The Girl Who Jumped Off The Hollywood Sign (Assembly Roxy: Until 28 Aug: 11.30: 70 mins)

“Hartstone inhabits her characters (male and female) much as Liz Taylor was supposed to have simply been Cleopatra”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

We enter to the strains of Arthur Dooley Wilson singing As Time Goes By. The mood is glamorously sombre. On stage is the top half of the ‘H’ of the Hollywood sign. Onto it steps a figure in black dressed as though for a funeral. How did she get here? What (and who) have pushed her to this?

The story which writer and performer Joanne Hartstone has to tell is eerily familiar. Evelyn Margaret Edwards (or Evie Edwards, to use her stage name), is a naive young lady seeking to change her rags into riches through the magic of the Hollywood limelight. She has dreamed of becoming a star all through the Great Depression, from the stock market crash, via a Hooverville, and the unending grind of a hand-to-mouth existence. But without a fairy godmother her dreams are outshone by the stark realities of the entertainment industry.

A few days back I was interviewing the star of an American Civil Rights drama. With tongue firmly in cheek I asked if she was grateful to President Trump for helping to keep the issues she tackles relevant. “We’ll he’s great for my ticket sales!” she replied with a sad grin. We reflected on the truth that tragedy and suffering are the Fringe writer’s bread and butter – no one ever paid to see a play about contented people happily pottering through an uneventful life.

The good writer tells a tragic story in its time and place. The brilliant do that too, but they also say something universal about the human experience at all times and in all places. Hartstone has written a piece that falls squarely into the latter category. Her script is at once an insider’s tour of Hollywood’s Golden era (for ‘insider’ read, ‘black and white movie nerd’). It is also a profound reflection on the use and abuse of women – their ambitions, their independence, their bodies and souls.

The delivery is paced, but pacy – never lagging or getting ahead of itself. The story unwinds like a spool of luxury cloth under an exacting tailor’s expert eye. Though this is a one-woman show Hartstone inhabits her characters (male and female) much as Liz Taylor was supposed to have simply been Cleopatra while Richard Burton played at being Mark Anthony.

Hartstone is also possessed of a fine, evocative voice which conjures up the spirit of the age in sparkling speech and song. The movement is minimalist, the set perfectly scaled to allow Hartstone to ascend and descend from the ‘H’ with a minimum of fuss. You can honestly imagine that this is the staging Evie Edwards would have designed to best tell her story from.

The Girl Who Jumped off the Hollywood Sign is Fringe theatre at its best – profound without being maudlin, sassy, smart, and above all edgy. This is an iron fist of a script nestling in a velvet glove.

outstanding

StarStarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Dan Lentell (Seen 24 August)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

EUSOG, HMS Pinafore (Assembly Roxy, 21 – 25 March ’17)

Photos. EUSOG.

“Every member of the cast should be pleased with their committed, lively, fun and engaging performance that made for a great night out”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Nae Bad

It is a moot point whether the restraint of trade as practised, for example in the Middle Ages by the City of London Livery Companies, and more recently by some trades union through the closed shop, protects the integrity of the brand through quality control, or acts merely as an effective way of cornering the market, but the arrangement between Arthur Sullivan and W S Gilbert with Richard D’Oyly Carte, whereby the D’Oyly Carte Opera Company held exclusive performance rights to their entire operettic oeuvre for 90 years must be one of the most spectacular coups de theatre in the history of the genre. Of course, it was all about the money, including staging at the Savoy Theatre, and served both parties well.

The D’Oyly Carte licence expired in 1961 and unleashed a torrent of enthusiastic amateur productions while the D’Oyly Carte Company managed to maintain brand leadership amongst the professional shows. The relative ease of the music to play and sing, along with its catchy tunes (alas, poor Arthur Sullivan with his longing to be a serious composer: he actually wrote some quite good serious stuff)) gave the works a new lease of life. In 1962 this writer played the Sergeant of Police in a prep school production of the Pirates of Penzance, other G&S triumphs followed …..

So it would be some surprise to Gilbert and Sullivan that the Edinburgh University Savoy Opera Group would exist at all. However I am sure they would have been delighted, as was I, with the spirited and enthusiastic performance they are currently giving of HMS Pinafore at the Assembly Roxy.

Director Holly Marsden’s interpretation aims to criticise the British class system and to question what it is to be British through setting it in the modern era aboard a cruise ship. As she rightly claims, this mimics Gilbert and Sullivan’s original intentions, for they were ruthless satirists, but had such a light touch that their politically immune audiences considered it merely “poking fun”. Conceptually the production can bring nothing other than the enduring relevance of  “Englishness” and class, but that’s powerful stuff in a Scotland (re)considering independence and/or Brexit.  ‘Class’ may be an Edinburgh thing but it seems pretty resplendent around my way. Yet, and again to the director’s credit and in the spirit of the original, this was not some heavy handed student left wing rant, but a joyous fun filled romp played for laughs which came aplenty.

The orchestra struck up the familiar overture sounding small in number but large in enthusiasm, perhaps rather too like a ship’s orchestra before they settled in, and then the “ship’s company” took us through the opening ensemble “We sail the ocean blue” and we set off on a cruise of musical merriment that lasted the entire evening without a drop. The liveliness of the cast was engaging, honourable mentions going to Angus Bhattacharya’s wonderfully effete and arrogant Sir Joseph Porter, complete – naturally – with pelvic thrust, and to Talya Stenberg’s Buttercup, whose Californian accent was delightfully incongruous before she got under way. The most musical voice on stage that night belonged to Biomedical Sciences student Livi Wollaston, who should seriously consider switching to a degree in Vocal Studies at the Conservatoire.

The mentioning of a few should not disappoint the many who made such an effective contribution to the show.  Every member of the cast, and creative team,  should be pleased with their committed, lively, fun and engaging performance that made for a great night out.

nae bad_blue

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

Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 22 March)

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The Marriage of Figaro (Assembly Roxy: 1st, 3rd and 4th March ’17)

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I have seen grander productions of The Marriage of Figaro… but not better ones.”

Editorial Rating: : 4 Stars:  Nae Bad

It’s hard not to enjoy Figaro. The tunes are familiar, the plot is a delightful melange of innocent deceit and caprice, and all ends happily. It is true, however, that the subject matter of powerful men demanding sex from young women who are effectively in their thrall has deeply unpleasant contemporary undertones. However the sheer good nature of the plot, the cunning of the women involved in cleverly winding up and trapping the men (aided and abetted by the master of cunning himself, Figaro), allows us to dismiss any politically correct concerns. It’s a lot more female friendly than The Benny Hill Show, and overall is a happy opera that allows us to laugh at the foibles of human nature as we re-attach ourselves to the finer strands of love, forgiveness and commitment. Cosi Fan Tutte it is not.

This production is staged by Edinburgh Studio Opera: a well-established group of University music (and other disciplines) students who team up with musicians starting out on their professional careers, and on the whole is a very successful follow-up to last year’s triumph, Carmen.

It uses a number of quite clever production devices in its storytelling in order to compensate for its stripped back set (a necessity of student productions!) – just clothes hampers and a door. We are led to believe we are watching an opera audition to start with, with cast getting into their costumes on stage. Quite why the chorus is dressed in black with grotesque make up in the manner of a Greek Chorus such as in Bacchae, is harder to understand, but arguably acts as a reminder that at this moment there are three entities in play; us, the audience; such actors as were robed; and the chorus being aspirant players hoping to get in on some of the action (which ultimately they did).

For me, this device works because the opera starts off with just two people on stage and the full company arrives only later on.  For the guise to return just as the interval and finish approach, as the chorus cast off their (over) garments on stage and wheel them off in laundry baskets is .entertaining but puzzling.  Again, perhaps a reminder that we were watching an audition, but could have been more thoroughly explored to make a clearer through-line. Other charming (if a little bizarre) moments are when the chorus also act as a very animated set of trees in the forest scene, a humorous foil to the shenanigans going on between the Count and Cherubino.

The libretto is sung in English with a commendable clarity that engages from the start. There is some fine solo as well as ensemble singing, with Jessica Conway (Rosina) delivering a couple of demanding arias very close together more than capably, while Jonathan Forbes Kennedy’s Count and Timothy Edmunson’s Figaro bring just the right balance of authority and vulnerability to their parts both vocally and with their acting. But for me, the star of the evening without doubt is Sarah Gilford’s Susanna, who not only sings beautifully, but acts with coquettish smiles, joyful humour and a streak of kind cunning. The Count never had a chance.

The production runs until the 4th March and I strongly recommend it for its inventive, professional approach. Ingenuity and creativity, allied to committed singing, acting and orchestral playing soon make one forget the necessarily stripped production. It is a joy from start to finish, and played for laughs which come aplenty. I have seen grander productions of The Marrage of Figaro, but not, in terms of sheer engagement with the work, better ones.  It feels as if the company really are giving it all they have, perhaps in the absence of more luxurious proscenium arch props, which sprinkles it with an extra layer of magic.

 

 

nae bad_blue

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

Reviewer: Charles Stokes(Seen 28 February)

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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)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: The Six-Sided Man (Assembly Roxy: 3 – 29 Aug. 1150. 1hr10m)

Gavin Robertson (l) & Nicholas Collett (r). Image: Assembly Roxy & Company Gavin Robertson

Gavin Robertson (l) & Nicholas Collett (r).
Image: Assembly Roxy & Company Gavin Robertson

“love its deadpan humour … the whole 4* performance of edge and ease”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars:Nae Bad

You just know that you’re in expert hands when, to the exact beat of ABBA’s The Name of the Game, the dice are twice shaken and then thrown. Except they’re not, you just believe that you heard the rattle and saw the throw  …. and reckoned the fateful consequence. This is artful, practised, theatre.

The Dice Man appeared in 1971 and became a cult classic. The Six-Sided Man is its stage face, written and adapted by Gavin Robertson and first performed at the Edinburgh Festival in 1987. It’s back (by popular demand?) with Robertson himself playing The Patient and Nicholas Collett as The Psychiatrist. If they could, they’d be spokes on a roulette wheel; as it is they circle around each other, betting each other’s life on the throw of the dice, or die, which is an unfortunate pun.

The reason being, you see, is that the dice are liberating, freeing you of restraint and conformity by determining a single course of action that is irreversible. ‘Should I go out of the window four storeys up?’ becomes, on the throw of a 3, ‘I must go out of the window’. And where there is mortal risk there has to be sweet reward: roll a 6 and it’s the other guy who goes head first. The Winner Takes It All.

But that’s to jump the gun (with just the single bullet in the chamber, of course). The Patient comes to the Psychiatrist with his problems. The doctor is brisk. “Show me”, he says and the rest might be such weird stuff as dreams are made on but you’re not too sure. In fact – if that’s not too loaded an entity – there’s nothing quite so substantially awful as dog poo on your shoe on a first date.

The cure is that the predictable need not be endured or suffered  Yet the dialogue, alongside the high quality of the mime, voice and movement sequences, is unemotional and wary. No great shakes, you might say, but then you realise that there’s a face off here, with neither character prepared to raise the stakes until he’s as certain as he can be that he has the stronger hand. Knowing Me, Knowing You plays on.

The Dice Man was published under the name of Luke Rhinehart. In August 2012 ‘he’ announced his own death. Some believed it, some didn’t. It was a spoof but it allowed Luke to write his own valediction: ‘If you’re comfortable in the selves you’re rolling along with’, he wrote, ‘then roll on. Most people aren’t.’

You’ll roll with The Six-Sided Man and love its deadpan humour and admire the whole 4* performance of edge and ease but you’ll wonder where it’s going; at which point you’ll feel distinctly uncomfortable. Take A Chance on Me? You bet.

nae bad_blue

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

Reviewer: Alan Brown  (Seen 8 August)

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+3 Review: Tony Roberts – Card Magic (Assembly Roxy, Aug 5-28 : 21.30 : 1hr)

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“Absurdly clever card trickery”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars Outstanding

I’ve never been very good at card tricks. As someone for whom maths lessons loomed like Banquo at the feast, knowing the number work at play in even the simplest sleight veered me sharply away. So when presented with someone who can do it with skill, I’m naturally impressed; and when presented with Tony Roberts, I was delighted.

Though the audience I saw him in was small, I feel this made no difference: Roberts is an expert at playing a crowd as if it was a one on one conversation, turning what could have been a small show in the Roxy downstairs into a warm, intimate and deeply interesting conclave. Hosted by the titular lauded businessman-cum-acclaimed street performer, ‘Card Magic’ (as Roberts so quickly and happily points out) is what it says on the tin – though perhaps without fully advertising the sheer quality of the product inside. And what that exactly is, much like the man himself, is hard to describe. Part comedy show, part biography and with a heaped helping of absurdly clever card trickery, this was a performance which never failed to intrigue and entertain.

This show’s greatest asset (quite fittingly) is Roberts himself. Deeply charismatic from the moment he opens his mouth, he fails to fall into the trap of braggadociousness which plagues so many contemporary street magicians. It’s like hanging out with an Australian uncle down the pub, if that very same uncle had spent a few years trapped in a Johnny Ace Palmer show. It’s clear from the get-go exactly how Roberts can draw crowds on a busy street – not only his wit, but his genuineness and warmth.

But, of course, being an ace with his suits doesn’t hurt either – and Roberts is clearly one of the best. Even with repeat viewings, his tricks would boggle the mind. Shaking his hand at the end of the show (as he humbly asks of every audience member), it’s almost surreal to recall the sheer dexterousness with which his fingers move. Although some of the tricks flowed a little too subtly on from his storytelling (though with shuffling skills like his, it’s difficult to tell when the real show’s starting), their denouement is always satisfying, whether you know you’re there at first or not.

This is the kind of show that makes children wish to grow up to be magicians, and adults wish they’d had the chance. But, as Roberts own story proves, it’s never too late to start seeing the magic – and I can think of no better show to pull back the curtain.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Jacob Close (Seen 7 August)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: Nuclear Family (Assembly Roxy: 3 – 29 Aug. 1715. 1h)

Image. Sunday's Child & Fever Dream Theatre.

Image. Sunday’s Child & Fever Dream Theatre.

” .. a drama of a hopeless, unstable, situation”

Editorial Rating:  2 Stars

Torness nuclear power station is 30kms from Edinburgh, strikingly visible from the A1 and from the main line. The MailOnline did a photo feature on it in January last year. A close-up on one of the panels in the Control Room shows the operating switches to Boilers A to D. Understandably, there’s ‘Start Up’, ‘Drain and Warm-Up’, and – critically – ‘Dump’; which is what Ellen, who’s a technician at a nuclear site, has just done to Phil. He takes it very, very badly.

This then is your chance to get up-close and personal with nuclear safety. You play your part in an examination of how Phil, the jilted boyfriend, and a couple of his drunk mates got into the Central Control Room of a nuclear power station and caused a disaster. It’s your job to review the evidence of how it was allowed to happen and to play ‘What Would You Do / What Should They Have Done?’ The results are to be included in the final ‘Prescott’ report. (There is no connection BTW with the former Deputy Prime Minister or indeed, I trust, with any incident at a nuclear installation). As a core idea, it has a lot going for it; but what of its processes?

The audience of eight to ten – it might stretch to 14 or so – sits in a semi-circle. In front of us two actors act out the CCTV footage of the Security desk from that terrible evening. Ellen (Eva O’Connor) is on duty with her brother Joe (Adam Devereux), who is on a verbal warning for telling site managers what they don’t want to hear. This sequence is interrupted on five occasions for  audience participants to look at further evidence: personnel records, transcripts, and the like. A facilitator officiates and calls Time when a decision has to be reached: for example, sound the alarm now or wait? There is a show of hands to determine what happens next.

The acting was by far and away the best part, creating tension even when the plot approached meltdown. However, for me, the ‘interactive’ theatre was a nightmare. I had my senior doubts from the start when the bumbling distribution of iPods did not convince me that this was an official inquiry and then the request for a rapporteur helper was immediately taken up by a man to my right festooned with venue participant lanyards. He started whispering broken instructions on how to open the nano which I tried to follow but I had to give up on the looped audio files. My neighbour to the left seemed to be ‘on task’ and having an engaged conversation but all this activity seemed completely superfluous. It didn’t help, of course, that I was outside the discussions that were taking place. I just wanted to hear more from Joe and Ellen, whose acting was reaching critical levels, rather than wait for the next predictable outcome. Even then it was pretty obvious that whatever decision was reached, at whichever improbable juncture, it would make no difference. When the votes were taken there was no time to really examine the decisions reached. As an immersive simulation it wasn’t working; as a drama of a hopeless, unstable, situation, I liked its fallout.

Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 7 August)

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