+3 Review: Teatro Delusio (Pleasance Courtyard: 5-29 Aug: 13.45: 1hr 15mins)

“Physical mask theatre at its finest”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

After last year’s sell-out smash Hotel Paradiso, I was excited to see what Familie Floz would come back with in 2016, and for the first 50 minutes at least, Teatro Delusio more than meets expectations. It’s physical mask theatre at its finest, with three actors playing well over 20 individual characters between them, each of whom are clearly defined, consistent and a joy to watch.

The setting is backstage at a theatre, where we see the stage crew attempt to set everything up (without killing themselves or each other in the process), and then assist various members of the orchestra, singers and ballet dancers onto stage, even though they may hate, love or just be plain bored with them.

There are tricks and treats aplenty, from simple slapstick moments of falling through ladders and playing with exploding lights, to sword fights and disappearing through trap doors. Familie Floz’s real strength, though, is their character work and dexterity of changes, from a grumpy stage manager to a diva singer, and my absolute favourite: a blind and deaf violinist who has no clue where he is. The changes are so slick you’d assume there were at least six performers constantly running around, while the physicality required to define each character was so perfect that simple gestures often had the audience howling with laughter.

Yet for all their great character work and ability to build a believable world on stage, I feel that Familie Floz perhaps tried to reach too far with this production, by introducing a few too many characters, and deliver a story that could easily have been at least 10 minutes shorter and not lost any of its power. About three quarters of the way through the performance, when ends could have been tied up and rounded off, still more new things happened, and the performance hit a new level of ridiculousness that I think lost me, and many of my fellow audience members. What began as a perfectly plausible, if a little stylised, day or two in the life of a Stage Manager seemed to turn into a dream sequence with stabbings, stage crew achieving their lifelong dream of filling in for wounded ballet dancers at the last minute and unexplained resurrections that pushed the suspension of disbelief a little too far.

A beautiful piece, but be prepared to get uncomfortable: those seats in the Pleasance Grand don’t give much wiggle room and by the end of this performance you’ll need it.



Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 5 August)

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+3 Review: Pss Pss (Assembly Roxy: 4-29 Aug: 16.00: 1hr 5mins)

“Utterly charming”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars

There aren’t many times that I wish I could construct a review purely out of facial expressions and hand gestures, but for this piece whose only words are the occasional utter of “Pss Pss”, it seems only fitting. It’s part clown, part mime, part acrobatic display and almost completely beguiling.

The performance is quite a slow burner to start with, with a short sequence where the two performers comically fight over possession of an apple – which wouldn’t look out of place in a Punch and Judy show on Blackpool beach – but when the music starts the fun really gets going and a real treat of a show unfolds.

Pss Pss dances along that very fine line between slapstick and gymnastic artistry, with glimpses of physical prowess and control that would put most performers to shame. Throw in the fact that they are also very funny and play musical instruments and you have a very impressive show.

Yet while physically impressive (by the end of the performance I truly believed there was no end to the performers’ talents), structurally it was a little lacking, with odd teases of narrative and motif, but little to drive it along from section to section, giving quite a stilted flow. I would have liked to have seen more plot and character development from beginning to end rather than a series of seemingly unconnected skits.

For all the skill and composure on display, perhaps it’s somewhat telling that the loudest and most consistent laughs in this performance were from the five or so primary-aged children in front of me. Although not specifically billed as a children’s show (indeed, their online listing says otherwise), some of the stunts seemed slightly more tailored to the younger audience, so I would definitely recommend it as a family show. Not that it isn’t enjoyable for audiences of all ages, but those with open minds and who are at least young at heart will appreciate it the most.

If there were an award for best facial expressions, Pss Pss would certainly be my early favourite – the range and timing throughout were enough to set most of us giggling at some point. The overall style and feel of the piece is utterly charming, even if substance-wise it occasionally lacks a little depth.

Beware, there is a small amount of audience interaction…

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 4 August)

Visit the Assembly Roxy archive.


Macbeth: Without Words (Traverse, 2nd Feb ’16) – part of the Manipulate visual theatre festival

Sandra Franco photo. Ludens Ensemble

Sandra Franco photo.
Ludens Ensemble

“A compelling, highly intelligent and creative retelling of the famous story”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

Macbeth: Without Words is one of those shows you see from time to time where you can’t quite decide if you love or hate it. It’s gutsy, original, and a full-on hour long assault of the senses that I couldn’t take my eyes off.

The piece starts with one actor, in a corset and clown make-up, leaping around the stage acrobatically before picking up a microphone and making a range of strange noises. Those with a more traditional perspective on Shakespearian theatre might baulk at the very interpretative style, which I’ll admit took some getting used to, but what unfolded was a compelling, highly intelligent and creative retelling of the famous story.

It is a very physical performance, as it needs to be to convey the monstrous action. There is no spoken dialogue. The dexterity of performers was sensational, as the cast of three managed to create almost every character from the play – all identifiable through their physicality and token elements of props and costume. Stand out moments included the initial stabbing of the king silhouetted through a plastic sheet, and Lady Macbeth appearing through that same plastic sheet towards the end, in all her ghostly presence.

Although without speech, it was not without noise; and many of the sounds were created by the performers live – either vocalised into microphones or using various banging, rubbing and scraping of props and instruments. The layering and looping of these created fantastic tension and atmosphere, with a real sense of baleful magic and connection between the performers and the action. Given how powerful this technique was, especially at the beginning where a complex soundscape was created very simply, it was a shame that for some scenes the company relied on pre-recorded sound, leaving me feeling a little bit cheated. At one point a recording of bagpipes was played, and I felt the company – in Edinburgh of all places – missed a trick.

It was also disappointing that for a show pertaining to be “without words”, that short excerpts from the script were occasionally projected onto a screen to clarify the action on stage. I admit that the task to portray every nuance of Shakepeare’s work without any words at all is nigh-on impossible, but in some scenes it was done so well – the incantations of the witches, the murders, the washing of the hands, the breaking of the news – all performed using physicality, silhouette and props,  that it was such a shame that the company “copped out” in those rare moments. It seemed that with a little bit more work or development the company will have created a piece truly “without words” and fit for any European Capital of Culture.

This could have been one of those mind-blowing, life-changing performances that I’ll never forget, but unfortunately, those few flaws held it back somewhat. Still, ‘tis far from a sorry sight and overall the battle was far more won than lost.



Reviewer: Steve Griffin (Seen 2 February)

Go to Macbeth: Without Words at Manipulate

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Wings in my Heart (Big Sexy Circus City : 7-30 Aug : 14.30 & 20.00 : 2hrs 30 mins)

“Visually and technically spectacular”

Editorial Rating: 4 Stars: Outstanding

On entering the Big Sexy Circus City compound one is greeted by acrobats just casually performing to the queue of punters, while a tightrope walker works his way backwards along a wire overhead, occasionally stopping to balance on one leg. You know, how a normal night starts. When you enter the big top, it only gets more impressive.

While the opening few minutes take a little adjusting to (there’s fire, there’s water and there are people parading around dressed as various fairground attractions for no particular reason), it soon turns into a circus spectacle with amazing acts, unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

We’re warmed into the spectacle with a wonderful solo tap routine, accompanied in part by a drummer. The dancer starts in a small circle of light, and makes fun of chasing the light as it moves to continue his routine. A few minutes later he’s filling the whole stage with energy and playing a very enjoyable call-and-response rhythmic game with the drummer. Straight after this, there’s a breathtaking counter-balance rope routine, with two performers supporting each other’s weight while performing daring swings and tumbles. Their artistry on the ropes was incredible, while how they supported and propelled each other seemed to defy all laws of science.

Perhaps my favourite sequence followed directly after this, which involved a lot of balls suspended from the ceiling which swung like pendulums across the stage, with an intricate contemporary dance routine performed in between swings. How the performers managed to dodge them with such apparent ease was again a cause for wonder.

Also worth noting is the performance’s closing act, which I won’t spoil but is absolutely worth holding out for. Control and patience are brought new meaning with one performer and her selection of sticks…

Throughout this show the costumes, sound and lighting are all stunning. Each adds more depth to an already very sensory performance, and go to show how much love, care and artistry have gone into developing it. I’ll admit I didn’t really understand everything that was going on (there wasn’t a clear narrative or sense of development), but with a show as visually and technically spectacular as this, you really don’t need to. You can just sit and be in awe of spectacle, scraping your jaw up off the floor at the end.



Reviewer: Steve Griffin  (Seen 12 August)


ErictheFred (Assembly Roxy, 8-30 Aug : 21.45 : 55 mins)

“Lynam is very expressive and engaging, oozing with energy and charisma”

Editorial Rating: 3 Stars

This show is an insight into the life of a performer whose memories still haunt him, and he begins to envision what could have been. It’s a fairly simple concept, which to me is a bit too drawn out and unoriginal, and I would have liked a few more twists or developments to take the piece somewhere new.

There’s no dialogue – it’s just actor Chris Lynam alone with a menagerie of props and projections. He begins standing on stage dressed as a ballet dancer, and in frustration he tears off his costume and throws it away. Then, as if decreed from above, a new costume flies in, which he puts on, and transforms himself into a clown for the rest of the performance. It was never made particularly clear how or why this transformation took place, but as the show progressed, it seemed to become an unimportant detail.

Throughout this performance Lynam is very expressive and engaging, oozing with energy and charisma, and from very early on we are drawn in to his world and visions. Through the twists and turns he suffers, the clown’s physicality and facial expressions are strong enough to portray each emotion and it is a very capable performance.

What makes the show stand out is the interaction with various technical elements. The whole show is seen from behind a projection screen, onto which various scenes and “thoughts” are projected throughout. In addition, there is a vast array of props which enter and exit of their own accord, adding to the sense of mysticism and imagination.
At the end of the show there are two shock moments (which I won’t spoil), that add a fresh dimension to what until then had become a quite tired and monotonous format. It’s a shame moments like these did not come in sooner to give the piece more variety and sense of surprise.

To me, the problem with shows that have a high reliance on technical aspects, especially at the Fringe, is that one never feels quite at ease that everything will go to plan. And while nothing major went wrong in this performance, there were numerous occasions when there was an air of hope as opposed to confidence that the right thing would fly in and fly out at the right time, which prevented me from becoming fully absorbed in the work. But perhaps towards the end of the run these details will be more ironed out.

Overall, a very strong solo performance, but I was left feeling a little bit with the sense of “So What?”.

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

Reviewer: Steve Griffin  (Seen 8 August)

Visit the Assembly Roxy archive.