Edinburgh Gin’s Night of Literature and Liquor (Edinburgh Gin Distillery, 10 – 31 Aug (Mondays only) : 19.00 : 1hr 30 mins)

“Thoroughly enjoyable and educational”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

The cosy Edinburgh Gin Distillery is the perfect venue for a tour of literature’s liquor references, washed down with no less than four gin-based cocktails. It’s comfortable, intimate (audience numbers are limited to 20), and a delightful escape from the bustle of the Fringe.

The show is presented by the quirky and immensely knowledgeable Ewan Angus, who welcomes us to the distillery and talks us through the first of our evening’s beverages. He soon moves on to the good stuff – the literature – starting with who else but Robert Burns.

Throughout the evening, Angus covers a complete range of work, covering writers as diverse as Dickens, Zola, Eliot and Carroll, to lesser known modern authors including Thomas Pynchon and Jim Dodge. He explains the context of each piece, including society’s attitude towards alcohol, and reads selected excerpts which wonderfully describe or talk about liquor and its effects.

Of course, there were features on the well-known gin drinkers of the 20s (Fitzgerald, Hemingway et al.) but no show about literature and liquor would be complete without inclusion of Ian Fleming’s James Bond. Indeed, one of the many surprising facts I learned during this show was how Fleming would knock back up to a bottle of gin a day while writing his last novels. To further his argument into Fleming’s obsession with gin, Angus references passages from Casino Royale and Thunderball, which both give detailed accounts of the many charms of a martini. I’m sure there are plenty more.

However, while gin is commonly known as “mothers’ ruin” – the etymology of which is also discussed in this show, it was somewhat surprising that so few female writers were included. Only works by George Eliot and Elizabeth Gaskell made the cut, though Angus explains that while his research was extensive, it seems women were generally more restrained in their references to liquor.

While Angus is clearly very knowledgeable and passionate about his subject, his delivery was at times a little introverted and rushed, and I would have liked to see more confidence and charisma come through. However, as this show is still very new, I’m sure that will come in future performances.

Overall, this is a very well-researched and informative show, and apart from leaving somewhat more inebriated than on one’s arrival, it’s thoroughly enjoyable and educational.

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 24 August)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

The Misfits of London: The Gin Chronicles (artSpace@StMarks, 10 – 22 Aug : 18.30 : 1hr)

“An absolute gem of a show, full of class, style and thoroughly enjoyable to watch”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars

This show is a new take on the “play within a play” format. It begins by introducing each of the characters who are set to perform the first instalment of The Gin Chronicles live on the radio. And as their live studio audience, we are encouraged to clap, cheer, sigh and gasp when the relevant sign is held up. Before long, it does feel astonishingly real, and I was uncontrollably drawn into the world presented on stage.

The set is basic, dominated by four standing microphones in a row centre stage – very reminiscent of a period recording studio. And while much of the “action” is spoken into the microphones, physicality is used to portray various situations throughout – from fight scenes to swimming – so that visually the performance was just as engaging as it was aurally.

The plot follows the rather dim John Jobling (Robert Blackwood), who decides to become a detective when gin magnate Cornelius Juniper is reported missing. To help him in his endeavours, he employs cunning housekeeper Doris Golightly (Helen Foster) to be the brains of his mission. What follows is a wonderful vintage romp to solve the mystery, featuring a sweet heiress, her charming fiance, a cockney newspaper boy, a taxi driver, some mysterious Frenchmen on a boat, and countless other characters, all deftly played by the acting cast of four. Particularly enjoyable moments were when Jobling and Golightly exploited a bouncer’s Achilles’ heel by reciting poetry to make him fall asleep, to the “intermission” section where Nancy Carmichael (Alice Etches) took the chance to eat a biscuit, only to be unable to effectively read the advertisement without choking in a Noises Off style homage.

The acting throughout this performance – especially considering the numerous characters portrayed, the overall styling, and indeed the talent required to play characters playing characters – was exquisite. It seems somewhat cruel to single out individual performances, as the whole cast performed to a very high standard, but Etches was utterly charming as the newspaper boy and Sam Sheldon showed fantastic dexterity across his numerous characters.

Yet what made this performance really special was Luke Lamont, whose responsibility it was to produce a startling range sound effects to support the action. He used an array of objects (all available in the 1940s) to simulate everything from pouring gin to opening and closing doors and even a taxi cab. I’ve never seen vegetables used quite so creatively! Stylish elements and attention to details like this really helped to this put this show in a league of its own

The narrative of this piece is quite basic, but the delivery is nothing short of exquisite – served ice cold with a squeeze of lime. It’s an absolute gem of a show, full of class, style and thoroughly enjoyable to watch. I raise a toast to The Misfits of London and here’s to the next episode of The Gin Chronicles.

 

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 22 August)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED