Louise Reay: Hard Mode (The Stand Four: 3-27 Aug: 17.55: 60mins)

“A unique and insightful project perfect for Fringe audiences”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars: Nae Bad

This is a very clever show. Through a healthy mixture of character work, pre-recorded videos, impressive knowledge of modern Chinese society, and truly human moments, Louise Reay has crafted a unique and insightful project perfect for Fringe audiences. Some fine tuning of the details and the flow of the show would be useful to make its 60 minutes shine brighter, but overall Hard Mode is a worthy offering.

The show’s title derives from the idea that in modern China, life is lived as if in ‘hard mode.’ Reay takes care to share a genuine taste of what that kind of life means, from tampering intrusively with audience members to stationing masked cronies around the room to watch and possibly punish the viewers at all times. She uses clever techniques like distributing identical napkins for all audience members to wear (to recall authoritarian homogeneity), and leading the room in hive-mind chants in between musings on what having a free society means now and what losing it could mean later. The masked guards do stay unsettlingly in character the whole time, even banishing non-compliant individuals who dare to remove the napkin to the ‘jail,’ which is the corner of the room. Though some of the points on surveillance are presented somewhat simplistically, the dark sense of forced enjoyment is done well. This show, to its credit given its subject matter, is effectively unpleasant.

Reay bases this societal reenactment on her lived experiences in China, thankfully. A few lines and jokes would seem like sweeping (and potentially offensive) generalisations if she hadn’t proven her extensive knowledge of Chinese culture, from the language to the media to the in-jokes. On the comedy end, the highlights of the show are her stagings of a possible future where the Chinese government has bought and hawkishly runs the BBC. Her David Attenborough-centered skits are hilarious, and her all-Chinese rendition of ‘Far-EastEnders’ is impressive for her sheer capability with the language, as a native English speaker.

On the dramatic side, and yes, there is a somewhat unexpected dramatic side, Reay mixes in her own real life in ways that teeter on the edge of too much. Without giving anything away, the sense of ‘hard mode’ in a societal sense is re-purposed in a personal sense, which at times is truly affecting, and at others feels like retreading and backtracking on points that have already been made.

Reay’s use of an actor to portray Chinese artist and social activist Ai Weiwei in a pre-recorded video conversation Reay apparently had with him feels strikingly off-kilter with the rest of the piece, and not only because it is never truly verified that Weiwei actually said any of the statements in the video. The actor’s timing is jarring, the delivery is confusing and flat, and points are muddled and indistinguishable — under what is admittedly fabulously intricate facial hair. For me, these filmed asides are revisited too often, and though most of Reay’s recurring jokes are quite funny and/or poignant (special nod to the unforgettable Loneliest Newsreader in the World), the Weiwei scenes feel poorly executed.

Overall, if you are looking for a bizarre yet poignant hour at the Fringe, and happen to be in the relatively far away lands that house the Stand Four, Louise Reay’s Hard Mode might be for you. Just be sure to set your expectations to Weird Mode.

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

Reviewer: Nathaniel Brimmer-Beller


Qyeen SweeTs: NorthernXposure (The Stand, 18 – 30 Aug : 22.40 : 1hr)

“A clever balance between physicality, language and accent”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars

This show is part stand-up, part forthright declaration about feminism and heritage, and part mish-mash of the two. The comedy sections were generally well delivered and funny, the ranting clear and powerful, if somewhat serious, while all the bits in the middle were neither one nor the other, so it was difficult to know whether I was supposed to be finding them funny or not.

There were elements of the show which were particularly enjoyable, and to me where SweeTs strengths, are in the stylistic imitation of the various characters in her story. In particular “lassie” – the well-spoken lady from London, and her other interrogators on her visit. She used a clever balance between physicality, language and accent to make her characters at once recognisable and human.

Indeed, the parts of the set which focussed on storytelling (tales of her recent trip to London and recounts of her school days) were the easiest parts to follow and interweave jokes and caricatures. SweetYs excels at honing in on key moments and delivering one liners deadpan irony, while her selective repetition of some lines in her stories, each time delivered with a slightly different emphasis to show the thought process were also very amusing. We all know that sometimes if you say something more than once it might make more sense, and this idea SweetYs explores with great success.

What I was most disappointed in and let down by about this show was its climax. When referring to her encounter in London she loudly and proudly declared to her gathered audience that she was indeed the only female African Scottish rapper, and was prepared to do a rap to any beat she was given to prove that yes, she did rap. So that was when the beat kicked in, and I was expecting some lyric spitting of a very high calibre. Unfortunately, what followed was a rather measly few lines as a chorus and a lot of pregnant pauses filled with strutting around the stage and trying to get the audience to clap along.

Like much of the show, I couldn’t tell if this was an ironic moment, or a genuine attempt at rapping. Either way, the impact was lost and this turned into a bit of a downer on what otherwise was quite a promising performance.

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 18 August)

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‘The Importance of Being Interested’ (The Stand: 10 Nov ’13)

” Thereafter Ince takes his time, circles his subject(s), and loves the fact that when you engage him you get a ‘Rent-a-Gob’ actor-comedian who does intersecting illustrated monologues way before brevity”

Editorial Rating: Nae Bad

‘And speaking of the science of Life, have you got the cucumber sandwiches cut for Lady Bracknell?’

Robin Ince’s stand-up promotion of scientific understanding has serious pedigree now. There was his 2008 Fringe show Things I Like About Carl Sagan And Others, the 2009 Night of a Billion Stars, last year’s Happiness Through Science tour, and now this one, The Importance of Being Interested, which does exactly what it says on the tin. Boldly search for ‘Pedigree Chum’ and top of the Google tree comes ‘Pedigree Brighter Futures’, which is where Ince would land us.

Initial lift comes from an explosive tribute to Brian Blessed which actually has enough energy to fuel the whole show. Thereafter Ince takes his time, circles his subject(s), and loves the fact that when you engage him you get a ‘Rent-a-Gob’ actor-comedian who does intersecting illustrated monologues way before brevity. Of course, it’s an act and is far better navigated and controlled than this self-deprecating drift suggests.
Space is tight at ‘The Stand’ and the analogy of a black hole is never far away. You do not escape Ince’s argument that what really counts is to notice things. What things? It doesn’t matter as long as you look and learn. Ince does not mention that particular weekly magazine for children published from 1962 until 1982, preferring for his stage the more adult and risible Unexplained, but Look and Learn is most certainly where his 44 year old heart is. There and with his five year old son, Archie, who can do no wrong and whose grasp of quantum theory is cute, for ‘Observe me [being bad] and I’ll collapse into a state of good behaviour’.
Perhaps there is too much of little Archie in extortionate Legoland and in the bath exploring himself and not enough of Charles Darwin and Richard Feynman, but Ince’s sincerity makes that forgivable. He bends double in near fury as he fulminates against the stupidity of rote learning in schools and is wicked about the telltale physiognomy of Secretaries Gove and Osborne. Crawley, presumably disfigured by Gatwick airport, gets it in the neck and ends up on the event horizon of non-existence, as do former Archbishop George Carey and the fatuous DJs on commercial radio that no self-respecting alien would listen to.
Co-host of BBC4’s The Infinite Monkey Cage, Ince can only admire the size of Darwin’s nose – that unbelievably almost denied him passage on HMS Beagle – and would defend to the last piglet squid, earth worm, or naked mole rat the right of a child to ask questions of their universe. That way we get to understand it a little more and can wear the ‘tribal scars’ of a BCG jag with pride. This comedian’s rational, humanist credentials are right up there with the Voyager programme. Ince doesn’t get heckled, he gets footnotes, addendums … (his joke).


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Reviewer: Alan Brown (Seen 10 November)



Four to Paw: The Stand: October ’13

This October Edinburgh49‘s Four to Paw shows at The Stand are:

Black History Month Benefit (20:00, 6th October, The Stand)

“The Coalition for Race Equality and Equality Rights host another mix of comedy and entertainment from Scotland’s BME community. Stand-up against racism and celebrate Scotland’s Black History Month with the triple whammy of Hari Sriskantha, Katai Kasengele and Wayne Mazadza. Compering will be the irrepressible Susan Morrison.”

Marcel Lucont – Gallic Symbol (20:30, 13th October, The Stand)

“Witty, acerbic, magniloquent Frenchman seeks willing, intelligent audience for fun, adventure, maybe something more. Must have own underwear, socks and breath but be prepared to have these charmed off, laughed off and taken away respectively.

As seen on Russell Howard’s Good News (BBC3), Live at The Electric (BBC3) and Set List (Sky Atlantic).”

Nordoff-Robbins Scotland Comedy Gala 2013 (20:30, 15th October, The Stand)

“Scotland’s only music therapy charity. Our therapists use music to improve the quality of life, communication and wellbeing of people of all ages with a range of conditions from autism and dementia to brain injury and stroke. www.nordoffrobbinsscotland.org.uk

With Raymond Mearns, John Gavin, Ray Bradshaw, Teddy and host Des Clarke.”

Steve Hughes: While It’s Still Legal (20:30, 30th October, The Stand)

“Direct from sell-out shows at the Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and New Zealand Comedy Festivals, the sublime Australian comic and ex heavy-metal drummer returns to UK shores to embark upon his second solo tour.

He stormed the UK last year with his sell-out debut tour, with extra dates added due to phenomenal demand. On TV, he’s recently performed stellar sets on Live at the Apollo and Michael McIntyre’s Comedy Roadshow (BBC One), Stand Up For The Week (CH4) & One Night Stand (Dave).

This brand new show features more thoughtful, outspoken social commentary courtesy of a masterful, erudite and provocative performer. Laid-back, effortless charm and caustic anti-establishment humour from a truly unique, world class performer.”

Four to Paw: The Stand: September ’13

This September Edinburgh49‘s Four to Paw shows at The Stand are:

Red Raw (19:30, 2nd, 9th, 16th 23rd & 30th September, The Stand)

“Our long-running weekly beginner’s showcase is regarded as the best open mic night in the UK. Catch up to ten new acts – some treading the boards for the very first time. This is where everyone starts and it’s your chance to see the stars of tomorrow today. Watch out for older hands dropping in to try out new material too.”

With Matt Rudge and host Scott Gibson.

Whose Lunch is it Anyway (13:30, 8th, 15th, 22nd & 29th September, The Stand)

“Our long-running improvised comedy show will have you in stitches. Marvel as resident duo Stu & Garry weave comedy magic from your suggestions. It’s the perfect way to nurse a hangover and a sure-fire way to kick-start your weekend after the big night out. There’s a special menu too so you’ll be in danger of laughing with your mouth full.”

The Sunday Night Laugh-In (19:30, 22nd September, The Stand)

“Round off the weekend with our comedy cocktail which has the emphasis on the chilled and the laid back. At least five acts on each bill ensure variety and its great value at just a fiver. With Chris Conroy, Gareth Mutch and host Ben Verth.”

Best of Scottish Comedy (20:30, 25th September, The Stand)

“Talk about doing what it says on the tin! Here you go a carload of simply the best comics on the contemporary Scottish circuit. At least four acts on every bill with seasoned headliners joining forces with newer kids on the comedy block each month.”