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Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Edinburgh Fringe Festival 2016

This year marks my first time at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival- being a crazy theatrical type it's pretty ridiculous it has taken me this long to organise a trip to it! I am going with my fellow Ballroom and Latin dancing friend who, like me appreciates all types of performance so he'll be a great companion for the trip!

My Experience

We traveled up to Edinburgh by car on the Sunday morning. 
 Google maps lied and 9 hours later we arrived in windy Scotland at our hostel which was approx. 30 mins walk to the main venues Princes Street and George Square etc. The large hill up to Dundas Street (which is like walking up the long arse Exhibition Road in London but steeper) was a killer and all the more worse when teamed with the sheer panic of running late to a show.

We wanted to see a wide range of performance and definitely achieved this!
From Verbatim, immersive, real-life documentary, LGBT to magic entertainment, comedy, musical, improv, children's and dance. We were lucky to have only seen 1 particular awful show and it was free so- yay :)

      S  H  O  W  S    and   R  E  V  I  E  W  S  

Monday 8th August 2016

'9 to 5 The Musical'
 Verdict: **** 

Genre: Comedy, Musical
Age Suitability: 12+ (Family Entertainment)
Company: RCS, UK Tickets: HERE

Featuring greatest hits and songs by Dolly Parton this musical is based on the 80s movie, '9 to 5' written by Patricia Resnick it concerns three office workers who plan to hijack the office and take charge by over-throwing their egotistical, sexist boss. The musical has a feel-good vibe, very light hearted fun with mild sexual content. The cast did a great job of keeping energy and pace throughout the 2 and half hours moving their simple and versatile set around made up of coloured filing cabinets. Basil Fawlty look-alike, Ciaran Walshe successfully portrayed a sleezy, anatagonistic boss, Mr. Franklin Hart. Taryn Taylor played a likeable motherly, strong-willed self assured Violet. Her new timid co-worker Judy (Meredith Busteed) dressed prim and proper only to show the nerves and ditheryness of someone in a new job was characterised successfully. The vocal talents of Seanna Knudson shown out in her role as Doralee, the buxom blonde supposedly sleeping with the boss. Knudson conveyed a vulnerable misunderstood character who wants to be seen for her true self rather than her looks. The three co-workers made for a great team with their different characterisations and unlikely friendship that gelled the play together. I would reccomend this comedy for family entertainment. A very polished performance by some stand-out performers!


'Adam and Eve and Steve'
Verdict: *** 

Genre:  Comedy, Musical, LGBT
Age Suitability:  PG
Company: Max Emerson Production and Elva Corrie, UK Tickets: HERE

Based on the biblical story of 'Adam and Eve' things don't go to God's plan when the devil adds 'Steve' to the mix. A small cast of five played out a very comical, seducing retelling that explored homosexuality in a light-hearted format. Joseph Robinson performed a naive, innocent slightly wet Adam who became elated to meet his new BFF 'Steve' who gave a slight stereo-typically flouncy, over-confident queer performance that was a great contrast to Adam. Eve (Hayley Hampson) on the other hand was a feisty, voluptuous babe who made the perfect 'obstacle' in the mischief and mayhem of this love triangle. This show is worth a watch for it's satire and comedy alone. The minimal set was disappointing with it's slap-dash green leafy fencing and I felt there was a missed opportunity for the entrance to Hell, perhaps seeing into the Devil's lair would have added more comic to the play somewhat. Devil, Beelzebub played by Stephen McGlynn was a great egotistical flamboyant character who charmed the audience and made a perfect opponent to the fatherly, assertive God. Both characters worked well together on and off stage (as God spoke over-head) with an ever-lasting tolerance as they persisted to out-wit each other.  Their performed tap routine was genius! Both dressed in suitable colours (Devil: Black and Red, God: White) it may have worked better if they were in the same style of suit if I'm being penickity. The writing of this show I felt needed some editing. There were too many musical numbers especially circling around the subject of finding ones true self. The majority of the comedy used today's popular culture and topical affairs which although was very funny didn't quite make sense when the character's conveyed their confusion of who and what they are and the world around them. That aside I do reccomend seeing this show for the laughs and crude humour!

'The Naked Magicians'
 Verdict: ***

Genre: Magic, Comedy
Age Suitability: 18+
Company: Lunchbox Theatrical Productions, Australia, Tickets: HERE

These two very hunky Aussie men tease the audience with their magic, confidence as well as their *ahem* ... * fans self*  yes, they do get butt naked but not for the entirety of the show I disappointingly add. The unsuspecting audience become lured under their spell of charm and cockiness (sorry couldn't help myself). They do expect audience members to join them on stage in their cringing antics: There was no saying no, two random women were pretty much forced to kiss and they did all they could to sexualise the whole show which came across a bit seedy at times. Saying this however the show has lots of comedy and very impressive mind-bending stunts and illusions with card-tricks and a straight jacket escape Houdini would be proud of. A confident, slick show, a bit corny but would reccomend if your bored of the same old magic shows.

Tuesday 9th August 2016

'In Tents and Purposes'
Verdict: *****

Genre: New Writing, Comedy
Age Suitability: It states 14+ on the tickets but I would say 12+
Company: Viscera Theatre, Tickets: HERE

In Aug 2010 two friends have their fortunes told at a summer festival. One is told she will have great success in life, the other will not. They then proceed to live out their lives in the way the fortune-teller pre-determind. On pondering if they were given opposite readings (would their lives pan out in the same way?) they go back in time and once again live out their lives. This very clever, witty and insightful play written by Roxy Dunn who performs alongside Alys Metcalf uses Meta theatre where the creative process of writing and devising the play is revealed. Breaking down the fourth wall Dunn as Dunn and Metcalf as Metcalf talk to the audience. Perhaps confusing at times it did however reveal a subplot to the play where Metcalf starts to sabotage Dunn's play by putting in her own input: adding lines and even creating scenarios in the play where in character she handed over her business card to an audience member. These touches enhanced her characterisation and added another level to this sharp slick play. As the women grew more and more annoyed with each other 'in between scenes' this was reflected subtly in their character's performances. The small static set was used effectively throughout the play: a blue tent-like tarpaulin acted as the backdrop with a large flip chart that was used to label the movement back and fourth in time: ie 'Aug 2010', 'Feb 2012', ' Nov 2019' etc. They used ice-cooler boxes to hold their simple prop costumes to introduce new characters which was a lovely touch and didn't overly complicate or crowd the performance space. The piece is fast-paced and keeps your attention- other than being cleverly written it's also very very funny. The two actresses are very talented and one's to watch! Having been recommended to us I now recommend it highly to everyone else! A must-see. 

'Men with Coconuts: Improvised Bond'
Verdict: ****

Genre: Improvised Comedy
Age Suitability: 14+ 
Company: Men with Coconuts, Tickets: HERE

A very talented bunch of men: Charlie, Will, Steve, and Sam with equally talented musicians on Saxophone (Angus) and keyboard (Jenny) improvising a Bond-esque music backdrop a long side the scenes. Every show is different. Every show is improvised. There is no script. There is no pre-planning (I have proof after talking with one of the stars: Will). Depending on how the scenes organically develop each comedian takes on different roles throughout. There is of course the appearance of Bond, Moneypenny, M and Q, ('the Queen is a recurring character too' - Will) but other characters depending on the audience's title suggestion at the start come into play including a mumbling racist Prince Philip who made out rather sensually on stage with Queenie. As well as the various antagonists who are planning to take over the world's satellites using one single beam from a remote control precariously placed by a fish tank. As the men looked on in bemusement at each during a scene it made it all the more real that they are really are all making it up on the spot. It was especially funny when they tripped each other up 'this is called Pimping in Improv'- Will and forced a character to explain in great scientific detail how (in this performance's case) one beam can control the 10s of thousands of satellite beams across the world! For most of this performance the original audience's title suggestion was lost and having sung the title theme at the beginning I was expecting some more song throughout. But aside from this, the show is hilarious and it's worth going to see it for these exceptionally talented individuals. It's free too- what's more to want!!

'5 Guys Chillin'
 Verdict: ****

Genre: LGBT, Verbatim
Age Suitability: 18+
Company: Em-Lou Productions, Tickets: HERE

Graphic, gritty, grotesque, devastating, eye-opening and worthy of a high 4 star-rating. Peter Darney's play is an intimate, overwhelmingly powerful approach to themes of homosexuality, gay-sex and drugs made all the more real and explicit through the verbatim 'script' taken from over 50 hour's worth of interviews from social networking app Grindr. A drug-fuelled sex party hosted by a scantily dressed cocky (again sorry pun not intended), hedonistic J played by Matthew Bunn with his American suave and charming stud M (Cesare Scarpone- awesome name) who are joined by a couple comprised of a young and naive R who was played by the highly energetic and absolutely phenomenal Elliot Hadley and his older partner B played by Michael Matovski who presented his bare buttocks for the entirety of the show! Matovski's character was in great contrast to his partner, chilled, laid-back but had bite and feist when talk became heated through discussing his third partner unseen in the play. The presence of Pakistani man PJ brought a character of disloyalty and religious conflict (he is going behind his wife's back to attend these parties). He is relatively new to the 'chem-sex' scene and is timid in his participation at first which broke up the heady confidence of the rest of the characters.

The play's structure did feel a little contrived where each character a-mid their sexual 'play' started to talk about their lifestyle and opening up about their experiences. However despite this  it did work to enhance each character's characterisations chipping away at their facade and revealing their profound vulnerabilities. Using verbatim theatre, the play was very raw especially in the blaze, chilled attitude the characters conveyed to each other through their flippant conversations: the talk of picking up their next STI, being HIV positive and proud and other such things I won't go into here. It's a stomach-churning harrowing ride of a show with sex simulations and excessive drug-taking. Not something to take your nan to but definitely a real informative, confronting look at the chem-sex scene that's happening behind closed doors.

Wednesday 10th August 2016

 Squirrel Stole My Underpants
Verdict: ***

Genre: Children's Show, Puppetry, Physical Theatre
Age Suitability: U (3 and older)
Company: The Gottabees, Tickets: HERE (16th-19th performances left)

A one woman show who kept the intrigue and attention of a young audience with the use of puppetry, clever props made from junk and found materials, original music and mime to tell her story. Sylvie (Bonnie Duncan) is putting out her laundry when a mischievous, squirrel snatches her favourite pair of underpants! In her pursuit to retrieve them she rows a boat through the stormy seas- a very effective slick sequence with draped fabric for waves and a prop costume 'bag' boat. The use of a smaller puppet version of Sylvie was a lovely touch to show her hunting for the sneaky squirrel. It may have been more practical had the (toy) squirrel been a hand puppet rather than gripped at the back but this is a minor point. The use of dyed underpants to make a forest of trees where the squirrel lived was creative brilliance and continued the fun and appropriately silly themes of the show. I would recommend this gentle, charming show for young viewers and it would also appeal to those who work with young children. The use of mime made it accessible to youngsters and Duncan's dynamic facial expressions were superb and efficiently conveyed emotion, meaning and suspense throughout. 

Verdict: *****

Genre: Immersive, Drama
Age Suitability: 16+
Company: Pentire St Productions Tickets: HERE

By far the most inventive, innovative performance I've seen (and possibly you'll see on this year's fringe). This show takes place in a car. The two and only audience members are driven out of Edinburgh during the performance (and taken safely back at the end). A little different to most immersive theatre you stay in the car, you don't interact with the characters and are merely a 'fly on the wall' to what is happening in the passenger and driver's seats. This did work very well although depending where you sit you may miss some of the action. This gritty, suspenseful production explores Sex Work and abusive relationships. The story concerns a young man, Tom (Hayden Munt)- who at first with his easy-going nature and blaze attitude clashed with the unsettling atmosphere. It is only when he picks up his girlfriend Jess (Sophia Luu) that there is a gradual and alarming falter in his personalty. Tom's performance was calculating, controlling and unpredictable; he manipulates Jess. His eyes in the rear view mirror (I sat behind him) were deeply threatening. He picks up Jess and they drive around Edinburgh to 'clients'. Munt had a particularly difficult agenda due to the fact he had to stay in character as well as drive through the busy ever-changing streets of Edinburgh which he did very successfully. Luu portrayed a very vulnerable character. Her performance was natural, convincing and effective in showing her constant wariness around her boyfriend. Her great vulnerability was shown through her body language especially in the awkward silences during the journey. I particularly found these uncomfortable silences a very clever addition to the script and direction. A car journey does have natural pauses in conversation and this made the performance all the more real. I highly recommend getting tickets to this production- it is a must see and an experience that will stay with me.

 'The Impromptunes'
 Verdict: ***

Genre: Improv Comedy, Musical Theatre
Age Suitability: 12+
Company: The Impromptunes, Australia, Tickets: HERE

An improvised musical is a difficult task to pull off but this group of vocally talented, comedic performers went above and beyond to give us 'The Almost Late Show' a title suggestion from an audience latecomer. A quirky, slightly bemusing but of course completely improvised musical unfolded with on point 4-part harmony, ballads, chorus numbers, solos and duets and hilarious comedy! The band of performers were exceptionally talented headed up by confident and fun MC, Emmet Nichols and joined on keys by a slightly awkward but equally impressive Isaac Hayward. The presence of a 10 year old in the audience threw them a little which made it all the more hilarious for a perfect example: Louisa Fitzhardinge's line 'He's up in his room...enjoying himself'. Others (one guy in particular) found it noticeably difficult to keep it clean to the embarrassment of the troupe. The show was joined by Gillian Cosgriff who was hilarious and her cringing looks at the side of the stage added to the hilarity of this very spontaneous show! The show moved smoothly through a plausible story-line- more use of audience suggestion would have enhanced the musical somewhat but a very intriguing piece of musical theatre that kept the audiences attention.

'The Tap Pack'
Verdict: ****

Genre: Dance/ Musical 
Age Suitability: U
Company: The Tap Pack, Australia, Tickets: HERE

Want a show with family entertainment? Bags of energy, copious amounts of talent and a lot of eye-candy on the side? The Tap Pack will be right up your street. If only there was a dance floor for the audience! An energetic, fast-paced, fun show with a mix of fantabulous tap dance, impressive 'juggling' stunts, classic songs old and new, comedy (perhaps a little corny) and top banter. These exceptionally talented hunks from Oz give you a treat for the eyes! The show opens with some gentle audience participation to warm up the crowd by a charming Jesse Rasmussen interacting effortlessly with the audience whilst showing his rhythmic talents on the box drum and performing solo tap tasters for anyone who throws a coin into his hat. The bar setting allows the show to move fluidly, slick and sharp. Rasmussen is soon joined by the rest of the Pack: the suave Thomas J Egan, the vocally talented Sean Mulligan (his Buble cover of Feeling Good sent chills), fun and lively Dilon Billios and the deliciously handsome, again with vocals on point Thomas Lacey who, *fans self* would make my perfect dance partner (just sayin'). The complex tap routines were out-standing: exhilarating with high impact. The performers were relaxed on stage in the appropriate and well chosen bar setting, they encourage the audience to clap along: the music is catchy, the show is slick and polished. If not too short! 

Thursday 11th August 2016

'Us/ Them'
Verdict: *****

Genre: Family, True-life [devised/physical theatre vibe]
Age Suitability: 12+
Company: BRONKS, Big in Belgium, Richard Jordan, Theatre Royal Plymouth

In 2004 a siege on a school took place in Beslan in Russia where an armed gang held children and staff hostage for three days. Us/ Them is a phenomenally powerful retelling of this terror attack from the eyes of two children played by Gytha Partentier and Roman van Houtvan. Both actors were superb in their characters of overly enthusiastic, children both vying for attention to be the one to tell the audience what happened; in a matter-of-fact way. At first the stage was set with an ominous wall where children's coats hung but throughout the play the stage becomes a jungle of string, chalk and helium-filled balloons illustrating the incarceration of those being held in the gymnasium. This use of playful and otherwise innocent medium was a brilliant juxtaposition against the harrowing topics the play concerned: the timeline of events, and what happened to those held in the gym from each symptom of serious dehydration to the gunfire and bomb explosion. This production is outstanding! It delivers an innovative, playful and poignant approach to explore how childhood myths are created via the editing of traumatic reality. 

'Letters to Windsor House'
Verdict: *****

Genre: Comedy, True-Life
Age Suitability: 16+
Company: Sh!t Theatre with Show and Tell, Tickets HERE

This is not to be missed; a hilarious real-life retelling with home-made film, live music* and your average 2016 social media stalking (completely relatable) of Sh!t Theatre's very own Louise Mothersole and Rebecca Biscuit experience of living in a North London flat far (from the grandeur of the real Windsor House). This is not just any show- it's off-the-wall, it's fresh, kooky and so much fun! The two friends and housemates take advantage of a loop-hole in the Postal Services Act where due to certain circumstances you can open other people's post, leading them to discover (through wild speculation and internet-assisted stalking- that's what social media's for right?!) the past flat's tenants. Frank, honest, witty, this likable duo gave such an entertaining performance; their relaxed approach broke down the fourth wall and they even gave their water to a quietly choking audience member. Their slapdash, shabby set of boxes and armchairs gave us a glimpse of the struggle of living in a sh*t-hole and how friendships can be tested and threatened to break. 
*You'll be singing their catch songs for the rest of the day especially the one about an Adult Baby!) 

'A Man Standing'
Verdict: ***

Genre: Contemporary, True-Life
Age Suitability: 14+ 

A heart-rendering, moving and engaging contemporary piece retelling former Belgium prisoner, Jean Marc Mahy's own experience of solitary confinement. A monologue 'performed' by himself (in french with subtitles) recounted in great detail his struggle of isolation, humiliation and delirium. He gripped the audience's attention, giving us an insight into the hidden world of prison isolation. The mind is fragile and put to horrific tests of mental stability kept hidden away in a cell for 1100 days the play is a powerful testimony of courage and hope. In a single square marked out by Mahy on the blank stage actor, Stephane Pirard performed Mahy's words simultaneously as Mahy and the security guards. He achieved this frenzy on stage between the two and only character's in the play which (I felt) successfully matched the madness of Mahy's mind during his time in the prison. This play is harrowing but made all the more powerful with the presence of Jean Marc Mahy who now delivers speeches on his experiences in schools. I reccomend this show for some real-life drama and grit that will stay with you but you may want to watch a kitten video or see some light comedy afterwards.

Verdict: ***

Genre: Dance (Hip/Hop), LGBT
Age Suitability: 12+ 
Company: 201 Dance Company, Tickets HERE

Choreographed by Andrea Walker, Smother is an urban dance show exploring homosexuality, addiction and obsession. A band of 7 talented dancers performed a powerful story with synchronised ensemble sequences, hip hop equivalents of 'pas de deux' and solo numbers. The choreography was truly remarkable, the spot-lit stage and chalk dust was very dramatic and the music by band 'Daughter' was mesmerising! However I was slightly unenthused, perhaps no thanks to the hype surrounding this production. The story told through dance alone was a little confusing to follow at times and the use of Lucy Spraggan's song, 'Someone' just did not cohere to the overall Folktronica ambience. As a theatrical story it dragged a little for me but I can appreciate that the choreography is top-notch, slick and very impressive. 

'Spontaneous Sherlock'
Verdict: *****

Genre: Improvised Comedy
Age Suitability: 16+
Company: Spontaneous Sherlock, Tickets: Free, just turn up early!

Men with Coconuts members: Will and Sam joined by an equally talented and very witty, Eric for 'Sherlock Holmes and the... silver-eyed Surfer' again-similar to Improvised Bond- an audience suggestion this time picked out of a hat. This worked better in comparison to Bond (possibly through improvised pot-luck, the title theme and the smaller cast). It was funny, sharp and the band worked so well together- continuing on with other's jokes eg: 'the publisher's in Oxford, the Oxford publishers...I don't know why I didn't just say that' and creating a pack of 6 'evil-beings' which resulted in Will having to play-off himself as the fiery 'Human Torch' and the rocky 'Some Thing'. The lighting team did an excellent job at bathing the stage in a red filter when an on-the-spot death happened. The poster promises a live band of Victorian background music which was not included in the performance I saw but this did not take away from the show- but we did have Jenny on keys who improvised alongside the mood of the scene. If you want to see any improvised performance- make it this one! Move over Cucumberpatch if Sherlock was really like this I would be hooked!

*All images of tickets are my own (hence marked)
** I do not own the other images used in the picframe collages.  


Sunday 7th August 2016
 What I'm expecting 

I have been to Edinburgh before (on a slightly failed solo travelers New Year trip to the Hogmanay) so feel I won't need to cram in all the tourist sights and can immerse myself in everything 'performance'. I am expecting these next few days to be intense, fast-paced and tiring. In true over-thinking Belinda fashion I have packed for all weather eventualities and all possible emergencies.

Poppy over-seeing my packing.

Shows I hope to see

I haven't pre-booked anything (possible rookie error) and felt swamped by the catalogue of events so I'm going with an open-mind; I'm happy to see anything this time round as long as I get to see the famous 'Men with Coconuts' improv comedy band.

Men with Coconuts
I'm optimistically bringing my dancing shoes in hope that we might find a ballroom and latin tea dance of some sort. I would also like to see some site specific immersive theatre. Rocking up to a performance at 2 in the morning is also on the agenda.