+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.

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Reviewer:  Martin Veart (Seen 16 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: One Day Moko (Gilded Balloon: 5-29 Aug: 15.45: 1hr)

“A wonderful performance that really deserves to be seen.”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

My third review of the day, and my third on the topic of homelessness is really quite a mystery – for the first few hours afterwards I had no idea what to make of it. One Day Moko follows the life of a young homeless man through the encounters he has with others and inadvertently, or perhaps on purpose, says very little about homelessness itself.

Moko is a charming character, who, rather than asking for money, simply asks for requests of songs he can sing. Indeed, it appears this is how he survives. With the thick skin homelessness must give, he’s not afraid to ask direct questions of the audience, and those of us with that stiff British upper lip who might normally just walk past a homeless person are unable to in this experiential performance. It’s confrontational, but in a really charming way. Be prepared to chip in to help make this show come alive.

Stylistically it’s very clever – absorbing, hard-hitting, and unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. It’s a shame that narratively it seems somewhat incomplete. Moko tells various stories of people he meets or observes throughout his day, from Margaret who likes her coffee on a Saturday morning, to James who is bored of his relationship with his girlfriend but doesn’t know how to tell her, and many others. The storytelling is animated and engaging, though we only get teasing snippets – perhaps in reference to the snippets a homeless person may overhear as people walk past. Only James’ story is returned to and developed throughout the piece, and though for the audience it’s not clear why this one gets so much attention, I’ll admit the subtlety may have been lost on me.

While it’s teasing not to know more of each story Moko begins (one feels that they will tie together or thematically link in some way), there are some commonalities identified and shared by Moko, giving an intriguing outsiders’ perspective as to how the “other half” live. One of these is the importance of communication and saying what’s on your mind, perhaps a lesson Moko himself has learned, but sees the normal working person fail at so often.

At times this piece is achingly awkward, but it’s also utterly compelling. Tim Carlsen’s charisma, surprisingly impressive singing voice and physicality make Moko a really likeable and naiive character that it’s genuinely sad to say goodbye to at the end. It’s a wonderful performance that really deserves to be seen.

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 12 August)

Visit the Pleasance, Potterrow & Teviot archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: Growing Pains (Underbelly, Cowgate: 5-28 Aug: 16.30: 1hr)

“Oozes a quality that is rare and valuable”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars

There’s a lovely tradition at the Fringe whereby all companies performing at a certain venue are permitted “standby” tickets to other shows at that venue: once all paying ticket holders have been admitted, any empty seats are then up for grabs – if there are any. For this performance Underbelly companies didn’t just fill the few empty seats: staff were frantically laying out two extra rows at the back to cope with a level of demand I’ve never seen before. Within about 10 seconds of the performance starting, I could understand the hype.

As is so achingly trendy at the moment, Growing Pains is written like a performance poem, with rhyme and rhythm, ridiculously clever wordplay, and a lot of witticism. It’s brutal, honest and unflinching in its portrayal of a young man growing up on an estate in Salford and wanting to make it as an actor. Energy is red raw from the get go and you can tell this is going to be an intense and emotional hour.

Central character Tom introduces his friends, portraying each with clear physicality and accent, and we get to laugh at their banter and endeavours to get served at the local pub while underage. Later on we see those same friends grown-up, stuck in a rut and stifled in small-town mentality that Tom so desperately longs to break away from.

Tom Gill gives absolutely everything in this production – from emotive, heart-wrenching pleas to his dad, amusing turns as his Caribbean neighbour and a posture-perfect well-heeled yuppie, to more puns on London tube stations than you can count and a stripped back and haunting break-up scene with an ex-girlfriend: it really is a one man tour-de-force. For me, it’s 2016’s Johnny Bevan.

Oh, and it’s also a musical. With poetic lyricism that effortlessly floats in and out of song it only seems right to blend the two, and it just works. Not in a corny, musical theatre I’m-just-going-to-burst-into-song kind of way, but in a genuine expression of music being the only way for Tom to be able to communicate what’s going on in his head. It’s funny. moving, and incredibly well performed.

However, it’s not perfect – there are several odd little skips, jumps and glossings over within the narrative that could be made clearer or more cleverly interwoven without the need to go to a blackout – but everything about it oozes a quality that is rare and valuable and definitely worth buying a ticket to. Just ask anyone else doing a show at Underbelly.

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 8 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

+3 Review: Wilde Without the Boy (Assembly Hall: 4-29 Aug: 11.00: 1hr)

“Masterfully delivered by Gerard Logan”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars

In this one-man adaptation of De Profundis by Oscar Wilde, we join the infamous writer in prison, shortly before his release. What unfolds over an hour is a real-time monologue, directed at his lover, reminiscing on their relationship and the events that led him to become incarcerated.

While masterfully delivered by Gerard Logan, the script is quite tricky to follow as it jumps about in referring to different events in the past, with precious little obvious through-line or connection from anecdote to anecdote. For a theatrical adaptation I would have preferred a more linear and logical approach to his musings to make it easier for Wilde novices to engage with, and give a sense of progression and journey that could be followed. The show also contains an excerpt from The Ballad of Reading Gaol which seems to come from nowhere, while various other dramatic moments (for example, a sudden mention of his mother’s death), seem to be thrown in for dramatic effect, without a clear link to the flow of the piece.

In saying that, the lyricism of the language is exquisite, and the whole piece retains everything we love about how Wilde writes. It includes plenty of pertinent detail including reference to several key turning points in Wilde’s later life and many gaps in my knowledge of the writer were more than adequately filled by the depth of biography covered.

While somewhat chaotic, the script does allow to demonstrate a full emotional range, so we get to see and know Wilde in every circumstance, from emotionally fragile, to proud, defiant, smitten and everything in between. Everything’s there, it’s just a little all over the place. Following last year’s triumph in The Rape of Lucrece, Logan has certainly lost none of his craft in delivering a very emotional and compelling performance and this is another very creditable showing.

Although perhaps a slightly unfair criticism, I can’t shake the feeling that this show is playing in the wrong venue – I think a dingier room somewhere in the caves or along the Cowgate would help more easily more establish the setting as a 19th century prison than the very obvious very studio feel of Assembly Hall’s Baillie Room. On this point I must make a special mention to the sound design, which was excellent in setting the scene to start with and giving background to the court case that landed Wilde in jail, and creating atmosphere at various other points throughout.

Overall, this is a production that doesn’t quite come together as well as it could have – the pieces don’t seem to fit. An exquisite performance and an interesting story, but a little unfulfilled.

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 5 August)

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED

What I learned from Johnny Bevan (Summerhall, 7 – 30 Aug : 16.55 : 1hr)

“A simple story, powerfully written, mesmerisingly performed”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

Sometimes I feel I should just give up. I see a show like this that makes me think theatre can’t get any better, so why should I bother going to see anything else? This absolute gem of a show, performed in a tucked away little room at an old veterinary college, is exactly why I keep coming back.

The story follows Nick, a young man from a wealthy background, who is desperate to shake off his family shackles and cultural expectations and discover his own identity at university. There he meets Johnny Bevan – the intelligent, bohemian philosopher from a council estate who opens up that new world Nick has been looking for. And while their initial connection is electric, years later when the two meet again, can Nick save Johnny from the tortured soul he’s become, or does Nick actually need saving from his consumerist lifestyle as a writer in London?

The writing of this piece is some of the best I have ever come across. Part poem, part epic monologue, it oozes style and professionalism, while sounding completely natural when performed. The story arch is perfectly framed, and never once feels indulgent or rushed. Every word is carefully selected to portray character and develop the story, with rhythm and selected rhyming that make it very easy to connect with. My favourite line was when Nick described going to meet Johnny “over lentil-based cuisine”, while some of the digs and views on modern society are captured with terrifying accuracy and wit.

The writing would mean very little, however, were it not for the incredibly emotive and gutsy performance from Luke Wright. He captures Nick’s naive early years, his coming-of-age at university with Johnny, and perhaps most mesmerisingly of all, his look back at the those touching moments and unhappiness with who he has become. Throughout the piece he talks directly to the audience, often very up close, which really engages and brings a sense of honesty to the piece. At select moments he looks back the the projected backdrop in reflection or shame, while his physicality captures every nuance of the characters and situations being presented. It is a truly masterful performance.

The technical aspects of the show are simple, but perfectly sympathetic with the script and style with which it is performed. Hand drawn images projected onto the backdrop show the setting of each scene, while subtle changes in lighting accentuate the mood perfectly. Anything more would detract from the piece’s overall power.

This is a simple story that is powerfully written and mesmerisingly performed – I cannot recommend it highly enough.

 

outstanding

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 15 August)

Visit the Summerhall  archive.

THIS REVIEW HAS NOT BEEN SUBEDITED