Louise Reay: Hard Mode (The Stand Four: 3-27 Aug: 17.55: 60mins)

“A unique and insightful project perfect for Fringe audiences”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Nae Bad

This is a very clever show. Through a healthy mixture of character work, pre-recorded videos, impressive knowledge of modern Chinese society, and truly human moments, Louise Reay has crafted a unique and insightful project perfect for Fringe audiences. Some fine tuning of the details and the flow of the show would be useful to make its 60 minutes shine brighter, but overall Hard Mode is a worthy offering.

The show’s title derives from the idea that in modern China, life is lived as if in ‘hard mode.’ Reay takes care to share a genuine taste of what that kind of life means, from tampering intrusively with audience members to stationing masked cronies around the room to watch and possibly punish the viewers at all times. She uses clever techniques like distributing identical napkins for all audience members to wear (to recall authoritarian homogeneity), and leading the room in hive-mind chants in between musings on what having a free society means now and what losing it could mean later. The masked guards do stay unsettlingly in character the whole time, even banishing non-compliant individuals who dare to remove the napkin to the ‘jail,’ which is the corner of the room. Though some of the points on surveillance are presented somewhat simplistically, the dark sense of forced enjoyment is done well. This show, to its credit given its subject matter, is effectively unpleasant.

Reay bases this societal reenactment on her lived experiences in China, thankfully. A few lines and jokes would seem like sweeping (and potentially offensive) generalisations if she hadn’t proven her extensive knowledge of Chinese culture, from the language to the media to the in-jokes. On the comedy end, the highlights of the show are her stagings of a possible future where the Chinese government has bought and hawkishly runs the BBC. Her David Attenborough-centered skits are hilarious, and her all-Chinese rendition of ‘Far-EastEnders’ is impressive for her sheer capability with the language, as a native English speaker.

On the dramatic side, and yes, there is a somewhat unexpected dramatic side, Reay mixes in her own real life in ways that teeter on the edge of too much. Without giving anything away, the sense of ‘hard mode’ in a societal sense is re-purposed in a personal sense, which at times is truly affecting, and at others feels like retreading and backtracking on points that have already been made.

Reay’s use of an actor to portray Chinese artist and social activist Ai Weiwei in a pre-recorded video conversation Reay apparently had with him feels strikingly off-kilter with the rest of the piece, and not only because it is never truly verified that Weiwei actually said any of the statements in the video. The actor’s timing is jarring, the delivery is confusing and flat, and points are muddled and indistinguishable — under what is admittedly fabulously intricate facial hair. For me, these filmed asides are revisited too often, and though most of Reay’s recurring jokes are quite funny and/or poignant (special nod to the unforgettable Loneliest Newsreader in the World), the Weiwei scenes feel poorly executed.

Overall, if you are looking for a bizarre yet poignant hour at the Fringe, and happen to be in the relatively far away lands that house the Stand Four, Louise Reay’s Hard Mode might be for you. Just be sure to set your expectations to Weird Mode.

nae bad_blue

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

Reviewer: Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: Ameé Smith – Relax, it’s not about you (Underbelly Med Quad: Aug 3 – 29: 15.00 : 1hr)

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“Optimistic, off-the-wall and unapologetically human”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars Outstanding

I try my best not to judge shows before they’re done. But, finding the queue as lonely as a tarantula’s birdcage, I confess to some trepidation as I waited for Ameé Smith’s “Relax, it’s not about you”. Shows with sub-dozen audiences can be tense at the best of times, and given the very personal nature of Smith’s themes, comedy’s need for reactivity and my own creeping paranoia about audience interaction, it seemed a bespoke recipe for awkwardness.

But, for once, it appears the mantra of the 2* performer rings true: the reviewer was dead wrong.

Who exactly “Relax, it’s not about you” is about could make for an excellent piece of theatre analysis – could be Smith’s ex’s, could be Smith herself; and, perhaps overarchingly, it could be about every person watching. Complete with examinations of toxic relationship types, explorations of what makes something TMI and confessions of Smith’s own foibles, “Relax, it’s not about you” is a frenetic, laugh-filled odyssey through the minefield that is interhuman relations.

Whilst it all might sound a bit metaphysical, it’s certainly entertaining. It’s somewhere between hearing stories from a drunk aunt and hanging out with an unlucky-in-love best friend: sometimes rambling ,sometimes short and sharp, and always cringingly self-aware. And whilst the occasional semantic meander leads to a dead-end, Smith seems to be an expert at winding back her own train of thought. And rest assured, despite the heavy premise, it’s a set with its fair share of laughs. You’ll never look at ceramic owls the same way again, and that’s a promise.

For such a blurry and ill-defined subject, it’s impressive how consistent the show feels for its duration. Smith’s nervy, almost fractious energy is a wonderful constant, even when presented with an audience of two. Never before have I seen a performer approach a nearly-empty house with such vigor. In truth, my greatest disappointment with this performance is that I never got to see how Smith would play off a full house. She is (fittingly and obviously) the greatest asset this show has, having cracked the comedian’s riddle of creating an obvious gulf of wit between her and the audience, whilst simultaneously closing it with an almost tactical show of real honesty and vulnerability.

This is perhaps the only time I’ve ever regretted that the jokey offer of a pint after the show was not capitalised upon, so enthralled I was with the sheer openness with which Smith presents herself. Even her dodgy guitar skills, though they open the show on a slightly jerky note, have their significance later. This is feel-good theatre, despite being based on one of the worst parts of romance.

This is a show which deserves far, far more than what I saw it receive. Ameé Smith has crafted a difficult and beautiful thing: a comedy show which thrives on universal truths, yet doesn’t claim to have any answers. And despite a few momentary stumbles, “Relax, it’s not about you” is exactly the kind of show that typifies the Edinburgh Fringe: optimistic, off-the-wall and unapologetically human. Ameé Smith isn’t making a show about you – but that doesn’t mean everyone shouldn’t see it.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Jacob Close (Seen 25 August)

Visit the Other archive.

+3 Review: Price (still) Includes Biscuits. (the Space @Surgeons Hall. Until Aug. 27 18:15)

“Paul’s deadpan delivery casts a spell over her audience.”

Editorial Rating: Stars: 4 Outstanding

When Naomi Paul comes out to the soundtrack of Sweet Dreams Are Made of This and plants herself stock still in the centre of the brightly-lit stage, one immediately gets the impression that this show is going to be different. So it proves to be. 

Paul reassures the audience that the price does indeed include biscuits but they come later. It is then straight in with her observations on living in modern Britain. Paul uses her home city of Birmingham to illustrate the ridiculousness of current government policy and the effects of prolonged spending cuts. Slowly her body starts to move and her stance becomes more natural as Paul starts her first piece of audience interaction. On a small side table, she displays her latest certificate: Radicalisation General Awareness Training. Do you need to take the test? Are you aware of the signs? Perhaps you are a radical already and need to be reported?

Moving on from modern multicultural Britain, Paul then reflects upon her own Jewish and Eastern European roots. Through the media of spoken word, song and a coat, Paul tells how her America-bound ancestors to ended up in the Welsh valleys. The story moves from the ancestral selling of haberdashery to the fitting of industrially-constructed bras. The best laid plans of her mother, attempting to preserve the virtue of the teenage Paul, didn’t exactly go as expected.

Through further songs and stories of poverty and the workhouse, we return to the present with a treatise upon the dangers of Thinking. Especially dangerous is being careless with the incriminating evidence of Thinking. Rubbish bags and computers should be treated with caution, as should the practice of speaking with strangers. With that due warning, it’s time for the audience Biscuit Break.

From biscuits and budding (if potentially subversive) audience relationships, Paul continues with the subject of modern social contact. For some, the most meaningful conversations are with the call-centre operator or a visiting Jehovah Witness. This sweeps into the area of mixed marriages, diversity and religion. Where is the best place to be Jewish at Christmas?

Price (still) Includes Biscuits goes beyond the normal boundaries of observation comedy and satire. Over the course of the hour, Paul’s deadpan delivery casts a spell over her audience, leading to an outcome which is different from any other show on the Fringe. Maybe she hasn’t got the best singing voice  but the show is funny, it works and, what’s more, it gets one thinking.

Thinking. Dangerous business that nowadays.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Martin Veart (Seen 25 Aug)

Visit the Assembly Roxy Bedlam Church Hill Theatre Festival Theatre King’s Theatre Other Pleasance, Potterrow & Teviot Summerhall The Lyceum The Stand Traverse archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+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)

Visit the Assembly Roxy Bedlam Church Hill Theatre Festival Theatre King’s Theatre Other Pleasance, Potterrow & Teviot Summerhall The Lyceum The Stand Traverse archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+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)

Visit the Assembly Roxy archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: Mark Watson – I’m Not Here (Pleasance, Aug 16-21, 23-28 : 21.00 : 1hr)

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“The definition of five-star comedy”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

What is there left to say about Mark Watson? Returning to the Edinburgh Fringe once again, this comedy veteran is ready to prove he’s still got plenty of comedy muscle to flex, even if his ego hasn’t quite caught up with his skill yet.

Lit by the neon glow of his own initials, “I’m Not Here” is a journey through identity, celebrity and self-deprecation, all presented in Watson’s fantastic Bristolian twang. The best part of this performance (well, perhaps apart from the jokes) is the sheer amount of tangents Watson manages to swing down during the course of a single anecdote. He’s the comedy equivalent of a rambling great-uncle, but in the best way possible. Two stories stretched out across an hour, but it was never dragged: various twists of wit far too delicious to spoil what may have been a run-of-the-mill comedy show into an utter experience for all in the room.

And at the centre of it lies Watson himself: a man for whom fame has not come easily nor, often, recognisably. Anecdotes about famous comedian friends abound, but Watson never comes across as bitter. The type of comedy he champions is a razor-walk, but there’s never so much as a faltering step: the energy and emotional charge of his jokes work with almost Olympic precision and speed. Despite his considerable success and talent, Watson has managed to remain the ever-scrappy underdog, bruised by outside forces but never quite blown away – a refreshing contrast to the many Carrs and McIntyres in the comedy industry. The self-deprecating English comedian is a trope by now, but Watson proves he is still the undisputed master of comedic self hatred.

And, of course, this is all wrapped up in fantastic gags. The sheer density of jokes is mind-boggling, especially when none of them feel rushed or wanting for space. Watson is clearly in his element on stage, and his special brand of nervously energetic comedy is just as strong as ever. It’s always a good sign when the man sat beside you must wipe tears of joy from a face which, until Watson came on stage, was akin to a bulldog licking bleach off a thistle.

“I’m Not Here” is one of the biggest comedy events at the Fringe, and it’s well earned. Mark Watson shows once again why he’s arguably the defining personality for his flavour of comedy, without missing a damned step. This is the definition of five-star comedy.

 

outstanding

StarStarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Jacob Close (Seen 13 Aug)

Visit the  Pleasance, Potterrow & Teviot archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: Rory O’Keeffe – Monoglot (Pleasance, Aug 16-29 : 16.45 : 1 hr)

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 “Monoglot? Perhaps. Monotonous? Certainly not.”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars Outstanding

Most comedy shows I attend sober don’t begin with a five minute monologue by the empty mic. But then again, Rory O’Keeffe is anything but conventional. Through a tightly packed hour, he mimes, gurns and grins his way through a wonderfully punny routine based on the vagaries of language.

O’Keeffe himself looks like he should be a comedian. His boyish charms and the energy of his movements reinforce his sheer youth, but the confidence and the jokes are of a far higher calibre than one might expect for such a young man. Each ridiculously cartoonish movement was comedically precise and utterly free of inhibition, which cannot be said for many of his compatriots. If nothing else, this show would get a star alone for the sheer fearlessness with which O’Keeffe seeks to make a happy fool of himself. Despite his considerable vocabulary, it appears “inhibition” is one he hasn’t learnt yet.

But, luckily for all of us, his jokes definitely keep up with his own frenetic pace. Make no mistake: this is a downright clever show. As someone who loathes seeing a punchline coming, I might as well have been blindfolded in the dark. From the broad launching point of “language”, O’Keeffe manages to wring out a surprising variety of jokes – and, when I attended, flexed some serious improv muscle when it came to hecklers. Some of the best gags of the show were created on the spot, and it’s a real hallmark of quality on O’Keeffe’s considerable wit.

However, sometimes even the most runaway wit must be reined. A very distinct section which rounded off the show, whilst extremely impressive, wended a little too long, as often did a few of the foreign language jokes. That is not to say that O’Keeffe doesn’t manage to make unknown tongues funny, and far from it – but despite his skill (at least, for a self-professed monoglot) it’s always trumped by his own inventive observations about our shared mother tongue.

As far as hidden gems go, Rory O’Keeffe is a comedy diamond. Tucked away behind labyrinthine Pleasance as he is, he’s worth more than price of admission and job of seeking him out. Monoglot? Perhaps. Monotonous? Certainly not.

 

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Jacob Close (Seen 14 Aug)

Visit the Pleasance, Potterrow & Teviot archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED