Ticket to Bollywood (New Town Theatre, 7 – 30 Aug : 21.30 : 1hr)

“Thoroughly enjoyable and an impressive showcase of the best of Indian dancing”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

Ticket to Bollywood is split into three distinct parts, each of which is given a short audio introduction to explain the style and background of the dance. The first of these covers love and marriage (very common themes in Bollywood films), and at first the six girls perform with the innocence of teenagers, being supportive and playful with a photograph of one of their loves. When the boys enter, it all gets much more flirtatious, and games are played between the two groups as if not wanting to appear to keen. There is a very brief duet between the two lovers, which is surprisingly less expressive and a bit more awkward than the group numbers, but the section ends in a big bright wedding celebration.

Next comes a section focusing on traditional dance, and three screens are brought on to stage, which three girls dance in front of, and three more make silhouettes behind them. However, it’s not long before they are all together and in the middle of another high energy group routine. The male dancers bring a real sense of bravado with their very macho and aggressive routine, which resorts into a short fight sequence, complete with weaponry.

The last section is loosely themed around celebration, and while I’m sure there were differences between this and the previous two, style-wise to me this section didn’t produce anything we hadn’t already seen, apart from an interesting array of props. It was no-holds-barred up-tempo extravaganza.

While the group routines, always in perfect unison, were very powerful and precise, for me it was the sections where added props were used that really stood out. These ranged from oversized lotus flowers to swords and shields, kites and huge poles. Their creative use made this piece really unique and made these moments definitely raised the bar when compared to the rest of the performance. I should also mention the absolutely stunning costumes throughout, which really added to the overall colour and sense of show this performance brought.

For a show that’s basically an hour of non-stop dancing it’s performed with amazing energy, attention to detail and beaming smiles. Yet despite the overwhelming sense of celebration it exudes, I would have liked to see some calmer or more restrained sections to balance out some of the franticness. I also felt a little cheated that the singing wasn’t live, and that almost all the music was pre-recorded, and I would personally call this show dance rather than musical theatre.

However, that’s not to say it wasn’t thoroughly enjoyable and an impressive showcase of the best of Indian dancing. Just not quite what I was expecting.

 

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 27 August)

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Submarine (theSpace Niddry Street: 1 – 29 Aug: 20:25 : 1hr 25mins)

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“Slick and powerful”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars Outstanding

Go see a stage adaptation of an indie film adaptation of an award-winning book they said. It’ll be fun, they said. Luckily, they were right. Popcorn Theatre’s “Submarine” is an undeniably enjoyable piece of theatre, whether you’ve even seen the original work or not – or even if you’re not a fan of indie movies.

Following the adolescent trials of misfit Oliver Tate, “Submarine” addresses themes of love lost, youth reconsidered and the nature of human emotion in relativity; if that all sounds a bit much, rest assured – it never feels overwrought or artsy for art’s sake, staying firmly rooted in it’s homely welsh drab and expertly weaved soundtrack.

Jonas Moore and Rachel Kelly are a tour-de-force as Oliver and leading female Jordana Bevan. There’s such palpable substance in their characterisation, it’s easy to get lost in their characters. Every physical tic and vocal quirk feels energetic yet realistic, aided hugely by a skilled, slick set of supporting actors. A particular favourite was Tom Titherington as the wonderfully ridiculous Graham, who managed to summon laughs up without fail every time he appeared on stage.

And the comedy really is good. Every punchline is unexpected, driven by the sustained, cerebral oddness of Dunthorne’s characters. But Submarine is also a show which pulls no punches in regard to poignant, emotional drama either. The scenes between Jill and Lloyd Tate (Catherine Prior and Josh Hunter) were often heartbreaking in their portrayal of a marriage falling apart – not with a bang, but with a disappointing slump.

But slump seems the right word to describe parts of this show also. Despite it’s strengths, it’s inescapably “indie”: meaning the often manufactured dramatic turns and heightened energy many theatregoers are used to just isn’t present. It stays at a high but disappointingly constant drone which, though it helps it succeed in imitating real life, also meant that certain scenes felt like they needed a little something more.

However, that does little to diminish the strong performances and time-tested writing underpinning a very slick and powerful show. The clever staging, the wonderfully implemented Super-8 footage and the expertly talented cast pull together what for others may have ended up being a tedious and pretentious spectacle. Taking no prisoners when it comes to left-field humour and commentary on the human state, Submarine is definitely a show with six full miles of depth.

 

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Jacob Close (Seen 25 August)

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Edinburgh Gin’s Night of Literature and Liquor (Edinburgh Gin Distillery, 10 – 31 Aug (Mondays only) : 19.00 : 1hr 30 mins)

“Thoroughly enjoyable and educational”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

The cosy Edinburgh Gin Distillery is the perfect venue for a tour of literature’s liquor references, washed down with no less than four gin-based cocktails. It’s comfortable, intimate (audience numbers are limited to 20), and a delightful escape from the bustle of the Fringe.

The show is presented by the quirky and immensely knowledgeable Ewan Angus, who welcomes us to the distillery and talks us through the first of our evening’s beverages. He soon moves on to the good stuff – the literature – starting with who else but Robert Burns.

Throughout the evening, Angus covers a complete range of work, covering writers as diverse as Dickens, Zola, Eliot and Carroll, to lesser known modern authors including Thomas Pynchon and Jim Dodge. He explains the context of each piece, including society’s attitude towards alcohol, and reads selected excerpts which wonderfully describe or talk about liquor and its effects.

Of course, there were features on the well-known gin drinkers of the 20s (Fitzgerald, Hemingway et al.) but no show about literature and liquor would be complete without inclusion of Ian Fleming’s James Bond. Indeed, one of the many surprising facts I learned during this show was how Fleming would knock back up to a bottle of gin a day while writing his last novels. To further his argument into Fleming’s obsession with gin, Angus references passages from Casino Royale and Thunderball, which both give detailed accounts of the many charms of a martini. I’m sure there are plenty more.

However, while gin is commonly known as “mothers’ ruin” – the etymology of which is also discussed in this show, it was somewhat surprising that so few female writers were included. Only works by George Eliot and Elizabeth Gaskell made the cut, though Angus explains that while his research was extensive, it seems women were generally more restrained in their references to liquor.

While Angus is clearly very knowledgeable and passionate about his subject, his delivery was at times a little introverted and rushed, and I would have liked to see more confidence and charisma come through. However, as this show is still very new, I’m sure that will come in future performances.

Overall, this is a very well-researched and informative show, and apart from leaving somewhat more inebriated than on one’s arrival, it’s thoroughly enjoyable and educational.

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 24 August)

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In His Own Write (The Voodoo Rooms, 8 – 30 Aug : 17.10 : 1hr)

“A thoroughly enjoyable performance, accessible to adults of all ages”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

In His Own Write is a delightfully bonkers collection of short stories, written by none other than John Lennon. Last staged at at the National Theatre in 1968, it seems incredulous that it hasn’t been seen since. However, perhaps this version has been given the ok due to its very simple and honest approach to just telling the stories, without any of the pomp, prestige or impersonation that could be associated with adapting such a work.

The show opens with (and indeed each story is preceded by) a short pencil-sketch animation in the style of the illustrations in the original book. Immediately the tone is set as being playful and non-fussy – embodying the spirit of the book perfectly. The trio of performers set straight to it, capturing the innocence of each story with energy and clarity, but at no point going over the top into pantomime.

What makes this collection so enjoyable is the wordplay used by Lennon on selective phrases, often changing just one or two letters to make a new word with a completely different meaning. My favourite came quite early on, in Flies on Trash, where a character is described as “a former beauty queer”, and is portrayed by the actor accordingly. Another character later on is described as “dead and duff”, and another “wandered lonely as a sock”. The deadpan delivery of every line was the perfect accompaniment to the absurdity of the writing in letting it speak for itself.

Of course, for a piece written in 1964, there are bound to be some words and phrases used that today we find a little unsavoury, and use of them could probably get one sacked from the BBC. But given the honest style of the show’s delivery – presenting the work just as it was written without any comment or spin – such phrases ring home very naturally, and don’t seem out of place in the context. If anything, they give an added layer of hilarity.

As a performance it is very slick and professionally put together, and there’s also great variety used in the techniques to share each story. A couple are sung a capella, one or two are delivered solo, some contain a few outlandish props, but all delivered clearly, with great vitality and passion for the craft. It’s well rehearsed and the transitions are smooth, maintaining the level of interest and engagement throughout.

I think for what the company were trying to achieve in the faithful presentation of the book, they succeeded with aplomb. Whether this piece is everyone’s cup of tea, or could have had more dramatic structure or development is another question. Either way, it is a thoroughly enjoyable performance, accessible to adults of all ages.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 24 August)

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Vertical Influences (Assembly @ Murrayfield Ice Rink, 8 – 29 Aug : various times : 1hr 30 mins)

“The skating is spectacular”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

Vertical Influences is an original contemporary dance piece on ice, developed and performed by five talented skaters who were probably kicked out of the Canadian Olympic team for being too cool. I’ll admit upfront: I’m not an ice-skating expert, so please forgive my ignorance of technical terms in describing this performance. I am, however, trained in contemporary dance, so this critique focuses purely on the “dance” aspect of the show.

What’s clear from the very beginning, and what is a real strength of this piece, is just how connected and in tune the dancers are to each other. From the opening sequence where the group “run” in big loops around the rink as though one body, to the smoother sections in the middle where they weave in and out of each other without even seeming to look at where the others are, it’s a very mesmerising performance.

The first half of the piece allows each dancer to show off their own personalities and style through solo sections. The dancers will do sequences around the rink in unison, and one will literally break away to do their own thing, before coming back to the group. The unison sections are very strong with every movement completely in synch, but some of the solo sections, although very physically impressive, did seem more improvised, and so form a stark contrast to to the clearly closely rehearsed group sections. There is a wonderful sense of playfulness between the dancers as they allow each other to go off and be different, safe in the knowledge that they will soon come back.

In the second half the routine is slightly more traditional in terms of choreography, with more unison, canon, and recognisable structures. For this the audience sits in special seats at one end of the ice, and because we are that much closer to the action, it seems much more daring, as the skaters often skate directly towards the audience at terrifying speed, only to turn or stop at the absolute last second. The sense forward and back (a bit like a fashion runway) was very prominent, and the skaters use this to show the variety of ways they could travel towards (and away from) us, always in complete control. The weaving motif is used throughout to give congruence to the halves, but the second certainly feels more grown up, and, dare I say it, professional.

There’s no mistaking that this is very much a contemporary dance piece – there’s not a single sequin to be seen, no throwing of the girl into the air, and no jolly melodies to accompany forced smiles – anyone hoping for a Torvill and Dean bolero will be sadly disappointed. What music there is is quite harsh, mostly rhythm with little melody, and is quite hard to engage with. The piece overall is performed with little sense of spectacle or razzle-dazzle (although it is very tight) and doesn’t have much sense of narrative or development. Still, the skating is spectacular, even if the choreography might not be to everyone’s taste.

outstanding

StarStarStarStar

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 23 August)

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Edith in the Dark (Momentum Venues @ St Stephens, 5 – 30 Aug : 16.25 : 1hr 20 mins)

“A truly superb performance from Blue Merrick as the title character”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

Edith in the Dark is perhaps one of the most curious adaptations at the Fringe this year, combining a selection of Edith Nesbit’s earlier, and much darker, works, with elements of her real life. From the pen of award-winning and respected playwright Philip Meeks I was expecting a well conceived piece, but could it bring the threads together to be a work of art in its own right?

The concept is very simple: Nesbit escapes to her attic (and study) during one of her husband’s parties. In the adjoining room lies an invalid girl, rescued by Nesbit from the street. A guest (Mr Guasto) joins her, proclaiming to be a fan of her work and to have snuck in having spied her earlier. They have a brief flirtation and Nesbit agrees to read aloud for him. They are interrupted by Nesbit’s maid, Biddy Thricefold, but the reading goes ahead, and soon we are sucked into the world of the ghostly stories.

The script is very natural, and flows well, capturing the mood and period very sympathetically. The twist at the end was certainly effective and well concealed, even if it did leave me a bit confused. The direction is subtle, although there were a couple of moments when Nesbit walked down stage to deliver lines straight forward that did jar from the otherwise very realistic style.

The actors are excellent throughout, playing multiple characters in the reading of the stories, but of special note is the truly superb performance from Blue Merrick as the title character. She enthralls with a commanding stage presence, and performs with enough light and shade to make Nesbit believable but without ever being overly theatrical.

The set and effects were also very impressive, with smoke and lighting used to give atmosphere, and the exposed and expansive wooden set giving a real sense of the bare attic room. Overall, it’s a very solid production, that’s been pulled off well.

However, despite the fact that this performance is an abridged version of the script, it does still feel quite lengthy, and there’s not quite enough drama to keep it completely engaging throughout. Perhaps with more characters, narrative development or interruptions it could have been something really quite spectacular. Still, definitely worth watching.

 

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 23 August)

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Hannah and Hanna (Assembly George Square, 6 – 30 Aug : 13.20 : 1hr)

“A very heartfelt performance from two fine young actresses”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Nae Bad

Hannah and Hanna is a story examining two sides of the immigration debate, which, given UKIP’s performance in this year’s general election, and the more recent events involving migrants in Calais, couldn’t be more perfectly timed.

Hannah (played by Cassandra Hercules), lives in Margate, Kent, where she’s been her whole life. Like her boyfriend and peers, she’s fiercely anti-immigration, believing that local resources should be kept for the locals. Hanna (Serin Ibrahim) is a refugee from Kosovo and sees Margate as a dreamland, and all she wants is to fit in and be accepted. Their worlds collide and a special bond is formed between them, transcending the prejudices of their families.

The play is very simply staged, with character and location indicated by token props and subtle changes in lighting. Between the two of them, Hercules and Ibrahim play a multitude of characters, ages and nationalities, but are at their best when playing Hannah and Hanna. Ibrahim brings beautiful sensitivity and naivety, while Hercules is vibrant with energy and passion. Both actresses, in their twenties in real life, capture and portray their 16 year old characters effortlessly, and through their physicality and delivery of the script it is uncannily believable that they are indeed that young. The bond they form is genuine, and the chemistry between the two is strong enough to make you feel warm and fuzzy inside.

However, despite being a very commendable effort from the performers, this play does fall down in certain areas, with parts of the script requiring a lorry-sized suspension of disbelief. While all the necessary ingredients are there (characters representing different points of view, a decent story arc and plenty of dramatic tension), it does all feel very rushed, and at times hard to follow.

Hannah is won around by Hanna’s charm very early on, and the pair seem to form an unbreakable friendship after only five minutes. The final 10 minutes of this play are quite confusing, with lots of ups and downs and jumps in time and location making it quite difficult to follow, and the ending isn’t as resounding or emphatic as it could have been considering the topic. What’s really missing is that, apart from the two central characters, there isn’t really a sense of anyone having learnt anything or viewpoints changing, so at worst it feels a bit pointless, and at best just a nice story.

I believe that if the company had longer to work on the piece (it was developed in just two weeks), and were prepared to make some changes to the initial script to extend and clarify it, this could be something very special. At the moment it’s a very heartfelt performance from two fine young actresses, but little more.

nae bad_blue

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 23 August)

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India Flamenco (Alba Flamenca, 7 -31 Aug : 18.15 : 1hr)

“A sensual evocation of the gypsy tradition through dance”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

The performance begins with a narrative delivered from off stage set to the music of the sitar. We, the audience, are told of the legacy of a dying Gypsy chief in Northern India where the peoples began. He charges the tribe to roam the world with the aid of a magic mirror which will guide them, in order to spread the message of the Gypsies – to live in happiness and harmony with respect for each other and nature.

The dance begins with the traditional ‘Bharata Natyam’ performed by a young Indian woman full of grace, energy and control. As the narrative progresses she hands the metaphorical baton to a belly dancer and leaves the stage, showing how the movement has spread to Africa. Through this sensuous, sinuous and lithe new dancer and energetic choreography we are shown the development of movement, music and the evolution of culture across continents.

Finally the stage is taken by a fiercely passionate Spanish woman who, along with a Flamenco guitarist and singer, performs a traditional Latin dance of great power and beauty. Each of the three dances is linked by distinctive movements of the wrist and percussive elements made either by castanets or Indian ankle bells.

The journey is completed as the three dancers come together to bring this memorable performance to a close. They (including the musicians) fill the small performance space, taking it in turn to take centre stage, but with a running thread of grace, power and sensuality across their individual styles.

Even though this is an incredibly emotive and powerful show, I feel it would have been even more special in a bigger space and with a more elaborate set. India Flamenco is a wonderful fusion of cultures interpreted through music and dance, with a simple but powerful message. This is a low budget, simply presented work, produced and performed with obvious love for the medium and a beautiful synthesis of form.

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 22 August)

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The Misfits of London: The Gin Chronicles (artSpace@StMarks, 10 – 22 Aug : 18.30 : 1hr)

“An absolute gem of a show, full of class, style and thoroughly enjoyable to watch”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars

This show is a new take on the “play within a play” format. It begins by introducing each of the characters who are set to perform the first instalment of The Gin Chronicles live on the radio. And as their live studio audience, we are encouraged to clap, cheer, sigh and gasp when the relevant sign is held up. Before long, it does feel astonishingly real, and I was uncontrollably drawn into the world presented on stage.

The set is basic, dominated by four standing microphones in a row centre stage – very reminiscent of a period recording studio. And while much of the “action” is spoken into the microphones, physicality is used to portray various situations throughout – from fight scenes to swimming – so that visually the performance was just as engaging as it was aurally.

The plot follows the rather dim John Jobling (Robert Blackwood), who decides to become a detective when gin magnate Cornelius Juniper is reported missing. To help him in his endeavours, he employs cunning housekeeper Doris Golightly (Helen Foster) to be the brains of his mission. What follows is a wonderful vintage romp to solve the mystery, featuring a sweet heiress, her charming fiance, a cockney newspaper boy, a taxi driver, some mysterious Frenchmen on a boat, and countless other characters, all deftly played by the acting cast of four. Particularly enjoyable moments were when Jobling and Golightly exploited a bouncer’s Achilles’ heel by reciting poetry to make him fall asleep, to the “intermission” section where Nancy Carmichael (Alice Etches) took the chance to eat a biscuit, only to be unable to effectively read the advertisement without choking in a Noises Off style homage.

The acting throughout this performance – especially considering the numerous characters portrayed, the overall styling, and indeed the talent required to play characters playing characters – was exquisite. It seems somewhat cruel to single out individual performances, as the whole cast performed to a very high standard, but Etches was utterly charming as the newspaper boy and Sam Sheldon showed fantastic dexterity across his numerous characters.

Yet what made this performance really special was Luke Lamont, whose responsibility it was to produce a startling range sound effects to support the action. He used an array of objects (all available in the 1940s) to simulate everything from pouring gin to opening and closing doors and even a taxi cab. I’ve never seen vegetables used quite so creatively! Stylish elements and attention to details like this really helped to this put this show in a league of its own

The narrative of this piece is quite basic, but the delivery is nothing short of exquisite – served ice cold with a squeeze of lime. It’s an absolute gem of a show, full of class, style and thoroughly enjoyable to watch. I raise a toast to The Misfits of London and here’s to the next episode of The Gin Chronicles.

 

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 22 August)

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Sophie Pelham: Country Files (Pleasance Courtyard, 7 – 30 Aug : 16.45 : 1hr)

“Likeable, effusive, hilarious”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Nae Bad

Upon entering the Pleasance Cellar (sorry, Dorset) the audience is offered a tot of sherry and a sausage roll to get into the mood. For me, in this, my third back-to-back show, this seemed like a dream come true. And indeed the dream continued for the first 10 minutes or so when Pelham, as village lady-of-leisure Vanessa Bluwer hilariously tells us about life in Kilmington, her noble employers, and the various courses she runs on a voluntary basis (everything from breast-feeding to bereavement counselling). As this character Pelham is likeable, effusive and strikes a good balance between prepared material and audience interaction.

Alas, after this the show falters somewhat, with a series of less well developed characters, too much audience interaction and little drive to keep the performance moving. Pelham’s Lord Ponsanby, a drunken country gent utters my funniest line of the show “I’m not homosexual, just bloody posh”, but falls flat after a few minutes and it’s a bit of a relief when she goes off to change again. Two of her characters are animals (a badger and a fox respectively, the less said about those the better), but posh school girl Primrose and yummy mummy Sulky Waterboat are both enjoyable, making fun of relevant stereotypes.

While some parts of the audience interaction in this show were great – getting various members to hold a hobby horse, read a letter and answer the odd question – I felt that on the whole there was an over reliance on this, and as the show went on there was a definite sense of awkwardness in the room, particularly among those in the front row who seemed to get “picked on” multiple times.

And just as the level of audience interaction was pushing it, sometimes her jokes also strayed over the line into being somewhat cringeworthy, the worst offender of these definitely being the one about the Muslims… hushed silence all round. Some gags were spot on tone-wise though: safer topics included politics and class, both suitably ridiculed, while even references to underage sex got a few chuckles.

Overall, I think this show has the bones of something that could be really special, but would be better if it focused on fewer individual characters, and having a clearer sense of narrative between them, to keep the show flowing from one scene to the next. A good effort.

nae bad_blue

Star (blue)Star (blue)Star (blue)

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 22 August)

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