REVIEW: SECTION 28: THE LEGACY OF A HOMOPHOBIC LAW ⭐⭐⭐

THEATRE

SECTION 28: THE LEGACY OF A HOMOPHOBIC LAW     

theSpace on the Mile   (V39)

August 19th to 24th      20.20

⭐⭐⭐ (3 stars)

This is a show brought to us by Ray Stafford and Andrew Lake. They take on an issue about which they are right to feel indignant and angry, a piece of government legislation that did much harm to teachers and local government workers, and to young people growing up in Britain, the very people those in power said they were wanting to protect.
Stafford and Lake bravely take on a large number of parts, from media interviewer and government representative to father, vicar and teacher. David is a schoolboy struggling to hide his sexuality. Comments are made about him at school, and there is a problem with things written on the school toilet walls. Also, David’s English teacher has had boys reading girls’ parts in class, including having David read the part of Juliet in Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet. Questions are asked, and all this in the atmosphere created by the new legislation prohibiting local authorities from promoting homosexuality as an acceptable lifestyle. David and his teacher are unlucky in that their school seems to be one that is enthusiastic in its response to the new legislation, and eager to interpret it as damagingly as possible. No-one was ever convicted under section 28, but it created a climate of fear which undermined, amongst other things, the ability of gay teachers and pupils to freely exchange ideas and advice.
We see David trying to find advice and support. His vicar clearly has his own angle, and through him the issue of conversion therapy is raised – a very vicious method still widely used in the States. His teacher becomes almost hostile out of fear. It is very difficult for him to express himself to his father. In this situation it is possible to imagine David going downhill disastrously.
Ray Stafford and Andrew Lake present this situation clearly and in a way that is easy to grasp. Their presentation of a dehumanising environment where the support and flourishing of the student should be the first concern is admirable. The intervention of certain voices of today may jar, but this serves to remind us that prejudice is by no means dead and buried.
This show is worth catching to learn about a villainy of the past, or to be reminded of how easily things can be put into reverse.
TONY CHALLIS

David McIver: Teleport⭐⭐⭐⭐

Comedy

David McIver: Teleport

PBH’s Free Fringe @ Banshee Labyrinth – Cinema Room

12:20 (ends 25th August)

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4 stars)

An important note – this wasn’t really stand-up. It was a solo show that contained comedy throughout. In ‘Teleport’, David McIver was trying to re-create a roleplay, online game whilst simultaneously tackling what’s it’s like to be a teenager and coping with illness in the family. It’s very funny but suddenly takes a serious, making you realise that the moments that you had originally laughed at are perhaps the most heart-breaking.

David McIver’s show is interactive; he takes you on a quest and shows you the different parts of a roleplaying game so that even if you are not familiar with the concept, you will be by the end of the show. The audience becomes part of the show and if you like audience participation, this show is full of it. He’s charming, incredibly approachable and generally really friendly which is why you want to be part of the show, you want him to tell you a Death Story or reveal your future. He had to change quickly between the different characters that you meet along the way and brought them all to life, as each of them were distinct and unique in their own way.

It is essentially a sarcastic and snarky commentary that makes fun of all of the tropes that exist in role playing games. He intersperses these comments with unasked remarks that you would think a teenager would say. This is partly to remind us of his age but also as a way to hide what the show is really about, something that is told gradually and permeates throughout the show and is hinted at but you aren’t aware of where it is going or how important it is until the very end. You don’t expect it a show about online role-playing games like World of Warcraft to have a deeper meaning, but this one does and that’s what makes it so interesting to watch,

His use of sound is very clever since the cues have to be very precise in order for it all to work. The best part of his audio was the use of Siri – or something along the lines of a computer reader – in order to act as a stand in for his mother. At first you accept his explanation for why it sounds so robotic and you think it’s all part of the joke, or just a clever way for him to have a conversation with an unseen character.

It’s hard for me to write this review mainly because it’s a very difficult show to sum up or describe it in such a way that does it justice without completely giving everything away. I enjoyed it very much, but I can’t imagine how much time, effort, energy and emotion it took in order to perfect this play and to reveal so much about such a hard time in a way that is light – hearted and that will attract audiences. You can’t help but being moved by his story whilst simultaneously being entertained, which is a very odd feeling. We all have our coping mechanisms – some healthier than others – and it was incredibly brave of David McIver to share his. It’s a hard sell but definitely worth going to see. Bring tissues – you will need them for all of the laughter.

Katerina Partolina Schwartz (Twitter: @katpschwartz)

Review: Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Musical

Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch

Underbelly Bristol Square – Ermintrude

18:55 (ends 26th August)

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (5 stars)

This musical is a cross between ‘Wicked’ and ‘Avenue Q’. ‘Wicked’ because of how the story follows a vibrantly coloured (well, purple) villain from pop culture who is in fact just misunderstood and is vilified by a man because he feels threatened by her. The way that I find it similar to ‘Avenue Q’ is partly due to the puppets that were used as well as the way that it incorporates important messages about body positivity, sexuality, feminism, consent, the environment and how problematic Disney actually is. It’s a new spin on a story that everyone knows very well. Fun fact: before it was Disney-fied, ‘The Little Mermaid’ was actually a love letter from Hans Christian Anderson to Edvard Collin, someone who rejected him and so couldn’t be within the same way that the little mermaid couldn’t be with her prince.

The songs from the film were replaced by Fat Rascal Theatre’s original compositions, some of which were in roughly the same place plot-wise as the songs in ‘The Little Mermaid’ and were a little similar in subject or tone, but which I thought were better. Some of note are; ‘Another Day Under the Waves’ – a song which has been stuck in my head since, ‘We didn’t Make it to Disney’ which talks about how white-washed, misogynistic, racist and homophobic Disney is, ‘Unfortunate’, ‘Ask Before You Kiss the Girl’ because consent is important, and ‘Where the Dicks Are’ which is a parody of ‘Part of Your World’ and was a rather odd addition, but amusing none the less. I think a backing track was used but surprisingly there weren’t any noticeable difficulties or problems with the audio and so it did sound like there was a live band in the wings.

In the cast there were no weak links, everyone was a strong actor and a very good singer, all of whom – except Robyn Grant who played Ursula – took on more than one role and shifted seamlessly between them. One actress that stood out, in particular, was Allie Munro who played Sebastian (the crab), Flotsam (one of the eels) and Vanessa (Ursula’s human alter ego). She was particularly wonderful as Sebastian, at one point switching from a Jamaican accent to an Irish accent practically in the same sentence. Her Irish mutterings as she was going offstage were perhaps some of the best moments in the show. It was an interesting directorial choice but now it’s hard to imagine Sebastian not being Irish since the accent suits the character so well.

‘Unfortunate’ seems like a modern response to ‘The Little Mermaid’ because it does cover a lot of important issues. It’s a musical for a millennial, liberal and politically conscious audience who grew up watching the Disney film and now know better and can see the problems in it. It’s definitely a show for adults, as you can probably tell from the content songs and most of the dialogue. It makes fun of and comments on the film whilst highlighting how weird the age gap between Ariel and Prince Eric is (she’s 14 and he’s 34), sort of makes fun of the fact that most if not all Disney relationships end in marriage even though the couple hasn’t known each other for very long, and brings to the forefront how problematic Disney culture really is. Here I’m going to mention the song ‘Ask Before You Kiss

the Girl’ again because it is a really important message and even though it seems so basic and you laugh at the song lyrics. I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone comment on how problematic the original song actually is, probably because of how it’s considered one of those classic Disney songs, and I’m glad that Fat Rascal Theatre has fixed it.

This musical is the version of ‘The Little Mermaid’ that accepts and acknowledges the phallic shaped castle turrets. It’s fun, it’s clever and it’s original. It deserves to be picked up in some regard and I hope that more people get to see it because it truly is a gem. Hans Christian Anderson would be proud.

Katerina Schwartz

Review: Jane Glover 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Edinburgh International Book Festival

Jane Glover:

Sparks Theatre, George Street

20:45 (21 August only)

🌟🌟🌟🌟 (Four Star)

I can cope with the knowledge that someone has never been to, nor listened to the music of, an opera by Handel: but I found it staggering to discover that the person interviewing the notable Handelian expert Jane Glover had never been to a performance of Handel’s best-known, best-loved and most enduring work… It did provide a sort of running joke throughout the hour we spent with Ms Glover, who has been in love with Handel’s music since she first heard Messiah in Lincoln cathedral when she was only nine years old, and held out the hope that, after hearing her enthusing about the man and his music, he would put himself out to attend a performance and make the acquaintance of a work that has been known and loved since its first performance in Dublin in 1742.

Jane Glover’s new book Handel in London does what it says on the cover. I’ve known and sung Messiah virtually all my life, and have been in love with Handel’s operas since the 1970s and 80s when people suddenly discovered that they weren’t dreary and repetitive and completely incomprehensible but are extremely human and heartfelt. They suddenly became “sexy” and now it’s taken for granted that any reputable opera house will always have some Handel in its repertoire. The plots adapt well to contemporary settings – Agrippina, about Nero’s mother and her machinations to get her son on the imperial throne, worked wonderfully set in an age of paparazzi, with a twitchy coke-snorting wannabe emperor and a very media-savvy mum: Giulio Cesare was an absolute delight in Glyndebourne’s Bollywood production; I could go on and on….but we weren’t there to concentrate on Handel’s operas, though they were a major part of his output during his time in London, and featured in the closing Q&A session.

We heard about the man, his huge heart, his extraordinary energy; the quasi-industrial production line on the ground floor of his house in Brook Street which dealt with copying and producing orchestral parts for the constant stream of music he poured out; his brilliant writing and his genius for finding extraordinary singers and writing to suit their voices even when he didn’t get on with them personally; and his extraordinary compassion for those less fortunate than himself led him to begin the organisation which later became the Musicians’ Benevolent Fund, and to give an annual concert for the benefit of the Foundling Hospital in Coram’s Fields.

Much was made of Handel’s special relationship with the Hanoverians who were his employers when he was in Germany and then came to rule his new home of England – and the enduring quality of his music, including the coronation anthems composed for George II one of which, Zadok the Priest, has been performed at every subsequent British monarch’s coronation. Handel didn’t seem fazed by any challenge thrown at him – music to be played on the river as the king and his party went down to dine at Richmond, music to accompany – and not be drowned by – a royal fireworks party, producing music which combined majesty, ceremony, propriety and intimacy, and, and, and… Jane Glover’s comment – “he somehow gets it right an awful lot of the time” – goes a long way to explain his music’s brilliance and its enduring appeal.

There was much, much more, and all of it fascinating: so much so that I rushed out to buy Handel in London and queue up to get it signed, both to show my appreciation of an hour which went past all too quickly and to give me many happy hours in the company of this great man of music.

Mary Woodward

Review: Semi-Toned Presents: Life on Mars 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

Music (a cappella, comedy)

Semi-Toned Presents: Life on Mars

The Space @ Surgeons Hall 17.05

22-24 Aug

🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 (Five Star)

Opening with a good bump-inducing rendition of the Final Countdown, these boys know how to make an entrance, from start to finish I was in love with their voices, humour and the personality they brought to the stage.

These boys are far from amateur,  they are by this point considered the experts in acapella. Years on from winning BBC2’s Gareth Malone series The Choir: Gareth’s Best in Britain, They are still dominating the stage and showing us all how it’s done.

You can’t help fall in love with the boys, and I must give special attention to one moment where they serenaded a lucky lady in the crowd. Every girl (ok, and myself) was wishing it was them, as the adorably cute Ryan Land gives my now all-time version of Hooked on a Feeling.

Taking us through a journey of space via their quick-witted banter, we hear classics such as Aint Nobody and Is. This is just to name a few, the show is absolutely jam-packed with songs to get your feet tapping. At one point I actually had to stop myself standing up for a dance.

These boys are simply at the top of their game, this slick performance is a real audience pleaser and fun for all the family. I fell in love and adored every single minute of it!

Taylor Crockett

Review: Rob Auton 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Comedy

Rob Auton

Assembly George Square Studios 14.50

Aug 22 – 26

🌟🌟🌟🌟 (Four Star)

At one point in The Time Show, Rob Auton recounts how one negative review of his previous work described him as evoking the same energy as a nervous child in a school play.  Auton describes how he sees this as a compliment, wanting to approach everything in life with the same naivety as a young child. In his latest show Auton turns this wide-eyed gaze on time, deconstructing and challenging the concept in a show that is at once thought-provoking and also deeply enjoyable.

It is his innocence that gives Auton his appeal.  At one point he wonders aloud why we aren’t as amazed by our own hands as we are by a baby’s, exclaiming how we should always be in a constant state of astonishment at the world around us.  Auton’s wonder proves infectious, his childlike sincerity drawing the audience into a show that questions the basic fundamental structures that underpin human society.

The show also has an emotional weight to it, Auton, in one particularly poetic segment, comparing moments in his life to little pockets of air in a roll of bubble wrap. This doesn’t get in the way of the comedy, however, as Auton intersperses these moments of poignancy with absurd humour and undercuts the more sentimental bits of his show to keep the audience ‘on side’.  For example, Auton articulates the cliched take-home message of how we should all strive to ‘live in the moment’ by making the audience close their eyes and eat flapjacks. Throughout The Time Show Auton effectively balances the profound with the silly, utilising the medium of stand-up to question what it means to be alive and human.

William Shaw

Review: The Fishermen 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Theatre

The Fishermen

Assembly George Square Studios 12.15

22-24 Aug

🌟🌟🌟🌟 (Four Star)

One of the problems I’ve often found with theatre is that of pacing.  While art forms such as film can use editing to make their narratives flow more easily, live performance is not afforded such luxuries.  This often leaves modern theatre, especially badly written theatre, with a severe lack of agency, often feeling monotonous and stunted.  The Fishermen, Gbolahan Obisesan’s adaptation of Chigozie Obioma’s award-winning novel, directed by Jack McNamara, proves to be an exception to this rule.

The play begins with a conversation between estranged brothers Ben and Obembe, the two men meeting after years of separation beside a river in an unnamed Nigerian town.  The conversation acts as a framing device, the brothers recounting their childhood together and over the course of the play uncovering the trauma that lies at the heart of their lives.  As the two men recount their upbringing, time and space begin to shift. The boys ‘play’ a whole cast of characters, including their older brothers, their parents, and younger versions of themselves, while the river bank on which they stand transforms into their old family home.  The play is expertly written and directed, the bleeding together of past and present reflecting the rupturing effects of Ben and Obembe’s trauma, the horrors of their past haunting their present.

This fluidity is enforced through the strength of the acting in the play.  The two actors, Valentine Olukoga and David Alade, have impressive command over their bodies, shifting seamlessly from character to character through the slightest changes in their physicality.  One particularly powerful moment comes when Benplays the town’s ‘madman’, who prophesies the death of older brother Ikenna. Alade’s face appears transformed beyond recognition, his body writhing about the stage as he describes Ikenna’s death.

The Fishermen is overall a very accomplished piece of contemporary theatre.  It is bolstered by strong performances from Olukoga and Alade and dynamic direction from McNamara, who reflect the destructive nature of trauma through the blending of past and present.  While theatre, in general, might no longer feel as fresh as more modern art forms, works such as The Fishermen suggest that it still has relevance as a medium.

Taylor Crockett

REVIEW: MYTHOS: A TRILOGY 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

THEATRE

MYTHOS: A TRILOGY  EDINBURGH INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL   

Festival Theatre

19 August Gods 7.30 pm   20th August heroes 2.30 pm Men 7.30 pm 24th August Gods 1.30 pm 25th August Heroes 2.30 pm Men 7.30 pm

🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 (Five Star)

Here Stephen Fry presents the story of the Greek myths and legends from the birth of the cosmos and of the gods, through Zeus, Hera, Chronos eating his children, Perseus, the Minotaur, the Trojan wars and the story of Ulysses, in a marathon of around nine hours, spread over three separate performances. It is an undertaking of such length and depth that it almost brings to mind Fry’s beloved Wagner.
It was a day and a half of pure enjoyment, as Fry, with great charm and accomplishment, made us feel we were inside these stories. there are a number of ways in which the medicine is allowed to go down more sweetly. Fry is chatty to begin with, makes the audience feel we are here for a fireside chat with a mate, and there are times when something called Mythical Pursuits occurs, and audience members play a role. Then there is the oracle, the messages sent to Fry in the interval which he deals with on his return.
This is the European premiere of this epic performance, and when I saw it it was sold out. Tickets will not be easy to come by. Many people will know Stephen Fry for his comedy appearances in Fry and Laurie, Blackadder and QI, as well as his novels and autobiography, and some may even know The Ode Less Travelled, his very full and effective guide to writing poetry.
Two thirds of this series of shows is also covered in his books, Mythos and Heroes. The third, Men, is still in preparation. So even if you cannot get to this show, you can read the full version! A full audiobook of Mythos, with, I think, 13 discs, is also available. Wagnerian, indeed.
However, there is nothing to beat being taken into the world of these stories in Fry’s company, with his inimitable style, his fresh approach and sometimes earthy humour. This is a show to be cherished.
TONY CHALLIS

Review: UN POYO ROJO  🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

DANCE, PHYSICAL THEATRE AND CIRCUS

UN POYO ROJO       

Zoo Southside    V82

August 21 to 26

🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟 (Five Star)

Two Argentinian men dance and cavort playfully for an hour in a locker room with a radio and tiny shorts. That description does not do justice to the brilliance and joy of this show. Nicolas Poggi and Luciano Rossi are enormously talented performers, and they can do just about anything with their bodies, with each other and with the audience they have captivated.
They have their audience laughing helplessly, with both subtle movements, maybe with cigarettes or with facial expressions, or with a broader take, when they appear to become walruses. It is unlikely you will have seen a male nipple used in just the way it is at one point in this show.
The radio plays a role in the show, with various stations accompanying their more low-key actions and sequences, which still had those around me tittering uncontrollably. These guys make actions look easy that have taken decades of work to perfect. They are returning to Edinburgh after an internationally acclaimed world tour for only six shows at the Fringe, and tickets are going fast.
Playfulness is a key to their approach. Nothing of conventional macho competition or aggression for these two, but a delightful sense of freedom to enjoy the moment and to enjoy messing around. The show is choreographed by Poggi and Rosso, and, of course, boy, do they know exactly what they are doing.
I cannot recommend this show enough. It is transporting from the beginning, an hour of being diverted by guys who have the greatest skill and ability, and the audience can simply bathe in their brilliance.
TONY CHALLIS

REVIEW: LAURA LEXX: KNEE JERK 🌟🌟🌟🌟

COMEDY

LAURA LEXX: KNEE JERK

August 1-25th – 5:15pm

Gilded Balloon Teviot: Turret

🌟🌟🌟🌟 (Four Star)

Laura Lexx bounces on to the stage at Gilded Balloon, performing her second show of the day. She warns the audience beforehand that she’s performed the exact same show about an hour ago, and to stop her if she starts talking nonsense. Luckily, she delivers this extra show with just as much gusto as if performing it for the first time.

Lexx’s character is an interesting one to behold. Someone who talks freely about her very personal issues on stage, weaves them into her comedy and makes everyone laugh, all without making anyone feel awkward. We hear about her political leanings, her thoughts on Brexit (or ‘Inverness’ as it was referred to in this particular show) and, most interestingly, her therapy sessions.

What is most charming about the show is that Lexx appears to put a lot trust in her audience by letting us into her world, describing her therapy techniques that she finds most useful. As an example she lets us know her superficial fear for being late for a train and takes us back to the root of that particular problem and explores it in more depth. She cleverly applies this technique to create routines looking into the intricacies regarding LGBT issues with a focus on transgender rights and the male and female divide.

A final routine regarding the root of the problem in relation to the sexes does seem to carry on for a little longer than was needed to get the point across. Apart from this, the show was engaging and enjoyable, fronted by a comedian who seemed genuinely keen to entertain. It isn’t surprising to me that she’s playing extra shows to sold out crowds.

James Macfarlane

@justjammy