Posts Tagged Edinburgh Fringe 2016



A passionate production of this dystopian nightmare by Close Up theatre

theSpace @ Jury’s Inn (Venue 260)

Till August 27
45 minutes
This abridged version of the classic dystopian nightmare by George Orwell from Close Up theatre is gripping. It can’t have been easy to condense the themes into 45 minutes but somehow they did it. Just three central characters Winston Smith (Geraint Downing), Julia (Lara Deering} and O’Brien (Harriet Thomas) interact to show the reality of life under a ruthless and confident totalitarian State. A State in which your every gesture, act and expression is monitored for signs of ‘disloyalty’. Of course Orwell was influenced by his understanding of Stalinism but the attempt to deny any objective reality beyond power has never been confined to one ideological or political tendency. That’s why, though Stalinism has thankfully long bitten the dust, the warnings Orwell gives are still very telling.
This production is played with great passion and energy. I wouldn’t single out any three of the actors as they are all so good with the material they are working with (though, for me, O’Brien was given the best lines by Orwell!). The torture scene between O’Brien and Smith was harrowing and fascinating – all at once. As with the description of the hanged man in Plato we wanted to look away but we were drawn to it.
I believe that there is a connection between this company and the company that did Antigone (Eleventh Hour). I am very impressed by both productions. Both deal with dictatorship in different ways. If you can go and see the two . You will not be disappointed.
Five Stars
Reviewed by Pat Harrington
Technical Desk: Lucy Elmes
Technical Desk: Gabriella Stills
Producer: Rebecca Vines

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An ancient play resonates with modern issues in this passionate production from Eleventh Hour

theSpace @ Surgeons Hall (Venue 53)
Till August 27
1 hour

Antigone is believed to have been written by Sophocles in 441 b.c. For such an ancient play it has a very modern feel and message and that is heightened by this production.

The plot centres on the decision of Angtigone (Elsie Ireland) to defy the command of Governer Creon that her brother Polyneices’ body should remain unburied because he is a ‘traitor’, outside the city walls, to be defiled by the ravages of wild animals and birds. In deciding to bury him Antigone asserts the primacy of the law of the Gods over man. Nor does she seek to deny that she knew of the ruling on her brother when questioned. It is a classic tale of civil disobedience. It raises questions about the limits of State authority and the exercise of power without regard to either good counsel or tradition.

This production by Eleventh Hour Theatre reinforces the sense of modernity with soundclips of Blair, Cameron and George W Bush ranting against terrorism and disorder and promising uncompromising ‘robust’ or ‘tough’ action. Perhaps most telling is Bush saying “If you are not with us you are with the terrorists”. Bush and Creon both ignore the possibility of a third way or even neutrality. Everything in their world is black or white and there are no shades of grey. The company also, at times, wear terrorist (or special forces) style balaclavas. Sometimes it is difficult to know which is which!

So many questions are raised by Antigone. It is at heart though, a cautionary tale warning against arrogance and an inability to listen to others. Creon (played passionately and well by Jake Deasy) is warned by his son Haemon (Charlie Coobs) and the prophet Teiresias (Oliver Evans) amongst others that his decisions are wrong. By the time he takes heed it is just too late.

I really enjoyed this interpretation by Eleventh Hour. It’s a play performance that makes it clear that the themes of this ancient play are still important today. The lesson that a desire for conformity and order can produce chaos is not missed. As the notes to the production state:

“The implosion of his self-created police state, rife with brutality and a total disregard for civil liberties, will bring Creon to his knees, as he sees everything that the sought to protect fall apart before his very eyes. Violence, betrayal and rebellion will see the streets run red with royal blood.”

A timely production and a lesson for the wise.

Five Stars

Reviewed by Patrick Harrington

Cast and Crew

Antigone: Elsie Ireland
Ismene: Ginny Troughton
Chorus Leader: Sam Wheatley
Creon: Jake Deasy
Sentry: Max Evans
Haemon: Charlie Coombs
Teiresias: Oliverr Evans
Eurydice: Lydia Maxwell
Directors: Max Evans and Charlie Coombs
Producer: Rebecca Vines
Sound Design: Owen Crouch
Translated by David Grene

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Simply Bowie


Darley interprets Bowie skillfully

Frankenstein Pub, Edinburgh
26 George Iv Bridge, Edinburgh, EH1 1EN
1840-1940 till 29 August

Sometimes free shows are free because they aren’t very good. That isn’t the case here. Singer Oliver Darley amd Pianist Chad Lelong interpret the songs of David Bowie in a nuanced and subtle way. The audience was still and concentrating on the performance transfixed by the way each song had been skillfully varied yet kept the essense of the original.

There was some commentary of the context of the songs and the audience were encouraged to shout out answers if they thought they knew them.

Bowie hits like Changes and Heroes were all there alongside less well known songs. Darley has a fine voice – “One of the UK’s greatest white voices” according to BB King. He didn’t mimic or slavishly copy (even changing changes dropping the ch, ch, ch!).

A great show and great German beer like Löwenbräu (from Munich) on tap. What more could you ask for?

Reviewed by Pat Harrington
Four Stars

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No Exit (Huis Clos)


A well acted and interesting adaptation of a Satre classic

theSpace @ Jury’s Inn (Venue 260)
Aug 23-26
50 minutes

As I walked in I was welcomed to hell. The show is an adaptation of Jean-Paul Sartre’s classic directed by Charlie Rogers. Satre’s version of hell isn’t the traditional one of fire and brimstone. The torture is mental and subtle rather than physical and crude. It’s summed up in the famous phrase “Hell is other people”. It’s a surprising take and who would expect this to include IKEA furniture and a TV set?

The young actors in this show all bring something to the table. It’s an ensemble effort. Though I particularly liked  the expressions of the staff demon who conveyed a knowing, smug sadism whilst saying little. This adaptation from the Stahl theatre (based in Oundle) was very well done. If you enjoy thought-provoking and well acted drama go see it.

Cast and Crew

Valet- Charlie Rogers
Joseph Garcin – Tom Younger
Inès Serrano – Coco Brown
Estelle Rigault –  Hetty Hodgson
Designer – Lizzie Lee

Five stars
Reviewed by Patrick Harrington

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The Remains of Tom Lehrer (Performed by Adam Kay)


Adam Kay provides a great introduction to the life and dark humour of Tom Lehrer

Gilded Balloon Teviot, Edinburgh
13 Bristo Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9AJ
Till Monday 29 August (not Wednesday)

I was introduced to the satirical songs of Tom Lehrer by a good friend. I first heard National Brotherhood Week and then went on to listen to many more. His darkly funny songs have both entertained and horrified audiences for decades. It was good to see that though Lehrer retired from performing over fifty years ago the audience at the show contained many young people.

Adam Kay took us through the life of Lehrer in a roughly chronological order with amusing commentary interspersed between the songs. Some of the songs had been updated but where historical context was needed Kay provided it (as with  Alma where he told us about her three husbands: Gustav Mahler, composer; Walter Gropius, of the Bauhaus school of design; and author Franz Werfel).

The updated version of The Masochism Tango was very good and Kay performed both this and the original. It’s brave to update and reinvent some classic songs but Kay pulls it off.

Kay performed well known and less well known songs (although sadly not Wernher Von Braun, one of my favourites) and even encouraged some audience participation. We were asked to shout out suggestions on a variation of the L-Y song. One brave member of the audience even got up on stage and sang The Elements (although he was provided with lyrics!).

Kay is an accomplished performer who is clearly knowledgeable about the life of Tom Lehrer and his songs. I was amazed to hear the poem sent to Harvard by Lehrer as an application. Fans of Tom Lehrer will love this show (as I did) and those who haven’t yet been introduced to his black humour are in for a treat. I’ve seen quite a few shows at the Fringe this year but this one has been the most fun!

Five stars

Reviewed by Patrick Harrington

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Call Mr Robeson


Robeson: a complex man

Spotlites (Venue 278)
Aug 23, 25, 27
1 hour 20 minutes

Dirt & Candy described this show as: “A brilliantly put together history lesson delivered as art.”

Tayo Aluko who plays Robeson certainly informs us about the famous US Communist and Civil Rights campaigner who was also internationally acclaimed as an entertainer. Like Robeson himself this show entertains and informs.

Call Mr Robeson depicts a complex man. A man who loved his wife Essie but conducted numerous affairs. A man who sang spirituals in churches but was a Communist. A man of incredible intelligence who was fooled by the lure of Soviet Communism under Stalin. Someone who sang songs (including Ol’ Man River with use of the ‘N-word’) and acted in films (Ilike Sanders of the River) with politically questionable lyrics and assumptions but used the fame these gave him to construct a platform to condemn the very same.

For me his attraction to Stalinism is the most difficult thing to reconcile with his many fine qualities. As late as April 1953, shortly after Joseph Stalin’s death he wrote a eulogy entitled To You Beloved Comrade for the New World Review, in which he praised Stalin’s “deep humanity,” “wise understanding,” and dedication to peaceful co-existence with all peoples of the world calling him “wise and good”. There is little evidence that he ever revised his view of either the Soviet Union or Stalin.

The show takes us through his life using framed pictures of loved ones as props on a set with Soviet, International Brigade, Welsh, US and British flags.

Robeson was a talented man, a professional footballer, an accomplished orator, a lawyer and a singer and actor. He was deeply influenced and guided by his father (at one time a slave who becae a Pastor). Yet this remarkable man was born into a country where he would often be judged not on his ability or character but the colour of his skin.

Aluko plays Robeson engagingly in a conversational style punctuated by renditions of songs like Old Man River and The Battle of Jericho. Robeson faces many trials and tribulations because of his sincerely held beliefs. His income fell dramatically as a result of cancelled contracts and bookings on account of his outspoken opinions. He suffered FBI surveillance and harassment and had travel restrictions placed on him. His right to travel was only finally restored by the 1958 United States Supreme Court decision, Kent v. Dulles. We should recall, however, that dissidents in the Soviet Union at the time were treated somewhat more harshly!

Robeson was a man who seldom backed down. When he was summoned before the House Un-American Activities Committee he was defiant. He refused to sign an affidavit affirming he was not a Communist instead taking the fifth  (the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution giving the right to not incriminate yourself). He also gave them an ear-bashing!

The songs are great and although Aluko is, I think, a baritone and Robeson a bass he does a fine job of performing them. I particularly liked his performance of the Battle of Jericho (which I remembered fondly from attending services at the Meropolitan Tabernacle in London when young).

I really enjoyed the performance from Aluko and learning more about Paul Robeson. It was great to see this depiction of a strong, intelligent man who, though not without flaws, remained steadfast in his belief (even in the face of adversity) that a better world was possible.

Four Stars
Reviewed by Patrick Harrington

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Dominic Frisby: Let’s Talk About Tax

frisbyGilded Balloon Teviot until 28th August
Dominic Frisby manages the seemingly impossible task of making the subject of tax both amusing and interesting in this one man show. With some extremely low-tech but effective props including home-made charts and a wooden spoon he takes the audience through various historical events including the birth of Christ and the signing of the Magna Carta in which taxation played a part. Sometimes taxes could have the opposite effect from that which was intended such as the Russian Beard Tax. Introduced by Peter the Great in attempt to westernise Russia, bearded men were required to pay a tax and hang a token on their beards to show that they had paid. Eventually the token, (and the beard that it hung from), became status symbols and thus the deterrent effect of the tax wore off.
The stage was divided into two halves with the microphone on the audience’s right being used when Frisby wished to make a joke and a soapbox and megaphone on the left being utilised when he wished to make a political or economic point. The small, intimate setting of the Balcony of the Gilded Balloon Teviot combined with the charts suspended at the rear gave an almost classroom or lecture hall feel to proceedings, but Frisby’s energetic and witty performance ensured that the audience did not think that they had returned to a boring economics lesson from their school or university days. His illustrations of how taxes are raised and spent were concise and readily understandable.
If you want to learn a little about taxation past or present for the first time or even build on your existing knowledge of the subject then this show is recommended.
Four Stars
Reviewed by Andrew Hunter

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Mike Ward: Freedom of Speech Isn’t Free

mikewardGilded Balloon Teviot, Edinburgh
13 Bristo Square, Edinburgh, EH8 9AJ
Till 28 August 2016

The title of the show is a reference to the fact that Mike Ward was fined £25,000 by the Quebec Human Rights Commission for telling an offensive joke about a child, Gabriel, (now an adult) who suffers from Treacher Collins Syndrome. Gabriel was a well-known figure in Quebec after he was flown to Rome at the age of 10 years old to sing for Pope Benedict in 2006.

Julius Grey, Ward’s lawyer, argued that the nature of comedy was ‘almost always mean and hard’.

‘The position that we will put forward is that there needs to be larger artistic freedoms,’ he said in court. Ward lost the case but has appealed. At the time he tweeted: ‘Even Rocky lost the first one’.

His Fringe show indicated that he was still prepared to offend with references to paedophilia, necrophilia, bestiality, domestic abuse, infanticide and incest. It certainly has the power to offend but is it funny? The answer I’d give is – sometimes. I found the over frequent empahsis on paedophillia wearing but the piece he did on watching gay porn with his wife was very funny. The best part of the show to me was when he interacted with the audience. He asked a gay couple in the front row some quite intrusive questions about their sex life but their unashamed responses and the banter between Ward and them were excellent. So too when he asked a French Canadian girl in the audience when she stopped having sex during pregnancy and she replied, sharp as a razor, that she didn’t do it at the hospital! He had less luck with a guy who admitted taking viagra but then, perhaps wisely, decided to turn more taciturn about his experience.

My sympathies are with Ward’s right to offend but I would like to see him adopt a more nuanced approach as he has not developed to his full potential as a comic. Despite some of the offensive content it’s hard not to see the warmth and humanity in Ward. If he moves beyond his current emphasis on shocking people and breaking taboos to encompass provoking a greater variety of emotional reactions he will go from a good comic to a great one.

Go see the show if only to defend the right to be offensive and push limits. Ward jokes about drowning a young kid (amongst other things) but he points out it’s an imaginary kid. There is no real crime. “It’s a joke”. It’s sad he has to point that out. Let’s not forget either that if we don’t like a view or joke we can say so. We can even tell our own joke. Freedom of Speech isn’t only not free but invaluable.

Four stars

Reviewd by Patrick Harrington

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The Unknown Soldier

The-Unknown-Soldier-Assembly-Landscape.jpgThe Unknown Soldier
Written and performed by Ross Ericson

Assembly Hall Baillie Room 13:45
Aug 4 – Aug 29
Performance time – 13:45
Duration: 50 minutes

We’ve just passed the centenary of the start of the Battle of the Somme and plays about the First World War are coming out thick and fast. Ross Ericson’s one man play has to be one of the best plays produced about the tragic conflict.

Ericson brings real feeling to his role as Sergeant Jack Vaughan, a man who stayed on after the armistice to search the battlefields for the remains of the men who could never go home.

This outstanding performance is moving beyond words. It gets behind the jingoistic, superficial, phoney plastic patriotism that talks about our glorious dead and that perverts the message of Christ into a claim ‘that greater love hath no man than this: that he lay down his life for his King and Country’. This play is closer to Christ’s true message; ‘that he lay down his life for his friends’.

As Ericson is talking to the audience, he has Jack addressing his dead comrade and fulfilling a promise he made to him amid the shells and gas and the horror of the trenches. It’s a wonderful mix of trench gallows humour and pathos as he recollects the steps the poor bloody infantry took to humanise their situation in the midst of unimaginable horror.

This is a superb play. Do not miss it.

Reviewed by David Kerr

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Go to Hell, Jesus

gotohelljesusGo to Hell, Jesus
The Space at Surgeons Hall
15-18 August, 2016
£5 (£3)

Owing to some sort of bureacratic heavenly cock-up, Jesus Christ ends up in Hell after the Rapture and the Second Coming. Oops…

In this comedy play, Hell is a bit of a bureacratic nightmare. Jesus is accompanied by the demon Beelzebub in order to get through to Satan’s office to sort the bungle out and return him to the heavenly realms. Jesus is stalked through the infernal regions by an old enemy – Judas Iscariot – who is seriously annoyed that his good name has become a byword for treachery and betrayal for two thousand years. In the meantime Satan, (or Karen to her friends), discovers a few facts too.

This play is not all that daring. It’s mildly amusing but it won’t set the streets on fire. Some of the jokes are lamer than the paralytic man Jesus healed. Militant Christians are not likely to be so offended that they will burn down the theatre or burn the author at the stake. Some might even say, What’s new? According to the Apostle’s Creed, Jesus did descend to hell for three days between his death and his resurrection. Most will ignore it; if they even know it exists.

Nevertheless, despite the imperfections, there were some fine performances from the actors, especially the young women who played Judas and Satan.

Reviewed by David Kerr

Three Stars ***

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