One-Man Pride and Prejudice (Assembly Studios: 2-12 Aug (even dates only): 15:50: 60 mins)

“Intelligent, funny… solicit this production for your next dance”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars

It takes real bravery to present an hour-long version of Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice – condensing the numerous scenes and chapters into a cohesive highlights reel – yet even more to do so as a one-man show. Madness, perhaps? Fortunately, in this instance it’s a stoke of genius. Perennial Fringe favourite Charles Ross (best known for his One-Man Star Wars™ Trilogy in recent years), is at the helm with this adaptation based on Andrew Davies’ 1995 television series.

The script for this venture has been developed by Ross and his wife Lisa Hebden, and while early on it feels rather too whistle-stop in how quickly the story is told, the final result feels like a fair overview, keeping all the major plot points, with a pocketful of laughs scattered along the way. One can only imagine how much editing went in to ensuring this rip-rollicking performance lasts exactly one hour, but credit to both for achieving it.

As well as being a proficient dramaturg, Ross shows himself as an adept performer in taking on almost every character in the book without ever venturing into farce, or needing props and costume. The whole piece pleasingly embodies a fitting controlled and restrained Georgian air, though a few modern quips are very well received. Odd moments of improvisation are handled with verve, and internal monologues and animalistic interpretations of some of the smaller characters bring much merriment. Overall, this production just oozes confidence in the base material and mastery in performance.

The only slight downfall is that you’ll need to be fairly familiar with either the book or televised adaptation to really appreciate the many witticisms and character interpretations on display – it won’t be particularly accessible for any ignorant plus-one you might want to drag along, even though the craftmanship of the performance itself would still be impressive to an Austen novice. With some scenes reduced to just a line or two and so many characters to follow, there’s a lot to keep up with, but for those in the know this really is a treat.

This is an intelligent, funny, and professionally delivered show that scores top marks with me. Take the opportunity while you can of soliciting this production, reader, for your next dance.

 

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 10 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Velvet (Pleasance Courtyard: 1-27 Aug: 14:00: 60 mins)

“A tour de force from Tom Ratcliffe”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

If the #metoo campaign taught us anything last year, it’s that sexual harassment is far more common than we think – especially in the entertainment industry where (generally) younger and (generally) female individuals are too often coerced into performing sexual favours in the promise of getting some sort of career boost from it.

Velvet (written and performed by Tom Ratcliffe) shows it’s not always women that are the victims in these cases, as it follows the plight of a young male actor longing to hit the big time, and who finds himself questioning how far he’s willing to go to get ahead. After turning down a spurious offer of a drink from an overly familiar casting director, and subsequently being dropped by his agent, Tom thinks twice when he is contacted on an app by an apparent big-wig in the film industry. Should he put his scruples aside to potentially further his career? And what would his partner think if he did?

While perhaps not the most original of plots, Velvet does go to show an honest and accessible account of one actor desperate enough to dance with the devil, with sufficient depth and perspective to make it a balanced and gripping show. It’s a fairly pacey piece, with scenes jumping from one to the next to push the story along, but it’s those where Tom converses with the mysterious man online that are the most disquieting and pleasingly restrained. Something about seeing each message flash up on screen behind the action gives added weight to the dark discourse, and the development of this plot-line in particular is edge of the seat stuff – how would any of us respond given that situation?

As a one-man show it’s a tour de force from Ratcliffe, who himself plays everyone from snooty agents to stuffy actor friends, and even his own mum. Only at rare moments do individual personalities blur, and it would be great to see some more extremes and risk-taking come to the fore to make each and every character unique and identifiable.

There are a couple of convenient coincidences and moments in the script where suspension of disbelief is pushed to its limits, but on the whole this is an honest and heartfelt performance that I could very happily sit through again. It’s only my seventh show of the Fringe this year, but absolutely my favourite so far. Well worth watching if you’re an (aspiring) actor, in particular.

 

outstanding

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 5 August)

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THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Elizabethan (theSpace @ Surgeon’s Hall: 3-11 Aug: 12:05: 50 mins)

“A healthy serving of bawdy silliness “

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars

Elizabethans aren’t particularly well-known for their musical theatre prowess, so developing a one-man (is it fair to call it a juke-box?) musical comprising songs only from the turn of the 17th century sounds like a risky move, but a compelling concept for those of us who enjoy a bit of both history and musical theatre.

The resulting Elizabethan follows the loves and losses of one Tobias Bacon, who comes of age after his father dies in 1599. Yet though it’s billed as a musical, what’s delivered is much more like a comedy cabaret – a lot of chat and period puns, with the odd musical ditty thrown in – but with very little in the way of narrative or emotive development. Disappointing if you’re expecting to be wowed by a 17th century equivalent to Tell Me on a Sunday, but packed with laughs and merriment – especially if you’re a fan of historical wordplay.

Elizabethan is created and performed by David William Hughes, who accompanies himself on the lute for each song. This stripped back musical simplicity of man and lute certainly works for the more melancholic moments, while attempts to rock out and mix up the vocal styling do go some way to adding interest and excitement to the subtle nature of the music when required. Hughes is clearly a gifted musician, but more complex arrangements and variety in style would help keep the songs more engaging while maintaining the integrity of its renaissance roots.

Hughes also shows himself as a very competent improviser in relation to audience reactions, which is where perhaps the biggest risk of this production becomes apparent. Hughes requires several audience members to participate in this production (though – thankfully! – nobody is asked to sing or play the lute), and these contributions make up a good bulk of the comedy and tension within the performance. While willing subjects make the show fresh and funny, it does rely rather too heavily on their good grace and humour for my liking.

On the whole, Elizabethan is a healthy serving of bawdy silliness with a couple of nice (though fairly samey) songs thrown in. It’s good for a giggle, though somewhat lacking in depth.

 

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 5 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

Stardust (Pleasance Dome: 1-27 Aug: 16:20: 60 mins)

“Entertains and enlightens”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

While, to many, the Fringe is a place to be entertained, it is also a place to be challenged and to learn something new. I’m not ashamed to say that before watching Stardust I knew very little about the country of Columbia. And that my knowledge extended barely any further than the stereotype it has garnered for being the home of cocaine – another subject about which my knowledge was paltry. Step up, then, this part-documentary, part one-man-theatrical-masterclass which entertains and enlightens on both counts.

In entering the space, performer Miguel Hernando Torres Umba gives each audience member a warm welcome and entrusts a select few to look after mysterious boxes, which go on to become significant parts of the show (nothing scary!). The mood set is one of familiarity and friendship as Umba then explains his Columbian heritage and the purpose of the show he has created as artistic director of Blackboard Theatre.

What follows is a whistle-stop tour through the history of cocaine, how it has become a multi-million pound (and very dangerous) industry, and the wider effects this industry has around the world. With very imaginative use of audience interaction, projections, sound, contemporary dance and many other devices besides, it’s certainly a feat in creative communication. Yet while each section is captivating and powerful, the connection between them often comes across as a little disparate and scrappy, working against the relaxed and open atmosphere at the heart of this show. The game show element in particular is engaging and fun, though rattled through almost too quickly to get the most out of it, and then we’re on to a different aspect of the story.

The joy of this performance, though, is driven by the passion and personality of Umba. His likeability and charm make the learning very enjoyable, and his honesty and communication style are very engaging without going over the top. He shows himself to be adept at multiple performance styles within the piece and knowledgeable and authoritative about his subject.

Overall, Stardust is a well-thought out and compelling discussion, though disappointingly (albeit achingly honestly) leaves a bittersweet taste as there appears to be no resolution or obvious path forward. Well worth watching to learn a few facts about Columbia’s biggest export, though.

 

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 2 August)

Visit the  Pleasance, Potterrow & Teviot archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

FCUK’D (Gilded Balloon: 1-27 Aug: 12:30: 60 mins)

“Hints of truly brilliant wordplay”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

There’s been a pleasing rise in popularity in spoken word and verse performances over the last couple of years, opening theatre up not just to new audiences, but also new artists who might previously have thought the medium too inaccessible for them. And what makes the Fringe so special is being able to experience stories of those that don’t normally get a stage. FUCK’D is one such verse piece, where a young man from an estate in Hull, who dropped out of school early, longs simply to stop his little brother being taken away from his broken home by the authorities.

Following their mother’s breakdown having being left by their father, the two boys must fend for themselves, and when the clipboarded do-gooders finally arrive in their shiny cars, the elder brother makes the split-second decision for them to both jump out the window and run for it. With no plan and less money, the journey they make is one of desperation, reflective of the plight of many such teenagers around the country today.

Niall Ransome’s script cleverly interweaves narrative drive with descriptive passages to tease out the background and develop the world the characters grew up in. A romanticised view of their home estate and its personalities nestles next to the tense escape scene, while reminiscences of rainy picnics are juxtaposed with hiding under a bridge, to add poignancy and personality. It’s artistic and moving with hints of truly brilliant wordplay.

George Edwards is the performer tasked with delivering this urgent tale, and he commands the stage with power and honesty. It’s a tough task to sustain the rhyme and mood for almost an hour, but this is a commendable effort, supported by a simple yet effective soundscape.

While the narrative and performance quality lacks some of the artistry and finesse of works by similar artists such as Luke Wright, this is a solid and capable outing that is almost aching with potential. It would be great to see a bit more pumping pace and extremes in mood to create more intensity – and while Edwards does very well to carry the performance, more dynamic changes and depth would really make this show zing.

A sterling effort, that with a bit more polish could become something very special.

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 2 August)

Visit the Pleasance, Potterrow & Teviot archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

The Gun Show (Space Triplex: 4-26 Aug: 19.40: 60mins)

“Vin Shambry is one of the most powerful and talented performers at this year’s Fringe.”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

Of all the takeaways from E.M. Lewis’s one-actor project The Gun Show, there is none clearer than this: lead actor Vin Shambry is one of the most powerful and talented performers at this year’s Fringe. As the sole actor, his voice, mannerisms, physicality, and humor are magnetic, charming, and immensely human; he could be talking about throw pillows or breakfast cereal for an hour and it would probably still warrant a standing ovation.

But in this play Shambry talks about guns. He talks about them over five stories, which are delivered with grace and rhythm, but written with a somewhat vague sense of pace and subject matter. From a charming opening anecdote comparing the blood-soaked climax of Tarantino’s Reservoir Dogs to modern gun-filled headlines, the tone is set as one of culturally relevant iconoclasm. The plot overall weaves personal stories – such as a retelling of a harrowing  robbery at gunpoint – and very public true ones, including a shocking reenactment of professional lunatic Alex Jones defending the Second Amendment days after the Sandy Hook massacre. Shambry’s performance throughout is engrossing and electric, with clever audience interaction that entertains and commands the room.

The play at first seeks a deceptively simple point about guns in America: that the conversation has devolved into two sides that insult and deride each other without helping anyone. Lewis writes of the Whole Foods-shopping, Rachel Maddow-listening left, and the gun-toting, NRA card-carrying right, lamenting that the vastly larger middle ground opinions are drowned out or ignored. Stories of the responsible, sensible use of guns are convincing, as are cautionary tales and assertions about how guns can be used for true destruction and terror. Points raised later in the play are strikingly personal, and to director Shawn Lee’s credit, masterfully withdrawn.

There is a moral stickiness to elements of the overall approach, however, that one cannot shake. Shambry performs specifically as Lewis, whose identity and backstory are revealed slowly and subtly throughout the performance, and there is a vague sense of a plot-twist as it becomes apparent that Shambry is not playing himself, but speaking of experiences from people of differing genders, race, age, and background. The Gun Show exists on at least three planes in this sense. Firstly, there is Shambry delivering a powerful spoken essay on gun violence and the complexity of personal firearms. Secondly, there is Lewis, writing as a woman who has intentionally chosen a vessel very unlike herself to deliver these statements. Thirdly, there is a back and forth actor/writer dialogue, at times literally shining a light on Lewis, who is present in the audience, with recognisable moments of mutual understanding that he is playing her, and she is writing for him, yet as herself. This aspect of the performance is both disorienting and brilliantly simple.

The stickiness, however, comes from the misleading qualities of the advertising and format. On the poster, Shambry’s face, as a Black man, juxtaposed against an American flag with the tagline “What the hell is happening in America?” seems geared towards a specific set of issues that will be discussed, specifically race-related gun violence. Yet The Gun Show never once addresses the innumerable and unnecessary deaths of Black Americans at the hands of law enforcement, instead favouring a much more general take on the gun conversation, written specifically by a white woman. While the play itself does not necessarily suffer for it, this bait-and-switch from a topic as devastating and unjust as racial inequity can’t help but feel slightly distasteful, as if these stories are teased but minimised in favour of a separate issue. That’s acceptable, given Lewis’s admittedly gripping stories, but The Gun Show will leave a sense of unease in your stomach if you expected something else.

This show commendably begins the conversation of just what the hell is happening in America, and – for Americans and non-Americans alike – proves the conversation is well worth having. The writing could be sharper, and the points broader, but when you’re hearing them from someone like Vin Shambry, it’s simply unmissable.

outstanding

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Reviewer: Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

The Great Ridolphi (Underbelly Cowgate: 3-27 Aug: 13.25: 55mins)

“Steve Turner delivers a real tour-de-force”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

The Great Ridolphi follows the story of Victor O’Meara, only son of the now deceased (or is he?) eponymous grand illusionist, as he seeks to unravel the hidden messages his father left him to find a missing painting: the inheritance he thought he would never get. Following an unexpected visit from a scrupulous investigator, Victor must solve the clues to uncover the mystery before anyone else can get there.

It’s a rather rollicking adventure from the quill of Chris Isaacs (not unlike a stage version of an episode of TinTin), as Victor chases across countries and meets some rather exotic characters to reach his goal. While the pace is great and the 50 or so minutes of the show absolutely fly by, it is at the expense of some of the mystery and suspense – revelations, deductions and beautiful moments are often over before they’ve barely been set up and it feels like a little bit of the joy of the story is squeezed out too soon. For an ordinary man, Victor is miraculously very good at solving puzzles, riddles, and taking risks without much thought and it is disappointing not to see more of his struggle in this regard.

The tension is helped along, however, by a couple of clever sub-plots: calls from his wife, escalating in desperation the longer he’s away; and his deteriorating health – we start to wonder whether he might drop dead himself before finding what he’s looking for. Both bring a genuine human element to the story, often missing from adventure tales, so it’s pleasing that these details are included – it helps the production feel more grounded in the here and now. There’s also the omnipresent investigator tracking Victor wherever he goes, though it’s never quite made clear whether he’s meant to be trusted or not. It seems to make little difference given the rather rushed ending, so this device feels rather wasted, and greater development of this character would add to the sense of foreboding throughout.

Victor (and indeed every character present on stage) is played by one of the piece’s co-creators Steve Turner, who delivers a real tour-de-force throughout. His performance is confident, clear and honest, never feeling like it’s all one big showman superhero act, but a man simply following his calling and interacting with whatever crosses his path. He shows great dexterity in the swift changes of scene and character, though for me he could go further to explore and expand on some of these to create more drama and individuality.

This is a witty and warming (if a little wild) performance, charming to the last second. One for the shortlist.

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 16 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED