded somewhat, but the shops and eateries are busy as well as interesting. Amble further down towards Northbridge and you start feeling as though you’ve arrived in EH91. Friends on the terrace at 86 Princes’ Street have their views, as do pals browsing the shelves at Lighthouse books. If there’s any agreement between them, which is doubtful, they might all conceded that people are less in their own space and more in your face the further from villadom one travels.

In their deeply personal, moving, and thought-provoking polemic, the poet and banjo wielder, Edalia Day, spends the hour describing what it is like to live day-to-day constantly menaced with aggression from randoms, both online and in the street. A lot has gone into this show. A lot of heartache and soul searching, a lot of personal discovery and revelation. “I didn’t escape from one box only to be forced into another.” You come for the social commentary, which is lucid and insightful, you stay for the video-projection, which is (as promised) kickass as well as for the finely tuned performance which shows no sign of flagging as EdFringe enters the home stretch. This is a tech-heavy, content-rich show, delivered with a light and graceful touch.

At a time when transgender voices are finally starting to be heard, it seems amiss to attempt to filter or dilute Edalia Day’s message for them. What I can describe is the effect this show had on this particular cis white male determined to be a strong ally in this generation’s fight for inclusivity, understanding, and respect. I came away having been thoroughly entertained. This is a performer who knows their craft and that, as with all great polemics, it’s not just about the message or the messenger, it’s about the recipient as well.

outstanding

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Reviewer: Dan Lentell (Seen 16 August)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

The Showstoppers’ Kids Show (Pleasance Courtyard: Aug 15-18: 12:00 : 1hr)

” A polished, properly silly, properly funny children’s show”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

There are two sorts of shows that genuinely fascinate me. Magic shows and improvisation shows. I mean, every form of show has something interesting or funny or something to love, but those are the two that really get me thinking.

I think it is because deep down we all want to know how it is done. How does the magician saw the lady in half? Where is the bunny hidden in the hat? How do they make up songs about ‘’elderly children’ in London’s sewer system before being transported to a castle by way of a kiss from a unicorn on a pipe-smoking, gin-swilling child called Platypus? How do they not burst out laughing? How do they appear to make the difficult so ridiculously smooth?

With some of these thoughts in my mind (although I only met Platypus later), I set off with my dreadful duo (aged 5 and 2) for the lunchtime Showstoppers’ Kids Show. Neither of them had come across improv before so it was a bit of a suck it and see affair. Would they get the point of it all? Would they get involved? Would they spot the ice cream shop directly next to the buggy park and ask me about it relentlessly throughout the show?

Showstoppers are well-kent faces. They routinely sell-out here in Edinburgh and their show for grown-ups in the West End has won Olivier Awards. Many performers who appear year after year in Edinburgh become jaded or dial it in knowing that they’ll sell out regardless.

For the team in colourful dungarees nothing could be further from the truth – they were anarchic and buzzing from ten minutes before the show started! I walked in and saw them performing, assuming the show had started, and that somehow we’d managed to get the timings wrong. One of the Showstoppers gleefully revealed they were just playing to get into the mood before the show started but got the busy crowd going. This was clever: it got the kids used to the idea of getting involved. If any of the Showstoppers read this, I’d be keen to know who you thought was a better Renaissance painter than Caravaggio. 

The show was entirely constructed by the children. The Showstoppers built a series of songs and dances around the themes, plot ideas and names that were called out. The children did their best to corpse the stars. At one point we were asked to come up with three wishes for a genie to grant. The first two were generic enough. The third – wonderfully –  was ‘have a barbecue’ which just for a moment just about stumped them.

Arguably the stars of the show aren’t the five bouncing about endlessly on stage but the two musicians in the corner who are having to keep up with the hilarity and as you’d expect from West End stars, there are some jokes that fly above the heads of children but make the adults titter.

I spent much of my time mesmerised by the sheer talent of all it all. The cynics will say there are audience plants but I balk at that suggestion: just about every child suggested something after all. It has to be down to months and months of hard practice. It is all seamless and there are enough moments where it nearly spins out of control for you to really understand the hard work they are putting in: this is high-quality, funny stuff in real-time. Imagine how sick you’d be if you are a comic who spent hours trying to write gags and turned up to see an audience of children roaring along to this?

My kids enjoyed it and it was clear from seeing arms shoot up or things called out that other kids loved the outright silliness of it all. I’d guess the ideal ages are 4-9.

I came away with a new found respect for improvisation shows. I’d guess improv in front of adults is easier – it is easy to nod to a political theme or to rudeness or vulgarity. Children’s imaginations are much more fertile than our own and I’d guess the spectrum of possibilities is much wider.

Apropos of anything else, I’d note how generally lovely the Showstoppers were. From their getting us involved in their warm-up through to one of them asking at the end if my littlest one was ok (she’d got a little bit upset when she went up on stage with the other kids and I had to run on and grab her). They threw out large rolls of paper for all the kids to come up and colour in at the end of the show on the stage whilst going round handing out stickers to everyone. None of these things need to happen but it shows the stars know their audience. They don’t make the fundamentals of the show any better but all were appreciated.

This is a polished, properly silly, properly funny children’s show. I want to see the grown up one now.

outstanding

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Reviewer: Rob Marrs (Seen 14 August)

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Megazoid (Scottish Comedy Festival @ Nightcap: Aug 15-18, 20-26 : 20:30: 45 mins)

“An extremely charismatic, likeable performer.”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Outstanding

There’s a joy to ridiculousness. It’s like Sudocrem for the general psychic onslaught of existing. Innately, I think there’s something worth celebrating in the ridiculous, and Megan Shandley’s Megazoid is certainly evidence of that fact.

A homegrown Edinburgh talent, Shandley’s approach to comedy is that of a temperamental muscle car: smooth riding for the most part, with occasional and unexpected jolts to high speed. It’s easy to be lured into a false sense of security by her sheer laidback-ness, but there’s a wonderful weirdness hiding just underneath, waiting to express itself in an unexpected punchline.

The material is, as you might expect, varied. Shandley embraces the tried-and-tested “scattershot topics, barely-there theme” approach carved out in comedy clubs since before time, and it works. This isn’t a show that needs to be slick or tightly woven together. It’s hanging out with a cool mate who drinks wine from a bag, and has a lot of thoughts on the Lion King – and honestly? That’s all it needs to be. The comedy is relatable enough to keep you anchored and odd enough to keep you guessing, but never volatile or needlessly edgy. Shandley is unabashedly a feelgood comic, even if she doesn’t set out to be.

But even good works are not without fault. It’s a bittersweet criticism in that this was a show which left me wanting more. Though fantastically relatable, Shandley’s easygoing demeanour sometimes meant otherwise excellent jokes were let down by a lack of pointedness in their delivery. Constantly, Shandley gives teases of over the top physicality, high-energy and clownish expressiveness, but pulls back before things can reach their most pleasing apex. Fringe slots are tight but nevertheless, this is material in want of greater variance in pace.

Perhaps my disappointment was amplified by the quality of what was one display, and wondering what it could be. Shandley has some fantastic material at her disposal: unexpected, bright and even surprisingly intricate. Arcs and connected punchlines surface with joyful abandon, constantly layering and re-layering.

It’s clear that there’s a wealth of material bouncing around Shandley’s brain – even the explanation of the show’s title suggests as-of-yet unseen country, full of unexpected turns and left-field observations, waits somewhere underneath her blonde bob, and ultimately I found myself wishing I could’ve taken a longer safari. This is, as before, bittersweet: for although it limits how much I can rate the show, there’s no limit to how much I liked this show. Shandley is an extremely charismatic, likeable performer, and with revisions this is an act that could really seriously turn heads.

Megazoid is a wonderful 45 minutes of staring through the world through slanted binoculars. Despite the shortcomings of her act, Megan Shandley is undeniably one to watch – in person, as well as in the long span of time.

outstanding

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Reviewer: Jacob Close (Seen 13 August)

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“Brave Macbeth” (Pleasance Courtyard – Pleasance Above, AUG 1-18 : 11:50 : 60mins)

“The performances alone would make this a five-star experience, but it’s what’s gone on off stage that makes it truly outstanding.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

EdFringe is a time of reunions. Friends auld and new set aside their politically-inspired social media spats and bad-tempered artistic differences in order to share in the world’s leading cultural banquet. Shakespeare is (as ever) the ghost at the feast. The Bard generously provides something for everyone, but a scheduled encounter with him can bring on all the premonitions of a Christmas dinner to be spent sitting between the know-it-all cousin just back from their first year at uni, and the slightly racist uncle who doesn’t understand why things aren’t the way they used to be. How to introduce Daughter 1.0 (aged 4, nearly 5) to the bard? Too light and she’ll miss the expert heavy lifting of his scripts. Too classical and she’ll be lost. Enter Captivate Theatre to the rescue.

We enter to find the stage empty, but it’s not going to stay that way. More is packed into the 1hr’s traffic than an already stuffed carry on bag when the check-in assistant regretfully informs you that your main suitcase is over the weight limit.

I came to Shakespeare via the RSCs, both Reduced and Royal. Captivate Theatre outshines them both. At their best and worst the Reduced Shakespeare Company can be campy, kitsch, and occasionally iconoclastic. By contrast, Captivate Theatre are authentic, classy, and surprisingly reverential. Where the Royal Shakespeare Company can be pompous, oh-so-trendy, and incomprehensible Captivate Theatre are instead accessible, authentic, and unafraid to be direct. This is not Shakespeare pictured paying stiff court to Gloriana, rather it’s the Swan at ease with his contemporaries, as imagined by John Faed, only with more kilts.

Brave Macbeth opens rather like the first instalment of the ‘Hotel Transylvania’ franchise, an atmospheric nod to the spine-tingling atmosphere of the original that has Granny and me worried. If this is the spooky opening how will Daughter 1.0 handle the coming murders and mayhem? We need not have worried. It isn’t long before the big musical numbers, catchy tunes, and fabulous dance numbers have the audience (and even naughty, naughty the actors) in fits of hysterics. King Duncan’s demise is the cause for so much merriment that she’s laughing like a drain pipe.

This is a big cast and one of the best-balanced ensemble pieces I’ve seen in ages. The witches are fiendish without being traumatic. Lady M is fantastically melodramatic, to the point were even Henry Irving might have asked her to reign it in a bit. Banquo, Malcolm, and Duncan do more with their foreshortened parts than Tyrian Lannister off on a night out with a jackass and a honeycomb. Macduff foils his villain in more ways than one. The Thane of Glamis, Thane of Cawdor, and King hereafter himself is bold, brave, and brilliant. His set solos pieces strongly hint at the depths which there isn’t time to plumb while his interactions with the other characters give a more flavourful summary of Macbeth on stage than would a dehydrated copy of the SparkNotes served up by Heston Blumenthal under a foam of literary criticism.

The performances alone would make this a five-star experience, but it’s what’s gone on off stage that makes it truly outstanding. The choreography is so good even this double-left-footer wants to join in. The adaptation is streamlined and sophisticated. The composer needs to be dragged off to a military research facility and forced to weaponize their earworms – I am gutted that the soundtrack isn’t for sale in the lobby. Most importantly, Daughter 1.0 has had her first introduction to Shakespeare and come away wanting more. Captivate Theatre has done exactly what it says on the tin.

outstanding

StarStarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Dan Lentell (Seen 14 August)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

The First King of England in a Dress” (theSpaceTriplex, AUG 1-17, 19-24 : 50mins)

“Stuck in traffic on the A14, I’ll never look at East Anglia the same way again.”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Nae Bad

At a rainy BBQ in Newcastle, en route to #EdFringe, I heard one auld pal explain where they lived, “it’s up the road from A. You know, down the way from B.” Up and down don’t enter the conversation much in the part of East Anglia I’m from. Not when it comes to directions. ‘Flat’ is the word. ‘Eels’ is another. The town of Ely is named for them. Dutch navigators, the digging ditches rather than the exploring East of Suez kind, put in the channel and loads which took care of the water but they didn’t get round to putting back the hills. I say putting back the hills because there were once hills in East Anglia, something I didn’t know until seeing ‘The First King of England in a Dress’.

We enter to find a wicker eel trap, eel spear and other assorted must-have items from the time when Saxons and Vikings lived in close disharmony a thousand or so years back. We are greeted by the actors, who put Daughter 1.0 (aged 4) and the other kids instantly at their ease. We are in for an hour of smashing storytelling set in a land divided and a country ready to be born.

Ethelred misses his mum. She was stolen from him by something worse than Vikings. So when a stranger asks his dad for a bed for the night, he is naturally nervous. But when the stranger and Ethelred start sharing stories of giants, frogs and magic, it isn’t long before they discover surprising secrets about each other…

Together actors Kate Madison, Chip Colquhoun, and Izzy Dawson craftily conjure a bygone age into something both comprehensible and real. Chip is the author of three books, one of which inspired the stage play. His writing style is hugely engaging, weaving big historical themes into material that is finely tailored to his young readership. The other two tomes are already Amazon Primed and on their way to Christmas stockings. A finicky reviewer, which I am, would suggest that the foreshortening required to fit EdFringe’s shorter timeslots could have been finer, but the kids didn’t seem to notice or care.

They were too busy being engrossed in making squelchy sounds to compliment characters walking through muddy bogs, and helping the cast out with their improvised make-up, mop wigs and hidden crowns. The kids are all having a great time, although some of the adults might have prefered fewer demands for their on-stage presence.

This adult, however, is extremely grateful to ‘The First King of England in a Dress’ for opening up the world of East Anglian folktales. It’s more than a little special to exit an EdFringe show considerably wiser than when you went in. Stuck in traffic on the A14, I’ll never look at East Anglia the same way again.

nae bad_blue

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

Reviewer: Dan Lentell (Seen 13 August)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

“Morgan & West: Unbelievable Science” (Assembly George Square – Gordon Aikman Theatre, AUG 14-20, 22-25 : 16:30 : 60mins)

“The production values on this show are higher than Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr. in a hot air balloon … The production value for money is (if anything in the material universe could be so) incalculable.”

Editorial Rating: 7 Stars: Outstanding

“How did he do that???” Daughter 1.0, aged 4 but 5 next birthday (something she would want you to know), is managing to grin from ear to ear while she is also open-mouthed in astonishment. We are in the careful cup stage. “OK, both hands. Focus on what you’re doing.” Thrills and (just occasionally) spills. How on Earth has the dandy chap on stage managed to put a glass tumbler full water into a hoop, swing it round his head, and never spill a drop?

Gravity is unfair, unkind, and unreasoning with regard to preschoolers. Gravity is to blame when one has taken a wee tumble while running on the wet cobblestones of George Square – despite a strongly-worded suggestion not to. It’s gravity’s fault that one has bumped one’s head while skylarking with one’s little sister on the sofa, despite the Patriarchy having less time for skylarking on the sofa than the Hong Kong authorities have for protests at the airport. So it’s fair to say that Daughter 1.0 likes seeing gravity defied.

Only gravity isn’t being defied by the untumbling tumbler or water, it’s being demonstrated. Mr Morgan and Mr West are VERY clear about that. This is NOT a magic act. These are not tricks. These are scientific demonstrations. Gravity is a fundamental law of nature, applicable at all times and in all places. Mr Morgan and Mr West are tending the flame of Scientific Enlightenment and they are doing so on hallowed ground.

It is to be regretted that David Hume and Ben Franklin, walking together on those same George Square cobblestones in the age of Enlightenment, couldn’t have got slightly closer to a proof (one so irrefutable that Newton, Einstein, and Lieutenant Data combined couldn’t have improved on it), that some moral laws are similarly universal no matter the context. Such a proof might have saved us from the present age of Endarkenment. Fake news from faker demagogues pushing utterly false pretexts and promises.

The production values on this show are higher than Calvin Cordozar Broadus Jr. in a hot air balloon – a beautiful science lab set, properties with the property of not looking improvised, fine tailoring, great grooming, and an electrostatic generator that manages to sound even scarier than it looks. The cost in fresh cardboard boxes alone must be more than most shows spend on flyering. The production value for money is (if anything in the material universe could be so) incalculable. Mr Morgan and Mr West are the very best kind of teachers in that they don’t try to be your friend, they want to get you thinking. This show does many things, but pandering isn’t one of them.

There are belly laughs aplenty. The jokes are clever, often visual, always flawlessly delivered. Gyles Brandreth once asked me on the radio, an impressive feat because he was in the studio with the actual guests and I was listening at home with my feet up, what my least favourite word is. “Whacky” I replied. It’s been done. It’s been overdone. The ‘80s are over. Timmy Mallett’s off eating bush tucker. Whacky is what Grandad was worried about. Mad scientists in a Hammer horrorshow of a science lab, being silly, talking without ever saying anything.

Grandad is an EH10 Edinbugger of the old skool. He doesn’t like the Fringe and he’s only coming along because he’s studiously avoiding Granny’s book festival event featuring an auld collaborator who Grandad feels has sold out to become a **shudders** popular scientist. Grandad is a professor, an evolutionary geneticist at KB who Richard Dawkins considers a bit hardcore on the science over dogma spectrum. But Grandad really enjoys the show. Granddad loves watching his granddaughter loving the show and wondering at the Science. It’s the parabasis that crowns all and sets this show apart.*

*You’ll have to look up the definition of parabasis. It’s not often we history and classics students get to out jargon the boffins.

For the parabasis, Mr Morgan and Mr West shift their attention to the parents and carers in the audience. Their sleeves are already rolled up from the final demonstration. They pull no punches about what Science is, why Science matters, how Science is explored, and why Science doesn’t care what you or I think about it. “The Earth IS round,” loud and excited applause, “critical climate change IS real and… VACCINATE YOUR KIDS.” The applause dies down, the yummy mummies and super cool daddies who equate their B in Higher Biology with membership in the RCGP are stunned into silence. It’s one of the bravest things that the EdFringe has seen since Rudolf Bing stepped off the train at Waverly in ‘47.

52 weeks in the year minus 3 weeks for the Fringe equals Edinburgh49. Our little site exists to promote the year-round arts scene in Scotland’s capital with informed, and informative insight. Our ratings system seeks to balance the informative, objective, and subjective. Up to five stars for technical performance, with the option for the reviewer to add a “nae bad” or “outstanding” badge. It’s worked well up till now, but Mr Morgan and Mr West have tested our instruments to their limits with a show that delivers to the George Square Theatre what Dubai levels of luxury deliver to the hotel sector.

If John Reith, the Scottish broadcasting executive who established the tradition of independent public service broadcasting, were on hand and not simply dust in the Rothiemurchus wind, I would ask him to present Mr Morgan and Mr West with Edinburgh49’s first (and possibly only) ever seven-star outstanding review.

outstanding

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Reviewer: Dan Lentell (Seen 14 October)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Ensemble 1880, Wagner and Brahms, Institut francais d’Ecosse, 13 August 2019

Image result for ensemble 1880

“By the end of the evening the smiles were huge, the applause loud, and happiness was in the air. “

Editorial Rating:3 Stars

There are many myths and half truths circulating around composers with interesting if not scandalous private lives, and Wagner, along with Liszt, is probably at the top of the list.  An uncompromising man of great passion, he was by no means a modern day commitment phobe and the work we heard tonight, along with its backstory, gives ample proof of this. It is, in fact, a consummation.

Cosima, Wagner’s first wife and twenty four years his junior, was the illegitimate daughter of Franz Liszt, herself born of passion.  Married to Hans Von Bulow, a student of Liszt and a celebrated conductor, far too young at 18 and bearing him two children, feeling increasing coldness from her husband, she fell first for Wagner’s music, and then him, having met when the Von Bulows stayed with Wagner for the weekend.  There followed a long term affair siring three children out of wedlock before Von Bulow relented and the couple married.

At the time of writing Siegfried Idyll in what has to be the ultimate birthday present, the musicians settled on the stair that led up to his wife’s bedroom inside their Swiss villa on the birthday morn so they could perform a symphonic poem that Wagner had written as a celebration of her birthday as well as to mark the joyous occasion of the birth of their son Siegfried the year before.  Cosima awoke to the sound of music wafting into her bedroom and at first she thought she was dreaming. Beats being woken up by the radio alarm, doesn’t it?

Why I had always thought this story improbable is that most people hear the work played by a full orchestra of a hundred or so players,or at least a full string orchestra.  How could they all fit on the stairs? Much revised, the version was originally written for an ensemble of fifteen as we heard it tonight (albeit 13 desks, close enough), so the story begins to ring true.  For proof, read Cosima’s diaries.

I tried to get all this into my head when listening to our band this evening, Ensemble 1880.  On paper a supergroup with several principals and past principals of the Scottish Chamber Orchestra, this particular band has an esoteric approach to the music, neither contemporary nor original instruments, but trying to approximate the sound at the time of early recorded music.  One really has to question this approach; while period instruments and arrangements have their place, who is interested in early recordings with all its sonic limitations, especially in this day of remastering? Moreover, Siegried Idyll was first performed in 1870 and Brahms Serenade No 1 in 1858.  Director Alec Frank-Gemmill explained this approach while showing us his 1920 horn.  The first shellac disc came out in 1895. Is this not all a faux concept?

The reversal of playing order should have been a signal.  Everybody had come to hear the Wagner, hence it was originally put on last.  We were told we were to hear it first. It was thoroughly disappointing and under rehearsed.  Individual playing was competent, but there was no feeling of ensemble, a complete absence of legato with wind and brass in particular failing to gel.  The two horns struggled to hit the note first time, oboe jerky, and the patient trumpet who had to sit there for the first fifteen minutes was too loud when he did make his entrance.  Too much of the heavy lifting of the theme was taken by the first violin, using inappropriate glissando. Only in the closing two minutes of the piece did we get an idea of what this group was capable of.  With the end in sight they relaxed and played in a smooth, together style which one had wished we had experienced from the start.

Had there been an interval I would have left, but I was glad I didn’t.  Now a nonet to reflect the original scoring of the work, the ensemble gave a superb, confident nay exemplary performance of the Brahms Serenade No 1 with some frankly virtuoso playing in particular by Alec Frank-Gemmill on horn and Georgia Browne mastering the tricky wooden flute.  The strings played together like they did every day. Forty minutes of joy.

Such is the nature of live music, a fickle creature.  Something wasn’t working even in rehearsal in the Wagner, I suspect, hence the playing order swap and the look of restrained relief on the players’ faces when it was over and somewhat brief muted applause from the audience.  By the end of the evening the smiles were huge, the applause loud, and happiness was in the air.

 

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Reviewer: †Charles Stokes (Seen 13 August)

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“Ogg ‘n’ Ugg ‘n’ Dogg” (Gilded Balloon Teviot – Dining Room 12:30, AUG 13, 15-20, 22-26 : 12:30 : 60mins)

“Tooth and Claw are (almost) as real and as cute as the terrier asleep on the hearthrug. Their puppies would melt the heart of an ice giant on top of a glacier, in deepest Narnia in the coldest days of the late, unlamented Queen Jadis.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

If I could meet anyone from history, absolutely anyone, I should like to encounter with the individual who invented the shelf. Two brackets, one surface. Someone had to come up with that. Who were they? What where did they live? What did they plan to put on their novelty? Family Fringe favourites, Fideri Fidera, have a better answer. If they could meet anyone in history it would be the people who invented the dog. Those crafty hunter gatherers who, back in the day, when all the world was a garden, turned the ferocious wolf from a predator into a companion.

Ogg ‘n’ Ugg are out and about doing what they do best, getting tea ready. Watching the two legs are Tooth and Nail, two wolves wondering why omnivorous humans have to also eat meat which is the carnivorous wolfies’ only source of food. At the campfire that night the two sides of the equation begin to figure out a solution to the puzzle.

Fideri Fidera are not Fringe favourites for nothing. Every aspect of the production is marvellous. From the acting, which is pitched perfectly to the wide-eyed wee ones; to the puppets and puppetry, which are in turn beautifully constructed and wondrously brought to life; via the story itself which is full of heart and smiles.

The set is complicatedly simple. Two moveable and reversible panels dressed with leaves and undergrowth, vines and creepers. The lighting is liquid, washing all with a richness that transports us from the nondescript setting of the Teviot Dining Room in Fringe time.* But it’s the puppets that steal the show. Tooth and Claw are (almost) as real and as cute as the terrier asleep on the hearthrug. Their puppies would melt the heart of an ice giant on top of a glacier, in deepest Narnia in the coldest days of the late, unlamented Queen Jadis.

*49 weeks of the year the modestly grand dining room is considerably more interesting than the SRC meetings I used to attend in it.

Daughter 1.0’s first ever theatre production was Fideri Fidera’s Oskar’s Amazing Adventure. Now aged 4 Oskar continues to loom large in her imagination. It’s not yet clear whether the slightly fuzzier, more meandering, narrative at the heart of Ogg ‘n’ Ugg ‘n’ Dogg will stick as well. There is no doubting however that the show captured her in the moment. As the first crucial steps are taken on her (hopefully) lifelong journey through the arts I can think of no one I trust more than Fideri Fidera to keep her engaged, entertained, and excited.

outstanding

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Reviewer: Dan Lentell (Seen 12 August)

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