Review: DIETRICH: NATURAL DUTY  ****

THEATRE

DIETRICH: NATURAL DUTY 

Pleasance Courtyard (Venue 33)

August 1st to 27th (not 13th)

**** Four Stars

Marlene Dietrich a legend in in music and in entertainment, and is highly regarded for her role in the Second World War. She left her native Germany, despite her fears for her mother left behind in Berlin, and became Captain Dietrich, entertaining the troops at the front as a member of the American forces.

This stunning performance by Peter Groom as Dietrich covers the years from the thirties, the darkness covering Germany, Marlene’s interview with Goebbels, her service during the war, and the time immediately after the war. We hear many of the famous songs – yes, you will hear Lili Marlene and many others – and we learn much about the star’s life as she agrees to be questioned by a voice-over journalist whom she at first bats away.

The joy of this show is Peter Groom’s immaculate impersonation of Dietrich. Tall and slender, in a shimmering gold dress down to the ground, with wonderful facial control and the eyes and look that we all recall, he simply becomes the star, and we are all completely absorbed in this beautiful illusion

Peter Groom is an actor, dancer and choreographer, but has been working in drag only since 2016. He and director Oliver Gully are to be congratulated on a seamless and intoxicating and so very professional production. For the reasons why Dietrich is for a good many a gay icon you had best research elsewhere, but I have already heard a number of gay men comment warmly and emotionally about this show around town.

If you take the opportunity to see this show you will surely learn why they respond in that way.

Tony Challis.

Review: The Dragon and the Whales ****

Children’s Shows

The Dragon and the Whales

Assembly Roxy, v139

12.00 (ends 27 August, not Mon 13, 20)

**** (4 stars)

Charming and effective – it kept an audience of previously wailing and fidgeting small children quiet and absorbed for 45 minutes – no mean feat!

A dragon lives all alone on an island in the middle of the sea. One day she flies too far and fears she will drown, but is rescued by a friendly whale who carries her back to her island. After this, she knows who it is who sings every evening as the sun sets – it’s her friends the whales. A dragon only lays one egg in her lifetime, and we are fortunate to be present at its ‘birth’ – but this gloriously glittery golden egg is targeted by pirates, and the dragon has to fly away with it. It falls into the sea, where its hatching is watched by the whales who adopt the baby dragon into their pod. Aware that she is different [for one thing, she can’t sing in tune!] it is nonetheless a long time before a chain of circumstances reveal her true identity and she can live the life she was born to – while never forgetting her friends the whales.

There was much humour in the show as well as plenty of imagination. A clever mix of words and action, puppetry and shadow-play, with a few songs thrown in for good measure and a gentle soundtrack of music, sea sounds, and whale song, kept things moving along. I was impressed by the inventive use of props, especially the means of presenting a fantastic range of under-sea creatures [I particularly loved the squid] and the songs were informative as well as fun – did you know the blue whale has a heart the size of a car?

Modest Predicament are a Glasgow-based theatre company: I have tried, but failed, to find the names of the two actors who presented this imaginative show: a pity, as their names deserve to be known! Alas, I must celebrate the energy and enthusiasm of Anonymous Boy and Anonymous Girl – who were very good at engaging their young audience, and very lively and engaging in themselves, whether being concerned midwives to the mother dragon, or pirates with questionable personal hygiene intent on stealing the dragon’s egg. I think my only reservation is that one of the songs regarded a dragon as “something much more splendid” than a blue whale, which rather jarred in an otherwise excellent production.

The show was a sell-out today, and judging by the audience reaction it was appreciated by people of all ages – so hurry and get your ticket!

Mary Woodward

Review: Circa: Wolfgang ****

Children’s Shows

Circa: Wolfgang

Underbelly’s Circus Hub on the Meadows, v360

14.00 (ends 25 August, not Mondays)

**** (4 stars)

A girl sits alone, celebrating her birthday – she has bought herself a tiny cake, and a party hat, and a present: she keeps going to the front door, hoping that someone will appear to help her celebrate. Sadly she opens her present to herself – it’s an LP of Mozart’s music: she puts them on her record player and begins to listen and suddenly Wolfgang himself comes out of her fridge…

Wordless physical humour and impressive acrobatic skills make for a thoroughly entertaining hour in the Underbelly’s circus tent. Balances, contortions, dressing while riding a bicycle, a slow motion fight, a conductor wrestling first with his music stand and then with escaping batons, and for a finale an astonishing balancing act involving a table, four champagne bottles, three chairs and one extremely agile acrobat add up to an excellent hour’s entertainment which kept a large number of children and their adults entertained.

Would I have found it as entertaining without Mozart’s music – a combination of a recorded soundtrack and an accordionist in a gold, angelic-winged onesie? Possibly not – for me there was the added fun of identifying the pieces used, including the clarinet quintet and concerto, a flute quartet, voi che sapete, the Queen of the Night’s aria and the famous horn concerto passage made immortal by Flanders & Swann [llok it up and quote]

The performers [whose names I have tried but failed to find] were engaging, extremely talented, and excellent at getting us involved: there much giggling and laughter, a lot of oohs and has, and applause throughout – a lovely way to spend an hour on a sunny afternoon on the Meadows.

Mary Woodward

Review: Underground Railroad Game ****

Theatre

Underground Railroad Game

Traverse Theatre, v15

Various (ends 26 August, not Mondays, not 25)

**** (4 stars)

Oh my! I’m not sure what I was expecting with this show, but it certainly wasn’t what I found in front of me – and at close range, because I and my gammy knees had been admitted by the accessible route and given a seat blessedly not on the very front row, but more than close enough to what was going on [and coming off!] on stage… I guess the one positive I can take from a too-close encounter with full-frontal male nudity, is that I really do prefer relationships with women!

The Underground Railroad, for those of you who don’t know, was an organisation which assisted escaped slaves to travel from the South of America across the Mason-Dixon Line into the freedom of the Union in the North and to Canada. Abolitionists, who included many Quakers, provided safe house refuges for the escapees and helped them on their way to the next safe house. The show began with one such [black] female escapee looking for shelter in a barn, only to be discovered by a [white] farmer: screaming in terror, it took him some time, and the use of the secret password – Sojourner – to calm and reassure her that he was a Quaker and would help her to the nearest town, Hanover, which was near the Mason-Dixon Line.

The two then named themselves Teacher Caroline and Teacher Stuart, and welcomed us to Hanover Middle School, where we were about to start several weeks’ immersion in the American Civil War. We were divided into Union and Confederate soldiers and given the project either of [Union] getting slave dolls in the safe house in each classroom into safe houses in the other four classrooms, when they would have reached Canada or [Confederate] capturing the escapees to return them to slavery. Points would be awarded for each captured or freed slave – which army would win the war this time?

So far, so good: fairly simple, quite amusing – Jennifer Kidwell and Scott R Sheppard were excellent as the teachers: eagle-eyed for any lack of attention or misbehaviour, and in a very cheery American way whipping up our enthusiasm for the exciting few weeks ahead of us. As they were addressing us, they kept catching each other’s eye – was there something going on here, we wonder? Suddenly they were dancing – a full Strictly routine to Misty – after which, walking along the sidewalk after a cinema trip, they gradually moved into full flirting mode, which at first went well…

And that’s where it started to get increasingly uncomfortable – at least for me, though many people found the whole thing hilarious. I wonder what the gender and skin colour were of those who were laughing loudest? Quite apart from the nudity and pretty graphic enactments of various sex acts, much of the language was uncomfortably near abuse, as were the humiliation and stereotypically racial attitudes and language: certainly much of the action was violent and at times abusive. American reviews of the show called it “in all ways sensational” [New York Times] and “fearlessly, ferociously uninhibited, and wildly entertaining“ [New Yorker] and the audience today laughed a lot and gave the actors a standing ovation: but someone near me was overheard wondering whether the Americans behind her had got the point at all… were they simply applauding nudity and simulated sex, or cheering a no-holds-barred exploration of our assumptions around race, gender, and sexual politics?

This is a profoundly uncomfortable show, magnificently performed by its creators: if you can get a ticket, go and make up your own mind…

Mary Woodward

Review: Bugsy Malone *****

Bugsy Malone

Musicals & Opera (musical theatre, family)

Friday 10th August

16.35

Paradise in Augustine’s

***** Five Star 

Bugsy Malone is a 1976 musical gangster comedy film. Set in New York City, it is a spoof of gangster movies in which a cast made up entirely of children singing and dancing their way around the prohibition-era where wiped cream pies and guns are used instead of bullets and this theatre production is true to the movie with whipped cream filling the stage as the two rival gangs go head to head .

Bugsy Malone is the narrator and the quality of acting not to mention singing, dancing and musical talent from all the young cast will leave you in awe. The delivery is energetic and humorous as these talented young stars take on this slap stick comedy.

The feel of the stage set takes you back to 1920s with the flapper era in place. it’s quite the nostalgia-fest for us of a certain age who remember the film version the first time around or those who grew up with the movie. Familiar songs come at a pace in this show, including Fat Sam’s Grand Slam; My Name Is Tallulah and So You Wanna Be a Boxer

By the end of the performance, everyone is singing along to Good Guys and the room is filled with a feel-good vibe. If you loved the movie then you will love this performance. This family-friendly show is full of good, clean fun! If only it were on for the whole fringe I am sure it would be a sell-out. Let’s hope they will be back next year.

Susan Clark

Review: Tipping the Velvet ****

Tipping the Velvet

Theatre, comedy, music

The Space & Niddry Street

15.05 until 11th August

**** 4 Star

The coming of age story of Nancy Astley aka Nan King and Kitty Butler from the novel by Sarah Waters, though not all of the production remains true to original so die hard fans beware, however this interpretation delivers an outstanding performance that cannot fail to impress.

With the set and costumes, the stage is brought to life as the 1890’s. We are lead through the tale by our narrators, an Englishman, Irishman and Scots man, their role is to keep us up to date with the story as it enters the different stages and this is done with much humour and wit.

Most of us will know the plot of “Tipping the Velvet” but here is a quick version. Nancy Astley is fascinated with the music hall, well mostly her favourite act, Kitty Butler. Nancy and Kitty Butler initially form a friendship which then develops to more and they become a successful double act on stage, but when Kitty betrays Nancy she finds herself trying to survive in an unknown world, and we are taken through her life’s adventures.

The original work was highly praised for its portrayal of lesbians in the 1890’s, a subject of which little evidence exists and there is a strong message about the oppression of women. Marking the centenary of women’s right to vote, there is a strong message in this production.

Dark, witty and insightful with an extremely talented cast who will take you through the world of 19th-century Music Hall and the fight for women’s rights

Susan Clark

Review: Sweeney Todd, Demon Barber of Fleet Street ****

Sweeney Todd, Demon Barber of Fleet Street

Musicals & Opera (horror)

The Space @ Surgeon’s Hall until Sunday 19th August

22.00

**** 4 star 

Almost forty years since Sweeney Todd made its debut on Broadway and ten years since the film came out, and this production is just as good as either of these. Ethereal Theatre returning to the fringe with an iconic musical where Todd’s bloodthirsty world will come alive in a late-night spectacle. A musical period horror tells the tale of Sweeney Todd an English barber and serial killer who murders his customers using a razor, with the help of his sinister accomplice, Mrs Lovett. Todd’s thirst for blood inspires the addition of a secret ingredient into Lovett’s meat pies that has the people of London queuing up for more.

With minimal props used very successfully including the infamous barber’s chair, it’s the energy from the cast that is the success of the show with each musical number performed beautifully no matter what the singing challenge. A dark and chilling atmosphere is created with the perfect amount of black humour. Of all of the cast, Mrs Lovett played by Ciara Waterfield particularly shone through for me perfecting the cunning and obsessive ways of the character.

Two hours without an interval in sauna-like conditions was pretty hard going but despite these flaws the production is enjoyable and all in all fantastic.

If you like musicals, theatre and horror then book your tickets before it’s too late and attend Sweeney Todd.

Fantastic show with powerful acting and amazing singing voices, the cast are mesmerising.

Susan Clark

Review: Jo Caulfield: Killing Time *****

Jo Caulfield: Killing Time

The Stand Comedy Club (venue 3 & 4)

9th to 26th August, excluding the 13th & 20th

19.40

***** 5 Star

Jo Caulfield is a regular at the Edinburgh Fringe and now a local to a neighbourhood in the City so it’s fair to say she knows a thing or two about the comedy festival, this year’s show is called “Killing Time”

Jo focuses on drawing from her own experiences and anything that irritates her as well as poking fun at the audience, watch out silver fox gentlemen! She engages perfectly with the audience with her warm personality and relatability creating the perfect connection for encouraging interaction.

With an easy to listen to voice, this is a show I could see again and again. With Jo’s quick-witted responses to audience participation, she was always on point and never went off track, she has the expertise to always adapt to her audience.

Brilliantly hilarious and witty, or in the words of my companion “that was Funny as Fuck” we could not stop crying with laughter as Jo shared stories of holidays, hobbies, relationships and people she has met along the way.

The show is entertaining with a relaxed vibe but still had a little element of shock and Jo genuinely looks like she is having a great time along the audience.

The room was filled with laughter with a mix of adults of different ages. If you appreciate dry wit and sarcasm then you will most definitely appreciate “Killing Time”

If you want to laugh pretty much non-stop for an hour and want a local comedian then do not miss this show.

Susan Clark

Review: Pickle Jar ****

Pickle Jar

Theatre/Comedy

Underbelly Cowgate – Big Belly

Aug 8-13, 15-26

16:40

4 Star

Pickle jar is the one-woman show of Maddie Rice, who was recently on tour with the show Fleabag. For the most part its a Miranda-style monologue of a school teacher who is awkward, a bit crazy and just trying to get down with the kids.

Step aside from this and you get a much darker story telling the tale of a death and rape much more reminiscent of 13 reasons why than Miranda. It’s a back and forth story which delves into a couple of months in the very dramatic story of the teacher’s life. From the cutesy moments describing her relationships with fellow teachers and acquaintances, there’s a very adorable innocence about the stories, leaving a broad smile on your face.

The message is clear, it tackles rape and suicide in a way you are more prone to seeing on an episode of Casualty rather than a comedy show. Often Maddie would brilliantly act out other characters in the storyline, with fantastic acting, she can easily do the job of a cast of 10. I really don’t think the smile left my face once during the comedy and was impressed by Maddie’s stamina and dedication to the characters she portrayed.

I started to question whether or not, as a male, I could relate to her stories of woman struggles, but you know what I did. The characters she portrayed each had a familiarity to them like the story happened in any school in any town.

The show left a lot unanswered however It was funny, creative and a real new level of brilliance for Maddie Rice.

Taylor Crockett

Review: More Moira Monologues *****

More Moira Monologues

Theatre/Comedy Spoken Word

Scottish Storytelling Centre

Aug 8-11

20:00

***** 5 Stars

I grew up on a council estate, full of odd characters, mostly families who stayed there their entire lives, I remember the strong women who lead these households, bold, confident and normally absolutely off there rockers. Watching Moira Bell was a complete flashback to these women. The show came across my desk as a recommendation and without even doing much research I went to the show and boy, am I glad I did. The show I saw was a follow up to the show done earlier on in the day, I didn’t know this, however, I certainly will be returning to see the prologue simply entitled. Moira Monologues.

Don’t worry if you don’t see the first one as the second starts fresh and is absolutely fantastic. The solo lead Moria delivers monologues in a way where you feel like she is personally talking to you and you alone. Centred around Moira telling stories to her closest and oldest friend, she delves into the life of a granny living in Falkirk Sharing memoirs of her grandson, thieving down the local and a very interesting story of a drug-filled night with her sister. You almost forget it is not actually a middle-aged woman in front of you and actually Alan Bisset, who stars and also writes this ingenious comedy. This truly is Scottish comedy at its finest and recommended for all.

There are no fancy costumes, no drag makeup, no elaborate probs, simply a man on a stage with a table, chair, blanket and a copy of OK magazine. This simplicity really allows you to focus on the brilliant comedy which will have you in floods of tears. The comedy pushes the boundaries of what is PC yet in a way that doesn’t make you feel unconvertable.

Overall the show is my absolute favourite so far and I really hope there are more and more Moira Monologues.

Taylor Crockett