It’s odd how sometimes you can have a tasty collection of ingredients but when you put them together the result can be half-baked. The Mentalists is a comedy by Richard Bean, creator of such memorable productions like One Man Two Guvnors, The Big Fellah and Great Britain. He also wrote the book for the excellent musical Made in Dagenham. He also wrote Pitcairn, but we can gloss over that. In the role of Ted we have Stephen Merchant, a naturally funny man who can create laughs out of thin air, and whose gangly appearance and self-deprecating humour are a gift for any chat show or stand up routine. It also features Steffan Rhodri, as Morrie, best known as Dave Coaches off Gavin and Stacey, who proves himself to be an assured comedic actor on stage.
I had assumed this was a new play by Mr Bean but in fact it is a revival, the original production having been staged at the National in 2002. That explains why you feel that, although the play is set in the present day, there are some slightly outdated aspects to it. The setting is a seedy hotel room in Finsbury Park, even though Ted wants the outside world to think he’s in Exeter. Richard Kent’s set is delightfully underspecced, consisting of grimy wallpaper and a dismally small TV, and with those hideous floppy brown sliding doors around the ensuite giving the perfect finishing touch to what would be a most disappointing place to spend a night.
Messrs Merchant and Rhodri chuck as much life at this play as they possibly can, with excellent comic timing, flawless vocal delivery and a nice sense of the ridiculous. But, oh, the play. It starts promisingly, with the pair turning up at this gloomy hotel, one of them on a mission to do something (what, we don’t know), the other there to help out. We get an amusing insight into Morrie’s life, a serial womaniser and fantasist, making a living by ducking and diving, ostensibly a hairdresser by trade, but primarily by making soft porn videos. Ted, which I presume is short for Tedious, remains something of an enigma, even long into the first act where he is filmed spouting some self-help home-spun philosophy about how to create an Utopia (for £29.99).
At some point during a very dull scene where Ted is churning out this philosophy, I faded out. Then came the interval, with people around me muttering to their companions, “do you understand what’s going on?” I was relieved to hear that they were as confused as I was. The second half isn’t much better, but the story is resolved to the extent that you discover Ted is much more troubled than he appeared to be, and he’s probably going to have a really rotten time after the play is over. There’s a bizarre scene where Morrie, in hairdressing mode, decides to give Ted a shampoo and head massage. At the same time the police are trying to break into the hotel room. Does it sound funny? It isn’t really.
The character of Ted is a right-wing, Mail-reading xenophobe and I found a lot of the “jokes” mildly offensive. The play also takes the subject of mental illness and deals with it in an easy, facile, rather disrespectful manner. Structurally the play is quite weak, with the closing lines of both acts ending on a whimper rather than a bang, so that no one knew whether to applaud or not; and I’m not really surprised it’s closing early. Great performances can’t save a boring text, I’m afraid.
In which we are introduced to Hercule Poirot, who solves the murder of a wealthy re-married widow by strychnine poisoning, wading through an inordinate number of clues and red herrings before finally coming to the truth. If you haven’t read the book yet, I promise I won’t tell you whodunit!
So we say Bonjour to M. Hercule Poirot, detective extraordinaire, with a number of silly francophone phrases like “Nom d’un nom d’un nom!” When he goes off on a rant, you almost expect him to break into a Morecambe and Wise-like “Sacré Beaujolais et Bon Appetit!” He is accompanied as ever by his faithful Hastings, who plods alongside his master like a keen but rather stupid bloodhound, sniffing out his beloved clues. And of course it is Hastings who narrates the story, as he (nearly) always does.
The book was written in 1916, but not published until 1920 (1921 in the UK). As such, it reveals a picture of privileged life in an Essex country manor during World War One, with a well-to-do family doing what they can for the war effort: saving scrap paper, working for the Voluntary Aid Detachment, milking cows, and so on. It also explains how Poirot and Hastings dovetail into their Christie-land relationship. Poirot was one of the refugees who had taken residence in the village of Styles St Mary “by the charity of that good Mrs Inglethorp” (soon to be the late Mrs Inglethorp). Captain Arthur Hastings was “invalided home from the Front; and after spending some months in a rather depressing Convalescent Home” chanced upon his boyhood friend John Cavendish, and thus came to stay with him at Styles, his mother’s home (that’s the aforementioned Mrs Inglethorp).
Hastings remembers Poirot at the height of his professional prowess: “a very famous detective…a marvellous little fellow…a funny little man, a great dandy, but wonderfully clever”. Inspector Japp is brought in to investigate the crime on behalf of the police and he instantly recognises Poirot as the detective with whom he worked in 1904, solving “the Abercrombie forgery case”. So depending on whether you take this book to date from 1916 or 1920, you’re looking at a period of 12-16 years earlier when Poirot was active in the Belgian police force; it’s hard to extrapolate Poirot’s age with any accuracy, and in her autobiography Christie regrets having made him so old at the beginning of her writing career! But Hastings does provide us with the classic description of Poirot’s appearance: “He was hardly more than five feet, four inches, but carried himself with great dignity. His head was exactly the shape of an egg, and he always perched it a little on one side. His moustache was very stiff and military. The neatness of his attire was almost incredible. I believe a speck of dust would have caused him more pain than a bullet wound.” Maybe it is not a coincidence that the OED defines “eggheaded” as “(a) having an egg-shaped head; (b) colloq intellectual, highbrow” and that its usage dates from the early 20th century, around the time this book was published.
Poirot and Hastings are best buddies but they do sometimes have a prickly relationship. Hastings admits at one stage that he is “nursing a grudge against [my] friend’s high-handedness”. Here follows a typical conversation between them when the relationship is strained: “After lunch Poirot begged me to accompany him home. I consented rather stiffly. “You are annoyed, is it not so?” he asked anxiously, as we walked through the park. “Not at all,” I said coldly. “That is well. That lifts a great load from my mind.” This was not quite what I had intended. I had hoped that he would have observed the stiffness of my manner.” On another occasion, Hastings is trying to hurry Poirot along to interview a witness but the latter has slowed down to admire the symmetry of the flower beds: “”Yes, but this affair is more important.” “And how do you know that these fine begonias are not of equal importance?” I shrugged my shoulders. There was really no arguing with him if he chose to take that line.” Poirot always teases Hastings on affairs of the heart; in The ABC Murders he jokes with him about his fondness for pretty girls with auburn hair, and in The Mysterious Affair at Styles Hastings is instantly captivated a girl who has “great loose waves of…auburn hair”, to whom he proposes marriage on the spur of the moment, and who of course turns him down with “don’t be silly…you know you don’t want to!” Hastings reflects on the unsuccessful proposal with typical understatement: “Thinking over the interview, it struck me as being profoundly unsatisfactory.”
This being the fourth of Christie’s novels that I have re-read as part of the Agatha Christie Challenge, but the earliest to have been written, I am struck by the difference in writing style from the other three books. The Mysterious Affair at Styles stands out in two aspects. The first is that it contains an overwhelming number of clues and red herrings. Christie wrote the book in response to a bet from her friend Madge, “that the author, who had previously never written a book, could not compose a detective novel in which the reader would not be able to “spot” the murderer, although having access to the same clues as the detective” (from the dust jacket of the First Edition). It probably required the high level of facts and evidence within the book in order to satisfy the terms of the bet, but to the reader it’s almost overkill. To get the best out of this book you have to read it slowly and carefully, with frequent pauses for thought, consideration and reflection. If you read it like a throwaway paperback, everything in it just becomes a blur.
The second outstanding aspect is its style. Hastings’ narrative is very clinical, factual, almost journalistic (in a good sense) in its reporting, going into forensic detail about Poirot’s investigation and the clues he uncovers. In comparison with the later works, it feels formal and stilted. Where in other books, plot developments occur through conversation and observation, in this book you often get the feeling you are reading a witness statement: “I had arrived at Styles on the 5th of July. I come now to the events of the 16th and 17th of that month. For the convenience of the reader I will recapitulate the incidents of those days in as exact a manner as possible.” Simply waiting to meet Cynthia at the dispensary has a military police feel about it: “we were detained under suspicion by the hospital porter”. A major segment of the plot development takes place in a courtroom and several pages read more like court reports and transcripts than a novel. Whilst this provides good suspense – courtroom scenes are always exciting – the reader does miss out on the sense of a personal narrative. But then again, no doubt it helped Christie win her bet. The book also gives the reader direct access to some of the evidence – with floorplans of both Styles House and Mrs Inglethorp’s bedroom, and facsimile representations of jottings on the back of an envelope, a letter written by Mrs Inglethorp, and the writing on a torn scrap of paper. It encourages the reader to play a more active role in solving the crime, rather than just sitting back and letting Poirot do all the work for us. No lazy read, this.
It’s fascinating how language changes over a relatively short period of time. Given that this book was written 99 years ago, as I was reading it I noticed a few words and references that completely bewildered me. Do any of these five phrases mean anything to you?
1 – As suggested earlier, the character of Cynthia is first seen wearing a VAD uniform. The Voluntary Aid Detachment was a unit that provided field nursing services, mainly in hospitals in the UK, the majority of volunteers being women and girls. Christie herself was a VAD nurse, as was Tuppence Beresford, who we’ll be meeting in the next book in the Agatha Christie Challenge. It’s probably to my great shame that I’d never heard of this fine bunch of people.
2 – We all know the saying that someone’s walked over my grave but I’ve never heard “as if a goose were walking over my grave,” as Mrs Inglethorp remarks. I’ve read that the derivation of that comes from a back-formation of goose bumps or goose pimples, but I also wonder if there might be a connection with the more common phrase “a ghost walking over one’s grave”.
3 – Poirot says if Inglethorp is guilty he will hang him “as high as Haman”. Never heard that before. It refers to a Bible story in the Book of Esther, where Haman builds a really high gallows so that when he hangs his enemy it becomes a major spectacle – however, he gets hanged instead. Book of Esther, Chapter seven if you want to look it up.
4 – Miss Howard refers to the detectives swarming about the house as “a lot of Paul Prys”. Paul Pry was a comical busybody and nosey parker in a play of the same name that first appeared in 1825, and continued to be popular until the 1870s.
5 – When Poirot exclaims to himself “triple pig!” I have no idea what he’s on about, unless it’s a variation on something like “cochon d’un cochon d’un cochon”. Really the man talks very strangely sometimes.
So here’s my at-a-glance summary for The Mysterious Affair at Styles:
Publication Details:1920. My copy is an American print, Bantam paperback, published in 1970. I bought it from a second hand stall on a summer holiday in Sorrento, if I remember rightly, in 1978.
How many pages until the first death: 25. Just the one death.
Funny lines out of context: Not very many. In fact the most insightful line is a serious observation from Poirot: “one may live in a big house and yet have no comfort”.
“Mr. Wells was a pleasant man of middle-age, with keen eyes, and the typical lawyer’s mouth.”
“As I walked away, I met an aged rustic, who leered at me cunningly.” One of Shakespeare’s rude mechanicals perhaps?
“He tried several [keys], twisting and turning them with a practiced hand, and finally uttering an ejaculation of satisfaction.”
“”Silly ass!” I ejaculated.”
Mary Cavendish is quite a complex character, standing up for herself and being emotionally forthright. Evelyn Howard is described as having “a deep voice, almost manly in its stentorian tones, and had a large sensible square body” – possibly a forerunner of The Mousetrap’s Miss Casewell?
Christie the Poison expert:
Poison runs through this book like the River Thames. The murderer’s choice is strychnine, but not only is it administered to kill the victim, it’s also distilled, bought at a shop, found in other medicines and is kept in the dispensary.
Lawrence uses it to accuse Bauerstein: “poisons are his hobby, so of course he sees them everywhere”.
But Lawrence too is suspected of dabbling in the poison: “I suppose I must have taken up the bottle”…”Did you abstract any of the contents of the bottle?”… “I once studied to be a doctor. Such things naturally interest me”…”So poisons “naturally interest” you, do they?”
There’s technical talk: “Strychnine has an unusually bitter taste. It can be detected in a solution of 1 in 70,000, and can only be disguised by some strongly flavoured substance.”
There’s comparison talk: “I dare say he soaked fly paper, as I told you at the beginning.” “That is arsenic – not strychnine”, said Poirot mildly. “What does that matter? Arsenic would put poor Emily out of the way just as well as strychnine”.
Even Poirot gets fed up with it: “one thing does strike me. No doubt it has struck you too…that there is altogether too much strychnine about this case.”
Class/social issues of the time:
The Styles household is a very upper class affair; a household where a grown man refers to his mother as “the mater”; a household where married couples still have separate bedrooms.
This is how Hastings describes the manner in which the household goes about the business of mourning: “Under the circumstances, we were naturally not a cheerful party. The reaction after a shock is always trying, and I think we were all suffering from it. Decorum and good breeding naturally enjoined that our demeanour should be much as usual, yet I could not help wondering if this self-control were really a matter of great difficulty. There were no red eyes, no signs of secretly indulged grief. I felt that I was right in my opinion that Dorcas was the person most affected by the personal side of the tragedy. I pass over Alfred Inglethorp, who acted the bereaved widower in a manner that I felt to be disgusting in its hypocrisy.”
When Poirot and Hastings are considering the behaviour of Mary Cavendish, arguing with her mother-in-law, Poirot notes “it was an astonishing thing for a woman of her breeding to do.”
There’s also an argument with her husband, where Mary reveals her independence, but which also reveals the way a woman was meant to behave in those days: “”Am I to understand that you will continue to see Bauerstein against my express wishes?” “If I choose.” “You defy me?” “No, but I deny your right to criticize my actions. Have you no friends of whom I should disapprove?” John fell back a pace. The colour ebbed slowly from his face. “What do you mean?” he said, in an unsteady voice. “You see!” said Mary quietly. “You do see, don’t you, that you have no right to dictate to me as to the choice of my friends?” John glanced at her pleadingly, a stricken look on his face. “No right? Have I no right, Mary?” he said unsteadily. He stretched out his hands. “Mary——” For a moment, I thought she wavered. A softer expression came over her face, then suddenly she turned almost fiercely away. “None!”
There is the usual mistrust of foreigners found in Christie books. Dorcas the maid, who is seen as a stalwart of traditional values says as an aside: “I don’t hold with foreigners as a rule”. Hastings takes an instant dislike to the foreign-surnamed Dr Bauerstein: “The sinister face of Dr. Bauerstein recurred to me unpleasantly. A vague suspicion of everyone and everything filled my mind. Just for a moment I had a premonition of approaching evil.” He hates spending time with him: “My evening was utterly and entirely spoilt by the presence of Dr. Bauerstein.” John Cavendish also uses racial language to criticise Bauerstein: “I’ve had enough of the fellow hanging about. He’s a Polish Jew, anyway.” An exchange between Poirot and Hastings on Bauerstein includes the lines: “A very clever man—a Jew, of course.” “The blackguard!” I cried indignantly.”
And whilst on the subject of language that’s considered offensive today but was run-of-the-mill then, Dorcas says that in one of their dressing-up games evenings (they sound simply hilarious – not) there was some difficulty removing stage make-up: “Burnt corks they use mostly—though ’tis messy getting it off again. Miss Cynthia was a n***** once, and, oh, the trouble she had.””
It’s also an interesting to note that in 1916 a perfectly respectable reason for buying over-the-counter strychnine was to poison a dog. Can you imagine someone saying that in a shop today?!
Classic denouement: About as classic as it gets, basically covering the final two chapters (twenty pages) with Poirot holding a little réunion in the salon, and revealing the name of the murderer in a flurry of panache with the final two words of the penultimate chapter. Every red herring is sorted out, every clue is dismissed or validated.
Happy ending?Certainly! Two happy couples in fact.
Did the story ring true? I find it slightly hard to believe the instance of one character impersonating another, but apart from that all the jigsaw puzzle pieces fit nicely together.
Overall satisfaction rating: Perhaps a surprisingly low 5/10. It’s a clever book, and a challenging book, but I think it’s one of the least satisfying to read as a piece of detective escapism. And that’s primarily what you want from a Christie.
So that’s my little summary of The Mysterious Affair at Styles, and if you’ve read it too, I’d love to know what you think. Please just add a comment – but don’t give the whodunit game away! Next up in the Agatha Christie Challenge, and continuing in chronological order, it’s the first appearance of Tommy and Tuppence in The Secret Adversary. There have been recent TV and stage adaptations so you might be sick of it, but give the book a try, my memory is that it’s an entertaining and quite exciting read. I’m looking forward to finding out if I’m right, and I’ll blog my thoughts about it in a few weeks’ time. Thanks for reading, and happy sleuthing!
Perhaps it’s no surprise that our final show of the Edinburgh week is a third trip to see Spank, having enjoyed it so much last year it seemed to make sense to just keep going back his year, because every night is different. There’s not a lot more to say about Spank other than what I’ve already said in preparation for Monday night’s and Thursday night’s shows. Looking forward to an anarchic and unpredictable few hours in the company of James Loveridge, Abigoliah Schamaun and their assorted guests. Midnight at the Underbelly Cowgate, Belly Dancer is the time and the place. Hope our friends Lord Liverpool and the Countess of Cockfosters enjoy it as much as we do.
No more preview blogs to add, but I will put up our final reactions to this show either before bed or tomorrow morning. If you’ve followed our Edinburgh adventure throughout the week, thank you for your attention and I hope it’s been of some interest. If there are any shows that I’m itching to write more about (and I am sure there will be), I’ll hopefully get round to those in the next week or two. Happy Fringing!
A long late night with the Spank team is always a complete pleasure. Abigoliah and James were on top form and they presented the inventive Chaos Therapy, the punful Darren Walsh, the amazing Womanz, the young pretender Elliot Steel, a chap whose name I didn’t catch but had some great anti-elderly material, and the riotous Keith Farnan, who described Lord Liverpool and me as Statler and Waldorf. We also had Alfie Brown, for whom it all just didn’t work, sadly, and our naked promo was comic Danny O’Brien, who we saw on Monday. I can’t think of a better way to end our Edinburgh week!
Flushed from his success at his own Spoken Word event earlier this evening, we will hopefully have met up with our friends Lord Liverpool and the Countess of Cockfosters for a couple of late night shows. The first is Titus Andronicus, but it isn’t as straightforward as all that. There are four (yes four, count them!) productions of Titus Andronicus at this year’s Fringe, but the one we’re going to is produced by Tripped Theatre. Here’s the promotional blurb: “Tripped Theatre returns once more to the Fringe with a stripped back production of Shakespeare’s bloodiest revenge tragedy in a glamorous and deliciously filthy adaptation that will thrill, revolt and force you to simultaneously love and loathe the flock of flawed characters it portrays. Titus comes back from war as a damaged and reluctant celebrity forced into his nation’s limelight, but his dreadful thirst for revenge sends him and his enemies on a vicious spiral into madness and destruction. This captivating monochrome production proves that this tragedy is much more than simply black and white.”
I’ve read an account by the director of their justification for the script editing and the cross-gender casting that this production will use – and I must say it sounds fascinating. I’m not overly familiar with this play – I believe da Lord and da Countess will know it much more than me – but I’m liking the sound of the adaptation. Tripped Theatre are now in their third year of presenting at the Fringe, and I sense they create thoughtfully created and thought-provoking productions of classic plays, which sounds just up my street. It begins at 22:10 at the Space at Venue 45, so please check back around 11.15 to see how gory this Titus was. And then you can also find out where we’ll be for our final Fringe show this year.
Not too gory, and milking the sick comedy of one of Shakespeare’s, let’s face it, stupider plays. Lavinia being played by a hairy little chap added an unusual dimension, and Titus’ meeting with “Revenge, Murder and Rapine” was played with great spirit. Enjoyable in a tongue in cheek, totally surreal way!
Amazing to think we’re on the last leg (and we’re on ours, too!) of our week in Edinburgh. Just three shows left and the first is Munch, a jolly sounding look at S&M. Well I did say we were trying to see shows we just wouldn’t get to see in Northampton! Here’s the blurb: “Munch, the A-Z of S&M, is a raucous ride through leather, leashes and all things kink. This compelling blend of poetry, puppetry, music and fun will have you rolling in the aisles and gagging for more. By award-winning playwright Ben Richards. ‘Prodigiously talented’ (Scotsman). ‘Wonderful storytellers … the poetry is incredible’ **** (BroadwayBaby.com).”
Munch already wowed them at the Edinburgh Fringe two years ago, and now it’s back with (I believe) the same cast of Will Cousins and writer Ben Richards. I’m not entirely sure what to expect – they promise puppetry, poetry and plenty of puns, which doesn’t sound that S&M to me! I’m guessing there’s going to be an element of tongue and cheek about the whole thing. It all kicks off at 20:20 at the Underbelly Med Quad Daisy, so check back around 9.30 to see if we’re suffering from whiplash. Our next preview blog will be available to view too.
Terrific fun, great performers, dicey material put together with wit and charm. And where else do you get to see a 1970s overhead projector? And enlightening too! I ended up with my arms around Desdemona – don’t ask. Recommended!
Having met our friends Lord Liverpool and the Countess of Cockfosters for a sneaky meal (or at least that was the plan) – before My Lord goes off and prepares for his Spoken Word sesh this evening, we’re back on the show trail, with the delightfully named, and even more amusingly conceived, Shit-Faced Showtime, associated show to Shit-Faced Shakespeare that’s also doing the rounds this week but we couldn’t quite fit it in to our schedule. Here’s what they have to say about it: “From the team who brought you Shit-Faced Shakespeare comes an all new, all singing, all drinking, musical show! Shit-Faced Showtime by the legendary Magnificent Bastard Productions is the hilarious combination of an entirely serious musical revue with an entirely shit-faced cast member. Side-splitting, raucous and completely interactive, this show combines the very best of harmonious Broadway with a healthy dose of fermented barley… Featuring classic tunes and highly unpredictable behaviour, Shit-Faced Showtime will leave you gasping for a chaser. About Magnificent Bastard: ‘Genuinely hilarious’ (Guardian). ‘Very rock’n’roll’ (Times).”
Call me shallow but I just love the idea of this show. I trust the actor who has been chosen to be tonight’s shit-faced member genuinely is shit-faced and is not just acting it, because otherwise I think that joke might run out very quickly. Produced by Magnificent Bastard – they really do come up with some excellent names – I’m very much looking forward to spending an hour watching someone do irreparable damage to their reputation. Bear-baiting comedy? It sounds like it. Lowest common denominator? Absolutely. But if they do it with gusto and conviction, I can see this being a winner. It starts at 18:45 at Underbelly Med Quad – Ermintrude, so check back around 7.45 to see who got squiffy and what chaos it caused. Our next show will be previewing by that time too!
Ok, right. With this one, unfortunately my fears were right. I just got the feeling the drunk was completely acting it. Whenever called on to sing, she shrieked. Don’t you think most musical theatre performers (when drunk) would just get more mellow? To be fair, there were a few funny scenes but for the most part I was bored after ten minutes. Credit where it’s due, the majority of the audience loved it. Alas, not me.
On Tuesday afternoon we saw Cleansed, the first of the two Sarah Kane plays being produced at the Fringe by Fear No Colours. This afternoon we will be seeing the other, Phaedra’s Love. Here’s the promotional blurb: “News. Another rape. Child murdered. War somewhere. Few thousand jobs gone. But none of this matters – because it’s a royal birthday. When Queen Phaedra falls madly in love with her stepson Hippolytus, catastrophe is inevitable. The prince has no interest in anyone’s affections, and his apathy soon throws the nation’s morals into irreparable turmoil. Sarah Kane’s dark comedy turns Greek tragedy inside out – in surprisingly literal ways! Strongly visceral and experiential performance with movement and video.”
As I mentioned earlier in the week, I was inspired to book for these two plays on the strength of finally having seen Sarah Kane’s Blasted in Sheffield in February. Phaedra’s Love looks like it should be a very dark comedy indeed – I’ll be fascinated to see how the production treads the balance between shock and humour. It starts at 16:15 at C Nova Studio 2, so please come back around 5.30 to see our reactions. Our next show preview blog will be available too.
More shock than humour in many ways, but another excellent production from this company. A fantastic central performance from Callum Partridge as Hippolytus, a more charmless and depraved bloke it would be hard to imagine. What I love about this company is how they use every available inch of acting space and fill it to the gunwales. They portray the violence of the story with in your face fearlessness, and where they have to leave realism behind, represent Kane’s excessive imagination with an ingenuity that’s inspired yet still feels pretty disgusting. And it’s all performed with immaculate control. I hope they go from strength to strength and I look forward to seeing what they do next. PS Happy birthday Callum!
Just like you have motorists and cyclists, dog lovers and cat lovers, morning people and evening people, you also have bathers and showerers. It’s not hard to work out on which side of the divide our Bathtime hero Harry positions himself. Here’s the blurb: “Like all great people (Whitney Houston, the Romans) Harry loves a bath. But when his wife, Sarah, is mysteriously bludgeoned to death, Harry keeps getting dragged from his bubbles by people – showerers, usually – who think he did it. A thrilling new dark comedy about when the love goes cold but the bathwater is still hot. From comedy theatre writer and performer Richard Purnell. Directed by Kellie Tori. **** (BroadwayBaby.com). ‘Unmistakable quality’ (FringeReview.co.uk).”
This looks like it will be a wryly comic thriller, set in the bath – well, why not? I’m definitely thinking Harry has a few secrets lurking beneath those bubbles. Written and performed by Richard Purnell I’m expecting a very clever piece of writing and some inventive staging. It starts at 13:55, so check back shortly after 3pm to see if Harry has done something he should be ashamed of. I’ll also have uploaded the next preview blog so you can see where we’re off to next.
A wonderful watery piece of whimsy! Mr Purnell is a terrific wordsmith and this is a delightfully written monologue delivered with great feeling, whether it’s those “relax in the bath” moments or the tenser “is he going to give himself away to the police” moments. That is, if he did it. He did, didn’t he? As a confirmed showerer, I really fancy a bath now!
There are a number of interesting-looking plays on in Edinburgh that are being performed in morning or lunchtime slots, and I’ve tried to find a good balance of them for our week at the Fringe. But, at the end of the day, a lot of the choice is guesswork. Wasted is one such play – it looks interesting enough; here’s the blurb: “Based on true events. An engaging and unsettling drama in one act. Wasted explores the grey area in consensual sex and how outside pressures can blur the lines of what did happen and what we think happened. This dark drama puts the audience in the jury seat and forces us to make a judgement on a crime which is based on feelings and emotions rather than fact and evidence. Starring Will Merrick (Skins, About Time) and Serena Jennings. From the writer of Belfast Boy, 2014 Fringe Review Outstanding Theatre Award.”
I’d already decided that Belfast Boy would be on our list for this year’s Fringe – we saw it last Saturday. But what decided me specifically to book for this play was the fact that one of its two performers is Will Merrick, whom we had seen last year in the Royal and Derngate’s Christmas production of Merlin. I thought he gave a great performance in that, and therefore I’m hoping to see him give another. The last time I saw him he was wandering aimlessly around Marks and Spencer like he was on another planet. Actors, eh? It starts at 12:15 at the Gilded Balloon Balcony, so please feel free to check back after 1pm to see what we thought of it. You can also catch up on finding out about our next show too.
When is a rape not a rape? You can work it out by reference to the law, but when you get two wasted people, obliterated by drink, the lines get blurred. There are no winners and losers when they wake up the next morning. Brilliantly written and performed, a really dynamic and funny production as well as asking very difficult questions. There’s an element of “there but for the Grace of God” about the story; and the end wraps up your opinion of the whole thing with devastating finality. Superb.
Our final show tonight promises to be burlesque in the raw. We love the regular Burlesque Shows that come to the Royal and Derngate in Northampton every year, but really didn’t get on well with The Best of Burlesque at last year’s Fringe, as it was coarse and witless. So The Illicit Thrill is the only Burlesque-related show we’re seeing in Edinburgh this year. Here’s the promo blurb: “After teaching Edinburgh to perv responsibly, The Illicit Thrill is again open for business with house-mistress Gypsy Charms taking audiences to the next level. With a sinsational soundtrack of the devil’s music supplied by Black Cat Bone, stripteasers and entertainers entice, tease and titillate audiences with a blend of dark eroticism and a touch of Illicit Thrill humour. Savannah ‘best butt in the business’ Duvall will be in the house, as will the divine JC – so Edinburgh, brace yourselves! ‘Burlesque goes to the dark side with uncompromising and challenging eroticism’ **** (List 2014).”
It’s either going to be brilliant or tasteless or somewhere between the two. It’s a bit of a late-nighter, starting at 00:20 at the Voodoo Rooms Ballroom, so maybe I won’t put up our reactions until tomorrow morning, and also our preview blog for the first show of Saturday will be around then too. Thanks for following today!
We have let you down, gentle reader. This is the second production we’re not going to make, after all. To be fair, Mrs Chrisparkle has been virussy today, with a sore throat and snuffly nose. So we decided to call it a day at the tender hour of 11:50pm. Hopefully we will be refreshed for the morrow!