Aug 15, 2017

Posted by in Featured, Ramblings

Chaucer, Refugees and some Shambles

Chaucer, Refugees and some Shambles

And so after having been away from Edinburgh for the past couple of years, (well during August at any rate), I’m now sat on the train on the way back down to that London after spending the last ten days or so having flyers thrust at me at every turn.  So I thought I’d scribble a few words about some recommendations for those of you on your way up to the festival. And of course, many of these shows will be playing around the country (and world no doubt) for those of you not trapesing the endless uneven hills of Edinburgh.

As a side note, I can’t remember which comedian it was, many moons ago, that said you can spend the entire month of August walking around Edinburgh and only go uphill. Still having a busted foot (it’s a whole thing, don’t ask) I’ve never felt this more prominently than now). I’ve been constantly asking that old chestnut of a question. Do I waste £10 on a cab or an Uber or do I put my foot recovery back another month? I think I probably evened out at a couple of hundred quid and a further fortnight.

So, anyway. What did I see? What would I recommend?

Stand Ups

I stepped straight off the train to head to record Robin Ince’s new art show, Rorshach Test. It’s a lovely show that has now sent me down a rabbit hole of looking at the work of Frank Auerbacher. Robin’s run at the Fringe has ended now, but he’s taking his other show, Pragmatic Insanity, on the road soon so you should obviously go see that.

I didn’t get to see my other Shambles chum Josie Long’s show, as it’s only on for three days and started last night. But if you’re reading this in time it goes without saying you should go to that.

Michael Legge’s Jerk is a furious delight and features a musical about David Bowie and his late dog, the titular Jerk. You can also buy the musical on vinyl because why not.

2017DOUGANT_POI first saw The Doug Anthony All Stars on a second hand VHS borrowed from a friend when I was a teenager in Australia. I am happy to say that seeing them live, almost two decades later, in a slightly different guise has not changed my affection for their anarchy. The show is hilarious, uncomfortable and brilliant. A routine about Parliament House may be the hardest I’ve laughed all year. It’s not for everyone, and yet, I’d suggest everyone see it.

2017JOHNLUK_BCKJohn Luke Roberts’ Look on My Works, Ye Mighty, and Despair! (All in Caps) is a sheer delight. It is the exact right type of silliness and absurdity. So often shows like this become too pleased with themselves, too inaccessible or simply assume ‘quirky’ is a substitute for actual comedy. This is none of those things. The through line of the show is that John Luke wishes for it to be significant. Well, that and that it’s hosted by Chaucer. This significance is clearly the joke as it’s a rollercoaster ride of nonsense, but the funny thing is, in a Fringe full of stuff that thinks simply being weird is good enough, this show is incredibly significant. Do not miss this one.

Hannah Gadsby 2016 Alan MoyleMuch has been written of Hannah Gadsby’s Nanette. It has won many awards. It is the short priced favourite to take out the top award here. And for very, very good reason. It is a powerful show but a very funny show. And one that’s delivered with the skill of a master at work.

Tom Ballard’s Problematic is one of the most self aware and intelligent hours of stand up I’ve seen this year. And incredibly funny too.

sarahIn the last few years Sarah Kendall has moved away from stand up to becoming a great teller of stories, funny stories yes, but perhaps not what you might strictly call stand up. What her latest show One-Seventeen definitely is though is very good.

I’ve always been a fan of Craig Ferguson in host mode much more than I am of his stand up. His style is much better suited to the format I’ve always felt and so spending two hours in his company, in this mode, during a live recording of his US radio show was a damn fine way to spend an evening.

An hour in Milton Jones’ company is never anything short of whimsical and amusing and while Reginald D Hunter was clearly still finding his old rhythm, there were multiple nuggets of his best in this new show.

Not Stand Up

I tried to catch a fair bit of non stand up stuff this year and wasn’t disappointed. Mostly.

The Queen of the Blues show is a very fun show highlighting some of the brilliant too often forgotten women of blues. Front woman Nicole Smitt is a helluva performer with a voice to match. I didn’t imagine I’d hear a stunning cover of the great Ma Rainey this Fringe, but there you go.

This show’s companion show is Blues!Billed as the entire history of blues in an hour, it’s a show that does it’s darndest to fulfil that promise. Short snippets of blues history intercut the music which comes to life via an excellent twelve piece band including a great horn section lead by HCB’s Steve Pretty.

2017BLUESWI_AMQKeeping with the blues theme, on my penultimate day I decided to go to two shows based purely off whatever flyers I was handed as I wandered up the street one morning. One of those was Toby Mottershead. An hour sort of monologue populated by songs, telling the early birth of gospel music in the USA via the slave trade and emancipation. Mottershead is clearly incredibly knowledgable, even more passionate and a brilliant guitar player and vocal impressionist. As a result of the latter, I found some of the storytelling aspects a little uncomfortable, something that could be easily remedied with a simple disclaimer by the performer. But it’s still very much a show worth seeing.

The other show I went to see based on this random flyer plan is not one I’d recommend. To anyone. Ever. And so I shan’t be speaking of it.

2017ERINMCG_BDJErin McGathy’s one woman murder mystery MurderTown is a jolly good show tucked away at the Rose Theatre. A whirlwind of characters including the best Tilda Swinton you’re likely to see outside of Tilda Swinton herself.

Kafka and Son is an interesting and quite visceral presentation of Kafka’s unsent letter to his father. Alon Nashman gives a great performance, an absorbing one, but as you might expect, it’s Kafka’s prose that is the star of the show. What this show does is give it an interesting new outlet.

The Tale of the Cockatrice features some genuinely inventive and interesting puppetry and storytelling techniques. It is a shame the story doesn’t quite do justice to this but it is a visual delight.

Culturally-Significant-1‘I’m going to see a naked man screaming at midnight’, Robin had told me a few hours before heading off to see This is Not Culturally Significant. The next day he told me it was one of the most incredible pieces of theatre he’d even seen. So I took myself off to it two nights later. The man wasn’t lying. Now, I don’t know if I’d even call it enjoyable, but it is an incredible piece of work that almost defies explanation. It is a bit of everything. It is funny, dark, confronting, visceral and very, very intense. I had to work hard to block out, and not punch the living shit out of, the group of pissed uni students who couldn’t seem to stop giggling at the fact the entire show is performed nude. It is a remarkable show and one I’ve found myself thinking about from time to time days after seeing it.

And finally, to my show of the Fringe.

DSC_4509-BEN CAPLAN and MARY FAY COADY-minOld Stock: A Refugee Love Story is a bit of everything. It’s not strictly a play, or a comedy, or a drama, or a concert, or a musical. It’s all those things. And more. It’s the true story of a family of Jewish Romanian refugees arriving in Canada at the turn of the 20th century. It’s been written by a direct descendent of said family, playwright Hannah Moscovitch. The music and songs have been written, and are mostly performed by, folk performer Ben Caplan. He is also the narrator of the story and performs with such joy and energy it’s impossibly not to get swept up in it.

The story itself is beautifully told. It’s heartbreaking in places, hilarious in others. And, since everything is fucked, all to prescient in 2017, some hundred odd years after it is set. The songs are so good it’s a shame the soundtrack wasn’t available as yet. They are an intoxicating mix of jazz, folk or traditional Yiddish sounds.

Caplan is the star of the show, no question. The small band and cast are also great, especially Mary Fay Coady. Coady’s performance is one of great range but she possesses the sort of comic delivery and timing that is unteachable. You either have it or you don’t, and she has it in spades.

The direction, lighting, design, the, the everything. It is a proper five star show. I don’t know if this show will travel, making an appearance in London, but it deserves to.

Stuff I didn’t see

There was much I didn’t see I wish I had time to. Salt. (Although Selina Thompson tells me on Twitter she is hopefully of touring the show) and Start Swimming chief among those.

Plus shows by other Shambles chums which you should seek out. James Nokise, Matt Stellingwerf, Sara Pascoe, Mark Thompson, Katie Steckles and many others. Go see them, they are bound to be great.

I should also mention one of the main reasons I was up in Edinburgh was to record four episodes of Book Shambles. With Robin and Josie we chatted to four brilliant guests. The afore mentioned Erin McGathy, plus Greg Proops, Robert Webb and Eimear McBride. Look out for them soon. And pledge to the show to get lots of bonus stuff.


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