Paul Sinha: Looking at the Stars

COMEDY
*****
Paul Sinha: Looking at the Stars
The Stand 3

Last August, Paul Sinha’s show ‘Extreme White Vitriol’ discussed, amongst other things, the British National Party and argued for dialogue with the individuals who advocated racist or other objectionable views. Not a tactic shared by many on the left.

Later that year, Sinha had the opportunity to meet Jim Davidson, something that he was understandably reluctant to do. Since the death of Bernhard Manning, Davidson is the highest profile (allegedly) racist, (allegedly) homophobic and (truly) misogynistic comedian in Britain.  Would Sinha be willing and able to follow the message of his last show – and meet him?

This is one of many, very loosely connected stories that Sinha tells with the confident touch of a real professional.  Unlike too many stand up shows this Fringe, the show doesn’t appear over-written and so it feels like a genuine performance, unique from the gigs on other nights. His delivery is a little slower than before, which allows the audience to keep up with the jokes. Not a line is wasted.

To date this is the best stand-up I’ve seen this Fringe, from a comedian who should be on the television much more often. He says that he doesn’t have a face for TV, but he’s much better looking than Michael Hazen James McIntyre.

Mark Thomas: Extreme Rambling (Walking the Wall)

COMEDY
****
Mark Thomas: Extreme Rambling (Walking the Wall)
The Bongo Club

Based on Mark Thomas third book, this stand-up show comes to the Fringe following a successful sell-out UK tour.  Thomas tells the story of his walk along the illegal Israeli separation barrier, which he argues suits neither side of this land dispute.

The laughs come from the rich characters he portrays, rather than the situations, which are often rather grim. He depicts himself as a self-deprecating ‘Englishman abroad’ – a stereotype that he embraces with surprising relish for a man on the left. Exclaiming, “Sorry I’m English” in pseudo-Boris bumbling fashion seems to have genuinely got Thomas out of a few scrapes. Phil the hippy cameraman… the former cadet who constantly quotes Monty Python… the rich Zionist house builder who believed that Israel stretches as far as Iraq… and many others add to the tapestry of personalities.

Ultimately though, the reality of the wall is what lingers in the memory, long after the show has ended. This wall, or fence, or barrier, has separated communities, schools, and even homes. It segregates the Palestinians and Israelis further, leading to more conflict and less tolerance.

The story of Israeli settlers’ daily throwing stones at Palestinian children on the way to school was shocking, even for those familiar with the conflict.

Mitch Benn

COMEDY
****
Mitch Benn
The Stand 3

Fresh from frequently being the funniest thing on BBC Radio 4’s The Now Show, the ‘country’s leading musical satirist’, Mitch Benn presents his first solo Fringe show in years. Benn has a rich Fringe history, originally appearing as one of the Improverts at Bedlam theatre, whilst at Edinburgh University. He’s lost a LOT of weight in the last year or so and he’s looks terrific. Those of you attending the show expecting the Bear of old will be disappointed.

Highlights? There are a-plenty. His tribute to the BBC, in the style of Bob Dylon, or if you prefer, Billy Joel, served to remind us what we’ll miss should the institution be diminished.  You can buy the T-shirt here: www.mitchbenn.com/proudofthebbc

The satirical tribute to Eurovision, which imagined each European county shouting racist insults at each other rather than singing, during the unfeasibly popular contest, hit the nail of the head beautifully. And his routine asking why members of the British National Party were so fat was hilarious.

The very best bit for me was the brand new take on a number he has been performing with his band, ‘The Attractions’ for years. To rap the story to MacBeth to the tune of Eminem’s ‘My Name Is’ using only an iPhone app – which he programs as we watch – was genius.

Sadly, in this short hour there was no time for other favourites, ‘Happy Birthday War’, ‘Everything Sounds Like Coldplay now’ or his skit on James Blunt – but wanting a show to last a lot longer is hardly a criticism is it?

Ava Vidal: The Hardest Word

COMEDY
***
Ava Vidal: The Hardest Word
The Stand 5

Is ‘sorry’ the hardest word? Ava Vidal clearly thinks so. In this cosy makeshift performance space above the GHQ gay club, she delivered a pretty run of the mill set, with only a couple of real stand out moments. This was competent stuff and the audience certainly laughed in all the right places, but it treaded very familiar ground. Nor did she delve too deeply into her chosen subjects – racism, Islamophobia, being a parent, celebrity and so on.

Her strongest section was during a discussion about racism in Australia – and the continued prejudice endured by the indigenous communities there – despite a very public apology by the Australian government. One got the feeling that this was the bit of the show she most cared about – and it showed. She also briefly talked about homophobia and the tensions between gays and Muslims. Sadly she resorted to making statements here – although she may well have been right – there was very little to back up her argument. Another section attacking Johann Hari – again making statements without any, well, facts, left me cold because I simply didn’t agree with her.

Ava Vidal is a very talented comic, who has a shot at making it really big. She could be selling out venues several times this size if – and I hate to sound patronizing – she tried just a little harder.

Josie Long: The Future is Another Place

COMEDY
****
Josie Long: The Future is Another Place
Pleasance Dome

There is much more political comedy around since the ‘election’ of this Con/Dem coalition and it’s easy to see why. The hatchet job on pretty much everything that working people care about – cuts in schools, hospitals, libraries et al – demand a satirical response. The recent riots in England must also be addressed.

Josie Long, once described as the queen of whimsy, has gone proper political. And so the familiar comic themes of being let down by New Labour and of-course, hating the Tories receive another Fringe airing tonight. The difference here is that whilst other comics have merely observed, Long has gotten herself involved.

As a supporter of ‘UK Uncut’ she discussed the occupations of tax avoiding businesses during the half million strong demo in London in March. It’s now common knowledge that the police commanders lied to activists, but the protesters subsequent vindication in the courts has done nothing to dampen her anger over the event. And when Long is angry, she’s funny.

She’s also appeared on political panel shows on TV, and most poignantly, corresponded with a member of the Black Panthers on death row. Whilst Long conveyed despair to the captive American, he in turn, replied with optimism – urging her to continue to stand up for her beliefs.

Her skill is to make this ‘message comedy’ very funny, even for those in this capacity audience that disagree with her.  And as a performance, it totally works. There are one or two digressions away from politics – her take on the Bronte Sisters gave us the Josie Long of old, but overall she delivered some of the very best political comedy I have seen.

My only real quibble is that she kept apologizing for this new found anger, stating that the Con/Dem coalition has “made me a much worse comedian”. I whole-heartedly disagree.

Belt Up’s The Boy James

THEATRE
*****
Belt Up’s The Boy James
C Soco

In a tenement high above the streets of Edinburgh is a loft which is carpeted from end to end, with battered sofas and armchairs and cushions scattered all around. It is here that Belt Up Theatre presents a piece of theatre that isn’t just watched it’s completely experienced.

Jethro Compton performs the titular role of the boy with complete deft of touch and grace as he greets his audience on the landing to the loft and takes us inside a loft that is both warm and involving on the senses. The boy James leads us through a game of tag and stick in the mud before we settle down and join hands for the great journey beyond the second star to the left and straight on till Morning by closing our eyes and wishing really hard.

We are then introduced to the character of James (Dan Wood) who shares the boys adventures and has reached the end of his road as he has had to grow up, We are also introduced to the girl played by Lucy Farrett who is about is about to shatter the boys world with the one thing that is destined for us all adulthood.

This production both enthrals and captivates the mind and senses as you are so drawn in to whats happening around you, very much akin to actually living a dream and watching it descend into a nightmare. I ran the a full cycle of emotions, I laughed, was shocked and cried openly with the audience as we relived the best of our own childhoods and the horror which some face as they struggle to become adults in a world they no longer recognise.

The beautiful setting helps you forget what you’re seeing is simply theatre and the unique sound of a clock ticking the minutes away and simple lighting further enhance the experience. As you leave the warm loft to the cool midnight air of Edinburgh your left in awe of what you just saw in the last hour. This truly is a very rare kind of production on the festival one of which I would recommend anyone should see.

If you’re lucky enough to get a ticket, then make your way up the stairs to a loft high above the streets of Edinburgh where you can dream of childhood and play games with the boy James.

The Ginge, The Geordie & The Geek

COMEDY
* * *
The Ginge, The Geordie & The Geek
Just the Tonic @ The Caves

It would appear that the idea of a ginger person, a Geordie and a geek somehow has some kind of massive attraction to people at the Fringe – this was a capacity audience and one which seemed to love what these boys do.

The comedy trio are all good actors as well as comedians, which makes a nice change from some of the lesser quality sketch shows. They also turned out to be incredible mime artists (always useful to have a fall-back trade!) An epic video-voiceover combination opens the show and sets the audience up for an hour of fun and frolics. There are some amusing, short, witty scenes, but generally this is not side-splittingly funny comedy – with the exception of the hilarious ‘Pure Imagination’ (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) re-make and the Dirty Dancing parody which closes the show.

Nonetheless, focus was maintained throughout and each sketch was new, original and exciting. It was evident that each sketch concept had been individually developed in order to deliver a well-thought through show which entertained and captivated the audience for the full hour. The only other downsides to the show were that some off-stage movement in the wings could be seen, and some of the scene changes could have been a bit slicker.

The Overcoat

THEATRE
****
 The Overcoat
Pleasance Dome

Akaky McKaky is born old – or at least middle aged. We follow his unfortunate yet hilarious and very unprivileged life. Not, as in the original classic Gogol story of this name, in the St Petersburg of 200 years ago, but in modern Scotland, from the 70s to today. Arkaky works in a bank, and we see how changes in work practices and bosses, his attempts at work romance, and his lifelong attachment to an old coat, impact upon him.

This is a fast-paced high-octane comedy where, apart from Billy Mack as Arkaky, the cast move between roles with dizzying speed and great effectiveness. It is a roller-coaster ride which is hugely enjoyable. Moreover, it has an edge – it is politically and socially very astute; listen to the end and to the final line, which is the key.

This is part of a Finnish contribution to this year’s Fringe. The show has been a great hit in Scandinavia, and this English language version has been written by Sami Keski-Vahala and directed by the famous Finnish director Esa Leskinen, with a Scottish cast.

This is a great show for waking you up at the beginning of your day, and for combining reminding you of the kind of world you are living in, at the same time as providing excellent laugh-aloud entertainment. Quite an achievement!

Titus Andronicus

THEATRE
****
Titus Andronicus
C Chambers Street

This is Shakespeare’s early indulgence in Grand Guignol. Bodies pile up, mutilation, rape, framing enemies for murder, revenge…it’s all here. A new Roman Emperor is needed. The valiant but aged Andronicus refuses the honour, offering the crown to a younger prince. Who, of course, has far less integrity than him, and you could say the chaos that ensues is his fault. Elizabethans may have seen it that way, anyway.

There is also a famous bit of cannibalism here – where a queen is tricked into eating her own sons. Sound fun?

This play can be taken seriously and the audience held in suspension of disbelief, but that requires a full-on assault on the audience’s sense of reality. Here things are sometimes a bit lighter, but mostly the cast perform with graphic intensity, and you are hurtled into an amoral world where only many forms of gratification seem to matter, except to Andronicus, who is less foolish than he at first appears.

If you want a late night gothic horror story with brilliant and exuberant acting, taking you on a visual and verbal roller-coaster ride, then get yourself a ticket for this one. You won’t regret it.

Clockwork Orange

THEATRE
****
Clockwork Orange
C Chambers Street

This stunning production involves acting of a high order along with impressive athleticism and dancing ability. The story of droog Alex is told at a fast pace, and we see him dominating his group, acting out violence, loving his dear Ludwig van, being incarcerated, treated and apparently cured – but is he still fully human? You will have to go see.

The dynamic acting blows you away, as scene after scene flows along.  If I have one criticism it is the pace at times. When violence is about to take place, a pregnant pause can really heighten the effect – also when Alex (a brilliant and virtuoso central performance here) is about to be “cured” by a form of torture, the slow determination of his oppressors will always increase the sense of horror.

But these are fairly small quibbles with a show where the whole cast seem to delight in their skills, and where the audience is gripped by the scruff of the neck from the first moment.

This is a show you really must add to your list!