First published in The Times, Monday August 30 2021
This was cabaret but we weren’t in Weimar Germany or the East Village, Manhattan. Live performance may be rebounding in Scotland following the pandemic, but residual restrictions meant that a show that felt tailor-made for an intimate space lit only by candlelight was being staged in an airy, socially distanced, makeshift venue. “It feels like we’re inside an ice cube,” says Alan Cumming, our host for the evening. “It’s like a really posh shopping centre.”
This 90-minute compendium of songs and humorous storytelling at the Edinburgh International Festival would have worked better in a spiegeltent or perhaps in Club Cumming, the performer’s bar and nightclub in New York City, with its “postage stamp-sized stage”. Yet it’s hard to imagine many other performers with the presence and charisma to conquer this rather unforgiving space.
First published in The Times, Thursday August 26 2021
The bare facts of the event that inspired Hannah Lavery’s poignant and powerful play now ring horribly familiar. In May 2015 Sheku Bayoh, a young black man who had been reported to police for his erratic behaviour in a Kirkcaldy street, was confronted and forcibly restrained by a number of officers. He lost consciousness at the scene and never recovered.
The most shocking element — to some at least — is that this tragedy took place in a Scottish town and not in Missouri or Minneapolis. Characters in Lavery’s play lament that such an event could occur in a country that sees itself as inclusive. “This is Scotland,” one says. “It’s not Black Lives Matter.”
First published in The Times, Thursday August 19 2021
There is a lot going on in Sara Shaarawi’s immersive audio theatre piece. Originally written for the stage, the new format is ideal for audiences tentatively returning to live performance post-Covid. The intimacy of the audio play is just one strand in a multilayered production that also includes graphic artworks by Gehan Mounir, viewed while walking around Edinburgh at sunset.
First published in The Times, Tuesday August 20 2019
One of the highlights of last year’s Edinburgh Fringe was the musical My Left/Right Foot from the Birds of Paradise theatre company. Focused on a hapless am-dram troupe’s endeavours to win an award by embracing diversity, the show poked merciless fun at the long line of able-bodied actors being lauded as “brave” and rewarded with Oscars for playing disabled roles.
First published in The Times, Friday August 16 2019
Tanika Gupta’s adaptation of the bestselling memoir by Jackie Kay, Scotland’s makar (national poet), is full of moments that break the heart and stir joy. It was almost bound to be. The book, which weaves the author’s 20-year search for her birth family with memories of her upbringing as the mixed-race, adopted daughter of white Scottish parents, is written with an irresistible vitality and generosity of spirit. Its universality comes from its attempt to address the great mystery of what makes us who we are.
First published in The Times, Monday August 12 2019
The company 1927, known for mixing live performance with animation, is always warmly received in Edinburgh. Its debut production, Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea, won a clutch of awards at the Fringe in 2007. The troupe’s collaboration with Barrie Kosky on an expressionist version of Mozart’s The Magic Flute was the big hit of the 2015 Edinburgh International Festival (EIF) programme.
First published in The Times, Tuesday August 29 2017
Perhaps the highest compliment you can pay an actor is that they could read from the phonebook and still make it engaging. Letters Live, in which well-known (and not so well-known) personalities read from significant correspondence, obviously provides the performers with far greater scope than the Yellow Pages. Yet, perhaps inevitably, the show, which has toured widely, attracting A-list participants, proves something of a mixed postbag.
First published in The Times, Monday August 21 2017
Festivals love a good anniversary. When Verdi’s Macbeth was staged at the inaugural Edinburgh International Festival back in 1947, it was to mark the centenary year of the opera’s first ever performance. Seventy years on, this new production, from Teatro Regio Torino, conducted by Gianandrea Noseda, has been programmed as part of the EIF’s own birthday celebrations.
First published in The Times, Wednesday August 9 2017
Meow Meow has long been a favourite among Edinburgh audiences for her appearances in outrageous solo shows such as Feline Intimate, not to mention last year’s triumph as the singing star of Barry Humphries’ Weimar Cabaret. This year, the Australian cabaret diva known for her bendy physique, onstage acrobatics and above-the-stage aerial flights occupies an even loftier perch at the International Festival: the Hub at the top of the Royal Mile, where she has taken up residence for much of August.
First published in The Times, Friday August 26 2016
What a pity for Thomas Ostermeier that the legendary Moira Knox is no longer alive to see his raucous Shakespeare adaptation. The production, which originated at Berlin’s renowned Schaubühne am Lehniner Platz, contains all the ingredients that would have had the late Tory councillor and self-appointed guardian of public decency frothing at the mouth and therefore guaranteeing the director an Edinburgh International Festival smash hit.