Gossip (Zoo Southside: 4-15 Aug: 20.30: 75 mins)

“A chocolate box of visual delights”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

Gossip is a subject we can all relate too, and in a world of hearsay and “fake news”, the theme of Lenka Vagnerova & Company’s latest production is achingly relevant. Yet for a topic so closely associated with words, how does a dance piece explore its intricacies? On the whole, with zeal.

The action begins at a party, as guests arrive and go through the rigmarole of introductions and drinking. The movement is jarring and robotic – a cutting reflection of the forced politeness many of us display in social circumstances – and the skill and dexterity of each dancer’s exaggerated stilted reactions is really wonderful to watch. Tensions soon arise as gossip spreads, and then the real fun begins.

The whole piece follows different characters’ reactions to being gossiped about, joked with (or worse), with creative interpretations of what that experience feels like. From dancers being puppets on an evening out and inadvertently ending up in bed together, to another being physically swamped in a cape made up of all the things she doesn’t say about her husband, the whole performance is energetic, stylish and performed with the swagger one might expect of one of Czech Republic’s most lauded companies.

Yet while gossip is the overall theme, the undertones of the piece are much darker than you might expect – the taunts and fights are at times frightening, and the dramatic ending may be a lesson to us all in keeping our mouths shut and thinking about others before we act. It’s scintillating and dramatic, yet at times very funny, as facial expressions and stylised reactions add a slapstick feel at choice moments, giving the overall performance depth and balance.

The artistry, choreography and control are all stunning, with solos, duos, and ensemble moments, blurring the lines between dance and theatre. Daring lifts, throws and balancing acts will keep you on the edge of your seat and the clever use of changes in dynamic and music keep the performance moving and engaging throughout. This is a company that feels very natural on-stage, with all the creative elements and personalities working together to present of chocolate-box of visual delights.

For me the only disappointing aspect is the lack of clarity of through-line (dare I use the word “narrative”?) throughout the piece. At times it feels like a stream of ideas and explorations following no particular order or structure, and while some loose ends are tied up at the climax where the opening party scene is revisited, I would have liked for the piece to feel like it had more cohesion and completeness.

Overall, Gossip is a very high-quality performance with something for everyone. It certainly deserves to be talked about.



Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 5 August)


Lyceum Variety Nights (Lyceum: 4th June ’17)

“Resident host Sian Bevan never fails to amuse”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

Ding ding, it’s round three of the Lyceum Variety Nights, and the last in the current season.

This latest outing had a very contemporary and slightly alternative feel, and it’s good to see curator Jenny Lindsay flexing her little-black-book muscles to bring a more diverse line-up of music, theatre, poetry and dance to proceedings.

Overall the night was a pleasing mix of more established artists sharing some of their fondest work from yesteryear, performing alongside some red hot and right now acts, sharing pieces from their latest collections. Among the red hot and right now were dancer Jack Webb, whose inclusion as the first dance act of the programme I was really excited about. He performed an emotive and powerful contemporary-style piece to a discordant soundscape, which, while not the most accessible of pieces, certainly brought some zing to proceedings. Musical acts The Miss’s and Maud the Moth were also bang up to date and on the pulse, sharing genre bending tunes and stunning vocals that just left me breathless.

It was nice too, to have the quieter moments, perhaps most finely shared by Caroline Bird, whose rather more introverted stage presence created a lovely balance between a lot of the madness and noise of some of the other acts. Her poetry was awash with splendid imagery and moments to cherish, that really left me longing for more. Mairi Campbell, accompanied by viola, brought a touch of the traditional to the night, and even had us all singing along with her folk-style music at the end of her set – delightful.

Yet while the variety of the performers was wider than in previous instalments, thus making it feel a little more niche, for me it’s the quality of all the acts which is key to the night’s success. Each night’s line-up never fails to include award winners, experienced practitioners and well-regarded artists from across the spectrum, and though they may not all appeal to individual tastes, those with a wider appreciation for the arts should be able to at least enjoy the overall skill on display. A special shout-out too to resident host Sian Bevan who never fails to amuse with her witty and sometimes humorously irreverent compering!

I have to say that this was not my personal favourite evening of the programme, but that’s variety for you – you can’t win ‘em all! I very much hope another season of these nights is programmed for next year, and I look forward to attending them all.

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 4 June)

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My round-up of this year’s Edinburgh Festival Fringe


Where to begin? The official stats say that Edinburgh’s summer festivals this year were their biggest ever, with Edinburgh International Festival selling 19% more tickets than last year, while Edinburgh Festival Fringe shows issued a whopping 2.3 million tickets between them, an increase of 5% on 2014.

At Edinburgh49, following the launch of our dedicated +3 page, we also saw a massive increase in popularity this August, with just shy of 9,000 visits (easily our best ever monthly figure), and a doubling of our followers in the same period.

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We’re really proud of that achievement, and I would personally like to thank our fantastic team: Dan Lentell, Alan Brown and Jacob Close for their contributions this festival season. Thanks also to our friends at Cult Espresso for their support, and to every one of you – the companies and punters who’ve come to us for informed reviews, and who’ve spread the word far and wide.

Several people have asked me what my favourite shows were from this year, and for me that’s always a difficult one to answer as it’s hard to compare shows across genres. What I learned from Johnny Bevan – a one-man show written and performed by Luke Wright – is definitely up there, as is Doris, Dolly and the Dressing Room Divas – a production conceived in Scotland that I sincerely hope gets the chance to be toured further afield. The Gin Chronicles, Jurassic Park and Promise and Promiscuity were all theatrical hits in my book, while La Meute (which I didn’t review) and Smother were my favourite dance/circus acts. In His Own Write and Aunty Donna certainly made me laugh the most, while Trans Scripts, To Kill A Machine and Out of The Blue’s emotional final show in their current line-up left me sobbing helplessly. Sexy, I know.

It’s certainly been a very different Festival experience for me this year, as my reviewing has taken me to many shows that I would not otherwise have considered, often with serendipitous results. And what with juggling a full-time job, working around the team’s schedules and needing to sleep once in a while, it is with a pang of regret that I must apologise to those companies who invited us to shows we were unfortunately unable to make. One of those, Guru Dudu, has extended its run until this weekend, and would very much welcome an audience – I’ve heard great things about it.

Now September’s here and Edinburgh slowly gets itself back to normal, I hand the reins back over to Alan, and I look forward to what delights will be shared in Edinburgh’s theatres for the next 49 weeks.

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.


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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 27 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.

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 22 August)

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Danza del Caribe: Itara (Assembly Roxy 5-31 Aug : 17:00 : 1hr)

“Full of vibrancy, dynamism, risk and sexual energy”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

I knew little of Cuban dancing before this show, so I was very intrigued to find out more about it, and the comparative differences to traditional dance from other countries and regions. However, as expected, it was a performance full of vibrancy, dynamism, risk and sexual energy.

This show was split into three distinct sections, of which, the first, entitled Sulkary, covered the theme of relationships and fertility. To me, this was the strongest and clearest in terms of narrative and accessibility – it started with the three female dancers alone on stage, with motifs of flexed feet and hands, depicting a sense of discovering identity. They were soon joined by three male dancers, each carrying a huge pole, who brought an air of dominance to the stage. When the two groups joined together, a real sense of tenderness through bodily contact became apparent, and three couples emerged and broke off.

The following two sections were both energetic and colourful, with daring lifts and complex unison and canon sections. However, it was less obvious what was going on, and although the movements were impressive it was slightly more difficult to engage in these parts.

The costumes (of which there were many throughout) were bold, intricate and full of the Caribbean spirit. They really added to the sense of “show”, and with a smoke machine in almost constant use, the overall visual was never anything short of spectacular.

The band, and in particular its female lead singer, were incredibly deft at setting the tone of each piece quickly and with such a richness as to really transport the audience to the depths of Havana. The main instruments were traditional drums, which kept up a pulsating rhythm during the upbeat sections while tempering their intensity for the subtler moments.

Unfortunately what let this show down somewhat was the overwhelming feeling that it felt somewhat under-rehearsed. There were several moments, both in lifts and unison sequences, that the dancers were out of sync or unable to cleanly finish individual moves, making them seem rushed or partially forgotten. Because of this I was unable to ever feel 100% absorbed or relaxed with the performance, worried that at some stage there could be an injury or other faux pas.

It was also a little disappointing that in some sections there was a reliance on pre-recorded sound rather than it all being performed live. However, this show was oozing with energy, charisma and flair and with a bit more polishing could be quite spectacular indeed.

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Reviewer: Steve Griffin  (Seen 8 August)

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K’rd Strip: A Place to Stand (Assembly Roxy, 7-31 Aug : 18.40 : 1hr 10mins)

“Delightfully camp and full of personality”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

I’m not often lost for words, but during the first half of this show I was rendered pretty speechless. To be fair, it’s a cabaret performance by six gutsy guys wearing nothing but short leather kilts and heels, so that should have given me a fair idea of what to expect.

However, there were layers of real intelligence, depth and unexpected artistry in among the madness – from the opening tightly choreographed, animalistic dance section – to the warrior dance-like motifs used throughout. In between the obligatory drag queen acts, of course.

In the piece we meet various characters, played out in different mediums, from a questionable contact improvisation dance depicting a one night stand, to an overly camp “lady of the night” known as Destiny. Perhaps the most tragic and painfully relatable of all was “Horsey”, an outcast who clearly had a heart of gold but had been misunderstood his whole life, and whose final scene was a painful reminder of some basic prejudices.

This is unapologetic cabaret – there were plenty of individual songs and dance numbers – my favourite of which was the moving I’m not lost. It was pleasing to see connections between each section, at least stylistically, even though for most of the show I was desperately searching and waiting for the one thing that would really tie all the the elements together and make it into a theatrical triumph. I almost got it when certain characters re-appeared and narratives started to entwine, but even by the show’s emphatic closing number I felt like the troupe hadn’t quite completed the circle.

Overall, the singing was good, the dancing and choreography were good and the acting was good. However for me this show was just missing that sparkle that could tip it into being spine-tinglingly exceptional.

K’rd Strip is absolutely not going to be everyone’s cup of tea – from a traumatic rape scene to a prostitute “shooting up” – both right at the front of the stage – this show doesn’t ’pull any punches. It’s edgy, it’s raw and it’s honest, shining a light on a subculture that is often taken for granted. It’s also delightfully camp and full of personality, if that sounds possible in one show. Definitely one for those with an open mind.



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Reviewer: Steve Griffin  (Seen 7 August)

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