+3 Review: Hot Brown Honey (Assembly Roxy, 5 Aug – 28 Aug : 20:20 : 1hr)

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“Gleefully challenges stereotypes of sex and race with a full grin, bared chest and raised middle finger.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars Outstanding

I sat for some time before writing this review trying to think of an introduction which best captured what I thought of Hot Brown Honey. But the truth is, there’s not much else which can compare to the bombastic gut punch of a burlesque show Assembly Roxy has somehow managed to contain inside their theatre. From the second that the glass-panelled hive lights roar to life, this show is a nonstop ride that has the audience welded to their seats.

Hosted by unapologetically badass MC Kim “Busty Beatz” Bowers, Hot Brown Honey is a raucously funny and entertaining trip through acrobatics, beatboxing, song, dance and everything in between. But don’t be fooled – despite considerable comedy thrills, it never strays from what makes it so compelling: a show which not only celebrates the power and complex femininity of women of colour, but gleefully challenges stereotypes of sex and race with a full grin, bared chest and raised middle finger.

To talk too much about the acts would lessen their impact, but it cannot be said enough that each segment of performance was distinct, feverishly well executed and consistently jaw dropping. Every single honey from this hive is impressive enough to warrant their own review, let alone packing every single one into a single critique. Of course, for those who aren’t fans of audience participation, proceed with tentative caution: a show like this one demands to spill out into the aisles, to surprising and hilarious results.

The honeycomb that links up this show, however, is both more subtle and infinitely more loud than the performers themselves. There are West End shows that could learn things from the tech team behind the burlesque extravaganza. The sync between every technical element and the behaviour of the set is nothing short of breathtaking, for those who can bear to concentrate on anything but the inspired spectacle going on centre stage.

But what makes Hot Brown Honey such an outstanding show goes beyond its strength in immediacy. When the applause stops and the doors are open, that doesn’t mean the show is over: the messages, ethos and enthusiasm for equality, sexuality and sensuality stick around far after the day is done. As a piece of burlesque, Hot Brown Honey is outstanding simply by merit of its performance. But as a complete show, its greatest triumph is that it fully achieves the vision set out by creators Bowers, Lisa Fa’alafi and Candy B: not simply social activism masquerading as entertainment, but a genuinely thought provoking thrill which, at least personally, will open the eyes of many to any issue they never even know existed.

If you like your shows sexy, superbly skillful and socially conscious, you cannot miss Hot Brown Honey this Fringe. It’s a rare show indeed.

 

outstanding

StarStarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Jacob Close (Seen 6 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)

Visit the Pleasance, Potterrow & Teviot archive.

+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: Adele is Younger Than Us (C Nova: 4-29 Aug: 14.30: 1hr)

“A real gem of a show”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

I can’t believe it’s already that time of year again where I dust off my quill for Fringe season. Time seems to be moving incredibly fast and before the madness of the month commences I find myself taking stock of just how far I’ve come since my first Fringe experience 10 years ago. It’s somewhat fitting then that my first review of the year is for Adele is Younger Than Us – a frank and funny assessment of one’s life’s achievements in comparison to those of a global superstar. And while, in so doing, it would be easy to wallow, have existential crises or bury one’s head in the sand, Sally O’Leary and Rhiannon Neads take a light-hearted musical look back at their journey to (almost) thirty.

Opening number “How do you write a love song?” isn’t the most original of subjects, and early on I was worried that this show would end up being one big cliché of every “unlucky in love” story ever told. But there’s more than enough personality and punch in the song to maintain interest, and a likeability and professionalism about the partnership that command respect.

Indeed, likeability and laughability are perhaps the words I would use most emphatically in describing the qualities of this show. The script is full of witticisms and puns (my particular favourite: describing the notion of being romantically unavailable as “Taken – like the daughter of Liam Neeson”), while the delivery and comic timing from both performers left me giggling on numerous occasions.

The framing and structure of the show, using Adele’s life and works to compare their own lives to works really well, and helps bring a sense of originality to proceedings. It allows the O’Leary and Neads – by all accounts two normal girls – to trace their own lives in comparison with Adele’s, giving the audience the chance to join them on their journey through adolescence into adulthood. It’s personal and revealing, but also reassuring that actually, we’re all in the same boat.

While there is some variation in mood and genre of the musical numbers, I would have liked to have seen a bit more risk taken creatively here. The attempted rap was a nice try but perhaps a little undercooked, or just a pastiche of itself – I’m not sure.

Overall, it’s a slick, polished and accomplished performance delivered with verve. A real surprising gem of a show.

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 4 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

A Storm in a D Cup (Assembly Roxy: 5-30 Aug. 21.30, 1hr)

“Squirmishly enjoyable”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

Amelia Ryan’s likeability is apparent before she even makes it to the stage. Fighting with the back cloths, she finally emerges from underneath the drapery, glass in hand, wrapped in a towel and wearing odd socks. Off to a cracking start.

She goes on to tell us how the show is made up from 100% true stories and very quickly reveals one of her family not-so-secrets. This is interspersed with a very cleverly re-lyriced version of What’s Going On?, and immediately the tone is established as an open-book cabaret show that’s funny and free.

Naturally it’s not long before she first calls an audience member to the stage for assistance. It’s clear she’s well practised at this, and while she doesn’t always get what she wants, she knows when she’s beaten and swiftly moves on rather than making a scene. Thankfully ours was quite an obliging crowd, though hilarity ensued when she unknowingly attempted to coerce a teenager on stage to help her reenact an anecdote from her days of being an exotic dancer. Luckily, he owned up and she moved on…

While many cabaret shows draw on the artist’s life story for creative inspiration, one does often wonder how much mileage that has, and what their next show might look like if this one is so self-effusive. A Storm in a D Cup is somewhat guilty of this, but Ryan points out how this show also aims to be educational for others in terms of how to avoid the “storms” she’s weathered. A bit thin, but pleasant all the same.

One of the most enjoyable moments was Ryan’s peculiar rendition of the Cell Block Tango from Chicago. For this she borrows three new audience members to keep rhythm for her, while she flaunts about sharing stories of former lovers, again, adapting lyrics cleverly to fit the song. Watching three slightly uncomfortable people trying not to be distracted while keeping rhythm was squirmishly enjoyable.

While Ryan’s storytelling and likeability were spot on and thoroughly engaging, at times I felt let down by her singing voice, which seemed to lack punch in the upper register. While closing number As We Stumble Along played to her strengths in personality, a huskier, more soulful approach to some of the songs I feel would have been more powerful.

Overall this show was heaps of fun. You’re never quite sure what’s going to happen next, but absolutely worth the ride.

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin  (Seen 9 August)

Visit the Assembly Roxy archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Nailed It! (Assembly Roxy, 7-11, 14-17 Aug : 20.15 : 1hr)

“They did indeed “nail it””

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

To describe Nailed It! makes it sound quite basic: two guys; one singer; one pianist; a collection of gloriously lyrical tunes; and fabulous sparkly jacket. But for Fringe debut act Mackenzie-Spencer and Strano this was a masterclass in getting all the basics of cabaret spot in. They did indeed “nail it”.

Andrew Strano’s voice is uncompromisingly musical theatre, and the songs composed with partner in crime Loclan Mackenzie-Spencer more than complement his personality and style. While not a particularly unique voice, he has a fantastic range and used his instrument to bring a full spectrum of emotion and empathy to each number.

With comical tunes covering topics such as the “birds and bees” and having intimate relations with one’s twin sister(!), to a beautiful touching number about relationships, the pair’s songwriting talent is simply wonderful. Nailed It! is comprised exclusively of original songs, all of which could have featured in the latest off-Broadway hit musical.

What makes this show really special though, is the perfect blend of professionalism and fragility on display. It is clearly solid and well rehearsed musically, but with the anecdotes in between Strano showed a real vulnerability and honesty in his imperfections, which made him incredibly likeable.

Special mention should also go to Mackenzie-Spencer’s seemingly virtuosic keyboard playing, deftly belting out complex melodies, all the while making it seem inhumanly simple. His quieter persona delightfully balanced Strano’s more extroverted stage presence and they were clearly very at ease with each other.

One worry many of us face when attending cabaret shows is around audience interaction. Are they going to pick on me? Fortunately Strano makes the audience feel so comfortable that those fears are almost immediately allayed. Questions are asked of the audience in general, and both performers dealt well with the random responses they received (there’s always one…) and seamlessly wove them into the next song as if it were all planned without seeming overly choreographed.

If I had one criticism, and this is very much down to personal preference, it is that theatrically I would have liked to have seen a few more risks taken. While the songs covered some fairly close-to-the-line topics, what was missing to make this show really unforgettable was something a bit out of the box, a real wow factor. However, next year, when these guys come back (which they absolutely must), it will be with a sure-fire five star show.

 

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Steve Griffin  (Seen 7 August)

Visit the Assembly Roxy archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

K’rd Strip: A Place to Stand (Assembly Roxy, 7-31 Aug : 18.40 : 1hr 10mins)

“Delightfully camp and full of personality”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

I’m not often lost for words, but during the first half of this show I was rendered pretty speechless. To be fair, it’s a cabaret performance by six gutsy guys wearing nothing but short leather kilts and heels, so that should have given me a fair idea of what to expect.

However, there were layers of real intelligence, depth and unexpected artistry in among the madness – from the opening tightly choreographed, animalistic dance section – to the warrior dance-like motifs used throughout. In between the obligatory drag queen acts, of course.

In the piece we meet various characters, played out in different mediums, from a questionable contact improvisation dance depicting a one night stand, to an overly camp “lady of the night” known as Destiny. Perhaps the most tragic and painfully relatable of all was “Horsey”, an outcast who clearly had a heart of gold but had been misunderstood his whole life, and whose final scene was a painful reminder of some basic prejudices.

This is unapologetic cabaret – there were plenty of individual songs and dance numbers – my favourite of which was the moving I’m not lost. It was pleasing to see connections between each section, at least stylistically, even though for most of the show I was desperately searching and waiting for the one thing that would really tie all the the elements together and make it into a theatrical triumph. I almost got it when certain characters re-appeared and narratives started to entwine, but even by the show’s emphatic closing number I felt like the troupe hadn’t quite completed the circle.

Overall, the singing was good, the dancing and choreography were good and the acting was good. However for me this show was just missing that sparkle that could tip it into being spine-tinglingly exceptional.

K’rd Strip is absolutely not going to be everyone’s cup of tea – from a traumatic rape scene to a prostitute “shooting up” – both right at the front of the stage – this show doesn’t ’pull any punches. It’s edgy, it’s raw and it’s honest, shining a light on a subculture that is often taken for granted. It’s also delightfully camp and full of personality, if that sounds possible in one show. Definitely one for those with an open mind.

 

 

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin  (Seen 7 August)

Visit the Assembly Roxy archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED