Ed Fringe Reviews: A Blog in Haikus

This article first appeared on the Ed Fringe Review blog on 26 August 2015. We were all asked to do a little retrospective on our time in Edinburgh, and basically told we could do whatever we wanted. So I did this. If for some reason you enjoy it, you can check out my Tumblr, where I post haiku poems like these twice a day. It’s good fun.

Ed Fringe Reviewing

Is best expressed by means of

Haiku poetry.

 

The thrill of the first

Show is only increased when

You don’t have to pay.

 

Going home to write

A review, I give out this

Show’s ration of stars.

 

A converted crypt

Makes a lovely setting for

Light-hearted humour.

 

It shows how tired I

Am, that I’m falling asleep

Through blaring dubstep.

 

At the crack of dawn,

I wake up, put on coffee,

Fire up the laptop.

 

All of us agree

That it is impossible

To review improv.

 

Roadkill puppetry:

One of many shows I don’t

Have the stomach for.

 

Short story stand-up;

Hilarious banter, and

Yet strangely moving.

 

Heading for the mile

Posters proliferate in

Colour overload.

 

Stood on the cobbles

Between Death and a wizard,

I just can’t compete.

 

Finding a catchphrase

Is the most important part

Of flyering here.

 

Piano-playing

Makes for a surprisingly

Fantastic kids’ show.

 

Return to the Vault:

There to watch a wonderful

Gothic Toy Story.

 

Sitting through dull stuff

Is alleviated by

Writing tough reviews.

 

In a dark basement

An insane steampunk folk band

Blows my tiny mind.

 

Another basement,

This one with a stand-up who

Calls me up on stage.

 

Watching Showstoppers!

We see a lovely show that’s

Made up on the fly.

 

In the dark courtyard,

A passing wizard shows us

Casual magic.

 

Berlin Comedy:

Always a laughing matter

With Sticky Biscuits.

 

Comedy performed

In the afterlife makes for

A good final night.

 

Getting on the train,

I do a Schwarzenegger.

Resolve: I’ll be back.

 

Review: Sticky Biscuits

This review first appeared on the Ed Fringe Review website on 22 August 2015.

★★★☆☆

Whoever it was that said German comedy is no laughing matter has clearly never seen Sticky Biscuits on stage. Berlin duo Naomi Fern and Marc Seestaedt have put together a rock solid comedy act, a lean, witty and hugely entertaining forty-five minutes of music, which frankly deserves a much larger audience than its small Cowgate venue is likely to allow for. The show’s billing as a set of nerdy and naughty songs is not inaccurate, but rather undersells the sheer charm of these two performers and their skill at playing a crowd.

Both musicians sing while Fern plays the ukulele (that most clichéd of comedy instruments) and Seestadaedt plays an assortment of Casio and Yamaha novelty toys. This outfit looks a bit tacky and silly to start with, but the pair demonstrate a genuine creativity and cleverness which means they’re able to create genuinely brilliant comedy out of such a basic setup.

The songs themselves are generally lovely, quirky and filthy in equal measure. Few performers could transition smoothly from a song about a zombie apocalypse/messy breakup to a song about fisting, employing the whimsical analogy of a sock puppet. It’s this willingness to combine the sweet and the smutty which makes Sticky Biscuits such a unique act, with particular highlights including songs about gentrification and unrequited love, and a song detailing the Sad Reasons People Get Into Particle Physics. This is hugely witty, shocking stuff, but the pair carry it all with such grace that what could have been simply crass and horrible becomes charming and almost genteel.

It’s not a flawless show; the songs are all very similar in tone and style, and there are places where the show feels at risk of feeling pretty samey. There were a few technical shortcomings as well, with sometimes lengthy periods of faffing about between songs as Seestaedt swaps between plastic novelty instruments. The act sometimes feels a bit disorganised, with the closing of the doors being an odd stumbling block at the beginning of the show.

But these are nit-picks in what is otherwise an utterly charming little show. At about forty-five minutes this is a lean and efficient show which brings a few nice ideas to the table and doesn’t outstay its welcome. A solid little show of the free fringe, Sticky Biscuits are a cheeky comedy act with a wonderfully dirty streak. Well worth a watch.

Review: Paradise: Lost

This review first appeared on the Ed Fringe Review website on 22 August 2015.

★☆☆☆☆

For a reviewer, there are few things more irritating than a play that thinks it’s cleverer than it actually is. Vapid, smarmy and really rather dull, occasional flashes of competence are not enough to save Paradise: Lost from being a boring, overlong slog of a show, the central philosophy of which is so blisteringly juvenile that it would qualify as a comedy if it wasn’t so tedious. The not-wordplay of the title is only the beginning of the show’s many frustrations.

The premise is actually pretty solid; Adam and Evelyn are a pair of inmates in a hotel room prison after the apocalypse, intimidated by two ‘angels’ who are trying to pressurise them into repopulating the earth, complicated by the arrival of the play’s Satan analogue, who’s having an affair with Evelyn. Unfortunately, this premise largely ends up as an excuse to re-tell the story of Eden with a more affordable set, and without any nudity to liven things up.

I get the feeling that this play is someone’s idea of a very clever satire of Christianity. Or society. Or something. To be honest, the theology gets lost as soon as the characters open their mouths, as trite and clichéd characters spout dry and boring dialogue. The shoehorned-in quotes from Milton are utterly cringeworthy, clashing with the barebones style of everything else, and only serving to highlight how poorly written the rest of the lines are. This is the kind of satire that just can’t be arsed to do the research necessary to skewer its targets properly, so instead attacks a ludicrous strawman version and ends up looking the bigger fool.

The acting is not incompetent, but it doesn’t exactly sparkle either. Danny Hetherington is good as Adam, even managing to wring a few laughs out of his godawful dialogue. Bethany Kapila is at least passable as Evelyn, while Nia Tilley and Touwa Craig-Dunn don’t really do much to stand out. The worst offender is Jack Alexander as our Satan analogue, who comes across less as a charismatic and seductive charmer than a whiny second-hand car salesman.

At fifty minutes this is short for the Fringe, but still way too long by any human standard, as scenes drag on and on and on, taking twenty minutes to do things that could be achieved in two. Languidly paced, forgettably acted and insultingly scripted, Paradise: Lost is one of the most insufferable shows I have ever had the misfortune to sit through.

Review: The Mechanisms

This review first appeared on the Ed Fringe Review website on 21 August 2015.

★★★★★

Imagine what would happen if David Bowie, Jeff Wayne and Douglas Adams got together and decided to write a musical. Whether or not you’ll like this show, a rotating trilogy of one-hour musical pieces re-telling classical mythology as science fiction epics, more or less hinges on whether you think that premise sounds very dumb or like the Best Thing Ever. (The correct answer, obviously, is that it is the Best Thing Ever). Witty, subversive and altogether brilliant, The Mechanisms have put together an absolute barnstormer of an act. You will never see another show like it.

The band plays a crew of bloodthirsty space pirates recounting tales heard on their travels of the universe, resplendent in steampunk costumes and colourful personalities. The songs are powerfully dramatic sci-fi folk, with lead singer Jonny Sims narrating the action, and the rest of the band playing the various different characters.

The narrative itself is a thing of beauty, a swashbuckling affair with a dash of cyberpunk cynicism and a shot of Douglas Adams-ian whimsy (including at least one direct shout-out). The overall effect is riotously entertaining, and the group’s clear passion for their work is transferred to the audience, who were eating out of their hands by the end. This is a weird, difficult show, and the sheer swagger and confidence on display is genuinely awe-inspiring.

There were a few technical faults, perhaps as a result of a venue ill-suited to such an elaborate act. There was a bit of a problem with microphone volume, with lyrics sometimes in danger of being drowned out by the cacophony of the band, which is shame, because the lyrics are as clever and self-assured as the rest of the show, with ancient mythology and science fiction archetypes bleeding together in fascinating ways. Having said that, a few gags wear a bit thin after a while. You can only hear ancient Greek monsters re-imagined as robots so many times before it gets a bit old.

But quite frankly, the flaws are irrelevant, because you have to experience it for the sheer uniqueness alone. Brash, clever and cool as hell, The Mechanisms are an amazing act, and it’s astonishing that they’re still inclined to let people in for free. This is, quite simply, one of the best shows of the free Fringe.

Review: Lisa Gornick’s Live Drawing Show

This review first appeared on the Ed Fringe Review website on 21 August 2015.

★★★☆☆

The Edinburgh Fringe is a place for experimentation. From puppet shows with roadkill to existentialist plays set in broom cupboards, you can’t seem to move for eccentric, unconventional stagings and bold new ideas. Lisa Gornick’s show is one such experiment. A relatively straightforward re-telling of Gornick’s university years and family history, Gornick enlivens a bog-standard premise with her whimsical and personable drawings, done on the fly as Gornick monologues, and projected on a screen beside her. Gornick herself is an intelligent and engaging speaker, and this show makes for a very relaxing lunchtime watch; a perfect palate-cleanser between the more heavy-hitting shows of the Fringe.

Gornick opens with light-hearted banter and sketches of audience members, and the air of relaxation is what makes the rest of the show work so well, as Gornick dives deeper and deeper into her personal and family history. The show overall feels like listening to a good anecdote at a family gathering; very entertaining, but with a sense of intimacy and comfort which makes the story’s more poignant moments even more powerful.

Gornick delves into her family’s background as Russian Jewish immigrants, and her riffs on multicultural London are witty and well-observed. She also addresses her sexual awakening at university and the pain of being rejected by her female flatmate. These portions of the show feel brave and honest, but these moments are never at the expense of comedy; indeed, they are among the funniest parts of the show.

The drawings themselves are scratchy, exaggerated and cartoonish, and while Gornick’s style is charming enough, the fact that they are done on the fly means mistakes occasionally mar important moments. While Gornick’s monologue is humourous and entertaining, there are few belly laughs, and this is hardly what you’d call ground-breaking comedy.

On the whole, however, Lisa Gornick’s Live Drawing Show is a gentle, charming hour of entertainment, which builds meticulously from larking about to a genuinely moving conclusion. It’s not the best possible hour you can have at the festival, but this is a remarkable piece of entertainment nonetheless. Recommended, especially if you’re of an artistic persuasion.

Review: Spontaneous Sherlock

This review first appeared on the Ed Fringe Review on 20 August 2015.

★★★★☆

When Arthur Conan Doyle argued that a detective should eliminate the impossible, he clearly wasn’t thinking with an eye towards improvised comedy. Nevertheless, the performers and musicians behind Spontaneous Sherlock manage to deliver a rip-roaring riot of madcap entertainment, putting paid once and for all to the notion that improv shows on the free fringe aren’t worth the price of admission.

Before the show, a number of suggestions for titles are taken from the audience, and one is drawn from a hat to determine the content of the evening’s entertainment. Sam Irving takes the role of Sir Arthur himself, with Will Naameh and Nicola Dove playing Holmes and Watson respectively, with Eric Geistfeld rounding out the troupe, and all four swapping roles as required (including some hilarious hat-swapping as multiple parts enter the same scene).

All four are witty and energetic performers, and while each could likely hold a room’s attention on their own, the four of them together are an absolute treat. No one actor is ever allowed to overshadow the others, and when all four are on stage together it’s poetry in motion, each building on the others’ lines and assembling top-notch comedy in seconds.

Backing them up are a Victorian-style band consisting of Szymon Podborączyński, Graham Coe and Henkelpott McGurty, and while they do well enough with a few scattered music stings and whimsical backing tunes, they are not a particularly important or memorable part of the production. There are long stretches of hardly any background music, and you could be forgiven for forgetting that the show has music at all. There is a distinct sense that the band can’t keep up with the show’s frenetic pace.

The improv itself, while largely brilliant, is perhaps a little too invested in plot. There are a few moments where up to a minute is spent on expositional wheel-spinning, with the actors clearly stalling for time. The results, however, are reliably gold, so this is a minor quibble at best.

On the whole, Spontaneous Sherlock is an infectiously riotous whirlwind of a show, with an effortlessly brilliant cast and a deceptively simple premise. What’s most surprising is that, really, that’s all you need to make a great Fringe show.

Review: Anatomy of the Piano (For Beginners)

This review first appeared on the Ed Fringe Review website on 20 August 2015.

★★★★☆

Whatever his other merits as a performer, Will Pickvance clearly has a remarkable work ethic. Playing two shows a day between this and his other show, Alchemy of the Piano, is something of a feat in and of itself. Fortunately, Pickvance has many more merits than simple stamina, as this charming and witty children’s show demonstrates.

The show takes the form of a whimsical autobiography-cum-science lesson, with Pickvance starting off with a story about accidentally receiving a piano from father Christmas, then running through a wonderfully silly lesson on the evolutionary history of the piano, and Pickvance’s favourite musicians. The show mixes lengthy piano solos with thoughtful monologues, and is backed up by a projector showing various amusing and fantastical drawings.

The result is sweet, gentle and incredibly watchable; while the humour skews fairly young, adults will find plenty to enjoy in Pickvance’s skillful and eclectic playing, which effortlessly traverses a wealth of musical history over the course of an hour. Pickvance clearly cares deeply about his subject matter, and his enthusiasm is infectious. This is a show to introduce your kids to classical music, and Pickvance does it on their level, without talking down to them.

The show’s biggest problem is that it has something of a slow start; it takes about ten minutes for Pickvance to get to the meat of his act, and at yesterday’s performance there were a few fidgets from the audience before things got going. Pickvance, to his credit, seemed to recognise this, and his interactions with the audience demonstrate the kind of playful self-awareness this kind of show required. He was happy to throw out questions, and always took answers from the children rather than the adults. That, in itself, is the mark of a skilled children’s entertainer, and the crowd clearly liked him as a result.

A splendid piece of children’s theatre, Anatomy of the Piano is more or less an absolute joy from start to finish. An intelligent and enthusiastic celebration, this is a show that truly has something for everyone. A perfect start to a day at the Fringe.