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DarkChat - Reviewing the Edinburgh Fringe since 2008

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Reviews 2011

Thursday 18th August

Falling Man/Decreasing Infinity 8/10

Considering the material for the first piece, Falling Down, this was never going to be an easy piece to watch. But this is a beautiful and poignant piece based upon Richard Drews’ series of photos capturing a man falling from the World Trade Centre during the 9/11 attacks. There is no where for the audience to hide, as we are confronted with the question as to whether he jumped for life or for death. The male dancer entrusts his whole body to invoke meaning; but it is the little gestures of his fingers that conjure up the most vivid emotions. Played to a more than appropriate backsound, this is a haunting piece that resonates with all.

Decreasing Infinity – billed with Falling Man, it would always be a difficult piece to follow. Performed by the Balbir Singh Dance Company, this is an forceful rhythmic piece that explores the relationship between Indian Kathak and contemporary dance. The piece investigates how the dance styles collide and synthesise together. Perfunctory performed, the piece is full of harsh lines and symmetry.

White Rabbit Red Rabbit - St Georges West - 10/10

This year I have taken the decision to try and see more drama than usual. This has proved a master-stroke as " A Clockwork Orange", " The Dark Philosophers" and " The Ten Plagues" were all stunning in their different ways. So, despite, the inconvenience of rushing to the other end of town (St George's West) from our flat at an early (ish) start we were intrigued by what would follow. We were greeted by a member of the production team who handed over the envelope containing the script to today's actor, Pip Upton. Although he is known for his one-man shows on the fringe he looked naturally concerned about what he had let himself in for.

It was left to the playwright via the script to explain what we were about to witness. Nassim Soleimanpour wrote the play in Iran but as he refused to join up for National Service he was ineligible for a passport and couldn't travel. However, he was determined to be part of the performance and requested (and was granted) that a seat was left vacant for him. Similarly, he arranged for the audience to number themselves and get involved. It was up to me to announce the full date and frankly after six days here I was struggling to remember my name but somehow I got through. I was more fortunate than others who came on stage to impersonate the rabbits of the title.

The crux of the piece revolves around the possibility of the actor drinking a glass of poison, unlikely but as we were ushered out of the theatre by another member of the audience you could have heard a pin drop. Since there has been no mention of Mr Upton's demise in the Scotsman I assume he survived. This is an outstandingly riveting and disconcerting play. It does make you realise how much we take our freedom for granted, yet conversely it shows how small the world is nowadays. We were all encouraged to contact Nassim by email or Facebook (assuming he is still alive) to let him know how the show went. This is the kind of show you can only really see at Edinburgh. GO!

Paul Ricketts - West End Story - 4/7/10

Organising 70 shows for 9 different people is fraught with danger. I have yet to survive a week without making at least one mistake and today I ran out of luck. The problems always arise over shows that have a day off and we all duly arrived at Canon's Gait to see DARKCHAT favourite Richard Sandling, who wasn't appearing that day.

The joy of free shows is that if you see something rubbish all you have lost is an hour of your life, so we entered the venue with the bonus of having absolutely no idea what to expect. So, what did we get?

Well, while the ladies hid at the back we perched on the side seats to see a likeable London stand-up comedian telling stories about meeting a Swedish girl. As neither of them had any money they had to invent stories to encourage other drinkers to pay for their alcohol for the evening.

One of the tales which was the basis of the show involved a legendary musician who shall remain nameless. We were led down such an extraordinary path that we spent a lot of time afterwards debating whether it could possibly be true. If it is, surely the show is slanderous, if it is false what was the point, especially as no-one else in the group had ever heard of this person (although naturally Anne & I had seen him).

It is such an enjoyable and surprising show that I recommend people to deliberately plan to see the show. Good fun.

The Beta Males: The Train Job 9.75/10

Awash with all the diversity the World’s biggest arts festival can offer, it’s increasingly difficult for new comedy to stand out in the Scottish Capital.. Stand-up’s rife sure, but a four-man comedy sketch group at the Edinburgh Festival? Insanity? Well, perhaps. A staggeringly timed, stratospheric leap into the best the Fringe can offer? Undoubtedly.

I ought to point out now that I had never previously met the Beta Males (though did bother Rich in the street soon afterwards), but was there on the back of a tremendous flyer. I have nothing to gain from layering hyperbole onto superlative onto gush. I hate many, many, many things. However, I’m definitely at a push and possibly at a loss to point out an Edinburgh show that I have enjoyed more than the hypnotic world presented in The Train Job.

The Beta Males quote those perennial Edinburgh favourites The Penny Dreadfuls as their heroes, and they’ve gone a hell of a long way to fill their vacuum created by their absence. How a comedy play can be so relentless for an hour with not a single joke falling flat is beyond me, but is far from beyond those Beta Males. Funny writing hits hilarious performance and then smashes into staggering choreography and physical theatre in this 50 whirlwind of top-level comedy.

Fourth paragraph then. Criticism time. Well, dear reader, I’m struggling. Some of the audience were a little ridiculous – raucous, aggressive, territory-marking guffaws at the early titters. Sure, that’s stuff’s great in a naff play – but these people are comedy legends in the making. But there, you see? I’m criticising laughter in a comedy. And it’s not even theirs. Still, being able to write whilst clutching this straw is a talent in itself.

Reviews abound, sure but take heed. If I had the power, in vocabulary or threat, I would do all I could to make you see this show. Each sketch scene adds up to a ridiculously satisfying whole. Direct parody, tenuous parody and abundant exuberance chug at you like a juggernaut. If you’ve seen the achingly funny The 39 Steps or the already mentioned Penny Dreadfuls with Aeneas Faversham Forever, this rivals them at least. If you haven’t, it will be the funniest play you’ve ever seen. Your jaws will ache, your minds will shake; Pleasance Illuminati be warned, The Beta Males are coming.

Bones 6/10

At the Edinburgh festival you can easily forget there is a world outside of the Scottish capital. As we are all aware England in July was not a green and pleasant land, although this event has mainly been ignored by the comedians here.

The fires may be out, order has been re-established with the malcontents behind bars or back in their lives. But we are now in the period of recrimination and trying to understand what went wrong and how to avoid such scenes do not recur in this generation.

A lot of people who come up here want to forget what happened but for those who don't want to avoid difficult subjects " Bones" is a must. Based in Nottingham in 1998, Jane Upton's play revolves around Mark a 19 year old lost soul living in some god-forsaken flat with his mother. No money, no job, no future.

Just in case you didn't know what kind of play you are about to witness the opening line " I never knew how hard it was to kill a baby" sets the scene and certainly kept the audience on their toes.

This forty-five minute monologue isn't an easy watch. It is a fairly relentless state of the nation piece about how life and the system can trap an ordinary nice lad. Impressively the play doesn't moralise, preach, take sides or attempt to offer a solution. But it does attempt to un-demonise the so-called under-class and try to show readers of right-wing newspapers that not all young people are born purely to loot, rape, procreate and kill.

The play, however, only comes alive through the stunning performance of Joe Doherty. He is totally natural and believable and avoids the trap of stereo-typing Mark, allowing you to fully engage with the piece and the playwright. It was also endearing that after another rapturous response from the audience he looked sheepish and embarrassed about the deserved reaction.

Harrowing but recommended.

A Day In November - 6/10

Hailing from Bulgaria, this is a one man and his puppet show that revolves around one day in the life of an 100yr old puppet. And unfortunately, that is the entire plot. It is a delicate, bitter sweet piece that (if you can make it to the end) does bring a tear to the eye. The puppet is beautifully crafted to bring out all the necessary emotional responses needed from the audience. And there is no doubting the skill of Gavanozov, the puppeteer. But this was too slow and understated for some of the audience, who didn’t stay till the end. 2011 is the year of puppetry at the Fringe; it will be difficult for A Day in November to compete with the numerous other piecing showcasing this year.

Rose 8.5/10

As "Bones" ( see previous review) started twenty minutes late at Zoo I rushed round to Pleasance Forth to see another one word title play. With barely enough time to get my breath back, let alone clear my head I wasn't really in the mood to see another harrowing drama. But the minute "Rose" started I was hooked.

It helped to have such an experienced and talented actor as Art Malik to watch ,though it was somewhat disconcerting to see him with a bushy-greying beard, lying in a hospital bed following a stroke. This is the story of Arthur, an immigrant Muslim struggling to bring up his daughter (Rose) alone as his wife had died in childbirth. To make a better life for them both Arthur made himself more British then the British but drove his daughter away and into a more religious way of life. Scenes alternate between the present day and key moments in Rose's childhood. His illness is an opportunity for them to repair their broken bridges and ironically, despite his inability to speak clearly, they communicate now better than ever.

This is a beautifully written piece, totally believable and involving with an emotional and surprising ending but it is the quality of the acting that makes it real. You would expect a strong performance from Art Malik but for me the star of the night was his real-life daughter, Keira, who displayed impressive stage-craft in her theatrical professional debut. It would be hard enough anyway but facing your famous father must be doubly daunting.

As well as thoroughly enjoying the play it was also nice to discover that I was amongst the youngest and more agile of the audience. A rarity nowadays. Forget a cross-dressing Simon Callow go and see the Maliks.

Moving On. 8.5/10

Moving On is an original dance piece with this Scottish Indian dance company exploring the evolution of the Indian dance tradition in a Scottish context. The accomplished dance troupe made effective use of film clips to help tell the story, nonetheless the most memorable images were created by the dancers on stage with a simple dance with candles providing one of the most beautiful moments of DarkChat’s Festival experience.

Frisky & Mannish - 10/10

In the three years since they’ve been performing together, Frisky and
Mannish have built up a cult following. And from tonight’s performance it’s
easy to see why. Pop Centre Plus is here to help the audience find
employment in the saturated world of pop. The duo are a modern day cabaret
act. The idea is simple, poking fun at the world of pop by singing songs in a
different style. Performing the Friends theme tune in the style of a 1930’s
Berlin torch singer is a brilliant highlight. The 10 stages of Madonna is another.

Hearing Papa Don’t Preach sang as an opera, we all realise just how
musically talented this pair is. If they weren’t, the act would misfire. And they’re
funny too. Cheryl Cole – take note. In fact, all you would be pop stars take note!
Their act make be based on a simple premise, but there is mileage to be had.

And we’re all hoping Frisky and Mannish are around for some time to come.
Who wouldn’t want to hear Old Macdonald had a farm to the music of Girls Aloud. It may be throw away entertainment – just as pop is. But it’s fun and the duo give themselves free reign to relax into their act. And just like some pop, it hits all the right notes perfectly. Lady Gaga, eat your heart out.

Colin Hoult’s Inferno 7.33/10

Colin Hoult first came to Edinburgh prominence in 2009 with his acclaimed " Carnival of Monsters". Last year he consolidated his position as the quirk-meister of character comedy with "Enemy Of The World" and an impressive tour-de-force song and dance performance in " Gutted".

This year he returns to the Pleasance Courtyard with " Inferno". Even as you take your seat ( front-rowers be prepared to be involved) you are greeted by some Brazilian chill-out mood music. Then you are aware of Mr Hoult wearing a natty blue cap, dancing and extolling the virtues of producer of this pleasant noise " Sant Germain" ( ?) while involving plenty of the audience.

Soon, this amusing interlude takes a darker form when this character reveals that his obsession with this perfomer led his wife to leave him and the general disintegration of his life.

This is the theme of the show, seemingly ordinary people turned into grotesques, including a Welsh poet angry that his bear poem has not received widespread acclaim, a Thor-like figure revealed as living in Leeds and an elderly woman in a home constantly asking for Billy. Much to the audience's amusement ( if not exactly mine) I had to come onstage and make this lady a cup of tea with butter and hundreds and thousands.

Determined to get as many people involved as possible the show climaxes with the first couple of rows creating a circle round the whole audience in a dramatic plea to the gods.

As you may have gathered this is a strange show. Not as funny as I expected but gradually I realised that isn't the intention. Pathos is the name of today's game. You may not particularly want to live next to these people but you care about their wellbeing.

Overall an impressive and unexpected hour.

Strip Search 8/10 - Space at North Bridge

For my second one-man show of the day I headed to The Space at North Bridge to see "Stripsearch" which was written last year by Peter Scott-Presland for the Homos Promos production company. Daniel Onadeko plays an ex-squaddie who takes us through his life as a youth turning tricks for money, joining the army and then getting into stripping. Cleverly (and intringingly for certain members of the audience) at each each climactic point (pun intended) of the piece he would remove a further item of
clothing.

I was expecting a play about a stripping ex-squaddie with nudity and gay overtones but this was a highly layered (pun unintended) piece of drama. It is a detailed and true examination of someone gradually dealing with emotions that they had buried within themselves.

The writer, director and producer (amazingly all one person) allowed the Daniel to understand his own nature after the audience had worked it out, which is a brave and difficult feat to achieve.

Having praised the writing I must strongly recommend Daniel Onadeko's performance. No-one man show is easy but he exposes more than just raw emotion. In an hour of surprises (all pleasant) one of the biggest was hearing a lot of references to Caroline Street and The Kings Cross. As someone from Cardiff these were places I wasn't expecting to be mentioned here, but, even without any Welsh connections this is still worth a visit.

Late Night Gimp Fight! 8/10

There is an awful lot of comedy (and a lot of awful comedy) at the Edinburgh fringe festival and generally its style dominates the time of day it appears. Free, gentle and sketch shows normally appear from lunch-time to early evening when the stage (literally) is left to stand-up and more aggressive and risque acts. This usually means that fans of sketch comedy are struggling to see anything after 8.00 pm.

This gap in the market was exploited last year by the arrival of " Late Night Gimp Fight". The title explains why they do not appear at the Pleasance Courtyard before 10.30 pm.

The opening theme song in obligatory Gimp masks sets the scene and we are off into a sequence
of short sketches. Gradually though the early euphoria of the audience dwindles away to polite applause as we see a succession of dismal sketches. One about gladiators is poor but better than one regarding a confused terminal diagnosis that I last laughed at in the 1980's and I won't mention the sequence about milking animals.

Even the clever use of clips showing famous videos with " Late Night Gimp Fight" imposed over classic lyrics began to wear thin. But just when I was mentally preparing to adapt Mitchell & Webb's classic sketch about writing sketches into " Hit, Miss, Miss, Miss, Miss etc" they re-found their form.

An impressive fight scene & enactment of Saving Private Ryan's famous " Sssh" death scene stopped this slide and started the trend of good returning sketches. The video pen pictures of the performers improved the links and suddenly they produced increasingly rare comedy moments, hysterical songs, including a musically brilliant rap and a stunning version of " Riot Cell Tango" from Chicago about how they lost their virginity.

The best sketches were cleverer with more impressive word-play than I expected, proving you shouldn't tell a sketch group by its title. The highs they hit made the inclusion of some obviously weak material mystifying and rather annoying. This is a potential 5 star show which disappointingly shot itself in the foot.

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