Review: The Crooners ****

The Crooners


Pleasance Courtyard

Until August 26th 23:00

**** (Four Star)

Brendan Murphy and Kiell Smith-Bynoe are the Crooners, a one hour showcase taking you back to the golden age of music, a simpler time with smooth voices, great dress sense and the smell of whisky in the air. Audience members are whisked away to the Starlight Lounge of the Dunes Hotel in Las Vegas to be in the company of Frankie Paradise and Louie Valentine. Our suave guides for the night accompanied by the Piano playing (okay, Keyboard playing) Jimmy Montana.

Remember at family barbeques when your dad gets a bit drunk and brings his mate of for karaoke and you spend the whole night watching them tell bad dad jokes you love and sing songs where the lyrics are a bit wrong? That’s how I felt watching these two gents on stage. There was a real warmth to the performance and they swayed back and forward with cheap gags and songs that were fitting for the rat pack days.

As with all performances I love, audience participation is a must and this one did not disappoint, making the audience feel even more part of the Crooners family and really made the hour just fly by. This show could easily have gone into the night, I wanted to keep drinking with them and become their friend.

Taking some of the eras greatest hits and turning them on there heads with new lyrics you feel yourself tapping along in this breeze of a show, This show is perfect for when you have had a few drinks and really looking for a good time. The two gents were a fantastic casting for the show with their incredible costumes and impressive vocals helping to transport the audience back to the glittering era. Whether you’re a fan of The crooner’s era music or not, the nostalgia of their classic hits will leave you feeling blissful throughout. Personally, I couldn’t stop smiling.

Taylor Crockett

Review: Simon Callow in De Profundis *****

Simon Callow in De Profundis

@Assembly Rooms Venue 20

12.30 every day until 26th August.

5 Stars *****

De Profundis (Latin, meaning from the depths) is a one-man play based on the letter Oscar Wilde wrote to his ex-lover Lord Alfred Douglas (Bosie) between 1896-1897 while incarcerated in Reading Prison. The play tells the story of the famously destructive love affair between the two which led to Wilde losing his good name, his fortune and to being imprisoned for the charge of gross indecency.

The play opens with Callow seated onstage in a functional prison-like chair. A spotlight suspended from above illuminates his face. The rest of the stage is bare and cast in darkness. The theatre was packed and the audience seemed to hold their breath for the entire play.

I have seen Simon Callow on stage once before in Noel Coward’s Present Laughter, so I knew I was in for a treat. He is outstanding on film, but his real place is on stage. I have viewed other readings of this letter online and on TV, but none have come close to Callow’s portrayal of Wilde. Through Callow we feel Wilde’s devastation at being imprisoned, he was ‘crushed with anger, bewildered by terror’. He says of Bosie ‘In less than three years you ruined me from all points of view’.

During his time in prison, Wilde’s mother to whom he was very close, died and he was unable to attend her funeral. His wife Constance Lloyd filed for divorce and brought legal proceedings against him, so he could never see his two sons again. For Wilde, the hardship and ‘disgrace of prison life’ was ‘nothing’ compared to losing his children.

At this point as in others during the play, I was moved to tears. It is difficult to describe the experience of hearing the voice of someone else’s distress and pain told through the medium of such a deeply talented actor. I honestly felt at times that Oscar Wilde himself was telling me his story, beseeching me and stirring in my heart a wrenching compassion for his circumstances.

I was so deeply affected by Callow’s performance that immediately after the show I felt as though I had used up every emotion within me and I had to retreat to a quiet place. More than anything I wanted to find Callow, hug him and console him as I felt that during his performance he had lived through Wilde’s pain.

De Profundis is an important piece of theatre for us even though our community enjoys unprecedented freedoms now, there are people all over the world living Oscar Wilde’s tragic reality. Russia particularly comes to mind. Let us not forget these stories or become complacent at the rights we enjoy now from the sacrifice of those who went before us.

De Produndis is the most passionate, moving piece of theatre I have ever experienced. The defining performance of Callow’s remarkable career.

Sharon Jones

Review: YEN ***



C Cubed Venue 50

August 2nd to 25th No breaks. 12.20


Two brothers, sixteen year old Hench and thirteen year old Bobbie, occupy their mother’s flat, but she is not there. She lives with her man, and only occasionally visits, not usually to be helpful, and the boys keep Lucozade to hand in case she has a bad turn. They have hardly any clothes as they took a wash to their Gran the day before she disappeared.

PlayStation, porn, watching the world outside and banter and argument between them keep the time passing. Until a girl they have observed from their window, one who lives opposite, turns up, with a complicated story of her own. She is a dog lover, and very concerned about their dog, which has a significant role in the drama without ever being seen.

Playwright Anna Jordan here focuses on characters who have slipped through the cracks in society, who are lacking in ordinary levels of nurturing, and on what remains in their inner selves and personalities to cope or not. Visitor Jennifer brings a degree of help and consolation, but the young people’s lack of self- knowledge and self-esteem leads to problems.

Danny Parker and Jack Firoozan as the brothers give intense and deeply convincing portrayals and present a very believable relationship. Louisa Mathieu is convincing as the very problematic mother, with whom the boys have a love/hate relationship. Stories told to console, we see, can be transferred from person tom person.

Gayaneh Vlieghe as Jennifer provides a firm but helpful contrast. The embarrassment and hesitancy in the connection between Hench and Jennifer is particularly well conveyed.

This production by Fourth wall Theatre Company is a compassionate and involving portrait of a group of well-realised characters. It is an absorbing and thought-provoking drama.

Tony Challis

Review: THE END OF EDDY *****



The Studio (Edinburgh International Festival)

August 21 to 26 19.00 August 23 to 26 14.00

***** (FIVE STARS)

One of the most striking things about the action of this non-naturalistic dynamic and almost perversely celebratory show is how recently it all happened. The author of the autobiographical novel on which it is based, Edouard Louis, is still barely twenty six. He wrote it when he was a sociology student between the ages of eighteen and twenty one.

Born in 1992, he spent his childhood in a village in Picardy, in a de-industrialised area of northern France, where he suffered intense homophobic bullying and abuse. His natural body movements and appearance made him unable to hide, and his domestic situation was grim.

In this production two actors play the part of Eddy, who rejects his childhood name when he grows up, and becomes the writer Edouard Louis. The extremely talented and expressive Alex Austin and Kwaku Mills fuse the identity of Eddy, step outside of him to tell us about his background and what they are doing with the book, and become a range of other characters, mostly Eddy’s large family and his school persecutors.

A large performance area faces the audience in The Studio, with an alcove and stage at rea, but foregrounded and in effect thrust at the audience are four screens, able to be raised or lowered, to suggest a threatening bully or a cowering victim, and to express the words of the family and bullies, but always in the form of Alex or Kwaku.

The flow of characters presented in easily assimilated. The two performers take us on a journey which, despite its often harrowing content, they delight to take us on, covering a childhood which Louis says “contains no happy memories” towards a better future, to a school away and eventually to university, and also to learning another side of his father.

(This performance was, in a way, to be complemented by Edouard Louis’ appearance at the Edinburgh Book Festival to talk about his second novel, The History of Violence, (Harvill Seeker, 14.99) which deals with his rape and near murder in 2012 by an Algerian pick-up, his anger at the racist coverage of that in the media, and his consequent reflections on the experience of women. Sadly, he has not been able to come to that Festival.)

The production and acting qualities of this show are of the highest. Director Stewart Laing and adaptor Pamela Carter are to be congratulated on an experimental and non-naturalistic approach which seems risky but which works brilliantly, and causes the audience to be taken within the experiences of the drama to a depth that would have been very difficult to achieve by traditional methods.

Great praise must be given to the twin stars, Kwaku Mills and Alex Austin, whose ebullient enthusiasm for sharing this story with us makes us feel we are part of a shared theatrical body for the duration.

The actors bring to our attention the object that is the book/. The contents of book and play emphasise to those of us who may think that here in the West LGBT battles are largely won,

that there is still much to be done, and that prejudices that have been embedded over centuries are not easily swept away.

Tony Challis

Review: Jackie Kay ****

Book Festival

4 Star ****

Jackie Kay

Tues 21st August @15:15

Chaired by Ruth Wishart, this was a lively and personable poetry event. Jackie Kay – our new Makar, is one of the most likeable and relatable poets of today. On introducing her, Wishart quipped that Kay has ‘One of the most infectious giggles in Scottish literature’ raising a loud applause from the audience. I have to agree; any time I have seen Jackie or met her at events she has been warm and friendly. She is someone comfortable in her own skin who extends that energy to those around her.

Apart from her broad smile and natural charisma, I was struck by her snazzy shiny yellow shoes as she took to the stage. She treated the audience to a wide selection of poems, mostly from her new book, Bantam. The poems that stood out the most for me were ‘A Day Like Today’ which she wrote on her birthday when Trump was voted in (It was a ‘dreich’ and ‘doon aboot the mooth day’), ‘Jane Eyre’ which appears in an earlier collection, ‘Welcome Wee One’ written specifically for the new baby box scheme in Scotland, and the hilarious but cutting, ‘Planet Farage.’

Bantam is her first collection as Scotland’s Makar. Appointed in March 2016 she still has two and a half years in the post which takes her all over Scotland. In a recent trip to Uist she was surprised at the number of lesbians who attended her event. When she said this to her driver the next day she proudly announced, ‘Aye, we’ve managed to hold on to our lesbians.’ Jackie said it was a good indication of the way times have changed.

Of all the poems she read, I felt she took a risk with the poem about a family holiday entitled ‘Caravan Avielochan’ where she remembers first starting her period and that same night, kissing a girl. The kiss is described in intimate detail, tongues and all. I looked around at the audience, made up of many women but not all of them lesbians, and thought that indeed times have changed. I am sure that poem would have been received very differently even five or ten years ago. She may not have been at liberty to share such a blatant lesbian experience with the historically prim and proper Book Festival audience.

Bantam is described as being about ‘the fighting spirit’, and ‘crosses borders from Rannoch Moor to the Somme’.

Sharon Jones

Review: Susan Calman: The Kindness Revolution *****

Edinburgh International Book Festival

Susan Calman: The Kindness Revolution

Baillie Gifford Main Theatre, Charlotte Square

11:45 (22 August only)

***** (5 stars)

What is it about wee Glasgow wifies?? Susan Calman is, admittedly, a radical feminist lesbian ex-lawyer, currently a comedian: underneath all those layers is another indomitable wee wifie who does seventy-six incredible things before breakfast and then makes sure you have your piece and your mug of tea before sending you off to school… I’d heard a lot about her, but didn’t watch her on Strictly and haven’t seen any of her standup shows: I may have caught her on Qi or some such, but this was my first exposure to Susan the person – and it sure as hell won’t be my last.

In Susan’s previous book, Cheer up, love she looked at the subject of depression, and in writing about it discovered ways not to cure it, because she will always live with her type of depression, but how to deal with it. She had been extremely angry both with herself and with the world, and gradually she has helped herself to change, to become less angry. She no longer watches or listens to news programmes [unless she’s appearing on a TV news quiz], has stopped getting news-related Twitter feeds, and instead looks out for “pictures of kittens, and positive news”. This may sound trite or twee, but in fact makes good sense [I gave up following the news years ago for much the same reasons – you don’t waste energy on things you can’t do anything about, and thus have energy to give to things about which you can do something, however small].

In her new book Sunny Side Up she talks about kindness and joy. Kindness, she says, is not only doing kind things but doing them intentionally – harking back to her legal training, to commit a crime you not only have to do the thing but intend to do it: and she feels the same way about kindness. She is extremely shy, and has learned not to let her shyness prevent her from doing kindnesses, saying “I don’t want to regret not doing something”. This is an integral part of her newly-learned approach of being kind to herself – if you can’t be kind to yourself, how can you be kind to anyone else?

Joy she sees as being extraordinary, undefinable, and simple and complex at different times – clean pjs, a perfect cup of coffee, and something ‘just right’ on TV together contribute to a simple joy. Sheer rushes of joy can come unexpectedly and be fleeting: the important thing is to notice them, and focus on the joy rather than the negativity which inadvertently can become our default setting.

In her last tour she asked audiences to send her their “experience of kindness” – and brought tears to our eyes as well as her own as she talked of the person who had helped a woman in front of her in the supermarket queue who hadn’t enough money by leaning over and saying “Here’s that fiver I owe you”: a simple, thoughtful gesture which the donor may have forgotten quite swiftly but which the recipient had remembered and treasured. It’s impossible

to know the effect on the other of what may seem to us a trivial thing – all the more reason to do whatever we can whenever we can.

And then we got on to Strictly – and it was so interesting for me to hear Susan talking about her experience after having heard Judy Murray’s last week: she too found it a wonderful experience – and in this case, truly transformative. Like Judy, she said “you know what it’s about”, and in Susan’s case “if you get the call, you don’t say no” – but Susan had no idea of the effect it would have on her. Before Strictly she wore a uniform of waistcoats and jackets, terrified that people would laugh at her if she tried to appear feminine, thinking that she would look stupid in a frock. She had unbounded admiration for the kindness and helpfulness of the wardrobe department on the show – and slowly learned that she could be who she actually wanted to be, and not be afraid of it [the costume she’s kept from the show is the Superwoman one – how appropriate is that?]

She had such love and affection for her dance partner, Kevin – they are still friends and in constant touch. As someone who grew up in Scotland, where “social dancing is designed to suppress rather than encourage sexual activity”, she was overwhelmed to discover that “dancing with Kevin was the most joyous thing I’ve ever done in my life” – cue tears and smiles all round yet again: no wonder the Strictly audience loved her, loved seeing this amazing butterfly emerging from her tight-aced chrysalis, and kept her on the show for ten weeks! When asked by an audience member why, if she is so appallingly shy, she was prepared to come and talk to the Book Festival audience, she told us of her love letter to Strictly fans in Sunny Side Up, and added “you changed my life, and I’ve come out to say thank you”.

She sums up – “whatever gives you joy, go for it – don’t be ashamed of it – and don’t grade or judge yourself or others for it”. With joy and kindness we can slowly change the world, from ground level up, by doing simple things and not seeing people as labels or categories, but simply as people.

Susan Calman, you made us laugh and cry in equal measure: we love you!

Mary Woodward

Review: The Piano Men ***


The Piano Men

The Space@ Jurys Inn, v260

15.05 (ends 25 August, not Wednesday)

*** (3 stars)

Another disappointing show: a pity, because its potential was considerable. Part of the fault is with me, for not being familiar with the repertoire of most of the “piano men” to whom Emma Knights was referring in her show, which is part autobiography and part tribute to a number of well-known [to everyone but me] singer/ songwriters who accompanied themselves on the piano. I’m not sure whether another factor was that Emma grew up and went to uni in Australia, and I am not familiar with the Australian music scene…

Emma is an accomplished pianist and singer, but the Yamaha keyboard she was playing wasn’t able to do justice to some of the pieces she played – the integral speakers simply didn’t give enough volume, for example, to the [abridged] piece by Fanny Mendelssohn, Felix’s sister. Fanny was herself an accomplished pianist and composer, but was told in no uncertain terms that she was not to consider her music anything more than a hobby which she would drop when she assumed her proper place as a Hausfrau. She mentioned her discovery of the music of Winifred Atwell, a Trinidadian pianist and composer famous in the 1950s, when her music was forever on the radio: disappointingly, Emma didn’t include any of her music in the show.

The keyboard produced more robust sounds when Emma was accompanying herself in songs and snippets of songs, including her own amusing Pianist envy [say that very carefully]: almost if not all the others are by MEN. This was part of her message – throughout the history of the genre, it has been expected that it will be men who will play the piano in bars and restaurants on cruise ships and on land. It was the attitude she encountered when she tried to get a job, and against which she is in her own quiet way protesting – as she says, if her example can inspire other women to refuse to be shut out of this male-dominated world, then hoorah!

Emma’s voice is good, and she had some nice witty or sardonic comments to make during her songs – but I found it hard to engage with her when nearly all the time she had her attention firmly fixed on her music or her script. She is the accompanist in another Fringe show this year, and someone is the audience commented that she is a brilliant accompanist: I felt that she wasn’t comfortable grabbing the spotlight or engaging with us very much – no spark or light lit her up while performing, which was a pity. It was a pleasant hour, but not, alas, a particularly memorable one.

Mary Woodward




Army at the Fringe East Claremont Street (with Summerhall) venue 210

August 16 to 25. Not 20th 19.00

**** Four Stars

Here is an extremely skillful combination of song, spoken word, dance, physical theatre and outrageous and hilarious queer fantasy. Wonderful. And to have this performed at a Territorial Army base in front of guys in uniform and Polish dignitaries, and with a large appreciative audience laughing heartily – even better!

Cezary Goes to War is directed by Cezary Tomszewski, and is the director’s autobiography translated into camp fantasy. Early on, the ways in which recruits were assessed and graded when Cezary was recruited in the 1990s is lampooned mercilessly. There is a pianist and singer, and some patriotic songs are performed.

Recruits arrive in their underwear for inspection, then dress. Amongst the diverting delights to follow is a version of Nijinsky’s Apres midi d’un Faune, very affected and effective, and rib-tickling.

The company, Komuna Warsawa, is one of the most important avant-garde independent theatres in Poland. They experiment at the borders of performing arts, video installation and music. Here, the performance is largely set in the four dancers’ dressing room at the barracks, with aerobics exercises of a queer sort performed with the help of a low bench which is the sole prop and is used with great versatility.

The company has won major awards in Poland and beyond, and has performed in New York, Berlin and elsewhere. It is a privilege and a delight to see them here. Get along to this one whilst you can and bathe and revel in the free queer imagination.

Tony Challis

Review: My Left / Right Foot – The Musical ****

Musicals and Opera

My Left / Right Foot – The Musical

Assembly Roxy, v139

18.10 (ends 27 August, not Wed 8, Tue 14, 21)

**** (4 stars)

A riotous, raucous, rumbustious show, played with enormous zest, with belting songs and an excruciatingly accurate portrayal of the politics and egos of a local amateur dramatic society as they struggle yet again to find and put on a play in the. Scottish Amateur Dramatic Association’s one-act play competition.

Sheena has been directed the past sixteen years’ failures in the competition. Grant is, according to himself at least, a West End actor [has he merely shaken a spear, we wonder?] who is returning to the roots from which he ascended to dizzy thespian heights. Ian is such a retiring wallflower that we wonder how on Earth he would ever have the courage to step on stage. Amy thinks she can direct and make the difference that guides the society to success in the competition. Gillian is the feisty and sexually frustrated young woman who is not slow to speak her mind. Nat has come along to practise her signing in a different and challenging environment. Gavin plays the piano throughout, occasionally comments drily, and is silently indispensable to the show. Quiet and shy Chris, who we first of all see painting the radiator, harbours ambitions to break out of his self-imposed shell, but is being smothered by Sheena, who promised his mother she’d look after him. Amy has read the SADA regulations thoroughly, and points out the paragraph which indicates that extra points will be awarded for competition entries which tackle disability in any way – choice of play, actor, production, etc. This is the obvious path for the group to take and lead them to the heady heights of the SADA final and long-awaited glory. And now all they have to do is decide on a play…

After considering and rejecting a number of possibilities, the obvious choice seems to be My Left Foot, Christy Brown’s moving account of his emergence from the shroud of cerebral palsy and remembered by most people because of Daniel Day Lewis’ Oscar-winning performance as Christy. Grant is convinced that he, an Actor, is the only person to play the part – but when the SADA discover that an able-bodied actor is playing the part of a disabled person, the society risks disqualification from the competition. Can Chris, who has cerebral palsy, and is thus “genuinely” disabled, save the day?

This show’s disturbing qualities rivals for me those of The Underground Railroad Game. Is it a deeply moving depiction of the struggles of disabled people to be accepted on equal terms with their able-bodied fellows? Is it a deeply ironic portrayal of able-bodied people’s complete inability to understand what ‘inclusion’ or ‘disability’ really means? There were so many sick jokes and clichés, and I was unsure whether the audience’s laughter was because they saw the irony of it all, or because they thought it genuinely funny to make fun of people with disabilities. The play’s had rave reviews, has gained a Fringe First award, had the audience laughing, stamping,

shouting, cheering and applauding till their hands ached: and still I’m not sure why.

The whole cast are amazingly talented. The production is first-rate, the songs by turn outrageous, catchy, moving, self-revealing, ranting, explosive and just plain brilliant, and the singing simply awesome as every character [with the exception of Gavin] reveals an inner wound or disability. And I’m still not sure what to make of the show, or even whether I enjoyed it. I appreciated the accuracy of the portrayal of the characters to be found in just about every ‘amdram’ group everywhere: but I’m unclear what exact message the show is aiming to give. Will it change anyone’s attitude to people with disabilities, or will it simply be regarded as a bloody good show, with a lot of fairly explicit language and behaviour and an uplifting finale??

Footnote: next day – having had a fascinating and illuminating conversation with wheelchair-using comedienne Rhona McKenzie, I’ve got some things clearer in my mind. Birds of Paradise Theatre, whose show it is, use both disabled and non-disabled actors: all are incredibly talented and many have invisible disabilities so that you can’t see who is or isn’t disabled – it’s the actor and their talent that defines them, not their disability. The company’s aim is to challenge people’s perceptions of disability, to take them beyond their comfort zone and maybe thus enlarge their understanding by widening their experience. Humour is a much better way of getting over a message than an angry rant: so “we laugh at ourselves and invite you to join us – it’s laughing with, not at” and that’s okay because you’re laughing on our terms. –

Thank you, Rhona!

Mary Woodward

Review: In Conversation With: Judy Murray *****

Spoken Word

In Conversation With: Judy Murray

The Stand’s New Town Theatre, Freemasons’ Hall, George Street v7

12.00 (20 August ONLY)

***** (5 stars)

Another fascinating hour with sports journalist Graham Spiers as our host, this time talking to Judy Murray, mother of Andy and Jamie and daughter of professional footballer Roy Erskine and herself no mean tennis player – she was Scotland’s no1 woman tennis player for many years, winning a total of 64 Scottish titles. Now her passion is to pass on her love of the game to the punter generations in Scotland, building on the impetus of the interest aroused in the sport by the success of her sons and the Scottish wheelchair tennis player, Gordon Reid: at the end of 2016 Andy, Jamie and Gordon were year-end no.1 in singles, doubles, and wheelchair tennis respectively: an incredible feat for a small nation who, when Judy’s boys were young, had virtually no facilities, no coaching, and no money being put into tennis.

Judy is, as ever, a delight to listen to: never afraid to speak out when something needs said, and willing to put her own efforts into anything she can see needs done, rather than sitting around waiting for someone else to do something. Hers is an inspiring story. When her sons were small, she encouraged them to play all sports and, Scotland’s weather being what it is, invented all sorts of games to keep them amused when it was too dreich for them to go outside: she learned them learn, and learned from them, seeing how different games helped them develop different skills. The example she gave that fascinated me most was when she needed to use the kitchen table, so moved the boys to sit on the floor to continue their games of ping-pong tennis [with biscuit tin lids as bats, and cereal boxes for the net] and saw how they developed their upper body skills and flexibility to compensate for not being able to run around to reach the ball. She used all this knowledge in her coaching.

Her story of how she developed her coaching skills from helping her and other parents’ kids down at Dunblane tennis club into being Scotland’s national tennis coach is an inspiration to anyone who doubts that they might be able to achieve anything. Her guiding principle is it’s not about what you haven’t got: it’s what you do with what you have got – and we could all take that to heart! Everything had to be learned ‘on the job’ – there were no tennis coaches in Scotland from whom to learn, no facilities, and no ‘how to’ book to help her work out how to coach, manage and look after the finances and schedules of her boys, especially in the years when they were earning peanuts but having to spend mightily. And there was no ‘how to’ guide about managing the sudden and intense media scrutiny when Andy made it through to the third round of Wimbledon the first time he played there in 2005. Judy discussed the dangers of spontaneous remarks on Twitter [and the Feli(ciano Lopez) storm], the constant intrusion into a person’s private life of the British press, whom she described as “vast and vicious” – it’s no wonder Andy clammed up for years after the storm over his World Cup comments all those years ago…

And of course, we had to hear about Judy’s Strictly experience: and here, too, her simple common sense shone out – she went in, starry-eyed, to something she’d been following on tv since its inception, not expecting to win, but hoping it would be fun [and a four-month break from tennis!] – and it was. She loved every moment of it, and wasn’t affected by the judges’ comments [unlike other contestants] – her attitude was ‘it’s all a bit of fun, why get upset about it?” In fact, her attitude to life seems totally to be “look for the positive, and ignore the negative” – she tapes her boys’ matches, but only watches if they’ve won…

There were some good questions from the floor, including that from the first, young, contributor: “what do you enjoy most about tennis?” Judy’s answer probably sums her up as a person – “it’s working out how to play the game, how to beat your opponent”. An inspiring hour with an amazing woman, whose wit brought gales of laughter and who left the platform in a storm of applause.

Mary Woodward