Join Jafar Iqbal for his final roundup of all thing Welsh at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe.
JAMES NOKISE: TALK A BIG GAME
The Stand Comedy Club 3 & 4
James Nokise has the advantage of being one of very few Kiwi comedians in Edinburgh, and his new show milks that for everything it’s worth. Talk A Big Game is advertised as a departure from his usual fare (his last two shows covered politics and racism) but, of course, this was just a tease. Using sport almost as a MacGuffin, Nokise depends on the cutting social commentary he’s so good at.
Audience interaction is a big part of Nokise’s act and, thanks in part to a sizable Kiwi presence at the gig, he gets to show that off. He’s able to give universality to anecdotes about New Zealand, and his observations on immigration and casual racism across the world are astutely made.
At times, however, Nokise is bogged down by the sports allegories, and it becomes clear that there’s angrier, harder-hitting material hiding in there. He keeps it light, though, and the audience leave satisfied, if not wholly informed.
IGNACIO LOPEZ: NINE IG FAILS
Just the Tonic at the Mash House
As comedians go, Ignacio Lopez has a lot going for him. In an industry full of clones, he has the benefit of standing out. He is one of few Spanish comedians (and almost certainly the only half-Welsh one), and Lopez makes the most of this calling card.
It’s not all smoke and mirrors though. As this hour of comedy proves, Lopez is good at his job. Ironically, this solo hour is about the times in his life where work hasn’t gone so well, an endearingly self-deprecating subject matter for someone still finding his feet.
Lopez gets side-tracked a little too often, which leads to him having to rush the ending, but he’s a great presence on stage. With a guitar as accompaniment, Lopez charms the audience with his Spanish lilt and modest demeanour. A brief turn in demeanour late in to the show suggests there is more to this performer than meets the eye, but this was a perfectly good introduction.
JENNY COLLIER: A FEW GOOD JEN
Laughing Horse @ Espionage
Jenny Collier’s strength as a performer isn’t immediately apparent. As seen in A Few Good Jen, the Welsh comedian gives the air of a person struggling (and seemingly failing) on stage. She is constantly looking to the audience for approval, commenting when jokes aren’t met with the appropriate response. At first it seems like a performer losing control when, in fact, it’s the manipulation of a comedian confident in her abilities.
When not playing the fool, Collier’s material has some bright spots, though it’s not earth-shattering. At its heart, this is a story about surviving in London – the struggles of accommodation, work, romance, etc. The jokes are gentle, the anecdotes inducing smiles rather than laughs.
The joy is definitely in seeing her trick the audience, though. People come away feeling pity for Collier, exactly the reaction she wants, and that can only be seen as a success.
THE HUMMINGBIRDS A CAPELLA: VOICES
theSpace on the Mile
There is no shortage of a capella at the Edinburgh Fringe, with interest in the artform continuing to grow year after year. On paper, The Hummingbirds stand out from the crowd a little. Made up of students from The University of St. Andrews, they come to the Fringe armed with their take on Swedish and Welsh folk music, an interesting if bizarre choice.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing – Edinburgh is, of course, a playground for the alternative. The ensemble’s mash-up of hymns and folk music is, for the most part, cleverly done, and the composer has to be commended for finding that link. Beyond the intrigue of that concept, what we don’t get from The Hummingbirds is something unique.
They sound great, no doubt, but that’s the least an audience should expect from an a capella group. By not bringing something fresh to the table, this show feels average, not much more than that.
CHWEDL: FAIRYTALES FROM WALES
PQA Venues @ Riddle’s Court
Using music, song, dance and puppetry, Tidal Town Theatre bring Welsh fairytales to Wales. Aimed at a much younger audience, this 45-minute production knows exactly what its audience is and how to cater it. Sometimes feeling like the live version of a YouTube video, the ensemble cast deliberately ham it up for a response.
It’s a difficult line to tread, and Chwedl doesn’t always land on the right side. The often sluggish pace of the production doesn’t feel appropriate for a production aimed at children over eight. The performances can’t be faulted, with Blas Barragan Jr. standing out with his mix of musical and acting talents.
Chewed is by no means a bad show, and there’s actually something quite pleasant about seeing fairytales presented this way on stage. It is predominantly the pacing that lets the piece down, however, a lesson for the future.
THE BEST OF THE REST
Roundabout @ Summerhall
Undoubtedly one of the shows of the Fringe, Charley Miles’ beautiful two-hander is a meditation on what it means to be home. At the heart of it are our two protagonists, the only two children born for a generation, and we see their relationship grow and break over the years.
There isn’t much to criticise about Blackthorn. Miles’ script is stunningly written – she’s able to weave a lyrical quality into what is otherwise a gritty drama set in rural North Yorkshire. Our nameless characters spend most of the time bickering or arguing but, even at its most cruel, there’s beauty in it. Charlotte Bate and Harry Egan are perfectly cast, and director Jacqui Honess-Martin guides them with a deft hand. It’s an assured effort on all parts.
Blackthorn’s biggest problem is that it ends so soon. By the end of its hour-long running time, ending on what is arguably its biggest cliffhanger, the lights go down and it ends. The audience rightfully crave more time in this make-believe but utterly real world.
Summerhall – Old Lab
It may only clock in at half an hour long, but Backup could lay claim to being the most memorable at this year’s Fringe Festival. Chaliwate Company’s short piece (part of a larger work due next year) crams as much into its thirty minutes as three-hour epics have in theirs.
Backup doesn’t really sit in any genres, hovering somewhere between physical theatre, dance and clowning. Three performers play a news crew, driving across the North Pole in a rickety van. Across from them is a polar bear and its cub, trying to stay alive in these harsh conditions. The stage is set.
To say any more would spoil what is a stunning piece of theatre. Yes, this is just a taster of more to come but, just on its own, Backup proves that good theatre does not need time, it just needs quality. What Chaliwate present in 2019 will be very interesting.
Summerhall – Main Hall
Now a regular fixture of the Summerhall Fringe programme, Sh!t Theatre returns with last year’s hit Dollywould. Rebecca Biscuit and Louise Mothersole’s anarchic brand of feminist theatre has already garnered them a Fringe First award and, this year, they’re upgraded to a far bigger auditorium.
While that may not have stopped ticket sales, the bigger space does take away from their act somewhat. What’s worked in previous years is the intimacy of their gigs and, while this show celebrating the life and mythology of Dolly Parton has plenty going for it, it doesn’t live up to the standards of previous hits.
It is still very good though, and the two performers are as hilarious and entertaining as ever. Every gesture, every word uttered, every movement is measured and relevant. While it appears utterly chaotic from the other side, there’s no denying how well-crafted and intelligently-presented their performances are. They continue to be a must-watch theatre company.