Edinburgh Fringe 2023 Reviews – Alan Turing – A Musical Biography, Alison Skilbeck’s Uncommon Ground, Gertrude Lawrence: A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening, Rahul Somia: Find Me a Wife, Pear: but Braver, and Ay Up, Hitler!
Alan Turing – A Musical Biography, Paradise in Augustines.
Alan Turing is central to two of the most extraordinary events of the twentieth century. He was the hero who cracked the Enigma code and laid the ground for so much technological advancement. And despite this extraordinary achievement, he was also the victim of one of the most idiotic and cruel laws of our past, the criminalisation of homosexuality, for which he was chemically castrated and subsequently took his own life. Joel Goodman and Jan Osborne’s Alan Turing – A Musical Biography tells his story from childhood to death, by way of his successes at Cambridge and Bletchley Park, alongside the story of Andrea, who has written his biography and is up for a literary award as a result. The show captures your imagination and attention right from the start, and the music and the book dovetail nicely so that each song or musical segment progresses the story well. The character of Andrea is fictional, and if I have a criticism it is that her story is given almost equal weight to his, although his is a much more vital and essential story to understand. But the show brings the savagery of the state’s punishment of this hero into sharp focus and makes you wonder how it could ever have happened. Recommended!
It’s always a priority to see Alison Skilbeck whenever she has a show at the Edinburgh Fringe, and this year is no exception. The Uncommon Ground in question is an open space where dogs are walked and children play, and people with seemingly nothing in common cross each other’s paths just slightly, but there is always a link. Set around the time of the Covid pandemic, Ms Skilbeck plays seven characters, all of whom have an association with the Ground, in a highly enjoyable, beautifully written series of monologues. Funny, moving, and a fascinating insight into how others see us.
Gertrude Lawrence: A Lovely Way to Spend an Evening, Assembly Rooms.
I was brought up with the songs of Gertrude Lawrence as my mother dandled me on her knee (well, not quite, but you get the picture). I had read the stories about Gertrude and Noel Coward being friends from a very early age, and her very working-class upbringing; then we had a family outing to see the Julie Andrews film Star!, all about Gertie – and her songs have been part of my life ever since. So I was looking forward enormously to seeing this show… and I wasn’t disappointed at all! Lucy Stevens gives a tremendous performance as the grande dame, socking out a fantastic selection of songs, accompanied by Elizabeth Marcus at the piano, and telling Gertie’s story from the back streets of Clapham, through huge success with Andre Charlot, disastrous bankruptcy and several gentlemen friends and husbands. And Noel Coward! Beautifully structured and charmingly portrayed; plus also very informative – I had forgotten how her final years were synonymous with The King and I – although I was surprised that there was no mention of Coward’s Nymph Errant, my favourite Gertrude Lawrence score. But that was more than made up for by the inclusion of terrific rarely heard songs like Parisian Pierrot and The Saga of Jenny. The audience loved it – and so did we. Top class entertainment!
Rahul Somia: Find Me a Wife, Hootenannies @ The Apex.
Rahul Somia is a likeable young man with an excellent idea for a comedy gig – that, as a member of an Indian family, he’s in want of a wife because his parents haven’t got around to arranging a marriage for him yet, and they should get a move on. Sadly, he doesn’t actually follow through with this concept and just tells us about his life as a schoolteacher and a few unsuccessful dating experiences – and I’m afraid there isn’t much to laugh at with that material. His punchlines are fairly weak and not very well delivered; it isn’t advertised as a Work in Progress show, but you’d think it was very much at an early stage of development, with him constantly reading off notes written on the floor. A lot of work needed, I fear.
Pear: But Braver, Underbelly Cowgate.
Yes it’s the return of the McPherson twins, Patrick and Hugo – and if you saw Pear last year, you’ll be delighted to hear again the pleasing refrain of Are There Twins in the Audience, uh oh, uh oh, Are there any Twins in… Pretty similarly structured to last year, it’s another series of madcap sketches that plays a lot on their brotherly relationship, their identities and privilege, helped out by some excellent fun contributions from members of the audience. To be honest, I don’t think this year’s show is quite up to the same standard as last year – but that still means it’s very funny indeed.
Ay Up, Hitler! The Space @ Surgeon’s Hall.
So you thought Hitler died at the end of World War Two? Supposing he had secretly relocated to Yorkshire and was biding his time for a big return? Gamma Ray Theatre’s Ay Up Hitler is not for the squeamish, and there are many moments during the show when you think to yourself – is it really ok to watch a play like this, and maybe (even) find it funny? And if you do see it, and you do hate every minute of it, you have my sympathy. However, that said, I believe that David McCulloch has written a superbly clever piece that holds a mirror up to today’s electorate and shows how the fun four of Hitler, Goering, Goebbels and Himmler have led the way to a situation where the Brits are duped into voting for Johnson and the Americans into voting for Trump. This Hitler is a lovable rogue in comparison! There are some harrowingly awful jokes, but, boy, do they make their point. I can’t say I enjoyed this play – but I think it’s an important and highly relevant one. Be careful who you vote for next time.