Ten Years of Taylor Swift (The Mash House: 14 Jan ’17)


“A fun and fantastic showcase”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars

Not being a huge Taylor Swift fan myself I was slightly apprehensive before the show. However, I must admit I was very pleasantly surprised. This gig was set up by 16 year old Lisa Kowalski, who with some help from mum managed to put on an entertaining evening any event organizer would be proud of.  The three hour set – a good length! –  showcased a range of Taylor Swift’s material – from her younger country days to newer pop songs.

Before the show there was an excited buzz around the room and I could immediately tell I was surrounded by some devoted Swifties. There was not much in a way of an introduction before singer Matthew Gibb, together with the backing band, started off the night with his original version of ‘Blank Space’.

Soon it was clear to see that despite their young age these are all very talented singers and musicians including The 45 and Beth Swan. Although the backing band added an extra kick of enthusiasm to the night I was glad that there was an acoustic session in the middle, where you could clearly hear each performer’s voice.

Each act enjoyed great stage presence but there were three performers who really stuck out – Ashleigh Burns, Olivia Dawn Haggerty and Lisa Kowalski herself.

17 year old Ashleigh from Glasgow gave an impressive performance with her versions of ‘Love Story’ and ‘Trouble’. Her strong, soulful voice in combination with a charming presence and confidence on stage made it a great set. Olivia impressed with her beautiful ballad version of ‘All Too Well’ whilst Lisa was not only good at talking to and entertaining the crowd, but vocally she also did well, with a good range and a convincing ‘attack’. Although not pitch perfect at all times these girls have serious energy and potential.

All night everybody’s enthusiasm was so contagious that I couldn’t help bopping along and I even got caught up in the whole sing-along spirit of the night! I can only recommend this particular show if you are a big Taylor Swift fan but I really loved the whole idea behind it – celebrating an artist together with lots of like-minded fans. The whole event was brilliantly organized and you could clearly see the huge effort put in from all parties. It was definitely a fun and fantastic way to showcase young talent from across Scotland.

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

Reviewer: Iona Young (Seen 14 January)

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Too Long the Heart (The Biscuit Factory: 10 -12 Nov.’16)

Ian Sexon as Brady from the 2013 Siege Perilous production. Photo: Nicola Garman

Ian Sexon as Brady from the 2013 Siege Perilous production.
Photo: Nicola Garman

“a low flame thriller, splintered with humour, affection, and a weighty sense of modern history”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars Nae Bad

Inbetween the ArmaLite and the ballot box there’s some poetry, at least that’s how it is in writer David Hutchison’s reworking of Too Long the Heart (Edinburgh, 2013). In literary terms it’s Yeats with a telling fragment from Easter 1916; in a softer more lyrical vein there’s the Mountains of Mourne. We’re in Ireland, sure enough, in a freezing cold cottage in County Cork, armed with a tin of biscuits, tea, handcuffs, a heavy duty revolver and a semi-automatic pistol.

Get the picture? This is a low flame thriller, splintered with humour, affection, and a weighty sense of modern history. Split screen projection of news footage of ‘The Troubles’ – still an understatement to die for – makes the backstory all the more apparent. Bloody Sunday, the Loughgall ambush, Shoot to Kill, and ‘Historic Compromise’; they’re all here. And when it’s more introspective, there’s quiet, live music and song on cello, flute and guitar.

There are four characters gathered in this cottage. Caitlin (Cabrina Conaty) and her boyfriend Marty (Des O’Gorman) arrive first. She, for good reason, is eager and excited. Marty, a third year History under-graduate, is likeable but clueless. When it really would have been best to have their faces hidden, he doesn’t get his balaclava on in time. Nevertheless and as planned they manage to snatch an English tourist, who 30 years ago was an army captain in Belfast, and – eejit! – has come to the Republic for a spot of fishing. Neil Lawson (Steve Hay) denies it, of course, but he’s still got the haircut, the neat moustache, the tattersall shirt and real composure under fire. Maybe he was taught some Yeats at Sandhurst. Anyway, he certainly has to prove his mettle when he’s up against Brady (Ian Sexon), a Provisional IRA commander, who has some unfinished business with the British officer class.

Three years on, the script is tighter and sharper, reckons David Hutchison. The play is still being developed and the sightlines are not all they should be but it certainly cracks along under Andy Corelli’s direction and the more tense the moment, the better the action that is called for. The closing fifteen minutes in which Brady plays the police against the media is not so neat that the suspense cannot work. Up to that point it’s more a case of each character smacking against their past – or, with Yeats again, negotiating ‘the stone [that’s] in the midst of all’. The topicality of the projected imagery helps here and there’s some digital ‘doubling’ for each character to confront. Interestingly I was ‘with’ each one of them, so sympathetic is the characterisation. Brady ridding his unit of the out-and-out headcases (terrorists?) for instance. It’s Caitlin who makes the patriotic call for her beloved country of Ireland, which is ok until – unwittingly – she’s trumped by the line to ‘Take your country back’ and so I stay firmly with the Army’s riposte, if not belief, that national myths are ‘convenient evasions’. Poor Marty cannot find traditional Irish music on the radio, but then he’s more a ‘Snow Patrol’ kind of guy.

Too Long the Heart is ninety minutes of well calibrated drama. If for you ‘The Troubles’ are simply another dismal instance of ethno-nationalist conflict, then this should enliven and disturb the category.

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

Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 10 November)

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Edinburgh Quartet and Guests: St Andrew’s and St. George’s West: 25 Oct ’16

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“the standard of playing remains remarkably high …all the more commendable in the main work that was technically very demanding in terms of phrasing, notation and timing.”

Editorial Rating:  3 Stars

The Edinburgh Quartet are skilful not only in their playing but in their approach to their constituency. Their 2016/17 series is a combination of daytime, rush hour and evening sets in order to reach new listeners and move away from the relative predictability and, for some, the difficulty of getting to evening gigs. Each season, or part of season, has a theme, and this season’s theme is vested in their Scottish roots. Tuesday’s concert programme contained works inspired by the island of Skye and the actual words of Robbie Burns. Informal in approach within the relaxing environs of St Andrew’s and St George’s West in Edinburgh, the occasion is probably more accurately described as an informal lecture recital rather than a concert, and none the worse for that.

Cleverly, the band started with a brief introductory piece, demanding in intonation and timing, which they played without music. Gordon Bragg then interviewed composer Alasdair Nicolson who spoke of the inspiration behind his String Quartet No 3, “Slanting Rain”, which was the centrepiece of the evening. After that Mairi Campbell, guest musician and one of two violists in the opening number, spoke of her love of the Scottish dance and folk music idiom and her approach to her music.

On to the main event. “Slanting Rain” is a six movement work full of chromatics, a wide variety of bowing techniques, harmonics and dissonance. It is a difficult play, and not an easy listen. I did think that the advanced technical construction of the work got in the way of its musicality. The introduction to the fourth movement, “Impossibly distant tree lined paths”, treated us to a melodic introduction by EQ Apprentice Competition winner Morag Robertson on viola, and the sixth movement, “Into an abyss made of time”, was a very clever melange of time signatures and orchestration that definitely worked.

The evening drew to a conclusion with a deeply moving rendition of a Robbie Burns poem sung and played by Mairi Campbell, followed by James MacMillan’s “Memento”.

Those familiar with the Edinburgh Quartet’s line up would have noticed some new faces, some planned, some drafted in at the last moment. Tristan Gurney has left and the first Violin chair is currently being recruited for. Tonight’s locum was taken ill on the morning of the concert, and Gordon Bragg nobly took on the first violin part, bringing in Rachel Spencer on second violin. Morag Robertson will take the viola desk for the first part of the season while Fiona Winning remains on maternity leave.  Mark Bailey remains at the cello desk.   All these changes notwithstanding, the standard of playing remains remarkably high and, astonishingly, the cohesion of the band appears completely unaffected, as if they had all being playing together for years, all the more commendable in the main work that was technically very demanding in terms of phrasing, notation and timing.

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

Reviewer: Charles Stokes (Seen 25 October)

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+3 Review: Price (still) Includes Biscuits. (the Space @Surgeons Hall. Until Aug. 27 18:15)

“Paul’s deadpan delivery casts a spell over her audience.”

Editorial Rating: Stars: 4 Outstanding

When Naomi Paul comes out to the soundtrack of Sweet Dreams Are Made of This and plants herself stock still in the centre of the brightly-lit stage, one immediately gets the impression that this show is going to be different. So it proves to be. 

Paul reassures the audience that the price does indeed include biscuits but they come later. It is then straight in with her observations on living in modern Britain. Paul uses her home city of Birmingham to illustrate the ridiculousness of current government policy and the effects of prolonged spending cuts. Slowly her body starts to move and her stance becomes more natural as Paul starts her first piece of audience interaction. On a small side table, she displays her latest certificate: Radicalisation General Awareness Training. Do you need to take the test? Are you aware of the signs? Perhaps you are a radical already and need to be reported?

Moving on from modern multicultural Britain, Paul then reflects upon her own Jewish and Eastern European roots. Through the media of spoken word, song and a coat, Paul tells how her America-bound ancestors to ended up in the Welsh valleys. The story moves from the ancestral selling of haberdashery to the fitting of industrially-constructed bras. The best laid plans of her mother, attempting to preserve the virtue of the teenage Paul, didn’t exactly go as expected.

Through further songs and stories of poverty and the workhouse, we return to the present with a treatise upon the dangers of Thinking. Especially dangerous is being careless with the incriminating evidence of Thinking. Rubbish bags and computers should be treated with caution, as should the practice of speaking with strangers. With that due warning, it’s time for the audience Biscuit Break.

From biscuits and budding (if potentially subversive) audience relationships, Paul continues with the subject of modern social contact. For some, the most meaningful conversations are with the call-centre operator or a visiting Jehovah Witness. This sweeps into the area of mixed marriages, diversity and religion. Where is the best place to be Jewish at Christmas?

Price (still) Includes Biscuits goes beyond the normal boundaries of observation comedy and satire. Over the course of the hour, Paul’s deadpan delivery casts a spell over her audience, leading to an outcome which is different from any other show on the Fringe. Maybe she hasn’t got the best singing voice  but the show is funny, it works and, what’s more, it gets one thinking.

Thinking. Dangerous business that nowadays.



Reviewer: Martin Veart (Seen 25 Aug)

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+3 Review: Spoon-Feeders (The Space@ Surgeons Hall. Until Aug 27th, 20:30)

“Watson will certainly be a playwright to look out for in the future.”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: 

Tension is build from the start even as the audience take their seats to the soundtrack Go! by Public Service Broadcasting. On the small stage is a brightly-lit office set: a desk and chair beneath a window, the view outside blocked with a heavy venetian blind. Large filing boxes are stacked to the right hand side. Go! fades and is replaced by the sound of public disorder: a large crowd shouts, chants and the sound of police sirens. Max enters: forehead glistening, his business shirt heavily marked with sweat. He twitches the blind to view the scene outside but rapidly turns away. This is clearly a man under a huge amount of stress, steeling himself for something momentous.

The mood is totally shattered by the loud strains Sinatra’s New York, New York, badly sung a cappella by staffers Tibby and Jons as they literally prance into the office. Their carefree existence is soon under threat however, when Max informs them that a graduate, Stephen, will be joining the team. Will the office dogsbody, Fizz, ever get her time to shine?

Max (performed by the play’s author Patrick Watson) owns the acting agency and employs the others. His company specialises in voice-over for broadcast news items. They don’t actually gather news: the blind remains resolutely shut on the disturbances outside. Instead it is their job to repackage and filter: deciding what makes it out for public consumption. This, along with the office politics, forms the themes of the play and results in the creation of a dark satire.

Light relief comes from Tibby (Aidan Clancy) and Jons (James Howlett), whose characters are totally outrageous. This leads to some incongruity because Max, Stephen (Joseph Campbell-Smith) and Fizz (Alex Burns) are played in earnest. If there is a weak point to this production it may be the characterisation. It is hard to imagine any of them having much of a hinterland, or existing beyond the performance space. Then again this may be intentional on the part of Watson, a sly nod to the morality tales of theatre ages past when audiences were presented with characters as symbols, used to represent deeper truths.

There is an awful lot to praise in this outing by Newcastle University Theatre Society. Production values are very high – way beyond those usual to the Fringe – with excellent use of sound, set and props. The actors all perform well within their remits so due credit to them and director Lucy Sherratt. This is Watson’s first play and he should be applauded for taking on big issues from the outset. If he continues to do so, Watson will certainly be a playwright to look out for in the future.

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

Reviewer: Martin Veart (Seen 25 Aug)

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+3 Review: The Glummer Twins (Paradise in The Vault: 22-28 Aug. 11.35am 1h.)

“The guys are genuinely funny”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Nae Bad

On a small, well-lit stage, deep in subterranean Edinburgh, The Glummer Twins start their set with Just Turned Sixty and Taking it Badly: a really good bemoaning of being the owner of an ageing body.  Through the medium of beat poetry and music, the Glummer Twins (David Harmer and Ray Globe) take a look back to 60’s childhood, 70’s aftershave and 80’s yuppies.  They ask the important question of whatever happen to the mods?  Autobiography is included, such as after moving from south London, the warm welcome David received from his new Doncaster school chums.

The Twins look forward to the future with the poems  Old Bloke Blues and Fiery Jack: the latter a must-hear for any pharmacist or person taking a large range of medications.  Groans and laughs are generated in equally generous measure as we follow the puntastic adventures of poet-noir detective Percy Shelly – private dick.  The poems comes thick and fast, with fifteen being delivered over the hour.

The theme of the show is ageing and reminiscing because there comes a time in life, theirs in particular, that there is a lot to look back on but not so much to look forward too.  The Glummer Twins state they have been coming to the Fringe for thirty one years and obviously love what they do.  The audience are in the safe hands of veterans.  Both were members of the performance group Circus of Poets, which in the 1980s appeared on nation television and toured Europe.

The style of comedy is, fair to say, gentle.  That does not mean unfunny: far from it.  While Percy Shelly is undoubtedly the comedic highlight, the spirit and black humour of South Yorkshire is also evoked.  Whatever will happen to Derek the Trainspotter?  One also has to ask, in the wake of the recent Brexit vote, whether there is deeper meaning to the poems Mediterranean Homesick Blues and Speak Scandi?

Harmer and Globe are good, solid performers who deliver rhymes and laughter.  Globe handles the musical side with electric guitar, pedal beat boxes and shares vocals, while Harmer’s performance is spoken word and costume change.  The show is squarely aimed at older generations.  They know that their style and material are not going to rock the foundations of comedy but that does not matter.  The guys are genuinely funny.  Watching The Glummer Twins is a fine way to wind up a morning on the Fringe.

P.S. – if one wants to know the origins of the name, Google “The Glummer Twins” and see what comes up.

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

Reviewer: Martin Veart  (Seen 26 August)

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+3 Review: Penetrating Europe, or Migrants Have Talent (Paradise in Augustines: until 28th Aug: 21:35: 1hr)

“Sandalovych doesn’t simply engage the audience, she immerses us in the tumultuous narrative.”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars:  Nae Bad 

Our host (Dave Strudelbar) for this evening’s episode of Migrants Have Talent bounds down the stairs before introducing the evening’s two judges: immigration officer, Nigel Nobson (Uilleam Blacker) as well as glamorous former illegal immigrant, Nigella Smith (Lesya Liskevych).  Nigella explains that she was talent-spotted after five years of cleaning the toilets at Television Centre. She cleaned toilets under her original name, she minor celebs with a new one, changed by deed poll. Together Nigel and Nigella decide who stays and who is deported, with the audience voting in the event of a tie.

There are five contestants. Actor Iaroslav Tsigan’s character is from Ukraine. He traveled to Britain on false Polish papers. A likeable character, his honesty fails to impress the stern judges. Interwoven with the talent show format are the stories of two young people, who relate how it is to travel and cross borders. One is going east to Ukraine for an adventure; the other west, by land and sea, to join family already in Britain.

These paired stories, delivered solo with other cast members playing the role of various officials, are the most effective part of the production.  The contrasting experiences and expectations of the two young people are increasingly moving. Actor Ira Sandalovych compellingly portrays a descent into fear. Sandalovych doesn’t simply engage the audience, she immerses us in the tumultuous narrative.

Most of the large cast are employed in the Migrants Have Talent sections.  Writers Blacker and Olesha Khromeychuk deploy a tongue in cheek style of satire that seeks to lighten what are, in reality, stories of genuine human suffering. At no point are we allowed to forget that not a million miles away from the Fringe, real people are really living through such uncomic tragedies. Still, this is above all a theatre piece. How effective (as opposed to affecting) is it?

The message is crystal clear. Humanity is common: borders and suffering man made.

If there is a problem it’s is one of counterpoint. Does the satire sparkle bright enough against the darkness of the immigrants’ tales? The lighting is handed well and sound, with the ensemble song describing cranes flying away to die in foreign lands (a poem from 19th century Ukraine) is truly beautiful in such a small venue.  However, with such a large cast, the staging does slip into awkward moment but, overall, this is a more than likeable production whose heart is definitely in the right place.
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Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Martin Veart   (Seen 23 August)

Visit the Assembly Roxy Bedlam Church Hill Theatre Festival Theatre King’s Theatre Other Pleasance, Potterrow & Teviot Summerhall The Lyceum The Stand Traverse archive.