Shakespeare for Breakfast & Dickens for Dinner – Edinburgh Fringe Review

C Theatre

C Chambers Street

26/08/17 & 27/08/17

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Charles Dickens, author of such novels as Hard Times, Oliver Twist and Great Expectations, wouldn’t exactly spring to mind as a cheery soul (though there can be no doubt that he has written some belly laughs dotted through his works), however, C Theatre’s production Dickens for Dinner takes his classic A Christmas Carol and turns it into an irreverent comedy.

After warming their audience with soup on the way into the auditorium (no pleas for gruel here), C Theatre presents a story of Scrooge, failed popstar and confirmed curmudgeon. Narrated by a leather-clad Dickens, this 1980s themed take on the classic novel maintains a surprisingly strong connection to the source material, while seemingly changing just about everything in some way. As in the original, the story revolves around the fact that Scrooge hates Christmas; good luck to anyone who utters the words “Christmas Number One” in his presence. He is visited by the spirits of three famous musicians who remind him of the mistakes he has made in his life and the changes he needs to make to avoid the same purgatorial fate as his late musical collaborator, Shirley Marley.

Full of self-referential gags and clever word-play on Dickens’ original material Dickens for Dinner is by no means a serious literary examination. It is a silly and witty production that serves as a light-hearted introduction to a classic story.

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In a similar vein, C Theatre presents Shakespeare for Breakfast, in which they dissect Macbeth and stitch it back together in the shape of a comedy rather than the tragedy Shakespeare wrote it as. From the very start of the show, when the actors remind us that we cannot call the play or character by its real name and so re-name it McGary, it is clear that this is a production that, rather than indulging in any reverential treatment, will turn the bard on his head and tickle his feet.

The show takes modern references and references to other Shakespeare plays, blending them together to create this humorous tale of McGary’s dastardly attempts to become President of the Thistly Bottom Allotment Society, spurred on by his rather spoiled and power-hungry wife, and some unconventional witches wearing Love Island t-shirts.

Once again retaining the original plot while playing with the finer details, C Theatre create an hilarious production of Macbeth, sorry, McGary, which delights in its own adept silliness.

The Complete History of Europe (More or Less) – Edinburgh Fringe Review

More or Less Theatre

C Chambers Street

26/08/17

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Fitting about 5000 years of European history in to an hour-long show is no mean feat, but Malcom Galea and Joseph Zammit of More or Less Theatre do so with a generous helping of gusto and mischief. The Complete History of Europe (More or Less), takes its audience through a whistle-stop tour of European history, covering events from the Bronze Age to Brexit, dispensing lots of facts (and a little bit of fiction) on the way.

The performers make a strong double act, with Zammit playing the joker, while Galea plays the more straight-laced, long-suffering historian of the pair. Zammit’s character provides gags aplenty as he plays on puns of historical figures’ names, devises ridiculous characterisations and appears in increasingly outlandish costumes. The combination of fast-fact delivery and comedy is reminiscent of Terry Deary’s successful Horrible Histories, though More or Less Theatre provide their own distinctive, theatrical style. The structure of the production, with a large map of Europe in the centre, onto which the performers stick labels of the important events they cover, is simple and open but bright and engaging. Their final song about the European Union is a definite highlight, blending comedy, history and politics in a family friendly song. The self-awareness of the performances suits the style and subject of the production, adding to the comedy with lines such as the one referencing James Watt’s “perfectly serviceable Scottish accent” safeguarding this theatrical history lesson from ever taking itself too seriously.

Even as a grown up, a bit of a history nerd, and someone who studied history all the way through to my Leaving Certificate, I learned some new facts during this jam-packed show; as a family show this production really has something for everyone. The Complete History of Europe (More or Less) is a feast of laughter and learning that’s not to be missed.

Me and My Bee -Edinburgh Fringe Review

ThisEgg

Pleasance Courtyard

26/08/17

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Bees are pretty tiny. Humans are pretty big. Even so, we humans depend on bees much than we realise. As Josie, Greta and Joe are here to tell us, without bees (who pollinate 70 of the top 100 crop species that feed 90% of the worlds population) our way of life would change forever; avocado toast would be no more, but millenials still wouldn’t be buying houses because our economies would probably crash as bees unwittingly sustain many of our multi-billion euro industries. But bees are in danger, human actions such as the use of pesticides, mass production of single crops, industrial development, and the increase in global warming all contribute to the decimation of bee populations worldwide.

ThisEgg Theatre Company’s production Me and My Bee takes a serious, though comedy-filled look at the plight of bees in our world. After meeting a bee named Joe, Greta and Josie set up “The Bee Party,” a political party, disguised as a party, disguised as a show, to protect and support bees. They want to win the audience over to joining the party, and in order to do so they have decided to share Joe, the bee’s sad tale of losing the beloved flower he pollinates. Creating engaging characters, including the truly memorable, somewhat power-hungry party leader, Josie, ThisEgg blend their important message with an entertaining performance so, while there is no doubt that the show is intended to educate its audience about the importance of consciously protecting our bee populations, it feels less like a lesson and more like a party.

There are a couple of points at which the narrative progresses a little slowly, but in all the production is energetic and interesting, with simple but effective, bright and colourful lighting and stage design that appeals to the upbeat nature of this political party disguised as a party disguised as a show. The flipchart which is used throughout serves to reiterate the information given in the show and encapsulates the blend of information and entertainment that characterises the production.

Giving each audience member a role as a solitary bee (for example, I was a mason bee in their “focus group”) and presenting them with a party bag of flower seeds on their way out of the auditorium, the production involves the audience in its message and empowers them to act on it after leaving the theatre. Me and My Bee is a production that does not skimp on the gravity of its message while it has fun and ensures its audience does too.

Dr Zeiffal, Dr Zeigal and the Hippo That Can Never Be Caught – Edinburgh Fringe Review

Mouths of Lions

Assemby Roxy

26/08/17

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Have you ever spotted a wild hippopotamus of the “United K.?”

What’s that? There aren’t any hippos here you say?

Well that is where you would be wrong. Dr. Zeiffal (Georgia Murphy) and Dr. Zeigal (Oliver Weatherly) have been studying Hippopotami for years; they have all of the special equipment, their hippo map for tracking sightings, and their special hippo packaging. However, despite tracking many sightings, the problem is, Dr. Zeiffal and Dr. Zeigal have never actually seen a hippo, but they hope that will change as a wild hippo has been spotted right here in Edinburgh.

Dr. Zeiffal (with help from her assistant, Dr. Zeigal) takes her audience of hippo enthusiasts through a lesson on hippopotami and how to catch them. Upon learning that she may finally get the chance to see a wild hippo, it’s panic stations as Dr. Zeiffal, Dr. Zeigal and the audience try to catch a glimpse of the infamous hippo. After putting on their Hippo Google Goggles and learning the hippo signal, the audience is equipped to warn the performers when the hippo appears, but it’s not as easy as all that; Murphy and Weatherly deliver high calibre classic comedy as they frantically chase a hippopotamus around the theatre.

The production is well paced, involving the audience in the action and playing well to the room. Both Murphy and Weatherly have strong stage presence; Murphy delights as the eccentric Dr. Zeiffal, developing a memorably frenetic and enthusiastic character, while Weatherly demonstrates versatility in his performance as he doubles as the haphazard Zeigal and the elusive but sweet hippopotamus.  The direction and the writing both adeptly cater to the younger and older members of the audience, with well-executed physical comedy, verbal jokes and word play providing laughs for all ages.

If you think you know all that you need to know about hippopotami, I guarantee you will find something new in this production; I bet you didn’t know that hippos are terrified of umbrellas, and I’m sure you have never seen an invisible hippo-catching blanket!

Well…you still won’t exactly see the invisible hippo-catching blanket, but you’ll see its effects in this exuberant and entertaining show that is fun for all ages. Dr Zeiffal, Dr. Zeigal and the Hippo That Can Never Be Caught is a hilarious and clever production that uses tried and tested comic techniques to make a fresh and energetic piece of family theatre.

La Vie Dans Une Marionette – Edinburgh Fringe Review

The White Face Crew

Gilded Balloon at the Museum

24/8/17

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Hailing from New Zealand, La Vie Dans Une Marionette is a charming and captivating story of friendship, love and companionship. It evokes silent films and clowning styles of yore, while remaining fresh and retaining a distinctive, contemporary mark.

The audience is left unsure of what to expect from the production, as it begins with a short bit on the qualities of a good and a bad audience member, which seems relatively unconnected to the rest of the show, but this is part of the productions strength. Just as you begin to expect a pure frivolous comedy, a sentimental element is introduced, and just as your (or at least my) tears are about to brim over, a moment of daftness or humour is thrown into the mix.

All three performers deliver strong performances, with Tama Jarman demonstrating impressive mime skills, Chris Ofanoa, fluidity and control in movement sections, and Nikki Bennett shining in her various comic roles as she has the audience dissolving in laughter at her turn as the moon and her Scottish-ish accent.

The costume and stage design beautifully compliments the performances, with the simple set containing just enough pointers to convey context for the story, without cluttering the space in which the performers move. Everything on stage serves a purpose and it all fits together to create a defined aesthetic in an effective combination of prettiness and practicality.

Finding that borderline between laughter and tears, the happy and the sad on which good clowning treads, La Vie Dans Une Marionette is an enchanting production that would win over even the most stony-faced audience member.

La Vie Dans Une Marionette runs until 28th August as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Eaten – Edinburgh Fringe Review

Summerhall, Cairns Lecture Theatre

24/08/17

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Lionel the Lion is a lion with a dream; he wants to become a vegetarian. However, he has just eaten a human, Mamoru, with whom he forms a friendship as Mamoru sits in his stomach awaiting his inevitable digestion. As Mamoru and Lionel talk to each other, and to Suzi who (alongside other characters) teaches Lionel about food, digestion and nutrition, the audience is taken on a bizarre and unexpected exploration of how, why and what we consume in Eaten, developed by Mamoru Iriguchi.

This show presents some interesting theatrical ideas and raises intriguing questions, but ultimately its overall approach and the conclusions it drew left me with numerous questions. The production explored the well-worn phrase “you are what you eat” in a more literal sense than perhaps it was initially intended. The conclusion the show comes to seems to run along the lines of: once something or someone has been eaten, it or they live on as a parts of whatever creature did the eating, this is the natural order and it is acceptable, or even commendable to eat other animals as they have another life beyond the digestive juices of their consumer.  It is an interesting concept to explore, and building an awareness of what we consume is important, but overall as a play billed at ages 6+, it is a rather confusing production that creates more questions than it answers. This can be seen in the use of puppets which appear from the stomachs of the characters as characters such as Conceptual Cow and Conceptual Mamoru. While this is a fun dramatic technique and bred some amusing lines, it is (as demonstrated by the small voice that piped up from the front rows to ask her mother what the word “conceptual” meant) perhaps a technique which required its audience to have a bit more experience and knowledge than is within the reach of the younger members of the audience.  On the flipside, when the performers were delivering facts and information themselves, their delivery was often stilted, exacerbated by the fact that many lines were read directly from the script, creating a sense of detachment from the audience and each other.

That said, the audience were in stitches at many points; with audience members recruited as other animals, a performer playing a poo, and a giant lion costume full of surprises, the physical and scatological humour abounds. For the older members of the audience, some of the jokes that may not land with the young target audience are entertaining and smart, playing with a sense of self-awareness on the part of the performers.

Eaten  is a production which, though it introduces intriguing ideas and delivers some strong comedy, potentially overloads its young target audience with concepts and over-stretches its possibilities for exploration of the topics it tackles in the short period of time available.

Eaten runs until 27th August as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Edinburgh Fringe Review

The Handlebards

Royal Botanic Garden

23/08/17

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Shakespeare is funny; his raucous revelry is nothing new or newsworthy, but The Handlebards’ production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream takes this a headline-worthy step further. While maintaining the integrity of the play, the all-male troupe takes Shakespeare’s work and runs amok with it, leaving their audience wiping tears of laughter from their cheeks clutching their sides for fear of their splitting.

The four performers perform every character with skill and dexterity (and a little help from the audience), switching between characters at the drop of a hat…or the ding of a bicycle bell. The direction clearly plays to each performer’s strengths, with Matthew Seager excelling in the high-strung role of Helena, Callum Brodie playing an hilariously unsettling Puck, and Tom Dixon and Calum Hughes-Mackintosh injecting mischief into every available moment of the play.  All four performers evidently know the play inside out, staying faithful to the story whilst playing irreverently with it throughout. Particularly notable is the way in which the actors constantly upstage each other and play to the audience outside the play, something I might criticise in another production, but which is an intrinsic part of the comedy in this one; each performer holds his own and the ensemble is well balanced on stage. Particular examples of this include Dixon’s business with the puppet trio of Snout, Snug and Starveling, the mischievous administering of the love potion, and a certain incident with a bicycle.

The construction of the set and props similarly does not take itself too seriously, but is still well designed and innovative. From the bicycle powered backdrops, to Titania’s formidable wings, and the use of puppetry, the production is fast-paced and keeps surprising the audience with new theatrical devices and ideas. Add to this the continuing theme of bicycles with which the company leaves its mark, and you have a distinctive production that confidently strides in its own direction.

Taking one of Shakespeare’s most madcap plays and building upon it with their own energy, the company delivers a ceaselessly entertaining production. For anyone who finds themselves infected with the idea that the Bard is boring, anyone who doesn’t, and anyone in between, The Handlebards’ production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream is a must-see feast of riotous revelry and mischief.

A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs at the Royal Botanic Gardens until 26th August as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.