Barber Shop Chronicles (The Lyceum, 23 Oct -9 Nov: 19:30 : 1hr 4)

“Unbridled and Exuberant”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

When you enter into the Lyceum, white is the colour that pops into your head. Not a black veil in front of the eyes; not velvet, countless red. 

No. White.

When you grab a sit on the bottom row and see a rather elegant field of white hair, white skin, middle class spectators facing a stage where a bunch of black actors are dancing unbridled and exuberant, owning the whole place at the sound of Afro B… it’s just priceless. For once, you don’t feel in a museum but within a game of contrasts that actually mingle.Visual art at its best. 

This storytelling masterpiece is a living example of how an actor actually enjoying the momentum can warm up the audience, let it breath and even feel grateful.

Inua Ellams’ play talks about the affairs of working-class (surprise!) black men through an intimate, tender study of masculinity’s emotional and political anatomy. Stories set in barber shops across Africa, interlinked as threads (wires in the scenography help to create this imagery) pass through the eye of a needle that spins like a hanging globe  – London.

Industrial set design, expressionist lightning and alienating effects remind us of a Brechtian play. Sheibani’s canny direction is not far from that. Articulate expressiveness highlights what Odin Teatret would call the presence of the actor and lives in different kinds of anthropological scenic art – eyes, mouth, hands and feet proficiency-. The homogeneous and impressive cast work is shaped by Aline David (the female presence in the script came to light at the after-show talk, but what about the production?). 

Along with the movement, the glowing pulse of the vocal work- phatic expressions, highly marked cadences as if the sentences were sung, voice projection- makes this a great example of what storytelling is. Needless to say, the art of storytelling is to keep the audience interested, and this production managed to keep the energy well-balanced from beginning to end – though sometimes it flirts with devolving into a stream of political or cultural references. Still, that’s what we ultimately want as an audience, to make the brain dance with the play since we cannot -unfortunately- dance on the seats.  Because If I can’t dance to it, it’s not my revolution

outstanding

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Reviewer: Helena Salguiero (Seen 8 November)

The Panopticon (The Traverse: Oct 11 – 19 : 19:30: 2hrs 45 mins)

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Photography by Mihaela Bodlovic

” A masterfully produced piece of white hot tragedy”

Editorial Rating:  4 Stars: Outstanding

Shows are a lot like types of friendship. Some primarily uplift you; they wrap you up in a distancing blanket from what’s actually out there, or distract you from what can’t be escapes. Others are more of an intellectual affair, where the value comes from what you can glean. A working partnership, maybe, as much as acquaintanceship. Some are good, some are fine, and some you cannot wait to forget.

The Panopticon is a singular type of play: it’s like having a witty, irreverent friend who also spontaneously beats the shit out of you. It’s cool, you agreed to it, and honestly there’s a lot of heart and soul in the neverending chest-stamping and throat-chopping, but nonetheless beaten ye shall be. The Panopticon is a masterfully produced piece of white hot tragedy, an important artwork – but if the content warnings plastered around the Traverse Lobby don’t tip you off, it’s not welcome territory for a frail disposition.

The premise of the story is easy to ramp into: a young girl named Anais is put into a home built in the shell of a disused panopticon: a prison wherein all prisoners may be seen from a central tower, and never know if they’re being watched. It becomes a damned succinct example of ‘setting-as-overall-metaphor’, and sets up a rollercoaster ride of extreme highs and disorientating lows centred around the lives of the troubled and shunned, and the tragedy of a loveless childhood.

The star of the show, both literally and performatively, is Anna Russell-Martin as Anais: an acerbic, highly troubled young woman for whom the lines between reality and psychosis are not so much blurred as violently shaken together. Russel-Martin offers a masterclass performance in the title role: running the gamut from charming and rambunctious to devastated to utterly destroyed, whilst still maintaining rock-solid continuity of character. Anyone who’s been to a few theatre productions has likely seen grief, rage and joy played out – when watching Russel-Martin, it’s like seeing them for the first time.

Beyond the easy classification of “who is the main character”, the ensemble cast is both a blessing and a curse: a group of performers so uniformly talented that it makes picking a starting point incredibly difficult. Do you start with Laura Lovemore, whose attention to consistent physicality not only makes every one of her characters distinct, but wholly individual? Kay McAllister, who portrays beauty of spirit and acidic tragedy like an angel in a crack den? The wonderfully afflicted bravado and uncertainty of Louise McMenemy’s Shortie, the edge-of-unsettling vibrancy and humanity of Lawrence-Hodgson Mulling’s John, the kaleidoscope-esque multiplicity of Martin Donaghy. There’s simply too much good to unpick here without it turning into a bullet-pointed gush list, but suffice to say, they’re an ensemble cast dream team. Wholly professional, wholly consistent and an absolute joy to watch.

I would be remiss, however, not to highlight my two favourite performers: Gail Watson and Paul Tinto. Tinto, rugged yet approachable, almost singlehandedly carries the light of optimism for the majority of the show with a charisma and earthy crunch that turns what could easily have been a trying, one-note archetype into what may be one of the show’s more understatedly complex roles. And Gail Watson. Gail Watson! Chameleons would weep and don monochrome jackets out of shame. No matter the demands of the myriad parts she plays, each is done with nuance. Personality. Although Eddie Murphy’s Norbit may have traumatised me away from films where one actor plays every part, if Gail Watson were headlining? I might be persuaded to invest in the necessary therapy to enjoy it.

These players would be delight enough on their own, but when cast into sets as well designed and dramatic as those created by the incredibly talented stage team, it only serves to elevate. Not only are they clever to the point of enviousness, they are (much like everything from the lighting to the sound ops) integrated to the point of seamlessness. It’s very much like watching a morbid dollhouse play itself to pieces: a rare treat to watch though perhaps, given the subject matters, not a constant delight. The team behind The Panopticon commit entirely to the concept of theatre as illusion-making, and the results are wonderfully encapsulating.

Of course, perfection is theoretical, and this production proves that fact. Though the viscerality of the acting cannot be denied, the fight choreography felt too floaty and impactless for most of the violent scenes to carry home the needed drama. And although the digitally projected visuals were inspired, oftentimes they felt more like a palate-cleanser to cut the drama rather than an off-angle surprise to elevate it. This is less of an issue with, say, the visualization of the mental sensation of an orgasm, but is fairly noticeable on the subject of psychotic dreams.

It feels prescient to state here that, if you haven’t already guessed, this isn’t a show that flinches when it comes to deeply upsetting events. The plot features things that would certainly warrant thorough show research and consideration for anyone with prior trauma, and even if you don’t, make sure not to go on a bad day. It’s a white hot furnace of dismay, but it forges something deeply important and meticulously well performed.

It might be the darkest show I’ve reviewed for Edinburgh49 yet, but it’s a shining star on the theatrical horizon.

outstanding

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Reviewer: Jacob Close (Seen 11 October)

Slime (Pleasance @ Central Library: Aug 21 – 25 : 11:15: 1hr)

“A real heart-warming delight.”

Editorial Rating:  5 Stars: Outstanding

Over the years I’ve been to most of the Fringe venues and have watched the major players spin off into new areas. The Pleasance now covers its traditional St Leonard’s location as well as the EICC and, so it seems, Edinburgh Central Library. Who knew?

So the youngest (two and a half) and I trooped off to the wonderfully named ‘Slime’ with little real clue of what to expect. We went because it was on and we were looking for something to do. What a treat we found!

The premise is simple but elegant. The children (and grown ups!) are welcomed into the garden to sit on stones in a foam garden to get a bug’s eye view of the action. The play revolves around two creepy crawlies: a slug and a caterpillar. Over the course of forty minutes or so these tiny beasties enjoy some fairly big adventures.

It starts with a nervous slug coming on stage, pleased to see a slime trail. She stumbles upon some slug pellets which hurt her. She fixes upon a leaf that is too far for her to reach. She needs help.

Then the caterpillar appears. Where slug is nervous, he is bold – in and amongst the audiences and, at points, taking selfies on his iPad. He dislikes slime. Dislikes slugs. But does want the leaf.

There’s lots of fun but little of the outright silliness that makes up many kids shows. When the caterpillar is sad, the slug tries to cheer him up with a sweet wrapper. At another point the caterpillar is mean to the slug. There is a kind-off dance off: why wouldn’t there be?

It an old story in many ways: an odd couple have some ups and downs but in the end just about become friends. Joy, tears, arguments. It is something everyone knows from the toddler in the audience to the grandparent sitting next to them.

Slug understands a little quicker than caterpillar that working together they might get their leaf to share – one to turn into a butterfly, one for grub. Caterpillar has other ideas. Will they get there in the end? There’s heartbreak too when slug realises she can’t turn into a butterfly.

It sounds simple. But it is magically put together. The children are utterly spellbound. A wonderful score supports very little dialogue (I think a grand total of 12 words which are also signed). The actors convey a huge range of emotions through facial expressions and body language. A real, heart-warming delight. They are a talented duo. The audience was utterly charmed. If there is a 2-5 year old in your life: go with them whilst you still can. If you don’t have one, offer to take a friend’s!

This is one of the very best kids shows at Fringe – the hour felt positively scant by curtain call. We both loved it. It is reasonably priced (unlike most children’s shows…) and you get to meet the stars at the end. More than that: the children got to play with slime for the last fifteen minutes – and which child doesn’t want to do that?

outstanding

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Reviewer:  Rob Marrs  (Seen 19 August)

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It’s True It’s True It’s True (Underbelly Bristo Square: Aug 16-25: 13:00: 1 hr)

“A deliriously engaging hour that combines essential social commentary, historical document, and top-notch courtroom drama.”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

The Edinburgh Fringe offers many delightful kinds of attractions one could find in few other places; food, drink, venues, performances, people, et cetera. Perhaps the most exciting of them all, as I was reminded while watching Breach Theatre’s It’s True, It’s True, It’s True, is ideas. This production, while also filled with outstanding craft from top to bottom, breathes life into one of the most singularly creative ideas this festival has to offer.

Directed by Billy Barrett, and ‘written’ by Barrett and Ellice Stevens, this show demands to be taken as an essential piece of theatre. I say ‘written,’ because the script is translated verbatim from the real-life transcripts of a 1612 trial in Rome. The trial in question concerned whether pompous socialite Agostino Tassi had raped budding painter Artemisia Gentileschi (who went on to garner wide praise, success, and notoriety later in her life), and here lies the first inspired idea within Barrett and Stevens’ project. The transcript, translated from Latin and Italian, is an utterly fascinating document, considering what it implies about the sensibilities of the time surrounding status, sexuality, truth, lies, legacy, misogyny, and more. Of course, without needing to labor the point at all, Breach Theatre’s piece makes it quite clear that the conversations spoken back then about consent, assault, and accusations of unacceptable male behavior are hauntingly similar to ones the modern world has faced with increasing frequency over the last few years. One may find it at times difficult to believe the verbatim transcripts could include parallels so blatant as the moments where Tassi, arrogant and dismissive of the proceedings through and through, directly echoes the word of infamously accused men: “she’s not my type,” “she was asking for it,” “she’s a wh*re anyway,” and so on.

To bring these disarming moments to life, Barrett has assembled a blisteringly talented trio of actors, all of whom multi-role as various judges and testifiers, and all of whom are remarkably capable of stealing a scene. Sophie Steer, as Artemisia herself, is captivating from start to finish; her Artemisia is withdrawn at times, aggressive in others, defensive when she needs to be and just the right amount of multifaceted. Kathryn Bond, who plays numerous roles but most notably the Gentileschi house’s maid Tuzia, has an electric way of performing, so that she achieves exciting, lightning-fast delivery while also mining both pathos and hilarity in the process. But it is Harriet Webb, playing Tassi with a frighteningly familiar swagger, who edges out the top spot among the three. The smarm, threat, and cunning Webb pours into her depiction of Tassi make for an uncomfortably amusing concoction; some ought to beware, however, the searing condemnation of a certain ‘yah’ accent that gets thoroughly skewered as a sonic ‘red flag.’ Overall, though Webb’s performance captivated me the most, all three performers deserve immense credit for giving this piece an electric energy and impressive momentum.

Certain choices sporadically let this momentum down, however. The show is intermittently interrupted by musical transitions, which move the story along through the seven-month trial. The first thing one might notice is that a few of these simply take so long that the pace drops noticeably; a confounding design considering the actors are clearly in place and ready to leap back into the fray, but stay still waiting for the roaring punk interludes to wrap up. The spirit of the musical choices is very understandable — Breach clearly means to imbue the show with the snarling ferocity of the mostly female punk bands they sample. However, these songs drag the viewer out of the 1612 setting perhaps a little too far, especially considering they often come after relatively tame developments in the story. Hearing Tuzia describe Artemisia’s painting habits does not quite build up the energy to warrant a face-melting scream directly afterwards, and the effect is considerably less compelling than the many brilliant elements working so well elsewhere onstage.

The other place that could use some rethinking is the ending; after the mortifying interrogation of Artemisia is finished, the play changes tack into some surreal territory which does not quite hold together with the story that proceeds it or indeed to the disjointed gig-theatre-esque grand finale. This finale, though rousing, seems rather forced, with neither the songs sung nor the visuals introduced feeling relevant to the play’s eminently laudable initial concept. 

And to reiterate, the concept is unquestionably laudable. It’s True, It’s True, It’s True is a deliriously engaging hour that combines essential social commentary, a fascinating historical document, and the nail-biting tension of a top-notch courtroom drama. I was reminded repeatedly of Henri-Georges Clouzot’s 1960 film La vérité, a similarly fascinating dramatization of a similar trial, albeit with a multifaceted woman (played by Brigitte Bardot) on trial instead. Both have deeply nuanced and intelligent means of uncovering bitter truths about the way women are treated both by men and by the legal system, plus some tremendous female performances. La vérité shocks one today because its depiction of society feels unsettlingly relevant considering it was made 60 years ago; the effect of It’s True, It’s True, It’s True, then, considering its dialogue was initially spoken over 400 years ago, is downright infuriating. Credit to Breach Theatre for delivering such a play, for a second round at Fringe, with all the maddening ferocity this subject provokes, and then some. 

outstanding

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Reviewer: Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

 

“Modern Maori Quartet: Two Worlds” (Assembly George Square Studios, until AUG 26 : 15:50 : 60mins)

“Absolutely everyone is saying you should go see it and that’s because everyone should absolutely go see it.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

There was a time when people actually read the newspapers. No, no, it’s true. Every day they took a few coins out of their pocket which were exchanged for the latest headlines, insight, and opinion. It wasn’t a perfect system, fake news and churnalism are nothing new, but it ticked along merrily enough. Then globalism happened. Then digitisation happened. And it turned out that those who own and operate newspapers have about as much collected wisdom as the Creator bestowed on a stick of celery. Hōhonu kaki, pāpaku nana.

Back in the day, the longest-running year-round show in Edinburgh was the collapse of the North British Newspaper. The coming of a new Scottish Parliament and Government, the continuing health of Scotland’s professional and service sectors, the growing significance as well as size of the capital’s festival season, meant there was more raw news than ever. The masses came online and there were even more ways to consume and digest news content than ever.

And yet, somehow, as the cricket ball of destiny gently arced towards the green, the outstretched hands of the fielding news industry were allowed to slip into pockets of mediocrity. The ball struck head-on even as the note of nonchalant condescension whistling from the Scottish media’s main mouthpiece reached its shrillest. With shoulders still shrugged, the impact stunned, concussed, and obliterated the North British Newspaper’s faculties, reducing the once proud and active player to a drooling spectator convalescing cantankerously in the pavilion.

Still, every year, all but dead, and definitely decaying, the North British Newspaper is solemnly wheeled into the commentary box to provide its two penny’s worth of insight into EdFringe. Older producers (though rarely any actual punters) convince themselves that unlike everyone else on Earth, the denizens of Edinburgh actually give a tinker’s fart what their crippled local newspaper has to say about anything. EdFringe was (and is) no less of a local or an analogue experience than reading the North British Newspaper on the train into Waverley. And yet EdFringe has not only survived but thrived in the new cultural landscape.

For an insight into why, one need look no further than ‘Modern Maori Quartet: Two Worlds’ – this season’s must-see toast of the town. Absolutely everyone is saying you should go see it and that’s because everyone should absolutely go see it. Firstly, because the show is beautifully presented. Four great looking guys in matching suits which, even at this late stage, are so sharp and well pressed you might cut your finger on them. Koro, Big Bro, Uncle, and Bub take to the stage for an hour of storytelling at its finest.

In less ambitious or dexterous hands the show’s premise might have come out a smidge goofy. But the quiet charm, relaxed confidence, and unashamed boldness of four matching, but totally different performances leave no room for doubting the effectiveness of the narrative architecture. We are given a privileged insight into the soul of a distant nation coming to terms with the passing of the old and the rise of the new. The stories are centre on unrequited love, unending grief, unsettling self-denial and, finally, most poignantly of all, the unravelling of hope. 

The music is soulful. The dance routines are measured and graceful (I’ve got my promised haka). This is the closest I may get to seeing the badinage, banter, and rehearsed spontaneity of the Rat Pack on stage in my lifetime. Culturally nourishing, intellectually stimulating, and physically elating – how tragic for all humanity that this show is not a snack food product.

What this show is, is a testament to what soul searching can do for a person and for a people. No answers have been provided when the house lights come back up, but the underlying questions of life, the universe, and everything have been defined and refined – which isn’t bad considering it’s pretty much just four blokes singing songs for an hour.

Britain right now is in the midst of a seemingly endless period of schism and interregnal discord. The toxic vapours of the public’s angry nostalgia and self-pitying hubris are left to fester by the breakdown of the traditional cultural cloud lifters such as the North British Newspaper. How fortunate it is then that the global presence of EdFringe can deliver a reaffirming shot of cultural adrenaline, sourced from far away nation tormented by the past, troubled in the present, and uncertain of the future. It’s a damn pity that, with the archbishop incapacitated and irrelevant, there is no one around to crown Modern Maori Quartet: Two Worlds kings of the Fringe ‘19 and joyfully exclaim, “Tēnā koe Kïngi o te Kīngitanga.”

outstanding

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Reviewer: Dan Lentell (Seen 17 August)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Foil, Arms and Hog – Swines (Underbelly, Bristo Square: Aug 18-25 : 21:00: 1hr)

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“A tremendously talented bunch who made hard comedy look easy.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

I don’t think I’d ever been to see a Fringe show solo. I usually meet up with pals or drag my children. However, on Saturday, I thought I’d see what solo flying was like and trotted along to the McEwen Hall to see Foil, Arms and Hog.

My only experience of them had been via their cult YouTube clips being beamed into my social media feed from time to time – their ‘’Englishman plays Risk’’ and ‘’Brexit: Divorce’’ being the obvious examples. Beyond that I didn’t know too much about them: there were three of them. I didn’t understand the name. They were Irish. They went to University College Dublin. That was it. My lack of knowledge says more about me than them.

I suppose the old grey matter should have started zinging when I read the words ‘McEwen Hall’. This is one of the biggest venues at the Fringe. It was sold out. There must have been the best part of 1,000 people in the audience. Clearly these guys have a serious following and serious game.

Whilst many of you will have come across them via YouTube, they are a different proposition live and – in my view – a better proposition live. Go!

The first ten minutes were gloriously anarchic as the trio romped around the audience getting people involved in various ways: looking in people’s shopping bags, trying on coats, inspecting tickets etc.

It all looked very easy. As with everything, it clearly comes from months and years of practice. You only get that rapport with each other, the quickness of mind, the badinage, the ability to change things up and riff off each other through knowing each other inside out.

In crowd work, it is cheap and easy to mock the audience. Too many comedians do that. Some turn it into their entire act (and some reviewers lap it up. It is like giving the school bully an A grade). Foil, Arms and Hog have fun with their audience but try to make them co-stars of the show rather than the butt of a joke: that involves kindness, confidence and talent. Carmen and Rory – the two audience members who became stars – had a bit of gentle leg pulling but it was all done in the best of humours.

They then break into a series of sketches and songs all of which were clever, witty and laugh out loud funny.  Whilst I’ve bemoaned elsewhere the dreary politics of most comics at the Fringe their Brexit Song ‘’It’s hard to break free from a union’’ was both extremely funny and technically accomplished. If you are going to joke about politics at least try to do something different and witty: these guys certainly did. Their ‘’Guidelines’’ sketch had me in stitches. There was innuendo there but no smut. Again, that takes cleverness and a deft hand.

Each sketch worked well and covered a range of talents – musicianship, clever lyrics, extensive mime and more besides. The sketches ranged across many spheres: a gloriously hammy actor given a secret mission; Ludwig van Beethoven entering a talent show; a recurring stag do sketch; and a brilliant, almost indescribable mime show. My personal highlight was the sheer joy the three actors had particularly when they tried to corpse each other. I enjoyed them spinning off script and teasing each other throughout.

I liked all three of them enormously and did so even more when they bumped into the crowd on the way to the bar and shook everyone’s hand thanking them for coming along. They seemed to enjoy it as much as the fans. They are a tremendously talented bunch who made hard comedy look easy. This was the sort of humour that your teenage nephew would enjoy but also your mother-in-law. That, again, is quite something.

Whenever anyone views a sketch show they naturally begin to compare to the great sketch shows of the past and that terrifying word ‘’Python’’ begins to linger in one’s mind. Many shows are called Python-esque when they are really nothing of the sort. Foil, Arms and Hog are pythonesque in their inventiveness, their cleverness, their interplay and their use of so many different comic tools. I could have watched another hour. A must see.

outstanding

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Reviewer: Rob Marrs (Seen 17 August)

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Don’t Mess with the Dummies (Underbelly Bristo Square: Aug 20-25 : 11:20 : 1hr)

“Done with skill, imagination and a real understanding of what kids love.”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

Having started out Fringe adventures with the Splash Test Dummies we thought we’d visit the other act from the Dummies Corp ‘’Don’t Mess with the Dummies’. My daughter had been asking to see the ‘’girl dummies’’ since we had left the first show so it was time… largely to keep the last vestiges of my parental sanity intact.

The show starts out with three young explorers in a jungle. Over the course of an hour they try to read a map, pitch a tent, get into sleeping bags and eat a banana. That makes it sound routine it is anything but.

It was impossible not to warm to them. Their interplay and comic timing were spot on. The characterisations were very good and in large parts extremely funny. There was essentially no dialogue – a few words here and there – and they mostly communicated in funny noises. That is no mean feat over an hour and it all made sense.

Dummies Corp productions are an assault to the senses which bring together clowning, acrobatics, slapstick and much more besides: skipping ropes, puppetry, hula hoops, silly string, juggling and log-rolling. My eldest had one of the Dummies come up to her and throw popcorn in her mouth (don’t ask) whilst both of them were up and dancing in the aisles at various points.

It really is wonderful watching these shows with children – at one point, the Dummies perform the old gag of one person hiding behind a screen to make it look like another person has an extremely long arm. Both my kids were asking how they did it, how the lady had such a long arm. Others around us were prodding their parents and asking the same question. I think the world is probably a better place believing in that sort of stuff.

My personal highlight was the ‘Lion Sleeps tonight’ sketch with the sleeping bags. It was both inspired and hysterical. Slightly jaded and underslept 37-year-olds probably aren’t the target market for the gag but it really was very funny. I loved how they were in amongst the crowd a lot trying to involve the children. I loved the references throughout: nowhere else in the Fringe will acts perform to Mozart and to 2Unlimited.

One thing I particularly liked was that it was three women doing it. All too often these sorts of shows are all-male or majority male. It was great for everyone in the audience to see three hilarious women doing it. My eldest daughter – who adored the Splash Test Dummies – said she preferred this show because it was girls doing the funny stuff. That’s not a small thing. Indeed, all things considered, it is a pretty big one. My youngest – who is probably at the very bottom end of sitting through an hour – loved it.

It is impossible to watch Dummy Corp acts without a smile on your face. It is just good ol’ fashioned family fun but done with skill, imagination and a real understanding of what kids love. More please.

outstanding

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Reviewer: Rob Marrs (Seen 17 August)

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