An Edinburgh Christmas Carol [production week]

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Since October, I’ve been working on two shows for the festive season:

one, an immersive weekly cabaret; the other, an Edinburgh take on The Christmas Carol.

Similar to The Suppliant Women, there was a callout for singers to play protestor carolers in the production. Yes, protestor carolers. The ban on Christmas/Yule vacation in Scotland wasn’t officially lifted until 1958; to be caught reveling in anything even vaguely festive or churchy was a criminal offence – Scottish history is journey, but in a nutshell, the Calvinists were the worst.

With evening shows, matinees and an exhaustive number of morning shows for school audiences (very canny thinking), the near 6 week run finishes tomorrow. As for me, my role ended before the new year.
This would’ve gone up sooner, but I had a month long flu – I’m still getting used to being upright again.For reasons I’ll cover in the next post, in spite of actively having had the most festive season going, this has definitely been the least festive I’ve ever felt. Personally, anything Christmassy before December is a cardinal sin, not least because my birthday is the third week of November. I hate it, I don’t see the point, it weirds me out. That isn’t to say I hate the holidays, I just don’t get festive fever. Continue reading

[Fringe] ‘Showgurls’ & ‘360 All Stars’

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‘360 Allstars’
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Returning to the Fringe after six years, 360 Allstars is a self-described urban circus of all things spinnable. Set against a multimedia backdrop of ever changing scenery, and the lyrical and musical composition of Beau Monga (X Factor NZ Winner 2015) and the multi-award winning Gene Peterson, five acts enter the spotlight to showcase their skills. A two-time world champion BMX flatlander; two world champion breakdancers; a basketball freestyle; a world record-holding roue cyr artist. A fusion of street culture meets street performance, when they come together to create some bizarre hybrid of all talents, that is when this team are their most alive. Continue reading

[Fringe] ‘Ubu Roi’ & ‘Tommy Tiernan’

The King usurped, the usurper’s friends rejected, and then there’s a war.
“It’s basically Macbeth”.

Led by the Luden’s Ensemble, the vast world of Alfred Jarry’s Ubu Roi is brought to life through more mediums and techniques than actors alone. From projection and shadow puppetry, to interactive live-streaming and an endless supply of props, you are transported through every location with some level of appropriate obscurity to match.

With a few ad-libs here and beautifully improvised physical segments there, for those that are familiar with the impact the Absurdist and Surrealist movements had on theatre, one can’t help wondering what Ubu Roi was to society then and what it is now, because it often varies greatly depending on the production. Ubu Roi opened and closed on the same night in 1896, causing riots and outrage in Paris. The sheer temerity of a play that mocked the bourgeoisie sealed its place in the art movements that followed, and over a century later, it has taken on canon status. Which then begs the question: when the avant-garde becomes canon, does the core message remain?

The energy and commitment to each characters’ physicality was unprecedented, showcasing clowning at its finest. Amidst the incoherence of Ubu Roi, the multiple mediums used to depict its world felt entirely natural, almost expected as you wait in anticipation for the next trick they had up their collective sleeve. But, unlike the original production of 1896, what is the subject of the play’s mockery in 2017, or indeed any of the (now) classic Absurdist texts? This incarnation was overwhelming on the senses and successfully designed to inspire the watcher’s imagination. But with the conventions of clowning and physical theatre having become less alien over time, it is not enough to disturb audience sensibilities and morals alone – there must be more that Ubu Roi can conjure up.

Ubu Roi‘, Demonstration Room, Summerhall

“I just report back on reality”.

The beauty of Tiernan’s stand-up lies in his method of story-telling. As much as it can be the literal telling of stories, there is often a mixture of philosophising and idea proposition. It is more than set-it-up-and-knock-’em-dead – sure, there are plenty of neat and repeatable one-liners, but often the jokes won’t end on a solitary punch-line.

A night with Tommy is a journey. Much like a rollercoaster, it pulls you in, getting you comfortable with the evening’s schedule. Then, seemingly without warning, after much mulling over of observations with often no connecting segway points, the show kicks into full swing. The pitch and volume increase, face flushed and veins raised, as if this next segment has been burning to get out, only to drop back into the safe and gentle tones as before.

Some people prefer clear, formulaic comedy routines that, when in the presence of something more akin to a court jester, become uncomfortable, and unsure of the etiquette – do I laugh now, or do I save it for the bigger jokes? Are there any? Is it ok to not laugh all of the time? But those worries are long gone by the end of the jam-packed hour Tiernan delivers, with exceptional professionalism and that classic Tiernan glint still firmly in his eye.

Tommy Tiernan: Under the Influence‘, Gilded Balloon Teviot

[Fringe] ‘Hyprov’ & ‘Debauchery’

Improv. Hypnosis. Action!

For the skeptics, the premise of improvisation under hypnosis will already sound dubious, so expectations on the delivery will be low. For the believers, particularly those living in the murky depths of the show’s audience reviews, disappointment seems a guarantee. So the lowdown: Asad Mecci, hypnotist, asks for volunteers to fill the seats onstage, and guides them through a series of hypnotic suggestions until he has his five subjects for the evening. Enter Colin Mochrie (previously Mike McShane for the first fortnight) who conducts the improvised scenarios with some audience input, and the additional twist from Asad. Cue curtain.

Shows like this are a two-way process: either suspend disbelief, or analyse the entire evening as it happens. The reality is that any set-up that self-describes as improvised will only be semi-true. Take into account the context of the show – a late night slot near open bars, and the first piece of audience interaction is an invitation to the empty stage. If everything was truly improvised, that would be asking for trouble, not least because the show would never end, with a new scenario, plot and goal needing conjured every ten minutes.

So let’s accept that audience members have been pre-selected (perhaps from the queue?), and that the vague structure of the evening is pre-meditated, the burning question remains: was it any good? Yes and no. The audience were laughing, and the energy was high. But the real problem, fundamentally, revolves around the misconception of hypnosis by the public and, in this case, the performers. Why? Because it is still being sold as mind-control.

By definition, it is “a state of human consciousness involving focused attention and reduced peripheral awareness and an enhanced capacity to respond to suggestion“. So what fuels the main response of ‘fraud’ is the supposed volunteers zombified performance, being so overwhelmed by the spell that they are on the verge of falling over and out of their chair. As if starting the night with the ‘volunteers’ charging the stage before Asad had finished his sentence wasn’t suspect enough, their ‘participation’ is increasingly oversold, eager to please the laughing crowd but while often breaking the character they’re totally not playing. Overall, harmless fun on a half-price ticket – a full price experience may vary.

Hyprov: Improv Under Hypnosis‘, Assembly George Square Theatre

And now for something completely different.

Because Brewhemia is still in its infancy, a little leniency seems fair. Building a reputation and consistency in what it programs takes time, so what might work one night may not garner the same response the next.

Debauchery is, in essence, a variety night with live music and solo installation acts, interacting with punters and encouraging dancing. Each night is different on purpose, which is where the notion of consistency comes into play, and Friday night was a standard to set their future nights by. With a skank-inducing, hip-twisting punk-ska set-list, those reinforced drinking table-legs were put to good use by public and performers, well into the witching hours.

Debauchery‘, Brewhemia

[Fringe] ‘Driftwood’ & ‘Pastor Jambus’

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Innocent, playful, and just a little bit special. Situated in the Paris de Variete tent, the five-strong Casus Circus are drawn to centre-stage, gathering around a low hanging light like incredibly lean and toned moths to a flame. What follows … Continue reading