Archive for August 17th, 2011


The Last Five Years

Wednesday, 17 August, 2011

Powerful two-hander

Edinburgh – C Venues, C Soco Studio 4, 5-15 August 21:30 (1:15)

The Last Five Years is a powerful two-hander musical that tells the story of a failed marriage.  Aspiring actress Cathy Hyatt (Emily Muldoon) falls in love with the equally smitten Jamie Wellerstein (Ashton Montgomery).  As  Jamie’s writing career climbs to astonishing heights at an unprecedented pace, Cathy’s falls apart. Their love cannot survive this unbalance. Jason Robert Brown’s  heartfelt score brings to life the bittersweet nature of love and loss.

Emily Hill  and Laura Howarth have produced a simple yet stylish show.  The stage is split into quadrants.  A bedroom on the right, a multi purpose box to the left, two folding chairs centre stage.  The colours are neutral-creams, beiges and browns.  The set echoes the minimalist nature of this almost naturalistic and dramatic musical.  Difficulties arise due to the limitations of the fringe space however, and the set could do with being shifted back a meter or so to ensure the audience are always able to engage with the touching acting the cast are so capable of.  Some moments, such as Cathy’s scene on the pier are totally lost.

Cathy’s story starts at the end.  “Jamie is over and Jamie is gone” sings  Emily Muldoon.     As she cradles her wedding photo.  Her face is un-made-up and puffed from crying.  Her voice cracks emotionally.  The weakness of her tone captures the reality of a broken woman.  However, the band overwhelms her somewhat.  Though the acting is undoubtedly moving the melody is lost in the emotion.  The cavernous space amplifies her accompaniment but does not favour her.

Jamie’s story starts at the beginning.  The twenty-three year old wannabe novelist, arrogant, immature and optimistic is falling in love with an older woman.  Ashton Montgomery  sings the role wonderfully, capturing Jamie’s cock-sure nature, but also his genuine enthusiasm and his passion for Cathy.  He masters a very challenging score, effectively catching the lower notes and whisking his way through some falsetto passages.

As the story progresses the disparity in vocal ability and musical pitfalls widen.  While both Emily Muldoon and Ashton Montgomery are gifted actors who bring their characters to life with remarkable attention to detail and performances that are at once well observed and very much ‘in the moment’, Emily Muldoon’s  voice is not quite up to the role.  In the middle and lower registers her delivery is sensitive and sonorous, with a folk-song tone, however, the part is beyond her range and her higher notes fail.  Her belt crumbles, and songs in the upper register such as When You Come Home do not come over well—both tuning and sound quality are hampered.  Moreover, the band have some intonation and timing problems, especially the string section.  Fortunately, neither singers are too thrown by this.

Ashton Montgomery carries the show with aplomb.  While his character could become deeply unlikeable, he is well cast.  The youth and energy he brings to Jamie, as well as moments of sheer despair, self loathing and guilt humanise the character.  His drunken new husband, frustrated at his sexual captivity is particularly easy to identify with despite moral outrage.

And, while Emily Muldoon  struggles vocally, she has some shining moments.  As she talks of her hopes and dreams to the invisible Jamie, sitting on an imaginary bus, her eyes shine with the excitement of new found love, and her mellow vocal quality is perfectly suited to this almost spoken melody.

The final few scenes tie the show together in a clever and poignant way.  Small touches, such as the realisation that the checked pyjama top one assumed Cathy to be wearing at the start was actually one of Jamie’s shirts heighten the pathos.  While this production has flaws (mostly musical or due to spatial constraints), exceptional acting and a lot of genuine insight from directors  Alex Howarth and Caroline McCaffrey make it well worth seeing.

Cast Credits:  Jamie Wellerstein – Ashton Montgomery, Cathy Hyatt – Emily Muldoon

Band:  Keyboard – Brendon McDonald, Violin – Joanna Ramaswamy, Cello 1– Charlotte Wright, Cello 2 – Piaf Knight, Guitar – Craig Carri, Bass – Lewis Kennedy

Company Credits: Director/Producers – Alex Howarth and Caroline McCaffrey, Producers – Emily Hill and Laura Howarth, Musical Director – Lindsey Miller

Reviewed Monday 8th August – C Venues, C Soco Studio 4 – Edinburgh

(c) Rebecca Gibson 2011


John Hunt: Musician

Wednesday, 17 August, 2011

A great singer-songwriter in virtuoso performance

Edinburgh ’11-The Jazz Bar – Chambers Street- 12-17 Aug at 16:00

John Hunt is a consummate musician in his element at the Jazz Bar. His witty repartit is delivered in a laid back, quiet, conversational manner, between songs and his relationship with the audience is strong. He plays for a full hour, choosing from his entertainingly introduced yellow paper list, a Lucky Dip programme of songs,  from the hundred or so available to him, at the drop of his well worn hat.

“ She’s too Damn Smart “ was first out of the bag, a traditional sounding Blues Song, introducing us to his excellent voice. He has a strange guitar in his hands, cobbled together on a board with microphone attachments, switches, a fret board, metal strings and what looks like the inside of an old speaker at the back.  The microphone arrangement means he has the microphone in the right place for his mouth at all times while his personalised, miked instrument is being made to sing in his hands.

He followed up with a much faster song, “ You’ve Gotta Make your Move”, before introducing us to the notion of the “ choose as you go “ programme and his gentle sense of humour, which pervades his songs as well as his exchanges with the audience.  This is a confident, talented singer-song writer, independent and funny.

“ You’re Hot! Hotter than the blazing sun “ he sings while beating out the rhythm on the table-top perch below his feet. He is now playing slide guitar, skilfully bending notes, following that with “ Mobile Home”, from the list, using a very different almost Steel Guitar sound. He creates surprisingly full, warm deep sounds on the lower strings while dancing notes ring out in the higher registers. He plays a rolling rhythm while singing surprisingly romantic lyrics in a warm register which contrasts completely with the rougher edged blues sound he produced earlier. He informs the audience the gig is being recorded and encourages them to make noises if they’d like to feature loudly enough to be heard on the finished product. By now they all laugh because the atmosphere John Hunt creates is charged with warmth.

He tells the story of his uncle, who got married at the age of seventy-three to the woman with whom he had lived for thirty years, then sings the song written for the occasion, “ Woo-woo-woman After Me “. It is chase music using blues slide guitar to great effect. Like all his songs, it allows for personal dreaming while being fully present in the room listening to a man share his poetry in melody and rhythms which move the soul.

His Silly Isles story is beautiful, creating splendid images of a Johnny Cash like “Man in Black” appearing in the distance, where least expected, walking towards him and offering cheese and beer. The man turns out to be a priest and the resultant song is “ Bad News “ which begins with Hawaiian Island Sounds on guitar before it drops into a driving blues holding the “ Yer goin’ to Hell” lyric in perfect balance. Smiles appeared on  faces as he sang “ If you’re lookin’ for religion, you’d better look within. You gotta pardon yourself..from Original Sin…that’s Bad News..Bad News..”

He then shifted the pace and style by singing a Frank Sinatra number to great effect. “ Got You Under My Skin” was sung in deep throated notes with splendid chest sound, using a guitar covered in newspaper to create a rhythmic accompaniment which allowed the song to shine through, It was a standard, being given fresh life by a man with a great distinctive bluesy voice capable of conveying many levels of feeling.

With humourous ease he moved style again to play “Chicken Music” in simple upbeat strumming while his fingers ran lightly up and down the fret board creating a complex combination of notes to illustrate “ I’m  the Road-runner Darlin’” before moving into walking guitar style, bending notes like honey in the air. John Hunt writes wonderful story telling songs, creates very full sounds of many kinds on the guitar which sounds more like an orchestra in his hands.

In “ Haunt You “ he creates bell-like sounds to illustrate “ I’ve been floatin’ around….Haunt You..Ain’t gonna give you no rest”  Then both pickin’ and slidin’ creates a change of atmosphere into sounds more like heavy rock grunge before singing about “ Insurance Salesmen “. This song is about ex-musicians Iggy Pop and Alice Cooper selling insurance. Here John Hunt once more uses Blues Slide guitar to great effect during “ It don’t matter about your ability, you’ve sold your credibility. Alice Cooper and Iggy Pop sellin’ insurance…Rock is on the Rocks! You Sold Out !”

He finished in tight time, leaving everyone wishing it was just the interval before another hour of virtuousity.

CAST – John Hunt – Singer-song writer/musician

COMPANY – Jazz Bar Staff –  Bill Kale– Lighting sound


(c) Lilian Kennedy Brzoska 2011

reviewed Friday 12th August 11/  Jazz Bar, Chambers Street — Edinburgh UK

Fringe Report ( c ) Fringe Report 2002 – 2011


11: Cutting Edge Theatre

Wednesday, 17 August, 2011

Unimaginative, poorly executed and put-together musical

Edinburgh, Paradise in Augustine’s  –  6-28 Aug 11  –  20:45 (1 hour 15 mins)

A musical created to focus on themes central to World War One, World War Two and the current War on Terror is never going to be cheery viewing – or, as is the case with Cutting Edge Theatre’s production, even worth viewing in the first place.  Vague narratives attempt to convey varying aspects of a war experience, supposedly intended to establish parallels between the three separate time periods by focusing on the daily lives of the people directly affected – those on the front lines, those left behind, in concentration camps, and those giving the orders.  This proposed ‘cross-section’, while aiming to be representative of the whole, instead ends up being a confusing series of unclear, difficult to follow narratives that don’t capture the audience’s attention, evoke any empathy or identification with the constantly changing characters, or provide any sort of progression or climax to the piece.

Unfortunately the set design is as unfocused as the script – many costumes and a few chairs litter the stage, from which the actors create each micro-scene (of which there are far too many).  The implication through repeated dialogue ‘A hat. A coat. A watch. A tie.’ is that there is some significance to the clothing, that it represents something – regrettably it never becomes clear what that significance is meant to be, apart from the fact we all wear clothes, as did the people in each war scene depicted – a very moot point indeed.  There is also an attempt at the motif of a doll that is passed from character to character in some of the scenes – again, this is under developed, so there is no chance to grasp what it is meant to signify.  A half-hearted effort has been made to bring a multi-media aspect to the production, through the use of some extremely unsubtle and obvious slide shows which do little to enhance the onstage action.  Some poetry is also thrown into the mix, which the actors pass between them saying one word each – unfortunately this only serves to detract any emphasis on the actual words and destroy any rhythm or metre the compositions could potentially have.

Performances were lacklustre across the board – there was no sense of ensemble, and little or no connection with the audience.  Some truly terrible attempts were made at various accents, though not by every cast member, leading one to question why there was a need for accents in some cases and not others.  Some very generic American accents meant it was difficult to actually contextualise that story strand – in fact, it is so unclear that this reporter is still unsure as to whether that story followed a soldier or a suicide bomber, as both were implied at some point.  The songs were all very simple in terms of composition, the lyrics clunky and the harmonies unimpressive.  None were particularly memorable, and many blurred into each other due to their unfocused subject matter.  Only three stood out – one on propaganda, with unimaginative and poorly executed choreography newspapers(also featuring such lyrical gems as ‘everyone has their own perspective/it’s all propaganda’), one decent war tune comparing the trenches to Buckingham Palace, and something attempting to show how divorced modern women are from the suffering in third world countries – yet another theme that got thrown into the mix that seemed to come out of nowhere.

This was billed as a professional production that the programme states ‘does not seek to provide answers, it does seek to ask some questions, to challenge and inspire’ – the only question it inspires is ‘when will this appalling piece of theatre be over?’  Unfocused script, amateur performances and a lack of emotional connection or any sense of the stakes involved make it very hard to find anything redeeming about this work.

Cast Credits:  Maggie Brown  –  Helena, Sally, Frankie.  Katrina Graham  –  Carla, Rachel, Betty, Amy.    David Mutch  –  Humanity, Lukas, Henry, Billy.  Darren Niven  –  Charlie, German Guard, Yank.  Steven McIntyre  –  Riq, Edward, Tim.  Vicki Robertson  –  Sheza, Maggie.  Dylan Means & Luis Matthieson Mutch  –  sharing role of small boy.

Company Credits:   Book/Director  –  Suzanne Lofthus.  Composer/Lyricist  –  Ian Hammond Brown.  Musical Director  –  Alan Gibson.  Choreographer  –  Murray Grant.  Poetry  –  Oli Highham.  Stage Manager  –  Duncan Yellowlees.  Costume Co-ordinator/Props/Production Assistant  –  Katie Godfrey.  Projections  –  Katie Godfrey, Steven McIntyre, Suzanne Lofthus, Duncan Yellowlees, Amber Hine, Shona McKee McNeil (film sequence).

(c) Emma MacLennan 2011

Reviewed Friday 12th August 2011 / Paradise in Augustine’s, Edinburgh


Holden and Revill: the North-South Divide

Wednesday, 17 August, 2011

Unfocused, mildly funny stand up double bill.

Laughing Horse @ Jekyll & Hyde  –  7-28 Aug 11  –  16:30 (55 mins)

The premise: dour northerner Jon Holden and chirpy southerner Paul Revill attempt to explore, qualify and perhaps even explain the division between north and south found in different parts of the UK.  The actuality: neither of them had enough material to fill an hour, so they banded together in the hope that when their powers combined, they’d at least get 50 minutes.  And attempted to tie it together with an unashamedly loose theme that neither of them can really do justice, as they are both so resolutely middle class, and neither seems particularly northern or southern (they live in St Albans, for goodness sake!)

The show itself is informal, rather awkwardly set up in a cluttered pub.  The audience are asked to imagine that they have actually queued round the block to get into this gig, and that these guys are the poster boys of stand up comedy and we’re in a massive, well known venue.  It makes for a nice introduction to Paul Revill’s set, which consists of how he did his research for the show (he went to London to watch Billy Eliot), an amusing anecdote about getting chased by a scary northerner in a car, and teaching sex education to fourteen year olds.  Paul Revill is likeable and easy to watch, but his material often lacks a definite ending, it just sort of peters out.  He does have some gems, such as parents taking their children on (British business investment programme) Dragons Den, and a well observed chuckle-inducing section on the ‘condom walk of shame’ (you’ll also find out how he got his imaginary nickname from his imaginary girlfriend), but unfortunately lack of concrete character decisions undermine his delivery slightly.

Jon Holden’s performance is much less focused.  He moves between placing himself above his comedy – trying to double-bluff the fact that some of his jokes just don’t work – to playing at being generally disgruntled with his lot.  His material is less story based than his co-stars – in fact, it is made up of some rather odd and frankly a bit laboured audience participation.  A questionnaire to establish which is more ‘manly’, North or South, is full of quite blatant stereotypes which are mildly amusing but go on for too long with too much repetition.  He gives an audience member a copy of his set to prompt him should he get lost – this doesn’t really seem to go anywhere or have any pay-off.  A potentially quite funny section involving shadow puppetry on an audience members torso is unfortunately underworked, and he does too easily resort to berating various celebrities for cheap laughs.  His observations on the audience and interaction with them are actually better than a lot of his prepared material (there were some witty quips about the potential evils of the soil industry at the expense of one PHD studying spectator that were good for a chuckle), but a lot of Jon Holden’s humour seems to rely on those happy to snigger at the expense of others, rather than any genuine innovation.  He also felt the need to introduce the premise of the show three or four times, just in case anyone (including the performers) had forgotten that they were dealing with North versus South.

The two comics don’t really work as a double act, and billing themselves as such is doing both of them a disservice.  They both had mildly funny material that could be a lot better with development and more concrete performance personas.  Both occasionally went down the self-deprecating route, which is far too common place among comics and should be avoided as it comes across as a time-filler.  Paul Revill is likeable and his energy makes him watchable; Jon Holden has potentially the more original material, but both sets definitely need more work.


Performers  –  Jon Holden & Paul Revill.

(c) Emma MacLennan 2011

Reviewed Sunday 14th August 2011 / Laughing Horse Free Festival 2011, Jekyll & Hyde Pub, Edinburgh



Edinburgh from below

Wednesday, 17 August, 2011

Atmospheric underground tour

Meeting outside the imposing Tron Kirk on Edinburgh’s busy High Street, the anticipation is palpable.  A small, intimate tour group is about to leave the rare rays of Scottish sunshine behind to descend into a work of dark, damp history, in what is billed as one of the most haunted places in the world.

Our guide, a petite, articulate English woman, dressed in dark period costume (and, most appropriately, wellington boots – this is a Scottish summer, after all) makes jokes with those about to embark, putting them at their ease.  A quick check in slightly spoils the ambiance created at the Kirk, but there’s little time to reflect on that as we enter the vaults of Edinburgh’s South Bridge, and are plunged into the dank, dreary underworld that is underground Edinburgh.

The vaults themselves – originally built for storage in the mid 1700’s – are extremely atmospheric.  Lit only by our guide’s torch, candle light and the occasional emergency exit sign (health and safety people), we squelch through the puddles and try not to stumble on the uneven floors, afraid to touch the dripping walls or peer too closely into the pitch black corners.  Our guide is eloquent and extremely knowledgeable about Edinburgh’s history, sharing her personal experiences of the vaults and answering any questions the inquisitive group may have.  The tour is very intimate, and our guide draws us in, speaking perhaps a tad too softly for the echo-prone space, but then one doesn’t exactly feel like it’s acceptable to shout down there.  We don’t know who we might disturb.

We are presented with a cross-section of who might have lived in these horrible conditions, and what might have gone on down there.  The dregs of society: the beggars, thieves, streetwalkers, ladies of the night, murderers and worse.  The vaults were a hotbed of criminal activity, and our guide is keen to stress that here you had the most vulnerable people holed up in close proximity with the most ruthless.  Stories of fires, murders, body snatching (Edinburgh’s infamous pair, Burke and Hare probably spent time in those very vaults) are muttered in muted tones, as we strain to hear in the dark, and soak up the unnerving atmosphere.  We also see a working Wiccan temple, and are invited to test our mettle by stepping into a stone circle build to harness the negative presence the Wiccans discovered in that particular cave.  Our guide has interesting insight into the Wiccan philosophy, explaining it as a religion rather than simply hocus pocus.

All in all, it was an interesting if uneventful experience.  A lot of focus is given to suggesting what you MAY be feeling (for example ‘a lot of people find this room hot and hard to breathe in, even though it’s the coldest cave with the best ventilation’), so the sceptics amongst you probably won’t be convinced.  The tour does end rather abruptly – albeit with a wee dram of whiskey and a piece of shortbread to sweeten the deal – so that does taint the experience slightly, making it feel a bit more manufactured.  Auld Reekie Tours clearly know their stuff in terms of history, and the city of Edinburgh itself has done the rest, providing the ambience and tales that the tour is based on.

Tour Provider – Auld Reekie Tours

(c) Emma MacLennan 2011

Reviewed Saturday 13th August 2011 / Auld Reekie Tours, Edinburgh



The Truth about Lions: Catherine Semark

Wednesday, 17 August, 2011

Lions. Raw.

Edinburgh 11 – Medina, Lothian Street, Bread Street – 16-27 August 11 – 14:35 (50mins)

Catherine Semark’s new show is all about lions, or more to the point it is all about a programme she saw once on BBC 1 called the Truth About Lions. The programme didn’t live up to what she was expecting and she was left disappointed. In fact, Catherine Semark’s new show is all about expectations, or more to the point the expectations her mind grabs in a headlock that occasionally leave her disappointed when faced with reality.  She is  equally fascinated and amused by the real world as she is by the inner workings of her own brain; it is this that can make her so enthralling to watch. Her approach is that of masterful story-telling which consistently refers back to her central theme of expectations, which is no mean feat particularly for a comedian who is obviously adept at expressing herself whilst on a tangent. Her performance had a solid structure that still maintained its fanciful edge as she side-tracked with ease, before snapping back to the main point to deliver the punch line. Her show on expectations toyed with the unexpected (this became apparent once the subject matter drove quickly away from ‘the truth about lions’.)

Her evident joy and fascination with silliness and the bizarre happenings of everyday life were endearing and riveting due to her enticing manner of story-telling. Catherine Semark is well-paced and in complete control of her material.  She lays out a story eloquently in front of her audience lacing her narrative with colourful description. At times her stories will give way to a meandering side-thought; one moment she plays out how she found shards of watermelon in Epping Forest lying next to a porn magazine. The ideas it stirs in her spill forth as she launches into the imagined phone call between the three friends that could have possibly left it there, although it seems unlikely. Catherine Semark evidently loves words and description and throws her tongue around ideas with relish and flair.

Although not a riotous, laugh-a-minute approach to stand-up, her comic timing is gentle whilst allowing the punch line to seep through her narrative, more often than not punctuating it with a squinting glance of excruciation at the patronising AA man or open-mouthed horror at the cashier in the bookshop who greets her with “Good Morrow!” There is a thoughtful, expert touch to her delivery. She is obviously a comedian who finds humour in the small details of life; she once witnessed Patrick Stewart in the lobby of a service station eating  a Cornetto. For Catherine Semark the Cornetto played the most important role in this scenario; it is these little moments that she revels in, and as she describes it her audience is encouraged to revel too, through the scenes she cunningly depicts with an extensive vocabulary and flair for down-played comic timing.

Catherine Semark put on a warm and natural performance, even if a joke would not necessarily receive the reaction she was expecting, the material did not collapse. It did not require huge laughs, rather an attentive audience for enthralling tales of experience.  It is a privilege at times, especially when watching stand-up to experience a performer who is truly enjoying their own material, not to mention relaxing to see someone so at ease with their work.  As she reads out the opening lines of the Pagan Police Association’s website, it is her enthusiasm and obvious joy at finding and sharing such a treasure which is a delight to experience. Catherine Semark delivered a warm, articulate and enthralling performance with some truly memorable moments.

(c) Alexandra Kavanagh 2011


Strip search at Edinburgh Fringe

Wednesday, 17 August, 2011

Peeling off the layers

TheSpace@ North bridge – Edinburgh – August 5-27th – 21:05 (0:50)

Tonight, as Squaddie (Damola Onadeko) removes layer after layer of clothing in an elaborate strip tease, he also begins to peel away the metaphorical layers of his young life.  This has been a life thick with pain, fear, drugs, war and, crucially, the confusion of his unrealised sexuality.

Peter Scott-Preisland  has certainly chosen a strong and dramatic premise for his work. And, while the piece has it’s awkward moments and never quite takes off, it is certainly worth seeing for the ideas it presents.  Still, the show fails, in several respects, to be as powerful and engaging as it could be.

Scenes of homo-erotic dancing under disco lighting to loud and, at times, suggestive pop music are intercut with monologues.  While there is no doubt that Damola Onadeko  can dance there is something entirely sexless about his performance.  Rather than a seductive male stripper, we get a performance that lacks the one thing Squaddie declares his sexual acumen and alpha homosexuality gives him—power.  Furthermore, while Onadeko has sublime moments—transforming instantly and with seeming ease from an eight-year old boy, desperate to win enough money on the fruit machines to buy his mother the perfume which he believes will make her love him again, to his abusive step father, to the mother herself and even the weedy Irish love of his life; Christian—he never quite settles on a convincing voice for Squaddie himself.  The result of this is a lack of contrast.  Despite John Brand’s stark contrasts of lighting the show falls flat.

In moments of Squaddie’s anger Damola Onadeko manages to transcend himself and channel the energy and accent of a deprived and messed up young man.  His descriptions of the retribution taken against all those who attempted or succeeded in hurting Christian—in the young offenders prison where the met and in the war, are well put across with a fierce righteousness that becomes the character.  However, Squaddie’s more narrative and less theatrical moments lose their poignancy because Damola fails to lose the voice and physicality of a very well brought up young man.  It is a shame, because it makes Strip Search often unconvincing.

But it is not just Damola Onadeko’s fault that the play never flies.  Sadly the writing and direction also lets it down in places.  While most of the script is well worded, with moments of very real bathos, the show flashes between its two worlds slightly too often, lending it a feeling of ‘going on too long.’  Squaddie describes a strip-tease as an act of prolonged sexual tension, or tantalisation at the start of the show.  One that is necessarily slow.  But Squaddie’s imminent nakedness eventually becomes a rather inconvenient ‘elephant in the room.’  He is not wearing enough layers at the start to make his routine so lengthy, and much of the early script could be toned and streamlined to ensure that Squaddie’s words remain as engaging as his rippling biceps should be.

This is a show that needs more work to make it spectacular.  Yet the potential is there.  If the script were as streamlined as Squaddie’s post prison, post war body and the acting a raw as the content demands, and if the choreography and it’s performance were more daring, this could be a very fine and provocative piece of drama indeed. As it stands it is merely intriguing.

Cast: Squaddie—Damola Onadeko

Company: Writer—Peter Scott-Presland, Producer—Peter Scott-Presland, Director—Peter Scott-Presland, Choreography—Randy Smartnick, Web and Publicity Designer—Keith Bursnall, Lighting Design—John Brand, Technical Operator – Peter Scott-Presland, Photographer—David Elms