Love Song to Lavender Menace (Lyceum Studio: 12 – 21 October ’17)

16.(L-R) Matthew McVarish and Pierce Reid. Photo credit - Aly Wight

Matthew McVarish and Pierce Reid. Photo credit – Aly Wight

“A delightful gem of a show”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

Bookshops, especially independent ones, often have a comforting and homey feel to them, providing a peaceful sanctuary and hidden paradise of worlds waiting to be explored. Indeed, that’s what Lavender Menace proved to be for many of those that visited it back in the 1980s, as Edinburgh’s foremost seller of LGBT and feminist literature – and that same feeling is what James Ley’s latest play captures in his moving and comical tribute not just to that shop, but to Edinburgh’s gay scene at the time, and the colourful characters that made it.

Set during the night after the shop’s final day’s trading, we meet two of its employees, Glen (Matthew McVarish) and Lewis (Pierce Reid) who spend the night packing away the books, while reminiscing and creating an homage about the place to perform for its founders the next morning. The pair recount how the bookshop came to be, the antics that occurred, and how their own friendship has developed during that time. It’s a simple setup, and while a little lacking in dramatic tension to really drive the piece forward, the stories themselves are easy to engage with, Ros Phillips’ direction keeps everything moving at a decent pace, and there are many laughs to be had throughout the various capers presented.

What’s most delightful about this performance is the vitality and honesty that oozes from its stars Reid and McVarish. The duo are instantly likeable storytellers, while their skill at multi-roling with speed and dexterity must also be applauded. Watching a full-length play with just two actors can sometimes be a bit of a slog, but this one flies by like an evening spent with good friends. Ley’s writing on the whole is very natural, providing some genuinely lovely snapshots of the shop’s history, but it’s Reid and McVarish who really bring those snapshots to life.

It’s a shame the structure of the play goes a little awry in the second half with various seemingly random changes in time, place and character. While such devices work smoothly early on in the production, seamlessly weaving together the different stories, it becomes much harder to follow as the piece progresses. Perhaps something around the hysteria of the characters, who have clearly been up most of the night by this point kicks in, but the tightness of Ley’s writing does unravel somewhat. For me, the love story between the two also seems a little shoe-horned in for dramatic effect, though its resolution is ultimately satisfying.

Overall, this is a delightful gem of a show, which, like a well-loved bookshop, might not be as glossy and polished as the more mainstream ones, but is definitely one I would be happy to visit again.

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 13 October)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Odd Shaped Balls (theSpace, 17 – 29 Aug : 19.15 : 50 mins)

“Powerful, energetic and frank”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

The story follows professional rugby player James Hall as he comes to terms with his own sexual identity and deal with getting “outed” in the media. We see him as his club’s star player – someone who really needs rugby in his life – as they get promoted into the Premiership at the start of the play. We follow some very touching relationships he has with various characters – his coach, his father, his girlfriend and his teammates – all played by Matthew Marrs.

It’s a very pacey piece, packed with short scenes and snippets of conversations, which enables the audience to see the range of people in Hall’s life, and their reactions and relationships to him. While in certain sections of the play this works very well in communicating the franticness going on in Hall’s head and not knowing who to turn to, at times it also becomes quite confusing as to who he’s talking to, what scene we’re in, and how much time has lapsed in between them.

It’s certainly a commanding and masterful performance from Matthew Marrs, who manages to convey all the individual characters, as well as drive the performance with passion and vigour. He effortlessly captures the angst of Hall’s dilemma, showing a great range of emotion, while also being very grounded. What I liked about the character was that he seemed very real and that dialogue flowed naturally, without having been over-polished. My favourite of the other characters was Hall’s plain-speaking Welsh teammate who, at one point, very brazenly described “jackpot threesomes”, with hilarious effect.

While a very commendable and powerful concept for a piece, the writing and structure did let it down somewhat, as did, arguably, the decision to make this a one-man show. For almost every conversation throughout this piece, Marrs played both sides, which I feel was a somewhat lazy device in communicating the narrative. I think it would have been more powerful for at least some of these to have been shown from one side only, to allow us to connect more with the character on show, rather than the constant flip between two or three different characters played by the same actor. Alternatively, having one or more supporting actors for Marrs to play off could have simplified some of the scenes where there was a lot of back and forth.

In saying all that, this was a terrific show – powerful, energetic and frank, with a very important message.

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 28 August)

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Trans Scripts (Pleasance Courtyard, 5 – 31 Aug : 15.00 : 1hr 30 mins)

“Gutsy, inspiring and emotional… get a ticket by any means possible”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars

Trans Scripts is a verbatim play, which examines the lives of six transgender women, and is performed by six fantastic transgender actresses. It’s simply structured as six monologues, interwoven and staged with very little fuss and theatricality, allowing the stories to speak for themselves.

We follow the women from when they knew something was wrong with their bodies, through reactions from their families and peers, their transitions, and their lives since. Each story is unique and heartbreaking in its own right, but when told as a collection, you do really get to see many different sides to being trans. We see familial acceptance, we see homelessness, we see violence, suicide attempts, broken relationships and even the reaction of a church. There are highs, lows, twists, turns, and a real cross-section of experiences that go some way to representing a very misunderstood group.

One example is Josephine (played by Catherine Fitzgerald), who becomes trans when she’s married with children, and longs just to fit in as a woman. She’s managed to maintain an amazing relationship with her wife, but struggles to comprehend the reaction of her wife’s colleagues and friends. The most touching story for me though, which reduced me to tears many times, was that of Eden, who having been born with both female and male genitalia, was made a “boy” at the insistence of her father. We follow her struggle with her identity, relationships and family, learning about how she almost died during her gender reassignment surgery, and her first steps to meeting her mum again, having been estranged for over 20 years. The delivery of this monologue was gut-wrenchingly powerful from Rebecca Root, who really stood out with impressive physicality and emotive range throughout.

While very much six individual stories, there are occasional moments of interaction between the characters as well. The most interesting of these involved a heated discussion as to the necessity of having the full operation, and how this affects identity. As became evident, even within the trans community there are differences of opinion as to whether such steps are necessary to really fit in, shining further light on the struggle to be accepted and happy in their own bodies.

Overall, this is a very important and engaging piece of theatre, which has been crafted with precision and sensitivity by writer Paul Lucas, and is a gutsy, inspiring and emotional performance from six women who’ve all made incredible journeys in their lives. Get a ticket by any means possible.

 

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 22 August)

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To Kill A Machine (ZOO, 7 – 31 Aug : 20.55 : 1hr)

To Kill a Machine, a new full length play written by Welsh writer Catrin Fflur Huws about the life of Alan Turing. Director: Angharad Lee Scriptography Productions Dress Rehearsal May 5 2015 ©keith morris www.artswebwales.com  keith@artx.co.uk  07710 285968 01970 611106

“One of the finest acting performances I have ever seen at the Fringe”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

In a year that has seen Alan Turing receive an official royal pardon and a blockbuster film about his achievements, it seems somewhat surprising that there aren’t more shows at this year’s Fringe about him. However, this work from Welsh company Scriptography Productions is absolutely sensational, and features on of the finest acting performances I have ever seen on the Fringe.

The play starts with Turing as a schoolboy, and goes on to show his first love, his work at Bletchley, and the relationship that would see him found guilty of gross indecency. It’s certainly not afraid to be bold, and at times brutal, focussing primarily on Turing’s sexual identity and personal life.

Turing himself is played by Gwydion Rhys, who brings so much emotional depth, softness and realism to this disturbed character that I genuinely wanted to jump on stage and stand in the way of him being chemically castrated in the play’s final scene. It’s a controlled and commanding performance without ever being over the top, and well worthy of a Fringe award. The supporting cast of Rick Yale, Francois Pandolfo and Robert Harper, who between them play 14 characters, also deliver highly commendable performances.

The production moves at quite a fast pace, but it’s the moments of stillness and sensitivity, which to me were the most powerful. In particular, watching Turing’s mind whir as he develops his theory for the first computer, and his damning confession and inability to lie while in the witness box are utterly compelling.

While I wasn’t 100% convinced by snippets of the high energy quiz show scattered throughout, which posed questions to reflect theories developed by Turing, these sections did serve as a stark Brechtian contrast and awakening to his manipulation and ultimate downfall. I would have liked to have seen a closer integration between these sections and the genuine interrogation he received in the courtroom to really complete the circle of that idea.

It was also disappointing for me that this show was only an hour long, I could easily have stayed engaged for two, and would have welcomed more exploration into some of the other themes – gender identity, machines vs humans, and more cultural context of the period of his life. In saying that, for the length it was, I think it was written and structured excellently, with an engrossing narrative and compelling action. This show is a must-see.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 17 August)

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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)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED