Review - Sister Act (UK Tour)

Sister Act is back, and it's sparklier than ever! Directed by Craig Revel Horwood, this new actor-musician production of the Broadway and West End sensation stars X Factor winner Alexandra Burke as Deloris Van Cartier, a nightclub singer who is forced to hide away in a convent when she witnesses her gangster lover commit a murder right in front of her. The musical is a fun, glittery and uplifting show about the power of friendship and the magic of music. 

Photo credit - Tristram Kenton
Alexandra Burke is a likable leading lady who nails the show's comedic elements and sings the role gorgeously. Of course given her previous singing credits the latter is no surprise, however, in a time when star casting is being increasingly scrutinised by casual theatregoers and passionate theatre lovers alike, it is exciting and refreshing to see such a fabulous all round performance from Ms Burke (who made her professional theatre debut playing the lead role of Rachel Marron in The Body Guard on the West End in 2014, before joining the UK Tour). She is joined onstage by a brilliant cast of performers. As Deloris' love interest Lt. Eddie Souther Jon Robyns is charmingly goofy and instantly likable, and milks every moment of his showstopping solo I Could Be That Guy, during which he is joined by a chorus of down-and-outs in a gloriously 70s dance number, complete with customary flairs! 

Meanwhile Aaron Lee Lambert plays Deloris' lover Curtis with piles of over the top villainy, making him an entertaining if not always imposing antagonist. He also has an excellent voice, as heard in When I Find My Baby (a sinister yet catchy number). Curtis' three henchmen (played by Ricky Rojas, Samuel Morgan-Grahame and Sandy Grigelis) steal the show at times, especially Grigelis whose delightfully gormless TJ is particularly entertaining. Their act 2 song Lady In The Long Black Dress walks the line between funny and uncomfortable, but fortunately stays on the lighthearted side thanks to some joyously over the top choreography, with is performed with panache.

In fact, Sister Act is full of brilliant musical numbers, and with music and lyrics by Alan Menken and Glen Slater that is hardly surprising. The highlight of the show is most definitely Raise Your Voice, during which Deloris finally teaches the nuns how to sing. The song is wonderfully uplifting and a real earworm, and it perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the whole show. Meanwhile Alexandra Burke gets to show off her voice in songs such as the sizzling diva number Fabulous Baby and the more understated title song Sister Act.

However, while Sister Act is jam packed with exciting performances and catchy tunes, the book itself feels a little disjointed at times. For a story about a woman whose life is in danger, there is very little sense of threat for much of the musical. In fact despite the fact that act 2 is relatively fast paced and plot heavy, several of the dialogue scenes feel slightly aimless and repetitive. Equally, many of the characters interpersonal relationships seem a little rushed or unfounded. In short, the plot feels a little thin at points, while several characters never seem to be explored much at all, and to some extent this is emphasised by some unusual directorial choices.

On a positive note, the production in itself is a very visually exciting one, with Richard G Jones' lighting design being particularly distinguishable. Sister Act's large group numbers are elevated by a barrage of colour which really emphasises the disco atmosphere of some songs, and of course, a healthy bit of disco ball usage is very much appreciated by the audience (and characters!) at times. 

This new production of Sister Act is certainly an entertaining one, and while the book is arguably flawed in some ways, all in all the show is a feel-good fun time brimming with fabulous performances and show stopping songs which will have audiences dancing in their seats.

Edinburgh Fringe Review - Adventures of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl

In the a followup to her much lauded one woman show Confessions of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl, which played during the Fringe last year, Rebecca Perry returns to the role of sweet and likable coffeeshop girl Joanie as she heads to Africa to work with primatologist Jane Goodall in Tanzania. Perry's enthusiastic energy and endearingly gawky protagonist is an engaging lead who keeps the audience entertained and charmed throughout.
Adventures of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl is a fun romp, with plenty of atmosphere, and Joanie addresses the audience as if she is writing in her diary, and that intimacy and personal connection with the audience is what really sweetens the show. While the story feels a little inconsequential in the end, Perry's performance is never anything less than delightful to watch and the show's clever melding of dialogue and music makes for a captivating and whimsical hour long show, and Perry is personable as the red headed protagonist.

The show's cliffhanger ending is slightly unusual, but it leaves the audience wanting more. Hopefully Edinburgh Fringe fans will be treated to another instalment of Joanie's adventures at next year's Fringe. But until then catch Adventures of a Redheaded Coffeeshop Girl at the Gilded Balloon Teviot until the 29th of August.

Edinburgh Fringe Review - Torch

Torch is an all too relatable look at what it's like to be a woman in the 21st century. Beginning in a nightclub, the audience is introduced to the show's protagonist, a cheeky everywoman who is pushing 30 but clinging to the memories of her youth. It is those memories which the audience is made privy to throughout the course of the show, and which endear her to her audience. 
Photo credit - Richard Lakos
The dialogue crackles with a combination of brutal honesty, matter of factness with just a hint of regret ebbing in at times. The scenes build slowly, as the audience is drawn into the protagonist's life story, before exploding with aptly interspersed musical numbers, during which performer (Jess Mabel Jones) demonstrates thrilling vocals. Particularly notable numbers such as Lady Gaga's The Edge of Glory and Sia's Chandelier are poised to receive their own round of applause, and leave the audience hungering for more musical interjections. 

The production design of Torch is also particularly noteworthy, as the concert-esque lighting, glitter filled balloons and use of a hand held mic for musical numbers makes the show feel like more of a gig than a play, and further electrify the show's already buzzing atmosphere.

Riotously fun but simultaneously melancholic, Phoebe Eclair-Powell's Torch is a glossy, gloriously rousing new piece of theatre, performed characterfully by Jess Mabel Jones, whose remarkably likability and versatility really brings the piece to life.  

Catch Torch at Underbelly Cowgate at 8:50pm every day until 28th August.

Edinburgh Fringe Review - Mr Incredible

Camilla Whitehill's longform monologue stars Alistair Donegan as Adam, a newly single man who confides in an unseen companion about his relationship with ex-girlfriend Holly. The play tackles a number of major societal issues including attitudes towards women in the workplace, modern relationships, and several other topical elements which come to light in extraordinary ways as the plot develops.
The play begins with Adam throwing up onto a houseplant, before settling down at an office desk with a meal deal lunch and telling the story of his lost love to the unseen and unidentified peer, who is apparently sitting across from him. The show's nuanced subtlety is a rare treat amongst the myriad of one man shows on offer today. Donegan plays the slightly slimy but mostly likeable Adam as mopey but pally, chary but charismatic. His undefinable character is what makes him such an interesting lead. 

The theme of secrecy and miscommunication is utilised extraordinarily well in Mr Incredible. There is a moment near the end of the play when the audience becomes privy to some new and shocking information, and the atmosphere completely shifts. It is a moment of pure, gobsmacking, instantaneous realisation, in which all of the play's events suddenly make sense. The slow burning plot explodes in an instant, and both actor and audience are left totally exposed. 

However, the slow pace does occasionally work against the piece, which relies on sustained suspense to enable a satisfyingly dramatic finale. That being said, the bombshell dropped near the very end of the play makes up for the slightly plodding expositional scenes.

Mr Incredible is a clever, unpredictable and supremely well acted one man play, with sharp writing and enough twists and turns to keep the audience in the dark for pretty much the whole runtime.  

Catch Mr Incredible at Underbelly, Cowgate, every day at 4:40pm until August 28th.

Edinburgh Fringe Review - Kitten Killers: Stallions

Stallions is Kitten Killers' newest sketch show, concerning all things feminism. As the audience is let into the venue they are handed glow sticks and greeted by a barrage of girl power pop tunes. The scene is set before the lights even go down. 
Once the show starts, the trio of lovely feminists hold no bars and tackle all kinds of issues, from errant leg hair to cringeworthy and inappropriate tinder conversations. The show is structured as a collection of short comedic skits, interspersed with songs and facts about the state of feminism today. For the most part the sketches hit their mark, with particularly raucous receptions garnered from a sketch about Macbeth's 'basic witches', a clever parody of Shakira's Whenever Wherever and an imagined prologue to The Little Mermaid wherein Eric comes to terms with merman anatomy. 

However, the show is at its strongest when the performers address the audience directly and discuss their own experiences of sexism, and their own attitudes towards feminism. The fun and relaxed atmosphere created by the comedic moments is contrasted perfectly by the more serious topical points, which in turn tie the surreal skits into their more sombre roots. So while the audience in treated to some excellent comedy, they also leave with a deepened understanding of (amongst other things) the Bechdel test, and the sleazy side of tinder. 

However, while the show is full of excellent material, the actual production is a little rough around the edges. The audience is left in the dark literally at the end of every sketch, while the three comedians leave to change for the next scene. This slows the pace down and disrupts the flow of the show. More representational costumes which could be put on and taken off on stage may aid this particular fault, and help to keep the show concise and focused. 

All in all Stallions is a well conceived, well researched and passionately performed sketch show, but with a bit of polishing it could reach stylish new heights. 

Edinburgh Fringe Review - Joan

JOAN is a cutting new play by about iconic 13th century figure Joan of Arc. The play skillfully weaves modern gender identity themes into a time tested tale, and brings the character of Joan to life. Her devotion to the unseen Saint Catherine is played tenderly and allows the audience to understand the lengths to which Joan will go to prove her love and loyalty. Actor Lucy Jane Parkinson, who recently won a The Stage Edinburgh Award for her performance, is captivating in the title role. 
Photo Credit: Robert Day
Lucy J Skilbeck's masterful storytelling ensures takes the audience on a journey with Joan, from rise to power to execution, and Parkinson brings a cheeky, charming air to the character, thus totally refining the 13th century hero. This revitalisation of the character is also apt, as it allows the theme of gender identity (a popular theme at this year's Fringe, and for good reason as the issues of transgender rights continue to dominate headlines around the world) to become a main focus of the story. Watching Joan trial, experiment and perfect a military persona, through the use of facial hair and a masculine gait, the parallels between Joan's struggles in the 13th century and those of today's transgender populous become all the more abundant. Particularly as the regulation of women's behaviour and femininity is taken to more extreme heights towards the end of the show. 

Joan of Arc is an enduring and inspirational character whose life story Lucy J Skilbeck has modernised and reimagined for today's audiences. In JOAN, audiences will marvel at Joan's triumphs, gasp at her undoings, and leave with an uneasiness hanging over them. Skilbeck's dialogue is both humorous and cutting, and Lucy Jane Parkinson is the perfect person to bring the role to life. A real star turn for both writer and performer. 

Edinburgh Fringe Review - Lucy, Lucy and Lucy Barfield

One woman shows aren't exactly hard to come by at Edinburgh Fringe, and although most of the stars of these shows have great stories to tell, often the audience is never engaged or familiar enough with the performer at the heart of the show for them to feel any real sense of journey or finality. However, it'd be hard to say the same thing about Lucy, Lucy and Lucy Barfield, a heartwarming, tearjerking hour long show is a miraculous whisper of a show, which sheds light on the mysterious Lucy Barfield who C.S Lewis dedicated The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe to. Although 99% of audience members probably never thought about the unknown lucy on the dedications page, her moving life story could stand alone as the topic of a show.
Photo credit - Michelle Wormleighton
What is so engaging about Lucy, Lucy and Lucy Barfield is actress Lucy Grace's charming performance. The audience has a clear sense of how much her personal quest means to her, and as such every bit of information feels like a success for both Lucy Grace and her audience. 

The story of Lucy Barfield which the audience is exposed to piece by piece is fascinating in itself, and as more and more of her life story is uncovered, the audience gets drawn further in. For every happy thing in Barfield's life these is a distressing one to go with it, and this rollercoaster of emotions, which clearly affects our protagonist so deeply, is a total tearjerker for the rest of the audience too .

Although Barfield's story is ultimately one of tragedy, her legacy is one of hope and inspiration. The audience is told about the hundreds of letters written to Barfield over the course of her life (many of which she never received) and about the effect which she had on those around her, including a friend which Lucy Grace tracked down and interviewed for the piece, and whose voice is heard in snippets throughout the show, telling anecdotes about Barfield as a young girl, and expanding on Lucy's personality and interests, especially that of ballet. 

When the show begins, Lucy Barfield is a mysterious figure from the past, but by the end of the play she is fleshed out entirely. Lucy, Lucy and Lucy Barfield is an ultimately uplifting show, headed by a captivating actress whose passion for her quest is infectious!