joi, 18 august 2022

Edinburgh Fringe 2022 - days 1 & 2

I spoke a lot this past few days about the shows at Edinburgh Fringe in terms of quantity, and by any standard, 15 shows in 2 days is A LOT. I wouldn't have it any other way though, I would see more if it wasn't for the travel time between venues. And would you look at that, I've seen like, 0.5% of the shows at the festival since yesterday morning.

A lot of the shows I'm seeing this year, I have a connection with, one way or another. Therefore, any attempt to review what I've seen with any pretense of objectivity would be doomed. It's a plug for most, if not all of them, as I always recommend seeing as many shows as possible.

Most of all, this is a record of what I've seen, and my first impressions of it. Impressions that could be spot on or far off, or both at the same time, depending on who's reading them. Anyway, here we go:

16 August:

Fan Girl, V156, 11.10 - Fresh off the bus and trying to see Joe Wells, as recommended by Paggy Gancheva, I ventured into the unknown of this show, with a poster where someone pasted a face on top of Cantona's t-shirt. Specifically - I was going to find out - the face of Bryony Byrne, 35yo from St Albans, used to play football in Secondary School. Interactive, full of 90s nostalgia, and an enthrallment with Cantona, there was no way I wasn't gonna connect with this show at some level. Heavy quoting from Cantona on Cantona is unfair, that's a photo album more than anything, but reliving THAT goal against Southampton in 1996 evens things out. Not perfect, but not bad. I'd like to see it again. After all, St Albans to London is an easy commute.

Having failed to get in to Joe Wells, which was full, I headed towards St George's Square to see

In the Name of the Son, V17, 13.10 - This is the story of Gerry Conlon, played by Daniel Day-Lewis in the Oscar-nominated 'In the Name of the Father' (1993). The story of Gerry Conlon, but with a focus on the later years, after he got out of his 15-years-long wrongful imprisonment. I wanted to see the show because I know Shaun Blaney, the lead, and I like his writing. Turns out, I love his acting, too! A tour-de-force performance, 80 minutes of intense physicality, jumping through accents, characters, timelines, and then some literal jumping around. I can only imagine what a tiring show it is, but as far as audiences are concerned, it's a feat! And the acting is simply outstanding. Solid 5 stars show!

Stand-up Philosophy, V170, 14.30 - It is often that some practitioners of philosophy accuse others of being frauds. That's mostly down to humanity not managing to agree on what Philosophy is. I am pretty sure that what I've seen at The Counting House yesterday is not philosophy. Philosophy as a performance art is, in my humble opinion, under-explored and under-rated. Philosophy can be funny, useful, instructive, thought-provoking, cathartic, and all of them together. Not this show though. This was a stand-up with the word 'philosophy' thrown in because the MC used to teach philosophy. And the most philosophical contributions came from the audience. The acts? The acts were not overly sure who Aristotle was. 

Fascinating Aida, V8, 18.00 - I missed them in London in May and relished the chance to see them here. I knew they're good, I didn't realize quite how legendary they are. Going for nigh on 40 years, loads of TV content under their belt, solid solo careers, multi-disciplinary artists, Fascinating Aida are absolute top when it comes to comedy song. And we have recently established that I like comedy song as a genre. I also realized what a simp I am, wanting to see them live after only knowing their most famous song. The one that 'went fungal'. But come on! It is an amazing song!

Medea the Musical, V152, 19.20 - Maria, the director, will be performing at Barons Court in November, so obviously I wanted to see more of her work. I'm glad I did. This is an entertaining production of a deconstructed musical much in the style of Jesus Christ Superstar the movie. At the Fringe, objective conditions force you to go minimalistic more often than not, and when the show requires a higher production value, a Fringe production can feel inadequate. I'd like to see this Medea on a bigger stage. But for what it was, it worked. I hope it's a work in progress because there's lots of room for improvement, but the structure is there. The songs are good, and this is the most important part. The reinterpretation of the Medea myth starts out with a good idea, but it needs more refining. Overall, this is a student production and it feels like it. Having said that, I feel I'm more condescending than maybe I should most times when I say 'student production'.

Tatty McLeod, V515, 21.15 - I know Tatty from TikTok, I wanted to see her anyway, I had her scheduled for tomorrow. But I saw her when running between Gordon Aikman Theatre and Paradise at the Augustine and she convinced me to come to that evening's show. Tatty does a very good job on TikTok, making fun of French and English national stereotypes, but I think she's even better live. With good stage presence, smart and spontaneous, Tatty delivers a funny and well-structured show. Story-telling more than stand-up if you ask me, but you didn't, so there.

And that was my day 1. Early finish and big break in the middle to check in the hotel, Fascinating Aida the highlight.

17 August:

Dr Bubble and Milkshake, V38, 10.10 - Iulia and Kurt were kind enough to invite me to both their shows, and this was a great start to the day! Really, really cute and funny show, with the children in the audience having an absolute blast! Also, perfect way to get children interested in physics.

Joe Wells: I am autistic, V156, 12 - haha! This time I came prepared for Joe Wells and I got in! (jk: I ran between venues and got to the Banshee 2 minutes before the house opened). Either way, I am very glad I saw Joe Wells. His set is absolutely hilarious, better than a lot of stadium comedians. I don't much go for stand-up, I think good stand-up is rather rare, which makes me all the happier when I find it. Paggy was right when she said I should bring him to Barons Court and I'd absolutely love to. Problem is, he's based in Portsmouth.

George Steeves: Love and Sex on the Spectrum, V151, 13.45 - George has just done a run at Barons Court in July, so having programmed him, I knew what to expect. I also knew I won't be able to see the whole show, though I did leave much earlier than I would have liked. George did not disappoint his audience: he's got a disarming honesty and a charming naivety, plus a strong artistic yearning. I've spent July recommending people to come to see this show, and I would not have minded doing the same in August. George's show is important, though often misunderstood: today a couple brought a 9yo into a show called 'Love and Sex' and advertised as 18+, yet they were protesting at the adult content. I wonder if they heard about the show on Grindr.

Looking for me friend: The Music of Victoria Wood, V20, 14.30 - I'm sure I'm not the first one to do the gag, but it was still funny. 'What are you looking for?' the usher asks. 'I'm looking for me friend' 'Yeah, but what show are you trying to see?'. It was alright, we both laughed. Anyway. I wanted to see Paul's show for a while, as I tried pitching him Barons Court as a potential home. Maybe I will again, probably just as unsuccessful. Now... I know nothing of Victoria Wood's work. First time I heard of her was when she died. Apparently, I have heard some of her songs though, reworked by various entertainers. Most of the audience was driven, I assume, by nostalgia, I was there out of curiosity. And got a lesson in recent British history while at it. Might be a little while still until I get fully on board with the humor. But if you're a Victoria Wood fan - unmissable!

Healing+, V152, 16.20 - Mike Lemme invited me to his show as he's on the look - like everyone else - for a producer. Mike wants to perform at Carnegie Hall (which is smaller than I thought, >3000 seats, less than the Palladium). I think he should maybe aim at Madison Square Garden. And while Carnegie Hall is a big financial undertaking, even Barons Court might be a challenge if he has to commute from New York. We'll see. Oh, and he has to cut the word 'gatekeeper' from the show. Kafka hit the nail on the head.

This is Paradise, V15, 18.30 - Of course Amy has amazing write-ups, her acting really lifts the script and she is probably top pick when it comes to Northern Irish actresses. I've known how well she has mastered her craft for years now, so the good reviews are to be expected. But I don't remember seeing such an intense silence in a theatre audience as in the Traverse 2 yesterday, towards the closing moments of This is Paradise. A silence is a silence, it just indicates lack of noise, but I'm not sure we have any way of measuring how INTENT this silent was. Because it was VERY intent. The best illustration of 'on the edge of the seats' I have seen. 

Otherwise, the script is really good, though slightly too long IMHO. Chop a bit of the set-up, the play doesn't really start until Joe's accident anyway.

Bubble Show for Adults Only, V38, 8.45pm - Another amazing moment of this Fringe was at the end of this show, after both performers have been naked on stage and we've seen a number of depictions of sexual intercourse, when Kurt said, at the bows, 'We also do a children show'. Sounds like a gag, but it's for real. I initially thought a bubbles show would appeal more to children, but sitting in yesterday I realised that when soap bubbles are around, we all become children again.

I started writing this Wednesday night. I added This is Paradise and Bubble Show now, Thursday afternoon. Flat & the Curves, last show I saw Wednesday, plus the shows today coming up in my next post.

luni, 4 iulie 2022

Mika @ Roundhouse

I knew Mika's music since Grace Kelly became big (circa 2009, if I remember correctly), but I didn't think much of it.

Then I saw him live by accident: went to Lisbon in 2017 to see Bruce Springsteen. Springsteen was headlining the Saturday of Rock in Rio Festival, with Queen & Adam Lambert headlining the Sunday, so might as well. Mika was opening for Queen. It was a performance that came out of nowhere and hit me over the head. In the course of those two hours I became enthralled with the man: silly popsy music for sure, but with a lot more substance than it first appeared, delivered with great energy, knowing exactly how to get the crowd going and throwing a few solid surprises, like the two fado players he met the night before and to whom he offered the stage for a song. Completely unfazed by the 70k-strong crowd, completely unfazed by the legends who were to follow. And the crowd ate off his palm. By comparison, Queen was a rather pale gig and put me off a band I otherwise adore (of course, it would be an entirely different story should Freddie still be alive).

So then I started following him and I don't exactly remember why I didn't go to his 2019 gig in Shepherd's Bush - probably a gig or other of my own - but I know now that I should have. I didn't know what to expect in 2017 - I was expecting Queen. This time around, excited as I was about the gig, I went in with high expectations. I have changed substantially since 2017, Mika might've changed, and besides, the magic and the bane of performing arts is that you cannot tell whether a performance is good or bad until it actually happens.

As it turns out, all of it was overthinking. The man is a great performer and oh boy, did he deliver! I say great, though what I'm thinking is 'one of the greatest'. Strong words, I know, and I know I'm still on a high from the concert, but on the bus home I was thinking of al the remarkable performances I've seen in my life - and I'm lucky enough to have seen a few - and the man is up there. Paul McCartney... of course, it's blasphemy to compare anyone to Paul McCartney and I'm not saying he's as good as Paul McCartney, because how can anyone be? Bob Dylan, same thing. As huge a genius as Dylan is, his performances strike you as weird. As an audience member, you struggle to keep up with what's happening. Rammstein? Take the SFX away and they're just a bunch of weird German dudes singing some slow metal.

No no, this Mika performance tonight was the best live act I've seen since... well, since Mika in 2017, really.

Roundhouse is a great venue, and this no doubt contributed to the experience. The crowd, with a very heavy LGBT presence, was a very mild, very friendly one and, unusual for England, very animated and engaged: everyone was participating from the off, people knew the songs, fans in the know had their choreographies prepared and some have waited a full 24 hours just to be the first in.

And Mika did everything right, though to say it was a performance 'by the book' undervalues it, because no book can teach how to create that little bit of magic, the moments that make a good performance into a great one.

With a minimal set and a relatively standard light rig, but with a lot of attention to detail, this concert has been everything it was expected to be and more. A Londoner for most of his life, Mika managed to connect with the audience at a level inaccessible for those who've never lived in London, and it was, I suppose, a sort of a homecoming, with an international star coming to sing in a venue that is by and large dedicated to emerging artists.

The good songs, the energy, the perfect delivery, well-thought-through choreography and immaculate costumes, all of it are elements for a great gig. But the most important is, Mika is genuine. It makes a performance failsafe, when the artist opens up fully to his audience, holds nothing back and leaves his soul as bare as vulnerable as it can ever be. Frightful, I'm sure, especially when you share a very personal story of being stranded away from your sick mom to a few thousand strangers, but what a show of strength! And how much bigger is the reward, for artist and audience alike!

I've said this to many people, people who know me and know that Mika is maybe not necessarily my kind of music: do not discount the guy, do not take him lightly, go and see him live if you ever get the chance. You're missing out otherwise.

Those Mika hardcore fans, the ones who bring their paper hearts with them, the ones who queue up 24 hours before and the ones who deliver flowers to his dressing rooms, they're not deluded. They're on to something. They know something you don't know. Because you've never seen Mika live. Go and correct that mistake!

vineri, 10 iunie 2022

A Portrait of Zelensky

First I heard of Tanya Vorontsova on a Facebook group for Romanians trying to help Ukrainians fleeing the war. She was trying to sell a few paintings, and her message caught my eye. Not only because it was unusual, but also because of an underlying despair.

I messaged Tanya and asked about her story. Through broken English and partial responses, I think I have reconstructed most of her story since February: she is a commission painter based in Kharkiv but was in St Petersburg when war broke out. Unable to go back to Kharkiv and afraid to stay in St Petersburg, she headed for Finland and lived for a couple of months in a refugee camp outside Helsinki. With no access to her studio or her paintings back home, with no tools or materials to keep painting, and only three canvases in her luggage, I cannot begin to imagine what life must look like.

I offered to send her some money. She said no, but accepted that I'd buy a painting from her. My favorite, the portrait of Volodymyr Zelensky you can see here, was back in Kharkiv, so she had to redo it. I send her half of the money before, the other half on delivery. I hope it helped.

And yesterday I received the painting, which I absolutely love. 

Tanya is currently in a refugee camp near Zurich. I didn't understand why she had to leave Helsinki, my understanding is she is trying to reunite with her son, then move to Canada together. I wish I could help her more. So here's what I'm gonna do:

I will start an auction for the portrait of Volodymyr Zelensky, from today until 1 August. It's oil on canvas, 100 x 70 cm. All of the money will be used to help Ukrainian artists fleeing from war. Biddings will be received on multiple channels, but I will keep them all updated with the current front-runner. The auction starts at £1,000. The price of postage and packaging will be added to the final offer.

Please spread the word. And if you're not interested in Zelensky's portrait, please check Tanya's other work:

You can also buy t-shirts with the painting, get in touch with Tanya directly if you want to:

Needless to say, all the money will go a long way towards helping someone rebuild their life.