Monthly Archives: July 2019
July 31 – August 25 (10.50)
The Fringe is here! I woke up on the morning of the 31st July 2019 as eager as the day on which I was to receive my first kiss. In the Edinburgh Festival season; East meets West, Song meets Dance, Black meets White & of course Art meets Writing. The latter is the Mumble’s contribution & we love it! Our first show was Doodle Pop from Korea, which began at 10.50 in the morning. Waiting in the audience were quite young children & their smiling parents, some of whom were returning after experiencing it last year. ‘Its one of the few shows you can sit through without being in agony,’ said one young mother, ‘& the kids loved it!’
The overall effect of Doodle Pop reminded me of The Beatles, when the whole is far better than its constituent parts. We are given a blend of space, sound & images, concocted by an electric drumkit, a keyboard, a binary projector show of light & dark, & two ‘actors’ wielding markerpens like light sabres. These together are pretty basic on their own, but combine into quite a spell-binding experience. Like the jamming of a dead good jazz band. The finale is also something straight from the uncorking of a bottle with jinn in it; that is a genie jinn, not the drinkable gin – but there is defintitely a sense of drunken-ness to the proceedings; in a good way tho’, the perfectly silly way which is infectiously impossible to ignore.
The cast is young, & talented, & together create simple story structures & arcs to please the little ones, burnished with an image here, a sound there, a puppet at the side & an animation bouncing across the snow-white screen. Of the latter, the variant game of ‘Pong’ was sublime, while the ‘on-off’ battle was chaplainesque. The two actors – actresses actually – are perfectly well-trained in vocal & facial accompaniments to their craft, while holding a superb torch to interacting with the kids, smashing through inhibitions with effortless demeanors. A perfect show for the kids this Fringe, about the age range of 2-7 – 8 at a push – but for we adults it is also an extremely enjoyable experience.
Damian Beeson Bullen
Each Fringe the Bedlam Theatre display top quality drama. Mark ‘Divine’ Calvert went along to see just what this season holds…
Tonight I attended a press launch for a Fringe venue called Bedlam. The Theatre itself is a neogothic church, built in 1840 by one of The New Town’s chief architects, pon the site of the Old Town poorhouse, deriving its name from a nearby asylum for people with mental health issues. It is the oldest Fringe Venue in Edinburgh and, interestingly, the first production performed in its spooky holy enclaves was by a company that came from Bradford that was in 1970. This made me feel right at home. Divine’s from Bradford. A good bit of Yorkshireness never goes amiss. I settled in straight away with a few complementary gins and started to mingle with the excited thespians. The press-pack that I received revealed all the performances that are to be held at The Bedlam Theatre this Fringe.
We were called into the auditorium for a snapshot of a few of the performances being held there – a common theme being the reasons that people would have been incarcerated into the mental health system of the 1840s. Mental Health, Homosexuality, Transgender and Lesbian action. This made me feel even more at home. Divine’s always been a transgender bender. A gay girl trapped in a man’s body with no gender issues, a chick with a dick that has never had the op.
There was a lot to take in. An hour that tempted the audience with the smorgasbord of delights, my fave being a production called Splintered – A Queer Caribbean carnival. Sprinkled with sad truths and joyful lies and based on interviews with queer women in Trinidad and Tobago. Firmly on Divine’s review list. Then the director and host of the Late Night Sessions arrived, a very fetching performer herself. Mirroring the ethos of the main programme, Taliah has aimed to use Late Night to provide a platform for disempowered voices. I couldn’t have felt more at home. Then there was a comedian that was genuinely funny, called Ken Cheng, who is running a show called “To All The Racists I’ve Blocked Before.”
I didn’t expect to be touched as deeply as I was tonight. The Bedlam revealed just how progressive theatre has become. All the subject matters were relevant to me and my experience through life. Bradford was just as homophobic in the 80s as I could imagine the Caribbean is today. The Bedlam Theatre offers a safe place for people to be real. If you want to Come Out and play, The Bedlam Theatre is calling you. Divine’s Top Pick and The fringe hasnae started yet. ❤
Good Time Divinexxx
Sex, Love, Comedy, Drama & of course, Annie Lennox, all meet in a magical play from Death & the Dominatrix
Hello Chris, first things first, where are you & Karen from, & where are you at, geographically speaking?
It’s a long-distance working relationship – Karen’s in Huddersfield, I’m in London.
What for you makes a good piece of theatre?
I want to think, but not to think I’m thinking. Not to be told to think. I want the author and the actors to slide in bits of thinking under my consicousness without me realising it.
I go to the theatre to be entertained, really.
Can you tell us about your experiences at last year’s Global Motion Picture Awards?
Surreal! I entered two screenplay competitions – I got to the quarter finals of the PAGE International Sceenplay, which is a biggie, and randomly entered another one for no reason I could think of. Then I got the email saying I’d won both Best Screenplay and Best Character Development. That was it. No Business Class flight to Los Angeles, no ticker-tape parade down Hollywood Boulevard – just the email. It’s great to have the recognition. Any writer will tell you how painful it can be to keep writing, not knowing whether anyone really rates or appreciates it. I could still have done with meeting Susan Sarandon, though.
Can you tell us about Two Foolish Productions & your role?
We put together Two Foolish Productions just as an experiment to take a play to the Edinburgh Fringe and three years on we’re still experimenting. I’ve got this not-so-guilty passion for the music of the 80s and I wanted to know whether I could write plays that would incorporate that. Get Fit With Bruce Willis was a title that randomly leapt into my mind one day. So far the plays have used the music of Jimmy Somerville, Marc Almond and Annie Lennox. We both like comedies that have a heart. Something that makes you care for the characters even as you’re laughing at them. We like our characters vulnerable. Karen’s a fabulous director and slave-driver, and she also has a great mind for plotting. I always say these plays are co-written but she doesn’t see that, as she never actually puts any words down on the page. She’s the organ grinder. I’m just the monkey.
You’re bringing a new play to this year’s Edinburgh Fringe – can you tell us about it?
It’s a play about power and sex and love and disappointment. Karen plays an ageing Dominatrix who’s summoned to the afterlife by Death. But not death as we know it… he’s had a rebranding, now he’s more touchy-feely, more user-friendly. She’s a hard-nosed businesswoman, he’s a corporate suit. Turns out both these are just shells for the real person underneath.
What is it about being performing in front of other people that makes you tick?
I don’t think it’s about being ‘in front’ of people – the great thing about live theatre is that you’re in the room with them. We’re on a journey together and even though I’ve been through this journey many times – performances and rehearsals – I still want to make it fresh and real. That’s the challenge, and it’s great…
Comedy-drama is a difficult theatrical genre – what are the secret ingredients behind a good mix?
When we find out, we’ll let you know! You have to believe the characters. You have to believe that they’re always doing what they think is right, even if it’s a stupid idea. You know that cliché ‘act 1, force your character up a tree; act 2, throw stones at them; act 3, get them down’? That still holds, you just have to make the stones ridiculous and the tree preposterous. I really admire Richard Curtis (‘Four Weddings and a Funeral’, ‘Love, Actually’ etc) even though I hate myself for admiring him. Every character has a gaping wound that he remorselessly exploits for drama. Comedy drama does that but just adds… err… comedy.
How much of the play’s main character, Maggie Taylor, is drawn from your own life?
Ha! How is a mini-skirted, thigh-length booted, corset-suited woman based on my life? Well… Karen and myself both enjoy talking about sex and we get an especial kick when we talk about it with younger people who seem to think that we should have forgotten about That Sort Of Thing since we’re both So Close To Death. So the fact that Maggie is unapologetic about being a Dominatrix and regards it as a perfectly valid career choice works for us. The relationship between Maggie and her impending death is also a chance to riff on existentialist themes. I like to think of myself as the Camus of BDSM. Sisyphus in high heels.
You premiered at this year’s Brighton Fringe – how did it go & have you tweaked the show since?
It went really well. We did small modifications during the run, but the time since then has allowed us to do bigger tweaks. Sadly our strongest discovery – that the title sucks – came too late to do anything about it for Edinburgh. We were already committed.
What is the biggest obstacle you overcame while putting your show together?
Quite often we’ve been in different continents. That’s quite challenging. Rehearsing by Skype doesn’t really allow you to practise prop setting (Karen’s biggest bugbear) though we got the lines crafted. The other big obstacle is common to every comedy writer – you never know whether a joke’s funny until the audience laughs. I’m devastated to have had to cut the original opening, which I loved… but nobody laughed. They were intrigued, but that’s not good enough at the start of a comedy.
How are you finding working with Karen Kirkup?
You call it ‘working with’, I call it ‘doing what I’m told’… It’s fab. She’s got such a good eye for structure, staging and plotting that I know I can come up with any idea, no matter how difficult to stage, and she’ll find a way round it. In Get Fit With Bruce Willis I wrote a nightmare scene in which she played four different characters all torturing my character. I think the script said ‘different hats, or whatever’, and I had absolute confidence that she’d either sort it out, or tell me why it was a bad idea dramatically.
Why are you using the songs of Annie Lennox and Eurythmics?
Get Fit With Bruce Willis was based around the songs of Jimmy Somerville and the groups he’s been in, because I look vaguely like him and I have a similar singing voice. Painted Love took on the songs of Marc Almond because I’ve always been a massive fan. That’s two male singers, time for a female one – and who is more iconic and evocative of 80s music than Annie Lennox? What a voice. What a stage presence.
We knew we’d got it right when almost everyone we mentioned it to had the same ‘ooh….’ reaction. We don’t try to imitate Annie (who could?), but the themes of her songs – empowerment, sexuality, love, vulnerability – all hit the dramatic spot.
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell the play to somebody in the streets of Edinburgh, what would you say?
It’ll make you laugh. It’ll break your heart. How often do you get whips, wit and existentialism in the same play? It’s sexy and it’s got a fabulous Annie Lennox soundtrack. Death goes management-speak – ‘it’s not death, it’s a negative lifestyle outcome’. Where else can you get all that at 1pm?
What will you be doing for the rest of 2019?
Writing the next play! Provisional title is ‘Hit Me, Baby’ (guess where we’re going musically with that one…) and Karen plays a woman who decides to take up boxing in later life but gets mistaken for a hit-woman. She finds herself unexpectedly contracted to take out a hit on a man’s wife…
Aug 19-25 (13:00)
Somewhere in the realms where entertainment meets expertise reigns BBC Radio’s Russell Clarke
When did you first realise you could write, & write well?
About ten years ago I was invited to write a half-hour contribution to a radio show in London on Pink Floyd and the response from the listeners was very, very positive so I was invited back the next week and every week after that. I’m all about the history of rock and roll and I always try and tell a story, rather than just give a whole loads of random facts. The BBC has a very dedicated audience and so word got round, especially the BBC and its local radio stations so I’ve pretty much been on every one talking about anything of rock and roll significance. I’m proud to say I am currently BBC Radio Berkshire’s go-to guy for anything rock and roll relayed. I may even be a household name in Reading!
Can you tell us about your literary output thus far?
I’ve written and presented over 300 pieces for the radio in the last ten years, mainly on BBC Radio London. I’ve tried to systematically tell the story of rock and roll in the UK from 1951 onwards so I’ve covered Lonnie Donegan and Tommy Steele, our earliest rock and roll stars all the way up to Acid House and Brit Pop, with everything inbetween: the Floyd, Zep, Stones and especially the Beatles. I’m a huge fan of the Beatles and there is so much to tell. A book can’t be far behind if I can find the time!
You are a transatlantic radio star – can you tell us more?
Through a few contacts, I came to the attention of a production company in San Francisco which specialises in putting together packaged shows for National Public Radio (NPR) in the USA, a bit like the BBC. When they’re doing something on rock and roll I get the call. If you think about it, some of America’s favourite music is British. They have deified the Beatles, the Stones and Led Zeppelin way more than we ever did, so they like a British accent and luckily they like mine. They put together a 12-15 minute package to tell the story and edit ion other people they have interviewed, so I can honestly say I appeared alongside Eric Clapton,. Pete Townshend and Anjelica Huston (though didn’t actually meet any of them).
What is it about Rock music that makes you buzz with so much enthusiasm?
I don’t know why but I find it as fascinating now as I did when I first saw T.Rex or Marvin Gaye on Top of the Pops when I was 9 years old. When I was at school, all the other kids got the Beano or Dandy every week; I got the New Musical Express and my best mate Pete got the Melody Maker so we swapped. Each week from the age of 11 to 18, I read two music papers a week and just had that kind of brain that could remember all the detail. I’m pretty useful in a Quiz Night, I have to say. But it goes hand in hand with the music. I bought my first single in 1972 and every time I got 40p I would buy another one. When I got more money I progressed the LPs. I had an overdraft of course when I left University, but it was because I bought so many records and not because I drank too much beer. Although I did drink a lot of beer at University.
Which of the Rock eras do you specialize in & why?
I confess it’s a little while since I kept an eye on the charts and I don’t buy a lot of new music – although my stepdaughter has made sure I know who Stormzy is – so I tend to specialise in just about anything before the mid-90s. I like the history or rock and roll and how it fits into its time. Rock and roll started in the mid-50s when after years of austerity and bombsites, young kids just thought we want something exciting and a bit exotic. And then Elvis Presley appeared with Heartbreak Hotel and kids were never the same again. The same thing happened in the 60s when the Beatles swept away all who came before with their songs and their energy. All of a sudden the World went from black and white to colour. The Seventies is my decade really, I was a teenager and came of age but what tumultuous times they were. If the music hadn’t been so good, I wonder how we would have got through them. The Eighties were just enormous fun.
What is it about doing your radio shows that you love the most?
I think it’s the opportunity to tell a story. I love all rock and roll and whilst I may not be a huge fan of someone’s music, I am almost certainly a fan of their story: where they came from, how they got a break, where they lived, where they made their records, all that kind of stuff. It’s also very rewarding when people write in and say how much they enjoyed the show and how much the music of whoever I’ve talked about means to them. It means I chose my subject well.
You’re stranded on a desert island for an indeterminate amount of time with only three albums & a solar-powered CD player – what would they be?
My All-Time Favourite Album of All-Time is The River by Bruce Springsteen, which I bought for £5.99 on the day it came out in 1980 and played to death for months after. I’ve never really tired of it to be honest, it’s rather timeless. ABC’s The Lexicon of Love is really about 1982 but I was a young guy, quite fancied myself in a gold lamé suit – we all did in 1982 – had the correct hair and let’s face it every track is a belter. Finally I’d have to have a Beatles album. They are our Civilisation’s favourite pop group, so I’d take a Greatest Hits collection or if that’s not allowed I’d take Revolver, their finest LP.
You’re debuting at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe; what are you bringing to the table?
If I’m bringing anything it’s the enthusiasm I have for telling a story. We all know who Elvis Presley is and certainly what he became, but I tell his story from when he was a kid, how he accidentally invented rock and roll as we know it and became the biggest star in the world. I hope everyone else will be as amazed as I was when I managed to link Elvis to another internationally famous singer by just an awesome bit of trivia. I can’t tell you what it is, you’ll have to come to the show for that, but I’ll give you a clue: it’s something to do with his trousers. That’s just the start of the Chain of Trivia. We’ve got stories of Nobel prizes, lawsuits, radio bans and asteroids, all the way to Freddie Mercury and Queen ten steps later. At the very least, you’ll leave the show knowing a hundred things more than you did when you went in!
What is the biggest obstacle you overcame while putting the show together?
I cant honestly think of any obstacles. We’ve been coming to the Fringe for years as punters and I had already developed this show which I’d done in London on several occasions and just thought it might work in Edinburgh. Once you’ve reached that point, you’ve got to find yourself a promoter/venue and you’re off. Luckily the guys at SpaceUK liked my pitch and we did a deal on the Surgeons Hall on Nicholson Street. I’ve seen all sorts of shows there over the years so I know the place well and can recommend their pizzas. I’m really looking forward to spending three weeks in this city. It’s just fabulous when the Fringe is on.
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell the show to somebody in the street…
You look intelligent, you look curious, you like rock and roll. Put all that together and find out things you never knew about some of the most significant rock and roll stars of the last 60 years, starting with Elvis. There’s more trivia than you can shake a stick at!
theSpace @ Surgeons Hall
2-10 (15.05) / 12-24 (13.05)
Girl Power never, ever went away & its soaring up to the Fringe
Where, when & why did the idea for Wannabe happen?
Gabbie: When the show’s producers, Red Entertainment, had the idea of creating a show based on the Spice Girls phenomenon, we all attended auditions for the touring and international productions. I was subsequently cast as Scary – totally my favourite Spice Girl! – and spent five weeks rehearsing before our first tour dates in Spring 2019. The show has been open since 2017 then I joined this year and I can honestly say we’ve been having the best time onstage.
Rhiannon: Like the other girls I auditioned for the show and when I got the part of Sporty I was beside myself! I was obsessed with Sporty when I was growing up and I so wanted to be like her I joined a gym club so I could learn to do her backflips! We’ve all got to know each other really well and we’ve become really good friends as well as professional colleagues. It’s a dream job!
Have any of the original Spice Girls seen the show, & if so how did they take it?
Lucy: Geri Halliwell has watched a video of us and liked it, not sure about the other girls – and if any of them came to see the show that would be amazing! We’d be honoured!
How are the audiences reacting to the return of the Spice Girls?
Natalie: Well from audience reactions to our recent tour dates of ‘Wannabe’ I think we can say they really love the show! Our upcoming run at the Assembly Rooms will be the show’s first time at the Fringe and we’re all really looking forward to it; we performed at the Edinburgh Playhouse back in March as part of our UK tour dates, and it went down really well. Of course we don’t want people to get confused and think we’re the actual Spice Girls! We’re all stage performers playing the roles of each Spice Girl!
You’ve been touring the show extensively, how has that been?
Melissa: Amazing! Audiences are really up for it – we get loads of different people at the shows – lifelong Spice Girls fans with their own little daughters, guys and girls, groups and solos and definitely all ages. They’re very familiar with the songs and as soon as the intro starts up – like with Say You’ll Be There at the beginning of the show, you hear the audience roar with excitement! I get such a buzz from the audience’s reaction and their anticipation of a great night out that it just flows onto the stage and gives us all a huge burst of amazing energy – it’s an amazing feeling.
You’ve performed with both Take That on their Progress Tour & Boyzone on their A Different Beat Tour – did mixing with boyband royalty set you up for starring in the female version?
Gabbie: Definitely! Dancing onstage with Boyzone and then Take That was an incredible experience. I’d always loved boy bands – and girl bands – and having the opportunity to perform in such enormously popular shows so early on in my career inspired me and gave me the confidence to pursue musical theatre as a career.
Wannabe is receiving a great deal of critical popular & acclaim – how does that make you feel?
Melissa: It’s the BEST feeling! And it makes me feel even more excited about performing in the show at this year’s Fringe. It’s a huge privilege to be performing the role of Posh – I admire her so much personally and professionally – and I get to strut around the stage in a little black dress!
You’re performing at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe; can you tell us about the show & your role?
Lucy: Yes, I can’t wait! I play Baby Spice in the show Wannabe – The Spice Girls Show which is a really fun, high energy show about Spiceworld, Girl Power and all those brilliant hit songs. Baby Spice was always my favourite Spice Girl when I was growing up – she’s fabulous, flirty and fun and her sweet character brings so much energy and life to the line-up. And I love her hair – those pigtails! I always loved the way she sang too – she can sing a ballad and then rock-out on a big pop song without batting an eyelash!
What songs have we to expect from the show?
Melissa: We’ve got a great mix of the Spice Girls biggest hits including Say You’ll Be There, Who Do You Think You Are, Wannabe, Stop, Viva Forever and some of the band’s best solos are in the show too such as I Turn To You which was sung by Mel C, For Once In My Life from Mel B’s album, and It’s Raining Men which Natalie, as Geri, does brilliantly!
How will you be spending your month in Edinburgh, away from Wannabe?
Rhiannon: Ooh, I’ve got loads of plans for my days off… I want to catch lots of other shows and I really want to take a tour around the Edinburgh Dungeon where there’s a new exhibition about the notorious 19th century bodysnatchers, Burke & Hare and…obviously a whisky tour… or two!
Lucy: We all get on brilliantly – we really got to know each other during the rehearsal period which we dubbed ‘Spice Academy’ and I think it’s safe to say we’ve become really good friends. For instance, we’ve got similar ideas of what we’d like to do in Edinburgh outside our own shows – some of which includes climbing up to Arthur’s Seat – and so we’ll go and do stuff together. It’s all very relaxed and great fun being with the other girls.
You know a good show when it’s happened, what are the special ingredients?
Gabbie: I think it’s really important to deliver a top-quality show that will entertain audiences and give them value for money. We want to give audiences a fun, entertaining experience so that they have as brilliant a time as we do and send them home happy! For me the special ingredients are about connecting with the audience through our characters, the story and our onstage chat – which is generally great fun and really engages the audience’s response. We also have a great time together onstage and I think that comes across to the audience.
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell the show to somebody in the streets of Edinburgh, what would you say?
Natalie: Wannabe – The Spice Girls Show is a journey through the music of the Spice Girls, Spice World and Girl Power which is as relevant today as it was 20 years ago! Say You’ll Be There!
What will you & the girls be doing for the rest of 2019?
Rhiannon: After Edinburgh we’re having a week off then we’re going back on tour in September, October and November. We then have a break over Christmas and the new year and we’ll be back on the road in February 2020 through to the summer.
What are your top three personal highlights in the show?
Natalie: Oooh, just three?! Ok – well one is our fantastic jazz version of Too Much which involves some very cool choreography by our choreographer Becky Jeffrey. She’s created some great moves for us and has absolutely nailed the 90s moves but with her own modern twist. The second one is being able to wear a dress like Ginger Spice’s iconic Union Jack dress which for me is a costume highlight! And the third is sharing a stage with four amazing girls and singing all about GIRL POWER – in sequins, obviously!
Aug 1-24 (22:35)
Middle-Weight are masters of language AND drama, & when they combine them the results are sublime
Hello lads, so where ya both from & where ya at, geographically speaking?
Tom: Hello! Matt is originally from Cornwall, he studied in Exeter, Devon (where we met) and is now based in Bristol. I’m from and based In Exeter. So you can only imagine the type of arguments there are over who makes the better pasty.
Hello Matt, so when did you first find yourself getting into the dramatic arts?
Matt: Several years ago I was a singer in a metal band and someone told me there were auditions being held near me for ‘Jesus Christ Superstar.’ They reckoned I’d make a good Judas, because it was a ‘rock’ musical. My natural rock tenor voice (and my tendancy to betray people) made me a perfect candidate. I got the part, I loved performing it and this lead to other acting roles over the subsequent years.
When did you first develop a passion for theatre?
Tom: From a very early age. Both my parents were involved in theatre; my father was an actor/director and my mother a ballet teacher/choreographer. My house was continually packed with actors, dancers, stage hands and as a result was always full of creativity; there were constant rehearsals, debates and arguments over the latest Bafta or Tony award winner. I actually learnt to count by watching rehearsals of the ‘39 Lashes’ from ‘Jesus Christ Superstar.’ It was inevitable there was going to be an influence. Or therapy…
What for you makes a good piece of theatre?
Matt: For me, I want to be transported into the world of what I’m watching. I don’t want to sit in the audience and think ‘I’m currently watching a play;’ I want to be there thinking ‘I’m in their world.’ Ultimately, it’s about being immersed I guess. Also, I want to exit the theatre with residual thoughts and feelings – a good play should send you straight to the bar for a discussion, an argument or should at least prompt dialogue about the themes and psychodrama of what you’ve witnessed.
What do you like to do when you’re not being all theatrical?
Tom: I would love to give you a list of cool stuff to make myself sound all wind-swept and interesting, but honestly, the past three to four years have been consumed with establishing and maintaining the theatre company. Whether this is by going to watch other companies’ productions, talent scouting, learning new direction techniques, promoting or reading play after play after play, my interests are almost always work driven. I can do a good rendition of Eminem’s ‘Rap God’ or ‘A Modern Major General’ by Gilbert and Sullivan after a few glasses of wine; does this count?
You’re washed up on a desert island with an all-in-one solar powered DVD/TV combo & three films, what would they be?
Matt: James Foley’s ‘Glengarry Glen Ross,’ Michael Mann’s ‘Heat’ and Alexander Mackendrick’s ‘The Sweet Smell of success.’ A close fourth would be ‘Noddy goes lap dancing.’ I can’t remember who directed it.
How did you & Matt meet?
Tom: For a while I was a local music promoter around the Southwest. On several occasions I booked a heavy metal band that Matt was the vocalist for. They were such an outstanding group, I ended up muscling (and blackmailing) my way into being their bass player. We gigged and toured for over five years together, which (unsuspectingly at the time) developed into an on and off stage chemistry with regard to performance, comedy, writing, trust and, dare I say it, ethics… The band ran its course, but we have continued to collaborate on theatre projects ever since. Thus Middle-Weight Theatre Company was born.
How would you describe your working relationship with Tom?
Matt: Tom is great to work with because he is one of the very few people I’ve met in my life who is thoroughly reliable. If he says he’ll do something, he actually does it, and that’s a rare commodity in a person. He’s also very patient, which is, considering my phenomenally large ego, quite important.
Can you tell us more about Middle-Weight?
Tom: It was jointly founded in 2013 by Matt and I, and the aim – from day one – was to maintain a high standard of entertainment expressed by a wide variety of talented actors through new and thought provoking original writing. Along the way we have welcomed the crucial talents of Al Wadlan and Chrissy Marshall in co-running the company. Everyone who has been involved in any of Middle-Weight’s productions, be it performing or behind the scenes, usually has a keen interest in discussing or debating current affairs and politics, which is why our new play ‘amendments: A Play on Words’ (about censorship and the devolution of language) has been such fun to produce.
Six years into the Middle-Weight experience, how have you changed as a person?
Tom: Interesting question. I have changed in the sense that I’ve rekindled an interest in embracing new methods and to be more pluralistic. Honestly – I’m a bit of a control freak, so gaining and developing new techniques and experiences has taught me to compose myself – when for example a piece of scenery we’ve spent weeks making doesn’t fit properly or a prop doesn’t arrive on time, I don’t tend to hit Matt in the face as my first response anymore – so there’s definite growth there.
This Fringe you will be bringing ‘amendments – A Play on Words’ to Edinburgh, can you tell us about it?
Matt: It’s about how our language is being profoundly diminished by the rampant political correctness currently infesting our society. Don’t get me wrong, I completely acknowledge that we need to have codes in place to ensure people and the groups those people are part of aren’t persecuted or victimised, by I’m worried that the populus is becoming so sensitive and have developed such a finely tuned sense of ‘offense’ that our language is becoming subject to so much prohibition and censorship that soon there will quite literally be nothing left to say.
This will be your third time at the Fringe, can you describe the experience of performing at the Fringe in a single sentence?
Tom: Enchantingly exhausting.
As an actor, how will you know & feel when you have just given a good performance?
Matt: If I’m sweating a lot, that’s usually a good sign.
Do you & Tom socialise outwith rehearsals?
Matt: No. We have a keen disdain for one another.
What will you guys be doing after the Fringe?
Tom: There will be a very quick break, (after a tour, Matt and I generally part with the mutual sentiment of ‘I don’t ever want to see you again’, which usually lasts about a week, until we get bored). Whilst we’re touring and in that ‘creative mind-set’ we tend to write new material on-the-go, and so it was originally planned to put this show to bed and start rehearsals / production for one of at least three new-writing scripts we have to choose from. However, we have been touring ‘amendments’ close to a year now and the audience / press reaction has been so encouraging, we’ve decided to extend the run into 2020. So, for any producers out there – get in touch!
amendments: A Play On Words
Aug 19-24 (21:35)
The 2019 Edinburgh Fringe is fast approaching, & the Mumble reviewers are sharpening their pencils & getting their hair-dos done in eager anticipation. But just who are the people behind the words? Are these scintillating connoisseurs of culture really real? The answer is a big & happy yes!
James Nixon is a PhD graduate who looked at the relation between American politics and political comedy in the Obama era. He has a particular interest in forms of cultural communication within categories such as stand-up, film and television, and how these communicate and subvert cultural, social and political norms. Chapters of his Masters and PhD research have been published by Penn State University and Illinois State University.
Lisa Williams is of British-Grenadian heritage and been living in Edinburgh since 2011. She runs Caribbean cultural events, Black History Walking Tours of Edinburgh and educational workshops in Scottish schools. Her first degree was in Psychology and African and Asian Studies and she’s currently studying for an MA in Arts, Festival and Cultural Management. When not penning her own creations, Lisa likes to fangirl her favourite authors at literary festivals. You can follow her on Twitter @edincarib and Instagram @caribscot
Ewan Law lives in Edinburgh and works for a homelessness prevention charity, where he writes, teaches, and provides the staff with amusing mannerisms to copy behind his back. He recently wrote, produced, directed and starred in a promotional film for the charity. This led to a situation wildly reminiscent of the Frasier Episode ‘Ham Radio’. Working with addictions, mental health issues and homelessness over the last ten years gave him the necessary education to turn an amateur love of stand up into a semi professional one. Ewan has graced the stage at the Edinburgh Festival over the last few years with such luminaries as Lucy Hopkins (Shouting Erasure songs at a bemused Bob Slayer), Funz and Gamez (Playing pin the tail on the donkey and stealing childrens prizes) and John Kearns (sitting on his knee and drinking a pint of Lucozade, Cointreau and backwash. pictured). Ewan is excited to be joining team Mumble for the Fringe and finally having someone to listen to his opinions.(Editors note: The Mumble is legally required to mention that Ewan has been blocked on Facebook by all the above mentioned artists)
The Mumble’s editor-in-chief likes to think of himself as a poet of some nuance. Starting life in Burnley, Lancashire, & finding himself living in Edinburgh in his 30s, Damian Beeson Bullen set up the Mumble up to further his artistic education & to keep the words flowing – albeit in prose. Six years into his Parnassian pilgrimage he’s gathered a crack team of culture vultures to share the bounty. He enjoys all of the Mumbles – Comedy, Art, Theatre, Opera, Cirque, Festivals, Words & especially Musicals, which often make him cry.
Mark ‘Divine’ Calvert is a multi-talented explorer of all things artistic and spiritual. A gifted Clairvoyant, Spiritual Healer, Musician, Writer and Performance Poet and Dancer. Arriving at The Edinburgh Fringe in 1995 to perform Clairvoyance at the Citrus Club, he fell in love with Edinburgh and made it his home. In 1996 he became the Spiegel Tent’s resident Clairvoyant and Spiritual Healer. A relationship that would last ten years, introducing him to some of the best performance art on the planet. In 2000 he joined the Spiegel Crew on their maiden voyage to the Adelaide Fringe where he became instrumental in the creation of Spiegel’s “Garden Of Unearthly Delights.”
Working with, spiritually guiding and supporting Fringe performers both in Adelaide and Edinburgh for two decades, it would be a natural progression to become a performance art reviewer for the world famous Blog “The Mumble.” When one is a performance artist and its rich tapestry has influenced ones life path so, being able to expand upon thespian pursuits and having the opportunity to witness the vast array of artistic merit for free, write an appraisal for, get it published and get paid for the privilege. Oh Aye 5 Stars all round. Its a win win, for Divine and the Artists he reviews.
David Jackson is a happy go lucky guy who embraces all that life throws at him. Good or bad, he maintains a positive outlook on life. He loves to write, act, travel, dance, read, and pay it forward to those around him or to those whom he meets on his daily journey through life. Accept and be content is his out look on life and why not, he says, being convinced we create our own happiness and joy and therefore can share it with others. Hence being a reviewer.
Lucy Davidson is a 21 year old English Literature graduate from Edinburgh University. In the autumn, she will be moving to London to pursue a masters degree in theatre directing at RADA. She particularly enjoys reviewing new writing, immersive and site-specific work, physical theatre and contemporary Shakespearean adaptations. She is also more than excited about diversifying The Mumble by reviewing work in The Big Smoke!
Billy Pearson has recently been called a “Renaissance Man” by friends, as he has partaken in many creative endeavours. He splits time between Europe and the USA, as the law dictates. He spent his formative years travelling thousands of miles though North America on a bicycle, sleeping in bushes and eating out of waste bins. Wood sculpture has fascinated Michael for many years, and he has recently completed a bench. He has often traversed great expanses in order to cat sit. Michael is formally trained in creative writing from a lower-mid level university. He enjoys the collaborative nature of reviewing for the Mumble. Getting to experience performance arts and creating a review to help attract others to do the same, fulfils Michael’s desire to see earth become a better place.
Teri Welsh is a former spacecraft engineer, having worked for Scisys on ESA contracts for the Rover Mars mission. Her PhD research was undertaken at Glasgow University, Stanford University and NASA Ames in California, where she wrote a number of scientific papers on Spacecraft Robotics. Disillusioned with the private sector rat race, she abandoned her career to follow a holistic life as a traveller and writer, and set up a fair trade clothing/craft business working with disadvantaged communities in the developing world. In her free time she enjoys DJing at various gigs and festivals both here in Scotland and overseas, and can often be found dancing in a muddy field with a warm can of Strongbow.
Mark Mackenzie gained a Master of Theology from St Andrews in 1992, before it was overrun with American heiresses looking to snag a prince. He has had many occupations, including farm-working, teaching, cleaning busses and editing books. He currently lives and works in Perth, with Archie, a rescue dog who adopted him. They like to go hillwalking, getting wet, and rambling in the park, where they terrorise other dog owners. Mark likes theatre, classic literature and all sorts of music. Except grime.
Eilidh Sawyers is a Scottish lass with an English accent – a scarring combination for a child in Lanarkshire which has ultimately led to a deep appreciation of language and a degree in Linguistics. She finds happiness in forests, jangly guitars and just-too-spicy food. Recently graduated and trying to work out where she should let the world take her; picking up odd-jobs along the way. Ever the critic, the Mumble is a way to harness her healthy scepticism.
Matt Boyd, a recent graduate of French and History at the University of Edinburgh where I developed an interest in critical writing. My downtime is best spent cooking for friends, watching documentaries, and listening to music. I’m a frequenter of the Fringe that has worked as a promoter, critic and trader at music and cultural festivals across the United Kingdom. I have a passion for all things musical, comedic and spectacular (with a particular soft spot for anything bizarre and shocking) so I can’t wait to bring my keen and critical eye to The Mumble this year.
Being part of the Mumble team has taken Daniel Donnelly on many courses, reviewing everything from comedy to tragedy in the theatre, to covering operas and rock music. His increased appreciation has come from reviewing Music and theatre especially. When he was put in the middle of Edinburgh’s Princes Street and told to go see some Fringe shows and write about how he felt about them, he discovered the journey made between production team, audience and the reviewer can be a handsomely rewarding thing to do. Hr is excited at the future of this kind of writing both for himself and for The Mumble. He has been set alight by performances and has divulged with great reverence scripts and dialogues, each time with a feeling that he was covering this better or that… the opportunity for writing has always been a welcome one, and one that will continue as part of his life. Music and theatre just seems to hit a certain spot in me as to offer me relish in what he does.
Originally from Orkney, Catherine Eunson has lived in Huntly, Stirling, Edinburgh, Devon, London, Glasgow and Benbecula, where her family all lived for 20 years until 2016. She worked first as a music therapist and then in arts and education, with various community groups and as an event promoter. A lapsed cellist, she wrote and recorded music for Pauline Prior-Pitt’s ‘North Uist Sea Poems.’ Catherine has also had poetry published in various publications.
Steve Bromley is a creative writing graduate, who has unexpectedly found himself neck deep in the world of social housing. As a child, he wanted to be a frog, which is not necessarily the direction taken by most fairy tales and he’s never fully recovered from the disappointment of discovering that his amphibian goal could never be achieved. He now lives in Leeds with his sprawling extended family and fills his days with a heady (or possibly headless) mixture of experimental music, trashy horror films, comic books and classic literature. In summary, Steve is pretty undiscerning. He’s at his most comfortable astride the dizzying chasm of high and low brow, and is this is where his imagination burns at its brightest. Steve has released music through an assortment of netlabels from Edinburgh’s very own Bearsuit Records to the Netherlands based Rack and Ruin Records, having matured musically at the height of internet based file sharing bands. Over the years, he’s also written over enthusiastically about music for a variety of fanzines and websites. He now bothers the West Yorkshire music scene in the form of Gnomefoam. West Yorkshire is still working out how to put him back into his box. He’s also still working on his unwritten masterpiece.
Code name: Big Weegie Mark
Strengths: Flagpoles, painting ceilings and being funny as fuck! Great under pressure!
Weaknesses: Can’t stand a bully, loves everyone, a bit naive, believes any old shite, pish at deadlines.
Best Mumble moment to date: Rag-dolling Nina Contie last year in her monkey suit, I had her mid-air one handed and no I was not part of the show. I hate a bully – she is one – but hopefully she has learned don’t pick a fight up here unless you are sure you can finish it!
Funniest Mumble Moment: Louise Redknapp reading my review of her show while getting a massage from my ladypal at some posh hotel, and me texting my ladypal asking for a threesome… still waiting on my answer Lou!
Loves: Dogs rule… my family reading out my reviews at birthday dinners/parties (proud as punch)… helping out whenever the Weegie is needed… Theatre, Comedy, Dance, Techno… taking someone to their first show or play or comedy and telling the story about how their face lit up and how they absolutely loved it!
Philosophy: Kill them with kindness, love yourself as no one else is going to and this shit’s a marathon not a sprint. If you can spread some love along the way there is room -for you on my cloud.
There is a certain sublime genius to the works of Elegy Theatre, & they are bringing something fresh to the Edinburgh Fringe
Hello Matthew, first things first, where are you from & where are you at, geographically speaking?
I’m from Bedford originally, but I’ve been in South London ever since drama school!
When did you first realise you were, well, theatrical?
Never. I still deny it to this day!
You’ve trained as an actor at Italia Conti Acting in London, can you tell us about the experience?
Conti was great, it’s a real family atmosphere there, and I was a fantastic safe space to spend 3 years working out who I was and what I stood for. Drama school for me was more about the life experience than anything else; technique is great and gets you so far, but for me acting is just about constantly expanding your capacity for empathy – which only comes with time and the experiences that life provides. Also they really encouraged my writing, and I’m not sure I’d be writing now if I hadn’t had the support that I received there. More and more the industry is shifting to the idea of producing your own work, so I think I was very lucky to train at a place that has it’s finger on the pulse of the industry, so-to-speak.
What does your perfect Sunday afternoon look like?
A huge lie-in… followed by a nap… followed by regretting my life choices, and then I’ll probably meet up with some friends and play some Warhammer! I’m a massive nerd, and a big tabletop war-gamer – so I try and fit it in around running Elegy when I can. Eat some good food, play some games, spend time with friends.
Can you tell us about ELEGY & your personal role?
So Elegy formed in 2018 whilst I was at Conti, as a platform for small intimate shows, about huge sprawling ideas. We want to champion new writing that tackles those fundamental questions that affect everyone regardless of race, creed or culture. I’m the artistic director, so I generally decide what projects we tackle and what our future plans are likely to be. However we like to work as an ensemble, so when we’ve started working on a project my role is rather organic, and tends to float towards whatever the needs of the project demand of me; it’s different every project. We’re currently floating several ideas for new projects and I’ve got different roles in developing each of them. It’s rather exciting!
You’re bringing a play to this year’s Edinburgh Fringe; can you tell us about it?
It’s a deep dive into the world of gory, horrific viral content on the dark web, framed around the lives of three individuals – but really it’s much more than that. At its core it’s a human story, asking big questions about fate, possibility and control. The characters are all wrestling with these ideas: Kate’s trying to break out of her small town, Jon is trying to cope with his daughter’s death, Tim is trying to reconcile his past decisions with his new lifestyle; and we bounce between these narratives and timelines as they gradually reveal a darker picture…
Your first major production, ‘ Faith & Heresy,’ played to sell out houses at several London Fringe venues in 2018 – so why try something new for Edinburgh?
Faith & Heresy was an absolute beast of and show, technically and creatively – it had a huge cast, and just didn’t sit well with the logistics of touring. Taking a show to Edinburgh is a mammoth task and Faith & Heresy is a show that needs a lot of time to set-up, which is hard to do when most places only let you have a 5 minute get-in! We’d love to bring Faith & Heresy to the fringe, it’s the sort of show that audiences would love to see at the fringe, it’s tender, ambitious and visually stunning, but it would have to be somewhere down the line when we can take it to a spacer that would really allow us to give it the time and love to deliver the quality show that Edinburgh audiences deserve. Also creatively who wants to do the same thing forever? We wanted to evolve, explore new ideas and forge our craft onwards! Holy Land is a definite step up for us, and we’re very excited to share it.
Where, when & how did the idea for Holy Land originate?
I started writing the show more than a year ago as I was coming to the close of my time at Drama School. It’s a time in your life where you don’t have a lot of control over your life or decisions and that’s really what sits at the core of the play – How did we get to be here? How little control do we have? How much of it can we take? It went through a lot of iterations, but it wasn’t really sitting right for a long time – until one day I was talking to an old friend from home and she told me she’d found a video of herself online, on a less-than-ideal website… and that just struck me as horrific. Imagine finding a video of a terrible incident you went through posted online for millions to see, and then discuss, joke over, and be able to do nothing about it. It was brimming with all the same ideas I was eager to discuss, and so I started doing some research and digging into these websites. The things on there I’ve seen have honestly shaken me to my core, and no one is really talking about it. So I took it straight back to my writing desk, and in a few months there was a finished draft.
If your writing style was a soup, what would be the key ingredients?
Lyrical dialogue, vast ideas, a fragile hope.
How is the dual-role of writer & actor coming to you, – is it natural or a struggle?
They’re constantly clashing, especially with as we are constantly refining our work; cutting, changing the script. Pat has to remind me to just be an actor sometimes,
You are currently touring Holy Land about the UK – is the production still being tweaked?
Oh definitely! It’s part of our company ethos, we always are tweaking, night to night! You can only really tell if something truly works when it’s infant of an audience. What we’re tweaking changes though, the script is pretty solid right now, but we still like to dabble with the technical elements and try things out… it’s slightly different every night!
You’ve got 20 seconds to sell the play to somebody in the streets of Edinburgh, what would you say?
A father’s revenge, a young girl’s dream, a young man’s regret – Holy Land is an odyssey into the Dark Web told through interweaving, explosive monologues and stunning audio visual projection.
Aug 14-26 (13:00)
Part One in the very famous trilogy which tells the story of THE MUMBLE via those rather unscrupulous attacks of ne’er-do-wells
The Mumble is entering its seventh year at the Edinburgh Fringe, & it cannot be denied it has the coolest name, the slickest format & the best reviews. It is also the flagbearer for the revolution in the reviewing spheres that is demanding financial respect for its staff. This led to recent attacks by certain thespian types down south, which reminded the Mumble editorial team of similar conflicts in the past, which we call Mumble Rumbles. As a cheeky warm-up for the Fringe, we thought we’d proffer three of these Rumbles, including the latest one, which indirectly tell the story of the development of The Mumble, from the primitive blog-like beginnings, to our esteemed status as International Cultural Surveyors in 2019. The Mumble was launched in 2013, evolving out of a blog by Damian Beeson Bullen, in which he wrote, ‘Two summers ago, I threw myself headlong into the Edinburgh Fringe, reviewing as many shows as mi little legs could carry me to. This year, I’ve set up my own review site called THE MUMBLE, which means Multi-media Blogging, where you can find here. Now I’ve got myself a wicked wee team of reviewers together & we’re gonna be sampling some of the delights that Edinburgh Fringe 2013 has to offer, so if you’re in town or in Calcutta, enjoy.’
The Mumble did OK that first year, we were quite basic, but the writing was there. So we did it all again in 2014, which led to what we called ‘That Adam Riches Eruption.’ Essentially, one of our stalwart reviewsers to this day – Mark Divine Calvert – didn’t enjoy a comedian, but gave him an extra star for being from Yorkshire. Suddenly the publicist – Dan Pursey of Mobius PR – tried to bully us off the review – but we stood our ground which then got the national press involved. Suddenly everyone was talking about The Mumble. In our first proper battle, the result was a win-win, for not only did the incident raise our profile nationally, but the publicist lost his job, with the PR company came back the next year in an apologetic fashion asking for reviews.
Mark’s Original Review
It was a damp and wind-swept night and the welcoming warmth of the Pleasance Dome began to relaxed me into a state of mind ready for comedy. Tonight it was Adam Riches, a successful comedian with more awards that you can shake a stick at. Joining me was a capacity audience who clearly knew what we were in for. Alas I didn’t. With lots of audience participation, Adam humiliated his carefully chosen audience members who were middle class and loving every moment of it. Adam utilises different characters drawn from history, all of whom had a Yorkshire accent, which is a star point in itself. Taking his lead from vintage comedy telly, Adam was silly, pointless and yes, good fun. Which is just what his audience wanted. If you like trashy throw-away telly. Adam’s your man. Two Stars and one extra for being from Yorkshire.
A considered opinion?
Threat to block ‘disrespectful’ blog’s free tickets
A row has erupted on the Edinburgh Fringe after a PR company threatened to withdraw free press tickets from bloggers for not showing enough respect to the comedians they are writing about. Publicists at Mobius laid down the ultimatum after Mumble Comedy wrote a three-star review of former award-winner Adam Riches – saying that if the review was not altered or removed, they would not issue any more tickets, and spread the word to venues across the festival, too.
In return, the blog accused the company of trying to intimidate them into taking down a poor review – saying: ‘We cannot be bullied out of our integrity’. However, some changes to the review, by Mark ‘Divine’ Calvert, were made after Mobius first got in touch – including correcting the spelling of Riches’s name. The row is likely to spark debate over the line between established media and fans setting up an online presence in order to score free tickets.
Mumble Comedy’s ‘CEO’, Damo Bullen revealed the pressure from Mobius in a message beneath the review, accusing them of ‘chucking their toys out the pram & ask[ing] me to take it down’.
He refused saying: ‘Everyone’s entitled to their opinion & that Mark simply could not get into the comedy of Mr Riches.. The Mumble is an honest website, designed to help would-be show-goers make an informed choice. We cannot be bullied out of our integrity.’
Despite Bullen’s defiance, Dan Pursey from Mobius said the review HAD been changed since it first appeared – although Bullen insists any changes were ‘cosmetic’.
Pursey said: ’The original review also contained some very odd references that, apart from anything else, gave the impression our client’s work hadn’t been met with the respect, care and attention it deserved. These have since been removed. ‘
‘We really do support and encourage new titles, websites and critics and like to offer them access to write about our clients’ work where we can. We also totally acknowledge that everyone is of course entitled to their own opinion.
‘But when we initially (very diplomatically) expressed our concerns the site representative was quite uncooperative, and my worry was that this could be an attitude that stretched across the site. I’m sure it isn’t, but had there been more evidence of care, I wouldn’t have had to push quite so hard to get them to pay attention.’
It’s understood that after the original contact from Mobius the sentences ‘Taking his lead from vintage comedy telly’ to ‘Adam’s your man.’ were added, and references to the critic’s urge to go home and ‘listen to his Tricky CD’, and spend more time in his leopard print pyjamas with a large mug of tea were removed.
Speaking to Chortle, Bullen added: ‘Do you know what annoyed me the most – it was his brash, aggressive condescending attitude that wanted to sink my ship when a lot of people – performers, reviewers, back stage staff – have benefited from it.’
Mumble Comedy – a free WordPress blog that uses unlicensed clip art to illustrate the number of stars – was set up for last year’s Fringe and only publishes for the festival. It currently has 140 ‘likes’ on Facebook.
And they haven’t got around to writing their ‘About Us’ page, which says: ‘This is an example of a page. Unlike posts, which are displayed on your blog’s front page in the order they’re published, pages are better suited for more timeless content that you want to be easily accessible, like your About or Contact information. Click the Edit link to make changes to this page or add another page.’
Steve Bennet: A Jaded Opinion? By 2019 Steve Bennett is rapidly becoming the Arsene Wenger of comedy reviewing. On three occasions last Fringe I was completely blown away by the youthful talent & bountiful originality of certain artists, whose shows’ names I shall leave out of this wee pontification. Five star shows the lot of them. Yet, a couple of days after my own visitations, Mr Bennett trundled in to see the same shows & is only giving them 3s. Is he observing the same shows that I am? Is he seeing the same hunger of performers in their prime, the same tenacity of talent, the same boundary-breaking of burgeoning genius? Clearly yes, for he does describe each show’s sheen accurately enough – but the substance & magic, definitely not. Once is opinion, twice is taste, but thrice… that doesnae even make the Europa League. Perhaps it is time, like Mr Wenger, for Bennett to retire from front-line duties & leave the reviewing to a fresh generation. Throughout the 21st century comedy, like football, has evolved & it seems like Mr Bennett is stuck firmly in the stand-up of the past, when comedians of today are soaring on the winds of the future.
Back in 2014, the next to get hold of the story was Brian Logan of the Guardian, whose own article on the matter reads;
As the mainstream press withdraws from Edinburgh, there’s been a rise in alternative voices. Some new reviewers will be learning on the job – just like novice standups
My colleague Lyn Gardner wrote last week about “a critical exodus from the fringe by the mainstream press”, and I share her concerns. The issue is discussed in comedy circles too: I’ve spoken to several PRs who say they haven’t had much to do at this year’s fringe, because coverage in the mainstream press is so diminished. Of course, the flourishing of alternative critical voices online is an exciting development, but perhaps not yet an adequate replacement – as one confrontation last week made clear.
The contretemps – as reported at Chortle.com – was between the arts PR agency Mobius and the website Mumble Comedy, and it concerned the latter’s review of the former’s client, the comedian Adam Riches. Mobius contacted the website to express displeasure at – and request amendments to – a three-star review that lacked “the respect, care and attention [Riches] deserved”. That was met with what Mobius call an “uncooperative” response, which led to the PR threatening to withdraw free tickets from the website. The blog’s editor, Damo Bullen, posted an angry response, insisting “we cannot be bullied out of our integrity”.
The review that caused the fuss can no longer be read in its original form. Mobius’s complaint seems to be, not that it was critical of Riches’ show, but that it was half-arsed (it misspelled Riches’ name, for example). Even the revised version is a little slapdash and impressionistic. But does that justify Mobius’s threatened withdrawal of privileges? And what does the fuss tell us about the state of fringe criticism?
On the former point, I don’t think any publication – not the Guardian, not Mumble Comedy – has a divine right to free tickets. With rights come responsibilities: publications have to demonstrate a degree of professionalism, commitment and (pace Mobius’s complaint) respect. (They probably also need a readership – or the likelihood of acquiring one.) On the latter point, well, there’s clearly a frustration in some quarters that – as the mainstream press withdraws from Edinburgh – acts are ever more dependent on the opinion of often inexperienced and unauthoritative reviewers.
That’s not meant to denigrate amateur criticism, or professional online criticism, which supplies much of the best writing around the fringe. (It’s also worth noting that critics of all stripes have been unpopular with artists since the year dot.) But we should be more explicit about the fact that – as BAC artistic director David Jubb discussed on Twitter last week – “Edinburgh is [the developing] critic’s equivalent of scratch” – ie a place to learn in public, and seek feedback in order to improve.
The them-and-us, /de haut en bas/ relationship between critics and artists (or their representatives) is never helpful, but least of all when many critics have yet to earn trust or demonstrate commitment to the artform they’re writing about.
In that context, dialogue is good. The world of Fringe reviewing is changing, and it’s in everyone’s interest that the new model – which will include a far wider range of reviewers and publications than the old – foregrounds lively and intelligent discussion of the artform. That’ll only happen if all parties speak to one another about what they want criticism to be.
It’s a shame the conversation got antagonistic, but Mobius did the right thing by contacting Mumble Comedy with their concerns. We probably all intuit that some writing – the careful, attentive, “respectful” kind, perhaps? – constitutes valid criticism, and some writing doesn’t. We’ll only know where that line should be drawn if we talk about it.
The above image was created in 2014 by the reviewer-reviewer site, Fringepig. It wont be the last time they snorted at The Mumble – indeed, we’ll be looking at our ‘war’ with them in the next episode. But back in 2014 Fringepig & Chortle did actually have a point, & their criticisms gave us a wee kick up the arse. We were young, we were just stepping out, it was all good! By the next year we had figured out how WordPress Menus work, & also designed our own stars, with a lovely M in the centre of each one. We also completely overhauled our scoring system. Where the rest of the review world awarded 1-5 stars, sometimes halving them, we started to award 5 stars in three different categories, from which we could obtain a more natural overall score. Each Mumble would have its own categories – Comedy would be marked on material, delivery & laughs; Theatre on stagecraft, performance & script, & so on. So instead of our never getting a press ticket in town again – As Dan Pursey thoroughly wished – we became instead the most sophisticated reviewers on the scene.
Next Episode: In The Bay Of Pigs
July 4 – 20, 2019
The Tron stage looked great as we took our seats for the Scottish Premier of The Ugly One by Marius von Mayenburg, an award winning writer from Munich. With a door to each side and two pairs of plinths with metallic fruit bowls, the walls, blinds, a conveyer belt all looked very plush and inviting. The characters, played by Martin McCormack (Lette), Sally Reid (Lette’s wife Fanny/rich old lady), Michael Dylan (Lette’s boss/Scheffler the surgeon) and Helen Katamba, carried on their chairs and sat centre stage in a row, launching straight into the action.
The plot revolved around a revolutionary new plug, invented by Lette, who was very excited about his invention. But the other characters seemed more concerned with who should promote the new product, agreeing unanimously that Lette himself was far too ugly to be entrusted with the task. This came as news to Lette and it was only when his wife agreed with the others that he conceded the point. Rather bizzarly, it was decided that plastic surgery was the way to go.
Movement around the stage was glorious, with people sliding on the conveyer belt, the blind on the walls gliding gracefully to and fro, keeping the action moving with pace in an every-changing set. The hilarities were also unending; clever to the point of showcasing all the facets of theatre, clearly a most accomplished piece packed with the sheer delight of writing and most glorious acting. In continuous use was a screen above the action. We were introduced to this for the first surgery scene that had me in stitches. They held a smart phone to the scene and proceeded to cut into fruit to simulate Lette under the knife
But the surgery turns out to have unexpected consequences, with the new-look Lette becoming subject to the demands of everyone, much to his dismay. The climax comes when Lette climbs on to one of the plinths, in seeming isolation – how dramatic, how captivating! In the ensuing confusion, Lette comes face to face with some very dark truths about human nature.
This show is the blackest of black comedies, touching upon the reality of modern life and how it is lived, making you think. But mostly making you laugh. This was fun, totally brilliant, I commend it and I recommend it. It’s on at the Tron until 20 July – don’t miss it!