Review: Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho ****

Margaret Thatcher, Queen of Soho

Comedy Cabaret (LGBT)

22.00 until 27th August

Pleasance Courtyard

**** (4 star)

As a regular performer Margaret Thatcher aka Matt Tedford is often found mingling with the crowds around the main hub of the Fringe creating a buzz and promoting ticket sales.

Despite coming to the fringe for 6 years now, I hadn’t quite got around to seeing this show and while queuing to take our seats, the popularity is clear to see, talking with other members of the audience who come back year after year, with such a fan base, I was sure that this would not disappoint.

In the drag comedy musical, Margaret Thatcher faces the important decision on the vote of section 28 (a homophobic bill designed to stop the implementation of teaching about homosexuality in schools) and on the night before the vote out in SoHo and suddenly becomes an overnight cabaret sensation. Bring on the Disco!

Matt dresses perfectly as Thatcher and when she is joined on stage by the Jets, who I have to say kind of stole the limelight, but the atmosphere, in general, is electric and united. The whole room is filled with cabaret campness and the audience with complete enthusiasm as they laughed, sang and clapped along with Margaret and her Jets.

Thatcher remains a fascinating Icon to this day and this year marks the 30th anniversary of the bill but I get the feeling this show will never tire and I can see myself being one of these people lining up at queue telling others how I come year after year to enjoy this unique performance.

The perfect camp Fringe experience!

Susan Clark

My favourite places to eat 2018 by Mary Woodward

Eating and drinking

My favourite places to eat 2018 by Mary Woodward

Our revered editor gave some of his recommendations at the start of the Fringe, so I’m joining in with my Picks of the Year…

Top of the list has to be the Old School Cafe [Facebook – Old School Cafe]. It was set up a few years ago as part of the Canongate Youth Project, and aims to give young people the opportunity to gain practical skills which they could then use in the workplace – and, incidentally, offer an oasis of calm in the busyness of the city in which you can consume excellent coffee, superb tea, and a wide variety of exceedingly tasty meals at incredibly reasonable prices. I keep meaning to check out items on the wide-ranging menu [vegetarian chilli, homemade Thai red curry, and a plethora of toasties, wraps and paninis] but continually find myself weakening and going for my all-time favourite – their BLT, with a cup of their own special blend coffee to follow. Last week, however, I did branch out and have the toasted bagel with cream cheese and smoked salmon, and followed that later in the day with a pot of tea and a superb flapjack. Just for the Fringe they are open Monday- Friday between 09.00 and 17.00, outwith that, they shut at 15.00. Find them at the South Bridge Centre on Infirmary Street, currently in its other manifestation as venue 236.

Another quiet place which caters exclusively for vegans and vegetarians is the cafe which pops up in the Quaker Meeting House [Website – venue 40] for the three weeks of the Fringe and then disappears into the wide blue yonder for another year. Their main offering is an excellent ‘one-pot wonder’, the contents of which vary each day but are very filling and good value for money. For those with a sweet tooth and a weak will, their selection of cakes and suchlike has to be seen to be believed…

And then there is the Mosque Kitchen [Website – Mosque Kitchen]on Nicholson Square, which serves cheap, cheerful and good curry of all kinds – no frills, just good food: and for those who don’t have the time to sit down or the patience to queue, there’s a takeaway bit at the side, where I had a pretty decent falafel wrap last week.

And finally, Yocoko [Facebook] on the South Bridge – just opposite Chambers Street and before you get to Infirmary Street – does noodles and rice and all things nice and a particularly filling and cheap bowl of soup which can have chicken or tofu or other stuff added to wonderfully fresh and crunchy veg in a thoroughly excellent chicken stock – and if you can’t decide which to have, you can have the Yocoko special which has a bit of everything in it. Again, it’s cheap, no-frills, and just plain good!

Mary Woodward

Review: The Girls from Oz, because, because, because…. ***

The Girls from Oz, because, because, because….

Cabaret & Variety

The Space @ Symposium Hall

18:10 until Saturday 18th August

*** (3 Stars)

The Girls from Oz join us for a short time only at the Fringe. Arriving on stage the glamorous trio are accompanied by 3 band members. A red head, blonde and brunette, these are our Girls from Oz and they dazzle on stage wearing glittering emerald green gowns beaming with smiles and ready to entertain. On a rainy Monday night, the crowd is small and we are greeted with a warm welcome. Kara Lane (Redhead), Sally White (Blonde) , Ashleigh Maude (Brunette) tell us the inspiration for their show is not The Wizard of Oz but The Boy from Oz musical based on the life of Australian singer/songwriter Peter Allen. From here the girls share their hopes and dreams while singing mostly songs I didn’t recognise but could still appreciate the individual talent and musical theatre vibe.

Uplifting and with a glamorous vintage feel this would normally be right up my street but, something was lacking and I found the filler Australian banter moments very corny.

This show reminded me of entertainment you would expect to receive on a holiday resort at a hotel, enjoyable for an hour but nothing ground-breaking or perhaps a warm up for the main act.

Maybe, if you are Australian and are craving a little bit of home then perhaps this would be the show for you or in my opinion, it would be appreciated more from an older generation (most of the audience were) who may get more from it that I did.

My positives are definitely appreciating the musical theatre, cabaret, jazz training expertise and talent the ladies show and their voices work perfectly together while each of them also shone during their solo performance and no doubt is given that they put in 100% effort.

Worth seeing on a gloomy evening, but needs much more to it to lure the crowds of the Edinburgh Fringe!

Susan Clark

Review: The Dolly Parton Story ****

The Dolly Parton Story

13.45 until 25th August

The Space @ Symposium Hall

**** (Four Star)

The Dolly Parton Story is a premier for The Edinburgh Fringe and takes you on an incredible journey through the career of the Queen of Country.

Follow Dolly’s story from her childhood poverty, successful marriage, struggles in the industry in general including making the transformation from country to pop and who now currently holds an astonishing 153 major awards including nine Grammys and 11 CMA’s, this is a true rag to riches story that will leave you wanting more.

Hannah Richards performs beautifully with her passionate renditions of Jolene, 9 to 5, Islands in the Stream, Here You Come Again, Coat of Many Colours, Joshua and many more. I enjoyed the music so much I wished they had limited the documentary video in the background so we could enjoy more songs but the bonus was the original photographs gave us a great visual to Dolly’s life and accomplishments.

This is not a tribute act as Hannah does not dress or act as dolly and is a talented singer song writer herself, but I very much enjoyed the simple style that she performs for the audience showing her own personality while singing beautifully. Also, on stage on the guitar is Alex Beharrell, and I LOVED the grand finale duo.

I am not a massive Dolly Parton fan as I’m only familiar with her more famous hits, but just loved the general atmosphere created in the ideal auditorium and would have liked it to have gone on longer. A great addition to the fringe, I am confident if our readers take the time out go and see that they will come out smiling, relaxed and buzzing for more Dolly shows.

Susan Clark

Review: Michelle McManus: Reloaded ****

Michelle McManus: Reloaded

Cabaret & Variety

The Stand Comedy Club

18.10 until 26th August

**** (4 star)

Singer and presenter Michelle became “The Nation’s Sweetheart” in 2003 when she won the UK talent show “Pop Idol” but as with many of the winners from these type of competition shows, after the initial buzz dies down the success comes to an end.

Michelle recounts her tales of what she has been up to since and how she has managed to build up her career as a presenter and become a regular sell-out at the Edinburgh Fringe with clearly still a massive following and her fans were very much out in force.

Michell bursts onto the stage full of glamour and personality. From the start it’s clear that Glaswegian, Michelle is going to give us some great West Coast Humour, kicking off with “Let’s Get the Party Started”.

We hear about her recent marriage and all the funny parts of her experience growing up in Glasgow.

It is slightly uncomfortable when Michelle acknowledges the fact she is overweight and feels the need to make fun of herself, perhaps from experience she does this before anyone else has the chance. Weight loss struggles is an issue many of us can relate to, but the world would be a dull place if we all looked the same and Michelle seemed very comfortable in herself which can only be an inspiration to others, whatever size you may be.

This is a fabulous feel-good hour with the perfect mix of comedy and music and the ideal song choices, there is no doubt you will enjoy her incredible singing voice.

Michelle is full of a vibrant and likeable personality not to mention a tremendous singing voice.

Great music, singing, laughter and banter, what’s not to love about this show and it will be sure to get your night started and in the mood for more fun fringe events.

Susan Clark

Review: Robert Graham 1874’s Scotch Whisky and Artisan Food Experience *****

Events

Robert Graham 1874’s Scotch Whisky and Artisan Food Experience

Robert Graham Tasting Room, 254 Canongate, v141

13.00, 16.00 (ends 27 August)

***** (5 stars)

Admittedly, this is being written through a slight haze caused by the ingestion of a number of samples of Scotch whisky: nevertheless this was an experience I am so glad to have had! Robert Graham 1874 is an independent whisky bottler as well as purveyor of whiskies and cigars: one of their five shops is on the Canongate and Holyrood, and this year they have ventured into the heady world of the Fringe show. You descend into the tasting room, a wonderfully candle-lit wee cavern in which you will be introduced to a carefully chosen selection of whiskies with – lovely touch! – a piquant selection of amuse bouches chosen to complement the whiskies.

Scott Grierson, our host, was introduced by Steve Johnson, the owner of Robert Graham 1874, who was joining us for the afternoon session. Robert Graham 1874 is an independent bottler as well as a purveyor of fine cigars and splendid whiskies. Scott works for White & Mackay – they started life in 1844 as whisky blenders in the Glasgow docks area, and now ‘look after’ some distilleries, although 90% of their business is still the blending.

Scott made us most welcome and rapidly made us into a group of friends rather than a collection of strangers. No previous experience or understanding of whisky was necessary, though it turned out that most of us had more than a passing acquaintance with the Water of Life and very varied experience and tastes.

As we were introduced to each other and the session, we were invited to nose and sip a new blended whisky, launched on the market just two weeks ago. The Woodsman, made from grain whiskies, was specifically designed to appeal to the younger drinker and be mixable with whatever takes their fancy: but it was more than good enough to drink on its own or, in my case, with a few drops of water from the readily available [and oh so classy] pipettes. It was very palatable on its own, and a good introduction to the afternoon’s session.

We then learned about two of the distilleries in White & Mackay’s portfolio and invited to sample three single malts, all of which had been paired with carefully selected artisan food, the ingredients of which were thoughtfully printed out for anyone with allergies. The whole experience was extraordinarily enlightening: who would have thought of starting a tasting with crème brûlée??? Bizarre as this may sound, the experience was exquisite – the creamy sweetness of the dish was the perfect complement to a newly-released Fettercairn 12-year-old, which was smooth and very slightly sweet itself. While we enjoyed it we heard about Prime Minister William Ewart Gladstone’s connection to the family who started the distillery in 1824, just after the legalisation of whisky stills, and the measures he introduced in Westminster to assist the new whisky industry.

We were next introduced to two Jura malts new to me: in fact all of the whiskies we tried are very newly on the market and I urge you to lose no time in getting hold of some. The Jura Seven Wood, matured in casks made from six different French regions’ oak wood was gorgeous and matched with – my goodness! – a quail’s egg, with celery salt and chilli salt as optional dips. Again, it was a match made in heaven: the creamy piquancy of the salted egg being a perfect foil for the smooth golden warmth of the whisky and bringing out the tiny touch of smoke in the malt.

Finally we had another Jura newcomer – the 12-year-old, which was paired with a ‘seaweed encrusted profiterole with Arbroath Smokie pâté’ [just typing that again is making my mouth water…]. The salty profiterole was a fascinating foil to the slightly smokier but still very smooth malt, which is finished in oloroso casks from Jerez, giving lovely sweetly sherried overtones.

While sampling these delights we learned yet more about whisky history, distilleries and their differences, and about Jura itself. Did you know that George Orwell went there in 1946 to recuperate from tuberculosis, that he finished 1984 while on the island, and was rescued from certain drowning in the Corryvreckan whirlpool by the timely action of a one-legged fisherman? How’s that for increasing your historical, geographical, and literary knowledge?

The entire experience was delightful, and I’m not just saying that because of all the whisky! Admittedly, they were all gorgeous, and definitely in the spectrum of ‘these I really like and would be more than happy to see again’… but it made an extra-special session because of Scott’s ability to entertain while imparting information and to respond warmly and interestingly to comments and questions. He obviously loves his job, loves his whiskies, and was delighted to be sharing his knowledge with us.

This is not the first tasting I’ve been to, but I think in many ways it was the best – I particularly liked the introduction to the concept of marrying food and whisky, and devoutly hope that it won’t be too long before someone invites me to a whisky dinner. This was a hugely enjoyable and very satisfying way to spend a couple of hours sheltering from a sudden and very determined Edinburgh downpour!

Mary Woodward

Review: Breakfast Plays: Youthquake – Squall & Fucking Millennials ****

Theatre

Breakfast Plays: Youthquake – Squall & Fucking Millennials

Traverse Theatre, v15

Various (ends 26 August, not 20)

**** (4 stars)

The second pair of plays in the Traverse’s Breakfast Plays in which a young writer and an established one produce their response to the Oxford English Dictionary’s definition of their Word of 2017, youthquake defined as “a significant cultural, political or social change arising from the actions or influence of young people. Today’s pair were, I think, much better pair of plays than yesterday’s: though I think the more experienced one still showed its quality.

Squall by Rebecca Sweeney was set in a very small ‘classroom‘ the size of a supplies cupboard, into which three students swipe themselves in turn. Excellently authentic-sounding dialogue gradually revealed that Rob and rebel Erin are convinced that this alarm from which they are taking refuge is yet another drill: Alice is much more anxious, sure that this time it’s real. ‘It’ isn’t simply a fire drill but a practice to prepare for the irruption into the school of a gunman. Every classroom now contains a gun, and the teacher who uses the room is trained in its use, though not all approve of this. Alice appreciates the safety of the refuge and sees the classroom guns as ‘on her side’: Erin is volcanically angry at the situation, which she sees as yet another form of control. An announcement that this is a real situation sends the students into panic…

There were a lot of laughs alongside the drama in this play, and Michael Ajao, Jamie Marie Leary and Kay McAllister gave excellent portrayals of young people raging at the way things are, and their powerlessness to effect change – until a sudden opportunity is presented to turn things around. I’m not sure how effective the proposed action might turn out to be, but it was an interesting demonstration of the potential of social media for catalysing action.

Fucking Millennials by Kieran Hurley was a two-hander, with Mark McDonnell’s Iain joining the excellent [and suddenly older] Kay McDonnell’s Zara in “an Edinburgh flat sometimes used as a brothel”. Iain is obviously ill-at-ease, protesting that ‘he’s never done this before’: he is surprised to learn that his ‘hostess’ is part of a workers co-operative who don’t allow alcohol, pimps, or wankers.

Most of the time Iain is aggressive and defensive, making patronising assumptions about Zara’s life and motives for working as she does: he tries to make excuses for himself – ‘older men have different pressures’ – as he gradually reveals his disillusionment with the profession he has chosen and the self-absorption of the young “chimps” with whom he has to deal. Each in turn asks the other “Couldn’t you do something else?” – but it’s not that simple in either case. Iain’s fond memories of reading stories to his young daughter prompts a wonderfully scathing condemnation of the premise on which many childhood favourites are based – Thomas the Tank Engine, Where the Wild Things Are, Lion King, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory all come in for serious stick, but the strongest criticism is reserved for The Lorax: the complete overturning of every dearly-held childish belief was brilliant, and I’d love to hear it all again.

I’m not going to reveal the ending of either play, but I was delighted with both of them. Squall had some moments when it lost dramatic tension, but overall was engrossing, while Fucking Millennials had some cracking laughs and a lot of passion. Both are really worth seeing – a thought-provoking way to start the day.

Mary Woodward

Review: Kids Play *****

THEATRE

KID’S PLAY

The Space  @ Niddry Street

Aug 16-25 17:15

***** (FIVE STARS)

Greg Fellowes is irritated, embarrassed and maybe discombobulated when we first see him stride onto the stage followed by the eager, casually dressed and somewhat puppyish Theo Martin. This is by no means the first time either has found themselves in the company of a person so very different from themselves, but with hopes of certain unusual satisfactions. However, Greg is here for a conference, and this is awkward. He had tried unsuccessfully to cancel this one. Yet he has with him the tools of his special hobby, and we will see these demonstrated. Plus he is annoyed.

Theo, played by Clement Charles, is an enthusiast for just this sort of encounter. As online porn has become increasingly mainstream, many young people feel an inclination to experiment. Why not? This is a common feeling. How far will they go? Are they aware of the dangers they are risking? Has Theo just been lucky so far? Is his luck just about to run out?

Clement Charles is fully convincing as Theo, in all his fresh enthusiasm, his occasional challenges, and his neediness. Gareth Watkins plays the role of Greg with great subtlety, as we see various emotions pass across his face, and see the man beneath the fine suit that so impresses and fascinates Theo. Yes, Theo has quite a thing for suits, the stature and dignity they represent for him, and the sort of person he believes to be within the cloth. Yet there is a hand action of Greg’s that upends our previous view of him. Watch out for this.

Director Glenn Chandler has here given us something strongly different from what we have seen him present before. There is still an edge of the seat aspect, and there is some very unusual humour, and we follow a script that has many twists and turns. Corkscrew-like emotionally this may be, but there is no feeling of inconsistency to any part of it. There are many real surprises, but the journey provides fine views and insights, and is well planned.

This is a very intriguing and appealing show that has significant things to say about the way some gay and bisexual lives are lived. It will engross you from the start, and maybe alter your perspective. It is sure to set very many conversations going. It sold out the night I went, so you need to get your tickets very quickly.

Tony Challis

Review: Book Festival: Imogen Hermes Gowar & Kirsty Logan: The New Magical Realists.

Book Festival

Sunday 12th August

Imogen Hermes Gowar & Kirsty Logan: The New Magical Realists.

Chaired by Peggy Hughes

**** (Four Stars)

Book Festival novice Gowar, with her debut novel The Mermaid and Mrs Hancock, was every inch the professional writer alongside accomplished author Kirsty Logan. I was surprised to find that this was her first novel as she seemed completely at ease on stage and spoke to the audience as though they were her guests.

Expertly chaired by the inimitable Peggy Hughes, the authors were paired for the mermaid connection in both their novels. The Gloaming, Logan’s fourth book and second novel has been well-received. Having read almost the entire book, it is her most masterful work to date, in my opinion. I loved The Gracekeepers but she has developed considerably as a writer since the publication of that novel. Confidence glows between the pages of The Gloaming providing a magical treat for the modern-day dreamer.

It tells the story of Mara and her family on a remote, fairytale inspired island. Kirsty captures both the beauty and the danger of the sea and landscape beautifully. Clearly drawn characters are compelling as they lead us through their own tale. Logan is an acclaimed LGBTQ writer, exploring themes of love and otherness within her work. She is a jewel in contemporary literature, an arena in which we are still under-represented despite the political and social breakthroughs of recent years.

Gowar’s novel is more historical fiction with a hint of magical realism throughout. I have not yet read her book, but it is on my ever-expanding reading list. Imogen spent long months immersed in extensive research for the book. It was important for her to give accurate information about the period, from the politics of the time down to the finest detail about fashion. Very much a novel exploring a woman’s place in the eighteenth century, the themes are relevant to contemporary readers still facing some of the struggles of our predecessors.

Sharon Jones

Review: Sediment ****

Sediment

Venue 139 Assembly Roxy

Dates 15-26 (Excluding Monday 20th)

**** (4 stars)

Like most productions at the Fringe, I had no idea what to expect when I walked into Assembly Roxy to see Sediment. The stage was dark, set with an acoustic piano with its front cover missing, a single wooden chair and a vintage TV set with loose book pages scattered on top. From the offset, it had the stark atmosphere of Russian austerity and bleakness. Billed as circus/physical theatre based on Dostoevsky’s novel Notes from the Underground, I braced myself for an hour of existential wrangling.

There was indeed much wrangling but there was an unexpected sweetness and element of comedy throughout the show. It opened with Carberry wrestling with himself alone in the chair onstage. The Underground Man is alone and isolated, his life narrowed until it consists of this one room. Birds tweet in a high, jarring and nervous manner, making it uncomfortable to bear at times but portraying the character’s state of mind.

Light is used in a clever way, when a girl appears on stage behind the curtain we are dazzled by a bright glaring light illuminating her figure and projecting her exaggerated shadow on to the curtain. It highlights the importance of her entrance to the Underground Man’s sheltered world.

The performance is mostly silent with no dialogue except when the girl (Alice Muntz) tries to speak but is silenced by Carberry in a hilarious almost slapstick routine. Throughout the show, Muntz performs incredible acrobatic feats, pulling herself up on to the trapeze by the back of her neck.

The absence of applause is unnerving to begin with, but the audience soon accepts that these remarkable tricks are part of the storytelling. Perhaps they are

more impressive because there is no sense of grandeur or showmanship, the acrobatics are seamlessly incorporated into the story.

Intelligent, literary circus. A must see.

Sharon Jones