ScotsGay Magazine

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ALL THE EDINBURGH FRINGE REVIEWS 2006

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From our team of reviewers....

Equitalk Equitalk

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Comedy

Amy Lame’s Mama Cass Family Singers.

Gilded Balloon

*

Roll up, roll up! Watch a fat American woman list all her favourite foods and then show clips of momma in the kitchen. (That’s the first ten minutes). Amy Lame was part of a child group forced to perform in a 60's cover band. A large part of the show consists of on-screen coverage of the rest of the family’s inane and uninvolving comments. And there I thought that I was at a live show! If you were at home, unless you’re a fan of the more tedious moments of Big Brother, you’d switch off. Not many chuckles. I didn’t stay until the end of the show because I felt angry and insulted.

Tony Challis

 

Comedy

Anthony Menchetti - Antz Pantz

Gilded Balloon

****

As a child in Australia, Anthony was sent to Gay Conversion School (GCS). The idea that you can cure gay men by putting them together in an institution has an obvious flaw, and while young Anthony was disturbed by the concept of curing homosexuality, he clearly enjoyed his time there. Leaving the GCS, perhaps even more gay than before, his parents changed tack, and had him followed by a private detective whilst he went clubbing.

This is a relaxed performance by this young stand up comic. His story telling is truthful and witty, depicting a life so full of twists and turns that no embellishment or exaggeration is required. If you are gay, you’ll relate to this open, honest life story. If you aren’t you’ll understand your gay friends better having seen this show. Oh, and gay or straight, you’ll laugh your head off.

Martin Walker

 

Comedy

Ben Elton - The Musical

Gilded Balloon

**

Along with Spitting Image, Ben Elton on the Friday Night and Saturday Live Channel Four shows helped inform my politics in the 80’s. Satire was cool. Alternative comedy was in full flow. Ben Elton the Stand Up, despite some dodgy diction, could do no wrong. Then came the chat shows and the West End musicals. Then came New Labour, and the line, “I’m not doing left politics anymore. New Labour don’t bother, so why should I?”

So any show satirising Ben Elton should have been worth seeing.

Dan Thomas doesn’t impersonate Ben Elton very well, but that isn’t the problem. The script it turgid and unfunny, almost painfully so. Actually it’s awful. So bad that I broke my own rule and walked out after fifteen minutes. It gets two stars in the hope it improved after I left, but I doubt it.

Martin Walker

 

Theatre

Black Comedy (Dreamwalk Productions version)

C Chambers St

****

This classic farce is presented with much energy and dexterity by a teenage cast who convey a wide range of characters with striking conviction. Most of the action takes place after a burst fuse has cast a house into darkness, and for host Brindsley (Simon Ginty) this is a very important night when it is crucial that he impresses his special guests. The comic business is handled often with exquisite timing, and there are some very good touches - well, in the blackness a lampshade could be a glass or a bottle… Thomas Alldred as the Colonel has an arresting growl and some excellent stage falls. Harold, the camp friend next door, could show his interest in Brindsley with more enthusiasm. Laura Holden as the “fiancée” adds much to the fun with a memorable voice and many comic moments. Catherine Slater as Clea handles a difficult part with great aplomb.

If you want a lasting laugh at lunchtime, this is the show to catch. Mere caricature is skillfully avoided. It is an hour of thorough and innocent hilarity, and will leave you smiling for some time afterwards.

Tony Challis

 

Theatre

Boom-Bang-A-Bang

Rocket

****

Back with a bang, Dan Hyde’s About Turn Theatre Company have returned to form with this wonderful gem of a play. Jonathan (Beautiful Thing) Harvey’s script depicts a bunch of gays, lesbians and friends as they gather to watch the TV on Eurovision night. A great advert for homosexuality it is not, but if you’re in the mood for some over the top camp nonsense then this is the play for you. Phil Wallace directs with energy, ensuring plenty of action. Jonathan Bullock as Roy, shines as the drugged up pretty boy, who just wants to be loved. Dan Hyde’s Steph is the most rancid queen I’ve seen depicted on a stage anywhere - I mean really rancid - she’s is awful! And Jill Coles as Wendy and Bea Taylor as Tania provide a nice lesbian sub plot. Don’t take your mum - take your boyfriend.

Since seeing this show I’ve been tempted to make continuous Eurovision puns, just a little bit.

Martin Walker

 

Theatre

Breaking the Pope

Baby Belly

****

For anyone who has not seen Peter Mullan's film The Magdalene Sisters and does not know what the Magdalene Laundries were, they were a scandal.   In Ireland many unmarried women who ended up pregnant were incarcerated in the laundries to save embarrassment for their families.  When did this end?  The mid 1990s.  I thought the film was fairly hard hitting, but this made it seem like a PR promotion for the Vatican.  Carlton Martin's brilliant play allows three women to tell their stories.  Grace (Roanna Bond) was attacked at the age of 13.  I think by a priest but I may have been reading too much into that.  Claire (Layla Amir-Solymani) was a young woman in the mid 60's who fell in love and ended up with child.  As for Josephine (Laura Johnson), all she did was be a poor bastard and when her nan died have nowhere else to go.

Utterly faultless acting that would put many a professional company to shame, I was however concerned that if I had not seen the film I might have struggled to understand what the play was about.  And if anyone is awarding a prize for the worst press release at the Edinburgh Fringe this show gets my nomination, but note that I'm reviewing shows not press releases.

Martin Powell

 

Comedy

Confessions of a Paralysed Porn Star

C Cubed

****

2 baby girls born in Sidcup, Kent, on the same day. Both called Sarah Louise Young.  One grows up to be a porn star. The other grows up to be … a cross between Bridget Jones and Delta Goodrem, with a rapier wit and one of the best voices I’ve heard live this festival. Sarah takes a self-deprecating look at her own life whilst comparing it throughout the show with the life of Porno Sarah, intertwined with jokes about pædophiles, junkies and the Platinum Rampant Rabbit. Her songs were hilarious, powerful rants, my particular favourite being one about an angst-ridden 10 year old Sarah bewailing the special attention people with one limb receive. She manages to pull off unapologetic comedy about taboo subjects in a brazen manner, which I have rarely seen from a female comedy act at the festival before.

Jodi Fleming

 

Comedy

Count Arthur Strong - The Musical

Assembly Rooms

***

Needless to say it wasn't a Musical.  For those who haven't seen him, Steve Delaney's alter ego, Count Arthur Strong, thinks he is a theatrical great who isn't treated with the respect he deserves.  In fact he is an utterly useless incompetent.  I'm referring to the Count not Delaney, for portraying a character who is crap while making it interesting is difficult.  It starts with the Count not even able to realise he should be on stage.  To be honest I can't remember whether there is a single line of music in this "musical" although there is someone sitting at a keyboard. A pleasant way to spend an afternoon.

Martin Powell

 

Comedy

Craig Hill

Assembly Rooms

***

Lovely fella is our Craig, his stand up show is a staple of the Edinburgh Fringe, it simply wouldn’t be the same without him. He creates this wonderful gay space where straights feel safe to laugh along a he pokes fun at all the usual stereotypes.

Indeed, much of his scripted material is fairly obvious, as we tour with him to the USA and Greece. Yes some Americans aren’t very bright, and yes, Greek men are good looking. His routine around having a boyfriend called Jesus, amused, but was milked for much more than it was worth - Jesus wept, Christ on a bike etc etc.

Craig is at his best when he is ad-libbing, playing and toying with his audience. He’s engaging, smiling, caustic, charming and a right bitch all at once. Very few people can do the comic put down as deftly as he does. But his prepared material wasn’t up to the very high standard of which we know he is capable.

His quick wit and energy carried the show and he just about got away with it.

Martin Walker

 

Theatre

Duels

C Chambers St

****

This show is split into three parts.  The first is a re-enactment of a computer game featuring two female freedom fighters. There was a lot of Shakespearean gender confusion going on and a deliberate aim to break gender stereotypes, and very talented sword and staff fighting. I felt the acting in parts over-dramatic, and although the panto-type acting was probably what they were going for, I felt it detracted from the show somewhat.  The second part of the show was the highlight for me, superb from start to finish. It featured Daniel Defoe, who was writing a pirate novel about the deaths of pirates Anne Bonnie and Mary Reid. Two fit ladies in Victorian underwear fighting expertly with cutlasses and whips delved into various endings for the novel giving the opportunity for lots of pseudo-sexual girl-on-girl fighting.  The third part was a Laurel-&-Hardy-esque silent mime to piano music and it was interesting to see the performers manage to put so many different acting and dancing styles into the one performance. Overall this show was terrific and I hope to see it again before the festival ends.

Jodi Fleming

 

Comedy

Dusty Limits is Heartless

C Cabaret Bar

****

I wasn't quite sure what to expect from the, "this is NOT a stand up comedy show!" disclaimer at the beginning of the intriguingly monikered Dusty Limits show. Cocaine reference? Hygiene disclosure?  In any event Dusty is a pretty fabulous performer with a sweet strong voice and a knack for taking the "oldies but goodies" naughty gay jokes and banter and making it seem fresh. Dusty is easy on the eyes as well and the only thing I can find perplexing about his show is his constant reference to "not being a vampire" ...a bit odd and a little silly. Other than that I would heartily recommend an evening in the company of the lovely Dusty Limits - a man who's a joy to spend an hour with... or more if you're the lucky one he slips the Rohypnol to...

Claudia Christian

 

Theatre

El Conquistador

Traverse

**

What is one out for from theatre? If technical brilliance and the inventive use of a set then this is the show for you.  It also shows how much modern technology allows a single actor on stage to achieve.  I also knew it was in Spanish with subtitles and it is a credit to the production that only what seemed like 10% of the dialogue was translated yet that was enough to get the meaning across.  The set was originally the Atlantic Ocean, then a balcony of a peasant shack, the roof of the foyer of the New World Building, and a swimming pool.

This is the story of Polonio (Thaddeus Phillips), who leaves his village to become a doorman in Bogata, or does he?  His story is so bizarre it is more like that of a soap opera.  His mother turns out to be a resident in the building where he works who believes her twin sons died on a boat with their father, and so on.  However what was it trying to tell me?  I'm glad I saw it because I'm always interested to see what can be achieved with new media.  However, call me old fashioned, but I really like a good story well told and this wasn't it.

Martin Powell

 

Theatre

Finnegan's Wake

C3

***

This one-man performance by Adam Harvey displays amazing skill and energy. "Think less about what you're not understanding than what you're experiencing," he says in the programme. He covers an amazing amount of text in 75 minutes - he comes on like a storm and rarely relents, which can be a problem. Inevitably, I found a particular word or phrase resonated with me and then I'd miss a couple of lines. It was a performance of intense physicality - plenty of stimulated piss and shit. I'm not entirely convinced that, even with Adam Harvey's great skill, commitment and energy, Shem the penman can become Shem the voiceman. Adam admits that this is only an interpretation and that you may have your own. So perhaps we should each pick up the book and recite it in our own way.

Tony Challis

 

Comedy

4 Poofs and a Piano

Pleasance Courtyard

***

What you see on TV is what you get with 4 Poofs and a Piano. The largely star struck blue rinse audience lapped it up, laughing when the guys from the telly said a slightly rude word. The highlights were towards the end when they sang the slightly satirical Tesco Sells number, and the rather good Geriatric Generation X. The show is entertaining enough. They are probably more talented than they seem. Be nice to see a bit more of it.

Martin Walker

 

Comedy

The Gaydar Diaries

Pleasance Courtyard

****

If you have not used Gaydar, or Fitlads, or any of the gay dating equivalents then you’ll have very little idea what this gay sketch show is about. On the other hand, if you do, you’ll get the joke very quickly. There is some very strong material here, deftly performed by some great looking lads that slip in and out of characters and sketches effortlessly. Indeed, as an audience member in the Pleasance Courtyard remarked afterwards, “Unless your taste buds are completely shot to buggery, you’ll fancy at least one of them.”

Perhaps the script does need a little tweaking here and there. Perhaps an hour is a tad too long to focus on what is essentially one joke, all be it a good one. If the clearly talented writer and cast had taken the piss out of the wider gay experience, they would surely be on to a real winner.

Martin Walker

 

Theatre

The Hamlet Project

C central

****

Two Hamlets plus three assorted Danes and others. Five actors from Drama Centre London performed a very different Hamlet - it really kept the audience on the edge of our seats and engrossed. The scenes between the Hamlets and Ophelia and the Hamlets and Gertrude were played with very robust physicality and with intensity. To direct Hamlet and play both Claudius and Gertrude in your production is quite a feat, but Hannah Kaye did this convincingly here. Having two Hamlets (Benjamin Askew and Robert Donnelly) perhaps helped share the weight of the project - but can the reason have been so simple? Hamlet as narcissist? Not signalled. Hamlet as schizophrenic? Not signalled. The programme poem from Catullus suggests brotherly love and bonding. I have to admit that two handsome Hamlets repeatedly entwined made me think of some kind of bisexual protagonist - but it probably wasn't that, either. But there's no need to question when a production as spellbinding as this is available. Just absorb and relish the experience. When I was there myself and another company made up half the audience - which is shameful! This production deserves far more attention.

Tony Challis

 

Theatre

Hilary Agonosties

C Chambers St

***

There is a lot in this new play by Nick Salamone.  It is 2nd June 2009 and apparently 65 million people have disappeared and President Hilary Clinton is worried.  Have they been abducted by aliens?  Has the Rapture happened and they have ascended into heaven, as millions of Americans believe will happen?  Is Pat Robertson fabricating evidence?  Is this a miracle or the work of the devil?  Do people want certainty or the truth?

I was among the minority who found this exploration of the manipulation of people and the role played by religion very funny.  It was interesting to compare the portrayal of Muslims today with visions of the Antichrist in the past.  How people can choose to interpret events in their own way to fit in with their own prejudices. Altogether a good play.

Martin Powell

 

Theatre

Jack the Lad

C Chambers St

**

Was this a drama? Or a full-on farce? Or soft porn? Clarity of tone was not a strength. Probably I would have been more indulgent towards this play if I had been watching it in the 70's, but now the self-loathing in which all the participants are immersed is dated. And the gay drama I saw in the 70's was much more upbeat and self-accepting than this. Are we meant to take this soft-porn fairy tale with even a pinch of seriousness? The programme note asks, "Have you ever been to a male prostitute?", in a way that could make you think, "This is a revelation of sordid reality". But that would have required much more intensity and commitment on stage plus credible characters.

Given a choice between character and titillation, the show repeatedly come down on the side of titillation, yet it is not nearly as raunchy and hard-core as I had thought likely from the publicity. Included is the silliest Irish priest I have ever seen. Is he meant as comic relief? When incest is announced it seems like the inevitable final cliche, and is almost funny. The fairy-tale framework hobbles the play: I really don't think that framing a tale of gay male prostitution inside Jack and the Beanstalk works. Maybe, if this idea was just in the writer's subconscious and not shouted aloud. One of my jobs is that of counsellor, and I know the hell in which lads like Jack can live. This show does such guys no favours. It doesn't really do gay men any favours. Alister Barton as Jack is well worth looking at, and he evokes off-stage scenes such as those in Giant's flat very effectively. But I think it must be back to the drawing board with this one.

Tony Challis

 

Comedy

Jesus: The Guantanamo Years

Underbelly

**

Sometime a show title just captures you and this was one.  As an idea I like it.  Jesus, a Middle Eastern guy not afraid to die for his religion tries to get into the US today and is carted off to Guantanamo.  There were some serious political points although very much a comedy show with some good gags.  However not enough of them. This guy needs to get himself a good director who can ditch the 90% that wasn't funny and develop more of the stuff that was.  I'm sure that with this Abie could produce a first rate show.

Martin Powell

 

Music

Jimmy James

Bongo Club

*****

Jimmy James sparkles on stage as he does impersonations of Diva legends such as Patsy Cline, Judy Garland, Cher, Macy Gray, Bette Davis … the list could go on for the rest of the page. Jimmy’s reputation preceded him with his infamous Marilyn and Voices world tour, and throughout his singing performance Jimmy shows footage spanning the last 2 decades of himself performing as Marilyn, looking just as stunning as Marilyn.  He explains to the audience that he felt he’d ‘done’ Marilyn longer than Marilyn, so was now putting his attentions on the show as a whole rather than as a tribute to one woman and as I closed my eyes I could have sworn it was Tina Turner on stage. And then I opened them and we had Jimmy. His rapport with the audience was terrific.

Jodi Fleming

 

Music

Karen Egan - Absolute Cabaret

Assembly Rooms

****

This lady is a proper diva, so I have heard. Nothing wrong with that, as a society we created the entertainment industry so that we could put people who think they are better than us up on a pedestal, or a stage, and enjoy the show. It helps of course if the person is talented. Fortunately, Karen Egan has talent in bucket loads. She’s a great storyteller and singer, with a lovely combination of comic timing and gorgeous voice. She breathes new life into the words of Brel, Hollaender  and Weill, whilst having the audacity to add some songs of her own. She sings in English, French, German and Turkish, quite beautifully, and I assume accurately. Danny Sheridan and Band meanwhile, do everything right in providing the big band back up.

If only she were performing in a cabaret venue! Egan should have been slinking from table to table, sitting on the knees of older men and winking at pretty girls. Up on that stage she seemed just a little restrained, a tad removed. We in the audience wanted her to get down from the stage and join us, just for a little while!

Martin Walker

 

Comedy

La Clique

Spiegel Garden

****

A fabulous, dramatic, Burlesque show. The Caesar twins are the best known of the acts, sexy blond acrobats, stripped to the waist, and bouncing about. They are very good at what they do. Los Hermos, were another highlight - the male ballroom dancing pair opened the show. Then there was the gorgeous stripped to the waste muscluar shape of Robert, it’s amazing what a young man can do with truck tires. Ten, another act, Bridge did this amazing transgender strip routine, which I can’t even begin to describe. But my personal favourite was Captain Frodo. He can place bits of his body where they really ought not to be, but plays the whole thing for laughs - which I certainly did.

My only quibbles are that the show started really late, the seating was dreadfully uncomfortable, and unless you sit at the front you miss a great deal of what is going on. Next year I’d like to see La Clique in a better, bigger venue.

On the other hand, if you are prepared to get there early and queue, perhaps taking a cushion for your seat, you’ll eventually have a great time.

Martin Walker

 

Comedy

Lady Boys of Bangkok

Meadows

****

This show is a definite must see if you are looking for something that's funny, sexy and has brilliant audience participation. The ladyboys are all stunning, with bodies that most girls we know would kill for. The choreography is amazing and the costumes are all beautiful. The songs covered are great, including The Pussycat Dolls, Cher, Michael Jackson and Queen and the Tina Turner cover was hilarious. We can't say what they sang, but the ending was brilliant with everyone in the audience singing along. You definitely get your money’s worth seeing this and if you're lucky enough to get taken up on stage for one of the dances you even get a picture with the lovely ladies to take home with you. Before we even got in, there were queues of people unable to get tickets as they sell out so quickly, in our opinion, it’s a bit more racy than previous years and you may not sit comfortably through it if you’re with your children or parents but it's definitely unmissable.

Ren and Steve

 

Comedy

Lick & Chew - The World is Not Enough

Pleasance Courtyard

***

I first saw Fitchew and Pikington comparing the rather brilliant, scrub that, very brilliant Too2Much - the late night cabaret show at the Pleasance Courtyard. On the back of that, I popped along to see them in their own sketch show, which at least half of the audience enjoyed immensely.

Whilst they have loads of energy and a stack of great material, some of the sketches work better than others, and a few of the recurring characters were perhaps milked for a little more than the’re worth. The World Tour theme was sometimes a little too constricting, they needed to mix things up a little bit. During the Too2Much show, Chris Fitchew in particular showed great rapport with his audience, who were hanging on his every word. But here audience interaction here was kept to a minimum. Laughter is infectious, as is silence, and if enough people stop laughing then things can go a bit downhill.

Having said that, they are both excellent character comedians, and there is a great deal here to enjoy. But if you only have the cash for one ticket, catch them at Too2Much instead.

Martin Walker

 

Comedy

Luke Wright, Poet Laureate

Pleasance Dome

****

It’s odd, but at the age of 24, poet Luke Wright seems like a Fringe veteran already. He has been strutting his stuff with the other boys from Aisle 16 since he was 19. Last year A:16 appeared in the form of a poetry boy band. This year Luke appears solo.

The London Olympics, ex smokers, his love for Richard Madeley, the furniture of Ikea… Luke Wright’s has an exceedingly sharp satirical tongue.  His slightly self-deprecating poem about refusing to get out of bed for ‘less than ten grand’ was another highlight. But it is when he has a go at other poets, especially the current Poet Laureate, Andrew Motion, that Luke Wright is at his best. You may think attacks on Motion would seem arrogant and unwise, but when Wright reads an excerpt from Motion’s rap poem to Prince Harry, You realise that Wright has hit the nail on the head.

Perhaps Wright needs to mix it up a bit in terms of style and pace. His performance is relentless and hard-hitting, and some times a little too much. But too much of a good thing is still a bloody good thing.

Martin Walker

 

Theatre

Midnight Cowboy

Assembly Rooms

***

This is the story of handsome hustler, Joe Buck, and his unconventional relationship with crippled con man Ratso Rizzo. Of course, cowboys are all the rage thanks to Brokeback’s success, so the adaptation of another flick featuring fringe jackets and gayish themes should ensure this play’s success.  Tim Fountain has taken the novel by James Leo Herlihy, largely ignored it, and partially redrafted the movie. But there are some nice new touches from the Sex Addict writer - the use of radio broadcasts that depict short news reports of Nixon’s troubles, and the Stonewall riots help pace the play.

The two leads are absolutely terrific. However, when Buck and Rizzo first meet, the latter tries to con the former, indeed, the two protagonists despise each other. Where this play fails is that we see no gradual change depicted, or for that matter, any reason for their initial animosity to transform. And if you are paying £20 a pop, you don’t expect a 2 hour play to under run by 40 minutes, when the main point of the story isn’t adequately put before you.

Martin Walker

Comedy

My Brother and I are Porn Stars

Gilded Balloon.

***

This show contains some brilliantly funny ideas and some seat-wetting moments. However, the whole doesn’t seem to hang together, in a way that made me wonder if it had had to be cut to fit the fringe time demands.

The abandoned children of porn stars grow up and try to make a living of the only world they know. Hostility leads them to create Christian porn. And you’re pretty vulnerable on a cross! Tampons have never been so funny, and I shall never think of Scouting for Boys in the same way again. I felt that the show could be even better, and that the extension into other characters and the baby section could be worked on. And the ending seemed oddly downbeat. But overall it was great fun, and you will risk incontinence if you go see it!

Tony Challis

 

Theatre

My Dearest Byron

C3

****

Observing incest seated on a stiff-backed pew. Only at the Edinburgh Fringe! Harper Ray and Karen French portray Byron and Augusta Leigh, and involve us in the relationship between Byron and his half-sister throughout its course, starting and ending with their final meeting. The many quotations used blend seamlessly into the dialogue. The continual references to the threat from “society” of scandal, combined with the tiny venue, make the audience feel intimately involved if not implicated.

Dance sequences vividly display how the emotions in the relationship alter over time. There are surprisingly intense moments, as when Byron states, ”We’re cut!” and “society” is taking its revenge. We do not see any agreeable aspects of Byron, and the audience might be forgiven for wondering why Augusta persists. This is an intense chamber piece, which leaves the audience feeling that they have overheard the passionate conversation of another age. Tony Challis

Theatre

My Name is Rachel Corrie

Pleasance Courtyard

*****

It says something about the reputation of this play that it was on in the 697 seat Pleasance Grande and the place was nearly full.  It was also one show where some of the audience behaviour was bizarre.  When I sat down the woman in front seemed uncomfortable with my knee in her back, when I tried to remedy this by sitting back the woman behind seemed uncomfortable with my back in her knee, but we compromised.  However there appeared to be more communication between the three of us than the couple on my right who after 30 minutes just stood up and walked out. As I said bizarre.

This is the story of a young idealistic American woman, Rachel Corrie (Josephine Taylor), who died aged 23 and the story is told through her own words.  She comes across as a brilliantly incisive person.  Her writings at the age of 12 would put anything I could have produced at that age to shame.  The first 40 minutes is spent describing her youth, growing up in the US in Washington State and becoming more aware of what is going on in the world.  What isn't explained - presumably because of gaps in her writing - is how she became passionate about the plight of the Palestinian people.  However she did, and ended up there respecting the dignity of Palestinians and hoping to make a difference.

Unfortunately she assumed that everyone respected human life and so put herself between an Israeli Defence Force bulldozer and a house they were planning to demolish.  Murdered, what a loss.  However Alan Rickman and Katherine Viner brilliantly bring this story to life.  One of the highlights of the 2006 Fringe.

Martin Powell

 

Theatre

Necessary Targets

C Cubed

****

My old dad always reckoned that when the NHS was set up there were things some doctors did that were sensible and others that could only be described as quackery.  Someone in the Ministry of Health had to draw up two lists detailing the sensible and the bizarre.  My dad reckoned somebody mixed up the two lists, so acupuncturists and osteopaths were out but psychiatrists were in.  I was reminded of this when seeing this play by Eve Ensler, of Vagina Monologues fame.  An American psychiatrist with 26 years experience is dispatched with a journalist to the Balkans to help the women.  But do the women need help; can they as ordinary people come up with strategies for surviving without arrogant professionals "helping" them?  Believe me this is such hard work it makes the Vagina Monologues look trite but is well worth the effort.  A story about humans coping with what life throws at them.

Martin Powell

 

Comedy

Paul Sinha

Pleasance Courtyard

*****

The standard of comedy at this Fringe has been very high. And at last there are gay comedians that can talk about their homosexuality without simply camping it up! Charlie Ross, Stephen K Amos and Paul Sinha - we salute you. Camp is great, but it is safe. What is much more dangerous, especially to a straight audience, is when a regular looking bloke turns up and starts doing gay gags.

Sinha has some excellent material, he’s attracted to chavs, and his adventures at night with the neds are hilarious. Being a gay, Asian, GP does have a lot of comic potential and he rightly milks it for all it’s worth. Excellent.

Martin Walker

 

Theatre

Pendulum

Gateway Theatre

****

A serendipitous find. Fine ensemble playing ensured that this ghost story (alternating between 1817 and 2006 Leith) was believable even if you don't believe in ghosts. Sure to become a modern Scottish classic.

John Hein

 

Comedy

Peter Buckley Hill - How Much Longer Can He Get Away With It

Canon's Gait

***

A nice little idea.  Do a show about 2006 by writing songs about each month, and throw in a couple of others.  Illustrate it with six calendars, including a Cliff Richard calendar, a totally naff Garfield one, one featuring 12 different types of turd, and so on.  We started in January with the London whale outing itself in the Thames and Mark Oaten being outed, which worked surprisingly well.  This was followed by a song on bird flu.  By March we were back to politics with Slobodan Milošević is dead.  This continued in April with a song telling Tony Blair to fuck off.  It says something about the unpopularity of the Prime Minister that you can now do a song like this and assume you will get laughs.  Part of the Free Fringe so it needn't cost you a penny to see it.

Martin Powell

 

Theatre

Pumpgirl

Traverse

**

Is there such a word as triologue?  There ought to be for this show. Three actors delivering their words to the audience with no interaction between them.  Now I've seen plays where this technique has been used before, but always as a fiction for the interaction going on.  This was different, three actors telling the same tale but as three separate monologues.  Their only connection is that Hammy (James Doran) who is married to Sinead (Maggie Hayes) is also having sex with the Pumpgirl (Orla Fitzgerald).  Not I thought enough on which to base a play.

Martin Powell

 

 

Comedy

Reginald D Hunter

UDDERbelly

*****

Reg’s shows are always a highlight of the Fringe. He’s the kind of comedian you can see again and again, because while he explores similar themes - honesty and trust - I’ve never heard him tell the same gag twice.

Quick word of warning though, when he asks the audience who hasn’t seen their own arsehole, don’t be the idiot that puts your hand up, like the poor woman behind me did. Hang on, what am I saying, this is a gay magazine isn’t it?

Enter the show with high expectations, and see them all met. Rare that, these days. Martin Walker

 

Comedy

Richard Herring -Ménage a Un

Underbelly

****

This was not what I was expecting.  A few years back the comedian Richard Herring did a show about the penis called Talking Cock.  From the publicity about this show I was assuming we would get an entertaining yet informative show about masturbation.  Not so.  This turned out to be normal, yet very good stand up which showed just how crap so much of what passes for comedy in Edinburgh is.

Martin Powell

 

 

Comedy

The Rise and Fall of Deon Vonniget

Sweet ECA

*****

I'm afraid that James Lark's alter ego Deon Vonniget was totally wasted on the miniscule audience in the Wee Red Bar as this is a show that, although well suited to the intimate venue, deserves a full house. A polished performance of musical parody and originality, which quite made my afternoon. See it before he gets too famous and stops performing the Cheese Song. And see his web site and blog at www.deonvonniget.com.

John Hein

 

Theatre.

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead

C Chambers St

*****

Do you sometimes hate being among the spectators and not a part of the action? Dan Jennings as Rosencrantz loathes it, and sits in the audience and tells us, - one of the many comic tricks of this 40th anniversary production of this wonderful play that always seems to me like Hamlet rewritten by the author of Tristram Shandy. Dan together with Tom Oakley as Guildenstern are a brilliant comic duo making excellent use of all their opportunities. As director, Ben Waring has drawn superb performances from both of them. The audience laughed loudly and often -which doesn't always happen with this play - though the darker moments were given their due. After this, I went around Edinburgh smiling all afternoon. I could be tempted to return!

Tony Challis

 

Comedy

Rosie Wilby

C Cubed

**

It's undeniable that Wilby is a gutsy performer with a good singing voice. I did however feel that the pace of her show was a bit slow and not quite as funny as I had expected, what with the rave reviews she has received.

Most of her jokes centred on the supposedly tragic world of lesbian dating; it all felt too much like a bad episode of the L Word and although I did manage a few laughs they were few and far between.

Jodi Fleming

 

Theatre

The Same, But Different

Pleasance Dome

*

Oh dear, this play really isn’t very good. It’s the story of the Archer family. Three brothers, the first, a heterosexual man who is stuck in an unfulfilling straight relationship (what are the odds?); the second, a gay soldier just returned from Iraq, who happens to be in the closet, and the third, a geek who ties up a Goth in the shed after spiking her drink with Rohypnol. Then there are the parents, who certainly aren’t very good role models.

What could have been a laugh out loud comedy farce fell flat, with predictable dialogue and some very dodgy acting. Only Emily Holt as Lizzie came out of this with any credit at all, looking like the only one on stage who actually believed in what she was doing.

Billed as a ‘cracking new comedy’ it failed.

Martin Walker

 

Comedy

Scott Capurro

The Stand 2

*****

If you haven’t seen this show yet, go now before he books out! Capurro is highly offensive in the extreme, and offers no apologies as he jokes about AIDS, cancer, the holocaust and battered women. He claims to not read the newspapers because they’re not about him, but his political satire is so up to date that it’s clear this man does his research. Capurro cuts not just close to the bone but right through it with comments like ‘Jesus clearly had no safe word - either that or he was loving it too much on that cross’ and ‘AIDS was the best thing to happen to gays. You fuck till you die - and who wants to be 50 and gay??’ His audience interaction was hilarious - I’m just glad I was hiding behind a rather large man who invoked the wrath of Capurro!

Jodi Fleming

 

Comedy

Stephen K Amos

Pleasance

*****

Just as this whole festival madness was beginning, Andrew Simmons (aka Butch, from Topping and Butch) pulled me to one side, and said, “Whatever you do, make sure you see Stephen K Amos this year. The man is on fire!”

Now Andrew knows his comedy, after all, he and Michael (aka Topping) are frequently alight themselves. I listen to another five minutes of adoration aimed in Mr. Amos’s direction before interrupting and asking the boys about their own show.

Such generous praise from fellow comics is rare, so of-course I went along.

On arrival, and in the front row, I sat down amongst Stephen K Amos's capacity crowd. They looked like a tough lot. There was a bunch of lads on a stag night from Glasgow, rowdy and loud. There were some elderly couples who didn’t look like they approved of fun at all. And some toff students with their arms folded, giving off that arrogant make me laugh vibe. I honestly thought that the gig might bomb.

However, almost from Stephen’s first words we were laughing. And it didn’t stop. His entire audience laughed and laughed and laughed. I, quite literally, wept with laughter. My sides hurt with laughter. I was still laughing on the bus home. That night I woke myself up twice laughing out loud. Since seeing All of Me I've been so happy that my boyfriend thinks I've won the lottery and haven't told him.

And you know the best thing? No one in the straight audience knew that Mr. Amos is gay. When he came out on stage, in one of the best ‘coming out’ stories I’ll ever hear, no body cared. The lads on the stag night behind me kept laughing and applauding to the end. The old ladies giggled to each other continuously, the pretentious student toffs had dropped their guard and were howling away. You will laugh too.

I simply cannot recommend this show highly enough.

Martin Walker

 

Theatre

Strawberries in January

Traverse

*****

Some plays are easy to review and some are difficult.  This one was towards the impossible end of the scale because it is a play where if I reveal too much of the story it could ruin it when you see it, and I think you should.

I initially thought this was going to be extremely hard work.  It wasn't, but it did take a while to get into it because it didn't appear to be in chronological order.  I'm sure this was deliberate for part of what this addressed was the difference between real life and a screenplay.  The  way we can see ideal worlds on film and the lives we have to live.  It explored truth and fiction, the way we don't always tell the truth, and the reasons for that.  Translated from French it is set in Montreal but is delivered in Scots voices.  This is a stroke of genius for the story could just as well be set in Motherwell or Morningside and would lose nothing for that.  It gets increasingly witty and as I heard one audience member saying on the way out "the audience left smiling".  We did indeed, and rightly so.

Martin Powell

 

Comedy

Sue Perkins

Pleasance Courtyard

***

I like Sue Perkins, I’m a fan, but was a little disappointed with her set this year. I wasn’t really laughing as much as I wanted to. She is a smart storyteller, and has some nice one liners, but after last year's cracking show I know that she is capable of much better.

Martin Walker

 

Theatre

Terre Haute

Assembly Rooms

****

Edmund White’s captivating new play depicts a fictional meeting between Oklahoma bomber Timothy McVeigh, during his final days, and writer Gore Vidal.

Young actor Arthur Darvill, who looks and sounds like a cross between Eminem and McVeigh himself, shines as the scared, angry, self justifying, young man on death row. And Peter Eyre is sublime as the much older writer, instantly attracted to the young fit, cocky, blond mass murderer. They are both waiting to die.

The writer, not to mention the audience, is repulsed by the younger man’s politics - neo fascism - the half-baked justification for killing hundreds of people is shocking. What is fascinating though is how much we learn about the writer and his motivations, his desires and his loneliness. The relationship between the two grows in an entirely convincing way.

Martin Walker

 

Comedy

Topping and Butch and Friends

UDDERbelly

*****

Topping and Butch - Filth

Underbelly

****

Andrew and Michael have two very different agendas. Firstly, they want to deliver sharp tongued political satire, with some delightful up to the second intelligent verse. Secondly, they want to tell you some filthy jokes. In terms of the former, they are camp masters of innuendo. In the later they forget the nudge and the wink and just excrete it. The debate has raged amongst the press and the public around preference. Which Topping and Butch would you like this evening sir? (They are always delightfully camp of course).

Michael Topping is a natural performer, with an infectious laugh, and a perfect sense of comic timing. His improvised quips provide real comic highlights. He has the seemingly natural ability to bring enormous amounts of joy and laughter to everyone, including his comedy partner Andrew ‘Butch’ Simmons. It’s great when performers aren’t afraid to make each other chuckle. For his part, Andrew, the quick-witted, smiley comic actor and singer with enormous range, ensures that the energy and pace of whatever show the’re doing never dips.

Both of them are exceedingly talented writers. Topping and Butch are a double act, that, if you can forgive the pun, has no straight man.

For the satirical stuff, beg or pinch a ticket for Topping and Butch and Friends. Here they perform their now famous ditty, Never Mind and more great topical tunes. You’ll also witness the most outrageous and hilarious treatment of their special guests. I never thought I’d see Reginald D Hunter in Topping’s leather dress. Great credit should go to Reg for agreeing to get involved, greater credit should go to his rather lovely arse. 

The T&B Friends show is a little shambolic in places, largely due to a couple of techie problems, but that didn’t distract from a thoroughly entertaining evening. The night I was there also featured Justin Edwards and Lizzie Roper, cast members of "Tossers", sketch group "Greedy”, Zoe Lyons with a brilliant Cherie Blair impersonation, Ex Porn Star Kirk Van Rimmer, the Scotsman reviewer Kate Copstick and a Twelve-piece Zimbabwean House Band. It was also great to see the fabulous Maggie Bourgein again. Quite what Neil and Christine Hamilton where doing there I’m not sure. The guest list changes, so I’ll certainly be going again.

Filth, on the over hand, is just that. Filthy. Imagine a John Waters director’s cut of a Carry On film. Rude, crude and, well, rude. The capacity audience loved it. Special mention should be given to Row, who cameos as a choir boy at the top of the show, though I imagine that performing with T&B might have turned the straight boy even straighter. 

Filth is a lot of fun, but I personally think that the innuendo and the satire edge it over the filthy stuff. Others disagree, it’s just a question of, um, taste really.

Martin Walker

 

Theatre

The Trial

C3

*****

It is often difficult to get perspective on a drama when the cast has to perform in such a restricted space that some of the audience could reach out and touch them. Yet such is the superb quality of the acting here that the lack of space seems to heighten the experience, to make it appropriately claustrophobic. The audience is drawn into lives by turns desperate, savage and forlorn. This is a thrilling production of Steven Berkoff’s version of Kafka’s novel.

Adam Lenson is immediately convincing as Joseph K, and the other four cast members share fifteen parts. Alex Klineberg is sweepingly impressive as Huld, and Natalie Kesterton and Emma Hiddleston swing between characters with absorbing precision. If you want a thrilling re-enactment of this classic and ever-relevant tale, catch this one.

Tony Challis

 

Theatre

Twinkle Little Star

Gilded Balloon

****

A brilliant impersonation! Tim Healy stars as Harold Thropp, as he enters his dingy dressing room to start a new panto season on Tyneside, and ends leaving in regalia as Widow Twankey. (Yes, I have seen shows like this a few times, but this is pretty special.)  In between, he confides in us about how theatre has declined and how he has been sidelined, how good it was when things were illegal (oh, dear), and about the man in his life. And revenge is in the offing! This is a bravura performance that starts on a high and continues that way. Not a dull moment. A great way to start your evening.

Tony Challis

 

Theatre

Two Men Talking

Assembly Rooms

*****

You’ll get the maximum benefit from this quite brilliant play by going in cold. Seriously. You should put down this magazine, take the most direct route to the Assembly Rooms and simply enter Murray Nossel and Paul Browde’s space having no idea what’s going to happen next. Let the whole thing unfold in front of you. Still reading? Well, I’m gonna try not to spoil it.

Murray and Paul went to school together in South Africa. When they were 12, they were challenged by a teacher to tell each other a story. Unsure at first, they soon got the knack and their tales of school days gradually unfold before us. By chance, years later, they meet as adults in New York, where they resume the storytelling. Their tales are full of humour and drama. Tragedy and success. Wonderful moments of love, liberation and forgiveness.

What we soon realise though, is that it is all real. Two Men Talking is not a work of fiction, but the real experiences of two very close friends who have great stories to tell. What we are seeing is improvised theatre, based on the men’s own stories. It works because it’s honest. The whole audience really does hang on their every word. I’ve never felt so alive during a stage performance.

Utterly beautiful.

Martin Walker

 

Theatre

Unprotected

Traverse

*****

A couple of weeks ago I naively assumed that prostitution was one of those things that, at least in some places, the Scots did so much better than the English.  Hell, there is a "Sauna" opposite my flat and it is instructive to look down on (in an entirely literal and not metaphorical since), the arrivals and departures there.  (Why did "comings and goings" not seem right in the last sentence?)  How wrong can you be?

This play presents some hard truths about women who end up as prostitutes, the way they are looked down on, and the needs (usually drugs) that force them into their way of life.  It explores some alternatives to the way we do things in the UK but comes up with no solutions.  What emerges is that a group of vulnerable women exist in our society who are left, as the title implies, unprotected.  Sometimes theatre at its best can find a way of addressing issues that would not otherwise be challenged.  This is such theatre.

Martin Powell

 

Theatre

What I Heard about Iraq

Pleasance Courtyard

*****

Usually in shows when reviewing you make notes about the main points for future reference.  In this show I gave up after about one minute such was the volume of information being thrown at the audience.  The title says most of what you need to know, 5 actors all taking on different roles who repeat "I heard Donald Rumsfeld say" or The President say, or Tony Blair say, or whoever say....  Presented in this way and by taking quotes from different times the way we were systematically lied to from 1991 about Iraq becomes clear.  If only 10% of the quotes were accurate then these murderous bastards should spend the rest of their days behind bars, and I've no reason to believe only 10% of them were true.  In fact I remember about 10% of the quotes and know them to be accurate.  However the most memorable one came from an anonymous Iraqi "Saddam Hussein's greatest crime is he brought the Americans to Iraq".  The only error I spotted, and it's a fairly minor one, is that Harold Pinter did not win the

Nobel Peace Prize for Literature.  The show ends with a quote from Lawrence from 2nd Aug 1920 which shows just how little some people have learnt. One of the unexpected highlights of this year's Fringe.

Martin Powell

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