Review – Ellie and the Enormous Sneeze

Assembly Roxy

05/08/18

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Nine year old Ellie longs for adventure, as any nine year-old should, but her aunt is too worried to let her. She worries that if Ellie goes exploring their little brown town, something terrible might happen. But even curious little Ellie couldn’t get into any adventures going to borrow a cup of sugar from a neighbour could she? When her worried auntie sends her next door to do just that, however, Ellie proves that she can find an adventure anywhere.

After cycling off on her bike, Ellie spots something in the distance, a house, and it looks like it is on fire! She cycles out of the town and up the hill to investigate. When she enters the house, which is not on fire, she meets Stanley, an old man who cannot sneeze. With the help of some chocolate pudding and a long list, Ellie sets out to try 1000 ways to trigger a sneeze.

Mouths of Lions create an energetic and charming production that reminds us of the importance of friendship and helping each other. The three performers deliver enthusiastic and considered performances, perfectly pitched towards the age of their audience. Louise Dickenson is an hilariously highly-strung Aunt Tracy, knowing exactly how far she can push her wails and panicked babbling to keep her audience laughing.  Both Oliver Weatherly as Stanley and Shea Wojtus as Ellie balance silliness with sweetness, creating a space for the audience to laugh, and to see the messages of friendship within the story. Adding to this, Tom Crosely-Thorne’s compositions bring a further layer of energy and storytelling to the piece.

Ellie and the Enormous Sneeze is a funny, well-thought out production filled with bogeys and dreams.

Ellie and the Enormous Sneeze runs at Assembly Roxy until 27th August as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

 

Review – An Elephant in the Garden

Dairy Room – Underbelly Bristo Square

05/08/18

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Based on Michael Morpurgo’s 2009 novel of the same name, An Elephant in the Garden is an enchanting and moving one-woman show, performed by Alison Reid. Set around the 1945 Dresden bombing, this production tells the story of our narrator, Lizzie, as she embarks on the long walk from Dresden to seek refuge with American troops with her mother, and Marlene, an elephant.

Perhaps I should explain the elephant before I continue? Marlene (named after Marlene Dietrich) was in Dresden Zoo where Lizzie’s mother worked and, when the bombings happened, was to be shot along with all of the other animals to prevent them from running wild across the city. Rather than let that happen, Lizzie’s mother adopts the elephant and brings her to live in their back garden, and so we find ourselves with a steady stalwart elephant friend who plods through the story, acting as its spine, drawing the characters forward alongside her, and provides a memorable metaphor for persistence, care and humanity.

An Elephant in the Garden is, at face value, a beautiful feat of storytelling, but as we get further into the story another important note shines through.  As Lizzie’s uncle argues in support of the rise of the Nazi party in Germany, it is difficult to avoid the parallels to some of the arguments of the 21st Century far-right. Similarly, as Lizzie discusses their journey, the portions of it that they make with other people, he shelter they find in the house of the countess, their six month spent in a ‘Camp for Displaced People,’ it is impossible not to think of the people still making life-threatening journeys in search of refuge, of the people in the camps in Calais, of those in direct provision in Ireland. People are still in these impossibly difficult situations.  Though the play does not directly allude to any contemporary parallels, the opportunity is there, to learn from the past and find the strength of compassion needed to stop these things continuing to happen another 70-odd years from now.

An Elephant in the Garden is a beautifully performed story that looks back to the past, but in doing so provides an insight into the present.

An Elephant in the Garden runs at Underbelly Bristo Square until 27th August as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Review – The Kagools: Kula

Just the Tonic at the Caves

04/08/18

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Silent physical comedy duo, The Kagools, are on the hunt for a missing key. Blending video and live performance, the pair embark on a madcap hour’s search that involves a lot of audience interaction, slapstick humour, and water balloons.

The Kagools are adept physical comedians, creating a comic pair reminiscent of Laurel and Hardy. Neither character is sensible or particularly prone to getting things right, but one is clearly the leader and believes herself to be the brains and talent of the operation. This pairing of characters sets up a strong comic foundation as the performers exploit the imbalance between them for numerous gags, from jealous competition over a love interest, to a drawn out battle with a roll of sellotape.

However, the greatest imbalance in the show often lies between the performers and the audience rather than between the two characters. As I previously mentioned, there is a high level of audience interaction in the show, with audience members regularly being pulled up on stage to take part in various ridiculous scenarios.  Though many of these interactive moments delivered numerous laughs and gags, at times there was an uncomfortable sense to the interactions, as audience members were prompted to do things that they did not necessarily seem comfortable doing, including soaking other audience members with water balloons, unexpectedly playing a love interest, or having their handbag taken and rifled through on stage. These could all have been entertaining and positive interactions, but not without a sense of consent, which was sometimes sorely lacking in this production. Similarly, splashing the audience with water is one matter, but throwing clouds of talcum powder around the auditorium was a step too far; anyone with breathing difficulties would be wise to avoid this show.

Though The Kagools’ performances are strong, and their use of video to add layers to the production, and facilitate the portrayal of additional characters is ingenious and effective, Kula suffers from a lack of consideration of the welfare of their audience.

The Kagools: Kula runs at Just the Tonic at the Caves until  August 26th as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Review – Wilde Creatures

Pleasance Courtyard

04/08/18

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Oscar Wilde’s fairy tales, though few in number are enormous in the scope of their understanding. They are snapshots of reality through an imaginative lens that teaches vital lessons in kindness, generosity, understanding and respect. Taking the story of The Happy Prince as a frame, Wilde Creatures deftly draws elements of almost all of Wilde’s fairy tales together to bring these lessons, and the beautiful stories that convey them, vividly to life on stage.

The town has become very quiet, the beautiful statue of the Happy Prince is no more, and the Mayor has stopped children from playing in the town centre in order to keep it tidy. The town is not happy. It is decided that there should be a new statue to liven up the town square, but the question is, who deserves to be the subject of this statue? Of course the self-important town Mayor believes the statue should be of him, but the townspeople decide to take a vote. Performing various Wilde fairy tales through storytelling and song, the Wile Creatures ask whether the statue should be of Little Hans, the student, or the princess. As they tell their stories, gradually the townspeople, and the audience, learn that maybe the best way to liven up the town is not through creating a statue of a powerful (selfish, greedy or unkind) person, but by opening back up the square to everyone and caring for its citizens who are struggling.

The Wilde Creatures display impressive versatility as performers, playing multiple musical instruments, and flitting between characters in the stories with gusto. Tom Jude’s overbearing Mayor and Lauren Silver’s brattish princess are two highlights, with both performers creating delightfully unlikeable characters. Alongside the strong performances, Barney George’s ingenious set creates a changeable, captivating Wilde world.

Wilde Creatures is a lively, charming production that reminds us that “humans are the most beautiful flowers of all.”

Wilde Creatures runs at Pleasance Courtyard on alternate days with The Canterville Ghost until 26th August as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Review – Lights Over Tesco Car Park

Poltergeist Theatre

Pleasance Jack Dome

04/08/18

 

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Sorry, are you an alien?

No? You sure?

Ok. Just checking.

 

Though, actually, I don’t mind if you are, as long as you’re reading my work…

 

Since we’re all (probably) from Earth, and so might have a chance to see Poltergeist Theatre’s production of Lights Over Tesco Car Park (I’m not sure what the spaceship parking situation is around Edinburgh at the moment), I’m going to write a little something about the show.

The show has clearly started before you walk in the door. As you take your seats with the Cantina Band, S Club 7 and other cosmic classics playing, the performers chat and brownies are passed around.

An alien is introduced.

And the story is underway.

Lights Over Tesco Car Park follows the story of Rosa, Alice, Julia and Will as they work out whether to believe Robert’s report of an alien encounter. In between conversations with Robert, where he reports that he saw mysterious red lights over the car park in Tesco, and later informs them that an alien is coming to stay in his Air B&B room, the group indulges in thought experiments, eats many flying saucers, and explores historical abduction stories with the audience. Though there is a lot of audience interaction in the show, it was a low-pressure form of interaction, with any audience member that volunteered truly being a volunteer; no one was singled out at any point, the performers simply opened the space for any audience member to join them. Alongside this, there were instances in which the whole audience were invited to get involved, in a similarly low-focus manner. The words “audience interaction” can often strike dread into an audience, but Poltergeist Theatre have it nailed; without a doubt it was some of the best handling of audience involvement I have seen.

Alongside this, the overall execution of the piece was impressive, with Jack Bradfield’s writing tying potentially disparate parts together into a seamless journey. Simple changes from warm to cold washes in the lighting design and a detailed sound design by Alice Boyd complete the well crafted, consciously theatrical world of the piece.

Near the start of the play, the words “All of this is true” appear on the screen at the back of the stage, and in an odd way, it is all true. As they follow Robert’s story, the four performers/characters gently investigate what it means to be human, to connect, to make up community, to be together. Even though it is a play about aliens, Lights Over Tesco Car Park is an acutely honest, human play.

Lights Over Tesco Car Park runs at Pleasance Jack Dome until 27th August as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Review – Any Suggestions, Doctor? An Improvised Adventure in Space and Time

Sweet Venue, Grassmarket

Edinburgh Festival Fringe

03/08/18

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I’ve seen some episodes of Doctor Who; the odd one as I hibernate in a nest of cushions over Christmas holidays, or as I wander into the room while someone else is already watching it. I know very little about the adventures of the Time Lord. So, of course, I went to an improvised Dr. Who show. A sensible choice.

Thankfully it quickly became evident that any knowledge of Doctor Who is not necessary to enjoy Any Suggestions, Doctor? Taking the standard improv format of asking the audience for suggestions before creating a story around them, the performers ask the audience to choose someone to play the Doctor, choose a title and finally a location. Yesterday the episode was transported to an apartment complex in New York City, as the Moon Men attempted to take over the world.

The ensemble strike a balance between pushing the narrative forward, and providing plenty of laughs through heir madcap improvisations. Even when performers are set on ridiculous paths by the other members of the cast, they make the most of them and the story continues to push forward. Particularly adept at maintaining the narrative pace and energy of the piece was Harry Whittaker, who zipped on and off stage, playing three different characters in an almost alarmingly fast rotation.

With questionable New York accents, a memorable if almost unrecognisable rendition of ‘Memory’ (from Cats), and a healthy dose of meta-theatrical messing, Any Suggestions, Doctor? is an entertaining improvised comedy for Whovians and Who’sthats? alike.

Any Suggestions Doctor? An Improvised Adventure in Space and Time runs at Sweet Venue, Grassmarket until August 26th as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Review – Tom Brace: Brace Yourself (It’s Magic Time!)

Pleasance Courtyard – The Green

Edinburgh Festival Fringe

03/08/18

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Despite an enthusiasm for magic tricks that verges on the ridiculous, watching a show in a warm inflatable igloo did not appeal to me earlier this morning as I arrived at The Green at Pleasance Courtyard. I looked forward to it even less as I saw the crowd filing into the venue and imagined the combined warmth of the weather and a full house. But within two minutes of Tom Brace’s Brace Yourself (It’s Magic Time!) getting underway, all crotchetiness was quickly forgotten.

The effervescent Brace opens the show with an enthusiastic round of greetings to the audience before launching into a hilarious opening comic routine which sets the high-energy, joyfully daft tone for the rest of the performance. Though Brace draws on classic tricks, he puts his own spin on most of them, including creating a bizarre game-show setting for one trick, executing a dentist’s nightmare with a paintball gun, and weaving a strong comic performance through every trick.

Throughout the hour-long performance, the energy never drops, and Brace flies deftly through his set with an air of unquenchable enthusiasm, and more than a little mischief. Still puzzling over how on earth he pulled off some of the tricks he did, I highly recommend Brace Yourself (It’s Magic Time!), to anyone, children and grown-ups alike, who finds themselves with some spare time any morning of the Fringe. If you want to catch a magic show this Fringe, then this should be it.

Tom Brace: Brace Yourself (It’s Magic Time!) runs at Pleasance Courtyard until 18th August as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.