Stiff & Kitsch: By All Accounts Two Normal Girls (C Royale: 14-28th Aug: 16.40: 60mins)

“Two extremely talented comedians who deserve to be playing to full houses”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars

There’s something to be said for taking a label someone gives you and owning it, turning it into a badge of honour. It takes guts and good humour. And that’s exactly what Rhiannon Neads and Sally O’Leary display by the bucketload in their latest outing as Stiff & Kitsch in By All Accounts Two Normal Girls – a show so named after a quote from my review of them last year.

The premise of the show is a discussion and self-help guide on how to achieve the level of “normality” the two girls have (according to, erm, me) by taking a comedic look at different aspects of their lives from jobs, to health, wealth and everything in between. Opening quip “things are about to get normal” sets the tone for a witty, honest and accessible hour of fun.

Each section is punctuated with a trademark musical number, which work really well to summarise and highlight their main comments, with choruses including repeated lines as blunt as “Keep your bullshit to yourself” (in reference to seemingly narcissistic social media use by their peers), and “I haven’t a fucking clue”, which we’ve all felt about one thing or another. What pleases most about this duo is their slick back and forth – in both the songs and general banter – the whole performance maintains a beautifully unrehearsed aura, like they’ve put it together especially for you in that moment.

The professionalism and confidence from Stiff and Kitsch have pleasingly stepped up a notch from last year – there is a bit more a swagger and presence within their performance, not un-aided by the life-size cardboard cut-outs of themselves that adorn the back of the stage. Yet with this growth as performers what they haven’t lost is their likeability: the sense that they are still one (or two) of us with the same flaws and insecurities as everyone else. What they do really well is to make each one into something to laugh about, and there are certainly plenty of laughs to be had in this show.

While my main criticism of their show last year is still largely accurate – the variety and creativity within the musical numbers is somewhat lacking – it is the only blemish on an otherwise polished and very funny show. I didn’t stop smiling once throughout the whole hour.

It’s not always easy to admit that you were wrong, but this time I’m glad to: Stiff & Kitsch aren’t two normal girls: they’re two extremely talented comedians who deserve to be playing to full houses. And if they call their next show that, I am retiring.

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 19 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Louise Reay: Hard Mode (The Stand Four: 3-27 Aug: 17.55: 60mins)

“A unique and insightful project perfect for Fringe audiences”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Nae Bad

This is a very clever show. Through a healthy mixture of character work, pre-recorded videos, impressive knowledge of modern Chinese society, and truly human moments, Louise Reay has crafted a unique and insightful project perfect for Fringe audiences. Some fine tuning of the details and the flow of the show would be useful to make its 60 minutes shine brighter, but overall Hard Mode is a worthy offering.

The show’s title derives from the idea that in modern China, life is lived as if in ‘hard mode.’ Reay takes care to share a genuine taste of what that kind of life means, from tampering intrusively with audience members to stationing masked cronies around the room to watch and possibly punish the viewers at all times. She uses clever techniques like distributing identical napkins for all audience members to wear (to recall authoritarian homogeneity), and leading the room in hive-mind chants in between musings on what having a free society means now and what losing it could mean later. The masked guards do stay unsettlingly in character the whole time, even banishing non-compliant individuals who dare to remove the napkin to the ‘jail,’ which is the corner of the room. Though some of the points on surveillance are presented somewhat simplistically, the dark sense of forced enjoyment is done well. This show, to its credit given its subject matter, is effectively unpleasant.

Reay bases this societal reenactment on her lived experiences in China, thankfully. A few lines and jokes would seem like sweeping (and potentially offensive) generalisations if she hadn’t proven her extensive knowledge of Chinese culture, from the language to the media to the in-jokes. On the comedy end, the highlights of the show are her stagings of a possible future where the Chinese government has bought and hawkishly runs the BBC. Her David Attenborough-centered skits are hilarious, and her all-Chinese rendition of ‘Far-EastEnders’ is impressive for her sheer capability with the language, as a native English speaker.

On the dramatic side, and yes, there is a somewhat unexpected dramatic side, Reay mixes in her own real life in ways that teeter on the edge of too much. Without giving anything away, the sense of ‘hard mode’ in a societal sense is re-purposed in a personal sense, which at times is truly affecting, and at others feels like retreading and backtracking on points that have already been made.

Reay’s use of an actor to portray Chinese artist and social activist Ai Weiwei in a pre-recorded video conversation Reay apparently had with him feels strikingly off-kilter with the rest of the piece, and not only because it is never truly verified that Weiwei actually said any of the statements in the video. The actor’s timing is jarring, the delivery is confusing and flat, and points are muddled and indistinguishable — under what is admittedly fabulously intricate facial hair. For me, these filmed asides are revisited too often, and though most of Reay’s recurring jokes are quite funny and/or poignant (special nod to the unforgettable Loneliest Newsreader in the World), the Weiwei scenes feel poorly executed.

Overall, if you are looking for a bizarre yet poignant hour at the Fringe, and happen to be in the relatively far away lands that house the Stand Four, Louise Reay’s Hard Mode might be for you. Just be sure to set your expectations to Weird Mode.

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

Reviewer: Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Douze (C Royale (studio 4): 2-28 Aug (not 14): 20.30: 60mins)

“Douze delivers by the bucketload”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

The format of Douze is simple enough: a musical group showcasing nine songs for Ireland’s latest Eurovision entry, and the audience has to vote for their favourite at the end. Voting slips will be found on the seats as the audience come in.

To begin, the lights go down and, as they return, the tension builds as the star of the show, Xnthony (Anthony Keiger), with his back to the audience, stands in front of a gold-tinselled backdrop. Xnthony is then revealed from behind an EU-starred cape, sporting statement make-up and a bespangled, very low-cut wrester’s singlet. Supporting him are the Penny Slots (Hannah Fisher and Tiffany Murphy), dressed in royal blue cheerleaders’ outfits, already out of breath and with make-up ready-smeared (emphasising the depiction of their supporting role).  And it only gets more crazy and energetic from there.

Yes, there are nine songs (which do a good job on satirising the various musical styles of Eurovision). Yes, there is a vote. Yes there is the cattiness and viciously competing egos under the showbiz smiles. Yes, there is politics. (You will hear “Yes” quite a lot during the show). All this though are buried under the physical slapstick on stage and the none-too-subtle comedy outrage perpetrated both on-stage and off.  The team make excellent use of the entire theatre space throughout the performance, but beware: sitting at the back may not save you from audience participation, which can verge on the blush-inducing.

As the action becomes increasingly energetic, the lasciviousness of the looks and poses become more apparent. While both women dance vigorously throughout, some of the noises, especially coming from Tiffany, are quite remarkable. One is pretty sure the Penny Slots get their name from their costumes. For sure that would be pre-decimal coinage.

Production levels in this medium-sized (at least for the Fringe) venue is good. Audio quality is high throughout and there is a tremendous use of cheap and cheerful props to great comic effect.  A critic’s duty is to keep watching but honestly, do close your eyes if asked: it really enhances the stage-magic. Thank goodness the venue is well-ventilated, even if only for the sake of the performers.

All three performers should be given full credit for the physical energy they bring to the stage. While the choreography is slapstick and sometimes quite lewd, they are all extremely funny.  Perhaps more vocal lines could have been assigned to the Penny Slots, as both Hannah and Tiffany demonstrate that they really can sing, and though Xnthony’s voice is never totally convincing, it doesn’t matter at all in this context.

A show about a group of Eurovision wannabes is never going to be an erudite and highbrow evening.  It doesn’t even matter whether one likes Eurovision. It’s about fun, laughter and outrage and that is exactly what Douze delivers by the bucketload.

Just be sure to give the pens back. Really, give them back.

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

Reviewer: Martin Veart

C Royale (studio 4)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: Clare Plested – Flock Up (Ciao Roma: 6-27 Aug: 17.50: 1hr)

“Squeezes the last dregs of pulpy laughter “

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

As folk descend into the basement of the Ciao Roma Restaurant, Clare Plested wastes no time in working the audience, asking if they are up for being selected and happy with participation. Plested is an excellent warm-up and soon the entire audience are settled in with the expectation of a good show.

Plested does not disappoint: soon the first character of her creation is ripping into the audience like a barracuda through a shoal of baitfish. No one is safe: even after coming out of character she utters “Christ! I’ve just picked on the reviewer.” I was eviscerated with the rest but everybody, including me, was left laughing instead of floating belly-up.

The laughter is leavened with some pathos for the next persona: Kala Kale. It is clear that Plested is a fan of old television because there is little doubt that, physically at least, her model is Diana Moran, a.k.a The Green Goddess from breakfast TV of the 1980s. Character development for Kala is done perfectly and she culminates in a real belter of a gag. Less successful to my mind is Missy Marple. Perhaps her motivational drive is revealed a bit too soon, leaving the performance with less options. What openings there are left though, Plested really goes for them with good results.

Gaps between costume changes are filled in by videos of another of Plested creations: #KellyZee, the girl addicted to hashtags and stick-it notes. Some gags work, others not so much. We are going to need a bigger Twitter.

For the finale, Plested combines all the elements that go before and adds a thick layer of social satire with excellent effect. The laughter was loud and the applause, long.

Clare Plested is both funny and genuinely witty, which allows her to interact fully with audiences, whether in or out of character. She is also energetic and physically brave performer who squeezes the last dregs of pulpy laughter from people.

If you enjoy banter, interaction (or love seeing it happen to others) plus comedic character creation, invest an hour at Ciao Roma. Please feed the artists on the way out. Oh, and Clare: hope the rash clears up soon.

If you want to know what that means, see the show.

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

Reviewer:  Martin Veart (Seen 16 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Sophie Pelham: Country Files (Pleasance Courtyard, 7 – 30 Aug : 16.45 : 1hr)

“Likeable, effusive, hilarious”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Nae Bad

Upon entering the Pleasance Cellar (sorry, Dorset) the audience is offered a tot of sherry and a sausage roll to get into the mood. For me, in this, my third back-to-back show, this seemed like a dream come true. And indeed the dream continued for the first 10 minutes or so when Pelham, as village lady-of-leisure Vanessa Bluwer hilariously tells us about life in Kilmington, her noble employers, and the various courses she runs on a voluntary basis (everything from breast-feeding to bereavement counselling). As this character Pelham is likeable, effusive and strikes a good balance between prepared material and audience interaction.

Alas, after this the show falters somewhat, with a series of less well developed characters, too much audience interaction and little drive to keep the performance moving. Pelham’s Lord Ponsanby, a drunken country gent utters my funniest line of the show “I’m not homosexual, just bloody posh”, but falls flat after a few minutes and it’s a bit of a relief when she goes off to change again. Two of her characters are animals (a badger and a fox respectively, the less said about those the better), but posh school girl Primrose and yummy mummy Sulky Waterboat are both enjoyable, making fun of relevant stereotypes.

While some parts of the audience interaction in this show were great – getting various members to hold a hobby horse, read a letter and answer the odd question – I felt that on the whole there was an over reliance on this, and as the show went on there was a definite sense of awkwardness in the room, particularly among those in the front row who seemed to get “picked on” multiple times.

And just as the level of audience interaction was pushing it, sometimes her jokes also strayed over the line into being somewhat cringeworthy, the worst offender of these definitely being the one about the Muslims… hushed silence all round. Some gags were spot on tone-wise though: safer topics included politics and class, both suitably ridiculed, while even references to underage sex got a few chuckles.

Overall, I think this show has the bones of something that could be really special, but would be better if it focused on fewer individual characters, and having a clearer sense of narrative between them, to keep the show flowing from one scene to the next. A good effort.

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 22 August)

Visit the Pleasance, Potterrow & Teviot archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

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

Pajama Men: 2 Man 3 Musketeers (Assembly Roxy, 7-30 Aug : 20.20 : 1hr)

“Ridiculous, but genius”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

The Three Musketeers is one of my all-time favourite books, and as an epic tale of friendship and valour, I was intrigued as to how it would work as a two-man comedy in under an hour. As it turns out, it is hilarious.

I lost track of the number of characters they played between them after just a few minutes – men and women of all shapes and sizes, an array of animals, and people that could well have been animals.

It sounds ridiculous, and in many senses it was, but it is also genius. They kept the plot fairly accurate (give or take a few creative embellishments) and it was – remarkably – quite easy to follow. But that is coming from someone who already knows the story – for those who don’t, I can imagine it looked like two idiots in pajamas running around with multiple personality disorder.

My absolute favourite of the characters portrayed was the slithering swamplike Cardinal and his range of repulsive yet hilarious noises. This was also the most clearly defined character in the performance, with strong physicality, accent and language. Other highlights for me were how the personalities of Athos, Porthos and Aramis (the real musketeers) were distilled into very simple caricatures, and how Allen and Chavez could jump between them seamlessly.

What really kept the show alive was the fact that throughout, the two actors always seemed to be keeping each other on their toes, with various, seemingly improvised, Family Guy-esque capers into similes and side stories. There were just enough of these to keep variety and energy, without them detracting too much away from the plot and purpose of the piece.

The pair were more than ably supported by musician Ignacio Agrimbau, who also seemed to semi-improvise sounds and music to support the action, given the selection of instruments he had in front of him. This was always done very effectively, and moments where actors and musician interacted were also very amusing.

What could be seen as a good or bad thing, or indeed just a thing, was that Allen and Chavez never once seemed like they were actually “acting”, more just capering around as if having fun in their own spare time. They were very knowledgeable and confident in what they were doing, very in tune with one another, and the piece flowed with the ease of a stream of consciousness or children in their own fantasy world. The apparent effortlessness gave it an incredibly professional feel and it was easy to engage with from the get go.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Steve Griffin  (Seen 8 August)

Visit the Assembly Roxy archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED