August 25, 2016
Sternberg Clarke's managing director was at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival last year (or Edinburgh Festival Fringe if you'd like to use the correct title). Here he shares his thoughts on the acts that he went to see.
I normally run a million miles from any that smacks of improvisation. I prefer to know that the cast I am seeing have rehearsed the show I am going to see a good number of times and have a very clear idea of the beginning, middle and end rather than making it up on the spot. However Austentatious had been highly recommended and who am I dismiss that sort of recommendation (actually - as you will see below - a high recommendation often merely reinforces my view that people have different - i.e. worse - tastes to mine)? Anyway, this show was great. As the name suggests, it was an improvisation in the style of a Jane Austen novel. The only input the audience had was to give the title - which in this case was 'My Grandmother was a Teenage Prostitute'. The acting was top notch, the speed of improvisation was truly stunning and the end result was very, very funny.
Stuart Mitchell - Dealt a Bad Hand
It is sometimes difficult to see the relevance between a title and the content of a comedian's show. But in this case the title was clearly relevant in a reassuringly (well, for me) practical way. Stuart Mitchell has only half of his two middle fingers on his right hand and what a source of comedy that was - from the observation that when he was picking his nose it looked like the finger had gone all the way up to the knuckle through to the difficulty of playing rock, paper, scissors! Yet the title was more than physically relevant; during the course of the hour we learned about numerous family difficulties and it became clear that Stuart had indeed been dealt less a bad hand but rather a whole shitty bad pack of cards... But he dealt with it with such nuanced, intelligent, engaging humour that it was a delightful and truely funny hour.
Worbey and Farrell
This show frustrated me. Worbey and Farrell are pianists with a touch of comedy. Yet the comedy was not all that funny and the piano playing whilst good, was not good enough. So it was not quite one thing or another, but what frustrated me most of all was there were glimpses of just how good the act could be when they combined the comedy with the piano playing. For example, in the encore they made a G&T whilst performing Fur Elise - very funny and very clever. This stood in contrast to them playing the whole of Gershwin's Rhapsody in Blue straight, wherein I was waiting for some funny moment which just did not come.
Die Magik Kunst
I loved Die Magik Kunst - or rather I loved the potential here. The conceit is that we are witnessing the return performance of two very elderly German magicians who used to be famous Vegas stars in the 1970s and one is so elderly and doddery that he performs with a Zimmer frame. Whilst some of the humour is slightly crass and not all the tricks work as well as others, this was the trailing out of a new act to see what works and what does not. Certainly a lot of it was particularly good, my favourite being when having got into an argument the two elderly magicians ended up doing acrobalance on the Zimmer frame! So not just magic but comedy, juggling and acrobatics all rolled into one.
Did I tell you that I like to run away from improvisation? Well this was my second improvisatory experience in one day. Shhhh was an improvisation around a silent film, which considering the group was Italian was a good way to make sure there was no language barrier... Indeed no language at all, in fact. As with Austentatious the job of the audience was to decide a title and in this case it was 'The Polar Explorer'. It was cleverly done with a gauze in front of the actors onto which was projected the traditional words you see in a silent film in between scenes. Although the troupe were multi-charactered (having to be polar bears, wind, penguins, fish, worms...), it did not quite work. I think that the performers, whilst good, were not quite as skilful as the ones in Austentatious and also that improvising mime is probably much harder to keep the audience engaged than where you get to use speech.
Hot Brown Honey
What can I say about Hot Brown Honey!? What I can certainly say is that the majority of the audience loved the show - loved it in the same way a Trump audience love the Donald Trump 'show' - they are converts before they arrive.
I have nothing against shows with a message but the show has to be darn good. This one wasn't - the music was not well produced, the dancing was average and the only thing that was poetic and well executed was the representation of the sexualisation of women through an aerial act.
Another stand up comedy act. Although the themes were standard fare - sex, relationships and politics - Laura Lexx has a very engaging personality and a great style of delivery. I might also point out at this stage what a boon Brexit and Donald Trump had been to the comedy performer; ready made material without having to put too much work in... Indeed most of the audience are already in hysterics before the second syllable of Donald is reached.
I would almost run as far away from mime as I would do from improvisation but if you go and see anything you should see this amazing piece by the Russian physical theatre company Devero. Once is everything that theatre should be about - poetry, beauty, imagination, humour and the most compelling performances I saw in Edinburgh. Don't try and work out what it all means, just enjoy and feel it and you will end up crying like most of the audience!
As the name suggests, Tap Pack combine rat pack singing with some extraordinary tap dancing. Despite there only being 5 performers, the huge stage was well and truely filled with their energy and skill. It is a pity Tap Pack are based in Australia as this act would be a sure fire winner for the corporate events market.
It must have been a very large weight on Joe Stilgoe's shoulders growing up as the son of the famous musical lyricist Richard Stilgoe (indeed, in the show he said it made him hate musicals). This show is actually not too far removed from musicals (being a tribute to film music), which interestingly also included some musicals which had also been adapted into films. Along with his bass player and drummer, this was a hugely engaging and entertaining hour - the use of a screen to project film moments from the pieces he was playing worked very well, as was the beautiful moment when the bass player entered with balloons as Joe was playing the tune from Up - yes, I know it sounds crass but it wasn't. There was a brilliant a cappella version of The Rhythm of Live from the musical (admit it Joe, you love them really) Sweet Charity and the show ended on a great 1980s film medley with the audience shouting out the titles.
Magic Faraway Cabaret
We went to this free show on a whim late one evening and I am really glad we did. As with all burlesques, it had beauty, magic and the plain shocking. In fact, the plain shocking was probably one of the most shocking things I had seen and and even seemed to unnerve the concept... As this is a family blog any more details will need to be acquired through my personal email address! The beauty took the form of Jolie Papillon - probably the best burlesque act I have seen - in stunning 1920s costume. A great dancer in her own right, Jolie also made use of a fantastic choice of music and produced a brilliant feather routine at the end. Equally impressive was the magic of the Swedish magician Charlie Caper; skilful sleight of hand, hugely funny and he even managed to do the tradional cup and ball trick in an innovative manner.
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By Adam Sternberg