Sunday, 30 August 2015

Edfest Day 26: And now, the end is near; And so I face the final curtain

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Connection. Something I've been thinking a lot about. When a connection comes loose on a computer, it simply won't work. When a connection comes loose in life, it may take a while to notice.  Things still move along until one day you realise you're in a bubble and you can see out but can't touch anything. 

Today's Forest Fringe show was about connection. A show that found me. Literally.  The guy in charge had some no-shows and the nature of the show is dependent on participants. You can't connect if nobody's there.

I'm glad it found me. The show is called "Landline" and connects you with a counterpart in Reykjavik through Skype.  A show about connection that requires an Internet connection.

You are given an Ipod and a map and sent off to wander wherever you want in your local area. The participant in Reykjavik is also listening to the same recording, pressing play at the same moment.  We're wandering on different roads but taking the same journey.

The physical distance and relative anonymity gives us the freedom to be completely open with each other. We are prompted to find places that remind us of certain things and then to share that story with our partner.

It does require some quick thinking and an open approach but the gentle voice and the freedom to say exactly what you want... anything. .. makes it so worthwhile and I got a lot out of this experience.

The same cannot be said for the show I saw after my shift, again at zoo venues. Regrets, I've had a few, and one of them was seeing this show. I don't want to waste any more energy on it than I already have, so I'll simply say - stop when you get to the Pleasance courtyard for physical theatre performance featuring superheroes. Avoid the zoo venue just up the road. Although, given that the festival is wrapping up, I suppose that advice is redundant.

There's definitely a sense of finality in the air on this crisp and clear night. The crowds have thinned, the sound of drills can be heard in the distance as get-outs commence. Greenside has disappeared completely, while the BBC is skeletal.
The city and the remaining people in it are sleepy and looking forward to a long, well deserved rest.

I will probably try to fit in a few more shows tomorrow daytime, but doubt there will be a blog post as I'll be getting to bed early to be up at 5am on Tuesday for the bus home... Have I mentioned I'm not a morning person?

I'm pretty happy with how this daily blog went and glad I decided to do it. It's added an extra dimension to this experience. It's going to be weird not ending my day this way... Time to start a journal? 

Edfest Day 24 & 25: Little Show of Horrors

Tonight's evening meal - subway.  Why? Because if you're a solo diner in busy places at peak food time,  you're not getting in. Fast food places though?  Hell, that shizzle's for everyone to enjoy.  Whatever,  I saved about £8 for it... In money.  I'm probably paying that 8 pounds in calorie content instead.

Finally saw a show at zoo venues this evening, where I bumped into a girl who is clearly my soul mate,  if I were gay and such a thing existed. She was horrified to see I had the same bag as her (which is a pretty unique bag), we chose seats right by each other at the same show. A light hearted choice - "The Ted Bundy Project". I felt the need for something dark and challenging before my musical theatre frivolity this evening.  Plus it comes with the Lyn Gardner seal of approval.

There's something both friendly and eerie about the solo performer in this show. Comforting and alarming. He bounds into the room dressed in tennis gear. White shorts, white tshirt, white socks and white shoes. His piercing blue eyes scan the room trying to make eye contact. He seems friendly and non threatening, but at the same time makes us feel slightly on edge. Like Bundy himself, I suppose. "he seemed nice" said his neighbours.

The show is performed and written by Greg Wohead and examines our morbid curiousity with violence - how we are both attracted and repulsed by it. There are uncomfortable moments in this show. At times my breathing felt shallow and my heart pumped - especially at one particular moment when we aren't sure whether we're about to witness something horrific. The girl next to me covered her eyes. I won't go into details ... spoilers and all.

This show gives us a lot of food for thought and had my attention from start to finish. The hour flew by. If anything, I wish it had been longer... but then I guess that's morbid curiosity for you. We always want to know more.
[An aside. I thought at the time this show was very 'forest fringe'  - experimental, risk taking, challenging, offbeat - and after looking at his website it turns out that he was there with this show last year. Don't tell me I can't identify show types.]  

It was time to lighten up. What better way than with musical theatre.... about a murderous, blood hungry plant. No theme here.

"Little Shop of Horrors" was next on the menu. I love the film but have never seen the stage show and after reading a 5 star review, I was reeled in. It was also my first visit to a Paradise venue - Paradise in St Augustines. 

I wasn't disappointed. This is a strong ensemble and their puppetry of Audrey 2 was exemplary. Every movement and facial expression was synchronised and as each person gets 'eaten' they merge into the plant. I get the feeling this company specialises in puppetry, since the programme says they did Avenue Q last year. 

The singing voices of the lead characters weren't all that strong, but honestly, for a show like this it didn't matter that much; the acting is much more vital and I have no complaints there. Though it must be said, the trio that provide the narrative all had great singing voices. 

I didn't realise how different the ending of the stage show is to the film. It's darker (and darker, of course, means more interestng, as we learned from the Ted Bundy Project) but it meant there was no 'mean green mother from outer space' and that is a great song. Swings and roundabouts.

I didn't blog yesterday as I spent most of the day doing "life admin", before going to Forest Fringe to watch the show "Alba", then volunteering for the evening. (Life admin = tidying up, emails, washing, throwing away all the flyers I forced flyerers to give me, eating an actual proper meal and.. er... watching netflix.)

"Alba" is a show devised and performed by a girl with albinism. It's a quiet, subtle piece which feels like a gentle brush on the cheek rather than a pull on the heartstrings. It leaves us with a soft, warm feeling and smelling faintly of talc. It shows us that people who may be different and unique externally are ultimately exactly the same as everyone else, doing the same mundane things like ironing, making a sandwich and washing their hair.

As I was over at the biscuit factory ushering for volcano again, I stayed to watch the show in the space above, called "Now is the Time to Say Nothing" - an audio visual immersive experience about the people affected by the Syrian conflict.

11 chairs are set up in a circle facing away from each other, each with their own old fashioned CRT television set and a pair of headphones. The experience begins there, as a London based youth drama group deliberate on how we can feel more connected with the people of Syria. 

This is a hard-hitting, sobering peice. Earlier in the evening I smashed my phone and this piece truly made me think about how our first world problems, though often frustrating, are so small compared to what these people go through on a daily basis - the fear, the hopelessness....the horror. 

Friday, 28 August 2015

Edfest Day 23: Jesus, a Robot and an Internationally Ignored Transgender Rockstar

Oh that horrifying moment when you see your bus at your stop on the horizon and no matter how much running and arm flailing is done, you just know you're not going to catch it. Sinking heart moment... not half as much as getting to the stop and seeing this: N16 : 58 mins. Noooooo. It was already 12.30am. I was in for a long wait and my phone died a good few hours ago. 

Oh well, a good time to make progress on that big, hardback book I carry around with me for such occasions ... well, not a good time - it was 12.30am after all, and it meant squinting in what little light the street lights eminated. But one must make the best of a bad situation. 

All this for an average-at-best version of a great show, which overran 15 minutes longer than the already lengthy running time of 1hr50m. Before I go on, I think it's only fair for me to remember that this is an amateur company, not the broadway show I saw only 3 months ago. For that reason, maybe I should have avoided this. 

The show in question is "Hedwig and the Angry Inch" and credit where it's due, I didn't know this was an amateur company. I've seen professional companies who seemed more amateur since I came to the fringe almost a month ago. 

That being said, I don't think Jake Benson, in the titular role of Hedwig, fully understood the character. He definitely got her nasty, bitter, unlikeable characteristics perfectly, but at the expense of her raw vulnerability that these traits mark. We should get glimpses of this as the show progresses, culminating in her breakdown at the end. Consequently, the end scenes feel a bit detatched from the rest of the show.

It also needs tightening up. A lot. Even the broadway show only runs at 90 minutes! This one ended up at 125 minutes. There's too much of Benson's attempts at, what he calls, "topical humour" of a stand up nature (much of which is no longer that topical). Too much picking on audience members. Of course, there should be some. Hedwig is grateful but also contemptuous of her audience, but generally it just went on too long. I say this as someone who'd drank a coffee and a lager before going in and desperately needed to pee from about 20 minutes in. 

Suddenly Felicity Ward's show came flooding back to me and I longed to be able to sneak out quickly signifying my intentions with the letter 'T' for toilet, as she requested. There was no escaping from this intimate venue without having to actually walk across the stage .... and that was something I really didn't want to have to do with Hedwig around. 

I also feel like Benson didn't understand Hedwig's relationship with Yitzak properly. Again, he understood the contempt but not the love. Hedwig does love Yitzak but is just incapable of showing it to the point of being abusive. Benson shows us the abuse, but never the affection. 

I guess I found Benson's one dimensional Hedwig a disappointment, because she is such a multi-layered interesting character. 

If I'd never seen a professional version of Hedwig, then I think I may have enjoyed this more. After seeing Darren Criss stripped down to his hotpants after an emotionally charged performance, all other Hedwigs were ultimately going to have a damned hard time winning me over. 

Moving on. 

I'm going to be brief about this next one, which I saw straight before Hedwig at the nearby venue "The Voodoo Rooms". I'm going to be brief because there wasn't much to it, it's basically just for having some laughs with a drink in your hand. The show was called "Christ on a Bike" (a phrase I enjoy) and does exactly what it says on the tin. It is literally Christ... on a bike. The premise of this show is that Christ actually had dyslexia and was "pro-fit", not a prophet, really into spin cycling and exercising generally. 

There are plenty of light laughs and merriment to be had, as well as some hand holding with strangers - who doesn't enjoy that? Maybe don't go if you're super religious, but the title "Christ on a Bike" should have put you off anyway... what are you even doing there?

At the end of the festival,  I'll be totaling up the number of shows I saw at each venue. I don't really need to do the math to know Pleasance is the winner.

The first show I saw after my volunteer shift was yet another Pleasance show. I'd been told that since I liked "Cell" so much, I'd like "Spillikin". They were right. This is another lovely, tender show. Though there are many similarities in theme and portrayal by a human-controlled, otherwise inanimate, object, there are plenty of differences. Spillikin uses a functioning, talking robot, and plenty of dialogue, whereas Cell uses a puppet and physical theatre. 

Both have the heartbreaking story of degenerative diseases at their core though. I forget the name of the husband's degenerative disease, as the wife (Sally) refers to the disease only through the affectionate name she gave him when the disease meant his shaking hands caused him to drop things - a 'spillikin'. 

Now, Sally is suffering with her own degenerative disease, Alzheimers, and struggles to remember that her husband has passed away. Before he did though, he built her a robot to care for her, help her remember, be patient with her, sing with her. All the things he would have done for her, had his illness not taken him away.

Can a show be heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time? I think this one proves it can. 

Thursday, 27 August 2015

What's Hot Wednesday - Week Three

This is it, the final What's Hot Wednesday. Feels like it only just begun.......... Probably because it only begun 2 weeks ago.

As the Fringe Festival finishes on Monday, I'll instead do an overall Top 5, probably on the Tuesday - Top 5 Tuesday, yeah that works.

Back to the present. This week I saw 14 shows, a respectable amount considering I've been trying to volunteer as much as I can with Forest Fringe, but could have been better. Of those 14 shows, here are my top 5:

5. Blind Cinema (Edinburgh International Festival Filmhouse)
4. Oog (Dancebase)
3. Felicity Ward: What If There's No Toilet (Pleasance Courtyard)
2. Cleansed (C Nova)

AND NUMBER ONE.......................

1. 64 Squares (Underbelly Cowgate) 

I knew as I was watching 64 Squares that it had to take that top spot. It was just so perfectly constructed and executed while simultaneously being completely engrossing and entertaining. It was something special. 

Spring Awakening just missed out. I gave it to Blind Cinema for its innovation.

I said this post would be short. The time for bed is imminent as it's another (subjectively) early shift for me tomorrow. 


Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Edfest Day 22: Toilet Humour

Back in the old favourite space this evening - pleasance above, that of shows Molly and I Am Beast. I should get a loyalty card. Tonight I was there for Felicity Ward's comedy show "What if There's No Toilet?". The title alone was instantly relatable enough to catch my interest.  I wasn't disappointed. Felicity is a frenetic bundle of bouncy anxious energy. I can say this without offending as this show is all about mental illness, anxiety and ocd specifically.

The set is simply a toilet with rolls stacked up either side like a pyramid,  just begging to be knocked down - which Ward herself can't resist and succumbs gleefully to the urge. Talking of succumbing to urges (eh, eh?) Ward tells us candidly about her ibs,  the fear she battles that she's going to wet herself - or worse - during her stand up sets. We meet the niggling voice of anxiety in her head who she, somewhat viciously, named Beryl. I related to so much in this show and laughed the entire way through to the point where I didn't want to laugh anymore because my face ached. Indicative of how funny she is or how little I laugh? I hope it's the former. Is that my anxiety talking?

While we're on the topic of toilets, one of my anxities is public toilets but I also worry about being caught short. Consequently, I've used A LOT of public toilets over the last month and even started making peace with it. I have my routine - only wipe with ther right, so I can pick my bag up germlessly with my left... I've even used portacabins. I feel like I was almost over it... until today. There I was in the old enemy - the portacabin. I'd put my bag on the floor leaning against the toilet door, made the toilet seat paper ring, sat.... and noticed poo streaked on the wall inches away from the shoulder strap of my bag......... I'm not the religious type, but god knows I prayed for my bag not to fall over. 

Let's change the subject, quick....

Before this I saw a brilliant show that people and critics alike have been raving about called "64 squares" (that's right I'm working backwards folks, coz I'm feeling crazy. )

The hype is completely justified. The show is about madness and chess,  not natural bedfellows, but it works. This is a partnership of dialogue and physical theatre which has gelled well. The movement is so beautifully choreographed, it's like a dance, all in sync as though they are one... which, actually, is exactly what they're meant to be.  One person split into 4.

I love good use of facial expression and this show is full of perfectly captured expressions. I think facial acting is such a skill all by itself and the actors in this production were in total control of every muscle with great visual results. 

Everything was just so perfectly controlled and yet so skillfully smooth and slick, like you'd never know it wasn't natural and spontaneous movement.

The plot itself is more like a jigsaw puzzle than a game of chess. Piecing together individual moments to discover the events that led to the demise of the person we know simply as 'B' from the embroidered letter on the coat.

Again, I'd like to speculate and discuss this more but... time, y'know.  I'm discovering time is a real party pooper. 

Talking of pooping....... just kidding.

Finally - er, I mean, firstly (this is confusing) I went back to my roots and saw a musical. One I haven't seen but have very much wanted to - "Spring Awakening". This was in the Famous Spiegeltent in St Andrew's Square, but I think it would have been much better suited to a traditional space. 

There was a stage area, but also a circle of steel deck with the audience seated around on 3 sides. It meant, if you were sitting in the wrong place during an emotional moment, you might be completely cut off from it. In the right seat, you were way too involved.

This is just a venue issue. The show itself was excellent quality. It makes a change to see a show where the characters are actually, realistically the age they are meant to be. The whole cast are excellent all round performers and put so much energy into the show. On a par with RCS, for sure. 

Today was a race around Edinburgh to get to all the shows which started in quick succession. I didn't even get to the first show until 5pm today, after a misguided attempt to get up early and failing, followed by a Forest Fringe shift. I've decided to do separate blog posts for todays show reviews and my what's hot wednesday round-up, which'll be much briefer and will follow shortly..... 

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Edfest Day 21: Blindfolds, Blood, Beasts and a Faceful of Issues

Packing 'em in today. I got to see the show at the filmhouse where I was volunteering earlier because not everyone who booked showed up (this is depressingly common for the free shows - it's still courtesy to cancel guys). It's the first show I've seen before midday. Like I said, mornings are not the one.

It's called "Blind Cinema". Donning a blindfold, you experience the show through audio description by children. The children sit behind you and whisper a description of the unfolding events through a device not too far removed from the old plastic cup and string telephones; Similar, but a little more inventive, allowing one child to talk to two audience members at once. The children have never seen the movie before, there is no dialogue and from their descriptions, it sounds like a very arty, surreal film. Actually, I'd quite like to have seen it after to compare with the movie in my mind (points for getting the reference).

I thought this deprivation of sight was a fairly unique idea when I saw "Fiction" at the Pleasance Dome (where I am now charging my phone, incidentally) way back at the beginning of the festival,  but it turns out... not so much.  I've spoken to a few people who've been to similar shows and "Blind Cinema" was definitely in the same vein - sense deprivation, the whispered voice, the disjointed, dream-like narrative. This was a bit more personal, though, given the children were actually present, sitting right behind you and in the moment. 

The children rotate to other audience members throughout the film. My favourite was the first one though and had to laugh at "he takes out a small white ball from his pocket..... It may be an egg. ...........  it's an egg." Still laughing now.

Next was "Cleansed" at C Nova. I knew this was a Sarah Kane show when I booked it, so was steeled for some heavy, depressing, weird stuff.

It was all those things but what I wasn't prepared for is how well this company grabs your attention and keeps it locked in their grip. The space is little more than a black box, adorned with just 2 chairs and it doesn't matter. Your focus is on these damaged characters the entire time.

I can't pretend to completely understand the complexities of this show. I feel like there's a lot to unpack and the nature of the fringe is there is little time for reflection.

There is an audio clip played toward the end of Kane herself giving an interview in which she states there is nothing depraved about her imagination - It's all stuff that's in the news but "with the boring bits taken out". There is violence and gore aplenty in this show. Fake blood washes the stage by the end. There is a scene where a boy is made to eat chocolate till he is sick. One audience member couldn't quite stomach this and had to leave looking quite panic stricken as she clambered over other audience members like a ticking vomit bomb... she returned sheepishly later with a glass of water and stayed near the door!

Next - "I Am Beast" at Pleasance Courtyard, in the same venue where I saw the play "Molly" exactly a week ago. This show attracted me as it offered many elements that I look for - fantasy lands, puppets, new writing, super heroes and villains. It was on the list AND it was half price.
I really enjoyed the general story and rich script. I just wish the puppet hadn't had a voice - a speaking voice that is.  "Cell" showed beautifully how voice can be given to a puppet, wordlessly. I understand why it was needed as it was a vehicle for the central characters personal revelation but I think it could have been thought out more creatively for better impact. Also the puppets appearances didn't feel organic. I like the puppetry for the purpose, I just think it needs more work. 
Next - "Man to Man" at Underbelly Potterrow. I so wanted to love it. It's Welsh (Wales Millennium Centre/ Frantic Assembly) and had rave reviews. Unfortunately, I wasn't feeling it. The set, the lighting, the projection are beautiful and all get top marks. The solo actress is incredible as the woman living as a man for necessity and has an admirable army of accents up her sleeve. She gets top marks too. Where this failed for me was at the scripting level. So, so many words. I drifted away in my head at one point to what I was going to see next and what I was going to eat. For me to be thinking about food, it has to be really quite boring. This script could do with a 'kill your darlings' attitude from the script writer and a ruthless edit. 
Finally - "Joanna Neary: Faceful of Issues". This was a whimsical choice. On walking past the Assembly Rooms yesterday, I decided I needed to see more shows at this venue. After so many serious plays today, I needed some light relief - which I'm happy to say I found in this quirky little show. Neary's character, Celia, is taking her "Toxborough Village Hall Chat Show" out on the road to raise money for a kitten who needs an iron lung. It really does have the vibe of being at a friendly, church hall gathering - yes, there is interaction but everyone is so laid back in that space, its not threatening at all. Nor is it an attack of character, as with so many comedians...It's simply a pleasant chat. There's something a bit Vicar of Dibley meets Miranda about this character comedy, which is a mix that very much appeals to me. It takes place in a cosy studio space, ideal for the show, and she even thanked us at the end for "taking a chance on someone you've never heard of".  
Tomorrow, I've taken on an extra volunteer shift to cover Volcano's show between 1.30 - 3.30, smack bang in the middle of the day, but I will get some more shows in, ready for tomorrows 'what's hot wednesday'. So far, this week, I can't see a clear forerunner, so who knows who'll place where.... dun dun DUN. The excitement is too much, isn't it? ;) 

Edfest Day 19 & 20 - Shifting Sands of Time

The Fringe official twitter says it's day 17. I understand why I'm ahead 2 days because I counted the previews but where has the extra day come from?

I'm combining these days because, other than volunteering, I'm not doing much else. I'm finding it harder and harder to get up early enough to see shows before my shifts. My body clock has shifted so I wake up at 10am and go to sleep around 2am. That'll have to change tomorrow as I've got the subjectively early shift of 10.30am at their filmhouse venue. The good thing about this is it's a short shift, I should be done by 12.30/1pm so should be able to pack in a good bunch of shows.

I had time for a brief visit to the International Book Festival yesterday and the West End Craft Fair today.

The book festival was a lot busier than I'd been led to believe.  I was told it was a haven of calm amongst the chaos.  This it wasn't.  The book festival has a lovely outdoor seating area and people were making the most of it on this rare warm, sunny day. I didn't manage to see any talks - the one I would've wanted to see was Moira Young, Young adult author of a book I read earlier this year called "Blood Red Road" - but this didn't finish until 15 minutes before my shift started and the Drill Hall is about a half hour walk from there. Never mind.

There were lots of lovely international books on sale with enticing covers, but at full retail price, it was too expensive for me. I did, however, find a lovely cheap book store much further down at the foot of Leith walk in St James Shopping centre with prices to rival The Works but with better stock.
The craft fair is near to the book festival, so those who have the leisure of time can do both in one go. There are about 50 stalls, all with original, handmade products, so worth checking out if you want a unique gift or memento. 
Walking down Princes Street, I'm always a little appalled to see people happy to take photos of the street performers - some of whom even pose for said pictures - but won't then put money in the hat.
If you're stopping to admire their art enough to take a picture, pay for the product.  It doesn't even have to be much,  just a small token of gratitude. Can you tell I've been reading Amanda Palmer's "The Art of Asking"?
Once again I'm occupying the same space as Lyn Gardner. Or she occupying the same space as me? Obviously a testament to our shared great taste. She's a big supporter of Forest Fringe generally and has reviewed many of their shows favourably. I smiled and said "Hi" earlier ...and she looked vaguely alarmed. To be fair, as front of house it's part of the role to meet and greet. Maybe I should stick with the scowling.

Yesterday, I attempted to start some kind of schedule of shows I want to see by time zone, so I don't end up wandering around looking at the app and just going to whatever is near. Don't get me wrong, that does make for a more spicy fringe experience, but I realised earlier that from tomorrow there is just a week left to pack it all in, so I'm looking for quality stuff that really appeals to me now.  

I think I should stop here and go to bed at this (subjectively) early hour so I can be bright eyed and bushy tailed for the filmhouse tomorrow and then, hopefully, a day of (quality) show watching.

Till then, G'Night 😮

Saturday, 22 August 2015

Edfest Day 18: Come Fly With Me

Strange and unprecedented phenomenon - flyerer's avoid me. Not many people can say that. In fact many people complain about being flyered to the point of potential restraining order.  Not me though. Yesterday, a flyerer turned round ready to launch into his spiel,  looked at me and actually changed his mind! I saw him take a breath and open his mouth, as if to say something, then didn't.  I'm aware that I scowl when I'm walking through crowds sometimes but I didn't realise I was so unapproachable that even the flyerers won't come near.

It's crazy busy on the fringe today. I forgot it's Saturday.  The days all merge here. The problem with having a free day on a Saturday is that my intentions of packing in show after show are squandered by the fact everything is sold out and I never book in advance. Lesson learned for next Saturday!
I did managed to see a show from my list earlier though.  It's the public review that never was because the press office never got back to me. It's another show by my favourites - the royal conservatoire of Scotland - called "Willy's Bitches" and is another original musical. It focuses on some of Shakespeare's strongest female characters. It would help having a better Shakespeare knowledge base than I do, but it was still enjoyable without knowing exactly who everyone was. It started off a little weak, but picked up from Lady Macbeth's entrance onwards (that one I did recognise). The highlight was the group piece, centred around Lavinia - that one I knew only because she was wearing a Titus Andronicus t-shirt. I also just had to double check that I hadn't got that mixed up with Titus Andromedon, of Peeno Noir fame. 

After this finished, I wandered around a couple of venues, only to be told everything I was interested in was sold out, so went instead to virgin's half price hut. The pickings were slim, but I went with one at the Pleasance Dome since I've been pretty happy with their offerings so far. It's called "The Year of the Hare" which hasn't had great reviews, but like I said pickings are slim.  Beggars can't be choosers and that.....

Okay, so it's now after "Year of the Hare" and it was, erm...  what I was expecting. And long. It was longer than I was expecting. I did go in hopeful, knowing that reviews are always subjective,  but when all the reviews are in agreement, you can't really argue. 
So why were other people around me saying "that was so good"? I don't get it. I know I just said it's subjective but the only conclusion I can come to is they are friends, family, colleagues or general sucker-uppers. 

The source material for this show is a Finnish novel from the 70s which I'm sure is a great read, but the interpretation feels clumsy and the comedic moments just didn't work. The acting from the main male character was unskilled, amateur and actually quite uncomfortable to watch. The moments of song felt contrived. There was a projected scene near the end which was well done and that was pretty much the only moment I felt vaguely engaged. Most the show I spent trying to prop my head up to stay focussed (and awake). Some audience members at the back tried clapping 20 minutes before the end, probably in desperate hope that it was actually the end. I empathised with them. 

Towards the end of that show I started fighting the urge to sneeze. On leaving, It developed into a full blown sneezing fit and I came home quite early... Lucky, because it's now pouring with rain which would not have helped. Maybe it's just an allergic reaction to bad shows.

My volunteer shift isn't until the evening tomorrow but it may be that I give the fringe a break in the day, which will mean no shows, so not much to report. We'll see how it goes.  

Edfest Day 17: Broken Biscuits and Streaky Face Paint

I've seen a lot of face-painted performers since I arrived at the fringe and one thing is consistent - the pristine condition of the clown make up will last all of 10 minutes before slipping stubbornly off the face. You'd think an essential ingredient of stage make up would be durability in intense heat. Maybe they're just using cheap stuff? They really do look like the stereotypical tragic clowns. 
I've mostly been at forest fringe again today. I discovered that,  for unforseen circumstances,  they'll have to move out of the biscuit factory, which already was a substitute venue for the original. I wonder where Scottee and his mad cafe club will wind up? I hope they find somewhere more accessible.

I popped into "Quizoola" which ran from 3pm - 9pm and involved two clowns answering questions for 6 hours. Audience members were not expected to sit there for the entire 6hrs,  however, they can come and go as they please. It's an interesting experiment.  There are parts that are funny, parts that offer insight into these people's lives and thoughts and parts that are just a bit dull. For a while it seemed that some character work was breaking through,  which they speculated had been "bad material" due to the fact they'd veered away from the normal questions (of which there are a big stack - at least 100 pages).

After Forest Fringe, I headed to dancebase in Grassmarket for a physical theatre piece called "Oog". This is a solo performance from Al Seed. On his website it states "The focus [...] is the creation of visually striking physical theatre" and it certainly is that. As you walk into the space you can't help but admire the scene. A figure sits in a chair, downstage centre, hunched down into a trench coat with an over sized collar. Upstage, off-centre, a ladder leads up into a metal tube, a bright light beams down through the tube. This seems to be the exit. The exit from the locked cellar which we are told is the setting, or the exit from the shell shocked soldiers tortured mind? 
The lighting was incredibly striking for this piece as was the costume and nightmarish clown make up. The staccato movement was insect like and reminded me at one point of stop animation. Again, very visually rich.
.... His clown makeup still smudged and smeared though.
It always does.  

Friday, 21 August 2015

Edfest Day 16: The World's Craziest Café

I was "ushering" for Volcano Theatre's  "Black Stuff" at the biscuit factory warehouse building today - and by ushering I mean sitting on a plastic chair by the entrance incase any late comers dropped by and needed directing... They didn't. It was cold and I needed to pee (much like now, on the bus - why is there no where to pee in Edinburgh after 11? It's gonna be an uncomfortable half hour folks) when the "chef" from Scottee's Social, in the main biscuit factory building across the road, came by to try and pillage some customers. I told him there were only 5 people in and they didn't seem the type.

Given that I was so desperate to pee and the toilet was in the main building,  I thought "hey why not drop in" - from out in the street there was much laughter and applause and it sounded like quite a hootenanny. Forest Fringe had the opening night party at this venue with these people so it wasn't unfamiliar territory.

I entered the café after my much needed pee (I really have to stop thinking about peeing) and the only people in there were the performers, a bar man with his tshirt pulled up behind his neck, the check in lady and the chef.....

But I'd committed; Sitting with the chef and check in lady because it would have been even more awkward sitting alone, I decided the only thing to do was go with it. I went to the half-shirted bar man and asked for beer (there was no way I was having a divorce cocktail again) and settled in for the soiree.

It felt a bit like we were mental patients in a day room pretending to be at a cabaret café. Even more weirdly.... I kinda liked it.

I guess awkward is the general vibe, but a deliberate awkward. It knows it's awkward. In fact,  the host Scottee has a show at forest fringe next week which will encourage audience members to step up with their party trick in a sort of "performance karaoke". In the description in the programme, it describes it as being a "socially awkward" hour.... So I think this vibe is intentional.

And yet, in all its outright awkwardness, I feel quite comfortable there. Like there's a general acceptance that you don't get in most bars. 

I feel like the whole set up is a mockery of the festival itself with its carousel of outrageous, over the top comics, clowns, cabaret acts, actORs and performance "artists". Like holding a big distorted circus mirror on the whole shebang..... or maybe it's not this at all. Maybe it's just a cabaret performance which, awkwardly, has no audience.

Anyway. I think they deserve more people at their crazy little cabaret cafĂ©. It is well off the beaten track but you can visit Forest Fringe (10 mins away) while you're there, go to Volcano's show at 8, then finish the evening across the road at the cafĂ©.  See I've even planned it for you. You're welcome.

Thursday, 20 August 2015

Edfest Day 15: What's Hot Wednesday Week 2

I haven't got such a large pool to choose from this week. I've only seen 14 shows, due to starting volunteering work and needing a days release from Edinburgh last Friday.  That said, over the last 2 days I've packed quite a few in and seem some good uns, which is a relief; for a second I thought I may have to rename this blog "What Wasn't Terrible Wednesday".

Without further ado, here are my top 5 picks of this week in ascending order:

5. Stdad Up (Voodoo Rooms - FREE FRINGE)
4. I Am Not Myself These Days (Pleasance Courtyard)
3. I Worried My Heart Wasn't Big Enough (Forest Fringe)
2. Jonny and the Baptists: The End is Nigh (Roundabout@Summerhall)

And in first place ......................................

1. Molly (Pleasance Courtyard)

I considered whether to put "Blam!" on the list somewhere, as it was so good and clever once it got going... it just took waaaaaaaaaaaaay too long to get going. For that reason, it doesn't make it.  
"Solid Life of Sugar Water" I ummed and ahhed over but ultimately decided that while I enjoyed it, there were others on that list that I just liked that little bit more.
They are, nevertheless, both good choices too. 

I chose John-Luke Roberts "Stdad Up" for the list instead, because it's a free fringe show that is totally worth checking out. It's kinda crazy and edgy but that's what you want from the freestival, right? His recently deceased father is the inspiration for this show, where he appears as a character (done smoothly with the use of fake teeth, a beard and a shitload of balloons). That's right, it's a comedy about his dead dad, featuring his dead dad... Uncomfortable? Definitely. Inappropriate? Dear God, yes. Hilarious? Absolutely. Who doesn't enjoy uncomfortable, innappropriate hilarity

"I Am Not Myself These Days" is a show I saw today about a drag queen and her difficult relationship with a crack addict. It's a heavy hour and fifteen minutes but I like those intense solo shows which explore a theme which we can all actually relate too - no, I'm not an alcoholic man dressed as a woman and, no, I don't live in a crack den, but there are themes of longing and broken dreams here which are relateable across the board and which spoke to me. 

"Jonny and the Baptists: The End is Nigh" features a performer who made it onto last weeks top 5 list. His name is Jonny Donohoe and I previously reviewed his production of "Every Brilliant Thing" rated it 5 stars and put it on the list. This show is in the same venue, but this time he has a buddy and they are playing guitars and singing protest songs about climate change. It's another show that had me laughing all the way through, this guy is so watchable and his "band" the baptist has the most luxurious long hair. 

I also want to discuss a show I saw much earlier on today. It's by a company called Gecko and is called "Institute". This is a meticulously executed show, which is just outside my field of expertise and I just couldn't appreciate it properly. It's heavily physical theatre with a plot you have to really unravel yourself. To me, it seemed to be telling the story of 4 men institutionalised in different ways - one by work, one by love, one by disease and one by guilt. I may be wrong.... like I said, I'm no physical theatre expert and for that reason, this didn't go in my top 5 either. It did, however, get a fantastic standing ovation and I'm sure would be at the top of the lists for those people. 

Tuesday, 18 August 2015

Edfest Day 14: Love, Evil and War

And we're back on the show horse. It started with a beautiful, moving one-on-one exploration of love at Forest Fringe, through a haunting, engrossing tale of evil at pleasance and then finished with a disappointingly mediocre but not terrible production of war at C venues.

The first is a show I've been chaperoning for at Forest Fringe. After a no-show, I was given the opportunity to experience it for myself, which I'm so glad I took. It's a fully immersive experience, taking advantage of all 5 senses. It recaptured that feeling I got at punchdrunk's 'sleep no more' in New York, it has a very similar essence but very different ingredients. The show is called "I Worried My Heart Wasn't Big Enough" and it moved me enough that I had to take a moment to gather myself before going back to work. All the people who are booking but not showing up. .. big mistake.  Make sure you catch this,  it's only 20 minutes but it's 20 minutes you will remember. Lyn Gardner has also been along experience it, here is her review 

When my shift ended I headed for Pleasance courtyard to see a show that keeps catching my eye and has had great reviews all round. It's a show called "Molly" and explores the theme of the development of evil - what is the pivotal moment where 'evil' seeps in? It's not a new concept but it's told in a new way and had me gripped from start to finish.  For a moment, I forgot I wasn't the only one in the room watching - the audience disappearing is a sign of a great show. ... unless they are actually physically disappearing because they're walking out.  That's not so great.  Needless to say, no walkouts here. In fact, we all seemed to be leaning forward on the edge of our seats, holding in one long collective breath.

That took me to 6pm which I consider a bit of a dead zone. Between 6 and 8, I always seem to wander unable to find a show that really grabs me. 

I've been avoiding C Venues this year, to be honest. Like I've found with TheSpace, the quality tends to be in direct relation to the cheap prices. However, it was the dead zone and a company were putting on the musical "Dogfight" which was in London recently - the end of last year I think. It's a musical about Marines on a last big blow-out before their deployment to Vietnam the next morning. I'd heard good things about the London version but didn't catch myself. So, I put aside my C Venue qualms and went for it.

Don't get me wrong, it wasn't terrible, but in comparison to the other shows I'd seen today it paled to the point of invisibility. The company had a lot of gusto, but the singing didn't blow me away, the score was unmemorable and the plot rather bland. There was laughter, but unfortunately for the wrong reasons - a couple of prop mishaps, which resulted in me flinching every time someone stood on a flimsy wooden box (which they did a lot).

Nevertheless, today has been a good show day - to see two top quality shows in one day is not to be sniffed at. I'm not working tomorrow, so hope to get into town early and catch a pre-midday shows... I have good intentions now, but I'm not a morning person. I have booked 2 shows already, both at Pleasance again - "Institute" and "Blam!", both of which have had excellent reviews and have been on my list since the start. 

Edfest Day 13: Divorce Cocktails

Forest Fringe - where even ordering a drink is a performance... no really.  I'm currently drinking a cocktail that represents divorce, served by a lady wearing a pineapple on her head. At the fringe this is normality.

Well, kind of. It's not an everyday at-the-bar occurance. It's their opening night party at the delicioisly delightfully titled "biscuit factory" ... because it used to be a biscuit factory,  I imagine. 

I've mostly been focusing on the volunteering again today, so only seen one show, which was at their venue. Tomorrow I plan to get back into it and will see a few shows after my shift.

I also have wednesday off so plan to make that a hefty show watching day, and hopefully have a broad enough range to pick from for my "what's hot" roundup... Right now it's looking more like "what's tepid to lukewarm".

Sunday, 16 August 2015

Edfest Day 12: Out of the Blue and Into the Forest

Today was the start of a new fringe adventure - I started volunteer work with a venue called "Forest Fringe" whose main base is at Out of the Blue and Drill Hall. It's an "artist led" venue, which simply means the artists themselves run the venue and all companies using the space will pitch in in some way or other with the general running. It's also free entry, operating under the "pay what you want" philosophy I discussed in yesterday's blog. It's arguably part of the free fringe, although not associated with pbh or laughing horse. 

I get great vibes from this venue and the people there, so looking forward to getting stuck in. I helped out a little with prepartation for opening tomorrow, which mostly involved painting unreceptive benches and stools with a stubborn glossy paint. 

The Blue DrilƂ Hall is quite a walk away from the main throngs of the fringe, so not a place people are just going to stumble into, but hopefully the programme will be enticing enough for people to drift down leith walk. If nothing else, it's a nice, quiet escape for a while. 

Talking of nice, quiet escapes, I did drift into the international book festival (which started today) for a quick wander, but didnt look around much as I was pretty messy with paint. I'd have quite liked to hear Matt Haig's talk but, having happened earlier in the day, it wasnt to be.

Today was all about volunteering and getting to know the company I'll be working with. So instead of up to the minute show reports from the fringe, I'm cheating and posting links to my reviews, as featured on The Public Reviews:

Fiction - Pleasance Dome - 12pm
Every Brilliant Thing - Summerhall - 2.05pm 
Going Viral - Summerhall - 2.10pm 
Ushers: The Front of House Musical - Momentum@St Stephens - 9.30pm
Lisa Gornick's Live Drawing Show - Gilded Balloon - 1.30pm
Confessions of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl - Gilded Balloon - 6.30pm
No Strings - TheSpace at Surgeons Hall - 8.20pm
501 Things I Do in my Bedroom - Just the Tonic at the Caves - 1pm 

Saturday, 15 August 2015

Edfest Day 11: Breaking Free

Sometimes,  you just gotta take a break. There's no blog for Edfest day 10 because yesterday I seriously needed to take some time out...

As I said, I'd seen a spate of disappointing shows and was having a terrible morning. I woke up late and didn't feel too well, the milk for that essential morning coffee had turned sour, which I realised after I'd already put it in my cereal. Then I smashed the glass coffee cup all over the floor (to clarify - by accident, not in temper) ... It just all seemed to be going wrong.

My friend, Beth, had arrived in Glasgow the day before (give a whoop if you're out there) so I decided to give theatre and fringe madness a brief break for the sake of my sanity. Instead I had a lovely, much needed "merry" evening out and about in Glasgow.

Today I returned to the fringe, Beth in tow, with the mission of seeing some of the "freestival" (the free festival) Sometimes you do actually get what you pay for though. After seeing some cringe inducing stand up "comedy", I vetoed questionable stand up acts for the day - my face muscles couldn't take any more fake smiling (I know I don't have to fake smile, but I feel bad for them... and I don't want to be picked on for looking bored - which I saw happen at another free show 2 days ago) .
So we sat in Grassmarket and watched some street performers for a bit - technically still the freestival,  so it counts for the mission.

This evening went to the voodoo rooms, which is a great choice for "free" fringe entertainment....

....I've put "free" in speech marks because don't go along with the impression  that you won't be paying anything.  It's more a "pay what you want" scheme, and you will be severely judged if you don't offer up some cash... so if you don't want to give that crisp £20 note to the cause,  make damn sure you have change, because you're also gonna look like a douche asking for change from the donation bucket!!!

Also don't pay between you and a friend, as we learned earlier, cause it's awkward having to explain that at the door... Especially when they thank you for being so generous, and your friend has to explain it's from her too. Sorry Beth... I'm still laughing about it though. 
Tomorrow is the start of a new fringe adventure. I start work with Forest Fringe which will take me up to the end of the festival. They are an exciting venue offering an inventive,  creative programme - please check out their website and if you're coming up for the fringe, make sure you wander off the beaten track to catch some of these unique offerings.  

Friday, 14 August 2015

Edfest Day 9 : Grand Gestures and The Worst Show on the Fringe?

You know how yesterday I saw the best show on the fringe? Well today I'm certain I found the worst. 

It all started off so well. I was just congratulating myself for my consistently good choices when it all started going very wrong. The run started late yesterday afternoon and culminated today in one of the worst shows I've ever seen. EVER. And I've seen some bad shows. 

I'm not going to say what it is, but lets just say I'm never picking a show based on the fact it has "broadway" in the title again. 

I could forgive the absolutely atrocious story-telling, plot and acting if the lady could actually sing... it wasn't the worst singing I've ever heard (Hi Mum, if you're still out there) but it was definitely the wrong side of average. I'm squirming at the memory. 

I would have cut my losses and left, I really would ... but the room was tiny and there were barely any people there as it was. I'm so glad I wasn't reviewing this officially, because I'd probably have to reject submitting it due to the fact I have nothing - literally NOTHING - good to say. Zero stars. To make it even more painful... it's a show that's all about following your dreams and last chances....

Oh, the awkwardness. 

This spate of bad shows also coincides with a certain venue that I won't name, but let's just say that I'll be avoiding wide open... areas... for a while. 

I did see one good show today called "The Solid Life of Sugar Water" which gives centre stage to people with disabilities, without making it the main feature. This was about a couple dealing with a late stage miscarriage. I was attracted to this show by the very impressive list of creatives working on it. 

One last moan. Gesturing in crowds!! come on people, have some spacial awareness. I've been almost punched a few times. Today I was punched in the boob due to a lady's excessive gesturing. It's crowded and fast walkers like me are trying to whizz through gaps in between you snail pace types. I know it's all so exciting but can we leave the gesturing at home? ...... Hmm. On second thoughts maybe they're actually trying to punch me. 

Thursday, 13 August 2015

Edfest day 8: What's Hot Wednesday

Hi, and welcome to "What's Hot Wednesday" a brand new feature, which may not be a feature when my show attendance drops coz I start work.... Yaaaaay 

** the crowd goes wild... And by "crowd" I mean the handful of people who read this... And by "wild" I mean a half-arsed awkward applause out of politeness. One person at the back whoops. I squint into the darkness... It's Mum........ Hi Mum, thanks for coming ** 

Also, technically, it's no longer Wednesday, but What's Hot Thursday just doesn't work for me.
Why Wednesday? Because it's what the official fringe publications do, and if you can't beat them (I can't), join them.

So far I have seen, a quite frankly meagre, 23 shows. Out of these, I'm going to pick my top 5, in carefully considered order. And by "carefully considered order" I mean I quickly looked over my show log before writing this..... 
Yes, I've been keeping a show log. Stop sniggering. And yes, I did just colour code it using a traffic light system, with sharpies. Take that, people still out drinking on the mile with friends... I have a log book. And sharpies. And I'm colouring in like a grown up.  

Anyway, in a very particular order (descending to be precise), here are my top 5 for this week:

5. Bromance (Underbelly's circus hub,18:25)
4. Every Brilliant Thing (Roundabout@Summerhall, 14:05)
3. The Girl Who Fell in Love With The Moon (Pleasance Dome, 14:30)
2. Gobsmacked! (Udderbelly St George's Square, 16:30)

And, finally **drumrolldrumrolldrumrolldrumrolldrumrolldrumrolldrumrolldrumrolldrumroll** yep, the tension sure is building here **drumrolldrumrolldrumrolldrumrolldrumrolldrumrolldrumrolldrumroll** 

My number one spot goes to.......

1. CELL (underbelly Cowgate, 16:35)

What the fringe? I haven't even mentioned that before.

That's coz I saw it today, smart ass. No, it's not just number one because it's fresh in my memory. 
It genuinely was one of the most beautiful, moving pieces of theatre I've seen in a while. It's such a sweet story with clever puppeteering, physical theatre and general artistry. It's a story about a man learning he has, and coping with the effects of, motor neurone disease... not one to go for the laughs (though there are amusing moments) but if you want a great piece of theatre (which is why I'm here) you'll be hard pushed to do better than this. Loved it. 5 stars ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
I'm gonna just leave this link to their website here just incase you want to check it out.... Go on. I don't even mind if you navigate away from my page.... Come back though, yeah?

*screen goes black, goodnight* 

Wednesday, 12 August 2015

Edfest day 7 - All the People: The Never ending Story

On the bus this morning, I stared out the window at the sheer volume of people - all the people, so many people. Yes, I'm singing it... in my head,  not out loud because I'm on the bus again and that would be annoying for the other passengers. They wouldn't complain of course,  I have a lovely singing voice....

Yeah. Anyway,  back to topic. So I was looking at the many, many people and just thinking about how they are all stars in their own little plays. We're all here watching other people's stories, but there are so many stories going on around us all the time....

Which made me think of my comment the other evening about how there was theatre to be found just wandering around Edinburgh, amongst these people,  catching snippets of conversation. So this evening I've noted two instances which I illustrate this point:

Emma: I just want to be happy
Emmas friend: Emma you are happy, happiness doesn't mean everything is alright,  it just means ---

(I didn't hear the end of that exchange as I'd already rushed in and out of their world. I'm sure the ending was profound though.)

The second was an exchange between an older gentleman, 2 concerned young girls who had been passing by and the police.
It would seem the older gentleman had his bag stolen by a man who claimed the older gentleman had stolen it from him....
(Interesting tactic - but there's also an interesting story there)

I have also seen actual theatre today too.  In fact, I've had a busy day of 4 shows which, given my lazy late start,  I'm impressed with. It's actually the most I've seen in a day so far.

I was only reviewing one officially, so a shout out for two others I've seen today.

The first will do fine on its own, it's in the underbelly cow in George Square gardens. A A capella group called Gobsmacked... and I really was.  They're all great but the beat boxer was phenomenal... The effects her could do just with his vocal chords.... no words.

The second may need a little more help. He's a stand up comedian in assembly George st studio 4 called Chris Kent who made me laugh out loud lots. And not just polite laughter,  this was genuine involuntary laughter. I'm nervous about seeing stand up in small venues generally, in case it's not funny, which can be painfully awkward. I needn't have worried with this one, as I laughed from start to finish and he deserves more of an audience. 

On the cards for tomorrow is a nice, looooonng lie in with no alarm **cries with relief** then later in the day I'll be meeting up with another journo I met here to see a shit scary show. Will we make it to the end?... Find out in the next episode.

Tuesday, 11 August 2015

Edfest Day 6: Where is the Wifi?

Where is all the Wifi?  I mean, seriously, in this day and age surely free Wifi should be an essential? I can't believe the amount of larger venues that are just ignoring this need. Fair play to Pleasance, the dome has been my home (ha, rhyming) for my reviewing needs. Smaller venues like summerhall and zoo are trying hard to provide Wifi... They may not be able to meet demand, but they are trying, dammit.  The will is there.
So what's your excuse underbelly,  gilded balloon, assembly?  Surely you have the means to provide good quality Wifi for the good paying customers, the artists, technicians and, of course, critics. Get it together.
Oh well, I can always wait for a bus to pass and snatch seconds of Wifi on the move.

I've been trying to catch a bit of circus over the last few days at underbelly's new circus hub.

I saw bromance in the Beauty tent yesterday. Those boys are FIT... I mean in the athletic sense of course *ahem*. Their production manages to be funny as well as a spectacle with little more than a giant hula hoop to assist them.
On the other hand, Dolls at the Lafeyette tent uses a large set. I'm still not 100% sure on the story of this one, but it seems to me some sort of apocalyptic landscape. The set is beautiful and atmospheric but the show itself wouldn't be enough without that as a crutch.
This is why bromance is the winner in the circus battle for me.

Today has been completely free for me on the show front. Two to review and a chance encounter in a queue at the first show with a guy who had spare free tickets to a show I wanted to see that day = major score.

I did want to fit a few more shows in today, but as a 2for1 day lots was sold out and this eve I decide to come back early(ish) because I'm not feeling too great. 

Oh, and I was also excited to see a quote from one of my reviews last year being used on a poster. I was worried back then that it had been a stupid comparison that no one would get,  but it turns out the performer herself was happy enough with it to put it on a poster.  Let that be a lesson,  self doubt (self doubt never learns lessons,  nasty bastard)