Review -Big Trouble in Little Monkey’s Daycare

The Space on the Mile

06/08/18

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Something is not right at Little Monkey’s Daycare, and little Tommy, a four-and-a-half year old private investigator, is going to get to the bottom of it. This production from Newcastle University Theatre Society is a sort of backwards Bugsy Malone with the toddlers played by adults, to great comic effect. The writing and performances play to all of the classic tropes; as the characters chew on their candy cigarettes, nurse their Angel Delight hangovers and deal in curly straws, an hilarious twist on the classic gangster story is established. As Tommy and his sidekick Bobby investigate why their classmates are vanishing with a mystery illness, there are comic moments for both children and adults in the audience alike.

The production has an air of the rough and ready about it, but that often add to the humour in the piece rather than detracting from it. Similarly, the dubious, hammed-up New Yoihk accents provide many laughs, though lines are sometimes lost to them. Overall the performances are mixed, with some portraying the toddler gangsters adeptly, with sharp comic timing, and others over-acting theirs. The way in which the children are portrayed, combined with the references to old gangster films, raises the question of who the production is aimed at. Though it is billed as being suitable for all ages, and there are comic moments that would appeal to both adults and children, Big Trouble at Little Monkey’s Daycare seems more like a play about children for adults than a piece of theatre for children.

Big Trouble at Little Monkey’s Daycare is an unpolished but entertaining story of choc-ice crime and chickenpox.

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 – 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.

The Extraordinary Time-Travelling Adventures of Baron Munchausen – Edinburgh Fringe Review

New Town Theatre

27/08/17

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As is the case with anything improvised, it is difficult to review it in the same way as I would another theatre show; the stories I saw on Saturday are not going to be the same as those you might see on the day you see it. However, I can say with confidence that the stories you will see in The Extraordinary Time-Travelling Adventures of Baron Munchausen will probably be hilarious and entertaining.

The trio of performers base their sketches off of The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (a 1988 film directed by Terry Gilliam), but take suggestions from the audience, which brings an even greater touch of the absurd to the tales than was there to begin with. Using characters such as Magesterious Wizard and Sir Jonah of Wales, the performers deliver confident, quick-thinking performances in which jokes and gags abound.

On the day I attended Jeremy Corbyn was conveniently speaking upstairs, lending himself as material for many topical jokes throughout. Alongside this, the performers retained information they gathered from the audience and, rather than simply incorporating it into the piece at the time that they asked for it, they created running jokes throughout that had the audience joining in conspiratorial laughter as they anticipated the directions of the tales.

Blending smart comedy and daft gags, The Extraordinary Time-Travelling Adventures of Baron  Munchausen is an entertaining production that is as unpredictable as it is absurd.

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.