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).

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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).

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Photo of the day - Patti Plinko and Her Boy

Reviews to follow tomorrow, as I'm running out the door - so here's a photo of the marvellous Patti Plinko and Her Boy, a 4-star show at the Assembly Rooms.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Photo of the Day - The Dark Angel

Camille O'Sullivan during her stand-out performance The Dark Angel at the Assembly Hall (click image to view full-size).

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Review: A Town Called Addis ****

Unless you're an afficionado of world music (something The World Festival @ St George's West increasingly makes me want to strive to be), the sounds of modern Ethiopea may have passed you by.

Try not to let Dub Colossus do the same whilst they are in Edinburgh, performing the show based on their album A Town Called Addis, a European World Music Chart-topper. This nine-piece band are astonishingly good, treating you to the full range of styles of music from their part of the world, from Ethiojazz to dub reggae and Afropop, transporting you effortlessly to the sultry and pounding clubs and dancehalls of Addis Ababa.

Vocalists Sintayehu 'Mimi' Zenebe and Tsedenia Gebre-Markos guide you through an excellent set of numbers, each one pulsing with the rhythms, piano and brass of the tight musicians that make up the rest of Dub Colossus, including producer and guitarist Dubulah, ex Transglobal Underground / Temple of Sound. Indeed, the CVs of the band read like a who's who of modern dub & funk, with ex-members of Asian Dub Foundation, Jamiroquai and the Brand New Heavies all now contributing to Dub Colossus' mighty slab of sound. Special mention must also go to Teremage Woretaw, who plays the massinko, a traditional Ethiopean one-stringed instrument throughout.

The venue shines as ever, with the stained-glass window of St George's West providing a mesmerising backdrop to some equally well-staged lighting. As the sounds of Ethiopea fill the hall and Dub Colossus get the whole audience up dancing, the atmosphere is electrifying and you'll carry the Ethiopean mood and vibe with you for some time to come afterwards.

A Town Called Addis runs until Aug 26th at St George's West. Price £12.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Review: Tales of the Apocalypse by Airealism *****

Tales of the Apocalypse is Airealism's sister show to Noir, both appearing at the Gilded Balloon until Sunday.

As with Noir, this show is a series of impeccably choreographed aerial acts of rope skills and physical theatre, performed by an expert troupe at the top of their game.

Tales of the Apocalypse has less in the way of plot than its companion, being more of a series of vignettes loosely tied together by a nightmarish post-apocalyptic future vision. Performers wearing gasmasks, confused survivors, mutants, robots - imagine Mad Max reinterpreted by David Lynch and you're maybe something close to half-way there.

As previously mentioned, I was particularly impressed by Noir's large-scale ensemble pieces; Tales of the Apocalypse didn't have these, with most sequences featuring only one or two performers at a time. It didn't suffer from this however, due to some dazzling lighting and costumes, married with a well-matched soundtrack which this time fitted the stylised visuals perfectly.

And what visuals they were: some were breathtaking in their beauty and style whilst others amused or fascinated, such as the divertingly original take on war in Heaven, which saw Gabriel and the Devil locked in a struggle for supremacy, constantly clambering over each other on a trapeze until one emerged triumphant.

Both of Airealism's shows have been stunning, but if I'm forced to pick a favourite, it's this one. Its unique vision, acts of skillful acrobatics and its direction add up to a show that is hard to fault and deserves full houses for the rest of its all too short run.

Tales of the Apocalypse runs until Aug 16th at the Gilded Balloon. Price £10 (£9 concession)

Princess of the day - Cinderella

Another one for the set - Cinderella from the Princess Cabaret, with some adoring friends.

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Review: Havana Rumba - The Hottest Cuban Salsa Party in Town! ****

With its roots in slavery and evolved via the self-made entertainment of its poverty-stricken population, Cuban dance is sensual, rhythmic, provocative and joyous. In Havana Rumba, we are treated to it in all its booty-shaking glory, courtesy of an energetic and athletic cast of dancers and a fantastic live band.

In quasi-musical fashion, a story underpins the fantastic set-pieces, telling the tale of Ramon, the "king of rumba", and his son Papito, who wishes to escape his surroundings and take his music to the world. This allows the cast & band to create some wonderfully uplifting and at times amusing numbers, such as the superbly choreographed mating dances, or a standout acapella song about pizza (trust me, this works perfectly in context).

The dances' sensual nature is underlined by the attractive and lithe cast, who seem to wear a succession of ever-smaller outfits as the action moves from Cuba's townships, dancehalls and beaches and then on to Miami. And although hotpant-clad booties are shaken at every opportunity with gleeful abandon, this is a family friendly show - there's nothing here the kids won't have seen before on any Beyonce or Kylie video.

The music deserves at least equal mention to the dance, performed by a talented nine-piece band with an infectious style and enthusiasm. Particular mention has to go to 70-year old Jose Castro, a fantastic singer who also possesses moves that woud put those half / third / quarter his age to shame. During the well-deserved rests and wardrobe changes of the dancers, he appears and immediately transports us to cigar smoke-filled nightclubs and backstreets with writhing rhythms and hip-shaking tunes.

An uplifting and hugely enjoyable show, Havana Rumba deserves packed houses at the EICC and is guaranteed to send you out into the evening with your heart still beating to the rhythm of the rumba.

Havana Rumba runs until August 30th at the EICC. £15 (£12 concession)

Sunday, August 9, 2009

It didn't rain on our parade

Ever since I was a nipper, the Edinburgh Festival Cavalcade has proudly paraded along Princes Street, Edinburgh's main thoroughfare.

This year, thanks to the controversial tram-works ripping up the city centre, it took place for the first time in the slightly less central but equally impressive Holyrood Park.

As well as the change of venue, a couple of other things were threatening to dampen this event: one, literally, as the sky was black and it poured for 10 minutes shortly before the cavalcade was due to start. Also, it was reported that this year's parade was going to be shorter, with less floats and acts as in previous years.

We needn't have worried. This year's cavalcade seemed to be as big and bold as ever, and was such a well-attended success that I wouldn't be surprised if it ends up permanently based here in years to come. The sun even came out (and not just the one on legs pictured above).

It was led off by the traditional ride-past of over 150 motorbikes, filling the air with fumes and engine noise, before the entire cast of the Edinburgh Military Tattoo marched past. Then, a mixture of Fringe performers and local community groups followed, each trying to outdo each other in terms of decoration, colour and music. The Ladyboys of Bangkok, another Edinburgh Festival fixture, as ever proved hard to beat on that score, but some of the community floats were also excellent.

Local pipe and marching bands from the Lothians then paraded along the road towards Meadowbank stadium where the parade ended this year, Holyrood Park and Arthur's Seat providing an impressive backdrop to proceedings whichever side of the road you watched it from.

Another predicted blow to the Fringe was the lack of Fringe Sunday this year, due to lack of sponsorship. To somewhat make up for that, a kind of mini Fringe Sunday took place during and after the cavalcade in the park and car park outside Holyrood Palace. Fringe performers such as the Tao Drummers turned up, and street entertainers welcomed the chance to pitch up somewhere different from the Royal Mile for a change.

Overall, a great success in a well-suited new venue. In fact, it may actually be preferable to Princes Street: for once, I'm possibly even grateful for the tram-works.

Photo of the day - Dr Faustus

Three of the Sins from Dr Faustus by Zig-Zag Creations.

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