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.

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