This was my live coverage of Edinburgh Fringe in 2015, featuring my thoughts as the festival went along. All the plays mentioned here are reviewed in my roundup, when I had more time to think over what I thought. But if you’d rather read what I thought of these plays at the time, read on …
Monday 3rd August, 6.45 p.m.: Welcome to my live coverage of Edinburgh Fringe 2015. This is where you will find all of my snap reviews of Edinburgh fringe plays as and when I see something I recommend. I’ll be at Edinburgh this year on the 8th-10th August and again on the 17th-19th August. Until then, here is a five-day warm-up.
I am planning to publish four articles about the Edinburgh Fringe, on various topics to be announced. But I might write a fifth if I see something so brilliant I feel it deserves a whole article itself saying how brilliant it is. So far, only two articles have ever held this honour: Caroline Horton with Mess and Dugout Theatre with Inheritance Blues. (Sparkle and Dark would also have got one for The Girl With No Heart had I not already written about it in preview.) Could you be next?
Tuesday 4th August, 10.30 a.m.: And coming up first is my list of Edinburgh Fringe recommendations., which I’m in the process of writing now. I’m being a bit stricter than previous years. Until now, I’ve made the occasional recommendation of a show I’ve never heard of if I’ve heard good things from other people, or I like the sound of it. This year, I’m going to be stricter and only recommend shows by groups I’ve seen before and liked.
If I’ve previously given you a good review, feel free to send me a press release and I’ll consider adding you to the list. (It’s not automatic, but you’ll be in with a very good chance.) I do try to examine the whole Edinburgh Fringe programme, but it’s a big programme and I might have missed you. If I’ve not seen you before, then I can’t put you in the pre-fringe recommendations – but it’s not too late to invite me to review you, and if you’re good, I might recommend you that way.
Tuesday 4th August, 3.45 p.m.: Halfway through What’s Worth Watching. Should be ready by this evening.
I should mention at this point that the wrong way to promote your show to me is to contact me through Twitter. I get A LOT a shows plugged that way, and I don’t have time to keep up with that. There is, admittedly, one show I’m tempted by amongst that lot, but only because I’ve heard a lot of good things about that one already. Really, if you want to encourage me to come to your show, please contact me by e-mail and send me a press release. I prioritise shows that offer me press tickets, but you never know, if I like the sound of you I might come and see you anyway.
However, by far the most annoying productions are the big professional ones who do something like this: 1) They send me a press release of how brilliant their show is and ask for a mention on my blog. 2) I reply politely explaining that recommendations are for shows I’ve seen before, but they’re welcome to invite me to review theirs. 3) They suddenly go all quiet. For reference: no, I’m not doing free PR for you. Why should I? You’ve got your own PR team. There’s one way and one way only to get promoted here, and that’s to show me something good. Whether I see it and whether I think it’s any good is largely up to you.
I’ll refrain from naming and shaming who’s doing this. They know who they are.
Wednesday 5th August, 1.15 p.m.: And here we are. Here is my list of what’s worth watching at the Edinburgh Fringe 2015:
I Am Beast
Boris: World King
The Big Bite-Size Breakfast Show
You’re Not Like the Other Girls Chrissy
The Sunset Five
Bite Size: Lunch in Cairo
You might like …
My Name is Saoirse
From the comedy:
Morgan and West
Festival of the Spoken Nerd
Hey hey 16K
For the full article explaining what’s so good about them all, come this way.
Wednesday 5th August, 11.00 p.m.: Wow, my list of recommendations has got a lot of attention today. Only just finished finished replying to all of the correspondence. Don’t go away, because my next post will be a punter’s guide to choosing an Edinburgh Fringe show. Who’d have thought it could be so complicated?
In the meantime, one thing that’s got my attention is The Sick of the Fringe, in particular its support for stress that performers suffer during such a long and intense festival. I read an article about this is Spiked today called “Stress is good for stand-ups” which was quite cynical about this. To be fair to Spiked, most of the time they write about cases of people being stresses for tenuous reasons (often as a pretext to tell people they disagree with to shut up), so they tend to end up cynical about everything.
I might write about this is more detail another day. In the meantime, you can read the comment I left on this article. In short: there’s a whole world of difference between doing the odd gig in a comedy club and the massive gamble of the Edinburgh fringe where the stakes could not be higher. Let me know what you think.
Thursday 6th August, 11.00 p.m.: I’ve been a bit quiet today, but only because I’ve been busy writing up my next article. As promised, here is my guide for How to choose a show at the Edinburgh Fringe. You might think it would be easy to choose a show, but with 3,000 to choose from it gets a little more complicated.
Alternatively, for fringe newbies, there’s my guide for How to make the most of the Edinburgh Fringe, with various bits of practical advice. This one seems to be quite popular.
That’s enough for tonight. More blogging tomorrow.
So this might be a good time to look at what’s changed with venues this year. Nothing as radical as Brighton where the #1 venue The Warren upped sticks completely and completely relocated to new locations, but one newcomer (or oldcomer, depending on the way you look at it) is Momentum Venues, which is hopefully a happy ending to the St. Stephen’s Church saga.
St. Stephen’s Church was, in 2012 and 2013, the site for Northern Stage at Edinburgh, as well as a multi-purpose arts venue the rest of the year. Then the Church of Scotland put the building up for sale and the whole thing looked uncertain. In the end, a rescue deal came through, but not before Northern Stage – unclear about whether the church would still be available in August – were forced to relocate to Summerhall and thereabouts. And Northern Stage have chosen to stay in their new home.
But now, with St. Stephen’s future back on a secure footing, they are back as Momentum Venues. Difficult to tell at this stage how things will turn out, but the challenge here is getting back the audience they lost when Northern Stage moved south – either by winning old St. Stephen’s fans back, or building a new audience. And it’s a big challenge, because their biggest space has 450 seats to fill. This could be a huge success or massive failure. As always, we shall see.
Friday 7th August 9.45 p.m.: This coverage won’t be all Edinburgh fringe. Just because it’s August doesn’t mean the rest of theatre stops. Any other theatre news that appears will get a mention too.
So one thing worth mentioning for those of you not going to Edinburgh is that the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s in the middle of it’s 50th anniversary season. And the play that’s on now that I can highly recommend is Neville’s Island, which I would claim was one Tim Firth’s best comedies except that this is added to a very long list of Tim Firth’s other best comedies. You can read more about my recommendation on my north-east What’s worth watching list.
If you’re wondering about The Woman in Black, I won’t be reviewing this until I do a roundup of the SJT’s whole summer season. But I will say in advance that, as I suspected, The Woman in Black is even better and even scarier in a small theatre.
Saturday 8th August, 8.00 a.m.: And this is it! Edinburgh here I come. First reviews coming soon, I hope.
Whilst you’re waiting, however, I’ll also be keeping an eye on how my recommended shows are doing. And an early piece of news is that Boris: World King is having an excellent start, with a sell-out on the first day of fringe proper. Either we all can’t get enough of our favourite comedy politician – or Tom Crawshaw and Three’s Company achieved a massive breakthrough last year with their megahit Shakespeare for Breakfast.
If numbers and reviews go the way they did last year, Three’s Company could be joining the ranks of Edinburgh Fringe giants very soon.
Saturday 8th August, 11.15 a.m.: And here I am, I had a very interesting conversation on the train up here about a play coming in the last week of the fringe. I’ll save writing about this until later (because you’ll have all forgotten by then if I write it now), but in the meantime: I really like the sound of Tension Square, starting on the 24th August.
However, the shock news which had somehow slipped me by is that there is no big upside cow in Bistro Square, thanks to redevelopment works going on with Edinburgh University. This is so disorientating. But it’s not all bad news for differently-coloured bovine fans (or anyone who has a ticket for an Udderbelly show and wonders where the hell they’re supposed to go). It’s moves a little further south to George Square, aka Assembly Square. I’m still not sure exactly where it is, but, honestly, surely you can’t miss a huge inflatable cow?
Not long now. First show at lunchtime.
Even if most of the story is fiction, it’s convincing and chilling in every detail. I only saw this as one of my “lucky dip” choices, but that’s as lucky as a lucky dip can be. Only complaint is that the sound was frequently too loud and drowned out the performer – please sort that out. Other than that, this is on at Underbelly Cowgate, and I can highly recommend it.
Saturday 8th August, 7.15 p.m.: You might remember in my fringe recommendations that I gave the disclaimer that there might be something in the listings that I didn’t spot. Well folks, I did indeed miss something. It was Yve Blake, who I last saw at the 2012 fringe with the quite random Am I a Good Friend? The only reason I realised was because saw her listed for Pleasance Dome Ten as I walked past. So I thought I’d see how she’s come on in the last three years. And I’m really glad I did, because she’s come along amazingly since I last saw her.
Yve was one of two women I saw in 2012 doing crazy shows. The other once, Alice Cooper, made the transition into solo theatre, but Yve has stayed with the comedy. The theme of this show, Lie Collector is supposedly research over to get people to share stories of the biggest lies they told, and it’s fair say that to some extent it’s an evolution of her 2012 show. The things that made that show good have stayed: her energy, her over-the-top enthusiasm, but with just the occasional hints of insecurity and vulnerability slipping through. But whatever she’s being doing in last three years to refine her act, she’s done a good job of it, because she’s gone from quirky hit-and-miss debut into a very slick performance. Oh, and she can sing too.
I did have concerns as to whether she’d run out of steam with this routine. Sure, you can fill a one-hour comedy show with silliness, but if you want to continue as a comedian, there’s the next show to think about. And the show after that. But wait – it’s not just silliness. There is a twist at the end I didn’t see coming at all. I won’t say what it is just yet because that would be a spoiler, but I will say now it was a bold move to end the show that way – but, I think, a good call. I’ll talk about this more in my end-of-fringe roundup.
This is what I love about festival fringes – seeing something great that I had no idea about this morning. Well done Yve Blake. Who will be next?
Sunday 9th August, 11.00 a.m.: So, time for day 2, with my target of five plays to see. Two on press tickets, so another three to choose. Decisions, decisions.
Now, observant readers will notice I’m writing a lot less than five reviews a day. This is because, unlike Brighton, I simply don’t have time to keep up. During my fringe stints, I will prioritise shows that I want to urge everyone to see. I will catch up with the others as soon as possible afterwards. If anyone absolutely can’t wait to hear what I thought of your play, you are welcome to contact me in advance.
But the next review which I most definitely want to recommend to everyone as soon as possible is Where Do Little Birds Go?, the tale of Lucy Fuller, a nightclub hostess who got mixed up with an escaped convict under the protection of the Krays. This play mixes fact with fiction – the kidnapping itself was a real event, but with little information available about the victim, playwright Camilla Whitehill creates an imagined backstory for Lucy.
But whilst Lucy’s backstory might be imagined, the setting was very real. The clubs were a very real part of the 1950s and 1960s, and Lucy is portrayed as an ambitious but highly sadly 18-year-old, who doesn’t realise that “nightclubs” and “hostesses” were little more than code for “brothels” and “prostitutes”. To start with, Lucy stays out of it thanks to a streetwise ex-partner of a little-known relative who treats her like his own daughter, calls himself “uncle”, and shields her from the dark side of the Krays’ empire. When he dies in a car accident, and her protection is gone, things go downhill very quickly.
Even if most of the story is fiction, it’s convincing and chilling in every detail. I only saw this as one of my “lucky dip” choices, but that’s as lucky as a lucky dip can be. Only complaint is that the sound was frequently too loud and drowned out the performer – please sort that out. Other than that, this is on at Underbelly Cowgate, and I can highly recommend it.
Sunday 9th August, 3.30 p.m.: Saw The 56 again, FYSA’s verbatim play about the 1985 Bradford City fire. It is indeed as good as I remembered. In fact, there’s a few small improvements.
One of my niggles last time was that this was a somewhat static play. It didn’t matter too much when the strength of the play was the words, but they have nonetheless taken the chance to make the play a bit less static. There’s not that much you can add in a play of this kind, but the few moves put in added to the play.
Also, a much better choice of venue/timing this time round. Whether by accident or by design, their new venue didn’t have the problems of noise bleed which sadly got in the last time round. Thanks to Assembly for considering this – hope other venues will follow suit.
Sunday 9th August, 10.30 p.m.: Oh dear. Today I think I saw a front-runner for my annual award known as the “How the hell did that get five stars” award. As always, this is a secret award that I don’t tell anyone, unless you buy me a drink and I’ll let it slip. (Don’t worry, it wasn’t a show I’d been asked to review, thank God.)
However, my latest recommendation is the surprisingly good 1972: The Future of Sex. To be honest, the only reason I saw this was that this one kept grabbing my attention and I got curious. But when I discovered it was a
student devised production, I suddenly braced myself. Devised theatre is hard to get right, and student productions are notorious for getting devised theatre wrong.
But to my surprise, they did an unexpectedly good job of it. So, it’s 1972 and it’s the sexual revolution, ooh baby baby let’s get in o-o-o-o-n! But far from being sexually liberated new generation, the main characters are terrified teenagers without the first clue of how to go about this. There’s a lot of mini-stories in the play, with various lives and loves, but the Wardrobe Ensemble made it work with some very slick choerography, music, and some good touches from the microphones, such as the thought running through their head when trying to chat someone up.
But the master touch to this play, I thought, were these flash forwards into the future. The most behemian of characters end up with the most mundane unconventional lives. Some remember their teenage trysts, some forget. It’s not a fully rounded production just yet – and I did think it lost its way in 10 minutes or so near the end when four of them were running round in swimming costumes – but it’s still an impressive
debut from this young cast.
Correction: Wardrobe ensemble have advised me they’re not a student company and it’s not their debut. However, I stand by my surprisedness. The challenges faced by young ensembles are the same, students or not. It’s just that most of them are student productions. Anyway, one way or the other they avoided the usual pitfalls based by young ensembles, so well done however you did it.
Monday 10th August, 12.30 p.m.: EXTRA! EXTRA! OMG! OMFG! HOLD THE FRONT PAGE! Pleasance wi-fi is actually working! Which means I can write an early review of The Big Bite-Size Breakfast Show. I’ve just seen menu 3 – menus 1 and 2 will come next week.
When you’re running a successful format that can run indefinitely by adding new ten-minute plays and retiring old ones, you’d think you’d reach a point where reviewers run out of things to say. But still the Bite-Size team find ways of surprising me. This time, it was the first two plays that surprised me the most. First there was Quack, one of their many plays on weird and wonderful ideas that you can only do as a ten-minuter. The are almost always comedies, but this play – about a man who raises a duckling from hatching (with a human playing the duck) was astonishingly sentimental. Then came Blabbermouth, a three-hander told entirely one one-word lines. I would normally consider this useful as an exercise in writing but never something you’d put in front of a paying audience. Well, yes you can, with a combination of skilled writing and clever actions to complement the script.
Good start for Bite-Size. More Bite-Size news coming in due course.
Tuesday 11th August, 9.30 a.m.: Phheeeeeeep! That was the half-time whistle. I’m now off to Orkney for a few days. Long story. I will catch up with reviews and other things over the next six days, but I expect to be without internet for the rest of today.
I saw I Am Beast again yesterday. Already wrote about this in Buxton, and that (glowing) review stands. However, there’s just time to cover The Dark Room: The Symphony of a Floating Head, which now looks like the hot favourite for my annual “What the fuck?” award. I won’t attempt to explain this just yet, but let’s just say it’s a faithful homage to this kind of computer game for those of you who remember this:
> Go North
> Go South
> Go East
BOOM! YOU’RE DEAD.
If you fondly remember the endless frustration of these games, you’ll feel right at home here. If you have no idea what I’m on about, go anyway – you’ll pick it up as you go along.
Right, that’s it for now. I’ll be back when I can.
Wednesday 12th August, 9.30 a.m.: Whilst you’re waiting for part two, I’m writing an article about big-name comedians, and especially Richard Herring’s notable decision to not do the Edinburgh Fringe this year. My thoughts on this are coming up.
But in the meantime, on my catchup is Ben Dali: Strictly Come Trancing, which I was invited to review. This claims to be the Edinburgh Fringe’s only stage hypnosis show. I must say, I’m a little sceptical about that claim: such is the size of the fringe, there’s always something out there a bit like your show. Even if you claim to be Edinburgh Fringe’s only half-Albanian half-Mongolian juggler of tinned groceries from Asda, sod’s law dictates there’s another. But I can’t be bothered to check the entire programme for other hypnotists.
Anyway, it’s a stage hypnotist. Although this isn’t really my area of reviewing, I do have quite a lot of respect for stage hypnotists. Ultimately, it’s about persuading people to do wild things they’d like to do but need encouragement, and this means the #1 challenge of the hypnotist is to be a good showman. To some extent, it’s the same skill as all the acts on the Royal Mile, where there’s 45 minutes of build-up and only 10 minutes of actual trick. But street performers who’s a bad showman can still do their trick. A hypnotist who’s a bad showman has no show. Hard to get right, easy to get wrong.
I’ve not seen a stage hypnotist for yonks, so I can’t tell you how good Ben Dali is compared to other hypnotists. I can safely say the audience loved it, and there were some very funny moments such as the volunteers being split into Kanye West fans and Kanye West haters when out favourite egotistical rapper did his thing. Ultimately, however, in spite of being billed as hypnosis/cabaret, it’s really a hypnotist show first, second and third. If you like hypnotist shows you’ll like this one – if you don’t, this won’t change your mind. For hypnosis fans, he’s at venue 276 on Cowgate. And allow plenty of time to find the venue because that’s almost as baffling as hypnosis itself.
Thursday 13th August, 4.00 p.m.: Just wrote this tweet a few hours ago, in response to an Edinburgh Fringe Haiku that goes Yay Yay Wahoo Yay etc.
@edfringe A haiku about getting up early to check out of your hostel on your last day: No no no no no No no no no no no no No no no no no
— Chris Neville-Smith (@cns_theatre) August 13, 2015
Only thought that was mildly amusing myself, but that tweet seems to have gone viral. And worse, I’ve been obsessively monitoring my Twitter stats for how many retweets, favourites and followers I get. And to think I used to scoff at people who did that. Oh dear, I’m turning into Zoella.
Anyway, as promised, here’s an article on my thoughts of Richard Herring’s decision to stop doing to Edinburgh Fringe. Short version: this may or may not be the tip of the iceberg – but if this is the start of a mass exodus of well-known comedians from Edinburgh, we shouldn’t be too worried about it.
I have one catchup review left, then I’m back in full flow on Monday,
Friday 14th August, 2.30 p.m.: Crikey, that thing I wrote about Richard Herring doing the fringe got tweeted by Richard Herring himself, making yesterday my all-time record for pageviews. I’ve updated the article with a quote at the end. Anyway, the hot news from Mr. Herring is that he says he may go back in a future year, but he feels less inclined to do so than he expected. There, my first scoop. You heard it first on chrisontheatre.wordpress.com.
Anyway, time for my second catchup review, for An Illuminating Yarn from Button Box theatre. This play got my interest because it’s about the Saltburn Yarn Bombers, and I’m a former Saltburnian. Button Box Theatre is one of the many mini-companies who operate on Newcastle’s fringe theatre scene, they’ve assembled a clearly capable cast, and the style is very much in line with the style of home-grown Newcastle. But there is a problem here: Saltburn isn’t Newcastle.
The premise of the play is around the real-life mystery of the identity of the yarn bomber(s). This play imagines that, far from the ingenious artist in the making, the real yarn bomber is in fact someone who lost her job with the cuts, didn’t know what to do, and now plans her final creation, a knitted Tom Daley, to join her as she jumps off the end of the pier. Which is fine as a story, but this seems to have been written on the assumption that Saltburn is a generic north-east town, a bit like Seaburn or Whitley Bay. But anyone who’s live in Saltburn can tell you that people don’t add “man” to the end of sentences like you do in Geordie and there are not hordes of feral youths blighting the Jewel Streets. Also, it’s difficult to portray Saltburn as a depressed town ruined by the bastard cuts from the bastard Tories when Saltburn is one of the strongest Conservative-voting wards in the Borough of Redcar and Cleveland. None of this invalidates the story, but you’ve got to work harder to accommodate reality.
One tempting response to this criticism would be to say that it doesn’t matter to the 99%+ of Edinburgh Fringe punters who’ve never been there. But I think that would be a mistake. At the moment, this play is something stylistically identical to almost all the other fringe theatre from Newcastle – but this would be so much better as something different, and the best way to have something different here would be a convincing portrayal of the town it’s set in. And I’m not talking about a few facts you can get off the internet such as the population of Saltburn and the name of the local wool shop, but really get to know the people of Saltburn and understand what really makes it tick. It’s all very well putting on a show at The Space on the Mile, but do you know what audience I think Button Box really needs to win over? Saltburn Community Theatre. That’s the harder challenge – pass that, then you might be on to a winner.
Friday 14th August, 8.30 p.m.: Just realised I’ve not done an angry post for ages. Ah well, I’ve said before I’m not done with people who censored The City just yet. Here’s a post called “Welcome to the Fringe? Pull the other one!” explaining my cynicism over the scheme David Greig created and my extreme distrust over people who claim to be the friends of “free Israeli voices”. (Note: the picture to the right is there by a complete coincidence, and is in no way related to any political movement mentioned in the post.)
That’s the last of my four stand-alone articles I promised to write during my Edinburgh Fringe coverage. But, good news, you liked my last one so much, I’m going to write another. And it’s going to be another angry post, prompted by a celebrity who’s got on my nerves in Edinburgh. There’s a free five-star review to the first person to guess who it is.
Saturday 15th August, 8.30 p.m.: David Greig has replied to my post. In keeping with my strict policy of right to reply, you can read his comment here. I’m not going to engage is a detailed argument because when I’m critical of other artists, I allow them to have them to have the last word within reason. Suffice to say he has not convinced my that the boycott of Incubator Theatre – even a peaceful boycott – was justified. I may write more thoughts on this another time, but for now that can wait.
Anyway, whilst I’m waiting to hurry back to Edinburgh, let’s take a look at how the shows I’ve been covering have been going. Most of the shows I’ve given the thumbs up to have done as well as I expected, getting a healthy haul good reviews. The two newcomers I listed in my recommendations (Bite Size: Lunch in Cairo and The Gambit) have only been lightly covered so far, but the smattering of early reviews has been encouraging.
However, the runaway success is clearly Boris: World King. A few days ago, I wondered if their early sell-outs was down to the fringe as a whole being busy this year. Evidently not, because it’s now apparently sold out several days ahead. The early reviews have been going very well, but perhaps the most unexpected endorsement is from Kezia Dugdale. Yes, the one who’s just been elected Scottish Labour Leader. This was her show of choice prior to this interview in for STV. Wow. We could very soon be discussing whether Tom and Three’s Company can live up to the reputation of Edinburgh Fringe headliners, because this status could be coming a lot faster than anyone expected.
The odd one out is Yve Blake. This seems to have been a Marmite play, which everyone either loves or hates. Out of the four reviews I’ve found, it’s got two two-stars, one three-star and one five-star. There’s also a lot of good audience feedback showing up on Twitter, although it’s difficult to know how reliable hand-picked tweets are. I do respect differences of opinion, but on this occasion I’m going to stick my neck out and say the two two-star reviews didn’t get it. Negative reviews should state what you didn’t like about it and how it could be improved, but I’ve read them and I struggle to see what they didn’t like other that “I don’t like it”. I suppose the spread of reviews is a symptom of a common cause: Lie Collector is very different from everything else, and inevitably some people will like it and some won’t. It looks like her post-fringe challenge will be to identify her niche and make the most of it. Given the choice between a different act that everyone either loves or hates, or an inoffensive run-of-the mill act that everyone quite likes, I’d always pick the former.
Sunday 16th August, 2.15 p.m.: And I’m on my way back. Unfortunately, I’m on my way back from Thurso where the trains go at, shall I say, a “relaxed” pace. Not expecting to have time for any shows until tomorrow.
Whilst we’re waiting, however, here’s an update on another censorship row outside of Edinburgh, and it’s the National Youth Theatre. No paranoid claims of sinister agendas of sinister governments whitewashing their atrocities with art this time – instead, the reason is a lot more mysterious. The production that has been cancelled is called “Homegrown”, it was pulled ten days before its opening night, and the reason – so the National Youth Theate Claims – is that the play “failed to meet standards”. Needless to say, no-one’s found that explanation terribly convincing, and as a result a lot of artists has signed a letter demanding to know what’s going on.
I will now give the National Youth Theatre a sort-of-defence.
Firstly, I don’t get quite so sanctimous about this issue outside of festival fringes. Anyone who comes to an open arts festival who then demands other people are barred from it deserves all the contempt they get, but the National Youth Theatre isn’t an open arts festival, it’s a theatre company. Theatre companies can only produce a finite number of plays, and they can reject plays for any reason they like, be it practical difficulties, differences in artistic taste, not wanting the hassle of producing a controversial play, or just plain crappiness. Had this script been binned in the reading room, this wouldn’t be an issue.
On top of that, there is the safety of the actors to consider. I applaud an artist who refuses to back down in the face of death threats, but when you’re in charge of a theatre company, you must make sure that everyone involved understands the risks they are taking and accepts them. Especially when they’re kids. If the real reason for canning this play is because they’re worried something might happen, I would do the same. No-one should be told half-way through a rehearsal period that the performance will put their life at risk.
Beyond that, my defence ends. Refusing to commission a play is one thing; but cancelling it once it’s been announced – let alone rehearsed – requires a much better explanation. No-one believes the reason the NYT has given, so they have to come clean. And whether or not they’re telling the truth, if they don’t want Homegrown, they should set it free. I’m sure there are dozens of companies who’d love to snap this play up. And if it really puts the cast in danger, find a new cast if you have to. Whatever the problem with this play is, if someone’s willing to do it, and an audience is willing to watch it, it’s nobody else’s business who sees it.
Sunday 16th August, 11.30 p.m.: One late piece of news with the other reviews. 1972: The Future of Sex, until now, has been largely ignored by the reviewers, but in the last day or two, they’ve had a flurry of reviews – and they’ve all been really good, including a five-star review from The Stage. Well done Wardrobe Ensemble.
But enough of that. It’s time to get back to business. Play watching resumes tomorrow – who will be the next unexpected gem?
Monday 17th August, 10.45 p.m.: Please excuse the quiet day on social media. I’ve been busy spending most of today taking my sister to good shows today. As a result, I have a bit of a backlog.
Anyway, one of the shows we saw was Boris: World King at last. Like Sparkle and Dark, I’ve already reviewed this in my Buxton Fringe roundup. Currently every man and his dog is fighting to say how great this play is, so they don’t really need my help repeating my endorsements from last month. For anyone who can’t be bothered to click through to my Buxton Fringe roundup, Boris: World King is the latest of Tom Crawshaw’s surrealistic comedies with the now signature compulsory audience participation, this time a show from everyone’s favourite buffoon who definitely isn’t harbouring ambitions to be Prime Minister. Unlike previous shows, however, this contains a serious political message underneath the slapstick – not in your face, not sanctimonious, but nonetheless makes you think.
My only concern at the time was that the Buxton production did seem a bit rough around the edges. But we saw Tom taking copious notes at the preview, and the hiccups have been thoroughly ironed out into a thoroughly slick performance. One other chance is that we have a new narrator. Previously Tom did the narrating himself, but one of Tom’s few limitations is that he can only really act parts as the Tom Crawshaw character. Now we’ve got a narrator more in line with a Mogan Freeman-style epic voiceover.
Oh, and Giles Brandeth was in the audience this time. No end to the list of big names queuing up to see this, and no end to the runaway success now. It looks like the question we’ll be asking very soon is: with results exceeding everyone’s wildest expectations, what will Three’s Company do with it?
Tuesday 18th August, 12.30 p.m.: I also saw finally got round to seeing The Sunset Five yesterday. This is the latest show from Dugout Theatre, responsible for 2012/2014’s outstanding Inheritance Blues. They’ve done a wide variety of plays, but this time round, it’s firmly in the fun category. This play is basically Ocean’s Eleven transplanted to a small town in East Anglia. Dastardly megalomaniac is taking over all the businesses in Chipworth, and now he’s after the town’s beloved Sunset pub. There’s only one way to stop him: raid his casino (because, as we all know, all dastardly businessmen have casinos with large cash vaults handy). Can their disparate set of skills be put to use? Yes, if you’ve seen Ocean’s Eleven, this play is basically a checklist of all the clichés, as it should be. If you haven’t seen Ocean’s Eleven, don’t worry – you’ll pick it up as you go along.
Even though it’s only a bit of fun, Dugout have worked their usual magic on the show. The cast of six to a tight-knit performance of singing, playing instruments, daredevil scenes leaping through the gaps between lasers in the walls (or not stepping on the Monster Munch on the floor), and all the humour you’d expect from swapping Las Vegas from East Anglia. This won’t top Inheritance Blues – they’ll probably need something riskier to beat this fiendishly difficult personal best – but I can still recommend this as a satisfying bit of comedy to the top-notch production standards we’ve come to expect from Dugout.
Tuesday 18th August, 8.15 p.m.: First thing’s first. Apologies to those of you who invited me to see you shows today, where I made various cock-ups on press tickets and ended up sneaking into shows without proper authorisation. Lessons learned, I will try to come up with a more organised system next year. Thank to everyone who was accommodating.
Back to reviews. My next recommendation is Bump from Buckle Up Theatre, in the extremely confusing venue of Gilded Balloon Study at Pleasance Dome. Yes, you read that correctly.
Anyway, Bump could probably be put into the Rom Com camp. (Probably quite a lot of Rom and only some Com, but you get the idea.) As with all Rom Coms, the inevitable problem is that with all the gazillions of other Rom Coms out there it’s near-impossible to come up with something that’s never been done before. Certainly boy and girl meeting whilst exchanging details after a minor shunt on the road is something that’s been done before. (And it’s a con. I’ve tried shunting loads of cars hoping to meet the girl of my dreams, and all I’ve got is a skyrocketing insurance premiums.) But even if the story’s been done before, it’s a decent script and decent story, with a romance going so fast that should be so perfect it’s cold feet that stand to ruin everything.
But whilst the script is decent, the production values are excellent. It’s a two-hander, but a superbly choreographed two-hander, without a boring point in the play. The dialogue is tight, and the numerous cutscenes pull every trick in the book to tell the story, such as the inevitably neurotic text messages that invariably follow a first date, and their daily routines as teacher or computer programmer/arseabout as their lives go on. This play’s target audience is very much the Rom Com fans, and if you’re an embittered single who prefers plays where people stay embittered and single this won’t change your mind, but for everyone else it’s a nice yet fast-paced play about the perils of a whirlwind romance, and you won’t be disappointed.
Phew. 21 plays down, 5 to go. Nearly done.
Tuesday 18th August, 11.30 p.m.: And here’s a late one. Five Feet in Front from The Letter Room. For those of you not following Newcastle theatre, The Letter Room is an offshoot of a Northern Stage project. Since 2013, they’ve run an accnual project called NORTH, where six new actors are recruited into a company partnered with Northern Stage for a few months. The 2013 intake chose to continue as “The Letter Room”, they’ve devised various plays together, but this play is the first one they’ve taken to the Edinburgh Fringe for more than one day. It’s also the first time I’ve got round to seeing what they’re up to.
I’d assumed they would all be decent actors in order to get picked by Northern Stage, and I assumed correctly. What I didn’t know, however, is that they all play instruments, sing in harmony, and between them do excellent staging and lighting. This play is set in a Wild West in a corrupt small town, where a girl called Johnny can speak to the wind – this wind being a particularly vengeful one intend on destroying the town and everyone in it? Can Johnny persuade the wind to spare the town, or is there really nothing worth saving?
It’s pretty good dark tale, although it sometimes gets a bit confusing telling who’s playing which character. Still, it is refreshing to see a Newcastle-based theatre company do something different from the same few themes that seem to be staple fodder for north-east theatre. The strength of this play, however, is undoubtedly the company, who are clearly multi-talented and have pooled their talents extremely well. I must keep an eye on this company more.
Phew. Bed time. Only one day to go.
Wednesday 19th August, 3.30 p.m.: I’ve finished seeing all the Bite-Size plays today, including their new lunchtime show. I intend to write this today, but I’m going to save this for this evening on the train home, as it’s going to be a long one.
Before then, however, an unexpected mention for a, shall I say, unusual performance: Half-Arsed Flyerer. I’ve often said that there’s so many groups on the Royal Mile flyering for so many different shows in so many different ways, I’ve seen it all before and nothing gets my attention now. Turns out I was wrong: my attention was grabbed by a half-arsed flyerer, sitting on a bollard holding up flyers for the show called, err, Half-Arsed Flyerer. Such is the perfection of the flyer text I cannot resist quoting it here.
“Clive’s had enough. He’s sick of the fringe. He only came up because he thought he might get laid. Now all he does is give out flyers and he hates it. This is the entire show. It is just flyering. The fact that you have this flyer means you’ve probably already seen the show. Thank you.”
And as a reward for grabbing my attention, I went to check when the show was: Royal Mile, 12 p.m. to 2 p.m. Which means, as far as I can tell, giving out the flyers in a half-arsed way is the show. Err, okay.
So as a reward for this funny novelty, here’s a free plug for them. Half-Arsed Flyerer is a creation of George Vere and Adam Willis. What the half-arsed flyer doesn’t tell you is that their other show is Interview With a Genius. Sadly, I already have my final day planned out, but if you’re still looking for things to do, it’s a PBH Free Fringe event at 7.15 on George IV Bridge.
Wednesday 19th August, 7.00 p.m.: Pheep! Pheep! Pheeeeeeeeeeep! That was the final whistle. I’ve seen the 26th and final show, and even if I had time to see any more, I couldn’t because I’m shattered.
But don’t go away. Still got plenty of catch-up reviews, a final comment article, and my all-important decision of my pick of the fringe. Not tonight though. I know what happens on a cheap first class ticket on the last train out of Edinburgh. It’s unlimited free alcohol and I’ll end up paralytic. No, better to take my time and think this all through carefully.
Thursday 20th August, 10.00 p.m.: I know I said I was going to review all things Bite Size yesterday evening, but I was too comatose to do it. Never mind, quiet evening tonight.
Before I review any further, I have the answer to a longstanding mystery. There was a minor shockwave earlier this year when the Brighton-based Brighton Fringe favourite gave 2015 a miss. Much discussion and speculation ensued over what was going on. Is Brighton Fringe no longer worthwhile? Had there been a feud in Brighton we’d missed? Well, it turns out the answer is actually quite boring. Bite Size had a very major turnover in cast earlier this year, and now there’s a lot more London-based actors in the company than before. As a result, the year Brighton wasn’t the quick and easy performance it normally is. I’m hoping that now things have settled down, they’ll be able to come back for 2016.
[UPDATE 21/08: Nope, apparently that’s that not the answer either. Nick Brice has got in touch (see comment below), and he says it was because he had various international engagements in April and May. Anyway, it’s still a pretty boring reason compared to all of sensational possibilities I was speculating over. Roll on Bite-Size at Brighton Fringe 2016?]
Anyway, let’s complete my coverage of The Big Bite-Size Breakfast. As always, the curse of a play being in the Bite-Size line-up is that it can be pretty good and still be overshadowed by others in the set, so I’ll limit coverage to some of my favourites. In menus 1 and 2, I had three particular highlights. There’s the highly surrealistic Metal Musik, which means I’ll never be listen to Kraftwerk again without sniggering. I also saw the return of Pride and Prejudice in Ten Minutes Flat. Last time I saw this, I admit I got lost – this time, however, thanks to a few strategically-deployed hats and bonnets, it was a lot easier to follow. Most notably, this is one of the most complex pieces Bite Size ever perform, and the fact this cast was assembled virtually from scratch is of great credit to artistic director Nick Brice.
But my favourite play of all was Alex Broun’s Somewhere Between the Sky and Sea, a story of a love triangle between a composer, an impossibly beautiful world-famous violist who loves his concerto, and a down-to-earth woman he could have a future with. Even though it’s clear this will end badly by the fourth minute, it’s a beautifully-told tale. Alex also wrote the bizarrely funny Cate Blanchett Wants to be my Friend on Facebook (she’s only got three friends, and she’ll come round personally to see how her friend request is going). That’s a name I must look out for.
Now let’s move on to the tougher challenge: Lunch in Cairo. It’s a tough challenge because Bite-Size Plays have a hugely successful breakfast format – and it’s near-impossible to persuade the regular audience to try something different. But try they do, and this is an experiment with a double-bill of longer plays, both by Tom Coash, with Nick Brice directing again and Bill Knowelden – a regular for several year – so determined not to miss out this year he’s been production assistant (as well as croissant-meister for the breakfast show). One error of judgement I felt was made was the ticket price. Not sure whether it was Bite Size’s decision or the venue’s decision, but when you’re trying out something new and risky and you’re not sure if you’ll get an audience, it can’t be a good idea for the ticket price to be noticeably over the typical £8-10 charged.
Anyway, on the plays themselves, both of them explore sensitive issues in the Middle East and Africa. Veils is a very intelligent play about two students in Egypt with different views on the right to wear the burqa. One is an American Muslim, who is made to feel un-American in one country and un-Islamic in another. The other is an Egyptian who is very against the burqa – and in a country where there is a possibility of Islamic fundamentalists one day taking over, the fear over the burqa is much stronger than anything you’ll see here. The other play, Ukimwi, is also an intelligent play about a sex worker from Kenya. There is a gloomy portrayal of a home town where sex with a virgin is considered a cure for HIV, and few bat an eyelid over selling children for sex, but they do bat a eyelid to shaming the man of a family. But I didn’t think this play suited a two-hander format. The other character – an oil worker whom she tries in vain to get business from – has a slight backstory, but mostly his role was reduced to asking Ukimwi to tell her story. Perhaps this would have worked better as monologue. Coash has already done a very good monologue called Thin Air – I think he could have made a good monolgue out of this too.
Despite that reservation, it’s still an interesting piece of theatre covering some delicate moral issues without ramming morals down your throat. Worth seeing? Yes. Worth Bite-Size doing this again. Probably too early to say. They experiment with many different formats and some work better than others. But it’s good that Nick Brice refuses to stay within an easy comfort zone, and long may the experiments continue.
Friday 21st August, 7.00 p.m.: Nearly there now. Four plays to go.
The last of my three bold choices is The Gambit, a play written by Mark Reid, produced by Rampant Plays, and first shown at Buxton Fringe in 2013 with considerable success. Now it’s back in for the 2015 Edinbrugh fringe with a director to refine this play even further. The play is an imagined meeting between the two chess greats, Karpov and Kasparov, once the great two chess players in the world, perhaps still the greatest two chess players in the world, but now a world that no longer cares who the greatest chess players are. Heavily based on fact, with a only a few minor liberties taken of real events, the story imagines the relationship between the two, still badly damaged from a match Karpov once withdrew from.
Be warned: this play is very heavy going. In a way, a festival fringe isn’t the best environment for this, when most people will be seeing plenty of other stuff in the same day – this should ideally be shown at a time and place where that’s the only play you’ll see that day, so you can concentrate 100% on this play. But if your brain’s up for it, it’s a fascinating play to watch, with excellent performances from the two actors, a tighter performance than Buxton (so presumably a director put to good use) and a complex yet fascinating backstory of the relationship between the two giants, both in the heyday of chess when it was a centrepiece of the world stage, and afterwards when Karpov retired to the Netherlands but Kasparov pursued a political career (in those days when we naively believed Russia was a democracy). Maybe best to watch this early in your fringe visit before your brain melts too much, but it’s well worth the brainpower.
Now shall I write another review or shall I do my last trolling opinion piece? Decisions, decisions.
Saturday 22nd August, 12.00 p.m.: Actually, I think I’ll take a break from both reviews and rants for a mo for a reminder that Caroline Horton comes to Edinbrugh this week with two plays, and one of them is the lovely lovely lovely lovely You’re Not Like the Other Girls Chrissy, which starts today at Pleasance Courtyard at 11.20 a.m. I wrote about why it’s so lovely here, but one highlight is that it’s the most versatile and innovative set that consists solely of four suitcases.
But the thing that’s grabbed my attention was this piece she wrote for the Guardian about her other play, Islands. This is an odd one. I’ll have to be honest here: I didn’t like it, and neither did the majority of reviewers. However, it did appear to be popular amongst a core of supporters. It will be interesting to see how this fares at Summerhall, and as reviews work different at festival fringes – where you can normally only get a reviewer if that reviewer who was interested in the show in the first place – it could have more luck. If it comes off Horton may regain her confidence and carry on doing more plays for this loyal following. I think that would be a mistake.
As far as I can tell, the niche she’s got for Islands are people who really really really hate tax dodgers, and like the idea of a play that shows how depraved the tax dodgers are (which I think was supposed to be the message). And there’s nothing wrong with appealing to a niche audience, but I get the impression from the article that she’s misunderstood why the rest of us didn’t like it. It’s not because anyone thinks tax dodging is okay, and not because we’re prudes who object to disturbing theatre, but simply because we didn’t see the point of making a play about tax dodging that crude. And we didn’t understand what the play was trying to tell us half the time.
So yes. Horton could carry on doing more plays like Islands if she wants, and if that was the only thing I’d ever seen her do I’d be happy for her to go down that path. But I know she can do far better than that. If she wants to write more political theatre, which I suspect she does, she will need to think about what she wants to achieve. Islands appealed to a bunch of people who were already very against tax dodging, but preaching to the converted is ineffectual. My advice for next time would be to aim for a wider audience – one who might learn more about a issue they don’t know, or even one that changes minds. And to do this, it will be your responsibility to make sure the audience understands the play – blaming the reviewers for not getting it isn’t good enough. I won’t lie, this is a long and tortuous solution – but who ever made it as an artist by only doing what’s easy?
Sunday 23rd August, 5.00 p.m.: Sorry for the delay in coverage – I made the trip to Scarborough to see Neville’s Island. I’ve already seen The Woman in Black and Confusions from their 60th anniversary season, and I’ll be reviewing all of these once I’ve finished catching up on Edinburgh.
Anyway, I’m now going to catch up on two pieces of devised theatre I was invited to review. I try to warn acts in advance that I am a strict marker of devised theatre, and devised theatre is hard. I am aware that many acts see their performance as a work in progress and ask for feedback, which is fine, but I do not encourage using the Edinburgh Fringe for this purpose. You really want to do your experimentation somewhere else, where it’s cheaper to do it and audiences are kinder to plays that aren’t quite there yet. I strongly advise saving Edinburgh for your absolute best work.
Nevertheless, with at least one of these two shows openly treating this as work in progress, I am going to treat this as such. And as it happens, my advice for both groups is the same: the ideas are good; they both have the potential to make good finished products; but the golden rule both acts need to follow is that if you’re going to make one thing complicated, everything else should be kept simple.
Firstly let’s look at Tribute Acts from TheatreState. This one of many plays I was invited to see by a publicist, but I chose this one because I liked the idea of this. It’s of two women and their relationship to their fathers – as I discovered, it’s the two real women performing on stage talking about their real relationship to their real fathers. Both men were strong supporters of Tony Blair, both felt betrayed by New Labour, and – in a strange parallel – both daughters felt betrayed when their fathers had affairs with younger women. But how do you get father and daughter to open up over such a sore issue. The answer? Each actress would interview the father of the other.
So here we had two women and video screens of their two fathers. And I really like the setup of this that had so much potential, but sadly at moment there are so many opportunities going to waste. I would have loved to know a lot more about the journeys of the two men: how they felt on that day in 1997, when exactly they found themselves disillusioned with Labour, and – if possible – what made them do what they did. In parallel, there could have been the daughters’ stories of the fathers they looked up to, and how they felt when their own idols fell. But sadly, there were just too many complicated theatrical devices which I didn’t follow and didn’t seem to add anything to the story, from astronaut outfits to the one who wears a Margaret Thatcher mask whilst in her underwear. My advice is that the play doesn’t need this – there’s a strong enough story waiting to be told without these complications. Stick to the main theme, dig deeper, then you might be on to something.
Now I’ll move on to Future Honey from The Pack. This is a surrealistic and colourful play set in a nightmarish future where everyone in the world is even more obsessed with their social media accounts than they are already. This time, the cast of three have developed a very polished performance, highly choreographed with a finely crafted sound plot. Much of the play to begin with is repetitive, but deliberately repetitive, as the three go about their daily routines, getting up, going to work, coming back, and giving status updates on the same trivial things every day. Thank goodness it’s only a story, oh crap, hang on …
The trouble with this play is that, by my estimation, it tries to do twice as much as you realistically achieve in a one-hour play. The repetitive routine is stopped one day when nothing works, which I assume was meant to be a message about our dependence on pointless social media, but when some kind of god set them challenges, I got increasingly confused. Two of the challenges were presumably making statements about cyber-bullying and cyber-vanity, but I’m not sure what the statements were, and by the final challenge, I got completely lost. So give that the main purpose of this production is to get feedback, I’d say think again about what messages you most want to get across in the play, and focus on getting those messages across – and in the process, there will have to be a cull of some other bits that the story doesn’t need. But this is a clearly capable group, so if they work on it a little further, who knows?
Phew, two to go. Almost done.
Sunday 23rd August, 9.15 p.m.: Before I complete the reviews, it’s time for my list of apologies for absence. There are always a few shows that I wanted to see that I never got round to watching. This time, the ones I wish I’d seen are:
- Juliette Burton’s Look At Me. I’ve seen Juliette Burton’s publicity in Brighton for several years but she’s never been on the same time that I’m there. The reviews that particularly intrigue me are the ones that say her material can be very funny on the surface without you realising how dark the subject really is – and body image is certainly an area ripe for darkness.
- The Unknown Soldier from Grist to the Mill Productions. I usually have a rule that my friend and Fringeguru editor Richard Stamp has the power to send me to one show. This was the nominee this time round, but sadly this was on my second last day when I already had my remaining fringe planned out in its entirety. You’ll have to make to with this review instead.
- Superbolt Theatre with Jurassic Park. Yes, the one with the dinosaurs. This play is the one where I heard the most unprompted word-of-mouth endorsements. I’m told this play was a family, who’d recently lost their mother, re-enacting the scenes from the Stephen Spielberg blockbuster. And I’ve no idea how this works, but everyone who’s talked about it said how good it was.
Oh well, maybe next time. If it’s any consolation, there’s always a play in your timeslot that I saw and bitterly regretted seeing.
Also, two other plays I didn’t see were Festival of the Spoken Nerd: Just for Graphs and Traverse/Live with Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour. I’ll be seeing those later in the year and I’ll give my verdict then.
Monday 24th August, 8.00 p.m.: I have two plays left to review, but before that I am going to return to a play that grabbed my attention at the start of the fringe. The only reason it got my attention was because I happened sit opposite the author on the train as she was going to Meet the Media, and we got chatting about the play. No idea whether the play’s any good, but I really like the sound of it. It’s Tension Square, written by Sue Foulkes and produced by Chameleon productions.
Without giving too much away about this plot, the central character is a knitwear designer, Marigold, who’s have a enough of her terminal illness and is making arrangements to end it early. She postpones her plans when she forms an accidental friendship with a young man, Alex, in a difficult relationship with the sweet Livvy. I think I say, without too much of a spoiler, that domestic violence features quite heavily in this play – but not the most talked-about kind of domestic violence, instead a different type that is still commonplace but too few people will acknowledge exists. And it’s a sad statement that such a flawed preconception of perpetrators and victims goes unquestioned, or that someone found it necessary to go it alone and challenge the idea, but that’s the way it is.
The play starts week, and it is at The Space on the Mile at 4.10 p.m until the 29th August. I wish I could have seen this to know how it turns out. But I look forward to finding out how it fares.
Tuesday 25th August, 8.00 p.m.: At last! The end of the reviews. Last two to go. I’ve left these two till last because these are really outside my area of expertise and I don’t really have similar shows to compare them to. But I will nonetheless give my thoughts as a layman.
Starting with Nell Gwyn: An Epilogue, you might be forgiven for thinking this solo play is a classic text revived from the restoration period, but it is in fact a piece of new writing from Orange Girl productions. Lucy Formby plays historical figure Nell Gwyn. It’s the reign of Charles II, and the good news is that women are finally allowed on the stage. Hurrah! The bad news: it’s pretty difficult to be an actress without sleeping with the sponsor. Oh. Not that this seems to particularly bother Nell, who appears quite content to use this as a career path, or sleep with the King himself to promote her career further. If anything, Nell seems more bothered by the other women vying to be Charles’s favourite mistress like the hussy bitches they are. Of course, this doesn’t exactly help relations with her other lover/sponsor, Charles Hart.
One warning: as the play written in Old English language, you will need to concentrate very hard if you’re not familiar with this language – and even then, I got lost from time to time. I couldn’t, for instance. tell you what plan she was supposed to have concocted with the audience. However, I can safely say that the reviewers from FringeGuru and FringeReview, who presumably know this betters than I did, gave it the thumbs up. From my layman’s point of view, Lucy Fromby certainly was a natural in the role, and I was particularly impressed by the effective way she performed this in the round – normally the worst possible stage layout for a monologue – using every trick in the book. Worth a visit, but charge your brain first.
And now my final play of all, the legendary Smooth Face Gentlemen with their all-female Titus Andronicus. Should Shakespeare be played by an all-female ensemble? Don’t see why not. The convention with Shakespeare is to perform it in every permutation possible – underwater, upside down, a gay festish club, in binary*, you name it – so why not an all-female version. Besides, we had decades of all-male Shakespeare (not that Mr S. had any choice in that matter), so it’s only fair to give an all-female production a chance.
(* Note: I made up the bit about Shakespeare in binary. Unless somebody knows something I don’t.)
Again, I’m not really the best judge here because Shakespeare isn’t really my area of expertise or interest, but I don’t really need to add a qualified opinion because it’s already been praised by, well, pretty much everybody. I can say that it is a very tightly organised and choreographed production. The comic bit which some people mention is that red paintbrushes are used to represent all the weapons. But before you imagine a cross between Bugsy Malone and Saw (“No! Please! Not the maroon paint! Aaaarrrrrggghhhhhh!”), it remains as dark and harrowing play as you’d expect a rape-multilation-bloodbath-cannibalfest to be. Speaking as someone who’s never seen Titus before, I can advise that I checked the plot on Wikipedia afterwards and I think I followed about 60% of the story. I have my doubts that anyone can do a Shakespeare play to a modern audience and expect a newbie to pick up everything, but it maybe would have helped to do a bit more costume changes to prevent confusion over who’s playing who at the moment.
But despite my lack of critical insight, it’s easy to see how Smooth Faced Gents have become so popular so quickly, and it’s yet another string to the bow of founders Three’s Company. Is there anything Tom and Yaz cannot do?
And that it is it! I have reviewed everything I plan to review. But don’t go away. Coming very soon I will give my much-coveted list of pick of the fringe. Who will it be?
Wednesday 26th August, 10.00 p.m.: Don’t go away, because I haven’t quite finished on my comment pieces. They are coming soon.
In the meantime, however, a bit of randomness, amongst the many accolades that Boris: World King has enjoyed, it’s been a top 5 recommendation in the Daily Mail. They’re not sure what to think about that. But the Mail did an interesting juxtaposition with Where Do Little Birds Go?, which, as you may recall, was that excellent one-woman play I saw on my first day about a hostess who was once kidnapped by the Kray twins. Here’s how the Mail covered the two plays:
Thursday 27th August, 8.00 p.m.: Two five-star reviews to report today. The Gambit, having got a 3* review at Brighton 2013 and a 4* review at Buxton 2013 have now got a 5* review in 2015 from FringeGuru. Seems someone’s done a good job working on this play. But the news I’m absolutely thrilled by is Yve Blake finally getting a 5* review from Broadway Baby. She’s had a few reviews up to now, with star ratings all over the place, but Broadway Baby is the one everybody will look at. Could have gone either way, with personal tastes heavily coming into play, but she was in luck. And she deserves it.
Anyway, enough of that, I think it’s time for me to get noisy again. I wrote a piece in response to Kate Smurthwaite’s show The Wrong Sort of Feminist. No issues with the show itself – I haven’t seen it, so I’m in no position to criticise. But I do have an issue with the way she’s portraying herself as a martyr to free speech, and a lot of this is down to her highly-publicised spats with the man you love to hate, Frankie Boyle. Interested? Come this way.
And now, let’s batten down the hatches, because might get ugly …
Friday 28th August, 11.00 p.m.: Nearly ready to decide on my pick of the fringe.
But before that, the other plays I was watching this summer. I’ve done my reviews for The Woman in Black, Neville’s Island and Confusions, all part of the Stephen Joseph Theatre’s 60th Anniversary season. All were worth watching, but it was especially a pleasure to see The Woman in Black back where it all started. For all its virtues, the scariness of the play is lost a little in the large theatres it normally plays to. But on the front row of a small theatre right up to the actors – whoah!
Not long now. Start the drum roll.
Saturday 29th August, 7.30 p.m.: Okay, I have made a decision. I saw a total of 23 unique shows (I know I said 26 I saw twice, but there was one I saw twice and I’m also counting the three bite-size menus as one). 4 of those didn’t make it on to the list for various reasons. The other 19 are categorised as follows:
I Am Beast
Boris: World King
Rest of the best:
Yve Blake: Lie Collector
Where Do Little Birds Go?
1972: The Future of Sex
The Big Bite Size Breakfast
The Sunset Five
Five Feet in Front
The Dark Room
Bite Size: Lunch in Cairo
Nell Gwyn: An epilogue
An Illuminating Yarn
Ben Dali: Strictly Come Trancing
For the avoidance of doubt, the order within each category is the order I saw shows in, not an order of preference. The reasons I’ve chosen catgories varies from show to show. Please note that the bottom category is NOT the four worst shows I saw in Edinburgh – if I thought you were a waste of time you wouldn’t be on the list at all.
Eventually this will all come into my roundup. In the meantime, you can find my instant reactions of all these shows down in this article. Ctrl+F is your friend.
Sunday 30th August, 9.00 p.m.: And that’s the end of my Edinburgh Fringe live coverage. Thanks to everyone who’s been following this for the last month. Congratulations to everyone who got a recommendation from me, commiserations to those who missed out. Don’t forget, if I saw your show you are welcome to contact me with further questions about what I thought, whether or not I’ve written a review of it. You’ve all put in masses of work getting an Edfringe show together, and by comparison I’ve just done a smidgeon of work reviewing it. Answering any questions about what I thought you did right or wrong is the least I can do.
This isn’t quite the end of what I have to say about the Edinburgh Fringe – my roundup will be coming soon. Although a lot of it will be a restatement of what I’ve said before, it will contain afterthoughts (things I thought about after my instant review), final analysis of how other reviews, and – for one particular show – my thoughts on one thing I held back saying before as it would have been a spoiler.
But it’s goodbye for now, and I shall sign off with this song, seeing as it’s used to close pretty much everything. Or at least, it should do.