Review: Woke – Gilded Balloon Teviot, Edinburgh

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First published in The Times, Wednesday August 16 2017

Three Stars

Apphia Campbell, the US-born singer and actor, who is now based in Edinburgh, has spent the past four years performing and touring her acclaimed one-woman show, Black is the Color of My Voice, based on the life of the singer and civil rights activist, Nina Simone.

 

A contemporary of Simone’s, Assata Shakur, the prominent Black Liberation Army member, is the subject of Campbell’s latest work. Like the singer-songwriter, Shakur was drawn to revolutionary politics having grown impatient with the non-violent approach advocated by Martin Luther King. A key quote from her 1987 autobiography, describing her political awakening, might just as easily have been lifted from one of Simone’s songs: “I didn’t know what a fool they had made of me until I grew old and started to read real history.”

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Review: Richard Carpenter is Close to You – Underbelly George Square, Edinburgh

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First published in The Times, Tuesday August 15 2017

Four Stars

There are plenty of reverential tributes to legendary musicians and bands on the fringe. The original act or artist is either retired or no longer with us, so audiences flock to see the next best thing instead.

 

This homage to one half of one of the biggest-selling groups of all time stands out from its rivals in that, while affectionate, it has a sharp, caustic edge that rather qualifies the earnestness of the music. Moreover, due to copyright issues, there is a limit to the number of bona fide Carpenters recordings that can be used in the show, meaning that the performer, Matthew Floyd Jones, has been forced to create a Greatest Hits album’s worth of pastiches.

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Review: Instructions for Border Crossing – Northern Stage at Summerhall, Edinburgh

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First published in The Times, Monday August 14 2017

Two Stars

The writer and performer Daniel Bye has a track record for staging performance lectures that wear their hefty subjects and the depth of his research admirably lightly. He is best known for Going Viral, his award-winning exploration of viruses (in every sense of the word) and his multi-layered look at the idea of value, called The Price of Everything.

 

Bye’s performance style, which combines affable audience interaction with elements of multimedia, has always been something of an onstage juggling act, with lots of ideas thrown up in the air at once. His new piece, which deals with border crossings, in all their menace and absurdity, feels stylistically overstuffed, befuddling his message.

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Review: Salt – Northern Stage at Summerhall, Edinburgh

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First published in The Times, Thursday August 10 2017

Four Stars

At the start of Salt, Selina Thompson, the writer and performer, tells us about the year she spent at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, mostly listening to “white, men talking about their pain.” It is one of the lighter moments in the powerful, 70-minute monologue, eliciting a rush of relieved laughter from the (largely white) audience, but it is important because it forms part of the litany of incidents, serious and trivial, that led this young black woman from Birmingham to embark on the amazing journey she describes.

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Review: Nassim – Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

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First published in The Times, Monday August 7 2017

Three Stars

It seems almost unfair to review a piece of theatre based on a single performance when its complexion changes fundamentally at every outing. Nassim Soulemainpour’s White Rabbit, Red Rabbit, in which a different actor is drafted in for each performance, rewards multiple viewings for the way the change in personnel affects our perception of what is happening onstage. To date, the play has been performed more than 1000 times in 15 languages.

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Review: The Naked Magicians – Pleasance, Edinburgh

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First published in The Times, Wednesday August 31 2016

One Star

 

Be warned: there is a lot of padding in this show and we’re not just talking about the stuffing in our hosts’ underwear. The tacky love child of Paul Daniels and Magic Mike opens with the two buff Aussies launching a giant inflatable phallus into the front row and asking that we bounce it around the auditorium until the music stops and the first audience participant is chosen.

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Review: Careful – Gilded Balloon at the National Museum of Scotland, Edinburgh

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First published in The Times, Wednesday August 24 2016

Three Stars

For the past two years, Scotland has topped the Rainbow Index, which measures legal equality for LGBTI people across Europe. The country hasn’t always been nearly this progressive, though. Lanarkshire in the early 1970s was a particularly lonely place for a young girl named Sheena Mary McDonald who was questioning her sexuality and gender identity. “While other girls were dreaming of a date with David Cassidy, I was dreaming I was David Cassidy.”

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Review: Don’t Panic! It’s Challenge Anneka – Summerhall, Edinburgh

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First published in The Times, Monday August 22 2016

Three Stars

 

The term “national treasure” has become a little devalued in recent years, but back in the Eighties and early Nineties, the television star Anneka Rice really did inspire love and admiration among the British public for her endlessly cheery, empathic persona and the plucky “can do” spirit she embodied in her long-running reality show, Challenge Anneka. She was everyone’s kindly fairy godmother in fluorescent shell suit top, leggings and bum bag.

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Review: In Tents and Purposes – Assembly George Square, Edinburgh

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First published in The Times, Monday August 15 2016

Three Stars

If the Edinburgh Festival Fringe is a shop window for new talent, this debut production from Viscera Theatre is offbeat and original enough to encourage jaded passers-by over the threshold and into the store for a browse. The writer, Roxy Dunn (who also performs, alongside Alys Metcalf), dares to keep her audience on its toes. Is this a comedy drama? Is it a meta-theatrical sketch show? Or a blueprint for a radio series – think early evening Radio 4.

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