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

StarStarStar

Reviewer: Jacob Close (Seen 13 August)

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FCUK’D (Gilded Balloon: 1-27 Aug: 12:30: 60 mins)

“Hints of truly brilliant wordplay”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

There’s been a pleasing rise in popularity in spoken word and verse performances over the last couple of years, opening theatre up not just to new audiences, but also new artists who might previously have thought the medium too inaccessible for them. And what makes the Fringe so special is being able to experience stories of those that don’t normally get a stage. FUCK’D is one such verse piece, where a young man from an estate in Hull, who dropped out of school early, longs simply to stop his little brother being taken away from his broken home by the authorities.

Following their mother’s breakdown having being left by their father, the two boys must fend for themselves, and when the clipboarded do-gooders finally arrive in their shiny cars, the elder brother makes the split-second decision for them to both jump out the window and run for it. With no plan and less money, the journey they make is one of desperation, reflective of the plight of many such teenagers around the country today.

Niall Ransome’s script cleverly interweaves narrative drive with descriptive passages to tease out the background and develop the world the characters grew up in. A romanticised view of their home estate and its personalities nestles next to the tense escape scene, while reminiscences of rainy picnics are juxtaposed with hiding under a bridge, to add poignancy and personality. It’s artistic and moving with hints of truly brilliant wordplay.

George Edwards is the performer tasked with delivering this urgent tale, and he commands the stage with power and honesty. It’s a tough task to sustain the rhyme and mood for almost an hour, but this is a commendable effort, supported by a simple yet effective soundscape.

While the narrative and performance quality lacks some of the artistry and finesse of works by similar artists such as Luke Wright, this is a solid and capable outing that is almost aching with potential. It would be great to see a bit more pumping pace and extremes in mood to create more intensity – and while Edwards does very well to carry the performance, more dynamic changes and depth would really make this show zing.

A sterling effort, that with a bit more polish could become something very special.

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 2 August)

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The Lover (Lyceum: 20 Jan-3 Feb ’18)

“Glimpses of brilliance”

Editorial Rating: 2 Stars

Margerite Duras’s sensational autobiographical novel about an affair between a 15-year-old girl from a poor family and a Chinese millionaire almost twice her age is certainly potent stuff for stage adaptation, and presenting this spoken word/dance interpretation on the backdrop of #MeToo and #ItsTime is a brave choice for co-collaborators The Royal Lyceum Theatre Edinburgh, Stellar Quines and Scottish Dance Theatre, which will be sure to attract interest. Unfortunately, given the finished product, it probably won’t be the level of interest hoped for.

The performance is narrated throughout by The Woman (Susan Vidler), who looks back on how her affair began, developed and ended. Jemima Levick’s and Fleur Darkin’s adaptation is somewhat lazy in its construction, with too many unnecessary accounts of (mimed!) dialogue and a plodding monotony which Vidler’s voice does little to enliven, leaving the other performers often stranded in the middle. Indeed, the confluence between text and movement seems at odds throughout, feeling not unlike a playground grapple for territory.

 

Darkin’s choreography at times gives glimpses of brilliance – from the awkward intimacy between the lovers to the playful fights between Paulo and Pierre – and the production’s moments of stillness (particularly towards the end) and subtle gestures often convey far more than the tedious narration. Yet, in saying that, the choreography also too often lapses into writhing around on the floor and clumsy movement of furniture which instantly breaks any of the mysticism and poetry previously built. It’s a genuine shame not to see lengthier dance sequences to tell the story at the sacrifice of some of the narration, while simplifying and minimising some of the on-stage antics would also ease comprehension.

In The Lover’s defence, Emma Jones’s lighting design and Torben Lars Sylvest’s soundtrack do pleasingly act as mediators throughout, dragging the other disparate elements into a clear time, place and mood. Yet the overriding impression this performance leaves – much like the subject matter of the show itself – is one of misfit: an attempt to bring together two different hearts for glorious joy, yet which ends up flat and, somehow, unfinished. What could have been.

In my book, this is a production that should have worked – it has enough of the right cards (including three great collaborating companies and a fantastic base text) to play a good hand – yet it dithers and dallies its way into such a mediocre result that my only constructive criticism would be to start again from scratch. A commendable concept, poorly executed.

 

Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 23 January)

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Lyceum Variety Nights (Lyceum, 6 Nov. ’16)

“Left me genuinely begging for more”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

One of the first things they teach you about writing reviews is not to gush: to keep your mass of uncontrolled instant reactions behind a dam and only let through those considered, pertinent and articulate comments that are most valuable to the reader. The Lyceum’s first variety night, however, attacked my stiff upper lip of a dam with such force as to make gushing almost inevitable, with an evening of real high quality and passionately delivered entertainment.

It feels very wrong to pass a simple two sentence judgement on each of the seven acts who graced the stage simply for the sake of wordcount – suffice to say every single one dazzled, entertained and left me, genuinely, begging for more. Author Christopher Brookmyre’s reading of a tale about a group of teenagers on an outing to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream transported us to that very place, creating wondrous magical moments; Luke Wright’s poetry had many audience members cheering before he’d even finished performing, with the gutsy IDS, a poem about Iain Duncan Smith, constructed using only words contain the vowel sound “i” being a real triumph of wordplay and wit. Jenna Watt’s excerpt from solo show Faslane beamed with all the relevance, energy and honesty of her five-star Fringe run earlier this year, and Glasgow band A New International brought the house down with some of their greatest theatrical gypsy folk pop songs, which was an uplifting and triumphant finale.

The acts themselves were all excellent – professional, well-prepared, and comfortable in the kind of setting where the audience is a bit more vocal than they might normally be. But the evening was hosted and compered by Sian Bevan and Jenny Lindsay who brought a wonderful human and sensitive likeability to their role. At times their witterings seemed a little underprepared, and it would have been nice to see them perform some of their own material, but it was easy to feel comfortable and inspired in their presence.

While pitched right in my personal sweet spot, it’s worth saying that at times the content was a little unashamedly left-leaning, and it’s a shame that there was quite a bit of similarity between some of the acts (for a real variety night I would have loved to have seen some more diverse art forms in there as well (for example: dance, art, circus, puppetry, maybe even a short film) but the relatively low-tech, one-night nature of the beast may well bring such limitations. One can only hope the format proves popular enough to make this event a more regular and extended feature within the Lyceum’s calendar.

Based on round one, I would urge anyone with any sort of passing interest in the arts to get themselves along to the next event on 26th February. I’ll be first in line.

outstanding

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 6 November)

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+3 Review: The Glummer Twins (Paradise in The Vault: 22-28 Aug. 11.35am 1h.)

“The guys are genuinely funny”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Nae Bad

On a small, well-lit stage, deep in subterranean Edinburgh, The Glummer Twins start their set with Just Turned Sixty and Taking it Badly: a really good bemoaning of being the owner of an ageing body.  Through the medium of beat poetry and music, the Glummer Twins (David Harmer and Ray Globe) take a look back to 60’s childhood, 70’s aftershave and 80’s yuppies.  They ask the important question of whatever happen to the mods?  Autobiography is included, such as after moving from south London, the warm welcome David received from his new Doncaster school chums.

The Twins look forward to the future with the poems  Old Bloke Blues and Fiery Jack: the latter a must-hear for any pharmacist or person taking a large range of medications.  Groans and laughs are generated in equally generous measure as we follow the puntastic adventures of poet-noir detective Percy Shelly – private dick.  The poems comes thick and fast, with fifteen being delivered over the hour.

The theme of the show is ageing and reminiscing because there comes a time in life, theirs in particular, that there is a lot to look back on but not so much to look forward too.  The Glummer Twins state they have been coming to the Fringe for thirty one years and obviously love what they do.  The audience are in the safe hands of veterans.  Both were members of the performance group Circus of Poets, which in the 1980s appeared on nation television and toured Europe.

The style of comedy is, fair to say, gentle.  That does not mean unfunny: far from it.  While Percy Shelly is undoubtedly the comedic highlight, the spirit and black humour of South Yorkshire is also evoked.  Whatever will happen to Derek the Trainspotter?  One also has to ask, in the wake of the recent Brexit vote, whether there is deeper meaning to the poems Mediterranean Homesick Blues and Speak Scandi?

Harmer and Globe are good, solid performers who deliver rhymes and laughter.  Globe handles the musical side with electric guitar, pedal beat boxes and shares vocals, while Harmer’s performance is spoken word and costume change.  The show is squarely aimed at older generations.  They know that their style and material are not going to rock the foundations of comedy but that does not matter.  The guys are genuinely funny.  Watching The Glummer Twins is a fine way to wind up a morning on the Fringe.

P.S. – if one wants to know the origins of the name, Google “The Glummer Twins” and see what comes up.

nae bad_blue

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

Reviewer: Martin Veart  (Seen 26 August)

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+3 Review: Guy Masterson: Love and Canine Integration (Assembly Roxy: until 28th Aug: 17.40: 1hr)

“Masterson is a great gift to the stage”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

When Guy Masterson punched above his weight and married the beautiful Paris-based model Brigitta, he forgot the first rule of life: no person is an island. Brigitta’s personal little slice of Alcatraz comes in the form of her oh-so-cute German Spitz: Nelson. Never in the course of human history has one man fought so hard against one dog for the heart of a beautiful woman.

In this show, Masterston relates the autobiographical story of how first he met his (now) wife Brigitta and her “other man”, Nelson.  Only one of the matches here are made in heaven. Masterson uses the entirety of the small stage to reveal the darkest recesses of this epic battle of wills between man and dog. Plots are hatched. Fantasies are spun. Opportunities taken. It is a sign of character that Nelson is able to rise above these foolish webs laid at his feet by a mere human. Nelson is channelled through his rival, with Masterson performing every snarl, growl and sniff of contempt.  In suitable tones, he explains Nelson’s stratagems: exploring the options that could lead to victory over the new would-be Alpha male.

As an award-winning actor and story teller, Masterson is a great gift to the stage. Extensive experience of one-man shows means that the audience is in the hands of a consummate professional. That is, once the story gets going. I think the preamble, where he explains the genesis of the show, while “enjoying” a cold jacuzzi in a bargain four star spa retreat with his wife, does not work so well. Hearing Masterson relating Brigitta’s question “Why can’t you be more funny?” led me to think, at that time, she may have a point mate. Fortunately once the main course is delivered, it is no dog’s dinner. The story is taut: Masterson’s exasperation palpable as failure is piled upon defeat.

As to the overall effect though, I have to ask the question: is it funny enough?  The material is all there.  The delivery is flawless.  I think the basic issue is that Masterson is an honest man.  This is his first foray into standup and I suspect he has stuck too closely to the truth and, in doing so, has sacrificed some laughs for the sake of integrity.  A more experienced comic may well have hanged truth from the nearest lamppost and had the audience rolling in the aisles.

A certain truth is this: Masterson has a problem. He thinks it is all over but it isn’t. Guy Masterson is suffering from PTPS: post traumatic pet syndrome.

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

Reviewer: Martin Veart (Seen 17th August)

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Melody (Clerk’s Bar, 8 Aug – 29 Aug : 16:45 : 50mins)

https://www.thestage.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/08/Melody-Jemima-Foxtrot.jpg

“Foxtrot embodies the sensations of the everyday”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars Nae Bad

One of my favourite things about poetry is the great dissonance you often get between the initial appearance of the poets, and the sheer power of their voices and minds. Watching Jemima Foxtrot perform is like watching a pistol shoot anti-tank bullets – there’s a very sincere and powerful energy to her work.

Taking the audience on an evocative journey through city streets “Melody” explores the memories they summon as Foxtrot wends her way between heartbreak to joy, with a warmth and oddly dreamy sort of lyricism that fits her imagery’s day-to-day beauty to a tee.

The biggest boon to this performance is how easily Foxtrot embodies the sensations of the everyday, and presents familiar emotions and thoughts in a way that makes them rough yet compelling. It’s not very often that a performer’s vocal skill and physicality mirror each-other so well, but as she bounces from piece to piece, she embodies each new feeling with vigour.

However, Foxtrot’s lack of pretense and startling sincerity in her work also forms a needed cover to the inevitable inertia when solo, unbacked vocal work pauses to become spoken word – but her energetic yet laid back style still suffered slightly in the sometimes jarring empty space. However, this hardly detracted, thanks in turn for the sheer power of her lyrics and honesty of her imagery.

This is definitely a free fringe find. Foxtrot’s presence onstage utterly transforms the familiar atmosphere of the Clerks Bar basement – no mean feat. As the 2015 Fringe starts to roll to a close, make sure you make your way to Jemima Foxtrot – “Melody” definitely impresses.

 

nae bad_blue

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

Reviewer: Jacob Close (Seen 25 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.

 

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 27 August)

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Mansplaining Masculinity (Cabaret Voltaire, 8 – 30 Aug : 12.05pm : 1hr)

“An engaging and thought provoking discussion… honest, revealing and accessible”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

“This isn’t a comedy” Dave tells us, wearing a purple dress and a fedora, without a hint of irony. It is however, an incredibly engaging and thought provoking discussion into the notion of masculinity that’s honest, revealing and accessible. My words, not his.

The show is framed around a survey carried out by Pickering, which asked 1,000 men to share their opinions and experiences about patriarchy and masculinity (anonymously). It also includes a raw account of his own sexuality and identity, and during the performance he attempts to piece the two together.

Although researched to an almost painstaking degree, and written and structured with a lot of love, Pickering doesn’t pretend to have all the answers, or that his show will somehow cure the world of its ills. Instead it’s an exploration of an idea, and insight into a side of the human state that receives little attention. It was passionately and engagingly delivered, and he even gives references for further reading on the topic – a first for me at a Fringe show.

During the performance Pickering certainly doesn’t shy away from the big issues – there’s talk of rape, emotional abuse, bullying and more. But it’s not spouted in a preachy or melodramatic way – it’s a simple recount of some very personal experiences from his own life, mixed with responses from the survey, and weaved together with some very intelligent discussion and line of questioning.

As a discursive show, it was very effective when Pickering referred to results from the survey, but it was almost tantalising that he did so only rarely, as I would have loved to have glimpsed further into the world of what men really think. He did at times refer to other well known (but uncited) general facts which did give the piece some added clout – how men commit more crimes, carry out more successful suicide attempts, and earn more money.

The anecdotal parts of this show, where Pickering shared memories from his traumatic home and school life, and his first sexual experiences were very moving, and made me question my own coming of age and identity within the “patriarchy”. His openness is absolutely commendable, and it really enriches the piece by bringing in personal as well intellectual engagement.

I feel the content of carries great social importance for people of all sexes and ages, and this is a very entertaining and enlightening way to spend an hour. I urge you to see this show.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 22 August)

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Poetry Can F*ck Off (Summerhall, 14 – 22 Aug : 15.30 : 55 mins)

“The idea and thinking behind this piece is great”

Editorial Rating: 2 Stars

Possibly the most ironic title of the Fringe this year, this show is, in essence, a very one-sided performance essay about exactly why poetry shouldn’t “f*ck off”. I use the word “essay” deliberately, as it is scripted very much like one, making statements about the power of poetry, giving quotes from poems in different times and cultures to back these up, and assessing the impact these poets and their readers have made in each instance.

While the idea is commendable and shows a lot of well thought-out research, as a performance it didn’t really work. The piece was delivered incredibly quickly and it was difficult to keep up with all the different examples that they all became lost in one another, while I spent the whole show waiting for a counter-argument to balance out the very liberal and pro-poetry point of view.

However, what I found most irritating about this performance was the very overused technique of repetition to emphasise a specific point. It seemed that almost every thirty seconds one actor would say a line, only to have the others repeat the last few words like some sort of robotic echo, or for three performers to simply repeat the line three times. It got very tired very quickly, while at some points it also got a bit shouty, contradicting the notion of this being an intelligent and mature piece.

With four performers on stage doing the “reading”, an additional musician was used to add rhythm and dynamic to the performance throughout. The playing was impressive, and kept the piece moving with variations in mood according to specific anecdotes. However, the music did little to alleviate the sense of non-stop pounding this show delivered, as there wasn’t enough variation in tempo or dynamic to break the monotony of delivery.

In saying all that, I admit I may have missed the point somewhere along the line, and this piece’s intentional styling may be a metaphor for a bigger message. Overall I think the idea and thinking behind this piece is great, but the form and delivery of it leave a lot to be desired – it seemed so wrapped up in making a statement that it neglected a lot of the basics of good performance.

 

Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 15 August)

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