PETER GRIMES   *****

MUSIC

USHER HALL      18.00

AUGUST 13TH

This was an overwhelming and deeply moving performance of what is probably Benjamin Britten;s operatic masterpiece. The central, title role was written to be sung by Peter Pears, Britten’s life partner, and this character is deeply unheroic. Grimes feels himself to be in many ways superior to the people of the Borough, the fishing community where he lives. He thinks he is a fisherman of a special type, and that, with good fortune, he can astonish the locals and fulfil his dreams with schoolteacher Ellen, who is devoted to him.

However, at the start he is in court, as in the course of an extensive fishing expedition his boy apprentice has died of thirst, and Grimes is accused of wanton cruelty and of being responsible for the boy’s death. An open verdict is returned, but the townspeople are far from happy. As the opera progresses things get more and more unpropitious for Grimes.

Stuart Skelton is an excellent Grimes here, and the Canadian Erin Wall has a beautiful tome as Ellen. The Orchestra is the Bergen Philharmonic under Edward Gardner. This was a semi-staged production, with orchestra on stage  and singers at stage front, plus a very large choir behind the orchestra. Said choir had a tremendous impact on those occasions when they were singing as the townspeople with out for Grimes’ blood. Terrifying!

All the cast entered into their roles with gusto, such that this was maybe more enjoyable than a fully staged performance, as the audience were closely immersed in the orchestral action, the choir was singing down and at us, and the soloists seemed exposed and vulnerable at the front of the stage in a way that was very engaging. Who needs sets?

This was a deeply moving and memorable occasion, and the standing ovation was fully deserved.

 

Tony Challis

Dominic Berry’s “No Tigers” **

Banshee Labyrinth (Venue 156)

Spoken Word, Poetry

8-10, 15-16, 22, 26 Aug

Times Vary

 

Dominic Berry is a very talented performer. His energetically sincere style of slam poetry is well received and, at times, impactful. This helps “No Tigers” to become an entertaining show, but fails to unify an unfortunately haphazard script.

 

Berry introduces the show as being about ‘love and kindness.’ He asks if anyone in the audience is in a loving, monogamous relationship. When a number of hands are raised, he offers a pursed lipped smile, and strains ‘good for you.’ Berry has a seasoned stage personality, and is able to grasp the attention of his audience quite easily. Whether joking about Grindr or veganism, Berry is able to translate a personal experience clarity and humour.

 

Where “No Tigers” struggles is in its wildly varying tones. The playfulness of a poem praising Kevin Costner’s bum segues sharply into the bulimia and cocaine referencing ‘Men Behind Bathroom Doors.’ The repeated affirmation of ‘love and kindness’ feels at odds with ‘Call of Dooty’, a poem about defecating while playing video games. Each of these poems is individually noteworthy, but “No Tigers” struggles to create a sense of coherency through them.

 

The latter quarter of “No Tigers” features a guest poet from the Edinburgh Fringe. The spoken word haven of the Banshee Labyrinth feels personable for these interactions, and Berry’s banter with the audience is warm and inviting. After the guest poet finishes, Berry reassumes the stage and begins an anecdote about his attempted teenage suicide. This emotional whiplash un-balances the audience, and is a clear example of the need for editing and direction.

 

Dominic Berry offers a fine example of his work as a performance poet. He is evidently well versed in his craft, but unfortunately missteps with “No Tigers.”

 

Freddie Alexander

Pollyanna ***

Paradise Palms (Venue 411)

Cabaret and Variety (Variety, Performance Art)

Aug 17, 20-24

times vary

 

“Pollyanna” is the punk rock of drag cabaret. Raucous and rude, they play host to variety of performers, both home-grown and Fringe touring. Playing to a standing room only audience, it is clear that “Pollyanna” has achieved some measure of Edinburgh Fringe cult status.

 

Pollyfilla, the growling master of ceremonies, stomps across the stage in boots and torn fishnets to welcome each act. The house talent is Desert Storm, a Cleopatra-cum-disco-hall queen who’s lipsync commands presence admirably. The guest performers vary each night; touring queens Gieza Poke and Kate Butch offered 5-8 minute performances apiece. The latter was a clear showstealer, performing a rendition of Avril Lavigne’s ‘Sk8er Boy’ to the tune of ‘I Dreamed a Dream’ from Les Misérables.

 

The centrepiece of the night is Pollyfilla’s ‘Theresa: The Musical’, where host recruits members of the audience to help with three pun-filled singalongs. This sequence is enjoyed by an already fever-pitch audience, but it lacks the coherency and inventive flair of last years ‘Brexit: The Musical,’ while recycling many of the same jokes.

 

The performances of “Pollyanna” are interspersed with regular breaks to prepare the stage, where one could attempt to reach the bar through the crowd. It is disappointing that these so readily available moments aren’t utilised by the hosts of “Pollyanna”, possibly for some MC work. Pollyfilla radiates a natural charisma, yet fails to truly capture the attention of the audience with their brief stage time. More time spent with the audience would hopefully instill more control, and subsequent respect of quieter acts.

 

To close, Pollyfilla informed us that Aphid, their resident DJ, will be playing songs until 3am. It is clear that much of the audience was there for the dancing, and not the show. As a party I’m certain “Pollyanna” is a good time. As a performance it fails to truly capture the imagination.

 

“Pollyanna” is rough and alternative. It is an experience that is, unfortunately, only sometimes memorable. Despite this, I look forward to seeing what these artists offer in the future.

 

Freddie Alexander

Robin Ince: Rorshach Test ***

COMEDY

GILDED BALLOON AT THE MUSEUM     (V64)      13.30

August 2nd to 13th

This is a show determinedly about joy. So Robin Ince tells us. The world is full of news and events that may well make us feel less than joyful, and Robin is determined to buck the trend. His principal means of doing this is by sharing with us his love of twentieth century – and even more recent – art. With a good few digs at Professor Brian Cox, his companion presenter on BBC Radio 4’s Infinite Monkey Cage. Robin mentions that Prof Cox is a year older than him – I did not know that.

Robin Ince has a genuine love of relatively modern art, and talks about it with such relish that we share his joy. Amongst his enthusiasms are Lucian Freud, David Hockney, Maggi Hambling and Francis Bacon. Quite a few  artists on the gay spectrum there, but Robin Ince was concerned to emphasise the ways in which the artists revelled in colour and texture, including the almost succulent flesh in Lucian Freud;s nudes.

Many of the works shown on the screen were from British galleries, some from relatively small local galleries, and some by very little known artists. Part of Robin Ince’s point was that wherever you see a gallery it will be worth looking inside because you are likely to find something of interest which may inspire or at least enliven your day.

This was quite an unscientific show for Robin Ince, but he did check out how many physicists were in the audience at the start – only a couple. There were many laughs here, and we were kept chuckling along. This was maybe not Robin Ince’s most striking show,  but it certainly made me feel that there was maybe even more joy to be experienced through my eyes that I had thought, and to keep looking and take pleasure in looking wherever I am.

 

Tony Challis

 

 

 

A Joke ****

Theatre (Comedy, new writing)

theSpace  on Niddry Street

till Aug 26th

13.55

There has been in recent years a growing presence of comedy on the Edinburgh Festival Fringe to the point where that strand outweighs all others, drama, dance, spoken word, children’s shows; for a celebration designed to showcase the broad variety of entertainments beyond the high art of the International Festival, opera and ballet and the classics, for any one theme to marginalise the others, would that be considered – a joke?

Is A Joke a comedy? Certainly, for it is funny. Is A Joke a drama? Possibly, and certainly it is wonderfully performed and aware of not only itself but the heritage which has led to its questioning existence, as three men – Richard Oliver, Sylvester McCoy and Robert Picardo – are brought one by one into the bare room, dressed in matching nightshirts and white knitted caps, none able to offer further insight on their situation to their fellows.

“You have a loud sense of entitlement,” McCoy’s jolly wanderer tells his more skittish predecessor Oliver. “Are you English?” McCoy finding himself lapsing occasionally into the verbage of a stereotypical Irishman, that leaves Picardo’s late arrival to claim an ancestry to Scotland so tenuous he is immediately mocked and told it doesn’t count: “It does if you’re American,” he counters.

Written and directed by Dan Freeman who sits by the stage to provide musical accompaniment, the play evolves as it examines the different kind of jokes which these three confused gentlemen might be a part of in their quest for meaning, an absurdist banter of dissociative dialogue driven equally by Picardo’s inability to take himself seriously and McCoy’s wonderful expressions.

Together the three consider the form of a joke, the surprise of confounded expectation which it entails, but Oliver’s Englishman overanalyses, criticising and dissecting, demanding humour but having no sense of it himself, his disgruntlement peaking during a musical interlude through which Picardo and McCoy vocalise and joyfully clown about as he vocally objects.

Beyond the standard Englishman, Irishman and Scotsman and its variations of where they might be going, walking into a bar or travelling on a plane, through knock, knock and ambulatory poultry, wordplay and endless puns to knockabout physical humour, the settings they imagine themselves in are created by mime while the constant movement of the cast ensures that despite being performed “in the round” with audience on all four sides of the stage there is not a bad seat in the house.

In telling a joke timing is everything and these three are impeccable, but with a limited run and tickets selling fast this rare chance to see two performers more associated with film and television, the former lead of Doctor Who and the former Holographic Doctor of Star Trek Voyager, share the stage together in an intimate venue will not last long; he who laughs last still needs to be on cue to hear the punchline.

Michael Flett

L’Orfeo *****

Edinburgh International Festival

Usher Hall

19.00 

14th August ONLY

 

This year’s International Festival is celebrating the 450th anniversary of Monteverdi’s birth with concert performances of his three operas L’Orfeo, Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria and L’Incoronazione di Poppea by John Eliot Gardiner, the English Baroque Soloists and the Monteverdi Choir.

 

The idea of setting drama to music emerged in Florence in the 1590s, and the first opera to survive complete is Jacopo Peri’s Euridice: Monteverdi’s are the earliest works still to be in the modern repertory.  L’Orfeo retells the classic Orpheus legend – he falls in love with Euridice;, they are to be married; she is bitten by a snake and dies; Orfeo, heartbroken, descends to the Underworld to plead to be allowed bring her back to life; he is permitted to do so as long as he does not look back as he leaves Hades…but of course he does, and Euridice is lost for ever.

 

Initially described as ‘a play in music’ – favola in musicaL’Orfeo is a perfect marriage words and music, expressing deep emotion with the human voice singing solo, in duets,  trios, and  in full chorus.  Many of the minor characters also played their part in the larger chorus, stepping forward for their solos and rejoining their fellow singers afterwards.  The chorus wasn’t simply static, but a group of individuals who were involved in, and reacted to, the drama being played out in front of them.

 

Lucile Richardot, who played the messenger who had to report the tragedy of Euridice’s death, was outstanding.  Krystian Adam’s Orfeo apologised in advance for his throat infection but honestly would we have known?  He was magnificent both vocally and dramatically.  Euridice commanded my appreciation not only for her voice but also for accompanying herself at one stage on the clarsach.

 

The orchestra were also – I’m running out of superlatives here! – superb: but with John Eliot Gardiner conducting, what else could they be?  Having them centre-stage, with chorus and soloists working around them, meant that the ensemble was excellent, and the rapport between singers and instrumentalists perfect.  The audience were gripped: there was a collective gasp of horror when Orfeo couldn’t bear it any longer and looked back to see if Euridice was there… and was a storm of applause at the end for what I feel was the best, most engrossing, performance of L’Orfeo that I’ve ever seen.

 

Mary Woodward

 

John Robertson: Dominant ****

Comedy

Stand Comedy Club      

18.15

August 4th to 27th (not 14th)

John Robertson storms onto the too-small stage, does away with a wholly inessential microphone,  and begins an animated conversation with the audience, who are quickly taken up into the very warm and open exchanges. Frankly, you don’t come to this show if you are a socially awkward hermit. Everyone is brought into the orbit of John Robertson’s infectious bonhomie.

He talks to the numerous audience members, talks about how he was picked on as a child, the bullying he experienced, including how he was assumed to be gay and victimised as such, though he is, he tells us, fully straight. To the point of having a wife and girlfriend, he says. Despite this, he is very impressed by the muscles and physique of some male members of the audience.

He climbs over the seats – sadly, there were enough seats empty for this not to be a problem for him – and chats with most of the audience. He straddled me to talk to people behind me, and I have to say this is the closest I have ever come to a performer’s crotch – during a show, anyway. I could have licked his trousers. But refrained. There were two reviewers present, one loudly advertising himself with his lanyard; only after chatting with him did John ask the second one to identify himself. He gave a cry when I put up my hand.

John talked about his enjoyment of consensual S/M activities and of being a dominant, and of enjoying the power – a great contrast with his early experiences, clearly. He took out and waved a whip, and said it would be used later. Indeed it was – I will leave you to imagine how, but suffice to say that I did enjoy whipping him at the end of the show, even if the stage was too small for me to get a really good aim.

John Robertson has a second show at 8pm – The Dark Room at Underbelly. I feel sure that this will be at least as enjoyable as his earlier show.  I would recommend this earlier show heartily to anyone who wants an hour of unadulterated adult fun, where you can just let go and fall under the spell of a very energetically skilful entertainer.

Tony Challis

Mitch Benn: I’m Still Here ****

Comedy

Stand Comedy Club    (V 319)    14.50

August 2nd to 27th (not 14th)

Mitch Benn is a dynamic and  engaging performer. He takes us through some parts of his “back catalogue” in this show, across the decades that he has been performing. He acknowledges that many people connect him with his work on The Now Show on BBC Radio 4, which was a hilarious and mind-jogging start to the weekend early on Friday evenings,. He expresses relief at being no longer involved with that, though he clearly greatly enjoyed it.

He makes  about the strongest statement I have yet heard about what he sees as the disaster of the Brexit decision and the calamity that awaits Britain. This leads him into a musical satirical expression of what looms ahead. He mentions the current talk of the difficulty of satire in the present situation, where politicians’ outrageous behaviour is hard to top. It is still necessary to continue with humour and satire, he tells us, as our freedoms are in danger if we do not call out those in power.

Maybe I am making this show seems heavier than it was. There was laughter throughout, and many moments of very cheering comic insight. Mitch Benn remains an optimist, despite the way the world is, and it is his mission to improve the world with words which deflate pomposity and pretence, with very well constructed and memorable songs,  and with rhymes that help without being too obvious – and also the mention of the very difficult problem of orange.

This is an excellent show if you want to be taken out of yourself for an hour, but at the same time to be kept aware of the important things in the world and, if it is not a contradiction, to be made to laugh intelligently by a man who is proud of his mixed Liverpool/Scottish ancestry. And come out feeling your mind has had a most enjoyable massage.

Tony Challis

 

 

Ruby Wax – Frazzled *****

Comedy

Underbelly George Square

Run finished

 

Ruby Wax needs no introduction, and if you’re thinking Ruby who? You are far too young for your own good.

Having been an avid fan of The Ruby Wax show and Ruby Wax Meets from my younger days, I was thrilled to see her new Fringe show Frazzled, at the Underbelly George Square. The queue extended a good half-mile long spilling out on to the cobbled street beyond the fake grass boundary. This tiny Queen of Comedy with the big personality can still draw the crowds – all 3 nights were sold out.

Ruby came bouncing on to the stage full of joie de vivre and the air crackled with energy. The name of her show is also the title of her latest book Frazzled, an accessible book on mindfulness and applying it to the everyday.

She tells us that Frazzled is a show for everyone, not just the one-in-four with mental health issues. ‘My people’ she says, surveying the audience ‘You know who you are, and so do I.’ she points out every fourth person in the front row which wins a nervous ripple of laughter.

The show loosely takes the format of Wax interviewing herself, asking and answering various questions related to the mind. One question is ‘Who is the critical voice inside your head?’ Straight away she tells us it’s her mother, saying without a doubt, she’s the reason Ruby Wax is crazy. She then gets up from her armchair to demonstrate her mother shouting at the television in a stilted Viennese accent. Her mother also had an obsession with crumbs and dust and would do all manner of eccentric things. She once visited Ruby in London and started cleaning the leaves of plants outside her door, and insisting she buy a real ‘bwwroom’ to sweep with.

Wax treats the audience as visitors to her own sitting room, so natural and intimate is her delivery. That’s one of the things I have always liked about her. She talks and interacts with her audience, and people just go along with it. At one point she asked us if we wanted to experience mindfulness.  There was a collective ‘Yes.’

So she had everyone clap their hands once, then sit and observe the sensation in their hands afterwards. She talked about the tingling we might feel in our fingers and told us just to focus on our sense of touch. When we finished she quipped ‘That’s not mindfulness.’

She delighted in duping us but she did do a proper mindfulness exercise with everyone later in the show. Apart from those moments, the show was fast-moving and unpredictable. To demonstrate how she keeps in shape, she borrowed an overnight bag from a woman in the audience, and did some weight-lifting and arm exercises with it to a backdrop of hilarity. To the woman’s great embarrassment, she took a peek inside the bag, showing the contents to the audience.

The show is comedy but there is an important message behind the humour. Wax has been open about her experience with bipolar and related depression and by creating comedy around it, she is doing more to tackle stigma than any of those See Me adverts or endless Mind campaigns.

Sharon Jones

Scott Agnew: Spunk On Our Lady’s Face ****

COMEDY

Gilded Balloon Teviot.    (V14)   

August 2nd to 28th   (not 15th)

22.15

Scott Agnew is on excellent form this year, seated above his audience like a beaming icon, nursing his pint, in a tiny attic that is smaller than the venue he deserves. The title of the show is very appropriate, but you have to be patient to discover just why.

Scott tells us about the travails of a Glaswegian Catholic childhood, of being expected to confess your sins at age six, and, having little understanding of the concept of sin, being very glad to discover that you have a real sin to confess. There is much about priests and their crazy, dictatorial ways, and a delicious section about the dangerous art of pretending to piss.

Scott has been hailed as brave for coming out as HIV positive a while back, but he considers this to be a responsible thing to do, and here he talks about being “undetectable”, about his treatment being so effective that the virus level in his body is too low to be detected, and the virus is thus very unlikely to be transmitted. Given the unreasoning fears that are still around in some quarters, it is important that such a message is put out.

This is a comedian who takes you into his confidence warmly from the beginning, with a smile that encourages other smiles to spread around the room. There are comments Scott drops in that tell us that things have not been good for him in the recent past, but he has come through all that to be in a position where he commands his audience in a brilliantly structured show, which includes distant call backs and which builds to a superb hilarious climax.

Do get along a see this wonderfully skilled gay comedian on the top of his form. It is as though he takes some awful things that have been done to him and, having chucked them into a comedic trash bin, is able to triumph over them and make art out of them. Going through this with Scott is inspiring as well as being hugely enjoyable.

 

Tony Challis