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! 

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. 

Edinburgh Fringe Review - Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs 2: The Magic Cutlass

Children's theatre is not as easy to get right as some people might think. Children's theatre should be as captivating, stimulating and clever as theatre for adults. Thankfully Les Petits get it 100% right in their swashbuckling new adventure Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs 2: The Magic Cutlass, a sequel based on Giles Andreae and Russell Ayto's much loved children's book.

While preparing for their school play, Flinn and his friends Pearl and Tom get whisked away and find themselves on a pirate ship surrounded by a gang of dopey dinos. The most fearsome (but still pretty silly) dino named Captain T-Rex forces Flinn to recover the lost magic cutlass from the bottom of the ocean, or see his friends turned into sausages! The plot is wonderfully zany, with enough twists and turns, jokes and theatrical magic to keep children (and parents) excited and engaged throughout. 

The production is wonderfully vibrant, with excellent costumes, atmospheric lighting and some shadow puppetry that will astound children! A particularly spectacular scene which shows Flinn journeying beneath the waves to seek out the magic cutlass is presented very inventively, and the dinosaurs' arrival is intriguing too. The use of puppetry in the show is uniformly brilliant, and is just one of the show's many outstanding features.  
Photo Credit - The Other Richard
Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs 2 features loads of brilliant, catchy songs which the dynamic cast of 4 perform skillfully. The songs are not only catchy, they're also very smart. Children will wants to jump up and down and dance to the dino ditties. 

Despite being advertised as a show for children aged 2 and above, the production does get a tiny bit scary at points. The dinosaurs' arrival is particularly creepy, with the audience being shown just a glimpse of a tail or the shadow of a claw before the hero and his friends are abducted one by one. The scene is not as sinister as it sounds, but it is accompanied by copious amounts of artificial fog, and tense eerie music, and some very young children might find it a bit too much. That being said, once introduced properly, the dinosaur pirate crew are more lovable than they are scary, even though they do have their moments as the villains of the piece. 

Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs 2 is a model example of just how magical children's theatre can be. This joyful, exciting and engaging show is not to be missed. Catch it at the Pleasance Courtyard at at 10:30am every day until the 29th!

Edinburgh Fringe Review - Katie Brennan's Quarter Life Crisis

Actress and blogger Katie Brennan is sharing her quarter life crisis with audiences every night in the intimate Wee Coo studio at the Underbelly George Square. She cuts a whimsical figure in a sparkly jumpsuit and heels, and with even sparklier eyelids to boot she'll remind you of your kooky best friend from Year 7, except grown up and talking about unemployment and bad sex AS WELL as tamagotchis and 90s pop music! Her musical cabaret show documents the universal truths of all young women today, from inevitable bad Tinder dates to brutal bouts of unemployment, and everything else in between! 
From from the get go it is clear that no holds will be barred in Brennan's hour long confession session, and armed with a can of G&T and a megawatt smile she opens up to her audience completely. Over the duration of the show she shares tons of hilarious, wince inducing anecdotes which sound too unbelievable to be true, and yet are totally relatable at the same time. As such her audience is with her every step of the way. 

The instantly likable Brennan peppers her cabaret show with plenty of hilarious tunes, co-written and played by MD Joseph Atkins. Songs like Why I'm Not Carrie Bradshaw and and excellent tweaked cover of Somewhere That's Green are particularly memorable numbers, but every pop and / or musical theatre inspired song is charming and brutally honest, and excellently sung too, it must be said!

Katie Brennan's Quarter Life Crisis is a love letter to struggling 90s kids everywhere. It will make you cringe, grin, laugh and cry, and is a must see for any young Londoner struggling to make their dreams a reality. Catch it every night at 10:50 at the Underbelly George Square.

Edinburgh Fringe Review - Paper Hearts the Musical

Paper Hearts the Musical is a heartwarming new British musical currently debuting at the Edinburgh Fringe. The story takes place in two different worlds: the real word, and the world which takes place inside the book which Paper Hearts' protagonist Atticus Smith is in the middle of writing. In the real world Atticus is a newly single bookshop assistant who can't see eye to eye with Lilly Sprockett, the shop's new manager who is drafted in to oversee the its closure. 

Although initially when the plot switches between worlds the transitions feel a little disjointed, once the format is established and both worlds feel more fleshed out they interlink and overlap very slickly, thanks in no small part to the brilliantly efficient choreography of Lindsay McAllister, which frequently explores ingenious ways to spice both worlds together. All of this makes for a fast paced and compelling plot which is elevated by its folksy score. It is reminiscent of musicals such as Once and The Last 5 Years, but feels markedly different, fresh and new.
The cast of 11 (many of whom perform as actor-musicians) are absolutely first rate, with Adam Small  leading the show with his wonderfully quirky performance as Atticus. His distinctive voice perfectly suits the score, and he has great onstage chemistry with the striking and utterly charming Gabriella Margulies who plays Lilly. Meanwhile Matthew Atkins plays a role in both worlds and is as compelling as secretive Russian journalist Issak as he is endearing as Attacus' sweet but put-upon boss. However Special mention must go to SinĂ©ad Wall who makes a particularly large impression as Yanna, Atticus' feisty literary creation. She perfectly encapsulates Yanna's immense mettle, but also injects a touching and humanising fragility into her performance. It would have been very interesting to see this developed further. 

In fact, the length of the piece is probably its only fault. Running at 1 hour and 15 minutes, it feels a little bit too short. It would be lovely to see the book expanded, in order for the audience to warm to the main quartet, and also avoid the clumping together of songs. The musical opens with three songs back to back, and although each of the songs is great, and necessary for expositional purposes, for a while it feels as if the whole musical is going to be sung through, and as a result it is a bit jarring when the dialogue begins.

Paper Hearts is an utterly magical new musical with so much potential. It will be exciting to see what happens to it over the next few years, but for now it's on at 6:40 at the Med Quad every day until the 29th. Completely unmissable!

Edinburgh Fringe Review - Kids With Beards: The Curse of the Secret Ham

Every afternoon at 4:30, comedy sketch group Kids With Beards are performing their new show The Curse of the Secret Ham at Just The Tonic in The Caves. Spoiler alert! There's much less cured meat in it than the title suggests.

The show gets off to a rather slow unassuming start, with a couple of good but predictable jokes. Thankfully, once cast gets into their stride there are some genuine laugh out loud moments. One sketch parodies a pizza delivery man pornography cliche, another focuses on two pop stars from 'Recordia' who play the recorder through their nose, while a third spoofs Masterchef with a 5 second cooking competition. However, the most hilarious sketches follow two completely monotone acquaintances who meet in an optometrist of sorts. Although no one sketch is particularly groundbreaking or new, the cast sell every joke with their energy, and keep the audience on their toes with quick witted improvisations.

However, while there are some really brilliant sketches, it occasionally feels as if the jokes are not outrageous enough. There are a couple of riotous quips and sketches about incest, death, and Brexit, but the cast seem to play it safe and could afford to push for even more shocking jokes. Additionally a couple of jokes run quite long, and the audience's initial reactions wear off before the sketch is over. More conciseness and a more frantic pace may help the pacing, which feels slightly lagging at times.

Overall The Curse of the Secret Ham is great fun, and feels fresh despite the Fringe's sketch comedy saturation, but it could do with a bit of fine tuning and polishing to really help elevate the jokes.

Review - Groundhog Day (Old Vic)

Groundhog Day is an exciting new musical based on the 1993 film of the same same. It stars Andy Karl as narcissistic weatherman Phil Connors, who begrudgingly travels to the tiny rural town of Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania to report on a story about its most famous resident Punxsutawney Phil, a Groundhog who can allegedly predict the weather. However, Phil finds himself stuck in time loop and is forced to live out the same day again and again...and again, in a seemingly endless cycle. Groundhog Day is directed by the Old Vic's artistic director Matthew Warchus, with a book by Danny Rubin and music and lyrics by Tim Minchin. 
Photo credit - Manuel Harlan
This is Tim Minchin's first musical theatre offering since Matilda, one of the most successful musicals of recent years, and as such the anticipation for this show has been huge. Therefore, what is immediately obvious is how markedly different Groundhog Day is in terms of musical styling. The songs are fast paced and feature the witty, wordy lyrics that Minchin is famous for, but are less instantly memorable this time around. That being said, the show features a number of thrilling rock inspired tunes, as well as several sweet ballads. It'd be unwise to equate catchiness to quality, as that certainly isn't applicable in the case of Groundhog Day

The show almost solely focuses on Andy Karl, whose voice is perfectly suited to the score and whose magnetic stage presence and easy charm almost make Phil a likable protagonist. However, particularly in the first act, when his sole drive seems to be bullying and mistreating those around him and trying to seduce every girl he meets, Phil is a decidedly difficult character to warm to.

Interestingly, at the top of act two Groundhog Day temporarily refocuses on Nancy, an everywoman from Punxsutawney who catches Phil's eye and is temporarily the object of his affections. Georgina Hagen sings the touching opening song with power and gravitas, but it is hard to have an emotional response to a song sung by a character which the audience is almost entirely unfamiliar with. Perhaps this is the point though? Groundhog Day is Phil's personal purgatory, and yet his actions affect everyone around him (albeit just for one day), a fact which he gives very little thought to initially. 

After accepting that he is fated to repeat the same day forever, Phil naturally begins to reconsider his life and what he wants from it, and his attentions are turned to his news producer acquaintance Rita, played by Carlyss Peer. Rita is an interesting character who has her own relatable problems and motivations. Clearly a foil for Phil, she is plighted by her treatment at work and her longing to find a perfect partner and yet maintains an easy going, kindhearted persona nonetheless. Carlyss Peer is warm and affable in the role, and portrays Rita's depth remarkably well, considering the fact that she has only one day's worth of character development. 
Photo credit - Manuel Harlan
It could very easily be argued that Phil's character arc is driven by his need to finally get the girl by whatever means necessary, which is a slightly outdated motive. However, Phil's learnt selflessness and humility are really what drives the story in the end, and offers a much more rewarding resolution to his character flaws. The story is intriguing and surprising, and by the end it truly feels like a journey has been had by all. A hard feat to accomplish in a musical where the sole premise is that a day repeats over and over again. Many of Phil's Groundhog Days are presented in a series of montages, executed slickly with the help of several revolves. This format ensures that the audience gets a sense of Phil's exasperation and entrapment, but also safeguards against the possibility of the repetitiveness becoming sluggish. 

The revolves are frankly mind boggling, and in fact it seems that the whole show relies on them. Designer Rob Howell's sets are simplistic yet effective, and lighting design is wonderfully atmospheric. The small town aesthetic of Groundhog Day is perfectly encapsulated in of all of the props and sets, from a bar to a diner, to a bed and breakfast, and everywhere else in between. Despite the need for simplicity due to the fast paced set changes throughout the show, the attention to detail is still delightful. 

Groundhog Day is an exciting new musical which exceeds all expectations. It is a shame that as of yet there is no news of a cast album, as repeat listening would no doubt uncover dozens of witty lyrics which are easily missed in the relentlessness of the musical on stage. All in all though, the show is a dark yet delightful romp, which takes full advantage of its repetitiveness, and makes sure that every moment is engaging and unpredictable. Don't miss it at the Old Vic until September 17th.

Review - Murder on the Terrace ((Heartbreak Productions) UK Tour)

Is there anything more enjoyable than lounging outside on a summer evening, watching an excellent play and enjoying a picnic at the same time? Well, that is exactly what Heartbreak Productions Open Air Theatre audiences can enjoy this summer at many venues up and down the country. 

At a garden party hosted by Lord Cava, his nephew Charles, the heir to Cava's Sparkling Wines, is found dead under mysterious circumstances. Enter Inspector Back (of the Yard) an imposing yet exasperated detective who enlists the audience to help solve the case. 

Murder on the Terrace is a farcical whodunit, packed with an array of kooky characters, shocking plot twists and frankly criminal jokes! The original script by David Kerby-Kendall features countless pop culture references, as well as one or two obligatory song and dance numbers, and audience participation throughout. 

The audience participation element in particular is a big hit, with audience members being called up on stage to take part in murder mystery themed quizzes and games, as well as being encouraged to take on the role of detective and interrogate characters in order to try and uncover the truth. 

The cast is razor sharp and have great rapport with one another as well as with the audience. Their multi-roling is impressive, and is also used to great comedic effect within the plot. James Edwards is brilliant as Lord Cava, a despicable toff who isn't afraid to incriminate himself in order to show his disdain for his dead socialist nephew, meanwhile Amy Gardyne has some excellent one liners as Ellie, the Cava's hapless maid, and also impresses as Lady Caroline, Lord Cava's daughter. The whole cast works together as an excellent comedic ensemble, and is led by Benjamin Thorn as Inspector Back, whose sighs and exasperated glances to the audience bring about some of the show's biggest laughs.

Pedantically, there are several glaringly anachronistic plot elements, some rather provocative stereotypes, and a rather inordinate disregard for the fourth wall (even for a tongue-in-cheek comedy!), which may throw off a few audience members who are unfamiliar with the genre of farce. Similarly, the absence of political correctness may initially elicit a few uncomfortable chortles. However, once the tongue in cheek nature of the script is fully established the audience is able to relax and engage with the piece more comfortably.

All in all, Murder on the Terrace is excellent fun, particularly for those who would consider themselves Agatha Christie or Poirot aficionados. The jokes come thick and fast, there is innuendo to spare, but wrapped up in all of the comedy is a rather neat and genuinely intriguing murder mystery story. 

Visit  www.heartbreakproductions.co.uk to find the full tour schedule, book tickets, and read about 3 other plays also being toured by Heartbreak Productions this summer.

Thanks to TheatreBloggers for the invite!