The Great Ridolphi (Underbelly Cowgate: 3-27 Aug: 13.25: 55mins)

“Steve Turner delivers a real tour-de-force”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

The Great Ridolphi follows the story of Victor O’Meara, only son of the now deceased (or is he?) eponymous grand illusionist, as he seeks to unravel the hidden messages his father left him to find a missing painting: the inheritance he thought he would never get. Following an unexpected visit from a scrupulous investigator, Victor must solve the clues to uncover the mystery before anyone else can get there.

It’s a rather rollicking adventure from the quill of Chris Isaacs (not unlike a stage version of an episode of TinTin), as Victor chases across countries and meets some rather exotic characters to reach his goal. While the pace is great and the 50 or so minutes of the show absolutely fly by, it is at the expense of some of the mystery and suspense – revelations, deductions and beautiful moments are often over before they’ve barely been set up and it feels like a little bit of the joy of the story is squeezed out too soon. For an ordinary man, Victor is miraculously very good at solving puzzles, riddles, and taking risks without much thought and it is disappointing not to see more of his struggle in this regard.

The tension is helped along, however, by a couple of clever sub-plots: calls from his wife, escalating in desperation the longer he’s away; and his deteriorating health – we start to wonder whether he might drop dead himself before finding what he’s looking for. Both bring a genuine human element to the story, often missing from adventure tales, so it’s pleasing that these details are included – it helps the production feel more grounded in the here and now. There’s also the omnipresent investigator tracking Victor wherever he goes, though it’s never quite made clear whether he’s meant to be trusted or not. It seems to make little difference given the rather rushed ending, so this device feels rather wasted, and greater development of this character would add to the sense of foreboding throughout.

Victor (and indeed every character present on stage) is played by one of the piece’s co-creators Steve Turner, who delivers a real tour-de-force throughout. His performance is confident, clear and honest, never feeling like it’s all one big showman superhero act, but a man simply following his calling and interacting with whatever crosses his path. He shows great dexterity in the swift changes of scene and character, though for me he could go further to explore and expand on some of these to create more drama and individuality.

This is a witty and warming (if a little wild) performance, charming to the last second. One for the shortlist.

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 16 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Interview: Edges

“Our company however is a seasoned Fringe veteran having sent up musicals for many consecutive years.”

WHO: Caroline Mosimann, Producer

WHAT: “Edges is a musical that follows four individuals’ journeys as they step onto the ladder of adult life. From the creatives behind the Oscar-winning ‘La La Land’ and the Tony award-winning hit ‘Dear Evan Hansen’, Edges is a hilarious contemporary show featuring favourites such as ‘In Short’ and the Facebook song ‘Be My Friend’.”

WHERE: C venues – C (Venue 34)

WHEN: 21:05 (80 min)

MORE: Click Here!


Is this your first time to Edinburgh?

Personally this is my first time participating in as well as attending the festival. Our company however is a seasoned Fringe veteran having sent up musicals for many consecutive years.

Tell us about your show.

The show is a modern song cycle by Benji Pasek and Justin Paul the songwriting duo behind the Oscar winning film ‘La La Land’ and Tony winning Broadway hit ‘Dear Evan Hansen’. The piece was written while Pasek and Paul were still in Uni and reflects the issues that young adults face at such an age of self doubt, complicated relationships, social media, tough breakups, and more.

This production is brought up by DULOG, Durham University’s biggest and most prestigious musical theatre group which has been producing professional quality musical theatre and light opera for over 50 years. The show premiered here in Edinburgh and our run is unfortunately limited to the festival as we all have studies and jobs to return to!

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

Absolutely the Durham Review! I’ve seen Durham’s sketch comedy group perform many times and they are relentlessly brilliant and funny.


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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

Jane Doe (Assembly George Square Studios: 2-28 Aug: 3.00: 60 mins)

“Thought-provoking and sincere”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

Eleanor Bishop’s Jane Doe is a thought-provoking and sincere piece of theatre looking at the subject of rape culture. The performance is entirely led by trained lawyer and theatre maker Karin McKracken, who up until recently was a specialist educator for the Sexual Abuse Prevention Network. Her ease with and care for the audience are apparent from the get-go as she introduces herself and welcomes each person – we know this is going to be a safe space and some difficult subjects are going to be covered.

The show begins with some innocent musings about being a young girl and all of those exciting yet scary experiences everyone goes through – the first time a boy asks you to dance, that first kiss etc. The narrative is endearing and at times amusing, the atmosphere is relaxed, and a sense of reminiscence about one’s own awkward teenage moments is encouraged: this is very much a show for everyone and anyone, at any time, with any amount of experience.

Soon the show takes on a more serious note, getting straight to the main issue of sexual assault and consent. The main story covers a real-life incident involving Jane Doe, a young girl who goes to a party, has too much to drink and is later sexually assaulted by male comrades of a similar age to herself.

Throughout the performance attitudes and boundaries to his incident are explored. We experience the trial after the assault, where different parts of the official transcript are read out by volunteer members of the audience. This device of audience participation helps reassert the feeling of this show and issue being relatable and necessary to and for everyone. It brings a sense of togetherness and mutual support amongst the audience, which is rare and uplifting.

In addition to the live performance element, there are several interludes of recorded video and audio, including shocking recordings of media coverage of sexual assaults by high profile characters such as Piers Morgan. These act as a great contrast to highlight the different responses and attitudes to the subject matter being discussed, and the difficulty of gaining clarity on the issue.

At one or two points during the performance the audience is given a small breather, where everyone is invited to submit anonymous messages about their thoughts and feelings via an online form. All the messages are then displayed on the screen at the back of the stage, so we can see what other people are feeling. This is another interesting device which helps build unity and support within the room, and allows for a genuine conversation. These sections work well in making the show seem less like a performance and more like an open discussion, which ultimately was the aim. Personally I find the topic of rape culture and sexual assault difficult to talk about, as do most, and I guess this is one of the main issues we have in our society.

Although at times the show is emotionally overwhelming, it is incredible how Karin McKracken takes any awkwardness away with her calm and open personality. She broaches a difficult subject in an honest manner, making us feel completely at ease. This may not be one of the more pleasant and glitzy shows at the Edinburgh Fringe, and at times it is frustratingly stringy with the amount of content actually performed, but it’s absolutely an eye-opening experience and an important watch.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Iona Young (Seen 10 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Was it good for you? (Paradise in the Vault: 5-12 Aug: 19.25: 60mins)

“This play is a delight.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

Yes it was. This play is a delight. Much of its charm comes from the clever surprises and twists in the internal monologues of the two protagonists (played by Isobel Lewis and Chris Pope) during their one-night stand, which itself wavers between passion and cold, hilarious reality. The rest comes from the whip-smart writing, rollicking pace, and excellent individual performances all around. By the time its 60 minutes are up, Bareback Productions’ first Edinburgh Fringe venture will have made you smile, think, empathise, sympathise, and laugh out loud like a freight train.

Some plays about sex are lazy, cruel, and invariably ineffective. was it good for you?resists most adolescent urges to shame the participants in this dramatised tryst, and rather opts to earnestly ridicule the silliest impulses in all young lovemakers. During this show almost every sexual and behavioural “step” of a night together is presented, discussed, picked apart, and painfully explained, to glorious comedic effect, and anyone with sexual experience will be able to sympathise with some aspect of it, from the inner musings of what the other person is really thinking/enjoying, to the manic preparations involved in making oneself appear and perform just right for the upcoming act.

In order to aid such a discussion and diagnosis, playwrights Rosie Harris and Luke Smith include a range of advisors, gurus, and confidantes in shifting forms to comment on and represent the protagonists’ psychologies surrounding sex. These include Clint Eastwood (played by Chrisitan Hinrichsen, whose timing, for the most part, was spot-on), and Sharon Stone in full Basic Instinct mode (played by Suzy Oxenham, a truly gifted performer and a highlight of the show). To reveal any more of the special guests would detract from the utter glee of the surprise: Isaac’s third visitor and the girl’s second, in particular, are strokes of genius. You’ll know what I mean when you see it.

What particularly charms about was it good for you? is that the writing is strong but sincere, with clever references and legitimate points among its spot-on but somewhat sillier asides. A Tim Curry lookalike (Fergus Macphee, whose audience interaction is genuinely delightful) may compare sex to a pizza, with politeness as the bread base and all the kinks and depravities as the naughty toppings, but the play also dives much deeper in its analogies and observations. Without giving too much away, there is more than meets the eye between the performers, and the script does very well when peeling back more of the sexual reality than we’d think of as funny.

To Chris Pope’s credit, his performance as Isaac is so genuinely charming (once it grows on you) that even when his cluelessness interrupts serious revelations it feels neither jarring nor inappropriate. Of course Isaac would be comparing his thrusts to jazz music and calling himself “Cunnemingus,” (a joke at which I laughed probably too loudly) because was it good for you? does not sacrifice its realistic take on what men and women really think during sex at any cost. Shaving, peeing, manual technique, and lube are discussed at great length, and it is this attention to detail that truly elevates the experience.

Dutifully representing the physical actions going on throughout the internal monologues, silly and otherwise, are Jack Harrison and Emily Tandy, who commendably act as shadow performers at the back of the stage. While this aspect is hilarious on its own, it is hard to take one’s eyes off Lewis’s fantastic facial expressions in the foreground as she comments on Isaac’s techniques, and Pope’s skittish overthinking and under-thinking at every turn.

It has to be said, the play and its mannerisms do work best as a nudge-nudge wink-wink within British — very British — society, and I am sure Americans and others will, at best, come out understanding a few more British tics about these things that hadn’t occurred to them before, and at worst not really understand what all the fuss was about. This is not to say the play is inaccessible; was it good for you? may sound like it was written by somewhat smart-Alec upper-middle class Britons, but it is, commendably, for everyone.

outstanding

StarStarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

A Sudden Burst of Blinding Light (Gilded Balloon Teviot: 2-19 Aug: 14.30: 60mins)

“Commendably earnest.”

Editorial Rating: 2 Stars

Cambridge University Amateur Dramatic Club’s A Sudden Burst of Blinding Light is structured and effectively performed like a cosmic nightmare. Two contestants on a bizarre game show, Jude (Maya Achan) and Leon (Malcolm Ebose), are tormented and ridiculed by bubbly but sadistic show hosts and forced to explore their own shame and pain through reenactments and flashbacks of previous traumas. The stuff of nightmares. The question the show and its artistic choices raise most consistently is: whose nightmare?

The game show format can be entertaining for a live play, but the script of A Sudden Burst of Blinding Light, written by Ben Maier, does not use the format very well, as frequent flashbacks, monologues, and freeze-frame asides not only jar the audience but muddy the point of the play as a whole. Is this a comedy? A tragicomedy? A through-and-through parody/satire of the flippancy and crass positivity we employ when discussing mental illness? I’m not sure we ever find out.

The contestants, at least, are effectively characterised. The melancholy Ebose conceals within the role of Leon and the mousiness Achan hardwires into Jude are well developed and rehearsed.  The show hosts, Terry (Ed Paget) and Fizz (Charlotte Cromie), lean more towards slapstick insanity, but as unpredictable sadists, they certainly remain in character the whole way through. However, its hard to shake the sense that the whole tone of the piece is off somehow, from the half-hearted and half-delivered punchlines to the rushed backstories given to what could have been interesting characters.

Aesthetically, the show is colourful, but inconsistent and dizzying. Though the costumes are appropriately tailored to the wearer’s characteristics, and the lighting, designed by Avi Pluskoska, flashes and twirls well (most of the time), this play seems to have skipped any consideration of stage geography and audience comprehension. Following where and when the actions and flashbacks are taking place is near impossible, and the production team could have benefited from designing more specific regions of the stage and uses of lighting to differentiate between the game show environment and the myriad other settings where scenes take place.

There is something to be said for layering truly tragic revelations with comedic flippancy. At times, the striking cruelty that marmalade-suited host Terry (played at breakneck speed by Paget) hurls at timid Jude and humble Leon begins to recall the uncaring approach we can all sometimes take to mental illness and other people’s serious issues in general. The whirlwind incomprehensibility of the game show begins to mirror what a world may look like to someone with debilitating trauma like the contestants. To their credit, the actors do a fine job of selling this nightmarish tone. Paget’s manic voice and Cromie’s devilish mannerisms as Fizz convince the spectator that what they are seeing is crass and cruel indeed, and these performances are commendably earnest.

The show comes into its own more successfully around the second half, as the hosts themselves show signs of trauma and characterisation, the pain is spread around, and we get to sees signs of weakness in the tormentors. The implications that Terry and Fizz’s cruelty stems from their own self-hatred is momentarily interesting, yet these moments are too quickly presented and discarded to be of any note. And then there’s the highly questionable entrance of a ludicrously costumed crooner named Frankie Valium, (ha), played by Harry Burke, who does a somewhat charming ditty, then fails to project enough for any of his lines to be understood, returning for one late monologue about a bear attack that just halts any trajectory the play had going for it. This scene in particular is frustratingly unnecessary, ill-advised, and poorly written, that any hope of coherence is blown away completely.

All that said, commendable moments shined through. Malcolm Ebose, playing Leon, is a highlight; he manages to portray his inner anguish with a striking tone of beauty. Whenever he does, however, A Sudden Burst of Blinding Light shows its hand by quickly cutting back to crass, cold, cheap laughs that end up turning the tasteless nightmare on the paying audience more than anyone. Whatever director Carine Valarché had in mind, this reviewer cannot recommend it. Game over.

Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer:  Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Three Tales of Life and Death (Assembly Front Room: 3-26 Aug: 15.50: 65mins)

“A witty, tender, well-written, exquisitely acted philosophical tour.”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

The first scene in Craig Lucas’s new play, Three Tales of Life and Death, is deceptively simple. The lights go up on an old man and an old woman. They trepidatiously flirt and arthritically move through the motions of intimacy, and though the scene is the shortest of the five total that make up this 65-minute production, it sets up this witty, tender, well-written, and exquisitely acted philosophical tour perfectly. The show repeatedly features deceptively quaint situations like this one, then digs deeper, revealing hidden meanings along the way that are both truly affecting and genuinely entertaining.

The play is presented as a triptych. Section 1 is labeled ‘Life,’ Section 2 is ‘Death,’ and Section 3 is ‘The Afterlife.’ The same two actors tag in and out, playing different characters in each scene, from partners in dialogue to solo performers in monologue and back again.

It is paramount to credit actors Pamela Shaw and Richard Kline for the joy of watching Three Tales of Life and Death. Director Hunter Bird makes commendable choices in numerous set and costume details, but it is these two that elevate the play with their magnetism. To single out their age as a defining characteristic of their performances would be too simple — at any age, the power of Kline’s sympathetic face and voice, and Shaw’s sparkling eyes and affecting smile cannot be denied. Though some plays can feel claustrophobic when staged in venues as teeny as the literal shipping container that is the Assembly Front Room, Three Tales of Life and Death is well-placed. Even when an actor stands facing away from a section of the audience, and sightlines become quite slim, the power of the scene is not lost, due to the vocal and physical power of the performers, even with the simplest acts like unfurling an umbrella or a shake of the head.

The subject matter struggles ever so slightly to keep up with the raw talent of the performers from time to time — some scenes are better-staged and more dynamically-written than others, essentially. Lucas’s play takes on some daring subjects, from the aftermath of the Senate Intelligence Committee Report on Torture to the AIDS quilt being displayed on the National Mall, and though not everyone may agree with the opinions voiced within it, the play’s insinuations do tend to remain on the side of legitimately profound rather than preachy or narrow-minded. Observations on mortality, parental relationships, aging, regret, art journalism, and septuagenarian fellatio are both entertaining and relatable, where a lazier team might have resorted to cheap jokes or a more morose approach.

But the assembled talent is anything but lazy, and I am challenged to think of a play as humble and effective as this one, with a central duo as charming. If nothing else, go to see Kline and Shaw at work. It is refreshing to see seasoned actors performing for intimate audiences, and with material this sensitive and well-handled, these are tales certainly worth hearing.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED