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Paris de Nuit

Review: Edinburgh Festival Fringe

Sam Bennett delivers his verdict on just a handful of shows from this year at the world’s largest arts festival
Flesh and Bone | Unpolished Theatre’s Elliot Warren © Owen Baker

"I’m actually very humble – for someone this thin."


Performers | Assembly Rooms

For the seminal 1970 film, Performance, it’s said that writer Donald Cammell welcomed actual gangsters to the cast. Irvine Welsh and Dean Cavanagh’s Performers is about the audition process. Alf and Bert are two criminals who have come to see Cammell and hear more about this film opportunity. All the action takes place in Cammell’s office, where Alf and Bert sit waiting for the writer (who’s running late) to arrive.

Trygve vs a Baby


A play featuring mobsters indulging in chit-chat and cups of tea, instead of bloody violence, does provide something a bit different. However, this production ends up dragging. One thing that could be used to make the story more engaging is the idea that Bert, played by George Russo, is a repressed homosexual. But in actual fact the character’s hidden sexuality is used for nothing more than a comic moment. Tea and chit-chat between 1960s criminals is potentially intriguing, but here it arrives in the form of a production that, despite some good acting, lacks bounce.

From Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads | Pleasance Courtyard

Martin has an eating disorder, his mother is an alcoholic, and he doesn’t know his dad – he is also Bowie obsessed. On his 18th birthday a gift from his father takes him to London, where he visits places Bowie himself has physically been – but will Martin also finally get to meet his dad as part of this journey? While I understand this Adrian Berry play is not a Bowie tribute act, I couldn’t help wishing for more of his music in it. What you get – presumably because the show doesn’t have rights to the songs – are brief and obscure versions of his material, which I found a bit disappointing. That said, Alex Walton capably takes on a variety of characters in what is ultimately a very touching show that also makes good use of a versatile and unfussy set.

Gypsy Queen | Assembly Rooms

Traveller George O’Connell is a champion street fighter wanting to become a pro boxer. He signs up at the same club Dane Samson trains at. A relationship between the two blossoms, but the boxing world is not ready for such love. Rob Ward (also the play’s writer) and Ryan Clayton multirole excellently here, adapting movement, voice and dress to clearly differentiate between characters. Clayton is highly amusing as George’s mother, making it so the ‘C’ word gets laughs each time the character utters it – which is quite a lot. This Adam Zane-directed production also boasts a strong closing image: Dane and George embracing, the former wearing boxing gloves, the latter pads, following a passionate, whirlwind workout. It’s the sort of picture you see and immediately want as a poster.

Flesh and Bone | Pleasance Dome

Unpolished Theatre’s Fringe 2017 offering is a highly energised portrayal of what life is like for the residents of an East London tower block. Shakespearean dialect is juxtaposed with modern day terminology, resulting in a compelling script. This stylised piece of theatre is not exactly adventurous in movement, but the words glow and are expertly communicated by a team of gifted actors – it is this that sets Flesh and Bone apart from your average East End comedy/drama.


Joe Sutherland: Model / Actress | Pleasance Courtyard

Former model Joe Sutherland comes onstage to Hole’s ‘Celebrity Skin’, donning a fur coat and shades. Quickly after this charade he assures us: “I’m actually very humble – for someone this thin.” Unfortunately, this line and his delivery of it are so funny that nothing he does thereafter makes me laugh quite as much. This is not to say the remainder of his act is weak; the talented stand-up uses a self-made poster detailing his skillset to neatly structure the show, and manages to appear superior to us all, at the same time as being wonderfully self-deprecating.

Tom Stade: I Swear | Gilded Balloon

Whether you find Tom Stade’s material funny or not, there’s no denying he knows how to command a performance space. The night I watch his show, he’s managed to fill the Gilded Balloon Teviot. He chooses three audience members to regularly chat with throughout the show. Audiences react well to stuff they’re familiar with; by building a rapport with these three punters, frequently returning to each of them during the performance, Stade familiarises himself and us with these people and their lives – something he might not be able to achieve as well by talking to numerous audience members. It’s a shrewd move from the Canadian, he unites the crowd in doing it, and he does so with a gravelly voice and a glint in his eyes.


Phil Dunning: The House of Pigs | Pleasance Courtyard

Phil Dunning propels through a mixture of characters from The House of Pigs – a cabaret bar on the brink of being taken over by nightclub chain The Slug and Arsehole. Dunning sets up an unapologetically weak storyline and borrows extensively from Disney princess songs in a late night show that had me crying with laughter. One parody he does of a working men’s club comic falls a little flat, but on the whole this is a fun and lively Fringe show perfect for its time slot. At times Dunning drops character and shows us glimpses of his own personality, giving The House of Pigs a pleasing level of intimacy to go with the gleeful mayhem.

The Not So Late Show With Ross and Josh | Pleasance Dome

Ross Brierley and Joshua Sadler have taken a gamble bringing their alternative live chat show to the Fringe. Normally, it runs every month in different areas of the country, where it always welcomes an assortment of guest comedians. At Edinburgh, though, Ross and Josh don’t have this luxury: they have to stand alone, using their own sketches to see the show through. They do well, for I don’t think you watch them at the Fringe believing they’re in need of more comics. You may, however, think they’re in need of more silliness. The show is at its best when it seemingly descends into chaos, such as when the T-Rex costume Josh wears for a sketch rapidly deflates. More moments like this, possibly in place of other scenes that appear more polished, would achieve an even funnier spectacle.

Trygve vs a Baby | Assembly Roxy

Mime artist Trygve Wakenshaw brings his 18-month-old child, Phineas, onstage in a friendly competition as to which of them can get the most laughs. It’s such a simple idea, and it brings the house down. Highlights include baby Phineas in the spotlight holding a skull, as the words from Shakespeare’s ‘To be, or not to be’ speech play through the sound system. This monologue coupled with Phineas’ movements make for a hilarious display. Phineas wins the competition hands down in what is also a heart-warming representation of a loving father-son relationship.


Paris de Nuit Assembly George Square Gardens Contemporary circus company Recirquel provide quite possibly the most beautiful show of this year’s Fringe. Paris de Nuit (Paris by Night) is steeped in the traditions of the circus, but boasts a level of storytelling and poignancy neither myself nor my companion predicted. Technically, the company appear masterful, be it on tightrope or trapeze; but most impressive to me are the big themes they address: masculinity, homosexuality, love and control all play a part in this jaw-droppingly good show. Funny, awesome, brutal and seductive, Paris de Nuit earned the only standing ovation I saw at the Fringe this year.

- Sam Bennett


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