Monday, August 18, 2008

The Tell-Tale Heart

Malthouse Melbourne
The maddeningly slow fade out of the houselights and the darkness that follows sets a suitably uncomfortable tone for Poe’s short story. Martin Niedermair gives an entrancing performance as the murderer, his dementia captured by the stuttering, twitchy delivery and his scrambling up and down an endless staircase. Director Barrie Kosky accompanies on piano, the chilling soundtrack and Niedermair’s haunting singing voice combining to raise the tension of the piece. However, while the staging and performance are wonderfully unsettling, the main problem comes from the source material. For what is meant to be an insight into the mind of a murderer this play lacks the real psychological intrigue that’s expected. Inexplicable insanity is disturbing to watch, but not particularly satisfying.
Royal Lyceum Theatre, 9 – 11 Aug, Times Vary, From £10, eifp 10.

The Magical Jello Returns, Again!

Calum Fleming
It’s a surreal experience watching a children’s magician plying his trade and realising that nothing has changed in 17 years. The props, the tricks and the crappy puns are exactly the same now as they ever were. There’s certainly a case for the ‘if it ain’t broke’ argument and given the uncontrollable hyperactive hysteria radiating off the young children the old routines are still as popular with their target audience as they ever were. Despite this Calum Fleming appeared nervous in his performance, he could stand to relax a whole lot more. Also this is the kind of show you’d expect at a children’s birthday, there are a lot more imaginative ways to keep children entertained at the Fringe.
Diverse Attractions, 11 – 16 Aug, 11.15 am (12.05pm), £4.00, fpp 16.

Christmas Is Miles Away

High Aces Theatre Company
You can’t help but wonder at the thought process that goes into the decision to bring a play like Christmas Is Miles Away to the Fringe. It’s not exactly a cheap and stress-free time of year, so your play needs to have something distinctive or unique about it to separate it from the myriad of other shows.
To say Christmas Is Miles Away is bland in every sense may sound harsh but there really is so little of it that offers some sort of original entertainment. The concept of two teenage boys, Christie and Luke, who are best buds before their friendship breaks down via female catalyst Julie is played out as predictably as possible. Meanwhile brief moments of sincere meshing of script, character and actor are not enough to distract from the nagging lack of imagination that’s gone into the production. When Christie expresses his near-constant angst-riddled frustration for the 53rd time by sticking his hands in his pockets, sighing and turning to the audience the shortage of ideas becomes almost comical.
It may be that a script that murmurs the death of Christie’s father a couple of times as an unimportant detail and cuts out just as scenes are clawing towards development made it hard for the director and actors to find something to latch on to.
However it happened, the end result is an average piece of theatre. There’s nothing shockingly bad, but why watch it when you can see everything it does done better?
The Space @ Jury's Inn, 11 - 16 Aug , 5.05pm (6.25pm), £7.50 (£7.00), fpp 191.

The Park Keeper

Belt Up
This grotesque macabre piece has no seating arrangements, the audience being scattered around the Red Room, a dark and decaying boudoir of a space specifically created for the show, by actors painted up with black and white faces who take coats and bags, chatting away in their bizarre characters. It’s a perturbing introduction and sets the tone nicely for the show.
What follows is a curious hour of theatre. The actors throw themselves around, distorting and contorting their bodies in spasmodic movements, with effortless ease of physicality. Audience members are danced with, brought into scenes and generally forced into this disturbing gothic freakshow of a world that the cast have created. It’s a well-executed piece of immersion theatre and shows great imagination on the company’s behalf.
However, despite the voyeuristic joy of watching these weird figures there’s something missing in the writing. It is apparent what writer and director Nikolaus Morris is going for in his exposure of decadence, control and the animalistic urges of humans, but there is a lack of clarity in the communication. By the end any chances of grasping at exactly the meaning is has been lost in a script that could do with more tightness and precision in its wording.
The Park Keeper is one of a series of five plays by Belt Up and this company’s ambitions and obvious talent mark them out as a group that can only get better as they

Damian Callinan In ‘Mmm… They’re Small’

Damian Callinan
Damian Callinan’s personal story of dealing with impotency is probably as close to feelgood male empowerment comedy as it gets. Whatever that is. His introduction as a nurse handing out semen sample cups doesn’t bode well but his skill lies in attacking the subject of male impotency with honesty, exposing the hilarity behind the situation with anecdotes that, while knob-related, aren’t too cheap.
The delivery is at times unintentionally awkward, there are various cardboard characters and jokes are either missed by the audience or, in the case of using a plunger to offer a sample to the front row, too terrifying for some to enjoy. If comedy is a wank, this is a guilty trip to your mum’s underwear drawer.
Gilded Balloon Teviot, 30 Jul – 24 Aug (not 12), 6.15pm (7.15pm), £9.50 (£8.50), ffp 43.


Avalon Promotions
There’s something about Zimbani that doesn’t quite click. This 70s spy adventure pastiche is great fun for its ridiculous male posturing, bad ‘taches and absurdly dramatic dialogue, but it’s a narrow genre that’s been done before. If a joke misses it’s normally because the audience have already seen where it’s going. The script ripples with nice ideas and wit, there’s a good consistency of jokes, but the narrative never leads anywhere, in the end barely saving itself from an attempted abortion in order to draw to a conclusion. Despite its flaws there is obvious talent in the performances and if the words Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace mean nothing to you then you’re in for a treat of an hour.
Pleasance Courtyard, 30 Jul – 25 Aug (not 20), 2.45pm (3.45pm), £9.50 (£8.50), ffp 111.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Titus Andronicus

Renowned as Shakespeare’s gorefest, Titus Andronicus has little to recommend it over other tragedies beyond its uber-violence and the unsettling effect it can have on its audience. It’s such a shame then that this production shows no imagination in its staging. The violence is more bland than disturbing, the plethora of opportunities to draw an unwillingly complicit audience into a visceral world of bloodlust involve either a desensitised and unconnected stabbing motion, or, even more criminally, the distant and utterly pointless inclusion of video footage. Only Bob Hamilton as Titus shows any taste for the manic, the final image of him dressed as a bloody chef giving the briefest of glimpses at what could have been a grotesque macabre piece.
Sweet ECA, 2 – 9 Aug, 2.35pm (4.05pm), £8.00 (£7.00), fpp 237.

Nola Rae – Exit Napolean Pursued By Rabbits

Nola Rae
The beauty of this show is in its simplicity. Utilising nothing more than a battered Napoleonic soldier’s equipment and flimsy tent Nola Rae’s carefully choreographed clowning pokes wonderful fun at military figures. Her ability to turn a woolly pair of socks into a rabbit, a leather satchel and coat into the vivid image of a soldier, show an expert imagination and comic eye for transforming basic items into instantly recognisable characters or props. At times the narrative path lacks clarity and the gaps between certain set-ups and payoffs are too prolonged, but her ability to work with an audience and keep them entertained and engrossed for the majority of an hour without uttering a word is remarkable. I salute her!
Footsbarn’s Big Top at Calton Hill, 2 – 15 Aug, 5.00pm (6.20pm), £10.00 (£8.00), fpp 219.

Infanta: User's Guide

Erika Blaxland-de Lange
Due to a recent habit I have developed I shall be reviewing this show in the form of a haiku. If you think this makes me a self-indulgent and talentless git who is wasting your time and saying less than nothing then you have an exact appreciation of what this show is like. So-called Magherita for the briefest of moments gave a knowing reference to the theatrical pain she was inflicting on the audience but what these performers need to realise is that communicating deeply personal emotions through random phrases and cries requires some inherent semblance of thought and talent. Anyway, here’s the haiku:
Jumbled and pointless
Half the crowd left and were right
This is just painful.
Laughing Horse @ The Counting House, 31 Jul – 10 Aug, 7.05pm (7.55pm), Free, fpp 206.

Friday, August 08, 2008

Another Side Of The Mirror

Lynn Ruth Miller
Lynn Ruth Miller is playing with loaded dice here. You’d have to posses a heart of purest black cynicism to slag off this 75 year-old Fringe veteran as she relates stories of her life and the lessons she has learned.
She tells her tales as you would imagine a loving grandmother would to her grandchildren, recalling the first glimpses of sexuality, the trials of overcoming illness and the general warmth, love and beauty that can be found in the most mundane and unexpected of places. She is a cosy shroud that blocks out the negativity of a cruel world and makes you realise that even if you are a clearly batshit-crazy eccentric old lady there’s a place for you in this life.
It’s not gut-wrenching drama, there is no grand climax here or hidden subtlety, but it is honest and true, at least if the affirmative nods and knowing laughs from the more middle-aged members of the audience were anything to go by. To call it sweet would be patronising, heart-warming trite, but it captures something of what the Free Fringe should be about, a relaxing 50 minutes spent in the company of one who has experienced life and asks nothing but that you listen and hopefully take away a message of love and happiness.
The illusion’s disappeared now and the cynicism has returned to my heart but still I can’t shake that feeling that I should appreciate individuals for all their beauty. Curse you Lynn Ruth Miller!
Laughing Horse@The Argyle, 31 Jul – 25 Aug, 3.55pm (4.45pm), Free, fpp 183

Scaramouche Jones

Guy Masterson – TTI In Association With Passion Pit Theatre UK
Not so much the biography of a 100 year old clown, more an alternative telling of the more disturbing sides of the 20th Century, this production of Scaramouche Jones is practically flawless. Justin Butcher’s performance is as in-depth and considered as you would hope from the man who wrote the play, his physicality in his clowning and embodiment of different characters as he dives around the stage being both energetic and precise, knowing and touching. As Scaramouche slowly strips out of his clown costume the audience learns through a beautifully worded and layered script of the tragedy, the hardships and suffering that go into not just the clown figure but every human, and the masks worn to cover the scars.
Assembly @ George Street, 31 Jul – 25 Aug (not 11), 12.20pm (1.35pm), £13.00 (£12.00), fpp 228.

The Reduced Edinburgh Fringe Imro Show

The beauty of improvised comedy is that when it snaps it can be some of the quickest, wittiest comedy around. But instead of snapping the Scratch improv troupe spend the majority of the show making a damp sort of ‘plib’ noise. All the performers have the confidence and basic know-how to keep a scene running and a few laughs coming but technical niggles such as repeated glaring contradictions in the attempted long form musical and a reliance on the same improv games as everyone else puts them at a distance from the masters of the genre. John Mawer and keyboardist Phil Lunn show talent and no doubt some nights the show works. But the snap/plib ratio is slightly out.
Pleasance Courtyard, 30 Jul – 24 Aug, 6.40pm (7.40pm), £8.50 (££7.00), fpp 90.

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

New Electric Ballroom

In a self-contained colourless box three sisters are condemned to the re-telling of the destruction of early notions of romance at the New Electric Ballroom. Flashes of luminous colour in 50s dresses and cakes recall happy memories of youthful sexuality, everything else serves as a contrast. Enda Walsh’s script hurtles out lyrical images of the two sisters who have withdrawn themselves back into a womb of supposed comfort and forced their younger sister into a routine so binding that she denies the inevitable love interest of the only fishmonger who visits their cliff-side metal shack. What the audience are left with is a lasting image of the vulnerability of love and fancy and the dangers of repression.
Traverse Theatre, 2 – 24 Aug (not 11 & 18), Times vary, £18.00 (£16.00), fpp 218

80s Luke - Live At The Living Room Palladium

80s Luke
I debated for a long time about whether or not to write this review because when you’re the only person in the audience it’s fair to assume you’re not seeing the comedian at their best. But I’m sorry 80s Luke, your material was toss of the highest calibre, most of which I heard down the pub four years ago. As for your mate Tony… well… any comedian that still makes jokes using the hee-lare-ee-us prop of an arrow that fits around the top of his head deserves to be pinned up on the walls of the Royal Mile as a warning to any other comedians who want to waste the public’s time with generic horseshit. It’s free for a reason.
Laughing Horse@Espionage, 31 Jul – 9 Aug, 3.25pm (4.25pm), Free, fpp 48

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Breathing Corpses

Giving Breathing Corpses the benefit of the doubt, this is a brave piece on what happens when your actors and director use the title of the play as the direct inspiration for their interpretation. Not doing so would require a review full of easy puns involving words like ‘death’, ‘of’ and ‘theatre’.
It’s not entirely the actors fault, they lack the maturity and confidence for a proper understanding of the characters; so where is the direction? The outside hand that draws performances out from more than a murmur, awkward monotone delivery and clumsy climaxes? The play moves at such a deadening pace that you can smell the audience festering as they are forced into a coma by this mouldy work.
Sweet Grassmarket, 4 – 24 Aug, 9.10pm (10.20pm), £7.00 (£6.00), fpp 188

Off Out By Gill Adams

Crumpet Theatre Company
It’s probably a guilty mark of a cynical mind that a play about the seedy underworld of prostitution and its affect on a mother and son, a pimp and a junkie can be so predictable but still there’s nothing in the script of Off Out that you wouldn’t expect. Each character and event fills its own niche, ticking the social commentary boxes in a script that could easily shed 1/3rd of excess weight.
Thankfully a uniformly adept cast keep the audience’s attention, each actor drawing out the important aspects of their roles. Pamela Evans gives an especially acute and bleak performance as rag-doll no-hope junkie May. If anything Off Out shows how a dedicated cast can make a play work.
The Space@Jury’s Inn (V260), 1 – 9 Aug, 10.45am (11.55am), £7.00 (£6.00), fpp 220

Monday, August 04, 2008

Coming Up For Air

Coming Up For Air
There’s no doubting Orwell’s taste for despair. The looming inevitability of WW2 provides the backdrop for Coming Up For Air which sees George Bowling locked into his suburban existence, desperate to escape back to his childhood village. Inevitably though his old haunts have changed, the world has moved on and turned his favourite place into a rubbish dump.
The bitterness caused by the raping of this personal cherished past is vividly portrayed by Dominic Cavendish’s adaptation of Orwell’s book and Cruttenden’s performance brings across the anger, resentment and ultimately fear of what’s to come. Orwell’s pessimism of machine guns poking from English windows may have been proved wrong, but 70 years on his work still rings with a chilling resonance.
(The listing in the Fringe Programme is completely wrong, but it's on at the Assembly Rooms at 11.00am).

Eco-Friendly Jihad

Eco-Friendly Jihad
Abie Philbin Bowman
Abie Bowman claims that the title of the show is not meant to be controversial, which is a lie and also the major problem with what is otherwise a good comedy show. His tentative but honest approach to both the environmental and global issues he addresses makes sure that he is endeared to the majority of the crowd, and indeed it is difficult not to agree, laugh along and feel guilty about personal inaction. But he should hold back less and plunge the knife in further. Not only does Bowman get better laughs when he’s being more controversial, he also makes you think more. As it is the dips between laughs are too long and the acid too diluted.
Underbelly, 31 – 24 Aug (not 4 – 5, 11 – 12, 18 – 19), 3.55pm (4.55pm), £9.50 (£8.50), fpp 47

Craig Campbell

Craig Campbell
Underbelly Productions By Arrangement With Avalon Productions
Unbelievable. For the majority of the show a chainsaw and shovel sit on stage yet at no point does Craig Campbell do the honourable thing and put either of us out of our misery. This one man play about a crazy violent prisoner telling his story of how he ended up in jail after working at a Funfair isn’t big and certainly isn’t clever. There’s little development, intrigue or depth. It would be fine if it was funny and there are a few brief moments of comedy, mostly when Campbell slips into more of a stand-up routine, his usual medium of choice, but the bulk of the show is boring and awkward. Still, gotta love his taste in music.
Underbelly, 31 Jul – 24 Aug (not 12), 9.50pm (10.50pm), £11.50 (£10.50), fpp 42

Rob Deering Boobs 2008

Rob Deering Boobs 2008
Avalon Promotions
The publicity image is as disturbing as it is intriguing, with Rob Deering leering out, breasts heaving at the seams of a skimpy bikini. Thankfully the comedian has not had drastic surgery, but he has supposedly themed his new show on the nature of being both a feminist and a tits man. Apparently. In actual fact there’s nothing quite as challenging as that, and a good thing too. Deering is so disarmingly charming, with his big grin and (relatively) clean material that there’s never any question of sexual conventions being re-written. Instead the show is a witty evening with hilarious musical numbers involving deft footwork mixing, re-written classics and a gregarious atmosphere that would make a grumpy tortoise smile.
Underbelly’s Baby Belly, 31 – 24 Aug (not 20), 8.20pm (9.20pm), £10.50 (£9.50), fpp 92.

Reasonable Doubt

Reasonable Doubt
Guy Masterson – TTI In Association With Tamarama Rock Surfers AUS
In a glitzy hotel room ex-jurors Mitchell and Susan re-unite two years after a murder trial to confront each other about their illicit affair and the paths their lives have taken since. Reasonable Doubt is meant to be a play about unveiling the truth, finding out what is really going on beneath the surface. And so for an hour the audience is subjected to the repeated distorted lies of two entirely unsympathetic characters. Their constant changing of events and sledgehammer revelations are so uninteresting and tedious because there’s nothing but antipathy for Mitchell and Susan. The performances range from competent to shaky, the real doubt in the play arising over whether the actors have a grip on the piece.
Assembly @ George Street, 1 – 25 Aug (not 11), 10.45am (12.00pm), £12.00 (£11.00), fpp 225.

Neil Delamere: Creme Delamere

Neil Delamere: Crème Delamere
Lisa Richards In Association With Edcom8

Irish comedian Neil Delamere has good home support at this Fringe. The inevitable ‘Who here is from Ireland?’ question at the start of the show was met with a telling cheer from 90% of the audience, while the 2% English contingent remained resolutely tentative.

Delamere’s popularity with the Irish is due to his role as a presenter for The Panel, a weekly chat show that broadcasts on Ireland’s RTE Two which has also featured fellow comedians Ed Byrne, Dara O’Briain and Andrew Maxwell.

The vague concept of Crème Delamere is a holiday Delamere spent in Stockholm getting kicked out of galleries, near misses with trams and awkward sex with a 6’2” Swedish stunner involving the Bible and a phone book. These instances provide Delamere with excuses to go off on comedic tangents that are charmingly humourous and thankfully devoid of clichés but which are too disparate, sounding like a list of unrelated events, to create any sense of a cohesive whole.

There are obvious signs of talent, the charm he works on the audience and an off-the-cuff joke involving a recently engaged couple, an old antique dealer, a policeman and a philosophy student sitting in the audience highlight a quick wit and none of the jokes fall flat, but at no point does Delamere raise the show beyond the safe, comfortable and cosy level which it needs.

The fact that Byrne and O’Briain have become household names this side of the sea while Delamere remains a relative unknown stand-up speaks volumes about Café Delamere.

The Secret Fantasies Of Alice Pobbs, Aged 35 1/4

The Secret Fantasies Of Alice Pobbs, Aged 35 ¼
Lippy Lyrics
Alice Pobbs is a middling receptionist who takes time out to imagine what her life would be like as an assortment of female characters from office tart to WI Tory lady.
The show isn’t bad, more shockingly offensive. The overriding message is that women should expect nothing more from life than being content with their shitty lot. Anna Pelly’s singing voice is adequate but tellingly the more challenging songs are pre-recorded and the disgustingly clichéd characters are handled with all the deftness and subtlety of a mastectomy. If she had chosen any other social group other than white women to satirise in such a humourless and derivative fashion Anna Pelly would have been taken out onto the Grassmarket and lynched.
Sweet Grassmarket, 1 – 10 Aug, 1.00pm, £8.00 (£7.00), fpp 94.

Foreskin's Lament

Foreskin’s Lament
Trailer Trash Theatre
Setting a play in the midst of a local New Zealand rugby team is not as daft an idea as non-rugby fans might imagine (admittedly the play’s title doesn’t help). The sense of loyalty and camaraderie that goes into a rugby team, the trust that players place in each other and the chance of things going drastically wrong means there’s great potential for conflict and almost Shakespearian tragedy, especially amongst the Kiwis who are passionate to a fault over rugby.
Unfortunately Foreskin’s Lament comes close to good drama but never quite hits the mark. The characters are too stock and lacking in depth for the audience to ever really understand them. Clean (all the players have these vaguely explained nicknames) scowls and acts the tough villain, but we’re never offered an understanding of why he’s such a bastard, he just is. Foreskin has a noticeably different attitude to the others with his ‘Univarsity’ education but the eloquence of his lines is clunky at best and descends into the downright ridiculous by the end. Moira acts simply as a voice of explanation for the play and opposition to the traditional coach Tupper while the other characters slowly fade into the background.
There’s tantalising glimpses of the differences of class, masculinity and violence in the game of rugby here, which is why Foreskin’s Lament is so frustrating in its lack of ability to plunge into its material and draw out the really interesting social commentary in a coherent and intelligent manner.
Pleasance Courtyard, 3 – 25 Aug (not 17), 12.50pm (2.00pm), £10.00 (£8.00), fpp 200

Bite The Dust

Bite The Dust
Teatr Provisorium and Kompania Teatr
“Fucking shit!” the four Polish soldiers shout repeatedly as they topple back and forth, crashing the giant wooden poles on their backs into the stage. These are the first words they utter and ominously describe the situation they find themselves in: alone in the woods, fighting desperately against invisible enemies and searching for some semblance of meaning in the inanities of conflict.

With Bite The Dust Polish theatre company Teatr Provisorium and Kompania Teatr have aimed to present a universal vision of the senselessness and cruelty that soldiers suffer during resistance conflict and the results are as powerful as they are bleak. The shit and grime of fighting covers their bodies, gradually eroding at their humanity. What begin as disciplined, marching figures shrouded in shadows are gradually stripped down as the absurdity of their situation is laid bare, until the CO is reduced to a hysterical chicken, breaking into fits of tears.

The staging here is perfect. A an old wooden cart provides transport and shelter, the distance and incompetence of the commander’s orders are relayed through an old gramophone, while the wooden posts strapped to the soldier’s backs represent both the forest and stakes the soldiers are bound to, waiting for their inevitable execution.

At times chunks of the script are lost in the thick Polish accents and the overall message of endurance and absurdity is one that has been heard before, but the raw imagery, blackest of humour and the poignant ending make Bite The Dust an important show to see.
Freemason’s Hall, 1 – 25 Aug (not 13), 5.00pm (6.30pm), £14.00 (£11.00), fpp 186