Gypsy Queen ****



AUGUST 2ND TO 26TH (NOT 14,21)


This is a hot and dynamic show about struggling to be true to your gay self whatever the circumstances. The big question asked in the publicity is – can two men raised to fight ever learn to love? Each other, that is. Get along and see this show and you should have a better idea about that.

The story concerns “Gorgeous” George O’Connell, a bareknuckle fighter who joins a professional boxing gym. He meets an openly gay boxer, Dane Sampson, who takes a liking to George. What will ensue?

The play is written by actor and writer Rob Ward, whom some people will remember from his stunning performance in Away From Home three years ago. Alongside Ward is Ryan Clayton as Dane, who is trained as a boxer and who puts Gorgeous George through his paces.

One of the pleasures of this show is the ease and fluency with which these two actors move between a variety of roles, whether it be Dane’s earlier boyfriend, father and mother figures –whatever extra character is required, these guys can switch roles at the flick of a switch.

There is a great deal of action in this play, some of it steamy, and there are also moments of insight and deep connection between characters. It is presented by Hope Theatre Company based in Manchester, a company specialising in LGBT work, and the guys we see in this play are passionate about the acceptance of LGBT performers in sport generally – one of the areas where, even in Britain, much work still needs to be done.

See this play and laugh and be engrossed and feel pity and see why it is so important that people can be gay and proud whatever their profession or way of life.

Tony Challis




One day event


The lead-up to this event was slightly fraught, and saw first iO Tillett Wright and then Jackie Kay cancelling at an increasingly late hour. The final lineup was a powerhouse of intersectional feminism: Reni Eddo-Lodge, author of Why I’m No Longer Talking To White People About Race, was accompanied by Juno Dawson, author of The Gender Games, and chaired by Laurie Penny, feminist columnist and author of Bitch Doctrine.

The discussion centred on whiteness–ironically the topic Eddo-Lodge is now most often asked to speak about, despite the title of her book, how it informs a global power structure that limits the life chances of minorities, and how it intersects with other identities.

Eddo-Lodge, Dawson and Penny articulated a number of the double standards that plague our society’s minorities, people of color but also trans people and women: the framing of white or cisgender as ‘normal’, and allowed to be seen as individual, while minorities are lumped according to their shared features, fact that the two speakers are rarely asked for their opinions on topics other than race and gender, and the fact that women especially are often asked to write about their feelings on a subject, their views framed as subjective, whereas men can write in the same way about the same topics and have their work presented as objective fact.

Another important point, made by Dawson, was that while she and Eddo-Lodge are so often asked to speak about the most prominent aspects of their identities, gender and race, they feel this as a burden, and don’t feel comfortable speaking on behalf of every trans person or every black person: said Dawson, ‘the fact that we’re put on a little platform and given a little microphone, people assume we know what we’re talking about.’

The speakers leaned heavily on technical terminology, for example identity politics, that was not always very well explained. I sensed at several points during the talk that the audience–largely white, some older–might have been slightly alienated, even uncomfortable. Most of the questions at the end were from sympathetic, genuinely curious audience members about how to be better allies, though there was one from an older audience member that managed to be both transphobic and offensive to Canadian First Nations people. Both speakers took the question in stride, however, and avoided giving offense back.

Overall I found this talk enlightening and informative, but I got the sense that this was because I was familiar already with the language of feminism, intersectionality and identity politics. I suspect not everyone got the same out of it that I did.

Eris Young



NATURAL FOOD KAFE     V 415         

AUGUST 4TH TO 26TH (NOT 14,21)


This is a show performed by a very talented storytelling Otter. (If you do not know what one of those is, come along and find out – there is probably a good bit more you will learn.)

We are in a room beneath a very friendly and wholesome café on Clerk Street, and before us stands said Otter with a small table and a collection of Teddy Bears. With just this, our host takes us into a world of gay relationships, break ups, scene searching, apps, heartbreak and love. Truly quite an achievement, and a very enjoyable one, with many hearty laughs along the way.

Our furry protagonist begins in what all his friends say is the purrfect relationship. But then his partner moves away for work. What is a large forty-eight year old bear to do? He begins taking in the scene, but this brings hope and then disillusion, and some tough nights. There follows the use of the many contemporary means of getting in touch – we all know the ever multiplying sites and apps – with a variety of results.

Our Otter’s collection of Bears of many sizes and shades is made to seem decidedly semi-pornographic. Writhing toys have rarely looked so into each other, and with gay abandon. The narrator’s storyline keeps us engaged, and various voices make us chuckle. Big Bear gets teased, led up false paths and even tied up in his own bed. Difficult can be the path of the mature single Bear. Yet not all the paths into the woods turn out to be dead ends.

This show can be recommended as something quite different, which will be an enjoyable tea-time treat and will leave you with a warm smile.


Tony Challis

Mairi Campbell: Pulse ****


Scottish Storytelling Centre

Venue 30

17.00 (run ends 27th Aug, odd dates)



This is a very personal account of one woman’s struggle to find her inner core and her deep connection to the earth.  Starting with Mairi’s four years’ classical viola training at the Guildhall School of Music & Drama, we follow her on her journey to find her real self as a musician, travelling from Lismore to Mexico to Cape Breton, Nova Scotia and back to Lismore.  On the way, we meet the people who had the greatest influence on her and watch Mairi discover what truly moves her, where her internal pulse lies and where the music is that really makes her come alive.


Mairi is an accomplished actress as well as musician and storyteller: she ‘becomes’ the women who have been most influential in her but contents herself with showing us her reaction to the men who have been most important to her.  We feel with Mairi the Damascus road effect of her encounter with step dancing, and rock with laughter as she shows us the reaction of genteel ‘authentic Scottish dancing’ ladies to her attempts to demonstrate its transformative power.


The show is a fascinating mix of storytelling, mime, music, dance and wordless singing which express the complexities of emotions surrounding Mairi’s music.  We see her frustration at Guildhall as she struggled to conform to the behaviours and performance style expected of her, her extreme joy of discovering step dancing and her realisation that the pulse which she had struggled so hard to find in her music was there, if only she would let go of focus on technique and listen to what the music was trying to tell her… The rhythm is in her blood, and all she has to do is let it out: this she does in a big way in her show as she challenges us all to let go of superficialities and search out whatever truly moves us and connects us to the earth and to the world and people around us.


It’s a cracking show performed by an outstanding musician and fearlessly honest storyteller: the audience were engaged, moved, and loudly appreciative.


Mary Woodward


Iestyn Davies sings Bach *****

Edinburgh International Festival

The Queen’s Hall

11.00  22nd August ONLY


A packed Queen’s Hall assembled to hear Iestyn Davies sing: it may well be that a number of us wouldn’t have cared much what he was going to sing – even the telephone directory would have gone down well with those of us who admire his fabulous voice and impeccable musicianship…


Today’s concert with the Academy of Ancient Music juxtaposed two of Bach’s church cantatas with works by Telemann – born a few years before Bach, but following a very different, and secular, musical path.  Telemann’s music reflects the contemporary fashion for the French style in music, and shows his understanding of how to write for the popular market.  In the first part of the concert we heard his Ouverture-Suite in D major [TWV55], the overture being followed by lively dance movements.  I found the sound rather muffled, possibly because I was sitting under the side balcony, but enjoyed the performance.  After the interval two violinists and a cellist with harpsichord continuo played Telemann’s Trio Sonata in E flat major [TWV 42]: the sound was less muffled [though at times the cello was not very clear] and the interplay between the instruments fascinating to watch.


And then we had Iestyn and Bach – a delight to the ear, even though we were being exhorted in no uncertain terms to abjure the delights of the world, which are but occasions of sin, and turn instead to God, where true pleasure is to be found.  The first cantata – Widerstehe doch die Stunde [BWV 5] – had string accompaniment, and told us very plainly to stand firm against sin, however wonderful it might seem.  The second, Gott soll allein mein Herze haben [BWV 169], accompanied by the whole orchestra, was more joyful in character, the singer affirming his love for God alone and the delight this brings.  We were reminded [briefly] of the commandment to love our neighbour, and the cantata ended with a short chorale, a setting of a text by Martin Luther.


I raved last year about Iestyn Davies and the incredible effect he has even before he opens his mouth to sing.  This year the voice was just as wonderful, and the music interpreted simply and honestly: it would have spoken to the hearts of any Lutheran congregation and moved them to repentance.  Whether it had the same effect on the Queen’s Hall audience I don’t know, but it was received with that silence which is true applause before the audience erupted.


And then, to make up for all the seriousness that had gone before, Iestyn introduced and led the orchestra and soloists in a song calculated to lift our hearts and send us out in a more joyful mood – a drinking song by Krieger, celebrating the effects of Rhine wine – in which orchestra and singers really let their hair down: a wonderful way to end a fabulous concert.


Mary Woodward


The Road That Wasn’t There *****



Assembly Roxy

Venue 139

14.35 (run ends 27th Aug)


 Following their outstandingly successful The Bookbinder we have another enchanting, brilliantly inventive tale from Trick of the Light Theatre – it may not be true, but oh! how we wish it were…

Gabriel is working in London: he keeps receiving phone messages from people who live in his Kiwi mum’s small town of St Bathan’s.  They say she is acting oddly, and urge him to investigate. At first he simply thinks that she is behaving just as usual – she has always been eccentrically unconcerned with what anyone else thinks about her behaviour, and a superb story-teller: but then he is told of something even more bizarre than usual, and he feels he has to go home to see what’s going on.

When he arrives, Gabriel can’t get into the house – there is no doorknob.  He climbs in through a window, escaping from the neighbour who is only too happy to tell him of the odd things she’s seen, and confronts mother with her odd behaviour.  She is unperturbed, and has (to her) rational explanations – until she comes across a leaflet for the Dusty Corners Rest Home…  Her behaviour becomes increasingly eccentric and inexplicable until finally she starts to tell her son the only story she’s never previously told him – about who his father was, and how she met him.  Gabriel learns of her discovery of the ‘paper road’, the Road That Wasn’t There, and what happened when she went down it…

Three extremely talented and versatile actors tell a gloriously mad shaggy dog story with a witty and moving script, a simple set, and simple props, costumes and effects.  Add in excellent puppetry, impressively inventive shadow-puppetry, and a lively musical score, and you have a fantastical tale of romance, villainy, and cartography, and the hope of a happy ending, however impossible it may seem.

 Pure magic.



Mary Woodward


The Knitted Bible Stories Exhibition *****


The Salvation Army Edinburgh City Corps

Venue 405

11.00 – 17.00 daily – FREE (run ends 26th Aug)


Go see it!  Only on this week, it really must not be missed, whether you’re a knitter or not!  This collection of knitted bible stories was the brainchild of The Salvation Army in Warrington: it first saw the light of day in November 201, and is visiting Edinburgh this week.


The overall sweep of the exhibition is truly splendid, and the detail awesome in its complexity.  Highlights for me – the lions with their lovely twinkly manes, first caged, and then with Daniel in the den:; the amazing spread of food on the table at the wedding feast in Cana; the snake entwined in the apple tree in the garden of Eden; the rainbow arching over Noah’s ark; the field full of sheep and the sky full of angels over the nativity in Bethlehem; and and and…


The basic concept is simple – knit a cylinder with a face on which you shape a nose, dress it how you fancy, and make it part of a scene from a bible story.  The basic shape can, with a suitable costume, become opposing groups of soldiers supporting David or Goliath, wedding guests at Cana, crowds of bystanders watching the different events in Jesus’ life – and then run riot making animals, birds, fruit, flowers: display them all in separate small ‘theatres’ and invite people in to take a look.


You can browse at your leisure, or come at 2pm to be guided round the exhibition by local storyteller Yorick Jackson.


While I was there the exhibition was visited by a constant stream of people, who all seemed delighted with it.  You can sit down and have what promises to be a truly splendid Afternoon Tea – but I had to go to my next show…


Mary Woodward




AUGUST 2ND TO 28TH    ( NOT 9, 16, 23)


This is an extremely polished and affecting revival of Stephen MacDonald’s Fringe First winning play about the poets Wilfred Owen and Siegfried Sassoon. There is a cast of two, Daniel Llewellyn-Williams as Sassoon and Iestyn Arwel as Owen. These two carry the weight of a substantial and very dialogue-heavy play as though it was no more than a volume of diaries and verse.. Their impressive professionalism and deep involvement carry us along and keep the large audience engrossed.

We start with the sadness of Sassoon’s parting from Owen, fearing the fate that may await Owen, and then go back to the very first meeting of the two. Arwel portrays Owen’s nervousness and shyness when first encountering his idol Sassoon such that the audience can feel that closely. Sassoon’s initial off-hand manner gradually melts as he gets to know Owen and sees his poetic potential. The two men become close friends and work closely together, Sassoon giving much help, and support to Owen. The strength of the connection is not given the kind of expression that would be natural today; these are officers a century ago. But the word love is used between them, and when the name Robbie Ross is mentioned anyone who knows the alternative history of the period, the gay history of the period, will know just what is being referenced.

The terrible loss of life going on across the channel as these two men are recuperating at Craiglockhart outside Edinburgh is repeatedly referenced, and we hear about the effect of the loss of a nineteen year old soldier, David, upon Sassoon, who was with him at the end.

It is rare to see a play in which so much poetry is recited, and spoken so well, both that of Owen and Sassoon and also some of Shelley and Keats. A treat for many.

This is a play steeped in violence, but every bit of violence happens offstage. We feel the tragedy of the circumstances surrounding these men, and the dilemma they faced in feeling the need to play their part in the war at the same time as protesting the waste and the horrific chaos of the war.

The play will be touring after Edinburgh, so if you cannot get to it here there will be other chances around the country. It is an experience well worth having.

Tony Challis

Rhys Nicholson: I’m Fine ****


Underbelly Med Quad

-Aug 27th


Kenneth Willaims style dressed in Gomez Addams-atire smelling strongly of vanilla: this rapid fire comical is a night with moments of homo-empathy as Rhys Nicholson shares what it’s like to live with being gay and anxiety ridden, memoirs of being a typical teenager in school and experiences of touring in the outback.

Beautifully presented with spontaneous improvisation chucked in every other half breath, it’s heartwarming to be taken into his private life and laugh with him at the cards he’s  been dealt in an multi-layered story that had the audience laughing for lots of different reasons. Something for everyone drawing on experiences of teenage years and first loves to the present ideal dream well translated for a UK audience, making the tales of Australia relatable.

 At first look his timid shyness irrupts into an articulate, confident story teller with a funny every beat. He’s your witty gay friend who can turn anything into a pun and gay up the most simple or innocent. A wit and sharpness used to mock the demons of his past retold for the audience who’s reactions are commented on “oh so that’s the line is it?” , “you should worry they get darker than that” with such a frequency which adds a unique analytical style that is uncommon in comedy but fits this comic beautifully and tickles an audience.
Mental illness positive, sex positive and beautifully left wing comedy : a brilliant comedy show for 2017
Tiger Strode






Stephen Bailey has an enthusiastic audience falling about laughing for much of his show. He is well known for his appearances on ITV’s Safeword and for W’s Celebrity Advice Bureau. The packed audience were fully with him from the start. They gave him a rousing welcome and a very enthusiastic second welcome. He had a very good rapport with his audience, and they enjoyed his talk about his Radio 4 audience and his estate followers. He talked directly to a number of audience members who enjoyed the attention, though when it came to singles and gay audience members owning up I am sure many people were just that bit shy.

Stephen had a good deal of affectionate material about his father, whose skills are clearly appreciated, and who had some pithy and sensible things to say about sexuality. There were many references to sagging body parts that were much appreciated by the audience. He promised us many dick jokes,  but there were maybe not as many as I had thought there might be.

Stephen has strong and important things to say about homophobia and gay rights, and becomes serious for a couple of minutes, which is excellent to see. Very good to see the Waverley cause also promoted. Stephen clearly has a solid sense of values as well as a very good sense of what makes an audience have a brilliant time  and forget all their troubles as they roll about in helpless laughter prompted by this very skilled and extremely professional entertainer.

If you want to throw off the cares of the day at tea time, thus is the guy to seek out.

Tony Challis