Review: Neither Here Nor There 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Spoken word

Neither Here Nor There

Summerhall, v26

19:15 (ends 25 August)

🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 (Five Star)

I’m not sure quite what I was expecting from this show: what I got was a delightful hour spent in scintillating company, with the added bonus of fruit!

A small group of people gathered in Summerhall’s courtyard beside the placard saying “Neither Here Nor There”, and began making conversation on the lines of ‘oh hallo, have you come far? what brought you here?’ We were led on a short walk out of the courtyard, on to the street, back in through Summerhall’s front door and along a corridor to what, in the daytime, is the café, where we found tables and chairs waiting for us – and the aforementioned FRUIT: loads of it, which we were invited to eat. I fell on it, having had a particularly fruit-less week.

Our hosts Jo and Sonia gradually revealed the format for the evening by example. A bell chimed, and we were told that this would be our six-minute sign. Jo began, talking seemingly randomly but always interestingly, and stopped as the chimes signified her time was up. Among the things she mentioned, very significantly [with hindsight] was people’s tendency to polarise in conversation – to state individual [often diametrically opposed] points of view and stick to them, leaving the whole middle ground between them unexplored [and maybe, I would add, without ever really listening to the person with whom they were talking].

We sat in pairs and were handed a card with a question on it: one person answered while the other sat and listened, without commenting, interrupting or questioning. When the six minutes were up, the listener was given a card with a different question. None of the questions had simple yes/no answers, most could be interpreted in a variety of ways, and all of them gave scope for going as deeply into a subject as one chose. I felt free to answer as simply or as complicatedly as I chose, revelling in being listened to attentively, and being able to give my full attention to what my partner said when they were speaking. At various points, we changed partners. Finally, we were instructed to Review: Neither Here Nor There 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟indulge in “general chat” and then, most reluctantly, invited to leave as our time was up.

It sounds so simple: it was so profound.

I had intense exchanges with Sarah Jane, Charlie, and Sonia, and loved every minute of it. It is a fascinating discipline to keep silent and simply listen to someone, and equally fascinating to be allowed uninterrupted space in which to talk: when Sarah Jane’s time was up she found it hard to believe she’d been talking for six minutes… I really appreciated the depth from which people were led to speak, and was sorry to have to part from each of my conversation partners, feeling that there was so much more to explore with them, and enjoying their interest in what I had to say.

I felt we had met as strangers and parted as friends. It’s a very simple and effective format, which brings rich rewards: I urge you to try it for yourself.

Mary Woodward

Review: Jottings from the Queen of Sheba 🌟🌟🌟

Theatre

Jottings from the Queen of Sheba

St Patrick’s Church, Cowgate, v408

Times: various (run ends 25 August, not 21)

🌟🌟🌟 (Three Star)

After negotiating myself round a pile of Stuff which could have been a junk heap or an art installation [I found out later that it was the set for Notre Dame de Paris] I climbed the steps of the church and found my way to the Memorial Room, where one of the Queen’s handmaidens offered me a most welcome cup of tea and a biscuit, and happily engaged in Fringe conversation – obviously the Queen likes her attendants to know the time of day!

The Queen herself is most gracious in welcoming us to her palace: she tells us she is on her way to visit the fabled king Solomon, who is, apparently, full of wisdom. She talks of the long and arduous journey through the desert, mainly by night, and wishes she could have been a trader – until the horrors of sandstorms and lack of water make her realise that a trader’s life is not all joy.

To while the time away on the long journey, people tell stories to each other, and the Queen is sad that ‘all the old family histories are no longer being told’ – so she wants to tell us stories that are common to the Jewish scriptures, the Christian old and new testaments, and the Qur’an. Like all family stories, there isn’t one straightforward version – every family member will have a different account of the same incident!

The Qur’an mentions people and incidents, but doesn’t often tell the story, just saying things like “remember what happened to X”, and details can vary: but there’s a lot of common ground between the three faiths, and it’s the Queen [aka Mary Callan] who wants to emphasise this common ground in a time when there is so much discord and strife.

We hear from Adam and Mrs Adam about life after leaving the Garden; from Noah and his wife and sons; from Lot’s daughters, Joseph’s brothers and Joseph himself; Moses’ parents, Pharaoh’s daughter and the man himself; Jonah; Abraham’s slave wife whom he cast out into the desert and then both Abraham and Isaac’s sides of the story of the sacrifice god ordered. We end with the bits of narrative about Jesus’ early life – and then address the question of what really went on between Solomon and the Queen of Sheba…

It’s a very well-intentioned project, and Mary Callan is very good at painting word-pictures of what life was like at the time of the stories, and making the people come alive. I wish she didn’t use strips of paper fished out of a [goldish] bin to point her in the direction of the next story – the connection between storyteller and audience is lost, and she has to start all over again. I wonder whether a book of some sort – a scrapbook, maybe? – might be a better way of keeping her notes ready to hand.

I also noticed that everyone in the stories, including the Queen, sounded the same, so that at times it wasn’t easy to work out who was speaking. In the conversation that followed the performance, Mary said that she’d realised that all the characters were her, in all her different moods – so I guess that explains that: it’s just a pity there isn’t more variety in her vocal delivery. She pointed out the way different translations affect the way we see a story and the people in it, as does returning to a story after a period of time. She did rather assume that everyone was familiar with the stories of the Old Testament, which is possibly not the case in the 21st century.

I liked her assertion that “bible stories are like a ready meal: you have to add water” – i.e. flesh out the bare bones of the story and add colour and life. This the Queen certainly did, and the [sadly small] audience was duly appreciative. I had to run, but others stayed on, and I hope they had a satisfying conversation.

Mary Woodward

Review: Tchaikovsky –Eugene Onegin 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Edinburgh International Festival

Tchaikovsky –Eugene Onegin

Festival Theatre

19:15 15-17 August

🌟🌟🌟🌟 (Four Star)

Tchaikovsky’s opera tells the story of bored socialite Eugene Onegin who visits his friend Lensky’s country estate. Lensky loves Olga, the lively, fun-loving daughter of his neighbour, Madam Larin. Olga’s sister Tatyana is shy, silent, and addicted to romantic novels. When the two men visit their neighbours Tatyana sees in Onegin the embodiment of all her dreams and tumbles head over heels in love with him. She confesses her love in a letter: Onegin rejects her and she is crushed.

At Tatyana’s birthday party Onegin, bored of all the gossip about him, flirts with Olga. Lensky calls his friend a seducer and challenges him to a duel. Early next morning Lensky waits for his friend to arrive: when Onegin appears, each man silently wishes their relationship could return to what it was – but they’ve gone too far: they fire, and Lensky is killed.

Onegin travels to escape the ghosts that haunt him, but is so bored he goes back to Russia. There is a grand ball in St Petersburg the night he arrives: he goes, and is astounded to see a radiant and assured young woman there – surely it can’t be Tatyana? It is: she is now the wife of a highly-honoured war hero. Onegin realises too late that he is in love with her: he confesses his love and urges her to flee with him but she, although admitting she loves him, refuses to leave her husband.

The curtain rose to reveal a rough grassy field surrounded by trees – a most effective way to underline the rural setting of the first scene, but a considerable inconvenience in the rest of the opera: Tatyana’s letter scene took place in a spotlit circle on the grass, leaving her very little room for manoeuvre, and instead of writing on sheets of paper she was reduced to annotating the book she’d been reading in the first scene, and then tearing out pages to send to Onegin. Her birthday party took place outdoors, in the same clearing in which the duel then took place. There had been extensive use of the revolve in the first two acts, so it was unlikely that the grass would be removed for the third act – instead we had an elegant sofa and two chairs on a rectangle of carpet, surrounded by grey walls, into which Onegin wandered, to be later joined by the guests at the ball. Applause greeted the removal of the walls, the furniture and the carpet while Onegin, once more alone, paced about in his love-lorn frenzy. The final confrontation between the two lovers took place where it had all begun, in the empty grassy clearing where, to cap it all, the rain started falling as the tragic parting took place.

Tchaikovsky’s ballet music is always glorious. In Eugene Onegin he wrote two gorgeous dance sections – a rustic one for Tatyana’s birthday party, a highly aristocratic one for the grand ball in St Petersburg. Alas, although we got some prancing round with rustic shrieking in act two, the whole St Petersburg section was played with not a dancer in sight: instead, Onegin paced around the sofa before all the elegantly-clad guests crammed into a very small space to watch Prince Gremin tell his friend Onegin how much he loves his wife.

The music palpitates with emotion and the orchestra plays a major part in showing what’s going on under people’s ostensibly calm exteriors. The orchestra of the Komischer Oper Berlin under their conductor Āinars Rubiķis were in the main extremely good: at times they seemed out of synch with the singers, and tended to drown the voices in the most emotionally-charged moments.

The singing was superb. Michael Nagy was a slight, intense, edgy Onegin and Natalya Pavlova a wonderfully subtle and moving Tatyana, whom it was a delight to see ‘all grown up’ and supremely confident in the third act. Maria Fiselier’s Olga was youthfully happy and flirty, driving to distraction her intense fiancé, Lensky, powerfully sung by Aleš Briscein. The ‘minor’ roles were excellently sung and acted – the whole production seemed very natural and informal, possibly too informal for the society of the time? I wondered at the extreme youthfulness of ‘old nursey’ Filipyevna, while appreciating her singing: and Dimitry Ivanschenko was loudly applauded for his brief cameo as Prince Gremin.

All in all, a good and credible production of one of my favourite operas, which the audience thought was totally wonderful – storms of applause greeted cast, conductor and orchestra at the final curtain. I think I was too distracted by the revolving lawn [and the constraints it placed on the action] and other minor details [the jars of jam, the bottle-swigging duellists] to be pulled fully into this tragedy of four young people who act unthinkingly and have to face the consequences.

Mary Woodward

Review: Edinburgh Gin Afternoon Tea 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Events

Edinburgh Gin Afternoon Tea

The Scottish Café and Restaurant, v337

14:30 (ends 25 August)

🌟🌟🌟🌟 (Four Star)

Ooh I think I could become a gin lush, if my experience of a G&T at the Scottish Café attached to the National Gallery is anything to go by: a glass of Edinburgh gin with ice and – surprise! – a thick slice of ORANGE to complement the orange peel that somehow finds its way into the gin. I really tasted the juniper, and my only problem was that I could have glugged the whole thing down in less than five minutes, which would have meant that I didn’t appreciate the goodies that were on offer in this ‘afternoon tea’.

Sandwiches, cheese scone with smoked trout, fruit scone with vanilla cream and mixed berry jam, and four delightfully wee ‘cakey things’ completed the tower of plates: add a good pot of tea, and off I set… The sandwiches [cream cheese and cucumber, ham with mustardy mayonnaise, and grated cheese with a very flavoursome tomato layer] all had a good solid layer of extremely tasty filling: the bread was okay but perhaps a bit too ‘sliced loaf-y’ properly to complement the fillings. The small cheese half scone was topped with some superb smoked trout: I could comfortably have eaten several more!

Sweet things aren’t really my preference – but no-one offers an all-savoury afternoon tea, more’s the pity. I’m less fond of fruit scones with cream and jam, preferring a plain scone to complement the toppings – but this scone was vast, broke beautifully, and was both moist and light, and still very slightly warm. The vanilla cream was quite sweet, as was the jam, so I found it preferable to have one or the other with my mouthfuls of scone: those with a sweeter tooth could cheerfully pile both on and enjoy.

There were a couple of very tart but sweet strawberries to cleanse the palate before tackling the Top Four – a delightfully fresh and moist amaretto ball, a macaron which my neighbour was happy to accept when I offered it [I just can’t do macarons, though this one – raspberry and chocolate – looked delightful]. There was a minute tart which had a wonderful rhubarb filling. I left the meringue topping, as I was rapidly reaching the point of no return as far as sugar consumption was concerned, and I wanted to attend fully to the final wee treat – a lovely chocolate and hazelnut sponge with a thick chocolate mousse that was satanically dark and devilishly delicious: the perfect finale to a pretty good tea.

The tea was advertised as ‘unlimited’, but I have a strong suspicion that my second pot was simply made by adding hot water to my original teabag – it had a lot less body and colour than the first pot: but that’s a relatively minor niggle. What was undeniable was the quality of the gin – alas, only the one glass was on offer…

Mary Woodward

ScotsGay Live: The Good Scout

ScotsGay Live: The Good Scout (Boys of the Empire Productions)

 
Our chat show where we invite 5-star acts and shows onto our sofa for a chat with Nancy
 
This Episode features The Good Scout – Who is doing a full run at The Space – Surgeons Halls
 
Tickets: https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/good-scout
 
Hosted by Drag Sensation and Agony Aunt: Nancy Clench
 
In Partnership with Box, Assembly Festival and A D Zyne Photography

ScotsGay Live: Noise Boys

ScotsGay Live

 

Our chat show where we  invite 5-star acts and shows onto our sofa for a chat with Nancy

This Episode features the Noise Boys who are doing a full run at the Assembly George Square – Gordon Aikman Theatre

Tickets: https://www.assemblyfestival.com/whats-on/noise-boys

Hosted by Drag Sensation and Agony Aunt: Nancy Clench

In Partnership with Box, Assembly Festival and AD Zyne

Review: Nancy Clench: Agony Aunt ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Comedy

Nancy Clench: Agony Aunt

Just The Tonic – Grassmarket Centre – 23:20

 Aug 17

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (5 stars)

Unsure if you should get into drag? Have problems with your boyfriend? Unsure how to deal with all your problems? Well then, I highly advise getting along to see Nancy Clench: Agony Aunt. You will be smiling from start to finish as Nancy breaks all the rules and solves the worlds (and the audiences) problems

Nancy is a well-known face across Scotland, this queen is known for towering above her audience and the take no prisoners. She’s unapologetically offensive and yet, you can’t help but fall in love with her.

Opening and closing the show with vocals that echoed through the room, she induced goosebumps across the audience, it’s a spectacular performance from start to end!

The show is a mix of audience participation and Nancy’s stories of times gone by. No topic is off the table as we hear all the gossip about sex, drugs and what happens when you’re verified on Twitter. She is a master of the mic, controlling a fiesty audience like any professional. She commands the stage in a perfectly crafted hour of comedy that flies by.

There’s meaning in this performance too – when Nancy takes the audience in the palm of her hands. She’s got a message for everyone to love themselves, and use laughter to get over the darkest moments.

It’s almost a shame the room she was in wasn’t bigger, this show would transition well into a larger space and with not many seats in the audience left, by next year this will certainly be the case.

This is drag as it should be, fun, exciting and full of diva

Taylor Crockett

Review: Fempire: Mess by Kirsten Vangsness⭐⭐⭐⭐

Theatre (new writing, solo show)

Fempire: Mess by Kirsten Vangsness

Assembly Rooms 20:15

 Aug 18, 21, 24

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4 stars)

The dramatic music as she arrives onstage cannot disguise or distract from the fact that Kirsten Vangsness is a mess, one sock missing, emotionally volatile, a sum of all the experiences that have made her now half-forgotten, buried or repressed, suddenly remembered and expressed within an hour on stage.

The second part of her Fempire duology performed in alternation with her ensemble piece Cleo, Theo and Wu, Vangsness may have come to realise that her Mess is nothing more than quantum bits, but she feels that her mess is the secret of her success, that those who have been raised by wolves are stronger than those who were coddled.

Her monologue a succession of random, abstract images, fearful and intrusive, there is the sense of a lifetime folded in on itself, the transgressions of childhood for which she blames herself surfacing and overlapping with the present, evolving into something terrible which only she can see but of which she warns the audience.

A cascade of emotion and non-sequential events, like Pinter, this Mess is not so much to be analysed but experienced, a maelstrom of joy and anguish and the imaginary monsters of childhood within the walls while the scant consolations of the past absent themselves, the kittens of comfort notably indifferent, her only defence her conviction of her own worth.

Serving as the companion piece to the marginally more traditional narrative of Cleo, Theo and Wu, where those presences helped empower Vangsness’ alter ego Lucy here she is alone and must work all the harder, both as character and performer, sharing the stage with nobody other than the demons she has brought with her, the berating voices of her past in her head which are never quiet.

Fortunately Vangsness is more than capable, skipping from Pentecostal Fellowship Camp and encounters with Satan to the quantum physics of Einstein and Feynman, “a broken pattern in a kaleidoscope on repeat,” those lessons learned the hard way having taught her the most as she demonstrates how to walk the tightrope balanced between shame and power.

Michael Flett

REVIEW: TIFF STEVENSON: MOTHER⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

COMEDY

TIFF STEVENSON: MOTHER

Monkey Barrel 3 – Venue 515

August 2-26th

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (5 stars)

As a grinning Tiff Stevenson takes the stage in the Monkey Barrel venue, there is a strange calm that comes over me. ‘Mother’ is Stevenson’s ninth Edinburgh show, so I feel safe in the knowledge that there is an experienced captain at the helm to lead us through the next hour.

As an opening to ‘Mother’, Stevenson divulges a personal story from her earlier years – a bold few minutes that immediately hooks the audience. From there, seatbelts are firmly fastened as Stevenson goes on to create routines about some topics other comedians may shy away from: abortion, feminism, class. We hear anecdotes regarding the ‘Didn’t Happen of the Year’ Awards, what she really thinks of Starbucks coffee and her thoughts on what it means to be a ‘mother’. My personal favourite is a well-structured analogy about men who wear expensive watches in public.

As Stevenson speaks to the audience, she addresses the fact that this show is for everyone. There is a strong feminist message throughout, but she does not have anything against men. I believe speaking about this is one of the strengths of the show. It makes everyone more accepting of the things she talks about and the points she puts across through her jokes (unlike some of the trolls from her boisterous Twitter feed). It also creates a sense of likeability and trust in the comedian, things that Tiff already has in spades.

No question about it, Tiff Stevenson is one of the most important voices in comedy today. This show is one that warrants an audience for two reasons: it is laugh out loud funny and because the message that runs through the show is truly poignant and, by the end, left a few audience members quite emotional. A thoroughly entertaining show from one of the best comedians you’ll see at the Fringe.

James Macfarlane

@justjammy

Review: Breakfast Plays: The Future is…⭐⭐⭐⭐

Theatre

Breakfast Plays: The Future is…

Traverse Theatre, v15

09:00 (13-25 August, various days)

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4 stars)

Well, the week’s trend was broken in a number of ways this morning – yes, Mooning was written by a woman – Erin McGee: but instead of three women in the cast Neshla Caplan, returning after her excellent performance in yesterday’s breakfast play, was joined by [gosh!] two men: but even more unusually, the play was funny! – not something one expects to see very often at the Traverse, eh?

For the second time this week the play was set on the moon. Sean [Ross Mann] had just arrived and was trying to make friendly overtures to Riley [Neshla] but not meeting with a lot of success – though she did offer to share her blanket with him, which meant he wouldn’t freeze… He appeared to have arrived completely unprepared and with no real idea of what was going on – his constant questioning seemed to get on Riley’s nerves. What was she hiding? What was he hiding? Was this really the home of a cult? And who on earth was Neil? He suddenly appeared, then disappeared, looking very pale, never eating, making weird oracular pronouncements… Why was Riley digging a hole large enough to hold a human being if they laid down in it? Why did Sean eat the biscuits Neil offered him?

These and many other questions will be answered if you take yourself to see Mooning. On the surface, it’s rather lightweight – but underneath the froth that kept much of the audience laughing throughout there is a much darker substratum exploring why and how we might wish to escape from our current lives and what we might be prepared to face in order to find peace and security, to feel safe.

Some great acting – I particularly loved the slightly surreal and spaced out [pun intended] Neil – and an interesting script with a lot of ‘bitty’ dialogue. It didn’t engage me in the way the previous three plays have [possibly because a lot of the extremely “now” references were lost on me], but everyone else loved it. The dénouement made the audience howl with laughter and sent them out cheerfully to face the dreich Edinburgh morning.

Mary Woodward