Archive for September 8th, 2011

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Matt Forde: Dishonourable Member

Thursday, 8 September, 2011

Politics, football and comedy

14:55pm, 25th August, Udderbelly’s Pasture, 4th-28th August

Matt Forde

Having cut his comedic teeth on the radio with the likes of Russell Howard, Jon Richardson and Richard Bacon, as well as having his own  late night slot on talkSPORT, Matt Forde  has returned to the Edinburgh Fringe  Festival to serve a slice of his own mix of stand-up comedy, football and politics.  These are his self-assigned areas of expertise and as the show plays its course, it becomes apparent that not only does he know what he’s talking about, but his passion for these occasionally juxtaposing interests is a pleasure to observe.

Matt Forde’s humour is eloquent but unassuming as he delves into his own personal experience and beliefs with anecdotal wit. He describes his life growing up in Nottingham and his lifelong allegiance to Nottingham Forest and waxes lyrical about his role as a supporter with such enthusiasm that it is hard not to see on stage before the audience the eleven year old mascot walking onto the pitch at City Ground. He beams his way through his tale of Brian Clough, arguably the club’s most prolific and successful manager, as he described Matt Forde as he was gearing up to hit puberty headlong, looking as if he spent his time ‘headbutting a pizza.’ Whether or not  characters such as Brian Clough are familiar to anyone other than Matt Forde, even if they spark a vague memory somewhere in the mind, it seems irrelevant; to hear him tell the story and experience what he experienced through his articulate, brave descriptions is where his performances entertainment value lies.

He wades through his past as a member and associate of the Labour Party, joining when he was fifteen; he paints the image of his fourteen year old self sending off his application four weeks early so he might wake up on his fifteenth birthday a fully fledged member of the party he had idolised since the age of seven. He admits his political ideology wouldn’t reach much further at that young age than hoping Tony Blair might ensure Nottingham Forest win the FA Cup, but soon his audience is coaxed into his experiences working alongside some of Labour’s most recognised politicians. He was there the day Tony Blair resigned. This is useful ammo for any stand-up, and Matt Forde rambles through his experiences of the day, re-renacting Tony Blair’s wry observations and quick-witted responses to audience questions. This isn’t just solid material for a stand-up performance it is also a snippet of our own recent history that we rarely get to hear about candidly from someone who was actually there. It is hard to not be reeled into this narrative, as Matt Forde candidly flicks a beckoning finger into the inner workings of Westminster during his time there. His audience join him for a drink where Michael Portillo seems a little too impressed by Matt’s Tony Blair impression.

Matt Forde pulls the nuances of a spectator sport as he describes Blair’s final hours. Indeed, by his own admission he is probably the only person in the world that watches Prime Minister’s Question Time with a pack of lager. This is where the crux of his stand-up emerges, as he blends the avid and earnest advertising techniques of Sky Sports with the political tussles of the early noughties. He ends in a climactic cacophony of clichéd football noises and the Rocky Theme tune blasting out of the speakers. His hour is up in what seems like minutes, a performer with enough political knowledge and anecdotal to flair to hold his audience in amused rapture.

Performed by Matt Forde

(c) Alexandra Kavanagh 2011

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Babushka: Troupe Theatre

Thursday, 8 September, 2011

50 minute storytelling masterclass

Babushka begins with the company playing an amateur group making a halting start. The leader of the band that accompanies the next hour’s performance (who goes by the name Justine, played by Jeff Carpenter), has just cast shadows through a screen backed by a projector whilst flailing and writhing with perfect Kate Bush flair to a recording of her bubbling, playful surreal tale of a woman’s jealousy, Babushka. The musicians settle into an ongoing soundtrack of folk music played on violin, cello and piano that wavers between whimsical and compelling. There is quick-paced narrative action to a sombre lullaby of heartbreak, and at those moments of heartbreak that the story reveals, this work is far from that of amateurs.

The set is comprised of seemingly useless bits and bobs which get thrown into convenience when the storyline demands it. This gives the impression of something cobbled together, with whimsical creativity. This approach did  not only add to the richly textured aesthetic  helped along by costume, lighting and colour design, but it also added perspective to the deprived social situation of Babushka. Her house is a simple wooden frame with a window seat, the flickering of a fire marked by Lucie Shorthouse’s fingers dancing before a footlight.

The four narrators, played by Katherine Jack, George Potts, Deli Segal and Lucie Shorthouse step up and begin to tell the tale of Babushka. They are bold and warm, bringing out with exquisite emotional depth the old woman’s situation. The ensemble’s narration never ventures to the sentimental side of storytelling nor do these young performers assume a detached role. In a piece of storytelling such as this it is the narration that can either enthral an audience or leave them high and dry and confused. Troupe Theatre executed the perfect balance of  storytelling  technique with performances that do the engaging tale all the justice in the world. No stone is left unturned when it comes to setting the scene with effortless aplomb. Not only are these four narrators well rehearsed and seamlessly choreographed, they express moments of great intuition. If a prop is dropped or a skirt caught they are there to react, either vocally or physically with all the skill of a bunch of naturals.

Sophie Crawford cuts an impressive figure as the ageing Babushka; she rarely speaks and when she does it is in lilting Russian accent tinged with the yearning and sadness that surround her character.  Sophie Crawford managed to embody all the physicality of this old Muscovite, as she arches her back and hobbles through the museum where she works, yet lends an energy and earnest quality to the role that only helps her audience follow her plight with such emotional investment.

Troupe Theatre have provided a flawless master class in storytelling in fifty minutes that seem to fly by. This is genre that is proving ever popular amongst the performing community of the Fringe but is by no means easily achieved. This is slick narration and a sparkling, unique story with characters that could have been plucked from a Nikolai Gogol short story. This devised piece  assumes a capricious, humble charm that by no means condescends or sneers, instead beckoning its audience into an extraordinary word that makes for essential viewing and listening.

Performed By Sophie Crawford, Katherine Jack, George Potts, Deli Segal, Lucie Shorthouse, Jeff Carpenter

Directed by Andrew Brock; Assistant Director – Tamara Astor; Musical Director and Composer – Jeff Carpenter; Producers and Stage Managers – Katie Lam and Hannah Laurence; Technical Director – Matt Jarvis.  Devised by Troupe Theatre Company with  Associate Writer – Phoebe Biddulph

(c) Alexandra Kavanagh 2011

 

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Phoebe Traquair: Murals

Thursday, 8 September, 2011

Art in St Mary’s

St Mary’s Cathedral stands as a shining example of the culture on offer at the Edinburgh Fringe, an alternative to the onslaught of sketch shows, stand up comedy and theatre. It may require a slightly longer walk away from The Royal Mile than most of the Fringe’s other venues but this beautiful building has been highlighted as one of the world’s recognised neo-gothic buildings and has been offering a consistent rota of concerts including Bach by Candlelight.  St Mary’s Cathedral is opening the Song School’s doors to the public free of charge so that they might see the murals that Phoebe Traquair was commissioned to paint in 1888 and completed 1892. It is arguably this piece of work that initiated her into the sphere of artists that she had idolised before she began her work.

The south wall of this impressive artistic feat, crammed full with images of people rarely allowing for nature to give way, is testament to her influences at the time. Lord Alfred Tennyson can be found leading a group of choir boys towards the door, and there is a bearded Dante Gabriel Rossetti too, said to be one of Traquair’s greatest inspirations. William Blake is depicted upon the North wall, after our gaze has moved on from the West Wall, where scenes lay in wait that are strongly reminiscent of Blake’s own bright, spiritually vibrant work. This creates the impression of a humble Phoebe Traquair paying respect to those that inspired her and not afraid to show her working out. This is quite touchingly exemplified again on the East Wall which depicts the overall theme of the mural taken from the canticle Benedicite, Omnia Opera (‘O all Ye Works of the Lord, Bless Ye the Lord’) along with images of choirboys and angels painted in exact likeness of contemporary parishioners. The Leaderfoor Viaduct can be seen behind The Empty Tomb, as the artist shows her spiritual allegiance to The Scottish Borders.

The master of ceremonies notes the change in her style after a subsequent trip to Italy mid-way through the painting of the mural. Careful not to bemuse the artistically challenged amongst his tour group, he notes the use of colours and brush strokes that does not leave his audience behind. He notes the poor lighting and encourages the group to lift a sheet of paper to the window of the east facing wall. This way of viewing art was at odds with the poor lighting and made for a touching experience as the colours became brighter, the figures more recognisable with the light being shadowed. It created a moment when murals such as this seem to flourish in; having a group turn to focus on one particular scene from this impressive woman’s. As the group were working against the light provided by the space, Phoebe Traquair’s character became illuminated. The speaker talks of her almost stumbling on her illustrious career; had she not been employed by her future husband Ramsay Heatley Traquair as an illustrator for his paleontological journals, she may never have been commissioned in this way and remembered so fondly. Although this piece put her in the hearts and minds of those in the artistic community, she was still not recognised officially, being nominated and then refused membership to the Royal Scottish Academy in 1900 on the grounds that her work at the Song School was unpaid and therefore she was not an artist by profession. Sixteen years before her death in 1920, she was elected the first honorary woman member, and her extraordinary work as a female artist in 19th Century Scotland still remains.  As a final note the guide draws o attention to a tiny figure in an alcove on the North Wall. Phoebe Traquair herself is curled in a circular foetal position taking a well-deserved rest upon completing the mural, a touching self-portrait from an artist who showed great emotional value into her work .

(c) Alexandra Kavanagh 2011

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