A Bottle of Wine and Patsy Cline (Rose Theatre: 1-30 Dec ’17)

“Everything about this production oozes quality”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars

For the uninitiated (like me), Patsy Cline was an American country music singer who found fame in the late 1950s/early 1960s, and went on to become one of the most influential, successful and acclaimed vocalists of the 20th century. Her life was tragically cut short at the age of 30, and this production represents a fresh (and fitting) celebration of the star and her work as part of Gilded Balloon’s winter programme at the newly revived Rose Theatre.

Created by the team that introduced Doris, Dolly & The Dressing Room Divas to the world at the Fringe in 2015, A Bottle of Wine and Patsy Cline is a hilarious new musical play featuring all the classic songs fans will love. Yet the only wine you’ll see is the free (mini) bottle you get as part of your entry to the show…

Written as a whistle-stop tour of Cline’s short life, Morag Fullerton’s script slickly presents the turning points in her career and personal life, squeezing in the hits, plenty of laughs and a few of the sadder moments along the way. I would have liked to see more detail in some moments and more creative risk taken with the structure of the piece – it’s safe, straightforward biographical narrative ticks along at a consistent pace – but otherwise everything about this production just oozes quality.

Giving Cline new life in this production is local gal Gail Watson: one of the most accomplished performers currently working in Scotland. Not only a supremely talented singer and impressionist in her own right, Watson commands the stage as the title character and delivers a knockout performance, demonstrating stamina and vocal control performers half her age dream of. Her standing ovation is well-deserved.

Watson is more than capably supported throughout the performance by Sandy Nelson and Hannah Jarrett-Scott, who not only play numerous roles between them, but also act as band and backing singers during the musical numbers. Given the teases of brilliance they demonstrate, it’s a shame we don’t get to see more of each and the wonderful cameo roles they play throughout the show.

Beware – some audience members like to sing along with every song. Those who prefer a silent audience may cringe and crush their plastic cups at the thought, but it’s the kind of show where some formalities can be overlooked. In short: you’d be Crazy to miss it!

 

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 9 December)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: Oskar’s Amazing Adventure (Gilded Balloon Teviot: Until 27 Aug: 11.50: 40min)

“The highest praise I can think of is to jump up and down in my seat squealing ‘Again! Again!'”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

It’s the middle of a hard winter in Switzerland. The little house on the top of the mountain is snowbound. Oppressed with cabin fever, fun loving puppy Oskar runs off in search of new friends to play with.

The show is based on the picture book by celebrated children’s author Colin Granger. Colin is of course a part owner of Komedia Brighton, and (once upon a time) was the author of the Heinemann English Grammar (which is yet to be dramatised for the stage). All the original characters are present, including Oskar, his friend the Marmot, the hungry Fox, Grandma, the chickens, the other puppies. The only exception is Mrs Goat who lost her seat on the tour bus to Colin.

We enter to find an alpine backdrop hung from rustic timbers. In front is a canvas pyramid with three of the four sides painted with a particular scene from the narrative that is about to unfold. With the occasional turn of this pyramid by performer Natasha Granger, Oskar’s story is revealed. Not since the Pharaoh Khufu walked out of Dunbar and Sons onto Morningside Road, having just purchased the ultra deluxe funerary care package, has a pyramid been put to such effective use.

This production is a grace and flavour mansion giving Colin Granger’s charming narrative a home away from home. The grace is delivered by his daughter Natasha whose fluid movement melts in and out of the liquid lighting and soundscape. The flavour is unmistakably alpine – crisp, simple, elegant. The interplay of stagecraft and performance is balanced and nuanced. The puppetry (including some shadow play on one side of the pyramid) empowers rather than overpowers. The effect is hugely satisfying, whether this is your first ever show or simply your latest.

It’s a safe bet that the Children’s section of the Fringe guide is the growth area to watch and shows like Oskar’s are in the vanguard. A glance at the reviews on EdFringe.com reveals where that vanguard will encounter the sharpest slings and arrows. Audiences love this show (as they should). The “professionals” are noticeably less excited. Why would they be? It’s fairly obvious that they weren’t accompanied by a reliable preschooler.

You might have noticed that it’s really quite expensive to come to Edinburgh in August and this is true for pundits as well as for producers and punters. Bringing a kid along too (without the support of local grandparents in residence) is a big ask, but it must be better answered. As the children’s section of the Fringe guide grows, reviewers and their publishers need to be much better at reflecting the artistry and talent that shows intended for younger audiences are already delivering.

This was my own preschooler’s first ever live show and I am so massively grateful to Theatre Fideri Fidera for making it such a positive and memorable experience for us both. Oskar’s Adventure may not strike a jaded 20-something as particularly amazing, but for preschoolers first noticing the big wide world (and for those of us privileged to attend them on their journey) the perspective offered is just right. The highest praise I can think of is to jump up and down in my seat squealing “Again! Again!”

outstanding

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Reviewer: Dan Lentell (Seen 23 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Woke (Gilded Balloon Teviot: 4-28 Aug: 14.00: 60mins)

“Quite possibly the best presentation of the nuances of race relations from the unjustly-treated point of view one can experience today.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

Given the many difficulties faced by millions of people around the world in our current climate, every civil rights-focused spotlight is worthy of attention. Apphia Campbell’s Woke, however, is not just another “worthy” civil rights-focused show decrying injustice for being injustice — it cuts deeply into the structures, limits, hypocrisies, and evils that allow racism, injustice, disorder, and oppression to continue and continue and continue. If you have ever claimed or had the urge to claim that the current racial climate is “not that bad,” please let Woke wake you up.

These issues are never simple. Many pop culture statements have garnered great praise, and some rightful ire, for presenting race relations too simply. From Zootopia/Zootropolis to Crash, mainstream outlets seem to eat up stories that are easy to swallow, that present problems as apparently easy to fix. Campbell’s play soars above simplicity by presenting the sometimes charming, sometimes harrowing stories of two black women, one speaking from 2014 onwards, the other speaking from the Black Panther Party of the seventies. She masters not only the nuances of storytelling but of stagecraft as well, as lighting, sound effects, props, and choreography are all of the highest creative quality.

The audio introduction repaints the mental pictures of the shooting of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014, and from there Campbell segues into an absorbing rendition of Bessie Smith’s “St. Louis Blues.” The transition, spanning decades yet recalling the same geographical location, Missouri, offers foreshadowing for the overarching structure and central observation of the show — just how far have we come since the ‘Civil Rights Era?’ According to Campbell, certainly not far enough.

What is most striking about the plotting of Woke, is that both characters Campbell breathes life into are not only vividly characterised, with engrossing nuances (credit to director Caitlin Skinner) but also experience a noticeably, tragically similar hardening. Ambrosia, who speaks of 2014, initially believes in the righteousness of the police and questions the legitimacy of the Black Lives Matter movement in her Washington University classes. Yet over time, she experiences so many abusive, prejudiced cruelties at the hands of police officers and the law writ large that she, and the audience, have no choice but to accept that society still fails to treat people like her as equal citizens. The pacing of these developments is gradual, yet her hellish experiences continue and worsen with a palpable, sickening sense of inevitability. Campbell’s writing does well to put the audience in the shoes of Black citizens’ everyday anxieties, from questioning one’s trust in the police to fearing for one’s safety where other citizens would never.

The other character Campbell focuses on is a well-known figure, Assata Shakur, who was convicted of the murder of a state trooper in 1973, and fled to Cuba after escaping prison. The legitimacy of this conviction is dismantled with brilliant progression, as she establishes Shakur’s positivity, righteousness, and honour, before displaying her growing terror as establishment forces seek to slander and imprison her.

The genius of Woke is in its building unease, the sure feeling that something terrible is at play. The steps of injustice are on full display, so the audience can understand it is never just one slight or careless comment that perpetuates racism, but a seemingly impenetrable societal structure. This approach encapsulates the fear at the heart of being “woke” — defined, in my opinion, as learning about, following and speaking out on the injustices faced by disenfranchised members of society. The fear is that one might uncover too much to comfortably continue as a member of society anymore; that understanding the truth of the horrors that white-dominated civilization has inflicted on non-white individuals, it will be too hard to ignore their lasting effects.

In my opinion, Campbell’s production is quite possibly the best presentation of the nuances of race relations from the unjustly-treated point of view one can experience today. Theatrically, it is worth a run of standing ovations. Thematically, it is a revelation. Societally, it is required viewing. Ultimately, Woke is a statement that deserves to be lauded in every way.

outstanding

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Reviewer: Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: One Day Moko (Gilded Balloon: 5-29 Aug: 15.45: 1hr)

“A wonderful performance that really deserves to be seen.”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

My third review of the day, and my third on the topic of homelessness is really quite a mystery – for the first few hours afterwards I had no idea what to make of it. One Day Moko follows the life of a young homeless man through the encounters he has with others and inadvertently, or perhaps on purpose, says very little about homelessness itself.

Moko is a charming character, who, rather than asking for money, simply asks for requests of songs he can sing. Indeed, it appears this is how he survives. With the thick skin homelessness must give, he’s not afraid to ask direct questions of the audience, and those of us with that stiff British upper lip who might normally just walk past a homeless person are unable to in this experiential performance. It’s confrontational, but in a really charming way. Be prepared to chip in to help make this show come alive.

Stylistically it’s very clever – absorbing, hard-hitting, and unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It’s a shame that narratively it seems somewhat incomplete. Moko tells various stories of people he meets or observes throughout his day, from Margaret who likes her coffee on a Saturday morning, to James who is bored of his relationship with his girlfriend but doesn’t know how to tell her, and many others. The storytelling is animated and engaging, though we only get teasing snippets – perhaps in reference to the snippets a homeless person may overhear as people walk past. Only James’ story is returned to and developed throughout the piece, and though for the audience it’s not clear why this one gets so much attention, I’ll admit the subtlety may have been lost on me.

While it’s teasing not to know more of each story Moko begins (one feels that they will tie together or thematically link in some way), there are some commonalities identified and shared by Moko, giving an intriguing outsiders’ perspective as to how the “other half” live. One of these is the importance of communication and saying what’s on your mind, perhaps a lesson Moko himself has learned, but sees the normal working person fail at so often.

At times this piece is achingly awkward, but it’s also utterly compelling. Tim Carlsen’s charisma, surprisingly impressive singing voice and physicality make Moko a really likeable and naiive character that it’s genuinely sad to say goodbye to at the end. It’s a wonderful performance that really deserves to be seen.

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 12 August)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: Axis of Awesome (Gilded Balloon, Aug 12-24, 26-28 : 22.30 : 1hr)

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“A bastion of dependable and hideously entertaining Fringe entertainment.”

Editorial Rating:  4 Stars Outstanding

My first contact with Axis of Awesome involved, like many other teens, me being glued to my computer screen as they rocked the hell out of a 360p feed on youtube. Now, a decade on from their founding, it’s clear that Fringe veterans Jordan Raskopoulos, Lee Naimo and Benny Davis are still soaring like a Birdplane even beyond the glittery lights of the LCD stage.

Whilst this review (as always) will attempt to avoid spoilers on the specific content of the show, let it not be said that the Axis does not begin on a high note. Their song “Elephant in the Room” is a fantastically witty product of self reference, and completely sets the tone for the rest of the show: heartfelt warmth, with a heavy dose of cynicism thrown into the mix. The quality of songs on display is very strong indeed: from rap to Bastille parodies, the musical nouse at play is almost unfalteringly good, save for a few sharp high notes in the group’s (often extremely) surprising vocal range. Davis in particular, despite his unofficial position as comedy whipping boy, continually proves he could go finger-to-finger with the best of them on the keyboard without missing a beat.

Between songs, the group’s clearly close dynamic is on full, glorious display. Though some of the skits felt a little low energy as the show warmed up for its final quarter, the inter-Axis fraternity outshines any qualms in terms of pure feel good factor. In an industry where so many horror stories abound of band members who cannot stand one another, bands like this one are increasingly rare. But even more rare, and all the more difficult, is for bands not only to stay friends through the rigours of long term performance; but also to keep that ember of their original intent and feeling alive.

But sat in an audience of hundreds, I might as well have been in my childhood bedroom again, eagerly clicking through links as the screen blinked out into the cathode-tinted night. The same thrill of discovery, the same laughs, and the same joy. And I think this illustrates what exactly makes this trio of modern day troubadours so compelling. It’s not their (considerable) musical skill, lyrics or even stage presence. They’ve gone through many changes over the years (the most obvious being that Lee is now bald), but Axis of Awesome’s greatest asset is that, at their core, they’ve remained wonderfully consistent. This is a show which has a little of everything: comedy, tragedy, horrifying mask props – all wrapped up into a neat bundle by music which will be stuck in your head harder than a sniper shot.

This is a show that proves, despite the ever-changing face of the  festival, Axis of Awesome remains a bastion of dependable and hideously entertaining Fringe entertainment.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Jacob Close (Seen 10 August)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: A Lady’s Guide to the Art of Being a Wingman (Gilded Balloon: 4-28 Aug: 23.30: 1hr)

“Performed with great energy… the trio really can sing”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars

This show sees three young Australian women in suits and huge pink beehive wigs attempt to adopt the traditionally male “wing man” mentality to get them laid on a night out. To assist them in their farcical mission they follow the steps of a recorded self-help manual, and a lot of pop songs.

Of course it’s all a bit ridiculous, but it’s a (fairly) light-hearted comedy show that doesn’t take itself too seriously. However, it took me 10 minutes or so to work out what was going on to start with, as the show opens quite frantically with a lot of attitude and numerous snippets of well-known pop songs, all sung by the girls live.

Once the piece settles down it becomes much more enjoyable, and I was able to appreciate more of the artistic merit behind it. Three interesting characters emerge, each representing women with different levels of sexual confidence and experience, and we follow their plight through every step of their night.

At every juncture the girls burst into song, each of these being a well-known pop-song with lyrics cleverly and subtly adapted to suit the message. They are performed with great energy, and the trio really can sing, making the whole experience infinitely more enjoyable than having to sit through seemingly endless karaoke car crashes. The accompanying choreography is slick and performed with pizzazz, so on the whole, the actual performance element ticks almost all the boxes.

The surprising a capella rendition of Imogen Heap’s Hide & Seek towards the end is the best showcase of just how talented the girls are as vocalists, even if this number seems a little out of place among the rampant and upbeat pop numbers throughout the rest of it.

I was a bit disappointed in the over-reliance on the recorded advice, and would have preferred a more creative technique to keep the action on track and flowing from one section to the next. A little more focus on control and less mayhem at the beginning of the piece would also make it seem more professional and easier to engage with from the off.

This show won’t be to everyone’s taste – it’s loud, unapologetic and very fast-paced. But it is funny, full of life and contains a surprising amount of depth, particularly towards the end.

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 4 August)

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Aunty Donna (Gilded Balloon, 5 – 31 Aug : 22.00 : 1hr)

“An all guns blazing comedy rampage”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

The first thing that hits you about Australian comedy troupe Aunty Donna is undoubtedly their energy. This is a one hour, all guns blazing comedy rampage, with never a dull moment. Between the three of them, they caper around as an array of characters, delivering one of the slickest sketch shows I’ve ever seen. Each section melts into the next seamlessly, and it’s a testament to the performers’ dedication that it flows so naturally.

I particularly enjoyed the lip-synching to various songs, that had clearly been very well rehearsed and were delivered with aplomb. During an early mime sequence to a very loud track, one audience member gets pointed at whenever the word “no” is sung – at one stage, several times in quick succession – and the build up and dramatic focus in this section had the audience in stitches.

Throughout there’s a great balance between longer, more developed sequences and a few one liners, including a simple section of reading out “texts from your parents”. My favourite sketch featured someone who “completely misread the situation”, leaning in for a kiss when it totally wasn’t appropriate. With no dialogue, just a scene title and some great physicality, they delivered a simple and very funny moment.

For an Australian group performing the the UK, there were a number of risks taken in making fun of some wonderfully British stereotypes. From our penchant for queuing, to chip butties and even reference to Tottenham Hotspur playing cricket, they strike a great balance between topical humour, without crossing the line into offensive territory. This is a show that is well thought-out and has been perfectly targeted to this market.

In the final third of the performance the group start to reference their own jokes from earlier on, and thankfully, as they had been well-written and delivered, it showed an added layer of intelligence and thought. At no point was it gratuitous though, every moment was carefully selected and well weaved in, and helped tie the piece together into a cohesive performance.

However, for me this show was at times a bit too loud and too full on, and I would have preferred more contrast and subtlety in some of the sketches. In saying that, Aunty Donna’s style is very much their style, and on the whole it delivers laughs aplenty. If you want a loud, high energy, fast paced and at times just a bit weird sketch show, this one is definitely for you.

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 20 August)

Visit the Pleasance, Potterrow & Teviot archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED