I meant all that stuff I said about the Traverse Theatre in the intro. And to prove it, this is the first of five planned visits to the venue in a little over 36 hours. Tiny Dynamite tells the story of childhood friends Lucien (Scott Graham) and Anthony (Steven Hoggett). Anthony was famously struck by lightning at the age of six, and has been a little peculiar ever since. Lucien obsessively collects stories of freak accidents because of this, or because of something else. When the two meet Madeline (Jasmine Hyde) during a summer holiday, she helps them to unlock the secrets of their shared past.
Tiny Dynamite is produced by the fringe theatre equivalent of one of those seventies supergroups made up of people from other bands. Graham and Hoggett (from Frantic Assembly) both star and co-direct: Paines Plough supply the writer (Abi Morgan) and the director (Vicky Featherstone): and the designer is Julian Crouch, best known for his work on the hit Shockheaded Peter. With such a powerhouse of talent working on it, you'd expect the show to be a lot less low-key than it actually is. But this is a small delight, analysing the co-dependence of the two male leads. In the beginning, Anthony's obviously reliant on Lucien: "He found me licking the pavement. He thinks I've lost hope. I just like the taste." But gradually it becomes apparent that their relationship's more complex than that. Crouch supplies some lovely little visual touches - video projection, hanging lightbulbs, an on-stage swimming pool - and the final image is curiously touching in its optimism. Not what I was expecting, but in a good way.
Shortly afterwards in the same room comes Iain Heggie's Wiping My Mother's Arse: the Traverse staff seem to take great delight in using the play's title during every PA announcement. It's an Ortonesque farce based around a cast of four. Andrene (Edith Macarthur) is spending her twilight years in a hideously yellow nursing home. Larry (Eric Barlow) is the carer looking after her there, who also takes a personal interest in helping Andrene keep track of the large amount of money she inherited from her late husband. Derek (Neil McKinven) is Andrene's son, who's concerned about the way their joint bank account seems to be leaking cash at high speed. And Kath (Jill Riddiford) is Derek's new girlfriend, who's looking to marry him but wants to check out his background first. As Derek's background includes a long-term gay relationship with Larry, this could be messy.
Heggie's jolly yet bleak farce is crammed with funny lines, the best ones going to the two female characters. Andrene endlessly repeats herself, and is hilariously cruel about the other inhabitants of the nursing home, notably the much-abused June: "just because she's got no arms and legs and smells of S-H-I-T-E she thinks she's the Queen." Macarthur makes the occasional moments of clarity in her thought rather moving. Kath, on the other hand, is responsible for a large number of wildly self-contradictory rants that draw spontaneous applause from the audience. If there is a flaw, it's that the final descent into pathos is a little too sudden to be convincing: but other than that, this is a fine piece of entertainment which gives you pause for thought about how we treat the elderly.
Jackie Leven turns up in the Cabaret Bar of Komedia at Southside, a huge grizzly bear of a bloke with hair "like Ronald Macdonald on smack". (His words.) Since his days with Doll By Doll some twenty-odd years ago, he's been carving out a niche for himself as a singer/songwriter. This venue is ideal for an intimate show involving just the man and his guitar: a tiny room holding a maximum of thirty or so people, with Leven holding court in the corner of the room.
I'm not enormously familiar with Leven's back catalogue, though I have seen him live once or twice before: but after today's show, I'm keen to track down a few more of his records. At one point he explains why he needs a lyric sheet for some of the newer numbers: because they're unfamiliar, he gets so caught up in the imagery that he forgets that he wrote those images in the first place, and what the exact words are relating to them. It's a nice illustration of the vivid quality of Leven's songwriting, leading to lines as lovely as the couplet from the show's closer, Call Mother A Lonely Field: "like young Irish men in English bars / the song of home betrays us." If you get the chance to see Jackie Leven in an environment like this, go there.
Now a quick word for anyone reading this who was actually in Edinburgh on this day, Tuesday 21st. You bastards. Why weren't you at High On Laughter? We booked cheap balcony seats for this show as soon as we found out about it: an all-star benefit stand-up gig to raise money for the Turning Point Scotland rehab centres, a worthy cause given Scotland's undeniable problems with booze and dope. But so few people turn up to the Playhouse on the night that we end up being upgraded to the most expensive stalls seats. Which is nice for us, but these people deserve more.
If nothing else, we can feel incredibly smug about seeing the best collection of stand-up comics available on a single stage in Edinburgh this year. Emo Philips triumphantly returns after ten years away and it's like he never left: "My brother-in-law's German and he said to me once while we were in a bagel shop, 'You know, we can never get decent bagels back home in Germany.' I asked him 'So whose fault is that?'" Arthur Smith explains the difference between North and South London: "In North London, you get blue plaques on houses telling you that so-and-so died here on a particular date. The closest thing we have to those in South London are those big yellow police signs that say 'Did you witness...?'" And Mark Thomas, as ever, brings the comedy back round to the subject in hand: "Legalise cannabis, or if you can't do that, criminalise Tennant's Super. 'Four cans? You're a dealer, son...'" And there are some gloriously strange musical experiments: Rick Right singing Pinball Wizard to the tune of Folsom Prison Blues, Earl Okin reinventing Teenage Dirtbag as a bossa nova tune, and Ronnie And The Rex bashing Tie A Yellow Ribbon into a classic soul groove.
The night, however, belongs to Johnny Vegas, who staggers onto the stage wearing a jacket with no shirt and carrying a bottle of Coke. Initially it looks like he's in trouble: "I'm a comedian who likes to work the room, so they put a fuckin' barrier in front of the stage and turn the audience lights off." But just when you think it's going to be one of those legendary Bad Vegas Nights, a posh woman in the audience shouts out "button up your shirt, you look revolting." Vegas takes off from this, launching into a ten-minute rant at the crazed bint that gets every other person in the room on his side and culminates in a mooning to the tune of King Of The Road. You can't explain why it works, but thank the Lord that it does.
Some more music to finish off the day, as Mac Tontoh and the Kete Warriors take to the stage at the former casino that's now known as the Ego and Out Club. This wasn't Tontoh's original plan. The guy on the door explains that the run originally started at the Gateway theatre: unfortunately, nobody noticed that the venue wasn't soundproofed, and local residents called in the police after a couple of raucous late-night gigs. The ballroom of the Ego and Out is probably better suited to the show anyway.
Mac Tontoh was a founder member of Osibisa, so he's one of the key figures in the introduction of African pop music to the UK. Nowadays he's assembled some of the best young musicians from Ghana into a damn fine live band, combining African rhythms with jazz and funk. An incredibly tight rhythm section is given pride of place in the mix, but never to the detriment of Tontoh's trumpet or the saxophone of Idris Rahman. It's the perfect combination for some joyous leaping about, and the audience are happy to oblige. The splendid finale of Miles Davis' Miles and Osibisa's old classic Sunshine Day sends everyone home happy, apart from SeaPea who seems to have got the idea that half the band is gay. She said it! Not me!
Notes From Spank's Pals
Happy Eater (a Muse) - Shezan Tandoori on Leith Walk. We had a long evening of getting High On Laughter ahead of us (or so we hoped), and so this tried and tested favourite (experienced in previous years by 2 of the 3 Muses) was a convenient choice of eaterie for the Playhouse and, once again, it didn't disappoint. The five of us who went were seated immediately, the tables were large and afforded us plenty of room for the numerous dishes, nan breads and rice ordered. The dishes were succulent and extremely well spiced, the portions generous and the tartan-waistcoated staff welcoming. Despite some misunderstandings over the definition of 'jalfrezi', everyone waddled out well satisfied with their choice of dish. Definitely worth a visit before or after a show, but preferably don't eat all day!
SeaPea - Thus far I have felt I have wandered into the wrong shows, and Tiny Dynamite is no exception. Read about it in London and thought I must see it. Glad I did, but felt it was a workshop in progress: would like to see it two months down the line. Water is a great healer and a great leveller. The character of Lucien reminded me of Frankie (as in Goes To Hollywood). Felt the actors were acting. Reserved judgement.
The 3 Muses - Popcorn - you all know what it is, but this play has nothing to do with it. Picture this: Quentin Tarantino (aka Bruce Delamitri) in messy divorce, wins Oscar for bad-ass sex and violence flick, almost seduced by Uma Thurman wannabe but coitus interrupted by real life po' white trash mass murderer and kooky babe holding guns to heads and making deal not to exterminate entire cast if Q.T./B.D. takes responsibility for their inspired-by-great-directors movie crimes. But hell! This is America, inventor of the blame culture, so do you think anyone's gonna take any responsibility? The upshot is if you get kicks out of sex and violence in films (go on, you do), you're either a psychopathic voyeur, hapless victim of exploitative movie industry or well-balanced, objective observer of talented media guru's art. Guess which one you aren't? Brilliantly acted and directed, make it your responsibility to go and see this play even if you have to kill for a ticket. (NB. The 3 Muses take no responsibility whatsoever for the quality of this review and for any murder and mayhem which may result therefrom.)
SeaPea - When I was growing up we were too poor to buy/hire a TV, so we relied on the radio. No hardship really, because that is from where my interest in drama stems - lots of brilliant plays on what was then the BBC Home Service. One play, name long since stored away, concerned the plight of an old chap being sent to a nursing home. At the end of the play he cannot even lift a spoon to his mouth - total degradation. Wiping My Mother's Arse took on this theme with humour. Enjoyed is not the right word - I adored it, every word, every action, every moment counted. The moment of the revelation of the lemon cardie will stay with me forever.
Eve - The Complete Works Of Shakespeare. The RSC are captivating audiences with their playing of all 37 of Shakespeare's plays. (No, not that RSC - the Reduced Shakespeare Company!) This RSC comprises three very energetic young American men with a mission to bring Shakespeare to the masses. Romeo & Juliet was presented with great creativity and imagination - especially as far as Juliet was concerned. The ubiquitous natty black wig seemed to assume a life of its own as the show went on. Antony Worrall Thompson need have no fears of competition from Titus Andronicus, which was presented as a cookery programme. The victim's head found no salivating takers among the audience. Othello presented as a rap (as the definition of 'moor' owed more to shipping than North African inhabitants) was succinct and entertaining, surpassed only by the condensing of all the comedies into one play where various twins, siblings, lovers etc are shipwrecked on an island with forests and caves ridden with fairies and monstrous beings turned into asses and all ends happily ever after.
The tour de force was of course Hamlet - the star of which was a flashing-eyed waddling Godzilla stealing the show from a flashing-eyed breast-beating huffy Hamlet. As Ophelia went into a strop - sorry - had an artistic tempremental disagreement with fellow artistes, a willing (?) volunteer from the audience was persuaded to play the tragic sodden (wet!!) heroine. This sequence involved much pantomimic support from a totally involved audience resulting in a heart-rending (and ear-splitting) scream from Ophelia. This was really theatre and Shakespeare at its most accessible!! Then to ice the cake we had Hamlet in 5 minutes. To add cream to the icing we had Hamlet in 2 minutes. And finally!!! - Hamlet backwards. What else can I say? From 8 to 80+ you will love it. Please can I have the young man who plays Juliet in my Xmas stocking?
Nick - Tiny Dynamite. Okay - this might be a work in progress between two prestigious theatre companies (Paines Plough and Frantic Assembly), but the apparent changes caused the opening lines to be stumbled, which does not fill the audience with much confidence. The circular structure of the play was dotted with fragmented scenes of the friendship of two men, one of whom had survived a lightning strike in his childhood, and both had become fascinated with how random events had affected other people - who, tellingly, had not survived. The character who was struck by lightning was scarred across his chest, and this was used as an emblem throughout the play: what other scars, emotional and psychological, had been thrown at them by the proverbial stick of tiny dynamite. A well-staged production, but I suspect one that will not be transferring to London.
The 3 Muses - High On Laughter. Better than Late 'N' Live.
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