Edinburgh Reviews: Matthew Bourne’s Dorian Gray

Well, this was the cheapest thing I saw all festival, being as it was just £5 for me, a student, to sit up on the slopes of the upper circle. Since then I’ve seen this show being given a bit of a slagging off in the national press, so I’ll leave those interested in the show’s shortcomings to read reviews by people more widely read than me. I quite enjoyed it, thought the whole thing was brilliantly performed and, for the most part, well choreographed (though it is slightly uneven; the opening half hour sets a high standard which the show finds it hard to live up to all the time), holding my attention throughout. The best thing about the show, however, is the design, both lighting and set, and, to a lesser extent, the sound and costumes. The production of this show is absolutely fantastic, and worth the money alone (and I don’t just mean because it was £5).

It’s true that Bourne doesn’t seem to have a lot to say about what a modern Dorian Gray might be, but I can’t agree with the critics who say that the doppelganger is a poor substitute for a portrait. How on earth would an onstage portrait be an effective part of a ballet? Anyway, in some ways the concept hasn’t been completely discarded, with both the art works on the wall in Gray’s appartment, and the billboard featuring Gray which makes two contrasting appearances during the show, carrying on the idea of art mirroring Gray’s moral decline in life. The doppelganger is a bit rubbish not because it’s a bad idea, but because it’s not very well executed: the doppelganger doesn’t especially display the decline that one might expect, either in appearance or expressed (noticeably, at any rate) in the choreography.

Other detractors, including some of the friends with whom I saw the show (admittedly more musically literate than me), have taken issue with the music, which is quite stylised and electronic. Personally, I quite liked it; it’s not like I’d want to buy a CD of it, but it suits the production and sits well alongside the choreography, without drawing too much attention to itself most of the time.

So ultimately, not Bourne’s best work by any means, but probably not deserving of the backlash which it received in some quarters.

3/5

(of course, if I marked the show on the same scale as the Fringe stuff I’ve been reviewing, it would be 5/5, but there seems little point in doing that)

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Edinburgh Reviews: Kristen Schaal and Kurt Braunohler – Double Down Hearts

Apparently Kristen Schaal is in Flight of the Concords, which is one of those programmes that so many people tell me I will like that I’ve become quite resistant to actually seeing it. Nevertheless, Kristen Schaal is also occasionally on the Daily Show, and has been very funny and a bit unexpected on that, so I thought I’d go see this show.

A stand-up duo is not an especially conventional way to do comedy, but in this case it works pretty well; the two bounce off each other with a comfortable chemistry, developing a snappy stop-start rythmn to their exchanges that emphasizes not so much embarrasment as a slight awkwardness. The two don’t so much have a stand-up show as a series of bits, joined together with little bouts of banter. Sometimes the show feels a bit desperate to keep up a constant barrage of new, different stuff, roving between a pastiche play in three parts, two audience members being invited onto stage to win a (live, onstage) date with Kristen Schaal, and some video-based silliness in a wood with fluffy animals. It would be easy to accuse the show of being “of the ADD generation”, or somesuch, but actually, everything naturally seems to flow into the next thing, and the restlessness struck me as springing not from a lack of ability to sustain ideas, but from the urge to be unpredictable. It certainly succeeds there: the show is relentlessly funny, containing for me some of the biggest laughs of the Fringe. Best bit? The “live onstage sex act”. You don’t get to say that very often.

5/5

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Edinburgh Reviews: Clive James In The Evening

I have always enjoyed Clive James as a TV personality and occasionally, when I can be arsed, as a writer, so when I read his article in G2 I figured I’d see what his attempts at stand-up might be like. Unfortunately, he more or less admits defeat at the outset of this show, telling us straight off that there are “other people out there” who can do the modern, quick-witted style of stand-up much better than he can. He tries to excuse himself by saying that he hopes that he brings a sense of “the world” to the show which will make up for this, but the trouble with that as an argument is that there are plenty of stand-ups who do engage with the world at large, and have all the other presentational slickness James admits he lacks.

It was pretty telling that I think I was the youngest person in the audience by a good twenty or thirty years, a couple of days into the run of the show. Clearly there was little buzz about the show attracting anything other than an audience of loyal followers. Nonetheless, I can think of worse ways to spend an hour; occasionally, James is genuinely hilarious, but the overall effect is of a slightly half-arsed attempt, the main intention of which is to sell his new book. Which is all very well at the book festival, but not really if you are listing yourself in the Fringe guide as a comedy show. The show seemed self-indulgent, because I find it hard to believe that someone as intelligent as James couldn’t have written a better, sharper stand-up show if he really wanted to.

2/5

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Edinburgh Reviews: London Gay Men’s Quoir – Far From Kansas

We saw these guys on the Royal Mile doing a slot on one of the little stages, and it looked fun enough, so we thought we’d go along and see them. The offer of free sparkling wine on the flier helped, too. Sure enough, “fun” is pretty much the one word you would use to describe this show. Basically, the show is a series of show-tunes, performed under the umbrella concept that they are being sung as an act of worship by some kind of religious movement (The “Friends of Dorothy”) who hold the Wizard of Oz story to be a religious text. The songs bringing out the three divine qualities of love, intelligence, and bravery (but without much intelligence).

The singing isn’t the best you’ve ever heard, but it’s pretty good, and they all blend together well, and the soloists are all good and sing songs that suit them. It’s musically pretty competent, but it could go a little bit further to provide some fireworks in the arrangement and the vocals occasionally. But ultimately, it’s almost pointless to try to evaluate the show like that, because it is so infectiously fun that it’s pretty much impossible to come away having had anything other than a good time.

4/5

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Edinburgh Reviews: Stephen K Amos – Find The Funny

Last year’s show, More of Me, was my first introduction to Amos, and I found it honest and interesting, as well as being well performed, slick, etc. This year, the show is just about finding the things to laugh about in everyday life, and there are a number of gags that are exactly the same as the last show (eg. waiting for Lenny Henry to die -> the BBC’s “one in, one out” diversity policy). Unfortunately, this year Amos comes across as rather more abrasive and arrogant; his way of dealing with heckling is pretty heavy-handed, even extending it to people who haven’t actually heckled, just shouted out something a bit silly when invited to respond to some question or other. This, combined with the fact that the show doesn’t have the honest, confessional feel that last year’s show did, and the slightly self-congratulatory gimmick of getting a member of the audience to count the laughs, left me feeling somewhat less well disposed to Amos than I did last year. It all seemed a bit smug.

Nevertheless, there is no denying that Stephen K Amos is a very good stand-up, assured and funny. The show this year may have been treading water (come on, “Find the Funny”? What kind of a title is that? It tells you no more about the content of the show than the fact that it’s listed in the Comedy section of the Fringe brochure), but you never feel like you’ve wasted your money. So… yeah.

4/5

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Edinburgh Reviews: Lucy Porter – The Bare Necessities

Lucy Porter is affable enough, but this show was rather less than the sum of its parts, at least on the night I saw it. Her usual little tales of everyday life, her talking to the audience and being a bit inappropriate with some of the male members of the audience shtick, her general warmth, etc., are all present and correct, but this show felt like a bit of a rag-bag. There’s not much to join it all up, with the result that I found Porter more enjoyable in short, deliberately unconnected doses as the compere of one of those “BBC Presents” late night line-ups. A bit disappointing, really, after last year’s show.

3/5

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Edinburgh Reviews: John Gordillo – Divide and Conga

John Gordillo says he set out to write a show about politics, but ended up realising he was simply having a hypothetical argument with his (spanish communist) dad, so made it more explicitly about that instead. The result is a show that is in exactly the vein I tend to look for in comics: it has a subject, a thesis which the comic wants to explain to the audience; it is engaging with the world rather than simply looking for laughs from all directions. My only problem with it, really, is that on the night I saw it, Gordillo repeatedly made it clear that we as an audience weren’t laughing as much as he would have liked, or as much as previous audiences.

Perhaps we weren’t, but then there’s nothing that kills the mood more than a comic drawing attention to this fact and then not really going anywhere with the observation. The sooner Gordillo learns to stop doing this to himself, the sooner he will find himself able to win over those audiences he finds initially disappointing. Anyway, this is not the most gut-bustingly funny material you’ve ever seen, and it’s all the better for that. Gordillo is not in it just to make people laugh, that much is clear from this set, and that’s not a bad thing.

As for the actual content of the show, it needs a bit of a reworking. I suspect that, as Gordillo’s dad made his way more and more to the centre-stage position he occupied in the show by the time I saw it, the introduction of the central idea of the show (that political extremists divide the world into an “us” and “them”, and then project their own suspected failings onto the “them”) had shifted itself towards the status of something like a “final thought”. It would have been better to find a way to place it closer to the start, I suspect, to give the show a bit more focus and structure.

Also, the common argument-with-someone-who-isn’t-there-to-defend-themselves trope which much of the stuff about Gordillo’s dad fell into comes to feel a bit unfair on his dad when it runs right through the show rather than being a ten minute bit of a show about something wider, despite all of Gordillo’s attempts to be fair by slipping in a few things he feels his dad would probably say by way of response to him. Ultimately, he is still diagnosing the psychological failings of someone who isn’t there to answer back, and in making the show quite so much about his father personally rather than as an example of a broader point, he made this a bit uncomfortable.

Nevertheless, not entirely without laughter, and with a commendable determination to look a little deeper than your average stand-up

3/5

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