The Atomic Saloon Show

The Atomic Saloon Show
Assembly George Square Gardens (Palace de Variete)
Wednesday 14th August, 2210

*****

And just like that, it was over. Our last show for the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe and, following a brilliant hour in the company of Garry Starr, we chose to end our festival with the other show he is appearing in.

The Palace de Variete (the old Spiegeltent, no idea why the name has changed!) has been transformed into a Wild West saloon – as the audience comes in, a food fight breaks out with bread rolls flying all around as a dodgy preacher (Starr), followed by two even dodgier looking nuns, asks for donations. The show is hosted by Madam Boozy Skunkton, another seedy character who cackles as she cracks her whip to try and control her unruly collection of acts. Over the next hour (and a bit), we are treated to the burlesque side of circus, with acrobatic feats to equal the astounding talents of the less risqué cast of Blizzard!

There’s plenty of flesh on display and even more talent – it’s not all acrobatics, we’re treated to Irish dancing, clowning, tricks with ping pong balls (which I will leave to your imagination but it’s not what the nuns at my convent school used to get up to) and the whole thing ends with a line dance that quickly descends into a chaotic, but perfectly choreographed, brawl involving the whole company.

A brilliant, bonkers and joyous end to a fantastic Fringe.

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Sh!t Theatre Drink Rum with Expats

Guest reviewer Miss Noma is back with another one …

Sh!t Theatre Drink Rum with Expats
Summerhall (Main Hall)
Wednesday 14th August, 2005

*****

This show reminded me of David Bowie’s ‘Life on Mars’, which was once described as making ‘you want to raise your voice and sing along, yet Bowie’s cut up lyrics force you to invest the song with something of yourself just to make sense of the experience’.

Louise Mothersole and Rebecca Biscuit have recreated a pub on stage. Some audience members are invited in to grab a free beer as everyone takes their seats. The venue staff are barking at the audience. It’s raucous.

We settle. The girls, with what initially appears to be the cross of St George painted on their faces (no, it’s the Maltese cross), step forward and sing a stirring naval song, whilst shaking an unopened can of beer. Nervous laughter escapes from the audience; who are they portraying and are we going to get sprayed? Then…..

But I won’t spoil it, suffice to say that we are right to be nervous. Not necessarily for the beer but for what we are about to receive. Somehow this show manages to present hard hitting subjects like desperate refugees dying in their hundreds trying to get to Malta, the sale of European passports by some kind of ‘Maltese mafia’, and the assassination of Daphne Galizia, a Maltese journalist investigating the darker side of her government.

Alongside this, we get a broadside of lighter material: the list of drinks which supposedly killed Oliver Reed, the comic adventures of how the girls put on a show in ‘The Pub’ in Malta, and crowd surfing. We’re invited to relax – breath in, out, in, out. Hold on! In out? Does this refer to our fun breathing exercise or Brexit or perhaps the hopeless rowing of the refugees? It’s never made clear and nor does it need to be. You have to sort it out for yourself.

The girls’ delivery is astonishing. Like Nelson’s gunners, they fire tragic facts and fun facts at us with perfect timing, and we can only surrender. We’re having fun, then we’re shocked, then we learn to say ‘penis’ in Maltese. Images flash onto a screen, it gets loud, we drink rum…..

Somehow it all makes sense – somehow it doesn’t. Maybe we partied, maybe we didn’t. Is there life on mars?

I won’t easily forget this piece of theatre, or its brilliance.

The Last Bread Pudding

The Last Bread Pudding
theSpace on North Bridge (Perth Theatre)
Wednesday 14th August, 1810

**

This play will resonate with anybody who has ever spent time on an amateur theatre committee. I will freely admit that the only reason I booked a ticket is because I have done, and from the knowing chuckles in the audience, I don’t think I was the only one.

The play is set at a committee meeting at which the members are choosing a play to enter into the local drama festival. The script has its moments with some clever nods towards the clichés of am dram – back stage staff whose only concern is the set (and its cost), an amateur playwright who clearly can’t write, the arty one, who wants to bring her affectations to the stage and the gobby one, who is all about big shouty speeches with plenty of “language” to offend the sensitivities of the stuffy Chairman.

Unfortunately the cast of actors were not strong enough to bring out the mild humour in the play, tending to overact and lacking the timing needed to make the jokes work. The arrival of a mysterious stranger made no sense at all, but I’m not sure it would have done in the hands of more experienced actors.

With so many amateur actors visiting the Fringe, this is a choice that will probably sell quite well, and at just 40 minutes long there is enough to raise a smile and keep you more or less entertained without any resentment kicking in. But the material and acting are not strong enough to make it a winner.

The Red

The Red
Pleasance Dome (King Dome)
Wednesday 14th August, 1600

***

This two hander, written and directed by Marcus Brigstocke, examines grief, family and addiction. The two roles are played by real life father and son Bruce and Sam Alexander, with a clear chemistry between the pair. With the action set on the day of his father’s funeral, Benedict is alone in his father’s well stocked wine cellar, reading a last letter from him. As Benedict pauses to take in what he is reading, his father enters the stage and what follows is an hour in which Benedict talks to the spirit, or memory, of his father, trying to understand his strange bequest.

Benedict is an alcoholic, sober for 25 years, and his father has left him an expensive bottle of red wine, one that he wants him to drink, as a toast to his memory.

We see Benedict’s dilemma play out on stage, with his father’s voice there to encourage him to take that last drink, revealing that he was probably an alcoholic himself. The acting is strong – you can see the conflict in Benedict’s mind as he questions whether a teenage alcoholic can perhaps be “cured”, but also acknowledging that you don’t become an alcoholic, you are born one – addictive personalities are not something you suddenly develop. What I found hard to understand was that in what was clearly a loving father/son relationship, why would the father leave such a request as it shows a basic lack of understanding of his son.

Although the conversation between the two men is natural, engaging and thought provoking, the ending of the play is ambiguous and leaves you with more questions than answers. Other reviews have described it as a bittersweet hour, which feels like a fair assessment.

Stiff and Kitsch: Bricking It

Stiff and Kitsch: Bricking It
Pleasance Courtyard (Bunker Three)
Wednesday 14th August, 1400

*****

This duo (“English actress and Cork woman” – as one review rather bizarrely opted to describe them) perform comic songs mixed with stories that make for a highly entertaining hour. They are so at ease with each other that this instantly puts the audience at ease, we can tell we’re not going to be picked on, it’s like having a chat with friends, very funny and very talented friends.

The show starts with confessions from last year’s Pleasance closing party, the girls feel their drunken behaviour may be the reason they’ve moved from the coveted 9pm slot to early afternoon. We then find out what happened in the build up to Sally’s 30th birthday, all planned by comedy partner Rhiannon (who is only 27, and don’t you forget it!).

Constantly present are the nagging voices in the girls’ heads, reminding them that they will never be good enough, successful enough, truly happy and truly grown up. As the show unfolds, the girls acknowledge that their relationship with anxiety is always going to be there and that being an adult is, frankly, terrifying. But, they share all this in a way that always raises a smile and has the audience laughing out loud.

Their humour is self-deprecating, slightly prone to over-sharing and very very funny. The hour flies by as songs are followed by anecdotes and confessions that I think most people in the audience could relate to. At times the songs reminded me of something you might hear on popular American show Crazy Ex Girlfriend  in case you were wondering, this is definitely a compliment!

Stiff and Kitsch deserve to be playing in a much bigger venue. They may be “bricking it”, but they are also absolutely smashing it. Brilliant show!

Frank Sanazi: Ocean’s Nein

Frank Sanazi: Ocean’s Nein
The Voodoo Rooms (Ballroom)
Tuesday 13th August, 2230

****

Frank Sanazi is one of my guilty pleasures. Definitely not a show for the easily offended, Frank and his friends and fellow-dictators the Iraq Pack offer an hour of highly inappropriate songs and jokes.

The reason this show works is definitely down to “Frank” – the Hitler impression is funny but it becomes even more entertaining when you take the time to appreciate that he has an excellent singing voice, perfectly suited to Frank Sinatra’s crooning style. Songs like “Strangers on My Flight” and “Third Reich” (sung to the tune of “That’s Life”) quickly win over the audience, this is essential as at the start of the show, you can sense that people are feeling that appreciative applause for a character based on possibly the most evil man to ever live is, shall we say, a little inappropriate?!

Frank is joined on stage by his friends “Dean Stalin” and “Saddami Davis Junior” – sadly Osama Bin Crosby can’t be there – and there is a thin plot about planning a heist in Edinburgh. Although the sidekicks are amusing, I would have liked to see more of Frank as he is definitely the star of the show and feel that the others had perhaps a little bit too much stage time.

Joined on stage for the finale by “Donald Trump” and “Kim Jong Un” who happened to be in the audience the night I saw the show, it feels utterly bizarre to be cheering along as they do a bizarre kick line to “New York, New York” – but somehow this show is so wrong that it is just right!

I Wish My Life Were Like a Musical

I Wish My Life Were Like a Musical
Underbelly, Bristo Square (Dairy Room)
Tuesday 13th August, 2045

*****

Confession – I actually do wish my life were like a musical, or rather, I think I probably already live my life as if it was one. So, clearly this show stood out to me amongst the many options available at this year’s Fringe. Luckily, this four person revue, accompanied on piano by its writer Alexandre S Bermange, did not disappoint.

The cast members all have impressive West End credits and it shows – there is no weak link amongst them. They give us a glimpse into the life of a musical theatre performer – from leaving drama school to finally getting your big break. You don’t have to work in the industry to love this show, as everybody will recognise the various characters being gently sent up – from difficult divas to obsessed fans, the laughs kept on coming.

Although the tone was light throughout, I couldn’t help but sympathise with the lament of the Standby – doomed to spend every show sitting back stage and when the star goes off sick and the big break comes, the audience want their money back because you’re not the person they booked to see. There has been a bit of a tweetstorm recently over star casting. The Southbank Centre offered refunds when Disney star Dove Cameron missed a performance, sending out entirely the wrong message that the standby wasn’t worth watching. As somebody who has never seen a bad understudy (never forget that Kerry Ellis got her break understudying Martine McCutcheon in My Fair Lady!), I don’t like it when a show bases its marketing on a star name as that will inevitably lead to people booking just to see that person, rather than the rest of the fantastic cast. So, this song, very well delivered by Felix Mosse, really resonated with me.

Anyway, I digress. The show also touched on stunt casting (another of my pet peeves!), sadistic choreography and terrible auditions. As well as some very clever lyrics, the melodies are very good too, hummable on their own but also giving a nod towards some of the big show tunes we all know so well (sometimes, it is observed, we know them better than the performers on stage!).  Any show that includes *that* riff from Wicked! is OK by me!

As I’ve said, there is not a weak link in this cast, but I particularly loved watching Caroline O’Rourke – she had some absolutely brilliant songs and performed them to perfection.

The finale was a fabulously harmonious tribute to the magic of musical theatre, so if you love a good show tune, this is definitely the show for you.

 

Gone Full Havisham

Gone Full Havisham
Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose (Dram)
Tuesday 13th August, 1630

*

One of the most reassuring things about my annual trip to the Fringe is that Edinburgh never changes – the main venues are always the same. You have Assembly (Red), Underbelly (Purple), Pleasance (Yellow), Gilded Balloon (Pink) and C Venues … but wait, C Venues has all but disappeared, and its main venue is now under new management as part of the Gilded Balloon’s offering.

I’ve seen some fantastic plays at Gilded Balloon, a lot of them with just the one actor on stage. The premise for this one looked great – a social media “influencer” live streams her wedding and subsequent breakdown when she is jilted, all with the hashtag #GoneFullHavisham – a reference to one of Dickens’ greatest female characters, the jilted bride who shut herself away from the world rather than broadcasting her grief and humiliation for all to see.

Unfortunately the reality of this play does not remotely live up to the premise. As we walk into the venue, the performer (or “Exhibit” as a nervous venue staff member informs us as we go in), is lying on a plinth/bed in her tattered wedding dress, while the black and white film version of Great Expectations plays on a screen behind her. It is all downhill from now on.

Irene Kelleher is clearly a talented actress – she commits to her character 100%, flipping from despair to manic with ease. But the script, which she has written, is weak and self-indulgent. It isn’t clear why she has been jilted, why she has fallen out with her best friend, how the heiress to a hotel chain who was an awkward and unpopular child somehow grew up to be a social media influencer, why she feels the need to rub a banana all over her arms … the list is endless. The public persona we see via her social media personality is so irritating I can’t imagine anybody wanting to follow her and in her offline and more thoughtful moments, she comes across as petulant and spoiled. Rather than giving us a coherent narrative and a character we can feel any sympathy for, this is more a showcase of Kelleher’s commitment to extreme physical and emotional performance, with no real story to follow. It just doesn’t work.

I left wishing that her character had indeed “Gone full Havisham” and shut herself away. The real Miss Havisham would be horrified.

 

Eric’s Tales of the Sea

Eric’s Tales of the Sea – A Submariner’s Yarn
Just the Tonic at The Caves (Wee One)
Tuesday 13th August, 1450

****

This show has been on my radar for a couple of years – but the artwork used to promote it actually led me to believe it was a children’s show. This year, curiosity got the better of me and I actually read the promotional blurb, which promises heart-warming personal stories of life on a nuclear submarine. Not for kids then! I bought a ticket and went along to find out why this show is a popular choice at the Fringe year after year.

I know absolutely nothing about submarines, beyond terrible disaster movies (which Eric references early on to show that he totally understands that most of his audience will also know nothing!) and, of course, The Beatles and their yellow one. At this performance, one whole row was made up of submariners but Eric’s stories were accessible to everyone.

He is an engaging and charming storyteller – telling us of the very real dangers he faced during his submariner career (from accidents early on in training to the hazards of swimming in shark infested waters on a day off!), all with the matter of fact sort of delivery you expect from the Military. This isn’t the career choice for the easily scared (i.e. me). As well as tales of danger, we also learn about Eric’s close friendship with his daredevil colleague, all peppered with plenty of humour, practical jokes and a very clear and true bond that will last for life.

The venue is cramped and a little damp and with a low, domed ceiling – actually perfect for learning a little about life on board a submarine then!

This really is a great way to spend an hour and the sort of show I look out for at the Fringe – completely different! Eric is not your typical stand up comedian or spoken word performer, but despite being a little rough around the edges, he is still excellent company.

Bobby and Amy

Bobby and Amy
Pleasance Courtyard (Upstairs)
Tuesday 13th August

*****

This is the story of two misfit kids growing up in rural England. Bobby is autistic and doesn’t go to the same school as Amy, who wishes she didn’t go there either, constantly the target for local mean girls. They form an unlikely friendship that helps them to deal with their home lives (an abusive dad and negligent mum). But this play is so much more than this – two outstanding young actors play Bobby, Amy and every other person in the town, shifting between characters with ease and brilliantly choreographed movement. A simple turn upstage transforms one actor from bully to victim, adult to child, farmer to government official.

The story plays out during the outbreak in the UK of Foot and Mouth Disease and through these incredible performances, we can see how this affects everybody and it is absolutely heartbreaking.

Such is the talent of the performers, working without costume changes or props, that I felt like I could actually see a calf being born and then gently nursed by Bobby. The script is so beautifully written that every line is important and thanks to the delivery, no lines are lost.

This is the best piece of theatre I have seen in a long time. I hope that it transfers for a longer run so that more people get a chance to see it and be moved by this perfectly told story.