August 31, 2007

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.

August 25, 2007

MySpace Invaders

I hear from the fabulously entertaining Dave Burdick that Playboy is making a very brand-relevant and not-at-all-jumping-on-the-Facebook-bandwagon foray into social networking.

Entitled Playboy U (or, as it must surely come to be known, Titsbook), it's billed as "an exclusive, college-only, non-nude social network", one that "high schoolers, old dudes and your Mom can't join."

Hey, thanks, Stiffler.

Obviously, if your mom goes to university (or – since the only way they seem to check if you're a student is whether or not you have an .edu email address – if she teaches at a university) the above does not apply, and we all know that even old dudes get university email addresses sometimes. But still, a social networking site that lets you post pictures to a profile, and that only students can join! What a great idea! Why hasn't anybody thought of that before?

The aim of Playboy U (or, as it must surely come to be known, The School of Hard Knockers) is to enrich campus life and celebrate the social side of college (that really never gets done enough). But they don't want to encourage the unhealthier opportunities afforded by social networking. For instance, the code of conduct states that:
2.9. You agree to not intimidate, harass or "stalk" another user.
Why is "stalk" in quotation marks?
Girl 1: Have you seen that guy who's always posting on my Playboy U profile? He is like, totally "stalking" me.

Girl 2: Ew, that is so "gross".

Girl 1: Still, at least he's not stalking me.

Girl 2: Right.

Girl 1: Hey, I stopped by your house the other day.

Girl 2: Shut up! Was I there?
--

My new favourite search referral: "I don't want to search for anything".

August 24, 2007

Conversations With Greatness CXLIII



Apologies for the lateness - I completely forgot it was Friday yesterday.

August 21, 2007

I Don't Know Whether To Laugh Or Deconstruct

If any of you are getting tired of me talking about Fringe shows, I would invite you to read this article from The List and become comparatively thankful that I don't, at least, write vaingloriously douchy cultural studies papers masquerading as reviews. A few of my favourite excerpts:
Dapper, diminutive Paul Foot may not bestride his narrow stage like a Colossus…

The paroxysms of enervation struggling to break through his fey, soft-spoken mien provide the first laughs of the night…

Suffused also with a subtle subtext of formidable bleakness, greatly enriching what is superficially a buoyant performance…
Dude, seriously, it's The List, not a thesaurus. You might be able to get away with reviewing theatre in the Times that way, but comedy in The List? It's absurd. People reading The List want to know if shows are funny, not if you got a First in English from Cambridge.

I will be contacting the Campaign for Plain English immediately.

August 18, 2007

The Show Must Go On

A Canadian Bartender at Butlin's. T. J. Dawe is a Fringe festival machine; this is his first time in Edinburgh, but he's performed at some ridiculous number of other Fringes throughout the world (I forget the exact number, but I think it's in the sixties). He's also a really charming Vancouverite with a clipped soft-spokenness that reminds me a lot of improviser-cum-lawyer extraordinaire Chris Dye.

So it was with some disappointment that I sat through his fairly flat show. It had some nice moments and some cute observations, but the story arc was poorly skewed if really present at all, and the content in general suffered a lot from not having been adapted for a British audience (he spent five minutes explaining what a shandy is, which I'm sure would have North Americans doubled over, but just felt like stating the obvious over here). Dawe himself is a capable performer and his storytelling quite captivating, but the script leaves a lot to be desired. Two and a half pundigrions.

The Walsh Brothers. I found the Walsh Brothers quirkily loveable, but their show just wasn't right for a British audience, either. They made a gag about Make Way For Ducklings, for God's sake, and I don't think there are even many people outside Massachussets who have heard of that. And while a lot of their bits had me snickering, they sort of came across like they were in way over their heads, and knew it. I look forward to seeing their act again in Boston with a friendlier, home audience, but in Edinburgh it just didn't work. Two and a half pundigrions.

Gwyneth Herbert. Gwyneth Herbert has been one of the lynchpins of the Underbelly's music program since the Underbelly started having a music program, but I had never made an effort to see her before this year and, frankly, I feel like a royal dumbass for it. She is stop-you-in-your-tracks, shoot-you-in-the-face fantastic. Her lyrics are tight, her voice elegant, her manner onstage masterful; and it was all backed up by some really superb guitar by Al Cherry. Her new album's out on Blue Note next month, and I'd highly recommend it. Five pundigrions.

Skinner and Bell: Where Are Dave and Dave? This is a cute little comedy play by another longstanding Underbelly duo. Well, I say "play", but it's really just a series of sketches stitched loosely around a pretty ridiculous plot. It's a shame, actually, because even the ridiculous plot I think would have been okay if they had just given it a little more attention. For instance, they have this great scene early on where their two German nemeses (played by them in glasses) sit around plotting, but that thread is then almost completely cut out. Partly, of course, this is down to time limitations, but there's enough weak material elsewhere that could be purged to make way for a little more story.

I still enjoyed the show, though; Dave and Dave seem to have gained confidence since last year and their jokes were stronger and delivered with more punch. With a little more attention to crafting a plot that can grab the audience's attention more effectively, they might actually have a proper sell-out on their hands. Four pundigrions.

Punt and Dennis: Stuff and Nonsense. When I was eleven years old, Punt and Dennis burst on to the BBC with their first TV sketch show. They mix a lot of satire, observational comedy, and stupid puns, and I was instantly smitten (if you watched their early stuff you'd probably see where I get a lot of my sense of humour from). They haven't done a stage show together in over ten years, so when I read they were doing a special, four-night-only engagement at the Pleasance this year, I practically wet myself.

The show was about what I expected; they haven't changed a whole lot since they were on TV together in the Nineties. Which is fine, except I suppose I only remember the good bits from back then – so the chunks of weak filler scattered throughout the hour took me a little by surprise. But they still have a knack for timing and a wonderful chemistry onstage, and consequently some of their skits still worked beautifully (especially Dennis's drunken presentation on the British Isles that closed the show). Four pundigrions.

The Mitch Benn Music Club. Mitch Benn is an extremely cynical middle-aged man who has some very strong opinions about music. He can often be found on the radio expounding said opinions, mainly through the medium of satirical songs. He's sort of like a British Weird Al, only more intellectual. (Example: "Everything Sounds Like Coldplay Now".) His material was sharp (best line, in a song about how much he hates James Blunt: "He's the only man who's also his own rhyming slang", and even if some of the references were a little over my head, I had a really enjoyable hour.

Unfortunately, the show went on for almost two, which is a lot of goodwill to ask of any audience, never mind a drunken late night one. And, honestly, though a song like "Everything Sounds Like Coldplay Now" is funny, the schtick didn't change much for the rest of the show; he also did an opening song from a musical that had much the same meta-commentary on the conventions of the form. It was well-observed and I giggled a little, but after two hours it just ain't that funny anymore.

My other beef was the "improvised" section of the show, during which Mitch writes a song based on an audience suggestion. Except that he gets the suggestion and then takes a fifteen minute intermission, which seemed like a bit of a gyp considering I've seen many, many improvised songs done completely on the spot. The sad thing is, Mitch seems so comfortable with the music, I bet he probably could do it completely extemp - he just lacks confidence.

Anyway, shave forty-five minutes off the runtime and have some balls in the improvising and I'd have no trouble giving it a five. As it stands, three and a half pundigrions.

August 17, 2007

August 14, 2007

Show and Tell

Preston Reed. This was my first music show this year, and it was okay. Reed is about eleven feet tall and stoops on stage, alone but for a number of guitars. He's clearly good at what he does, and the calm dynamism he shows in his quickfire guitar/percussion bits (eg. Rainmaker) is certainly impressive to watch. But he exudes a reclusive "me and my guitars" attitude onstage that drains the show's charisma, and it was subsequently lacking in any of those wow moments that a good live show really has to have. Three pundigrions.

Scared Scriptless. The Underbelly has never had much improv in its program, so it was with some excitement that I read the blurb for this show, which promises an improvised horror movie based on audience suggestions; it sounded like a really neat format for combining some of the storytelling possibilities of longform improv with the satirical potential inherent in genre-riffing shortform. But...

It wasn't really an improvised horror movie at all. All they did was stitch a handful of shortform games on to an opening soap opera freeze designed to develop the characters, and lost the horror movie pretty swiftly. Sure, the games were all loosely focused around the horror theme, but the end result (a manip where the monster had to guess his motivation through a discussion with his therapist; a two-headed interview with an expert on monsters; etc.) lost the initial plot completely and ended up more like an improvised meta-commentary on the unconvincing horror movie they had set up.

I don't mean to malign their ability as improvisers. They had a lot of nice character work and a great energy, and if they had just done a straightforward shortform show I think they would have pulled it off with aplomb. But there were too many listening problems and way too much audience control (the audience got to call "should've said" repeatedly, the audience got to decide who died and in what order, etc.) for the performers to maintain a coherent longform story, especially one with as many expectations as a horror movie spoof. Two pundigrions.

Reginald D. Hunter. Reg has long been one of the sell-out names at the Underbelly, but in past years I've avoided seeing his shows because they've had titles like "A Mystery Wrapped in a Nigga", and "Pride, Prejudice and Niggers", which frankly seemed like gratuitously adding profanity to a title just to draw a crowd, and isn't generally the sort of thing I enjoy. (This year his show is called "Fuck You in the Age of Consequence"; in his words, "Age of Consequence because I want to talk about consequences, and Fuck You to make it sound edgier.")

In the end he was pretty funny, and I laughed uncontrollably at several points. But overall it was just stand-up, and fairly unmemorable. Not bad, by any means, just nothing special. Three and a half pundigrions.

Dan Clark and Friends. Dan Clark is a stand-up/musician and this show was conceived, apparently, to allow him the opportunity to jam with some of the Fringe's other great musical comedians. And, man, what a great idea! He played some great material with some fantastic acts, and a good time was had by all – even though the show was running about an hour late, had a persistent buzz coming off the guitar pick-ups for the second half, and went on until 3am on a weeknight.

The acts were, in order, God's Pottery (a comedy duo posing as an American Christian folk group), Reggie Watts (a human beatbox/comedian/headcase), Ginger and Black (a straightforward musical comedy duo) and Priorité a Gauche, my favourite act of Fringe 2005 (they're an Englishman/Irishman duo who play a French pop group). All were incredible, especially Ginger and Black (who I'd never heard of before), who had an amazing chemistry onstage and mind-bogglingly perfect comic timing. Reggie seemed to have mainstreamed it up for the occasion (normally his act is pretty weird, but he was doing pretty plain vanilla drunken crowd gagging) but it still worked well, which was nice to see. Five pundigrions.

August 12, 2007

Kanye Believe It?

From AOL News: 50 Cent to Quit if Outsold by Kanye West
Both 50 Cent and West have albums due out September 11.
Dear God. It's like 50 Cent's new album is a hijacked plane, and Kanye West's album is another hijacked plane. And I, sobbing into my collection of De La Soul albums, am a skyscraper.

Too much?
"Let's raise the stakes," the 31-year-old rapper [50 Cent] told hip-hop Web site SOHH.com in an interview posted Friday. "If Kanye West sells more records than 50 Cent on September 11, I'll no longer write music. I'll write music and work with my other artists, but I won't put out anymore solo albums."
You heard it here first, folks. Depending on the events of September 11, Fiddy will no longer write music. He'll still write music, but he won't write music.

What?

Let's be thankful for small miracles, though: at least he didn't release his last album on September 11, as it was titled "Massacre" and that would have been pretty horrific even by the standards of this blog.

August 11, 2007

Showdown

Andrew's Fringe continues…

Tom Tom Club. This is an hour of hip-hop related fun by a group of Australians who do a combination of ridiculously impressive things: acrobatics, human beat-boxing, and Stomp-like percussion. I'd recommend it, even if you don't like hip hop particularly; it's just nice seeing people do things at which they are obviously extremely talented (though boy!, do they know it! I think they must all have egos even larger and better-defined than their almost perpetually shirtless torsos). Four and a half pundigrions.

Mouse. An extremely restrained and fabulously acted one-man play about a creepily smitten system administrator who gets himself so tangled up in the strands of an email relationship that he ends up with the life of a suicidal co-worker in his hands. The whole thing is snappily written and compelling from the start, notwithstanding some pretty shoddy miming and a few plot points that defied even my well-suspended disbelief. Four pundigrions.

Greedy. Offbeat and ridiculous sketches from another long-standing Underbelly powerhouse. Unlike last year they've crammed a lot of new material into the show, and considering most of it was written in the last few months it flies pretty well (a recurring gag about 'Whistling Martin' is paced beautifully). The group's sketches are often pretty obviously written to accommodate a punchline, though – which is fine when the punchlines are strong enough to justify it, but in a few cases they aren't, quite. Still, it's a well-rehearsed and high-energy show by a group of veteran sketch actors who seem to understand the format better than most. Four pundigrions.

Pete Firman. Pete's show, "Hokum", is magic for the proletariat. He's a loveable Geordie and his act endearingly low budget, and the whole thing is carried off with a laid back attitude that is pretty impossible to dislike. He has a great banter with the audience and though many of his tricks are designed to shock (sticking needles in his arm, putting a mouse in a blender), you never really feel anything except safe in his capable hands. My biggest qualm with this particular incarnation of the show is the venue: it's a long, narrow room that squeezes one hundred and thirty people into about fifteen rows – none of them raked – so that much of the audience couldn't actually see what was going on. This is obviously a big problem for a magic show and I'm surprised it wasn't given more thought; but, other than that, a fun hour. Four pundigrions.

Hattie Hayridge. Hattie rose to fame as bone-headed computer Holly on the British sci-fi comedy hybrid Red Dwarf. She has a very slow and considered manner that makes her seen affably ingenuous, and she's been a pleasure to talk to on the nights that she's hanging around the box office. On stage, though, it comes across as an under-preparedness that makes the audience palpably uneasy. No matter how many long, meandering sentences end up at fantastically hilarious punchlines, the crowd never quite seemed to believe that Hattie was anything more than a slightly confused eccentric who had accidentally stumbled on to a stage. So while the jokes were sharp, there wasn't enough momentum to generate anything more than a few chuckles. Shame, really. Three pundigrions.

Ian Stone. Ian Stone was one of the hidden gems in Underbelly's line up last year, and I was looking forward to seeing his new show. His material is a quirky blend of fairly innocuous jokes and wordplay, and much edgier religio-political stuff. But it never offends anyone, mostly because he is ridiculously charming (the publicity for his show mainly consists of him standing outside the Fringe office on the Royal Mile and chatting to people who are queuing to buy tickets – by the time they get to the front of the line, they buy a ticket for him in addition to/instead of whatever they were originally planning to buy). This year's show didn't disappoint and I was happily giggling to myself for the entire hour. Five pundigrions.

August 10, 2007

August 08, 2007

No Way

From Newsvine: Longtime Spy Decides to Unmask
WASHINGTON — One of the CIA's top spooks has come out of the shadows.

With little fanfare, Jose Rodriguez, who heads the National Clandestine Service, had his cover lifted about a month ago…

Rodriguez is the most important man in the U.S. spy game whose name you probably never knew. When he was mentioned publicly before now, he was referred to only as "Jose."
Oh, right, because there are so few Jose Rodriguezes in the world, using his full name would have made it impossible to maintain his anonymity.

Meanwhile, on Romney Watch: Romney Speaks Up For Sons
BETTENDORF — Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney on Wednesday defended his five sons' decision not to enlist in the military, saying they're showing their support for the country by "helping me get elected."
Romney continued: "See, on a scale of one to patriotism, you've got fighting in Iraq at the top, then helping me get elected, then buying a Buick, all the way down to wearing flimsy beach footwear, eating tofu on the Fourth of July, and visiting Canada at the bottom. Fucking Canada."

Romney then exploded in a shower of red, white and blue confetti.

August 06, 2007

Time For Some Puns

From BBC NEWS | Education: History A-level 'could disappear'
The future of history as an A-level is being threatened with replacement by "soft subjects" like media studies, the head of an examiners' body has said…

Her comments reflect earlier warnings from the Historical Association.

Chair of the association's secondary committee Heather Scott said: …

"In effect, time for history is reduced by a third."
Yeah, but come on, if you believe in the Big Bang theory of the universe, that still leaves, like, 10 billion years to work with.
A DCSF spokesman said it was important that pupils had a good overview of history.

"We don't agree that history A-level may 'become a thing of the past'."
Well, obviously. It already is a thing of the past, innit?

Words are fun.

August 05, 2007

This One's For Mariana

In previous years, I've oft dwelt fondly on Spank!, one of the Underbelly's late night mixed bill shows.

One of the show's gimmicks for which it has become increasingly famous is its Naked Promo spot; the deal is that anybody can get up onstage and promote their show for one minute, as long as they are completely naked (I suppose you could have guessed most of that).

I'll often drop into Spank! after my shift is over if I'm on in the evening, and I usually manage to do so right as the nudity is kicking off (there are frequently no shows so desperate for an audience that they'll strip down, but on those nights one of the comperes will get naked instead, following a particularly ill-conceived bet last year). Last night was no different.

I took a spot by the bar when I went in, next to a completely soused American wearing a blond wig and with a Lion Rampant wrapped around his shoulders. He had just been cut off by the bartender when the comperes began to explain the concept of Naked Promo and suddenly he was screaming out across the room:

"I'LL GET NAKED! WOOOOO!"

He then strode towards the stage, still shouting, "DO YOU GUYS WANT TO SEE ME NAKED?!!?!!" [Audience: "No!"] "WELL TOO FUCKING BAD, I'M DOING IT ANYWAY!"

The comperes, by now completely unable to keep straight faces, helplessly stumbled off the stage and let the man set out how things were going to work:

"OKAY! When I say YEEEEEEHAAAAAAAW!, you say HEEEEEY!, and then I'll take something off!" [Audience: "Start with the wig!"] "And when I say MOTHERFUCKER! you say SHIT!"

The whole room descending into nervous laughter, he began his horrific striptease.

"YEEEEEHAAAAAAAW!" [Audience: "Hey."]

Unlike most people who get naked onstage and have to work up to full frontal, leaving the underwear for last, Drunky McGhee went straight for the money, and after maybe thirty seconds was standing naked from the waist down, but still in a blond wig and with the Lion Rampant around his shoulders. At this point the comperes came back on to try and usher him away.

"Do you actually have a show you want to promote?" one of them asked, "Or was this just for fun?"

"Hell yeah!" the man replied. "My name is Chris Walsh, and I'm in a show called The Walsh Brothers, on here every day at 6:30pm!"

He then left the stage, still naked from the waste down, sauntered back over to the bar, and said to the bartender, "Can I have a goddamn drink now?" The bartender agreed on the condition that, bless him, Chris Walsh put some pants on. Which he did, and we all lived happily ever after.

--

On an unrelated topic, from Newsvine:
Dairies Dump Milk on Radiation Threat

FALLON — Two dairy farms have dumped milk after the discovery of a naturally occurring radioactive isotope in 25 nearby drinking water wells.
Dumping milk… Is that the same as shitting bricks?

August 04, 2007

Show Me The Money

A quick rundown of my Fringe so far:

Breaker Morant. This is one of Underbelly's flagship shows this year, a play about the eponymous Australian folk hero who was, in a nutshell, used and abused by the British army during the Boer Wars. It's a production by the Comedian's Theatre Company (who enjoyed great success last year with their take on Eric Bogosian's Talk Radio), and Breaker consequently seems to struggle with its identity a little. The plot's a serious one and the action often emotional, but several of the characters are painted with the strokes of a sketch show; and while some of them make for really delightful comic turns, Morant himself is far too much of a slapstick Australian stereotype for the protagonist in a courtroom drama. There's some solid theatre in here, though, and even at its long-for-a-Fringe-show ninety minutes, it held my interest. 3.5 pundigrions.

This Sketch Show Belongs to Lionel Richie. This sketch troupe's gimmick is that one of their members is an 85-year-old man named Julian, who speaks in an impeccable RP accent and is in general about as far from a Fringe sketch troupe member as you could imagine. For me he simultaneously made and spoiled the show. His presence was great and his almost regal calmness on stage was all that kept the other three's nervousness in balance; but they used him as a crutch, and not a very inventive one. Pretty much every scene he was in followed the same path: here is a posh old man – oh, wait, the posh old man is actually a pervert/psycho/Tourette's sufferer. It was hilarious the first time (he goes into a stereo shop and very calmly explains that he would like a CD player with a penis), but had quickly diminishing returns.

In the end it's hard to pass judgement on this one because it had such an awful crowd. The group uses a lot of dick/poop/rape/sodomy jokes that really didn't fly with the older audience they had in, so that even the clever gags fell flat when they appeared. I think with a younger, perhaps slightly drunk crowd, this would have gone down gangbusters – and in retrospect I've found myself giggling at things I didn't laugh at during the show, just because of the stony silence of those around me. Three pundigrions.

Branko and Branka. This is a comedy duo who play a Croatian magic act in a slick piece of satire. "Branko" nails his character, a slightly sleazy, extremely low budget version of David Copperfield, who vamps and poses and generally milks the Eighties technopop soundtrack for all it's worth. Branka's character was less entertaining for me, but still an eminently recognisable parody of a magician's assistant.

The duo's strength lies in their intentionally bad magic tricks, which had me laughing louder than anyone else in the place. Unfortunately they seem to lack confidence in these set pieces, and pad the show out with some mangled English gags and back-story sketches that borrow far too heavily from Borat (they grew up in a public toilet, they use rude words thinking they are normal words, etc.). Some of their broken English is actually great (Branko has a recurring gag where he silences applause by saying 'No Thanks', which actually gets funnier each time he does it), but generally you feel like you've seen it before. Because you have.

Still, their satire is top-notch and if there was more of it I'd have no trouble giving them a perfect score. In the meantime, though: four pundigrions.

Woody Sez. A mixture of theatre, dramatic monologues, and mainly music, all based around the life and work of Woody Guthrie.

This was superb. The action is well-paced; "Woody" has that warm, affable charm that only Baby Boomer Southerners can really pull off; and the music – all performed live by four musicians on about twelve different instruments – is pure jubilance. It's a wonderful reminder, especially these days, of how many good things there are about America and its culture. Five pundigrions.

Tea and Cake. More sketch action here, this time from an outlandish male/female duo consisting of a tall blonde woman and a short, ginger man. Their material was pretty good and they had a neat way of transitioning between sketches wherein "backstage" was actually onstage, so you watched them changing costumes and chatting as they did so. But they were pretty obviously nervous and rushing through punchlines, and the small audience picked up on it - so, like Lionel Richie, many of the gags (even some pretty funny ones) were met with smatterings of awkward laughter, at best. Also, like Lionel Richie, too many dick/poop/sodomy jokes (and I say this, as you are well aware, as a staunch supporter and great admirer of dick/poop/sodomy jokes). Three pundigrions.

Adventure Fantastique - The Durham Revue. The Durham Revue are regulars at the Fringe and easily one of the best (in their current guise, anyway) of the numerous student sketch troupes that come Edinburgh-wards at this time of year. The performers have an amazing chemistry and an infectious energy, and their manner onstage is always relaxed and likeable. Watching them compared to the other sketch shows I've seen this week really underscored for me how important it is to just go on stage with high spirits and a smile - the audience was dying with laughter even at the tiniest facial gesture or throwaway gag, just because the performers came across as confident and happy to be there.

When I saw them they were also unfortunate enough to have a toddler in the audience who would make loud "ga!" noises at various points throughout the show (usually during dramatic pauses and/or right on a punchline). I think they were probably getting a little irritated by it, but they responded with such good grace that they actually ended up getting even more laughs because of it. Four pundigrions.

That's all for now.

August 03, 2007

August 02, 2007

Who The Hell Is Mitt Romney, Anyway?
Part Two

Mitt Romney recognises that for new future power-strength in heading up the global leadership agenda, the United States has to have a sensitive and carefully-conceived foreign policy:
Romney wants the public to know that Jihadists are not an 'armed group of crazed maniacs in the hills of Afghanistan.'
Right – those are the US special forces, oh no I DIDN'T!

Actually, Romney believes that, to defeat "the jihadists", we have to cooperate with Muslim states in order to show, through mutual respect and collaboration, that we are not the imperious megalomaniacs we're made out to be.

Unless, of course, that's what the Democrats want to do, in which case screw that, what a ridiculous idea!
Romney says Obama was wrong to say he'd meet with the leaders of Iran, Syria and North Korea.

"The president of the United States does not bestow our dignity and the power of our reputation around the world around those people," Romney says.
Now, I realise, of course, that North Korea is not a Muslim state (hell, it's barely even a state), but Iran and Syria sure are and honestly, I'd rather the President paid diplomatic attention to them than to freakin' Pakistan. Musharraf was a guest on The Daily Show a few months ago, for God's sake – I think that means we're on pretty good terms already.

Actually, because he's trying to get the Hispanic vote, Romney says he'd visit Columbia and Mexico before deigning to meet with "those people" in the Middle East. Because nothing says "I'm serious about the Muslim world" like a burrito.

Let's be fair, though, Romney does have a lot of respect for the people in the Middle East. He even thinks there are some things about the Middle East upon which we should model our own foreign policy. Hezbollah, for instance, he thinks is pretty great. Okay, sure, cheap shot taken a little out of context, but what kind of competent politician (outside of Lebanon, anyway) gets up on stage and says, "You know, folks, I think we should be more like Hezbollah"?

Okay, I think I've had enough Romney-bashing for now. But you'd better hope he doesn't get elected or you're going to have to deal with at least four more years of it.