Saturday, August 8, 2009

Review: Camille O'Sullivan: The Dark Angel *****

Camille O'Sullivan has magic powers.

How else can you explain the fact that she is so totally possessed by the spirit of each song she performs? Whether it's the damaged and regretful daughter of "Look Mummy, No Hands", the destructive self-hate boiling inside of the protagonist of "Hurt" or even the no-holds-barred good-time girl asking, incredulously, "In These Shoes?" - Camille doesn't sing these songs, she inhabits them.

However she does it, she does it like no other. Bursting on stage and almost out of her dress, she has the audience transfixed from the start. By the middle, she's everyone's new favourite singer; and by the end, people leave the venue practically speechless, moved so much are they by the range of emotions they've witnessed for the last 75 minutes.

Returning to Edinburgh for her fifth year, Camille brings her set of perfectly-picked covers to the Assembly Hall, a grand and spacious venue fitting for her to fill to the ceiling with her unique and unmissable voice. Backed by a superb band of musicians, she treats each song as if it's a lover, sometimes appearing to completely lose herself in the passion of the music's embrace as she spins and gyrates around the stage.

The quieter numbers are treated with more tenderness, her voice piercing the silence with emotion which feels so genuine it is immediately shared by everyone listening. The venue's stage is also excellently lit, candles dotted around its circumference adding to the intimate, cabaret style atmosphere so well suited to the songs.

No review of a Camille show is complete without mention of her self-effacingly cheeky line in audience rapport and banter. At the Assembly Hall, it is no different, although you can tell she's still getting used to the height of the stage as she gingerly leaves it to mingle with unsuspecting lucky audience members.

You really must go to this this. If you've never seen her before, I envy you. Even if you have, each performance is so unique it's well worth a repeat visit.

After all that, only one word really remains to be said.


Camille O'Sullivan: The Dark Angel runs until August 31st (not Tuesdays). Very likely to sell out. £16.

Photo of the Day - Princess Jasmine

Princess Jasmine from the Twitter-storming Princess Cabaret. I plan to capture them all over the Festival season and make my own Princess Top Trumps set...

Want to appear in this section? Drop me a line.

Review: The Chair by C-12 Dance Theatre ****

This is young UK-based C-12 Dance Theatre's first year at the Fringe. On the strength of the emotionally-charged style and grace of The Chair, they should definitely be back.

Performed without dialogue, The Chair relates the plight of an imprisoned man, haunted by nightmarish visions of his past as he struggles for redemption and forgiveness from those he has wronged.

Superbly choreographed by Annie-Lunette Deakin-Foster, scenes from this tale of inner struggle are depicted with some quite beautiful dance and physical theatre, complemented by effective lighting and a perfectly-matched soundtrack. Deakin-Foster, who also appears as the prisoner's mother, deserves a great deal of credit here, but the performance of Nas Evanson as the lead is outstanding.

Possessing a strength of both body and gaze, Evanson is completely convincing as a man struggling with his demons as he relives past moments of joy, frustration and anger whilst coming to terms with the enormity of his present. His movements are perfectly timed and stated and he brings a power and emotion to the piece that transforms it into something special.

The two other cast members are also accomplished and talented, but the stars of The Chair are undoubtedly Deakin-Foster's original & compelling choreography and Evanson's powerhouse performance.

The Chair runs from August 8th to 31st at Pleasance Zoo. £10 (£7 concession), some shows sold out.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Photo of the day - Edinburgh's Prettiest Barmaid?

A Ladyboy of Bangkok serving drinks at The Three Sisters at a press photocall. (Apologies to Edinburgh barmaids everywhere, you're all lovely)

Want to feature here as a photo of the day? Get in touch.

Review ratings rationale

My Festival reviews have started.

I'm using the time-honoured 5-star rating system, with the following rationale. Remember, this will be my personal opinion. Feel free to disagree.

  • * - something about the show was severely lacking, whether misguided direction, poor stagecraft, etc. I'll never give a 1-star to a show just because I didn't personally like it.
  • ** - perhaps a good idea poorly executed; or some circumstance working against the show itself. Not necessarily the mark of a bad show.
  • *** - a very good show which did exactly what it claimed to do on the tin. Probably a show worth catching if it appeals to your tastes.
  • **** - a great show, containing something unique, whether stagecraft, direction, performance or emotion. One to seek out.
  • ***** - a stunning show, a highlight of the Festival. Something unique. Not many shows will get 5 stars this year, as I really want to use that rating for the things that are truly special.

Ready? Get set.


The World Festival at St George's West

Last year, The World Festival at St George’s West was an absolute highlight of the Fringe. The brainchild of Toby Gough, it brought an eclectic fusion of top-quality world music to Edinburgh in an explosion of colour, energy and sheer unbridled joie de vivre.

Winning last year’s Scotsman’s Spirit of the Fringe award, The World Festival is back with an equally varied and entertaining cocktail of voices, rhythms and atmosphere rarely seen in Edinburgh – even during Festival time.

Last night’s press preview treated us to short excerpts from all the acts' shows, giving a tantalising taster of the full programme set to run at the beautiful and atmospheric St George’s West venue throughout August.

First up were the the beguiling rhythms and sounds of A Town Called Addis, an Ethiopian ensemble that bring the pumping sounds of Addis Ababa music halls and nightclubs to Edinburgh’s rather more austeure and hallowed halls. Some great sounds from this charismatic nine-piece band definintely made me look forward to seeing the full show next week.

Based on last night’s snippet, Mercy Madonna of Malawi looks set to be the funniest thing at the Fringe this year, bar none. A “black musical comedy” (sic), this is based on Madonna’s much-publicised adoption of Malawian orphans, and not only explores that episode but also the ethical and moral dilemmas and issues behind it. Already stirring up controversy in the national press, this is definitely one to catch.

So what’s funny about it? Well, the loose lyrical interpretations of songs such as “Like A Prayer”, the adult cast dressed in nappies and ‘adopt me’ t-shirts, and Madonna being played by a six-foot tall Malawian male in a blonde wig – and that’s just for starters. Apparently, The World Festival have offered Madonna free tickets to this show, but it has yet to be confirmed if she will attend…

The Creole Choir of Cuba are a 14-strong troupe of Haitian immigrants living in Cuba, who bring their colourful costumes and spellbinding harmonies to Edinburgh after making a big impression at this year’s WOMAD and Big Tent festivals. Drawing on Haitian customs, rituals, religion and culture, the Creole Choir of Cuba must have been working their magic on the hairs on the back of my neck at one point. Stunning stuff.

The young Sri Lankan dancers of Ranganika – Island of Dance stormed the stage next in a riot of colour, percussion and movement. In fact, I don’t think they stood still for one second of their set, faces rapt with joy as they treated us to their cultural music and dance in a display of colour and happiness.

It was left to last year’s hit act, Capoeira Knights: Boys From Brazil to end proceedings. The blend of martial-arts, dancing and uplifting pumping live music creates a show that is unmissable and breathtaking in its feats of stunning acrobatics and muscular energy. Deserving and more than capable of taking their show on a world tour or similar, Capoeria Knights are the jewel in The World Festival’s already studded crown.

As a finale, all the acts got up on stage together, in a routine that summed up and demonstrated that The World Festival is aptly-named. Seeing dancers from Sri Lanka gleefully moving to music from Brazil as Malawian artistes danced together with colourfully-attired Cuban singers was an emotionally uplifting sight that brought shivers to my spine, even more so when the entire troupe spilled out of the venue to startle, bemuse and ultimately entertain unwitting passers by on Shandwick Place.

I love the World Festival: it encapsulates everything that is wonderful about the Fringe – and the world itself, given freedom to express itself and its many and varied cultures.

My advice? Go to all the shows. Go to some of them twice. Just make sure you go.

Review: Noir ****

Down-at-heel hardboiled hero? Check. Glamourous love interest? Check. Seductive femme fatale? Check. Shady criminal villains with evil intent? Yes, all the classic film noir archetypes are here, fear not.

But you will never have seen them portrayed like this. Airealism, an international troupe of aerial circus performance artistes, bring these characters to life in a unique and rather spellbinding way. Ropes, nets, curtains and trapezes hang from the set, and the cast make full use of them, whether swinging from the high-wire or spinning seductively in suspended hoops. Or, in one particular scene, playing a hand of poker whilst suspended upside down on a vertical-hanging net.

Noir is full of superb imagery and some wonderfully choreographed vignettes. One stand out was the hero’s chloroform-induced dream sequence, with the entire cast - dressed in white - spinning, climbing and swinging as he hung suspended and motionless from the trapeze. This, like many parts of the show, was one of those rare stage scenes where there is so much going on you struggle to take it all in.

The soundtrack is filled with music from the 40s and 50s, although at some points more modern dance / techno tracks accompany the action, which I found a little anachronistic to the overall mood of the piece.

Performed with no dialogue, Noir relies on the cast’s skill and grace alone to tell the tale, ably helped by good lighting and stylishly simple costumes.

Airealism are only here for a short while (their runs finish on the 16th), so I’d encourage you to catch this – or their other show, Tales of The Apocalypse, which I’ll review soon – before they coil up their ropes and rigging and depart, off to spin their aerial magic elsewhere.

Review: Malaje ***

Malaje is the world premiere of a show by Spanish troupe Cia Albadulake, appearing at the New Town Theatre as part of the eclectic and exciting Universal Arts Festival.

Billing itself as a ‘flamenco circus’, Malaje features seven talented performers and musicians in a joyful hour of dance, acrobatics and humour.

Lit seductively in shades of red throughout the hour’s performance, Cia Albadulake entertain with flamboyant flamenco routines, impressive feats of juggling and some interesting acrobatic acts. Never quite managing to make your jaw drop in the same way some of the acts in La Clique and its ilk do, it's still hard not to be won over by the performers’ infectious enthusiasm and charm; and the unique flamenco take that is prevalent throughout.

Music is excellent, with accomplished vocals, guitar and rhythms that have your hands involuntarily clapping along in time before you know what you’re doing. As a fan of the cosmopolitan nature of the Fringe, Malaje was not only a great show but also a fine start to the 2009 season.

Malaje runs from August 6th to 30th (not 17th) at the New Town Theatre. Priced various from £8.75

Highlight #15 - Camille O'Sullivan: The Dark Angel

Arguably, I’ve saved the best til last. Over the past 2 years, Camille O’Sullivan has seductively slipped her way into the upper reaches of the Edinburgh Fringe hierarchy, first appearing at the Spiegeltent in 2007, then with a sell-out run at the Queen’s Hall in 2008.

This year, Camille brings her Dark Angel show back to the larger and even higher profile venue of the Assembly Hall, where she will once again bewitch, beguile and bemuse with her heady and addictive blend of talent and charm.

Although perfectly able to pick up the mantle of Piaf, Dietrich and other stellar cabaret chanteuses, Irish-French Camille has a style all of her own and a voice capable of whispering gently in your ear one minute, then ripping your heart out through your ribcage the next.

Her set consists of classics of the genre, with a heavy leaning towards the canon of Jacques Brel, Nick Cave and Tom Waits. Recently, she has also begun to introduce her take on more modern and mainstream gems by Bowie and Radiohead, meaning a Camille show moves gracefully through a set studded with some gems from the last 40 years.

Backed by an excellent live band and with a fantastic line in between-song banter and audience rapport, by the end of the evening Camille will have you in the palm of her hand (or beneath her sparkly red stilettos). It will also be an evening in which you will have been moved, entertained, and left stunned by the range and talent of one of the Fringe’s absolute and well-deserved stars.

Camille O’Sullivan: The Dark Angel runs from 6th to 31st August (not Tuesdays) at the Assembly Hall. Price £15.

Photo of the day - Adopt Me

One of the performers from Mercy Madonna of Malawi at the The World Festival press launch at St George's West.

Want to appear as a photo of the day? Drop me a line.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Highlight #14 - Picaresque

One of the beauties of the Fringe is that it allows companies who may not otherwise have had the chance to treat a captive and eager audience to their own particular vision.

Eyes Open theatre company, a young and ambitious group of recent graduates, have grabbed that chance with both hands and premiere their madcap globespanning comic adventure Picaresque in Edinburgh this season.

Written by Jack Sanderson-Thwaite, Picaresque sees Elijah and Nathaniel, two roguish rakes, attempting to cross continents from opposite sides of the globe to attend their annual reunion. Needless to say, obstacles both varied and bizarre fight against them every step of the way. Will they make it in time? Will the world's slowest train ever get to its destination? And how on earth are Eyes Open going to portray the moose-wrestling bit?

All these burning questions and more will be answered this year during the course of Picaresque, the kind of show the Fringe embraces to its heart.

Picaresque runs at the Sweet Heart (2 India Buildings) from 6th - 30th August (not 17th). Various from £5.

Highlight #13 - Stitches

Stitches is an original piece of theatre from the pen of young and critically-acclaimed writer Claire Urwin. Urwin, a graduate from Manchester University currently undertaking a Masters in Martin Amis' Creative Writing course, specialises in dark works blending fantasy and reality, her previous work No Wonder having made an impact at the National Student Drama Festival.

Stitches spins an Orwellian take on a mysterious post-apocalyptic future, its characters forced into working for the Department of Flora & Fauna, researching lost wildlife for the State. Into the midst of a group of conscripts, a new girl arrives, setting the events of the play in motion.

Urwin's words are brought to life by the University of Manchester Drama Society and the Scratch That theatre company, and Stitches is directed by the award-winning Rajiv Nathwani.

With such a mix of emerging, young and acclaimed talent behind it, the production looks to be one for anyone who appreciates new and original works of theatre to add to their Fringe diaries.

Stitches runs from 17th-29th August (not 23rd) at The Spaces @ The Radisson. £7 (£5 concession).

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Photo of the day - Space Cowboy

Another street performer keeps the crowds entertained on the Royal Mile before the bulk of the Fringe companies descend upon it. (click on image to view full-size)

Want you or your act to appear here in this section? Get in touch!

Edinburgh takes a deep breath...

It's almost upon us. The wonderul, colourful craziness that is the Edinburgh Festival Fringe and all it associated frantic magic really kicks off tomorrow, with many shows doing preview runs on Wednesday and Thursday before it all officially starts on Friday.

Since the vibrant razzmatazz of the Jazz & Blues Festival events at the weekend, the city is taking a brief pause to itself before rushing headlong into the thick of things.

But don't be fooled into thinking nothing's afoot. Performers have been steadily arriving using any means of transport available to them; tech checks have been going on long into the early hours; venues are being hastily assembled out of MDF, glitter and blu-tac - there's a mountain of activity going on in preparation for hundreds of curtains about to rise.

But for now, relax. Take a deep breath, count to 10, visualise your special place. For, from tomorrow, there's no rest til September...

Highlight #12 - Rendition Monologues

One of the finest things about the various Edinburgh-based festivals happening at this time of year is that there's space and opportunity for shows that cater to every taste and form of expression.

The Edinburgh Festival of Spirituality & Peace is a particularly commendable example of that diversity, featuring a programme of drama, music, dance and events which celebrate the human spirit - or highlight crimes against it.

One such example is Rendition Monologues, a four-man piece of verbatim theatre which retells real-life, first-hand accounts of victims of the CIA's 'rendition' program. That practice, yet to be rescinded, allows the agency to transport known or suspected terrorists for imprisonment in countries where torture is still a recognised form of interrogation.

Rendition Monologues interweaves the actual words of four victims of this program -including Binyam Mohamed, a former UK resident - in what promises to be an hour of moving, hard-hitting and intensely personal theatre.

The show is a co-production between iceandfire theatre, a group who specialise in exploring and publicising human rights issues through performance; and Reprieve UK, a legal charity organisation who provided the transcripts which make up Rendition Monologues' script. A representative from Reprieve UK will be conducting a 30-minute Q&A session after each performance of this show, allowing you to delve deeper into some of the issues and facts behind what you will have just witnessed.

Whatever your political viewpoint and stance on the "War on Terror", Rendition Monologues provides a platform for voices that would otherwise perhaps never have been heard. For that alone, it deserves attention.

Rendition Monologues runs from the 17th - 23rd August at St John's Church as part of the Edinburgh Festival of Spirituality & Peace. £8 full, £5 concesssion.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Photo of the day #1 - The Heat is On

Street performers have started "warming up" the crowds on the Royal Mile prior to the official start of the Edinburgh Fringe (click on image to view full-size)

Want to appear here in a photo of the day? Email me.

Highlight #11 - Time Out Of Joint

Whilst we're (loosely) on the topic of Shakespeare, Not/Applicable & Heart Productions' Time Out Of Joint looks an interesting one.

A play set whilst Shakespeare is penning Hamlet, it aims to explore his inner mind and outer turmoil, focusing not only on his motivation and inspiration for the themes underlying the Prince of Denmark's struggle, but also the external influences of his twin muses and lovers. The Dark Lady from his sonnets, a mysterious svengali's machinations and Ophelia herself weave an intricate tapestry around Shakespeare as he puts quill to parchment and unfolds one of the world's greatest dramas.

Equally, the team behind Time Out Critics Choice award-winner Shooting Clouds - writer Frank Bramwell and director Arnaud Mugglestone - toy with the notions of what is real and what is imagined in a play that looks set to collide in an exploration of love, drama and intrigue.

Time Out Of Joint is also central to an interesting promotional initiative running at this year's Fringe. Shakespeare At The Fringe aims to collate and publicise all 39 shows this year which feature The Bard in one shape or form, and are arranging several events as a result (the Where's Willy? competition sounds particularly interesting...) Check out the site for more details and updated news.

Time Out Of Joint runs from 5th to 31st August at C Soco. Prices various from £8.50.

Highlight #10 - The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre Goes To Hollywood

Altogether now: "I'm a sock, I'm a sock, you wear me on your feet not on your co..."

Ahem. Now, where were we?

The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre are an Edinburgh Fringe (and UK comedy circuit) institution. At first glance, the amateurish-looking puppet booth and mangy-looking socks with google eyes and lolling tongues may lead you to believe this show would be best suited for the under-fives. Give it five seconds however, and you'll quickly realise that this one-man / two-sock outfit actually offers some of the funniest, fastest-paced and smartest comedy appearing at the Fringe.

TSFSPT is the brainchild of Kev Sutherland, who quickly realised the comedy potential of sock puppets. With Scottish accents. Speaking and singing in falsetto voices. What's not to like?

Especially when the comedy is equal parts ad-lib, improv, rude, corny and (in what may be the biggest surprise to the uninitiated) extremely clever. TSFSPT's shows always contain at least one longish parody of a famous movie or a Shakespeare play, and here the literary in-jokes and puns fly fast, proving that Sutherland is a smart writer as well as an energetic and accomplished performer. With this year's show title being The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre Goes To Hollywood, expect some razor-sharp spoofing of some celluloid classic or other (although secretly, I'm hoping for another Shakespeare rip-off...)

Appearing again in the sweatbox that is the Gilded Balloon Teviot, expect to be fooled by the conceit that you are watching two daft socks quipping and snipping at each other; until the very end, when a drenched and scarlet Sutherland will likely emerge, deserving of the applause you'll surely give him.

The Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre Goes To Hollywood runs from 5th to 30th August at Gilded Balloon Teviot. Prices from £9.

Sunday, August 2, 2009

Highlight #9 - The Overcoat by Gecko Theatre

An award-winning and accomplished young theatre group from the UK, Gecko return to the Edinburgh Fringe with The Overcoat, a piece inspired by a short story by Russian novelist Gogol.

With what promises to be visually compelling staging and a style reminiscent of a silent movie, The Overcoat tells the tale of young office worker Akakki as he persues his twin desires - a female colleague he is infatuated with and a brown overcoat that seems to possess almost magical qualities...

With little in the way of coherent dialogue (the cast speak in a variety of languages), The Overcoat is not so much a straightforward storytelling piece, but instead looks to be a tour de force of imagery and movement, with comic interludes and a beguiling style. Imaginative use of sets and lighting, coupled with a cast that have backgrounds in dance as well as acting, look set to ensure The Overcoat lives up to expectations as a powerful piece of physical theatre.

The Overcoat runs from the 13th to 29th (not 18th or 25th) August in the Pleasance Courtyard. Prices various from £7.

Review to follow on 21st August,

All That Jazz

For many, the Edinburgh Jazz & Blues Festival Mardi Gras is the first event of the Festival season.

A free event in Edinburgh's Grassmarket, the Mardi Gras brings a slice of carnival atmosphere to one of the city's oldest and most historic places, filling it with a riot of colour, sounds and people entering into the jazz (and alcohol) fuelled spirit of the day.

The weather was kind, and the sun put in an appearance for most of the event, shining down on the likes of the Criterion Parade Band and the infectious rhythms and showgirl glamour of the Edinburgh Samba School, whilst other artists, bands and singers entertained the packed crowd from temporary stages dotted along the cobbled street.

The atmosphere was relaxed and happy, as tourists on passing open-top buses stared down in envy at the buzz below and fortunate pub and restaurant owners reaped the rewards of having a captive hungry & thirsty crowd on their doorstep.

A great start to proceedings, the Mardi Gras ushered in the Festival with a splash of carnival atmosphere that hinted at the frantic and unmissable weeks to come.