Oh La La! Starring Isabelle Georges Assembly Checkpoint

Get your glass of vin rouge at the ready and get in the queue early to grab a seat at one of the tables at the front of the stage. That way you will really be able to transport yourself into the magical atmosphere of a genuine Parisian cabaret show with Parisian singer Isabelle Georges and a talented five piece band.

Georges immediately makes a big impression – she is tall and striking with her cropped red hair, a huge smile and an amazingly powerful voice. The songs are very different to the usual well known Piaf/Brel fare we might be used to from other French cabaret performers. Yes, there is a bit of Brel and Piaf but very different interpretations and arrangements. There are sad songs, happy songs, shockingly brutal songs – all of them are prefaced by a little homily on feelings and relationships before she pours her heart and soul into each one. There are songs in English, French and even German, and a range of French composers most of whom I have never heard of but which intrigue me to find out more. The songs all have a story to tell and she tells them brilliantly. The musicians on piano, double bass, sax and guitars are the perfect accompaniment.

This is Georges’ fourth visit to the Edinburgh Fringe but the first time with this show. Her previous shows have included one on Judy Garland and one on Broadway musicals and you can tell she has a diverse musical background. She is a well-known singer and artiste in Paris and the number of French people in the audience bear that out. By the end of the show, especially after joining in with a chorus of Piaf’s Padam Padam, I think we all felt a bit French. Oh la la indeed

Irene Brownlee

The Ugly Bug Ragtime Three Outhouse

Haddington’s own John Burgess is a man with a music background that takes in playing with bands as diverse as the Mavericks and the Peatbog Faeries, and while he gives great service to them and others, it’s as a bandleader that he really comes into his own.

And in this “wee band with the big sound” he is very much at home with the swinging music from the 20s and 30s that comprises their set of jazz (that’s jazz, not “trad” jazz, as Burgess emphasises) tunes.

Burgess, on clarinet, along with veteran of the Alex Welsh Band Jim Douglas on guitar and banjo and Andy Sharkey on string bass provide an enthralling tour of some of the greatest tunes of the era, most notably “Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives to Me” and “Collegiate” by one of the leader’s heroes, legendary New Orleans player George Lewis.

Witty and informative introductions leading in to tunes played with love and the pleasure that comes from having a real affinity for the music gave the audience a night of pure joy, and in the process reminded us of some great compositions that we do not hear often enough.

Bands of this genre from this side of the Atlantic can often be rightly viewed as pale imitations of the original, but here we have a trio who know exactly what they’re doing, and do it extremely well.

Jim Welsh

The Jennifer Tremblay Trilogy Stellar Quines Assembly Roxy

A veritable Tour de Force may be a little hackneyed term these days but it is the first phrase that comes to me when I think of Maureen Beattie’s performance in this trilogy of one woman plays by Canadian playwright Jennifer Tremblay. The three plays can be seen on separate days or one after the other as I did. It is a marathon for the spectator but imagine how physically and emotionally draining it must be for the actor.

Beattie plays The Woman in The List, The Carousel and The Deliverance – three plays which portray and explain her life and the lives of the other important women in her life: her best friend, her mother, her grandmother. The final part of the trilogy, The Deliverance, is new to Edinburgh and has already won a much deserved Scotsman Fringe First. (The List was staged in 2012 and The Carousel in 2014 and both also won Fringe Firsts).

In The List, the Woman, her husband and sons have moved from the City to the country and she is finding it hard to adjust to the harsh, unforgiving landscape. Her obsessive list making is an attempt to bring order to her life but distorts her ability to see what is really important in her life. The Carousel sees the Woman travelling across the country to visit her dying mother – a journey which evokes memories of her childhood and her grandmother and starts to reveal the family secrets to us. In The Deliverance, the Woman tries desperately to exorcise the family ghosts of the family and reconcile her brother with his mother before she dies.

This is another quality production from well-respected theatre company Stellar Quines. The set design by John Byrne is deceptively simple and works wonderfully well with the lighting design of his partner Jeanine Byrne. The abiding memory, though, will be that performance by Maureen Beattie – a veritable Tour de Force indeed.

Irene Brownlee

IAIN MACWHIRTER: SCOTLAND AND THE UK: WHAT FUTURE

Iain MacWhirter has come a long way from when I first knew him – propping up the bar in Henderson’s pub in Thistle Street, back in the 1980’s. Then, he was a precociously talented and intuitively assured member of BBC Edinburgh’s News & Current Affairs team, specializing in Scottish politics.

 

Nowadays, he is properly recognised as arguably Scotland’s most astute political journalist, casting his clever eye over the shifting sands of the Scottish political landscape. And it’s that ever-evolving terrain that never fails to surprise and amaze him that he writes about so authoratively in The Herald & The Sunday Herald.

 

Now in the presence of a packed and captive Book Festival audience, he gives us

the benefit of his political wisdom, as he assesses Scotland’s move into unknown

territory. The fact that on the night, there was barely an empty seat is testimony

enough to his respected reputation, and breadth of his readership. Going by the

overall tone of his conversation with interviewer Richard Holloway, MacWhirter

still appears to be largely bewildered and astonished at such a seismic shift

in the political affiliations of the Scottish populace.

 

His first book analysed the story of Scotland’s road to the Referendum. His new book takes up the story, by focusing on how the union’s apparent victory has only sowed the seeds for its possible potential dissolution further down the line.

Following last year’s historic Referendum, the unionist status quo remained, despite the massive public turnout and accompanying media frenzy. However, it was the aftermath of that event that proved to be more astonishing in its impact.

 

MacWhirter has few peers as he casts a critical and observant glance over the changing parameters that have given Scottish politics its most radical and dramatic shake-up in over half a century. Even the recently unfolding events surrounding the Labour Party’s leader race and the sudden emergence (and almost deification) of Jeremy Corbyn offers up a faint echo of a re-energized nation, taking control and grabbing destiny with both hands.

 

Thank’s to MacWhirter’s avoidance of too much obscure political rhetoric, what was discussed for a generally gripped audience was clear and concise on a subject that is still hotly disputed and full of impassioned opinion.

 

This event turned out to be no stuffy, or overly complex political debate, but an intriguing examination of how Scotland as a nation has profoundly changed over the past year. As he asserted that in his view, there is no going back, with very little doubt that many more changes are lying up ahead. All told, this proved to be a fascinating hour’s discussion in which the political legacy of the past year in Scotland was entertainingly presented in all its strength and sharpened clarity.

 

Lawrence Lettice

Christine Bovill: Piaf

Christine Bovill’s return to the Fringe with her homage to Edith Piaf could not have found a better home than the Famous Spiegeltent. Not just the mirrors and wooden booths, but the very air seems redolent of the cafes and clubs of Paris in the years of Piaf’s prime.

Bovill bears little physical resemblance to the fragile figure of the Little Sparrow, and her Glaswegian speech is far removed from Piaf’s, but the most important aspect, her ability to reproduce the classic songs that brought fame to her muse, makes her as fine an interpreter of this music as any I’ve heard.

Accompanied by her usual musical partner Michael Roulston on piano, and that fine Scottish accordion player John Somerville, she takes us through the life and career of one of the greatest music icons of all time with skill and an obvious passion for her subject.

She tells us she had no interest in learning French at school, until she heard Piaf, an experience that turned her life around to the extent that she pursued a career as a French teacher herself. Fortune has equipped her with a voice that does justice to the greatest hits from Piaf’s canon, from “L’accordioniste” through “La Vie en Rose” and “I Wish You Love” – a song Bovill first heard sung – in English – by Marlene Detreich in London – to “Milord” and, of course, “No Regrets”.

I could not have asked for a finer start to this year’s Fringe.

Jim Welsh

Carol Ann Duffy Book Festival

Dame Carol Ann Duffy to be precise, but our Poet Laureate is not a stereotypical pillar of the establishment – she continues to be a campaigner and champion of causes and her poems still have the power to make you think as well as make you smile. This evening she is joined by talented Scottish musician John Sampson who provides a musical introduction, interludes and accompaniment to the poems on his selection of wind instruments. They have a lovely warm rapport and the collaboration works well in enhancing the poems rather than the drier interview format of some reading events.

We begin with a few poems from The Worlds Wife – Mrs Midas, Mrs Tiresias and Mrs Faust. Duffy has reimagined the stories of famous male characters from the perspectives of their long suffering wives and they are deliciously, wickedly funny and poignant all at the same time. Midas has foolishly wished for everything he touches to turn to gold but hasn’t thought through what that actually means in practice – “Look we all have wishes; granted. But who has wishes granted? Him. Do you know about gold? It feeds no one; aurum, soft, untarnishable. It slakes no thirst.” Mrs Midas banishes her husband to a caravan in the woods where he can do least harm while she sells the golden artefacts he has created and lives the rest of her days in material but solitary comfort.

There are poems from Rapture, a collection of 52 love sonnets, a poetry form she describes as “the little black dress of poetry” and describing the journey of a love affair from its beginning to its end. “Water” is a heart rending poem recalling caring for her mother in a hospice and the memories that evokes.

Then there are poems which highlight important causes for her, from big environmental issues such as in The Bees to the seemingly smaller issue of the Post Office’s decision to drop the use of counties in the addressing of mail in favour of the soulless postcode. Duffy wants to write to “a Shropshire Lad” not a number. And there is the poem written for Mrs Schofield, the hapless exam invigilator who managed to get one of Duffy’s poems banned from the syllabus because it mentioned a knife and might therefore incite teen violence. Duffy cleverly references famous literary knives which haven’t been banned – Macbeth’s dagger, Julius Caesar’s murder to name but a few.

All in all, this was a very entertaining hour and has certainly encouraged me to go back and revisit Carol Ann Duffy’s work as well as look at her new stuff. A national treasure indeed.

Irene Brownlee

McCrary Sisters / Troker

McCrary Sisters                    Edinburgh Jazz Festival

A sell-out crowd at the Spiegeltent in St Andrew’s Square were treated to what must be the most joyous, uplifting event of this year’s Jazz Festival.

From the moment they arrived on stage to the last note of the encore, Ann, Deborah, Regina and Alfreda McCrary entranced the audience with a set that peaked with the first number and maintained the high all the way through. I gave up noting which songs were stand-outs, as it would have meant this review would simply have been their set list. But I will mention “Hello Jesus” “Let It Go” “Victory” and a sublime “Blowin’ in the Wind” as moments that will linger long in the memory.

As daughters of the Reverend Samuel McCrary, whose singing with legendary gospel group The Fairfield Four made him an inspiration for B B King among others, they’re steeped in the traditions of the music they grew up with.

But it is the blend of four very strong individual talents who have worked across the musical spectrum – Regina spent, I think, around 8 years with Bob Dylan’s band – that provides the underlying strength that lifts them into the category of something quite special.

How special is illustrated by a friend of mine who saw them while holidaying in New Orleans and was so impressed he went back the next night to see them again. In fact this gig was the fourth time he’s seen them this year.

Having heard them for myself, I can fully understand why. Glorious music, proving, if proof was needed, that the devil does not have all the best tunes!

Troker            Edinburgh Jazz Festiva

Mexican band Troker arrived here with a fair reputation, having gone down a treat at Glastonbury for the past couple of years. But while their melting pot of musical influences certainly went down well with the younger members of the audience, there was something of a lack of individuality about this six piece outfit.

Whether it was that with so many different styles incorporated in their sound it all became something of a swamp, with a lack of definition to much of what they did, or if it was down to a lack of memorable tunes in their repertoire, may be debatable. However, it came out sounding like they were trying to cram just too much jazz, funk, hip-hop and more into structures that just could not contain them.

There was also a dated feel to much of what they played, redolent at times of what Gong might have sounded like had they been jamming with Hawkwind circa 1973 (OK, not necessarily a bad thing!) and the drum solo sounded like it could have come from a heavy rock gig of the same era.

Not that this was a bad gig by any means, just that when it was over, it left little trace in the memory. Perhaps they are more suited to festival fields than festival tents. Or maybe I’m just getting old…

Jim Welsh

Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Games Edinburgh Playhouse

This was a super performance. The story of good versus evil was captured brilliantly throughout. The music was powerful and was perfectly complimented by the dancing. Not only that but the performers were also great at getting the audience involved, and you could tell everyone was enjoying themselves.

The lighting and effects were amazing, and they seemed to carry the mood of the story. All the backgrounds were either beautiful or dark and creepy.

The choreography was well thought through – it moved from slow and elegant soft shoe dancing to fast furious traditional Irish tap. The lead characters were all brilliant, but so were the rest of the cast too.

Lord of the Dance did not only involve dancing, there was singing and fiddle playing too, which helped put a modern twist on the traditional Irish dancing. The singer Erin the Goddess (played by Rachael O’Connor) kept the story going with her songs which were sung very well. The fiddle players (Giada Costerano Cunningham and Eimear Reilly) were fantastic – they brought great energy to the performance.

I thought that the costumes really brought out the characters’ personalities. They were very detailed and beautifully made. I really liked the Dark Lord’s costume because I thought it gave a good description straightaway of his character.

I liked all of the dancers but my favourite had to be the Little Spirit which was played by Jess Judge. I thought her gymnastics were excellent and her costume was magical. Her facial expressions helped bring the story along and pulled the audience in. She also looked like she was really enjoying herself.

Overall I would definitely recommend this performance for everyone. I give Lord of the Dance 5 stars. You could tell lots of hard work and enjoyment had gone into it. Well done Michael Flatley and everyone else involved.

Mairi Johnston

Yer Granny King’s Theatre

This show really is one big laugh right from the word go – and a highly entertaining one at that (but not in a cheesy way!)

For as long as I can remember, I’ve always been a huge fan of Jonathan Watson (Only an Excuse?), Paul Riley (Still Game) and Gregor Fisher (Rab C Nesbit) – so when the chance came for me to go and review this – well, I couldn’t resist!

The show is set in a high rise flat in Glasgow above what once was a family run chip shop, in the year 1977. During the two and a quarter hour performance, the family are going through some financial difficulties – to the extent that one member (the granny of the title) was eating them out of house and home – a familiar situation for many I’m sure! The family try to come up with ways to prevent this, but all of their ideas fail at the first hurdle – that is until Charlie (Paul Riley) has a brain wave – he suggests that 100 year old Granny (Gregor Fisher) gets married to their chip shop enemy Donnie Francisco (Brian Pettifer).

A very highly outrageous comedy right from the moment the curtain goes up, and a show not to be missed. I always think that doing comedy in a show takes a lot of hard work, requiring split-second timing whether the comedy is verbal or physical – as your onstage actions and reactions have to be spot on for it to get a laugh from the audience – and this show achieved all of that and more!

Yer Granny runs at The Kings Theatre all this week – a highly recommended night out if you like a laugh!

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’m off for some chips and cheese with some watered down chippy sauce!

Jamie Wells

Carousel, Opera North Festival Theatre

It’s the day after seeing Opera North’s production of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s wonderful musical Carousel and I’m still tearing up just thinking about it. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house and, by the final full cast rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone”, our emotions had been well and truly put through the wringer.

But let’s go back to the beginning. From the opening bars of the overture, we are pulled in straight away to the middle of the carnival and the eponymous carousel. The set is simple yet stunning with the shadows of the fairground horses whirling around the walls above. A huge circle festooned in lights descends and transforms into the carousel where Billy Bigelow and Julie Jordan first meet and fall in love. It is no straightforward love affair – Julie is a respectable mill worker who throws caution to the wind in the face of all the warnings against travelling fairground worker Billy who has broken many girls’ hearts and has no intention of settling down. No intentions until now, that is. In the beautiful love song, “If I Loved You”, they both imagine how it would be if they were to fall in love and marry and, on a romantic moonlit night surrounded by falling blossom, they decide to do just that.

Cue a couple of months later and the idyll is starting to crack. Billy is out of work, hanging out with a bad crowd and, worst of all, has started to beat Julie. He doesn’t sound a very sympathetic character does he, but we know, deep down, that he really loves her and is trying his best to do right by her in his own way. Unfortunately his way ends tragically after his involvement in a botched robbery attempt leads to his death and Julie is left alone to bring up their unborn child. Billy is taken before a judge in Heaven who allows him to go back to Earth for one more day to make amends to his troubled wife and daughter. OK, the plot sounds a bit daft, and there is some dodgy non pc dialogue, but I defy anyone not to get totally immersed in the storytelling and the emotional drama on display.

It helps, of course, that the songs and music are glorious and, as you would expect from a renowned opera company like Opera North, the calibre of the performers, the orchestra, the chorus, the staging and lighting are of the highest quality. Gillene Butterfield and Keith Higham as Julie and Billy, Stuart Neal as Ligger, Aoife O’Sullivan as Carrie are all excellent as is Yvonne Howard as Nettie whose rendition of “You’ll Never Walk Alone” will melt the stoniest of hearts. There are also some great action packed dance scenes and chorus numbers and a beautiful ballet sequence with Beverley Grant as Louise. Lovers of musical theatre – this is a real treat, I urge you to see it.

Irene Brownlee