Edinburgh Fringe 2017 Part 3 – Wednesday 9th August


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Slash Theatre: The Room in the Elephant

(14.15, Heroes @The Hive)

To the credit of the three performers, they’d already been handed a poor turnout of about five people and still persevered through the whole show. Unfortunately, the show itself was quite a tough watch. It was clear that a lot of thought had been put into homing in the metaphysical concept of the show being about itself: three characters in a room trying to come up with a show. However, there is only so many times you can rely on “so I’ll be saying these very words in the play right now… and those words.. and those ones.” When it looked like this bit was only the opening of the show, it was okay; then I realised that was the show. Whilst I appreciate the efforts that this group put into selling us this angle, this show needed more to it. When your show is essentially like a version of The Muppet Show where it’s only the in-between backstage sections, only set three-months before when the show hasn’t even been written yet, it’s really difficult to hold an audience’s attention for an entire hour. Occasionally they had more abstract moments to evoke the absurdist genre they were labelled with, but even they didn’t sit well with the rest of the show.

The jokes themselves never really clicked with the near-silent audience either, with one of the often-repeated lines being “I just think the audience will just find this bit really boring:” I’m not saying it was, it’s just that putting those words into the audience’s heads isn’t the greatest thing to do in any show. There was one woman enjoying herself behind us, but when it was revealed she was a plant the whole time to pay-off a joke at the end, I’m afraid that was the final nail in the coffin for me.



The Warwick Revue Presents: Night Shift

(17.15, Black Market)

Like our previous show, this one had a small, though slightly larger, turnout. Yet, it deserved far more; precisely why people shouldn’t be afraid of trying the Free Fringe. As you’ll see below, we saw three sketch revues in a row. This free one was on-par with the two paid ones and quite possibly contained the cleverest writing. Whilst they are evidently still feeling the waters with what does and doesn’t work – I mean I can’t relate to that at all – the show we got just kept getting stronger and stronger as it went on. There were some true moments of brilliance peppered across the show, which I will not ruin, and all of the sketches were very different and diverse. One of my favourite sketches may have not even been one that gets you roaring with laughter, but the discipline behind the sheer speed of the performances had both myself and Alex in awe.

Please do not overlook The Warwick Revue.


Leeds Tealights: Fix Us

(18.35, Just the Tonic @The Caves)

In terms of performance, this was the strongest sketch revue I saw. Immediately displaying an electric sense of confidence, The Tealights were evidently very well-versed in working a Fringe audience. The sketch-writing was strong, but the execution was the real star. For sketch comedy, it is well-known that have to be able to convincingly pull off a variety of characters and that was certainly no issue for these guys. One sketch got laughs purely out of the excellence of the accents, and that’s not in a bad way at all. For me, it was inspiring to see this group of truly comedically gifted performers in-action. Excellent show and, thanks to one sketch, I now know what sort of service I expect in Subway.


Bristol Revunions: Glass

(19.55, Just the Tonic @The Caves)

Another solid sketch show, with plenty of creative and wonderfully bizarre ideas throughout – the best probably being the Monopoly sketch which I won’t spoil. The only critique I’d have of this show is the murder-mystery arc used to hold the show together, which sometimes left me waiting for the next sketch to start. However, this issue is minor at best and I really enjoyed this revue as well.

One thing I did notice with all three sketch revues was their similarity in structure. Whilst there needs to be a main ‘tentpole’ sketch that can be returned to throughout the show, as I learnt myself the hard way, all three went for playing themselves in the same ‘behind-the-scenes’ Muppet-type premise. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with it; just something I picked up on.


Frankie Boyle: Prometheus Volume 1

(21.20, EICC)

Going into the venue, it was strange to walk into such a large theatre for a show at the Fringe. Whilst this may have meant the show didn’t have the same intimacy as others we’ve seen had, there wasn’t much quarrel that this particular show needed one; it’s Frankie Boyle. A man who certainly lived up to the reputation he’s built, we were provided with an hour of gloriously explicit and specific filth, which Boyle managed to apply pretty much everything he spoke about. Observation, satire, Scotland, the Royals; nothing was safe from the tyranny of those unbeatable and unforgiving similes and tangents that he is so well-known for.

However, as ashamed as I am to say it, the moment that really exposed what force of nature was on the stage came about when one unknowing idiot attempted to heckle. The moment you heard the words “what about Brexit?” sound with illy-prepared drunken English confidence, you saw the lion turn and lurch towards the prey that had just fallen into his den. The inaudible slurs of the man were like that of a pathetic little scavenger scrambling against the side, desperately trying to claw their way out. It was no good: the almighty predator tore them apart and left them to rot.. outside because the guy got kicked out in the end.

Once again, Frankie Boyle puts class into the unclassy.


Late ‘n’ Live

(1.00, Gilded Balloon Teviot)

Now, whilst level of professionalism that a Frankie Boyle-type is something to behold at, it’s Late ‘n’ Live where the truly raw stand-up comedy comes in. Now, I am aware that this notorious early-morning drinks-fest.. has allegedly become ‘tamer’ over the years.. apparently that’s a thing. However, as a first-time audience member, it would appear that the event’s reputation is now attracting some really great rising talent. Perhaps the time of night, atmosphere and cocktails we’d had before helped a bit, but I laughed at every act that came on.

Yet, it was definitely compere John Hastings who owned the show, who held the whole audience of people under alcohol or worse (yes, they were there) so seamlessly. A true off-the-cuff comedian, practically all his material came off of audience interaction. Also, I’d recommend checking out Larry Dean’s solo show, which will most likely be anything close to gold if his L’n’L set was anything to go by.


*alcohol-influenced rating

More tomorrow, which will have reviews for Thursday 10th and Friday 11th (though, we did only see one show on the Friday!


Edinburgh Fringe 2017 Part 2 – Reviews for Tuesday 8th August


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(12.00, Pleasance Dome)

The only show we saw outside of the comedy bracket, this being a physical theatre piece, Form is a self-evident result of the performers devising and playing around. With entertaining results, the title ‘Form’ reflects the fact that the show doesn’t have any specific form or structure. Set in a typically systematic office space, the characters’ ever-increasing digression into inventively fooling around with work supplies and such creates a fascinating correlation between the fiction and the working atmosphere in which the fiction was created. Whilst this fluid structure does slow down a bit in the latter half, it makes for a refreshingly creative use of a ‘imagination restricted to environment’ premise. The show leaves you with provocative ideas of having your potential trapped in a box of staplers and window blinds; something that the performers themselves are most likely attempting to escape with this very show. For the best sequence using the ‘going down the stairs’ illusion I’ve ever seen alone, this is worth the watch.



The Cambridge Footlights International Tour 2017: Dream Sequence 

(16.00, Pleasance Dome)

Obviously, the Footlights has had its place as the podium for tomorrow’s talent for almost as long as the Fringe itself. Consequently, whilst you expect a stellar and hilarious show, you also unfairly carry the stigma that these performers will have a cold awareness of their brilliance. However, as I watched my first Footlights revue, that never came across at all. Like the rest of the best, they were just a phenomenally talented group of performers wanting to put on a good show.

The hit-and-miss ratio leaning far closer to the former, there were so many sparks of genius throughout the show. If it wasn’t the spot-on writing, it was how the performers took from and worked off the writing and, if it wasn’t that, it was how these performers worked with the audience: watch out for an absolutely killer sketch with two teachers trying to crowd control a school coach. Whilst the show would have worked fine without the more politically-heavy sketches, they are still very funny and the show is by no means lesser with their inclusion. An A-class revue and, in a time where the world begins to speed up, it is a credit to the Footlights for keeping to their classic structure of largely three-minute-long sketches and fully relish the ideas in the material.


Sleeping Trees at the Movies: Mafia?

(17.30, Pleasance Dome)

They are the best. This may have already been my stance, prior to this year, but seeing the show again simply reaffirmed the Sleeping Trees as my favourite group at the Fringe. They are the full package: fully-developed narratives with a large cast of characters and changing environments clearly defined and realised through the physical and vocal talents of three performs and one musician: how do they do it? With this show being ‘Mafia’, the conventions of this genre are also excellently observed and executed, as is said conventions in ‘Sci-fi’, but I’ll be reviewing that one later! Having now done these shows for the past couple of years, the Trees’ comfort within these shows are very much their gain: being able to identify the precise moments to stick to the story or to improvise and attempt to crack each other up without any risk of deterring the audience and losing the story. It is a remarkable balance that is kept and controlled by the trio’s firm chemistry and understanding of one another. I was glad to return to the unbeatable escapism they provide and to see Alex experience Sleeping Trees for the first time.


Shit-faced Showtime: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz

(22.00, Underbelly Med Quad)

Very much what it says on the empty can, this is basically an unaltered adaptation of Wizard of Oz with a drunken cast member thrown into it and, whilst I was hoping for a more inventive comedic retelling, what we got was entertaining enough. Seeing these trained musical theatre performers having to work around this piss-head mucking up everything was truly something to behold. In our performance, the drunkard was the Tin Man whose decision to instead seek Oz for a new personality was definitely the highlight. However, it has to be said, the moments when the drunk wasn’t on stage and the musical was just being performed straight did seem to drag along a bit and this is when a more comedic script could have been brought in to great effect. Also, during the songs, it was unfortunate that these talented musical theatre performers’ voices were at the mercy of a faulty microphone system. Overall, though, we came out of this show having had a great time.


The Improverts

(00.30, Bedlam Theatre)

Any apprehensions that improvisation’s an easy scapegoat will be challenged by The Improverts. Whilst pre-written material is inevitably more polished, watching what a performer is capable of when working off-the-cuff is truly something to behold and, in this case, that was a recklessly entertaining hour-long show. Though many of the stimulant games were not too dissimilar to what we play at the Winchester drama society, through sheer wit and general eye for comedy, this group were able to seamlessly use said games to generate entire five-minute sketches.

The Improverts also have a clear understanding that the best way to show improvisation in-action is to let the audience make a lot of the decisions, when it came to choosing the premise/character/setting of a game. Not only this but, in the final game, they open the stage up to the audience to join in at any time; an offer which Lucie, Alex and myself were, of course, eager to take up. In fact, once I’d come up and done a bit, they made me and another fella bow with them, much to our amused embarrassment. Thank you so much to The Improverts for such an upbeat and fun end to our first day at the Fringe. 4.5/5


That’s all for now, I’ll have what we saw last Wednesday written up for tomorrow.

Edinburgh Fringe 2017: Part 1 – Introduction


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Between Tuesday 8th August and Friday 11th August, myself and Mr Alexander Denley Spencer III saw seventeen shows at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival because we forgot how bank accounts work. We labelled the whole thing as a ‘research trip’ for our own Fringe campaign, which we are doing as the Biscuit Barrel next year, but blatantly that’s just a misleading professional term for ‘watching lots of stuff and pissing about’. Through shows, chips, Tennent’s beer and a couple escapades with the brilliant Miss Lucie Strannack and co, we really enjoyed our fleeting time in Edinburgh – the best city in August (who needs the sun?).

Despite the prior three times I’d gone – though this time I did remove Alex’s Fringe chastity belt – this year definitely felt different; if it were ever possible to stand on a horizon, that was what this year felt like. The excitement of channelling through the flyer-wavers and street performers down the thriving current of the Royal Mile evoked daring thoughts of ‘this could be us next year’ like they’d never done before. Since I was fifteen-years-old, I’ve wanted to perform on the Fringe, but it wasn’t until this year that the idea had real a weight of reality to it.

Of course, this weight carries a pound of angst in it too: this dream project is a gamble and, like any big gamble, a lot of dollar’s involved. A Fringe performer puts the best they can do out to the public, just to see if it can do anything and that is terrifying stuff. With this in mind, as I do my reviews of what I’ve seen this year, and whilst I do not expect any of these performers to ever come across what I have just dribbled onto my blog, I will not forget the effort that has been put behind these shows and will try to be as respectful as I can, whilst still giving an honest opinion of how I felt about them. With sketch shows, improv shows, character comedians, late-night stand-ups, awkward self-aware shows and physical theatre to cover, I better get cracking.

But, as a general comment, thank you to this year’s festival for giving me the most well-rounded Fringe I’ve ever had and next year, with a bit of luck, we too will be on a makeshift stage in a converted workhouse.

REVIEW: Her (Short film, 2017)


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Link to ‘Her’ here: https://youtu.be/syV8FkWxzAg

As technology progresses, so does accessibility to it and, as far as filmmaking is concerned, one significant advantage of this is that more creators can now showcase their talents and potential with the proper equipment to so. Her is a prime result of this.

When it comes to short film, the best approach is often to tell a simple story very well, exploiting the abstract visual storytelling that can be achieved in the medium of film, whilst not letting style digress from that core narrative. In Her, unless you thought I’d just told you all that for the banter, this is definitely the approach. The director Noah Parker stuck to a story that was well-suited to a smaller-scale film, but then pushed how ambitiously it could be told; beyond what most budding filmmakers would try.

The first thought most will have is ‘it’s Whiplash with a violin’. Like Whiplash, which interestingly also started as a short film before being adapted into feature-length, Her portrays a creative mind facing the age-old battle between artistic passion and romantic passion. However, I’d argue that Her almost gives a complete counter-narrative to Whiplash. Whilst Whiplash focuses more on the music and the protagonist’s passion behind it, Her puts the majority of its attention on how love between two human beings is pressured as a consequence. The former’s about a character who’d rather succeed in his field and the poor girlfriend gets sidelined; the latter’s about a character (played with class by my pal Micah Joseph, I may add) who really feels the conflict between art and love – I mean, the title is ‘Her’ so of course the focus is going to be on his time with her. Essentially, they portray two different sides of the same coin, which makes for a really fascinating contrast.

Another defining element of the picture is a far less literal portrayal of this psychological conflict, intensifying the story in the exact way a short film should. Note – prepare to squint a bit at the ‘puppet on a string’ moments. These are the moments Parker should be relishing, as he does; using the film as a pallet of ‘look what I can do’ for those producers going out on open season at the film festivals.

Of course, I must give credit where its due to the actors in the film. Now, I know Micah’s my friend and former fellow actor, but the truth is he does do a very good job here. Whilst him, Beth Asher and Adam Parker are all very much amongst the orchestra, whilst the director conducts the story around them in this, they all served that orchestra very well and I bought into their performances.

From watching Her, I can see a lot of potential from all the efforts that contributed to it and I wish everyone involved all the best.

Wallace and Sallis – Goodbye, lad.


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Thanks to the – as of today – sadly departed Peter Sallis, what could have been portrayed as an obnoxious character – someone who gets his dog to do everything for him, before sussing that he did it all himself – was instead played with a charming and welcoming sense of naivety. Through his career-defining vocal performance, all that Wallace did never felt mean or unfriendly; just innocent and oblivious. It was the whimsical and gentle politeness of his voice that made many see the character to represent the best kind of British.

Sitcom may possibly be my favourite medium, but I’m not going to pretend I’ve ever watched Last of the Summer Wine. For me, Peter Sallis was Wallace – a character that has been part of my life since the first few years of it. I may not have watched when I was a baby, but I could hear and, by the time I was a toddler, Wallace’s voice already brought a warming sense of familiarity. Even in the pair’s feature outing – The Curse of the Were-Rabbit (2005) – performances from Ralph Fiennes and Helena Bonham-Carter were overshadowed by the then already 85-year-old Sallis.

In the early 80s, when student animator Nick Park first cast and paid Sallis £50 for A Grand Day Out (not finished until 1989), he unwittingly paired a cultural icon.

Hilarious to adults and friendly to children, I would like to thank the man whose voice brought a smile to all.

“Goodbye, Chuck.” Peter Sallis: 1921-2017.

Hypocrisy of Terrorism


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“If Anyone Kills A Person It Would Be As If He Killed All Mankind.”

When you exclaim “this is for Allah” and proceed to commit blasphemy against the very words of his supposed faith. A story can sound very different between individual storytellers, especially when said storyteller doesn’t read it very well. Last night, these ideological illiterates exposed their idiocy and took seven lives in the process.

La La Land – film for the fools who dream


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“I live by the belief that the ones who succeed are the ones stupid enough to try.”

It was inevitable that any attempt at an original contemporary musical was going to have a backlash of being called ‘pretentious’. Add a director and two lead actors who have flirted with the Oscar circle, it just worsens the stigma. Stylize it as a love-letter to ol’ studio-musical Hollywood? Oh no.

However, if you’re can put this context aside and just watch what’s in front of you, you’ll be able to judge La La Land for what is. All that considered, not everyone will enjoy this film. If you’re someone whose stomach twists at any abstract method of storytelling or occasional blunt song outbursts, then I’m very sorry. Personally, I enjoy these nuances and thought this film actually managed to tell a unique love story – and a love story relating to two different things at that.

As also apparent from his prior work on 2014’s Whiplash, director Damien Chazelle has a mastery of conveying creative passion on film. Not just his own expression through the beautiful set-pieces and cinematography, but also characters with a strong artistic flair and mind-set. Unsurprisingly, considering Chazelle’s music routes, La La Land continues Whiplash’s obsession with jazz – the genre best-suited to presenting musical expression and flair. This time, it is shown through Ryan Gosling’s Sebastian: a talented and passionate pianist who can’t get the good gigs. However, this merely co-stars with the struggle to maintain resilience in the acting industry – embodied by Emma Stone’s Mia: an aspiring actress who can’t get the gigs. Wonder why they get along?

Through these two characters, La La Land presents a battle between love of your craft and romantic love. Yet, not in the conventional way of one being an artist and the other being the nag who doesn’t understand. Both are in a similar situation and, more often than not, a lot of their romanticism sparks from their creative passions: hence why it makes for such a well-fitted musical. Through Gosling and Stone’s archetypal chemistry, it provides a new perspective and, whilst having someone to love should always take priority, it’s nice to see a creative’s dreams given a voice of significance, as opposed to being discounted.

“Here’s to the fools who dream,” Mia sings. As one of those fools myself, it meant a lot to see that attitude acknowledged on film and in such a caring and romanticised way. I live by the belief that the ones who succeed are the ones stupid enough to try – the reason why I think so many see this as a ‘nosey-up’ to the industry is that the business itself is made up of those same idiots.

La La Land nods to the creators of the world, whilst also reminding us of the importance of love and that there comes a time where we may need to make a choice between the two.

REVIEW: Westworld (2016)


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As online streaming continues to blur the line between film and television, so does the sophistication of how series are made. At the moment, HBO are the ones with the firmest grip on television’s withering flag, holding it up against Netflix’s growing empire and, here, they really demonstrate why. Perhaps watching the whole series in a single day assisted this sensation, but Westworld was a piece that really did flow like a ten-hour movie.

Usually, when attempting an entire series in a single sitting, there always comes a point when the attention seeps away and you are merely still watching for the sense of achievement, whilst gradually ruining the experience for yourself. Westworld doesn’t let you ruin it. How? Well, it does something that even some of the best television series fail to do – put something big in every episode that moves the story forward in a majorly important way. There is no filler in Westworld; it all flows together to form one giant narrative and, whilst it could be viewed as a giant movie, it does all the multiple-perspective plotline work that only television can accomplish.

Boasting a rich belt of characters, matched by the calibre of actors playing them (one of Anthony Hopkin’s finest), the series doesn’t just juggle all these threads at once, it sews them together seamlessly. Sometimes they can leave a couple of characters for an episode and, when they are eventually returned to, you immediately remember where they were left. That’s one thing that could have gone very wrong with such a complex story like this – the audience could have easily gotten lost. This is not to say you won’t ever get lost, but it’s clear that the show wants you to be lost in these instants. The big reveals do not disappoint, whilst not corrupting the earlier end of the season. In fact, they are hidden so well prior to their reveal that I’m sure they grant a rewarding second viewing.

Whilst I will need a long break before I ever attempt to return to it, I was enthralled by how well plotted, written, directed and performed Westworld was. High-concept science-fiction blending together far too well with classical Western conventions; the ideas of the original Westworld updated with the potential of modern technological developments like 3D printing; existential themes of God-complexes and  reincarnation – an awful lot is covered and it’s all phenomenally executed. I’m sure there are minor issues to be had but, after absorbing the whole thing at once, they really are just needles in a large and very satisfyingly stacked barn of hay.

As an escapist through and through, I’d definitely recommend this as an experience. The next morning, I genuinely woke up feeling as if I’d been somewhere else the previous day.