The Battle of Frogs and Mice (Assembly Roxy: 12-19 Aug: 16:10: 60 mins)

“Appease the Gods and pay homage at the earliest possible moment to this crowning achievement of the dramatic arts.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

It’s the late afternoon. Daughter 1.0 and I are standing outside Assembly Roxy waiting for our third show of the day. Neither of us have had naps and one of us didn’t like the lunch they were offered and only ate half. Our energy levels are being sustained solely by caffeine (me) and a the memory of a large chocolate cupcake (her). We’re both more tired than we care to admit and it’s odds on that one of us will go bang in the not too distant. I want the next show to be good. I need the next show to be good.

Daughter 1.0 (aged 3 going on 14) picked out our first shows, Finding Peter and Paddington Bear’s First Concert. I chose The Battle of Frogs and Mice because I’m more of a philhellene than Lord Byron dancing in a bucket of equal parts taramasalata and hummus singing The Hymn To Liberty. Frogs and Mice was the original introduction to epic poetry used by ancient parents to clear their progeny a path to The Iliad and The Odyssey. An improvised epic poem after a long day, with a tired 3 year old. Hubris. Now for Nemesis. I feel like Dedalus when he first sniffed the melting beeswax from the emptying airspace above. This could all come crashing down. Oh Dionysios hear my prayer.

3 actors and 3 musicians set out to tell the tale of the enmity that grew up between frogs and mice. Of how that enmity turned violent, and how (finally) peace was restored. Puppets, movement, visual gags, and amphorae of audience participation transform the Snug Bar at Assembly Roxy into a bubbling cauldron of noise and excitement. Director Hayley Russell orchestrates 60 minutes of genuine improvisation which maintains a graceful pace and flow while enabling the kids to really feel control and ownership over the narrative’s twists and turns.

“Dad, I thought you said this was going to be educational!” laughs a boy in the row behind confident that, once again, he has outsmarted his old man just like when Odysseus convinced Laertes to buy a puppy, “so we can name him Argos and everyone will remember that you were a brave and fierce Argonaut.”

The performances are some of the strongest I can recall at any Fringe. Individually they are strong, powerful enough to complete the heavy lifting demanded by Caspar Cech-Lucas’ bold dramaturgy. In combination both the actors and musicians generate a pulsing rhythm that never once lets up, soaring on the updrafts of the combatants’ jingoism then plunging down when it turns out that war is good for absolutely nothing.

Daughter 1.0 is dancing on stage, hurling ping-pong balls during the volley of arrows loosed by the mice against the frogs, keeping the mouse princess stuffed toy so safe and quiet that everyone forgets about the regal rodent and she isn’t included in that day’s telling of the tale.

The Gods of the ancient world had punishments both cruel and unusual for those headstrong mortals who displeased them. Why take the risk of incurring the wrath of a petulant Fringe deity? Why risk spending eternity drinking from an endless glass of G&T that contains no gin, or constantly eating artisanal honey that’s actually made by wasps? Appease the Gods and pay homage at the earliest possible moment to this crowning achievement of the dramatic arts.

outstanding

StarStarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Dan Lentell (Seen 9 August 2018)

Visit the Assembly Roxy archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Interview: Scribble

“The common thread that links all of us is new writing and it’s great to bring all we’ve learnt from previous years to Scribble!”

WHO: Rachel D’Arcy, Producer

WHAT: “Bran flakes, anxiety and gravity. The smallest moments in history. The largest events in the universe. Blink and you’ll miss it. This scribble from your chest. New writing about mental health and supernovas from Andy Edwards, directed by Amy Gilmartin. Winner of the inaugural Assembly Roxy Theatre (ART) Award. Developed under Playwrights’ Studio Scotland Mentoring Programme, with support from the Tom McGrath Trust, Scribble was selected for a rehearsed reading at the Traverse Theatre’s 2016 Hothouse showcase for emerging Scottish artists.”

WHERE: Assembly Roxy (Venue 139) 

WHEN: 15:50 (60 min)

MORE: Click Here!


Is this your first time to Edinburgh?

This is our first Fringe as a team working together, however as individuals we have been kicking around Edinburgh during Festival time since 2012. Our playwright Andy presented his first full length play, Killing Time at Bedlam Theatre with the Edinburgh University Theatre Company that year, and our director Amy has presented a lot of work with her company Urban Fox going back to 2013. I’ve worked on shows at the Festival since 2014 and came back with Paines Plough at the Roundabout @ Summerhall. The common thread that links all of us is new writing and it’s great to bring all we’ve learnt from previous years to Scribble!

Tell us about your show.

Scribble began life during Andy’s time being mentored by Rob Drummond on the Playwrights’ Studio Scotland mentoring scheme. It was presented at the Traverse Theatre’s Hothouse season in 2016 as a script-in-hand reading and then the Assembly Roxy Theatre ART Award came up and Andy and Amy went for it because the Fringe felt like a great place to have a really wide conversation with a really varied audience.

After they got the award they approached me, and the team has been growing ever since! We have Blair Coron composing our music, recent RCS graduate Jenny Booth is doing our set and costume design, and Alan MacKenzie is playing the lead role.

What should your audience see at the festivals after they’ve seen your show?

Immediately after our show (in the same space!) is Mental by Kane Power Theatre which looks great. It’s been great being on social media as we’ve connected with the creative team there and are really looking forward to meeting them in person.


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+3 Interview: Margarita Dreams

“I’d forgotten what a joy writing sketch comedy is – there is the freedom to go anywhere and do anything.”

WHO: Richard Sparks, Writer/Director

WHAT: “Dave is on the beach, in Mexico, drinking margaritas. He drifts off… into a whirl of absurdities. Cross-dressing, phone-induced paranoia, a four-way divorce, a spirit-reading summoning a flasher, String Theory explained, the modern technology-addled brain (with robotic legs), a very strange romance, disappointed parents – and finally, a riot at the Shy People’s Encounter Group, ending harmoniously in disco therapy. Funny where nine margaritas can take you… ‘Will enthral and enchant all who venture through this theatricum botanicum’ (Jack Black). ‘Great material by a master comedy craftsman’ (Griff Rhys Jones). ‘A delicious comedy cocktail’ (Kathy Lette).”

WHERE: Assembly Roxy (Venue 139) 

WHEN: 17:40 (60 min)

MORE: Click Here!


Is this your first time to Edinburgh?

No – I wrote and appeared in two Oxford Revues (starring Mel Smith) in 1972 and 1973, and two later two-man shows in 1974 and 1976 at the Demarco Gallery. So this is something of a second adolescence for me, which came completely out of the blue. I’ve been mentoring four young talents from Los Angeles, where I now live, by Skype since December. In February, we thought – hey, Edinburgh, why not? So I’ve written a completely new all-action comedy sketch show for them.

Tell us about your show.

I wrote it and am directing it, and PW Productions is producing. Bella Speaight is the pebble that started this whole avalanche. We started working by Skype on a number of scenes and projects, and she soon brought Sophia Compton on board. When I started writing Margarita Dreams, in February, I wanted four performers rather than just two, and they already knew Jack Baxter and Jason Brasier, who have worked together a lot.

They’re all a great fit, all work really well with each other, and the show now has a lot of variety of characters and scenes as a result. It all came flying out, and I can’t thank them enough for being the inspiration to come up with all this wild and wonderful stuff. I’d forgotten what a joy writing sketch comedy is – there is the freedom to go anywhere and do anything.

Edinburgh is our premiere this August, and after that – who knows? We could easily move it on, as I’ve written enough material for another complete hour. We could expand it into a two act-show and sell some margaritas in the interval.

What should your audience see at the festivals after they’ve seen your show?

Alexei Sayle. I produced the charity music/comedy show Fundamental Frolics (Apollo Victoria, BBC TV) for Mencap in 1981 (the Year of the Disabled), which I asked Alexei to compere. It was his first big gig, with all the Not The Nine O’Clock News team, Elvis Costello, Ian Dury, Stephane Grapelli, the totally unknown Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson, two-thirds of The Police, and others.

Alexei held it all together brilliantly, and I love his comedy. It will be excellent to see him live on stage again after so long. He’s on in the same room as ‘Margarita Dreams’ not long after we finish, so we’ll just hang around in the bar for a couple of hours. Also Lucy Porter, another fine stand-up comedian who makes me laugh a lot.


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+3 Interview: Chopping Chillies

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“People make all kinds of promises to see each other’s productions, and I never thought Guy Masterson would actually turn up. But he did.”

WHO: Clair Whitefield – Writer and Performer

WHAT: “From Kerala to Camden, an epic, mystical tale of love, loss and soul-food. A cobbler and a cook concoct a delicious transcontinental enchantment as tragedy and chance entwine. As Katie dreams of curries and chapattis; Ajna, of holy souls and reincarnation… A delightful, poetic, magical story that conjoins the spirit of India with the heart of London. Directed by Olivier award winner (for Morecambe) Guy Masterson.”

WHERE: Assembly Roxy (Venue 139)

WHEN: 14:50 (60 min)

MORE: Click Here!


Is this your first time to Edinburgh?

The first time I came to the fringe, I was 13. My dad’s Scottish and I went to uni in Edinburgh. So in many ways, it’s like a second home. The first time I performed here though, was last year, as part of the Free Fringe. I also worked as a reviewer for Three Weeks the summer I graduated. I saw 65 shows in a month. It was incredible.

Tell us about your show.

I live in London and came up with the idea for Chopping Chillies, when I was working in Camden. I used to take my shoes to a shop on the high street to be repaired. Opposite this cobbler’s was a traditional Chinese herbalist that specialised in reflexology. And that’s when an idea for a story hit me.

What would happen if these two joined forces?

What kind of magical healing shoes could it lead to? And so I began writing Chopping Chillies which is a mix of poetry and storytelling. I met Guy Masterson when I was performing Chillies on the Free Fringe last year. I went to see him in Under Milk Wood and afterwards gave him a flyer for my show. People make all kinds of promises to see each other’s productions, and I never thought Guy would actually turn up. But he did.

We got talking and late last year we began writing the screenplay of Chopping Chillies. So who knows what the future holds. We also thought it would be great to bring Chillies back to Edinburgh and so here we are. It’s been wonderful working with him and I can’t wait to unleash this new version.

What should your audience see at the festivals after they’ve seen your show?

Definitely go see Guy in Shylock and his new autobiographical show, Love and Canine Integration. It’s a hilarious bit of stand-up about the trials and tribulations of going to war with a dog that despises you. Barbie and Ken also make some risque cameos.

I also want to big up some poets: go see Rob Auton, Dan Simpson and Harry Baker. You should also check out Stand Up & Slam where comedians and poets go head-to-head in a series of rounds. It’s like Eight Mile but in a Waitrose. The most fun I had last year was with Guru Dudu on his a wacky walking tour meets silent disco; dancing to the Bee Gees down the Royal Mile and singing Bohemian Rhapsody on a roundabout.


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+3 Interview: Guy Masterson: Love and Canine Integration

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“The story is autobiographical and it does what it says on the tin. I have been telling these anecdotes in the pub for years.”

WHO: Guy Masterson, Comedian

WHAT: “On a hovercraft, no one can hear you bark… Fringe legend and Olivier Award winner Guy Masterson’s uproarious tales of woe, a dog and transcontinental wedlock. The dog came with a package… it could not be abandoned in Paris, and the next eight years tested everything: marriage, career and sanity. A tormented, often hysterical life of poo, piss and pooches.”

WHERE: Assembly Roxy (Venue 139) 

WHEN: 17:40 (60 min)

MORE: Click Here!


Is this your first time to Edinburgh?

This is my 23rd consecutive fringe and I have presented over 100 shows over that time – plus I have performed at least once during each of those Fringes. Most of those shows have been at Assembly Rooms/Assembly Festival with 5 at the Traverse and 3 at the Pleasance.

I have been lucky enough to be associated with some of the biggest hits at the fringe over that time with lots of awards and nominations. I am proud to have introduced the likes of John Clancy and David Calvitto to Edinburgh and mounting big theatre pieces such as 12 Angry Men and The Odd Couple – both starring Bill Bailey.

I have also focused on developing solo talent and several terrific shows that have come through my company have been running for over 20 years including Under Milk Wood, Animal Farm, Shylock and Adolf (with Pip Utton). Dyad Productions (Rebecca Vaughan and Elton Townend-Jones) started up with two productions that I presented & directed (Austen’s Women and I, Elizabeth). Scamp Theatre (Jenny Sutherland and Louise Callow) also started out with me. One of my proudest achievements was to bring a 13 year dream to the stage with Morecambe and then see it transfer to the West End and triumph at the Olivier Awards.

That illustrates what Edinburgh can do. It’s been a long journey!

Tell us about your show.

This is my first foray into the “comedy section” of the Fringe Bible. I wrote the piece and am producing. It is a world premiere in Edinburgh and – if it gets a good response – it will tour and maybe open up a few avenues that are not available to theatre people.

The story is autobiographical and it does what it says on the tin. I have been telling these anecdotes in the pub for years. Now I have put them together into an hour with an arc! Hopefully the audience will get a kick out of it – especially those who live with dogs!

What should your audience see at the festivals after they’ve seen your show?

Well, I would obviously urge them to see my other two shows Shylock and Chopping Chillies – with the delightful Clair Whitefield, which I first saw on the Free Fringe last year and have expanded and developed with her for a return to Assembly Festival…

but I would certainly recommend all Gavin Robertson’s work – because I do think he’s a genius, Bex Vaughan’s Jane Eyre and the eponymous Pip Utton (in anything) – and – on the comedy side – always the incredible Phil Nichol. There are too many others deserving of a recommendation it’s hard to know where to start but good luck to all of them.


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The Very Grey Matter of Edward Blank (Assembly Roxy, 7 – 31 Aug : 17.35 : 55mins)

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“A potential creative masterpiece whose shortcomings locked it into simply being “alright””

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars

I’m a firm believer that the human mind is one of the most complicated and amazing pieces of organic engineering the world has ever seen. Therefore, a witty, entertaining show exploring its contents is like my personal holy grail; and whilst I nearly found it in The Very Grey Matter of Edward Blank, it fell excruciatingly short of something which could have been incredible.

The show tells the story of its titular, reclusive protagonist as he struggles with his own ill mind in a desperate attempt to identify a voice on an old tape; both helped and hindered by his inner voices, who clown and joke their way through his surprisingly dark existence. A nuanced and creative genius, Blank’s goal takes him into the often nonsensical depths of his own sick psyche, and his inner voices are all along for the ride.

To start with, members of the team whose job relies on hardly noticing their work: a huge congratulations to the set and team, who succeeded in creating an on-stage apartment which was not only visually pleasing, but also functioned very cleverly in some of the most simple yet effective visual trickery I’ve seen in a long time. And similar kudos must go to the costume and makeup which went into the creation of the simultaneously ghoulish and comic “Mister Boo-bag” (whose mime work was worth every second).

With regards to the acting talent on show, Edward Blank’s mad, clowning inner characters all had flashes of utter comic genius, and showed a cohesion in their onstage chemistry which many theatre companies could take lessons from. And especial praise must be given to Sam Redway, who played the eponymous Edward, for managing to play an unstable character who remained endearing, charming and dynamic without fail.

However, this was a show which was constantly leaving me wanting to see more, and unfortunately not in a good way. I often wanted to see more energy and dynamism from most of the inner voices, who were always tantalising close to having the physicality and force to really hammer their characters home, but only occasionally hit the target. And perhaps it was a matter of the (admittedly, very witty) writing, or some fault of the occasional silences or unintended moments of stillness, but the show seemed to have a problem maintaining it’s dramatic momentum. And, even worse, the show ended abruptly with a whimper rather than a bang. I was left feeling like I’d gotten to the last glorious bites of a meal, only to have it slapped out of my hand. Had this show’s world been able to maintain itself with the extra needed force, I would have been hooked. But as it stood, I couldn’t quite get into it.

Would I see Edward Blank again? With a few tweaks, gladly. But despite strong performances and clever writing, the show’s shortcomings often ripped me out of what could have been an utterly engrossing story – and even more frustratingly, it’s weaknesses felt just a draft away from being solved. This was a potential creative masterpiece whose shortcomings locked it into simply being “alright”.

If this returns to Fringe in any altered form, I’ll be the first in line – but until then, Edward Blank left me feeling a little grey.

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

Reviewer:Jacob Close (Seen 7 August)

Visit the Assembly Roxy  archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Bonsoir Monsieur Nightfall (Assembly Roxy, 5 Aug – 30 Aug : 22:45 : 1hr)

“A voice so deep and gloriously textured you could happily drown in it.”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars  Outstanding

In French (I’m told) there’s a term “à l’ouest” which, if not taken literally, means a dreamer, or someone “from another planet”. It seems only fitting then that Helenē Clark not only made the long journey west from France to Britain, but is also utterly out of this world.

Taking inspiration from her time out on the streets, Clark’s set was an audial rollercoaster, ranging from almost stingingly raw despair to jubilation and joy. Deeply varied to say the least, but it did so without ever feeling disjointed – owing in large part to Clark’s evocative and smoky singing. She has a voice so deep and gloriously textured you could happily drown in it. Up against a gauntlet of styles ranging from junk guitar to tango, Clark’s range and tone were utterly without fault.

But the mightiest mountains do not stand alone. And whilst the main event was undeniably Clark, full credit must be given to her backing instrumentalists, who all were utterly on point with their performances and energy. Andy Shuttleworth and Dick Playfair especially impressed, the former showing off a beautiful and often mesmerising skill in fingerpicking, and the latter scoring points for utterly blowing me away with the strength and energy of his punchy jazz trumpeteering.

Of course, no show is without shortcomings. Clark’s vocal tone sometimes betrayed her enunciation, meaning that her lyrical work sometimes felt wasted as certain verses were lost to a rumbling growl. And, whilst her stories between songs added substance, they sometimes bordered on good natured but stunted rambling.
But any and all faults were immediately forgiven by the closing number, referred to cheekily by Clarke as their “Calypso Carnival”. It typified what made Bonsoir Monsieur Nightfall so engrossing: never before have I seen a group of musicians so obviously having a blast with their craft, and doing so with such sustain and finesse. Sorrowful, sultry and absurdly fun all in one, ‘Bonsoir Monsieur Nightfall’ never missed a beat.

If you can sit through this show without at least once cracking a smile, I’d recommend getting your pulse checked. This is not one to be missed.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Jacob Close

Visit the Assembly Roxy archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED