luni, 21 august 2017

Edinburgh Fringe 2017

Reuben Kaye
I fully realise it's late in the game and most performers are already drawing lines and doing sum-ups of their EdFringe2017 run, so this listing of the shows I've seen this year might not mean much. I am, however, doing it, partly to relive what have been a very fun 3 days, partly to give a plug (such as it is) to all the shows.

I am going to speak about the shows I did not particularly like as well, in the hope that any publicity is good publicity, and also being fully aware that the reception of a show is entirely subjective and even if one particular audience member did not enjoy one particular performance, this is by no means a reflection on the quality of a show. Maybe the respective audience member would enjoy a different performance, or maybe it's just not part of the right audience of the show.

The Omnitorium's Rotating Roster of Erudite Amusements and Motley Delights - *** this is a variety show hosted by Dan Lees and Neil Frost of The Establishment, a comedy group I have seen on a few previous occasion and I always found funny, even though in front of a rarefied audience of a very rainy Monday evening they had moments where they didn't seem to bother all that much. It was, nevertheless an enjoyable show with a decent line-up of acts, two of which really stood out. One is Michael Brunstrom's Parsley, an absurdist comedy about the homonym vegetable. Judging by the 10 minute spot he did, the full show is much funnier than it sounds. The second was Christel Bartelse, a Canadian mask performer whose spot was interesting enough to make me want to know more, though I think it was also quite different to the full show she has on.

The Red Emerald: A Farce for the Colourblind - ** Now, there's nothing particularly wrong with this farcical comedy from a debut company. The script is crafted well enough and the play has a lot of funny moments, but the lack of experience shows through all the cracks in the production. My main objection is the fact that on the whole, the production does not bring anything new, does not contribute to the theatrical craft. It felt a lot like a graduation showcase and, whilst I'm sure there's an audience for light entertainment plays in the traditional vein, I much prefer a script that is trying to bring something new, to challenge an established assumption or norm, such as...

The Last Days of Judas Iscariot - **** Although not a perfect script, the premises of this play strikes a chord with me and I greatly enjoyed Parallax Theatre's production. Very effective set design and some very well written and acted parts (I particularly enjoyed Satan and Fabiana). I have some objections to some of the directorial choices and I would've reworked the lighting quite substantially, but this is nevertheless a powerful piece of theatre and I want to take an in-depth look at the script soon.

Radu Isac: One Romanian Answering Questions - * First stand-up I witnessed and the only piece that was part of the Free Fringe. I was quite excited by the prospect of Romania being represented in the comedy scene of the festival, but unfortunately Radu's show disappointed me. The lazy writing and poor delivery are not redeemed by the odd funny line, whilst the irresponsible approach to some of the motifs treated (immigration, unemployment, environment) made me want to leave the room sooner than I did. Which was before the end of the show anyway.

Sage Francis and B Dolan Present: Tricknology - *** The crazy, dynamic, loud 'mish mash of nonsense' that Sage Francis and B Dolan brought to Edinburgh left me baffled. I KINDA get it, but at the same time I'm not really sure there is much to get. This is absurdist comedy delivered at the pace of high intensity hip-hop battles with a clear protest message, though without a clear aim. I suppose there is a lot more in this show for the hip-hop fans than it was for me. Also, the fact I got in expecting to see a typical hip-hop concert didn't do much for my understanding of the piece.

My Leonard Cohen - *** Stewart D'Arietta is undoubtedly a big Leonard Cohen fan. But his re-orchestrated songs sound more like a cross between Tom Waits and Emir Kusturica with Leonard Cohen lyrics. A good night out, for sure, but the more purists of LC's fans will find plenty to protest in D'Arietta's music. I didn't manage to see the other LC tribute, I am curious how they compare mythologies.

Reuben Kaye - ***** Sure, I can be accused of bias, as I've been working with Reuben for two years. But come on! When the 5 stars reviews are pouring in from every direction, when the whole festival is buzzing with word of how great Reuben's show is and when he is in contention for a number of awards after collecting a few in Australia and London already, you know he must be doing something right. Reuben is a cabaret genius, a great voice and an overflowing fountain of creativity. Not a foot is set wrong in this show, not a breath is out of place. Seamless interaction with the audience, funny beyond compere and subversive by merely existing, this show is one of a kind. If you're only going to see two shows at this year's fringe, go see Reuben twice.

Kaitlyn Rogers: Can I Get an Amen?! - *** self-crowned queen of sass, Kaitlyn Rogers is an Australian glittery clown-comedian with a love of Whoopi Goldberg wisdom and Destiny's Child empowerment. Excellent show and a funny night, made mostly by Kaitlyn's bubbly personality. I do object to the written material, which is rather sketchy, but I put this down to the lack of experience. Once she'll polish and improve the writing, we'll have a hell of a show on our hands.

Lilith: The Jungle Girl - **** Lilith was one of the most visible shows at the fringe and undoubtedly one of the strongest productions. I loved the unashamed gender bending visible in both script and casting (the assistant, played by a woman, is in love with the professor, played by a woman, who is in love with the jungle girl, played by a man). There is a strong message in this script and some very bold morality. What can I do, I'm a sucker for a good questioning of established facts ('What is nationality if not just a collection of empty symbols and conventions?')

EntryNOEntry - *** I was well impressed with the overall look of the Sri Lankan pavilion that the Colombo Art Biennale set up at the ground floor of Summerhall. And I enjoyed the weirdness of Venuri Perera's one-on-one performance art piece, specially as it's the first of this kind I ever experienced. I'm withholding the fourth star solely because while the debate on the meanings and merits of citizenship Venuri puts forward is more than necessary, she is too quick and too categorical in assuming a position and thus it doesn't leave a lot of space for dialogue.

When We Ran - ** Unnecessarily complicated and a strong feeling of wasted potential is my harsh and off-hand verdict on this show. A promising script but a lot of very wrong directorial and design choices. I'm hoping the company will enjoy box-office success, as they seem to have invested quite a bit in what attempts to be a high end production, but I also think sometimes a play is better served by embracing the scarcity of means that characterizes the theatrical art form. I have heard good things about Patch of Blue Theatre and I want to see more of their work, but I'm hoping it will be better than this.

Brutal Cessation - **** By contrast to the above, Brutal Cessation achieves more than it sets out to. I am a fan of Beth Pitts' previous work and directorial style and this play holds up to her standards. There are multiple layers to the script and I was still discovering them a couple of days after watching the play. I loved the fast pace, the precision of the delivery and the efficiency of the relatively minimalistic but very smart set design. If there is fairness in the world, then I think Beth Pitts is destined for big things and I count myself lucky to have worked with her.

Carla Lippis – Cast a Dark Shadow - **** I was hesitant before seeing this as people whose opinion I respect propped Carla so high up that they've rather dis-serviced the show. Luckily enough, the praise holds water. Carla has a great voice and she is backed by two great musicians, one of which (Vicky Falconer) surprised me with the multi-faceted nature of her musical talents. I do protest to the dark nature of the songs and I think this would be better received if it were a late night slot rather than a 6pm. But I clearly understand how this choice can be quite a luxury at the fringe.

Gillian Cosgriff: To the Moon and Back - **** Gillian was part of my endeavour to see more female comedy, after a quick look through the festival programme left me appalled at the large number of white male comedians and the under-representation of women in comedy. Gillian is a cool Aussie chick who does comedy songs, something that I have seen before on the cabaret circuit, but not so much in stand-up. There is some solid, thoroughly researched and well written material in there, specifically in the first half. Some points are scored on costumes as well, though there is a clear dip in the second half of the show, once the talk about marriage begins. I suspect this has to do with the topic being too personal and the fear that the jokes might strike too close to home. Write what you know, but not what you care about?

Wild Bore - ***** As the Australian third of this show would say, YASSS! This is it! For anyone who's looking for a change in theatrical paradigm, look no further! This show is not subversive, it's the glorious revolution marching vigorously on the capital of established canon. Wild Bore enlarges the participatory nature of the theatrical act to include not only the audience, but also the critics, publicists and front of house staff. And it's mostly the critics that will be uncomfortable with this 180 degrees turning of the lamps, that's why most of them didn't seem to know how to respond to it. But this is not as much a fight back as it is an open hand, an invitation to dialogue that can take place both on and off the stage. And although very much included in the conversation, the almost to capacity audience in Traverse Theatre's main auditorium did not look uncomfortable at all, on the contrary. Saying too much about it spoils the fun, so I'm not going to talk about the apparent reasons behind the dramaturgical intentions of the show, but rather invite everyone to see it. I'm looking forward for it to come to London in October, when I suspect I will attend more than once.

Late'n'Live - * My presence to the Late'n'Live is the victory of stubbornness over wisdom. There might be a context when Late'n'Live is fun (in a large group, drunk and without much to worry for the next day), but when I saw it, in the Wednesday of the third week, it was a good reflection of everything that's boring about the festival: 5 comedians, all male, all white and all past the point of even trying to be funny, preoccupied - above all - of dragging as much as possible to fill up the allocated slot. I will not bother to remember any of their names, though I will say the only one who had a whiff of funny about him was the big gay dude from Glasgow talking about his HIV-positive diagnostic. Too bad he was the most heckled, too. It would appear shows do tend to attract the audiences they deserve. For the three hours I spent there I feel deserving of a medal, although quite what compelled me to stay that long I couldn't say. The vain attempt to get at least part of my ticket money's worth back, perhaps?

There we are, this was my EdFringe2017 and I was hesitant in making all of this public as the last thing I want is to upset any of my friends who might find themselves mentioned above. But being the eternal optimist that I am, I'm counting on their intelligence being stronger than their ego.

Other quick points from the festival:
 - too much Trump. Way too much. The less talked about, the smaller he becomes. Let ignoring be a form of resistance;
- much of the same goes for Brexit, though I don't deny satire can play a part in the resistance. Good satire though, the kind of which coat-tailing very rarely is;
- open the festival magazine anywhere in the comedy section and you'll see a bunch of white dudes with the odd woman thrown in. Women are funny, funnier than men more often than not. Also, there is no direct connection between genitalia and the sense of humour. But most of the dudes don't even seem to be trying. Audiences too forgiving maybe?
- I've seen a lot of good stuff, not sure if that's to do with the overall quality or my ability to choose.
- delighted to see cabaret having such a strong presence. Not sure if it's always been like that or if I see it more now.

All in all, Edinburgh Fringe is great. Looking forward to next year!