“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

StarStarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Dan Lentell (Seen 17 August)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Lucille and Cecilia (Assembly Powder Room, Aug 2-24, 13:25: 1hr)

“A successful hour of charming jokes and energetic tricks.”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

Lucille and Cecilia is a show about two sea lions whose names have the word ‘seal’ in them. Though of course this joke might make an ounce more sense if they were actually seals, the charming simplicity of the gag is still a tickler. So, thankfully, is the rest of this thoroughly amusing and enjoyably bonkers hour of high-energy clowning by Chloe Darke and Susanna Scott of Bang Average Theatre. 

The show takes a playfully scattershot approach to exploring Lucille and Cecilia’s lives and personalities. They perform circus tricks, describe their deep love of fish, and debate what could possibly lie beyond their watery home. Director Steve Brownlie does well to keep the action tightly blocked and includes a well-measured array of props and alternate costumes for the sea lions to bat around for the audience and wield at each other, while Darke and Scott are both charming and affective leading mammals. The only element of the show that resembles a narrative revolves around the two sea lions’ interactions with ‘Trevor the trainer,’ the amusingly-depicted custodian in charge of cleaning and preening the animals. One hates his touch, the other finds it sensuous and exciting, making for some very funny extended sequences where the two show Trevor how they feel, set to a perfectly-chosen rendition of “Ave Maria.” (Both this choice and the use of Air’s “Sexy Boy” show that Bang Average have splendid taste for musical accompaniment.) This and other chapters in the show are performed with pleasant verve and creativity, and both Darke and Scott prove wholeheartedly that they are more than capable clown performers. 

The potential drawbacks to their hour come mainly during the somewhat overlong bouts of character comedy that mainly strike repetitive notes, and do not quite match the showmanship or cleverness of their physical gags. Most of these physical feats are not only very amusing but rather impressive, and leave one wishing Darke and Scott had included a few more of these sharply executed sequences and toned down the Laurel and Hardy slapstick a tad, as these performers could certainly show off their talent for choreography quite a lot more. Thankfully, however, enough of the comedy strikes the right tone to make Lucille and Cecilia a successful hour of charming jokes and energetic tricks that leans right into the refreshingly pure entertainment of watching two human beings put their all into acting like sea lions.

For a uniquely weird, pleasantly escapist escapade, take the splash and see this show. 

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

Reviewer: Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller

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+3 Review: Wilde Without the Boy (Assembly Hall: 4-29 Aug: 11.00: 1hr)

“Masterfully delivered by Gerard Logan”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars

In this one-man adaptation of De Profundis by Oscar Wilde, we join the infamous writer in prison, shortly before his release. What unfolds over an hour is a real-time monologue, directed at his lover, reminiscing on their relationship and the events that led him to become incarcerated.

While masterfully delivered by Gerard Logan, the script is quite tricky to follow as it jumps about in referring to different events in the past, with precious little obvious through-line or connection from anecdote to anecdote. For a theatrical adaptation I would have preferred a more linear and logical approach to his musings to make it easier for Wilde novices to engage with, and give a sense of progression and journey that could be followed. The show also contains an excerpt from The Ballad of Reading Gaol which seems to come from nowhere, while various other dramatic moments (for example, a sudden mention of his mother’s death), seem to be thrown in for dramatic effect, without a clear link to the flow of the piece.

In saying that, the lyricism of the language is exquisite, and the whole piece retains everything we love about how Wilde writes. It includes plenty of pertinent detail including reference to several key turning points in Wilde’s later life and many gaps in my knowledge of the writer were more than adequately filled by the depth of biography covered.

While somewhat chaotic, the script does allow to demonstrate a full emotional range, so we get to see and know Wilde in every circumstance, from emotionally fragile, to proud, defiant, smitten and everything in between. Everything’s there, it’s just a little all over the place. Following last year’s triumph in The Rape of Lucrece, Logan has certainly lost none of his craft in delivering a very emotional and compelling performance and this is another very creditable showing.

Although perhaps a slightly unfair criticism, I can’t shake the feeling that this show is playing in the wrong venue – I think a dingier room somewhere in the caves or along the Cowgate would help more easily more establish the setting as a 19th century prison than the very obvious very studio feel of Assembly Hall’s Baillie Room. On this point I must make a special mention to the sound design, which was excellent in setting the scene to start with and giving background to the court case that landed Wilde in jail, and creating atmosphere at various other points throughout.

Overall, this is a production that doesn’t quite come together as well as it could have – the pieces don’t seem to fit. An exquisite performance and an interesting story, but a little unfulfilled.

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 5 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Doris, Dolly and the Dressing Room Divas (Assembly Hall: 6 – 30 Aug. 18.15 : 1hr 15 mins)

“This is the show I have been waiting for to blow me away. Wow, wow, WOW!”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

I’m sure I’ve heard it somewhere that while 13 is unlucky, 14 is incredibly lucky. And with this being my 14th review of this year’s Fringe I feel like I’ve stolen absolutely everyone’s luck and struck gold.

The queues outside and the desperate scramble for seats inside Assembly’s packed Rainy Hall should have been enough to convey that Doris and her friends are already becoming the runaway hit of this year’s Fringe.

The idea is fairly simple – a dramatic and musical retelling of what the “stars” are like backstage, based on the experiences of their dressing rooms assistants. The dialogue is well written and delivered with great vitality by the three actors, while the harmonies in the group numbers are just exquisite. The plot is basic, but I don’t think anybody came for that.

For me, Gail Watson is absolutely the star of this show. To be able to pull off one impression with such style is hard enough, but she embodied Doris Day, Dolly Parton, and a wonderfully bitchy Julie Andrews. I honestly couldn’t tell you which was my favourite, but when Dolly sang I Will Always Love You at the end of the show I genuinely thought I was watching the real deal – it was superb. Watson is charismatic, emotive and a simply stunning singer, and I predict a very exciting future for her.

Perhaps the most surprisingly impressive turn of the night was Frances Thorburn as Joel Grey, as he appeared in Cabaret. Her (his) mannerisms were impeccably refined and she more than capably held her own in the duet, Money Makes the World Go Around. Her performance of Somewhere Over The Rainbow was also mesmerising, capturing every nuance of the original.

We’ve all seen the divas’ on-screen and on-stage personas. This show delivered the rip-roaring numbers, tantrums and idiosyncrasies that we all love, but also very moving glimpses into their backstage lives, their families and insecurities. In what managed to be a fantastically glitzy, giggly and gritty affair, this is, without doubt, the show I have been waiting for to blow me away. Wow, wow, WOW!

I’m notoriously tight-fisted when it comes to my five stars, but I have no choice than to throw them all at this spectacular performance.

outstanding

StarStarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Steve Griffin  (Seen 10 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED