The Edinburgh Fringe Full Monty (nearly) – Day 5, 9th August 2022

What’s in store for us in Edinburgh today?

Here’s the schedule for 9th August:

10.25 – Mrs Roosevelt Flies to London, Assembly George Square Studios. From the Edinburgh Fringe website:

Mrs Roosevelt“Returning to Edinburgh following a near sell-out 2016 Assembly season, Alison Skilbeck’s critically acclaimed one-woman show reveals the public and private life of one of the most extraordinary women of the 20th Century, Eleanor Roosevelt, from her daring trip to wartime Britain to her unconventional partnership with President Roosevelt. Granted special permission to use Eleanor’s diary and daily newspaper columns, this is the story of a passionate humanitarian, a woman beset by deep personal insecurities and tragedy, but one who never lost her passionate belief in the strength of the human spirit.”

This show was very well received six years ago, and since then we’ve seen Alison Skilbeck perform two more shows that were absolutely brilliant – so I have high hopes for this one.

UPDATE: An extraordinary story, well told, with great vocal characterisations and a wonderful sense of humour. It’s also very informative; for example, I didn’t know FDR had polio, nor that Eleanor Roosevelt played such an important role in the declaration of human rights – still a hot topic today. An assured and very enjoyable history lesson! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

12.50 – Please, Feel Free to Share, Pleasance Courtyard.

Please Feel Free To Share“Alex is a social success. Her Instagram boasts a montage of members-only rooftops and clinking glasses – like after like after like! When her father dies, Alex reluctantly joins a bereavement group. She shares a little, and then lies… a lot. Please, Feel Free to Share is a dynamic, darkly comic one-woman show about our personal addictions, the never-ending pursuit of likes and our growing desire to share all. Finalist: Popcorn Writing Award 2021.”

Produced by Scatterjam, this sounds like it should be an excellent dark comedy. Looking forward to it!

UPDATE: A liar gets addicted to lying by attending various self-help sessions pretending she is out of control. Very clever writing, matched by a very convincing performance. It’s also very thought provoking. Loved it! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

14.45 – Rajesh and Naresh, Summerhall.

Rajesh and Naresh“A feel-good love story. When Rajesh visits Mumbai, he encounters Naresh – not exactly the Indian wife his mother hoped for. Bend it like Beckham meets It’s a Sin in the queer romcom you’ve been waiting for – set just after India’s landmark decriminalisation of homosexuality in 2018. Funny and charmingly performed, Rajesh and Naresh was written from workshops conducted with members of the queer South Asian community in London and abroad. **** (Stage).”

We’ve been lucky enough to visit Mumbai a few times so I imagine I will be able to appreciate a lot of the background humour that I suspect lurks behind this play. Should be good.

UPDATE: Charming delicate story well told, great characterisations and terrific attention to detail – and a brilliant portrayal of an Indian mother, desperate for her son to marry. However, there were a couple of lulls in the narrative where my attention just started to wander, and I wasn’t convinced by the characters’ dance fantasies. Very good though, and they really got the audience on their side. ⭐️⭐️⭐️

17.00 – Blanket Ban, Underbelly, Cowgate.

Blanket Ban“Winner of Underbelly, New Diorama and Methuen Drama’s hit-making Untapped Award, 2022. ‘Sometimes I’m afraid of this play.’ Malta: Catholic kitsch, golden sun, deep blue sea, Eurovision – and a blanket ban on abortion. Propelled by three years of interviews with anonymous contributors and their own lived experience, actors and activists Marta and Davinia interrogate Malta’s restrictions on the freedom of women. What does it mean for your home to boast the world’s most progressive LGBTQIA rights, leading transgender laws – and a population that is almost unanimously anti-choice? A rallying cry from award-winning Chalk Line Theatre.”

This sounds really interesting – having been to Malta a few times, and also being a Eurovision fan! I can just imagine the gap between what’s allowed and what’s approved of. Should be very interesting.

UPDATE: A very important topic expressed with great passion and commitment. I did find the sea analogy heavy going and the anger of the two performers would be better conveyed just a bit more quietly! But you can’t take away from the seriousness of the subject and it’s something everyone should see. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

19.30 – Ivo Graham: My Future, My Clutter, Pleasance Courtyard.

Ivo Graham“Bumbling wordsmith and tripe factory returns to discuss three years of heavy-duty pranking/parenting/procrastinating since Dave’s 2019 nominations for Best Comedy Show and Joke of the Fringe (‘I’ve got an Eton College advent calendar, where all the doors are opened by my father’s contacts’). As seen/heard on Mock The Week, Live At The Apollo, Have I Got News For You, British As Folk and was the fondue-set winner on Richard Osman’s House of Games. ‘A hugely enjoyable hour of stand-up comedy’ (Times). ‘Suddenly has star-in-the-making coming off him like steam’ (Telegraph).”

We’ve seen Ivo Graham a few times and he never fails to deliver a great show, so we’re looking forward to this!

UPDATE: A solid hour of good observations, nicely delivered, but it never really soared though. Ivo is very likeable but he is also very wordy, and doesn’t use pauses for comic effect, so after a while it becomes just a little tiring. A very slick and well prepared show – maybe too well? ⭐️⭐️⭐️

22.20 – Rouge, Assembly Hall.

Rouge“Circus for grown ups – a decadent blend of sensational acrobatics, operatic cabaret and twisted burlesque. A non-stop celebration of the astonishing, surprising, subversive and supremely sexy. Winner of Best Circus 2020 Adelaide Fringe, Rouge is back with acts you’ve loved plus brand-new offerings to shock, delight and tease. Australian circus cabaret at its finest. ‘One badass sizzler of a show’ ***** (Daily Mail). ‘Rouge redefines what circus is and should be’ ***** (TheWeeReview.com). ‘Welcome to a circus for the new age… Brilliant performances… embodies the phrase: filthy and gorgeous’ ***** (WeekendNotes.com).”

We saw Rouge a few years ago and it was one of the better circus/burlesque offerings, so here’s hoping they continue the standard!

UPDATE: Sets the bar for all the shows in this genre. Stunning to watch, decadent in the extreme, incredible acrobatics and a silly, adult sense of humour. No more to say! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Edinburgh Fringe Full Monty (nearly) – Day 4, 8th August 2022

What’s in store for us in Edinburgh today?

Here’s the schedule for 8th August:

10.20 – About Money, Summerhall. From the Edinburgh Fringe website:

About Money“’Weans. They get expensive, you know?’ Fast-food worker Shaun is your average 18-year-old boy. He likes music, video games and getting stoned. He’s also the sole carer to his eight-year-old sister, Sophie. Without enough money for childcare and under pressure from an unsympathetic boss, he’s forced to make decisions that could have devastating consequences. Drawn from interviews with young kinship carers and inspired by the McDonald’s strikes of 2018, this Glasgow drama is about family, love and friendship in a world where the lack of money threatens all three.

65% Theatre are the team behind this intriguing and promising sounding play, that tackles important subject matter. I hope it’s a great show.

UPDATE: Splendid way to start the day with a very thought provoking, and brilliantly written play about poverty and responsibility amongst young people and the things they make you do. Great performances, especially from the amazing child actor Lois Hagerty. Touching and moving; is incredible how using just two chairs and wearing two red caps can say so much. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

12.50 – Ultimatum, Pleasance Courtyard.

Ultimatum“Two strangers have one hour to split £1m. Sounds easy, but what happens when one of them refuses to play fair? What is fair? Who deserves money? Why? Ultimatum is a new play by Jon Gracey that forces a conversation on class, autobiography, truth, reality TV and ethical duty to our fellow humans. Praise for previous Treehouse productions: Courtroom Play: A Courtroom Play – ‘Delightfully silly’ ***** (One4Review.co.uk); Bring Them Home – ‘One for the bucket list’ ***** (LondonTheatre1.com); Werewolf: Live – Nominated for Best Newcomer, Brighton Fringe 2017.”

This sounds immensely entertaining and done well I think could be a big hit!

UPDATE: A very entertaining story and clever premise, although I did find the ending slightly predictable. It could have benefited from a little tighter writing and stronger performance which I am sure will come over time. ⭐️⭐️⭐️

16.30 – Iain Dale: All Talk with Angela Rayner MP, Pleasance @ EICC.

Angela Rayner“Award-winning LBC radio presenter and For the Many podcast host brings his acclaimed, incisive insight on current affairs back to the Fringe with these in-depth interviews featuring audience questions. Today’s guest is Angela Rayner, MP for Ashton-under-Lyne, deputy leader of the Labour Party under Keir Starmer and shadow cabinet member across multiple portfolios. ‘The indefatigable Iain Dale always cuts to the nub of politics’ (Adam Boulton). ‘There are very few commentators and broadcasters with an instinctive feel for real politics. Iain Dale does, which makes him endlessly listenable-to and peerless’ (Andrew Marr).”

We’re really looking forward to hearing Angela Rayner speak. This will be fascinating!

UPDATE: Another interview; unlike his conversation with Rory Stewart, Iain Dale asked much more personal questions of Angela Rayner, who was extremely engaging, intelligent and impressive. There was a question about Scottish Independence, her answer to which I don’t think will have the local people returning to the Labour fold in a hurry. Near the end four young women got up to make an environmental protest, which Ms Rayner took in her stride but which really pi**ed off Iain Dale.

18.40 – Luke Kempner: Macho Macho Man, Pleasance Courtyard.

Luke Kempner“Star of Spitting Image (Britbox), Steph’s Packed Lunch (Channel 4) and with over 10 million views online, comedian Luke Kempner has found out he is to become a father, but can he be the macho macho man he believes he needs to be? With a razor-sharp roster of contemporary impressions from Piers Morgan and Bojo to Ted Hastings and Paul Hollywood, Luke is bringing his highly anticipated show to Edinburgh. As seen (and heard) on: The Last Leg (Channel 4), The Stand-Up Sketch Show (ITV2), Love Island: Aftersun (ITV2), The Now Show (BBC Radio 4).”

I always enjoy seeing Luke Kempner and am really glad he’s bringing this show to Edinburgh as we missed it when he performed it locally! Last time I saw him he had me up on stage with him, so I must remember not to make eye contact…

UPDATE: An entertaining show about whether Luke was ready for parenthood but which was perhaps rather slight in comparison with his previous shows. Nevertheless it was still very funny and he is a true master of impersonation. He did involve me in the show again, fortunately this time just from my seat! ⭐️⭐️⭐️

20.10 – Hal Cruttenden: It’s Best You Hear It From Me, Pleasance Courtyard.

Hal Cruttenden“After 21 years and 224 days Hal’s back being single. But it’s all going to be fine. Instead of getting the therapy he clearly needs, he’s made a cracking show about it. He’s lost enough weight to almost get his wedding ring off and, while he may be flying solo, he’s far from alone; he’s got his grown-up daughters, his dogs and his divorce lawyer. The fickle finger of fate has turned Hal’s life upside down but he’s sticking a finger right back at it. ‘Funniest he’s ever been’ ***** (Times).”

Hal Cruttenden’s a great comedian and I’ve heard very good things about this show, so I’m looking forward to it enormously!

UPDATE: Crammed with callbacks, this is a beautifully constructed, very personal and very impressive show, with great audience interaction; probably the best I’ve ever seen Mr Cruttenden. Perhaps he should have more marriage breakdowns, it would be great for his career! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

21.55 – Blunderland, Underbelly’s Circus Hub on The Meadows.

Blunderland“The subversive break-out hit of the international cabaret and circus circuit, we have arrived with a strong dose of what we all need at the moment: some outrageous nightlife naughtiness, club-kid antics and a heady dose of arthouse weird. Born out of the New York underground queer nightlife scene this show has titillated packed crowds worldwide who are enthralled with its uniquely whimsical and ridiculous performance combinations. Join us for an evening of sensually disastrous drag, burlesque and circus you won’t forget!”

There are a number of circus/burlesque shows on this Fringe and we are seeing a few of them – I don’t know if this will be any different from the norm – we wait and see!

UPDATE: One of those “only at the Fringe” big top experiences where fantastic Circus skills and some of the less classy elements of burlesque mix. Amazing aerial acrobatics, and some very funny routines. One couple left early on, it was clearly not what they were expecting!  ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

The Edinburgh Fringe One-Weeker 2019 – Rouge, 22nd August 2019

RougeNext is one of those adult circus/burlesque shows that Edinburgh seems to do so well, it’s Highwire Entertainment’s Rouge, at Underbelly’s Circus Hub on the Meadows – The Beauty, at 21:50 on Thursday 22nd. Here is the blurb: “Circus for grown ups: a decadent blend of sensational acrobatics, operatic cabaret and twisted burlesque. Weeklies winner Best Circus Adelaide Fringe 2018 and Fringeworld 2019. ‘Welcome to a circus for the new age… Brilliant performances covered with rhythm and attitude with a certain aura permeates the venue that embodies the phrase “Filthy and Gorgeous”‘ (WeekendNotes.com). ‘The performance is so high energy, so passionate and executed with such abandon that it can’t help but leave you feeling elated and empowered… if you aren’t turned on by this you might want to consult a physician, because you’re probably clinically dead’ (SmutButtons.com).”

I’m expecting glamour, sauciness and skill; and possibly lots more too. Check back around 11.15 pm to see of my expectations were met. By then the next preview blog should be available to read too.

Very slick show, and the acrobatics were extraordinary. A nice feelgood feel to the whole entertainment and yes, it was quite saucy from time to time, but nothing to put you off your dinner. Great stuff!

The Edinburgh Fringe One-Weeker 2019 – Lolly Jones: I Believe in Merkels, 22nd August 2019

Lolly Jones I Believe in MerkelsNext up is someone we saw for the first time last year and can’t wait to see her again, and that’s Lolly Jones: I Believe in Merkels at Assembly Roxy – Downstairs at 20:00 on Thursday 22nd. Here’s what the blurb has to say: “EU leaders swap negotiations for disco, tassels and glitter in this ‘razor sharp blend of burlesque and comedy’ (EdFestMag.com). In a bawdy display of razzmatazz, Merkel, May and friends rip it up and lip-sync for the leadership. Also featuring Lolly (BBC Three, ITV, and Comedy Central) as Marine Le Pen, Nicola Sturgeon and probably her mum (if she agrees to it). ‘This provocative political satire is astounding’ **** (List). ‘Niche burlesque at its best’ **** (WeeReview.com). ‘Bizarrely euphoric… guaranteed to leave you wanting more’ **** (EdFestMag.com). ‘Had the audience in hysterics’ **** (FunnyWomen.com).”

Whilst Jan Ravens may give the perfect vocal impression of Theresa May, Lolly Jones gives us a truly hilarious physical caricature – as she presumably will for Angela Merkel and many others. This is going to be hugely enjoyable. Check back around 9.15 pm to see how much fun it really was. By then the next preview blog should be available to read too.

Huge fun as always… if you’ve seen Ms Jones before you know exactly what to expect; if she’s new to you, you’ll probably enjoy it just a bit more, because there wasn’t anything *that* new in this show. Very enjoyable nonetheless!

The Edinburgh Fringe One-Weeker 2019 – Laser Kiwi, 21st August 2019

Laser KiwiOur next show is a mixture of comedy and circus – strictly for adults, and it’s Colossal’s Laser Kiwi, at Assembly George Square Gardens, Piccolo, at 22:30 on Wednesday 21st. Let’s take a look at the blurb: “New Zealand’s favourite surreal sketch circus troupe bring their smash hit to Edinburgh. A wonderfully bizarre and thoroughly entertaining masterpiece, you will never predict what’s coming next! After sell-out shows across Australia and Canada, this unique style of comedy is set to shake up the UK. This show is innovative… and refreshingly unpretentious. ‘Fall-down funny, and absolutely top shelf’ ***** (Advertiser, Adelaide). ‘Hilarious and impressive in equal measure’ ***** (TheUpsideNews.com). Winner of Best Circus and Physical Theatre at Adelaide Weekly Fringe Awards 2019.”

Mrs Chrisparkle isn’t always in the mood for something circusey so I hope this isn’t too traditional big-top – I kinda doubt it is, on this late at night! Check back shortly before midnight to see how we enjoyed it. By then the next preview blog should be available to read too.

Not sure I’ve ever seen a show quite like this! A range of truly impressive circus/acrobatic acts mixed with surreal comedy mini-sketches. Three very likeable and talented performers make the evening go with a swing! I was brought up on stage to play along with the “Perfect Match” act at the end – hope I didn’t ruin it for everyone. Great fun!

The Edinburgh Fringe One-Weeker 2019 – Atomic Saloon Show, 19th August 2019

Atomic Saloon ShowNext up is one of those shows that could go anywhere, depending on the quality and pizzazz of its performers. It’s Spiegelworld’s Atomic Saloon Show at the Palais du Varieté, Assembly George Square Gardens, at 22:10 on Monday 19th. This is what the official blurb says: “The wildest watering hole in town. Madam Boozy Skunkton has been collecting the prettiest, sexiest, dumbest, drunkest troupe of entertainers and acrobats on earth, and is determined to create the greatest saloon show the world has ever known. Moulin Rouge meets Blazing Saddles, and America’s Got Talent meets Westworld. From the creators of the hit Las Vegas show Absinthe. Featuring some of the best names in variety and physical comedy, this world premiere is a must-see before it heads to its permanent home on the Las Vegas Strip. Directed by Cal McCrystal (One Man, Two Guvnors).”

The decider that convinced me to book for this one is that it’s directed by Cal McCrystal who always delivers a fun and creative production. Check back after it’s finished shortly before 11.45 pm to see if we enjoyed it. By then the next preview blog should be available to read too.

That’s a winner! Sometimes these innuendo-based circus variety acts can miss the mark, but this one really doesn’t. Sharp, sexy, funny, and with some incredible acrobatic, dance and comedy burlesque acts, this is a sure shootin’ success!

The Edinburgh Fringe One-Weeker 2019 – Magic Faraway Cabaret, 18th August 2019

Magic Faraway CabaretOur last show for Sunday is our first toe-dip this Fringe into the world of burlesque and variety, and that’s Mister Meredith’s Magic Faraway Cabaret, at PBH’s Free Fringe @ Voodoo Rooms at 22:30 on Sunday 18th. Here’s the official blurb: “Always packed, this ‘fab lil’ cabaret party’ (Time Out) returns for its sixth year. Magic, variety, burlesque and sideshow acts are gift wrapped by Mister Meredith in a world of fun and games. This night really is like no other at the Fringe; the boundaries of innocence and worldliness collide, featuring top names and fresh new acts in The Voodoo Rooms’ unique buzzing speakeasy atmosphere. ‘An amazing compère’ (BurlesqueBibleMag.com). ‘A subversive compère who takes pride in getting the city boys a little hot under the collar’ (Telegraph). ‘One of the greatest cabaret performers of his generation’ (ScotsGay.co.uk).”

We’ve already met Mister Meredith yesterday for his Singalonga Pub Quiz night – so it will be interesting to see him in a different light tonight! Check back around midnight to find out what happened. By then the first preview blog for tomorrow should be available to read too.

No Burlesque in tonight’s line up but very enjoyable nonetheless. Irish comedian Gráinne Maguire did a brilliant set about being Irish in London and explains hilariously why the Ryanair experience is what it is; then we had the President of the United States (no really) as he is in Trump’s Fake TV show; the fantastic Viggo from Zach and Viggo fame who had us on stage including me lying down whilst others mourned my passing; belly dancer Shantisha, and ending up with magician Elliot Bibby. A wonderful line up in a comfortable, fun environment. Great way to end the evening!

The Edinburgh Fringe One-Weeker 2019 – Singalonga Pub Quiz, 17th August 2019

Singalonga Pub QuizOur next show sounds a little unpredictable and messy! It’s Singalonga Pub Quiz, at PBH’s Free Fringe @ Fingers Piano Bar at 18:40 on Saturday 19th. Here’s what it’s about: “Do you really need to read this blurb? Look at the title! It’s a singalong pub quiz where you can test your knowledge whilst singing your favourite hits. It’s an evening of silliness and songs with random points awarded by your quizmaster, song leader and cabaret maestro, Mister Meredith. So unwind and embrace ‘the sheer pleasure of a room united in song’ (Time Out). On Mister Meredith: ‘One of the greatest cabaret performers of his generation’ (ScotsGay.co.uk) On Singalonga Pub Quiz at The Poodle Club: ‘Would highly recommend’ ***** (Jackie O’Shea, Google review)”

I know from a friend that it was Mr Meredith who hosted a recent nudist singalonga show in London, so I do hope we’re not going to be asked to get our kit off! Should be a lot of fun though. It’s an hour long, so check back around 8.00 pm to see what it was like, and by then the next preview blog should be available to read too.

Well, that did exactly what it said on the tin! A good fun pub quiz in great atmosphere and a chance to get your vocal cords exercised. Didn’t win, but it didn’t matter. Get there early; plenty of people were turned away as it’s very popular.

Review of the Year 2018 – The Ninth Annual Chrisparkle Awards

Welcome again to the glittering excitement that is the announcement of this year’s annual Chrisparkle Awards. The whole team has diligently assessed each and every eligible performance (i.e. I’ve thought hard about them) to create longlists then shortlists and then finally the ultimate prize for some splendid practitioners of their arts. Eligibility for the awards means a) they were performed in the UK and b) I have to have seen the shows and blogged about them in the period 11th January 2018 to 7th January 2019.

Are you all sitting comfortably?

The first award is for Best Dance Production (Contemporary and Classical)

Last year the Committee decided to combine all the dance productions seen in the year, both at the Edinburgh Fringe and in other theatres, and this year we have decided to continue this practice. That gives us seven shows to consider, and it’s been remarkably difficult to come to a conclusion, but we have.

In 3rd place, the two hilarious and skilful programmes that made up the triumphant return of Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo (The Trocks to you and me) at the Peacock Theatre, London, in September.

In 2nd place, the immaculate and riveting performances of the dancers from the Richard Alston Dance Company at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in October.

In 1st place, never failing to hit the mark on technique, emotion and sheer entertainment, Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake at Sadler’s Wells, London, in December.

Classical Music Concert of the Year.

We only managed five classical concerts in 2018 but the quality was, as usual, excellent, so it was extremely difficult to whittle it down to a top three. Nevertheless, the Committee insisted, so here goes:

In 3rd place, Alan Buribayev Conducts Chopin, with an exciting programme of Czech, Polish and Finnish music including Chopin’s Piano Concerto No 2 in F Minor played by Alexander Romanovsky, and the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in April.

In 2nd place, Michael Petrov Performs Tchaikovsky, including a magical performance of Mendelssohn’s Symphony No 4 in A Major, and Michael Petrov giving us a spellbinding performance of Tchaikovsky’s Variations on a Rococo Theme, with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Rory Macdonald, at the Royal and Derngate, in February.

In 1st place, A Night at the Ballet, a superb programme of ballet music including Delibes’ Sylvia Suite and Saint-Saens’ Danse Macabre, with Nathan Fifield conducting the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, at the Royal and Derngate, in June. A clean sweep for the RPO!

Best Entertainment Show of the Year.

This means anything that doesn’t fall into any other categories – for example pantos, circuses, revues and anything else hard to classify. Very few contenders this year, and it looks remarkably like last year’s awards, but here’s the top three:

In 3rd place, the unstoppable Damian Williams starring in Peter Pan at the Lyceum Theatre in Sheffield in January 2019.

In 2nd place, the humour-enhanced reincarnation of the Burlesque Show at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton in January 2018.

In 1st place, the utter filth and pure showbiz hilarity of Snow White at the London Palladium in December.

Best Star Standup of the Year.

Eight big-name stand-up comics qualify for this year, and it’s very difficult to judge because they were all excellent in their own way, so I can only rank them in the order that I enjoyed their show. I only listed a top three last year but this time I need a top five:

In 5th place, the beautifully constructed and thought provoking Choose Your Battles tour from Lucy Porter, Underground at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in April.

In 4th place, the fearless use of a range of awkward subjects brilliantly mixed up by Paul Chowdhry in his Live Innit tour, at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in March.

In 3rd place, the quirkily intellectual and extremely clever Total Eclipse of Descartes tour by Rob Newman, at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in November.

In 2nd place, and the winner of last year’s best Screaming Blue stand-up, the sheer delight of Daliso Chaponda and his What The African Said tour, at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in February.

In 1st place, on unbeatable form, the fantastic Devil May Care tour by Marcus Brigstocke, at the Royal and Derngate in October.

Best Stand-up at the Screaming Blue Murder nights in Northampton.

It’s been a great year of Screaming Blue Murder nights; a longlist of seventeen comics brought forward a shortlist of seven and here are the top five:

In 5th place, hilarious and outrageous as always, Robert White (28th September)

In 4th place, for his ability to invest a room with such sheer happiness, Jonny Awsum (13th April)

In 3rd place, always expect the unexpected with the extraordinary Russell Hicks (16th February)

In 2nd place, a new name to me and a superb talent with refreshing material, Stefano Paolini (12th October)

In 1st place, again, a first timer at Screaming Blue (I believe) but what a gifted way of weaving comedy magic out of some tough material, Sean Meo (14th September)

Last year, the Committee introduced a new category; as we continue to see so many stand-up comedy acts in other clubs, such as the Leicester Comedy Festival, Bluelight Comedy, Upfront Comedy Shows and Edinburgh Try-outs in various locations, here’s the Best of the Rest Stand-up Award. Again, a long longlist of nineteen was whittled down to a shortlist of ten, and here’s the top five:

In 5th place, the sheer professionalism and endless inventiveness of Patrick Monahan, in the Edinburgh Try-out of his show, Goals, at the Comedy Crate Festival, Black Prince, Northampton in July.

In 4th place, the fantastic delivery and fresh material of Drew Fraser (Upfront Comedy) at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in November.

In 3rd place, the musical madness and effervescence of Friz Frizzle, Song Ruiner (Leicester Comedy Festival, Late Night Jokes On Us, Manhattan 34 Bar, Leicester) in February.

In 2nd place, the fantastic comedy character creation that is Barbara Nice (Upfront Comedy Slam) at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in February.

In 1st place, a solid gold discovery of great confident delivery and material, Kane Brown (Upfront Comedy Slam) at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in February.

Best Musical.

I saw seventeen musicals this year, and only – perhaps – three weren’t really up to scratch. So that meant it was a tough choice to come up with a top five. But I did it!

In 5th place, and still very fresh in the memory, the superb production of Kiss Me Kate at the Crucible Theatre, Sheffield, in January 2019.

In 4th place, the invigorating and hugely emotional revival of Barnum, at the Menier Chocolate Factory, London, in February.

In 3rd place, the stunningly technological revival of Chess at the London Coliseum that we saw in May.

In 2nd place, the visually and musically overpowering experience that is the new look Les Miserables, at the Curve Theatre Leicester, in November.

In 1st place, believe the hype, it simply blew us both away; Hamilton at the Victoria Palace Theatre, London in December.

Best New Play.

Just to clarify, this is my definition of a new play, which is something that’s new to me and to most of its audience – so it might have been around before but on its first UK tour, or a new adaptation of a work originally in another format. I’ve seen 14 such plays this year; one of which we left at the interval, but most of the rest were very good indeed. Here’s my top five:

In 5th place, Alan Bennett’s quirky, funny and sad examination of the current state of the NHS in Allelujah, at the Bridge Theatre, London in July.

In 4th place, the very challenging and in many ways absolutely bonkers A Very Very Very Dark Matter, at the Bridge Theatre, London, in October.

In 3rd place, a production which most other people didn’t seem to appreciate but I thought was masterful in so many ways, Kiss of the Spider Woman at the Menier Chocolate Factory, London, in March.

In 2nd place, the abstract, fanciful, and totally adorable, Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in April.

In 1st place, the heart-stopping, tragic, hilarious and exciting The Lovely Bones, at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in October.

Best Revival of a Play.

I saw twenty revivals, the majority of which were absolute smashers. Eight made the shortlist; here’s the top five:

In 5th place, the immaculate characterisation and brilliantly realised humour of The Merry Wives of Windsor by the RSC in Stratford in August.

In 4th place, the powerful performances and clarity of story-telling of Timon of Athens, by the RSC in Stratford in December.

In 3rd place, the brilliantly clever updating of Tartuffe by the RSC in Stratford in September.

In 2nd place, the eye-opening and redefining version of Hamlet by the RSC touring to the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in February.

In 1st place, the fabulously funny and joyful revival of The Fantastic Follies of Mrs Rich, by the RSC in Stratford in April.

A clean sweep for the RSC is pretty amazing! However, as always, in the post-Christmas season, time to consider the turkey of the year – and my biggest disappointment was the tedious and generally pointless production of Macbeth, also by the RSC in Stratford in April.

Now we come on to our four categories specifically for the Edinburgh Fringe. The first is:

Best play – Edinburgh

We saw 20 plays in Edinburgh, and here are the top 5:

In 5th place, the individual tour-de-force of and by Alison Skilbeck in Are There More of You? (Assembly Hall)

In 4th place, another gripping solo performance in Fear No Colours’ Tonight with Donny Stixx (The Space @ Jury’s Inn)

In 3rd place, the very funny and beautifully written Gayface, written by Chet Wilson (The Space on North Bridge)

In 2nd place, the anarchic and hilarious Holy Sh*t by Jack Fairhurst (Paradise in the Vault)

In 1st place, the play that had us in stitches for the first 75% and then tears for the rest of it, Sheffield University Theatre Company’s incredible My Mate Dave Died by Mike Alexander (Greenside @ Infirmary Street)

Best Individual Performance in a Play – Edinburgh

As always, a really hard one to decide as so many Edinburgh plays are true ensemble efforts. Nevertheless, here are the top three:

In 3rd place, Wilf Walsworth for My Mate Dave Died (Greenside @ Infirmary Street)

In 2nd place, Alison Skilbeck for Are There More of You? (Assembly Hall)

In 1st place, Chris Duffy for Tonight with Donny Stixx (The Space @ Jury’s Inn)

Best stand-up comedy show – Edinburgh

Only eight shows this year gives this top three:

In 3rd place, still as funny as ever but this year eclipsed by a couple of truly brilliant shows, Spank! (Underbelly Cowgate)

In 2nd place, a comic we have seen many times before but never on fire like this, the fantastic Abigoliah Schamaun in Do You Know Who I Think I Am?! (Underbelly Cowgate)

In 1st place, someone who tickled our funnybone in a way it hadn’t been tickled before, Olaf FalafelThere’s no I in idiot (Laughing Horse @ The Pear Tree)

Best of the rest – Edinburgh

A short list of ten provides this top five, which was agony to choose, so I decided to favour new talent over more established artists:

In 5th place, the always hilarious and increasingly popular Foil Arms and Hog, Craicling (Underbelly Bristo Square)

In 4th place, the emotion-packed and fantastically musical, John Partridge – Stripped (Assembly Checkpoint)

In 3rd place, always worth getting up early for a bizarre version of Taming of the Shrew with Shakespeare for Breakfast (C Venues, Chambers Street)

In 2nd place, a brilliant comedy find from the likeable Patrick McPherson and Zac Peel – Camels (Underbelly Bristo Square)

In 1st place, throwing away all the rule books, the brilliant Garry Starr Performs Everything (Underbelly Cowgate)

This year’s Edinburgh turkey, which was so awful we had to walk out at a convenient break (along with the majority of the audience), was Hillary’s Kitchen (The Space @ Surgeon’s Hall)

Best Local Production

This would normally include the productions by the University of Northampton students, the Royal and Derngate Actors’ Company, the Youth Companies, local theatre groups and the National Theatre Connections. However, of these groups, I only saw productions by the University students, so they sweep the board!

In 5th place, the 2018-19 3rd Year Students’ production of A Christmas Carol at the Isham Dark Studio in December.

In 4th place, Ytho’s production of O,FFS that they took to Edinburgh, but which I saw at the University in October.

In 3rd place, from the Flash Festival, Blue Shift Theatre’s production of Deciding What to do with Dad.

In 2nd place, again from the Flash Festival, Open Eye Theatre’s production of Drained.

In 1st place, the 2017-18 3rd Year Students’ production of Accused at St Peter’s Church in February.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Musical.

Time to get personal. Here are the top five, they were all fantastic in their own way:

In 5th place, Sharon Rose as Eliza Hamilton in Hamilton at the Victoria palace, London, in December.

In 4th place, Alexandra Burke as Svetlana in Chess at the London Coliseum in May.

In 3rd place, Rebecca Lock as Lilli/Katherine in Kiss Me Kate at the Crucible Theatre Sheffield in January 2019.

In 2nd place, Laura Pitt-Pulford as Charity in Barnum at the Menier Chocolate Factory, London in February.

In 1st place, Caroline Quentin as the Duchess of Hareford in Me and My Girl at the Festival Theatre, Chichester in August.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Musical.

Nine performances in the shortlist, producing this top five:

In 5th place, Ash Hunter as Alexander Hamilton in Hamilton at the Victoria Palace, London, in December.

In 4th place, Killian Donnelly as Jean Valjean in Les Miserables at the Curve Theatre Leicester, in November.

In 3rd place, Tim Howar as Freddie in Chess at the London Coliseum in May.

In 2nd place, Dom Hartley-Harris as George Washington in Hamilton at the Victoria Palace, London, in December.

In 1st place, Callum Francis as Lola in Kinky Boots at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in September.

Best Performance by an Actress in a Play.

Fourteen in the rather long shortlist, but here’s the top five:

In 5th place, Penelope Keith as Mrs St Maugham in The Chalk Garden, at the Festival Theatre, Chichester, in June.

In 4th place, Sophie Stanton as Mrs Rich in The Fantastic Follies of Mrs Rich, at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, in April.

In 3rd place, Zoe Wanamaker as Meg in The Birthday Party at the Harold Pinter Theatre, London, in February.

In 2nd place, Kathryn Turner as Timon in Timon of Athens, at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon in December.

In 1st place, Charlotte Beaumont as Susie in The Lovely Bones at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, in September.

Best Performance by an Actor in a Play.

Another long shortlist, with eighteen contenders in my shortlist, but here is the top five:

In 5th place, a short appearance, but what a masterclass, Sir Antony Sher as Nicolas in One for the Road, part of Pinter One, at the Harold Pinter Theatre, London, in October.

In 4th place, Ben Whishaw as Brutus in Julius Caesar, at the Bridge Theatre, London, in March.

In 3rd place, Jude Owusu as Tamburlaine in Tamburlaine the Great, at the Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, in September.

In 2nd place, Toby Jones as Stanley in The Birthday Party at the Harold Pinter Theatre, London, in February.

In 1st place, Paapa Essiedu as Hamlet in the RSC’s Hamlet, at the Royal and Derngate, Northampton in March.

Theatre of the Year.

For the fourth year running there’s no change in the Number one theatre but we have a new Number two! Continuing to present an extraordinary range of drama and entertainment, this year’s Theatre of the Year is the Royal and Derngate, Northampton, with RSC’s Royal Shakespeare Theatre/Swan Theatre as runner-up.

Didn’t quite exceed last year’s record number of shows seen but still managed to do quite well with 178 productions in all. Thanks to you gentle reader for continuing to read my theatre reviews. Let’s look forward to another wonderful year of theatre in 2019!

The Edinburgh Fringe One-Weeker 2018 – Yummy, 22nd August 2018

YummyNext is a show that’s had great reviews down under, and I’m sure will be a breath of fresh air. It’s Yummy, at Central @ Assembly Roxy, at 21:40 on Wednesday 22nd. Here’s the blurb: “Yummy, the Melbourne powerhouse of drag, dance, circus, and music, has been serving smash-hit events in numerous festivals across Australia and beyond. Yummy is the winner of Best Production and Best Ensemble (Cabaret) at the 2018 Greenroom Awards and Best Cabaret at Adelaide Fringe Weekly Awards 2018. This critically acclaimed show is directed by James Welsby and features an all-star cast: Karen From Finance, Valerie Hex, Jandruze, Zelia Rose, Hannie Helsden and Benjamin Hancock. Described as ‘a must-see’ ***** (Advertiser, Adelaide, 2018), Yummy is an absurd, fascinating, and outrageous experience.”

By the sound of it, this isn’t going to be full of shy and retiring types – I predict a riot! Check back around 11pm to see how much we enjoyed it. By then the next preview blog should be available to read too.

Yummy is a sensationally colourful and vibrant show, with terrific performers and a huge sense of fun. I particularly enjoyed the girl with the hula hoops! My only criticism is that after a while it becomes just a little samey, I’d have loved a few more comedy numbers or speciality acts. Nevertheless, highly enjoyable!