Tim Clare’s Death Drive (3 Stars)
Poet and novelist Tim Clare of the performance poetry group Aisle 16 has set himself a difficult task for his Fringe debut. Combining standup, serious poetry and music, he traces his attempts to come to terms with his inner angst and unfulfilled ambitions, fluctuates wildly between light and dark, and changes tack from grounded reality to playful flights of fancy. In short, Clare tries to do too much all at once and brings in elements from sources too disparate to work well together. It makes for a show that is less than the sum of its often funny and very clever parts.
The most frustrating thing about Death Drive is that its frequent moments of brilliance are consistently undermined. A haunting, poetic reconstruction of a car accident sits surprisingly comfortably alongside an explanation of what a Jimmy Saville tattoo tells us about a person, but the effect is then let down by ersatz pop culture references and multiple crude references to cunnilingus. It is unbecoming for someone so clearly capable of more.
Clare lets himself down somewhat by constructing a set that is perhaps too clever, and the resulting lack of impact leaves him without much to bounce off. Lovingly crafted and profound lines of poetry, seemingly included to make us stop and think, cry out for quiet appreciation; set against this mishmash, though, they often drown amid the laughter.
Andrew Bird: The Unlikely Lad (3 Stars)
Andrew Bird’s poster shows him standing in front of a dart board, stirring up expectations of Al Murray blokeyness and a never-ending string of tired pub gags about women and the French. It’s a welcome surprise, then, to find an hour of sensitive, intelligent humour and social commentary from the man from — in his own words —Nowhere (Northampton).
Bird comes to the Pleasance with a theme in mind— his lifelong attempts to be something he’s not — and never strays far from it. He takes us on thoughtful, engaging and often hilarious jaunts into regional and national identity, racism and religion. Brummie film critics, the Slovakian translation of “Where’s the shitter?” and the moment he was ejected from a post-coital embrace by a sneeze are the highlights of a packed hour.
Bird lets himself down with his final joke, though. Built up over the last 15 minutes of the show, he explains the chain of events that led him to greet his black postman at the door with a skinhead and a swastika on his chest. Not only is it not particularly funny and an ill-fitting end to an otherwise smart and sensitive show, but you can see it coming from a mile off, leaving most sitting in bored and knowing silence. That aside, Bird delivers more than enough to justify the ticket price and looks more than capable of coming back with a tighter, more consistent show in future.
Julien Cottereau: Imagine Toi (4 Stars)
It seems you can hardly move in Edinburgh during August without bumping into a fifth-rate street performer pissing about with a crystal ball or some other dreary alternative. Former Cirque-du-Soleil performer Julien Cottereau, however, offers a mesmerising mime showdown in the Princes Street Gardens that, although seemingly aimed at children, should be on everyone’s list of alternative events to see during the Fringe.
Using only his body and his amazingly versatile voicebox for sound effects, Cottereau conjures a series of imaginary objects –a ball that he kicks back and forth into the audience, eventually getting stuck in his throat, and a lion whom he fights and then successfully tames. Only the wonderfully childlike Cottereau could make a sketch with an imaginary piece of chewing gum last fifteen minutes and leave the audience in stitches by the end. Audience participation is a huge part of the show and it is a testament to his versatility and his ability to engage that even the most reticent punters are coaxed onto stage during lengthy but always hugely entertaining sketches.
Younger children may find some of his routines difficult to interpret- it is easy to lose the thread of what is going on if you look away-and it does wear a bit thin in the last fifteen minutes, especially when he begins to repeat previously used material. But none of this detracts much from what is a touching and beautiful performance.
Craig Hill: Why don’t you come down the Front? (2 Stars)
There is a reason why Craig Hill’s career hasn’t reached the heights of some of his fellow gay comics. Lacking the venom of Scott Capurro or the incision of Alan Carr, he offers a trying hour of audience interaction with precious few written jokes to fill it out. Bounding onto the stage in a bright pink kilt to a Take That song, Hill starts as he means to go on.
A few highlights shine through, but a short routine about people from Fife not being able to make facial expressions is the only genuinely hilarious moment. He spends the first two thirds of his show calling on members of the audience, eeking out cheap laughs from their names and what they’re wearing; it feels like a full five minutes is spent on Hill looking around to see who answered his string of “Anyone from [insert town here] in the house?” questions, each of which is followed by a diatribe about how shit the place is.
When he finally gets round to his own jokes, they consist mainly of well-worn gags about neds and long-winded, unfunny anecdotes about gay cruising. Gay people are sufficiently well-integrated into society that they are no longer ‘the Other’, no longer an exotic subject ripe for comedy. But Hill doesn’t seem to have noticed, and once he’s exhausted his small stock of genuinely funny and intelligent observations, he falls back on milking his sexuality for all it’s worth. Perhaps this would have been funny 15 years ago, but not anymore. After 11 years at the Fringe, Hill is looking distinctly dated.
Hardeep Singh Kohli: Chat Masala (2 Stars)
Hosted by a more capable comedian there would be some potential in Chat Masala‘s chat-show format. Under the stewardship of Hardeep Singh Kohli—who spends most of the time berating his audience when his feeble jokes fall flat—it provides an often awkward and boring hour. It is testament to the quality of his humour that he is funniest when taking the piss out of himself for not being funny, and one can’t help thinking that his brother, Sanjeev Kohli (Navid in Still Game), to whom he makes a passing, patronising reference, could do a better job.
Unfortunately, the cookery element of Kohli’s show also fails to impress, save for a bizarre routine at the end in which audience members are asked to pick the ingredients of a ‘mystery chutney’ at random.
Chat Masala would be horrendous if it wasn’t for the witty and engaging guests, by whom Kohli is continuously upstaged. Mark Nelson blends a moving description of his depression with some solid jokes but every time the show threatens to get into its stride, Kohli drops the ball because he is so engrossed in his curry construction he fails to notice what is being said.
The star of the show is his last guest, cabaret act Sarah-Lousie Young. Coming on stage as a sort of evil alter-ego of Edith Piaf, she belts out an intelligent, hilarious song about the debasing of the French language by English words, lighting up the last five minutes of an otherwise dull hour.
You’re Not Like Other Girls, Chrissy (4 Stars)
One-person plays are always a risky affair, requiring an actor and writer with enough talent to carry the performance alone. Thankfully, You’re Not Like the Other Girls, Chrissy has both of these in Caroline Horton.
We join the eccentric Christiane in a queue in a Paris train station at the end of the Second World War. While she waits for the train that will take her to her English fiance, she tells us the story of how she met him, how they were separated by Hitler’s armies, and her repeated, valiant attempts to be reunited with him. Aside from Horton’s humour – intelligent but gentle enough not to undermine the simplicity of the play – the performance is made by its inventive staging. The grubby, claustrophobic attic setting of Pleasance Above perfectly evokes the oppressive atmosphere of wartime Paris while the contents of Christiane’s suitcases mirror each location. A suitcase full of flowers with a painted sky-blue lid represents the English countryside and later, a white scale-model of Paris arises out of another.
Aside from the awkward, jarring moment Christiane pops red, white and blue balloons to symbolise German bombs, the play flows naturally to the end, even moving some of the older audience members to tears. Both the punters and the actress playing Christiane sit in humbled silence as they watch a video of the real Christiane – now in her late nineties- returning to France with her husband of sixty years. Perhaps because Horton is playing her grandmother, the play feels satisfyingly organic and complete: Fact and fiction, young and old, the past and the present combine in a performance that is funny but also incredibly moving.
La Llorona Llora (2 Stars)
Poor direction and amateurish production let down a talented and promising young cast in Sylvia Gonzalez’s exploration of the fraught relationships between Spanish conquistadores and the Aztecs in the sixteenth century. Actors from the International School of Geneva’s Le Chat Theatre Company tell of the anguish of an Aztec woman whose life falls apart when Spanish authorities refuse to recognise her marriage to a conquering soldier, threatening to take both her husband and children away from her.
It is a testament to the talent of the cast that the storyline is made vivid and understandable despite the text flitting between Spanish and English, with the actors moving fluently between both. Some of the dances are too stiff and overly choreographed, though there are one or two beautiful set-pieces, with the entire cast raising the female lead to the roof of the theatre, as if crucified.
Despite Gonzalez’s sensitively-crafted text and the cast’s efforts, this production is ultimately hindered by awkward and uninspired direction.
Charity Shop Cabaret (3 Stars)
Charity Shop Cabaret is proof that you can be entertained at the Fringe without spending a penny. With an almost non-existent budget, Cornwall-based Trifle Gathering productions gives us a consistently amusing – if not especially hilarious – insight into the bizarre world of the British charity shop. With ever-so-slightly grotesque and sinister characters, bad early ’90s costumes and an appropriately thick overlay of kitsch, fans of shows such as Garth Merenghi’s Darkplace or The League of Gentlemen will be well-served by the mix of music, dance, comedy and audience interaction.
Most of the humour is clever and original – the quickest way to find the dirty bits in a Mills & Boon novel being one of the highlights, and Kyla Goodey is near-perfect as the addled, menopausal manageress, Elspeth Garter. The show could do without the contrived device used to tie everything together – i.e Elspeth being interviewed on Desert Island Discs (complete with a terrible Kirsty Young impersonation) – but this is a rare misstep. A string of well-placed ’70s and ’80s cultural references (a dance to the theme tune of Roy Castle-era Record Breakers chief among them) are effective, but perhaps limit the audience to native Britons and only those over the age of 25. Anyone within that demographic, however, is putty in the hands of the cast. Trife Gathering have been let down by a slightly unfair lack of press coverage; take advantage of the last few days of the Fringe to see one of the best free shows on offer and ensure they come back in 2011.