Archive for the ‘Edinburgh 2011’ Category


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



Doctor Brown

Wednesday, 7 September, 2011

Underbelly; Belly Button – 23rd August 2011 21:50pm

The lights go down then promptly rise to light the stage… the stage remains lit and a silence ensues, peppered only with unsure chuckles from the understandably inebriated audience at this night time show. After sufficient time has passed, the lights dip to darkness again and quick come back on, assuming the same position they had before. Strange as it may seem to say so, this flick of the lighting switch is possibly the most concise yet accurate way to summarise what Doctor Brown has in store for the next hour. What is advertised purely as physical comedy turns out to be an hour-long exercise in (mostly) silent, self-deprecating physical performance that probably has not been seen since the likes of Buster Keaton.  This start sends a divided audience into sporadic fits of cackling and guffawing and shows the nuance of control that Doctor Brown exhibits over his viewers; it is impossible to escape the feeling that he always has something up his sleeve for you. This makes for a rollercoaster ride of emotion, and yet an entirely unexpected show.

The first the audience see of him are movements behind a black curtain, playfully timed pulsations that correspond with O Fortuna, Carl Orff’s menacing introduction to Carmina Burana. Just as the music soars into its climactic apex Doctor Brown stumbles through the curtain, tearing it down and sending items ‘behind the scenes’ flying across the back of the stage. Some he just picks up and throws. That this is contrived becomes more apparent as his performance develops into his own brand of jolty, self-aware hesitation; he stands at the front of the stage and plays at trying to find the right pose to start his piece – every slight arm movement followed with an abrupt shake of the head or his trademark wincing look of either total disdain for his audience, or scorn turned inward to himself.

The same kind of deadpan exasperation showed by Buster Keaton as the entire facade of a house falls around him quickly becomes Doctor Brown’s calling card. What a great tradition to follow and to pull off so expertly. Doctor Brown must be the creation of a man who knows his art inside and out. Exemplified by the hack-job miming he attempts after lassoing his way upstage to a suitcase, he simply grabs it and looks at the audience in bewilderment. Such feigned amateur physicality performed with exquisite timing and a feeling that he’s never tried this before brings to mind the old saying that one cannot break the rules until one has learned them all. Doctor Brown knows the rules; he’s just far too good at breaking them. His approach to physical theatre/comedy may be like nothing anyone has seen before, and judging by the scattered laughter of the audience (scattered it may be, but there are those who can hardly stop to breathe), this is not comedy that necessarily matches the appeal of a stand up of the calibre of Michael Macintyre. Two people leave half way through, just as Doctor Brown is about to embark on the re-enactment of a scene from his favourite, The Peking Opera. He immediately stops what he is doing, scuttles to the back and adds two more to a tally, bringing the total to forty, half way through his final week. So, not to everyone’s taste yet as the performance continues it becomes apparent that he does not care for everyone’s taste. At one point he flicks into different scenarios in a matter of seconds, shining his shoes or delivering a package; he ends each scene with the garbled whine “Hey what is that?!” punctuated by a wincing sneer, this time revealing a certain level of contempt from the performer himself. This is a section that stands out as a pastiche of observational stand-up comedy, highlighted by the boring situation a comic might take in order to pluck some humour from it. At the Edinburgh Fringe Festival it is easy to feel that you are drowning in observational comedy, this year we have become inundated with gags about the riots and Alistair Darling’s eyebrows, all punctuated, as Doctor Brown observes, with a recurring punchline; perhaps the material is different everytime but the delivery is not. Doctor Brown seems to have set out to create a show that subverts the comedic norms emerging from this year’s Fringe, particularly in his adoptive home of the Underbelly. Yet his performance goes further than this, perfectly timed, jaw-droppingly original and darkly crude, Doctor Brown does a thorough job of ticking all those never-before encountered boxes.

Performer: Doctor Brown

(c) Alexandra Kavanagh 2011


Sustainable Production Award for ‘Allotment’

Friday, 2 September, 2011

Edinburgh show by Jules Horne wins award

We reviewed ‘Allotment’ here:

Inverleith Allotments

Now, the Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts (CSPA) has awarded the second CSPA Fringe Award for Sustainable Production to the site-specific drama directed by Kate Nelson. Allotment was produced by Nutshell at the Inverleith Allotments in a co-production with Assembly.

Allotment is a dark and physical tragicomedy that takes place in a real allotment. It follows green-fingered sisters Dora and Maddy as they live out their rivalry among the plants.

“We chose Allotment because of it’s successful incorporation of its location into the drama.” comments Ian Garrett, Executive Director of the CSPA.  “The show’s honesty and heart is revealed in choosing to set it in a garden, and not build a facsimile on stage. Kudos to Nutshell and Assembly for serving an already fantastic play so brilliantly ”

Ian Garrett and Miranda Wright founded the CSPA in early 2008 after individually working on each of the programs that now make up the multi-faceted approach to sustainability separately. The organization provides a network of resources to arts organizations, which enables them to be ecologically and economically sustainable while maintaining artistic excellence. Past and Present partnerships have included the University of Oregon, Ashden Directory, Arcola Theater, Diverseworks Artspace, Indy Convergence, York University, LA Stage Alliance and others.


The Melody Blog, at Edinburgh

Friday, 2 September, 2011

Zoo Roxy—Edinburgh—3-27 August—18 30 (1hr)

The Melody Blog tells the stories of Melody and Harmony, children bred to be musical by their ambitious singing parents.  Brought up on a private island inhabited by musical actors they know nothing of ‘talking’ and communicate solely through music—Melody sings while her unfortunate brother (born tone deaf and glossectomised by his father) plays guitar in place of speech.  If this story sounds somewhat daft, it only gets worse—Melody’s entire life is streamed live on the internet and her improvised songs are snapped up in Sony record deals that make her father millions.  Of course, all the actors (it is explained laboriously) rehearse their parts and only the prodigy children improvise (how they have conversation in this way is a mystery).  After about fifteen minutes one finds oneself desperate to know why Amnesty International haven’t turned up already to protect the innocent young people from this well advertised world of injustice.

The cast are talented musicians; there are only a few bum notes and a couple of wooden acting moment.  But the whole concept is so ridiculous you feel sorry for them. It is hard to blame the romantic male lead for his tired and sometimes half-hearted delivery.  Furthermore the music is boring and tepid, it is un-scored, but doesn’t have the dramatic tension of improvisation; it just comes across as a bit lazy.  One can hardly imagine Melody’s earth shattering ‘improvisations’ melting hearts world-wide.  The idea that all these singers should be at the Royal College of Music adds another layer of idiocy as there is no actual classical music in the entire repertoire, and suggestions of it are ludicrously unskilled and badly done.  Unsurprisingly, vignettes that depict characters discussing the wonder of Melody are just implausible.  They also give the show a slapdash and shabby edge.  It comes to feel like a poorly devised GCSE drama piece.

There are some moments that afford gentle laughter and the sincerity and warmth shown by most of the cast is appealing.  There are particular glimmers of light in the performance of Andi Bradley who bubbles as the hyper-energetic Violetta, an American technical whizkid in Legally Blonde attire.  However, even the elaborate white back drop onto which the stage action is filmed and projected in real time cannot detract from the silliness of the story being told.  And, when the battery pack runs out halfway through the show, this set decision becomes groan-worthy.  Then Melody is set up with the island’s lighting tech so that she’ll churn out a love ballad for Valentine’s day, before having to endure watching him cheat on her so she’ll come up with a teenage angst track, and the show hits new pantomimic lows.

The death of predictably named Cantata, at the hands of the evil Conductor, is sad, but as the whole show lacks any modicum of plausibility one can’t suspend one’s disbelief and care too much.  It is a shame that a group of well meaning and talented singers and players (flute, trumpet, sax, double bass, glockenspiel…the list goes on) weren’t blessed with a better show to perform, I’m sure they would have done it very well.  Luckily, the audience indulged them for this reason.

Cast Credits: Vincent – James Rowbottom, Melody – Tabitha Tingey, Cantata – Isabella Della Porta, Harmony – Alfie Tingey, Rubato – Rhys Whitfield, Violetta – Andi Bradley, Toccata – Abi Simpson, Fugue – Zoe Hughes, Vibrato – James Fawcett, Forte – Elliot Reeman, Neighbour – Reuben Lemer, Legato/teacher – Conor Nelson, Little Lucy – Bathsheba Tingey

Company Credits: Music & Script – Chloe Tingey, Co-Direction – Chloe Tingey & Clemency Thorburn, Co-Production – Eleanor Treadwell & Hester Tingey,  Choreography – Abi Simpson

Reviewed August 27th Rebecca Gibson 2011


Do Not Take Advice from this Man: Jim Smallman and Friends

Tuesday, 30 August, 2011

A laugh out loud stand-up comedy experience

Edinburgh ’11,  Globe Pub  – Niddry St, Edinburgh  5th – 28th Aug at 14.15

Jim Smallman - the illustrated man

On a tiny stage in a dark corner of a pub in the middle of the afternoon, Jim Smallman created a nightclub atmosphere with relaxed ease. He introduced us to his two companions on the stage, who listened in attentively, while Mr. Smallman set the pace and tenor for the gig. He introduced one of them, Simon Feilder as the tiredest man in the world, explaining 2pm in Edinburgh during the Festival was the equivalent of 5am anywhere else on the planet. Comedians work late in Edinburgh and this free afternoon show was functioning as an early advertising slot for shows on elsewhere in town later in the evening, He was making his fellow comedians laugh and relax as well as entertaining the crowd. The other performer was Billy Kirkwood.

Jim Smallman had an unusually packed house. A teenage school group from a well known St. Andrew’s secondary school, studying Journalism, had landed unexpectedly. He declared himself to be terrified. He also declared himself to be an ex-teacher perfectly capable of stopping any errant nonsense in its tracks. He had everyone laughing from the outset and proceeded to terrify the mixed age audience by declaring he would find out what their problems were to give great advice to solve them from the stage. Much giggling ensued.

He then gave hilarious examples of problems already solved earlier in the week and began asking people to put up their hands if they had a problem seeking solution. After a few entertaining false starts a young man at the back of the room volunteered as his target and a non-threatening, gentle exchange began where he asked questions, heard the answers around which he improvised witty responses and irreverent comments before moving on to ask the teachers present who was their most challenging pupil in the room. This question was answered, “fingering” a young lad in the front row, who became the next anchor for the humour, which strode the edge between put down and ego boosting with great skill. Much good humour flowed in the room and the balance between the wit from the stage and the comments in the room never rocked out of Smallman’s deft control

He was sharing banter on the stage with the other two comedians, Simon who was half asleep and Billy who was wide awake, as tattoo covered as Jim Smallman. An alert, declaredly working class Scot, he was warm and helpfully entertaining, hinting that the St.Andrew’s University town school kids might be a little more posh middle class than the present English Comedians on stage with him understood, Simon made “ unhelpful remarks” about young girls in school uniforms, pedo-magnets and other such “ too early for this material “ remarks to pepper the inoffensive banter of his companions, creating the opportunity for the other two to put him down with gusto. Their exchanges on the stage were often fun, creating an interesting dynamic which allowed good-natured humour to emerge, while never patronising the young people, who were thoroughly entertained by the stories Jim Smallman tells of his mistakes and successes in life. It was a masterclass in stand-up comedy and in entertaining teenagers well enough to create smiles of recognition,  provoking the laughter of fears being transformed to relaxation in an “I share-You share” camaraderie.

Towards the end of the time shared there was a long exchange with a young woman in the audience who described the worst experience she had in her life of dumping a boyfriend in a cowardly manner, in response to a direct question from the stage. She could have been a plant, she was so confident in her responding to his egging on. Her story was funny and grew from the encouragement she received from this generous hearted comedian. He then asked her about her work. When she said she drove ships all three comedians exploded into impressed banter. She described having driven warships from the Arctic to the Equator and from the Equator to the Antarctic in a matter of fact manner which gave Jim Smallman ideal circumstances in which to create even more laughter. He improvised around chat up lines and managed to celebrate a heroine in the midst of chaos before returning to questioning the young people about their love lives. He had made allies of them early on describing being bullied because his name was Smallman, having heard every related joke and put down early in his school life. Two or three of the boys in the class were willing to bounce ideas back and forward with him and everyone left the Globe a little early because the school party were heading for the train, having happily dropped coins in the bucket to say Thank you for 50mins of smiles and laughter, friendly banter and wise crack remarks, laced through endearing stories and splendidly compassionate humane observations. He finished displaying his latest Tattoo asking us to go see  “Tattooligan” so that he could make the money to pay for it. This is a very talented, winning young man with a powerful comic gift.


(c)  Lilian Kennedy Brzoska 2011


Julian Sands’ Celebration of Harold Pinter

Tuesday, 30 August, 2011

Tribute to a lauded friend

Edinburgh ’11,  Pleasance Courtyard 5th – 21st  Aug at 15.00

Urbane actor Julian Sands held the audience with ease as he introduced us to his late friend Harold Pinter and his poetic works. Initially he seemed a little stiffly English actorish, however he relaxed beautifully after the first five minutes, as did the audience, when they realised they were in deftly gentle, humorous hands, addressing their relationship with one of the literary giants of our time.

Julian Sands had the great good fortune to work intimately with Harold Pinter between 2002 and his untimely death in December 2008.  His reflections, commentaries and anecdotes are drawn from their time together, Sands reads Pinter’s little known poetry with the authority which comes from being tutored by Pinter himself. He was asked by Pinter to read his poetry when a throat problem made it impossible for him to fulfil an important engagement. Theatre was Pinter’s milieu in the second half of the 20th Century. He transformed actors’ lives, as writer and director, and audiences’ perceptions of British life, with his silences and the quiet depiction of the menace emanating from apparently ordinary people.

Of the poetry and prose, about Life in the 20th Century, written by Pinter, Sands says: “In these spare but complex works there is an extraordinary revelation of subjective feeling – at once poignant, profound and often hilarious.” This is both true and a measure of the complexity the language the actor wields in this verbally illustrated picture of Harold Pinter,  the man, the romantic husband of Antonia Frazer, the politically aware being behind the plays and screenplays. He does this with humour and gravitas in equal measure.

If you want to drop a name in a gathering of splendid British actors and cause a resounding awed silence, then there could be no more illustrious person to name as friend and mentor than Harold Pinter. The warmth with which Julian Sands describes Harold the irascible man, met by himself as acolyte actor is glorious, as is his deep respect for all the writing he speaks, rather than reads, giving it all a very direct opportunity to speak to the audience. He incarnates the Harold Pinter he knew and allows us to feel the privilege of being alive while such a massively intelligent, creative person was being given free reign on London stages to transform our views about what a play could be. Harold Pinter won the   Nobel Prize in Literature in 2005 having written many a fine screenplay as well his works for stage and television. He was a life long pacifist, a splendid actor and renowned for his endless creative and physical personal energy. Julian Sands reads from other people’s words about Pinter, including those of his second wife Antonia Frazer, with whom he was very much in love from the day they met in 1980 till the day he died. Their story is illustrated through dinner parties and pillow talk creating a luminous picture of a great love well lived for all to see.

The passion of Pinter the man comes through in the poems and stories and his loss is felt more powerfully as we become aware of the integrity which ran through him like the letters run through Edinburgh Rock. The other name which might cause equal resonance in a room full of chattering actors is that of John Malkovich. The difference would be that he would be as known to the young film goers as to the theatre professionals in the room. That he is the director of this piece makes Julian Sands a tremendously fortunate man, to have known his remarkable subject and to have the insight of a remarkable actor of International stature to support him manifest this spare production of such a richly literate set of writings and personal reminiscence.

Towards the end of the production Julian reads one of Pinter’s stunning writings about war. I was moved to tears. We are all deeply fortunate to have the plays, poems, scripts and essays from which to learn and Julian Sands is the brave man who took the time to master the works and had the great opportunity befriend the writer. This combination of inspired work and great good fortune gives him the loving authority to share this well constructed, intelligent exposition of the genius of Harold Pinter with consummate skill and insight. It will tour beyond this Edinburgh Festival Première. Pinter’s work resonates with power into the 21st Century.

Cast Credits: ( alpha order ) Julian Sands – actor/ raconteur

Company Credits:  DirectorJohn Malkovich, Writer – Harold Pinter and Julian Sands, Stage Management – The Pleasance Courtyard House Staff.

© Lilian Kennedy Brzoska 2011

reviewed Thursday 11h August 011


Rose, by Hywel John

Tuesday, 30 August, 2011

Excellent new two-hander, beautifully produced, directed and acted.

Edinburgh ’11, Pleasance Courtyard/ Forth  – 3rd – 29th  Aug at 17:25

The set doubles as a hospital room and a small bedsit in this well directed, beautifully designed production of Rose by Hywell John. Art Malik is splendid as Arthur and Keira Malik a very powerful Rose. They are father and daughter playing father and daughter, which is far from an easy option. That they have chosen to work together is a remarkable accolade to their respect for one another as professional actors. They do a great job of playing a dysfunctional family of two, living in a tiny bedsit, as we enter into their lives in Flashback, from the hospital scene at the top of the show, where Arthur has had a stroke and Rose comes visiting.

The younger Arthur dotes on his clever young daughter, teaching her what he knows of educated English values, learned in his Middle Eastern country of origin, before coming to live in England. We gather this move happened just before Rose was born.  Her mother has passed away in mysterious circumstances but is ever present in their lives because Rose constantly asks questions about her which the pained, lonely  Arthur never answers properly. He enthusiastically diverts her attention into stories about Englishness, moral education, history, anything but his own history or that of her mother. He is both strict and very loving with his lovely daughter, with whom he shares a small bedsit. She goes to school. He stays home. He drinks secretly.

Keira Malik deftly moves in age from adult to small child to older, growing, questioning child and rebellious teenager, as we bounce through the years experiencing their extra-ordinary relationship. She plays open-hearted youth,  resentful teenager, loving daughter and regretful adult with equal ease. Art Malik has a ball with the idiosyncratic phrasing and partially Dickensian English of his troubled character. He is doting on his daughter  while also being a dragon of a teacher, using questioning to elicit the answers he has been drumming into her, to make her an educated English lady. She is out in the modern world while he lives in his fictional world of structured Arthurian Englishness, enclosed in their room.

( Arthur ) “ What is better- to flatten Fat Danny in unthought anger and indignation? Or to say to him, ‘Danny, you are wrong. I am not a Paki, but your intentions in calling me so are nothing but the most common insult, for you demean and lessen me by your label. So I hereby challenge you to a duel’ What is the correct answer?” ( Rose ) To challenge him to a duel? ( Arthur ) “ Correct, yes, a duel. Or a joust. For then you may still inflict righteous vengeance upon him, but you have risen divinely above his puerile, small-minded bigotry by giving him fair and reasonable warning of his impending punishment. You become an Englishman with such behaviour. Danny Simpson is no Englishman.”

Rose Smith is trying to understand who she is, to find her identity as a person with a coloured skin in Britain. She finds her mother’s hijab folded under her father’s pillow. During her teenage years she deliberately annoys him by declaring herself to be a muslim and wearing a hijab to school. He is quite volubly not a religious man, for which we discover the reason when we find out what has happened to Rose’s mother, whom he still loves deeply.  Since the play is a mystery story it is important not to reveal too much while describing the engaging performances and elucidating the themes. Suffice it to say the relationship between Arthur and Rose allows the themes of “ crabbed age and youth “ living together, love, frustration, racism, power, belonging and personal identity to be explored with refined complexity, weaving their threads through the pressure cooker of symbiosis in which caring father and loving daughter live. As Rose grows up, she is more and more frustrated, in many ways, by his lifestyle and his secretive attitude to his past. As she grows more independent she distresses him by becoming verbally abusive and physically distant. She departs.

Throughout the play we return to the hospital room in which this once tremendously articulate, intelligent man  has been reduced to verbal silence by a stroke. He can still moan, as he has done in his sleep for the whole of Rose’s life, she says and she now has all the power because he is helpless. The bitter-sweetness of their love for one another and the stresses of their circumstances are played with great subtlety by Art and Keira Malik. The set is well designed, the lighting beautiful and the music compliments the play perfectly. This is a triumph in all areas, disturbing and funny, making the ephemeral mother as solid as the characters on the stage.  ( Rose ) “ Do you know what that’s like, to not know your own mum’s face? I’ve been dreaming about her you know – but that’s impossible right?  But not the actual her obviously, more this sense of her. In the dream it’s like I’m on a treasure hunt or something..”

This whole play is a treasure hunt and Art Malik is a national treasure introducing us to his treasured daughter Keira,  a mightily talented, beautiful actress. The setting within which they play together is a well directed modern exploration of morality, society and family values in an intelligent relationship. It is the opposite of dumbed down and well worth seeing to find such intelligent work being given vibrant life by this excellent, faultlessly professional team.

Cast Credits: ( alpha order ) Art Malik– Arthur,/Ahmed,  Keira Malik – Rose

Company Credits: Writer – Hywel John,  Director – Abbey Wright. Designer Richard Kent , Lighting Designer  – Emma Chapman, Sound Design and Composer – Alex Baranowski. Assistant Lighting Designer –  Joshua Carr, Production Manager – Ali Day, Stage Manager Connie Blackbourne,       Producer – Jessica Malik /Dirty Boots, Co-Producer – Alex Waldmann/ SEArED

© Lilian Kennedy Brzoska 2011

reviewed Thursday 11h August ’11