There was a time, somewhere in the lonely misery of Lockdown 1.0, when we wondered if we would ever see the Trocks again. Everything else was cancelled due to Covid – how would it ever be safe to venture out again? But here we are, just four short (or maybe long) years since their last visit, and Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo have returned to our shores for a two week stint at the Peacock Theatre, with two different programmes, followed by a UK tour.
How sad it was, then, that their return should coincide with the death of Her Majesty the Queen, which knocked the stuffing out of us as a nation. We saw Programme A on the matinee of 10th September, when we were all still coming to terms with her death. The usual hilarious announcement that begins each Trocks show that there will be changes to the advertised programme, largely due to the mission of mercy by esteemed dancer Natasha Notgoodenuff, to rescue a production at Le Grand Theatre de Ballet de Croydon (or somewhere equally unlikely) was missing, and was instead replaced by a two minutes silence plus standing for the national anthem.
Whilst this was completely in keeping with the mourning period, and was scrupulously observed by everyone, it was not the perfect way to start a programme of comic dance. Normally, we would be instantly laughing as an unfit von Rothbart started scampering around the stage at the beginning of the Trocks’ incomparable take on Swan Lake Act II. We’ve seen this wonderful piece of nonsense at least a dozen times and it never failed to make us laugh till we ached – until this time. It’s still wonderful and always will be; but the sadness of the day wasn’t in keeping with the pratfalls on display, and it took a long time for us all to loosen up. It did, however, allow us to witness a brand new Trock star in the diminutive but oh so powerful form of Takaomi Yoshino, who, as Varvara Laptopova, performed the most extraordinary jetés and fouettés, gaining amazing height and completely made you forget you were watching a comedy performance.
Without a pre-show announcement, we didn’t know if there were any changes of cast or what the surprise Pas de Deux would be. Actually, it turned out to be a Pas de Trois, from Swan Lake Act I, with two majestically tall ballerinas accompanied by a teeny tiny male dancer doing his best to support them – and in the end, they gave up and hoisted him overhead in a hilarious about-turn from the usual gender roles. We then moved on to Nightcrawlers, a surprisingly stylish and slick parody of Jerome Robbins’ In The Night, with couples mixing and matching, unexpected rapid cross-stage exits and entrances, and a lot of fun to boot. It was Robert Carter’s magnificent creation Olga Supphozova who executed the Dying Swan in the age old tradition, and we finally enjoyed the ludicrously charming Walpurgisnacht, the stage littered with delightfully silly fauns, a powerful coupling between Minnie Van Driver and Jacques D’Aniels, and a scene-stealing Pan by Boris Dumbkopf (that brilliant Takaomi Yoshino again).
We returned for Programme B on the evening of 15th September. It’s amazing what a few days can do for public spirit. No pre-show silence, but a return to the announcement of changes – and the fact that Natasha Notgoodenuff’s errand of mercy had taken her to Les Grands Ballets Imperiales de Slough. It’s funny how rattling off a few faux Russian names and the news that the ballerinas are all in a very very good mood this evening can really help the show start off on the right foot. We kicked off (indeed, it all kicked off) with Les Sylphides, an excellent example of the Trocks doing their trademark perfect combination of comedy riffs with superb classical ballet. Olga Supphozova took every opportunity to milk the show for comedy value, but there were some terrific solos too. Dmitri Legupski didn’t sober up the whole time.
Again we enjoyed a Pas de Trois, this time from Paquita, with some genuinely brilliant dancing from Helen Highwaters (who I think should be now be made a Dame), Elvira Khababgallina (I think) and William Vanilla. The Trocks at their very best. Then came the slightly more subdued Vivaldi Suite, followed by La Supphozova dealing with the terminal fowl again, and finally Majisimas, a delightful mix of mock-flamenco and Spanish bravura with the usual comedy/classic combo.
I’m going to be controversial here. (Gasp!) I’ve checked back, and this is the 15th (and 16th) times that we’ve seen the Trocks since we discovered them in 1998. Their unique selling point has always been that combination of comedy and classical ballet perfection. However, for the first time, there were a few moments when the dancing, primarily from those dancers in a more corps de ballet role, wasn’t quite a perfect as usual. No names, no pack drill. But some of those leaps didn’t land properly and some of the usual elegance was missing. Don’t get me wrong – they’re still brilliant, and we will still see them again for a 17th time (and more!) It’s just that when you expect perfection and it’s not entirely there, it comes as a bit of a surprise.
Do catch them on their UK tour though – Canterbury, Brighton, Norwich, Nottingham, Buxton, Hull, Bradford, Newcastle, Edinburgh, Truro and Belfast, between 19th September and 29th October. Keep on Trockin’!
So, we did it! We saw 125 shows between 5th – 29th August and the standard was extraordinarily high. I also learned a lot about planning for a Fringe month rather than a Fringe week. For a Fringe week, you can be confident about packing as much into it as you possible can – you can always sleep on the train coming home. For a month however, you can get a burnout if you try to do too much. We found that we cancelled many of our late night shows because we were just too tired to do them justice; and we discovered that if I left too many gaps throughout the day (for meals, drinks, shopping etc) then you lose the adrenaline rush and it’s harder to pick up the enthusiasm again. This is particularly important from, say, 9pm onwards. But I am well prepared to plan next year’s Fringe already, and am ready to avoid the pitfalls I fell into this year!
But let’s look at these shows again. We saw 53 productions that you could loosely call “plays” and 18 of them were 5* status. We saw 52 shows that you could list as “comedy”, and of these 23 merited 5* – that’s a massive proportion! Additionally, 2 of the 4 dance productions we saw were 5*, 3 of the 6 Spoken Word events were 5* and, on a slightly lower proportion, 3 of the 11 “other” shows (cabaret, circus, magic, etc) gained 5* from me. At the moment, I’m finding it hard to identify my favourite, or even my favourite(s) from all these 5* productions, so let’s do a quick run-down of them, in the order that we saw them, and my on-the-spot reactions on the night:
The Mistake – It’s not often that a play leaves you almost lost for words. The Mistake is a heartstopping, blistering piece of theatre, telling the story of how atomic power was developed and misused to devastating effect. Michael Mears and Emiko Ishii create a cast of characters who either caused or suffered from the 1945 attacks on Japan, using just a few props with amazing inventiveness. Vital viewing for everyone.
Feeling Afraid as if Something Terrible is Going to Happen – Here’s another “false testimony”- type play given a brilliant tour de force performance by Samuel Barnett who has a huge number of words to remember! You can’t know what to believe and what not to believe as he pieces together the various stages of his relationship with “The American”. Both funny and occasionally ghastly, the play holds your attention throughout; and Mr Barnett is on fabulous form.
About Money – A 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; it’s incredible how using just two chairs and wearing two red caps can say so much.
Mrs Roosevelt Flies to London – 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!
Please Feel Free to Share – 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!
Conflict in Court – If you liked Crown Court (if you’re old enough) you’ll love this. A fascinating court case, beautifully realised, full of great interaction – and when the final truth came out the whole audience gasped! Plus you get a free pie and a pint and they were both delicious. Absolutely brilliant – really loved it!
Boy – This is such an inventive way of telling an extraordinary story. Two amazingly good actors do a really strong script justice. Very moving, very sad, but also loads of humour. Never have soft toys played such a relevant role in serious drama. Just what you’d expect from the team who produced Us/Them. First class indeed.
An Audience with Stuart Bagcliffe – The story is kept secret in the promotional material and it’s important it stays that way. Suffice to say there are many twists to Stuart’s tale. But it’s blisteringly well told and there’s a fantastic performance by Michael Parker as Stuart. Only a tiny venue, so book early!
Dorian – Well, there’s dramatic and there’s dramatic, but this is super-dramatic! Incredibly intense, Dorian is a powerful, strongly-building adaptation that has you on the edge of your seat. I’d go so far to say this is a better adaptation of Wilde’s original than Matthew Bourne’s Dorian Gray. Some excellent performances, brilliant stagecraft – the fight scenes are superb – all topped off with a stunning lighting and sound design. A mini-masterpiece!
Dog/Actor – A true masterclass in acting from Stephen Smith in this Berkoff double bill. Berkoff’s superb writing demands excellent characterisations, and that’s exactly what Mr Smith delivers by the truckload. He’s also amazing with the physical theatre – in “Dog” particularly you really got a sense of the powerful and aggressive Roy. An enthralling show!
A Shoddy Detective and the Art of Deception – They may call themselves Shoddy Theatre, but there’s nothing shoddy about this brilliant piece of nonsensical, physical theatre, packed with terrifically ludicrous scenes, hilarious characterisations, knockabout humour and superb stage fighting! Loved every minute of it.
Death of an Author – A very clever premise, excellent performances, extremely well written, and surprisingly moving. Lots to think about – and truly intriguing for literature buffs! I shan’t reveal who murdered the author…. but no jury would convict! I also liked how the detective did a spot of mansplaining!
Words Without Consent – Verbatim text of women in interviews combined with politicians’ comments on the role of women in society and the dangers faced daily from men. Extremely well staged, great use of video projections and two first rate performances. Take note of the trigger warnings; many of the things said in this production shake you to the core. A thrilling, appalling and vital work.
Candy – Brilliant storytelling, both in Tim Fraser’s riveting play and Michael Waller’s spellbinding performance. At first, I thought the content of the play was going to position itself as some kind of analogy or symbol. But then I quickly decided it wasn’t that, it was just a straightforward story about a man falling in love with his mate, but only when Billy presents himself as Candy. Fascinating, thought-provoking, at times hilarious, at times deeply sad. We absolutely loved it.
Eh Up Me Old Flowers – An excellent portrayal of Charlie Williams, by Tony Marshall; and the play itself is full of great storytelling, and ultimately is remarkably moving. You don’t have to remember Charlie Williams from the 70s, but it helps if you do! The play posed fascinating questions about whether Williams was complicit in spreading racism, or did he pave the way for the likes of Lenny Henry or Gary Wilmot? I was really surprised to find I had a tear in my eye at the end. Way better than you might possibly expect!!
Wilf – That rare thing – a comedy that is extraordinarily creative in its subject matter, confronts headfirst disturbing issues like domestic abuse and mental illness, and is also jaw-achingly funny. Beautifully staged and performed by Michael Dylan, Irene Allan and Neil John Gibson, there’s no way this play won’t have a life beyond the Fringe. Absolutely magnificent!
Closure – Mrs Chrisparkle and I constituted the full audience! Yes, only two people in but the cast threw themselves into a great performance of a brilliant play, with very serious, challenging material, and a fabulous twist. A good old fashioned thriller, based on sexual violence. Read the trigger warnings first. We talked about it for ages afterwards! Riveting!
No Place Like Home – Gripping tale, spellbindingly told, with superb use of video graphics that truly helped the story along. Marvellous acting – great characterisations. A feast of creativity, I’m so glad we didn’t miss this!
Colossal (Patrick McPherson) – I predict another massive word of mouth success for Patrick’s latest creation. Incredibly beautiful writing reminds you of the hip hop rhythms of Hamilton, whilst telling his own very individual story of love and deception. So many brilliant callbacks, so many surprises. Patrick turns his likeable persona inside out and challenges the audience to stick with him. And we sure do. Technically brilliant too with a terrific sound and lighting plot, which also play their part. A complete winner.
Ben Clover: Best Newcomer – The evening ended with a great show from Ben Clover, who included anti-vaxxers, Prince Andrew and Boris Johnson in his material and it all landed perfectly. The show contained an early contender for best line of the Fringe; I won’t spoil it for you but we were still chuckling about it back at the apartment. He delivers his routine with apparently effortless ease, although I’m sure most of it scrupulously hand-crafted. A fantastic show, highly recommended.
Mark Thomas: Black and White – Why have I never seen Mr Thomas before? Most definitely a no-Conservative zone, he dishes out brilliant political observations nineteen to the dozen and absolutely left me wanting more. He also has some memorable Barry Cryer and Bernard Cribbins jokes, God bless their souls. I had no idea I’d be singing my favourite music hall song, The boy I love is up in the gallery, by Marie Lloyd. Just a fab hour.
Hal Cruttenden: It’s Best You Hear it From Me – 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!
Mary Bourke: The Brutal Truth – On terrific form, the legendary Ms B talks cancel culture, Britain’s Got Talent as well as giving us a massive trauma dump (her words) that she turns to comedy gold. Peppa Pig also comes in for the treatment she so richly deserves. Absolutely brilliant.
Abigoliah Schamaun: Legally Cheeky – Abigoliah shares the ghastly story of her visa crisis with all her trademark upbeat optimism even though at times it’s a truly sad story. She has an amazing ability to see sunshine in the rain and she conveys her joyous observations with delightful ease. Fantastic!
Tarot: Cautionary Tales – What a find! Sketch comedy is alive and well and living Beside the Pleasance Courtyard! Tarot are three immensely likeable idiots who have put together just the funniest hour of nonsense. Every night they pick a member of the audience to count the number of laughs (and make other suitable notes) and, you guessed it, it was me. I counted 217 laughs but I definitely missed a few – well, you have to keep these people on their toes after all. Favourite sketches included the Elvis Impersonator and the Never Have I Ever game. Ecstatically funny!
Your Dad’s Mum – Your Dad’s Mum is a nightmarish comic creation; a social night out, with a grim compère stuck in the 70s and a woeful but feminist assistant who together take us through some deliciously lamentable games and quizzes. And it’s all absolutely brilliant! Once you get the joke – that he’s deliberately awful and she’s trying to do the best she can to make up for it – it works a treat. As the catastrophes pile up, the audience creases up! The audience hurled themselves into the fun and played along with everything that Pat and Cherrie-Ann threw at them. Just don’t ask her to do her Christmas Tree routine. Loved it!
Marcus Brigstocke: Absolute Shower – Another show where the subject of stupid people comes up! Marcus Brigstocke is on brilliant form, an hour full of political satire and happy lockdown memories. I particularly loved his observation about consent issues for single people today. Extremely funny, always a pleasure.
Nina Gilligan: Late Developer – Nina specialises in finding fantastic new material on familiar subjects, like the Menopause, sex, relationships and so on. She has a fantastic delivery style, leading you in gently and then hitting you with a killer punchline. An excellent discovery! Loved the pigeon and Chris Whitty material – I’ll say no more.
Garry Starr: Greece Lightning – I sometimes wonder how funny Garry Starr could be if he wasn’t quite so inhibited. That’s a joke, by the way – there is no one on stage who leaps over all the boundaries as much as Garry Elizabeth Starr. Once again the hammy thespian brings us a no-holds barred hour of unmitigated silliness which has to be seen to be believed. Don’t think that by avoiding the front row you won’t get involved (although if you do sit in the front row you might well see much more than you had bargained for!) Utter brilliance.
Troy Hawke: Sigmund Troy’d – Effortless characterisation, the mischievous Milo McCabe has formed a brilliant, creative set of material for Troy based on a random tweet that caught his imagination. With scrabble values, psychotherapy, magic numbers, shop greetings and pizza dedications, this is an extraordinarily detailed flight of fantasy. I know that by sitting in the front we were asking for it – and we got it. But so did many others! Fabulously funny!
Shamilton – How would this troupe create a hiphop musical about a character chosen by the audience? Brilliant performance and improv with the inspired audience choice of Paddington Bear!! Absolutely hilarious. The Browns needed sexual counselling, and The Queen was called on to prevent Hugh Grant and Nicole Kidman from demolishing their house. Completely nuts and completely wonderful!
Dr Hammond’s Covid Inquiry – Dr Phil presents an excellent comedy lecture, packed with fascinating facts and opinions, jokes and observations – it’s almost as though Covid has never gone away (winking emoji). It’s also interesting to share your own covid experiences and beliefs with other audience members. Very enjoyable!
Joe Wells: I Am Autistic – Always one of our favourite comedians, Joe is on fantastic form with a show that gives rise to pretty much non stop laughter, mainly about autism – and yes I know it sounds unlikely. He’s a truly gifted comedian, with a beautifully crafted set, and there’s no better way to start your Fringe day!
Pear (Patrick and Hugo McPherson) – “Are there twins in the audience, oh oh, oh oh, are there any twins in?” 🎵 🎵 I guarantee you’ll be singing that for ages.
Patrick and Hugo do an amazing double act, with a nicely structured, incredibly silly, beautifully funny show, with perfect callbacks and audience interaction. You don’t stop beaming from start to finish! Is there nothing these McPhersons can’t do?!
Robin Morgan: Snip Snip Bitch (WIP) – Robin is even slicker and funnier now than he was when we saw him in Leicester a couple of years ago! There’s no real narrative thread to his act, it’s just observations and memories and quirkinesses, all of which somehow combine together to create a very satisfying whole. He’s so very likeable and persuasive; you end up letting your guard down and telling him things you’d normally keep under your hat. Absolutely brilliant!
Foil Arms and Hog: Hogwash – At first we wondered if Foil Arms and Hog had reached their pinnacle, and were beginning to lose their way a little. A very long get-to-know the audience introduction (vital for later material) followed by a too-long sketch based on a ghost story experience, meant that half the show had already gone before we started getting into the really good material, but rest assured it’s as good as ever. I loved the suitcases on the carousel, and the long lost reunions were inspired. Three genuinely hilarious guys – you don’t get better sketch comedy.
Nish Kumar: Your Power, Your Control – Nish Kumar comes across as a naturally funny guy but also an angry one; years of racism have taken its toll on his mental health, and he shares some of that journey with us – and you get the feeling that the journey is far from over. But it’s not all doom and gloom – in fact it’s 98% hilarious observations about politics, terrible gigs and how much he loves Ricky Gervais and Jimmy Carr*. An occasionally bruising (and aggressive!) watch, but always rewarding. *not strictly true.
Sooz Kempner: Playstation – Very funny – I thought we might be at a disadvantage knowing nothing about computer games, but Sooz used them as a springboard for lots of other brilliant material, all based on that natural unwillingness to grow up. Extremely funny and inventive, and excellent use of pre-recorded material. Our first time seeing Sooz Kempner, but definitely not our last.
Colin Hoult: The Death of Anna Mann – Perhaps this really is the death of Anna Mann? Whatever Colin Hoult gives her an amazing send-off in this brilliant retrospective of her lives, loves and careers. Turned out very emotional in the end! One of the best comedy shows ever.
Spank! You and Goodnight – The last ever Spank! was the source of a lot of genuine emotion. We’ve loved this show over the past 8 years and it’s brought so much happiness to so many people. A wonderful last night final line up; brilliant acts who all made the night very special.
Just These Please: Honestly No Pressure Either Way – Fast, slick and very very funny! Lovely silly sketches – I loved the one that featured Greyfriars Bobby – all performed to a high standard. What’s not to like?
Hamlet: Ian McKellen and the Edinburgh Festival Ballet – Ignore those 2* reviews. They clearly don’t understand the concept of Ballet. This is a stunning piece, superb choreography, meticulously danced, that tells the story of Hamlet clearly and thoroughly. The Prince of Denmark is split into two: one, the vocal nervous wreck played by McKellen, the other, the man who moves, played by an extraordinary dancer. I particularly loved Ophelia’s dances, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are a delight. Fabulous lighting and sound too. My toes curled with pleasure throughout!
Ballet Freedom of Kyiv – Audience reviews online were about 75-25 in favour of this show, but those who didn’t like it *really* didn’t like it! We thought it was terrific; inventive, dynamic choreography, danced with joy and skill, frequently very tongue in cheek, lots of dark humour and even a few instances of audience participation (and don’t think by not sitting in the front you’re safe – you’re not!) Invasion by a hostile neighbour was tastefully suggested in a few of the dances. I was very disappointed at the amount of photography and videoing from audience members, which was extremely disrespectful of both the performers and other audience members. But we loved the show!
Iain Dale: All Talk with Rory Stewart – Both Iain Dale and Rory Stewart were both on good form. Amongst the revelations was the fact that they both went for the Conservative nomination to stand for the constituency of Bracknell. Rory told some awful stories about Johnson that were ostensibly funny but just showed what an utter disgrace the PM is. Good questions, fascinating answers, and a surprisingly entertaining hour.
Iain Dale: All Talk with Keir Starmer – Iain Dale and Jacqui Smith both grilled Keir Starmer and I must say I was very impressed with the Labour Leader, much more than I expected to be. You can see he’s a thoughtful, intelligent man, he listens in full to the question then gives a most considered answer to it. I don’t think he suits the world of quick off the cuff comments; he’s much more the measured, detailed, considered kind of politician.
In Conversation with… Devi Sridhar – Not entirely sure what I was expecting from Devi Sridhar, but this conversation with sports journalist Graham Spiers revealed her motivations for becoming a public health expert, her background, her opinions on a wide range of subjects and also much of the private person behind the headlines. She’s a natural at the Q&A, and it was a fascinating hour.
Rouge – 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!
Adults Only Magic Show – Sam and Justin have put together some amazing magic and framed it within this “adult only” naughty presentation, to the delight of everyone. Very funny, very naughty and very incredible! Not a clue as to how any of it was done.
An Evening Without Kate Bush – I didn’t really know what to expect from this show, but you come away from it with a spring in your step and gladness in your heart, as Sarah-Louise Young beguiles you into the world of Kate Bush fandom, presents some of her best loved songs in ways you have never seen before, and makes you desperate to go back to your old LPs before the night is out. She also does a pretty amazing vocal impersonation! Very inclusive and hugely enjoyable.
So, an amazing Fringe – we loved every minute. And who will receive the coveted Chrisparkle Edinburgh awards? We’ll have to wait until the committee sits and deliberates next January!
“A unique, hilarious and unmissable one-man show from the worlds most critically acclaimed variety artist. Scalpel-sharp wit and astonishing skills honed over three decades travelling the world’s stages, streets and spiegeltents come together to create an unforgettable hour of big tricks and big laughs for all ages. ‘One of the greatest variety artists working today’ (Scotsman). ‘The most talented man at the Edinburgh Fringe’ (BroadwayBaby.com). ‘Breathtaking’ (Evening Standard). ‘Terrific’ (Guardian). ‘The Derren Brown of juggling’ (LoveFringe.com). ‘Mat Ricardo is amazing!’ (HRH Prince Charles).”
I’ve seen Mat Ricardo a couple of times as part of the Burlesque Show that used to come to the Royal and Derngate in Northampton, and he was always superb. It’ll be good to see him in a full show by himself!
UPDATE: Good to see Mat Ricardo again – his juggling skills are second to none. A few gasp out loud moments – he said there would be. Whilst he’s technically brilliant, I’m slightly less sure of his ability to host a complete hour with his presentation style, but that’s just me. Nevertheless, it was thoroughly entertaining, and the hour flew by. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“In a Sheffield basement, two men try to bury the bodies of their past to find a hopeful future. With no way out, will Fritz make it to his wedding? Will Matlock get away with murder? Or will the police finally raid the marijuana grow in the attic? A new dark comedy with a fresh take on men’s mental health, the care system and addiction. 2021 Offie nominees for Lead Performances and Most Promising New Playwrights. ‘Reminiscent of the works of Beckett and Pinter’ ***** (TheReviewsHub.com). **** (Stage).”
As well as Beckett and Pinter, this sounds rather Ortonesque, which is what drew my attention! Fingers crossed that it works well.
UPDATE: Definitely Pinteresque; not so much Beckett and definitely not Orton. Two excellent performances in an intriguing play with a clever twist that I certainly didn’t see coming, and I definitely won’t tell you about! Not sure that the plot was entirely watertight, and there were a couple of scenes that weren’t sufficiently clear for us to understand. But the acting certainly carries the day, and the play is definitely worth seeing. ⭐️⭐️⭐️
“In 2002, whilst researching a comedy, triple-Fringe First winner Henry Naylor and two-time Scottish Press Photographer of the Year Sam Maynard, went to the Afghan war zone. An extraordinary tale ensued in which they were threatened by a war criminal, captured by the Mujahideen and nearly blown up by the Taliban. Performed by Naylor himself, the show takes us back to the start of the modern Afghan tragedy. It comes direct from the Adelaide Fringe, where it won twelve five-star reviews and two major awards. European Premiere.”
This sounds like a truly fascinating mix of dark comedy and true tragedy. But it’s considered a hit, so that’s good enough for me!
UPDATE: A fascinating and very personal account of Henry Naylor’s time in Afghanistan, coupled with some extraordinary photographs that speak volumes, are at the heart of this slightly unbalanced show. Whilst everything to do with Afghanistan in this hour totally captures your interest and imagination, the framework surrounding it, with his dealings with the Gilded Balloon, and his psychotherapist, largely miss the mark. But it’s a very intense and thought provoking show. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“Tim Vine returns with his new stand-up show. A mountain of nonsense. One-liners, stupid things, unlikely songs, wobbly props. (Plus utter drivel.) Tim’s like the manager of a sweet shop where all the sweets are replaced by jokes, and he serves them in the order he chooses. So, it’s like a sweet shop where the manager just throws sweets at you. Winner of Dave’s Best Joke of the Fringe 2010 and 2014. Star of The Tim Vine Chat Show (BBC Radio 4) and numerous TV appearances. Enjoy the foolishness. Then leave. ‘A symphony of silly’ ***** (Times).”
It’s been the sin of omission that we’ve never seen Tim Vine live before, so I’m sure this will be magnificent!
UPDATE: Having realised we’ve only seen Tim Vine in short spurts on TV we became concerned that a full hour of him might be too much. And so it proved. The relentless silliness quickly palled with us, and whilst others guffawed throughout, we only chuckled occasionally. As Mrs C noted, she wasn’t expecting it to be quite so *infantile*. Not for us, but I completely accept that he went down a storm with others! ⭐️⭐️⭐️
“Spectacular world renowned ballet company journey from Kyiv. Freedom Ballet celebrate their 20th anniversary in Edinburgh with 14 incredible dancers. An outstanding dance collective. Their intimate, sensual ballet is astonishing. This adaptation of their hit show Boudoir is about the moment of life, when knowing yourself, your love and your loss, you can truly see yourself in the mirror. Credits include performing with Franco Dragone, legendary director of Cirque de Soleil, and sharing the stage with Dita Von Teese, Queen of Burlesque Cabaret. Sold out tours in more than 30 countries with over 5,000 performances.”
Given the appalling situation in Ukraine I can only believe that this will be a truly emotional performance. I’m sure it will be a rewarding dance experience too.
UPDATE: Audience reviews online were about 75-25 in favour of this show, but those who didn’t like it *really* didn’t like it! We thought it was terrific; inventive, dynamic choreography, danced with joy and skill, frequently very tongue in cheek, lots of dark humour and even a few instances of audience participation (and don’t think by not sitting in the front you’re safe – you’re not!) Invasion by a hostile neighbour was tastefully suggested in a few of the dances. I was very disappointed at the amount of photography and videoing from audience members, which was extremely disrespectful of both the performers and other audience members. But we loved the show! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“The Bardic Breakfasters are back! C’s sensational Shakespearience returns for our 31st Fringe, with free coffee and croissants! A pleasing plethora of pentameter, puns and pastry. Perfect for hardened fans of the Bard and blank verse virgins alike. ‘A bouncy and boisterous take on Willie’s work’ (List). ‘Well worth getting out of bed for’ (Independent). ‘No holds Bard (FringeGuru.com). ‘Irreverent humour… clever’ (Stage). ‘Side-splitting… glorious’ (BroadwayBaby.com). ‘Full of fun’ (RemoteGoat.com). ‘Sizzling’ (Scottish Daily Express). Free coffee and croissants! Book early.”
Starting off with an old favourite, Shakespeare for Breakfast is consistently one of the funniest shows of the Fringe and never fails to make you laugh your socks off. Don’t know which of the Bard’s works will be this year’s target – but it’s gonna be good.
UPDATE: Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. The fabulous four who brought us Shakespeare for Breakfast are no longer here, instead they have sold the brand to three others whom I doubt saw the originals. Comparisons are odious, but sadly this isn’t a patch on the previous product. SFB used to be thrilling, outrageous, nonsensical, hilarious. This is very polite, subdued, and strangely disengaging. It doesn’t help that very few people are familiar enough with The Winter’s Tale to enjoy the comedy of recognition. A few nice ideas and comedy songs but it left us cold I’m afraid. ⭐️⭐️
“Troubled? Weak? Feel like a fraud? Good. Genevieve de Beauvoir is a fully-qualified life coach* and will be launching her exciting new e-book on imposter syndrome at the Fringe! Imposter syndrome is a clinical lifelong brain disease that affects at least 100% of women and occasional men. In this seminar, Genevieve will offer heart-healing, interactive** life coaching for any audience members with imposter issues and other shameful flaws (incest and hygiene problems are not in her remit). *Certificate available upon request. **To an extent.”
Potentially the longest title of the Fringe, I’m looking forward to this mock psycho-session (assuming that’s what it is!)
UPDATE No 1: Sadly, at 11:50 Ms de Beauvoir hadn’t shown up and the staff at the Mash House told us to apply to the Box Office – progress pending. So instead we booked tickets to see Benji Waterstones “You Don’t Have to be Mad to Work Here”. Always important to be flexible at the Fringe!
UPDATE No 2: Benji read us passages from his to-be-published book; some were very funny, some kind of went nowhere. With the best will in the world, and fully aware this was work in progress, we weren’t entirely sure there was a show to be created here. Hope we’re wrong. ⭐️⭐️
“Amongst the spires, spikes and sideburns of a 1970s university, a lonely Professor awaits a call. When he’s chased by the ringing of every passing phone, an ominous voice sets a series of mysterious puzzles that stand between him and his missing daughter. Dodgy deans, grumbling groundskeepers and swotty students are suspects as the Professor capers across campus to uncover whodunnit and why. Set to the sounds of 70s vinyl, multi-award winners Spies Like Us bring their explosively physical comedy-thriller about connection, forgiveness… and cryptic crosswords. ‘Singin’ in the Rain meets Hitchcock’ **** (TheReviewsHub.com).”
Sounds like a fun comedy caper – so I’m giving it the benefit of the doubt with a punt.
UPDATE: Firstly the music is great. The show itself is very original, with very committed performances and the crossword solving aspect of the show was entertaining. However, the play itself was very tiresome, incredibly complicated and extraordinarily and unnecessarily noisy! ⭐️⭐️
“When Rob was 12, they attempted a full-blown Disney parade in their house for their grandma. As Rob donned wigs and played Mary Poppins, Ariel, Mickey Mouse and Belle, their dad doubled as stage manager, sound technician and Goofy. This is the joyous, chaotic, autobiographical story of actor, writer and social-media sensation Rob Madge as they set out to recreate that parade – and this time, nobody, no, nobody is gonna rain on it. Winner of What’s On Stage’s Best Off-West End Production 2022.”
I’ve heard great things about Rob Madge and his show, so it was a no-brainer that we have to see this for ourselves!
UPDATE: With a powerful voice and a huge personality Rob Madge is a star in the making! A feelgood journey through the trials and tribulations of his childhood, accompanied by vhs footage of his living room shows, aided and abetted by his tireless dad. Very entertaining and rewarding! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“Ian McKellen and Peter Schaufuss will collaborate and perform together at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe in the world premiere of Hamlet with a whole new performance concept, adapted from William Shakespeare’s play.”
Surely the hottest ticket of the Fringe! Let’s hope it delivers everything it promises.
UPDATE:Ignore those 2* reviews. They clearly don’t understand the concept of Ballet. This is a stunning piece, superb choreography, meticulously danced, that tells the story of Hamlet clearly and thoroughly. The Prince of Denmark is split into two: one, the vocal nervous wreck played by McKellen, the other, the man who moves, played by an extraordinary dancer. I particularly loved Ophelia’s dances, and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are a delight. Fabulous lighting and sound too. My toes curled with pleasure throughout! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
12.45 – The Kettling, The Space on the Mile. From the Edinburgh Fringe website:
“Suddenly kettled at a climate change protest on the hottest day of the year, Kelly finds herself trapped with a volatile and unlikely mix of people. Battling to maintain a fragile peace, Kelly is forced to confront and challenge her principles as well as her motives. As the heat intensifies, tensions mount. But in the belly of the kettle, something is born. When people are pushed to their limits it can bring out the best, and very worst, of human nature.”
With the weather we’ve “enjoyed” recently, this play sounds spot on in addressing a vital issue of today. I hope it works well.
UPDATE: Hungry Wolf do it again with a very engrossing play set during a protest, where all kinds of people are kettled together, with their own motivations and reasons to protest. Some are filled with revenge, others just passing through get caught up in it. It nicely contrasts climate change protests with the refugee camp in Calais, with the two stories playing out side by side. Superb performances and a fascinating play. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“Nina Gilligan is a so-called ‘late developer’. She’s never hit a single milestone and at 50 is still trying to grasp the complex rules of womanhood. She knows she’s not alone. As her eggs deplete and her body becomes hotter than earth’s core she is certain only of one thing: she refuses to go on a cruise. Both outrageous and loveable. A circuit favourite. Leicester Mercury Comedy award winner 2021. ‘A bolshier Mrs Merton with razor-sharp wit used at will’ (Skinny). ‘Breath-taking’ ***** (Student Newspaper). ‘Transcends any perceived age barriers effortlessly… charming sass’ ***** (Deadline.com).”
Nina Gilligan is another new name to us but I like the idea of this show and I think there will be a lot of issues that Mrs Chrisparkle can identify with!
UPDATE: Nina specialises in finding fantastic new material on familiar subjects, like the Menopause, sex, relationships and so on. She has a fantastic delivery style, leading you in gently and then hitting you with a killer punchline. An excellent discovery! Loved the pigeon and Chris Whitty material – I’ll say no more. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“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 Jess Phillips, the MP for Birmingham Yardley and Shadow Minister for Domestic Violence and Safeguarding in Keir Starmer’s Labour frontbench team. ‘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).”
Another big name for Iain Dale to interview; Jess Phillips is a bit of a hero in our household, so we’re looking forward to this.
UPDATE: The last of Iain Dale’s political interviews, this was a very entertaining conversation with someone who comes across as very human – and apparently hungover, which is extremely human! She says she’s not seeking the highest office and you can see that in her answers – although her dream job would be to become Home Secretary. Fascinating insights into the characters of Liz Truss and Priti Patel – things you wouldn’t have guessed. There’s no doubting her sincerity – and she has a great sense of humour. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“A beautiful, profoundly naked performance presented as nature intended. This is a performance celebrating the pure, authentic, original beauty of nudity – as a contrast to the versions given to us by social media. Increasingly we see uncovered bodies readily exposed all over social media. All kinds of pornography are easily available and widely consumed. Modesty no longer exists when it comes to the naked body in virtual culture, yet young people feel shamed by natural nudity. In this provocative show, Palle Granhøj asks: ‘what has happened to our relationship to our natural nudity?’”
Dance performed by nude dancers literally strips away the trappings of a show and reveals the truth of the movement, so the quality of the choreography and performance needs to be first class for this to work – but if it does, it can be breathtaking.
UPDATE: 50 minutes of excellent dancing, with strong, athletic choreography which occasionally gets a little repetitive. Great use of humour though, with the fig leaves and the apples, and a fully committed, bold and fully physical performance by both dancers. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“Winner of Best Comedy, Adelaide Fringe 2022 Weekly Awards. An overzealous idiot attempts to perform all of Greek mythology in less than 60 minutes to save his Hellenic homeland from economic ruin. Never before has Medusa been looser, Achilles more sillies, or Uranus so heinous. Having single-handedly saved the performing arts in 2018 with his multi award-winning debut show, Garry Starr Performs Everything, comic wunderkind Garry Starr returns with another anarchic masterclass not to be mythed. ‘Uproariously funny… a superb, accessible clown’ (Scotsman). ‘Exquisite clowning… effortlessly likeable… an hour you won’t want to end’ (List).”
“Garry Starr” had promised he had finished performing at the Fringe – but then he changed his mind, thank Heavens, because he is one of the most consistently brilliant performers seen anywhere. This will be a laugh a second, I’m sure.
UPDATE: I sometimes wonder how funny Garry Starr could be if he wasn’t quite so inhibited. That’s a joke, by the way – there is no one on stage who leaps over all the boundaries as much as Garry Elizabeth Starr. Once again the hammy thespian brings us a no-holds barred hour of unmitigated silliness which has to be seen to be believed. Don’t think that by avoiding the front row you won’t get involved (although if you do sit in the front row you might well see much more than you had bargained for!) Utter brilliance. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
11.20 – Everyman, C Arts C Venues C Aquila. From the Edinburgh Fringe website:
“The last two years have shaken our confident and cosy existence. The toilet roll and organic flour shortage reminded us just how selfish we can be. Join Everyman on his journey to judgement and consider who and what you would want to take to your final reckoning. A young ensemble cast perform this fast, furious and funny modern retelling of the medieval morality play Everyman (adapted by Splendid Productions) and remind us that there is one ‘certain certainty’ waiting for us all.”
The young ensemble cast are from Guildford High School. Here’s hoping they put on a good show!
UPDATE: And what a fresh fun start to the day that was! The Everyman story brought up to date by five nurses who originally wanted to give me a blood test, but that’s another story. Huge fun, great commitment, and a very clever play, brilliantly performed. Really enjoyed it!! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“Hi-de-hi darlings – welcome back. Expect creative fun from one of our oldest surviving alternative comics. Taking down politicians. Mucking about. New ideas and finding hope. This award-winning comedian (is there any other type?) asks how did we get here? What are we going to do about it? Who’s up for a sing-song? After lockdowns and isolation this show is about the simple act of being in a room together and toppling international capitalism. ‘You’ll leave recommitted to the fight against this appalling authoritarian government, to keep that tradition alive’ (Guardian, 2021).”
Hard to believe but this will be the first time we’ve seen Mark Thomas and I am really looking forward to it!
UPDATE: Why have I never seen Mr Thomas before? Most definitely a no-Conservative zone, he dishes out brilliant political observations nineteen to the dozen and absolutely left me wanting more. He also has some memorable Barry Cryer and Bernard Cribbins jokes, God bless their souls. I had no idea I’d be singing my favourite music hall song, The boy I love is up in the gallery, by Marie Lloyd. Just a fab hour. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“Set over one surreal night of dancing and debauchery, Death of a Disco Dancer is a psychedelic, wild black comedy. During a fateful college reunion, four friends find themselves in a neon, nightmarish dimension. Twisted visions from the past and bizarre dreams of the future join them on the disco floor, and soon, a very present danger arises. As they dance deeper into the night, and this musical world swirls around them, these lost companions must fight to escape a labyrinth of their own design. When the sun rises, who will still be dancing?”
Ultraviolet Productions bring this play by Eric Yu to the Fringe. It sounds interesting – I hope they make a good job of it.
UPDATE: This was a very intense, dark, and above all noisy play, with four pretty troubled characters, which I also found very confusing, partly because of the way it played with time, and partly because it just wasn’t very clear. They threw everything at it, and the acting was good, but it just wasn’t to my taste. ⭐️⭐️
“32 athletes entered the 1904 Olympic marathon in St Louis, Missouri. Only 14 finished… What happened in between was a perfect storm of stupidity, cheating, raw eggs, wild dogs and rat poison. In his Edinburgh debut, New Zealand comedian Nic Sampson brings to life the incredible true story of one of the dumbest sporting events of all time. Co-writer of Starstruck (BBC Three). Star of The Brokenwood Mysteries (UKTV). ‘A world-class hour from one of the country’s best performers. It’s essential’ (Stuff). ‘A beautiful gem of comedic goodness’ (Three). Winner: NZ International Comedy Festival Best Newcomer.
I know nothing about Mr Simpson, but I love the premise of this stand-up show, so I’m hoping for good things!
UPDATE: Nic is a very likeable chap with a very relaxed delivery, and he has created one of those hybrid entertainments which is part stand-up and part one man play. Fascinating, and very informative about this bizarre Olympic event, with some very enjoyable characterisations, and, fortunately, also very funny. It’s amazing to contrast what the Olympics are like, 120 years apart. Great work! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“71BODIES 1DANCE is an interdisciplinary and choreographic initiative by Daniel Mariblanca. The work is inspired by 71 personal experiences and testimonies from transgender individuals living in Norway, Sweden, Denmark and Spain. With this production the intention is to give visibility, awaken curiosity and to generate knowledge around the transgender community from a human level – through an artistic work. By exposing diverse ways of being, the performance wishes to insight new references and ways of appreciating beauty and generating desire. The dance performance is 71 minutes long, embodying one minute for each personal experience that inspired this work.”
The first dance show on our agenda and it sounds like a fascinating and challenging work. If this is half as inventive as it appears, this is going to be astonishing.
UPDATE: Bold and brave, often visceral and sometimes hard to watch, this extraordinary solo performance shows life at one of its extremes, full of private and public agonies, always very thought provoking, and an immense physical achievement. It ended with a song with the chorus, “pussy – dick” which people were singing to themselves in the foyer afterwards! A memorable performance. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
“A man wakes up drunk, scared and alone, with no idea where he is or how he got there. Until he meets Death. Death might be able to answer that for him. In Edmund Morris’ playwriting debut, You’re Dead, Mate is the turbulent and hilarious journey of a young man coming to terms with his mortality.”
Harry Duff-Walker plays the young man – and this could be a fascinating and funny piece, here’s hoping!
UPDATE: A very clever play, very well written and performed, with clear and concise story-telling, lovely use of music, and just thoroughly engaging and entertaining. Fantastic stage-fighting skills in such a confirmed environment! A great way to end the day. ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Sometimes, gentle reader, you come away from an evening of contemporary dance and think wtf was that, and sometimes you come away with a spring in your step and a desperate desire to be forty years younger and four hundred times as sprightly. I’m delighted to say that the Balletboyz’ Deluxe falls into the latter category. An evening of exciting, stimulating, beautiful dance, with some incredibly expressive and gifted dancers, fantastic lighting, brilliant costumes and two riveting musical soundtracks to back it up.
Of course, I should have been writing this review about two years ago, but something happened in the meantime that stopped the original scheduled tour of Deluxe. What was it now? Oh yes, the pandy. But you can’t keep artistic spirit down for long, and Deluxe has bounced back, with an almost completely new cast – the Balletboyz of two years ago were disbanded, sadly – and has been touring the country since March, with just one more date after their Northampton visit.
Deluxe is structured in two parts. The first half comprises of Ripple, choreographed by Xie Xin, and is preceded by a video where she teaches the dance to members of the (original) group and explains the difficulty of creating work for an all-male group. I don’t normally appreciate explanatory media too much, I think a dance ought to stand by its own presentation, without any further explanation. And this video didn’t do much to change that opinion.
However, once it gets started you’re immediately gripped by it. I loved its depiction of the flow of movement, the ripples that can be gentle or like a giant wave. The dancers connect and separate, and come together without touching, like they are practising reiki on each other. It reflects harmony and disturbance, survival of the individual and in groups, all to Jiang Shaofeng’s superb soundtrack of discordant and disrupted strings and harsh clashing percussion. It’s mesmerising.
The second part is Bradley 4:18, choreographed by Maxine Doyle, inspired by the poetry and song of Kae Tempest. The title doesn’t refer to a missing book of the Bible, rather it’s what happens to a certain chap named Bradley at 4:18 in the morning. This is also preceded by a video – a slightly more helpful one (although, personally, I’d prefer this information to be in the programme, rather than a video which has the potential to alienate a viewer who just wants to see dance.) Six dancers take on different aspects of Bradley, at first separately, later weaving in and out of each other to show the various contradictions and behavioural patterns that go to make up one man. Bradley is a party animal, a schoolboy bully, a vulnerable team member, a drunken sloth; aggressive, big-headed, pained and lost. It’s a very clever idea and the dance pretty much nails all these individual characteristics.
If you’re looking for any particular story-telling that links the two pieces, I think you’ll be disappointed. They are simply both examples of the BBoyz’ amazing ability to convey varying emotions and all styles of dance. The dancers themselves are a hugely talented bunch, extraordinarily gifted and immensely likeable and watchable. I was especially impressed with their brilliantly synchronised sequences – every dancer performing the same move at precisely the same time, no one was a nanosecond off; incredible.
It was over ten years ago that I first spotted the young Liam Riddick at the Royal and Derngate in a programme by the Richard Alston Dance Company and I predicted he would become the Next Big Thing – and I was right. Tonight I saw another dancer who caught my eye with his extraordinarily versatility, sense of fun and expressiveness, and unbelievable agility – Seirian Griffiths. Mark my words, he will be huge in the dance world over the next few years. I was also really impressed with Kai Tomioka, whose interpretation of Bradley ranged from the aggressive to the wheedling – I shall look forward to seeing him in new work in the future. But, of course, all the Boyz are amazingly talented and turn in a great show.
Sadly, Deluxe has only one more night on its tour, in Yeovil on 19th May. But the Balletboyz are back with a bounce, and with this current cast of dancers, the future looks very bright.
Production photos by George Piper (who, if you know your Balletboyz history, doesn’t actually exist)
Five Alive, Let Dance Thrive! (Almost removed a star for the unnecessary videos, but that felt petty)
It’s been a very long time since we’ve seen some dance and we always jump at the chance to watch Rambert, one of the best Contemporary Dance companies around, with a massive reputation for excellence and innovation – always a pleasure, often a challenge.
With their latest production, Aisha and Abhaya, it was all challenge and not much pleasure. Pre-show marketing explained that this was a combination of dance and multimedia video, which can be a very heady mix when it dovetails beautifully. It can also enthral when the one creates a fascinating tangent from the other. However, in this show, both Mrs Chrisparkle and I failed to see the remotest connection between the live action and Kibwe Tavares’ video story of the two sisters – princesses, maybe? – attacked and refugeed, trying to survive in an alien environment. Mrs C was shocked by the violence in the video; but then again, refugees often have a violent story to tell.
Much more successful was the video backdrop to the live action, which took us through endless mysterious corridors, leading out into an abstract cityscape, and finally a nightmare dance scenario where identical figures fill the screen all dancing to the same movements. That was genuinely spectacular. However, if you were expecting a furiously frenetic, visually and musically exciting finale to the show – you’ll be disappointed, it ends with definitely a whimper rather than a bang. Several long seconds of an audience staring in silence at a blank stage with one thought between them – is that it?
The show, which fractionally exceeds one hour’s length, started at 7.30pm and it was 7.48 by my watch before we saw any live action – which, for a dance show, I have to say did try our patience somewhat. And when the dance started, whilst there’s absolutely no doubting the extraordinary skill and strength of the group of seven dancers, Sharon Eyal’s unattractive choreography had an alienating effect on me, with the dancers’ body spasms and jerks reminding one of one’s worst ever attack of gastroenteritis. To be fair, the second, shorter, dance scene towards the end of the show had more traditional, graceful movement and felt much more rewarding.
This is a joint production between Rambert and The Royal Ballet; and I have read that the first audiences at the Linbury Theatre were offered earplugs to protect them from the loud and relentless techno music by Ori Lichtik and GAIKA. In fact, the music was driving, pulsating and inspiring, to the extent that the show was probably more entertaining on the audio side than the visual. Sadly, for the performance on Tuesday night at the Royal and Derngate, there was no programme; and Rambert’s website unusually gives no information on which dancers were performing. Try as I might, I’ve been unable to identify them, which I think is a disservice to them. They were all excellent, no question.
Occasionally the harsh critic, Mrs C’s observation at the end was that it had all the charm and appeal of a rave at 10 Downing Street. For me, being able to watch top class (if nameless) dancers perform their hearts and souls out means I enjoyed it more than she did. But at £33.50 for top price seats to see, what, 35 minutes of live action maybe, I thought the price was a bit steep. I guess videography is expensive. Rambert are currently announcing their 2023 production of a dance version of Peaky Blinders – fingers crossed that it’s more en pointe.
Production photos are not mine, but taken from the Royal and Derngate website.
Separate Tables – Festival Theatre, Chichester, 26th September 2009
Rattigan’s masterpiece double bill of Table by the Window and Table Number Seven were brought to life by Philip Franks’ excellent production, starring Iain Glen as John Malcolm/Major Pollock and Gina McKee as Anne Shankland/Sybil Railton-Bell. The superb cast also included Stephanie Cole, Deborah Findlay, Josephine Tewson and John Nettleton. Traditional English theatre doesn’t get much more traditional or English!
Mixed up North – Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 1st October 2009
Out of Joint presented Robin Soans’ entertaining play: from the back of the playscript, “Trish leads a youth theatre group designed to bring Asian and white teenagers together. As the harassed and heavily pregnant director Bella struggles to share her artistic vision with a cast who thing acting is “gay”, the compelling stories of the young stars unfold.” I remember this as being an extremely good play and a great production.
Mark Morris Dance Group – Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 21st October 2009
It was always a delight to see the Mark Morris Dance Group, here with a UK tour that comprised of Italian Concerto, Going Away Party, Three Preludes, and Grand Duo; all dances choreographed by Mark Morris. Fantastic entertainment.
Talent – Menier Chocolate Factory, London, 1st November 2009
Moving over two evenings of excellent stand-up on the Derngate stage, with Alistair McGowan on 26th and Julian Clary on 28th October, our next play was Victoria Wood’s Talent at the Menier. This was the play that Wood originally wrote for herself and Julie Walters set in the 70s. When I booked it, it hadn’t occurred to me that the production would have actors pretending to be Victoria Wood and Julie Walters playing the roles of Julie and Maureen. The result was a ghastly mix up that I absolutely hated! I’m still surprised that it was directed by Victoria Wood; the characters should have taken on a new life rather than simply being re-enactments of Wood and Walters. Awful!
Spring Storm – Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 3rd November 2009
Artistic Director of the Royal and Derngate, Laurie Sansom, launched a Young America season with two early plays by established and revered American dramatists, both performed by the same cast in repertory. First was Spring Storm, an early Tennessee Williams play, and it was magnificent.
Prick Up Your Ears – Comedy Theatre, London, 8th November 2009
Simon Bent’s play about the relationship – fatal as it happens – between playwright Joe Orton and wannabe writer Kenneth Halliwell was based on John Lahr’s excellent biography of Orton (of the same name), and was brought to amazing life by most convincing performances by Chris New as Orton and Con O’Neill as Halliwell. Riveting throughout.
Beyond the Horizon – Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 13th November 2009
The second part of Laurie Sansom’s Young America season was Beyond the Horizon, an early play by one of my playwright heroes, Eugene O’Neill. Fascinating to get a chance to see a relatively lost play – I loved it.
Royal Philharmonic Orchestra – Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 30th November 2009
Three more comedy nights followed, with Stephen K Amos on 16th November, Rob Brydon on 28th November and another Screaming Blue Murder on 26th November. After that, our next show was our first time seeing the RPO on one of their regular visits to Northampton, and this is another something that has become a regular feature of our theatre entertainment over the subsequent years. The RPO, under the baton of Nicolae Moldoveanu, and accompanied by the Northampton Bach Choir and the Daventry Choral Society, performed Bruch’s Violin Concerto No 1 and Beethoven’s Symphony No 9. Fantastic – and we were hooked.
Rambert Dance Company, Comedy of Change Tour – Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 3rd December 2009
Rambert’s 2009 tour comprised Henri Oguike’s Tread Softly, Mark Baldwin’s Comedy of Change and Siobhan Davies’ Carnival of the Animals. A wonderful selection of challenging dance and crowd pleasers.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs – Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 26th December 2009
We took our nieces, their parents and the inlaws to see Northampton’s big family panto which starred Linda Lusardi as Queen Lucrietia and Sam Kane as Prince Michael. Pete Hillier was Muddles, and Emily Shaw Snow White. A very enjoyable and glamorous panto. Great fun.
And from 1st January 2010 I started my blog, so if you want to catch up on any more old shows, simply go to the date index on the blog and read at your leisure!
Les Ballets Trockadero de Monte Carlo – Birmingham Hippodrome, 8th November 2008
We saw the Trocks’ 2008/9 UK tour twice – the first time at the Birmingham Hippodrome – with the classic programme of Swan Lake Act II, Le Grand Pas de Quatre and Paquita, as well as the surprise pas de deux and the Dying Swan. For Swan Lake, the wonderful Lariska Dumbchenko was our Odette, Ashley Romanoff-Titwillow our Siegfried, and Yuri Smirnov our von Rothbart. Always a joy! It was at this performance that I bought a poster that still graces my study wall!
Noises Off – Milton Keynes Theatre, 15th November 2008
This touring production of Michael Frayn’s brilliant Noises Off was fantastic as always, with a terrific turn by Jonathan Coy as Lloyd and also featuring Colin Baker as Selsdon and Maggie Steed as Dotty. Never gets old.
Hamlet – Royal Shakespeare Company at the Novello Theatre, London, 15th December 2008
The hugely successful and hot ticket production of Hamlet starring David Tennant as the Dane – and in which the majority of the audiences saw Edward Bennett in the role (as we did) because David Tennant injured his back. Always worth pointing out that you should never book a show purely on the strength of a star performer (but of course we always do.) The main thing that arose from this Gregory Doran production was what a star Mr Bennett is, taking over the role at very short notice and making a massive career move out it. A great show, certainly helped by Patrick Stewart playing Claudius, Oliver Ford Davies as Polonius, and John Woodvine as the Player King.
Cinderella – Derngate Auditorium, Royal and Derngate, Northampton, 26th December 2008
By now we had moved to Northampton, and our first taste of our local theatre was a big family Boxing Day trip to see its panto, Cinderella, starring Jimmy Osmond as Buttons. Not sure what expectations I had, but Jimmy Osmond is pure heart on stage – a true Mr Entertainer and he made the show go with an absolute swing. Superbly enjoyable.
A Little Night Music – Menier Chocolate Factory, London, 28th December 2008
Trevor Nunn directed this beautifully intimate production of A Little Night Music, with so many star turns among the cast that it was hard to keep up. Hannah Waddingham was terrific as Desiree, but it also had Alexander Hanson as Fredrik, Maureen Lipman as Madame Armfeld, Jessie Buckley as Anne, Kaisa Hammarlund as Petra and Gabriel Vick as Henrik. The perfect post-Christmas treat. Superb.
Sleeping Beauty – The Theatre, Chipping Norton, 8th January 2009
To date our only trip to the charming little theatre at Chippy, this version of Sleeping Beauty was written by Graeme Garden. But the main reason for going was so that we could see our friend, Eurovision’s Dame Nicki French, appearing as Queen Jenny. An intimate theatre that produces a great vibe and the panto was enormous fun.
King Lear – Young Vic, London, 28th February 2009
We bought tickets to see this on hearing about Pete Postlethwaite’s amazing performance as Lear; it’s still thought of as one of the best Lears in modern memory. To be honest, I wasn’t that keen. Rather a sparse production that I felt lacked gravitas. But I was in the minority!
The New Yorkers – Lost Musicals at the Lilian Baylis Studio, Sadler’s Wells, London, 5th April 2009
Passing over our second visit to the Trocks this season, this time at the Milton Keynes Theatre, with exactly the same programme, our next show was another of Ian Marshall Fisher’s wonderful resurrections of an old lost musical – Cole Porter and Herbert Fields’ The New Yorkers, a 1930 musical with one memorable song, Love for Sale. The super cast included Craige Els, Anna Francolini, Sandra Marvin, Ursula Smith and Jon Robyns. I miss those Lost Musicals shows!
Boeing Boeing – Milton Keynes Theatre, 10th April 2009
Breaking my usual rule about not repeating productions here that I’d already seen, I have to include this touring version of Boeing Boeing that we had seen in London two years earlier, simply because it was just so fantastically good. Interestingly it starred the real life Marquez brothers, Martin as Bernard and John as Robert, and also included Victoria Wood As Seen On TV’s Susie Blake as the hard-nosed maid Bertha. Sheer joy.
Rookery Nook – Menier Chocolate Factory, London, 26th April 2009
Moving past the touring production of Cabaret at the Milton Keynes Theatre which we really loved until the end when Wayne Sleep dissed the entire audience by abruptly ending the curtain call (I ended up having words with Bill Kenwright himself about the matter!) our next show was the Menier’s revival of Ben Travers’ 1926 play Rookery Nook, one of the famous Aldwych Farces. It did feel dated, but then again, it was still funny, with a particularly excellent performance from Mark Hadfield as Harold Twine, the original Robertson Hare role. By now we were firmly in love with the Menier and rarely missed a show!