Edinburgh Festival 2016 Review

Etherwave: Adventures with the Theremin

The Theremin has the distinction of being the only musical instrument that can be played without touching, and it has a wide use in atmospheric, and experimental music, ranging from Led Zeppelin, Brian Eno, and Kraftwerk, and any number of science fiction films. It has a certain timbre, but in the hands of a player such as Miss Hypnotique, it has a soaring, and sonorous sound, and the show features pieces by Saint Saens, and Rachmaninov to show her serious intent. As well as the music, there are also a number of anecdotes, which involve Simon Cowell, and tales of surviving in tropical jungles. An interesting history of the accidental invention of the Theremin is also included, and this was an entertaining, and informative hour, learning about an instrument that we have all heard, without necessarily knowing what it is.

Ellie Taylor: Infidelliety

Two o’clock in the afternoon is not normally a time that is associated with comedy, but Ellie Taylor, the star of such televisual treats as Snog,Marry,Avoid, Pets Make You Laugh, and Mock The Week soon got the capacity crowd on side, having met us all on the way in. She has an easy stage manner, an ability to connect quickly, and tales of life that most of us could relate to. She spoke about immigration, having married an Australian, and although her comedy was of a slight feminist bent, it did not alienate the audience, as she discussed at length such issues as bikini waxes, her love life, and weetabix. This was a good hour of thought-provoking comedy, wth superb comic timing, and well worth the entry fee.

Lewis Macleod is Not Himself

There are at least three shows featuring impressionists in the Fringe,with Rory Bremner and Alistair McGowan both appearing in shows, but Lewis MacLeod is not himself has a little gem of a show at the Frankenstein. The show starts with a pathe newsreel, and a jovial voiceover, which sets the tone for the rest of the show. He is a busy audio recording artist, having appeared on Dead Ringers, and Newzoids, and is a first call over-dubber for such Hollywood icons as Christopher Walken, so although the clunk of heavy name dropping can be distracting, it is the nature of shows such as this. So, we hear his voices from adverts, and impressions of famed figures, ranging from Sean Connery, to Robert De Niro, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump.Comedic points are made about the nature of voices, and how advertisers pick certain voice types for certain products. At just 50 minutes, he still packs a lot in, and closes the show with a muli-voiced rendition of Little Red Riding Hood, which showed of his virtuoso skills at their best advantage, and at the incredible value price of free, this is a show that is well worth your time.

Gordon Southern: Long Story Short

A comedian has to be at the top of their game to deliver a show about Dementia, they need charm, pathos, and bravery, and this show has all of that. The Scottish comedian Gordon Southern, in Long Story Short has produced a show that looks at the difficult subject of his Father’s Dementia, but has packaged it in such a way that the heart-break at the centre of the story is not the centre of the show. We see Southern’s tales about travelling the world, about the nominations he keeps getting, how he, like a lot of us, can be both skinny and fat at the same time, and hipsters. To the soundtrack of Jean Michel Jarre’s Oxygene 5, and a glockenspiel, we are told about his struggles with Milk. However, the punchlines keep coming, and an hour in this genial comedian’s company is never wasted time. Sadly, many of us have had, or will have personal experience of the tragedy of Dementia, seeing the slow decline of a loved one, this show doesn’t pack any punches, but it does it in a way that is warm, humane, and embracing.

Woody Allen(ish)

After the succesful film career, and recent travails in his personal life, it is good to be reminded just how good a stand up comedian Woody Allen was in his youth. Handing out flyers outside of the Frankenstein Bar, talking to the audience whilst they queued down the stairs, and into the street, and always in character, actor and impressionist Simon Schatzberger performed Woody Allen’s iconic comedy routines with aplomb and accuracy. With Allen’s personal tics, neuroses, and voice accents down, even mannerisms were perfectly and deftly performed. This was a show for comedy fans, but also for Woody Allen fans to be reminded of comedy routines, including the now legendary Moose scene. If you like comedy, and supporting talented performers, this could be the show for you, but get there early, as this show is proving to be very popular indeed.

Eleanor Conway’s Walk of Shame

Eleanor Conway’s Walk of Shame is not a show for the easily offended, or narrow minded as to the raw material that can be turned into comedy, but the charismatic performer has led a storied life, as a music journalist, running discos in far flung places, overusing alcohol, drugs and tinder, replacing one crutch with another, and now two years sober, she is seeking the adrenaline hit of life performance. With a more dour performer, this show would be bleakly depressing, but as she zips around the stage, regaling the audience with the tales of her life, many of which we will never experience, from working for The Triads, to interviewing the non Gallagher members of Oasis, we are left with the impression that although she was lucky to escape it, the addictive personality is not something that some people can so easily abandon. If you are broad-minded, not easily shocked, and interested in the life experiences of other people, in all of their visceral, unresolved glory, then this show could be one to fit into your already bulging Fringe calendar.

Alice Marshall: Vicious

Nobody is safe in Vicious, the new character driven comedy show from Alice Marshall. Not imaginery characters, not Cheryl Tweed Cole Versini (or whatever name she is using now) and certainly not the audience. So the show starts with Greta Medina, a control freak with nazi undertones, who commands the show, and is the central character throughout Vicious, and only one of the many voices, and acting styles that Marshall uses throughout the show. Verbatim voice overs, and vox pops, as well as newsreel help to add some context to the show, which also includes a fine impersonation of Cheryl Cole, the geordie songbird become increasingly unhinged, and sinister as the scene progresses, and Louise,a seeming innocent who is victim to the cruel jeers, and relationship advice of Greta Medina. This is an interesting show, full of much potential, and Marshall herself is a talented performer, better suited to the stage, where the full force of her vision can be seen to its best effect.

Apocalypse Cruise Ship Love Affair

Blend a near sell out Edinburgh Fringe Audience, a crack live band, six talented performers, and a plot that pokes fun at disaster films, b movies, and sudden chances in attitude, and you have something close to Beach Comet’s Apocalypse Cruise Ship Love Affair. It starts, as all good shows do, with a death, and Captain Bleunfonde is still haunted, 20 years on by the death of Mandy his first love. His loyal first mate Fittles, who has something of a devotion to the captain, tries to keep the ship on course, in spite of his Captain’s increasingly deranged behaviour, whilst the always upbeat Passenger Liason, Hanks Leeroys has fallen in love with Sister Evie. Add in two older passengers, looking for a good time with anybody that catches thier eyes, and the recipe for mayhem is in place. An original score, that takes in elements of show tunes, rock, gospel,and blues, is ably performed by the off-stage band, who keep a close eye on the singers, for their are elements of unchecked chaos within the performances. The accent of Leeroys veers all over the place, with the humour that Allo Allo employed, meaning mis-understandings, and malaprops added to the sense of fun. The darkness of the plot, with an approaching apocalyptic storm, zombie resurrection, and unrequited love was well balanced with songs about having fun whilst you can, or the sad ballad that Fitters sang about how the captain never noticed him. The near perfect comic timing of each cast member meant that this was a wholly entertaining, if improbable hour of fun.

Sally Phillips and Lily Bevan: Talking to Strangers

It is testament to the professionalism of Sally Philips, having earlier in the day sustained an injury to her leg, she was still able to perform in a show that was as tightly written as this one. Best known for her work on Alan Patridge, Smack the Pony,Miranda, radios Clare in the Community, and the Bridget Jones films the seasoned actress Phillips, and Lily Bevan, from the film Sweet Revenge, and Doctor Who provided an evening of monologues, that ranged from detailed character studies, to more studied storytelling. So we meet a Yoga instructor,with a strange line in talk, and stating the obvious in a new age way, a Marriage Counsellor who is a bit to pre-occupied with how the body works, a Swedish Scientist,a health guru who claims that men like hair, because it reminds them of spaghetti, and who has her face ironed twice a month, a museum guide, forced into playing the part of Catherine of Aragon,a Falconer who has lost her falcon, and many other characters. Many of the monologues are of a medium length, lasting between five and ten minutes, and whilst a certain debt is owed to Alan Bennett, there is very little that is comfortable or tidy about the scenes. They are jagged, and well performed, but there are no resolutions to the scenes, such as in the case of a Lion neurologist who during a train journey realises that she has wasted the best part of her life doing a job that doesn’t really matter, or a cancer support group, whose number die rapidly after having a phone call from Bette Midler. You wil not be able to hear The Wind Beneath My Wings in the same way again. Like all sketch shows, some of the material is a bit patchy, but in the hands of such personable performers and writers as Sallly Phillips and Lily Bevan it is still carried with aplomb.

David O’Doherty: Big Time

David O’Doherty is a man with big plans, big ideas, and a very small keyboard. Like a more self aware John Shuttleworth, the simpleness of his tunes, and the tinny sound of the keyboard add something to the charm of his stage show. An Edinburgh stalwart of nearly twenty years standing, and a regular on Television, and any panel show that needs a good dollop of his Irish Whimsy, it was not a surprise that this show was nearly sold out. However, he made a couple of big claims in the show. First, that he could solve all world problems, and that by this time next year, he and his small keyboard would be too big for Edinburgh. He dug into some pretty sombre subjects during his act though, ranging from Donald Trump, to Brexit, and how we are all doomed, but it was a charming show, that also took in the problems of sponsorship. O’Doherty is decidely unglamourous, and he aims to have sponsorship from smaller,less prestige companies, such as Swarfega, and the makers of joke candles that never go out. He packed a lot into the hour long show, with an appreciative audience happy to be there for the ride, but if he did become even bigger, it would be a sad loss to both Eight out of Ten Cats does Countdown, and the Edinburgh Fringe.

Happiness is a Cup of Tea

Fiona Nash is a young woman, with a career in London, but as the play begins, she is at Beachy Head, when the phone rings. It is her sister, with some very sad news. Beachy Head is her childhood home, she has not gone there to escape a life, more to look at her own life, and to find the ideas and themes that will enable her to write a fitting eulogy for her Mother. The wind is blowing, there is a storm brewing, and Fiona is wearing a yellow mac, and wellies, and as the weather improves, she is able to catch her breath, and see the world in a differing manner. In Happiness is a Cup of Tea, the writer and actress Annie McKenzie summons up the parts of Fiona’s life in a way that is full of pathos, anger, resentment, but also of acceptance. She is no stranger to death, having lost her Father, and as a result of that, the mother she knew before at Six. A six year old cannot make sense of death, of the repercusions of it, how it changes things, and Fiona knows that if she could speak to her six year old self, there is nothing she could say to make things better. As well as Fiona’s own life story, we are told the story of a fisherman, who one day finds a skeleton in his nets but this is no ordinary skeleton, and as he cares for the skeleton, it begins to come to life, gathering flesh and life from the fishermen’s tears. The use of two puppets for each of the main characters brings a certain level of humour to the play. Although the stories are unrelated there is some sense of unity in them, as the shock of death, or the discovery of a death lessens, and acceptance comes into the picture. This is a one woman show, a soliloquy on loss, but there is also more there, as Fiona contemplates her much older sister, giving the eulogy at her Father’s funeral when she was sixteen, and Fiona realising that it is now her turn. She talks about how she will now have to learn to Iron, to step out of the shadows of her own life, because the people who used to look out for her, have left her on her own. Fiona also feels bruised, because she had no idea that her mother was even ill, so was unable to say goodbye to her properly. The play ends as Fiona remembers how her Mum saved numerous lives, just by talking to potential suicides at Beachy Head, and maybe in its own way, this short play, which tackles big subjects, and deserves a larger audience is doing the same, in reaching out to the bereaved and saying its, OK, we all feel like this, but it will get better.

Our House

Alternative lives have often been explored in film and literature, from Sliding Doors, to Groundhog Day, and Back to the Future, and Our House looks at the same theme, using the music of Madness to make the point about the importance of choices, and doing the righ thing. Joe Casey is 16, just leaving school, experiencing first loves and first jobs, he lives with his Mum, in a house that has been granted to the family in perpetuity by his grandfather, but his father is a criminal, and one fateful night, whilst trying to impress his would be girlfriend, Sarah, he has to make a choice, when the police arrive at the flats he has broken into. One of the choices is too stay, and to face the music, the other choice is to run. Running leads to a life of criminally gained riches, an unhappy marriage to Sarah, and losing the house, and a heartbreaking ending, whilst staying, and having the strength of character to admit to his wrong-doing leads to a short time in a Young Offender’s Institue, difficulty finding jobs, struggles with low esteen etc,but the type of happy ending that his other, alternative self could have only have dreamt of. In the central role of Joe is Luke Robinson, who plays the parts of good Joe, dressed in white, and bad Joe, dressed in black. His is an energetic performance, that is full of brooding intensity at one time, and pathos and sympathy at others, Rachel Warrick Clarke as Sarah has a really good singing voice, and stage presence, whilst other characters, ranging from friends of Joe and Sarah, to his parents, and members of the criminal fraternity add an energy and stage presence that belies many of their ages. A talented, and musically tight four piece band, lead by Tom Bayliss, of two keyboards, saxophone, and Drums and Percussion play the reggae/ska influenced songs such as Driving in My Car, Our House, Baggy Trousers, and It Must Be Love with aplomb and verve, whilst the choreography, by Alysia Roberts showed hours of dedication, with barely a foot or hand placed wrongly, all whilst the actors were singing complicated harmony, or lead vocals. This was a high energy performance, packed with both pathos,and although the hero/anti-heroes journey has been well played out many times before, in this production, the near capacity audience were still shown the importance of doing the righ thing, at the right time.

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