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)