First Week on the Festival

Written in haste, a quick run-down of what I’ve seen and liked in the 2016 Edinburgh festival thus far.

With some shades of the film Source Code, Stop the Train is a grown-ups’ musical,  sexy and sophisticated in issues and attitudes.   Its sharp, singable and selling out.  The action starts when an old and eccentrically white male threatens lives on an urban commuter train, demanding mostly that his fellow passengers get off their mobile phones and talk; it leads to some startling railway revelations in song and dance.

Stop the Train Edinburgh Fringe St Augustine's

Stop the Train

The show. at Paradise Green in Augustines, on George IV Bridge,  is written by two platinum-selling songwriters.   There’s not a weak tune in the list. and the design, costumes, dancing and vocals are all four to five star.

It looks like a big budget (for the Fringe) and deftly produced  dry-run for a West End show that gives Edinburgh audiences the chance to see a full-cast, brand-new musical at close quarters on the cheap (it runs for 90 minutes rather than the hour).

The moral of Stop the Train is to is carpe diem, to get off social media and seize the day, and there’s a nice love story intertwined with it.   It also appears somewhat topical in the era of chronically over-crowded trains. There are flouncing lawyers, Essex girls, and delicious dances with lottery balls and hairdressers; the designs are striking.

The work will continue being finessed; its  the subject of a documentary on the making of a musical.   No idea if it will be a global hit, but it makes you laugh and makes you think.  Richard Ely plays the central character with a good mix of madness and pathos. The ensemble cast includes Megan Pearl Spencer – who has the best run of songs, and whose singing is a powerful and moving – with Jack Wealthall, John F Doull, Amy Forrest, Jarrard Richards and Katy Oliver,  all in excellent voice, and Oliver with her tremendous expressive sulky pout.

I’ve spent much too long now on a single show so moving on…The Fringe this year on a very thin sampling is laden with the old saws of sex and madness on the one hand – and on the other with gathering global issues, like war, migration, and democratic values under threat.   That makes for a fertile, swirling soup and what seem like strong shows.

The show that has stayed with me was one of the very first I saw, on the recommendation of Fraser Smith at the Underbelly. Lucy McCormick: Triple Threat appears rather pretentiously elsewhere on this site and it’s been reviewed very well by Mark Fisher in The Scotsman.   It’ a work of searing artistry, but do not take your mother, your children, or indeed anyone else with whom you would feel remotely embarrassed.

Two shows at Summerhall underlined the serious stuff that much of the Fringe is trying to escape. Counting Sheep (with a Fringe First, and widely reviewed) has an epic, Moses-parting-the-waters quality to it.  It draws  the audience to join democratic protest and understand the consequences, and how it achieves that alone is technically fascinating.   If you don’t want to be ‘fully immersive’ on the ground floor, take a seat in the balcony to (mostly) watch.

Edinburgh Fringe 2016 Summerhall

Counting Sheep, Summerhall

The show follows the 2014 events in Maidan Nezalezhnosti (Independence Square) in Kiev and the conflict that followed in a tumultuous, “guerilla opera” style but with wonderful choral and marching songs,  in traditional Ukrainian polyphony.  You emerge amazed and with the tiniest feeling that you have watched a piece of Ukrainian propaganda.

In Us/Them, a 10am show at Summerhall, it’s the Russians who are the victims, though it is much less political.    This show takes on the horrific Beslan school massacre but with the lightest, most theatrical touch played with great subtlty and innovation, rather than for shock. Absolutely to be recommended, from the later teens to any age.

I’ve reviewed 12 Shakespeare shows, in alterered states and spin-offs, and three Alice in Wonderland shows for The Scotsman – when I can find the links on line, I will add them.

Please note: my views in this post are by me for artspress and not an endorsement from any other publication. If you have managed to read this far please double- check for dates on the Fringe website that the shows are still running.

I reviewed Macbeth the Musical at C Venues for The Scotsman, and interested to see how it grows in confidence as the festival progresses. The show embodies the Fringe spirit; it’s under resourced technically, and apparently written and sung by a young all black cast from Hackney,  with wonderful voices and attitude.   It wraps up on the 20th.

Alix in Wuntergarten is memorably zany and off the wall, another highlight.

One tiny discovery without major reviews as of now is Van Gogh Find Yourself.   Walter DeForest, a US actor, has conceived a sweet, gentle show based on the letters of Vincent Van Gogh to his brother Theo – his supporter and often sole collector – which draws the audience in through the simple device of asking them what they know of Van Gogh.

In the basement of a cafe on Clerk Street this free show has a simple, intimate, thoughtful quality on the cross-section of visual art and  Van Gogh’s own tragic life and struggles with mental health. I will hope to do a separate blog on it shortly.

I met DeForest as Van Gogh on the mile and tracked him down to the Natural Good Kafe where he’s performing, and he’s pictured here with not a bad impression of Van Gogh’s Yellow House.  He paints during the show.

Edinburgh Fringe van gogh

Van Gogh Find Yourself

Finally…I took a friend and his teenaged son to Warbey and Farrell’s Rhapsody at the George Square Theatre. It’s a big venue and tickets were fairly easy to come by, thought these piano duettists, or duellists,  routinely sell out here.   Both dad and son were enchanted – with high standards, apparently, given they were heading on to a nearly four hour screening of Stanley Kubrick’s remastered epic Barry Lyndon.  Warbey and Farrell are charming, and this act is nicely structured,  beginning with the technically difficult classical material and moving to the outright funny at the end. They play it with their miraculously overlapping hands – projected on a screen behind – with a infectiously gentle stage camp.

To wrap up, hoping to head soonish to Exposing Edith, after three  in the Made In Adelaide cabaret showcase, with Michaela Burger [vocals] and Greg Wain [guitar] doing the songs of Edith Piaf, and it was a tempting taste for the full show, which comes with strong reviews from Australia.

Exposing Edith Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2016

Exposing Edith

I’m a Summerhall regular, and the place has won three Fringe First awards in the first week of the Fringe.   One  recommendation for cautious festival goers would be to book a selection of the best shows in the venue late in the Fringe, when they would likely still have tickets.    Doubting Thomas is being pushed there.

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