Thursday, 15 August 2013

Muppet Lord of the Rings

Thanks to some vigorous crowdmelding earlier today we have a workable cast for the 
Muppet Lord of the Rings!

Gollum and (surprisingly) Bombadil were the most hotly contested roles among our muppety actors, whilst casting the highly bankable frog and pig stars so as to maintain their chemistry while remaining true to the source text proved a challenge.

Interestingly, hot properties Gonzo, Swedish Chef and Waldorf & Statler were most in demand for multiple roles.

The all-important Gandalf role remains undecided, with several deceased actors contesting with stars who have already done their stint with Kermit and crew. This part remains open, though I can announce that Patrick Stewart and Derek Jacobi are in talks.

Frodo ... Kermit 
Sam ... Fozzie 
Merry ... Pepe
Pippin ... Rizzo

Aragorn ... Gonzo 
Boromir ... Rowlf 
Gimli ... Animal
Legolas ... Link Hogthrob
Elrond ... Sam the Eagle 
Gollum ... Swedish Chef
Balrog ... Sweetums
Saruman ... Waldorf and Statler 
Galadriel ... Piggy 
Arwen ... Camilla 
Theoden ... Dr Bunsen Honeydew
Grima ... Beaker
Denethor ... Oscar the Grouch 
Treebeard ... Big Bird
Mouth of Sauron ... Cookie Monster 
Assorted elves ... assorted pigs
Nazgul ... Uncle Deadly
Tom Bombadil ... Jonny Fiama 
Mumakil ... Snuffaluffagus 
Faramir ... Robin
Eowyn ... Janice
Cave trolls ... the Gorgs from Fraggle Rock

Thanks again,
JRR Henson

Saturday, 10 August 2013

The Chocolate Ocelot’s 2013 Fringe - Day Seven

Last day. Sad face.

Due to the stupid amount of time it takes me to write up each previous day’s Pouch report, every morning this week has been something of a rush here at McOcelot Mews. So even though we are keen to nip out to catch a free interactive detective show called The Hawke Papers at The Blind Poet at 11:00, there’s no way I can finish hammering at the laptop, pull on an increasingly manky timetable t-shirt and rush across town in time for the start. Which is a shame.

Speaking of the fabled t-shirt, it has served its purpose well this week, both as a scheduling tool and also as an aid to meeting people. But after several hot days in various cramped theatrical venues, it has rather started to walk around on its own. So I opt for my venerable (but clean) Chimp Guevara top instead. Next year, Herself announces, we shall have black t-shirts, so they can last longer.

I should also point out here that m’colleague has also equipped herself this week with wee laminated timetable cardlets, attached to her person by a sturdy steel ring, which miraculously have survived this entire adventure without coming off, being sat on or gouging out a small person’s eye, which is a result. Well worth repeating this key piece of Fringe equipment next time.

Laughing Horse at the Counting House

Billed with a running time of only thirty minutes, this midday show appeals to us on paper not only for its compact duration but also its performer, Snog, Marry, Avoid presenter Ellie Taylor. More stand-up performers should be honest about how much material they have, and just put on half an hour’s worth of good stuff, rather than try to stretch it out to a full hour by various means (throwing stuff open to the audience in the hope of some good back and forth banter, an ill-conceived game show segment, or the inevitable uke number, for example).

This is a damn tight, very entertaining show, eventually running to about forty to forty-five minutes, which was just fine in this case. Ellie is personable, friendly and most importantly of all, funny. She recounts tales of her time as a model, weird holidays with her family and Essexy anecdotes with a practiced delivery. The smooth patter, funny voices and gurning all go down very well. I’d certainly see her again.  

The Space @ Surgeon’s Hall

Because we just can’t resist going to comedy murder mystery shows, as may have become evident by now.

Oh dear. This wasn't great. You should know that I hate to speak ill of anyone who's brave and resourceful enough to get off their bums and spend a month at the Fringe, often playing to tiny audiences, no matter how… um… not all that good, they are. But Whodidit is not all that good.

This is a spoof murder mystery, of the ‘mad strangler kills off everyone in a big house one at a time’ variety. And we get to see each and every mad strangling, which is essentially the same gag repeated over and over. Some of the lines are delivered ponderously and with little feel for the comedy in the script (and some of the lines are actually funny, though much is fairly timid pantomimish japery from the Clitheroe Kid era). A couple of the actors manage to kill all feeling of pace and jollity with their straight delivery, which is a shame. And it’s an hour and fifteen minutes long, which is waaay too long.

But here are the good bits: the cast all appear to be hovering around retirement age, so fair play to them for putting on a show which, ponderous as it is at times, still requires nipping on and off stage to make a few costumes changes. Also, the big chap who plays the murderer and the uncle in the wheelchair ain't half bad, and the chap with the Lionel Jeffries 'tache who plays the inspector executes a most impressive judo roll during a mimed tussle to great effect. Finally, their breezy, colourful clownish costumes are perfectly complemented by the jolly pairs of crocs the cast are all sporting – the ideal footwear for the older performer, combining comfort, style and grip in one rubbery package.

Alexis Dubus: Cars and Girls
The Dram House

The Dram House, just off Guthrie Street, currently abuts a building site, wherein the old Gilded Balloon stood. Hence the peculiar backdrop to this hour of poetry, as I cannot take my eyes off the enormous bliming crane-claw thing hauling several tons of concrete up and down scant metres away from the window behind Mr Dubus’ head. This impending sense of constructorial death adds piquancy to the performance, in my opinion.

I should also say that I am now unsure how to pronounce Dubus, since the ticket guy outside the Dram House pronounced it Dubois. That can’t be right, can it? I’d been going with ‘DOObus’. Message me if you know the right answer.

Since we weren't able to summon up the financial support to put in a reasonable bid for a private show from Alexis' French alter-ego Marcel Lucont, we are more than happy to sit in on his work in progress poetry, which boiled down to a couple of longish stories from his early twenties, one a hitch-hiking trip with a girlfriend through France, Spain and Morocco, the other his dreamlike experiences at the Burning Man festival in Nevada in the company of his friend Hayden (hmm, nice name).

Entertaining, touching, educational and frequently rhyming, it’s all good stuff. We chat to Alexis afterwards and say we hope to attend Marcel’s late night cabaret that evening, though the future will prove that our collective flesh will be far too weak to make good on the promise. I'm sure it’s a great show though. Google Marcel Lucont for some fine YouTube material.

Assembly at the Mound

Once more to the gothic building where we saw Avenue Q. The rain has finally decided to show its sodden face over the skies of Edinburgh, but once again the handy Bat-Utility Rucksack has the answer, in the shape of my handy brolly. After a pleasant chat with some ladies of leisure, swapping show recommendations (them - a drumming thing where everyone gets to join in, us - The Show That Goes Wrong), we shuffle inside for a hypnotic hour of ensemble juggling.

The quickest way to describe Smashed, if this makes any sense, is The Ukulele Orchestra Of Great Britain, but with juggling. Nine people, several dozen apples and some oh-so fragile crockery, set to easy listening fortiesesque music (the only one I can now remember being Little Jack Little’s I Always Wanted To Waltz in Berlin). There’s something incredibly mesmeric and almost soporific (though that may just be because we were incredibly zonked out by this point) about watching nine people dressed in smart suits and frocks simultaneously juggling apples and slowly sauntering by us in a never ending circle.

A couple of segments are just downright weird (the bit with the two women crawling past the seven men on all fours whilst apples are rolled down their spines comes to mind, as does the woman jugglespanking all the chaps), but the majority of the show is rather charming, demonstrating their fruit juggling skills in a variety of show pieces and staged contests.

The finale is a bit of a gear-change from the rest of the show, and involves a few sets of crockery which do not survive intact. I’ll be very surprised if Smashed gets through the entire Fringe run without anyone complaining about this bit, as several shards of broken pottery do go flying into the audience (along with masticated apple pulp).

Excellent stuff, but don’t sit in the first few rows.

By the way, the apples are gala. I know because I asked one of the jugglers afterwards and he gave me a battered complementary fruit as a Mr Benn style souvenir. It made it as far as Princes Street before I finally binned it. Just like the Alleycats a cappella show, I emerged from Smashed desperately wanting to juggle. It may well be that a capella juggling could be my ultimate show of choice next year, after Shaolin Ladyboys of course.

Tricity Vogue’s Ukulele Cabaret
Laughing Horse at the Counting House

We meet up with chum and impro-poet CJ, who’s just rolled into town for his Fringe debut later this week. Sadly we’ll be away by then, but we have just enough time to download all our Fringe-fu into his frontal cortex, as well as press a spare timetable into his hands, with a warning to steer clear of avant garde electro noir and hexagenarian whodiditry.

Then a scamper back across the Nor Loch for our last show! Coz it ain't the Fringe without at least one uke show. Hosted by Tricity Vogue, sporting her splendid golden uke headpiece, we are treated to guest spots from three performing chums, who display their uking and singing skills to the crowd. Judges from the audience score each performer and the winner of the Uke Of Edinburgh award gets to play Tricity’s head-uke. We all get to join in on King of the Swingers and Wild Thing, which is fun.

What is not fun are the drunken twats who totally spoil the show for me and probably the performers too. This is of course an occupational hazard of staging free shows late at night in a pub; there’s nothing to stop pissed up twazzocks staggering in and killing the fun. In this case, the offenders are three middle-aged blokes who damn well ought to have known better, but are clearly so smashed they are unable to stop wolf whistling, chewing loudly, and generally behaving inappropriately throughout.

You can be sure that the Ocelot was quietly raging against them several seats away and trying desperately to manifest heretofore unknown head-asploding powers. In a proper venue with door staff and stuff, this wouldn't happen; they’d get the evil eye or be quietly escorted out, but here at the Counting House, we must simply all endure these fifty-year-old yobs pissing about and screwing up what should have been a lovely feel-good climax to the evening (and our week at the Fringe). Shame on you, drunken old people. When I'm in charge of everything, I will find you and wreak a fitting revenge on Tricity’s behalf, possibly involving giant flying ukes.

So that’s it. Fringe all done for us. But not for everyone else, for it continues another couple of weeks at least. Good luck to all of you still performing or yet to venture on stage / back room of pub. See you next year.

Thursday, 8 August 2013

The Chocolate Ocelot’s 2013 Fringe - Day Six

We hurtle headlong to the end of an all too brief Fringe week. Boo and very much hoo. One day I shall be a rich creature of leisure and spend the entire month of August here. And probably go insane sometime around the third week.

But first, a quick guide to eating on the hoof at the Fringe. The edible contents of the Ocelot's Bat-Utility-Rucksack are as follows: one packet Shortbread Highlanders (the round ones with demera sugar round the edge), one Stoats porridge oat bar (breakfast in a slab!), one increasingly powdered packet of tablet (brown confectionary heroin), three rounds of peanut butter sandwiches and one neglected apple (forgotten under a battered copy of the Fringe List magazine, with Red Bastard on the front).

Eating out at the Fringe can soon add up, as everyone’s out to charge you double for eating in the city during August. Go to a supermarket when you arrive, get your own food fixings, and take a packed lunch every day. Like we almost do.

Tea At Five
Space @ Surgeons’ Hall

Shows at the Fringe are getting earlier and earlier, even as the performers seem to be getting younger and younger. Case in point: Tea At Five: The Katherine Hepburn Story. 11:05 in the am and we rock up at Surgeons’ Hall, one of the classier Space venues, to see this one-woman show of the famous Hollywood actress’ life story. Rapid fire dialogue, flawlessly delivered by Megan Lloyd in that uniquely upper class transatlantic Hepburn voice.

Perfectly conveys the woman’s fortitude, humour and lust for life, even when barrelling through bleaker life events like abortion and death. One F-bomb expertly deployed to great effect. Brilliant. Our thanks to Space director (that sounds so cool – ‘space director’. Launch all rockets!) Charles Pamment for our complementary show passes.

I note that when this play first debuted, Kate Mulgrew (Captain Janeway) took the role. Perfect.

The Sign of Four
Just The Tonic at the Caves

Worth mentioning that though they are not really caves, the Caves do share many features of a natural hole in the ground. This particular deep, dark dungeon is especially dank and not a little moist. Those of you who have ever Labyrinthed down Chiselhurst Caves will know whereof I speak. I could almost hear the distant ghostly strains of a Gauntlet II machine as we ventured down into the venue and took our places.

The Sign of Four – a classic Sherlock Holmes tale – is brought to us by Free Range Productions (I did see a woman dressed as a giant fried egg outside Just the Tonic; not sure if she’s a Free Range promoter or an agent for the rival Sunny Side Up theatre group). They are partnered with Quite Nice Theatre, who are putting on Snakes! The Musical. A five-strong cast, they immediately win me over by playing the Granada / Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes theme tune.

Everyone takes a turn at multiple roles, with the large curly haired chap milking the character of over-the-top proto hippy Thaddeus Sholto for all it’s worth – prompting Herself and I to simultaneously remark (with some admiration, I might add), ‘What an eccentric performance.’ The lady who plays Mary also put in a hilarious turn as the Welsh police inspector Jones, whilst the chap playing peg-legged villain Small carried a lot of the plot exposition with conviction.

Holmes might have benefitted from more of a Holmesian accent or delivery (he did sound a bit middle-class modern), but both he and the lovelorn Watson held the whole thing together very well. Might be worth considering cutting down from eighty minutes to an hour, possibly trimming some of the massive backstory in the final section.

Dan Willis: The Walking Dead
Laughing Horse @ City Café

A free and unreserved gig, and well worth going to if like me you a) like The Walking Dead TV series b) like comics and c) have often fantasised about what you would do in a zombie apocalypse. Though not unique territory (I'm thinking of Dr Dale’s How To Survive… shows from a few years back), Dan’s one-man show is friendly, inclusive and funny. We were warned that there would be spoilers if we hadn’t seen up to the end of season three of the series, and we weren’t disappointed (Andrea – Nooooo!). Dan ran a fun Celebrity Zombie Survival Group contest (in which Bear Grylls and Kari from Mythbusters scored very highly), which is great as long as it’s kept relative short.

References to Supernatural, Lost, comics and general discussions on the best place to hole up when the dead rise (he chose well) made this entirely my cup of emergency rations tea. Some discussion of whether Daryl or Michonne is coolest may occur. Do go and see.

Sam Lloyd: Fully Committed
Gilded Balloon Teviot

You know, him off [scrubs] - Ted, the put-upon flunky and occasional barbershopper.

Brilliant one-man show about a struggling actor spending the day from hell as he mans the phones in a classy New York restaurant. Over an hour and a half of near non-stop dialogue, Lloyd portrays not only the increasingly frazzled reservations guy Sam, but also 36 other characters calling in, from his nice old dad, to a couple of dozen troublesome customers trying to book tables, to jerk colleagues, rival actors and a bastard chef.

Very New Yorky, kinda Neil Simony, the character of Sam feels like a Jack Lemmon role, but I doubt even he could have mastered so many voices and switch back and forth so rapidly. Lovely to see the full range of an actor’s ability like this in a show that is frenetic and frayed but never veering into farce. Damn good value for money. Mr Lloyd is outside in the bar afterwards for autographs, sales of The Blanks CDs, handshakes and chats.

Rob Deb: Big Bang Theory of Life
Laughing Horse @ Counting House

I am going to misspell Counting House one of these days. I apologise in advance. Nice as ever to see Mr Deb, who we've seen doing several free shows in the past, always it seems in the back room of a pub where half the audience are drunk and/or mystified by the niche material. Not so us: it’s about The Big Bang Theory, comics, cosplay.

The venue is a tiny loft, in fact I think it’s actually called The Loft, in the eves of the Counting House, and boy is it hot. Rob kindly hands out portable batter powered fans before the show. They spin amusingly, suggesting, though not actually conveying, cool air.

After the show proper, when the majority of the audience has fled to get more drinks, or simply in fear of the 37-year old shouting envy and disdain into the face of an addled young student in the front row, there are four of us left. We talk cosplay, Rocket Raccoon and the Superior Spider-Man, which quite frankly is everything I want in a free show.

Song Noir

This venue is well south of everything else we’re seeing at the Fringe, but worth a short hike down the right hand side of the Meadows. There’s a nice courtyard bar, a wooden longship and a statue of a jade orang-utan. What’s not to like?

Song Noir by double-act Pumajaw, promised much. Well actually we were just lured in by the words Song and Noir, which appealed greatly to us both, being fans of things like The Long Goodbye (especially Sandra Lawrence’s smooth version). What we had failed to spot were the words Reinvention and Retro-Futuristic on the flyers. Therein lies the difficulty.

Basically what you get is an hour of David Lynch score. The breathy Pinkie on vocals and John Wills on guitar give us a mix of cult movie/TV music reimagined in their own unique style, mixed in with their own avant garde numbers. A black and white back projection of what look like outtakes from Eraserhead sets the tone.

Some numbers are atonal and screechy, like the electronic tonalities from Forbidden Planet, a couple are a bit Giorgio Moroder / Human League (which is not so bad) and a few are pure Lynch/Angelo Badalamenti. All of which is a bit too much for Herself and I, though we cannot escape until our hour is up. Still and all, some folks are clearly digging their unique musical stylings, if the toe tapping is anything to go by, and the final number – a simple unreinvented version of Bang Bang – is actually quite pleasant on the ear.

Wednesday, 7 August 2013

The Chocolate Ocelot’s 2013 Fringe - Day Five

Lots more shows on the timetable today, including our first two physical theatre events. This genre of event tends to involve two words which when combined may send you screaming. They are French and Mime. But fear not, it’s going to be alright.

Sword And I
Laughing Horse @ The Counting House

This is one of the major Free Fringe venues – a rambling multi-storey pub south of the old town, and as with most venues, plastered with posters, flyers, and lists of show times scrawled on whiteboards and blackboards. The stairwells are somewhat narrow at the Counting House, and with queues of Fringe goers snaking down them several floors to street level, it’s a good way to meet people, whether you like it or not.

Sword And I is a highly entertaining hour of mime from Bruce Faveau, a tall and agile Frenchman with an exotically globe-trotting background (and accent). There is a linking storyline of a man and his incredible (invisible) sword threaded throughout. The sword seems to confer superpowers on the man, or at least super celebrity. His portrayal of flying up into the atmosphere using just his body would have shamed the special effects team on the recent Man of Steel film.

Not so sure that the small segment wherein he employs his voice talents to tour a blow-up globe is so effective, but his vocal sound effect skills are nonetheless commendable and an excellent complement to his miming ability. A couple of segments – one involving his highly prominent and mobile Adam’s apple – are not appropriate for youngsters, so do be aware; there was at least one family in the audience who’d ignored the 14+ age restriction and were doubtless not looking forward to explaining to their nippers what the lanky French guy was miming doing to the invisible lady with his bobbly throat thing.

Brain Sex
Assembly George Square

Or more accurately, one of them temporary portakabins around the edge of George Square, so don’t waste time wandering around the magical astroturfed central square itself, though it does look very pretty with its Spiegel tents and scrubbed-up carny atmosphere.

BrainSex has everything a modern popular science show should have: Diagrams! Brain scans! Actual doctors (on film)! Electrocution! A cheeky live rat! And no Brian Cox.

Timandra presents a properly researched piece on the differences between the genders - whether apparently real or perceived – from a variety of perspectives: measurable, biological, social and so forth. Plus there are filmed sequences involving motorbikes and planes. She covers chromosomes and cortices, neurons and axons (no, not the old Doctor Who monsters, more’s the pity), with a variety mixed media (as I understand the young people refer to ‘bits with films’), costume changes, noiresque torch singing and finger measuring.

As ever, yours truly is both fascinated by the subject and afeared of being brought out of the audience for a Merrick-like display of my uncommonly configured status. But I need not have feared, as Timandra’s approach is inclusive of the whole spectrum of sex and gender. Plus some meathead show-off guy was only too eager to jump up and volunteer for the electric pain test anyway.

Props also to co-stars Socrates the rat and Giles on the control panel. Extra nibbles for them both.

Inspector Norse
Assembly George Square

Or more accurately, one of them big anonymous conference centre / university hall buildings vaguely near George Square. Follow the chalked directions on the pavement to venues One, Two and Three (how they think these themed venue names up, I’ll never know).

Lipservice Theatre bill Inspector Norse as a ‘self-assembly crime thriller’ and they’re not wrong. A lot of thought and hard physical effort has clearly gone into staging this show, much of which (literally) revolves around a hulking wooden fold-out backdrop which serves as police station, cabin in woods, morgue and so forth. Also worthy of note is the sheer volume of knitted items on display, from the inevitable Lund sweater worn by the inspector to the tree leaves to the knitted props. The coffee was my favourite, even if it did plop out of the woolly pot in a distressingly scatological manner.

A two-woman show from Maggie Fox and Sue Riding, this show is an entertaining, silly spoof on all things Scando, from IKEA (natch) to the Killing to Bergman to the inevitable ABBA. I probably could have done with less dated material about the long defunct super group and more spoofing of Nordic Noir thrillers, but there is still much to recommend: the easy Vic & Bob / Eric & Ern chemistry of the performers, the silly costumes (I rather liked the spooky Walpurgisnacht trolls, even if their noses looked rather genitular), and most of all the sequence involving hapless fluffy animals hitting the front of the car.

Some of the scene transitions could possibly do with either a stage hand in black to lend a hand or else made intentionally more haphazard, the transitions are currently somewhere between not really slick and not really hilariously clumsy. Most refreshing to see two older female performers doing this sort of show, and not leaving it all to the chaps and younger folks. Plus, they are having a mass knitathon for more woolly props this coming Saturday.

Greyfriars Kirk

Then we went off to Mums Great Comfort Food on Forest Road, just round from Teviot Square, for a la carte sausage and mash. Bespoke bangers are yum.

This left us just enough time to nip round to Greyfriars to experience a bit of their NiteKirk set up. Basically they transform the old church into a sort of quiet contemplative (I’m sorry, I have to overuse the word) ‘space’, for sitting, meditating, praying and so forth. There are tea lights and sand gardens and origami Hiroshima cranes and harpists and Latin chants.

All of which appeals to the Ocelot not one jot, as enforced silence is Kryptonite unto my fidgety, insecure need to constantly chatter, read, pull faces and generally act like an ADD sufferer after a few Red Bulls. Herself is far more still and spiritual than I, so a compromise is reached and we leave after she has soaked up the benign quietude but before I explode, or at least start humming to fill the ‘space’.

Note of warning: the Kirk has an oak planked wooden floor, which creaks like a pirate ship as you walk around. Not conducive to quietly sneaking out of the NiteKirk experience halfway through in your walking boots, as we discovered. Take slippers.

Assembly George Square

Or more accurately in the big theatre building on the southern edge of the square. We have literally no events in the astroturfed bit at all. Probably because we’re too tight-fisted.

LEO (I suspect the capitals are important – is it an acronym?) is our second bit of physical theatre of the day, and yes it is Mime. And quite possibly French or French-Canadian. Mime appears to the primary francophone export.

What we get is an hour of masterful physical strength and balance, combined with a simple but effective set and some technical cleverness. A man with a briefcase and a hat sits in a room. He soon discovers the room’s gravity is at 90 degrees to the rest of the world. Before long he is inching up the wall, levitating by the ceiling and having great difficulty drinking from a bottle. The performer – I’m going to call him Mr Leo because I haven’t time to look him up right now – is bloody fit.

The stage is divided between the room set wherein he is sliding and hefting his body around in contravention of the laws of nature, and a full-size screen which twists the ‘real world’ 90 degrees so we can see the world as he experiences it. You really have to flick back and forth between both to get the full effect. Simply watching him throw his hat up and down looks magical.

Midway through, we get some chalk drawing and then later some unexpected CGI enhancements – a persistence of vision effect toward the end is particularly effective. Very clever, very skilful.

Greg Proops
Gilded Balloon Teviot

Right to the top of the highest tower of Hogwarts – sorry, that Teviot building – for a long awaited (by me) hour with Mr Proops, who once billed his Edinburgh show as One Fine Bitch. Age has not wearied him, nor blunted his teeth, as he rails against most everything with equal venom. The audience is not spared his barbs, though I am not a fan of comedy sets where the comedian repeatedly measures and judges our responses (Oh you didn’t get that / C’mon people / Wooo tough crowd etc) as I find this just tends to alienate the crowd.

The ghost of Bill Hicks rears up a few times, which is always welcome to this old Goat-Boy devotee, with swipes at Bush, Clinton, Iraq and so forth. Some of it does feel like a set from the 90s, and some of the American-oriented material – rednecks and NASCAR for example – went a little over even my Amerophile head. But any Proops is better than none. Come back to Britain Greg; then you can take the piss out of us with every bit as much bitter familiarity as you do America and Ireland. (But maybe drop the attempted Scottish accent)

Real Horror Show
Assembly Roxy

Two reasons for going to see this late night black comedy theatre: one, it’s brought to us by the excellent Colin Hoult and two, the title’s a Clockwork Orange gag. In many ways, this is more like Mr Hoult’s previous comedy shows – a series of dark, freaky sketches with a small number of fellow performers (in this case him off of Kinky and Mannish and some other fine people). Where his solo show Characthorse this year is all Gilliamesque whimsy and comedy, Real Horror Show displays his talent for macabre in your face characters and bleakness. In retrospect, it would sit well along TV offerings like Charlie Brooker’s Black Mirror.

There’s torture, screaming, chavs, murderers and sellotape, strung together in a shared setting which I contend is a dystopian future Britain, and Herself counters is the World Outside Our Window, which I think adequately reflects either our political differences or at the very least our varying impressions on what a benefits office looks like. The segment in pitch blackness is atmospheric, but don’t worry, there’s not too much jumping out at the audience. Or maybe we just got lucky that night.

Tuesday, 6 August 2013

The Chocolate Ocelot’s 2013 Fringe - Day Four

No beetle powers. Evening spent thinking up superhero names wasted.

Also, a revelation in the shower this morning (easy there). Reason for lank hair largely down to my travel shampoo actually being conditioner. Don’t tell her, but I stole a sneaky squirt of Herself’s precious T-Gel stash this morning. Ssshhh.

Again with the abbreviated reviews. Seven shows today: six scheduled, plus one extra recommended by Dr Foot and Mitchell.

Death Ship 666
Free Sisters

Up early and march down Cowgate to get in the queue early. There are chalk markings all over the area directing us to Death Ship 666. Brief period of panic and annoyance when it transpires that we could have actually booked tickets for this after all, and are now relegated to the pikey unticketed pleb queue. Curse you, low-paid and ill-informed casual Three Sisters bar staff from yesterday!

But we do all manage to squeeze into the venue behind the bar. And a bloody entertaining show from Box Step Productions ensues, combining Titanic, Poseidon Adventure and a brilliant Les Mis medley spoof which is my highlight of the show. Also there are marauding bears. On a ship.

Very pleased that none of the half dozen cast members hit their head on the low ceiling stage right. Excellent quick changes, funny dialogue, good physical acting and easy to keep track of character-archetype names. And it’s free! Do go and see and give ‘em some money, you tight fisted so and so.


Over to the yellow Fringopolis that is the Pleasance for most of the rest of the day. No tramping back and forth across the city. Rah!

In the programme, XY is described as a series of gender-nonspecific plays. As it turns out that is the case for the first (and possibly second) of the four short plays we see in this hour. The others are very much gendered (sperm recipes, lady lovebots and so forth), but are all decent offerings. I like the first one about the couple, the wheelchair and the Olivia Newton John song best. The one about the three characters in the onesies sat round a table slightly mystified me, perhaps because of the odd character names (Normal, Egg etc).; I thought they were variously mythic archetypes, cats and tellytubbies. Herself informs me they were playing children. I’m a fool. Nice work from Papercut Theatre.

The Ghost Hunter

One man show about a modern ghost tour guide telling us stories about his life and the ghost stories he presents. Refreshing for us to see an actor over 30 – you can easily find yourself seeing youth production after youth production at the Fringe. Fine naturalistic and atmospheric storytelling from Tom Richards and the Theatre of the Damned. Probably even better if staged at night.

Sandi Toksvig

Big crowd, largely greying and probably Radio Four friendly. A perfectly pleasant and positive hour spent in the presence of the host of the News Quiz, though I still think of her as Ethel from Number 73. Anecdotes from her career, tales of her Danish father, love of all things British, and climaxing in a full audience participation conductoration of the Ode To Joy. Though borrowing other people’s funny material at times (Alan Coren, trad Jewish grandmother jokes), very full of life and love both for and by La Toksvig.

Colin Hoult: Characthorse

Somewhat different to the previous shows we’ve seen from Colin: no other cast members snuck into the audience, less props, and no sly Doctor Who reference in the show title (shame!). Characthorse is a faux memoir of his youth in and around Snottingham, with a variety of bizarre characters. This has a running narrative, rather than the sketch format of previous shows. Some heroic stripping down to his pants at one point, and a bit of audience participation as usual. Feels like a Gaiman / Gilliam / Del Toro adventure, full of modern fairy tale characters and wonderment. Less dark than his other shows. Give this man a TV show, for Grade’s sake.

Richard Herring: We’re All Going to Die

Herring still on form, still funny, touching and despite the show title, feel-good and positive. Also still in need of a decent haircut. But we do get a free DVD of his show highlights, which some people turn down – the fools! Packed crowd appreciative of his ruminations on death, the afterlife, Hamlet and wanking. It’s not a Herring show without some wanking material, and I wouldn’t want it any other way.

Snakes! The Musical
Just The Tonic At The Caves

Final (Seventh!) show of the day, and am starting to hallucinate. As the day began with Death Ship 666’s disaster movie spoof, so it ends with this three-person musical version of Snakes On A M***** F****** Plane – Flight 666 as it happens. Damn good song and dance performances from Will and Marina as the entire cast; really powerful and versatile projection and big showbiz beams for the audience, though reckon Marina’s lovely but softer voice could do with turning up a notch on the mike.

Our second Les Mis medley spoof of the day and great linking pieces from writer/director Tom (I think that’s his name – as I say, I’m hallucinating somewhat in this seventh hour of Fringeshow today) with his over-ambitious West End aspirations, designs on ‘I’m actually not gay’ leading man Will and casual denigration of Marina (‘obviously we’re aiming for Sheridan Smith when it transfers’). Brilliant stuff from Quite Nice Theatre – see this or their other show This was Your life.

Monday, 5 August 2013

The Chocolate Ocelot’s 2013 Fringe - Day Three

Today was long and busy. And the first hour and a half was foolishly spent on writing up the previous day’s events. So this will be a short bulleted summary of Day Three. Feel free to expand with Ocelot-appropriate digressions, geekery, self-hating diatribes, other-hating diatribes and kindly but constructive show reviews.

Avenue Q
Assembly Hall, Mound Place

How cool and spooky does Mound Place sound? Like somewhere a slithery wyrm might lair. Not like some sort of gothic legislative building at all. Oh well.

(Crap, am digressing already. Back on to the bullet points)

Avenue Q – bargain at £6.50 for 2-hour+ show. Unlike musicals full of real people you can return to this one some 10 years later and still see the exact same actors, kinda. Still freaky that the puppets have no legs. Trekkie Monster was voiced by female performer, so he sounded whispery and creepy, not croaky and Frank Ozzy as he did with a male operator. Internet and College songs my favourite. Try to get a seat near the centre or you may be watching the back of puppeteers’ heads for some of the show. Trekkie Monster had silly Groundskeeper Willie attempt at Scottish accent. Took me hour and a half to realise that. Am told they are not professional performers, in which case extra well done.

The Alleycats: Contemporary a Cappella

This music really means something to me, just as Steve Martin said in The Jerk. Sexier than madrigals, Gregorian chant and folk, more relevant than gospel, this is the sort of singing a godless whitey like the Ocelot can really get into. Put that down to a childhood raised on the Flying Pickets. Six male singers, six female, very well choreographed with an especially loose-limbed performance from lanky redhead leader Brendan. Bought their CD. Very jolly and cheery-uppy (that’s a word). Am unable to come out of a good a Cappella without fantasising about being in one. Probably imagining myself as sexy lead vocalist when would probably actually be on the boom-tishes at the back.

The Play That Goes Wrong

Incredibly funny play about a crap murder mystery that goes increasingly off the rails. Excellent Cleese like performance from the director/inspector. Lots of great physical acting, props falling off walls, walls falling off frames, like a Buster Keaton classic. Herself got roped in to help gaffer tape props to walls. A transfer from the West End. Inoffensive but violent, hilarious, tightly scripted. Definitely our favourite show of the day. Well done, the Mischief Theatre. Try to see this or their Lights! Camera! Improvise! Show at the Underbelly. Must take the parents to this.

Barry Brennan’s Bi-Monthly Dungeons and Dragons Sessions
Spotlites @ Merchants Hall

Walked all the way south from flat to Pleasance Dome for this, only to realise that The Timetable Was Wrong. Marched/trotted/taxied north across city to Hanover Street just in time. Some confusion about queuing from frustrated woman on front desk having strained relationship with bloke on venue door. One of them shows where we all sit around the edge of a large room. D&D table in middle with screen, books, dice etc. Story of variously socially challenged thirty-forty year olds playing a final session of D&D before one of their number is Yoko’d away by dimbo girlfriend. Nice armour props for Shona/Selina. Accurate knowledge of old style D&D, lots of increasingly manic character acting. League of Gentlemen style black ending. 

I think they also managed to slip in a topical Peter Capaldi/Who reference (this was within an hour of the new Doctor being announced), so props for that even though it did spoil my Likely lads attempts to not hear the news until I got back home later.

Worryingly close to the Ocelot’s own life.

Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre: In Space
Gilded Balloon Teviot

Last show of day. Smallish audience. Many have not seen the Socks before. Sci- Fi theme of show means much of audience do not get geeky references to fillums and comics. Enjoyed the frenetic Superhero Song to the tune of Tom Lehrer’s elements song. Some bits fell flat due partially to bemused audience. God knows what they were expecting, as you can’t blame performer Kev Sutherland for not laying it all out in the show title. Doubtless will improve with larger, more enthusiastic audiences.

Remainder of evening spent with Dr Foot and Mitchell in Gilded Garden, variously drinking Bulmer’s purple cider (Herself and Mitchell), swapping show reviews (which is why we’re squeezing in their recommended Death Ship 666 tomorrow morning) and getting attacked by a giant bloody beetle that crawled down my t-shirt and into my bra. I could feel it rooting around. Squealed. Flung self about. Eventually dislodged said invading arthropod. Left boob somewhat traumatised. Suspect have been bitten. Anticipating beetle powers by morning.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

The Chocolate Ocelot’s 2013 Fringe - Day Two

The Librarians
The Space on North Bridge

This was rather good indeed. Billed as a dark absurdist comedy, I’d describe it as comic Gormenghasty tale of murder, with a Gilliamesque ravening book monster and a talented young cast of grotesques. There are some really good lines of dialogue from writer Lewis Garvey and the physical acting is excellent, with nary a thrown book prop dropped. Funny, freaky and very watchable.

Nice work from UEA’s Minotaur company, who coped well with a few spotlighting glitches to earn an enthusiastic round of applause from the midday audience. Herself suggests that the make-up (kabuki style, much in the style of the old David Glass Gormenghast stage run from the 90s) could be a little tidier, a little subtler for a small venue with an up-close audience, but otherwise excellent.

Special well dones to Harry Denniston (Mandrake Hardbach) who brought a David Schneidery / Jason Flemyngy feel to the villainry and Michael Clarke (The Burbages, Percival Pulp) for his expressive facial range and array of Rich Fulcher-like characters (mostly murdered in a red-lit musical montage). As is my way, I spotted a couple of the cast later in the Grassmarket (Denniston and Beej Harris) to convey my enthusiasm, and to promise a good review online. And here it is.

C Too

Somehow, we’ve never been to this venue before, but C Too, tucked away right by the castle, is rather nice and cosy, almost secret. Guido! is the musical tale of Guy Fawkes, brought to us by the Guidophiles. Another young cast (where do they all come from) of seven, with minimal set, props and costume, they’ve managed a very well performed show.

Good musical numbers with some excellent duetting and ensemble singing. Sometimes we clapped after a number and sometimes we didn’t. We, as the audience, seemed to be unsure about the applause protocols. I would be happy to take a cue from an established source, perhaps someone on the lighting board at the back, or else a sign held up saying ‘APPLAUD’. I’m not fussy.

Coming out of the show, I realised I’d been sat next to the writer/director chap. Good thing I’d not said anything horrid! Went up afterward and congratulated him, and promised a good review (which is this one). He’s doing another show, but like a sad old muppet the title flew straight out of my head, as did the name of the show that the young lady with him was doing. I’m they’re both wonderful though. Anyway, there was much liking of our t-shirts and imprecations to tweet about them, so it was all good.

Herself has some observations about the health risks of bare foot performers, as seen in Guido, which I have promised to pass on (lie), but have encouraged her to do so on a viable forum such as Facebook.

Knightmare Live
Gilded Balloon

Welcome, watchers of illusion, to the castle of confusion. Have just come back from Knightmare Live at the Gilded Balloon. Freakin' awesomely hilarious. Great props, all the old music from the TV show, and Olgarth of legend!

Two hundred people in a crowded venue shouting Sidestep Left and Spellcasting S L O W at a grown man in a horned helmet. Go see if you can. Congrats to producer/Treguard Paul Flannery, Lord Fear Tom Bell, Mistress Goody Amee Smith and everyone involved for bringing a well-loved if admittedly slightly creaky children’s game show back to live on stage, with a reverential but tongue in cheek approach. Really ought to go on tour, if only so I don’t have to keep boring you all with my poor recreations of it from now on.

Plus, I had my photo taken wearing the Helmet of Justice.
I'm in a room...

Fast Film Noir
The Space @ Venue 45

Back to that Space. No, not that Space, the other Space. The one next door. Where we saw the Arthur thing. Ooh, it’s confusing for a dullard like me. Booked this show as it contained one of the magic trigger words which will leap out of the Fringe programme at me. Noir, like Zombie, Movie, and Playing And Subverting Traditional Gender Stereotypes are guaranteed to draw me in.

Fast Film Noir began after a short technical delay (I think the strobe light was on the blink. On the blink! Do you – oh please yourself) and we were welcomed into an LA night club in 1934. We know this because a helpful scene-sign (there’s probably a special theatre word for this) says so. Also there are many info sheets about the show strewn on our seats. Three young nightclub dancer ladies are keeping up a rhythmic hoochy coochy hip-dip thing in tune to the beat as we take our seats.

We are then treated to a condensed variation on The Big Sleep, with renamed characters (Munroe/Marlow) and a rewritten, darker ending. The only downside to adapting a Raymond Chandler story (or Dashiell Hammett for that matter) is that the plots tend to be bloody involved, double and triple cross heavy and exposition laden. I have enough trouble following the books, when I can stop and go back a few pages, let alone when delivered in real-time. But that’s just my problem.

But there are some great performances, especially from the statuesque Skye Hallam-Hankin in the Lauren Bacall role of Evelyn. Curiously, the role of Munroe/Marlow has been split over two actors, Nick Brown for the ‘on-screen’ sequences, and the Stefan Fletcher for the narration and bit parts. This can look a bit odd at times, with a double-vision Munroe in matching pin stripe suits and gats in hand, but they pull it off pretty well.

Some rather fine dance and song sequences, including a bit of crazy murderer lady tap, rounded out a pretty fine hour of film noir from the young Braindead theatre company.

Funeral Replacement Service
Necrobus, by Waverley train station

So our final show of the day. Couldn’t resist a play set on a double decker bus going round Edinburgh late at night. The bus itself is black and trimmed in red. Inside and upstairs, there are velvety red curtains and cute little lamps set in the walls. Downstairs there is a coffin.

We are guests at the funeral of bus driver Roger Cocksweets (pronounced co-sweets), hosted by an increasingly fretful chap who addresses us via web cam and TV screen from the bottom of the stairs as we jolt along the cobbled streets. It’s a kind of National Theatre of Brent type thing, with a few planted actors among the passengers upstairs.

At first Herself and I twigged a few more of our fellow passengers as plants, because they seemed to be a bit over the top as they yakked on about the magic shows and whisky tastings they’d been to. But they turned out to be just a bunch of appallingly real people. Worst of the bunch was the American woman with an expression like a slapped arse, who didn’t engage with the performance until absolutely forced to (she was bequeathed a spatula in Roger’s will), and instead sat staring at her digital camera screen.

I honestly don’t get that – you’ve paid money to see something and then sit there totally ignoring it, even when the actors are about three feet from you, tottering up and down the top deck aisle as we lurch around the back of Princes Street. I can only assume she’d been dragged on board by someone else, possibly the guy sat next to her who looked like he’d just realised – too late – that this show would not be his lady friend’s thing.

Anyway, the performance itself was pretty good, though the material was a bit light on the comedy in places. The two younger performers, playing the deceased relatives Sharon and Trevor, were very good, especially Sharon’s interpretive dance in memory of Roger. It probably was a shade too long at an hour, and perhaps needed a slightly rethought host character (perhaps less hapless and obviously overwhelmed, and instead outwardly cool and hilariously losing it whenever he stepped off the bus to take a call, in the style of Fawlty).

The main problem though is the format of course. We’re on a double decker bus, so much of the action is taking place downstairs, leaving us with an upstairs TV screen to watch. This kind of forces you into a more passive watching telly at home mode, whether you like it or not. Plus, we’re sat upstairs on a lurching bus circumnavigating Edinburgh for an hour, cobbled streets and all. There was more than one green face by the end of the show I can tell you. But it was still quite an experience.

Have only just worked something out. The bus is part of Ghost Bus Tours. Ghostbustours. Who you gonna call? Only just got that. Tch.

Stuff which is not show reviews

Managed finally to rendezvous with Dr Foot and Mitchell in between The Librarians and Guido!, thanks to some detective work on my part, working out where his texted ‘Jack Ruby’ show was being held. The Space @ Surgeons Hall is a rather nice place to sit, eat and wait for chums to emerge from a show there. Plus we scored some free promotional halloumi.

Catching up with the boys, who are here until Monday, they tell us that The Birdhouse is the mentallest thing they’ve ever seen, Richard Herring is still on top form (which is good to hear, as we’ll be seeing him too), and that K**t and the Gang (which I’ve always wanted to see) is incredibly funny but exceedingly near the knuckle (or possibly halfway up the finger). I should’ve guessed as much from the photo of Jimmy Saville in the Fringe programme. Alumni of the Derek and Clive school of comedy, the boys are fans of the more hardcore turns like Gerry Sadowitz or Jim Jeffries. I may have to sneak along to see K**t myself some time. Probably on my own.

We bid them farewell with fingers crossed that they will enjoy Colin Hoult’s Real Horror Show, which was our recommendation to them. Oh, the crushing pressure of endorsed comedy. ‘Oh, you’ll love this, it’s really funny…’

For the second day running, two fighter jets have streaked over the city at low altitude around 7:30pm. It was feckin’ terrifying. I’m not sure if they’re patrolling at Mach 2 for Al Qaeda outrages at the Fringe, but frankly I and doubtless every pet in the city would appreciate a quieter approach to Midlothian air superiority please, the RAF. Hang-gliding snipers perhaps.

I must say, our timetable t-shirts are proving an enormous success. It’s only been two days, but I’ve not once had to dig around in my rucksack for an increasingly tattered printed spreadsheet. Instead I just squint blearily at Herself’s chest, occasionally jabbing an inadvertent boob whilst searching for our next event. If only I’d had a map of Edinburgh with the numbered venues printed on my trousers, we’d be all set.

But an equally splendid benefit to the t-shirt timetables has been the unexpected amount of social interaction they generate. Only two days in, and we’ve already had conversations struck up with the moderately confused frontman of the Barioja tapas on Jeffreys Street, various young ladies in headsets directing punters around venues, a nice guy working behind the counter at Forbidden Planet (like I wasn’t going to duck in there at the first opportunity), appreciative older Fringers with their own timetables and most recently the chap who runs all the Space venues, Charles Pamment. He seemed to value our passion and support, especially in this first week when shows are really keen for decent reviews early on. A nice chap.

Note of warning to any potential Fringe-goers: the chances of the seemingly random person you end up chatting to in a queue or a venue bar being an actor, writer or director are quite high. So unless you really don’t care about crushing their hopes and dreams with your unvarnished opinions of anything you may have seen at the Fringe, it is best to be fulsome or at least civil in your praise of the event you’ve just come out of. Chances are they wrote it, this is only the second preview day, and they’re in need of positive punter feedback. Play it right and they’ll be all beams and requests for you to tweet your review asap. In fact, it seems to be a good idea to generally slip the word ‘review’ into any conversation with a show-person, as they tend to get the idea you’re a roving blogger with a massive career-making readership, so it’s win-win all round.

A quick note about tickets to the EdFringe organisers for next year: Your tickets contain a lot of information about each event – time, price, production company – but not the venue number. So If I’m sat on a busy street full of venues, say the Royal Mile, with only the event ticket and a tatty venue map that I may or may not have torn out of the back of a Fringe programme in the foyer of the Space on North bridge while nobody was looking, I may have some trouble matching venue to event. Good thing we put the venue numbers on our t-shirts! Hurrah for us!

Seen in a pub window: Haggis Balls In Batter. Poor haggises, harvested for their tender love plums. They cut them off young, you know.

Things you will see a lot of at the Fringe: young ladies in vintage clothing and retro red lipstick. Probably with their thick young hair wound up into pretty rolled-up styles. They all do it just to mock my own ageing lank mop. They’re not even in a show, I’ll bet! Tomorrow there will be lots of upside-down hair spraying afore I venture out. Oh yes.

Observation: The Pie Maker on South Bridge (or possibly Nicolson Street) is, Herself contends, either full or empty. This may indeed be down to some cosmic Either-Or quality of the establishment, or more likely due to it being the size of a cupboard so that three customers feels like Full and one customer feels like Empty.

Seen on the Street near Surgeons Hall, middle aged women clogging to electro music. Clogging is good. It speaks to me in some sort of hillbilly race memory fashion. Herself calls it ‘rubbish stuff’. Much like Jon Snow, she knows nothing.

The traditional pilgrimage to Greyfriars Bobby has now taken place. An unattractive photo of the Ocelot hugging the statue may or may not be available at some point. Nice to see so many other followers (adherents? Bobbers?) of Wee Bobby’s teachings too. I really feel like part of something.

Another idea for a musical, based on the life of the father of psychoanalysis. It’s called Sang Freud.

Tomorrow I am taking Herself to see Avenue Q so we can sing along to The Internet Is For Porn, one of the finest songs to emerge from the musical scene.