DarkChat - Reviewing the Edinburgh Fringe since 2008

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Monday 16th August


Everything You Always Wanted to Know – 7.25/10

Early contender for ‘sketch of the festival’ has to be the harrowing tale of ‘Spermeo and Juliegg’. We agree, a Shakesperean satire about a sperm trying to fertilize an egg didn’t immediately tickle our fancy, but as we opened onto ‘fair vagina, we where set our scene’ we were won over, and the one-liners and puns were simply hilarious – the blind Tibalt-sperm was masterful. If it had a flaw it was simply setting the bar too high for the rest of the show to compete. Still, for an afternoon sketch show this was wonderful and we highly recommend.



The Sketch Emporium – 5/10

Quick to show Darkchat takes its requests for reviews ubur-seriously, we headed for some lunchtime sketches at ‘The White Horse’. We are pleased to inform it was a worthwhile request, as a few of the sketches had us repulsed and overjoyed in equal measure – the perverted, lemonade-purchasing weirdo will live long on the memory. As with any sketch show, it was a mixed bag in terms of quality; we also felt the cast, at 8-strong, could probably do with a bit of trimming down to go forward in such a competitive industry as sketch comedy.



The Fitzrovia Radio Hour – 7.5/10

For a show billed as an hour of comedy, there was blatantly not enough ‘vitamin C’ on offer. That aside, everything else about the show was wonderful. We were instantly transported back to the 1940s (again), and sucked into the delicious accents and pronunciation every blighter seemed to have at the time, if these shows are anything to go by. Sublime language and performances, coupled with a high production quality, helped us thoroughly enjoy such tales as ‘The Man Who Was Ten Minutes Late’, albeit it reminded some too much of a disastrous Roger Moore movie (non-Bond, obviously).



The Penny Dreadfuls – 8.8/10

We return to the multi Darkchat-winning Penny Dreadfuls, the epitome of Edinburgh for some reviewers. No queue sends shivers down the spine quite like a pre-pennies queue, and we held our tickets firmly, angry to part with them for even the few seconds it takes to tear our stubs; “my ticket, mine!” There was to be no play this year, merely sketch comedy, and having seen some strong stuff already as we took our seats and waited for the lights to go down we began to worry. Then, the trio emerged and the following 60 minutes flew by. Awesome, but not all were convinced; have the Pennies done enough to rule the roost once more?



Elis James : Daytripper – 7.75/10

Sat uncomfortably in a front row that consisted of Phil, Legs, and a lot of empty seats, we felt exposed to the elements and searched frantically for a place to hide. Thankfully, with the exception of Legs being used as a test dummy for some chat-up lines, the once-more likeable comedian made us feel at home with tales of travels abroad, uncomfortable hero worship and Dan-Yr-Ogof caves. A very funny show; one year on from the ‘show in a sauna’ we are pleased to report that Elis James and his material have blossomed considerably.



Marcel Lucont : Encore – 8.25/10

The ‘Frenchmen’ is a wonderfully suave and confident character creation. Briskly aware of how to control an audience and keep it laughing in droves, he reacted strongly to the two loud Welshmen in the front row (now who could they have been?), and a lack of support from the nation of Luxembourg. Showing just how stand-up in a small, friendly arena should be executed, he moved skilfully from banter, to wine, to poetry, to wine, to diary entries, to wine, to storytelling, and finally back to wine (had there been a quiz we’d have sworn he were David Cox in disguise!). The only thing missing was a pair of shoes!



Stuff – 4/10

What do you get when you arm two friendly Americans with a guitar and 40 precious minutes of your time? A lack of comedy, it seems. But in spite of material which at no point ever came close to being humorous, the ‘chaps’ were so naturally warming we came away liking their show without ever figuring out exactly why. As they pointed out, we all know we own too much stuff, and in the case of this ‘stuff’ 40 minutes will just about suffice.


Sticks, Stones, Broken Bones 8.33/10

The fringe is about uncovering unexpected gems. Canadian puppeteer Jeff Achtem managed to create a show which enchanted both children and adults alike. Entering with a Mr Bean-like voice he showed great mental and physical dexterity.


By using a variety of ordinary objects (including a shoe from a man in the front row) he cut and stuck odd-shaped items. He then impressively bent his body & almost impossibly used his 4 limbs to project extra-ordinary images onto the screen.


The opening 2 scenarios were strange and possibly disturbing for young children featuring an old woman being attacked by a chicken and then an old man eating a brain. Family entertainment was restored with a member of the audience (our shoe man mentioned earlier) being selected to create a hilarious Japanese samurai sketch.


When later queuing for "The Vaudevillains" I over-heard an America describing the show with the immortal line "once I discovered he was from Toronto it explained everything".



Bare - 9/10

Having spent most of the festival enjoying Press, 2 for 1  and half-price tickets it was quite a rarity for this reviewer to pay full-price for a show. " Bare", however, more than re-paid this investment.


The play started in the queue with promoter Arden tearing the tickets before you entered the arena (theatre). With his fixer Chesney providing some unexpected stand-up while the punters (audience) took their seats including some dodgy-looking characters. Suddenly it was show-time and we were plunged into the sweaty, underworld of bare-knuckle boxing.


Billed as "strictly adults" only "Bare" pulled no punches (sorry), literally showing the blood,sweat and tears of those involved. We followed the fortunes of Skinner whose "good samaritan" moment gave him the opportunity to earn big money in this illegal violent sport.


Paul-Michael Giblin convincingly portrayed this genial loser who originally wanted the cash for his family but found the adulation and physical buzz of the fights too hard to avoid.


"Bare" was the perfect title for this visceral play, literally stripping the body and emotions down to their basic elements. Anyone wanting a rare 2010 festival experience of witnessing a 90 minutes of high quality acting in a play that never sags and provides a stunning unexpected climax should rush to Space 3 near the Radisson.


Special praise must go to Renny Krupinski, actor, writer, director and choreographer.




Reginald D Hunter - 8/10

Anyone who comes to see the Reginald D Hunter often seen on TV, will be slightly bemused. Instead of the tight bunches and the dry, off kilter comedy, Hunter is relaxed and easy going. Funny, but not in the way you expect. Hunter’s routine relies on people’s views and prejudices on bullying, women, relationships and the word nigger. Potentially, explosive and divisive, Hunter’s delivery quells any storm that might be a brewing. On reflection, the audience may feel somewhat cheated, but no one needs another Eddie Murphy.



Felix Dexter - Multiple Personalities in Order - 7.75/10

This was the year that we worked out that the best seats could be found if you arrived early. If not the funniest show this festival it was the best queue as we met Saul ( starring in Zanna Don't! a show sadly we couldn't fit into our schedules) and his delightful family. Once the doors opened we found ourselves either side of the theatre after foolishly choosing to sit in the front row.


The show was at its best when he concentrated upon character most notably Julian from "Bellamy's People", although frankly Saul did a better impression outside the venue.


The material and humour suffered when he reverted to himself but he did prove himself adept at dealing with the audience when he engaged with men in the front row.


One of the problems of sitting there is trying to decide what "face" to pull. I went for the thoughtful, quizzical pose which proved a mistake as I was quickly accused of having a " devil may care/ debonair" look. I was then involved in an unexpected debate about sucking (or not) my wife's toes and inadvertantly called her my "kind of" wife.


Overall, a pleasant enjoyable hour if you already like this comedian but probably not worth the full price ticket cost.



The Vaudevillains - 8/10

One of the joys of ploughing through the Fringe brochure when you first receive it is spotting the occasional "must see" event. For the previous two years "Les Enfants Terribles" have won a variety of DARKCHAT awards so any new production is always welcome.


This 2010 offering was even more eagerly anticipated than usual as "The Vaudevillains" was a one-off performance taking over the entire Pleasance Dome . We duly joined the queue thirty minutes early (sadly outside in the pouring rain) and rushed to get a good position. Unfortunately, as there were few seats we had to stand but had a good view

of the stage.


The story revolves around the murder of Charlie with each of the acts telling their own stories, including their secrets which Charlie used to get into his circus.  As always with this company the performances were impeccable with impressive songs, singing and story keeping an adoring audience involved throught.


However, I have to criticise the staging itself. We assumed that by taking over the whole venue we would be seeing a kind of promenade entertainment. In reality though we just witnessed a standard staged show in extremely uncomfortable conditions. A lady to my left fainted and I was contemplating a similar fate but survived. On the way out I heard comments standing behind us saying they "couldn't see anything" and "it was the worst venue ever". When we got home we couldn't move as we had been standing up for over three hours, not great after a busy day.


This was a shame as it was a good show and would have worked equally as well in an ordinary seated venue.


Tuesday 17th August


Big Bited-Size Breakfast - 7.5/10

Having chatted to one of the actors, I’d thought I’d get up really early one morning to catch this show. Only getting 3 hours sleep was worth it!  The ensemble piece feels like a sketch show, opening with an accompanied intro and including 4 scenes. The show is quirky and polished, scripted well and with some stand-out performances. The opening toothbrush scene is the funniest and it’s refreshing to see some great female parts and performances. If you can get yourself out of bed for this, you won’t be disappointed.



The Unwrong Quiz – 3.25/10

A simple premise: two hosts ask the audience 16 vague questions in groups of 4, collect the answers and the funniest for each gets a prize, though by ‘prize’ read everyday household items with facial features glued on. Your reviewers came away the proud owners of a tin of TESCO tomato soup with goggly eyes for wanting to take Clearasil pads to a desert island, an egg microwave with a bit of string for declaring they would eat the two people sat either side of them if it made them famous, and a lolly for being the only audience member called ‘Dave’.



Dig for Victory – 1.5/10

A quartet of sketch-goers two sketch-goers short (perhaps they could’ve borrowed some from ‘The Sketch Emporium’?). Sickness had hit this show and the result was a few sketches from the two that were healthy, though why they attempted a 4-man sketch only to say halfway through it wouldn’t work and stop is anyone’s guess, and two snippets from other shows; ‘Sketchy @ Best’, and we wish anyone willing to pay a fiver to see it the very best of luck, and German/Austrian/French Olympic skier/sleaze-artist ‘Flange Karma’. The highlight was a David Hasslehoff mask which, sadly, it turned out we were not attractive enough to win.



Alexis Dubus : Surprisingly Tasteful Show About Nudity – 7.4/10

The entire Darkchat crowd congregated to hear Alexis Dubus take his history bus on the road from ‘Swear City’ to ‘The Hamlet of Nudity’. And once more, it was a settlement worth visiting. Beginning with a sneaky glimpse of Marilyn Monroe’s ‘dignity’, we listened to Alexis’s experiences with nudity in modern day society from a bike ride around London to the Nemesis in Alton Towers, and learned about how it was engaged in times gone by. Not quite funny enough to get rave reviews, the show still enabled us to see him stark-bollock naked at the end, and for certain reviewers that was precisely what we were after.



Life of Si : Si Harder – 1.75/10

A 60 minute show that consisted of 20 minutes discussing what we ‘missed’ in last year’s show, and 40 minutes of what this year’s show would be about? Awful, awful, awful. Jam-packed with 18 people, the building almost collapsed as it heard laughter from the audience and simply couldn’t figure out what the people were laughing at; the show was as funny the letter ‘b’. The artists commented proudly that 127 people (read friends, family members and pets) saw their show last year; we wondered how few people seeing a show over 20+ days it would take for these idiots to give up the ghost and, preferably, run head first into a bus. Oh, and the guy laughing was their mate, as it turned out.



Back to the 80s – 5.75/10

With so much free sketch comedy on offer, a show needs something to stand out from the crowd, and this group went for an 80s theme around characters, films and musicians from that era. Attending more for Phil’s nostalgia than any particularly sane reasons, we were wonderfully surprised. The sketches, believe it or not, were actually very funny – and came at us at 88mph (get lost, I’m proud of writing that). Thankfully, the theme was not a gimmick to cover up mediocrity, but navigation for originality. There may not have been a He-Man sketch, but there was plenty on offer to tickle our Flux Capacitor (up yours!).



Barry & Stuart : 98% Séance – 9/10

As requested by the performers, we are unable to give away any actual details of the show’s content, but as it says ‘séance’ in the shows title we can indeed confirm that part of it did indeed involve a séance. Overall this was a funny, at times shocking (the guy sat next to us absolutely shat himself, trust us) romp through the world of the paranormal that took audience members and used their fears against them. Fortunately, the artists knew what they were doing and did not take themselves too seriously, and as a result we thoroughly enjoyed. Unfortunately, certain other members of Darkchat will just have to take our words for it!



Men That Would Not Be Blamed For Nothing – 7.6/10

Thankfully not a show about use of the English language, this music show initially had us puzzled; there were four esteem Darkchatters in attendance, and none of us actually wanted to be there! Still, we’re game for anything if there’s wine involved, as the artists pumped (and pumped and pumped and pumped and pumped) up the volume, we held onto our glasses, hats and hairdye and headbanged and vibrated our way through the sixty minutes of very loud noise; there were lyrics, you just had to stand in the right place to hear them. It proved to be good, enthusiastic fun; and the worst part ended up being the wine!



Bette/Cavett - 8.25/10

Four hours after this performance one DARKCHATTER witnessed two DARKCHATTERs contest a passionate and hard-fought argument over the merits of this play. This debate seemed to last the length of a delicious meal at Kalpna's, a Vegetarian Indian restaurant we have visited since 1989 and have never disappointed.


The premise of the piece was simple. Two actors re-create a TV interview between host Dick Cavett and legend Bette Davis using the transcript from the original broadcast. For once I use the word "actor" correctly as they made the bold choice of Scotsman Grant Smeaton (also the director) portraying the movie star.


Once I was used to this unusual casting (and ignored his very hairy arms) the artistry of the two leads kept me transfixed. Miss Davis was shown to be dominant, out-spoken, self-confident (as she was in real-life) but in total command of her live and screen audience.   Gordon Munro beautifully captured the obseqiousness nature of the interrogater who was well aware of how far to push his interviewee. Oddly enough I came away thinking how open and honest the double Oscar winner (a fact I correctly knew during the pre-show quiz) was, in contrast to the media savvy book pushing touchy-feely interviews we now endure.


It was also a master-stroke using the real advert breaks in the original recordings to show embarrassing adverts of that time including Henry Fonda pushing view-finders, a long-forgotten product called "Aids", and a promotional video for Richard Nixon.


However, not everyone was as enthralled as me. My neighbour to my left was asleep through most of the show (bearing in mind we were in the front row) and before I shot off to my next venue I said to my DARKCHAT colleague "I really enjoyed that" but was taken back by her response "really?". And so began our debate which has never really ended, even though clearly I am right!!



Maria De Buenos Aires - David - 2.5/10

Rule number one of the Festival.  Never tempt fate.  Having had a fantastic run so far, a fellow Darkchatter mentioned during a meal prior to this show that she wanted to see something bad and lo and behold look what we got!  


Lured by the interesting blurb in the brochure, we fancied some colourful and dramatic dance, so we headed to the Zoo Southside.  Another show running late didn't bode well, though if we'd spent this time reading the synopsis in the leaflet, we would have had a better idea of what we would witness or have given ourselves a clue that we might need to sit near the exit.  Unfortunately, we did neither and sat through an Argentinian dance spectacular that was impenetrable and frankly dull.  Any shows you don't enjoy seem long but I was shocked to discover at the end that it had overrun by nearly half an hour and despite a quick taxi journey we failed to make the more eagerly awaited 'Barry & Stuart'.  


Well at least the enforced hour gap between shows allowed one Darkchatter to witness for the first time me unleash a lengthy vitriolic rant!


So the moral of the story is beware what you wish for.  Oh and there was a naked man wrapped in fairylights. Enough said.


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Reviews 2010