Review: The Words are There  ⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4 stars)


The Words are There 

The Space at Surgeons Hall 21.10 

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4 stars)

To observe the narrative behind the story of Mick (represented by Ronan Dempsey) and girlfriend Trish (represented in mop form) is to be privy to the display of emotional abuse that ensues throughout their relationship. Not only this, but it is to recognise the subversion of relationship dynamics. It displays the very fragile and crucial boundaries that exist between romantic connections and matters of manipulation, overseen by the slippery slope of control.

A solo show is no easy feat, and Dempsey does the job well. Perhaps, due to the natural complications of its subject matter, the words are nowhere to be found. From the stylised movements within this performance to the spooked allure of Dempsey, and through the Theatre of Objects medium that this show comes to be signified, perhaps it is best for words to never be uttered and exposed. For such words, in ritual stage acts, become dispersed in air. Such acts cannot be fully realised and must be destroyed.

This is where the allure of the performance resides – in what is not said and cannot be said. What is bestowed to what cannot speak. After all, silence is the centrepiece of this performance. Indeed, the kernels of value arrive through symbology. I am left to succumb to my own thoughts. The hierarchy of importance given to “things” over “characterisation” leaves me to think of the value of everything. The constant music; lighting modifications; shifting sound designs – what do these objects, without life, truly mean in the play? What do I think their purpose are? I may be right or wrong in my deductions. And what of the sun, the stars? Government? Buildings? Technology? What is their importance to humanity? To me? What of control? I cannot know the answer! There are no words in these symbolic structures. All thought must be destroyed?

Yet, I digress. But The Words are There does make you think. The noise within silence grows louder in these current times. The chaos within the taciturn spirit becomes more violent. Culture must participate in the expulsion of repression to fully realise the extent of its messy situation. The Words are There tries to play its part in doing just that.

By Joshua Kaye





Assembly George Square – George Aikmain Theatre

August 24-26th – 19:30, 23:30 (24th)

⭐⭐ (2 stars)

Throughout his latest special Ultrasound, David O’Doherty constantly refers to his show as a
reprieve. O’Doherty sees his show as a means of escape from the political and social turmoil of
2019, using the medium of stand-up to distract his audience from the horrors of the outside
world. However, his set is neither funny or interesting enough to fully immerse an audience and
it is difficult to derive what, if anything, O’Doherty is trying to say.

Ultrasound is a self-professed rambly show and there is never a clear sense of where it’s going
or what it’s about. O’Doherty moves through a variety of topics, including goose-riding monkeys
and an admittedly hilarious segment on ‘mouse-juice’, with a real lack of direction. The music,
while enjoyable, doesn’t seem very necessary, O’Doherty’s simple piano chords serving no
purpose other than to mildly entertain. And in many ways that seems to be the show’s whole
MO: to mildly entertain. While David O’Doherty is enjoyable for the hour that you spend
listening to him, he leaves no lasting impression and the minute you leave the theatre you would
be hard-pressed to describe what his show is actually about.

However, while I didn’t completely enjoy O’Doherty’s set, it’s clear that the audience did,
seeming to be thoroughly engaged throughout. O’Doherty has a specific brand of comedy and
that evidently works for him. So while Ultrasound wasn’t my cup of tea, if you have enjoyed
O’Doherty’s humour in the past then this will probably be up your street.


William Shaw




Assembly George Square

August 24-26th – 17:30

⭐⭐⭐ (3 stars)

John Luke Roberts hates surprises, so much so that within the first few minutes of his latest
stand-up special, After Me Comes the Flood (But in French) drip splosh splash drip BLUBBP
BLUBBP BLUBBPBLUBBPBLUBBP, he has spoiled his entire set. At around the five-minute
mark Roberts pulls down a large sheet that entirely covers the back-wall, detailing a series of
punchlines. Over the course of his one hour show, Roberts goes about using everyone.
It’s an interesting premise for a set. It’s very narratively satisfying to see each punchline
coupled with a different joke and a lot of the fun of the show comes from guessing where each
one will fit in.

Roberts seems to enjoy testing the form of stand-up and it is clear that a large amount of
thought has gone into the creation of After Me Comes the Flood. However, I didn’t find it
engaging on a personal level and despite all the silliness I was left strangely cold upon leaving
the theatre. The parts of the show I enjoyed the most where Roberts riffed, improvising with
himself in one of the many absurd scenarios he created for himself. It was in these moments,
when things weren’t going to plan, where Roberts was able to break out of the rigid structure of
his set and actually connect with his audience.
All in all, while I found it enjoyable and very clever at points, I didn’t find the show wholly
convincing. This being said, I did see the show by myself and I believe my experience of it
would be vastly improved by seeing it with someone else.

William Shaw

Review: Siblings: Siblinginging ⭐⭐⭐⭐


Siblings: Siblinginging

Underbelly at The Wee Coo.

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4 stars)

Having reviewed celebrity siblings Maddie and Marina Bye last year, I was curious to see what changes they had made for this year’s Fringe offering. By now they are well-established Fringe favourites, so I don’t feel I need to introduce them.

This year I took my partner along with me – I raved about the show so much last year that I wanted her to see it – and it did not disappoint!

While Siblinginging has the same format, with sketch followed by hilarious sketch, it has a tangibly different feel. Their act is more polished and seems less impromptu, giving it a more grown-up dynamic. They dropped the sibling rivalry scenes between Maddy being a clown and Marina, the ‘classically trained actress’ because everyone knows they’re sisters and getting that out of the way allowed them the freedom to explore new material.

It was refreshing to see new characters like Judy and Gable – who come bustling in and talking to themselves and the audience in a comical American drawl, the school boys trying their best to be cool, and the ‘horsey’ girls with the pigtails.

It’s absurdist comedy at its best!

The YouTube sketch about a stuntman and his erstwhile assistant, is a longer, more creatively thought-out piece of material. I was unsure where they were going with it to begin with, but rather than trying to yield ready laughs, they courted the audience to invest in the story.

We were well-rewarded with Maddy’s hilarious clowning (I don’t want to give too much away) and Marina’s deadpan expressions, which get me every time! The shock ending was perfectly delivered and had an audible impact on the audience.

There were some returning favourites, the Northern married couple in ‘Snow On The Road’ and yummy mummies Ginkgo and Muff yelling at their offspring and having ever more ludicrous ‘treatments’. (They deserve a show in their own right, or at least more airtime).

I could go on but basically all you need to know is that this is well worth seeing. The talent shines from them onstage, their timing is flawless and it’s just all-round absurdist, character comedy at its best.

They are not planning to return to the Fringe next year – so catch the last show tonight if you can. The next stop for this talented duo is TV and you’ll be able to say ‘I knew them way back when…’

I’m excited to see what they’re going to do next!

Sharon Jones





Festival Theatre

August 22nd to 24th 8.00 pm

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4 stars)

This show is a tremendous feast for the eyes, and stunning in its various musical manifestations, together with putting across mind-expanding ideas.
Many people will be familiar with Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring, and with the scandal around the first performance, and with the story within of the sacrificial dance of death of the maiden as a ritual of the coming of spring. A spring which tends to be violent and sudden as the frozen Russian winter retreats.
This version is taking place in a different part of the globe, and within a different tradition. Here we have the Peacock Contemporary Dance Company, directed and choreographed by Yang Liping, and supported by the China National Tourist Office, London. The work is re-imagined through Asian spiritual philosophies, symbols and aesthetics. Here the girl volunteers her body for sacrifice so that her spirit will return purified of the cruelties and nature of humanity.
Before the show starts a dazzling array of potential victims in vivid costumes are on stage. Moving amongst them is a monk who keeps moving bricks throughout. These gold bricks each are in the shape of a Chinese letter or ideogram. On our left there is a huge pile of these golden bricks. Like a rubbish tip, but gold, maybe suggesting that words are both precious and problematic.
Stravinsky’s music is framed by music of a Tibetan flavour before and after. Director Yang is Bai, one of China’s many ethnic minorities, which leads to her bringing in the Tibetan influence on this show.
The seventy five minutes of dance here are intense and very demanding on the cast. I cannot do justice to the great variety of  vivid images presented during the show, here, but the vast Lion figure, the male dancer who has great strength and agility and becomes Death, the many women supplicants and the one who dies, all perform brilliantly, and all stay in the mind long afterwards.
This show will remain in the memory long after it is seen, though it may benefit from some reflection and sifting in the mind afterwards. It is a smorgasbord of a show, a sumptuous experience.

Review: Breaking the Waves – Opera Ventures and Scottish Opera ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Edinburgh International Festival

Breaking the Waves – Opera Ventures and Scottish Opera

King’s Theatre

19:15 21, 23, 24 August

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4 stars)

I hadn’t gone expecting a bundle of joy: I did expect Scottish Opera to do an amazing job of selling me something I wasn’t predisposed to like or admire – and they definitely did that, in spades. The basic storyline is that of Lars von Trier’s film Breaking the Waves: Bess McNeill, a young girl from Skye falls in love with, and marries Jan, who works on an oil rig. Her strictly Calvinistic community disapprove, but tell her that now she is married she must be obedient to her husband. Bess is hopelessly in love and is hysterical when Jan has to leave her and go back to the rig. She pleads with God for him to return: when Jan is horribly injured in an accident on the rig Bess is convinced that she is responsible.

So far, so good: the depiction of the black-clad, austere and male-dominated religious community controlling island life is superbly portrayed by a chorus, as is Bes’s almost idolatrous love for her husband. But Jan is now in hospital and the doctor doesn’t honk he’ll ever walk again: perhaps it would be better if Jan died? But Bess is beside herself – Jan can’t die: she will save him. Jan convinces her against her will that she must go out and find men to make love to her and then tell him about it: this, he says, will keep him alive. Bess desperately tries to obey him, but it is tearing her apart: worse still, god isn’t listening to her or talking to her any more. Her encounters with men become increasingly sordid and violent until finally she is horrifically wounded and dies: she is buried and the righteous men of the community inform everyone that she will go to hell. Jan, however, seems to have made a miraculous recovery…

The production was superb. A brilliantly-designed set consisted of a half-diamond-shaped arrangement of pillars which increased in height towards the centre. The ‘interior’ space was filled with rising tiers of pews which could also double as the layers of the rig; the ‘exterior’ space provided two separate areas which could be, among others, the village hall, Bess’s mother’s house, the doctor’s office and a ward in the hospital. Projections of the sea, clouds, rocks, and the rig on to the pillars produced wonderfully atmospheric backgrounds for the action.

Musically it was most interesting, and far pleasanter to listen to than I had feared, with complex sound-pictures against which the vocal lines could soar, and excellent psalmodic writing for the censorious, joyless male chorus of Kirk Elders who controlled everyone’s behaviour and also voiced God’s part in Bess’s conversations with him. Bess’s own vocal lines were extraordinary powerful and beautiful, sung with intense passion and conviction by Sydney Mancasola: I was less impressed with Duncan Rock’s Jan after the first act. Vocally he was excellent, but I never gained much insight into his motivation or his feelings, especially his final rather self-indulgent scene after Bess’s funeral – had he really stolen her body to give it to the sea? Was he in the slightest bit grief-stricken or remorseful? He said ‘it should have been me’- but didn’t convince me, while the somewhat melodramatic ending didn’t chime so well with the realism of the rest of the piece – even Bess’s conversations with god made more sense.

Disappointing? Unsatisfying? Some bits were magnificent. I’m not so sure about the shambling, bare-chested, wounded and moaning men who advanced on Bess towards the end of the opera and found the pretty graphic sex simulations off-putting [I couldn’t help continually wondering whether the participants got on well in real life,

and what it felt like to have to do these things on stage]. I noticed a fair number of empty seats after the interval – had the newly-wed’s urgent sex in the community hall toilet been too much for them? – but there was loud applause for Sydney Mancasola at the final curtain, unlike the somewhat puzzled applause at the end of act 2.

The names of the 3 acts are possibly significant – Love, Faith, Ultimatum? Missy Mazzoli’s music made a convincing sound picture of someone disintegrating under impossible burdens placed upon her by everyone around her. I’m less convinced by Royce Vavrek’s libretto, which didn’t always make things clear – but maybe that was the point? Was Bess really a saint who sacrificed herself to save her husband’s life, or a hysterical delusionist who self-destructed?

It was certainly an arresting piece: I can’t say I enjoyed it, but it had many outstanding qualities. I wonder whether it will become a staple of the operatic repertoire, or like so many others, fade away and never be seen again.

Mary Woodward




Pleasance Courtyard – Bunker Two

August 1-25th (not 13th, 20th)

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4 stars)

In a lot of the shows that I’ve seen as a reviewer, I seemed to have been picked on: Titania McGrath, Alice Fraser, Garry Starr (pretty much all of the audience got included in his show, so maybe that doesn’t count). It’s strange.

However, as Yasmine Day spotted me, extended her finger and began to slowly walk towards me, I was nervous. An 80s comparison was coming. Who could I remind her of? David Bowie? Elton John? Madonna even?


Roland Rat.

Luckily the rest of the show made up for this.

Eighties pop sensation Yasmine Day (played by the very talented Jay Bennett) takes to the stage and recreates a Bonnie Tyler video with her two backup dancers in a hilariously amateur way – a perfect start to the show. We see for ourselves that this washed up character is floundering and struggling to keep up with other artists in the music business nowadays. From there (and post-Roland Rat) we learn that Yasmine Day is performing some of her greatest hits for a selected audience of celebrity friends, including such classics as “L O V Spells Love” and my personal favourite “Eternal Flame”, however, just singing the vowels. She has an absolutely spectacular voice, one that could, and should, be filling a much larger room.

There are some points in the show that went on for longer than they should have (maybe Kim Wilde just didn’t want to be found?) However, the final set piece of Yasmine’s own musical, incredibly similar to her own life story, was a treat to see.

Any child of the 80s will absolutely love this, any fan of character comedy will love this. Fans of Cheryl Baker? I’d think twice…

James Macfarlane


Review: The People’s Boat ⭐⭐⭐⭐


The People’s Boat

Greenside – Infirmary Street

21:00 (ends 25th August)

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4 stars)

Between the giant English flag on the wall behind the stage, the Union Jack on the stage and the premise, you can tell that this show is going to be about Brexit. The show shifts between behind the scenes of a mockumentary and the mockumentary itself, where 4 boys from Margate try and literally tow Britain away from Europe. You see, it’s a metaphor.

It’s very cleverly done because what the boys have managed to do is use the rhetoric of the Brexit campaign, recreating the aftermath of the vote and fit it all into one funny and instructive show. It’s essentially a guide to Brexit, and you grow to understand why people voted the way they did. It’s an otherwise strong performance apart from the ending which is quite chaotic as the characters realise what they have gotten themselves into. Sound familiar?

My only criticism would be is that sometimes during the ‘behind the scenes’ parts, it felt like they were fighting just for the sake of it or to fill time because the arguments they had were quite repetitive They also ran a little long and whilst it was a funny and quite an original idea, I was more interested in the scenes that occurred on the raft. The raft seemed to be the point of the story anyway. The ending also seemed a little rushed but that could’ve been due to time constraints.

I don’t think that I fully appreciated how clever the show was at the time, but these four boys managed to show how ridiculous the whole situation that we’re in is, by giving us an even more ridiculous situation. If you’re interested in politics and want to be able to laugh at what is otherwise a really horrible and stupid situation, then this is definitely the show to see.


Review: Isa Bonachera: The Great Emptiness ⭐⭐⭐


Isa Bonachera: The Great Emptiness

Gilded Balloon

⭐⭐⭐ (3 stars)

Rising star, Isa Bonachera, draws parallels between space exploration and her turbulent journey through a STEM career in her new show, “The Great Emptiness”. Her quirky one-woman stand-up takes off from the moment she removes her helmet, as she navigates the performance with visual effects and alien voice-distortion. The Great Emptiness is full of facts and jokes, but unfortunately several fail to land.

Whilst she may have intended to lighten the complex topic of astrophysics, some of her more self-deprecating jokes only eclipsed her stellar scientific career, which I would love to have heard more about. This detracted from moments which highlighted her skill and niche as a comic: finding the chemical makeup of a strawberry daiquiri in a black hole, showing off her moon rovers and imagining a dystopian London on Mars. If more of this was explored, Isa could create for a British audience what the Big Bang theory has been attempting for years.

For her homages to Newton and Einstein, Isa should have applied the theory of relativity to her performance. After beginning with a disclaimer about her Spanish accent, as is customary among bilingual comics, she hurtled through most of her punchlines, leaving her audience lightyears behind. Despite Isa’s personable and charming stage presence, the audience was sometimes alienated by her spurts of laughter which drowned out vital parts of her stories.

Although the performance was not out of this world, Isa shows great potential and enthusiasm, and she should harness her strengths as a writer and have the confidence to own her nerdiness which is her most radiant attribute.

Georgie Rae


Review: Who Owns Scotland’s Land? So much owned by so few…⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Edinburgh International Book Festival

Who Owns Scotland’s Land? So much owned by so few…

New York Times Main Theatre, Charlotte Square

10.00 (23 August only)

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (5 stars)

This was a very well-chaired and extremely thought-provoking session, produced in partnership with Quakers in Scotland. The four speakers were under strict instructions to speak for no more than five minutes: they kept well within time and put their particular points of view clearly and succinctly before the session was opened to questions from the floor. This too was very well-controlled and extremely respectful: was this somehow the Quaker influence making itself felt in the packed New York Times Theatre? – even at 10a.m. people were fully present and deeply engaged in the subject. Some of the audience obviously felt extremely passionately about some things, but no-one either in the panel or on the floor descended to abuse of each other.

Hearing from each speaker gave a number of angles from which to view the question: the main messages that came over were that change is happening in some areas where previously landowners have been arrogant and intransigent; that some of the new models of land ownership, especially community land ownership, are being studied by traditional landowners, including local councils, and the existence of community land trusts is bringing previously uninvolved and uninterested landowners to the table to discuss how land management can be improved to bring maximum benefits to everyone – not simply profits.

Andrew Thin, chair of the Scottish Land Commission, pointed out that land reform is not just needed in rural areas – Glasgow has the highest percentage of waste and derelict urban land in Europe. He believes economic growth needs to accelerate in all parts of Scotland, and believes that land reform is necessary to enable all areas to realise their full economic potential. Social cohesion is greatly threatened today, and he feels that inclusion, and respecting people’s rights, have to be Holyrood’s priority. Property rights must not be allowed to trump all other rights, and the Land Commission was set up to help the government achieve these aims. He directed us to the SLC website, and urged us to attend SLC public meetings – there’s one every month somewhere in Scotland – and emphasised that land reform needs to be done BY people, not TO people.

Agnes Rennie, publisher and former member of the Scottish Land Review, spoke of her first-hand experience of the Galston estate on Lewis which became a community-owned trust in 2007. Previously the estate had not employed any local people: now fourteen people, mainly women, are employed on the estate, and local authorities and health boards are coming to the Trust to see what can be done by community ownership. The Trust looks outside itself, working with privately-owned estates and other community-owned trusts, sharing resources and information. Agnes was most interested to visit Portobello’s Bellfield last year [it’s a community centre which was the first urban community buy-out] and discover how much they and the Galston Trust had in common. She emphasised that this journey is one we must take forward together.

Sarah-Jane Laing is Executive Director of Scottish Land & Estates [SLE], and might have been expected to be strongly opposed to the views already heard. SLE represents rural businesses and owners of estates of all sizes, and also some community trusts. She agreed that planning, taxation, farming and tree planting needed to be developed on a “we” basis, not an “us and them” one. She had personal experience of growing up on a council estate which was built on land acquired from the Roxburgh estate, and spoke out affirmatively of the ethos of long-term stewardship she believed Roxburgh practised. She believes that political clamour must be allied to an alteration in the mindset of major landowners – how can they contribute both locally and over a wider area? – and that

concern about the management of land was more relevant than concern about ownership. She emphasised the importance of increasing the social and environmental potential of both rural land and urban wasteland, not for profit but for the benefits to the community and the environment. She didn’t feel that fairness of ownership was important – it’s divisive, when what needs focused on is US and WE.

Alastair McIntosh, author of Soil and Soul: People versus Corporate Power, spoke last. He emphasised the central importance of fairness, and the power both of ownership and participation: he spoke of the recent Land Commission report which spoke strongly of the power of landlords to keep their tenants in subjugation by their fear of retribution if they spoke out or tried to bring about reform. He instanced his involvement with the Eigg Trust, which took six years to bring the island into community ownership, and spoke of the cultural and spiritual wealth ownership brings. The second generation of Eigg children is growing up, a model for our future. The four ‘drivers’ he saw as essential to land reform are social/ affordable housing built on communally owned land; using renewable sources of energy to provide an income which goes straight to the local community; encouragement of enterprise, with entrepreneurs free to work and grow their businesses; and empowerment – people change when they CAN DO.

Sally Foster Fulton, Chair of Christian Aid Scotland, chaired the session firmly and fairly, and when she invited questions from the floor said she would invite questions from men and women alternately to ensure a good gender balance, which was much appreciated. The questions and comments, and responses from the panel, ranged from allowing land to people dispossessed during the Scottish diaspora, grouse moors, the Buccleuch estates, the lack of affordable local authority housing stock and how to persuade the royal family to change the way their estates were managed. It was impressive to see how tactfully yet definitely some of the subjects were handled. Alas, we had to leave the session, but were invited to continue the conversation elsewhere – I hope this too will be handled in the same respectful way the differing opinions on the platform were expressed.

Mary Woodward