August 29, 2007

Best In Show

I still have a not insignificant backlog of shows to blog, and although the Fringe is now over I'm going to continue with it, anyway. Most of these shows tour, after all, and in any case the majority of the appeal for me is to indulge my interests in performance and in comedy, not really to recommend them one way or another. So:

The House of the Holy Afro. This was described to me as contemporary dance funk gospel soul choir music (or some similar string of words) and it sounded interesting so I toddled along with some folk from our Press Office. It started off incredibly: a DJ spinning ambient hum, and a sheet of gauze strung in front of the stage that slowly became more and more translucent until behind it you could see a group of six people dressed in African garb. They moved with an imperceptible slowness: you'd look away for a few seconds and when you looked back they'd be in a different position but apparently motionless. And they sang this deep chant, so loud and rich you couldn't separate what was coming from them and what from the speakers around the hall. It was a beautiful five minutes.

And then a massive club beat started pumping and an asinine MC came out and started forcing people up out of their seats and on to the dancefloor. It was one of those horribly awkward moments because the show was at the Queen's Hall, which is a pretty middle-class venue, and half the audience were retiree members who were patently not expecting a club night. So half the room were in the middle trying to follow the moves of those on stage (badly), and the other half were sitting around the periphery wondering what the fuck was going on. It was such a ridiculous mismatch of show to venue, I don't really know how they got booked in the first place.

The music was awful, too. The beat barely changed for half an hour, and was so loud that it drowned out any kind of melody. One pundigrion.

Nobody Knows… Jarlath Regan. Jarlath Regan is an Irish comedian with a puppy-like affability who apparently would like to be Demetri Martin. He's got it all: floppy hair, gentle delivery, crudely drawn slides incorporated into the show. The only difference is that he doesn't have Demetri Martin's sense of timing or sharpness of material. This in itself is not an intractable criticism, as Demetri Martin is a pretty high level at which to set the standard of Good Comedian. But without the great gags, the shy delivery becomes a liability, and in spite of some big laughs the whole show just seemed flat. Regan's publicity describes him as up-and-coming, and I'd certainly believe that. But he's not there yet. Two pundigrions.

Bridget Christie: The Court of King Charles II. Bridget Christie looks vaguely like King Charles II, and that is the launching point for her show, an hour of character-based comedy starring a variety of Seventeenth Century celebrities: Guy Fawkes, Oliver Cromwell, and so forth. As a concept it sounds like something that would be in danger of being insufferably Frasier-esque, with high-brow bons mots and obscure historical references throughout. Instead, Christie mines the characters' simpler foibles for jokes with a wide appeal and it works an absolute treat. Her Oliver Cromwell is a comic masterpiece, who puts an unsuspecting audience member through a test of their potential as a puritan, playing fart noises through the mic and slipping on banana peels. In fact it's usually Christie herself that cracks first, and it actually makes her all the more loveable as a performer.

Her finale was, sadly, extremely weak (a reggae song performed by the ensemble cast, with little inspiration), and she generally seems to have trouble letting go of the weaker bits that a tougher comic would cut once it became clear that they don't work. Still, though, a real hoot and one to watch. Four pundigrions.

Longwave. Longwave is an eighty-minute play with no dialogue, about two researchers stuck in a remote cabin in an undisclosed location. It starts with piquancy, a ten minute live-action music video, almost, of the two scientists trying to determine the properties of some mysterious object brought in from the outside. The music is perfect for the scene and the physicality slickly rehearsed; coupled with the fantastic stage and costume design it sets a definite tone early on. It also sets expectations high and then, as the play goes on, utterly fails to meet them. After such an inspired opening, the play descends into exaggerated sketches designed, presumably, to impart details about the characters even in the absence of dialogue.

Why it sets itself such a task is beyond me, though. There's nothing wrong with a dialogue-less play, obviously, but in one with a story and setting like this – one that demands so much exposition - it seems like needless, pretentious self-sabotage. Motivations become garbled at the mercy of what can be reasonably conveyed through mime, and the few snatches of voice and text that allow a little more explanation of what is going on are wasted with meaningless postmodern-speak. The ending has a visual poignancy but is otherwise emotionless and disappointing. Two and a half pundigrions.

Wit. It's nice, when one is watching a lot of Fringe theatre, to see something with a tried-and-tested script for a change. The difference is immediately recognisable and, to be honest, something of a relief. Of course, you still have to put up with Fringe theatre's production values, and this version of Wit takes place almost entirely in an obviously Ikea bed. The lead did a nice job of working the character, even amongst some poorly-cast and flatly-acted co-stars, but overall the show didn't do much of any note with the script. Good, simple entertainment, but nothing special. Three pundigrions.

Coast to Coast. This billed itself as a two-man show wherein the performers would chronicle their two week hike across Great Britain. It sounded like it had high potential, a sort of live Bill Bryson detailing the adorably odd side of rural Britain. Instead we got two lads telling dick jokes and delivering stories so outlandish one wondered if there were actually any moments in the show based on reality. Observations were abandoned in favour of surreal one-liners that failed to give any sense of the people or places being described, and destroyed any chance of a meaningful plot arc. Meanwhile the attempts at straight-up humour seemed so out-of-place they failed to produce anything but the tiniest of chuckles from the audience. One and a half pundigrions.

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