Archive for September, 2010

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Up ‘N’ Under, by John Godber

Monday, 27 September, 2010

Can Abi Titmuss galvanise a hapless rugby team?

The Sporting Life

Edinburgh 2010 – Assembly Rooms – 7-30 August­­ 2010 – 17.25 (1:35)

Up ‘N’ Under is a cheery, if slightly uninspiring, retread of John Godber’s 1985 comic play about a shambolic amateur rugby team challenged to overcome the odds and beat polished opposition in the final of a big regional Sevens tournament.

The action starts with washed-up rugby star Arthur (William Ilkley) betting his old nemesis Reg (Eamonn Fleming) that he can coach any team to win against his fearsome unbeaten Cobblers.  To Arthur’s dismay, Reg picks the Wheatsheaf – a bunch of losers who can’t even field a full team and whose idea of success is keeping the opposing side’s score down to double figures.  Arthur’s potential ruination is complete when he agrees to stake his house on the outcome of the game.

Arthur goes to meet his new team and finds their four remaining players on the brink of giving up the game after another thrashing.  Overweight butcher Tommy (Eamonn Fleming), mechanic Steve (Lewis Lindford), fireman-come-stripper Phil (James Crossley) and ageing teacher Arthur (William Ilkley) take some convincing but agree to play after some soul-searching.

A chance meeting with svelte gym-owner Hazel (Abi Titmuss), the daughter of a famous hardman who Arthur used to know and respect, gives the team a fitness trainer, somewhere to train and a sixth player for the game.  Her obvious good looks aslo give the team some much-needed motivation to get into shape.

Much of the second half of the play is then concerned with the game itself which ebbs and flows to a nail-biting conclusion.  With the Wheatsheaf a kick away from victory the ending is never certain.

The first half of this play is amusing enough but slightly stilted in its telling.  The writing is packed with quips and one-liners but they are seldom delivered with a comedian’s timing.  Much of the humour is derived from the slightly pitiful state of the Wheatsheaf players – constant complaints about aching limbs, one player who seems happy to take the field in sandals, training sessions held in the pub – while the employment of a surfeit of double entendres is quickly introduced as soon as the shapely Hazel appears.  Sadly, the actors never seem to be able to settle into a rhythm and the lines, rather than being smoothly passed down the line, are fumbled and dropped.  Where there should be overlapping pot-shots, indicative of a sporting team’s easy banter, there are moments of silence giving proceedings an unwanted formal feel.

Things improve drastically in the second half as the teams take to the field for the potentially life-changing game.  Clever direction sees the actors play both teams and uses a range of theatrical trickery to effectively convey the match’s atmosphere and key moments.  There are segments which are almost balletic as the team put their bodies on the line for glory.

All the actors are capable enough and Abi Titmuss has all the necessary physical attributes required for the role of Hazel – attributes which are shown off to full effect with tight shorts and skimpy top.

It is all just a little bland with nothing to really raise the whole to anything other than average

Cast Credits (alpha order): Abi Titmuss – Hazel.  Robert Angell – Phil. James Crossley – Frank.  Eamonn Fleming – Reg/Tommy.  William Ilkley – Arthur.  Lewis Lindford – Steve.

Company Credits: Company – Hull Truck Theatre Company.  Writer – John Godber.  Director – John Godber.  Designer – Pip Leckenby.  Lighting – Graham Kirk.  Stage Manager – Alex Constantin.

(c) David Hepburn 2010

Reviewed Thursday 26 August

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Odds, by Alex Horne

Monday, 27 September, 2010

Edinburgh 2010 – Pleasance Courtyard – 5-30 August – 20.30 (1:00)

It’s not often that a standup comedy show includes a basic introduction to quantum mechanics, but Alex Horne is no ordinary comedian.

‘Odds’ is a Herculean comedy experience which relies on far more than just some tightly-written material and some decent comic timing. A full two years in the making, the show jumps from subject to subject at a dizzying place and, ultimately, never opts for easy laughs over scientific nuance.  This is breathtakingly intelligent stuff which takes in everything from Carl Sagan to the very meaning of life itself.

Ostensibly the performance is about odds and gambling, in particular a bet placed at a William Hill bookmakers in 2008 that non-golfer Horne could get a hole in one by his 32nd birthday (getting particularly ungenerous, if nicely-relevant odds of 32-1).  This is used as a jumping-off point for a range of material about growing up, fatherhood, science and finding our place in the world.  It’s a clever and perfectly paced routine which pulls off the rare trick of being both hilarious and interesting – with the hirsute Alex Horne coming across as the coolest teacher ever to enter a lecture hall.

Audience members are given lottery tickets on their way in and are asked to take part in a series of bets – all of which are updated versions of the performers favourite “off-beat” bets from history.  These are proposition bets, namely wagers which posit challenges to be achieved in order for the money to be paid out.  There’s bets on racing raindrops, feats of speed, battles of the sexes and an intriguing search for people who share the same birthday.  It’s all terrific fun, is a nice way to hold the show together, and also provides plenty of twists in a search for a winner who is suitably rewarded at the conclusion.  Most importantly, these passages of audience interaction segue seamlessly into the prepared material in an unforced way and never feel like mere novelties or time-fillers.

Regular updates on the golfing bet also surface throughout the show using powerpoint presentation and video of the increasingly capable golfer – from early footage of him barely able to connect with the ball, to the final film which show an enviable swing and an increasingly competitive nature.  It’s a recipe guaranteed to breed empathy with the performer as he is seen struggling with an obsession which threatens increasingly to take over his life.

The very nature of a show such as this means that the question of whether the performer will succeed in his challenge hangs over proceedings.  This question never threatens to take over proceedings, however, and it is testament to Alex Horne’s expertise and intellect that the conclusion of his endeavours comes as a simple footnote.  He makes it clear that the bet is just an excuse to look at some of life’s big questions and it proves an effective metaphor for the day-to-day struggle of existence.

Partly because of this, and like life itself, there is no big finish to enjoy – a fact acknowledged by the comedian – but with a show this wide-ranging and enjoyable there’s no need for bells and whistles at the conclusion.

Cast Credits: Alex Horne.

Company Credits: Writer – Alex Horne.

(c) David Hepburn 2010

Reviewed Thursday 12 August

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Caroline Rhea

Monday, 27 September, 2010

An hour of Canadian comedy

Edinburgh 2010 – Gilded Balloon Teviot – 6-25 August – 21.30 (1:00)

Canadian comedian and actress Caroline Rhea gives an interesting, if occasionally scattershot, insight into her varied life in this hour of anecdote and observation.  Somewhat unusually the performer is supported by her real life partner Costaki Econompolous, who spends ten minutes grinding his way through a fairly hackneyed set concerning the differences between Britain and America. Some localised material about the notorious Edinburgh climate is the only segment which threatens to break away from his monotonous comic rhythm.  Time constraints mean “the biggest name in comedy” never able to stray from his overly-scripted performance – a shame because there is no doubting his potential and professionalism.

Caroline Rhea then takes to the stage and swiftly establishes herself as a delightfully self-deprecating figure, poking fun at her perceived fame and slightly-curvier-that-she-would-like figure in equal measure.  Wondering whether she should place her “muffin top” above or below the waistband of her dress is the type of aside she utilises to distance herself from the Hollywood glitterati and make herself appear an empathetic everywoman.  It’s a fun way to set the scene for the rest of the show.

Constantly distracted by audience members, flights of fancy, or just ideas which suddenly pop up in her brain, she is exactly the opposite of her slick and shallow warm-up man and benefits greatly from the comparison.

The heart of the show sees the actress cater to fans of the hugely successful television show ‘Sabrina the Teenage Witch’- the programme, she explains, that she starred in as character Aunt Hilda over six hit seasons.  She takes on the persona of a bitchy back-stage gossip, revelling in being wilfully indiscrete about the production in general.  Her scathing comments about a particularly shoddy animatronic cat who she featured alongside and many viewer’s inability to see that it clearly wasn’t a real animal is a particularly strong riff.  “Have you ever actually seen a real cat speak?”, she spits with unveiled derision.

The recent birth of her daughter at a relatively mature age (she is not shy about revealing that she is 46) is another rich seam for prepared material.  Motherhood, it seems, has not softened her, but the love for her offspring is apparent as she takes a skewed look at the changes a new arrival can bring.  Personal relationships are also picked over and audience participation dealt with in a conversational rather than confrontational manner.  This chatty demeanor successfully stetches the small amount of written comedy to fill the time while maintaining momentum throughout.

She’s not afraid to venture into more traditional comic territory, with some nice pieces of observational humour based on snippets of her experiences in Scotland.  Her amusement at how the Scottish accent can change the innocuous-sounding ‘Falkirk High Train Station’ into an expletive is one such piece of ‘fish out of water’ humour.

The show culminates in a beautifully-realised skit about a misheard line in The Sound of Music.  It’s the naughtiest moment in a set packed with good-natured joshing rather than finely-written one-liners.

The key to the whole performance is simply Caroline Rhea’s good-natured persona.  Her sheer force of personality overcomes the parts of the show which occasionally fall flat, in particular more familiar riffs on the Scottish climate, and nurtures an infectious bonhomie throughout.

Cast Credits: Costaki Econompolous. Caroline Rhea.

Company Credits: Writers – Caroline Rhea and Costaki Econompolous

(c) David Hepburn 2010

Reviewed Tuesday 24 August

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The Dummy Tree, by Conor Mitchell

Monday, 27 September, 2010

London Festival Fringe – Tristan Bates Theatre – 24-28 Aug and 31 Aug-4 Sep 2010

The stage is blank all except for a park bench, placed at a diagonal to the front of the stage, and a large tree festooned with notes, children’s dummies and ribbons.  There is a dark blue light over the tree to highlight it in the dimly lit space.

The tree is The Dummy Tree of the title of the play.  The Dummy Tree is a tree somewhere in a small town.  It is where people hang their baby’s dummies on, after they have persuaded them to part with this comforting treat.  Dummies and notes have been plastered over this tree for years and it has become a piece of art showing the history of the town.  It also shows the many children who have grown up there.

The story is about a young mum who makes a hard decision when she finds she cannot cope with her little baby.  She comes to the tree to think things through and talk to her son.  She rationalises things, tells him all she wants and makes up her mind about what she will do.

The majority of the play is sung.  The play itself is not very clear.  It revolves around a young mum talking to her baby on the park bench while a group of young people join her and discuss an imminent wedding.  It is not until near the end that it is clear that the young mum and the baby are a memory from the past.  The young people from the present relate to her.  It does seem, throughout the play, that they are simply ignoring this woman in distress with a baby.  This is especially the case when she chucks the baby on the floor and they do not take any notice, as if this is a regular occurrence in their area.

The mum prematurely takes the dummy from her baby and tells him not to be nervous.  He is not yet a year old but apparently this is the ideal time to stop giving babies their dummies.  Young men and women enter wearing wedding clothes and discuss the groom’s nerves.  Various bridesmaids and guests enter and exit with various stories to tell and advice to give.  They are quite crass at times and just talk about drinking, smoking and other vices.

The mum sings well with touching emotion.  The groom and his best man sing well in cockney accents and make some amusing comments and observations.  The groom acts well throughout the play and you feel for him in his situation and want him to resolve it all and come out happy at the other end.  A nice surprise is the groom’s sister.  She enters near the end and reveals a beautiful clear singing voice.  Chris de Wilde’s design is simple yet effective.  The tree is impressive and the attention to detail is appreciated.

Conor Mitchell’s writing is not nice to hear in this instance.  The young people are given all the stereotypes you could think of and it is horrible to see them portrayed in this way yet again.  Marriage is compared to ‘sexual suicide’.  One bridesmaid is called ‘Binge’.  One other is told to stop doing something because she looks “..like a handicapped herring”.  Surprise surprise, another bridesmaid holds a bottle of spirits in her hand, one she just happens to keep in her bag.  A final insult is when they answer yes and no using ‘woofs’ and ‘quacks’.  Sexual diseases, lewd remarks and pure silliness fill the gaps.  It ends with one of the crass bridesmaids taking her old dummy, one that has been hanging there for years, from the tree and places it in her mouth.  Try to picture this if it was real and …yes, there you have it…that little lurch coming from the stomach.

The Dummy Tree is what it is.  It could be good if the young people were portrayed positively.  However, as it is, it is like the old dummy taken from the tree.  It makes you cringe, wince and feel just a bit sick.

Cast Credits: Ben Boskovic.  Richard Hodgson.  Kayleigh McKnight.  Katie Spencer.  Emma Tansley.  Rebecca Turner.  Michael Wells.

Company Credits: Music, book and lyrics – Conor Mitchell.  Director – Stuart Harvey.  Musical Director – Chris Huntley.  Designer – Chris de Wilde.

© Chantal Pierre-Packer

Reviewed Saturday 28 August 2010

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A Date to Remember

Wednesday, 15 September, 2010

London Fringe 2010 – The Horse – 23-25 August 2010

Speed dating.  Some people enjoy it.  Some would never do it again.  Some have never tried it.  Whatever your experience of it, this is one date that you need to keep.

The stage is set with a group of chairs in the centre of the room, put in pairs facing each other.  There are various chairs and sofas lining the perimeter of the room and it is an enjoyable task to decipher where to sit.  Then it is time to play ‘spot the actor’ as the various characters mingle with the audience.

Most are easy to identify such as a well-spoken woman who sits down and starts to talk very loudly, laughing and hitting her leg with a riding crop.  Another woman sits down and turns to ask, in a melodic Australian accent, if one has done this before and how nervous she is.  She has little faith in this dating game that she never seems to win.  Further characters include a blonde lady wearing very little and speaking quite vacantly.  Another character is a man who sits as far as he can from everyone and huddles into the chair, darting mistrusting, nervous looks around the room.  It is so exciting and the play has not even started.  One character is well disguised and remains elusive until the play begins. She is the character of Michaela.  She is a woman of little words but many disapproving looks.

Each person had been given a number as they entered and now numbers are called for ‘daters’ to take their places and start on their speed date with the characters and others.  What?  No preparation and forewarning of the participatory nature of the play?  No time to concoct a wonderful story about your life and career to sell yourself in the best possible way in sixty seconds?  No way.

Susie, the host of the dating event, and all round lovely lady, introduces it all and gets us started.  We are given pencils and scorecards to rank each date and write comments after.  Here is the speed date for you.  Each character in (about) sixty seconds:

Ricardo:  his profile picture would show a handsome man in a suit, dark brown hair and facial hair.  He is smiling knowingly and staring into your eyes with a certain charm.  He looks like he wants to love you and everyone else too.  The date: he has a sweet Spanish accent and loves the ladies.  He kisses your hand and can make a lady feel quite flustered.  Favourite sayings include “Do you know the body has 256 bones?” with the reply of “Would you like one more?”

Tillly:  her profile picture would show a pretty woman with long brown hair, smiling a wide smile with a flick of the eyebrow that says “Hey, you.  Hey. You like horses eh? I do! Haw haw haw haw.”  She has on tweed and a firm grip of a riding crop that she keeps handy.  The date:  she is a feisty lady with a fun personality.  Horses are her life and she can dance on a chair with her riding crop in an hilariously unique way that has to be seen.

Lydia: her profile picture would show a pretty woman with long blonde hair.  She has a sweet small smile and the hint of something not quite right in her eye.  Her ‘Little House on the Prairie’ farm girl dress should not fool you as she harbours some hidden emotion about dating that you may not want to mess with.  The date: she has a harmonic Australian accent and is friendly.  She acts like butter would not melt in her mouth but when a female dater hones in on a man she is interested in, that butter has boiled and turned to caramel.  She wants a man to take her to the other side of the world.  Definition – he must want to live in Australia with her.

Nigel: his profile picture would show a handsome man with hair with so much gel in that it looks greasy, combed over to one side.  He is wearing glasses and not smiling.  He is dressed all in greys, creams and browns and has glanced up from his usual position of staring at the floor.  The date: he is awkward to perfection. He talks from a hunched, self-conscious sitting or standing position and never looks at you much.  That, or he looks at you too much, and you can no longer tell who is supposed to be uncomfortable here.  He tells you his mum made him come to the speed-dating event and he does not want to be here.  He likes Xbox.  He is the most interesting of all.

Michaela: her profile picture would show a pretty woman with dark hair fashioned in a 1920’s hairstyle, red lipstick and a cunning side smile.  She sits with a straight back and looks at you with a smile that hides the fact that she thinks you are a reprobate.  Do not worry.  The lies in her eyes and disdainful glares will be back once she catches you catching a glimpse of her secret.  She has few words but scans each and every person with minute detail.  She does not like to help, does not like to exhaust much energy but really wants a date with a certain charming man.

Kimbaly: her profile picture would show a pretty blonde woman smiling a smile that lights up her whole face.  Her head is cocked to the side and she is a little puzzled as to why she is smiling and what it is for.   However, she knows she is happy about something anyway.  She wears lots of gold jewellery and pink and tight clothing.  The date: she flits around clicking her high heels and trying to stay balanced.  Pouting and leaning forwards are her special moves.  She walks around like the place is a mirror and it is looking at her from all sides.  She likes this admiration and gets annoyed if the mirror is not looking and taking notice of another.  She is sweet and sometimes innocent.

Susie: the hostess with the mostest.  She does not do the dating herself but she does offer her body for use after the event is over.  Her profile picture would show a pretty woman with bright copper hair.  She is smiling madly holding a butterfly hairclip in one hand and a whistle in the other.  The butterfly clip is the ‘Butterfly of Beauty’, which she uses to land only on beautiful people in the room with humorous consequences.  The whistle is to keep tight control on the timings, the daters and every little aspect of everything going on.

The actors are all superb.  Bobby Coello plays Ricardo brilliantly.  He is charming, funny and very naughty in his pick-up lines.  He is fascinating to watch.  He stays in character even when faced with a rude line proposed back to him, even though there is a hint of a smile just from him and not his character.  He delivers the lines so seriously and sincerely like Ricardo truly believes that this is the way to get women.  He kisses the hand holding it firmly but affectionately and brings it to his mouth slowly as he looks up into the eyes of the receiver.  He has a confidence that exudes a sensual allure.  He plays each woman with the same lines and gets frustrated when he messes up his words.  Bobby Coello becomes Ricardo expertly.

Rachel Copsey is wonderful as Tilly.  She plays the woman who loves horses and laughs like one too.  It is applaudable that Rachel Copsey is able to keep up the accent and energy throughout the play.  She is humorous and engaging.  She slowly allows Tilly to unravel in various ways.  She loosens in her manner, loosens her hair and loosens her body.  Rachel Copsy performs an inventive routine on a chair whilst eating and smothering herself in a thick red liquid and using her riding crop.  It has to be seen.  The use of the riding crop on others is funny to watch too.

Sasha Delaney is so cunning and sweet as Lydia.  You get the sense that something does not quite fit her ‘sweeter than honey’ demeanour.  She says the right things and laughs at the right times initially but the threat of people stepping on her territory brings out the real Lydia.  Sasha Delaney uses a skilful Australian accent for Lydia.  It has an interesting musical twang to it.  She cleverly puts her head to the side or smiles a certain way or offers to help, to project a certain image of herself.  It is amusing to see her switch to real Lydia and get in a fight with Tilly.

Hester Kent is splendid as Susie.  She is the host that everyone would like to meet but not get to know beyond the event.  She releases bursts of madness now and again and plays it like a hospital matron in a Carry On film at times.  Hester Kent’s action of using the ‘Butterfly of Beauty’ was hilarious to watch.  She moves around flitting about like it is a real butterfly rejecting the bad flowers.  She ensures everyone is having a good time but yearns for some love of her own.  It is a nice contrast to experience.

Jeremiah O’Connor is wonderful as Nigel.  He plays him so well and completely takes on the persona of Nigel.  He shies away from people, looks at them accusingly and with terror also.  He does not trust them but is scared of having to talk to them.  He is the most interesting speed date.  While watching the play, the focus kept going back to him.  There was the contemplation of what he was thinking and feeling.  There are so many levels to Nigel.  He likes his mum.  He likes playing his Xbox in his spare time.  He is lovely.  Take him home and help him get him confident enough to go out in public with you.

Charlotte Tallack is striking as Michaela.  She plays her as a sophisticated lady who knows what she wants.  She wants a man.  She does not want to have to work hard for him.  She wants to judge everyone around her and is happy doing so.   She walks tall and confidently.  Charlotte Tallack is funny as Michaela.  There is a moment when all the daters are clearing away the chairs and other items.  She looks at a chair with disgust and makes a humorous and feeble attempt at helping.  She pushes the chair to the side with a sharp push that moves it only a little.  This simple action is great.

Naomi Todd is skilful as Kimbaly.  Initially it is hard to see where her character is going or if she is developing.  Then there is a beautiful point in which she states what physical harm she would do to Susie if she said what she thought she had said.  It is funny and switches Kimbaly from an immature and unthinking woman into a capable woman.  One who has maturity and knowledge but chooses rather to just be herself, be nice and be all cookies and cream.  Naomi Todd performs two outstanding dance routines in the manner of Kimbaly.  One routine is Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies’.  Every move is perfect but they have the Kimbaly edge to them so the pouting forward leaning flicks are thick and fast and enhance the performance.

Matthew Parker has directed this play with skill, humour and originality.  It is a great and different concept and a fun participatory experience.  Theatre like this needs to continue.  Each character is well developed and has their own signature.  They work well individually and collectively.  The speed-dating event is wonderful.  The after party is wonderful.  It is all wonderful.  The lighting complements the action and the set has just the right amount of interest in it not to detract from the actors.

Catherine Gerrard has assistant directed this play skilfully also.  She was part of the play behind the bar helping with various aspects of it.  It seems like the whole process has been an enjoyable experience with a lot of laughter.

Laura Harling is astute to have taken this play and produced it.  It would be good if this play could be put on in a bigger venue for even more people to see and enjoy.  It is something to go home and tell your friends about.  Everyone involved deserves another round of applause.

There you have it.  Speed dating done.  Tick.  The first half of the play is a funny account of the highs and lows of speed dating and the people you could meet and be forced to spend time with.  The audience is relieved not to be involved for the whole event as they conveniently get voted off for not getting enough points to go through to the next round.  Phew.  The second half further delves into the dating game and the characters and a post-speed-date party.  There is dancing and some truly amazing dance routines that must have taken a while to perfect.  There are some interesting moments in the play when the lights go down and the spotlight is on one character and they do a speech and a performance to further reveal aspects of their character and tell their story.  Then the action goes back to normal as if it never happened.  A beautifully directed montage of dancing by all the characters also occurs, done to the music of ‘Love is a Battlefield’ by Pat Benatar.  There are a set of movements each character completes amidst one another and then the whole thing repeats with subtle changes and increasing intensity.  It is mesmerising to watch.

The whole play is brilliant.  There is plenty of fun and laughter throughout.  If all speed dating involves this much humour, intrigue and dance routines, more people should definitely try it.  If not for the experience of laughing until you cry, then purely for the pleasure of meeting Ricardo, Tilly, Lydia, Susie, Nigel, Michaela and Kimbaly.

Cast Credits: Bobby Coello – Ricardo.  Rachel Copsey – Tilly.  Sasha Delaney – Lydia.  Hester Kent – Susie.  Jeremiah O’Connor – Nigel.  Charlotte Tallack – Michaela.  Naomi Todd – Kimbaly.

Company Credits: Director – Matthew Parker.  Assistant Director – Catherine Gerrard.  Producer – Laura Harling.

© Chantal Pierre-Packer 2010

Reviewed Tuesday 24 August 2010

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No Son of Mine, by Rufus Jones and Alex Kirk

Wednesday, 15 September, 2010

Father and Son

Edinburgh – Pleasance Courtyard – 4 – 30 Aug 10 – 15:15 (1.00)

No Son of Mine is a comedy play exploring the relationship between Dennis Hazeley and his father, Don.

Dennis is an aspiring actor who has brought his play, ‘Afghan Hounds’ to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, only to have his co-star drop out at the last minute.  Dennis is an endearingly insecure character, who apologises frequently in his desperation for audience approval.  His original play is laughably poor, lacking in both cast and confidence, but the show must go on.

When Dennis’ father Don turns up unexpectedly, and late, to ‘support’ his son, the outcome is excruciatingly embarrassing for Dennis, already struggling with his failing play.  He tries to continue, but has to battle constant interruptions and personal interjections from his father.  Performing is Dennis’ dream, but Don finds it hard to accept that his son has chosen such a creative and flamboyant path in life.  ‘Afghan Hounds’ is, thankfully, soon abandoned as Dennis’ priority becomes salvaging his dignity in front of his audience.

Dennis has to endure his father’s politically incorrect views and jokes, spanning racism and homophobia, and repeatedly attempts to make him leave.  As Dennis squirms, he effectively removes some of the discomfort and awkwardness of this type of humour.  By providing a character whose politically incorrect views and jokes leave his son cringing, the duo invite the audience to laugh aloud without feeling too uncomfortable.  Dennis is clearly worried about how the audience will react, and therefore, there is a recognition that these views may cause offence.  In fact it is Dennis who is most offended by the views of his father, and by the fact Don cannot accept his life choices, and watching Dennis try to minimise the damage caused is the funniest part.  His over sensitivity is in direct contrast to Don’s total lack of tact, an entertaining combination.  The succession of bad jokes in bad taste, as Don delights in winding up Dennis, is just the right side of wrong, and the audience was laughing out loud throughout.

As Don tries to find Dennis a girlfriend, tells stories from his childhood, and eventually reveals the wonderful ‘magic hand trick’, possibly the best of all the world’s dad jokes, the relationship between the two men goes through many ups and downs.  Dennis and Don are so convincing in their respective humility and pomposity that many will feel they know someone just like this. David Brent from The Office might ring a bell.  While real affection between the two is apparent, a parent turning up unannounced in the domain of the offspring is the kind of horrifying situation that many can relate to, and highlights a generation gap that exists in many families with but which is rarely addressed or explored.

The characters in No Son of Mine are exceptionally believable, surprising likeable, and endearingly normal.  Combining excellent timing, insightful social observations and terrible ‘dad jokes’, this play is original, and very funny.

Cast credits:  Rufus Jones – Dennis Hazeley.   Alex Kirk – Don Hazeley.

Company credits:  Writers – Rufus Jones and Alex Kirk.

(c) Claire Higgins 2010

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American Cougar of Comedy – Free

Monday, 13 September, 2010

Edinburgh Fringe 2010 – Laughing Horse @ The Three Sisters – 5-29 August 10 – 19:15 (1:00)

Sandra Risser wanders on stage from the back of the room, and for a moment it feels like she’s going to ask us if we can spare some change, she stretches a shaking hand towards the microphone and struggles to remove it from it’s stand.   I check the flyer I was handed on my way in no this isn’t  AA it’s the American Cougar of Comedy, a comedy show with a difference.

The difference is Sandra Risser, the cougar herself, she’s 69, has smoked a lot of pot in her day, has a husband 15 years her junior, has the shakes and because she’s a stand-up kinda gal speaks frankly about her sex-life and the breasts of her friends.

As I watch Sandra Risser hand out small pieces of paper and pencils and explain in the dullest drawn out manner that she wants us to ask any question we like and she’ll answer it. My heart sinks as I realise that this lady has all the charisma of a used tea-bag and is about as verbose.

The first portion of the show is stock material, a series of worn out unfunny jokes which seem designed to shock but which fail in the attempt. There is something about the delivery which sticks in the craw, a smugness about the performer and as I write my question onto the piece of paper in front of me I plan a particularly tricky question, with mischief in my heart

As the show moves from set piece to improvisation, something happens excitement builds as the audience realise that all the insane questions they have asked are now about to be answered by a 69 year old who prefaces almost every sentence with ‘The thing about being a woman who likes younger men is…’ and who regularly riffs on the difficulties of being a 19 year old cougar – i.e. she had to touch young boys.

The excitement is now palpable. The potential for cringe-worthy moments of excruciating embarrassment is so high it’s like being back at school and watching your parents walk into your classroom a start talking to your teacher about you know not what. It impossible to know what the next 40 mins will contain, and as Sandra Risser starts to mumble her way through a mixture of set material and difficult questions I start to laugh.

In her faltering grasp material which would seem flat, run of the mill and downright boring in the hands of a younger woman is elevated into something which has that car crash appeal which makes you turn you head.

As the questions are drawn out of the hat, I look around at the audience trying to gauge the level of question the audience will ask – I’m not disappointed.  Go see this show because you will not forget that hour you spent sinking into your seat, cringing and crying with laughter.

(c) Stephen Redman 2010

reviewed Friday 20 August 2010 / Laughing Horse @ The Three Sisters, Edinburgh UK

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End of the line: Tales on the Tube

Thursday, 9 September, 2010

Didn’t want it to end!

London – The Roadtrip Bar 23rd – 25th Aug 2010 – 19:30 1 hour (no interval)

new short drama

Tales of the Tube, in less time than it takes to get from Hainault to almost anywhere

The downstairs room at Roadtrip Bar was converted into a makeshift tube carriage by Rumi Begum so the audience sat cosily facing each other on benches watching the action unfold all around and amongst them.

The action kicked off with ‘Inconvenient Revelations’ by Rumi Begum. A short, sassy piece that showed secrets between girls never really stay secret. The ‘Tube’s a Racist’ by Triska Hamid was a short piece loaded with colour–coded comedy. ‘Closure’ by Mediah Ahmed was a touchingly awkward piece about bumping into your ex on the tube with a perfectly restrained portrayal of heartbreak from Gabriella Schmidt.

‘Going Under’ by Fenar Mohammed-Ali was a quirky tale about tube suicides featuring a sweet portrayal by Fenar Mohammed-Ali himself as the caring mouse who can tell a man is about to jump but is powerless to stop him. ‘A Revealing Man’ by Rumi Begum was a delightfully frank piece of physical comedy about the invasion of personal space on the tube and ‘On Your Feet’ also by Rumi Begum exposed the nightmare of travelling on the tube for a man with an overwhelming fear of feet.

‘What Goes Around’ by Amber Mun was an intriguing piece about justice stalking the law whilst on a very enclosed tube carriage and ‘A Bit of a Mouthful’ by Rumi Begum delved into the weird rules of bulimic socialising.

‘Identity’ by Zainab Hasan was a futuristic piece about the confusions of controlling the public through ID cards with an incredibly gentle performance from Lelo Majozi in the face of blatant prejudice.

‘That Boy’ by Sabrina Mahfouz was a delicate, honest piece about how easy it is to reveal too much about your self on a long tube journey. David Ajao had a cheeky charisma and Rhoda Ofori-Attah had enigmatic innocence that made it very easy to care about the characters in this tube tale.

‘Sloane Square’ by Triska Hamid was a hilarious piece about the type of girl everyone wants to live like but no one wants to be like with Lydia Rose Bewley almost stealing the entire show with her portrayal of the well meaning, but incredibly politically incorrect, Sloane girl.

And finally ‘Neil’ by Zia Ahmed was a light, comic piece about two friends who decide to create a tribute to Art Attack’s Neil Buchannan after mistakenly hearing that he’s dead.

All in all this was an impressive fringe debut by knocked for six which had some genuinely brilliant theatrical moments. Based on this experience I can say with confidence that when I see any of their future projects I won’t think twice about jumping on board.

Cast Credits: Performers – Alexander Aplerku, David Ajao, Fenar Mohammed-Ali, Gabriella Schmidt, Lelo Majozi, Lydia Rose Bewley, Jim Tanner, Rhoda Ofori-Attah, Zainab Hasan, Zia Ahmed

Company Credits: Writers – Amber Mun, Fenar Mohammed-Ali, Mediah Ahmed, Rumi Begum, Sabrina Mahfouz, Triska Hamid, Zainab Hasan, Zia Ahmed. Directing Adviser – Natalie Ibu. Graphic & Audio Design – Zia Ahmed. Stage Hand / Announcer – Jack Dormer. Executive Producer – Sabrina Mahfouz. Website – www.knockedforsix.co.uk
(c) Hannah Rodger 2010

reviewed Tuesday 24 August 10

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Nathan Cassidy: The Frog That Says Sausages

Thursday, 9 September, 2010

Edinburgh 2010– Just The Tonic at the Caves – 5-29 2010 – 17.20 (1.00)

Nathan Cassidy: The Frog That Says Sausages is a jaw dropping, eye brow raising, unforgettable evening.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t the good kind of unforgettable.  Not in the least.  Instead, the image of a man frantically, aggressively and obsessively trying to make a silent audience laugh as he slowly dies inside will forever be burnt into the memories of the brave men and women who sat their patiently and stood their ground as they waited until the bitter end.  Faces full of confusion and fear, praying that there was a point to it all, that their time, tolerance and strife was not in vain.

Alas, this story does not end happily.  It ends with heavy casualties to both sides. For the performer – he leaves with his dignity on the floor, torn and bloodied.  For the spectators – an hour apiece, never to be reclaimed again.

The setting for the show appeared appropriate.  For it takes place deep within the damp musty stone chambers which lie beneath South Bridge.  A sepulchre in its own right.  On stage sat nothing more than a white dry erase board on which was written ‘Things you must not joke about at the Royal Variety Performance.  1:  Josef Fritzl.’  Bad taste?  Perhaps.  But an appropriate beginning for a show which uses the tag line ‘Warning: Contains most offensive joke ever.’

It is an intriguing set up.  A show about preparing for an even bigger show of the Royal Variety kind.  Seeing as the Royal Variety is a ‘clean’ show, Nathan Cassidy uses this time to get all the filth and obscenities out of his system whilst attempting to find a style of comedy which will entertain everyone.  An impossible feat he concludes, but something he will still try and achieve ‘in his own way’.  A task and a belief which is hard not to have respect for – even if he appears to be failing miserably at it.

He began the show on a promising foot.  Jogging up to the stage from the back of the chamber wearing a comical Josef Fritzl beard as he sings a unique version of ‘Close Every Door To Me’ from the musical ‘Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dream Coat’ which was received quite well.  Sadly the show hit its peaked with the first joke and only went down hill from there.  The rest of the show continued with a variety of ‘offensive’ stories about pedophiles, Thai lady boys, and Simon Weston.  All of which received nothing more than apologetic chuckles from the otherwise silent audience.  There was a particularly low point when Nathan tried to recreate a chase sequence with Benny Hill music.  He ran around the cave struggling to get people to join in as they all sat their motionless and painfully watched.

It all seemed relatively juvenile and poorly thought-out.  Even the joke everyone came to see, the gag which claimed to be the most offensive joke ever, was an absolute tragedy.  Not because it was so unbearably offensive, but because it was so childish and overtly un-clever that every year eight school bully could have thought of it.  A simple, straightforward joke which did nothing but combined racism with pedophilia.

Nathan Cassidy set out to make a point.  What that point is no one knows or even really cares. It’s just unfortunate that he had to go about it in an extremely unentertaining way.  One can only assume however that he will continue his quest, as the rest of us go on to better things.  You can only go up from here.

Cast Credits: Nathan Cassidy

Company Credits: Writer – Nathan Cassidy. Director – uncredited. Lighting Designer – uncredited. Sound Designer – uncredited. Technical Operator – uncredited. Producer – uncredited. Company – Rat Pack Productions

(c) Carl Livesay 2010

reviewed Saturday 28 August 2010

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Dr.Ettrick Hogg presents Manly Specimens

Tuesday, 7 September, 2010

Free Festival fun

Edinburgh 2010 – Laughing Horse @ Meadow Bar –  5 – 29 Aug. (15.15)

Dr Hogg

This show, in the upstairs room of The Meadows Bar made good use of the venue’s fire escape as an ‘on view’ dressing room. The promised biscuits were handed round as the audience came in and the show was set up in full view of the audience. This was all done with an endearing warmth by Wudwud, assisted by banter from Rich Fortune, as Margaret Wudwud busied herself about the technical aspects of the set-up, wearing a very short skirt, spectacles and a pair of extremly high heels. Controlled creative chaos ensued.

Learning the art of manliness with Dr Joseph Ettrick-Hogg and his enigmatic assistant, the female comedian, Margaret Wudwud, was lighthearted fun. Her stage sharing friends were a series of Northern comediens. The first, Wudwud, held the stage skillfully while Margaret Wudwud became her alter ego, Dr.Joseph Ettrick Hogg. He created a friendly atmosphere upon which the success of the rest of the show was built.

Wearing a bowler hat,a large false moustache and a ‘manly’ suit Margaret Wudwud reappears, playing the informative Dr.Ettrick Hogg with gruff ‘manly’voice and a large pinch of salt. She uses this hirsuit sex-change to poke fun at men in an affectionate manner, sending up all obvious stereotypes of manlines with wicked bravado. Her illustrations of men and women are very funny, as is her semi-Victorian character invention’s ‘caring’ attitude and patronisingly masculine style of delivery, which he/she uses to address the foibles of men and women alike.

The talented young woman was joined by the promised ‘ manliest specimens of Fringe stand-up enticed to perform that day’. Between them they created a dolly mixture of fun and a fair ladle of manly mayhem. Four brave men shared the stage.  The first on was Wudwud in ordinary clothing followed by Dr. Joseph Ettrick Hogg who entertained us to a definition of and  expose of manly attributes before introducing Rich Fortune.

Rich was gently humourous, self depricating and chatty. His light touch was appreciated by the mainly manly Northern English audience who laughed happily as the jokes flowed through. The next, again, was Wudwud who this time performed his act in a White Rabbit suit, being charmingly witty and downright silly. He coped beautifully with the stream of toilet visiting women who appeared almost exclusively during his section of the programme, as did the waiter carrying food to a member of the audience. He kept our attention with his finely timed facial expressions, never embarrasing anyone, yet getting the most from each ludicrous moment. his sense of the absurd is very strong and the absurdity of his situation tremendously well played.

He was followed by another visit to the stage by Dr.Joseph Ettrick Hogg, engagingly expanding on his views about who or what best demonstrated manliness and the last was Dan Maxim whose overtly sexually based set was well observed, occasionally rude and more humourous than offensive, well judged to his afternoon audience of Festival visitors. He made use of notes, quite unabashedly, which gave him a slightly professorial appeareance, which contrasted well with the white Rabbit and synchronistically created a modern form of the erudite Dr.Ettrick-Hogg which complimented the central character well.

Dr.Ettrick-Hogg finished the show, which was well worth any donation people chose to give. The energy of the performances of Wudwud and Dr.Joseph Ettrick-Hogg was inclusive, making generous space for the others and engaging the audience in a warm-hearted banter. The guests were intelligent, talented, funny and willing to be incorporated in being sent up by Dr.Ettrick -Hogg, who was full of helpful advice for manly men and the ‘wise’ women with whom manly men inter-act. It was a very enjoyable fifty minutes of free fun.

Cast: Rich Fortune – stand-up comedian,  Dan Maxim – stand-up comedian, Wudwud – White Rabbit, Margaret Wudwud  – Dr.Joseph Ettrick-Hogg,

Co- producers and Creators, Jo Ettrichk – Hogg & Wudwud

(c) Lilian Kennedy Brzoska 2010

reviewed Saturday 28th August