Review: South Bend – Gilded Balloon at the Museum, Edinburgh

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First published in The Times, Friday August 10 2018

Four Stars

Like many teens of his generation, obsessed with The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and mad with love for Blossom Russo, the playwright and actor Martin McCormick was soaked in American culture long before he set foot on US soil. A spell in California as an exchange student did nothing to quell his enthusiasm. The sojourn brought him a legion of friends, attracted by his cute Scottish brogue, and his first serious girlfriend.

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Review: Double Feature – Gilded Balloon at Rose Theatre, Edinburgh

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First published in The Times, Wednesday August 23 2017

Three Stars

Andy Gray and Grant Stott are best known as two-thirds of the comedy team that has made the pantomime at Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre such a winner (the other point of the performing triangle being the entertainer Allan Stewart). In recent years, they have branched out into “straight” theatre, appearing in sold-out plays at the fringe and on tour. Their show, Kiss Me, Honey, Honey!, proved such a hit in 2013 that it returned to the festival the following August.

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Review: Life, Death and Duran Duran – Gilded Balloon at Rose Theatre, Edinburgh

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First published in The Times, Monday August 21 2017

Three Stars

The title will no doubt attract fans of a certain age, yearning for the polished sounds of the phenomenally successful new wave band. Yet, while snatches of songs such as Planet Earth and Hungry Like the Wolf make appearances in Sam Shaber’s one-woman show, the emphasis here is very much on the performer’s own eventful life and career. Far from nostalgic, the monologue, directed by Lynn Ferguson, is frank and sometimes surprisingly tough.

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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: Hess – Gilded Balloon Teviot, Edinburgh

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First published in The Times, Saturday August 27 2016

Three Stars

It is now 75 years since Rudolf Hess bailed out of his Messerschmitt over Scotland, having set out on a solo mission to negotiate peace with the British in the midst of the World War II. It was to be the start of a long period of incarceration for the one-time deputy führer in Hitler’s Third Reich. After the Nuremberg trials Hess escaped the death penalty but went on to spend the rest of his long life incarcerated at Berlin’s Spandau prison.

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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: And the Rope Still Tugging at Her Feet – Gilded Balloon

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First published in The Times, Tuesday August 16 2016

Two Stars

The Kerry Babies scandal of 1984, in which a woman was coerced into falsely confessing that she had murdered a newborn baby, is an important landmark in Irish legal history, highlighting the treatment of unmarried mothers. The ordeal endured by Joanne Hayes and her family, and the mystery of who killed “Baby John”, is ripe for dramatisation. The story certainly deserves better than this well-intentioned but amateurish production.

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Review: Tar Baby – Gilded Balloon, Edinburgh Fringe

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First published in The Times, Thursday August 27 2015

Four Stars

Rarely has systemic racism been interrogated with such a potent mix of anger, wit and self-conscious theatricality as this one-woman show from the New York-based performer Desiree Burch. She has a background in comedy and her engaging, at times uncomfortable performance straddles the worlds of stand-up, performance art, vaudeville and diatribe.

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Review: Dial Medicine for Murder – Gilded Balloon, Edinburgh Fringe

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First published in The Times, Tuesday August 25 2015

Two Stars

There is no denying the enduring appetite for true crime narratives. At its best, the genre rises above mere pulp, offering the same detailed portrayal of restoring order out of chaos as its fictional counterpart, but with the added inbuilt frisson that the events described actually happened.

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Review: Derby Day – Gilded Balloon, Edinburgh Fringe

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First published in The Times, Tuesday August 18 2015

Three Stars

Dysfunctional families are the bread and butter of the American theatre, but the Ballard brothers in Samuel Brett Williams’ one-act play exhibit enough hang-ups to fill a psychology textbook. We meet the three siblings, from Hot Springs, Arkansas, on the day of their father’s funeral, which happens to coincide with derby day at the legendary Oaklawn Park racetrack. They’re installed in a luxury private box. “Well, our dad only dies once,” says Frank, the eldest, raising a toast to the man they privately nicknamed “Big Bastard”.

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