That Stagey Blog
Day 7 - Edinburgh Fringe
Up until now, I've been sleeping really well. A top bunk within a 12 bed dorm room is surprisingly comfortable when you're constantly exhausted. Each night I have arrived back and managed to get straight to sleep. But for the first time, it took around an hour to get to sleep, and I stirred around 6am for an hour, so spent some time updating my schedule. I then slept some more until about 11am, which was the latest I had slept to this whole trip.
My first show was Unicorns, Almost starring my mate Dan Krikler.
I first met Dan when he was in Loserville. I loved Loseville which was the musical written by Busted's front man Jame Bourne and made West End stars of Aaron Sidwell, Stewart Clarke, Daniel Buckley and Robbie Boyle and originally starred Gareth Gates.
Dan then went on to star in Bare The Rock Opera at the Union, Mamma Mia! And Jersey Boys, before deciding to take a year out to study an MA in acting at Central. It was time well spent, as Dan who was already an incredible dancer and singer from training at Laines, was becoming a more accomblised actor, and was definietly getting recognised for his acting. He went on to act in a play called Pink Mist, and one called Homos- Or Anyone in America opposite Tyrone Huntley. He then understudied parts in the Old Vic's recent production of Present Laughter with Andrew Scott.
Unicorns, Almost has been written by Owen Sheers who also wrote Pink Mist and is a one man play about the life and work of WWII poet Keith Douglas. It is presented by Army at the Fringe. Based at the real life Army reserve centre they are now in their third year offering a range of diverse work and are around a 25 minute walk from Edinburgh's Royal Mile.
They have transformed one of the room in the building with sandbags, and period pieces and set out some chairs and benches to sit on. Dan bursts into the room looking the part and wearing an officer's uniform and boots. The play is brilliant, incorporating poetry by Keith Douglas as Dan narrates his life and death. Dan's acting is superb and captivating, as he commands the performance, drawing you in and vividly describing scenes. Its testament to a good actor, when you can see them really picturing and imagining in his mind what he's describing, rather than just regurgitating the lines, and there are a lot of lines.
I'm always impressed by any one who tackles a one person show, and manages to store the volume of writing and convey it all by themselves. Up there, centre stage, an actor has no one to turn to, or help him out if he forgets a line.
Dan is ridiculously handsome, and having seen him dance, sing and act, I'll admit I'm ridiculously envious of him, especially as he has great hair to boot! Dan has worked really hard to break out from being boxed in as a 'musical theatre actor from Laines'. He is focussed and driven, and really talented. Dan hasn't turned his back on musical theatre, and says he would definitely like to come back to it. He is married to Libby Watts who is part of the cast of Wicked! They met at Laines.
Unicorns, Almost runs at Army At The Fringe until Until 25th August. https://tickets.edfringe.com/whats-on/unicorns-almost
Before transferring to Bristol Old Vic 3-7th September.
I managed to grab Dan for a chat after and completely disturbed his lunch. It turned out to be one of my favourite interviews so far. Obviously it helps that I am friends with Dan and know him personally, so he was more than candid with me as we chatted about the play and about his career and even managed to end up discussing his penis, which I'd like to add he brought up, not me.
Dan is a incredibly lovely man and I'm really pleased things are going so well for him.
The video of our interview can be found here:https://youtu.be/Aw7ZWarTlnM
I next went to watch a 'new play with music' Being Liza at the Fringe.
Produced by Interabang Productions and written and starring Rachel Flynn and directed by Ryan Alexander Dewar. Also starring James Keenan and Benjamin Storey.
Rachel was one of the singer's in Big Band Does Broadway which I saw last week, and had reached out to me afterwards to invite me to watch her show, and of course I said yes, I mean who doesn't like a bit of Liza.
The show was being staggered across the month, with only one performance each week, with this being their final show, and was being staged within the small but beautiful St John's church.
The set was simple and effective, with a door frame on theatre lights, a piano to the left and an on stage dressing area to the right.
Rachel burst through the door frame dressed iconically as Liza with an opening number, as I sank into my seat a little. Was this going to be just another Liza Tribute act. I was pleased to discover it wasn't.
Rachel plays Frances Edwards who plays Liza Minnelli, Essentially a show within a show. Francis being invented as one of 'Scotland's premier Liza Minelli tribute acts. It's a good concept that Rachel has come up with to make this more than just an opportunity for her to dress up and perform as Liza Minnelli. The only hitch is if you're going to play an actress who is 'a premier' impersonator then you need to really be a premier impersonator yourself, unless of course the story is that she thinks she's a premier impersonator but really isn't that good, which in itself would make a good comedy show.
The story within a story of Frances Edwards feeling caged in by her pushy father who is part of her act and confining her to perform draws similar parallels to Judy Garland and her mother, which might have been the inspiration behind this play, and could work to serve as an updated look at how the industry has changed. Unfortunately the story is just not developed well enough.
There are awkward points of exposition, and some of the character's intentions are glaringly conflicting, for example Frances father bullies her for her eating but then orders her take away. The stakes are also not very high, Frances turmoil is that she wants to leave the show, the consequences being that to do that would take away her father's career too. This anguish isn't really explored effectively.
Rachel's impersonation of Liza sadly doesn't cut it. It's commendable but not brilliant. But as we know Liza is so iconic and so distinctive it is a hard act to follow. This week alone I have watched two drag queens and Christina Bianco convincingly impersonate Liza, with Rachel's attempt sadly lacking by comparison. Although Rachel's attempt to impersonate Liza is noble, t made me think about Daniel Downing's show Almost Home that I saw recently, and interviewed him about it.
Almost Home is a biopic play with music in which Daniel plays Judy Garland's forth and final husband Mikey Deans and performs songs from Judy's song book as Mikey Dean, effectively re-imagining the songs to suit him and pay tribute to Judy. Daniel told me that he wrote this because he wanted to do more than just another tribute act or even attempt to imitate Judy Garland, which he knew he couldn't.
With this in mind, I definitely think Rachel could develop this piece to suit her own voice and style. She could still use the music of Liza and her admiration for her, but reinterpret the songs and perform them with new arrangements as Frances off the stage, rather than Frances as Liza on the stage. I think this would give the songs and her character much more emotional weight.
After watching Being Liza at the Fringe I happened to spot Russell T Davies leaving his hotel and crossing the road towards me. I have never met Russell but recognised him, and we have mutual friends. I considered saying hello, but then decided not to. Funnily enough we were both heading in the same direction, as an hour later he would be sitting down to be interviewed by Boyd Hilton as part of the Edinburgh TV Festival Presents series.
For those who aren't familiar with Russell T Davies, he wrote the groundbreaking series Queer As Folk, twenty years ago, before going on to relaunch Doctor Who, and most recently wrote the acclaimed series Years and Years.
Boyd Hilton has commented on TV and written for Heat magazine for twenty years and one of his first assignments was to write about Queer As Folk, and was the perfect man to chair this interview and Q&A. Held at The Choir of Man's huge venue at Assembly Hall, I was surprised by how many people had turned out to see it, but I assume a lot of them were Doctor Who fans.
The interview was brilliant, and I gained a lot of insight into Russell's career and process as a writer as well as listening to him recall stories from behind the scenes of all of these shows. It was really fascinating.
After this I went to see The Very Well Fed Caterpillar. at The Space where I bumped into Amanada Bailey one of the actresses from The Good Scout, who told me her exciting news that their play would be transferring to Above the Stag in London for nine weeks. I was delighted for her and the whole team as it is a brilliant play that they have all worked really hard on.
The Very Well Fed Caterpillar By Red Biscuit Theatre was put together by five students from the University of Chichester, Nathan Charles. Theodore Vaudrey. Craig Unadkat. Theo Moore. Murray Burgess.
The 45 minute play was a mixture of physical theatre and improv, with the five actors following a script but digressing into farce. Playfully trying to put each other off, the entire show was pretty bonkers but yet utterly brilliant, and very funny. Rooted as an absurd story of a caterpillar who becomes a king, the boys creatively have moments of unison and impressively entertain. It shouldn't work, but it really does, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.
The Very Well Fed Caterpillar can be seen until 24th https://tickets.edfringe.com/what…/very-well-fed-caterpillar
I then went to watch Musik. The new musical written by Jonathan Harvey using the songs of the Pet Shop boys and starring Frances Barber.
It is the follow up to the musical Closer to Heaven which was also written by Jonathan and the Pet Shop Boys, that can currently be seen at Above the Stag.
When it was announced that Frances Barber would be reprising her role as Billie Trix for this sequel, I was very excited. Frances is a formidable comedy actress who has appeared in Gimme Gimme and Beautiful People which Jonathan Harvey also wrote. Jonathan is one of the lead writers for Coronation Street and is one of my favourite playwrights. Musik is being presented at the Assembly's spiegeltent which suits this one woman show where Frances plays a fictitious German socialite, who talks about her encounters with Andy Warhol and President Trump, as she talks about her life through a comic monologue intercepted with six Pet Shop Boy songs, four are new and two are borrowed from Closer to Heaven. The writing by Jonathan drafts a classic British comedy character reminiscent of any of his sitcoms or even the classic Absolutely Fabulous, with some hilarious one liners and superbly delivered by the excellent Frances Barber.
The music itself, was the weak point for me, it suits Frances' husky voice but is sounds like very bad Euro pop.
Musik transfers to The Leicester Square theatre in London from 3rd to 7th September. For tickets visit: https://www.leicestersquaretheatre.com/
My friend Paul came to meet me afterwards and we went for a drink to one of the Space venues where I get discount. We bumped into Stuart Saint, who was performing there, who Paul introduced me to. As we ordered cocktails, I wanted to ask Paul about the show I had seen yesterday, A Bit of Sunshine, as he had judged it originally in 2016 and awarded it the winner of the Lost Theatre's One Act Play Festival.
Paul sees so much theatre that initially he had to be honest and admit that he didn't even remember the play, and couldn't tell me what he really thought, but since it did win, he must have thought it was good. I explained my difficulties with it and my conflict over how to write a response to it. It was very helpful to talk it through with Paul before doing anything. Paul has become a good friend and mentor to me since I launched my blog. I often turn to him for advise and guidance thanks to his wealth of knowledge about the industry.
While we drank, I was tapped on the shoulder by my friend Keith Ramsay who I was surprised to see. Keith is currently rehearsing to play Rachmanioff in Preludes at the Southwalk Playhouse, but has a week off so came up to Edinburgh where his family are from. It was lovely to see him, and just what I needed. A friendly face.
We ordered one more drink before calling it a night, and I went home to sleep on my dilemma over A Bit Of Sunshine.
The accompanying video for this week’s journal can be found on my YouTube channel here: https://youtu.be/IZ6a7mKpiAA
And the audio version can be found as a podcast here: https://anchor.fm/thatstageyblog/episodes/Day-7---Edinburgh-Fringe--Audio-e52og0