Review – Grimm’s Fairer Tales

Stories Alive

Pleasance Courtyard

06/08/18

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We’re all familiar with Grimm’s fairy tales such as Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Gretel, and Rumplestiltskin, but what if they were a little more fair than fairy? In his show Grimm’s Fairer Tales, Eden Ballantyne of Stories Alive sets out to tell more feminist versions of the brothers Grimm’s classic tales.

Starting with an exciting version of Red Riding Hood, called Red the Killer of Wolves, Ballantyne brings a number of children (and sometimes grown-ups) onto the stage to help him tell the story. The three stories that make up the show, Red Riding Hood, a version of Hansel and Gretel in which the titular characters are 30 years old and their parents abandon them at a job centre, and a version of Rumplestiltskin in which marriage isn’t a foregone conclusion and the women of the village are the heroes of the story, all present an updated twist on the classics for a 21st century audience.

Grimm’s Fairer Tales is an engaging and entertaining show, which delights the children and adults in the audience alike. Throughout the piece, the whole audience is given opportunities to get involved if they want to, and Ballantyne’s enthusiastic and attentive style of storytelling draws the whole room into the tale. Grimm’s Fairer Tales will make you laugh your socks off, at the same time as asking questions about women and girls’ roles in classic fairy tales. A charming and lively hour of storytelling, Grimm’s Fairer Tales is worth a watch!

Grimm’s Fairer Tales runs at Pleasance Courtyard until August 27th as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

Review – Finding Peter

Theatre N16 & Eastlake Productions

Gilded Balloon Teviot

06/08/18

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The Darling children never forgot their time in Neverland and so, when Tinkerbell flies through their window one night to tell them that Peter Pan is in trouble, they grab the opportunity to follow the second star to the right and fly straight on till morning.  Telling a story of rescuing Peter Pan from a pirate kidnapper, Finding Peter has the elements of an exciting and engaging show, but does not tie them together.

The performances, from James Tobin, Jessica Arden and Jenny Wilford, who double up to play all of the characters, often favour volume and ostensibly child-like voices over a connection with their audience. The production demands a certain level of interaction with the audience, asking them questions, and getting them to sprinkle fairy dust and think happy thoughts. However, it often feels that the performers are speaking at the children in the audience rather than to them, once again costing them that all important connection with their audience.

Alongside this, though the performances suggest that they are simplifying things for the younger members of the audience (or at least speaking them slowly and loudly), the script, written by Frankie Meredith, flits between over simplifying some elements and using phrases and words that much of the audience may not understand. Delivering lines that use difficult language in the voice used to talk to babies and toddlers does not make them accessible, rather it risks alienating an audience.

The nugget of the idea behind this show had promise, and the plot was fun and exciting, but the writing and performances left it short. Finding Peter could be a strong show, if the tone and language were more accurately pitched at its young audience.

Finding Peter runs at Underbelly Bristo Square until 27th August as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

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 – 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 Search for a Black-Browed Albatross

The Backpack Ensemble

Pleasance King Dome

Edinburgh Festival Fringe

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02/08/18

Charlie is on the hunt for the Black-Browed Albatross, the final bird on her late father’s life-list. He died when she was 20 and now, at 22, she is completing the journey he never got to make. As she adventures through the Highlands in search of the elusive bird, she hopes to rekindle their relationship that they lost before his death.

The Backpack Ensemble bring this story of a woman and her family trying to come to terms with the death of her father beautifully to life in this charming production. Losing a loved one is never easy, and especially in a situation like Charlie’s, where you had lost touch beforehand, but this production explores the experience of loss in a nuanced, astute and accessible way. Charlie’s relationship with her brother and mother, which has become more distant since the death of her father, is portrayed in an insightful way, examining the balance between family responsibility and responsibilities to oneself. Similarly, the memories of her time with her father seem so real that the audience is immediately drawn in.

The production is characterised by simple but effective devices such as the large screen used to switch between different places, as well as between memory and present, using shadow puppetry and adapting the screen to create different set-pieces. One of the most effective elements of the production was the self-awareness and conscious theatricality of the piece. The actors introduced themselves before adopting their characters, and moments of narration of what the actors were doing, rather than the characters, were peppered throughout the play. Though it employs elements of Brechtian distancing, this actually serves to make the story more engaging. By noting that they have drawn certain parts of the narrative from their own lives, The Backpack Ensemble create a space for the audience to find and examine their own experiences; this may be a made-up story, but it doesn’t mean it’s not real.

The Search for a Black Browed Albatross broaches the subject of loss in a thoughtful and honest way that is moving and entertaining in equal measure. For children aged 8+, this production is a beautiful introduction into the different ways people deal with grief, and of the hope that can be found beyond that.

The Search for a Black Browed Albatross runs at the Pleasance King Dome until 9th August as part of the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.

There May Be Dragons – Edinburgh Fringe Review

Stories Alive

The Hispaniola

26/08/17

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As part of a pair of shows, There May Be Pirates…There May Be Dragons, Eden Ballantyne of Stories Alive presents the exciting story of Gilly and the dragon egg she finds while playing hide and seek. Having found the egg, but not knowing what it is, Gilly takes it home with her, and when a dragon hatches, the adventure begins.

The story is an engaging and dramatic tale that captures all of the excitement of classic fairytales, but it goes one step further. While it captures the thrill of a classic fairytale, it doesn’t leave the adventures to knights or princes, instead, our protagonists are both young girls who decide to take matters into their own hands, and raise and protect the dragon themselves. It is a refreshing story that opens itself out to everyone listening.

Playing the role of Gruff, the troubadour, Ballantyne narrates the story with a magically infectious enthusiasm. Though the production is, for the most part, a simple and pared-back storytelling session, the few props used are truly beautiful and very effective. The main prop used is a dragon puppet, used to portray Crackle the dragon. It is a well made puppet that seems to take on a life of its own under Ballantyne’s direction. Another notable point in the performance is when Gruff calls for children to volunteer to help in acting out scenes from the story. With a light-hearted, low-pressure approach, Ballantyne involves his young audience in the show and lets them share in the excitement of the story.

There May Be Dragons,  is an excellent storytelling show that takes a classic style and format and breathes new life into it in the form of the adventurous characters of Gilly and Brenna.

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.