Wednesday, October 21, 2009

REVIEW - Confessions Of A Justified Sinner ****

Artistic director and producer Mark Thomson holds a mirror to the face of Robert Wringhim, the protagonist of his excellent adaptation of James Hogg's 19th century novel, and reveals a disturbing reflection of madness and fanaticism that shines through the past to hold unsettling relevance today. What follows is a dark, oppressive and mesmerising slab of Scottish theatre which grips throughout in a chilling portrayal of one man's relentless descent into a spiral of 'justifiable sin'.

Hogg's critically-acclaimed work is an examination of religious extremism and moral disintegration under the guise of perceived righteousness. Thomson's adaptation is powerful and current, yet faithful to the original text and without any clumsy signposting of points, leaving it to the audience to draw their own conclusions and sub-texts from the work.

Ryan Fletcher is excellent as Robert, portraying him as a social outcast with a meek, detached conviction in his adopted clergyman father's insistence that he is one of the Lord's 'elect', put on Earth to carry out God's work, with his place in heaven assured. The scenes in which he stands, facing the audience as he sings a hymn in small, reedy voice, whilst the consequences of his actions play out behind him are truly unsettling and excellently staged.

The rest of the cast also impress, with Kern Falconer in the role of Reverend Wringhim in particular standing out with a performance crackling with Calvinistic wrath as he imparts his dangerous wisdom into Robert's naive and receptive mind.

This confused state and indoctrinated upbringing soon set unstoppable events in motion, with Robert's belief that he is the 'sword of God' unwavering as he exacts vengeance on those perceived deserving of his divine justice. He is encouraged on this path by Gil-Martin, a charismatic and mysterious figure that appears only to him and who goads Robert into terrible action to the extent where his confusion as to who is his real 'lord and master' is evident.

Thomson directs Gil-Martin's character, portrayed by a conniving and snake-tongued Iain Robertson, with delicious ambiguity: is he the Devil - Robert's oft-mentioned Prince - or a manifestation of Wringhim's increasingly delirious mind? Thomson refuses to answer, a directorial decision which ensures the tale is allowed to twist in satisfyingly opaque and unanswered ways.

The stark, monolithic set is well used; evoking moonlit graveyards, portentous cliff edges, seedy Edinburgh brothels and - in those scenes with Robert and Gil-Martin - places more metaphysical. A revolving section allows for some original and effective staging, particularly in those scenes in which Gil-Martin takes on the appearance of other characters, allowing the cast to switch places without impacting the pacing of the piece. Lighting is understated but well-used, whilst a quietly discordant soundtrack pervades the production like a guilty conscience, increasing in volume and density only towards the play's satisfying climax.

With Confessions Of A Justified Sinner, Thomson successfully breathes new and surprisingly relevant life into a 19th century classic and the cast - particularly Fletcher and Falconer - inject the tale with enough power and nuance to make it a disturbingly dark and thoroughly enjoyable piece.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Edinburgh FESTIVAL Insider...?

Yep, I know my last review was nothing to do with the Edinburgh Festival.

However, I had such a good time viewing and reviewing shows during August, I've decided to keep going.

This site's probably not the best place for that, though. Fortunately, I have a cunning plan...

REVIEW - The Beggar's Opera at the Lyceum Theatre **

Whilst Vanishing Point's production of The Beggar's Opera at the Lyceum Theatre is certainly original, it's not nearly as daring as it would like to think it is.

There is some clever stuff going on here, with the stark and well-designed set literally presenting an underworld where the tale of Macheath - the dashing gentleman criminal of John Gay's 18th-century ballad opera - unfolds. From a staging perspective, Vanishing Point also successfully transport the orginal into a post-apocalyptic near-future setting, allowing them to indulge in some striking cyberpunk wardrobe choices and effective dramatic devices, such as the digitally-rotoscoped animations projected onto a screen at the back of the stage.

However, the direction is a little less successful. Although Gay's original was by its nature a populist satire, here The Beggar's Opera becomes a camp cross-dressing cross between the Rocky Horror Show and a steampunk pantomime. There are times during the piece's relatively short running length when I expected us to be encouraged to shout "he's behind you" during Macheath's prison incarceration; or to sing along to words appearing on a sheet dropped down from the gantry.

Fortunately, neither of these panto staples actually happened, but if they had they would have been completely in keeping with the piece's mood and pace. Any opportunities for emotion and pathos were removed with a blunt instrument and replaced with frantic mugging and over-laboured attempts to shock. The actors did the best they could with the script, but characterisation was sacrificed to cariacature, leaving them with little to do. Perhaps most puzzling of all, the satirical opportunities were seldom taken, with only a few sideswipes at consumerism and the media being harvested from a fertile ground that could have offered so much more.

I also feel the choice of having a live band not only providing the soundtrack but integrated into the action was a mistake. This is not a criticism of A Band Called Quinn's competent Moloko-ish style and sound, but more due to the fact that their presence seemed to encourage the rest of the cast into the belief they could sing, providing at least two unnecessarily toe-curling moments.

Visually, The Beggar's Opera was wonderfully staged and executed and its dark futuristic dystopia was well-realised and portrayed. It was however a shame that this original and unique stage was then used as a backdrop for something so ill-fittingly camp.

The Beggar's Opera runs at The Lyceum Theatre until 3rd October.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Monday, August 31, 2009

All over...?

It's been a crazy, hectic, tiring, chaotic and fantastic month.

I've seen shows which have left me moved, astonished, fascinated and inspired.

I've met performers, singers, magicians, actors and princesses.

I've taken some of my best ever photographs and I'm eternally grateful to the companies and press offices involved who let me do so.

I've had nights I can barely remember and mornings when it was an effort to drag myself out of bed and do it all over again.

And I've loved every minute of it.

I hope you've enjoyed sharing some of it with me via this blog, which has been - largely through the power of Twitter - more successful this year than I'd dreamed possible.

The daily updates will now cease, but I'll likely add to it now and again with a photo or an article - as much to remind myself of the wonders of 2009's season as for anything else.

Also, stay tuned for a rather exciting announcement, coming to these pages soon...

So long folks, you've been amazing.


Edinburgh Festival Insider - Pick of the Fringe 2009

Although I'd seen Zen Zen Zo's showreel and read about Zeitgeist's bold, cutting-edge take on contemporary physical theatre and dance, nothing prepared me for actually seeing this live.

The only point I didn't sit and marvel open-mouthed as their startlingly original and visually outstanding show progressed was when they threw eggs into the audience. Even with that, I was spellbound from start to finish.

A wonderfully physical group of talented dancers and artists, Zen Zen Zo have had much praise heaped upon them from many established sources this year as well as from me and - after much deliberation - the vision, integrity and style of Zeitgeist have resulted in it being given the highest accolade I have to offer.

Edinburgh Festival Insider - Venue of the year 2009

With 100s of venues across the city - from the 'big three' of the Assembly, Pleasance and Gilded Balloon to the likes of private residences and restaurants - there's almost as wide a choice of places to see shows as there are performances to enjoy.

The nominations for the Edinburgh Festival Insider Venue of the Year Award 2009 are:
  • C Venues. Particularly the multi-levelled labyrinth in Chambers Street, culminating in the wonderful Urban Garden. A great place to hang out and mingle with performers who keep the spirit of the Fringe alive.
  • Venue 150 at the EICC. With its air-conditioning, ample legroom and modern decor, this feels far removed from many of the hot, cramped and crumbling venues elsewhere.
  • St George's West. Few things can compare to witnessing some world-class music being performed in front of St George's beautiful stained-glass rose window.
  • Spaces venues. Played host to some small first-time groups on a budget and therefore brought some interesting - and in the case of productions like Stitches, exceptional - new talent to the Fringe
  • New Town Theatre / Universal Arts. A wonderfully diverse programme in the grand and only slightly spooky Masonic Hall on George Street.
And the winner is...

Venue 150 at the EICC

Although the EICC has been used as a Fringe venue in the past, this year it featured a far wider and more adventurous programme than ever. With close ties to Universal Arts and The World Festival, it saw two amazing world music shows, the wonderful Sambor Dudzinksi and his Time(less) Machine, Fred MacAulay's daily breakfast show, Fringe Select, a great cafe and more.
Besides its aforementioned comfort, its willingness to take a little bit of a risk results in it being my favourite venue this year - especially as its success during the Fringe could see more and more shows of a similar ilk being featured there outwith the Festival season.

For a resident like me, the chance of that is enough for me to give Venue 150 the:

Edinburgh Festival Insider - Dance / Physical Award 2009

Perhaps my favourite category of the Fringe programme, the dance / physical section always contains shows which challenge, delight and impress with feats of skill, fluid movements and some of the most original works to grace Edinburgh's stage during August.

The nominations for the Edinburgh Festival Insider Dance / Physical Award 2009 are:
  • The Chair by C-12 Dance Theatre. A striking and well-choreographed piece from a young UK company that show significant promise.
  • C!rca. A beautifully staged and skillful set full of acrobatic movements made to look effortless by a talented group.
  • Zeitgeist by Zen Zen Zo. An astonishing, challenging, brave and uncompromising piece which pushed its unique artistic vision straight into your face.
  • The Kosh in The Storeroom. An accomplished one-woman performance that contained sequences of beautifully-realised movement and dance.
  • Tales of the Apocalypse by Airealism. Wonderful rope, silk and trapeze skills from a group that presented an at-times surreal yet always captivating performance.
And the winner is...

Zeitgeist by Zen Zen Zo

A performance which you could not tear your eyes away from, Zeitgeist contained moments of beauty, startling originality, black humour and excellent choreography, courtesy of the acclaimed and uncompromising Zen Zen Zo physical theatre and dance group from Australia. Like some vision from Dante's Inferno, the dancers cavorted, squealed and ultimately dazzled with a show that fast became one of the tickets to secure at the Fringe.

For that, they more than deserve the:

Princess of the Day - Snow White

Now I have the full set, I can get to work on my Princess Cabaret Top Trumps set...

Edinburgh Festival Insider - Music Award 2009

Each year, the Fringe and the offshoot Edge Festival provide a wide range of musical offerings to cater for every taste. From world music to avant garde; classical to techno - there's something there for everyone.

The nominations for the Edinburgh Festival Insider Music Award 2009 are:
  • Camille O'Sullivan with The Dark Angel. A mesmerising show and an electrifying performer, capable of hypnotising a crowd with the raw power of emotion.
  • Patti Plinko and Her Boy. A bewitching set from Patti and The Boy, backed this year by a new addition on violin. Songs of love, death and suicide have never been so glamourous.
  • Amanda Palmer. During her visit, the Edinburgh Festival seemed to turn into the Amanda Palmer Festival - her many and varied sets and appearances were always hugely entertaining.
  • Creole Choir of Cuba. A wonderfully uplifting and accomplished performance that was the highlight of this year's World Festival at St George's West
  • Brocante Sonare. Music and percussion created from machinery, chairs and other household objects by a talented troupe of French artists.
And the winner is...

Camille O'Sullivan with The Dark Angel

With a uniquely beguiling and emotional voice, Camille blows away audiences whenever she plays. An inspired choice of songs backed by a tight group of talented musicians allows her to fully exploit the power, passion and pathos of songs she cradles like children. A consummate performer, her line in between-song banter amuses and delights, creating little moments of relief before a song like 'Hurt' or 'Look Mummy No Hands' slowly draws your heart from your chest and into your mouth.

Music that can change you, and for that, Camille O'Sullivan is awarded the:

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Photo of the day - Brazilian Fever

Review - Creole Choir of Cuba *****

Once again, Toby Gough has curated a superb programme at St George's West under the banner of The World Festival. Bringing together acts from Africa, South & Central America and Sri Lanka, he has given us a rare and treasured opportunity to see some of the best performers on the world music scene today.

Having seen all the shows on offer this year, the absolute highlight for me was the Creole Choir of Cuba. A 10-strong group of Haitian immigrants settled in Cuba, the choir are capable of producing some spine-tingling vocal harmonies which are perfectly suited to the wonderful acoustics of the venue.

Symbolically representing the journey of Haitians to Cuba, the set contains songs of spiritual devotion to ancient gods, proud laments for a departed homeland and some beautifully uplifting and moving songs of celebration and joy.

The choir possess some of the best voices I have ever heard, with the main female vocalist having a marvellously rich and impressive range, backed by harmonies which surround her voice like velvet. Special mention must also go to the two acapella bass singers, who underpin each number with vocal rhythms and deep, rich tones which complement the rest of the voices perfectly.

The Creole Choir of Cuba was a joy from start to finish and they and Toby Gough should be proud of a show which shines like the Caribbean sunshine from the doors of St George's West.

Creole Choir of Cuba runs until 31st August at St George's West. £15 (£12 concession, £5 child)

Saturday, August 29, 2009

Edinburgh Festival Insider - Best Newcomer 2009

The Fringe always draws hopeful and enthusiastic performers and groups from around the world to its gigantic stage. Helping to keep it fresh and constantly-evolving, these first-timers often provide some unexpected delights amongst the more established acts that return year after year.

The nominations for the Edinburgh Festival Insider Best Newcomer Award 2009 are:
  • Sambor Dudzinski's The Time(less) Machine. Polish 'art-warrior' and multi-talented performance artist Dudzinski unveiled his marvellously original and captivating vision at Edinburgh for the first time this year.
  • TBA Collaborative with The Grind Show. A young and enthusiastic group of students and alumni from Washington, TBA Collaborative brought their dark and alluring Grind Show for its Fringe debut.
  • Princess Cabaret. Some of the princesses had never left Oz before, let alone brought an original and buzz-creating sketch show to the biggest stage in the world.
  • Xavier Mortimer's The Shadow Orchestra. A true hidden gem amongst Universal Arts' excellent programme, Mortimer's Fringe debut was spellbinding, magical and hugely enjoyable.
  • The Paper Cinema with The Lost World. A beautiful and charming visit from The Paper Cinema with their unique and lovingly-recreated interpretation of Conan Doyle's classic.
And the winner is...

TBA Collaborative with The Grind Show

For their infectious enthusiasm, for their dark and cleverly-realised vision, for their patronage of fellow performers throughout their visit, for their encapsulation of the spirit of the Fringe - and most of all for the fact they deserve all the encouragement they need to return here again next year with another show which will no doubt surpass the already wonderful Grind Show: TBA Collaborative, here's your:

Photo of the day - Frisky

One half of the wonderful Frisky & Mannish

Edinburgh Festival Insider - Theatre Award 2009

As ever, the Fringe has been a fertile showcase for new and established drama groups to present some quite stunning shows. Theatre is the genre that is perhaps closest to the roots of the Fringe's beginnings, so it is heartening to see so many companies keeping that spirit alive.

This year, the nominations for the Edinburgh Festival Insider Theatre Award 2009 are:
  • The Grind Show by TBA Collaborative. A unique vision and excellent performances from a young and talented group of performers, The Grind Show was captivating and beautifully staged.
  • Ernest and The Pale Moon by Les Enfants Terribles / Pins & Needles Productions. A deliciously dark tale of gothic horror performed with panache and style by a multi-talented cast.
  • The Overcoat by Gecko Theatre. A nigh-on perfectly realised interpretation of Gogol's short story, staged with wonderful imagination and delivered through extremely accomplished performances and stagecraft.
  • Stitches by Claire Urwin. Splendid student theatre with an excellent script and some stunning performances from its young and talented cast.
  • Private Peaceful by Scamp Theatre. A poignant and beautifully acted study of brotherly love and the horror of war.
And the winner is...

The Overcoat by Gecko Theatre

Even after having let this sink in and compared to the other productions in the shortlist, Gecko Theatre's production still dazzles. Beautiful sets, stunning lighting, original direction and performances that were absolutely marvellous: The Overcoat was greater than the sum of its already splendid parts and delivered a production that I would comfortably and confidently call a triumph.

Gecko Theatre, here is your well-deserved:

Friday, August 28, 2009

Edinburgh Festival Insider - Comedy Award 2009

Although comedy is not my favourite genre, I've seen a smattering of shows that fall into that camp. And whilst an award from someone that doesn't claim to be an expert in the field may not amount to a hill of beans, there are some shows which certainly deserve special mention.

So, here is the inaugural Edinburgh Festival Insider Comedy Award 2009 - and the nominees are, in no particular order:
  • Frisky & Mannish's School of Pop. This show has caused a sensation in its first ever visit to the Fringe. Hilarious spoof pop songs which had me laughing so hard I was grateful for the image stabilisation on my camera and a pair of stars in the making.
  • Princess Cabaret. Everyone's favourite tweeting Disney Princesses treated us to a show which lived up to the hype and provided some cleverly-written sketch-based comedy that saw Snow White and the rest descending into some pretty risque territory.
  • The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre Goes To Hollywood. Intentionally shambolic, utterly chaotic and more laughs in 60 minutes than two socks have the right to generate.
  • Shut Up, Play! For its uniquely Japanese lunacy and inspired nonsense, Original Tempo was a delight from beginning to end and had moments of absolute hilarity.
  • Chris Cox: Mind Over Patter Mind-reading mentalism with a large dose of funny lines and self-effacing asides, Cox - like the Princesses - predicted how useful Twitter would be in generating interest in his great and mind-boggling show.
And the winner is....

The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre Goes To Hollywood!

For consistent laughs and boundless energy, Kev F Sutherland and his socks are this year's winners for speeding through a fast-paced hour of sketches, spoofs, ad-libs and songs that had me laughing from the moment the socks appeared until Sutherland emerged in his kilt at the very end. Both hilarious and extremely clever, his excellent show deserves not only this award but sell-out audiences for every run to come.

So, socks, take a bow:

Photo of the day - Patti Plinko and Her Boy

So good I saw them twice.

Review: Shut Up, Play! ****

As a Far East-ophile (sic), I was slightly disappointed 2008's InvAsian splinter festival wasn't back at this year's Fringe. Whilst Universal Arts and Venue 150 have provided a few Singaporean shows, there's been very little in the way of oriental delights on offer in Edinburgh in 2009.

Original Tempo go a long way towards addressing this with the madcap mayhem which is Shut Up, Play! - an hour of bonkers physical comedy and music which contains moments of pure genius and channels the spirit of perennial festival faves Gamarjobat with its lunacy and charm.

A loose conceit of a 'girl in the book' underpins the show, but this is largely irrelevant as the talented troupe dash around stage, making music from anything they can find - such as bowls of water, television sets or pots of noodles. As in Xavier Mortimer's Shadow Orchestra, there are some clever moments of projected images; and as with Sambor Dudzinksi's Time(less) Machine, Original Tempo also create a unique composition using sampled loops and audience participation.

It's always fascinating to observe such cultural threads and themes emerge at the Fringe, whether by accident or design, but it is to Original Tempo's credit that their show shines through on its own merit, being an utterly charming and chaotic slice of Japanese comedy that is very hard to resist.

Shut Up, Play! runs until August 31st at Sweet ECA. £8.50 (£7.50 concession)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Princess of the Day - Ariel

Ariel from the very funny Princess Cabaret.

Only Snow White to try and capture now, then my set is complete...

Review: Reality Chokes ***

The best theatrical works hold a mirror up to the audience and make them challenge and question their own lives and issues. As such, the fact I enjoyed this tale of four failed punk musicians going through a mid-life crisis probably tells you as much about me as it does about Reality Chokes.

Punk band Sonic Generation almost made it in the 70s. The classic irresistible cocktail of sex, drugs and rock & roll saw them fail however, and now - 30 years later - they are reunited for talk of a possible reunion. They turn up in a dingy rehearsal room, bringing with them their instruments, their wives and girlfriends and - most of all - their hang-ups, unresolved issues and neuroses.

The cast of Reality Chokes all put in accomplished performances, Lloyd Morris as Plod and Al Gregg as Dan in particular convincing as veterans of the great Punk Wars of the 70s. Cathy McMannon as Dan's wife Chrissie is also excellent, her world-weariness dropping away as soon as she hears the Sonic Generation 'classics' of her youth being played once more.

Although as far removed from a musical as it is possible to be, Reality Chokes does feature loud, raw and live (and actually pretty good) punk numbers, both originals and plot-relevant covers such as The Buzzcocks' "Ever Fallen In Love", proving the cast are as handy with a guitar as they are with a script. There is also moments of performance poetry and rasta toasting which serve to punctuate the majority of the straight-played scenes and these work well as an original and often humourous narrative device.

Reality Chokes successfully holds your attention for its length and it is something of a mystery to me why it was so poorly-attended last night (14 in the audience including myself). Perhaps it only really appeals to those who see a pretty accurate reflection of themselves in the mirror it presents.

Reality Chokes runs until Aug 30th at the New Town Theatre. £11 (£10 concession)

Review: Rich Hall's Campfire Stories ***

As you will probably have gathered by now, comedy is not really my genre of choice, but I do enjoy Rich Hall's line in dry and laconic delivery (it's the grumpy old man thing that appeals to me...)

Whilst he's also doing a one-man show this Fringe, Rich Hall's Campfire Stories was a lot more up my street. In this hour of clever and mostly gentle comedy, Hall and two other performers - Mike Wilmot and Tim Williams - spin yarns and lines around a campfire in the woods, with the tales veering off on enjoyable and sometimes quite bizarre tangents that share themes and moods with some of Hall's short stories and other writings.

As is often the case, the biggest laughs come from the corpsing, ad-libbing and fourth wall-breaking moments, but it is testament to the performers' abilities as comedians and storytellers that this slice of male mid-life Americana is enjoyable and amusing throughout.

Rich Hall's Campfire Stories runs until 31 August at the Assembly Rooms. £12 (£11 concession)

Review: Brocante Sonore: The Mechanicians *****

The stage resembles Leonardo Da Vinci's workshop, with an assembly of pipes, gears, clocks, tubes and cluttered desks filling the space in what appears to be a chaotic and haphazard fashion.

Then, the nine 'rude mechanicals' of Brocante Sonore emerge, clad in blue overalls, and take positions amongst the clutter. And then? Well, then an hour of complete magic happens, as the talented French troupe use everything they can get their hands on to create music and percussion, filling the auditorium with sounds and melodies that you wouldn't normally think pots, pans, saws and drills were capable of producing.

There is a rough plot holding things together, as the mechanicians struggle to repair a broken clock at the back of the stage. In the course of doing so, they work and play, such as in a highlight routine of a game of musical chairs, where each successive loser takes his seat and transforms it into a wind or percussive instrument. By the end of their game, their is a small orchestra of chairs being played before you and the effect is both humourous and musically excellent.

The visual style is first class, with the steampunk mood and eccentric nature of the performers shining through to create something quite unique. As the finale is reached in a crescendo of noise, sparks and explosions, you realise the mechanicians have not only repaired their clock, but also managed to make their hour long set speed by in what seemed like 5 minutes.

Brocante Sonore: The Mechanicals runs until 31st August at C. £11.50 (£10.50 concession)

Photo of the day - Bending over backwards

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Review: Capoeira Knights: The Boys from Brazil ****

After last year's sell-out run, The Boys are back in town and are once more packing them in at St George's West, with a repeat performance of their Capoeira Knights music and dance spectacular.

The 70-minute show tells the story of Capoeira itself, from its roots in slavery to its modern day incarnation as a martial art practiced on the streets of Brazil. Pumping samba and rumba music fills the almost-bursting church as the boys dazzle with their expert moves and acrobatics, with the biggest applause going to their standout routines in which they leap, flip, kick and spin in a stunning display of physical prowess.

This year, they certainly know their audience and the venue is packed with young eager females appreciating the boys' sweaty bodies and toned six-packs. Indeed, as they return for an encore bare-chested and wearing kilts (sorry ladies, they're not true Scotsmen...) it is almost as if you are seeing the Brazilian Chippendales before you, and the high-pitched screams from the female contingent almost drown out the samba drums pounding in the background.

All great fun though, and it doesn't detract from a show that is uplifting, cracking to watch and listen to and probably one of the best nights out at the Fringe.

Capoeira Knights: The Boys from Brazil runs until Aug 31st at St George's West. £15 (£12 concession, £5 child)

Review: The Kosh in The Storeroom ****

The Storeroom is the latest production from groundbreaking physical dance company The Kosh, and features the phenomenal Siân Williams in a one-woman show telling the noirish tale of Zoe the showgirl as she reminisces over the glittering highs and seedy lows of her career.

Williams puts in an amazing turn, single-handedly moving the scenery - comprised of packing crates and ladders set in the storeroom of a theatre - whilst dancing, singing, performing ventriloquism and carrying out some quick costume changes. Of those, a particular standout is her split male / female costume, where she portrays both Zoe and Artie, her predatory playboy suitor in a routine which she carries off brilliantly.

As she opens each box of memories, Williams reveals more and more about her dark past, leading up to a finale which is well-executed and perfectly fitting to the stylised mood of the overall piece.

Perhaps what impresses most, as you watch Williams perform a beautiful and graceful routine whilst suspended from a ladder, is the fact this striking and talented performer has been in the industry for 27 years, and possesses looks and movements that would put some half her age to shame.

The Kosh in The Storeroom runs until August 31st at Gilded Balloon. £9.50 (£8.50 concession)

Photo of the day - Masked

Review: Stitches ****

Set in a post-apocalyptic future where survivors are trying to piece together memories of things now lost, Stitches is a well-written and intriguing new work from award-winning playwright Claire Urwin.

In the Department of Flora & Fauna, four conscripts labour on creating quilts depicting the connections and links between barely-remembered creatures wiped out by the 'firestorm'. They bicker and argue throughout, the snappy dialogue containing some cleverly-written comments on the class system and modern-day materialism.

Into the mix arrives a new girl, Amy, excellently portrayed by young actress Elizabeth Hopper. A member of the lowest caste of survivors, her performance is filled with facial tics and expressions, and wild gazes and movements from eyes that have seen too much too young. As the play unfolds, with good pacing by director Rajiv Nathwani, dark secrets are unearthed and relationships already thin are stretched to breaking point.

The young female cast are all accomplished actresses, with Hopper and Vanessa Fogarty as the aloof and snobbish Bel being given the best roles and lines. With a larger stage and better lighting than the confined space of the Radisson is able to provide, Stitches would be hard to fault, and it is to the cast & crew's credit that their production shines through these small limitations to provide an hour of excellent student drama that is superior to many productions from much more experienced companies.

Stitches runs until August 29th at Spaces at the Radisson. £7 (£5 concession)

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

RT @Review: #Princess Cabaret *****

If Twitter has a royal family, the girls from Princess Cabaret are certainly first in line for the throne (perhaps that makes Chris Cox Prince Charming...)

After a clever and blanket marketing storm using everyone's favourite new social medium, this talented troupe of Australian comediennes have created an unmissable buzz this year, even featuring in the national press as doyennes of tweeting, hashtags and followfridays.

A newly-awoken Sleeping Beauty is trying to come to terms with the modern world. Jasmine is increasingly tired of Aladdin's laddish ways. Belle kind of misses the Beast, now he's back in human form. Cinderella's having identity issues, whilst Snow White has developed some rather disturbing psychotic tendencies. Ariel's just a fish out of water, whilst Tinkerbell is distraught at the fact she's only a fairy...

Princess Cabaret has a brilliant conceit - dragging the Disney heroines out of their happy-ever-afters and into the real world - and the girls execute it well. The put-upon Tinkerbell in particular shines as a narrator of sorts, providing musical interludes on her keyboard as the other princesses rush from one sketch to the next.

Some of this is genuinely laugh-out-loud funny and the humour gets more risque as the show progresses (some of Aurora's political incorrectness is the sort of thing Jerry Sadowitz might even blush about...) and the girls carry it off with style and energy in a mixture of sketches, song and dance routines.

The climax (word intentionally chosen) is absolutely hilarious and the whole show lives up to the buzz surrounding it, meaning you'll not be disappointed by it if your curiosity's been pricked by the Princesses.

I would perhaps have given the show four stars as it stood, but as an example of how acts like this can rise to the top through their own promotional savvy, Princess Cabaret deserves an extra star - perhaps one retweeted by the legions of followers they have now accumulated.

Princess Cabaret runs until Aug 31st at the Gilded Balloon. £7 (£6 concession)

Review: Janis ***

Janis is an accomplished one-woman performance, recounting the life & career highs and lows of Janis Joplin.

Nicola Haydn turns in an extremely well-observed and characterised performance, evoking the speech and mannerisms of the iconic singer so accurately that the suspension of disbelief takes only a few minutes to happen, and you are convinced it is Joplin herself recounting her thoughts and fears to you from an intimate and sparse set, centered around her bed.

Joplin's life story is told in mostly linear fashion, and this works best when her personal thoughts and neuroses are centered on rather than her well-publicised exploits on and off stage. That said, it doesn't drag and the performance carries the piece along through its strength of character and pacing.

The play is practically all monologue, and perhaps surprisingly it is only in the last few minutes of the performance that Haydn takes up the acoustic guitar - previously left untouched at the side of the set - and proves that she is equally capable of channelling the spirit of Joplin's music as she is her character.

Janis runs until Aug 31st at The Gilded Balloon. £12 (£10 concession)

Photo of the day - Will Self

I want to be Will Self when I grow up, but I fear I'm running out of time. When I told him this at the Book Festival, he said to keep doing what I was doing, as the position would probably be vacant soon...

Review: Tao - Samurai Magical Drumming ****

In Japan, the art of Tao drumming is considered so highly it has religious significance, with initiates into the domain taking years to perfect their craft. In Tao - Samurai Magical Drumming, the talented and athletic troupe share some of this awe and wonder, albeit with a show tailored to the sensibilities of a more western audience.

For 70 minutes, a series of routines demonstrate the power of the drum to move: both emotionally and physically, particularly as the beats from the gigantic instruments reverberate around the Assembly Hall and into your bones.

One or two routines are fabulously choreographed humourous routines, demonstrating the drummers' amazing coordination and timing as they 'throw' beats back and forth and play each others' instruments in a blur of motion and skill.

The standout routines are when the entire troupe take the stage, with live Japanese flute music dodging in and out of the cracks of the percussive storm being brewed up onstage by a hugely talented and extremely entertaining group of spellbinding performers.

Tao - Samurai Magical Drumming runs until Aug 31st at the Assembly Hall. £15 (£14 concession)

Review: Ernest and the Pale Moon ****

One of the highlights of the Fringe last year were The Terrible Infants, who performed a beguilingly dark and charming collection of Dahl-like cautionary tales at the Udderbelly to critical acclaim.

This year, the company are back - in conjunction with Pins & Needles Productions - with Ernest and the Pale Moon, a deliciously macabre and grotesquely gothic tale of black obsession and murder.

The cast have a similar look and style to last year, with white-painted faces and Edwardian dress. The story here is much darker however, centering on a voyeuristic loner who is infatuated with the albino girl who lives in the apartment block opposite his, and who only appears when the light of the moon allows her eyes to tolerate the dim, pale light.

Using excellently-realised simple sets and staging and accompanied by live cello and accordion music, the tale unfolds, punctuated by some startling, eerie and horrific moments. This, whilst maintaining the same storybook style as The Terrible Infants' previous work, is most definitely not a show for children.

As effectively-created sound effects and moody site-specific lighting help usher the story towards its climax, Ernest and the Pale Moon successfully creates a unique and captivating atmosphere in which to play out its twisted, terrifying tale, and represents another success for the company to add to their growing list of achievements.

Ernest and the Pale Moon runs until 31st August at Pleasance Above.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Review: The Shadow Orchestra *****

The Shadow Orchestra is Xavier Mortimer's charming and creative mix of mime, sleight-of-hand, visual trickery and uniquely Gallic flair.

In a spellbinding and utterly beguiling show, Mortimer delights throughout, whether performing some expertly-honed magic skills or interacting with shadow versions of himself projected onto a screen behind him. The inventiveness and flow of the performance is particularly appealing, with each routine running seamlessly into the next, carried forward by some wonderfully surreal and amusing projected routines of instruments sprouting legs and walking offstage or chairs rearing like horses and galloping after the performer.

Mortimer is a multi-talented artiste, playing several instruments (sometimes at the same time), performing mime routines which make up for Gamarjobat's absence this year; and displaying excellent timing and choreography as in several moments when the screen drops and he appears, in exactly the same place & pose as an animated projected version of himself.

The Shadow Orchestra was an unexpected delight and had little - if anything - to fault. If you're looking for something clever, unique and family-friendly in the run up to the close of the Fringe, this comes highly recommended.

The Shadow Orchestra runs until Aug 30th at Universal Arts. £12 (£10 concession)

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Photo of the day - Princess Cabaret

Snow White, Ariel and Sleeping Beauty from the inspired Princess Cabaret (click image to view full size)

Review to follow when I get a bit of spare time...(!)

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Review: The Fall of Man ***

The Fall of Man is an uncompromising and unflinching new production from Red Shift Theatre Company.

Using passages and themes from Milton's Paradise Lost interspersed with scenes of raw drama from the two actors, The Fall of Man explores themes of guilt, lust, betrayal and passion in a site-sensitive performance in the confined space of Pleasance Beside.

The two characters, a successful businessman and the young Croatian nanny he and his wife employ, end up physically and emotionally entangled in a bitter tale which evokes Milton's Adam and Eve: either explicitly through direct out-of-character recited passages; or more successfully and subtly, such as when the actors cover their nakedness with a duvet patterned with leaves and foliage.

Featuring full nudity and depictions of sexual acts, as well as a performance which sees the male lead sitting next to audience members whilst delivering his lines, The Fall of Man is a brave and powerful short piece which hits its mark with accuracy, but may be too intense for some.

The Fall of Man runs until 30th August at the Pleasance Beside. £9.50 (£8 concession)

Photo of the Day - Piper

Review: Ranganika, Island of Dance ****

Ranganika, Island of Dance is a joyous, colourful and uplifting show by a talented and exuberant young troupe of Sri Lankan dancers and drummers.

Part of the World Festival at the beautiful St George's West, Ranganika is made up of a number of traditional & contemporary pieces, featuring beautiful dancing and costumes, striking masks, pounding drums and - in the finale - a vivid and exciting portrayal of traditional village life in Sri Lanka.

The obvious enthusiasm and talent of the youthful cast are hard to resist, and Ranganika is a great example of the kind of performance The World Festival specialises in: one which gives you a rare and privileged glimpse into another culture's music, tradition and heritage.

Ranganika, Island of Dance runs until 30th August at St George's West (not Mondays). £10 (£8 concession, £5 child)

Review: Private Peaceful ****

Scamp Theatre's production of Private Peaceful is a moving, poignant and extremely-well acted one-man piece, examining the appalling injustices and desperate futility of those in the front lines of the First World War.

In an excellent performance, young actor Finn Hanlon brings Private Peaceful to life, in a well-paced and realistic script by Michael Morpurgo. Through Hanlon's reminisces and excellent portrayal of a young man swept away by patriotism and idolism of his older brother, we follow Peaceful through the memories of his short life and the atrocities he witnesses and is forced to commit in name of king & country.

A simple set with effective lighting allows Hanlon the full use of the stage, and his boyish mannerisms and speech are spot on, reminding us how young and naively brave so many of the enlisted and fallen in the Great War actually were.

As the piece ticks relentlessly towards its final scene, Private Peaceful is a journey down well-trodden territory, but one which - through the personal perspective of its protagonist - is one of the most moving yet.

Private Peaceful runs until August 31st at the Udderbelly. £11 (£9 concession)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Princess of the Day - Tinkerbell

They seek her here, they seek her there, that damned elusive Tinkerbell (from the Princess Cabaret) - click image to view full size

Review: The Overcoat by Gecko Theatre *****

It is extremely rare when you see a show in the Fringe that you can find no fault with. Gecko Theatre's The Overcoat is one such masterpiece, and their performance is an exceptional and spellbinding work of art.

Everything here gels completely. The set is perfectly realised, with industrial tones, metal and machinery creating an atmosphere that is bleak yet beautiful at the same time. The lighting does a fabulous job of highlighting the performers and scenes, creating some moments of magical imagery and visual allure. The script & direction is inspired, with each character speaking in a different language: at once creating a feeling of bewilderment that echoes the main character's state of mind, but also working cohesively as a whole to bring the piece a unique tone and voice.

Performances are outstanding, with all the cast delivering perfect turns, in a combination of dance, physical expression and theatrical prowess. The costumes and makeup evoke silent movies, mime and commedia del'Artte, creating a unique and mesmerising vision and interpretation of the world Gogol's characters inhabit. And the music, a combination of soundtrack and live percussion, creates an auditory mood which suits the piece to perfection.

Shows like this challenge and delight, and it is to Gecko Theatre's credit that The Overcoat does this for every moment of its 80-minute performance. It is filled with standout scenes, such as the main character Akakki's dream sequence; or his seduction by his lustful landlady in his wonderfully staged garret. Single standouts such as this are hard to pinpoint, however, as the performance is such a completely-realised marvel that it must be seen and taken in its entirety.

When the time comes for Fringe awards and plaudits, The Overcoat must surely be in the front running. For me, it was perfect, and I struggle to think of a theatrical performance this year that will top it.

The Overcoat runs until Aug 29th (not 25th) at the Pleasance Grand. £14.00 (£11.50 concession)

Photo of the day - Dancing in the Rain

Great to see performers on the Royal Mile adapting to the Edinburgh weather...

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Review: Capercaillie ***

I don't go to a lot of live music gigs during the Festival, as I'm of the opinion you can see most bands at other times of the year, and there's so much unique and unmissable going on elsewhere.

However, I picked Capercaillie almost as a brief respite from the rest of the Festival mayhem, and on the strength of last night's show, I'm glad I did.

The 8-piece band play a tight and well-blended mix of traditional Scottish Celtic music, world influences and contemporary sounds, all topped off with the beautiful and at times haunting voice of Karen Matheson. I've been a fan of their uniquely Scottish sound for over 20 years now, and it was great to see them play to a mix of fans and first-timers, drawn to the Queen's Hall by their official Fringe appearance.

Because of that, Capercaillie's set was slightly curtailed due to timing and the audience reaction was a little muted, given many people's unfamiliarity with the band. However, the music shone through, and the collection of uplifting and melodic reels, waltzes - as well as some beautifully moving laments and ballads - gave us all a welcome opportunity to hear one of the best Scottish folk acts in the business.

Capercaillie play the Queen's Hall again this evening.

Photo of the day - Festival Fatigue

Mate, I know exactly how you feel... Click image to view full size

Review: The Devoured ***

Last year, Badac Theatre caused a stir with The Factory, an uncompromising and immersive experience attempting to recreate the terror and despair of Jewish concentration camp internees, performed promenade style in a vaulted area of the Pleasance. It was a triumph of unflinching raw emotion and powerful drama.

This year, Badac return with The Devoured, a one-man show by the group founder Steve Lambert. Exploring the same territory, Lambert's self-written performance is equally unflinching in the way it deals with the despair, hopelessness and hatred experienced by a Jewish father as he and his family are first moved to the ghetto, then to an internment camp and finally to their place of annihilation.

Using strong language and extreme physical performance, Lambert successfully evokes some of the futile hopelessness and fear of the situation, with a script that approaches performance poetry, filled as it is with repeated phrases and themes: "lies, lies, fucking lies", "noise, noise, fucking noise" etc.

During a relentless scene in which he depicts the brutal torture and execution of some of the internees, some audience members depart, no doubt shocked and perhaps disgusted by the language and stylised portrayal of horrific scenes. But those that stay to the end of The Devoured will experience the full power and range of Lambert's piece, which successfully meets its goal: that of exploring and exposing appalling acts of inhumanity and hate-driven crimes which still echo to this day.

The Devoured runs until Aug 31st (not 24th) at The Pleasance. £8.50 (£6.50 concession)

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Review: The Time(less) Machine ****

A light casts strange shadows onto the curtain at the back of the performance space, heralding the arrival of Sambor Dudzinski and his Time(less) Machine. As his marvellous contraption comes into view, we see it in its full glory: a wonderfully eccentric giant tricycle affair, festooned with instruments and electronic equipment, the sort of thing Tim Burton would dream up after a night on the town with David Byrne.

Dudzinski is a true artist with a childlike gleefulness in his uncompromising vision. A Polish self-styled 'art warrior', he uses his Machine and a succession of original and unique instruments - including his versatile and beautifully mellow voice - to perform a series of interpretations of classical numbers and original (and I mean really original) compositions.

With a style that is uniquely eastern European, Dudzinski at times feels as though he has stepped from the pages of a story book, resplendent in his white fur hat and playful glinting eyes. By the end of the show, when he creates an amazingly quirky and truly unique composition with contributions from the audience, the glimpse he has given into his artistic vision and integrity is a privilege and one that resonates with you long afterwards.

Dudzinski deserves much larger audiences than his show most certainly deserves, and I encourage anyone with a taste for things a little different to make their way along to the splendid Venue150 at the EICC to catch him before he and his wonderful Machine clank, hum and whistle off to delight another audience elsewhere.

The Time(less) Machine runs from 25th to 30th August at Venue150. £9 (£7 concession)

Princess of the Day - Sleeping Beauty

Another member of The Princess Cabaret - now where is that elusive Tinkerbell...?

Review: The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre Goes To Hollywood *****

Kev F Sutherland's left and right hands are an Edinburgh Fringe institution. Using them, a couple of grey socks and some deliberately amateurish props and costumes, he breathes manic life into The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre as only he knows how.

Behind a tartan-draped Punch & Judy style booth, Sutherland crouches, thrusting his comic creations into the limelight with frenetic and hilarious results. The amount of ad-libbing, corpsing and lightning-quick in-jokes make this show a rapid hour of very funny entertainment, making you marvel at his delivery and the speed of his mind as he reacts to unintentional mistakes and audience reaction.

This year, TSFSPT bring us a show subtitled "Goes To Hollywood" and the socks re-enact the entire history of cinema before our eyes, going off on mad tangents at times, such as the hilarious guest appearance of Jeremy Paxman (or at least a laminated cardboard cutout representation thereof...)

It's inspired stuff and last night's show played to a packed house who definitely got where Sutherland's sense of humour was coming from (somewhere between The Beano, for which Sutherland writes & draws comic strips; and the mad falsetto ramblings of a deranged Scottish lunatic).

Very little fails to amuse and delight in this show, and a Festival without the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre just wouldn't feel the same: they are fast becoming a national treasure.

The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre Goes To Hollywood runs until Aug 30th at the Gilded Balloon. £9 (£8 concession)

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Review: The Lost World ****

The Childrens Shows section of the Fringe programme often contains some hidden gems of magical experiences that are hard to find elsewhere.

Lost World, by The Paper Cinema, is one such diamond. An interpretation of the classic Conan Doyle tale, Lost World is mesmerising and unique. A trio of performers bring the story to life via the use of beautifully illustrated drawings, employed in a modern-day version of shadow puppetry, with their atmospheric puppets and props captured live on video and projected onto a large screen at the back of the stage.

Hundreds of meticulously drawn scenes unfold before our eyes as The Paper Cinema use all their skill and artistry to portray pterodactyl attacks, races through the jungle, camp fire-lit night scenes and more; all the time exploiting the shallow depth of field of the video camera focused on the cardboard cutouts to create scenes that do indeed resemble those from a movie.

Special mention must also go to the live score created during the 45-minute performance. One musician - using layered effects and a computer with guitar, violin and percussion, conjures up a beautiful and haunting soundtrack which complements the action perfectly.

In short, Lost World is a masterpiece of unique and beautiful vision, one I have never seen the like of before, and one I will do my utmost to seek out again.

Lost World runs until August 30th at the Scottish Storytelling Theatre (not Tuesdays). £7.50 (£5 concession)

Photo of the day - Iain Banks

Iain Banks signing at the Edinburgh Book Festival.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Review: One Man Lord of the Rings **

For the last two years, Charlie Ross has delighted Edinburgh audiences with his fast, frantic and inspired one-man blast through the Star Wars trilogy.

This year, he's back with his other show - One Man Lord of the Rings. Filled with the same ingenious impersonations, physical comedy, sound effects and asides which break the fourth wall, this show suffers only from its choice of subject matter.

Whilst nearly everyone in Ross' target audience group knows the Star Wars movies backwards, there are an ever-decreasing number who are as intimately familiar with each of the three LotR movies. So, whilst his Gollum is spot-on and his re-enactment of massive battle scenes is great fun to watch, most of the references are lost on an audience who maybe have only seen the first film in the trilogy.

It works best when he's spoofing the material - such as the references to Orlando Bloom's hair or the self-aware "insert the next DVD now" lines, but all too often you find yourself agreeing with the audience member who shouted out "do Star Wars!" half-way through.

One Man Lord of the Rings' run is now over.

Published...kind of

Nice to see one of my reviews plastered up in front of the Gilded Balloon - the one for Tales of the Apocalypse was up there too.

Princess of the Day - Belle

Another member of the Princess Cabaret (Beast not pictured).

Review: Paul Merton's Impro Chums ***

Paul Merton's Impro Chums is one of those shows that does exactly what it says on the tin. Merton, together with a troupe of comedy friends (including US comedian Mike McShane), spend an hour riffing off audience suggestions for props, locations, occupations etc, creating some very funny and clever off-the-cuff sketches as a result.

Playing to a packed house at the Pleasance, Merton and crew entertain throughout, with some genuinely funny moments of ad-libbing and corpsing caused by ever-more bizarre suggestions from the crowd ("be the man who puts wooden pips in raspberry jam using a bicycle"...?!).

It's obvious - and forgivable - that some of the longer routines are pre-scripted and rehearsed, with some of the suggestions slotted in to intentionally left blank points in the routine, but ultimately this is an hour of good - and mostly clean - fun.

Paul Merton's Impro Chums runs at The Pleasance until 29th August (not 18th). Many shows sold out. Various from £11.50

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Photo of the day - Death of a Samurai

Review: Love Machines by Kataklo **

Italian-based athletic dance company Kataklo brought a stunning sport-themed show to the Fringe 2 years ago, with the troupe performing a series of vignettes that were stunningly beautiful and visually awe-inspiring.

I therefore had high hopes for their return this year with Love Machines, a show inspired by the drawings and inventions of Leonardo Da Vinci. Indeed, their show, running at the Assembly Music Hall, is once again full of wonderful imagery, magnificent lighting and expertly-thrown shapes and poses, performed by a finely-honed and attractive cast.

However, where the previous show benefited from a series of short, varied pieces, Love Machines is hampered by a single abstract tale, told with pacing that is at times tortously slow. Two humans are visited by mysterious beings who inspire and release them from their toil and drudgery. Far too much time is spent where very little actually happens, with the characters playing the humans on stage alone for lengthy periods, striking poses and moving gracefully but never exploiting the full potential of the beautiful set, lighting and costumes.

Some moments are wonderful in terms of visuals and spectactle, but it's unfortunate that these machines seem to be set to a speed which is far too slow.

Love Machines runs until August 31st (not Mondays) at the Assembly Rooms. £13 (£12 concession)

Friday, August 14, 2009

Review: Frisky & Mannish's School of Pop *****

As you may have gathered, I'm not really a big fan of comedy acts. I'm much more drawn to the world music, dark cabaret, neo-burlesque and experimental theatre stuff. Perhaps that means I'm a miserable ponce, but there you have it.

However, there are notable exceptions. Frisky & Mannish's School of Pop is most definitely one. Frisky (that is her name) and Mannish strut, preen and pose on stage like Lou Reed and Hazel O'Connnor's illegitimate offspring, performing one hilarious spoof pop song after another that has a delighted audience hollering and cheering from the start.

In a fabulous conceit, Headmistress Frisky leads the class / audience through a typical school day, whilst Mannish accompanies her on keyboard. We're first all encouraged to join in with the school song and then treated to such delights as Lily Allen singing Noel Coward, scarily-obsessed love songs dedicated to audience members and more clever throwaway lines than you could ever hope to pick up in one viewing.

Frisky & Mannish were born to perform, not only having obviously studied hard in music class, but having some wonderful facial expressions and perfectly-timed deadpan delivery. In fact, their School of Pop may actually have re-educated me a little...

(Actually, after last night's show, Frisky & Mannish were off, resplendent in their silver-basqued and shiny trousered finery, to perform at Ministry Of Burlesque's High Tease, so they still slot neatly into my genres of choice.)

Frisky & Mannish's School of Pop runs until August 30th (not 18th) at the Underbelly. £10.50 (£9.50 concession)

Photo of the Day - Noir by Airealism

A tender moment during Airealism's visually beautiful show Noir. Click image to view full size.

Review: The Grind Show ****

As a photographer, I have a leaning towards shows with a strong visual presence and style. There are times during The Grind Show - when the sharply-defined lighting freezes the action - that the tableaux presented by TBA Collaborative resemble panels from a graphic novel. Further parallels exist, particularly with some of the visual metaphors used - such as the show's eerily damaged ringmaster being a crippled Uncle Sam figure; or the knife-throwing twin sisters being depersonalised via the use of carnival masks.

Indeed, the plot and theme of The Grind Show could be lifted from a tale by Neil Gaiman or the like, with its use of strong, dark themes and metaphors to examine and comment on the nature of individuality, fear and obsession. The carnival sideshow performers, well portrayed by a gifted young cast, are trapped: externally, doomed to repeat their own particular acts every day; and equally by their own idiosyncracies and internal demons.

A child is thrown into this grotesque troupe, forced to discover their own act and thus become as absorbed and ensnared as the rest. Through their journey, we see each of the turns, presented in surreal fashion with some imaginative stagecraft and direction. Thanks to its lighting and wardrobe choices, the show also has a washed-out, monochromatic feel, which adds to its nightmarish atmosphere and sinister mood.

I had the advantage of reading the show's synopsis on TBA Collaborative's website but I'm not sure if the show came with a programme detailing the same. Without that, some of the plotting and themes may have been a touch oblique, though that is in part due to the show's one-hour length and a common issue with many Fringe theatre productions.

That aside, The Grind Show was a darkly beautiful and disturbingly eerie piece that successfully seared some of its unique style and vision into a deep, hidden place within my mind. TBA Collaborative should be commended for bringing such an atmospheric and unique show to the Fringe - give them your support and they should hopefully become regulars here.

The Grind Show runs until August 31st (not 17th) at C Venues. £8.50 (£7.50 concession)

Review: Zeitgeist *****

Judging by the group of besuited and well-dressed people who left Zen Zen Zo's provocative show mid-way through, Zeitgeist is probably not best suited for a civilised evening of corporate entertainment. For anyone who has in interest in cutting-edge contemporary & experimental phsyical theatre, however, it's pretty much a must.

Eight near-naked creatures are magically brought to life before our eyes and then, for the next 65 minutes, experience the full gamut of emotion and feelings with childlike wonder, glee and fear. A series of marvellously choreographed and executed pieces seem to each represent one of the deadly sins, with the energetic troupe losing themselves in the throes of lust, parading around like parodies of proud supermodels, or - in the scene which merits the "caution...flying food" warning on the show's publicity - consumed by gluttonous obsession.

Zeitgeist is performed by the Australian-based Zen Zen Zo Physical Theatre company, whose members have performed previously with The Dresden Dolls and Amanda Palmer. Unafraid to compromise any aspect of their artistic vision, Zen Zen Zo challenge, startle and astonish with Zeitgeist, with scenes of sheer beauty coupled with those of meticulously-planned and spellbinding chaos.
Zeitgeist runs until Aug 31st (not 17th) at C Venues. £11.50 (£10.50 concession)

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Photo of the day - Metamorphosis

Performer from Metamorphosis promoting the show on the Royal Mile (click image to view full-size).

Want to feature here? Drop me a line.

Review: Chris Cox: Mind Over Patter *****

Five. Chris Cox, "the mind reader who doesn't read minds", brings his Mind Over Patter show to Edinburgh for a five - sorry - four-week run at the Fringe. BBC Radio 1's resident magician, 25-year old Cox attempts to demonstrate all you need to be able to make people think you can read minds are some magic skills, a bit of psychology, a liberal sprinkling of subliminal 5 messages and an engaging and affable stage presence.

Using all of the above, Chris performs a series of ever-more baffling and impressive routines (five in total, I think) that to describe in any detail here would spoil the impact of. Suffice to say, by the end of the show (which last night started 5 minutes late), you'll be convinced that, despite his claims to the contrary, Cox really can see inside your head.

Shows like this sometimes live and die by the degree and willingness of audience participation - if you're lucky enough to catch his show whilst its packed and full of up-for-it punters, then Cox's banter and interaction with his "volunteers" is extremely amusing and good fun (although I did count at least five mentions of mild rude words, so it's maybe not suitable for young children).

I feel compelled to award Chris Cox my highest accolade - I just don't know how he does it (and trust me, neither will you).

Chris Cox: Mind Over Patter runs until August 31st (not 17th) at the Pleasance Dome. £9.50 (£8.50 concession).

Review: Patti Plinko and Her Boy ****

If Patti Plinko's voice was a cocktail, it would be one part champagne, two parts absinthe, definitely shaken not stirred, then poured over the rocks and served drop-dead cool. And you'd have to drink it whilst smoking French cigarettes and wearing sunglasses.

Patti Plinko and Her Boy created quite a stir at last year's Fringe, virtual unknowns who unleased their blistering brand of dark cabaret-style sound in a shady basement bar in Edinburgh. Although that venue suited them well, this year they have been treated to a residency at the Assembly Rooms, where they unravel a new set of twisted and original music noir.

At the centre is Patti Plinko, a small figure with an arresting line in 50s-style glamour and a ukelele. As her voice moves from seductive purr to husky yelp, she is accompanied on guitar by The Boy, wild-haired and at her command, whilst the new member - a classically-trained female violinist - sways behind her, the trio creating a superbly surreal and intriguing presence. A simple but effective set of fairy lights, bamboo screens and old, faded photographs completes the scene, reminiscent of a David Lynch dream sequence.

Fortunately now recovering from an illness that forced her to cancel a couple of preceding shows, Patti Plinko is on the mend and on fire once again. The music bubbles and boils in a darkly delicious fashion as Patti, gazing adoringly at Her Boy, orders you up another Plinko on the Rocks and you succumb to its powerful, mind-bending effect.

Patti Plinko and Her Boy runs until 31st August (not 17th) at the Assembly Rooms. £11 (£7 concession)

Review: Yathra (Journey) ****

Appearing as part of the Festival of Spirituality & Peace, Yathra (Journey) is an original piece by Ragamala Dance. The company specialise in a modernisation of Bharatanatyam, a classical form of Indian dance, without compromising its rich and spiritual heritage. Artistic director Ranee Ramaswamy and her talented co-dancers infuses this blend of old and new with unique grace and energetic fluidity, resulting in something quite beautiful to behold.

The show is made up of three stylish and enjoyable pieces, culminating in the undisputed highlight, which is Yathra (Journey) itself. Accompanied live by the expert playing of sitarist Shubhendra Rao and the modified cello of Saskia Rao de Haas, the company present a piece expressing life's journey through their compelling style of dance, with all the stages - from birth through death to rebirth - expressed with precise and well-choreographed abstract movement and emotion.

The layered strings of the accompaniment are hypnotic and - when combined with the visual feast offered by Ragamala Dance and the awe-inspiring setting of the beautiful St John's church - there are times when you are absolutely transfixed by the sensory allure and spiritual elegance of what is happening before you.

Yathra (Journey) runs until August 23rd (not 20th) at St John's church. £12 (£10 concession).