28 August 2006

The Edinburgh Festival Does Not Like Irony

Imagine if you will a country that bans smoking in enclosed spaces where people work. Imagine the biggest European comedy festival being held in that country's capital city and building a smoking shelter and enclosing it (and then opening the sides up to be legal). Imagine putting out several tables and chairs and ash trays so the short of breath smokers could then rest a while. Imagine then putting art around this area. Imagine if the art is a collection called 'Extinguished' which shows empty ashtrays from all over Scotland showing just how the ban is working. And imagine if right in front of the opening pictures there was a used ashtray on the table. Ed Byrne will confirm that that is indeed ironic. Sadly though I've just watched the final show of the 2006 Festival, a massive 11 months until it starts again :-(

27 August 2006

The Riot is Cancelled; All Hail King Phil!

As predicted as far back as last August, Phil Nichol has finally and deservedly won the top prize in comedy and the inaugural IF.comedies award for 2006. The riot is cancelled, justice has been done. Go see him in every show he is ever in; he's that damn good!

25 August 2006

If Phil Nichol Doesn't Win Tomorrow We Riot!

Tonight a great crowd saw Phil Nichol blow people away. The show was the same as two weeks ago except for one small story ... that was cut! That's right, this show missed one piece of the story that we heard a few weeks ago but was off the chart; better than five stars! Despite using over half a dozen microphones he explained to us how an argument with his girlfriend turned into a racist, causes world wars and more importantly left him naked! That's right, Phil Nichol is literally The Naked Racist. And for this show he has lots of naked friends and several (male sadly) 'members' of the audience join his naked party, myself included! Here's me, clothed again, covered in Phil Nichol's sweat and telling him once again he is the best thing in the Festival and once again he deserves the Perrier / IF Comedies Award and he'll get it tomorrow night if there's any justice in the world. If not we all riot, agreed? I wonder if he'll get his little guitar out for the awards show?

24 August 2006

Naboer (Next Door)

In 1999 Pål Sletaune rejected the chance to direct American Beauty as he thought the script wasn’t good enough. He was nominated by the trade press Variety way back in 1998 as one of the most exciting directors in the world. This is his third film, all three of which he has written and directed. There is a lot of talk that this is probably the greatest Norwegian film ever made. In my opinion it is one of the best films I’ve ever seen. The only flaw in this film is that the idea was stolen from my mind – I’ve been slowly adding to a very similar film in my head for the past three years! Unfortunately I can’t tell you what my idea was about without spoiling a large part of this masterpiece. What I can tell you is this film is all about John, a guy who has just split up with his girlfriend and starts noticing his two sexy neighbours (naboer in Norwegian). After the opening fifteen minutes the film starts to get very freaky – it’s the type of film you want to go and see if you thought LA Confidential was too straight forward. The final hour creates all sorts of emotions running around your head, building up to the intense dread and fear over the final ten minutes. Some people have said the ending is explained too much (nowhere near like a Holywood film though) but I disagree; I think the little clues scare you when you realise things however there are plot twists right until the end. Do I feel ripped off that the film is only 77 minutes long? Absolutely not, this film is perfectly paced and anymore would be wasted and patronising. Five stars our of five and it sits up there alongside Toy Story, The Exorcist and Irreversible on my all time greats list.

23 August 2006

And The Nominations Are In For 2006!

The re-branded comedy awards, now the IF.Commedies, have just announced their shortlist. After the controversial decision to not give the award to Phil Nichol last year (hell, to not even nominate him was a crime), this year the expected winner is ... Phil Nichol! Phil wins his first nomination since his 2002 show Things I Like To Lick with his currently four star rated show, The Naked Racist. The show should be up to five stars when we re-watch it on Friday. The other, soon to be disappointed, nominees are Russell Howard - Wandering; David O'Doherty - Is My Name; Paul Sinha with Saint or Sinha? and We Are Klang in Klangbang. Russell was pretty good in his preview show so it's not a surprise to see him nominated once he was firing on all four cylinders. Likewise, this time for the Best Newcomer Award, Andrew Lawrence put in a very polished preview and I'm sure stepped up his performance after the opening week. Also up for this award are trio Fat Tongue; spoof folk duo God's Pottery; Josie Long and very widely praised all-round entertainer Russell Kane for his Theory of Pretension. I think Russell has to be the favourite to follow in Tim Minchin's footsteps. We'll find out on Saturday.

22 August 2006

Andrex Moist Toilet Paper Doesn't Make Your Day

On the back of the packet it says "Put a smile on your cheeks with Andrex ® lightly moistened toilet tissue to leave you fresher, cleaner and up for anything". I'm sorry what was that last promise? Maybe innocent people who suddenly feel "up for anything" will think, 'well, it's so clean now you could eat your dinner off it!'. Naughty people may re-read the title of this post and complete it: "...it makes your whole week".

20 August 2006

Demetri Martin – Dr. Earnest Parrot Presents

Three years ago Demetri blew Edinburgh away with his introspective show “If I…” (also the world’s shortest palindrome) and won the Perrier Award. The next year he followed up with a freaky story packed full of jokes about being trapped inside his notebook, “Spiralbound”. Last year he simply delivered “These Are Jokes” without bothering with a theme (although he was a bit over worked last year). His Comedy Central show was in three acts covering the three major areas of comedy: the first stand-up, the second prop comedy and the final was musical. This year’s show, “Dr. Earnest Parrot Presents”, has all three of these segments, as well as a cartoon animation piece and a little bit of shadow puppetry, all wrapped together with an introspective story about him developing a serious mental condition P.H.E.A.L.S. This is when a patient develops a “brain nook” outside his body where he spends a lot of his time. Don’t worry, it all makes sense in Demetri’s world! What is really happening is the same on-going battle he has with trying to be cool and happy. So, there you go. You know very pointless things about his show. What really matters is that he’s great. Anyone who gets on stage and says, “If I ever see an amputee being hung I’m just going to shout out letters”, deserves the title ‘genius’ in my eyes! Some people I know wasn’t blown away by last year’s show as there was no story or link, but they have just beamed about this year’s. The only downside this year is that his two week run was cut down to just over a week. Despite that (as he was the first tickets I booked for the past three years) he gets a full five stars and the recommendation to see him every years he plays.

12 August 2006

Phil Nichol – The Naked Racist

Last year I raved about Phil’s show “Nearly Gay”. This year I, and it seems Stage’s Award Committee, have raved about his acting ability as he is nominated for their Best Actor Award (again) for his performance in Talk Radio. So how does his third daily show stand up? Very similar to last year it’s a one hour story taking us through a large variety of dark places and meeting a variety of equally strange people. Again, the same as last year, Phil is sweating within twenty minutes as he’s already exerted twice the energy of a “normal” comic in a full show. We see how a simple fight with his girlfriend and a bit of very comical name calling can leave him running away from a group of Nazis intent on killing him. Any further detail would ruin some of the many surprises and delightful adventures along the way. So why is this review imminently going to end with only four stars? There was one fault with the show and it wasn’t Phil’s. The front row of the audience consisted of two stag parties (very silly mistake – do *not* sit in the front row unless you want to be the inadvertent star of the show) and a lot of the audience where not the type that should have been watching his show. They were either too old, no where near broadminded enough or didn’t know what things like “tea-bagging” are. Sadly this caused Phil to ask the audience on a few occasions to see if they were really in to it. Despite a positive reaction from several people, the show was cut short by just over ten minutes. It was a little bit disappointing but Phil really needs a crowd that he can energise before his big finale. That is why I’m going back to see him on his final Friday night when hopefully the people there will be there to see him rather than just because he has had five stars in newspapers and online. Even this shortened show with a half dead (age wise) crowd gets four stars, a testament to his raw energy and ability.

9 August 2006

"Sell Out" Means We Are Sold Out, Not the Performers

I've seen an advert for Robin Ince this year and it says on it "Sell Out 2005". I'm sorry? I saw him last year and there were about 13 people in a venue that holds 50. That got me to thinking. I've also seen "Total Sell Out 2005" on posters too. Does that mean that the first line means that they've just sold out one show out of twenty? I hope not otherwise it's the innocent public who've been sold up the river by the deceitful advertising con-men, I mean consultants. I'd really like to find out the official line here, I'm going to try to do it before the end of the Festival to protect my loyal readers.

7 August 2006

Tim Minchin – So Rock

Last year’s Perrier Newcomer Award Winner returns with a show who’s first song has the chorus “I am, so f***in’ rock”. Do you know what? He is. And a lot more. If you go to see Tim deliver quirky bits of stories or weak jokes in between his songs then don't bother – they are quite bad segues. If you go to see Tim for his eight or nine infectious and amusing songs and musical performance art then you'll be glad you paid £12 a head to see him. Tim is a very strange but likable cross between appearance of Robert Smith from The Cure and the manic-ness of Bobcat Goldthwaite. Musically he is far better than Bill Bailey and he can perform with his songs too rather than just sit there (not all songs though). One very popular song from last year was reprised, the very moral “Take Your Canvas Bags To The Super-Market”, this time with a stunning performance during it (that's all I'm saying). Four stars out of five and a 'must see' award – just don't forget your lighter.

Sarah Kendall

Two years ago Sarah was nominated for the Perrier Award (the first female to be nominated since Jenny Eclair won it in 1995 – Lily Savage doesn't count as a woman!). Last year she travelled and avoided the immediate pressure of a return show with all the due expectation. As she returns this year, was the wait worth it? Quite simply, no. The show was just an average run-of-the-mill stand up performance with only two big laughs, one five minutes from the beginning and the other six minutes from the end. In between was fifty minutes of mild smiling and a rare smirk. It was a pleasant hour of story telling from a likable flame-haired Australian, although like all performers she looks many times better on her poster than she does dressed down on stage. Three and a half stars out of five, not worth your time and money, unless you are really at a loose end and there are free tickets being handed out.

My Name is Rachel Corrie

Jim Field Smith, the very same one who shone last night with the rest of Dutch Elm Conservatoire, said to me after this show "Why would you bring a show from London's West End to Edinburgh?". Anyone who wants to see it will have seen it so there can only be one reason - money. Sadly this looks to be true. The play is an hour and a half monologue for which, we are told in advance, there is a strict no re-admittance policy. Ten minutes in and *all* of the half full audience is wondering what the hell that continual banging is (it was weightlifters in the gym). There was an incredible amount of noise outside the Assembly Rooms when we saw True West but we were not disturbed as the great acting by Phil Nichol and Tom Stade, especially the fear he instills, dragged us into their private world which nothing could distract us from. As you've probably already guessed, this play does not have great acting from the leading lady. In fact, it's quite atrocious acting. Yes, it was that bad and if Josephine Taylor wants to pull me up on that comment then I'm quite happy to do what Leonard Rossiter did and show here how it's done! [I'm not really comparing myself the great Mr Rossiter but my front door has less wood than Ms Taylor] Incidentally this was not the same actress who originally played in London and who the reviews on the poster are about (with a one-woman show then how can they use those reviews?), that actress was Megan Dodds. I did mention earlier that this is a 90 minute monologue so when your leading lady can't act (well, deliver lines is really what she is trying to do), then there is not much hope for the show. The real Rachel Corrie's diaries may make an interesting book but the spoken word version just doesn't work. If it can't suck you in even remotely after a third of the performance then it doesn't have much chance later on. And so, 30 minutes in, as everyone is looking around and not at the actress, we collect our things and walk out knowing that we have avoided losing another hour of our lives. Two stars out of five and that's just because a girl died in real life.

Who Do You Think You Are Kidding Mr Smith?

So Mel Smith is going to stand up to the might of the Nazis and flout the Smoking Ban during his play then? I think not. You see, when it came down to it, he was just talking big before hand, made a great deal of publicity, and then sensibly obeyed the law rather than trying ruin the lively-hood of so many people who work for and with the Assembly Rooms. Don't get me wrong, I like Mel Smith as a comic and I love what his directing of the original Mr Bean movie (sequel out in March 2007); but trying to force his own cigar guzzling preference on to us under the guise of art - I don't think so. 'Winston Churchill smoked heavily so I should too when portraying him' is a rough paraphrase of one main argument of this and similar events claiming it's harming their shows. It's not my retort, but I like it so here goes. Did they really inject heroin in their arms during Trainspotting? Do they have sex in reality when you see it 'acted' out. Oops, there's that key work. They act. Pretend. Make-believe. This is ignoring the whole 'Hitler would have been proud' comment he made (did I mention he's staring in a play about Churchill that costs £15 a ticket? I think there is some subtle reference to it somewhere in something he said). So just who do you think you are kidding Mr Smith If you Old Scotland's done? Just as you though the hysteria had died down and Mel can hang out of the window to proclaim "victory", he gets slapped with a £50 for smoking indoors - hanging out of a window doesn't get you around the ban! Surely that means that standing outside and hanging your arm in is okay, as so many people do as they creep millimetres outside the door of a bar and let great plumes of smoke be sucked inside the building while they are technical outside. But hey, that's an issue for another day.

Is 5+1 Greater Than 4 Or Does 2 Surpass Them Both?

I have had the pleasure of testing Gillette's new Fusion razor for a few days before it becomes available to the public (Monday 7th August). A few weeks ago I was wandering down the road and happened to muse to myself "I wonder when Gillette are going to try to match or beat Wilkinson Sword's four blades?". A few weeks later this special pre-release sample come through my door (after I asked for it of course). My razor of choice is the Panasonic ES8163 which is part of their Linear Drive line of electric razors that oscillate at 13,000 rpm and do not slow down as the battery wears down. The last two razors I tried was the Gillette Mach 3 Turbo (the silly battery powered one that did absolutely nothing extra) and Wilkinson Sword's Quattro (I thought that was a type of car?). Having used it for several days now I have to say I'm quite impressed. The five blades definitely makes a difference in the number of strokes needed however the blades don't get as close as my Panasonic without shaving in the opposite direction to my hair growth (*the* classic shaving faux pas). The single blade on the back, designed for your sideburns or under the nose, is excellent! It works so well and gives you a really nice line by virtue of it being essentially a lose razor blade edge you can just score a centimetre down your face. It is a lot better than the pop-up trimmers on any electric razor. My biggest complaint is that the hair grows back quite sore as they are being cut at a harsh angle by the blade as I slowly move it; my Panasonic cuts so quick the hairs are a lot softer growing back. In short it has pushed me closer than I have ever been to switching back to a manual blade, however I think I'm going to stick with my extra special Panasonic and its brand new set of ultra-sharp cutters (you are supposed to change them every year but hat's not why I did it though, I broke one of mine!). How sharp are they? I cut myself the first time I used it - that's right, I cut myself with and electric razor and I'm not the only one with this killer machine.

6 August 2006

Newsrevue 2006

I was there two years ago when they became the world's longest running live comedy show. Do you think they'd still be going if they weren't any good? They sell out each year, they provide a fast paced and fully packed hour of sketches, satire and musical comedy. John Prescott gets a great deal of attention this year, as does the other key failures in Blair's crumbling government. ITV news is lampooned in a couple of brilliant ways as too are Channel 4. A much better venue than last year, bigger too, but less use of props or costumes changes. This should be on TV as there really has been a dearth of decent satirical sketch comedy since ... Spitting Image? Four stars out of five and a continuation of my on-going "see them every year" award.

Andrew Maxwell - Round Twilight

The post for this year's show says 'the best comic on the circuit - The Daily Telegraph'. Now while the Daily Torygraph maybe many things, it, like the other broadsheets, knows its art. So with very high hopes I went to see Andrew Maxwell. The phrase "don't believe the hype" springs to mind. Nobody is allowed to live on their reputation, every night you go out there you have to perform. This year's show from Andrew Maxwell is weak, self-indulgent and down right poor. A current trend amongst lesser comics who have a mild bit of TV coverage is not so much to name drop, but to deliberately write or set their stories in the TV studios. If Andrew really did make some political comments on Big Brother's (aka Why Bother's) magazine show then leave it be. Coming on stage and saying "I said the funniest thing six months ago, listen to me bore you for five minutes while I basically recount something that has already broadcast on a very crappy timeslot and nobody has watched". A few 'jokes' about saying the wrong things whilst stoned is the repertoire of the student, not a professional comic. So gutted was I by this performance I will give a warning for next year's show - avoid it until a respectable reviewer says he has made up for this joke of a show. Two stars out of five and my very first "Avoid at all costs" warning.

Now on to The Scotsman again. They really are becoming the bain of my life at the moment. Somehow, some nobody called Jay Richardson has just given this show a full five stars. Funny that, because one of the countries most respected comedy critics (his name escapes me for the moment) has just give him two out of five and said he was quite poor this year. Let's leave it open to the people to decide, oh, the current average if 3/5 with several 2 or lower reviews at edfringe.com. If I was paying £12 to see him I'd demand my money back.

Dutch Elm Conservatoire In Prison

Last year I wrote, having seen Dutch Elm Conservatoire only briefly during the very poor Perrier Award show, that I didn't think that they should have been nominated for the award. Unlike other people, notably Laura Solon and Jason Manford, it wasn't due to lack of ability or talent, I just felt they didn't fit in to the vague definition of the then Perrier Award. A few months ago Jim Field Smith, a shining star from DEC, sent me an email having read my comments here. After I got over the shock of Jim actually taking the time to email me and get a real feel of what people on the street were saying, rather than kissing up to Fleet Street hacks, we had a brief chat and I concluded with the following thoughts: "Improvisation and breaking the fourth wall seem key to differentiating between a play and a character or sketch show". Jim promised me I'd reconsider my thoughts about his group when I saw them this year for the full hour and I gladly informed him I already had tickets. The date was set and an invitation was even extended to hang around after to meet up (although other shows and the need to eat prevented that, we did meet up the next night). With all that said, it is finally time to get in to my actual review of DEC...

Excellent. Thoroughly enjoyable, very funny and a cert to be back up for the Perrier (now If Comedies) Award this year. The five males who make up DEC play all the parts of this connected comic story about prison and an attempt to escape. It's kind of reminiscent of The Goodies where the stories weren't great but that didn't matter because they just kept you laughing all along. It is definitely not a comedy play. If it was it would get two stars as the dialogue is unbelievable and plot (intentionally) bad. As a character comedy story it is great, from the macho gay warden to the 6' 7" black gangster Furious P, played by smallest member of their all white cast. There are shockingly offensive accents, clever and funny songs and some great political humour. Within the first five minutes they'd ad-libbed, within the first ten minutes they'd broken the fourth wall and during a time passage segment they chatted about the other shows worth seeing in this year's Festival. In short, I was wrong. Jim, you and the journalist who praised you and nominated you last year are right. Four stars out of five and only my third "must see" of this year's Festival. Jim told me the next night that this show is better than last year's one so it's bound to be in the running for the top award this year. In DEC related news, I believe they are in discussion to make a television series and a radio version of last year's hit show too. The only downside is that they are unlikely to be back here next year as a group :-(

[As a final aside, it seems tonight is the night we find out that The Scotsman newspaper employs talentless hacks who wouldn't know good entertainment if it came up and bit them in their arse (a body part they are more used to kissing). Quoting Fiona Shepherd who only gave DEC 2 stars, "[they] explore these elements [of a prison break] through the medium of musical theatre". What utter rubbish! This is character / sketch comedy at its best and just because it uses a couple of songs (Furious P's raps mostly) does not make it musical theatre. The next review has a very interesting story about The Scotsman's inability to judge a show too.]

5 August 2006

Jump

Not a lot of people know that this South Korean group's native name translates as "House of Pain". Okay, maybe not. What I do know for certain is that Jump where won of the stars of last year's Festival. Didn't catch them? No, neither did I. The good news for us is that this is exactly the same show as they put on last year. As I sat there in my poor seat, I started devolving (yes, that's a valid word here) back in to my childhood self. Within the first five minutes they has quickly established each person's character through the perfectly pitched use of slapstick and the universal language of physical comedy. A cross between Gamarjobat (excellent show last year, playing again this year) and Caesar Twins with a underlying basis of a wide variety of martial arts training. The show is set around a day in the life of a family of three generations of martial arts experts. The comedy is interspersed occasionally with a dance/practise session with a weapon (assuming you count their bodies as a weapon) which is equally as impressive as the Caesar Twins, some people (such as me) would argue more so. As it builds to its crescendo we see then perform truly amazing feats including running up a 12-15 foot vertical wall! A guaranteed seventy five minutes of hilarity and amazement for a child of any age. My first full five stars of the Festival - you'd be mad to miss it.

The Civilians - (I Am) Nobody's Lunch

During the "Shock and Awe" era, the group behind this show did hundreds of vox-pop interviews on everything from "How do you know what you know?" to "Can you believe the News or Governments?" and incorporating "Is Tom Cruise gay?". From the special introduction at the start of the play to explain a few things you get a really good feeling. That was disrupted in my case as there was an unattended bag left in the room and it caused all sorts of mayhem. For the cast that is, it's all part of their elaborately clever weaving of story, interviews and musical numbers. The New York Times describes it as "A vaudevillian romp through the anxious chatter of contemporary America" and who I am to argue with them. I'm Phill Gillespie as it happens and I can argue with who I like, however they have got it spot on - they only forgot to mention how many stars it gets. The answer, if you can believe what you read of course, is a thoroughly enjoyable and top rated five stars together with an endorsement from me for any intelligent thinker to go and enjoy it, it's worth every penny!

True West

Pulitzer Prize winner Sam Shepard's story is brought to Edinburgh, but where will we find an actor to play alongside the very powerful Tom Stade.  But I thought Tom Stade is a stand-up comic? Yes he is, as too is the small part assigned to Dave Johns. So who's the other lead then? That'll be the omni-present Phil Nichol, winner of the Stage Best Actor Award 2005. After this he has an hour and a half before Talk Radio, then another hour and a half before his stand up show The Naked Racist. Phil plays the very quite brother to Tom's aggressive criminal elder brother. Both of the leads put in really strong performances but the biggest problem is with the script. About two-thirds of the way through the play the tone changes and all of a sudden there are laughs a plenty (coinciding with when Phil gets to let loose). I don't really know if it was necessary to build up such tension for the first half to be able to generate the concluding laughs but the change of focus for a while was a little distracting. That said, the venue has its left most wall exposed on to the noisy Rose Street and nobody heard the buskers or general festival raucous from outside after the first five minutes as you get sucked into their world very quickly. Good acting, a good story but just missing something to give it that extra star so it only gets three out of five. If you're a massive fan of Phil Nichol then go see it, otherwise watch him in Talk Radio to get a better value performance.

Mark Watson: I'm Worried I'm Starting to Hate Everyone

Mark Watson's full title of his show is I'm Worried That I'm Starting to Hate Almost Everyone in the World but that's just too long for my website. Mark's performance last year was awarded with a Perrier Newcomer nomination and if you recall I said of him "I have never seen a comic like him". I said that because they over-sold the venue and I never actually saw him, so second time lucky. The show was delayed due to problems with the mic although Mark never used it during the show, except to hang his coat on. Despite the elaborate title and set up about being mugged, the show boils down to six short stories about the six deadly sins (yes six, he combines Greed and Gluttony, both symbolised by a pig). Out of the six stories (and intro and wrap up) I was only really amused on three occasions and they were more clever gags than side-splitters. That's not to say Mark isn't entertaining, he is, he's just not one of the top performers but he's not a dud. Despite being very amiable I can only give him three stars out of five. The show isn't a must see, but if you see someone flyering that will give you a discount (so they can then use Total Sell Out 2006 on next year's advertising) then go see him, but I don't think you'll thank me if you've paid £10 each a head.

4 August 2006

Caesar Twins

Two pale, blond, short but muscle-bound athletes stand half naked at the front of the stage. Pierre (the one with the tattoo around his right arm) introduces himself, mostly to the ladies. His brother Pablo then takes the mike and does likewise. What we don't find out until a lot later is that four years ago Pablo fell 16 feet from the top of the moving Wheel of Death whilst performing for a circus in Germany and is lucky to be alive. He awoke from his coma after several days and was paralysed down his right side. Four and a half months later the twins open their first 'solo' show. The show is basically various ways of expressing their physical and gymnastic abilities whilst amusing, stunning and confusing the audience. Alongside the twins we have a semi naked female singer who is partially a contortionist (her shoulders only, calm down gentlemen) oft accompanied by a very soulful male saxophonist.

The show ranges from jumping to flipping, balancing to fighting, flying on cables to back-flipping into a small pool of water and a lot more. If you want a semi serious and always sexual (male and female participants) show then I would pick this over Jump. Make sure you turn up early to get a good central seat and be prepared to do a lot of clapping (not just because they are good, but the standard response is to applaud each feat much as you would laugh at a comic). Even at full price they are worth seeing, although you may not appreciate it fully during the performance as you will often be sitting their memorised and stunned. Four stars out of five and another "go see" badge awarded tonight.

Talk Radio

One of the brightest stars of last year's Festival combines with the director of Jerry Springer the Opera and the comic actor who won 2004's Perrier Award - Does it really need to advertise? Probably not but they get a review all the same. Talk Radio is a play written in the early 80s about a now common place shock jock, Barry Champlaine, played by the very energetic Phil Nichol (one of the co-producers). Phil's energy is one of the key ingredients to this show, as too is the quality of his co-stars: the manipulative station director (Mike McShane), his producer who tonight he is at war with (Stephen K. Amos) and the crazy drug fanatic kid Brent (Wil Adamsdale) who a lot of places are reporting steals the show (maybe).

The show is all about the final broadcast before they go national and the pressure, expectation and realisation of what his show, and more importantly himself, is really about. The play is very quick paced and with more than enough energy and variety to keep any easily-distracted viewer happy. When we saw the performance, right at the climax of the show, the most intense moment, someone in the audience started talking to his girlfriend (not I). In character, Phil really laid into him and despite it being improvised, no-one in the audience was sure whether he was off-script and yelling at this guy or simply delivering part of his key monologue. So convincingly in character was Phil Nichol that the audience member turned to his girlfriend *again*, probably to say something like, “didn't it feel like he was really shouting at me”. Phil returned back towards him and let the “pinhead” have it. Apparently the other producers and the cast had quite a heated discussion afterwards, some lining up on the “yeah, go off script if it feels right” and the others screaming out “don't abuse the audience – they won't come back”! How do I know this? I was chatting with Phil the next day and he was relieved to hear that we believed it was all scripted. Jim Lewis Smith (Dutch Elm Conservatoire) is starring with Mike McShane in Marlon Brando's Corset and he confirmed Mike was casually standing alongside Phil (from an actor's point of view rather than a producer).

Anyway, on to a conclusion. The show is pretty good and never bores you at any point. The callers to the radio programme are quite varied and I'm sure with about a week more performing behind him Phil will be back accepting another best actor awards (not bad for a stand up). Four stars out of five and the first “go see” badge awarded so far this year!

3 August 2006

Standing up and Falling Down by Ed Byrne

I've seen three *big* comedians perform on massive stages and on two occasions I was sorely disappointed. Last year I saw Omid Djalili perform in the Pleasance Grand (the sports hall) and I was thoroughly unimpressed. I saw Dara O'Brian perform in the Assembly Rooms' Ballroom in front of 1,000 people and I was shocked – I couldn't believe such an inherently funny man could pull off a bad show. I also saw Danny Bhoy in the same venue and I had little expectation for him, I just wanted to see what he was like, and low and behold he was very good! It's now the turn of Ed Byrne to see if he can make it balance at 2 good and 2 bad or just confirm the rumour that comic who make in the mainstream are no longer funny. Just by walking into the arena I was laughing my proverbial red socks off as we had been allowed into the venue by flashing used Russell Howard tickets! As we sat down the music that Ed has chosen to entertain us with was Richard Cheese's latest album, Dark Side of the Moon! Very positive starts.

Ed's whole show is vaguely themed around the Michael Douglas film Falling Down where he gets so frustrated with everything he takes his anger and stress out on everyone who frustrates him. This is one of the better shows I have seen in Edinburgh as it was pacey, the stories didn't drag on too long and where varied and I left with seven or eight really good jokes bouncing around my memory. The downsides where that he was never painfully funny but did make me leak salt water on a few occasions. He inevitably did a ten minute piece on music and I cringed when he then used the word ironic as one of his most famous pieces is ripping into Alanis Morrisette for her awful song and then correcting her to show what would be ironic. The only reason I squirmed because I got the feeling he's used up his entire life's allowance of that word and if he carries on using it he may come across as harking back to his stand up prime. I think Ed is the best we've seen so far although my companions did stress they though Russell Howard was better overall, as they conceded that Ed have more big laughs. A big performance for a big crowd but not a comic at his peak or in the flow – think 3½ stars out of 5 despite the name dropping and he's edging on the border of being reccomended at full price. Drop the price to £8 from £12 and he gets a full endorsement but I don't see that happening somehow...

Wandering by Russell Howard

Russell starts the show by announcing that the show is basically him wandering from one story or gag to another. Fair enough, I've been longing for a hungry comic who has something genuinely interesting to say. Looking back I think it was more than just wandering from story to story, I think he wandered around his experiences of life and did manage to construct a few decent comical stories from them. As the odd clever observation here and the random piece of shock there, there was only one really side splitting gag but that is one more that a lot of shows. He seemed to be just teetering on the edge of exploding into comic enlightenment but never quite managing it. the show was good and kept us entertained all the way through despite some stories sounding almost like reading a diary at times. I'm pretty sure that he'll be red hot next year if he carries on his improvement and he is probably one of the best at this year's festival - but that doesn't mean you get four stars from me! Russell can be happy with a well deserved 3.5 stars out of 5 and a promise to see him again next year; just missing out on a recommendation for this year though (unless you've seen all my actual favourites).

The Same ... But Different

This play apparently had Old Vic patron Kevin Spacey in stitches and came runner up in their writing competition so I figured I'd give it a spin. Stitches isn't quite the right word for me, more of 'pleasantly smiling'. There was only one big gag in the play and that was mostly due to the building up of one character and then have him completely swerve and make you wet yourself (sort of). The play is about a family with three fully grown sons and how they, and their father, cope with a variety of differing tests of their love lives. The writer Justin Timble also plays two parts in this play, the first one as the Scottish solider is quite good but I think his performance and the son who does not now what he wants (in fact, he wants the same... but different) is a bit too limited and lacking in depth. To be fair to him though, the other actor who played the young cock-sure Craig froze like a bunny in headlights everytime he didn't have a line to deliver – he seemed unable to interact when he wasn't the focus (and even then his dialogue was intentionally poor). Lizzie, the girlfriend of the un-sure brother added a great deal of depth and emotion and the relatively short scenes kept everyone's interest up. Overall it was a decent and amusing little play but nothing to write home about (but something to write on your blog about). Three stars out of five but I'm afraid I wouldn't recommend it at anywhere near full price.

2 August 2006

How to Butcher Your Loved Ones by Andrew Lawrence

Now here is someone who has been around for a while and understands what needs to be completed before you arrive in Edinburgh. Andrew Lawrence's show was, from my perspective, totally finished and pretty well timed. The other difference between this show and Michael McIntyre's is that I only left with one genuinely funny joke in my head. Let's go back to the beginning. Andrew starts the show claiming he has a problem with his windpipe and when he goes on stage it tightens and so sounds like a cross between Bobcat Goldthwait and Orville the Duck. The humour in his show is heavily reliant on laughing at performance, shock and impressive feats rather than bona fide jokes. Allow me to explain a little bit. On many occasions Andrew would throw around six adjectives in a row or reel off 45 second long sentences with such ludicrous content you can't help but giggle and sit wide-eyed in amazement. Now that might be a good form of entertainment but it's not the traditional stand up show, nor are his jokes very amusing. Most are incredibly poorly disguised and you can see the punchline coming, however when he does deliver them in his high pitched voice and leaps up in the air then you did still smile. The pair of women sitting next to me where the type that laughed at every instance of a full stop, no matter whether there was a joke there or not. I hate that behaviour and while if adds to an atmosphere I think it ruins my enjoyment – we are not in Jongleurs now, where everyone is slaughtered and is laughing for no reason, we've come to see an artist perform. Overall I'd have to give Andrew 3.5 out of 5 mostly for the detail in the act and his actual performance, but personally I wouldn't recommend nor will I watch him next year.

An Evening with Michael McIntyre

We kick off this year's festival with one of last year's Perrier Newcomer Nominees. The first thing to note is that this is listed as a preview show. My understanding of the preview shows is that all the material should be finished and you are simply honing your timing and maybe re-arranging some jokes based on audience feedback. I really can't stand it when performers come to Edinburgh and haven't actually finished writing their act. Sadly Michael McIntrye falls into this category as he spent a good 15 minutes just chatting with the audience and not delivering material. Having said that, the material he did have was very good and well worth listening to. His act was a series of stories and observations about a variety of thing, ranging from some subtle jokes about various forms of transport to intelligent wordplay regarding the alphabet (g for gnome). I left with five or six really excellent jokes buzzing around my head and enjoyed my opening to this year's festival but did feel a bit disappointed with the lost 15 minutes. If he fills them in quickly then he's definitely worth seeing although at £10/£11 a ticket then you have to be certain he's the one for you. The 2 for 1 deal on the first Sunday & Monday of the Festival (6th & 7th August) means that it's well worth catching this year's show although you'll probably struggle to get any tickets at this late date. Final rating: 3 out of 5 and flagged him to see again next year.  UPDATED:  I've heard he's actually spending the 15 minutes interacting with the audience which is very difficult to do if your venue is close to empty.  Probably worth more stars but I'm going to wait until next year to see him again.

1 August 2006

Time to go Back to the T-Shirt Factory

And so it begins.  I think I can put away my "I do all my own stunts" t-shirt and instead bring out my "I’m a foreign mute amputee" t-shirt. This t-shirt was designed last year and under the main title it elaborates “I don’t understand English, I can’t speak and I have no hands”. The conclusion reads “So don’t bother me with your flyers!”. Interesting when I posted this last year I received a large number of people hitting my website having Googled for the term 'amputee'. I'm sure what they were expecting to find, nor do I understand the comment posted on the original story... A little bit freaky. On the subject of flyering however, during Andrew Lawrence's show this year he asked one guy what he did and the guy replied quite honestly: "I flyer for you". Great moment.