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! 

Edinburgh Fringe Review - Mrs Roosevelt Flies To London

In 1942 Eleanor Roosevelt visited England to gauge how the public's feelings about the war, and to assure England of America's support. Mrs Roosevelt Flies To London shows an elderly Eleanor Roosevelt reminiscing about her visit, the people she met, and her own personal opinions towards those people, all while in the midst of the Cuban missile crisis. It's a very well researched and informative one woman show skillfully performed by Alison Skilbeck. 
Photo credit - Chris Christodoulou
Although Skilbeck doesn't attempt an impersonation of Eleanor Roosevelt in either voice or appearance, she still seems perfectly believable a the unflappable first lady. 

But while a lot of the play feels like a history lesson come to life, the most intriguing moments occur when Mrs Roosevelt opens up to the audience about her personal life, and in particular her possibly romantic relationship with journalist Lorena Hickok. Skilbeck's matter of fact line delivery notably softens when talking about Hickock, further confirming the pair's love. 

Although Skilbeck injects plenty of humour and level-headedness into Mrs Roosevelt, the plot does seem rather overstuffed with more dry, mechanical scenes involving Mrs Roosevelt meeting British politicians and the like. They are undeniably interesting, but do somewhat hinder the plot, which otherwise chugs along at a steady pace and jumps comfortably from one location to another. 

All in all, Mrs Roosevelt Flies To London is a compelling one woman show, framed in an interesting way. While the reenactments of Mrs Roosevelt's meeting with key figures in British politics are rather enlightening, the most absorbing moments are those which touch upon her internal thoughts, feelings and emotions, and thus humanise the iconic American first lady. 

Edinburgh Fringe Review - No Horizon

No Horizon is a new musical which tells the true story of Nicholas Saunderson, a young blind boy with incredible intellect, who dreams of learning at Cambridge University in a time before braille was invented.

The show stars Samuel Reid, an impressive young leading man with an excellent voice, who wins the audience over with his warmth and charisma. Similarly, George Griffiths does well to bring Saunderson's Cambridge-bound friend Joshua Dunn to life, milking every one of his lines for all it is worth. It's a shame that Saunderson's love interest barely registers for much of the show, as young actress Sophie Bradley has a beautifully delicate voice, and makes a perfect ingenue.

With such an interesting and untapped subject to explore, No Horizon certainly has plenty of promise. However, unfortunately the current production has a couple of flaws which really do bring the quality of the piece down. Most notably, almost every one of the very long scene changes take place in blackouts, during which cast members carry benches and other props on and off the stage. The blackouts are awkward and hamper the pace of the plot dramatically. There is also an overreliance on drably coloured projected backgrounds. Obviously the use of projections has its advantages, however, in No Horizon the lack of anything except basic sets and props makes the stage seem very bare, and the two dimensional projections only draw further attention to this. However, other elements of the design were more effective, in particular the costumes by Helen Reid, which injected some welcome colour into the show.

Additionally, the script could do with a bit of reworking, as several scenes contain repetitive dialogue, or convey information which the audience could have inferred for themselves. Although there are many witty lines in the piece, there is also a lot of fat that could be trimmed, especially in the more stagnant dialogue heavy scenes.

However, while the dialogue seems tired, No Horizon's score is very promising, with a couple of brilliant standout numbers. The most entertaining of which are vaudevillian numbers sung by an ensemble of Cambridge students as they lament being 'thick' and not being able to follow their lecturer's dreary teachings. The cast is uniformly hilarious, and the simple but well executed choreography is very fitting. The title song is also a real earworm. Overall, the cast bring the score to life beautifully, and tackle the slightly laboured script with aplomb. 

No Horizon is clearly a labour of love for all involved, especially writer Andy Platt, whose admiration for Saunderson is evident in the script and all of the promotional material. However, the musical lauded as 'The Les Mis of Yorkshire' could do with a bit of polishing and focusing, and an overall lighter touch. It will be interesting to see what happens to No Horizon after its Edinburgh run, as the production is aiming for a UK tour. Saundersons tale deserves recognition, and No Horizon is the perfect vehicle to bring his story to a wider audience, however, it doesn't feel quite ready yet. 

No Horizon plays at the Underbelly Med Quad every day at 5pm until 27th August

Edinburgh Fringe Review - The Inevitable Heartbreak of Gavin Plimsole

The Inevitable Heartbreak of Gavin Plimsole is about a young man coming to terms with the fact that he could die at any minute due to a recently diagnosed heart disease. The audience is fitted with Activio heart rate monitors, and invited into Gavin's shed to meet the bumbling antagonist, played by Richard Lawton. He addresses the audience for the majority of the show, sprouting interesting facts on a myriad of different topics, with the help of his two assistants (Richard Hay and Sarah Griffin) who are dressed in catsuits decorated with a scale version of the human nervous system. From time to time the factoid sharing is interspersed with snippets from Gavin's life, mainly moments featuring ex girlfriend Wren, who he is still in love with. When Gavin has to make any hard decisions about his life he reaches out to the audience for advice on what to do next, selecting his helpers based on who can raise or lower their bpm to his desired number.

Photo Credit - Sharklegs
Unfortunately, although the premise of the show is fascinating, and the main character is likable and endearing for the most part, there is often so much going on that the overarching narrative becomes muddled.  Swapping between reminiscences and lectures to the audience doesn't always work, the love story on which a lot of the show hangs doesn't feel developed enough, and audience members are invited to make suggestions about what Gavin should do next in his life without understanding the poignancy of either decision. 

That being said, the show works best when the audience is involved in the story. The use of heart rate monitors is admittedly interesting too, but unfortunately they are severely underused, and some people's numbers can't easily be read due to the fact that they are projected on the uneven interior of Gavin's shed. 

The relevance of the shed is yet another odd incongruity. Gavin is introduced as a toymaker, and yet spends most of his time in a shed at the bottom of his garden doing science experiments. Plus he wears a blue boilersuit for the duration of the show. These elements seem underdeveloped and make the whole story seem less believable. As such, the show never reaches the emotional depths it is aiming for.

The actors do give it their all though, and there's no denying that the production is full of creativity, from a really brilliant wire puppet, to a contraption which drops a marble down a series of metal tracks and into a box every time the room collectively reaches 500 heart beats. It is clear that The Inevitable Heartbreak of Gavin Plimsole is a play with lots of potential to be a stunning and poignant piece of multimodal theatre. However, the plot's many strands need reigning in, and the use of audience participation needs to be implemented much more frequently.

The Inevitable Heartbreak of Gavin Plimsole is on every day at 1:40pm at the Pleasance Dome, until August 29th.

Edinburgh Fringe Review - Royal Vauxhall

Legend has it that one night in 1988 TV star Kenny Everett, rock legend Freddie Mercury and Princess Diana Spencer dressed up in disguise and went out clubbing together! If that sounds too fantastical to be true that's because it (probably) is, but that didn't stop Desmond O’Connor from transforming the mysterious rumour into brilliant musical, with a plot which somehow seems totally plausible.  
Although O'Connor's songs are fantastically catchy, it is the story itself which is Royal Vauxhall's strongest element. Despite the bawdy jokes and erratic drunken antics, each of the three characters shine brightest in their more reflective moments, and O'Connor's script gives each character a moment to unveil their own very real problems, while maintaining a fun and slightly surreal tone overall. 

Each character having their own dilemma makes for very interesting dynamics between the three characters. However, once they have admitted their problems to each other, the plot has nowhere else to go except round in circles. There is a distinct lack of antagonist, with the main complication being the risk of exposure for the trio. Although lighting and sound design brings the Royal Vauxhall Tavern to life, a larger cast would make their predicament seem much more threatening, which would definitely up the stakes and aid the pace of the show, which does slow down towards the end. 

Despite the lack of a high stakes finale, the final moments of Royal Vauxhall are quite touching. News reporters voices are heard, announcing the deaths of Princess Dianna, Kenny Everett and Freddie Mercury respectively. It's a moment grounded totally in reality, which forces the audience to put the somewhat absurd story to one side for a minute and consider that the show's characters were real people with real struggles. It's a surprisingly low key ending, which suits the piece perfectly, because for all its riotous fun and outrageous gags, it humanises three of the most iconic figures of the 1980s, and for that reason the respectful solemnity feels fitting.

Edinburgh Fringe Review - Swansong

Civilisation has been destroyed by a water based apocalypse, and 4 survivors on a swan shaped pedalo sit contemplating their existence. Bobby is a new age hippie, Adam is a pessimistic know-it-all, Stephen is a polo shirt sporting 'lad' and Claire is an outdoor activities enthusiast. Not the most synergistic of parties. But bonded together one barbaric act (they murder a swan and eat it once Claire's protein bars run out). the unconventional troupe set their minds to founding a new civilisation, free from the societal pressures and inequalities of the past. 

In one particularly interesting turn of events, the group opt to leave any mention of religion out of their guidelines for the new world, however, their rejection of religion coincides with a musical interlude in which the audience witnesses the cast chanting hypnotically about the 4 founding members of the new world whilst walking around with their bodies slightly contorted to resemble the wings or neck of a swan. It is clear that the so called new world a form of worship or idolatry will inevitably take hold. These interesting abstract moments are in sharp contrast with the rest of the piece, and offer an interesting commentary on the role religion, spirituality and/or idolatry in society. 
Photo credit- Milly Smith
The concept of 4 strangers in a pedalo discussing the end of the world isn't immediately the most compelling of plots, and yet in Swansong the story is intriguing and unique enough to keep the audience riveted throughout. This is thanks in no small part to the cast who do a sterling job of making their rather stereotypical characters fun and relatable, even when they're faced with almost-certain death. 

All in all Swansong is a triumph which succeeds in portraying the end of the world trope in a creative new way, and raises some interesting questions about just what society would cling on to (both metaphorically and physically) if the world as we know it were to end. Catch it at the Pleasance Courtyard at 5pm every day until 29th August. 

Edinburgh Fringe Review - Verge of Strife

As one of the most famous war poets of his time, WW1 poet Rupert Brooke seems like an interesting subject for a play. However, despite touching upon several interesting themes, and showing Brooke's inner restlessness well, Verge of Strife seems somewhat directionless.

Photo Credit - Arsalan Sattari
The audience longs for a dramatic moment, but all such moments occur in between scenes and are merely discussed in passing before the play moves on. As such the plot saunters along without much clear sense of direction or urgency for most of its running time. 

The story also relies on its audience having a fairly in depth prior knowledge of not only Brooke's life and works, but also the lives of his friends, lovers, and other prominent societal figures at the time, and those who are not equipped with this may find themselves getting lost rather quickly. Especially because the play is structured so choppily. Admittedly the fast paced scene changes facilitated by just a snappy lighting change or prop rearrangement, do make for some admirably slick storytelling. But there are altogether too many scenes of Brooke pontificating in front of swooning admirers, and not enough exploration of his inner workings or the inspirations for his famous works. Nor is enough time spent exploring Brooke's transition from breezy young man to hardened naval sub-lieutenant. In fact, for a play about a famous war poet, very minimal scenes are dedicated to showing Brooke's actually experiencing war itself. 

However, with a wild glimmer in his eyes, and a easy swagger to his step, Jonny Labey makes the most of Brooke's vulnerable moments, and is subsequently excellent as the tumultuous poet, especially when he shares scenes with Emma Barkley who plays Brooke's earnest lover Ka Cox. 

Production designer Emeline Beroud's work is also more than just serviceable. The simplistic, summer-y set is wonderfully archaic, and compliments the production's undeniable overall finesse.

Verge of Strife is an elegantly designed production with a strong cast . Unfortunately though, despite beautifully incorporating Brooke's works into the script, the who things seems a bit underpowered and the choppy scenes and unceremonious ending leave the audience feeling deflated.