Archive for Edinburgh Fringe Festival

From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads

Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33) ​ 13:55 Aug 18-28 1 hour 20 minutes

fromibizatothenorfolkbroadsI am really in two minds about this show. Alex Walton gives a great one-man performance as a damaged teenager, Martin, who is obsessed with both the music and personality of David Bowie. On a sparse set he gives a very physical and moving performance which wrestles with issues of mental health and abandonment. The basic structure of the play is also interesting with a clear plot of the youth retracing his Father’s footsteps following a kind of Bowie map which takes in Bowie’s first school (Stockwell Infants School), his nearby home etc. The clips from Bowie interviews which are interspersed are fascinating. So far so good…

For me the problem is the writing. It’s not even as if Adrian Berry can’t write. There are places where the writing is excellent, a session with a psychologist and the, very funny, karaoke scene (set in the former Greyhound pub where Bowie performed live in 1972) stand out. I’ve thought about it a lot and I think it is when the troubled youth is explaining himself if flowery language using lots of similes that I found a turn-off. To be fair, perhaps it was intended by the writer to indicate the head in the clouds inner world of this troubled youth. After a while it just got on my nerves!

The play is an hour and twenty minutes long. It would be a much better play if 20 minutes of dialogue were cut.

Well worth seeing and, if edited carefully, would be a more powerful production. The music box version of ‘Life on Mars’ is worth the admission price on it’s own! I’d be really interested to hear what other Bowie fans made of this curious tale!

Reviewed by Patrick Harrington


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 Eleanor’s Story: An American Girl in Hitler’s Germany

Gilded Balloon Teviot (Venue 14) ​ 13:45 Aug 18-28 1 hour

eleanorsstoryEleanor Ramrath Garner’s best-selling memoir of her youth, adapted for the stage and performed by her granddaughter Ingrid.

In 1939, when she is nine, Eleanor’s family moves from a comfortable and fairly happy life in America to Germany. Her Father has been tempted by the offer of an Engineering job and a very favourable exchnage rate. He dismisses the idea that Hitler will go to war because, in his view, it would make no sense to threaten the newfound strength of the German economy. He ignores the gathering stormclouds which come through in the production in radio broadcasts and announcements. Just as the family is crossing the Atlantic war breaks out between Germany, France and Britain. The family are trapped as all their money has been put into German marks and no one will change them back. Ingrid does a fine job of depicting seven years into a one hour show covering a lot of ground but not just skimming through. The viciousness of anti-semitism is illustrated by a small story of Eleanor’s brother being berated for giving up his seat to an elderly Jewish woman. It’s these small episodes that say so much about the wider picture. The focus is very much on the Eleanor and her family but through her eyes you can see the horror slowly unfold. The family face great challenges as America enters the war and as the Germans begin to suffer loss after loss. The terror of Soviet occupation of Berlin and the rapes, starvation and brutality that accompanied it are vividly portrayed.

It’s a gripping and unusual show that shows the confusion, terror and development of a young girl caught up in traumatic and world shaking events.

Reviewed by Patrick Harrington

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Chamberlain: Peace in Our Time

Greenside @ Nicolson Square (Venue 209)
• 15:00
• Till Aug 19
• 55 minutes


Neville Chamberlain worried about how history would judge him

The 3rd of September, 1939 fell on a Sunday. Two days earlier Germany had invaded Poland and Britain and France sent an ultimatum that unless the German forces ceased operations by 11am on the 3rd of September a state of war would exist between the countries. Church attendance that Sunday morning was far higher than usual as people anxiously waited for the news. The UK Prime Minister, Neville Chamberlain, was scheduled to broadcast to the nation from 10 Downing Street at 11.15am.

The action of the play takes place during the preceeding hour and consists of a conversation between the Prime Minister and his Private Secretary addressed as “Jack” (presumably Sir Jock Colville).

Chamberlain was portrayed sympathetically as a man who had striven for peace above all else who felt betrayed by Hitler after the breaking of the promises given at the Munich Conference of September 1938. Chamberlain had returned to London believing that he had secured “Peace in our time”. He showed a great concern for his posthumous reputation but was pessimistic and feared that Winston Churchill, who in the play was waiting just off stage throughout, would succeed him as Prime Minister and be remembered more fondly. He felt that he was the right man at the wrong time and that he would be blamed for failing to stop the war.

History did indeed judge Chamberlain harshly, at least in the short term, exactly as he had feared. 78 years later, although his critics persist, he has acquired some vigorous defenders. Public opinion was on his side in 1938 and had he gone to war then he would have been vilified as a warmonger. To that extent his worse fears were not realised. The play did not discuss the wisdom of Chamberlain’s unconditional guarantee to Poland. This gave Britain no choice but to go to war when Germany invaded Poland.

In an otherwise excellent production one might question the credibility of the relationship between Chamberlain and Colville. Colville’s attitude to his boss varied between very respectful and occasionally addressing him as Neville – even on one occasion taking intemperate issue with his judgment. The choice of music was inappropriate to the production in that it consisted, almost entirely, of songs made during the subsequent War rather than using music from the actual period in which the production was set. The singing of the ‘Lancashire Caruso’ (from his accent closer to Bolton than Blackburn) did, however, do the songs full justice.

Reviewed by Henry Falconer

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 My Leonard Cohen

Assembly Rooms (Venue 20)
19:45 Aug 16-27 1 hour
20 minutes

myleonardcohenRight from the get go I knew I was going to love this show. Stewart D’Arrietta and band started with two of my favourite Cohen songs – Everybody Knows and In My Secret Life. For me Leonard Cohen was a poet, a philosopher and a modern day prophet. A compassionate, exceptional and inspiring man.

Outside in the queue one of the staff had said two things – that the band were all Scottish and that Stewart sounded like Leonard Cohen. If he meant that the band were all Scottish and excluded Stewart (who is Australian) he was right on that score. As to Stewart sounding like Leonard, well he doesn’t. He has his own unique and very good voice. The whole show is a celebration of the life and work of Leonard Cohen but it isn’t an attempt to duplicate how he did things.

That’s true of the music too as there were some impressive rearrangements. It made you listen with a fresh perspective and it’s a tribute to the music that it can be reinterprated in such different ways and yet still stay true to the core.

Phil Alexander on piano-accordion probably had a lot to do with that. Incredibly talented as was the lead guitarist. In fact all the band brought something to the table – very much an ensemble effort.

Some reviews are mixed because those who expected a slavish copy of the music will be disappointed. If you go along knowing that some exceptional musicians are bringing their energy and style to a body of work then you will be delighted. I was thinking of the criticism of Bob Dylan when he was asked why he covered some many folk songs and why he didn’t do more of his own. His response was: “I like to think I make them my own”. Stewart and the rest of the band are, I think, adopting this approach!

As people left the hall they were still clapping and calling out congratulations to the band. I was among them.

Reviewed by Patrick Harrington

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JUST FESTIVAL: 100 Years of Balfour

St. John’s Church, Princes Street
Aug 15-16, 18-19
1 hour 20 minutes


The seeds of the Palestinian conflict were sown by Balfour

This production forms part of the Balfour Project – a commemoration of the Balfour Declaration of November 1917 which pledged British support for the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine whilst also promising to protect the rights of the existing indigenous Arab population. Contradicting, as it did the promises already given to the Arabs in 1915, the Declaration sowed the seeds of a future conflict with us to this day. The audience was presented with a meticulously-researched and balanced production based on original documents, leaving it spellbound throughout. Talulah Molleson, as the Voice of History, provided moving and beautifully sung vocal interludes. The commitment and sincerity of all who took part were obvious. We were left in no doubt that British duplicity and their subsequent abandonment of their promises to the Arabs are at the root of the current plight of the Palestinians. Running out of ideas of how to control the violence between Arabs and Jews, the British withdrew in 1948, handing over the problem to the United Nations, which in the aftermath of the Holocaust was strongly supportive of Zionist position (the Zionist Movement for the establishment of a Jewish National Home in Palestine was founded in 1898). The U.N. decided on Partition, resisted unsuccessfully by neighbouring Arab states, giving the newly-established state of Israel the first of its many opportunities to expand its borders.

The story was told imaginatively and was easy to follow – no mean feat given the complexity of the issues involved. Britain’s motives were mixed. As an imperial power she was fighting alongside France and Russia against Germany in Europe – yet her greatest imperial rivals were – France and Russia! Indeed Britain and France had almost gone to war in 1898 over France’s resentment at British dominance in Egypt. A Zionist presence in the region would help to check French ambitions. The Sykes-Picot secret Agreement of 1916 (effectively promising French dominance in Lebanon and Syria in return for British in Iraq and Palestine) was an attempt to pre-empt similar disagreement after the war. And how ironic that at the same time as fighting alongside the most anti-semitic regime in Europe (Russia) the British should be promoting Zionist interests!

100 Years of Balfour did not shirk difficult issues. I was particularly impressed by the emphasis given to the opposition of Edward Montagu, the one Jewish member of the British cabinet, to the Balfour Declaration – on the grounds that it was likely to promote anti-semitism in other countries as well as cause insuperable problems in Palestine itself. But the needs of War, not least the support of Jewish interests in the United States, and British imperial concerns came first.


Reviewed by Henry Falconer

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BREXIT the Musical

DSC_0796At: C Venues, Chambers Street, Edinburgh

Until 28 August

It’s 24 June 2016 and Boris wakes up to the horrible realisation that Leave has accidentally won the EU Referendum. Worse follows when he and Michael discover that George is suffering from amnesia and not only does he now think that he is a journalist but he has lost The Plan of what to do if the country did indeed vote to leave. The boys set-off on a Holy Grail like quest to find The Plan under the direction of the leather trouser clad new Prime Minister, Theresa, who does not suffer any dilly-dallying on the matter.

This musical comedy is a little over an hour of rip-roaring entertainment with a fine cast DSC_0797and a host of new and original songs from the outgoing PM David giving the kind of farewell address that he might really have liked to give the nation outside of Number 10 to Andrea singing about how mother is always right to Jeremy bemoaning how the Brexit vote will stop him getting to Glastonbury. Our politicians are mimicked with some skill and the witty and snappy dialogue leaves the audience with a smile on their faces as well as a few laugh out loud moments.

With no strong bias against either side you will enjoy BREXIT the Musical whether you were a Leaver or Remainer last June.

Reviewed by David Andrews

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The Wonderful, Horrible Life of Leni Riefenstahl


Tom McNabb gave a balanced and informative view of the controversial Leni Riefenstahl

I didn’t know quite what to expect of this. Leni Riefenstahl (Helene Riefenstahl) was a controversial and complex figure. She was a German dancer and actress in the first part of her life. Tom McNabb relates her training in ballet and her surprise hit tour of Germany as an interpretive dancer. Tom has even tracked down footage of her dancing which he shows as he narrates the tale. She was also a popular -the star of a number of German director Arnold Fanck’s silent motion pictures, typically set in the Alps (so-called Bergfilme). Tom showed us a clip from one of these which shows a confident, empowered and daring woman beckoning a male climber who has lagged behind her. This part of her life indicates her love of nature, appreciation of human beauty and a pagan sensibility. There is a kind of wildness or recklessness just below the surface.

Sadly, this period of her life (as well as the later period of her life) is little known. Leni will perhaps always be best known for her propaganda films in support of the National Socialist Party (the Nazis). Perhaps it was almost inevitable that Leni would fall under the malign spell of Hitler. He was a big fan of her first major feature film, Das blaue Licht (The Blue Light) which was released in 1932. Riefenstahl had heard Hitler speak and was mesmerised by him.

In 1933, Hitler asked Riefenstahl to direct a short film, Der Sieg des Glaubens (The Victory of Faith), shot at that year’s Nuremberg Nazi Party Rally. The film was a basis for her more infamous work, Triumph des Willens (Triumph of the Will), shot at the Nuremberg Rally the following year, in 1934. Tom showed clips from this film. There is no doubt that it was a masterpiece of propaganda which almost worships power through numbers and organisation. Yet there are also small human touches such as when we see young boys straining to reach up and see what was going on. This is part of what made her propaganda films so dangerous. Alongside the glorification of totalitarian power is a human touch. It is this combination that seduced the audience at the time and still grips now despite our awareness of the horrors inflicted by the Nazi regime. The content cannot be divided from the innovative film technique which is used to support and craft it.

Tom tells how he came to see Olympia, which documented the Summer Olympics in Berlin in 1936 and how he was fixated from the opening shots. These were later to influence the hit film Chariots of Fire which Tom was involved in making. It was for Olympia that Riefenstahl pioneered numerous cinematographic techniques, such as filming footage with cameras mounted on rails (commonly known today as tracking shots) and underwater filming. Germany won most gold medals in the game (33). They also won most Silver (26) and Bronze (30). The United States came second.

When we think of these Olympics now many would not be aware of that. The focus is on Jesse Owens.

Owens captured four gold medals (the 100 metre, the long jump, the 200 meter and the 400-meter relay), and broke two Olympic records along the way. Owens record for the world broad jump would last 25 years until being broken by Olympian Irvin Roberson in 1960. Tom showed us clips from Olympia where crowds cheered Owens and we heard an enthusiastic German commentary on his performance. We also saw a smiling Hitler seemingly enjoying his performance. All at odds with tales of Hitler storming out of the stadium or refusing to shake his hand. Owens himself was more critical of segregated America than Hitler. There is a detailed discussion on his Wikipedia page for those interested:

Tom points out the irony of a non-segregated Olympic village under the Nazis at a time when they would not have been able to mix in the US!

Leni witnessed an atrocity in the war (the massacre of Polish partisans) and her enthusiasm for the Nazis seemed to wane (though she filmed Hitler entering Warsaw). After the war she was treated harshly in comparison to others. She was locked up in first a prison and then an asylum for over three years. Veit Harlan, who had directed such crude and damaging Nazi propaganda works as Jüd Süss and Kolberg, for example, returned to a flourishing directorial career in the 1950s. I suspect that it was partly bitterness at her treatment that prevented her from ever really apologising for her role as she should have done. She was, as Tom pointed out, a stubborn lady.

The emphasis on her association with Nazism also deflects from an awareness of her later life. Tom adopts a more balanced approach showing stills she took whilst living with the Nuba tribe of the Sudan. We also see photos she took in her late seventies, when, amazingly she got involved in underwater cinematography.

At the end of the production we were shown a short film (Leni, Leni) that Tom had written about her life. It took up many of the themes in the talk through Leni at earlier ages/life stages talking with an aged Leni. There is a resolution in the film which probably was not reflected in her life itself. That’s excusable as we all wish it had happened and artists deserve some license after all.

It was an unusual but fascinating evening. I highly recommend it if you ever get the chance to see it in your area or at the next Fringe.

Reviewed by Patrick Harrington

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