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Sep 20th

Cilla the Musical at the Edinburgh Playhouse

By Clare Brotherwood

Cilla the Musical already has an impressive pedigree.

Penned by Jeff Pope and based on his award-winning TV mini-series Cilla, it is produced by those masters of feel-good, semi-bio music shows about past icons and eras, Laurie Mansfield and Bill Kenwright - who also directed the show.

Even so, Cilla the Musical is in a different stratosphere - thanks to Kara Lily Hayworth in the title role.

I reckon I am well qualified to judge. As a young teenager I hung on Cilla’s every lyric and even travelled down from Carlisle to see her at the London Palladium. I still remember her mannerisms and how she delivered her songs so, for me, anyone playing her has to be spot on. And Kara Lily Hayworth is!

When she makes her first entrance, apparently giving an interview to Kathy (Kathy McGowen, I presume. She’s not introduced!), I am disappointed - she doesn’t look like Cilla for a start. But as the show progresses she quickly grows into the role, both physically and vocally. Hayworth may come from Buckinghamshire but she’d pass for a Scouser any day, and it’s not hard to see why she also has a career as a singer. She’s a real little belter! At times, I really think Cilla Black is there on stage, performing all her old hits such as Anyone Who Had a Heart, You’re My World, and It’s For You. It makes for an emotional evening, and is deserving of the standing ovation.

This fast-paced, vibrant show isn’t all down to her, however. Pope’s script contains more than a sprinkling of the humour Liverpool is so famous for (no doubt with contributions from Liverpudlian Kenwright - and as chairman of Everton FC did the reference to that team come from him?). Cilla’s son Robert Willis is executive producer, so with his seal of approval you know the story is authentic, and the cast really does bring to life the star’s early days.

As Bobby, Carl Au plays the role of Cilla’s soul mate with conviction, starting out as a swaggering youth with not much confidence but with a belief in Cilla’s talent which knows no bounds. Likewise, Andrew Lancel is a totally believable Brian Epstein, manager of both Cilla and The Beatles. In this role he is a million miles from Corrie villain Frank Foster, cutting a tragic figure as a man whose private life was a mess and who died from an overdose. His reprise of You’ve Got To Hide Your Love Away comes as a total, pleasurable, though moving, surprise.

As in this type of show, the supporting cast are extremely versatile, acting, singing, dancing and playing various instruments. The Beatles are especially good, particularly Michael Hawkins’ cheeky portrayal of John Lennon, and Alan Howell, though looking nothing like him, sounds just like Gerry Marsden.

Cilla’s career spanned 50 years, and this is a fitting tribute to her, especially in the expressive hands of Kara Lily Hayworth - who is also making the transition to stardom.

 

Cilla The Musical continues at the Edinburgh Playhouse until Sept 23.

Box office: 0844 871 3014

www.atgtickets.com/edinburgh

It will then continue touring:

Sept 26-30: Milton Keynes Theatre

Oct 10-14: New Alexandra Theatre, Birmingham

Nov 7-11: New Wimbledon Theatre

Nov 14-18: Regent Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent

Nov 21-15: Palace Theatre, Manchester

Jan 23-27: Grand Opera House, York

Jan 30-Feb 3: King’s Theatre, Glasgow

Feb 13-17; New Theatre, Oxford

Mar 13-17: Bristol Hippodrome Theatre

 

Mar 20-24: New Victoria Theatre, Woking

 

Aug 18th

Margarita Dreams

By Kirstie Niland

Until 28th August 2017, Edinburgh Fringe Festival

There’s no doubt that Margarita Dreams - a cocktail of absurd comedy - is written by a past master. Step forward Richard Sparks, creator of the Schoolmaster Sketch made famous by Rowan Atkinson and material for Not the Nine O'Clock News. 

It begins with Dave on a beach in Mexico, drinking margaritas. An alcohol-induced dream catapults him through a series of sketches, starting with paranoia about his phone and ending with a surreal Abba-esque disco dancing therapy session - with divorce, cross-dressing, a medium and a flasher in between.

Earning praise from comedy royalty Jack Black, Kathy Lette and Griff Rhys Jones, this show brings classic daft comedy into the modern world.

 

Book tickets here

Aug 18th

The Cambridge Footlights International Tour Show 2017: Dream Sequence

By Kirstie Niland

Until 28th August 2017, Edinburgh Fringe Festival

The world-renowned Cambridge Footlights troupe has launched comedy household names such as Stephen Fry and Sue Perkins, and the Edinburgh Fringe is just one stop on their global tour of London, California, Las Vegas, Chicago, New York and more.

As expected the show was packed ready to see what the latest esteemed new talent would be like. It was exactly the kind of slapstick British character comedy you would expect to see from those following in the footsteps of the greats.

The current troupe – Sam Knights, Ruby Keane, John Tothill, Ania Magliano-Wright and Henry Wilkinson – gel well together and show real promise.

The scene which drew the biggest laughs was the hilariously accurate sketch portraying primary school teachers on a day out: "Fingers on lips…what are we doing Year 4? We're looking at YOU Toby!" This scenario was clearly relatable to one and all as we replied obediently in chorus: "Representing the school”. A series of mishaps occurs, including the teachers losing the theatre tickets..."We'll do what we always do, we'll pin it on Toby".

Other highlights included a cross-dressing parody of Kate Bush’s Wuthering Heights and some grotesque face-pulling by Sam Knights over the sensation of a warm sheet of paper from the photocopier - uncannily reminiscent of Rowan Atkinson.

Altogether an hour well spent - and possibly an opportunity to have seen some more British stars of comedy in the making.

 

Book tickets here

Aug 18th

Murder She Didn’t Write

By Kirstie Niland

Until 28th August 2017, Edinburgh Fringe Festival 

Who can improvise a whodunnit and make it fabulously funny? The finger of suspicion points to Degrees of Error with their murder mystery, Murder She Didn’t Write.

It begins with the usual formula of suggestions from the audience, except this time there’s an extra challenge in that the actors have to create a drama surrounding a victim and killer, as well as motives for the rest of the cast, without giving the game away or losing the plot.

And so we, henceforth referred to as the groundsmen, look out for clues as the cast is gathered at a séance for The Case of the Straight Banana. The cast’s comic timing and ability to think on their feet is outstanding, with many flashes of brilliance - such as the quick response from Madam Scarlett (a clairvoyant author) when a fellow actor tests her with the question - what does her book title ABCDEFG stand for? "And Because Clues Don’t Exactly Flourish – Ghosts!"

With Cluedo-inspired names and some first class acting and improv, the result is a rip-roaring, polished performance.

 Book tickets here

Aug 18th

Showstopper!

By Kirstie Niland

 Until 27th August 2017, Edinburgh Fringe Festival

The Fringe just wouldn’t be the Fringe without Showstopper! - and the riotous laughter and applause from the audience stands testament to the popularity of this Olivier Award-winning musical comedy. 


For our visit the improv challenge was Buy or Die!! set in Birmingham at the Leamington Spa branch of Currys, with the first scene at the Black Friday sale.

Sparks fly when two excited bargain hunters are served by two dedicated shop assistants - forming two couples who fall in love, enjoying dates at the chippy before settling down to have children. As ever there are obstacles ahead, and the couples travel the rocky road of true love in the style of Legally Blonde, Hamilton, Oliver! and Priscilla, Queen of the Desert.

The super talented cast conjure up a side-splitting series of songs, including Open the Doors (to Curry's) and Let Love In, Grab a Deal, Everybody Needs a Cable - Everybody Needs a Plug, and Currying Favour.

No matter how many times you see this show, the story developed is always completely different and the result is a smooth, professional performance you would think had been rehearsed. It's astonishing how the actors can create a plot with characters, cast the roles, come up with a script and song lyrics, whilst simultaneously performing it and making it very very funny to boot.

Another five-star performance from Showstopper!

 

Book tickets here

Aug 18th

Rhapsodes

By Kirstie Niland

Until 27th August 2017, Edinburgh Fringe Festival

This extraordinary Shakespeare improv comes from the creators of the Olivier Award-winning Showstopper!. It features two rhapsodes, Adam Meggido and Sean McCann, who create an original Shakespeare play, drawing on audience suggestions and the styles of writers from the last 3,000 years.

We enjoyed a show which combined history, tragedy and comedy to tell the story of a window cleaner who thinks he's been cuckolded and falls off his ladder, which prevents him from playing Shinty - but of course he recovers to triumph in the end. The performance includes an ingenious Harold Pinter v Edgar Allan Poe poetry slam about a visit from debt collectors, and the non-stop wordsmithery is ridiculously fast throughout. 

Rhapsodes is a prime example of how the Fringe provides excellent education as well as entertainment. Where else would you see an audience of all ages pay avid attention to a lesson in iambic pentameter? Or the four temperaments of sanguine, choleric, melancholic and phlegmatic demonstrated and understood so uproariously in just minutes? 

Highly recommended, not just for a fun-filled hour of bard-worthy banter between rhapsodes, but as an inspirational experience for teens who are studying Shakespeare.

 

Book tickets here

Aug 18th

Chris Turner: What a Time to Be Alive

By Kirstie Niland

Until 27th August 2017, Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Crossing the Atlantic can prove problematic, especially if you have a suitcase full of "leaves" and can't resist a quip at the airport. But Chris Turner is such an unusual combination of the likeable and unlikely, it’s entirely believeable that he should end up freestyle rapping for the security guards when they realise he’s an innocent, award-winning comedian on his way to America to live with his girlfriend. With lots of tea. No wonder his YouTube channel has scored over 5 million hits.

 

The statue of liberty holding aloft a box of Yorkshire Tea in the background (he’s rapped an advert for them) is a fitting tribute to his cross-Atlantic gags and the nuggets of wisdom he has encountered there…don’t be a cop just because you like donuts….Trump is going to make America great again. With his self-deprecating humour and widely appealing act, it’s no surprise Chris was asked to promote such a well-loved tea brand, or that he was headhunted by the Coca Cola empire even though he makes fun of their homeland. And despite his principles over the company’s ethics they nearly had him hooked, until he discovered, with some relief, that his tea contract meant he couldn’t promote another beverage. Their response was that they didn’t consider tea to be a beverage. Cue an insightfully funny email rant that “put the rage into beverage”.

He hasn’t exactly pledged allegiance to America (only its donuts) but post-Brexit Blighty doesn’t escape his wit either. Why don’t we have a Hollywood Walk of Fame? You'll have to see him to find out.

This year’s hour full of belly laughs and raps has earnt Chris a place on The Telegraph’s 53 funniest one-liners from the 2017 Edinburgh Fringe so far with: “My Mum doesn’t sugar coat things, she’s diabetic”.

Do not miss this. He’ll be back in America before you can say Brexit.

Book tickets here

 

Aug 17th

Pamela DeMenthe Presents: Sticky Digits at the Edinburgh Festival

By G.D. Mills

Les Dawson was able to play the piano with comically bad precision because he knew how to play it well. Likewise Jenny Morgan’s (pen name Pamela Dementhe) assured grasp of the English language enables her to twist it into hilariously awful prose. Metaphors are mangled, similes shat on, and good taste shot to hell as DeMenthe, self-published author of a plethora of erotic novels, guides us through her creative process. Titles include Raise it for Pamela and Filling Me Softly, at the Esso Garage. DeMenthe’s irrational, sensual and fevered personality is joyfully mismatched by her earnestly conceived PowerPoint presentation during which we learn more about her frustrated sexual desire than about the world of literature.

“I woke up to find two fingers in my cunt. Only one of them was mine.” Thus begins her latest novel Sticky Digits, an exorbitantly priced tome which she reads from and then dramatizes using a series of props and projected images. DeMenthe’s surreal flights of fancy involve a lover pleasuring himself anally with a plutonium rod, a great deal of ‘nakidity’ and would-be lovers who are transformed, at sexually critical moments, into ravens.  The story pulses and throbs its way towards an orgiastic denouement involving, if I remember correctly, a raw egg and an explosion of flour.

There was a moment of quickly aborted audience interaction, which might have been quite fun, and Morgan makes best use of the slightly claustrophobic space alloted to her at the venue - a more spacious, bourgeois setting would have suited the immaculately turned out DeMenthe more nicely I feel. Those with a puritanical streak might do well to avoid this show. Otherwise this is fifty minutes of surreal and verbally dexterous funniness.

Image result for four and half stars


This show runs in Edinburgh until the 27th August at Just the Tonic at The Caves

Buy your tickets here

Aug 17th

Victim

By Kirstie Niland

Until 28th August 2017, Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Following the success of his 2016 show – Villain – at the Fringe, Bruised Sky Artistic Director Martin Murphy has returned with a one-woman show, Victim.

 

In this unnevering play, the clanking switch of a spotlight from blue to red alerts us to the change of character from upright Tracey the prison guard to predatory prisoner A23174 Siobhan. However Louise Beresford is so adept at her portrayal of two polar opposite women that we are immediately aware of the shift through the change in her demeanour and facial expressions.

The two women are preoccupied with an infamous new inmate, Marcie, who has murdered her baby. Tracey, who is trying to get pregnant, thinks she can help her. Siobhan, serving a sentence for killing her ex-boyfriend, is savvy enough to know that her status as Marcie’s cellmate will provide her with an opportunity to get under the usually guarded Tracey’s skin.

Siobhan – the prison “fixer” - is wickedly open about her past and her plans to lure Tracey into incriminating herself so that she can be blackmailed into bringing in forbidden supplies. Meanwhile Tracey falls victim to misplaced trust and walks right into her trap. 

Their respective downfalls reveal ironies about broken rules and double standards, with dark comedy alleviating some of the tension.

As each describes their life story and struggles we see them slip and show weakness; and there is a disturbing realisation that these two women, despite their different backgrounds and motives, are both the victim in this compelling drama.

 

Book tickets here

Aug 17th

Darren Harriott: Defiant

By Kirstie Niland

Until 27th August 2017, Edinburgh Fringe Festival

Darren Harriott has that genius knack for observational comedy that catches you off guard and has you laughing so hard your sides hurt.

“Three things are guaranteed in life: failure, strong opinions and death,” says the blurb for his show, and this talented comedian finds humour in every situation, whilst sharing some very difficult family history with sensitivity and a tiny hint of vulnerability.

You find yourself relating to things you’ve noticed without realising just how funny they are, addressing stereotypes we’re not supposed to laugh about in case it isn’t PC. Like what was wrong with the original yellow emoji? Turns out it’s been a useful way for Darren to find out what colour he is: “second from the end black, and far right when I’ve been on holiday”. On class/pay divide: he’s not like us, he shops in Waitrose. On gender: today’s extensive list has ruined the game Guess Who. And why do the voices in your head never tell you to do something positive, like have a cup of tea?

Darren Harriott is matter of fact when he mentions the effect of drugs and mental illness on his family, and the suicide of his father in prison. His humour pushes boundaries but never crosses the line and he pays respect to both his dad’s memory and to his mum, who likes a glass of wine, afternoon naps - and complicated men.

There are too many seriously funny moments to do this affable, up-and-coming comedian justice in one short review so let’s just say he nails it. So go and see him.

You will not beat Defiant for fast-paced, laugh out loud humour that emphasises the ridiculousness of not seeing the funny side of life, even when times are tough.

Five well-deserved stars for Darren Harriott and his little boy knees.

Book tickets here