Lyceum Variety Nights (Lyceum, 6 Nov. ’16)

“Left me genuinely begging for more”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars: Outstanding

One of the first things they teach you about writing reviews is not to gush: to keep your mass of uncontrolled instant reactions behind a dam and only let through those considered, pertinent and articulate comments that are most valuable to the reader. The Lyceum’s first variety night, however, attacked my stiff upper lip of a dam with such force as to make gushing almost inevitable, with an evening of real high quality and passionately delivered entertainment.

It feels very wrong to pass a simple two sentence judgement on each of the seven acts who graced the stage simply for the sake of wordcount – suffice to say every single one dazzled, entertained and left me, genuinely, begging for more. Author Christopher Brookmyre’s reading of a tale about a group of teenagers on an outing to see A Midsummer Night’s Dream transported us to that very place, creating wondrous magical moments; Luke Wright’s poetry had many audience members cheering before he’d even finished performing, with the gutsy IDS, a poem about Iain Duncan Smith, constructed using only words contain the vowel sound “i” being a real triumph of wordplay and wit. Jenna Watt’s excerpt from solo show Faslane beamed with all the relevance, energy and honesty of her five-star Fringe run earlier this year, and Glasgow band A New International brought the house down with some of their greatest theatrical gypsy folk pop songs, which was an uplifting and triumphant finale.

The acts themselves were all excellent – professional, well-prepared, and comfortable in the kind of setting where the audience is a bit more vocal than they might normally be. But the evening was hosted and compered by Sian Bevan and Jenny Lindsay who brought a wonderful human and sensitive likeability to their role. At times their witterings seemed a little underprepared, and it would have been nice to see them perform some of their own material, but it was easy to feel comfortable and inspired in their presence.

While pitched right in my personal sweet spot, it’s worth saying that at times the content was a little unashamedly left-leaning, and it’s a shame that there was quite a bit of similarity between some of the acts (for a real variety night I would have loved to have seen some more diverse art forms in there as well (for example: dance, art, circus, puppetry, maybe even a short film) but the relatively low-tech, one-night nature of the beast may well bring such limitations. One can only hope the format proves popular enough to make this event a more regular and extended feature within the Lyceum’s calendar.

Based on round one, I would urge anyone with any sort of passing interest in the arts to get themselves along to the next event on 26th February. I’ll be first in line.



Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 6 November)

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Preview: Underground Live (Teviot Row House, Thursdays 9.00pm)


Underground Live is a weekly live music night hosted by the Edinburgh University Student’s Association. Every Thursday from 9pm the EUSA present some of Scotland’s, and particularly Edinburgh’s, new musicians in the cozy basement of Teviot Row House.

Band Programmer for the EUSA, Kyle Wilson, sums it up perfectly; “Underground Live is a place for new and upcoming bands to showcase their music. Edinburgh, or in general the east coast, has a lot of talent. And you can come and check it out for free.”

Previous performers, to name a few, are the likes of ‘Indigo Velvet’, ‘Earths’, ‘Universal Thee’ and ‘The Rising Souls’. The series of Underground Live events run up to the 1st of December this year and there are many acts to look forward to such as ‘Teek’, ‘The Boy with the Lion Head’, ‘Delphi’ and ‘Moonlight Zoo’.

To have a look for ourselves we attended the ‘Underground Takeover’ where Underground Live teamed up with Oxjam Edinburgh (part of Oxfam’s music festival). The night featured Edinburgh based band ‘The Factory’ (now named ‘Ignu’) who showed off some of their original pop and folk tunes. Two further acts, that will both be playing at this year’s Oxjam ‘Edinburgh Takeover’ were Michiel Turner and ‘The Micro Band’. Michiel Turner charmed the audience with his unique voice and jazz/soul and folk style. ‘The Micro Band’ brought their positive attitude and catchy tunes on stage and got a few folk up off their seats!

Oxjam ‘Edinburgh Takeover’ Manager Karl Wood was heavily involved in the event and was particularly impressed by the venue; “It’s absolutely brilliant to work with the Underground Live team. They showcase some of Edinburgh’s finest emerging acts in an excellent venue.” And we agree – a small stage makes the event feel intimate, and low comfy seating add to the vibe.

The Underground Live  events are a fantastic way to scout out Edinburgh’s musical talent and not only is it completely free but you can enjoy student prices at the bar even if you are not a student!

For more information take a look at the Facebook page on

Or for a full list of the upcoming events visit

Iona Young

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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The Art of Reduction and the Distillation of Humanity (Jenners: Aug. 19, 21 – 23, 25 – 26, 28 – 29 : 1hr 30m)

Picture of Delta flag & anorak. John Mark Di Ciacca.

Picture of Delta flag & anorak. John Mark Di Ciacca.

” .. Choice flavours, like custard creams and Fisherman’s Friend, and choice knowledge ..”

Editorial Rating:  4 Stars: Nae Bad

For a start that’s a crafted title. If you know your whisky making, you might think ‘Angel’s Share’, but precious little escapes the ken of the Whisky Anorak. Take naval flags, for example. If you’re out in a dinghy in the Firth, would you recognise the signal flag ‘Delta’? Me neither. Well, set a course for the old Board Room at Jenner’s and drink your fill of select knowledge, chased down by some very distinctive whiskies. You’ll leave it a happier and wiser person.

OK, it’s a fun history lesson of the 20th Century with three drams –  a mellow Spoken Word event rather than ‘Theatre’, but so what? It’s clear, easy-going, and I learnt good stuff. Next time you nose a whisky, hold the glass to one nostril and then to the other one. Sensational! What’s the connection between the Monarch of the Glen – the painting of 1851 – and the 1967 album cover of the Beatles’ ‘Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band’? What did the ‘Right Spirit Boys’ use for a cricket bat in 1930? And, your last snifter, what was the CIA’s Project MKUltra all about?

John Mark Di Ciacca is the Whisky Anorak. He has years of experience in the drinks trade behind him and tells us all the answers over the course of ninety minutes. He talks, he uses a PowerPoint slideshow throughout, and he has significant objects: books, bottles, art works, album covers – all over the front of the oak panelled Board Room. It’s a smallish space, with room for ten to twelve, comfortably seated at two nicely dressed long tables with three spotless Glencairn glasses (with tasting caps) at each cover. A teaspoon is to hand to add water – not too much! – and you do need it with the 56.3% Dalmore …

I’m sure there is ‘structure’ to an excellent whisky. John Mark did not use the word but he does use the drink(s) to assemble his talk. Three bottles, three time periods: 1850s to the early 1900s; the 1920s – just consider the effect of Prohibition in the USA upon the whisky business – through to the 1950s; and then from the Cold War to the Internet and beyond. His theme is the liminal, tracing the development of a counter culture whose markers are just visible at the edge of school history books. To take one example: dazzle camouflage from the 1914 -18 war links to Aldous Huxley’s mescaline-induced ‘The Doors of Perception’ (1954) that in turn opens up to ‘The Doors’ (1968) on the tripping West Coast scene in a summer of love.

In-between times, and the lesson dragged just a tad during the 1960s, we enjoyed our whisky tasting and John Mark offered some choice flavours, like custard creams and Fisherman’s Friend, and choice knowledge of old bottle effect and of casks and ‘finishing’.

Where have we got to? Well, the whisky trade has boomed and bust and boomed again, from the Blend to the Single Malt to ‘maybe a product that has lost its way’ where a Dalmore 19 year old ‘Constellation’ bottle can be yours for around £11,000. And as far as the moral story of humanity is concerned, John Mark is a Trekkie, confessing that “The Federation is the way forward.”

That Delta question? Here’s the answer: ‘Keep clear of me; I am manoeuvering with difficulty.” Neat.

nae bad_blue

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

Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 13 August)

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49 +3 Shows to See #EdFringe15

It’s been two weeks now since the official programme launch, and we’ve finally made it through all 439 pages, featuring over 3,330 shows. Needless to say we’re VERY excited for what this year’s Fringe has in store.

Being the arts geeks that we are, Alan Brown and I have managed to narrow down a list of 49+3 shows we’re really looking forward to seeing, shared below to help guide your choices.

We haven’t been bribed, cajoled, threatened or in any other way influenced in making our selection, we’re just being honest.

+ Many thanks to Loclan Mackenzie-Spencer and Andrew Strano of Nailed It! for their song in praise of our choices!

So, without further ado…

One from each of the 10 categories:
Cabaret – Nailed It!
Children’s – Dreamkeepers
Comedy – Matt Forde: Get the Political Party Started
Dance, Physical Theatre and Circus – Hitch!
Events – Edinburgh Gin’s Night of Literature and Liquor
Exhibitions – Unexpected Excesses
Music – Afropella Night
Musical Theatre – The Bakewell Bake Off: A New Musical
Spoken Word – TES
Theatre – Trans Scripts

My top 10
The Misfit Analysis
La Meute (The Wolf Pack)
Brian Molley Quartet – Britunes
Ushers: The Front of House Musical
Poetry Can F*ck Off
Bloody East Europeans
Willy’s Bitches

Alan’s top 10
Down & Out in Paris & London
Light Boxes
Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour
Picasso stole the Mona Lisa
Scarfed for Life
The Sunset Five
The Titanic Orchestra
Wendy Hoose by Johnny McKnight
What Would Spock Do?

19 other recommendations (including returning favourites from former years)
Every Brilliant Thing
Homme | Animal
Can’t Care, Won’t Care
Austentatious: An Improvised Jane Austen Novel
Doris, Dolly and the Dressing Room Divas
The Art of Reduction and the Distillation of Humanity: Whisky Theatre
Jess Robinson: The Rise of Mighty Voice
The Jennifer Tremblay Trilogy. Parts 1, 2 & 3
We’re not dogs
The Oxford Gargoyles: Jazz a Capella
UKIP! The Musical
Going Viral
Dorian Gray
Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, Lemons, Lemons
Richard III
My Name is…
The Rape of Lucrece

+3 we both agree on!
Free for All

Phew – bring on August! If there are any other shows you think should be brought to our attention please get in touch with us at


‘Home for Christmas’ (The Studio: 3 December 2014)


little machine

“some shakin’ metaphysics to die for”

Editorial Rating:  3 Stars

As Homecoming Scotland 2014 approaches its close we enter The Home Straits, a programme of poetry and music on the theme of … home. This show, first of three, finished with the sweet tones and bitter air of Byron’s We’ll Go No More A-Roving that deserved louder applause (& participation) than our few and faint hearts allowed.

Home for Christmas is Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy’s idea. She is up front for the first half, reading her poems, alongside musician and Edinburgh friend John Sampson, but after the interval she sits out and Little Machine, is on stage. The band sing their settings of six of Duffy’s Christmas poems and then eight further poems, from the 16th Century ballad Western Wind to Liz Lochhead’s fervid My Way. Mood and style vary from piece to piece, from loose and cool J.J Cale to a Rocksteady lilt for Advent and there’s some shakin’ metaphysics to die for in Thomas Carew’s Mediocritie. The music making is very good – I like distinct guitar work – and the high regard for the poetry is evident in the diction.

However, it is sombre and plaintive to start with. “It’ll be over soon; home by Christmas” was the fond, forsaken hope. John Sampson’s trumpet opens with the Last Post, and then there’s Duffy’s own poem Last Post, where ‘If poetry could truly tell it backwards, then it would …. And all those thousands dead … Are queuing up for home … Freshly alive.’ Christmas Truce follows, when ‘beneath the yawn of history’ a miraculous peace broke out. The subsequent pairing of Wilfred Owen’s The Send-off with her response, An Unseen, is dreadfully poignant.

Just as sharp is the keen, deadpan, humour of three monologues from the celebrated The World’s Wife: Mrs Midas, Mrs Tiresias, and (Duffy’s favourite) Faust; and then four later poems of percipient, careful intent: Mrs Schofield’s GCSE, The Counties, The Human Bee, and Liverpool. They are all in the public domain – and not just on The Guardian’s pages – so go find them, realise their quality and why Duffy wrote them.

Little Machine had been on Radio Scotland’s ‘Culture Studio’ with Janice Forsyth that same afternoon. The trio anticipated an evening of banter and wit. Well, not really. I enjoyed their music, admired John Sampson’s playing the two halves of the recorder at the same time (do not try this at home, he cautioned) and heard really good poems, tellingly read by the poet herself, but it proved a subdued occasion, with little ‘give’ from our side of the stage. That’s what happens when the Last Post sounds. It all goes still and not in a stille nacht, glad tidings, kind of way.

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

Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 3 December)

Visit ‘Little Machine’ here

Visit our Assembly Roxy Bedlam Church Hill Theatre Festival Theatre King’s Theatre Other Pleasance, Potterrow & Teviot Summerhall The Lyceum The Stand Traverse archive.


‘The Edinburgh Book Lovers’ Tour’ (Writers’ Museum)


“For the visitor this must surely be the best tour available. For the resident, The Edinburgh Book Lovers’ Tour is a masterclass in presenting our city to visitors.”

Editorial Rating: Outstanding

“Don’t expect a crowd.” As I pick my way towards the Writer’s Museum I can’t help wondering if Allan Foster hasn’t rather overdone things in the modesty department. En route to the rendezvous I pass assorted aldermen, literary luminaries and even the odd Duke (it’s a truism of getting older that policemen and Dukes all start looking younger). But it turns out that the gathered host aren’t in Lady Stair’s Close to join The Edinburgh Book Lovers’ Tour.

My host explains that a memorial is being unveiled to Gavin Douglas (1474-1522) (no? neither) the priest, poet and statesman who translated the Aeneid into Middle Scots. Presumably paint dried faster at the turn of the 16th century, thus offering less spectacle, so this is how they spent their time. Douglas is the 37th writer to be commemorated with an inscribed flagstone – handy for that direct form of criticism alluded to in Byron’s lament for Castlereagh. I will not find anything good to say about the flagstone commemorations until the organisers cease to shun McGonagall.

I have an awful lot good to say about Foster’s approach to guiding, starting with the way he rides out the noisy intrusion into his routine by the horde of newly fledged Douglas groupies. The weather is on our side but even so Foster’s laconic embrace acts like an umbrella on our small party, shielding we few from the outside elements. It’s an odd thing taking a walking tour through one’s own regular haunts – unsettling almost. That is until you remember how much fun you will have over the coming months lecturing anyone fortunate enough to be in company with you on the Southside’s glorious (and not so glorious) literary heritage. Foster is not short of an opinion or three but he is better than most (present author included) at separating his commentary from reportage.

Our route takes us from the Writer’s Museum, across the Royal Mile to Parliament Square, down Barrie’s Close, along the Cowgate to the Old Infirmary, up Drummond Street through the Potterrow Port and via George Square, before concluding beside Greyfriars.

Along the way we are treated to a grand narrative, illustrated with dozens of facts trivial and otherwise. My two companions are a journalist and English professor from daaahn sauff and Newfoundland respectively. I enjoy chatting to them as we pass from point to point. This is not such familiar geography for them but then they have sailed to Treasure Island, peered under morgue sheets with Rebus, played Quidditch with Potter and gazed upon the gently rolling eyes induced by Scott’s best romantic vistas.

This rain-soaked ground we Edinbuggers bustle about on is holy. It slowly dawns on me how much we are taking for granted. It’s not just the sack of Robert Louis Stevenson’s beloved Rutherford’s Bar by pirates of the Caribbean. Nor how little bronze or marble denotes the untended springs of creativity sacred to Clio, Calliope, Melpomene and their sisters. It’s the sinking feeling that we are not much better than the historically illiterate residents of Worcester who met messrs Adams and Jefferson with such bemused incomprehension and contempt.

Scott was derided in his own life for writing popular trash unworthy of a gentleman of letters. Despite huge sales and an even larger intellectual impact (especially, much to the regret of Mark Twain, in the American South) the true identity of “The Author of Waverley” was kept an open secret in case it sullied Scott’s true reputation as a provincial lawyer. Foster does not avoid questions of taste when discussing Edinburgh’s literary present but does identify them as secondary and somewhat unbecoming. Foster is not crippled by paroxysms of grief, as is one former literary editor of the North Britischer newspaper of my acquaintance, when he thinks on the work McCall Smith, Rowling and Ranking COULD be writing – what matters is that they ARE writing (and, incidentally, are being read by millions).

For the visitor this must surely be the best tour available. For the resident, The Edinburgh Book Lovers’ Tour is a masterclass in presenting our city to visitors. Unlike the former literary editor and his discredited vintage of print pundits there is nothing in Foster cringing or apologetic. The plaque to Rowling just above eye level across from Old College is treated with as much deference as are those to Stevenson or McGonagall across the way. Knowledgeable and in the know, he must navigate the tour by all the names he drops, Foster is informed and informative. Lyrically laconic but also hugely welcoming. A civic ambassador extraordinaire.

When my own father awakes from his notion that Auld Reekie, Brigadoon-like, disappears into the September mist at the end of each successive Fringe I shall be paying to take him on this tour.


Reviewer: Dan Lentell (Seen 15 November)

Visit The Edinburgh Book Lovers’ Tour homepage here.

Dan Lentell in Conversation with Craig Miller re. Close Fest

Philip Caveney with Plague Doctor on The Close

Crow Boy author Philip Caveney with Plague Doctor on Mary King’s Close

“We don’t do disappointment!”

On the afternoon of 28 October Dan Lentell spoke with Craig Miller, manager of landmark attraction Mary King’s Close about the upcoming Close Fest which will run from 31 October – 9 November. Craig enthuses about the venue as a dramatic setting; talks about the challenges of utilizing the space for live performance; and describes how The Close will grow as a local resource during its second decade.

Listen to our interview with Craig Miller

See all the events in the Close Fest line up here.

‘Only Wolves and Lions’ (Summerhall; 12, 14-15 Sept ’13)

“From this melting pot, hopefully, will be drawn a social bond that will spark conversation when we finally sit back down to eat.”

Editorial Rating: Nae Bad

Only Lions and Wolves is a collaboration between British artist Leo Kay and his Basque collaborator Unai Lopez de Armentia. Their aim is to bring together a group of total strangers to select, cook and consume a menu of dishes made from an array of raw ingredients brought by us.

The dining table is set for an extended family banquet. Gas camping hobs have been set up  along the hall’s sides. At one end is a table of carbs (rice, flour etc) and condiments such as tinned tomatoes, olive oil et al. At the other end are the cooking pots, utensils and cutlery which we will use to prepare our dishes. A washing line runs behind this table hung with ladles and potato mashers and above it hangs a chandelier of colanders. We sit and, under Kay’s direction, introduce ourselves. The ice is melted with a free form dance warm up as well as bonobo impressions – bonobos and chimps are social creatures too runs the logic.

We team up and are asked to suggest possible dishes within our culinary range and the options available. Then we cook against a clock set for 45 minutes. From this melting pot, hopefully, will be drawn a social bond that will spark conversation when we finally sit back down to eat.

The frame may be hippy-dippy collectivist, but the content of Lions and Wolves feels a lot like the team building exercises, networking events and other assorted workshops strewn throughout corporate life. I am reminded why I’d never want to live in a commune. When Kay and de Armentia start talking Trotsky I regret there isn’t an ice pick on the washing line. It’s a shame that the meal is not billed as vegetarian – for an event aimed at deconstructing social barriers the line between herbivores and carnivores is jarring.

Discussing politics at the dinner table and in mixed company does not come easily. The work is much stronger, pacier too, when outlining broader philosophical lessons from thinkers such as Epicurus and how these might be applied topically to alleviate the symptoms of downturn and recession.

Only Lions and Wolves is a conceptual work in progress. Edinburgh has a well established dining club scene into which this format (if not the current means of execution) could easily fit. An ambitious yet inventive concept, it could hold better selected material, but what tailoring there is, is neat, stylish and bold. When they loosen up, the performers are a lovely bromantic couple in whose company it is a pleasure to spend an evening.

nae bad_blue

Reviewer: Dan Lentell (Seen 12 September)

Visit Only Wolves and Lions homepage here.

Three to See: Summerhall: September ’13

This September Edinburgh49‘s Three to See events at Summerhall are:

Only Wolves and Lions (18:30 – 12 & 14, 14:30 – 15 September, Summerhall)

“Only Wolves And Lions takes a fresh look at human behaviour in the pursuit of happiness. After food clothes and shelter, what do we need? Exploring ideas surrounding community, isolation and the meaning of the word crisis, Leo Kay and Unai Lopez de Armentia invite you to cook, eat and speak together”

Images Were Introduced (11:00-18:00 – Daily until 27 September, Summerhall)

“Michael Nyman’s first ever exhibition in Scotland will consist of a major installation in Summerhall’s Upper Church Gallery (off Hope Street Terrace) showing simultaneously the video film-maker, photographer and composer’s ten (10!) remakes of the famous vintage film “Man with a Movie Camera” by the Russian film-maker Dziga Vertov and his wife Yelizaveta Svilova (who edited the film).”

Neu! Reekie! 39 (19:00, 27 September, Summerhall)

“Brought to you my Michael Pedersen and Kevin Williamson Neu! Reekie! is a delicious feast of spoken word, music, animation and film fusion.”