December 19, 2009 - Leave a Response

I like Pablo the drug mule dog. Last year’s warning, I know, but I just wanted to proclaim my admiration and didn’t know how else to do it. Perhaps it’s his David Mitchell-voiced tones or anti-narcotic words of wisdom, or even the oh-so-ironic juxtaposition of cute and criminal. But he’s definitely another example of government-funded entertainment by way of advertising campaign. Well, for me. But then animated “that’s boggin'” uttering first-time smokers and wasted boys slurring “hows about it, eh?” never cease to entertain me. And I don’t take drugs, as a life-long goody-two shoes, so I’m not entirely sure a glazed-over mutt lecturing naughty addicts will actually result in any going-clean epiphanies. But I like it, as I said, if only just for entertainment value. Which probably isn’t the point…


EUSOG’s Guys and Dolls

November 30, 2009 - Leave a Response

Theatre Review for The Journal

Fresh from well received Festival stints of Rent and Pirates of Penzance, EUSOG turn their sights to Frank Loesser’s Tony award-winning Guys and Dolls. Comically evoking a 20th century New York underworld adapted from Damon Runyon’s short stories, the Broadway classic follows the crisscrossing paths of the city’s gambling guys and their respective dolls.

Subject since to a myriad of successful reproductions, including a 1955 film starring Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando, Loesser’s Guys and Dolls is standard material for the amateur production group. But as EUSOG invariably demonstrate, it’s a tough act to follow.

Nevertheless, this is amateur theatre, and EUSOG does boast a number of skilled performers, particularly in Katy Irby, who contributes a note-perfect portrayal of uptight missionary Sarah Brown. Unfortunately for Irby though, a lack of ‘chemistry’ with awkward lead Hamish Colville (Sky), results in number of intended romantic moments feeling clumsy and strained.

That said, Colville has a solid voice, and knows how to command the stage as rogue gambler Sky, exuding gang-master authority with the ‘guys’ in tightly-performed numbers like ‘Luck Be A Lady’. But while group pieces like these are, on the whole, fairly well-executed, it is apparent that EUSOG are first and foremost singers. Lacklustre dance-sets and uninspiring choreography fall short of the polished standard characterising professional productions.

EUSOG’s Guys and Dolls does have a crowning feature though, in the form of Amy Warke as ditsy showgirl Miss Adelaide. Channelling Marilyn Munroe in her sigh-filled rendition of ‘Adelaide’s Lament’, Warke has voice and comic timing beyond her experience. Classically amusing interchanges between Adelaide and her noncommittal fiancée perhaps best demonstrate Warke’s talent, but also that of Scot Dignan, in his charismatic turn as noncommittal rascal, Nathan Detroit.

Backed by a versatile orchestra, who manage well in working Loesser’s score into the action, EUSOG certainly have the musical aspect taken care of. And under Lesley Acheson’s direction, a rabble of supporting actors successfully conjure the teeming vibrancy of New York city’s streets, enhanced by a lively turn by double act Ali Colam (Nicely-Nicely) and Finlay Macaulay (Benny).

Aside from the inescapably ‘student-production’-style poor lighting, makeshift set and iffy American accents, Guys and Dolls succeeds in in entertaining a sold-out audience and, taken for what it is, results in a relatively cheap, enjoyable evening.

Diversions Film Festival 2009

November 6, 2009 - Leave a Response

Festival Preview for The Skinny

Returning for a second year of experimentation, fledgling film festival Diversions promises an avant garde feast for the senses. Organised by Edinburgh University’s Film Studies department and the Filmhouse cinema, the festival, which is the first of its kind in the capital, offers a medley of experimental film and video, talks and live performances, enough to provide a cinematic foothold to the most conservative of audience members.

Aiming to promote awareness of the seemingly boundless genre, organisers have handpicked some 56 films from varying points on the experimental spectrum, ranging from 1920s abstract to Finnish cinema to contemporary Japanese creations. Carefully mapping the development of progressive cinema, Diversions squeezes vastly differing concepts into a number of themed strands, hoping to provide a well-rounded peek into its underground workings.


Just One Kiss, Sami van Ingen. Courtesy of Diversions Film Festival Programme

Guiding the weekend-long hike, filmmakers, critics, artists and academics from around the world will be guest-curating films, offering yet another facet to Diversions’ multi-approach/period/national extravaganza. Reflecting a range of perspectives on explorative works, talks and Q&A sessions with industry professionals will delve into the mind-bending powers of innovative filmmaking.

One of Diversions’ highlights includes Just One Kiss – The Fall of Ned Kelly, Sami van Ingen’s reinterpretation of the first ever feature-length film. Using original footage from 1906 production The Story of the Kelly Gang for only the opening and closing scenes, the Finnish director plays with standard film narrative, hoping to “invoke our interpretive faculties”. In something of a mini-concert, van Ingen, whose previous work is characterised by a fascination with the boundaries of cinematic apparatus itself, chooses to accompany the film with a live electronic soundtrack.

Additionally, in collaboration with National Galleries of Scotland, Focus on Film: Study Day responds to the Dean Gallery’s current exhibition Running Time: Artist Films in Scotland 1960 to Now. The free event, which features talks and presentations by curators and artists alike, is followed by Pleasing Ourselves – Artisan Films in Scotland, a series of films by Scotland-based filmmakers. Festival co-ordinator Kim Knowles also recommends American artist Jeanne Liotta, “She presents great, absolutely amazing films about astronomy, using projection, photography, works on paper and film. She’s coming all the way from America, so it’s a special event.”

A treat for the enthusiast, an education for the novice, Diversions invites everyone to celebrate unique and challenging cinema.

Laugh youself better

November 4, 2009 - Leave a Response

By Rebecca Gordon

Laughter truly is the best medicine for one Edinburgh charity, who are planning to distribute comedy DVDs to depressed patients. In a bid to reduce the amount of anti-depressants prescribed, the capital’s Centre of Health and Wellbeing has organised a comedy gig to be filmed and supplied to hundreds of GP surgeries across Scotland. Laughter, courtesy of

The gig, which is to be hosted by comic Patrick Monohan, will be used to measure the effects of comedy on patients’ stress levels. A section of the audience, including previous Scottish Comedian of the Year award winners John Gavin and Scott Agnew, will also be tested.

Director of the social enterprise charity, NHS pharmacist Lubna Kerr, aims to provide help and advice to people with long term illnesses;

“I’m a great believer in treating with tablets. But I also believe in people taking tablets comfortably. One of the ways to help them relax about it is with laughter.

“We specialise in people with long term illnesses, 50% of whom don’t take their medication. We give long term advice to people who don’t feel comfortable taking their tablets.

“We don’t tell people what to do, it’s about empowerment, ownership. We help people and patients collect the right tools for life.

“I grew up believing that ‘laughter is the best medicine'”

The Laughter Show will take place on the 14th November at The Queens Hall, Edinburgh.

Interview with Survival International’s Fiona Watson

September 28, 2009 - 2 Responses

Produced alongside tribal rights campaigners Survival International, Marco Bechis’ Birdwatchers details beautifully the ongoing ideological battle between Brazil’s indigenous people and local landowners, working both as an absorbing narrative and a means of raising awareness. Directly addressing the cultural dislocation suffered by Mato Grosso’s marginalized Guarani-Kaiowá tribespeople, Bechis encourages recognition of their plight, a recognition which, according to Survival’s campaigns co-ordinator Fiona Watson, is central to their endurance.

“On one level Birdwatchers they felt really proud, recognized, there’s that feeling of wanting to share, not just the problems, but their spirituality. It’s about talking about them as a people, their identity and culture, but also a realisation that this could be a very important tool in this land struggle.”

Highlighting the disintegrating tribe’s fruitless efforts in their fight for ancestral lands, Bechis conjures a grim state of affairs which, as Watson has experienced, is all too real. “If you take Ambrósio who played Nádio in the film, when I first met him a few years ago, he and his community were living on the side of the road and there was no hope. They’d been evicted by a cattle rancher, they were starving. What you saw in the film was his community.”

As in Nádio’s case, most of the actors are genuine Guarani-Kaiowá members, only one of whom having previously set foot in a cinema; “from what they’ve told me, it was a really amazing experience because they were very interested in the whole medium of film.” But, with their subsequent return to real life posing much the same predicament as their characters, actors are challenged by bleak prospects: “the reality of it is that they’ve all gone back, and are facing huge problems to do with land, to do with security, to do with food.”

BAST010908SPE_0035And while Kaiowá actors enjoyed the film making process and their consequent ascent to film festival fame, its remarkable detachment from tribal roots reflects a troubling unrest amongst younger members, whose allegiance to their community continues to be rocked by the ever-powerful West: “they’re pulled between two worlds and I think a lot of them want to be in their own world, but they can’t because that doesn’t exist without the land.” Perhaps most distressing, as Watson believes, is the widely acknowledged and steadily increasing rate of native American suicides; “young people just don’t see a future or any hope, and they don’t particularly want to, or they know they can’t, make it in the ‘white’ world, so the alternative is to kill yourself.”

However, with a flourishing fundraising campaign in place, Survival aims not only to provide a tangible means of support for local tribal organizations, but also to help Brazil’s indigenous people gain the recognition and respect they rightfully deserve – key to stemming teen suicides. Much boosted by the success of Bechis’ associated film, Watson considers Survival’s unique public action-orientated approach to be crucial to the Guarani’s ongoing struggle: “our philosophy is not just about raising the money; it’s that individuals can be a force for change.” And in the week that has seen 130 Guarani-Kaiowá Indians evicted from their land and forced to live on the roadside, the need for change, it seems, is more urgent than ever.

Elis James: The Most Cautious Little Boy in Wales

August 31, 2009 - Leave a Response

Comedy review for The Skinny

Elis James is a risk-averse Welshman. Hence the cutesy title, an inspired choice by James following his agent’s demand to sex up his forthcoming festival debut. But James doesn’t need sexed-up. Oh no, James is content with caution. Satisfied with safety. And in his presence so, it seems, are the audience. Mining the well-hollowed ‘growing up in…’ subject area, James’ Celtic wariness is justified by an ‘oppressively supportive’ mother, whose unchanging dinner menu defines his youth. Chronicling an awkward adolescence, he isn’t afraid to grinningly divulge every painful moment, a catalogue of bashful encounters with the opposite sex and disastrous experiences with drugs – all down to that intrinsically Welsh apprehensiveness. But James has come a long way since his virginal teenage hood. Still youthfully affable, with a refreshing distaste for the ‘c-’ word, he’s matured into a self-assured comic for whom, if the material isn’t exactly cutting edge, delivering it with absorbing wit comes naturally. One to watch.

Kristen Schaal and Kurt Braunohler – Double Down Hearts

August 27, 2009 - Leave a Response

Comedy review for The Skinny

‘Almost award-winning’ Kristen Schaal and Kurt Braunohler rework their 2008 if.comedy award nominated show with an extra pinch of kookiness, bestowing upon the audience a sketchy slew of nonsense.

With no apparent thread, this year’s Double Down Hearts sees the idiosyncratic pair zip from one inane skit to the next, vaguely referring to the main event; a re-enactment of last year’s play. While this never really comes to fruition, Schaal and Braunohler are a distracting force, transporting us unawares into their juvenile stream of consciousness.

Not for a second letting their expertly improvised, oh-so-ironically quirky façade down, save for the odd ripple of endearingly raucous laughter from Schaal, both comics take all seriousness in relating their grandparents’ involvement in the 1936 version of ‘The Terminator’ or faking impressive feats of origami for front-row audience members.

But, beneath the dorky surrealism and shouty repartee bubbles a highly developed partnership, perhaps best demonstrated by Schaal’s doe-eyed advances on comedy partner Braunohler. If, to begin with, the duo’s whimsy eccentricity jars with the unfamiliar audience member, be sure that this comedy coupling will grow on you like a pair of pre-school buddies.

The Silence of the Trams

August 26, 2009 - Leave a Response

Comedy review for The Skinny

Save for a mildly derisive ‘promotional video’ opening the confused set, misleadingly titled The Silence of the Trams is distinctly tram-less. Instead of municipal travel-based wit follows a lacklustre performance from four seemingly unconnected comics.

First up, Northern The Stand regular Gordon Alexander offers musings on greetings card messages and gifts-from-the-wife, squeezing the odd chuckle from his stock of uninspiring props. In no particular order, Jeff O’Boyle trots on next to hash out stale Irish in-breeding gags followed by ‘improvisational comic’ Jim Park, who, unperturbed, ploughs through a heap of badly received one-liners. Lastly, deadpan creep Martin McAllister exploits a well-honed persona, but a worn-out audience don’t seem to know when to laugh.

Culminating oddly in a ‘Lidl-sponsored’ prize draw, The Silence of the Trams is as much about comedy as it is about trams.

David O’Doherty: David O’Doh-Party

August 25, 2009 - Leave a Response

Comedy review for The Skinny

When David O’ Doherty, armed with his Yamaha Portatone 260, begs the anticipant audience to ‘lower their expectations’, he knows all too well that this isn’t an option. If anything, for the 2008 if.comedy award-winning author, playwright and stand-up, expectations are at an all-time high.

But O’Doherty need not worry. Charming the yielding crowd within seconds of his knowing rib, he proceeds to gambol contentedly through a seemingly impromptu blend of music and stand-up. Playing on his individually offbeat brand of innocence, O’ Doherty relates real-life incidents from a freshly child-like perspective, slipping naturally between off the cuff ballads to the likes of the numbers in his mobile phone and animated impressions of his ‘sleazy senile’ satnav.

Above all though, O’Doherty is what you might term a ‘nice’ comedian. Permanently agape to the horrors of the world, the endearingly Irish comic happily plucks events from the obscurity of his own life rather than those of our failing society, much to the delight of his cynical-stand-up wearied spectators. For O’Doherty, performing is like child’s play, and we’re all invited. Go on, join in.

Alexis Dubus: A R*ddy Brief History of Swearing

August 17, 2009 - Leave a Response

Comedy review for The Skinny

Gleefully encouraging his 5 o’clock crowd to cry out their favourite swearwords, Alexis Dubus opens A R*ddy Brief History of Swearing to his sniggering audience with a kind of class-clown confidence. But, rather than an hour of potty-mouthed tomfoolery, Dubus goes on to perform what can only be described as an amusingly blasphemous jaunt through swearword history. Bolstered by various etymological facts and tv-show ‘f*ck’-counts, Dubus works mildly humorous swear-based anecdotes around the concept like an inappropriately blue after-dinner speaker. But, for all his character-actor poise, Dubus fails to animate a distinctly quiet audience, prompting us to beg the question; why has he brought this show round for the second year running?