Devil's Kitchen Comment

The less sweary writings of The Devil's Kitchen

Thursday, November 09, 2006

Fringe Reviews: 08/06


A-Haunting We Will Go.
Stars: *
Venue The Zoo (Venue 124).

If you have ever seen Four Weddings And A Funeral, you may remember when — in response to the crass couple singing saccharine songs in the church — Gareth is seen grimacing and hugging his head in frustration at the awfulness of it all. Believe me, on watching this stultifying, badly-acted shocker I nearly did the same: only my professional politeness — and the sparsity of the audience — stopped me from doing so.

A-Haunting We Will Go was billed as a full-length mystery-comedy and I felt the full length of it. The story is based around the hoary old chestnut of someone vowing to stay alone overnight in a haunted old inn, wherein one of the three sisters who owned it was killed. Naturally, the "top TV producer" is not alone and as each new character cliche - the common-as-muck-but-good-at-heart kidnappers and their posh victim, the lost student, the psychic gypsy and her dippy but "sensitive" daughter, the grumpy gold-digging caretaker — was wheeled on I felt like doing some murdering myself; I laughed instead but not, I suspect, for the reasons the actors wanted me to.

Naturally there was a twist in the tail — it was, in fact, a pitch for a TV show. This ludicrous substitute for the "it was all a dream!" gambit did make the hackneyed characters a little more forgivable, but was such a heinous cliche in itself that I felt like throwing things at the stage. Preferably a brace of grenades.

All of this might have been played as a simply hilarious take on the old murder mystery had anyone on stage seemed like they actually cared one jot. In the programme, nearly all of the biographies earnestly assured us that many of the actors wanted to go to drama school: with one single exception, all I can suggest is that none of them waste the audition fees. Methinks a job in Customer Services — where everyone will expect them to act like zombies — might be a better career path.

© Chris Mounsey, August 2006 — Published on
Runs to August 27 at 17.10 every day.
Company - Venue 2 Venue.


The Good Thief.
Stars ****
Venue C (Venue 34).

Telling the story of a hapless Irish "frightener", whose pub-owning, gangland boss not only steals his girlfriend but also tries to have him killed, The Good Thief is beautifully and energetically acted by one man, a white table and two white blocks. These last three objects are cunningly employed to conjure the stairs of a house, a car, a pub and a lot more besides — further, our man keeps talking as he moves them forming seamless scene changes as he narrates.

And he doesn't just narrate — he jumps, swaggers, slouches and punches his way across, around and up and down the stage — not an area, not a joule of energy is wasted. Although the story is not the most original, think of a dark Guy Ritchie movie but set in Ireland, the man on stage holds your attention all of the time. The only time when the energy falls is during the violent scenes which are narrated in a pre-recorded voiceover. I generally dislike these as they destroy the chemistry between audience and performer and it's especially so in this case.

It is not a happy story — our man doesn't escape prison, his companions do not escape death. But, at the end of it all, one feels sorry for our thuggish protangonist; I felt much the same as I do after reading 1984 and I had the overwhelming desire to start singing "under the spreading chestnut tree...". If it is up again next year, do try to catch The Good Thief.

© Chris Mounsey August 2006 — Published on
Runs to August 28 at 19.00 every day.
Company - Watch-It Productions.


Jeffrey Bernard Is Unwell
Stars ****
Venue Sweet ECA (Venue 186).

The journalist Jonathan Meades once described Jeffrey Bernard's Spectator column as a "suicide note in weekly installments" and, indeed, Bernard was a legend in his own lunchtime. Or, more aptly, a legend in his own closing time, for Bernard was one of those flamboyant, romantic alcoholics — though married four times, he was often heard to describe booze as "the other woman".

So, at the beginning of the play, Jeff wakes up at 5 in the morning, locked in his local pub, The Coach And Horses. And, for lack of anything else to do, he liberates a bottle of vodka from the bar and tells us about his life. And a fascinating life it is. As a society, we seem to nurse a fascination for the doomed and reckless and as such, although he behaves appallingly to the people who were close to him, Bernard is still an attractive character.

The ensemble cast is perfectly competent, but they are hardly more than props for the young Gareth White's astonishingly convincing Jeff. It is never easy for a young man to play someone who is supposed to be so much older than himself (and who is drunk into the bargain) but White pulls it off beautifully, holding our attention throughout the 100 minute show. Peter O'Toole would have been proud, I am sure.

This is a throughly entertaining performance and your humble reviewer felt real pity for the hunched figure who shuffled unsteadily out through the "pub" doors at the end of it all.

© Chris Mounsey August 2006 — Published on
Runs to August 27 at 18.40 every day.
Company - Centre Stage Theatre Company.


Macbeth Re-Arisen
Stars: ***
Venue Hill Street Theatre (Venue 41).

Over his 11 years at the Fringe, your humble reviewer has seen many extraordinary sights but, you may take it for granted, he never thought that he would ever watch an undead Macbeth exhorting his zombie minions in iambic pentameter; and yet this is precisely what he has just seen.

Australian theatre group White Whale Theatre have created a real oddity; a sequel to Macbeth that makes modern day references and features a blatant homage — when evil goddess Hecate gifts a chainsaw to the undead Macbeth — to Evil Dead 2. This is really good fun and the writing is simply astounding; it sounds so like Shakespeare (right down to the rhyming scheme changes) that one is initially slightly confused as to whether it is a comedy or not. But rest assured: it is. The whole show is gloriously silly and is well-acted; not least by the wonderfully convincing disembodied hand that walks its way across the stage at the end.

So what is wrong with it? Put simply, it is too long. The show lasts almost two hours and your humble reviewer did feel his head nodding once or twice during the performance (although it had been a rather long day); this show would have been excellent had it been condensed to, say, an hour and fifteen. Further, some actors have a tendency to shout although the words are at least clear. Lady Macbeth though, was absolutely wonderful: it may be the first time that I have been attracted to a thoroughly evil, walking corpse.

© Chris Mounsey August 2006 — Published on
Runs to August 28 at 22.40 every day.
Company - White Whale Theatre.


Sherlock Holmes: The Three Students
Stars ***
Venue C outside St Patrick's (Venue 219).

The concept of wandering from location to location to perform the various scenes is a good one and particularly appropriate when adapting a Sherlock Holmes story, for it was his desire to be right on the spot that so differentiated Sherlock from his brother, Mycroft. Owen Dudley Edwards — Conan Doyle's official biographer — has adapted this short story, relocating it to Edinburgh, and our meanderings take us from St Patrick's, initially on a search for Holmes (who is found at Old College), and thence to George Square where the bulk of the play is acted out.

There were a number of things that mildly irritated this reviewer; there were some horribly jarring anachronisms (usually involving an attempt to be amusingly topical or politically correct) and, whilst one can accept that we need a number of guides, was it really necessary to split Watson into four people (including two who simply couldn't act)? However, Holmes himself, whilst being mildly camp, is convincingly played by Nick Salamone and Simon Tait is endearingly convincing as the fussy Greek lecturer, Hilton Soames. Altogether then, this is an entertaining production, ingeniously adapted in the main, and as pleasant a sunny afternoon as I have spent. Despite the reservations outlined above, this reviewer had a very good time and would recommend that you try to catch up with Sherlock Holmes: The Three Students.

© Chris Mounsey August 2006 — Published on
Runs to August 26 at 14.00 every day.


Spymonkey — Cooped
Stars *****
Venue Assembly at George Street. (Venue 3).

Good lord, but this is a good show! Cooped is, in essence, a series of vaguely themed sketches set within the framework — as our host, Forbes Murdston, informs us — of a "gothic murder mystery novella". The four performers are absolutely convincing, and consistent, in their characters — Forbes is the suave English gentleman; the "character parts" are played by a self-obsessed, toupee-adorned Spanish soap opera star; the heroine is the sexually rampant but slightly dippy Laura Du Lay; and, of course, there is Klaus, the insane German butler.

The story is hackneyed but, naturally, this fact is a joke in itself; anyone who has seen one of those cod-shlock, pulp horror movies will be utterly familiar with the plot (such as it is). But none of this matters because the real laughs come from the troupe's incredibly able physical comedy. The company have been playing with famed circus Cirque Du Soleil and their experience shows through in the slickness — and apparent effortlessness — of their slapstick routines. The set — which is beautifully constructed and hides a myriad of doors, switch-arounds, nooks and crannies — is integral to the show and the company make full use of the whole (including the ping-pong ball launcher. Don't ask).

The show is not perfect in itself; some of the random "dream sequences" (which are really excuses to fit unrelated sketches into the show) are longer than they need to be, as is the inevitable fart gag. But it does have an ending that will make you jump out of your skin!

Although he encoutered a couple of people who were not keen on Cooped, for this scribe it is the perfect Fringe show: funny, well-acted, varied and — above all — inventive.
© Chris Mounsey 18 August 2006 — Published on
Runs to August 28 at 17.20 every day.
Company - Spymonkey.


Stars ***
Venue Pleasance Dome (Venue 23).

The Moors Murders held a fascination for the British public that was probably unmatched until the James Bulger and Soham murders, and the protagonists — Myra Hindley and Ian Brady — are bywords for evil. But what were the two really like? Wasted attempts to address this, interspersing scenes set at the time with monologues from the older Hindley in prison.

Although it is Hindley that all of the publicity focuses on, in fact it is Ian Brady and his philosophy that are far more dominant in this show. Brady is well-played by Morgan Thomas, and the man's enthusiasm for De Sade and his philosophy of power are interesting to watch. Ultimately, however, like many of those who try to justify their crimes, his arguments are mere sophistry; syllogisms that make a mockery of the intellectual dominance that Brady believes to be his. And dominant he is; apart from during her monologues — delivered from the side of the stage and away from the action — Hindley plays almost no part in this play beyond displaying a chilling disregard for the feelings of the children that she and Brady murdered.

Altogether the play is slick, well-performed and interesting, ultimately, however, it doesn't add an awful lot to our knowledge of two of the most notorious murderers in British history.

© Chris Mounsey August 2006 — Published on
Runs to August 28 at 18.55 every day.
Company - theproductioncompany with Wild Thyme Productions.


Tim Fitzhigham: Untitled
Stars ****
Venue Pleasance Court (Venue 33).

As Tim Fitzhigham assures us, the title of his show is a pun, not laziness. For this is one man's quest — inspired by Don Quixote — to become a mediaeval knight of yore and win the heart of the lady that he loves from afar, the "lovely, bouncy Claire Sweeney". And an enthralling tale it is.

Tim Fitzhigham is one of those quintessentially English eccentrics who seem to get a kick from doing completely crazy things: in 2003 he rowed a paper boat 160 miles up the Thames — in 2005 he became the first person to row a bath across the Channel (and 200 miles around Kent); and this year he is after a knighthood.

Fitzhigham is an absolute delight, his orotund tones and expressive eyes conveying beautifully his obvious passion for his cause. He tells the tale of his yearlong quest — which includes an exploding chemical toilet, a cheese-rolling injury, attempted bribery of Tony Blair with a book token and, finally, his hermit-like existence (wearing a suit of armour) in a cave in La Mancha — with a vim and vigour that never fails to entertain and amuse.

Despite the very occasional longeur, such is Fitzhigham's enthusiasm and charisma that this show makes for a hilarious and arresting hour. I won't reveal whether Fitzhigham achieves his aim because it's almost irrelevant — it is the journey that is so wonderfully lunatic.

But then, tilting at windmills has always been — with the exception of Don Quixote himself — such a wonderfully English thing.

© Chris Mounsey August 2006 — Published on
Runs every day till August 28 at 18.00.
Company - Tim Fitzhigham.


Songs My Granny Frowned At
Stars ****
Venue C Venue. (Venue 34).

Since it was a small audience, I sat in the second row and really wished that I hadn't. This isn't anything to do with the show but because almost the whole of the rest of the first two rows appeared to be taken up by 18 year olds on drugs who shrieked with laughter at almost every word - no, seriously, every single word. It was tortuous and I came as near to killing an — admittedly pretty — girl as I ever have before. Still, let us leave the living hell that was the audience and attempt to concentrate on the show itself (something that, sadly, I found very difficult to do).

Chris and Mark are two middle-aged men who perform comedy songs, reminiscent of Flander and Swann or Tom Lehrer. They are not, in general, quite as good as these heroes of mine, but occasionally they do scale those dizzy heights — the first song, for instance, about a goldfish who wants to walk in the woods (and then ends up being disembowelled by a badger) was absolute genius (and it's always nice to see a eukalele onstage). However, it is the links between the songs that let the show down slightly, feeling — as they do — somewhat rough and under-rehearsed. This is not necessarily a bad thing in itself — there is always a space for spontoneity in comedy — but Chris Larner does not have quite a quick enough wit to save them. However, it really doesn't matter too much because our hosts are genial and the songs are full of sweet, whimsical humour; which is why it always hits your comedy nerve when they end in the death of yet another small mammal.

Overall, this is a really enjoyable hour and, if you are at a loose end at that time in the evening, then I would recommend dropping in. Let us hope that you don't also end up being part of an audience the greater part of which you would happily naipalm — or even quietly stab — fifteen minutes into the show.

© Chris Mounsey 23 August 2006 - Published on
Runs to August 28 at 22.45 every day.
Company - Chris Larner and Mark Stevens.


The Factory
Stars *****
Venue BabyBelly (Venue 88).

Entering the musty Babybelly 1, one is greeted by dim beams of light making the electric chair at the back of the set just barely visible - standing in front of it, motionless and topless, stands Al Seed. It is an arresting scene and, once the industrial music starts up, we can see what we are in for.

It is clowning of the very best sort - Al Seed's movements are co-ordinated with the music and a sense of urgency infects us as he silently pontificates from his desk. When the button is pushed, the tone of the piece changes to something more pathos-ridden. It is physical theatre and very difficult to describe, but this reviewer was transfixed by the movements and music which were, by turns, frightening, appealing, pathetic. Al Seed is a clown, in the true sense, at the very top of his game: his body can be rubber or hard as iron, his movements assured and threatening or coy and wheedling.
When the show finally ended and our host had left the stage, a member of the audience behind me exploded: "That was absolutely incredible". He was not wrong.

© Chris Mounsey August 2006 — Published on
Runs to August 27 at 16.35 every day.
Company - Arches Theatre Company.


Nova Reflections
Stars ****
Venue Greyfriars Kirkhouse (Venue 28).

Your humble reviewer and his friends have a long-standing joke about the boring pretentiousness of physical dance theatre, but at least it is theatre; pure dance, one would have thought, would not even have that. As such, your humble reviewer was not looking forward to seeing Nova Reflections. How wrong he was.

On The Runn are a company who believe that "dance should be an accessible art to all" and, having seen this show, I can heartily approve of the sentiment. Nova Reflections is a collection of five dances, set to music. Quite apart from the pleasure that your humble scribe found in watching six physically fit young women — and a lone but graceful man — throwing themselves around a stage, the show was both exciting and relaxing all at once.

There is something incredibly graceful and powerful about human bodies moving in synchronicity and these dancers were a pleasure to watch; furthermore, the second dance, Vice Versa, remains the most sensual thing that I have ever seen on stage. The allotted hour flew by and I was sad to see the show end.

It is too late to catch this show at the Fringe, but keep an eye out for On The Runn: catch them if you can.

— Chris Mounsey August 2006 — Published on
Runs to August 20 at 19.45 every day.
Company - On The Runn.


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