Various Edinburgh Fringe venues, Edinburgh, Scotland

02/08/2013 - 26/08/2013

Edinburgh Fringe 2013

Production Details

The Edinburgh Festival Fringe is the largest arts festival in the world and takes place every August for three weeks in Scotland’s capital city. 

Every year thousands of performers take to a multitude of stages all over Edinburgh to present shows for every taste. From big names in the world of entertainment to unknown artists looking to build their careers, the festival caters for everyone and includes theatre, comedy, dance, physical theatre, musicals, operas, music, exhibitions and events. 

Weekly Wraps from the Edinburgh Fringe will be filed on Theatreview to give a taste of this year’s theatre fare. Performances of New Zealand productions – or shows with a Kiwi connection – are separately reviewed under their own titles (see: Hairy Maclary and Friends; Squidboy; The Bitches Box; In Flagrante; Nick: An Accidental Hero; No Holds Bard).

Wrap #1

At ZOO, Edinburgh

Presented by ANTLER
At Underbelly Cowgate, Edinburgh

Presented by Wee Stories
At Summerhall, Edinburgh

Wrap #3: A man, a couple, a woman …

Review by Robbie Nicol 27th Aug 2013

For the past three weeks I have been living in Edinburgh during the Festival. I am yet to visit Edinburgh. Edinburgh during the Festival has twice the population of Edinburgh, it has a different time zone (up at one, asleep at five), and it even comes with a different currency (70 pence to the pound).

Once the International Arts Festival has had its fireworks finale everything will be cheaper, the streets will be quieter, and we’ll start to see dawn after we’ve slept rather than before. I’m not quite ready to emigrate from one city to the next, but at least the final week has brought with it some magnificent theatre.

Eleven months to go, everybody. Here’s to the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, 2014.

by Dominic Grace
Presented by Milan Govedarica and Tullaroan Productions
at theSpace on the Mile

We all have family stories, and family secrets. Joe from Leeds has more than most. Chris Hill has directed this new piece by Dominic Grace with a mastery of the minimal. Left on stage with little more than a chair, Joe guides us through a series of captivating stories, giving glimpses of childhood memories and Irish folklore in a blend of the written word, the spoken word, and the truth.

It isn’t easy playing a vulnerable character while remaining likeable. Vince Gilligan once speculated that the reason nobody liked Skylar from Breaking Bad was because she was powerless and nobody wants to empathise with a powerless character. Luke Adamson manages to offset his character’s victimhood with an irrepressible love of literature. Adamson weaves through the drifting stories of Joe’s childhood with a passion for stories that feels genuine, never succumbing to the irritating stereotype many actors would have found in the text.

Rabbitskin approaches the idea of hiding within stories, and unfortunately the core storyline hides a little too well. We struggle to be shocked by the play’s twist ending, because we haven’t been given enough context. Rabbitskin would be best to keep the winding vagueness of the production going right to the end, and worry less about giving the audience closure. The flyer tells us, “All stories must come to an end, but that bit Joe doesn’t want to tell.” Perhaps Dominic Grace should have listened to his character.

The Man in the Moone
Presented by Rhum and Clay Theatre Company
at Pleasance Courtyard

The Man in the Moone begins with an hilarious caricature of our own world that captures the essence of modern life. Later, the essence of the world our protagonist escapes to is not so well captured, but it is only because of Rhum and Clay’s earlier brilliance that we expect so much from their conclusion.

With intense physicality, the cast of four become caricatures of businessmen. Together they shape the life of ‘the Man’ played by Julian Spooner. There is something so spookily recognisable about their sound and movement that the audience can’t help but laugh at the tragedy of their everyday life.

At one point the co-workers look at the Man, alarmed by something he has done, and he regains their support by shouting “ten percent, guarantor, mezzanine” into his bluetooth earpiece. But the Man is not like the others.

He stares into a pool (simulated with a torch shining through a water bottle) and heads home on a bus (a torch moving repetitively past his face, as if a series of streetlights outside a window), and – after some of the most ingenious prop use I have ever seen – it is clear that he is more committed to an idea than he is to his current world. A beautiful dance sequence between Matthew Wells as the Man’s wife and Spooner as the Man moves us into the next phase of the performance.

We are introduced to a series of symbolic characters ready to help the Man on his journey to the other. Christopher Harrison’s Explorer is played with captivating charisma, Daniel Wilcox is well-cast as the Preacher who gets a little carried away, and Matthew Wells’ Spaceman is the most extraordinary addition of all, crash-landing next to the other three characters as they try and hitch a ride to the moon.

When good art manages to express something succinctly, it succeeds in creating something that all people can interact with. That is what the artist strives to do: inhale the world in great detail, and exhale it as a single line of truth that all humans can connect to and empathise with.

It is Rhum and Clay’s initial ability to do this that makes us expect even more from the ending of The Man in the Moon.The ending we are given is very clever, but the story of the Man is a story about all of us. We are desperate to keep feeling that connection, that poignant beauty, in order to understand what it is that is waiting for us if we choose to escape.

Rhum and Clay might still be too young to know the answer to that question as well as they know the world that needs leaving behind. One can only hope that they continue to put everything they have learnt into theatre as beautiful as The Man in the Moone.

Damsel in Shining Armour
Presented by Finger In The Pie
at Underbelly, Cowgate

When you are in love, you can actively see that you are being an idiot, but there is something immeasurably satisfying about giving into that idiocy. Damsel Sophie lives within this dichotomy.

Like a female Woody Allen, Sophie Walsh-Harrington presents a series of passionate failures described with fantastic wit, and enabled by an inability to learn.

She travels to Paris where she is disappointed that she isn’t “more like that Amelie bird”, and falls in love with a man who gives her nothing but a love for Celine Dion. Her lust for melodrama leads her to Melbourne in a quest to find Ramsay Street, but the Australians keep trying to claim that Neighbours is a fictional television show.

Damsel Sophie regularly bursts into song, demonstrating an extraordinary set of pipes. The pianist that accompanies her is the sort of quiet person that one might imagine the self-obsessed Sophie would commandeer, and together they present a musical front that keeps the room buzzing.

On the night that I hear Sophie’s story, an extremely cheerful Chinese man is sitting in the front row. He seems to have no idea what was going on and regularly shouts encouragement. He starts with a loud “Welcome to the stage!” once Sophie has made her way through the audience.

You must hope something like this happens on the night you are there. The way Walsh-Harrington deals with the unexpected reveals exactly why she won Best Cabaret at the Adelaide Fringe in 2011.

At one point Sophie receives some bad news. It worries me for a moment – I think that the show is going to try and introduce tragedy where it doesn’t belong. It seems as though it might try and make an emotional leap that it hasn’t earned, but there is no need to worry.

The news is not so bad it changes the tone of the show, but just bad enough to remind us that melodrama isn’t all it’s cracked up to be: “The hero is not ready to love, the heroine is only pretending to be afraid, and the villain makes us real.”

The glee that comes from Sophie Walsh-Harrington’s Damsel in Shining Armour never reaches an upper-limit, and at one point I feel seriously concerned that, as a critic, I shouldn’t be allowed to enjoy a show this much while trying to stay objective.

It is difficult to explain why it is that Damsel in Shining Armour is quite so brilliant. The pacing of Walsh-Harrington’s jokes manages to keep the hilarity building, and by the time the ‘big finale’ requires audience participation, we are nearly already on our feet.

Damsel Sophie might struggle to find love, but Damsel in Shining Armour has won my adoration with ease.


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Wrap #2: the quest for life and confronting death

Review by Robbie Nicol 20th Aug 2013

There are a number of things you learn as a critic at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe: a media pass is unnecessary so long as you can speak; as far as Edinburgh is concerned a city cannot have too many independent bookstores; when the third week rolls around and the actors start to give up on handing out flyers, you miss their tenacity a lot more than you thought you would.

There is only one week left of the Fringe. Festival favourites are beginning to emerge. Shows that have had consistently good reviews are packed out, and others have dwindling audiences. The city is still buzzing, but not quite as madly as before.

With one week to go, things are beginning to simmer again as the performers realise there is nothing left to lose. Last week was a week of metatheatre, childhood imagination and death. Next week begins the epic gauntlet of closing nights.

Presented by Cambridge University ADC
At C venues – C

I have run to what, according to the Scotsman, is the “most talked about Fringe venue of the year”. I have made it just in time, and so I sit back on a couch in the foyer wiping sweat from my forehead. A young venue operator kitted out in all the official passes and earpieces sits down next to me. She is panicking. It seems changes are happening left, right and centre and she is struggling to manage them so close to opening.

She also happens to be the first actor on stage. Oh, very clever, Cambridge – you got me. And so the play progresses: a consistently well-acted, occasionally tongue-in-cheek performance that never ceases to prioritise cleverness, often at the expense of emotional impact.

Rather than interrupt the standard rehearsal of another of Luigi Pirandello’s plays, in the Cambridge adaptation of Six Characters in Search of an Author, the characters interrupt a panicked rehearsal of a student Fringe show. There are a number of self-referential jokes, although at times phrases such as “it’s only student theatre” seem more self-deprecating than self-referential.

The ideas in Six Characters in Search of an Author are no easy thing to tackle. In a pivotal speech, the father insists that it is unfair to judge his entire being based on a single moment, and yet that is what must happen to him as a character in a play. People are many, he asserts. They are in a constant state of change. They are a different person today than they were yesterday. This is not the case, he continues, with the characters of a play.

The original script of Pirandello captures these ideas with subtlety. It takes the notion that something that happened once is always happening, and blends it with the craft of an actor. Actors attempt to breach the gap between a writer’s imagination and objective reality, and yet Pirandello constantly calls that reality into question.

The Cambridge University Amateur Dramatic Club is often heavy handed in its presentation of these ideas. Closing the gap between distilled art and real life is an impossible task, so it is important that we understand the absurdity of what the actor attempts to do. But while the comic relief of the actors is invaluable in highlighting this absurdity at the beginning of the performance, nearer the end Cambridge’s backstage gags undermine the sincerity of the performance.

A lot of the production also becomes visually confusing – the doll that portrays the young boy constantly fades in and out of sight until he is suddenly centre stage with a gun. Similarly, the music can often be inappropriate – we are not clubbing, we are witnessing tragedy.

Atri Banerjee has impressively abbreviated the play, and the cast displays some truly wonderful acting. Victoria Fell’s vulnerability as the step-daughter is all-compelling, and Olivia Stocker a fixed maternal character right to the end.

However, despite the show’s numerous strengths, the piece too often lacks the sincerity to impact the audience as it ought to. Hugh Stubbins delivers the climactic monologue as well as any actor could, but with the muddled blocking, the inappropriate music, and a few too many glib moments, the audience has been left behind some time before he starts talking.

The script is clever, and what remains of the original play is very stimulating intellectually. Unfortunately, the piece fails to deliver an equally powerful emotional response.

Presented by HookHitch Theatre
At C venues – C nova

HookHitch Theatre has put together a piece that is at times powerfully acted, at times beautiful, and that regularly connects us to our own childhood. Although, as the performance ends and sniffs are heard throughout the crowd, I can’t help but think that sometimes death is not used to start a discussion, but rather because it is guaranteed to gain a powerful reaction from the audience.

Regardless, This Was the World and I was King revisits familiar themes in a manner that has a simple clarity, and most of the audience are deeply moved by the production.

The moments that make This Was the World and I was King soar are the moments of imagination from the children reading their father’s stories from the front line (we’re in the first world war here). When King Thomas the teddy bear comes alive and their father confronts a lion in Africa, beautiful hand-carved puppets enter the performance. Casey Jay Andrews (also the producer and co-writer) has designed the most beautiful puppetry I have seen this Fringe (although I’m yet to see The Fantasist).

The actors develop wonderful imagery of the backyard in which they play, simply from the creative use of three or four old cases, and it becomes clear why British mythology developed as it did. The work is based on the poetry of Robert Louis Stevenson, and it ends up feeling like the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe with make-believe in the place of fantasy.

George Jennings, the musical director of the production, plays guitar and beats a bass drum throughout the performance. His Mumford and Sons type music is peskily moving and adds a lot to the performance. Many in the cast sing at times, with almost all of them singing beautifully at the end.

George Jennings also plays Jack, who is hired “from the village” to maintain the house that the children are staying at while their father is at war. When Evelyn invites Jack to stay for lunch I can’t help but be reminded of Orwell’s criticisms of Dickens: showing rich people being nice to poor people makes it seem alright for some to be very wealthy and others to be destitute. True to Orwell’s criticism, Jack does not receive much character development, and we continue to focus on the wealthy family.

The portrayal of this family is convincing. Steve McCourt plays the iconic wartime father, and when he snaps at his daughters due to illness, mothers in the audience have to comfort their children. Laura Hannawin as Lilly is just superb. Her childlike exuberance is captivating right from when the audience walks in.

David Thackeray plays an appropriately authoritative Uncle, and Nathan Foad gets a number of laughs trying to obey the rules but succumbing to the whimsical imaginations of his sisters.

The main tagline on the flyer of This was the World and I was King is “a triumph of originality”. HookHitch often triumph in their revisiting of old themes, but the claim of originality is one I think inappropriate. The way it plays with the imagination of childhood, blended in with the difficulty of loss in times of war is accurate, but it is a revisiting of themes we have seen regularly since the war happened nearly a hundred years ago.

Presented by The Wrong Crowd
At Underbelly, Cowgate

Death has been a primary focus in this year’s Fringe, from Wet Picnic’s splendid Death and Gardening to Richard Herring’s latest stand-up gig We’re all Going to Die!

The story of Baba Yaga, the murderous witch that lives in the forest, has been a part of eastern European folklore for centuries, and yet our attitudes to death don’t seem to have changed too much. There is still something deeply taboo about the skulls hanging from ropes around the sides of the stage, and about the murderous crone we are about to witness.

The Wrong Crowd have visited the Fringe once before with The Girl with the Iron Claws. Although itreportedly doesn’t live up to this hugely successful first outing, Hag is still a mesmerising performance. The strength that comes from accepting of death is still a powerful message, and wonderful costume and set design bring to life a compelling narrative considering that theme.

Laura Cairns plays the titular hag. With a thick Glaswegian accent and a penchant for children’s flesh, she is both charismatic and terrifying. Cairns plays the monster with a likeability that gives the audience important cues about where the show is going. We are given a little hope that life for our protagonist might not be solely tragic.

Baba Yaga’s costume is extraordinary. Thick Hessian-like material covers Cairns in a thick layer, coming complete with a fake arm and hand. This allows Cairns’s real hand to hold a mask in front of her face. It is covered in porcupine quills and attached to her body with a long thin neck made of rags.

The masks that constitute the ugly stepsisters are as over-the-top as the way they are acted. Tom McCall makes an impressive turn-around as a Stepsister after being the appropriately blank and useless fairy-tale Father. Theone Rashleigh is repulsive as the evil Stepmother, and the extremely talented Sarah Hoare plays the fine line between fragile child and strong heroine admirably.

When the doll left to Lisa by her mother begins to come alive (with an eerie music box playing in the background) the magic really takes off. The play moves from Cinderella, to Hansel and Gretel, to the story of Orpheus and Eurydice, without ever losing sight of the specific story it is trying to tell.

The story of Lisa is a classic hero’s journey: a terrible event befalls her; she is treated awfully; she is given a small guide to help her; she bravely sets out into the unknown; she is forced to face a series of tasks; she must face the final task alone … and so on and so on.

The reason these are staples of storytelling is that they force the audience to invest emotionally, and allow the performers to explore a variety of themes while always holding our attention.

Hag is a beautiful example of good storytelling. It can be very dark at times, but I’d still bring children along. It’s only as bad as the Grimm fairy tales, and as far as I’m concerned, the more open we are about death the better.

So long as everyone in the audience has a hand to hold when things are looking especially bleak, all ages should be able to appreciate Hag’s strong moral core, and the gentleness Baba Yaga shows around the edges.


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Wrap #1: shows for the young

Review by Robbie Nicol 12th Aug 2013

Apparently the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is on the fringe of something, but you’d never know. With almost 2,500 shows on offer in 2013, a quarter of which are free, the Fringe has almost too much to offer. Comedy dominates slightly, but cabaret, dance, theatre, and music are hot on its heels. Not to mention the night-life (there is a thing called Hot Dub Time Machine and if you think it sounds fantastic, I can promise you it is even better than it sounds).

With so many things to see, it can all be a little overwhelming for a small Kiwi lad. At any rate, here are three pieces of theatre I came across in my first week here:

At ZOO, Edinburgh

Shaun Tan’s beautiful source material inspires good creativity, but FEATHERWEIGHT’s The Red Tree feels as though it isn’t quite ready. Tan’s picture book is one of the first works he completed independently. The story follows a young girl who feels as though her life isn’t falling into place, and who feels as though it’s impossible to do anything about it.

As a Tanatic (a Shaun Tan fanatic) I always felt The Red Tree was a discussion of depression, and the normal human insecurities that lead us to it. Heavy stuff for a children’s show, but the understated metaphor of Shaun Tan gives FEATHERWEIGHT an easy access point for the big ideas.

The show captures a sense of the book, which is the ultimate test of an adaptation – not to trace the original work but to express something of its beauty. The scene titled ‘And then all your troubles come at once’ has one actor navigating a series of paper boats dangling on strings, mapping the terrain of an imaginary ocean. The little boat of the Girl, our protagonist, is lit from within, as a flashing light and a spray bottle create the illusion of crashing waves and lightning.

Moments like this are many, as the play uses original methods to express text and image. Shaun Tan’s book moves from one idea to another with the ease of turning a page, and translating this onto the stage requires a creativity FEATHERWEIGHT happily possesses.

The soundscape created by Rob Hart follows and leads the show only to the extent that it needs to be followed and led, and the lighting, presumably designed by the ensemble, while somewhat gimicky, is appropriate for a children’s show.

George Wigzell, the director and one of only three actors, has the discipline necessary of a chorus member impacting our lonely protagonist. Joined by the extreme facial expressions of fellow chorus member, Caroline Milsom, the protagonist (played humbly by Madeline Shann) is left as powerless as she ought to be. 

Despite the creativity successfully meeting the depth of the source material, the show is let down by an awkwardness of movement. Where there needs to be highly polished choreography, there are awkward handovers, and a lack of synchronicity.

This is the first long run for a show that began work in May, so perhaps the polish will come. One hopes this is the case, especially when it’s a story that deserves to be told so well, and especially by a company that clearly has such originality in their grasp. In a festival with so much to see, The Red Tree might not be worth a visit just yet, but it has the potential to grow into the ideas it seeks to express.

Word of warning for those with littl’uns: the show is heavily dependent on the revelation of a number of sentences, including complicated phrases like “terrible fates are inevitable.” Prepare to quietly read a picture book into your child’s ear as the show progresses. 

Presented by ANTLER
At Underbelly Cowgate, Edinburgh

The Big Belly with its proscenium arch made of white corrugated iron, feels like being inside a giant metal sheep. There is little time to admire Tirau however – as soon as the last audience member has sat down we are transported to the wintry ‘White’.

The cleverly choreographed trek through the blizzard (created with gorgeous harmonies and the flapping of each others clothes) that begins the show is repeated throughout Where the White Stops, as it should be in a piece about a character determined to seek adventure.

The company oozes with the charisma of a cast that is both very young and very good at what they do. Full of the best Mighty Boosh-esque comedy, the mythology of Where the White Stops is deeply convincing. The lyrical chanting of the cast only adds to the magic, as a young girl leaves her brother behind to head into the White, and to see what lies beyond. 

Each character plays the part exactly as they ought to. Daniela Pasquini has a clear future ahead of her as a comic actress. Her awkward sideways glances and uncomfortable pauses are something an actor is either capable of or not, and she is most certainly capable.

The energy of Daniel Ainsworth as either the younger brother left behind (spoiler: he might follow), or as the madman keen to rule a nonexistent empire, shoots into the audience with tremendous force.

Nasi Voustas betrays an awareness of his own comedy, which is a failing, but he compensates with a deliciously vague look that calls to mind Hugh Laurie as the Prince Regent in Blackadder the Third.

The girl that decides to go adventuring holds the piece together, and Jasmine Woodcock-Stewart plays the protagonist with a calmness that is effortlessly likeable.

The piece relies on its playfulness, which it fortunately embraces most of the time. When the adventure does briefly turn tragic, the audience is left with little time to build emotion and little time to recover. Regardless, the fantastical storyline and clever prop use make the audience gleeful with satisfaction.

Combined with simple comedy and skilful ensemble work, Where the White Stops feels like the ideal children’s imaginary game. The young cast is a thrill to watch; a talented group to keep watching in the future. 

Presented by Wee Stories
At Summerhall, Edinburgh

Sitting in a tutorial room, with a fellow critic to my right, with pen and paper at the ready, this kid’s show starts off feeling a little bit like a class at university. The entire piece teeters on the edge of lecture (in all senses) throughout, but even at its worst, there is little doubt that Iain Johnstone is your favourite lecturer taking your favourite class.

Beginning with what feels like too many words, followed by what is effectively a slideshow, the production takes a while to get off the ground. But Wee Stories has chosen an historical approach, rather than a scientific one, and Johnstone soon develops a compelling narrative arc about the people that set out to understand the universe. Aristarchus, whose works were lost for many centuries, and Ptolemy, whose work became a sacred text, are both characters skilfully developed on the path to Bruno, Galileo and Buzz Aldrin.

Iain Johnstone still has his keys in his pockets as he talks to us, and he doesn’t dress up further than a hoodie and jeans. This matches the attitude he brings to the work, which is essential.

He doesn’t talk down to the children, because he doesn’t get a lot of it himself. “Get your head around that,” becomes a catchphrase, and at one point he says, frankly, “I don’t understand that theory, so I’m not going to explain it.”

His humble but passionate attitude allows us to feel included in a journey of discovery, rather than feeling as though we are just being told what is correct and what is not. 

The performance includes impressive prop use and set design. Johnstone only has to gesture at the blackboard with chalk for it to light up with detailed illustrations projected onto the surface. Stars drawn onto the board light up and planets rotate. We even grapple with an ancient theory about giant invisible orbs carrying the heavens around in the sky with a prop built live on stage.

The piece really takes off when the smoke machine starts. ‘Facts’ once held as truth by the Catholic Church are quoted in a monastic chant as Johnstone plays a small electric organ. The room dims and we are literally plunged into a period of darkness. He talks about selective truth telling, and mentions that at his age history class was only about white people. It all starts to feel a bit political, but that’s how it should be. Truth does have a political bias; knowing more does change your political outlook. While this theatre is about knowledge, not politics, one simply happens to inform the other. 

The coming of the Renaissance is genuinely exciting, and as dappled lighting spins around the room, Johnstone is brimming with happiness. “On and on,” he shouts, “the lights of knowledge danced across Europe.”

What felt like an unnecessary slideshow at the beginning of the play soon becomes important thematically. The occasional images and footage of our first trip to the moon develop as a metaphor for the discoveries of humankind. Beautiful stories about the first trip to the moon bring home an important message about the fragility of our planet, and the importance of protecting it.

It might sound like too much of a political rant, but really it isn’t. The piece stays on track, right to the end, sharing only the discoveries most important to us as a species, and keeping the children thoroughly entertained. 

The vastness of the ideas in the performance still sit with me, a day later, and they give me moments of joy and humility. It would be nice if the entire work was as exciting as it is at the more theatrical points, and that the straight lecturing was done away with, but this is only a minor niggling point.

Wee Stories’ One Giant Leap weaves a wonderful story about the discovery of truth. It excites and informs with a tale filled with hideous despotism and glorious rebellion. The show is targeted at ten year olds, but it is an important production to see for the wee and the not so wee alike. 


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