Monday 13th August
Horse and Louis
The dream comedy combination: a furry fat guy with glasses, and…a guy with a guitar. What could possibly go wrong?
In a way they proved to be quite amusing; there were some funny songs (albeit ones that ended too abruptly), some sort of token gesture about a curse that held things together (slightly – rather underused), and a pair of very likeable performers. We laughed jovially along and were rather enjoying ourselves. It’s all going rather well then? Well…
By their own admission musical comedy is ‘comedy in its lowest form’, and we have to disagree with that: telling bad jokes and laughing about how bad they are is monumentally worse, and sadly this is what this show descended into all too often. This is either a by-product of laziness, or a blatant inability to write anything good enough to have an audience in stitches, and thus a need to compensate in such a poor form. We could have forgiven them for one ‘trip’ down this route, but three? Unforgivable, and left a bad taste in our mouths that could have been avoided! (PW & L)
Fred MaCaulay & Co
BBC Potterow 13.30
This year at my 14th festival I seem to have finally discovered how to survive on virtually no sleep. After not getting to bed until the hours of Monday morning I was in the queue for Fred Macaulay's radio show at 10.00am.
He is joined on stage by his co-host Susan Calman for gentle banter with themselves and the audience. This action-packed ninety minutes was kickstarted by the ever lively Frisky & Mannish (oddly using the same Lily Allen/Noel Coward segment I had heard on a previous radio recording "Curiosity Killed The Cabalret" a couple of years ago.
Rob Deering provided more musicality (weirdly I heard the same clip on the Penny Smith arts programme a couple of weeks ago). I was less impressed by an improbably accurate predictor but loved Irish comic Martin Mor before we were spoilt by 3 Edinburgh comedy gods on the sofa, Rhod Gilbert, Adam Hills and Marcus Brigstocke.
Here, for thirty minutes we were treated to humour of the highest quality as they tried to up-stage each other. They were all on top form but nothing could top the incredible discovery that not only had Mr Brigstocke worked on an oil rig but on his weeks off he would perform as a podium dancer. Rhod Gilbert's look of incredulity had to be seen to be believed.
Free BBC tickets are hard to get hold of but when shows are as good as this you can understand why they are like gold dust. Thank you Auntie Beeb. (DC)
Pleasance Courtyard 13.10
The Terrible Infants have been DARKCHAT favourites since we were mesmerised by "The Terrible Infants". They followed this up with the darker "Ernest and the Pale Moon" and the event entertainment "The Vaudevillains".
This year we are back in more familiar territory, a well-acted piece with puppet inter-action. Bert is conscripted to fight in the First World War, digging undeground to lay mines under German mines. Naturally all does not go well and the trench collapses but he is unexpectedly offered salvation from a creature which seemed to have escaped from Sesame Street.
I was particularly impressed by the language, especially as it was mainly spoken in rhyming couplets adding weight and importance. This was balanced by Alexander Wolfe playing and singing his own music, a perfect accompaniment to the drama we were witnessing. The only minor criticism I would make was that Bert's background story was emotionally manipulative but it certainly packed a punch to me.
Every festival there is one show which divides DARKCHAT reviewers and this show was out 2012 talking point. My current wife felt it was wrong to set a Tolkien type tale amongst the true-life horror of the First World War and the modern style of singer/ songwriter did not fit that period.
She is clearly wrong but the only way you can make up your mind is to see "The Trench." (DC & AC)
10 Films with my Dad
Voodoo Rooms 14.40
Nostalgia; what a potentially dangerous basis for a free show, as there’s a 99% chance that your audience has never heard of you, and therefore why on Earth would they want to sit through an hour-long tale of how your relationship with a family member was based on an inability to communicate, the fear of child homosexuality, and sitting in darkness watching movies? Well, the answer to that question is ‘only if it’s done very, very well!’
Aidan Goatley has penned a very emotional, often amusing tale here, and constructed it with the aid of recreated film footage and imagery. He delivers it in a likeable manner, and with sufficient confidence to interact amusingly with the audience, without the need to insult and belittle them. In fact, he sought to compliment and appreciate them, which was warmly received.
Though hardly the funniest hour of comedy you’ll see on the Fringe, this is entertaining and well worth a visit, even if just to see his recreated scenes from Jaws with a puppy and cardboard fin playing the role of the shark that surely has more creditability in it than Jaws the Revenge, and that featured Michael Caine! (PW & L)
Helen Keen: Robot Woman of Tomorrow
Pleasance Courtyard 15.30
Organising a DARKCHAT itinerary for a week is a balancing act. We like to choose new acts as well as revisiting previous favourites. Sometimes the latter is a mistake as current material may be weaker, or worse, the same as previous shows. On the plus side it is a joy to watch a performer blossom and that is the category in which Helen Keen can be found.
Three years ago we really enjoyed "The Primitive Methodist Guide To Arctic Survival" but the following year " It Is Rocket Science" was a show we had mainly seen before.
The Hut at Pleasance is an intimate venue which is perfectly suited to her gentle, friendly, all-encompassing personality (who else would include soothing breaks so we can all remain focussed). We hear about her upbringing and how her interest in science helps her to deal with a succession of dull admin temporary jobs.
"Robot Woman Of The Future" revolves around what may happen and is a show bordering on a lecture ( albeit hysterical) featuring a life-size Robot figure, shadow puppetry and a powerpoint presentation. A screen allows us to play a strange game of guessing from a photograph whether a woman was a Futurist or
Felon and see a variety of slides including an HG Wells sculpture in Woking and robots designed for personal fulfilment.
The material is consistently funny and our host is more confident than we have seen previously. As an audience member you can relax, you are in safe hands. (DC & AC)
A Dirty Martini
Zoo Southside 16.30
Some shows allow an audience to witness a journey, others attempt to take the audience with them, and the latter is what TrailBlaze manages to do with this highly enjoyable romp set in the 1920s.
You enter with a party in full swing; the ‘hosts’ invite you to join them at a round table decorated with fags, streamers and champagne corks, as they mingle amongst you for a natter about ‘fabulous’ and ‘spiffing’ things. And then the action stops; the actors freeze as the barman, no doubt mimicking Waugh, introduces you to proceedings. It seems he is writing a novel based on a series of characters, and issues a plea for help from the audience in deciding how events will pan out. We agree, of course, and a tale of cocaine, alcohol, fast cars and swimming costumes unfolds before us.
The acting is wonderful, and the characters stay true to the period for the entire time, effortlessly moving from scenario to scenario with enthusiasm and gusto. In particular, the lead characters played by Rosanna Elliott and Charlotte Blandford carry the story along as the others play for laughs. The descent of Elliott’s character from innocent bystander into an acidic shadow of Blandford’sfame-hording Elizabeth is wonderful to watch, as was the transformation of a simple stage into first a racetrack and then a swimming pool.
And to conclude? A wonderful, brutal ending that we simply weren’t expecting and proved to be the hundreds and thousands sprinkled on top of the cherry on top of the icing on the cake. Fabulous, darling! (PW & L)
Pleasance Courtyard 18.20
Last year’s premier sketch trio return to Edinburgh with a promotion to the Pleasance Courtyard, and thus an unavoidable rucksack-full of expectation was strapped firmly to their shoulders. How could they follow-up last year’s sketchy perfection? Well, we took our seats and waited to find out.
What followed was…disappointing, and it wasn’t just the burden of expectation. Too often the sketches setup some truly hilarious scenarios, only for it to end all too suddenly. Writing a comedy ending to a sketch is truly the hardest part, and WitTank failed here all too often. In particular, a yeti sketch (the yeti played wonderfully by Naz, the true stand-out performer) had the audience in stitches, but just kept going…and going…and going…and it may still be going, for all we know? Of the other performers, Mark Cooper-Jones continues to make good use of his eyebrows, whilst Kieran Boyd may not have even been in the show, we’re not sure we can remember seeing him.
We sincerely hope that WitTank recognise their failings, and come back stronger than ever, because they are clearly as talented a group as the Fringe has to offer. Perhaps the burden of individual shows to focus on diverted much-needed prep time away from the show they can thank for making their names, which can be a dangerous thing to allow to happen. A return to form next year, please! (PW, L, DC & AC)
Thom Tuck Flips Out
Pleasance Dome 20.10
It is sad to see only one Penny Dreadful performing a new show at Edinburgh this year, though if it had to be one then we’re glad it’s Thom Tuck, who incidentally is performing last year’s show free of charge, bless him.
The interesting thing about Tuck is that you often come away from his show wondering just what on Earth he was talking about, because it’s so easy to lose yourself in his wonderfully hilarious personality and performing abilities. As stand-up goes, Tuck is certainly of A-grade material, and leaves many of the ‘bigger names’ sifting through their ‘big book of insults’ to see how they can transform the ‘c word’ into a more offensive form than their rivals. Tuck ignores that easy route, and allows his personality to shine through.
The epitome of what it ‘means’ to be ‘British’, Tuck even keeps his tweed blazer and waistcoat on for the entire show, though how it doesn’t shrink under the strain of all that sweat is a compliment to his London tailor. It is a great skill to make a rehearsed script come across as natural and spontaneous, and it’s what makes Tuck the performer he is, and a master of his craft! (PW, L, DC & AC)
Marcel Lucont:Gallic Symbol
The suave Frenchmen returns with another boast about his wit, sex-life and general superiority over anything that isn’t French. More of the same? Yes. A bad thing? Heavens no, we rather like it!
Lucont is a character, created to be boastful yet self-mocking in a blissfully-unaware sense, and in that is his charm. Skilfully played, he epitomises all of the stereotypes held against French people, but in a way that wishes we were interesting enough to be stereotyped in such a way. He belittles the audience, not with a flurry of swearwords, but with skilful boasting and his wonderful sense of superiority over those around him. After all, we have paid to see him, not the other way around, and he makes us remember that at every opportunity!
As he tells stories, reads poems and diary extracts, and gulps his way through half a bottle of French (what else?) wine, Lucont treats us to an hour of his company, which is basically what the show is all about; him! Thankfully he is interesting and funny enough for the hour to be worth our while, and worth Lucont’s time too! (PW & L)
Belt Up Theatre's The Boy James
C - C Nova 22.45
It would be easy to spend a week just watching comedy at the Edinburgh festival but it is important to select a balance of shows before your funny muscles explode. Trying to find a good new play is a mine-field, there are obviously gems to be uncovered but there is also a lot of boring crap.
In the last few years Belt Up Theatre have acquired a growing reputation for interesting theatre and this year have three productions running. Children's books appear to be their theme, with their other shows revolving around the works of Frances Hodgson Burnett and Lewis Carroll while "The Boy James" concentrates on James Barrie.
We are ushered into a large Victorian style living room and meet our narrator. The unnamed boy introduces us to a forgotten world of forgotten childrens games where I prove I am the worst person to be selected to be the murderer in the game of wink/murderer.
He is then joined by a young (unnamed) girl (making impressively dramatic entrances and exits) who tries to make him rebel, throw away childish things and head towards adulthood.
This is a play about growing up. We see the older James Barrie and we know he retained his childhood innocence, especially in his writing. This is a well-acted play with a beautifully designed set and ultimately extremely disturbing. There is one particularly upsetting scene (the audience are very close to the performers) which makes its (unsubtle) point in an unnecessarily graphic scene. If the director and writer wanted to unsettle the audience it worked but ultimately left a nasty taste in the mouth, surely not what James Barrie would have wanted.
Interesting but horrific. (DC & AC)