||[Sep. 3rd, 2009|11:23 pm]
It's that time of year again, and so I find myself up in Edinburgh, binging on culture! As we're up for the last weekend, my reviews won't be all that helpful for other fringe goers (what with being posted just as the festival ends...), but they're rather handy for us in future years, and also when chatting to people later in the year about what we saw. So, reviews follow!
My first show of the year was Austen's Women at Assembly George Street. This delighful mid morning show was a one woman series of monologues. The script took various parts of Jane Austen's work, as both character and narrater, exploring different ideas of what it is to be a women, and what she should do. Each character was presented very differently, and I think really enhanced the work. The result was an enthralling mix of different scenes, from scatty to serious, dry to passionate, and all engaging. A pleasant 4*
Next up was another Assembly George Street show, Party. This followed an evening as 5 passionate but clueless students endevoured to found their own political party. It was filled with great comedic moments as the students displayed their ineptitude, ignorance and misguided passion, whilst also holding up a mirror to all political parties, both new and old. Funny, cringeworthy, cutting, and certainly a 4*.
Finally for Thursday was Words with A.L. Kennedy. This started rather slowly, and made me initially wonder about the good reviews I'd seen, and whether I should leave.... However, after 10 minutes she'd got into her stride, and all was good! Her show was part autobiography, part explanation for her passion for words, and part exposition in how we think and talk. It did loose its way once or twice, but when working was excellent, both fun and insightful. Overall, 4*.
Shakespear for Breakfast is now a regular for us, since it's always good fun, is early when not that much else is on, and comes with free croissants! This year didn't dissapoint, with a slicker story than last year, based around Midsummer Nights Dream, and the usual mix of real shakespeare and fun new stuff woven together. What's more, we got to witness Alex being propositioned by a fairy, which is always good for a laugh! Solid 4*
Our only free show was Carl Sagan is my god, and Richard Feyman too. This lunchtime comedy was hosted by Robin Ince, and was in the basement of a pub on the Royal Mile (most of the cheap/free venues seem to be pubs/clubs). Robin himself gave us about 30 minutes of material, and was generally both funny and interesting. His choice of guests wasn't quite so good, but that does vary between days, and it looks like we caught a less good set. Still, it was fun, and proved that free needn't be rubbish. 3*
Next up was some dance / physical theatre in the form of Crime of the Century. This was dealing with the issue of knife crime in London, how teenages are drawn into it, and how it affects them. It was powerful and moving, but I couldn't help feeling it would've been even better if they'd concentrated a little more on either the dance, or the story. As it was, I felt the two parts were both a little underdeveloped, which was a shame. Overall, well worth seeing, a really good insight into youth knife crime, and a 4*.
Carrying on with the dance theme was Still Breathing. This reminded me a lot of the excellent dance show we saw last year, who's name escapes me... It was an all male cast, something like 12 dancers, very energetic and impressive. The music and lighting leant towards electronic and dystopian, and the dancing itself was technically very impressive, almost mesmorising. Most styles got at least a mention, but it was mostly towards energetic modern, a mix of solo through formation. Very good, a 5*
Moving on from dance, we then had some comedy in the form of Sammy J (1999). We all really enjoyed Sammy J and the Forrest of Dreams last year, so were keen to experience his new show. This year we were treated to a slightly surreal journey through his penultimate year of school, following the ups and downs of a musical nerd. We're not sure quite how much of it was autobiographical, but it could be quite a bit...! His one man delivery style worked really well, and we all had a great time listening to the surreal but heartwarming story. Once again well worth a 5*.
Finally we had Dan Antopoloski, doing his standup routine. We normally don't go in for late night comedy, but Alex had seen him before, so we made an exception. Half of his material was really good, but the rest drifted between meh and unfunny. When it worked, it worked well though, so certainly someone to keep an eye out for in future years. Overall, 3*
We began our day at Assembly George Street with Sylvia Plath - Three Women. This was three partly interwoven stories about motherhood, being a women, life and sanity. It sometimes seemed to lack a structure, though possibly those bits were the actual life and words of Sylvia Plath... When it worked, it was very powerful and though provoking, and well acted. 4*
A big change in style for our 2nd show of the day, The Early Edition. As ever, Marcus Brigstock and friends disected and satirised the days papers, in a part News Quiz, part Mock The Week, part rant way. The guests were largely great, and it was good fun (if slightly worrying, as ever, when you hear just what is in all the papers....). Wouldn't have minded seeing it another day if we'd been up for long enough! 4*
A British Subject charts the fairly recently ended story of a British/Pakistani dual national stuck on death row for half his life. It follows a Daily Mirror journalist and his wife as he starts to cover the story, and they are so moved by his plight that they take up his cause. It's a harrowing story, and pretty much only Prince Charles comes out looking good from it, which is an unusual situation! The acting is brilliant, with a cutting script that really has you feeling like you're stood there too in the jail, even with the understated minimal props. An excellent story, excellently performed. Well worth its 5*.
Carrying on the high scoring day came Circa. This dance show covered most styles, and really pushed the boundaries of what the human body can do. The balances and acrobatics were breathtaking, as they flung themselves joined across the floor, perched one atop another at improbable angles, walked over each other in stileto heals, or performed amazing feats with hula rings. An amazing show of what can be done, beautifully performed. I'd happy have watched it a second time in awe. 5*
Finally was Year of the horse, a very surreal show of the work of the Herald's editorial cartoonist. As his haunting cartoons were shown, the increasingly bizare stories that went with them were read out, to a jarring musical soundtrack. It was a compelling, and quite different show, and you could largely forgive some of his more ranty lefty conspiracy pieces because of what he could do when he really hit the mark. 4*
I missed our first planned show, so I kicked off the day with the Rap Guide to Evolution. This was by Baba Brinkman, who did the Rap Canterbury Tales a few years ago, and was a biologist approved rap show on evolution, in hommage to Charles Darwin. Most of the songs really hit their mark, and I even learnt a few interesting things too! Not sure it'd be enough to convince a creationist of their error, though dragging one along could potentially be good fun to watch... The songs cover the topic well, and the rap related parts worked too, giving a solid 4* performance.
Beachy Head deals with the aftermath of one man's suicide at Beachy Head. His wife struggles to understand and come to terms with it, whilst a pathologist tries to explain, and two film makers try to document it despite their secret. There's heavy use of video and lighting, which produces a very powerful show. If they'd fixed a couple of plot wholes, and tweaked a few bits of characterisation, it could've been one of the best shows on the fringe. As it is, it seems they spent a tiny bit too long on the lighting and video, which while they give a stunning show, aren't everything. So, ends up a good 4*.
Stefan Golaszewski is a Widower is Stefan Golaszewski's second show (we caught his first last year and really enjoyed it). Again, it's a one man passionate account of part of a life, with a lot of wit and humour. This time he plays an old man, looking back over his time with the love his life. It's a funny, heart-warming, moving performance, largely just him with the odd prop. However, the story doesn't quite hold your attention quite as well as last year, and the lighter elements didn't always fit quite as well. Good, but not quite as good as last time, a 4*.
We finished with a £5; fringe show, Robin Ince - Bleeding Heart Liberal. We'd been impressed enough with Robin Ince from his free luncthime show, so decided to get an hour of just him. Being his last show of the fringe, it did often wander a long way off path, but on the whole the deviations were very funny and interesting. He's not quite got the anger or drive of someone like Mark Steel or Marcus Brigstock, but his geekier side makes him a little more like a non-musical Mitch Ben. It was funny and interesting though, certainly a 4*.
We started the day with some music in the form of Brel at Breakfast. This was roughly 50% Jacque Brel songs, in a mixture of English and French, along with a number of other pieces. The singer was good, though from the between-song discussions clearly has a lot of issues... His two pianists were great fun, and good players too. Some of the song juxtapositions were a little surreal, but overall the hour passed pleasingly with good music well done, with the odd funny moment. The pastries before were very nice too! Solid 4*.
Then for a quick trip over the mound for Shappi Khorsandi (A Beginners Guide to Acting English). This was supposed to be just a book reading, but was actually part book reading, part interesting reminiscance, and part standup material. It made for an excellent fun lunchtime session, even if sometimes random or meandering. Shame we couldn't get tickets for her main show, but this was a great show in its own right too. 4*
The Other Side was a powerful set of intertwined tales in Israel and Palestine, using a minimal but well used set. It followed families on both sides through tragedy and loss, and finally a sort of understanding through phone calls and meetings across the side. The staging used the few props (mostly the metal door frames) well to create simple but powerful effects, and only once or twice overused them. However, the occasional welsh sounding liltings in many of the accents kept distracting you and pulling you out, which was a shame. Powerful, and almost worked brilliantly, 4*.
Odyssey was a one man attempted to the whole of Homer's great story in an hour, complete with some actions and sound effects. The slightly silly premise actually worked very well, and the story was well covered and engaging. Probably also not too far off how much of it would've been performed/told in ancient greece! Good fun and engaging, 4*.
News Review were back for their 30th year, and continued with their musical look into the news, both this year's and the last 30 years. Some things were great, some flopped totally, but on the whole good, and better than last year. 4*
Last year we saw one Red Room show from Belt Up, and wished we'd known in time to see more. This year, they were back again, with a partly burnt out room in C Soco, and on top form as ever. Our first show was The Tartuffe, which was supposed to be their best of last year and back even better. The audience begins sat on sofas, matresses etc in the squat in C Soco, as the company mingles and chats in character. Then the play begins, as an aragent and deranged company attempts and fails to tell the story of Tartuffe, through squabbling, mutterings, incompetance and mime. All throughout, the cast have completely smashed the 4th wall, sitting with the audience muttering about the other actors, getting audience members to play bit parts, cast-audience water fights and the rest! It's an absolutely brilliant show, in a very immersive and engaging experience. Crazy, veering wildly and filled with random references and in parts only barely recognisable, but utterlly brilliant none the less! Certainly my pick of the fringe by far,
a stunning 5*.
Our final show was another Belt Up show in the Soco squat, this time The Trial. It begins with the audience blindfolded and lead into the space one at a time, whilst the disorientating soundtrack plays, and the cast runs about. From then you join with the cast in a dark, smoke filled, random and confusing tale through Kafka's terrifying play. You're constantly moving thoughout the space to follow the action, struggling to understand as the lead character struggles with the boombing voices, smoke, light, dark confusion. However, I kind of feel they over did the immersive disorientating experience a tiny bit, and toning it down a little bit would've still kept the excellent atmosphere and effect, but allowed the story a little bit more room. Almost there, but in the end not quite as good as Tartuffe, so 4*.