17 August 2019

The Suggestibles - Alphabetti Theatre

I've been to The Suggestibles hilarious Impro Pantso for the past two years and thought it was about time I saw them do something that didn't involve Christmas, so it was great to see them at Alphabetti Theatre as part of the first Newcastle Improv Festival (their idea of course).

Newcastle Improv Festival

Things very quickly got random (and hot) - early suggestions from the audience included Ghandi and a whisk and issues with the Sunderland border. Then we were treated to a Shakespearean rap before the players were moved into different positions in Freeze Tag. I've heard of some weird things going on in Ubers, but transporting a pole vault?! Some cast members then had to deal with different TV genres such as reality TV, Ealing Comedy and Kabuki (Japanese dance-drama) to hilarious effect. Of course we couldn't have got through the show without Love Island being mentioned. A segment involving a TV presenter and rotating weird guests made me chuckle before the interval, where copious amounts of liquid were needed to deal with the worsening heat.

The Suggestibles
Fence improv with The Suggestibles
Before the interval audience members were encouraged to put dialogue suggestions into a hat to be used in the second half of the show. We were then treated to some clever song improv to the tune of Da Do Ron Ron, a segment with one syllable names, and game called New Choice were cast members told the person in play when they had to change their story. I marvelled at the bonkers ways that they came up with to try and get across what the household issue was (pet hair in the dishwasher of course). The show came to end with a new version of Lloyd Webber's Aspects of Love musical, which became Aspects of Festivals. I was glad that I'd had a few drinks at this point - as things got super weird - numerous festival goers became obsessed with Brett from Suede, then Abba featured quite heavily in the song influences. Words to describe the night - mind-bending, genius escapism. 

*I received a ticket in exchange for a review. 

To find out more about the Suggestibles click here 

Edinburgh Fringe - Just These Please/Mark Watson

It's been two years since my last Fringe visit (where the hell has the time gone?), and I decided to take things slower this time after running myself ragged watching five shows a day last time. I went on a Tuesday night and came back Thursday night (which didn't give me a lot of time), and I was seeing Florence and the Machine on Wednesday night which limited what I could see late. I'm hoping to go back before the Fringe ends (fingers crossed). 

My first show was Suitable - fast and furious sketch comedy with Just These Please, (at Gilded Balloon Teviot) a talented company which includes three actors/comedians (Phillipa Carson, Georgie Jones and William Sebag-Montefiore) and a funny full-time solicitor (Tom Dickson) thrown in for good measure. I checked out their Youtube channel on the way up to Edinburgh and was instantly hooked (check out their 'When You Order Coffee With An Irish Name' video which has over a million views). When they said that they were going to do twenty-five sketches in fifty minutes, I wished I'd chosen Red Bull instead of plain old water in Sainsbury's. They kicked off the show with a rap opening before launching into quick-fire sketches including body organs reacting to a drunken session, wartime politeness gone mad, milking nuts and the aforementioned Irish coffee sketch (yay).

I particularly enjoyed (and maybe even snorted at) a sketch about Instagrammitis (imagine getting stuck forever in a Boomerang) and realising that I am indeed a Plug Walker - someone who frequents a place for a long time to charge their phone. I'd even done it somewhere that day where I didn't have to buy a coffee! (Thanks guys for my Plug Walker badge which now has pride of place on my Frida Kahlo rebel themed denim jacket).

Just These Please Edinburgh Fringe
Just These Please were suited and booted
There were more clever and though-provoking sketches before they finished strongly with a song about Edinburgh Fringe bus drivers wanting to kill everyone (who can blame them)? I particularly enjoyed the pop/rap music between the sketches and the way they nod at each other when a sketch is over - I was thoroughly entertained, and fell in love with all of them just a little bit.

After the show I had a bit of a wander over to the circus tent, walked out of a show that was pretty crap then headed to Assembly George Square Gardens for Mark Watson's show How You Can Almost Win. I'd seen him at The Arc in Stockton a few years ago and laughed myself silly, so I was looking forward to seeing him live again (doubtful that I would be firing a confetti cannon this time). 

The basis of the show was his stint on Celebrity Island with Bear Grylls in 2017, where celebrities are stranded on a remote uninhibited island for four weeks with limited water, basic tools and training and have to find their own food and shelter. He reflects on the experience with amusing powerpoint slides and unseen footage of him on the island, struggling to keep going (he managed to tough it out but left just before the end after having severe chest pains).

He started off by joking about his history at the Fringe and the demographics of the audience, shocked at the fact that some audience members were born after 2000 (yeah, I struggle with millennials too). He started the actual show about twenty minutes in, but in no way was I bored - he has a way with the audience that's so at ease and has you hanging on to every word. He talks candidly about his divorce, his thoughts on Bear and how society puts these alpha males on a pedestal and how that can be potentially damaging - there's lots of self-deprecating gags but there's also a message here. I snorted a bit over his Powerpoint disclaimer and a slide called Stages of Starvation, and his attempt at All Star Driving School afterwards that bombed. 

Mark Watson Edinburgh Fringe
Mark Watson - in the bath on his laptop like me
It felt like he crammed a lot into an hour and even though it was comedy I resonated a lot about his message regarding how we perceive 'success' and teamwork vs relying solely on your own strength. Hopefully I'll get the chance to see his other work-in-progress show (I Appreciate You Coming To This And Let's Hope For The Best) which is on from August 17th to 25th at The Stand Comedy Club.

For tickets for Just These Please click here

For tickets for Mark Watson click here 

*I received tickets for the shows in exchange for reviews 

6 August 2019

Curious Cat Cabaret - Cluny 2, Newcastle

I love a good cabaret. I've been lucky enough to see some pretty spectacular ones in London and Edinburgh, and sometimes I bemoan the fact that they're aren't many in the North East. Thankfully my multi-talented friend Hildy Harland (dancer, singer and teacher extraordinaire) has seen a gap in the market and teamed up with burlesque dancer and co-host Moxie to bring Vaudeville back to Newcastle, and not a moment too soon.

Curious Cat Cabaret
Hildy and Moxie - they got style, they got face
The Cluny 2 was a great choice of venue, just the right size with a reasonably priced bar. I knew I was in the right place due to the presence of the fierce fire-eater outside of the venue. Hildy and Moxie (both looking knockout) did a great job of getting the show started and making everyone feel  at ease. The first act was Newcastle one-liner comedian, Julian Lee who got the party started with a stream of clever puns and wordplay. Then acrobatic duo Jessi and Gaz showcased their talents (reminded myself I needed to start yoga again). I was in stitches during Svetlana's performance (real name Alanna Wilson), a Russian 'pop star' who thinks she's really going places (but has a loose grip on reality). 

Curious Cat Cabaret Newcastle
The shy and understated Svetlana
Hildy nearly stole the show as Rita, an over familiar Cockney granny who enjoys showing off her pop socks, drooling over younger men and presided over the raffle, which had some great prizes (tickets to burlesque classes and for the next cabaret included).

The irrepressible Rita, played by Hildy Harland
The reluctant, mysterious Harvey The Juggler's welly routine cracked me up, before using more traditional juggling objects and getting involved with some audience participation (they got to keep their balls). Hildy treated us to a sexy rendition of All About That Bass and then 'Diamonds Are A Girl's Best Friend' which beat 'Careless Whisper' in the Mess with Moxie challenge (Hildy reappeared to sing whilst Moxie stylishly shed her clothes). Hildy wrapped up the show with Bye Bye Blackbird (her voice is SOOOOO good) and I was inspired to go back to Burlesque classes by Moxie. I had a thoroughly good night and am already looking forward to the next Cabaret on December 7th!

Our genial hosts
To follow the Curious Cat Cabaret on Facebook click here

3 June 2019

A Thousand Splendid Suns - Northern Stage

There's nothing like theatre to put your own life into perspective sometimes. Especially when the subject matter involves civil war, child marriage and the horrors of the Taliban. You start to realise that your own problems are pretty trivial compared to the terrible suffering of women and girls in Afghanistan. It's easy to read a book like A Thousand Splendid Suns or Malala and feel enraged, then go back to your normal life. What can we possibly do about it? All of these thoughts started running through my head whilst watching this incredibly moving and mesmerising play adapted by Ursula Rani Sarma.

A Thousand Splendid Suns play
The set really transports you to Afghanistan - photo by Pamela Raith
2007's A Thousand Splendid Suns was an international bestseller for author Khaled Hosseini, whose first novel The Kite Runner sold seven million copies in the USA. Heavily influenced by his trips back to Afghanistan after living in America for nearly thirty years, the book tells the story of the unlikely friendship between two women, Mariam and Laila (fantastic performances by Amina Zia and Sujaya Dasgupta respectively). We meet Laila and her parents in the first scene, who are preparing to leave their home when a devastating airstrike leaves Laila orphaned. She is pulled from the rubble by Rasheed (a scarily convincing Pal Aron), an older neighbour who at first appears helpful but sees the change to take a second wife. His first wife, Mariam is understandably upset by this plan, however the deep relationship they build as a result of the situation is moving and becomes a light in the midst of unending darkness. 

A Thousand Splendid Suns Northern Stage
Rasheed's cruelty to his wives becomes increasingly worse - photo by Pamela Raith
The domestic abuse suffered by the two women is harrowingly depicted, with one scene showing Mariam being flogged (she cleverly leaves her body soon after the beating starts) and Laila having to give her body away to stop Rasheed from being violent. When Laila gets pregnant and has to have a Caesearean without anaesthetic, you start to realise the scale of the horrors of the war. Her daughter, Aziza (the charming Shala Nyx) is treated like a second class citizen from birth, Rasheed's disappointment obvious and expected. Mariam becomes like a grandmother to her, and their son Zalmai.

Laila's traumatic birth - photo by Pamela Raith
The tension reaches an all time high when Laila's childhood sweetheart Tariq (who she thinks has been killed) comes back to reunite with her. Rasheed finds out, and all hell breaks loose. The women also try and leave the area, which doesn't end well. He sees the women as his possessions and will do whatever it takes to keep them down. The dialogue around education  (or lack of it), the punishments for going out alone (lashings and beatings) and the use of full burqas in the play reminds you of the extent of the Taliban's misogynist rule. 

Laila  (Sujaya Dasgupta) and Mariam (Amina Zia)
Despite all of the horrors, the heart of the story is about family, sisterhood, overcoming hardships and the strength of the human spirit in the face of unimaginable horrors. I was totally moved and captivated from the first second, hoping for a way out for Laila and Mariam and a better future for their children. It's not exactly a happy ending, but how could it be based on the terrible reality of life for women in Afghanistan? But there is hope for a better future. As I left I donated some money towards domestic violence victims in Afghanistan, and got a wake up call about the freedoms we enjoy here and not to take them for granted. 

A Thousand Splendid Suns is at Northern Stage until 15th June. Book tickets here 

*I received two tickets in exchange for a review.