Archive for category David Randall
David’s favourite shows so far this year are:
And No More Shall We Part (review)
Despite the best of efforts, I simply couldn’t hold my tears back. Two phenomenal performances from Bill Paterson and Dearbhla Molloy, and a shatteringly moving play not to be missed.
An Evening With Dementia (review)
As something very close to my heart, I was utterly absorbed by it. A master-class in acting from Trevor T. Smith.
Fresh and engaging, reassuring us that something comic can also be cathartic. Very sad in places, very funny in others- ultimately uplifting.
After seeing the programme, and sitting through the first five minutes, I began to wonder what the hell I had walked in on. This was not what I was expecting. Clearly this was just me, as, rather reminiscent of its title; it had a bit of a cult following in the audience.
I don’t usually like big, camp musicals. I’m almost embarrassed to say this, but I actually really enjoyed Appointment With The Wicker Man. I’d almost go so far as to say it was genius. No, really. Well, maybe not genius, but very clever at least. It was a perfect pastiche, and capable of drawing real belly-laughs out of the audience- and consistently. Its fast-paced and extremely witty (and very often crude) exterior was hiding what was a very well calculated and well-planned narrative, as well as brilliant characters and strong musical numbers.
It was Monty Python-esque in its whimsy and silliness, and with caricatures likely to be found in The Young Ones or Bottom… as well as an uncanny twin of Rik Mayall in one of the leading roles. Its influences were obvious, but this did not mar its capacity to entertain and realise the importance of a good story as well as the jokes and diversity of characters. I cannot think of anything better to cheer you up this Fringe, and I should know, I’ve seen some very gloomy (but brilliant) pieces here.
If anything, its momentum slows towards the end, and tries to almost outsmart itself, which I felt was unnecessary, and it should have finished while it peaked, but this is a minor criticism. It’s physical energy remained at a constant level, and kept the laughs coming. Definitely worth a watch, even if it’s not high end art. In fact, sometimes the best art is what makes us laugh- and this certainly will not disappoint in that department.
We are led into what seems to be a large, vacuous room, but once seated, the sound of a metronome, teeth against wine glasses and tapping feet begins a buzzing atmosphere which is unfaltering for the next hour. What follows is a violent, disorientating journey, performed with elegance and style.
I have to confess something. I didn’t really follow what was going on. There wasn’t any obvious plot to Teatr Zar’s physical theatre, and yet this seemed irrelevant. What was obvious was the enormity of its power, and the untameable sounds and movements from the eerie musicians and breathtaking dancers. It addresses almost every sense, and had the fantastic ability to frighten us, as well as charm us with streaks of humour throughout.
If there is any negative criticism, it is that perhaps it felt too self-indulgent. I had the impression that this was not a performance for an audience, but a performance merely for themselves. For this reason I felt a bit too distant from the action on stage, and wasn’t particularly moved by what was happening in front of me. I cannot speak on behalf of everyone there, but from the murmurs I heard afterwards, I don’t think I was alone. It leaves me with little to say about it, other than praise its skilful choreography and haunting music. There were glimmers which caught my attention, but other than that it was like admiring a beautiful plant; rich and complex, beautifully designed, but unable to communicate with us.
In the dimly lit space of Venue 3, we meet The Lady and The Woman, a domestic worker and a retiring prostitute, as they stand in line to collect cheap rice, at the expense of many days’ wait. They tell stories to one another, constantly trying to be reassured that their efforts are not in vain.
And The Girls In Their Sunday Dresses is a delight to watch, as it is wonderfully comic and at times, very moving. It’s like a cat and mouse cartoon; chases, one-upmanship and of course the humour, and even when the actors use different South African dialects in addition to English, their tone is just as clear and in many places, the clicking works better than any word in the English language.
Reminiscent of Beckett, almost a South African Waiting For Godot, The Lady and The Woman’s philosophies begin to surface as they learn about each other to pass the time, their stories gathering momentum, but only to be deflated again, and reminded of their social immobility, often by the government officials who walk past. These women are dependent on one another, although they do not know it, and a huge proportion of the demoralisation of the play comes from this crucial pathos. The play is also boisterous, and this achieved by the superb comic-timing of the double act demanding our attention. The only problem is that, despite the terrific sense of humour and comic acting, the play seems to drag on. I suppose this is key in the overall theme of waiting and the passing of time, and at an hour it is at the average length of time for a show at the Fringe, but if it gets to the point that it is beginning to make the play less engaging and quick paced as it was to start with, it’s probably not a good sign. That in mind, this does not undermine the overall impression. The play presents us with radiant performances from two of South Africa’s best comedians, and a deeply saddening story, cunningly disguised with exuberant humour.
Stephens’ Punk Rock presents us with the final days at school of seven sixth formers, drawing closer to the end of their intimate lives with one another, and with catastrophic effects.
I don’t like Simon Stephens. It was always going to be difficult to review his condescending, overly-written philosophising without letting my personal hatreds seep through. However. Given what the cast had to work with, their approach was admirable and enjoyable to watch. The chaos of alpha males asserting dominance over pseudo-feminist females were scrappy and awkward to watch, but these were hugely compensated for by the tender moments, often just between two characters at a time. Their anxieties about life not offering the excitement they hoped for, and the desperate attempts for attention were engaging and deeply saddening, but as soon as Wesley Lineham’s Bennett flounced in, any kind of dramatic tension divulged back into the fixed and grotesque caricatures they superimposed onto supposed human-beings. And these children, and they ARE just children, merely imitating adults, are anything but human- they’re monsters.
As far as aesthetic goes, it was more of a Ralph Lauren catwalk of gaunt models in preppy chic clothing than a grammar school in Stockport, and I feel that aesthetic was the show’s main drawback. Philippa Brown’s Tanya is, I would guess, supposed to be the voice of reason, and I felt the only way this was achieved was with a pair of glasses, like a tacky American high school drama- because apparently glasses equate to intelligence. Serena Jennings offered a deeply frightening Lily with her seductive siren-like ability to wake the sleeping volcano, and yet Stephens’ bizarre choice of words made life difficult for the actress, who soldiered on like the rest of them. Will Merrick did the best he could with the flimsy character of William, particularly his astute recognition of uncomfortable eye contact and nervous fingers, as did Joel Edward Banks with the “unusual” coyness of the school’s jock figure (oh Stephens, your inversion of stereotypes is sooo clever). Credit is also due to Olivia Duffman’s Cissy and Patrick Fleming’s Chadwick, who were both scene-stealers specifically when not delivering lines or the focus of a scene, as they were able to really show their skills as an actor, reacting to the storm unfolding in front of them. Well done.
Unfortunately, at the (albeit predictable and clumsy) crux of Stephens’ over-rated play, the final scene plateau-ed with unrealistic responses to what would be a highly traumatic experience. Who bangs a table with their fist after witnessing this horror? They’d probably be shitting themselves not performing basic percussion.
All this said and done, the play certainly wasn’t boring, and didn’t lag, remaining entertaining throughout. As I said to start with, it’s not the actors’ fault that the play is so transparent… but they could have prepped a bit better.
Sadowitz is back and on top form in both his magic and his warped sense of humour. Is it possible to like Sadowitz? Actually, yes, maybe. Yes it may be a vomit of unadulterated offence, but for some far-flung, indescribable reason, he manages to have us all on side… sort of.
Known for being black-listed from television, Sadowitz returns with yet more putrid anecdotes, to complement what has to be some of the best and most absurd card tricks in the world, let alone Great Britain. He is an unquestionably funny man, but I won’t say Britain should be proud of him necessarily. He just hates all of us. And yet in spite of this, Sadowitz showcases fantastic audience involvement; predicting cards, transporting cards, erasing cards and sometimes, losing cards, as well as a myriad of other assorted props and tools. It is difficult to tell whether he is a magician disguised as a comedian, or a comedian disguised as a magician, but either way his show promises laughs, even when things don’t always go to plan. And even then, it is highly possible it is all part of the grand illusion- or at least he tricks us into thinking so.
Even with an enormous screen projecting close-up footage of his hands at work on the table, you cannot fault his ability to deceive you, and play with your expectations or understanding of physics. His hate-fuelled dissections of other major “magicians” such as Derren Brown and Dynamo, to his aggressive attack on other thieving “comedians”- like Russell Kane for stealing the identity of “genuine homosexuals” are wickedly funny. You will be offended, but that’s what you sign up for. As he says himself, it is “tongue in cheek”- I found this to mean he almost ripped a whole in the side of his face.
There is little more to say without spoiling the surprises that lay in wait, but be warned before buying a ticket- it is brutal, shocking, cunning, and clever- but most of all, it is uproariously hilarious.
These two precocious little Balkan puppets, Boris and Sergey, set out to take the audience on an “adventure”, but this descends into an all-round ego-trip instead.
The main introduction was marred by the excessively loud music, making the puppeteers’ speech incomprehensible- and in fact, it was the two male puppeteers who really let the side down throughout. Given the job of voicing the characters, one would think there would have been a lot of effort invested into breathing life into a character without a visible human face, and yet the two actors continued to dive in and out of inconsistent Russian accents. And the words they were given were jammed to the point of bursting with hyperbolic swearing, under the illusion that saying “fuck” a lot makes it funny… which it does not. Trapped in the front row, I felt my face turning to stone with my own lack of expression.
One of its redeeming features was the Kate Bush performance, which I will admit was amusing, but the only reason for this was that it was just Sergey (the more likable of the two characters) and the fact that he wasn’t saying anything at all during his movement. And however funny this may have been, it was out of place and irrelevant to this “Vaudevillian Adventure” we had been expecting, and consequently screamed of a show running out of ideas. This lack of theme spiralled into a tornado of forced, convoluted audience participation and a preposterous imaginary chase sequence, and although the real skill of these puppets lay in the women controlling the minor details of the hands and feet, it did not nearly match up to the phenomenal show happening next door. The Table involved much more artistry, a stronger, more lovable character, and far less uncomfortable audience involvement. It felt natural and with greater attention to detail and skill. Sadly its run has finished, but if you can catch Blind Summit’s amazing work, no doubt it will be back next year for audiences, and I’m sure it will receive more standing ovations such as the night I went.
Boris & Sergey’s Vaudevillian Adventure was too self-indulgent, which shadowed the hard work of the women, whose puppetry was far superior to that of the voice actors. Flabbergast Theatre need to pull their socks up and work on a better narrative, and then maybe- just maybe, their characters might shine through. For now though, it is hugely disappointing.
Tom Holloway’s Hampstead Theatre transfer maps a short period between a couple negotiating over a decision that will change their lives forever. Pam tells her husband Dom that she wishes to terminate her life, ahead of painful, and potentially fatal therapy. The next hour and twenty minutes had me utterly transfixed, entranced by the immense power of these performances, and the most heart-wrenching play you will see this year, anywhere at the Fringe. I found myself weeping uncontrollably at the end- and that is not a forte of mine.
Dearbhla Molloy and Bill Paterson are nothing short of extraordinary, and for something relatively controlled and heavily concerned with subtext, the atmosphere is absolutely electric. Paterson and Molloy encapsulate Dom and Pam with elegance and integrity, with a phenomenal eye for naturalism, and a couple’s constant devotion to one another, despite the most intense of conflicts. Most memorably, and arguably the most haunting scene in the piece, Pam voices her penned-up fears, insecurities and relief in one singular, visceral sound; a release of every trapped emotion, and it is as distressing to watch and listen to as it is comforting. Holloway distorts your preconceptions, and as you follow this man and woman through the most shattering event of their time together, you begin to think of them as loved ones, and your attachment to them only becomes more and more difficult to bear.
I found myself investing my own personality into their equation, and it will leave you questioning what you think you would do given these circumstances, as they are not as inconceivable as it may seem. What Holloway presents us with, is a provocative, cathartic experience, without pushing you into the corner and demanding answers. It is gradual, sustained and a story that should be seen by as many people as possible. The blurb on the back of the script reads: “And No More Shall We Part looks at what happens to a relationship when death comes into the room” and that presence of death is felt by every single member of the audience in the most chilling of ways. Whatever you do this Fringe, among the comedic frivolity, see this play. It is astounding.
Theatro Transcendental’s devised piece contemplates the triviality of human life from a canine perspective in a one woman show. The interactive nature of the performance is charming and visually pleasing, yet perhaps overwritten and not as committed to its subject as it could have been. Although the choices about movement were consistent and playful, I still felt that there was something reserved, and not used to its full potential. On numerous occasions the physicality of a dog’s inquisitiveness and excitement would have sufficed, but instead we were given human verbal analysis, and for moments, the illusion was lost. There was however clever use of minimal props among the bed of shredded newspaper, such as a tie, which Lulu explains: “if you find one of these, you can do anything you like”. Another part that springs to mind is the use of a single men’s shoe and a woman’s stiletto beside one another acting as two humans, and with some of the less clumsy bits of sound effects acting as the murmurs of incomprehensible speech. The remaining audio was heavy handed, with intermittent patches of tacky, low quality ‘sad’ music, appearing at bizarre points in the show, which as far as I could see, only confused the audience. Not only were the audience confused, but subjected to a blatant studio recording of two actors making (some seriously bad) sex noises- and it was a good three minutes of awkwardness…
Lulu’s vocal work was well-observed and a comic impression of a dog’s disposition expressed through heavy breathing and guttural bellows – this was effective and won over the audience after the awkward audio. And to match these vocals, the quirks and commentating Lulu made, such as “You do not understand what each other are saying because you cannot smell”, were its strongest moments. The singing, however, was not. It wasn’t bad, just strange and out of place.
Here’s What I Know About Humans was surprisingly compelling, and it’s also free, so it’s no loss. It’s nothing particularly intense, but that doesn’t undermine its bleak meditation on society- “a wonderful imaginary world”.
An Evening With Dementia is beautiful. There is no need to give a summary, as its premise is simple. Trevor T. Smith, as both writer and performer, presents the audience with a monologue that whittles down our securities in youth, pride and independence to our most primal fear of powerlessness and “growing down”. I’m sure many would describe the performance as they would any elderly person, with a patronising word like “endearing”, and I’ll even admit that I sat down anticipating having to use it. This is not the case. What Smith offers us is a painfully honest, deeply upsetting and yet very funny one man show, with a faultless master class in his craft. At one point, he stands from his chair, and every audience member seemed to instinctively lurch forward to help him down the steps, but stopping themselves with the realisation that this was concerned with human dignity.
Many who have dementia would not be able to describe these sensations, impulses and philosophies so articulately, at least those I know would not, but this is a play in which the audience join Smith in the character’s brain, which although is not ordered, is however sharp in both wit and emotion. Sometimes audience interaction can become too vaudevillian, and yet Smith perfectly balanced this, with humorous simplicity and cleverly calculated movement. His movements were impeccable, and unflinchingly accurate almost to the point it was frightening to watch. I think this fear comes from the fact that every single member of the audience could think forward to a time when this will be their dressing gown, blankets and cushioned chair. Even the unnecessarily loud music from Punk Rock next door could not spoil the tenderness of his stories, and perhaps even unintentionally helped create a sense of the dampened chaos.
See An Evening With Dementia. It will sober you, upset you and uplift you.
Alan Davies returns to Edinburgh with a show built around the tribulations and inconveniences of his life… in graphic detail.
Davies enters to an ever-adoring audience, this much is obvious. Seconds in, they are all in the palm of his hand, in what seems to me to be relatively restrained at first. I’ve never seen Davies live before, although I am familiar with a lot of his television work, and I was unprepared for the sheer brilliance and vulgarity that spewed forth without the limitations of the BBC. His demeanour is mostly lovable and childlike, allowing him to play up his knowledge with a hint of innocence but polarising towards eruptions of his frustration with pornography, parenthood, soiling himself and the flaws in theories about the end of the world.
Davies is a joy to watch, partly because of the bizarre juxtaposition of playful meditations and furious tirades, but mainly because of his honesty. For some bizarre reason, when listening to the details of removing faeces from a bathtub, because of his friendly, conversational tone, it almost feels polite, and you only realise the sordid nature of it when leaving, and reflecting to yourself: “why did that not seem so disgusting?” He’s a class act in disguise, and this makes some material more palatable than it should be, which few other comedians can successfully pull off. Davies’ stories are fluid, natural and genuinely interesting to learn about, perhaps because they come from such unusual personal experiences. For an eighteen year old such as myself, one might expect any material concerned with being a forty six year-old, a father and caring for babies to be alien and disengaging, and yet it is captivating and executed in a manner which, as cliché as it sounds, creates a scope available for people of all ages- probably again due to his youthful, optimistic approach to such experiences, and speaking to us through the ‘medium of baby’.
I appreciate that I may have made this sound a bit sugary and “quaint”, and to a certain degree it is, but this doesn’t undermine the anarchic roars of laughter Davies extracts from his audience. Davies’ packed venue is an experience not to be missed, and a riotously comical one at that, in which the audience are working together with him, instead of being thrown jokes and left to digest them. Top quality comedy of the highest order.