+3 Review: Lords of Strut: Late Night TV Talk Show (Assembly Roxy: 5-28 Aug: 19.00: 1hr)

“Crams so much ridiculousness into an hour that you can’t help but laugh at something”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

Sometimes you have to see a DJ dressed as a bunny, a man pretending to be a rock and a Michael Flatley tribute to really feel like you’ve experienced the Fringe properly. This show crams all that and so much more ridiculousness into an hour that you can’t help but laugh at something.

It’s very full-on and upbeat, if a little chaotic, and the energy of our hosts Sean and Seamus is infectious – striking that perfect balance between confidence and self-deprecation to form an instant connection with the audience. We join them in their attempt to put on their own late-night tv talk show, and we are their live studio audience. Of course it doesn’t go at all to plan and they have to make various fudges to keep things running – and that’s when the hilarity ensues.

As with any chat show the format is a serious of skits and characters making guest appearances, the funniest of these being the appearance of the hosts’ mother as a last-minute stand-in – a plus-sized, randy cougar who of course makes her rounds in the audience to find a man. I won’t spoil the surprise, but let’s just say I (along with various other male members of the audience) was invited to do something I have categorically NEVER done before, and something which caused much hilarity (and a little disbelief) among the crowd. To those with a delicate disposition, look the other way and run, fast!

In saying that, what is pleasantly surprising about this show is how talented the Lords are: early on we are treated to a no-holds barred dance routine to one of Queen’s greatest hits, with various acrobatic tricks thrown in for good measure, and both gentleman are genuinely funny and creative in their costume designs and skit ideas. The “rough around the edges” and slightly improvised feel adds to its charm, if not to my personal taste.

With stand-up, storytelling, dance breaks, weird and wonderful characters, fight sequences, and of course, a healthy dab of audience interaction this show does have something for everyone, but having a drink or two before going to see it might be advisable…

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 5 August)

Visit the Assembly Roxy archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: Bonita & Billie Holiday (Assembly Roxy: 4-28 Aug: 21.50: 1hr 10mins)

“An alluring performance that I couldn’t take my eyes off”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars

I wanted so much to be blown away by this performance – a tribute to one of my favourite singers, by an actor coming to Edinburgh with a very good reputation and bags of experience in the States. Unfortunately, this opening night was somewhat nervy, and while it was difficult to tell how much of that was the actor and how much was the character, either way it left me with a sense of unease that stayed with me throughout the performance.

Bonita Brisker clearly has bucketloads of talent, even though in this performance it took her a while to find her feet. She seemed to struggle with range a little bit in the opening couple of numbers, but by Good Morning Heartache she really hit her stride, with the high notes floating with all the ease of Billie in her heyday and an alluring performance that I couldn’t take my eyes off.

Bonita also beautifully captured the mood and personality of Lady Day in the spoken sections in between each number, and the script enabled her to show different sides of the singer from her career to her relationship with her family, her drug habit and time in prison. We also see her irreverent disregard for the FBI and a very touching portrayal of her relationship with drinking and her views on racial inequality, which was rife during the 1950s. Indeed, signature song Strange Fruit, which I didn’t realise had such personal and political meaning, is a standout moment of the performance, accompanied by horrifying projections of public hangings and mutilations. It is heartfelt and very powerful.

Structurally I found this show a bit peculiar, with a short opening section in Billie’s dressing room, before the bulk of the show is delivered cabaret style as Billie on stage, and then another section in the dressing room with a bizarre twist that almost subverts everything that went before. Suffering from a bit of an identity crisis, I don’t think it has quite worked out whether it is a cabaret or a theatre piece so I think there is still some work to be done to give it a real sense of completeness.

This does have the potential to be a really special show, but the performance I saw unfortunately didn’t quite live up to that potential. Look out for it over the next couple of weeks, I believe it could be a real grower.

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 4 August)

Visit the Assembly Roxy archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: Pss Pss (Assembly Roxy: 4-29 Aug: 16.00: 1hr 5mins)

“Utterly charming”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

There aren’t many times that I wish I could construct a review purely out of facial expressions and hand gestures, but for this piece whose only words are the occasional utter of “Pss Pss”, it seems only fitting. It’s part clown, part mime, part acrobatic display and almost completely beguiling.

The performance is quite a slow burner to start with, with a short sequence where the two performers comically fight over possession of an apple – which wouldn’t look out of place in a Punch and Judy show on Blackpool beach – but when the music starts the fun really gets going and a real treat of a show unfolds.

Pss Pss dances along that very fine line between slapstick and gymnastic artistry, with glimpses of physical prowess and control that would put most performers to shame. Throw in the fact that they are also very funny and play musical instruments and you have a very impressive show.

Yet while physically impressive (by the end of the performance I truly believed there was no end to the performers’ talents), structurally it was a little lacking, with odd teases of narrative and motif, but little to drive it along from section to section, giving quite a stilted flow. I would have liked to have seen more plot and character development from beginning to end rather than a series of seemingly unconnected skits.

For all the skill and composure on display, perhaps it’s somewhat telling that the loudest and most consistent laughs in this performance were from the five or so primary-aged children in front of me. Although not specifically billed as a children’s show (indeed, their online listing says otherwise), some of the stunts seemed slightly more tailored to the younger audience, so I would definitely recommend it as a family show. Not that it isn’t enjoyable for audiences of all ages, but those with open minds and who are at least young at heart will appreciate it the most.

If there were an award for best facial expressions, Pss Pss would certainly be my early favourite – the range and timing throughout were enough to set most of us giggling at some point. The overall style and feel of the piece is utterly charming, even if substance-wise it occasionally lacks a little depth.

Beware, there is a small amount of audience interaction…

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 4 August)

Visit the Assembly Roxy archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Carmen (Assembly Roxy, 23-27 Feb. ’16)

Anna Keenan and Robert Forrest

Anna Keenan and Robert Forrest

“For such a young company to produce a work of such masterful quality… sometimes you just have to be in awe.”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

I’ll admit that I’m not exactly an opera buff and I wasn’t particularly familiar with Carmen before entering the theatre last night, so despite the accessibility of the English libretto in this production, there were times during Act 1 when even I wished Bizet et al had been a little less self-indulgent with their lyricism and more efficient with the quill. In saying that, the magnitude of this production never appeared to be too daunting or a stretch too far for the company, who did their level-best to keep the performance alive and engaging throughout. And for me, it is the stars of the show who deserve the lion’s share of the credit for that.

Anna Keenan is an absolute delight as Carmen, oozing sexiness and style, with a voice full of richness, warmth and subtlety to portray important changes in tone during the performance. Her stage presence and demeanour command attention and it is difficult not to be drawn to her throughout. Robert Forrest as Don Jose is similarly impressive, demonstrating fantastic strength and vocal and emotional range in a role that is very demanding. And considering both leads are still students, one wonders just what heights they may achieve in the future given the talent both displayed in this performance – remember those names. Monica Toll also dazzled as Micaela with gorgeous tones and depth to her voice, particularly in Micaelea’s Aria which was very moving.

Early on I was worried that this production lacked the fierceness and melodrama required to really sell an opera, as the opening couple of chorus numbers were a little flat and pedestrian. At times the stage seemed very full, with chorus members appearing a little lost when not singing. Yet, with each act the energy seemed to be turned up a notch, so by the rousing What A Bargain! in the final act, my earlier thoughts were dispelled as the pomp and gusto had lifted to breath-taking levels with great characterisation, action and a spine tingling sound.

What I particularly enjoyed about this production was how creatively the space was used. Often the performers would enter or exit through the audience, engaging us in the action, while the orchestra (who were magnificent throughout) were placed within the first few rows, which added to that sense of involvement, rather than traditional separation. And as this production is set at the time of the Spanish Civil War, I feel these touches really helped achieve a sense of comradeship with the chorus in their plight, so the whole show became more of an experience than a spectacle – certainly a commendable feat.

I didn’t really know what to expect from this production before seeing it, but I am certainly more than pleasantly surprised by the experience. For such a young company to produce a work of such masterful quality, with just as much energy and vocal strength at the end of the show as the beginning, sometimes you just have to be in awe. Bravo.

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 24 February)

Visit the Assembly Roxy archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Balladynas and Romances (Assembly Roxy: 9 -10 November ’15)

Aphrodite. Photos from Teatr Pinokio, Lodz.

Aphrodite.
Photos from Teatr Pinokio, Lodz.

“The clucking immortality that is forever C-3PO.”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars  Nae Bad

My namesake, Alan, has had his own school of motoring in Edinburgh since 1979. He also advertises that a Polish instructor is available, Lekcje nauki jazdy w języku polskim. That would have been handy, off-road, for Balladynny i Romanse. But then in these fluent days the President of the European Council and former Prime Minister of Poland is a Donald, so what the hell …

… which brings me to the Roxy where – appropriate for an old church – heaven and hell congregate on earth in director Konrad Dworakowski’s immersive staging of the Ignacy Karpowicz novel. It is long at 135 minutes but is disciplined and expert. Go to the excellent Polish Book Institute for a useful synopsis of the book and be drawn to Karpowicz’s other work, not least ‘Uncool’ (2006); all still waiting for publication in English.

What we get in Balladynas and Romances on stage is, however, eminently translatable as it’s a classic ‘What If …?’  What if the gods drop in while we’re about our ordinary, sometimes tacky lives, in and out of Poundland (the cute Polish equivalent is Biedronka or ‘Ladybird’ ), in and out of each other – warning: puppets perform sex acts – and what if Athena, Aphrodite, Jesus, and the rest, are a bit cheap and maybe past their sell-by date? The answers are not hard to come by, as the gods are very visible and like talking about themselves, but it is tricky to see if Olga, Janek, Artur and Kama notice that their tawdry domesticity is being messed with. ‘A remote god [may] be a redundant one’ but it has long been our Fate – aka. the Occasional Narrator – not to realize that Eros or Lucifer happens to be in the front room.

Balladyny2

The little mortals are puppets and the gods are dressed in primary black and white, in bathrobes and shades for example. It provides for effective contrast(s), not least when Nike, god of Victory, tenderly cradles the tiny body of a bomb blast victim. Olga, Catholic, fifty something and living alone, undresses and takes a bath and her credulous faith is somehow all the more touching for being manipulated into being. It is the showy gods, though, who demand attention, dwelling as they do on their genealogy – which is a nightmare for Gender theorists – and selfish loves. Eros and Lucifer stand apart, interestingly, each musing on their lot; whilst Osiris’ slender shrouded form and huge eyes recalled the clucking immortality that is forever C-3PO.

Smart lighting and electronic music often snapped the piece back from self-indulgent space and without those puppets the drama would have died, which may well have been the point.

I missed Poland. Eros ruefully mentioned his adopted country at the end of the first half and there were, I’m sure, far more references available than I understood. I googled one Erika Steinbach when I got home and grasped why Old Nick, from Lodz, is a fan. Clearly Balladyna is important but her literary profile receded as, languorous yet scheming, she acted out her bridging role as demi-god fixer and apologist for the ills of the world. At one point, in marvellous conversation with an opinionated Chinese Fortune Cookie, she convinced me that Pinocchio Theatre really know what they are about.

Director: Konrad Dworakowski
Set designer: Marika Wojciechowska
Music: Piotr Klimek
Choreographer: Jacek Owczarek
Lighting director: Bary

Cast: Hanna Matusiak, Ewa Wróblewska, Żaneta Małkowska, Małgorzata Krawczenko, Mariusz Olbiński, Łukasz Bzura, Łukasz Batko, Natalia Wieciech, Anna Makowska.

nae bad_blue

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

Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 9 November)

Go to ‘Balladynas and Romances’ at the Polish Cultural Institute & to Pinocchio Theatre, Lodz.

Visit the Assembly Roxy archive.

Calypso Nights: Juan, Two? (Assembly Roxy: 5 – 30 Aug : 21:30 : 1hr)

https://i2.wp.com/tourism.atdw.com.au/Multimedia/Original__9674861_WATC_CN_Press1.jpg

As entertaining as he is inventive”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars Nae Bad

It’s very hard to tell the flavours in a good condiment apart. It’s that phenomenon when two different kinds of thing come together to form something completely new, and often indescribable. Somewhat ironically to the themes of Barnie Duncan’s riotous show, “Calypso Nights: Juan, Two?” very much contributes to that phenomenon. It’s dance, music, laughter and ridiculousness all rolled up into something which resembles a surprisingly entertaining, cuba-libre flavoured fever dream.

Presented by high-powered DJ Juan Vesuvius (Duncan), Calypso Nights is a spicy blend of music, comedy and Caribbean-tinged factoids, tied together by his considerable powers as a mix DJ and seemingly never-ending cultural knowledge.

And the Caribbean couldn’t ask for a better ambassador, fictional or otherwise: with a pair of turntables and expertly used dry ice, Duncan dominated the small stage with such confidence that he managed to pull off the bizarro-world Elvis look.  And it was that very bravado that served to underscore the blurring between audience member and participant; it requires a special type of performer to turn an at first reticent audience into a flag-waving dance party – but DJ Juan Vesuvius has the knack.

The message of the benefit of mixtures was wholeheartedly present throughout the act: his DJ’ing skills had a surprising substance and quality quite unheralded by his pidgin english-spouting exterior. Mixing between seemingly dissonant bands and musical styles, Duncan creates something new and interesting nearly every time – although, his high energy weirdness threatens to send the unstable show into meltdown towards the end, where the comedy content is eaten up somewhat by a fusion cascade of sheer strangeness.

If you’re looking for a night of nigh-indescribable fun, Juan Vesuvius is your man. As entertaining as he is inventive, it’s hard to top this dose of musical chutney.

nae bad_blue

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

Reviewer: Jacob Close (Seen 26 August)

Visit the Assembly Roxy archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Tribute Acts (Assembly Roxy : 8 – 30 Aug : 14:50 : 1hr)

“Undeniably weird, but in the best way possible. “

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars Nae Bad

It’s very hard to describe Tribute Acts. It is, essentially, what would happen if you fell asleep during the changeover between a biopic on childhood and a documentary on the last twenty years of British politics – after, about an hour before, sticking your face in a plastic tub of peyote.

Over the course of an hour, Cheryl Gallacher and Tess Seddon took us on a journey through their childhoods, dictated by their relationships with their fathers – as revealed through a series of interviews cleverly projected on stage. Of course, nothing’s fun if it makes sense: prepare to see inflating suits, saxophones, and the most terrifying incarnation of Margaret Thatcher ever conceived. It’s undeniably weird, but in the best way possible.

But I’d be lying if I didn’t say the show’s biggest strength was its heart. The touch of the personal is clear throughout, but especially at the show’s ending. Gallacher and Seddon succeed in capturing admiration and disappointment through what ends up being very poignant and touching interviews with each-others fathers, and translate that feeling to the stage without losing any impact.

And there’s no denying that Gallacher and Seddon are just fun to watch. As they pranced around the stage, it was clear that they were having a good time with what they were doing – especially watching the audience reaction to their more left-field jokes. This is very much their show, and their personalities shined throughout.

Unfortunately, however, some of their act  felt underplanned or under-rehearsed. Problems such as lines coming off as wooden, or accidentally overlapping with pre-recorded interview footage tarnished their act. And whilst many of the jokes from the interviews were genuinely funny, often the on-stage jokes seemed to fall a little flat; either lacking in energy, or just feeling a little too awkwardly delivered. More than once, there was an uncomfortable silence where we knew a laugh should have been.

The show was still enjoyable despite these gripes, and I think Gallacher and Seddon’s message survived them largely intact. This is a show that stays with you after you’ve seen it, for better or for worse. And, at the very least, it’ll make you want to call your dad.

nae bad_blue

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

Reviewer: Jacob Close (Seen 13 August)

Visit the Assembly Roxy archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED