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...(!)