Review: Alba Flamenca ****

Alba Flamenca

Dance, Physical Theatre and Circus

Alba Flamenca

Aug 20th-26th  

Times vary

**** 4 Stars

The show takes its name from the venue in which it is based – a dance studio with an attached Spanish restaurant and bar. Its atmosphere is cozy and intimate, and the room is packed on a Sunday afternoon. Performers emerge from the back of the audience resplendent in traditional Andalucian dress and take the stage together. The two dancers are Aroa Paredes and Gabi Pouso, while the two singers are Danielo Olivera and Inma Montero, with Pedro Morote and Dani Martinez accompanying them on cajon and guitar, respectively.

Aroa and Gabi dazzle with expertise and pizzazz. They dance with their entire bodies – heads to toes, swishy skirts to decisive facial expressions, and where every finger seems to have a life of its own. Each dancer takes a turn dancing, resting, then dancing again, donning different costumes for the second dances, which are somehow even more energetic than the first. I prefer the second renditions of both dancers, especially Gabi’s, which begins with her sweetly handing keepsakes to audience members and develops into controlled delirium.

Danielo and Inma are gifted singers with amazing range. Their intense love for all things flamenco is confirmed by the conviction with which they sing. Meanwhile Pedro and Dani skilfully contribute to the medley, adding complex beats to the ladies’ rhythmic clapping. I would have preferred more focus on the guitar personally, as the sporadic solos hinted at Dani’s extraordinary expertise. Nonetheless, the musicians and dancers transmit their culture with warmth and zeal, their laments combining with soaring jubilations to paint a red and black landscape of the passions and sorrows of family life.

The style of music and dance demands a pride which is short of arrogance, and instead involves a circular kind of support among performers. They seem very much like a family, with the audience treated as welcome guests at their house. It is refreshing to find performers so in synch with each other that the overall tone is agreeable and complementary, with their smiles genuine and relaxed. I would gladly return for another performance by Alba Flamenca, either within or outwith the Fringe, or perhaps even for a dance lesson!

Review by Joanne Harrison

Review: Nina Conti is Monkey ****

Nina Conti is Monkey

Underbelly, Bristo Square

19.00 until 27th August

**** (4-star)

Nina Conti as an actor, comedian and ventriloquist, as a well-known name she is no stranger to the limelight. I first seen Nina several years ago at the Fringe when she had several puppets and of course the infamous masks.

This time we focus on the one puppet where Nina becomes Monkey, well for the first 20 minutes of the show before getting pulled out of the costume by selected members of the audience.

Some parts of this act were funny while others were basically a human dressed in a monkey suit swearing, staggering around and tripping on stage which meant you were waiting for the real show to start (which started late and finished early)

When it comes to members of the audience selected to join Nina on stage, this is her chance to shine as a ventriloquist when she gives each mask a different accent and personality. On the evening I was there a family of 5 were the chosen ones and it became quite obvious they were fans from the front row who knew how to play along with their body language to match the characters given to them without any instruction from Nina, something I remembered from the first time I saw the act too.

There are things I find quite annoying about the show, from Nina’s constant swooshing of her hair and the giggly innocent manner while Monkey or the masks take on the naughty rude persona, but that being said you cannot help laugh along, entertained and in awe at the different voices that come from Nina.

There is no doubt this is a clever, unique show with great talent and the queue beforehand for a large auditorium proves Nina’s popularity. Arrive early if you want to properly see!

Susan Clark

Review: WHEN YOU FALL DOWN: THE BUSTER KEATON STORY. ***

MUSICALS AND OPERA

WHEN YOU FALL DOWN: THE BUSTER KEATON STORY.

Pleasance Courtyard. Venue 33

August 1st to 27th Not 14th

*** (Three Stars)

James Dangerfield performs here, and he has written the music and lyrics, with arrangements by Martyn Stringer.

It is a very lively, entertaining and sympathetic show, where James Dangerfield takes seven days that are key to Buster Keaton’s career across the years, and takes us into the events of those dates, along with Keaton’s feelings and reactions ton what is happening.

Songs are the backbone of the show, and each day has its song or songs. These are expressive and very engaging, and Dangerfield has a good voice and delivery. There are also spoken sections and clips from films, with reference of course to The General and to the iconic scene where a house falls down around Keaton. James Dangerfield includes a few falls of his own, and his use of movement is one of the delights of the show.

As we go through Keaton’s career we see him optimistic but struggling, getting attention for the first time, supporting his friend Arbuckle with his legal problems, talking to his fiancée then wife, spending vast amounts on house building, and enjoying success, but then fearing the loss of freedom to organize his projects as he wishes. His artistic freedom is reduced as he moves to Metro Goldwyn Mayer.

I felt this show took a little while to warm up, but as we became more involved in the life and work and began to move through the days, we became more and more caught up in what was happening, and there were both laughs and emotional involvement.

James Dangerfield is a very effective and lively performer, who gives a voice of much vitality and interest to the man who was notoriously silent. Most of the audience were familiar with the subject, I am sure, but will have found it very enjoyable to experience this brief but vivid exploration of the complicated life of a man who gave joy to millions.

Tony Challis

Review: Late Night Lip Service *****

Late Night Lip Service

Cabaret and Variety

Gilded Balloon Rose Theatre – Main Theatre

Aug 24th-25th

00:00

***** 5 Stars

Waiting in the rain for an hour while firemen check Rose Street Theatre for flames is never the ideal way to start a show, but I can hardly fault the producers for this unfortunate anomaly and I’m begrudgingly pleased that our safety is their priority. Once happily seated, albeit soggily, Gingzilla is the unashamed star of this show. She wears her provocative demeanour with pride, has consistently magnificent hair, and her many creative exploits between acts often steal the spotlight. I particularly enjoy her slip-and-slide paint-party, in addition to her popping the balloons which coalesce to form her costume.

Gingzilla hosts the audience interactions – a ‘lip synch for your life’ and a catwalk. Keen volunteers battle for supremacy, with crowd participation the collective judge. In this case, clear victors emerge almost instantaneously in both events. This does nothing to lower the entertainment value though, as the winners are outstanding and a joy to watch. They could also be fellow Fringe performers, but the overall effect is one of even more bang for our bucks, so nobody seems to mind.

The first feature presentation on the Saturday night I attend is the Scottish female rap trio The Honey Farm, who usually blow me away with their smart, scrappy, satirical lyrics. This sit-down gig suggests their fun and bouncy beats best suit a dancing crowd though. I’m also unconvinced by their choice of songs, with both of them relying on a particular word for comic effect. However, those who don’t have the benefit of comparison love The Honey Farm and they are undoubtedly an interesting inclusion in the show.

Danny Beard is up next, with the type of act perhaps more predicted by the crowd. His strip-tease as James Bond may not be particularly original, but it is a lot of fun, and Danny is proficient at entertaining.

Johnny Woo sets the next scene with a cheeky rendition of “What you think you looking at, faggot?”, getting the audience singing along with gusto. One of the many highlights of the night is when Johnny resolves a conflict with a wayward drunkard, who doesn’t obey his instructions when invited on stage for a dance. The situation is resolved with grace and strength, and the quality of the lap dance procured by the second (more obedient) guest surely has the discarded man kicking himself for missing out.

Jesus L’Oreal Christ oozes charm from the moment they appear looking suspiciously like Buddy Christ from the film Dogma – all beaming grin, flowing robes and fluffy halo of hair. The subsequent striptease therefore feels deliciously sinful – like polishing off a massive slice of Devil’s Food Cake. It is the right amount of titillating and libidinous and its final image – a small pink light, resplendent in the dark – lingers on.

Calvin Arsenia and his percussionist set the show ablaze (metaphorically speaking – we didn’t have to recall the firemen) as the final act of the evening. Calvin, on harp and vocals, is an empress. Her manner is stately and distinguished, and the tenderness in her renditions of popular songs transforms them into modern and unfamiliar material. It is the perfect end to Late Night Lip Service – tasteful, yet still suggestive. I walk back out into the rain gladly, on a giant high. 

Joanne Harrison

Review: Rent ****

Rent

Musicals & Opera (theatre)

Guilded Balloon, Rose St

17.15 until 26th August

(****) 4 star

Rent is a world-famous and much-loved Broadway Musical, and although I’m a massive musical theatre fan, it’s one I hadn’t yet seen, so what a better way than to first experience the musical than by the well reputed Captivate Theatre.

The rock opera tells the story of a group of Bohemians struggling in the East Village of New York and dealing with their lives and loves while also living under the shadow of AIDS.

On arriving at the small intimate theatre, I noticed all the seating was flat but hoped it would not impair my view of the performance as I was quite far back. Unfortunately, my initial concerns were correct and I really couldn’t see much of what was happening on the stage unless a cast member was on the step ladder prop. The small venue had been taken into consideration throughout the performance and the cast would often be on each side of the aisles which compensated for the lack of visibility on the stage and sounded vocally amazing when they were all involved in one of the many ballads.

This version of Rent is certainly a no-frills amateur production with minimal props, but with the moving story line, energy and talent of the cast who you can only be filled with admiration for you can’t really go wrong as it’s them who give this version of Rent, the WOW factor.

Outstanding vocals, emotional and funny, Rent by the Captivate Theatre is well spent time at the Edinburgh Fringe, just make sure you get front row seats.

Susan Clark

Review: Henna *****

Spoken Word

Henna

Scottish Storytelling Centre, v30

19.30 (ends 19 August)

***** (5 stars)

This is the second wedding celebration I’ve been to this Fringe – so different and yet so similar: tears and smiles, happiness for the young couple tinged with sadness that a daughter and son are leaving their respective families to start a new life together, and a huge celebration with music and dancing

This time we are invited to be guests at a Sikh wedding by our hosts, uncle and nephew Peter and Gorg Chand, dressed in splendid gold-embroidered tunics. Bollywood-sounding music plays as they invite us to take our seats and join them and the family of the bride as she and her girlfriends have the traditional henna patterns applied to the palms of their hands: paint it on thickly, please – a bride doesn’t do any housework or chores until the decoration has completely gone.

The matchmaker considers himself the most important part of the wedding preparations – isn’t he the one responsible for “two become one”? One day, a matchmaker was on his way to the wedding, carrying a sack of fragrant rice. He lost his way and found himself face to face with a sleek and hungry leopard: but he and the leopard didn’t become one…and so the stories begin.

The matchmakers – ‘uncle’ and ‘auntie’ – invite us into the wedding house, easily identified by the streams of blue LED lights decorating it. Auntie knows that it’s the matchmaker’s wife who is the most important part of the wedding – she knows everything about everyone. She is sure to check whether you are still studying, or have finished and are thus another candidate for her services – and has to make sure that all the preparations are as they should be. The food is all prepared, the blankets in their transparent storage packs on one side, the piles of new pots and pans on the other – shall we go upstairs and join the bride-to-be? While the henna artist applies the traditional patterns which are handed down generation to generation, what better way to pass the time than telling stories?

In a mixture of English and Punjabi, Peter and Gorg weave together the story of the wedding and traditional tales which they’ve collected from their own family. Some of these they’ve heard in full, others they have re-imagined from fragments they’ve been told at different times. The storytelling is among the best I’ve ever heard – the wedding comes alive for us, we feel as if we really are present in the room while the henna is being applied, in the wedding in the gurdwara, and back home again at the wedding house. We are an integral part of all that is going on and very welcome guests. We even join in the dancing, having been taught simple Bollywood moves that are linked to the various parts of the wedding celebrations – paint on the henna, clear away the blankets, shake the bangles, take the photos, shout Hai hai hai and then do your own thing. It was an exhilarating way to end the evening, and we went singing out into the night.

An old Scottish proverb says The story is told eye to eye, mind to mind and heart to heart. It’s an active two-way process into which we are drawn by the storytellers, and invited to contribute by our presence, our reactions, and our willingness to engage. Henna was a triumph of magnificent storytelling, a perfect illustration of the proverb. The run ended on Sunday: but I’ll definitely be looking out for these two master-storytellers next year!

Mary Woodward

Review: That’s What She Said ****

That’s What She Said

Spoken Word

Scottish Poetry Library – Mezzanine Level

Aug 18th

19:30

**** 4 Stars

For Books’ Sake is the organisation behind ‘That’s What She Said’, a series of events which tours the UK promoting women writers. This feminist spoken word ensemble graced the stage of the Scottish Poetry Library this week with three individual shows. The final show of the series featured three talented poets – Emma McGordon, Victoria McNulty and Leyla Josephine – preceded by an open mic.

Salena Godden was the host of the Saturday night show; she skilfully roused the well-heeled rabble into rapturous applause despite her Fringe-driven exhaustion. Unfortunately, a late start and a break which ran over its allotted time contributed to an event which finished half an hour later than it was supposed to, which was already a healthy two hours. I had to race to my next show due to this tardiness, so I have to deduct a star on behalf of my calf muscles. A slightly more careful approach to timings wouldn’t have gone amiss.

Despite this minor inconvenience, That’s What She Said was a roaring success. The open mic was eclectic in style and subject matter. Opening the show was Elizabeth McGeowan, who delivered her punchy political poetry about delicate topics, such as the recent trial in Belfast involving national rugby players accused of rape, with tact and nerve. Following Elizabeth was one of my favourite performers of the night – Ellen Starbuck. Her screenplay elicited many chuckles, while conveying a multi-faceted character and exposing sexist movie tropes. The final open mic poet, Alissa Anne Jeun Yi, provided another fresh poetic style, with humorous reflections on commuting-while-introverted and flirty Fringe flyering.

The night’s feature presentations kicked off with multi-award-winning poet from the Lake District, Emma McGordon. Her poem about the infamous section 28 resonated with a strong sense of injustice, specifically the silent injustice of growing up unaware of the political policies which restricted your ability to know yourself. The second feature was a name I recognised but had not yet had the pleasure of seeing, Victoria McNulty. Her Glaswegian inflections matched her no-nonsense subject matter and her piece about supporting women who suffer from domestic violence offered an emotive alternative to a Burns Night ‘Toast to the Lassies’. I’ll be keeping an eye out for Victoria’s performances next time I’m in Glasgow.

As a headliner, Leyla Josephine is cool and collected. I’ve enjoyed seeing Leyla perform in the past and was looking forward to seeing her again, especially after hearing her stirring poem ‘I think she was a she’ at a rally leading up to the Irish abortion referendum. An amusing highlight of her set was an inquiry into vaginas – a fine example of how spoken word poetry has the power to present a novel or unusual idea (in this case, the idea that vaginas should be actively celebrated) in a format which is both accessible and grandiloquent. It is precisely this mingling of simplicity and extravagance I look for in a poet and Leyla certainly does not disappoint.

Review by Joanne Harrison

Review: Gie’s Peace ****

Theatre

Gie’s Peace

Scottish Storytelling Centre, v30

13.00 (18-19, 24-25 August)

**** (4 stars)

A full house in the small intimate setting of the Storytelling Centre’s George Mackay Brown library welcomed Morna Burden as she slipped from behind a screen and launched straight into her first song, a lullaby with a difference, written in 1958 by Nancy Nicholson. Mushroom cloud and heavy water and the lively refrain beginning merrily, merrily nuclear power plunged us straight into the brilliantly black humour with which women have creatively waged peace in a world which is seeing an ever-increasing proliferation of wars.

Morna told the stories of women of all ages who in their own way have tried to bring peace to situations and protest against the stupidity of war. Sadako Sasaki was a young Japanese girl who died from leukaemia in 1955, ten years after she was caught in the fall-out from the atomic bomb that targeted Hiroshima. She folded over 1,000 paper cranes while in hospital, and her story has inspired people all round the world to join a movement which began with her schoolmates and resulted in the erection of the Children’s Peace Monument in Hiroshima Peace Park in 1958. Buffy Sainte-Marie, a young First Nation Canadian woman, was shocked by the soldiers she saw returning from the Vietnam War: at a time when the horrors of that war were being denied, she wrote the powerful Universal soldier. Artist Jill Gibbons disguises herself in smart suits and appropriate jewellery and infiltrates arms fairs, where she makes art deriding the civilised veneer of the whole arms industry, which denies that it sells products designed to kill and maim, preferring instead to protest it is purveying “defence and hospitality”.

Fellow-Quaker Penny Stone went with a choir to Palestine, to sing to and show solidarity with Palestinian people and on her return home talk about it “to anyone who would listen”. When the choir went with the local people to attempt to reach their fields their way was blocked by Israeli armed forces: as they were fleeing from tear gas, chemical stuff and rubber bullets, she realised she was singing a song sung originally by members of the LGBT community, but later adopted by many other protest movements, We are a gentle, angry people, which has the refrain and we’re singing, singing for our lives…

Morna met another of my fellow-Quakers, Beth Cross, in the Boundary Bar which straddles the Leith-Edinburgh border, and heard how she, while at university in Annapolis, Maryland, intended simply to support for a week a peace walk that started in California – but found herself joining this World Peace Walk and travelling through Scotland, England, and much of Europe. A song often sung on the walk was Eric Anderson’s Thirsty Boots. And then, of course, there was Greenham Common, and Helen John who found her life transformed by her involvement in the women’s camp. My favourite song has to be Lily of the Arc Lights – sung to the woman with the bolt-cutters, beside whom the singer is attacking the perimeter fence, this is a wonderfully anarchic rewrite of Lili Marlene. Its fantastic rhymes and dauntless spirit made me laugh out loud and salute the women who could be so brave in the face of very real danger, carrying out civil disobedience because they simply couldn’t stand by and do nothing,

Morna sings simply, and her songs come straight from her heart: in the interest of accuracy, the stories she tells are read from a folder – but she is continually interjecting her own and others’ experience, which stops them being dull factual monologues. It might be helpful to have a brief ‘fact sheet’ of names and dates to take away with us as we leave, to help us remember – but the overall impression on leaving the venue was of the courage and determination of so many people, which gives hope and lifts us above the sadness of the refrain to Pete Seeger’s song Where have all the flowers gone? – WHEN WILL WE EVER LEARN???

Mary Woodward

Review: Tea with ‘Mr Jenners’ *****

Events

Tea with ‘Mr Jenners’

Valvona & Crolla Scottish Food Hall@Jenners, v42

13.00, 15.00 (ends 25 August, not Sundays)

***** (5 stars)

What a positively splendid afternoon I have just had in the company of “Mr Jenners” and the lovely Miss MacDonald, taking afternoon tea in the company of good folk from Aberlady, Edinburgh and Essex. The spread was delightful – four types of sandwiches, Dundee and cherry cake, shortbread, small fruit tarts, macarons, and delectable scones with cream and jam accompanied a seemingly unending supply of Mr Brodie’s special blend tea [available to purchase from Mr Jenner’s remarkable ‘department store’ – such a novel innovation!].

During our time together we were regaled by Mr Jenner with the history of the store and its development from humble beginnings. He and the more mature Mr Kennington travelled to Scotland from Kent with the idea of starting a drapers’ business in Edinburgh, and a lucky bet on a horse at the Musselburgh races enabled them to set up their first store on the corner of Princes Street in what was then a residential district of the city. Despite a disastrous fire in 1892 which almost completely destroyed the building, the store continued trading, all the 120 workers [none of whom was harmed in the fire] being housed in Duddingston Lodge, Mr Jenners’ own elaborate mansion in Portobello past which I have travelled so many times on the no 44 bus, unaware of its history. The new building that arose like a Phoenix from the flames was designed to be the first thing that visitors saw when they emerged from Waverley Station – and indeed, the fame of Jenner’s store brings visitors to it, even today, from the far-flung corners of the earth.

From Miss Macdonald, who continually replenished our cups with more of that delectable tea, we learned what it was like to work for Mr Jenner – how the women were housed on the top floor of the building, while the men lived several floors below; how fraternising between the sexes was strictly forbidden, except in the case of siblings or other relatives; and how the women worked far longer hours for half the money the men earned! But by all accounts it was a good place to work, with Mr Jenner fully aware of the value of keeping the business in the family from the point of view of staff as well as owner: if a female employee left to raise a family, their name would be note and their children guaranteed a job at the store when they reached the age of thirteen or so, at which time it was customary for young people to start work.

It was under the influence and advice of his female staff [and, no doubt, that of his wife Louise] that what had begun as a draper’s store, selling fabric and haberdashery items, gradually became one of the first of the newly-emerging “department stores” in which one could buy anything one fancied or needed without the inconvenience of leaving the premises. What with electric lighting, air conditioning, and pneumatic lifts, Jenners was the place to go shopping – why, they even had chairs on the shop floor so that one could rest while waiting for other members of the party to conclude their purchases!

All credit to Valvona & Crolla’s Elm Street premises for the scrumptious baking, to Mary Contini for devising another excellent, and congratulations to Finlay Watt and Bronte Fraser on their performances as master and maidservant – particularly Bronte, who was able to keep us well-informed and well-fed during our delightful hour in the impressive surroundings of the original board room of Jenners.

Mary Woodward

Review: 3am Waitress *****

3am Waitress

Dance, Physical Theatre and Circus

C Venues – C South, Main Theatre

Aug 18th to 27th

19:10

***** 5 Stars

3am Waitress is an original piece by RoguePlay, a Birmingham-based theatre company seeking to engage audiences in unconventional ways. Laura Vanhulle plays the eponymous waitress, sentenced to purgatory at a diner at the end of the world. She knocks over sugar dispensers due to extreme fatigue, sweeps up the sugar, and listens to the radio. As the radio on the diner table crackles with static, this acts as an interlude between music and the inventive and dreamlike poetry of Lorna Meehan.

I can’t decide which I enjoy more – the dancing or the poetry. Laura and her co-performer Tim Clarke artfully blend many dance styles, creating stunning displays of strength and grace. More risky maneuvers and stunts, such as the pair counterbalancing on rickety tables or a stack of disused car tires, makes me momentarily worry for their safety. It all works out in the end though, leaving me impressed and entertained.

Meanwhile, an ethereal voice-over tells the story of the 3am Waitress, recounting her feelings and thoughts as she struggles to find the energy to continue her tedious tasks, or alternatively break free from her drudgery. Lorna’s words manage to sound sepia-tinged, yet still transgressive. They allow the waitress’s yarn to be spun with sadness, from studying an unromantic and repetitious present, while retaining soft hope for a better future, involving fortuitous connections and expansions of possibilities.

A strong sense of loneliness (from being detached from the world as well as one’s true desires) is reported beautifully by the physical movements of the performers, as well as the minimalist staging and creative use of sugar. The pattern of spilling, sweeping, then messing up the sweet stuff with fast feet and exuberant play causes me to consider the attempts we make to order our lives, and control our reactions to our lives, only to find various ways to mess them up again with mischievous, life-enhancing chaos.

There is a certain amount of intrigue involved with a show involving an unclear narrative or setting. Is this a real place? Or is it a memory, a movie, or a dream? It doesn’t feel important to know. The finale, featuring a striking aerial silk performance and a single word uttered by the 3am Waitress, leaves me in a charged state of vitality and reverie. I will be thinking about the meaning of that word for some time. 

Review by Joanne Harrison