Review: Hot Brown Honey ****

Hot Brown Honey

Cabaret and Variety

Gilded Balloon Teviot

Aug 10th to 27th (Not 15th or 23rd)

19:30

**** 4 Stars

Hot Brown Honey is produced by Briefs Factory, an Australian collective that creates political party punk performances inspired by circus, drag, dance, burlesque, hip-hop and comedy. Energetic and astute, the show promotes the rights of women and indigenous peoples, including but not limited to: self-determination, bodily autonomy, and an often-omitted prerequisite for the revolution – affordable childcare. Offering powerful as well as practical solutions to the problem of the patriarchal values continuing to permeate society, Hot Brown Honey flies its flag on firm feminist territory.

The show sounds like a mash-up between the empowerment of nineties girl power and the political stylings of early hip-hop, expanded to include twenty-first century ideas about intersectionality. Centre-stage is an interlinking hexagonal DJ-booth (the ‘hive’), which also serves as a backdrop light-show and a throne worthy of the ‘Queen Bee’ herself, DJ Busty Beatz. Her vocal delivery is mischievous and delicious, but her in-your-face audience-interactions seem incongruous with this literary Edinburgh audience. Her biggest hit, “Don’t touch my hair,” hammers home the message through the medium of an impressively silly wig.

Inappropriate behaviour abroad takes a bashing in the first act, with Crystal Stacey’s satirical hula-hoop performance as a ‘typical Australian’ on holiday, treating the indigenous people they meet as personal maids. Her dance skills are remarkable, and I enjoy her character’s energy. On a similar note, Lisa Fa’alafi performs a reverse-strip burlesque piece, which turns the anthropological myth of the ‘primitive native’ on its head in a thoughtful yet comical transformation story. During Ofa Fotu’s exposition on the place of the Golliwog in British society, the pace of the show dips though – from feisty and fierce, to solemn and reflective. While this sudden shift may be necessary, it feels somewhat jarring.

The multiple overlapping political statements in Hot Brown Honey are delivered with almost boundless rage. It could not be any other way, given the intertwining themes of dehumanisation and injustice. Thankfully, and with a collective sigh of relief, this tension is also periodically released, mostly by beatboxer Hope Haami. Her attitude is titillating and the character she creates is particularly pleasing to watch. Overall, Crystal Stacey emerges as the most proficient entertainer of the troupe, especially in her second solo performance – a textured, dynamic and memorable aerial silk show about the struggles of sexual assault.

With any depictions of intersectionality, sometimes a clear message becomes mixed, as it struggles to represent and address everything and everyone. The multiplicity of cultural tropes is confusing at times, reductive at others, with American, Australasian and British symbolism vying for room on the stage. And I am sure this was not intentional, but the number of flags-as-costumes suggests a Miss World pageant at times. This version of the show has been touring for a few years – perhaps now is the time to rejuvenate the hive.

Review by Joanne Harrison

Review: Free and Proud *****

THEATRE

FREE & PROUD

Assembly George Square Studios

Aug 14-27

14:55

***** Five Stars

Hakeem is a physicist, in love with the wonder and the difficulty of science. His family is in Nigeria, but he is living in New York. He lives with his husband, Jeremy, who does a job he finds unsatisfying, but he writes poetry in his spare time.

Jeremy is in their flat, talking about it with almost a sense of wonder. Something terrible happens. We move back in time, over the relationship and we learn more about each character. Hakeem has a background which has instilled certain values in him, he has a desire to work hard and improve himself and he has certain rules which he applies to the relationship with Jeremy. You might say he is from an impoverished background but is value rich, whilst Jeremy is the reverse. Yet this might not be fair to Jeremy. We do not know about his family but he lacks the self assurance and self esteem Hakeem has.

We gradually learn of real problems in the relationship. Gay men are different from almost any other sexual persuasion. There can be few gay men who have not been excited by sex with strangers. Despite this, most gay men want love and stability. It can be difficult to square the circle, and of course this is a rich field for drama.

This play explores this challenge more intensely than any I have seen for a while. It excavates the consequences of this situation. We are very much with the characters here in their tears and their screams – and there are moments of humour and many humanising times.

Jeremy (Michael Gilbert) is subtly portrayed as someone less than happy with himself, nervously touching himself, almost unsure where next to put his body. Hakeem ( Faaiz Mbelizi) is more firm in posture and movement, and we are invited to admire his intellect, his passion and his love for family and for Jeremy. Both performances are of a very high standard. Director Peter Darney should be congratulated for what has been achieved here. Plus writer Charles Gershman has given us a play that will be talked about for some time and will provoke much useful discussion.

This is the kind of gay drama we need, with this depth. Drama which interrogates the way we live now, with our present freedoms and fears, our new potential and our old limitations.

I find it hard to praise this one too highly. It deserves to sell out and be seen elsewhere.

Tony Challis

Review: Skin Deep *****

 

Musical

Skin Deep

Gilded Balloon Teviot – Nightclub

Aug 12, 14-19, 21-27

21:15

***** (five stars)

‘Beauty is only skin deep’. This age-old adage finds significant resonance in today’s increasingly image-obsessed culture of social media and selfies, but also a society in which body positivity – the idea that all bodies are equal and should be celebrated irrespective of size, shape, or colour – has never been more important and visible. Skin Deep is a deeply reflexive musical-comedy which explores beauty, bodies, and the very human obsession with what it means to be beautiful, and the importance of having a positive body image and being comfortable in one’s own skin.

Skin Deep follows the lives of five characters, all of whom have their own conflicts with their bodies and ideas of personal beauty. Characters speak and sing about their deeply personal issues, which stem from the myriad of ways in which society idealises one particular version of beauty and the body. The characters’ body issues – and their subsequent dysphorias – vary from having acne or big ears to worries concerning weight or penis size. Certain musical numbers in the production are played strictly for laughs; for example, the whimsical ‘Size Doesn’t Matter’ and the crudely hilarious ‘My Foreskin and Me’ (both of which were met with uproarious laughter from the audience), while others such as ‘Only a Joke’ are a profound exploration of feeling discontent with one’s body and image. The show is a seamless blend of comedy and drama, the quintet of talented performers showing off their singing, dancing, and acting abilities in order to convey the complex emotions associated with bodies and what it’s like to feel insecure in one’s own skin.

The overall message of the show, never eclipsed by the side-splitting humour or eye-pleasing nudity, is that beauty really is only skin deep. True beauty comes from within ourselves, and Skin Deep is a poignant reminder that acceptance and celebration of ourselves and others is the most beautiful thing of all. Not only is that message beautifully written, but delivered with humour, energy, and spirit by an enormously talented ensemble. The 60-minute show is a fast-paced romp of wit and sentiment, culminating in a fitting climax of full frontal nudity à la The Full Monty. However, unlike the slew of shows which utilise nudity in their premise for the sake of gratuitousness, Skin Deep’s display of skin is entirely conducive to its message – we all have a body and, although there may be things we’d like to change, we need to learn the naked truth and love each part of ourselves, warts and all.

Jordan Phillips

Review: Hocus Pocus ***

Edinburgh International Festival

Hocus Pocus

The Studio

14.00, 18.00 (run ends 12 August)

*** (3 stars)

This show was advertised as being for children, and being set to Grieg’s music from the Peer Gynt Suite… I sat through 45 incomprehensible minutes, and at the end asked the young person next to me what they thought of it. First she came up with “mad” and then “weird” and when asked if she’d liked it, politely said she’d seen things that were a lot better. On our way out, her sister confirmed my initial reaction to the show by shrugging when asked to find a word to describe it and then nodding when I suggested “rubbish”.

Now, maybe it’s because I’m not French… but really I couldn’t see what the point of the work was. Technically it was extremely clever: two parallel horizontal neon tubes framed an area in which two male dancers [Ismael Diartzabal and Mikaël Henrotay Delaunay] gyrated and twisted in gravity-defying ways, to a varied soundtrack [snatches of Grieg, a load of metal hammers clattering, sounds of the sea, silence punctuated by noises, exclamations, and even remarks from the dancers, along the lines of “I said stop!” and “Let me go!”. At times there was a single dancer, at times they were together: and the cleverness came from their use of body parts – a foot, an arm, a hand, a fist – coming out of the darkness, sometimes to form weird creatures in the darkness, at times simply parts of the bodies of Victor and Lukas.

These two made their way through the darkness battling monsters, getting stuck in a giant spider’s web, being eaten by a giant many-toothed sea monster….at times they fought, at times they embraced, and towards the end of the piece when they had both somehow survived being immersed in the sea and swallowed by monsters, their movements had homo-erotic overtones: but at no point did I see any sign of what the programme promised – “a wondrous tale of how bravery and confidence can overcome darkness and fear” – and the show ended, as it began, with bodies fading into the darkness.

I have to say if I’d paid £22 for my ticket I would be most disgruntled! As I got a freebie, it wasn’t so disastrous: but I have rarely spent a more boring three-quarters of an hour. A pity, as I had hoped for a magical encounter with heroes who would fight monsters and darkness and emerge better and stronger for the struggle: what I got was a disappointingly drab and uninspiring forty-five minutes literally and metaphorically in the dark…

Mary Woodward

Review: Armour: a Herstory of the Scottish Bard ****

Musicals & Opera

Armour: a Herstory of the Scottish Bard

The Space@ Jurys Inn, v260

14.10 (ends 25 August, not Sundays)

**** (4 stars)

A fascinating new musical from Fearless Players – book, music and lyrics by Shonagh Murray – which looks at what might have happened had Robert Burns’ widow, Jean Armour Burns, ever met Nancy Maclehose, the celebrated “Clarinda’ to whom many of Burns’ love lyrics were dedicated, and for whom he wrote Ae Fond Kiss, one of the most poignant love-and-loss songs ever penned.

We are introduced to the story by Sarah, whose mother has died and whose father has sent her home from India to live with her gran, who just happens to be Rab’s widow. Sarah, a lively girl who loves singing, is quick and bright but gets an awfu’ head when she has to deal with numbers. Her granny both encourages her and urges her to take control of her own life – to be a DOer, not to sit and wait for life to come to her and then find it’s passed her by. Jean herself has had to be a doer in the wake of Rabbie’s death, to protect herself and her mementoes of her husband from the scavenging vultures who come round to grab what they can find. She is surprised to receive a letter from Mrs McLean inviting her to visit her in Edinburgh: at first she is minded to refuse, but then decides to accept – she can also go and visit the posh mausoleum erected to house her husband’s body which, along with that of her son, was moved there without her having any say in the matter…

Mrs McLean is delighted to introduce Jean to someone who is becoming known for her own poetry – Mrs Maclehose. Oblivious to the icy chill between the two women, chatters insanely and then flits away, leaving the two staring at each other and occasionally addressing frigidly polite remarks to each other. Jean is later invited to take tea with Nancy – at first she refuses to think of going, but then changes her mind. It’s a fascinating encounter, as the ice begins to thaw between the two women [under the influence of more than one dram] – but this happy state of affairs doesn’t last…

It’s a fascinating show, with an interesting script and score, which uses the words and music of some of Burns’ songs, but which also contains more contemporary-sounding numbers. Some of these are fine, but I found Nancy’s self-exculpating ballad about her husband’s betrayal of her struck a jarring note in an otherwise good score. Lori Flannigan is excellent as Jean – proud and fiercely defensive of her husband and his memory, determined to keep going and stay strong, and very loving towards her bairns and grandbairns. Lydia Davidson does an excellent job as Nancy – equally proud of her relationship with Burns, but also concerned to protect her reputation: she also doubles as Jean’s maid Beth. Bethany Tennick does a splendid job as the lively Sarah, words tumbling out of her mouth as she tells her granny about school, her best frienemy, her teacher, and the new songs she’s learned, while also doubling as the social airhead Mrs McLean and Nancy’s young maid Agnes: she also plays a mean mandolin! Each of the three women has an excellent singing voice [as one would expect from graduates of the Scottish Conservatoire] and makes the most of their solos: when the three voices join in trios something extra special is created.

The set is extremely simple, and movement very well-managed in a minute playing space – there is even dancing! It’s a fascinating investigation into the feelings of two of the most important women in Robert Burns’ life: there may not be a word of truth in it, but it makes for fascinating theatre!

Mary Woodward

Review: Bambin0 *****

Children’s Shows

Bambin0

The Edinburgh Academy, v70

10.00, 11.30 (ends 19 August, not 13th)

***** (5 stars)

Enchanting. Exquisite. Extraordinary… hats off to Hazel McBain and Samuel Pentcheff who were able to continue singing a complex score while a positive flood of tiny children crawled, staggered and stared around them in Scottish Opera’s production of Liam Paterson’s opera for babies and toddlers aged 6-18 months.

The story line is simple – a bird, Ucellina, discovers an egg which grows and grows and finally hatches to reveal a baby bird, Pulcino, who thinks Ucellina is his mother. They are happy together until it is time for Pulcino to fly the nest, and then, after a final farewell duet, each cheerfully goes their separate way. The singers are accompanied by Andrew Drummond Huggan on cello and Michael D Clark on percussion in a score which is rich in variety and sonic contrast: the singing is partly in Italian and partly in nonsense, bird-like syllables – and everyone on ‘stage’ is obviously having a ball.

The children also enjoyed it – the instant the cello began playing to start the show, the chorus of wails and moans and chatter stopped, and rapt hush fell. Some wee ones were happy to stay with their parent, but others were more adventurous – one tiny girl in a red frock started joining the action very early on, while a bigger boy in turquoise, who was particularly determined to explore every inch of the playing area and behind the scenes, was continually being fielded by a number of incredibly patient and loving black-clad Scottish Opera staff. The music continued throughout: even when one child was sick staff sorted it out incredibly swiftly and without disturbing the action at all. And in the middle of all this were our two ‘birds’, singing away and interacting charmingly with the wee ones crawling around their feet, playing with the cushions that filled the stage area, and generally displaying acute interest in what was going on around them.

It was a joy to watch the interaction between singers and audience – it was hard to tell who was having the most fun! On the way out, one mum confirmed that her daughter had loved the show – ‘she was silent the whole way through’: I hope this is the beginning of a love affair with opera which will last her whole life long…

Mary Woodward

 

Review: Suzi Ruffell: Nocturnel ****

Comedy

Suzi Ruffell: Nocturnal

Pleasance Courtyard

21.45 until 26th August PLUS 17.45 16th August

**** (4 star)

Suzie’s new show at the Edinburgh Fringe lets her share with us all her worrying ways, contributing to the comparatively new concept of the clinical diagnosis, anxiety or as it would have been called previous to the last 20 years “suffering with your nerves” which leads many of us including Suzi to have become “Nocturnal” we all know that any concerns at the back of your head will always come alive and be at the forefront of your mind in the middle of the night!

The audience was greeted warmly at the entrance door by Suzi herself in one of her rather snazzy shirts and it’s clear she is full of energy.

Suzi barley stands still throughout the performance and we start by hearing about her personal journey with the end of old relationships, the start of new ones, friends & hen parties.

Although I have seen Suzi before, it’s been a few years and I find her material to be original, charming and funny not to mention energetic, it’s no surprise the show was a sell out.

One dark moment of the show reminded us how homophobia is still very much alive and kicking in the world with internet trolls regularly voicing their opinions reminding us all there is still a long way to go and not to take for granted the diverse city Edinburgh is proud to be, now we just need Disney, Pixel and the rest to get on board! No spoiler but the end finale is spectacular and inspiring!!!!

I felt a little twinge of disappointment that Suzi wasn’t there to say goodbye on the way out as she has been at the start of the show but look forward to seeing her again and again at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Susan Clark

Review: Sarah Keyworth: Dark Horse ***

Stand up Comedy

Sarah Keyworth: Dark Horse

Pleasance Courtyard

17:30 until 26th August

*** (3 stars)

Originally from Nottingham, the young rising star now lives in London and is making her Edinburgh Fringe Debut.

The setting is one of the small bunker caves at the Pleasance which sets the atmosphere for Sarah’s interaction with the audience, as she gages who is in the crowd or rather who is straight and who is gay and who doesn’t want labels. She appears strong and charming and immediately she a great rapport with her audience.

Sarah tells of her struggles growing up and conforming to society while trying to figure out and accept who she really is and everything that comes with being a young gay women/tomboy/no labels.

I think most of the audience including myself were really drawn to Sarah’s warm personality as she is extremely likeable and endearing but for me some parts seemed a little bit self indulgent and I was crying out for a change in subject rather than most of the focus being on her current job as a nanny, some of which the tales seemed too much exaggerated and slightly cheesy. That’s not to say that I didn’t fully understand and appreciate the message that was being portrayed to young women, that we as a society should be encouraging them to be who they want to be, without judgment.

Sarah showed quick wit in response to audience’s replies to any of her questions, but for me, her performance was more chuckles here and there than roaring with laughter, though I do think that perhaps she will appeal more to a younger crowd, especially if you identify as LGBTQIA or prefer no labels.

Amusing, cute and interesting, Sarah is a welcome addition to the fringe and worth seeing, I suspect we will see more of her as she continues to grow in her comedian career.

Susan Clark

Review: Jordan Gray: People Change ****

Jordan Gray: People Change

Just the Tonic at The Caves

Venue 88

August 2-12,14-26th

20:50

**** 4 Star

What a life Jordan Gray has had. No less than 7 alternative pop albums under the moniker of Tall Dark Friend and an incredibly frank and open podcast with Scroobious Pip that garnered her a whole new fan base (myself included.) But the most impressive is clawing her way into the mainstream in 2015. Getting to the semi-finals in The Voice tv show, a task made all the more notable because she is one of a handful of trans performers now in the UK public consciousness.

With a looming marriage, Jordan by her own admission is the happiest she has ever been. She has taken the bold step of changing the trajectory of her career, putting to bed the dark songs she could no longer relate to and instead dipping her toe into the world of stand-up comedy.

It’s an almost aggressively positive hour of songs and stand-up. She’s more than happy sharing stories about her career and her life and just what it means to be a trans woman. Playfully chatting to the audience about how nice it would to have a face and genitals that match. I’m sure there are many bleak tales she could tell, but she’s far too busy making some utterly filthy observations about Jesus Christ and cute tales about trans misconceptions to dwell on such things.

She’s a fun performer, hyperactively bouncing about the stage with an infectious level of energy. Genuinely funny and totally sincere it’s impossible not to get won over by her and her charms. Once she has worked her magic you really don’t care that the show is a little rough around the edges. Sometimes leaping about from topic to topic at random. It’s clear she’s still fine-tuning the show and finding her own performing style. Occasionally channelling Russel Brand wholesale in delivery and body movements but I’m sure she will come into her own in good time.

For me personally I really enjoyed the funny songs she peppers the show with. Gorgeously sang they are self-penned tunes that could give Tim Minchin a run for his money. Great at setting up an idea and then flipping expectations at the next line. Specifically ‘Celia C’ a filthy little song that seems to be about her trans journey but is really about her being gluten intolerant and wanting bread so badly you would happily be fucked by it. As innocent as she looks she’s not afraid to get incredibly dirty, referencing her fucked arsehole in love songs and getting the audience to sing-a-long to some religious things that even I dare not write here.. and that’s a first!

If you’re looking for a fun hour with the most enthusiastic performer in town make sure you go check out the delightful Jordan Gray.

Martin Miller

Review: AGENDA ***

THEATRE

AGENDA 

The Space on the Mile. (Venue 39)

August 9 to 11 only.

*** Three Stars

This is an exuberant show performed by ten young people who become seventeen year old high school students. We are in the time of preparation for the school prom. All the many types you may expect are vividly portrayed. It would be invidious to highlight any one of the ten as all give very skillful and entertaining performances, and cast and director seem a little shy of further identification.

A committee of two, one male and one female, are preparing for the Prom – seating plans and so forth – and these two are the girl least favoured by some of the boys and the one gay character. It is a pity that we do not get to see the richly talked about guy he plans to bring to the Prom. But at least he is confidently out. It is a pity that there is a negative use of the word “gay” elsewhere which goes without comment.

Hormones are raging, of course, and there is the clash between doing revision half an hour before an exam and chatting and arranging a date. Gender roles and the pressures of growing up are key themes. One lad thinks he is “god’s gift” and is clearly very proud of his endowment, and this, despite the progressive attitudes around him, seems to work to his advantage. Another almost shy lad is taken with the female Prom organizer, and there is much comedy around his attempts to ask her out.

The weather is hot, and shorts are banned as part of uniform, so one rebel lad decides to wear a skirt – a rather short one as it turns out, and he is firmly told he must learn how to cross his legs.

The group play games about being older, and adults, and out for a boozy night,. Everything is very energetic and optimistic. If you see this show, you will find yourself, at the hands of this company, S A S Productions, reliving some of the highs and lows of teenage years, and the great pleasures and magnified anxieties, of that stage in life.

Tony Challis