Edinburgh Festival | Comedy preview: Barry Morgan's World Of Organs @ Underbelly, Cowgate, Edinburgh

clarkspeak | arts reviews, travel features, creative writing and more | clarkspeak.blogspot.com Published by METRO

Until Monday 27 August, 7.20pm, £11.50/£13.50 (£10.50/£12.50 concessions) Underbelly, Cowgate (V61), Edinburgh. Tel: 0844 545 8252. www.underbelly.co.uk

VIDEO: Barry Morgan — Big Bossa

There must be a reason why virtually every church organ player looks like their dog has just died. I just don’t get it; if you’re bashing out a tuneful Psalm on one of the coolest instruments in the world, what’s not to smile about exactly?

Well, the Fringe is traditionally a place of firsts, and this year is no different. Ladies and gentleman, I give you Barry Morgan – the first-ever happy organist. He’s a little too happy, to be honest, but nevertheless hilarious.

Proudly hailing from Adelaide, Australia, but physically reminiscent of someone from The Fast Show’s ‘Chanel 9’ TV sketch, this celebrity organ salesman (portrayed by Stephen Teakle) crosses hemispheres to share his love for the instrument in his debut show at Underbelly, Cowgate.

It involves him charming his way into your ears with the velvety tones and exotic grooves of a vintage 1981 Hammond Aurora Classic.

Now, while a moustached, organ-crazy Aussie might be the stuff of nightmares for most of the year, this is character comedy at its funniest here at the Fringe.


Music preview: Karen Matheson @ Òran Mór, Glasgow

Published by METRO

Wednesday 15 August, 7pm, £18, Òran Mór, Glasgow. Tel: 0844 395 4005. www.oran-mor.co.uk

VIDEO: Karen Matheson with Donald Shaw —
Crucán Na bPáiste (Downriver, 2006)

You’ve probably heard about all the fun happening in Edinburgh. About the thousands of people rubbing shoulders on the Royal Mile to feast their eyes, ears and goodness knows what else on some of the genius on offer at this month's Fringe.

But there’s plenty happening at the other end of the M8 — where Glasgow is keeping it simple, and very Scottish.

Tomorrow night, Karen Matheson takes to the stage at Òran Mór for a warm, intimate show befitting of the enchanting West End venue’s evening glow.

In a spectacle for folk enthusiasts nationwide, the Gaelic singer’s impassioned vocals will manoeuvre delicately around the tender rhythms of two long-time collaborators — guitarist James Grant and pianist Donald Shaw.

As frontwoman of Celtic super-group Capercaillie, Matheson has sold one million-plus records, performed in more than thirty countries and starred in the blockbuster movie Rob Roy with Liam Neeson and Jessica Lange.

She's worked with a host of respected musicians so far in her solo career, playing sell-out gigs across the country and winning a number high-profile fans — including Sean Connery.

Her most recent studio album, the 2005 acoustic masterpiece Downriver, featured the talents of folk legends Michael McGoldrick (pipes) and Aidan O'Rourke (fiddle) — however, with Matheson currently working on new material for release later this year, tomorrow's audience might be treated to some rare works in progress.

So forget the Fringe, and how amazing and worldly it is, for now — because this isn't a bad time to sit back with a single malt whisky and listen to the stirring sounds of this Scottish daughter.

Theatre review: The York Mystery Plays

Published by theartsdesk

Continuing until 27th August
at York Museum Gardens

VIDEO: The York Mystery Plays — cinematic trailer

Is it the greatest story ever told, or the most indulgent nativity ever staged? The return of the York Mystery Plays — this summer’s blue-ribbon theatrical spectacular in the North — beguiles upon entry but bemuses by exit.

In between is a sacred tale about the eternal battle of good and evil, from Creation to the Last Judgement. The show’s subject matter is as epic as its telling, which involves more than 1700 volunteers (including 500 cast members) and takes place in the ruins of St Mary’s Abbey. It’s the UK’s largest outdoor theatre production this year.

The timing of this showpiece alone is enough to make its mark on a 700-year-old heritage in York. As birds flutter over a pink, cloudless sunset, a sense of history is not lost on a crisp-crunching, wine-guzzling audience, who take their seats, prepared with blankets for the evening.

The Plays were once paraded through the streets of the medieval city, the earliest known performance dating back to 1376. For hundreds of years, they were a method by which Christian messages were transmitted to the public, continuing until the early Reformation. Since the revival of the tradition in 1951, there have been regular stagings of the Plays, the most previous falling during the Millennium celebrations.

Directed by Paul Burbridge and Damian Cruden, this latest addition to the cycle — performed at York Museum Gardens for the first time since 1988 — has been adapted by Mike Kenny, the man who put his hands to 2011’s Olivier Award-winning The Railway Children. Ferdinand Kingsley, son of Sir Ben, plays God and Jesus, opposite Graeme Hawley — former Coronation Street villain John Snape — as the Devil.

The bespoke, 1400-capacity auditorium houses a multi-layered set of smoke-billowing trapdoors and spotlit platforms. Kingsley takes to the stage a few minutes early, with the final few arrivals still finding their seats in the crowd, and his eagerness doesn’t let up — growing, in fact, into a fiery-eyed, hyperbolised portrayal of the Creator. Hawley encounters no obstacles as Satan. Though, despite his experience playing bad guys in soapland, his performance here never quite manages to draw blood.

Some minor pyrotechnics, a 97-strong choir and an array of giant balloons guide us through the opening scenes — including the Garden of Eden, which features dozens of merry hedge-trimmers along on bicycles. Christopher Madin’s cinematic score is perfect acoustic foil for the melodrama on stage, and, at times, the choreography and general direction is bedazzling.

The costumes are undeniably impressive, too. Mary wears a headscarf and Joseph a flat cap as the biblical narrative sets itself in post-war Yorkshire. Lines like, ‘Nae Noah, I am not best-pleased,” provoke echoes of elderly laughter.

Yes, visually, it is stunning, majestic, superb. But there comes a time when, perhaps as the midges begin biting your skin, you realise that any sort of intellectual stimulation just isn’t going to happen — because this is a summary of the Old and New Testaments, and not much more. That these Plays — going right through when Jesus made the blind man see, the last supper, the crucifixion, and… well, you know what happens next — are a bit much at over three hours long.

There’s also something formulaic about the way in which the large swathes of cast are assembling and then dispersing en masse at the end of each scene, and a lack of chemistry between some of the performers — whose hundreds of names run four pages in the programme.

And yet, in the end, the colossal effort that went into this production — the 2500 people involved, the hours of rehearsal time, the 1400 metres of cabling required — is mostly let down by the greatest story ever told itself. The dialogue offers little to engage a modern, secular audience, and, even accounting for the Yorkshire-tinged embellishments in Kenny’s script, fails to build on your prior impressions of the Bible.

For all the seductive grandeur of this project (more shows to be staged here, please) it feels like an opportunity missed.


Edinburgh Festival | Cabaret preview: Edward Reid: Living The Dream One Song At A Time @ Assembly George Square, Edinburgh

Published by METRO

6-15 August, 6.15pm, £10.50/£11.50 (£9.50/£10.50 concessions), Assembly George Square (V3), Edinburgh. Tel: 0131 623 3030. www.assemblyfestival.com

VIDEO: Edward Reid's Britain's Got Talent 2011 Audition (ITV1, 2011)

What becomes of a talent show semi-finalist?

Do they try to get one over their siblings by Googling themselves at family get-togethers? Hope to be recognised while they take orders at the bar of an airport Nando’s? Or carry on entertaining the public with just as much energy as when they were on the telly?

Scottish comedy cabaret act Edward Reid stands triumphantly in the latter category.

Having fallen agonisingly short of making the 2011 Britain’s Got Talent final, he’s back at this year’s Fringe with a show that features what a nation came to love – his hilarious re-workings of pop songs using nursery rhymes.

Reid will also take audiences on a retrospective journey through his life, recalling memorable moments and characters from his Coatbridge upbringing to present-day fame.

He’s performing at the Assembly Rooms for just one more week – so what are you waiting for?


Edinburgh Festival | Theatre preview: Best in the World @ Northern Stage at St Stephen’s, Edinburgh

Published by METRO

3-25 August, 12.45pm (not 6, 13 & 20 Aug),
£14 (£10 concessions), 3-5 August previews £10, Northern Stage at St Stephen’s (V73), Edinburgh. Tel: 0131 558 3047. www.northernstage.co.uk

VIDEO: Best in the World — trailer

I’ll be honest with you – I’m no darts fan. It’s a game played by men who’ve spent far too much of their lives (and cash) in hygienically questionable watering holes that sell Scampi Fries, if you ask me. So why should I, and you, come to see this?

Well, Best in the World puts the art in darts. Inspired by the undeniable sporting achievements of Phil ‘The Power’ Taylor, this intriguing piece of theatre takes audiences on a warm-hearted journey through how it feels to be at the very top of your game.

A largely improvised event that takes the form of a seminar on sports psychology, it features insights from world champions, and also, in part, tells the story of late Scottish darts legend Jocky Wilson.

There’s plenty of fun on offer here, too. Presented by Unfolding Theatre in association with Northern Stage, Best in the World gives audience members the chance to celebrate their own personal triumphs, and take part in a live darts tournament.

‘This is a real festival show,’ said Annie Rigby, director of Unfolding Theatre. ‘We’re based in Newcastle, so it’s great to be heading up the road to share this production – both with Scottish people and those who’ve travelled to the Fringe from around the world.’

‘While on tour, we’ve been keeping track of our audiences’ darts scores across the country. Washington Arts Centre in Sunderland is in the lead,’ she added.

So, in summary: you could be the best crowd this show has ever had, but, more importantly, this could be the best show you see at the Fringe – whether you’re the world’s biggest darts fan or not.


Edinburgh Festival | Comedy preview: Dr Brown – Befrdfgth @ Underbelly, Cowgate, Edinburgh

Published by METRO

2-26 August, 9.05pm (not 13 & 20 Aug), £10.50/£11.50 (£9.50/£10.50 concessions),
2-3 August previews £6,
Underbelly, Cowgate (V61), Edinburgh.
Tel: 0844 545 8252. www.underbelly.co.uk

Even if you left Philip Burgers blindfolded in the jungles of the Congo, he’d somehow find his way to Edinburgh by August. Some people, like him, just belong at the Fringe. It’s their natural habitat.

This American comedian and mime artist made his name as absurd entertainer Dr Brown back in 2009 with Behaves, and then – again with his alter-ego – won a handful of awards for Because (2010) and Becaves (2011).

Now, Dr Brown returns with Befrdfgth (good luck pronouncing that one when you call the box office) – a surreal and hilarious hour of clowning, mime and naughtiness.

Having already toured four continents, this show has left a trail of chaos around the world on its journey to Underbelly, Cowgate, where the bedlam continues all month long.


Edinburgh Festival | Theatre preview: XXXO @ Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh

Published by METRO

1-26 August, 7.10pm (not 14 Aug), £9/£10.50 (£8/£9.50 concessions), 1-3 August previews £5, Pleasance Courtyard, Edinburgh.
Tel: 0131 556 6550. www.pleasance.co.uk

Chopping onions? Reading romantic fiction? Saying goodbye to loved ones? Ask yourself, reader, what makes you cry?

That’ll be one of the many questions on your mind after watching XXXO. Indeed, this highly original new work will have you feeling pretty contemplative as you leave Pleasance Courtyard one of these mad Fringe evenings.

The show basically involves two girls trying to get their tears flowing. For 50 minutes, Charlotte De Bruyne and Nathalie Marie Verbeke scour their computer files for material that makes them weep in a live exploration of, well, weeping.

‘The starting point of making XXXO was the discovery that both Nathalie and I take photos of ourselves crying at home,’ said Charlotte.

She explained that the girls became fascinated by what drove them to do this, and so decided to stage a performance expressing how relieving and beautiful such a habit could be. This exasperatingly emotional piece of theatre bears the fruits of their labour.

It is presented by Ontroerend Goed – the Belgian-based group behind the multi award-winning 2008 Fringe hit Once and for All We’re Gonna Tell You Who We Are So Shut Up and Listen.

‘I’m curious to see how our audiences will react to XXXO,’ added Nathalie.

‘We performed the show at Adelaide Festival last winter, so have a sense of how English-speaking people will receive it, but every crowd is different.’

Now the choice is yours. You either stick with a safe Fringe option, or take a punt at the bizarre end of the spectrum. The red pill, or the blue pill, Neo…