Share |
Aug 17th

Greg Wise at the Edinburgh International Book Festival

By Clare Brotherwood

I didn’t expect to be writing about the Book Festival. I’m all about the performing arts, right? But I love books, and reading (though, horror of horrors, I do find ebooks more convenient) so I paid for several talks, and put my notebook away.

Of course, the talks I’ve booked are by theatricals - Jim Broadbent, Michael Frayn and, last night, Greg Wise - which is why I’m writing this.

I had expected - and hoped - to hear about his acting career. What I didn’t expect was to be completely engrossed, and moved, by a man’s experience of his sister’s demise.

I didn’t take notes. I wasn’t there to write anything, so this ‘review’ will be short, and based only on the feelings I took away with me.

I haven’t yet read Not That Kind of Love - Greg Wise’s joint blog with his dying sister Clare (the Book Festival spelt her name wrong. I sympathise. My name is not Claire either!) - but I have a feeling that it is going to be essential reading, a book I will be handing out to anyone with, or affected by, cancer.

 

Many actors admit to hiding behind the characters they are playing, but Greg Wise as himself is a shining star, totally engaging, honest, charismatic, funny and an inspiration to us all - for who among us hasn’t had, or doesn’t know someone with, cancer. My own husband died from liver cancer only 12 hours after I was told of his diagnosis.

Aug 16th

EDINBURGH FRINGE: Harpy at White Underbelly, 66 Cowgate EH1 1JX****

By Clare Brotherwood

Su Pollard is not only famous for her role as chalet maid Peggy Ollerenshaw in the eighties sitcom Hi-de-Hi, but also for her off-screen zany personality and mile-a-minute chatter.

But in Philip Meeks’ play, although her signature earnest delivery is still evident, this is Su Pollard in contemplative mood, as Birdie, a lonely woman who lives among the detritus of life talking to her fish...and her social worker. She also shouts at the woman next door who bangs on the wall when Birdie sings into a hairbrush.

There’s a hint of madness as Birdie’s story unfolds and we get to understand just why she - and maybe other hoarders like her - is the way she is. But there are moments of stillness in Pollard’s performance and she does cut a sad figure.

‘My things were here for me when no-one else was,’ she says, as she surveys the boxes spilling over with stuff she just can’t throw away.

Harpy is at White Underbelly, 66 Cowgate EH1 1JX at 4pm daily until Aug 26. Tickets from £12.80.

 

http://www.underbellyedinburgh.co.uk/whats-on/harpy#select-a-performance-jump

Aug 16th

Fame The Musical

By Kirstie Niland

Blackpool Opera House until Saturday 18th August

True to the lyrics of the song, the cast of Fame The Musical are showing the world they can make it “By doin' hard work". Singing, acting and dancing their way through the rites of passage of a group of performing arts students, the talented triple threats work work work their leg warmers off. 

Director/choreographer Nick Winston certainly puts the cast through their paces in a real case of art imitating life and vice versa. In the legendary words of dance teacher Lydia Grant in the original movie: "You want fame? Well, fame costs. And right here is where you start paying ... in sweat."

The Selladoor Productions show is bursting with vitality and a rollercoaster of highs and lows worthy of the Big One. The story mixes feel-good 80s nostalgia with issues of prejudice, identity, pride, literacy, sexuality, substance abuse - and perseverance. And of course the trials and tribulations of adolescent heartbreak and romance.

Leading lights for the UK tour are soul singer Mica Paris, Keith Jack (Any Dream Will Do, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolour Dreamcoat), and Jorgie Porter (Hollyoaks, Dancing On Ice), all of whom shine in their roles, superbly supported by the rest of the cast. In particular Jamal Kane Crawford in the role of Tyrone, whose rapping and raw energy lifts things to a new level. Matched with Jorgie Porter as ballerina Iris, the couple have great chemistry as lovers from opposite sides of the track, and their pas de deux when tough boy Tyrone lets his guard down is just beautiful.

The most mesmerising moment for me was Mica Paris singing These Are My Children. Her commanding presence as teacher Miss Sherman, combined with her humility as she herself learns from Tyrone whilst pushing him to succeed, results in a breath-taking performance powered by seriously awesome vocals.

Meanwhile Stephanie Rojas is heart-breaking as the self-destructive Carmen, and has all the charisma needed to open the finale number – the one we are all waiting to hear. It won a well-deserved Oscar in 1981 for the best theme song and it’s clear from the audience reaction that Fame is gonna live forever.

Book tickets here

UK tour dates here

Photographs courtesy of Winter Gardens Blackpool 

Aug 16th

EDINBURGH FRINGE: The Song of Lunch at the Forth, Pleasance Courtyard *****

By Clare Brotherwood

His CV in the programme (what a novelty to be actually handed one as you go into an AIR-CONDITIONED venue) is an entertainment in itself but, strangely, Robert Bathurst doesn’t mention Cold Feet!

He doesn’t need his role as the hapless David Marsden in the long-running and multi-award-winning comedy-drama to get bums on seats, however.

The Song of Lunch is a exquisitely written, performed and presented.

Robert Bathurst teams up with Rebecca Johnson to play former lovers who meet up for old times’ sake after 15 years.

Christopher Reid’s text is beautifully observed and written. Where else would you see a kiss described as ‘the familiar collision of pout against pout’?

As in his Cold Feet role there is an air of pathos around Bathurst as he narrates his bitter-sweet story, building up to the meeting with the woman he used to (still does?) love. But the dry humour doesn’t go undetected. The man recalls the Italian restaurant where they used to meet and are meeting again. It used to have red and white checked tablecloths with green napkins. Now the table linen is white - ‘lost to patriotism, we surrender’.

It’s not a drama as such; it’s described as a verse comedy. At the restaurant they are not sitting at a table but in chairs set far apart across the stage, and when they do come close it’s almost like a dance. The story is actually illustrated by a running backdrop of cartoon-like scenes, showing silhouettes of the couple and where they are. We have Charles Peattie to thank for this novel presentation, and director Jason Morell for putting together such a delightful and at times dark piece.

The Song of Lunch at the Forth, Pleasance Courtyard EH8 9TJ until Aug 27 at 2.20pm.

 

Box Office: 0131 556 6550 www.edfringe.com/event/2018SONGOFL_PO

Aug 15th

EDINBURGH FESTIVAL: Nina Conti is Monkey at The Underbelly, Bristo Square *****

By Clare Brotherwood

Nina Conti is a phenomenon.

To many she is bigger now than her famous father, actor Tom Conti, and she doesn’t even have to open her mouth to draw the crowds!

I always make a point of seeing this remarkable ventriloquist’s show whenever I come to the Fringe. She used to be at the Pleasance; now she’s filling the 1,700-seater McEwan Hall. And in this new show Monkey, her foul-mouthed dummy, has taken over!

As Monkey, this British Comedy Award winner knows no bounds and holds no prisoners. ‘He’ ends the first half of the show by revealing that, when he was little, Conti was sweet, kind, giggly and unshockable, but ‘she put her rude thoughts down her arm and into me, and now she’s going to bust out of me and steal my thunder’.

Conti then emerges from the monkey suit as herself and the show goes stratospheric as she invites members of the audience on stage to become her ‘mouthpieces’.

The lucky ones last night consisted of a mother, father and their three sons, all of whom were fitted with movable masks which Conti operated while giving each of them a different voice. “Let’s get you a face and see what happens,” She says, transforming each into a bizarre character. It’s a remarkable feat, especially as she spends a lot of time laughing and yet still manages effortlessly to throw her voice with its different timbres and accents.

It’s pure genius!

Nina Conti is Monkey is at The Underbelly, Bristo Square each day at 7pm.

 

Box Office: 0131 510 0395 www.underbellyedinburgh.co.uk

 

Aug 14th

EDINBURGH FRINGE: First Snow/Premiere neige at CanadaHub@King’s Hall (Venue 73) ***

By Clare Brotherwood

It may have been co-produced with two Canadian companies, but this play is very relevant in Scotland.

Montreal-based Productions Hotel-Motel and Theatre Pap have joined forces with The National Theatre of Scotland to explore failed independence referendums - Quebec in 1995 and Scotland in 2014.

It’s not an easy production to follow. Performed in both English and French, we are told, ‘If you don’t speak French f… off!’ There are subtitles but these distance you from the actors. And the lack of any set to speak off means we are entirely reliant on the dialogue.

But it’s still an important piece. The cast members alternate between their characters and themselves, making it more real, as they examine their identities as individuals and as countries.

It all happens at a family gathering at their ancestral home in Quebec. There’s a matriarcal Isabelle, her Anglicised brother, her daughters and a Scottish boyfriend who originates from the Congo, her adoptive son and an old, Scottish, friend. The drama lies in their different views. I just wish I’d understood more of it.

First Snow/Premiere neige is at CanadaHub@King’s Hall in association with Summerhall until Aug 19 and then 21-26 at 6.10pm. Tickets £15 with concessions.

 

Box Office: 0131 226 0000 http://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/first-snow-premiere-neige

 

Aug 13th

EDINBURGH FRINGE: My Left/Right Foot The Musical at the Assembly Roxy (Venue 139) *****

By Clare Brotherwood

I have always been uncomfortable when disability and comedy are mentioned in the same sentence. But then, maybe I am part of a problem, for in his musical comedy about disability, writer and director Robert Softley Gale pokes fun at the attitudes of non-disabled people. 

He has every right. Born with cerebral palsy, he remembers seeing the My Left Foot and wondering why a non-disabled actor was playing someone who was disabled.

Now The National Theatre of Scotland, which can always be relied upon to stretch the boundaries, has joined forces with Birds of Paradise Theatre, whose vision is of a culture where disabled people are recognised for the excellence of their work.

The result is a tuneful, joyous, hilarious, and irreverent production, based around an am dram society’s attempts to stage a musical based on the 1989 film.

The obvious choice for the part of Christy Brown is the only professional actor, Grant - played with great theatricality by John McLarnon - but then rookie director Amy (Louise McCarthy) puts a spanner in the works by wanting Chris, who has cerebral palsy and is not an actor, to play the role.

There are tears of sorrow and joy as the play progresses, and lots of laughs especially around Natalie MacDonald’s portrayal of a sign language interpreter who is treated as if she hasn’t a brain in her head.

With songs such as Spasticity and The Show is F….., Scott Gilmour and Claire McKenzie’s music and lyrics, together with additional songs from Richard Thomas (Jerry Springer: The Opera) are the most irreverent, but they illustrate that disabled people should not be treated as victims in need of pity.

As with all NTOS productions, it’s a ground-breaking show, with the extra facility of subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing.

 

My Left/Right Foot The Musical is at the Assembly Roxy, 2 Roxburgh Place EH8 9SU (Venue 139)

 

Box Office: 0131 226 0000 www.edfringe.com

 

Aug 13th

EDINBURGH FRINGE: Just These, Please at the Balcony, Gilded Balloon Teviot (Venue 14) ****

By Clare Brotherwood

I’m not sure what the title is meant to portray, but Just These, Please turns out to be a slick show of sketches enthusiastically executed by a very able quartet of performers.

The quick-fire delivery of a variety of topics, with the actors playing anything and everything, from a set of teeth, private parts and Megan and Kate to people who can’t help bursting into song when triggered by certain words, makes the hour fly by and is winning praise from audiences.

Made up of actor and poet Georgie Jones, solicitor and actor Tom Dickson, Will Sebag-Montefiore (Shakespeare’s Globe) and Philippa Carson, whose face is particularly expressive, this foursome’s Fringe debut should guarantee them a slot next year.

 

Just These, Please at the Balcony, Gilded Balloon Teviot, Bristo Square EH8 9AJ until Aug 27 at 12.15pm. Tickets from £9 with concessions.

 

Box Office: 0131 622 6552 http://www.edfringe.com/event/2018JUSTTHE_GA

 

Aug 12th

EDINBURGH FRINGE: The Gin Chronicles in New York at the artSpace@StMarks, Castle Terrace (Venue 125) ****

By Clare Brotherwood

Misfits of London’s show is what the Edinburgh Fringe is all about - a quirky venue, a free drink courtesy of the show’s sponsors (in this case Tanqueray Gin and Fentimans Botanic Beverages - weren’t we the lucky ones!) and an hour of fast-paced entertainment during which to imbibe.

Fortunately, for the already Fringe weary, St Mark’s Unitarian Church is more comfortable than most venues and has somewhere to put your drink… not that I noticed where or how I was sitting once the show started. It only took me a few minutes to be transported by The Misfits to 1940s New York where holidaying ace detectives John Jobling and Doris Golightly become involved in a gin-based mystery in Hell’s Kitchen.

Performed as a vintage, radio-style comedy, it is, however, very visual, with lots of comedy, over the top characters, a dance here and there, and one of the highlights for me, seeing how the sound effects are done. All credit to the hard-working operator whose name I did not get - maybe because the show is so fast-paced and frontman Robert Blackwood’s (the one with the cheeky face) RP accent was sometimes lost in the cavernous church.

Nevertheless, this is an accomplished group, back at the Fringe for the fourth year running.

The Gin Chronicles in New York is at artSpace@StMarks (Venue 125), 7 Castle Terrace EH1 1DP most days at 6.30pm or 8.30pm. Tickets £12 with concessions.

Box Office: 0131 226 0000 www.edfringe.com

Aug 11th

EDINBURGH FRINGE: Dracula at the Pleasance Courtyard ****

By Clare Brotherwood

 

If you’re looking to be scared by this production of Dracula, you are going to be...well certainly not disappointed, but surprised.

Instead, think The Play That Goes Wrong - which began at the Edinburgh Fringe and ended up winning Best New Comedy at the 2015 Laurence Olivier Awards.

Count Dracula doesn’t want to be a vampire, but to break his curse he has to meet a woman who knows about cricket, has sweaty palms and is gluten intolerant! Get the drift?

Meanwhile, fresh-faced solicitor Jonathan Harker (Jack Ayres) in Transylvania to do business with the Count, finds himself drawn to three female vampires (well, two and one with a beard and a habit of calling him ‘mate’). Cue Carfax Abbey where a man with a broad Yorkshire accent  is eating fish and chips ‘because we’re in Whitby and there’s been no other reference thus far’.

It gets worse - or should I saw better. It’s a celebration of silliness descending into maniacal farce as actors play different characters which look likely to end up on the stage at the same time.

The Let Them Call It Mischief Theatre Company has already taken this show to the King’s Head in London and Brighton Fringe, so it’s pretty well established. And it’s a joy, from the vampiric Rob Cummings in the title role, shuffling around like a penguin, to the ebullient Graham Elwell who plays seven characters, all with great gusto - from a lunatic under Dracula’s spell to vampire hunter Van Helsing, complete with aviation goggles - a sure sign of trouble! At one point he says, ‘Sorry I am late. I came as quickly as I could get changed’.

Oh, and then there’s the cricket match with a gluten free loaf and a head of garlic. Loved it!

Dracula is at the Pleasance Above, Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33) at 2,20pm most days.

 

Box Office: 0131 556 6550 http://www.edfringe.com/event/2018DRACULA_PC