18 August 2007

Pavarotti of Parody

The Mitch Benn Music Club, Reid Concert Hall

Perhaps it was the late hour (2315 - nearer 2330 when the audience finally got seated) or perhaps it was the onset of Fringe fatigue after two and a half weeks of queueing and drinking lager from plastic cups, but this show just didn't grab me. There comes a point in every musical parodist's career when their humorous topical material starts to sound a little out of date and for Mitch Benn that time may be upon him. Trotting out the old favourites isn't really an option once the world has moved on and everything doesn't sound like Coldplay anymore.
Benn has great skill with words and music, demonstrated in a number of on-the-spot improvisations, and the Distractions (well, half of them) provide the usual solid support as genres and instruments are hopped from song to song. The less topical material raised the bar, with Mitch Benn's Musical Version Of The Very Hungry Caterpillar a particular highlight. There was also a hint of loftier ambitions in a particularly pointed song about the ongoing situation in Iraq that provided the only illustration that Benn has not lost his satirical bite.

Pain is so close to pleasure

Richard O'Brien's Mephistopheles Smith, St Augustines

A revival of Richard O'Brien's decade old fringe show, Devilishly Yours, about hell's own evangelist, the now titular Mephistopheles Smith. Comparison's with O'Brien's smash hit Rocky Horror Show are inevitable in a musical show celebrating licence and pleasure, and in terms of music the show more than holds it's own (so to speak). The majority of songs are catchy and well-constructed, with a couple (such as The Best Is Yet To Come) lingering on in the memory. The script asks a lot of the three performers and, as there is no real narrative to speak of, Smith must have charisma to spare to carry the audience along with the show. O'Brien himself probably had it but Paul Roberts, former Stranglers vocalist (no, none of the ones you've heard of) sadly hasn't. As his devilettes Roxanne Palmer is suitably sexy and sleazy but, on this evidence, Francesca Casey has little idea of dramatic timing or expression. A wasted opportunity.

NTW : Singing to backing tapes - Grr!

JTD : Coping well with a venue that has a pillar in the centre of the stage.

Exile On York Place

Phil Nicol - Hiro Worship, The Stand

Returning after his triumph at last year's fringe, Nicol has engaged a star-studded band to playing Rolling Stones numbers during his new show about a Japanese man, the Hiro of the title, with a fixation on the aging rockers. The story is told with Nicol's usual manic energy, going from 0-60 in the time it takes to reach the stage in the Stand, and interspersed with hilarious impressions of Mick Jagger. If the show starts more slowly than Nicol's previous shows, once it gets going the laughs come in quick succession and in great quality. Nicol continues his legendary audience interaction and prospective punters should be aware that avoiding the front row won't necessarily mean you'll avoid physical contact with the Canadian.

NTW : An overlong song about obsessive fans

JTD : Bill Wyman's looking far better these days.

Coffee Time

Owen Powell - The Two Closest Starbucks In Britain, Plesance

There should be a new section in the Fringe guide as Owen Powell's show should really be filed under "Trivia". Despite the lack of belly laughs, Powell's titular quest to locate two closest Starbucks in Britain keeps interest for an hour in the sweltering Plesance Oven, sorry, Cellar. Powell is behoven to PowerPoint, and uses it as skillfully as the (sadly absent this year) Will Smith to explain and enhance his story.
He states at the start of the show that he does not intend to make political points about the proliferation of Starbucks or the effects of globalisation and he keeps to his word for the most part - only hinting at an agenda during the reveal of the two closest branches - about which there is a twist to keep locals happy.
Powell intersperses his quest with testimony from Starbucks employees which seemed to be gems of "found" material until it was revealed that Powell had, in fact, made them up. This was disappointing but reveals a talent for creating Alan Bennett style dialogues of everyday life that is simultaneously humourous and melancholy. Not comedy but easily worth the price of two Grande Lattes.

NTW : Making up the testimony

JTD : Making up the testimony

Roman Geezer

Julius Caesar, C

The students of Exeter University take on the Bard's great historical epic with enthusiasm and innovation, perhaps a little too much enthusiasm when it comes to mob violence and set-piece battles though!
Adapting the play to 75 minutes means a lot of the post-assassination to-ing and fro-ing is lost, but this is an acceptable compromise. On the other hand, the abridgements of the earlier scenes mean a loss of some of the moral ambiguity of Brutus' decision to join the plotters. Unforgivably, however, the scene between Portia and Brutus, that slows down the full version of the text, remains here and features the poorest performance in the otherwise well acted piece. One hopes that the director is getting appropriate (ahem!) recompense from Portia for allowing her to take part.
If there is a little too much scene chewing going on this is forgivable as the participants show a lot of skill in their characterisation, the volatile Cassius - whose lowest setting seems to be "Apoplectic" - particularly shines.
With good music choices and a particularly well directed scene amalgamating the plotting with Calpurnia's pleas to Caesar not to attend the Senate, this production more than does justice to its subject matter.

NTW : The hopeless Portia

JTD : The cross-scene direction

How Can You Expect To Be Taken Seriously

Seriously. Pet Shop Boys. Reinterpreted., Roxy Art House

Neil Tennant and Chris Lowe once revealed that when they first formed Pet Shop Boys they had the idea of an ever-changing line-up under the PSB "brand"; two young Englishmen today, 4 raunchily dressed Japanese girls the next, 3 crusty rockers the next etc. to better suit the particular material they had written. They could do worse than fully endorse the performers in Seriously and send them out on tour.
This show is superb. It contains, to quote one of the songs not used in the show, love, sin, sex, divine intervention, death and destruction - everything for your complete entertainment. Two interconnected stories - a married couple's break up and their son's discovery of love - are told through Tennant/Lowe compositions re-arranged and inter cut in a style that can best be described as "cabaret-opera". The choice of songs, lyrics (from full readings, to repeated choruses, to single lines) and arrangements for live string quartet and piano are well made and beautifully performed. This succeeds in bringing out how wide-ranging and often deceptively touching Pet Shop Boys are as songwriters, with echoes of Sondheim at his best. Match this material with fabulous vocalists who can not only sing but act too, and you have a theatrical experience never to be forgotten.
The venue's architecture and acoustics add to the beauty of the piece as the musicians are framed inside an archway and the performers use the space effectively. Special praise should go to Maria Mercedes and Michael Howard Smith as the doomed couple, whose performance of a medley of Jealousy, I Don't Know What You Want But I Can't Give It Any More, You Only Tell Me You Love Me When You're Drunk and Left To My Own Devices is merely the first of several show-stoppers.
Seriously is one of those shows where you want the performance to stop so you can prepare yourself to experience it. I went twice and would go again in an instant. My pick of the Fringe so far.

NTW : Some of choreography was a little ropey (but seconds out of the 75 minute running time)

JTD : You'll believe these songs were written to be performed this way, perhaps they were!

A finger of milk, in a dirty glass

Andy Zaltzman, 32, Administers His His Emergency Dose Of Afternoon Utopia, Steps Back, And Waits To See What Happens, The Stand

Non-confrontational political comedian Andy Zaltzman takes the theme of building a utopia for his show this year. His ideas are as brilliant as ever - a contractually obligated third World War in the 1970s that no one reported as Germany had already lost the best of three series 2-0 for example - but they're not as numerous nor, critically, as replete with gags as they have been in the past. That some of his set-piece stories meandered a little and fizzled out rather than climaxed, was especially regrettable as he was reading them from a book and one supposed he was keen to stay as close to his words as possible. Still solidly entertaining for an hour, but definitely a case of "must try harder".

NTW : Reuse of material from previous shows and his Political Animal compere-ing

JTD : Ideas, ideas, ideas - Andy's reasons for proposing marriage and his heart to heart with a ballot paper.

Up in the morning early

The Early Edition, Udderbelly

Marcus Brigstocke, Andre Vincent and their guests go through the morning's papers for find comedy in current events. To some extent the show relies on the content of the papers but in August, it being "silly season", it can be fairly guaranteed that material won't be lacking. Once the foursome, completed on the day I saw the show by Nick Doody and Miles Jupp, got into their stride there were plenty of laughs to be had. Brigstocke held it together and kept the show moving well, while also providing most of the best gags and audience interaction, including a brief conversation with your correspondent about the City Of Edinburgh Council's transport strategy that was quickly abandoned when it became clear that there was not a great deal of comedy in the topic. A great way to start your fringe day.

NTW : An unnecessary question and answer session

JTD : Brigstocke's Friday Night Project impressions

14 August 2007

Brothers, Sisters Can't You See!

The Tommy Sheridan Chat Show, Teviot

Surprisingly, following the itemisation and slating of his opening material in a national newspaper, Sheridan has stuck with it, but then neither taking any notice of the press nor letting go of lost causes were ever high on Tommy's agenda.
How you enjoy this show depends largely on your position on the ex-MSP, but whether you support or oppose him, you can't ignore the fact that there is the kernel of a possible future career here for Tommy. He needs to have his political edges softened a little and to learn that not every crowd needs to be whipped up into a frenzy and that the presence of a microphone means that there is no need to shout, but a couple of weeks with a media "coach" could see Sheridan develop a nice little sideline in interviewing. When he was comfortable with guest an subject matter, such as discussing football with Jackie McNamara, Tommy did well but such times were few and far between.

NTW : OK, Tommy, we get that you're a socialist

JTD : The sunbed timer

Ying tong tiddle I po

The Lost Tapes Of Tom Bell, White Horse

Bell is a very personable comedian, and he has a number of good ideas that could be expanded to fill an hour long show. Unfortunately he throws them all into one show and never lets any develop to a satisfactory conclusion. Most unforgivably, the concept advertised, a show based around tape recordings of himself as a seven year old, is held off for 20 minutes of only reasonably funny material about mime.
Tom Bell has some promising material, and a fresh way of interacting with an audience but he is more of a "one to watch" than a "must see" at this point.

NTW : one show - one concept. See it through

JTD : Crumpets for all!

Carry On Camping!

Eurobeat - Almost Eurovision, Plesance

The word-of-mouth hit of the Fringe, as 10 countries compete for the audience's text votes in a mini-Eurovision Song Contest that is so keenly observed and executed that it is far more appealing than the real thing has been for many years. The pairing of type of song or performer to country is excellent - tradition giving way to Europop for the Mediterranean countries, veiled homo-eroticism for the former Soviet Bloc and Balkans, experimental ism from Germany and teary-eyed ballads from the Irish.
The performances are energetic and only the occasional obviously "played for laughs" moments jar with the affectionate parodies. The interval act - all ridiculous metaphors and Young Generation costumes and routines - convinced me that the producers should be let loose on the real thing as soon as possible.
Several of the songs were actually rather good but a couple outstayed their welcome and enforcement of the real-life 3 minute limit could have tightened the show considerably. A couple of missed opportunities also blighted the show, the Abba parody wasn't up to much and surely Greece should have tried to give maximum points to (non-competing) Cyprus. The size and scale of the show meant that it wasn't what I'd consider to be a fringe show but it was enormous fun and would be ideal for girls-nights-out or any group who can find it within themselves to embrace the campery. If you've ever chuckled along to the diggy-loos and diggy-lays of the real thing, you'll have a ball at Eurobeat.

NTW : A shame they couldn't have given the UK a Brotherhood of Man/Bucks Fizz style pop masterpiece rather than an overblown Gemini-style ballad.

JTD : The enforced partisanship - if you want to win, opt for Italy, Estonia or Ireland - although I would love to be there on a night when the German krautrock spectacular gets to perform a triumphant encore.

Do not see this show

How To Pimp Your Kids And Shop For Free At Waitrose, Sweet

The title of the show is in no way ironic, Matthew Collins will tell you how to defraud an upmarket grocer and exploit the young. He even shows you the evidence to prove he is not joking.
Using a show as a marketing opportunity to sell a CD, DVD or book can be forgivable if the show itself is entertaining and, though he has a couple of mildly funny anecdotes, Collins' show comes across as a half-prepared presentation to the board. The climax, wherein he explains in detail how he allowed his two young children to busk in Key West, discovered they made money doing so and returned for not just the remainder of that vacation, but twice more since, provoked justified mutterings of moral outrage.
There should be no place at any arts festival for exploitation and borderline suggestions that the audience commit a crime. A closing film of the children outlining their agreement to participate leaves you with a nasty taste in the mouth. Avoid.

(Inevitably) Whatever happened to you?

On The Stage - And Off, Assembly Rooms

Rodney Bewes has carved a comfortable niche for himself performing one man versions of Victorian and Edwardian comic classics, this year he takes on Jerome K Jerome's autobiographical accounts of his days as a struggling actor. In front of a beautiful and appropriate set, Bewes brings to life a panoply of the Victorian theatrical scene, from Michael Winner-like agents to elderly comedians and fading juvenile leads. The achievement of entertaining an audience for over an hour was somewhat undermined, however, by Bewes' threatening to dry up at several points - though he always managed to pull through eventually. Similarly, Bewes' particular vocal style meant that the ghost of Bob Ferris was never far away. That said, this was a solidly entertaining adaptation and an engaging performance by a clearly enthusiastic performer.

NTW : A little under-rehearsed

JTD : A fabulous set-piece between aspiring actor and cigar-chewing agent.

Still no acknowledgement of the time spent in the Boat House

Dylan Thomas - Return Journey, Hill St Theatre

Another tour-de-force from Bob Kingdom, in this show recreating a reading by Welsh bard Thomas. As with Capote, the skill and stamina involved in maintaining a personality over 90 minutes is deserving of the highest praise, added to which, Kingdom never once referred to any script or text during recitation of 2 short stories and several lengthy poems. With base material like Thomas' the time passed effortlessly, with the tale of a mining village charabanc trip an especial highlight. The only false-step in the proceedings was the unfortunate result of a lighting effect that made Kingdom's wig bright orange and had the effect of turning into a down at heel Ronald McDonald.

NTW : D'you want fries with that, boyo?

JTD : A masterful, spell-binding solo performance

Daddy of them all

Justin Moorhouse - Who's The Daddy?, Plesance

Moorhouse develops a near instant rapport with his audience and never loses them for the following hour as he talks easily about his experiences as a father.
A mix of old school style and fresh content had the audience audibly in stitches through tales of shopping trips, single-parent holidays, premature births and father-child relationship building. The secret of a great comedy fringe show is structure and material, Moorhouse has clearly worked hard on both and, if some of the material is not as closely linked to the structure as it could be, Moorhouse's charm and personality paper over the cracks expertly before bringing it all back together for an excellent finale.

NTW : Very, very occasionally the gaps in the structure show

JTD : Pitch perfect delivery of excellent material - it never fails.

They stayed in the Boat House for quite a while.

Dylan Thomas In London, Venue 13

Attempting to take the audience on a whistle stop tour of the great poet's life in London makes this show a little rushed and occasionally disjointed but strong lead and supporting performances, especially from Eloise Howe, carry the audience through.

NTW : Some text book stage school gestures, such as "drinking"

JTD : Energy and talent are not lacking on the stage

Wot no Tuttsi-Fruitsi?!?

Waiting For Groucho, Zoo

This story of the Marx Brothers, told by the Brothers themselves as an aged Chico and Harpo wait for Groucho to turn up to a reunion gig is enthusiastically performed by Glasgow-based Rhymes with Purple productions.
Though the piece covers most of the ground one would hope and the performances are genuinely spirited, the show never quite catches fire as Groucho's gags fall a little flat, Zeppo's monologue feels a little forced and too obviously expository, and Chico's accent veers all across Europe only occasionally settling in Italy.
Special mention should be made of the performance of Harpo who, as befits, does not say a word through the piece and comes closest through his physical comedy to the manic, engaging energy of the original.

NTW : Chico's accent

JTD : A functional and effective set is well used

Pugh, Pugh, Barney McGrew, Cuthbert, Dibble and Grubb

Trumptonshire Tales, Plesance

When I was five years old my father took me to the theatre. There were hundreds of other kids and parents there and, before the curtain went up it was bedlam as kids ate sweets, messed about, needed to go to the toilet and generally acted as kids do. Then the show began and one man, dressed in a wizard's cape and hat kept all these kids enthralled for an hour and a half with only a piano to assist him. That man was TV legend Brian Cant and, at the Fringe this year, my Dad and I went back to see him again.
The five year olds had grown and been joined by other former-five year olds and their parents to hear Brian tell us about his involvement as narrator of Camberwick Green, Trumpton and Chigley. The genuine affection Cant is held in was clear from the opening ovation and hushed reverence that accompanied his every utterance.
As well as copious clips from all 3 series, there was also film of series creator and writer Gordon Murray to fill in some of the background that Brian was not party to and a question and answer session at the end where the excitement was audible in every speaker's voice.
Phill Jupitus as MC occasionally hogged the limelight and there were traces of the Wrong Kind Of Nostalgia of the "they must have all been on drugs" variety but this was all outweighed by Cant's leading the audience through "My Hat It Has Three Corners". A treat for the not-so-young-as-they-were and old alike.

NTW : Too much Jupitus, not enough Cant

JTD : Give the people what they want - "My it has "

He's behind there with a torch!

The Truman Capote Talk Show, Hill St Theatre

Bob Kingdom captures Capote's character, mannerisms and voice perfectly in this extended monologue. The only guest on this "talk show" is Capote himself and the audience is showered with the requisite anecdotes and tidbits of celebrity gossip. Unfortunately the 90 minute running time is a bit too long and some of the insights into celebrity culture peppered through the monologue are lost to the memory as a result.

NTW : An overlong scene change - if it takes more than 10 seconds it's an interval, it takes more than a minute the audience are entitled to leave.

JTD : An excellent sustained performance

Tired of the festival?

Johnson and Boswell - Late but Live, Traverse

A book launch 250 years late is presented as James Boswell persuades Dr Samuel Johnson to travel to Edinburgh again to puff their accounts of their Scottish adventures.
Spirited performances from Miles Jupp as the appropriately obsequious Boswell and Simon Munnery as the superior and caustic Johnson generate and maintain the audience's interest, even if there does not seem to be much "spark" between them. In retrospect, Munnery being able to get through his opening 10 minute rant against the Scots without being lynched is something of an achievement, however, he never quite escapes the shadow of Robbie Coltrane's Johnson in Blackadder.
With live accompaniment on the pipes and drums and well-worked anachronisms, the show is great fun whether or not you're familiar with the diaries and journals written by the pair.

NTW : Sound effects drowning out Jupp's "Journey to Skye" performance.

JTD : Duelling bagpipes

10 August 2007

Dum Dee Dum Dum Dee Dum

Waiting For Alice, Assembly Rooms

What happens to fictional characters when the book they appear in is not being read? According to Andre Vincent and Phill Jupitus, once they grow tired of rehearsing their parts they have existential conversations on the meaning of “being”. Fortunately, the conversations are quite funny.
Andre and Vincent are Tweedledum and Tweedledee waiting for “you know who”, or at least they were during the performance I saw, they change parts every day (and to some extent within each performance itself) so you can forgive a few lines going a little awry here and there. The writing of the piece is at its best when it captures the nonsensical spirit of Lewis Carroll’s writing and the performances likewise when the performers comedy background comes to the fore. Vincent’s naïve but questioning Dee was matched by Jupitus’ slightly camp and somewhat over-zealous Dum, a performance that put me in mind of Elton John. A solid hour’s entertainment.

NTW : The last minute appearance by "you know who" was a bit of an anti-climax

JTD : "Foldy thing"

09 August 2007

The dingo stole your baby

Sarah Kendall - My Very First Kidnapping, Assembly Rooms

Taking a step away from her usual stand-up, Sarah Kendall brings a part-dramatised tale of outback terror to the Assembly Rooms. My Very First Kidnapping tells the allegedly true story of a weekend from Kendall's college days when a prank mis-fired and found her potentially in the hands of a serial killer.
As well as Kendall, appearing as herself, she is given sterling support by Joanna Neary and, hooray!, Justin Edwards. (If you, like me, were disappointed by what seemed like a no-show by Edwards this year rejoice, for here he is in a supporting role, but still hilarious).
The narrative is well plotted and paced and at some points the tension generated was almost unbearable. Telling such a dramatic story while never being more than 60 seconds from a laugh is a rare achievement. Throw in excellent thumbnail sketches of Kendall's family and a dance routine you'll never forget and you have someting fairly close to comedic perfection.

NTW : No, must have missed that

JTD : Top cast, top script, top direction - top show.

Above the norm

Norman Lovett's Slideshow, Pleasance

Like an old friend, Norm turns up every other fringe to wax laconic on everyday life and the ways of the world, this year he has gone space-age and brought his slide-projector with him. For an hour he talks you through some the recent photographs he's taken with, he is proud to point out, a camera loaded with film rather than new-fangeld pixels.
After a slow start and a few blind alleys that have either been done too many times before (the Innovations catalogue and it's ilk) or are too personal to Lovett (chewing gum on the streets, anyone?) he hits his stride in the second half with tales of snowmen, sci-fi conventions and pregnant tree. If you like your humour gentle but inspired, book for Norm with confidence. You'll even learn how where to score drugs in Liverpool.

NTW : A few too many personal rants

JTD : Getting a huge laugh from a single shrug

07 August 2007

Mourning Glory

David Benson – Nothing But Pleasure, Potterow Pleasance Dome

Fringe regular Benson takes a nostalgic, but never sentimental, look back the events of the first week of September 1997. Like a meaningful-consequenceless Kennedy assassination, the week of public insanity, sorry mourning, following the death of Princess Diana is a real “where were you when…” moment. Ten years later Benson revives his “one year later” show from 1998 taking us through the events of the week and casting a withering eye over them all. His cabaret-lecture approach allows him to impersonate newsreaders, slack jawed gawkers, showbiz stars and royalty with predictably hilarious results. He picks up brilliantly on the absurdity of the media coverage, culminating in Richard Madeley asking a number of ill children to simply name their illnesses because it’s “what she would have wanted.”
Most commendably Benson does not shy away from reminding his audience that Diana had been persona non grata in the weeks immediately preceding her death and skewering the hypocracy of the media and some of the public for their near instantaneous u-turn in the early hours of the 31st of August. Complete with his now-customary singing interludes, Benson succeeds in taking the audience on an enthralling and comedic journey. David Benson – Nothing But Pleasure – the title says it all.

NTW : It seems the lovely old ladies who used to hand out David’s programmes have been forsaken for good, alas.

JTD : Barbara Cartland gets hot’n’heavy with Peter Sissons

06 August 2007

The Pall-bearers Review

Jerry Sadowitz - Udderbelly

If Sadowitz is arguably the most offensive comedian at the fringe, he is definitely one of the funniest. Sometimes his rants take easy shots at easy targets, but other times he manages to get genuine humour from seemingly untouchable subjects. Not for the faint-hearted or those who are offended easily, moderately, with difficulty or almost never. Among the card tricks there will be jokes you find to be in poor taste, others you laugh along with in spite of yourself and some you completely agree with. Every sacred cow (including the Udderbelly itself – hooray!) slaughtered, every prejudice catered for.

NTW : Sadowitz can be a somewhat relentless in his pummelling of a subject

JTD : An excellent section addressing the question of the sincerity of Sadowitz’s jokes.

London kills me

Venus As A Boy, Traverse

A workshopped adaptation of Luke Sutherland’s book tells the story of a boy from Orkney whom circumstance propels towards a life as a male prostitute and semi-transexual in London. The brutally explicit narrative is excellently performed by Tam Dean Burn who succeeds in taking the audience on a journey into what would be the heart of darkness were it not for the central character, Cupid’s eternal optimism. In dealing with how the abused “normalise” their experiences this piece may not be to everyone’s tastes but the script is well paced between the sometimes horrific lows and the fleeting highs, the sparse set is well used to portray the bleak landscape of Orkney and the dingy brothels of Soho and the few props exploited imaginatively. Ultimately, though, the show stands or falls by Burn’s performance and the nuances he brings to his work. His skill means that the most reprehensible characters are portrayed to have some redeeming features and even Cupid himself is not portrayed in an entirely flattering light. The absence of clearly defined ‘good’ or ‘evil’ characters means that Venus As A Boy continues to resonate long after the last notes of the live musical accompaniment has faded.

NTW : The worth of the live musical accompaniment is questionable

JTD : The subtle and appropriate gestures used to denote the secondary characters paint them as instantly as a hundred costume changes would have.

The nation's favourite female comedy double act appearing in a hut near the Pleasance at quarter to five

Two Left Hands, Pleasance

A sketch show based around a run down seaside town is not the most promising concept but Charlotte Hudson and Leila Hackett manage to inject enough energy into it to ensure the hour passes by amiably enough.
Their range of performances cannot be criticised but the writing quality varies wildly over the various sketches. There’s an excellent sketch between a mother and a daughter that has genuine pathos but there’s also a series of awful sketches centred on two lads’ attempts to pull girls by appearing sophisticated, but not too sophisticated, that are unfocussed and dull. A bigger problem than the overall writing standards, however, is the complete lack of punchlines, vital for blackout sketches to feel satisfactory.
The whole is saved, however, by a closing section dedicated to the reunion of Elaine Paige and Barbara Dickson that betrays a great fondness below the mickey-taking (plus bonus points for including the none-more-80s “ooh, Gary Davies” Radio 1 jingle).

NTW : The “funny woman” spectrum runs a long way from Victoria Wood to Su Pollard – there are too many moments from the “I wanna be a yellow coat” end of the scale.

JTD : Is it worth sitting through the poorer sections to have Charlotte Hudson almost strip in front of you? Shamefully, the answer is yes.

Cold snap

Last South, Pleasance

“History does not record the names of those who finished in second place.” So wrote Captain Robert Falcon Scott, ironically history’s best remembered runner-up. There are a fair few other ironies revealed during Last South’s presentation of 2 concurrent monologues of the race for the South Pole in 1912, one from Scott, the other from his rival, Roald Amundsen.
Adapted from the writing and diaries of Scott and Amundsen, G.M. Calhoun’s script initially assumes a little too much that the audience has knowledge of the mechanics of a polar expedition but eventually settles into an engaging narrative highlighting the differences in approach, both literally and figuratively, of the British and Norweigan quests for the Pole.
The skill of the scripts and performances of Adrian Lukis as Scott and Jamie Lee as Amundsen is in maintaining interest in the reasons for Amundsen’s “victory” and Scott’s failure. Does Amundsen’s embracing of the concept of a “race” to the pole give him the edge over Scott’s better equipped and funded expedition? Does Scott’s deep seated desire to achieve more than his former subordinate, Ernest Shackleton’s earlier expedition prove his undoing?
The device of having the actors “write” their diaries onstage is a valid one, but spoiled by the prop diaries being quite clearly the script of the piece. In itself that would be no problem, a legitimate device to remain faitfull to the words as written but they should be better disguised.
In the earlier stages the similarity between the tales of trudges through the Antarctic wilderness can slow the pace a little, but the closing contrast between Amundsen’s triumphant return to his ship and the heart-breaking final entries and letters of Scott’s doomed expedition are stunningly well performed.

NTW : The script-diaries, disguise them or lose them!

JTD : The closing passages revealing the softer side of Scott.

Third party candidates

Political Animal, Underbelly

A late-night showcase gig supposedly for political comics (or at least for comics’ political material) devised and hosted by Andy Zaltzman. The show I saw featured Marcus Birdman, Alastair Barrie and Richard Herring.
As compere, Zaltzman produced his trademark inspired ideas and backed them up with excellent gags, dealt with the disruptive audience elements in an effective and idiosyncratic way and, commendably, gave hecklers fair credit where it due.
Marcus Birdman’s set was well paced and crammed with fabulous material. He was easily the biggest hit with the audience and, on this evidence, his solo show should be well worth checking out.
Alastair Barrie took a more improv-based approach and, though it consequently suffered in terms of structure, suggested that forking out for his solo hour would also be money well spent. Particular credit to Barrie for getting the audience back on side when he decided to give up on a routine half-way through.
Last up was Richard Herring whose material, by his own admission, is rarely political in the strictest sense of the word. Perhaps the best that can be said it that of all the Richard-Herring-style, intelligent, sarcastic, ironic, studenty-type comedians, Richard Herring is the best.

NTW : Herring’s tendency to flog a concept to death.

JTD : Birdman’s “pretending to be a Jew” routine.


Kim Hope - It's About Time, Teviot

Australian Kim Hope puts a lot of effort into her show but, unfortunately, her hard work can’t compensate for the poor quality of her material. She tries to confound the cliché that women are only interested in weddings and babies but succeeds only in confirming it with an annoying tendency to end a routine complaining about a subject, say, babies, by saying : “Nah, but babies are great really.”
Hope has a few good gags but not nearly enough to fill an hour, so it is fortunate that her personality can carry the audience through the act. Some interesting experimentation with the format of a comedy gig by introducing quizzes and prizes also relieves what might otherwise have been an unbearable hour.

NTW : No amount of personality can make up for a lack of gags.

JTD : The quiz managed to put a bit of momentum into her act.

03 August 2007

"Aren't you Paul Lavers?" "No, I'm David Niven." "Then you're the finest man who ever breathed."

7 Spies At The Casino, Underbelly

Spend an hour in the company of Britain's first international screen star, war hero, quintessential chap and "forgotten" James Bond, David Niven. 7 Spies... strings together a bunch of Hollywood anecdotes - many from the pages of Niven's own books - with the story of the making of the first and greatest film version of Casino Royale - the best movie ever to feature Chic Murray shooting Orson Welles through a TV set. It is odd, however, that a show taking this celluloid delight as its subject should denigrate it so much, while also mentioning just about everything that made it great (Bernard Cribbins!, turbo-charged milk floats!!, a robotic Ronnie Corbett!!!)
Playing "Niv" is Paul Lavers, whom your funny uncle will remember from his role in Doctor Who in 1978 and your granny will remember as that nice blond fella from imperial phase QVC. Lavers' work for shopping channel means that he is quite at home chatting to an audience for an hour and, in make up, could be at least a long-shot double for Niven himself. Beyond the pencil moustache and evening dress, however, he presents far more than a caricature of Niven, taking us into the actor's life off set and skillfully shedding just enough light and emotion on personal tragedies amid the name-dropping.
James Goss' (yes, BBC "Who" website supremo) script is suitably dry and witty and consequently and correctly provides more chuckles than belly laughs. The grating effect of one of the production staff to raise bigger laughs during the performance I saw were not appreciated and became more distracting when the guffaws punctuated lines that were not even close to the denouement of the anecdote.
A well chosen set and sympathetic lighting evoke the cool chic of the swinging 60s well (although one would have thought the budget would have run to a couple more quid for an olive on a cocktail stick in Niv's martini!) in a piece that ably, amiably and honestly ressurrects one of Hollywood's legendary raconteurs.

NTW : Could have done with a little more in the way of visuals, stills from the film might be expensive but some sort of chart or diagram mapping the making of the movie could have provided both more visual stimulus and further opportunities for comedy.

JTD : Lavers' recounting the entire plot of the film and, almost, making it seem like it made some sort of sense is some achievement.