REVIEW: TALES FROM THE GARDEN ⭐⭐⭐⭐

THEATRE

TALES FROM THE GARDEN

Assembly Rooms – Drawing Room

August 1-25th – 11:00

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4 stars)

A figure sits on a chair. Her face is made of newspaper and where her mouth should be sits a
pink rose. The figure feels her face, as if for the first time. She begins to pick at the rose, trying
to claw it out of her mouth.
This is the opening image of Tales From the Garden, a one-woman show directed by Kathleen
Stephens and co-written by and starring Ameera Conrad. The play follows a traumatic
experience the speaker underwent three years ago and her struggle to heal from it. The first
thing that bears mentioning about Tales From the Garden is its design. The play is set in the
eponymous garden of the title, however, this garden is artificial, newspaper covering the entirety
of the set. This disjunction between the natural and the manufactured evokes a sense of
displacement that relates to the trauma at the centre of the piece. We as the audience are
invited into the speaker’s world, a world that she has constructed herself in the wake of what
happened to her.
The focus of the play, however, is Conrad herself, who manages to carry the play beautifully.
Conrad has a boat-load of charisma, which she effectively uses in engaging her audience,
whilst also having the emotional heft required when moving to the heavier sections of the play.
Conrad puts the audience in her shoes, so that when she comes to the events at the
the centrepiece of the play it is comprehensible, if not ever fully understandable.
It would be wrong to impose a direct reading onto Tales From the Garden. Part of it, I believe,
is about reconstructing identity in the wake of something that is unfathomable. The play
ends with the same image that it started with: a figure with a face made of newspaper and a
rose for a mouth. I don’t believe that Conrad and Stephens are saying that it’s possible to forget
traumatic events or ever return to a place before they happened. I believe they are saying that
it’s possible if we come to accept the things that have happened to us, that we might at some
point heal. And I believe they make that point in a very effective and affecting way.

 

William Byam Shaw

Review: ANDREW DOYLE: EXODUS⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

COMEDY

ANDREW DOYLE: EXODUS

Pleasance Courtyard – Above

August 19-25th – 10:30pm

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (5 stars)

As Andrew Doyle takes to the stage at the Pleasance Above venue, there seems to be a more serious tone to his demeanor. Wearing a smart suit jacket and shirt combo (although he promises this was a Debenhams outfit), he strides to the microphone with a purpose. Andrew Doyle has some things to say and, in some cases, to clarify.

The past few years have been controversial to say the least for this stand-up. His first Edinburgh show in two years, this break in the spotlight has seen him writing for internet sensation Jonathan Pie, founding a free-speech comedy night in London and creating Titania McGrath, a satirical Twitter account that mocks certain parts of the liberal left. However, tonight is Andrew Doyle as himself: unfiltered, straight talking and unapologetically honest.

Gauging the room in the form of a show of hands, he works out that about 50% are left wing, 30% are right wing (a scarily fast hand shot up in the front row directly in front of Doyle when asked) and the other 20% being centrists. Doyle is himself left-wing (often mistaken as a right-wing comic in the media), so it is nice to see his willingness to include everyone, no matter their political belief. After some interesting comments regarding a former Tory MP, there were a few people who decided the show wasn’t for them, a shame but also unsurprising. This didn’t seem to bother Doyle and in fact he recovered remarkably well, segueing directly to his next routine with absolute ease.

Andrew Doyle is funny throughout his show, and his frustrated and increasingly irate persona (in addition to his increasingly empty wine bottle) is a sight to behold. This is a man who is very open about the fact that he voted Leave and is happy to give reasons why. It’s powerful and somewhat refreshing to hear.

The show overall is an astute hour of political comedy – well written and with a focus on just how much ‘woke’ culture has an impact on mainstream culture. Are they now simply one and the same?

The show garnered a few exits, but also a standing ovation from several audience members. Certainly one of the more polarising shows of the Fringe, but one of the most enjoyable.

 

James Macfarlane

Twitter: Justjammy

REVIEW: MURDER BALLADS⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

THEATRE (CABARET, MUSICAL THEATRE)
 
MURDER BALLADS

Greenside @ Nicolson Square (Venue 209)

August 22nd-24th, 23.10

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (5 stars)

It’s 23.10, and we’re entering the twilight hours of the Fringe. What does any good Festival goer need as a nightcap for this hour? How about a strong dose of murder… Throw in some dark humour, terrifying stage combat and a hint of madness, and you’ve got yourself a five star show in the shape of Murder Ballads.

The tone is instantly set, as we are welcomed and ushered to our seats by our four strong cast, transporting us to O’Malleys Bar, West Texas. Thomas Galashan and Laura Connelly expertly improvising witty remarks and throwaway lines based on the audience and their reaction – and we know from the get-go, we’ve got a fun night ahead.

Our narrator, Tom Wilson, begins the nights proceedings, and swiftly and deftly carries us through an hour of dark tales centred around ‘Stagger Lee’ and the many murders connected with him. We encounter many characters, all portrayed by Galashan and Connelly, with a change of costume or props – but with such clear characterisations, an audience could easily identify them in an identity parade.

The musical, adapted from the titular album by Nick Cave and the Seeds, has been cleverly created by Gerry Smyth, who also performs a beautiful simple role from the back of the stage, accompanying the cast throughout, with the occasional grunt, which has the audience in hysterics.  Although I was a stranger to the music entering the theatre, I left singing lines from various numbers – a testament to not only the music, but the ingenious adaptation.

It’s somewhat expected from a Fringe show, that a small cast will perform countless roles, as performers and stagehands, and even sometimes musicians. But this is part of the beauty of Murder Ballads – not only do our talented quartet cover a multitude of characters, they also accompany each other on various instruments, dress the set, dress each other. It’s a masterclass in staging and direction, and director Ellie Hurt has outdone herself in highlighting the cast’s skills.

Beware sitting in the front row, or splash zone, as it should be labelled – the wonderful cast are working particularly hard, so expect a little spray in this perfectly intimate venue. And don’t be put off by the slightly slower start to this high octane hour – the opening number is a necessity to the storytelling. Once it’s out of the way, the show kicks up a gear into a high octane, all guns blazing spectacle that should be seen by all audiences.

It’s difficult to highlight any one performer, with Galashan giving a stellar performance in his many roles, both hilarious and terrifying, but it’s Laura Connelly who (yet again!) has me bent over double with her magnificent character portrayals. From crazy bird lady, to deceivingly sweet little Lottie, her ability to embody a role and bring it to life is utterly mesmerising. Add in a stunning vocal performance and a whole heap of natural comedy, and Connelly is a shining beacon at this year’s Festival. Paired with Galashan, they are an unstoppable force in this musical.

With a little rebranding and a better time slot, I think Murder Ballads could be the number one show to see at the Fringe this year – it does everything right, and for an original stage adaption, I defy anyone not to have a killer time with this stupendous cast.

Chris O’Mara

Twitter @aramoc

Review: Anaïs Mitchell in Concert ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐

Music

Anaïs Mitchell in Concert

Queen’s Hall

20:00 (20th August)

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐ (5 stars)

This concert was far from what I had originally expected. Firstly, I did not expect there to be an opening act which in this case was a young musician called Carsie Blanton, whose music I enjoyed very much. All of the songs were different in either subject or energy and it was frankly amazing how many sounds she managed to get out of her guitar. The songs seemed to reflect her own personality and it would be hard to sum up any of them in one word. At one point during her song, ‘Fat and Happy,’ she asked the audience to sing along and took out a kazoo and played it over the top of her guitar. During, ‘Jacket’ she stopped the intro in order to explain what a Swiffer is (a type of mop). It was moments like these that connected her to the audience and made her very likeable and approachable. Blanton managed to link her set list with anecdotes and by being herself which let you appreciate her music within the context that she had written it. Her songs were clever and often had a ‘stream of consciousness’ feel to them, but you can tell that they were written from the heart, and because they are so varied, you are just constantly amazed. A song that is worth mentioning is one called, ‘So Long New Orleans’. This song manages to encapsulate the feeling of homesickness and everyone who has ever left something behind will be touched by this it. ‘American Kid’ is one of the most honest and depressing songs I have ever heard even though it is very upbeat. It describes the American political situation perfectly and is truly a testament of how music can not only be about anything but also how powerful it can be. Carsie Blanton described New Orleans ‘creepy and inspiring’, and you can tell how much the city has informed her music because if anything Blanton’s music is the New Orleans of modern music, in the very best sense. It is beautifully eclectic, and her performance was very fun to watch.

Anaïs Mitchell’s music is also unique in its own way and contrasted nicely to Carsie Blanton’s. Mitchell’s music is perhaps more noticeably folk, and makes you feel like you should be watching a black and white film at the same time. The songs perhaps tell more of a story and it seems like they are part of a larger story. The tuning between songs did mean that it ran less smoothly than Blanton’s set, and when it took too long you could tell that maybe there was perhaps a little panic as Mitchell tried to talk simultaneously. There were a couple of songs from Hadestown – her Tony award winning musical – but the setlist was mostly taken from her work independent from the musical, with the theme of nature running through many of them. It was a little less clear what the songs were about at times, but felt quite eerie and supernatural in the way that they sounded, but in that case you have to wonder whether it’s more important that you understand what is being said or how they made you feel.

The pair stayed away from love songs, and whilst there were a couple, they were different and original to the point where they were almost unrecognisable as such. Each had something new to say and said in a way that was incredibly interesting. They had a unique style which complimented each other whilst simultaneously contrasting. Both used acoustic

guitars but since Anaïs Mitchell had an extra guitar player with her, it allowed her music to occasionally have a bit more depth which suited the performance in the same way that Carsie Blanton’s worked perfectly with just her singing along to her guitar. It was political without being noticeably political, but they did hold a candle to the situation in America and did it so tactfully and logically like that even the most right-wing audience member would not be able to disagree with them. The last song that they sang together was called ‘Deportees’, a protest song about Mexican immigrants fleeing a plane crash in the 1940s and was incredibly moving to the point where there was a hush in the auditorium, and I doubt that there was a dry eye.

This isn’t the type of music that you dance to, you have to sit and let it wash over you. It’s about how it makes you feel more than anything else, and your mind could wander without missing any of the music. The songs encourage feeling and allow your imagination to run away from you.

Katerina Partolina Schwartz (Twitter: @katpschwartz)

Review: Kate Lucas is Selling Herself ⭐⭐⭐⭐

Comedy

Kate Lucas is Selling Herself

Just the Tonic at the Tron

18:20 (ends 25th)

⭐⭐⭐⭐ (4 stars)

The place where Kate Lucas was performing was nice – it was cosy, more relaxed and intimate. Whilst I try not to take into account performance spaces – especially during the Fringe – this one really suited her show. Her performance contained original, funny songs interspersed with anecdotes about her experience of ‘selling herself’ online, mostly in her personal life. Like many comedy routines there was an underlying message. This time it was about what the internet has done to us as a society and how reliable we are on it, but it is relevant none the less. It was a lesson in self-worth and confidence and would make a very good ‘how-to’ guide for those who aren’t completely sure of themselves.

Kate Lucas came off as very friendly, bubbly and overall charming; she got the audience eating out of the palm of her hand very quickly and easily. As this was a show full of audience participation, this is of course key. Whilst I’m not a huge fan of interactive shows and purposefully sit as far away as possible, even I found myself singing along to one of her songs when she asked.

The one part that I didn’t quite understand is when she started bidding off parts of her body. Whilst this fits with the overall theme of ‘selling herself’, considering that most of the routine was about the internet and social media, it just seemed a little out of place. Although it did restore my faith in humanity that nobody was willing to bid on Kate’s privacy and that it was almost like an unspoken rule that violating someone’s privacy is a line that any decent person won’t cross.

Honestly, this show was far from what I expected considering the way it was described and the title itself, but it was a lot of fun. Kate Lucas took an aspect of everyday life and managed to make you think about your own experiences and you became more aware of how you present yourself on social media. This was a new spin on a very well discussed and important topic, and frankly, you can never hear about how Mark Zuckerberg is an awful human being one too many times.

Katerina Partolina Schwartz (Twitter: @katpschwartz)