Interactive Theatre International’s Confetti and Chaos is back at its spiritual home, smack bang in the middle of the madness of the Edinburgh Festival.
The world’s worst wedding reception still has the ability to surprise and delight and it’s all down to the pin-sharp script and the enviable comedy acting and improvisation skills of its talented cast.
The whole idea is a winner, because we’ve all been there: the excruciating speeches, the wild cannon relatives, secrets tumbling out of the closet, lips getting looser as the alcohol flows freely, drunken dancing and worse, much, much worse. Just when you think it couldn’t get any crazier, it does. Did I mention that while all the madness unfolds we, the wedding guests, are all enjoying a three course meal?
While there’s a face-achingly funny script at its backbone, it’s the ability of the cast to interact and react with the ever-changing nightly audience that makes this more than just a performance but an event for the ‘guests’. No matter how effortless this looks, it takes phenomenally talented actors to pull it off. Nerine Skinner, Otis Waby, Helen Colby and Hayden Wood, double and triple-up on roles and manage to give each their own individual characterisation, and each is funnier than the last. The energy required is astonishing and the effort the actors put in is laudable.
Confetti and Chaos (formerly The Wedding Reception) remains as hysterical as it ever was, and stands up to multiple viewings. A show where quality is assured night after night.
The infamous and anonymous mystery man of London theatre, West End Producer has finally taken the plunge and headed north of the border to Edinburgh for the summer season with his rubber Willy under one arm and baby grand under the other.
WEP is in town to audition hopefuls for his proposed West End mega hit-to-be Free Willy: The Musical. In the process we are let in on a few theatrical secrets, partake in a lesson on the perfect jazz hands and are led in a theme appropriate dolphin vocal warm up, there are even some genuine soiled West End show pants on offer to one lucky auditionee.
The fun starts before the show does with our idol interacting with his public in the queue, we are assigned our audition numbers and given a mini task to perform. Audience participation-phobes don’t despair though, it’s all very non-threatening – what else would you expect, we know WEP is an absolute #dear.
As befitting WEP’s status among the stagey folks, the place is packed on this sunny afternoon and the large crowd really helps the atmosphere. This is a show that knows its audience – everyone is in on the West End gossip and the jokes and digs land, and the addition of a different guest each day, a fellow Fringe performer (today’s was comedian Patrick Monaghan) is a nice touch that delivers variety and a sense of what on earth is going to happen next? to the proceedings.
WEP is a man of many talents, as well as this being a well-conceived and executed show, he’s a gifted pianist and singer, and the comic songs are actually, in some cases, better than some of the drivel I’ve had to endure in real West End shows. WEP’s entrance on a blow up whale is also a sight once-seen – hard to forget.
If you are of a stagey disposition – this is a chance to get up close and personal with the enigma that is WEP. Go along and help West End Producer find his Willy – you won’t regret it.
Mick Berry endeavours to delve deep into the psyche of the world’s greatest rock drummer – The Who’s Keith Moon, but succeeds only in proving how decent a drummer he is himself (he’s the author of The Drummer’s Bible), in this odd mish-mash of a show.
There’s material a-plenty to plunder in Moon’s life, both actual and mythical, but this one-man version misses the mark in so many ways. Berry has apparently been working on this show since 2013, when a version appeared at the Eureka Theatre in San Francisco, that time with the support of some fellow musicians playing his band-mates in The Who. This one-man version is neither straight biography, though there are many dis-jointed biographical moments, nor musical tribute to the great musician.
As the famous chords of Baba O’Reilly ring out and Berry batters out the ear-splitting, accompanying beat, there’s a sense of optimism that this might be a rollicking rock ‘n’ roll tale, but that quickly subsides the moment Berry opens his mouth and the worst British accent since Dick Van Dyke’s Bert in Mary Poppins comes out. During the course of the show it travels from Cornwall to Cockney to Canberra. There’s also the issue of Berry’s insistence in shouting out disjointed sequences of dialogue that are drowned out by the backing track and Berry’s own drumming. Other minor issues are Berry’s insistence on replicating Moon’s famous two-handed drumstick twirling that looks laboured, something he continues to try to do throughout. Despite his evident drumming skills, to a Who fan’s ears there are moments when he quite evidently fails to keep on these famous beats. Berry also looks uncomfortably nervous, whether with the material itself or the muted reaction of the small audience, it’s hard to tell. Moon managed only 32 years on this earth, and Mr. Berry is a man of advanced age that’s hard to hide in a small venue.
There’s little attempt to “pierce Moon’s insane exterior to get inside of this rock legend” or provide a “deeper, more personal, volatile and intimate exploration” as promised in the advertising material. It merely grazes the surface in the most superficial and confusing way. It smacks of self-indulgence and is badly in need of a pair or two of outside eyes to take what could be a dynamite story to the place where it should be to be a fitting tribute to one of the rock and roll greats. On a more positive note, the drumming’s good and there are snippets of some of the biggest hits of the greatest rock band Britain ever produced.
If you’re looking for a creative team of infinite quality and a performer of prodigious talent (sometimes rare at The Fringe), then look no further than Richard Marsh and Jessica Sharman’s musical play, Phoenix.
Marsh and Sharman’s enviable track records include Marsh winning a Fringe First Award, a BBC Audio Drama Award, and a run in the West End with previous show Dirty Great Love Story, and in Sharman’s case, co-writing Ward Thomas’ record-breaking No.1. Country album Cartwheels.
This play is so much more than its simplistic blurb. It’s a big story in a small-sized show. On the face of it, it’s a tale of a wannabe rock star for whom fatherhood subsumes his hopes and dreams of stardom, but its themes are much greater than these few words, instead delivering a highly-relatable story of love and sacrifice.
There’s an elegant fluency to the writing, the beautifully constructed script has a completely developed story arc, fully rounded characters, all interwoven with some expertly crafted songs, and all packed into a 70-minute running time. The combination makes for an irresistible, gripping, funny, life-affirming show.
In a piece of master casting, multi-instrumentalist (guitar – electric and acoustic, keys, drums, looping) singer and actor Andy Gallo plays Ash, and proves to be a rare find. He manages to perfectly pitch the gamut of emotions required of this marvellously layered tale, all the while banging out tunes on a plethora of instruments and singing. He has the audience transfixed from the start.
This is an astute piece of theatre. Well thought out, cleverly crafted and refreshingly surprising. This is the perfect five-star start to this year’s Fringe.
With its origins as the Royal Shakespeare Company’s 2010 festive show, nine years down the line, Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin’s musical adaptation of Roald Dahl’s Matilda has been seen by over eight million people around the globe. Winning awards and smashing box office records wherever it goes (and deservedly so) the transformation of a much-adored but thematically and emotionally challenging children’s book was never going to be easy, taking its creators seven years to develop from page to stage – but boy was it worth it.
There are few other musicals, let alone one largely written for a child audience, that is a genuine emotional rollercoaster, laugh-out-loud funny and entirely entertaining from curtain up to curtain down for an audience of all ages. Never shying away from the darker corners of human nature, it re-iterates throughout that despite this one having one, not all stories have a happy ending. An unexpected and unwelcome addition to the grotesque Wormwood family, five-and-a-half-year-old prodigy with telekinetic powers Matilda (Scarlett Cecil), takes solace in books – from Austen and Brontë to Dickens and Dostoyevsky and finds a kindred spirit in her gentle and downtrodden new teacher Miss Honey. While she relishes starting school, the cruelty she seeks to escape at home is heaped upon her and her classmates ten-fold by their larger than life, ex-Olympic hammer throwing head mistress Miss Trunchbull (played to utter perfection and with great relish by Elliot Harper).
With a two-hour 40-minute running time, jam packed with dialogue, tricky lyrics and hugely inventive choreography and scene changes, Matilda’s success relies in no small part to a well-drilled cast, and you’d be hard-pressed to find a better quality one than this. Scarlett Cecil, one of four Matildas is an absolute star, it must be remembered that this is a child taking on this role, a child who rarely leaves the stage during the entire production, a child who is delivering complex dialogue and lyrics that those treble her age would find challenging. The entire child cast are exceptional (the adults are pretty spectacular too) not a foot or word is out of place and the energy and gusto with which they attack every scene adds a youthful realism.
Both Kelly’s words (perfectly adapted from Roald Dahl’s original book) and Tim Minchin’s music and lyrics are clever, clever, clever and prove that there’s no need to dumb down to provide entertainment with mass appeal. As perfect as it’s possible to be, Matilda remains an outstanding musical in the British theatrical canon.
This isn’t the Sinatra who screaming Bobby-soxer’s threw themselves at, nor the rose-tinted twilight years legend, this is Palm Springs, 1971, Frank Sinatra is in the biggest decline of his illustrious career. The era of Glam Rock beckons and retirement looms. We’re gathered here for one, last, intimate show.
This is a night filled with memories, both bitter and brilliant. Behind-the-headlines anecdotes intersperse this collection of greatest hits. British-born, now Las Vegas based Richard Shelton delivers this brand new, self-written play with both sass and class. There’s meat on the bones of this show, the memories private and painful, show a little seen side of the showbiz Titan, illuminating the breadth and depth of Sinatra’s many grudges and regrets. Hugely entertaining, this is a classy little number housed in the basement of a tatty Edinburgh pub.
Shelton is a class act and this play a little gem.
Arguably, the greatest living string player in the world, and undoubtedly the most in-demand musician in all of classical music, Maxim Vengerov returns to Edinburgh as both soloist and conductor in this finale to the Usher Hall’s season of Sunday Classics.
In the first half, Vengerov performs one of the most popular violin concertos in the classical repertoire, and one of the best works of the Romantic period, Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No.1 in G Minor, Op. 26, in the second, conducting the newly formed Würth Philharmonic in Shostakovich’s 10th Symphony. In addition we are treated to Strauss’ Die Fledermaus Overture and Saint-Saëns’ Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso.
Under the confident baton of Stamatia Karampini, the Würth Philharmonic begin the afternoon gloriously with the overture of J. Strauss II’s Die Fledermaus, the smiles that appear instantaneously on the faces of the audience, testament to both the popularity of the piece and the virtuosity with which it is played by this stunning orchestra.
When Vengerov takes to the stage, the ex-Kreutzer Stradivari in his hand, there’s no doubt who everyone is here to see, and boy does he deliver. Bruch’s Violin Concerto is already one of the greatest loved works in the repertoire, but in the hands of a maestro it is utterly ravishing. While there’s a theatricality in his playing style, there’s little interaction with the audience, that said, there’s no need, this traditional approach takes nothing away from the musical experience, and Vengerov radiates sincerity and enthusiasm from every pore. His finger work as close to perfection as it’s possible to get. As he leaves the stage at the end of the first act there’s no greater compliment than the reaction of the audience, a rousing ovation and smiles, smiles everywhere you look, proof that music has the power to change your mood, to make you feel alive.
In the second half Vengerov takes the baton, conducting the Würth in Shostakovich’s rousing Symphony No.10. Created in 2017, the 72 piece from mainly European countries, the orchestra aims to unite young musicians across the world form a virtuosic symphony orchestra and on this first hearing they have achieved this. The power of Shostakovich’s rings out throughout the auditorium, stirring the soul.
A concert programme and performance of infinite quality. A fitting end to the Usher Hall’s Sunday Classics International Concert Series, a programme of work that stirs and inspires and leaves you wanting more.
It’s easy to forget about Section 28 and it’s ramifications, living life closeted in the shadows, the Gay scene largely, if not entirely underground, the height of the AIDS crisis and the fact that homosexuality was illegal in Scotland until 1980. While things aren’t exactly perfect now, a lot has changed.
James Ley hadn’t even heard of Lavender Menace, the Edinburgh LGBT bookshop founded by Bob Orr and Sigrid Nielson, that existed from 1982 to 1986, when he won a LGBT History Month Cultural Comission to write a new play.
But that is exactly the subject matter of his celebratory play, Love Song to Lavender Menace.
Bookshop workers Lewis (Pierce Reid) and Glen (Matthew McVarish) spend the last night of Lavender Menace packing up the remaining stock while rehearsing their “homage” to Bob and Sigrid. The dreaded ‘W’ word – Waterstones is moving to town, LGBT literature is becoming available in mainstream bookshops, and Bob and Sigrid are moving on. With every book packed away comes a memory, from the early days as a bookstall in the cloakroom of Princes Street nightclub, Fire Island, through life as a Gay man in Edinburgh in the 80s, to the spectre of Section 28, which looms on the horizon. All the while, exploring the significance of some seminal pieces of LGBT writing, and all done with humour and pathos.
This is a tiny slice of life, from a very specific time and place, and because of that, all the more engaging and relatable. While the tone can be almost flippant at times, its serves as a timely reminder of the groundwork that has gone in to raising the profile of the LGBTIQ community in the public eye. Pierce Reid is mercurial as the idealistic Lewis, Matthew McVarish endearing as the more pragmatic Glen. Pierce in particular looks to have a glittering career ahead of him.
Charming, amusing, though-provoking and laugh-out-loud funny. A worthwhile work, written and performed in such a way that it will leave you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. It also leaves you wanting to see what’s next for playwright Ley and these talented actors.
A more life-affirming, moving and ultimately inspiring “happening” (in the words of the performers), you are unlikely to experience than An Audience With… Created after choreographer and dance-maker Janice Parker put a call out to dancers from the Variety era who had performed on the stage of the Empire (now Festival) Theatre in Edinburgh. Answering that call from Parker were: Marie Duthie (94), June Don Murray (90) and Doreen Leighton-Ward (85), all seasoned stars of the Variety stage.
June Don Murray, Janice Parker, Marie Duthie, Doreen Leighton-Ward, Daisy Douglas and Katie Miller
Their rich lives and legacy are the core of this promenade performance. And oh, what lives they’ve lived. Their memories of the golden age of Scottish variety are a glimpse into an almost lost world.
June Don Murray still shows the spark that served her so well as a performer. Born into a family of performers and theatre managers (one of her father’s illustrations adorns the walls of the performance space, an illustration that the theatre knew no backstory to, until June herself spotted it), she takes us through our paces in a dance lesson, performs a dying swan ballet sequence and recounts some of the hair-raising feats she performed. Along with being a Moxon Girl, Scotland’s answer to the Tiller Girls, June was Australian illusionist The Great Levante’s assistant and was shot out of a cannon into a basket in the gallery of the theatre on a nightly basis.
June Don Murray
Doreen Leighton-Ward as well as being acclaimed for her dancing skills, organised a strike to obtain a pay rise and better contracts and conditions for Scottish dancers. An act that led one spiteful theatre manager to sack her, however, this quiet, but strong woman, expresses no regrets.
Marie Duthie née Pyper, began her dancing career as a toddler at her father’s amateur concert parties. In 1932, at the age of 9, she performed the dying swan solo and Edinburgh’s Evening Dispatch newspaper said, “memories of Pavlova are brought to mind”. By 1940 she toured the country with The Ganjou Brothers and Juanita and in 1942 became one half of The Raymond Sisters, extensively touring the UK on the renowned Moss Empire Circuit, ending the act in a mini kilt singing and tap dancing to Macphersin’ is Rehearsin’ to Swing.
The Ganjou Brothers and Jaunita with whom Marie Duthie toured.
We are led through the private corridors and side rooms of the theatre, experiencing different aspects of these remarkable women’s careers. They are joined by two more generations of dancers, creator Janice Parker, and two young dancers, Daisy Douglas and Katie Miller, whom the women are teaching to tap dance.
These women have never stopped dancing, and to this day are still passing on their techniques and wisdom to a new generation of dancers. Their legacy too, is getting the recognition it deserves with a book and film due next year.
Celebratory, moving and inspirational in turn, the joy in the room is palpable. The enthusiasm they transmit for dance is measured by the scrum to don tap shoes and take part in a lesson at the end. This life-affirming production proves that love for, and participation in dance, has no age limit, it will leave you with a song in your heart and wings on your heels. Truly joyous.
There are further performances of An Audience With… on 26 and 28 October 2017 at The Empire Rooms in Edinburgh Festival Theatre.
This stark and sleek version of Ibsen’s classic play, adapted by Patrick Marber and directed by Ivo van Hove, demonstrates Hedda Gabler has resonance far beyond its time.
An ice-cold but electrifying Hedda (Lizzy Watts) returns from her honeymoon with new (but already unwanted and undesired) husband Tesman (played by Abhin Galeya as more youthful and vibrant than those that have come before him, but still more interested in his academic buddies, and still treating his wife like a trophy in a display cabinet), to the blank walls of her marital prison. Apparently lacking the means or self-motivation to free herself, Hedda sets out on a path of universal destruction.
The production plays out at a uniform pace which makes the unfolding horror all the more insidious. Hedda is a master manipulator, taking perverse pleasure in her malevolence. Whilst hurting and harming all those around her, every act of cruelty is ultimately harming only one person, Hedda herself. Her self-annihilation is uncomfortable to watch and every action, foreshadows the inevitable ending.
Jan Versweyveld’s whitewashed representation of Hedda and Tesman’s new marital home is cell-like, and despite it’s vast size, feels claustrophobically confining. The sparseness reflecting Hedda’s own view of the physical and psychological walls between which she’s trapped. Indeed, van Hove and Marber’s adaptation shines a modern light on Hedda’s actions, actions that we would now associate as classic symptoms of depression. Versweyveld’s lighting is a triumph, almost a character in itself, subtly shifting the mood in the auditorium.
However, for all that does work, there are details that jar: video intercoms, but no mobile phones, Løvborg’s precious manuscript in handwritten form only, characters discussing riding coats and whether they should call each other by Christian names while swanning around in modern dress. While much resonates, it has been robbed of much its power to shock in transporting it to the 21st Century. While it is depressing to think that over a century on, gender imbalance still exists and many women are still trapped in stifling marriages due to financial and familial pressure, but most have, or can find, an avenue of escape or support. The nagging question keeps coming to mind: “Why in today’s world, doesn’t she just pack up and leave?”
Watts is impressive in the titular role as is Annabel Bates (below) as old schoolmate Mrs. Elvsted. While an object of Hedda’s torture both in the past and present, she has much that Hedda envies, and Bates imbues her with a steely backbone hidden behind the soft exterior. Adam Best, in an uncomfortably resonant display of sexual harassment, (in light of the Weinstein allegations) is suitably abhorrent as the bullying Brack.
Despite some questionable directorial choices, Hedda Gabler, while no longer shocking, remains unnerving, and this National Theatre production deserves to be seen by a wide audience.