Pomona – National Theatre

imageSet in a semi-dystopian version of Manchester’s underbelly Pomona is about a sister’s search for her sister. In a way, more or less and just about. With Pomona the plot is treated less as an essential asset and more as a house of mirrors style premise for elements of surreal, Lovecraftian and philosophical ideas to spin out leaving the audience to follow their own gazes into a carefully constructed abyss. Which is nice.

I’m hardly an expert on theatre, in fact my first thought on going is usually to find the bar and the cheapest thing to drink while bitching vaguely about how much it’s costing me. For Pomona though, once I’d secured the cheapest (very expensive) drink and stopped thinking about ticket prices I genuinely found something worthwhile. Continue reading Pomona – National Theatre

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Dave Callan – A Little Less Conversation 2: A Little More Less Conversation

As my memories of the shows I saw fade into the dim half light of ‘I was in Edinburgh, wasn’t I?’ I’ll call this the last of my Fringe reviews for this year. Any more and I’d not be doing justice to the good stuff I saw as the buzz of entertainment or thought or feeling they left me with loses it’s gilt edge. But I’m finishing on a simple one which doesn’t take too much to do it justice I hope.

Dave Callan, an Irish comedian who’s apparently big in Australia but whom I’d never heard of until I was told ‘we’re going to see Dave Callan tonight’, has put together a grand Festival experience. Built around the idea of an A-Z (or rather Z to A) of dance styles it’s an exhausting enough show to watch never mind to perform so every laugh feels truly earned – and there are a lot of them. For an hour or so you can enjoy a sweaty middle aged bloke dance his way through the alphabet with a enthusiastic fervour which beats my entire lifetime reserve of energeticness by about 300%. Backed by four incredibly talented young dancers it’s a joke that could easily have worn thin after the first couple of dancing styles (and he covers an awful lot of them) but for the fact that it’s just so well done.

Rather than stretch out the obvious point of not being a professional dancer for comic effect Dave has, by the look of things, actually put a lot of effort into being good enough to make the bits where he looks bad funny. An impressive amount of work which really shines through as the whole thing never slips away from his control as he mixes brief shots of talk with manic interludes. So even as he twerks like he’s stuck in a Dulux paint mixer you can’t help but be impressed by the timing and skill rather than just laughing at the ridiculousness of it. Although with that said I was still laughing for the duration even with the applause at the end being as much for the craft of it as the entertainment. A definite hallmark of a quality show.

It also goes to show just how obvious a really skilled comic is when compared to those who aren’t. I did see shows, which I’m not bothered to review, where the comedy was built on chancing it more than anything. Individuals who may (or may not) have been funny had taken that basic level of talent and run with it, rather than building it into something that really bosses an audience and makes sure they’re with you every step of the way. Which is pretty much the dividing line between a decent evening and one which you can be bothered to sit down the next week and write about with the remnants of a smile on your face and some genuine enthusiasm for it.

There’s not much more to add really, I managed to get a half price ticket for his Fringe show but I’m guessing he’ll be touring somewhere sooner or later so keep an eye out for him. Plus it’d be no surprise to see him pop up on the usual array of panel shows, as he apparently already does in Australia which is almost a shame really. Not for him of course, because you can’t beat that pay day, but it’s never nice to see someone who can put together a show like that end up sat next to Jimmy Carr trying to force a laugh at that talentless gobshite’s latest stolen joke. But now he’s dancing carefree with those happy feet of his and well worth the effort to catch him.

You can follow Dave Callan on Twitter @DaveCallanWit.

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Milo McCabe – Genesisocide

People place too much stock in things making sense. As a species we have, at various times, worshipped dog headed Gods, sat people on steel boxes full of high explosives so as to launch them into space, filled stadiums with tens of thousands of people so they could scream at someone running quite fast and piled big rocks up like giant’s Lego. Granted people are always looking for ways to rationalise it all, but at the heart of it humanity just has a long standing love for doing strange shit. We love it. At the lowest level we call it being eccentric, at the highest we take a few thousand years to see a: that it was mad and b: go mad enough to make it seem sane again. It’s what we do and hey, everyone needs a hobby. Dogs chase balls, cats hate and humans turn absurd. Milo McCabe is definitely human.

Milo McCabe’s one man (with many faces) show Genisisocide does have a plot. It even makes sense. If you wrote it down and drew lines from part to part there’d be no dead ends or MC Escher distortions thrown in there. It is however a plot which gleefully makes no sense right up until the point where you look back and see your footprints treading a clear line through the dune-scape of Milo’s mind.

Using an ensemble cast of what could loosely be called impressions McCabe revels in the side notes. Flitting from character to character and idea to idea without ever really losing sight of where the narrative’s going. I won’t say too much about that, the story itself. This review would grow to a tedious length if I tried and what’s more I’d end up having to recreate the whole thing here in front of my screen just to try and translate it into some coherent written form. But to give you the slightest of ideas it involves Bob Geldof, Phil Collins, Phil Collin, Elton John, murder, time travel, more murder and ’90s European Techno. Although at precisely the same time it doesn’t involve any of those things so much as it involves Milo McCabe’s brilliantly eclectic mind.

I have seen some people saying Genesisocide is truly fringe and far from most peoples idea of easy viewing and while it’s certainly not for every audience I wouldn’t go that far myself. What Milo does here is another form from a proud tradition of absurdism. From the Bonzo Dog Band through to Reeves & Mortimer and even my own Laikanist Times (*cough* available now *cough*) there are plenty of people out there embracing the ridiculous with greater or less amounts of depth behind them. It may offer a bit of a shock at first but given a chance it’s a wonderful world of oddity to slip into. Although I will add that, as a stand-up, Milo drives for the laughs and there’s not an ocean of profundity behind the act (*cough*not like Laikanist Times *cough*). That’s no negative though because not making sense, when done right, is an end unto itself and a thoroughly worthwhile one at that. So if you get a chance go and see Genesisocide.

Unfortunately I reckon this show is a Fringe special but I did also see Milo in another show where he stuck to just one personality and all of the same quality was there. Plus I’d be far from surprised if he turned up on TV one day, in one way or another. At the very least someone should throw a few quid at him to give it a try. Otherwise it’s definitely another name to keep an eye out for, starting with following him on Twitter (@MiloComedy). You can also check out his Edinburgh gigs with Gensisocide here if you’re lucky enough to be in town and it’s free, which is always nice.

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San Tuo Qi Company – Around The World: My Journey Continued After You Left

You know how it is right? You’re walking around in a hungover fug, liver desperately trying to filter away the contents of Sainsbury’s drink section. Dull and bloodshot eyes looking for a corner to curl up and fall asleep in… and then all of a sudden you find yourself in a magical wonderland. Where an absurdist Chinese version of the cast of Glee are entrancing you with the heart touching story of an ageing couple looking back through the mists of time. Back to that time they got caught up with a gang of muggers-cum-insect cultists while out hunting for a magical butterfly. Sure, sometimes it feels like every Saturday morning just goes the same way eh?

No? Well, you’re all missing out then.

Around the World: My Journey Continued After You Left, running for I’ve no idea how much longer up at the Edinburgh Festival is a grand slice of the unpretentiously absurd in the middle of the city. Performed by what I’m guessing is a fairly prestigious group from China, it’s a perfectly staged, hour (or so) long hit of oddness which does all you need to qualify as happily strange without ever trying too hard.

Dialogue is eschewed in favour of a handful of random sounds which still manage to tell a story worth hearing. Mostly made up of (word free) song and dance numbers so polished that they’d probably really impress someone who knew more about those things than I do. As a layman though I certainly spent most of the show sitting there with an idiot grin on my face as beautifully poised dancers knocked out hyperactive songs without once thinking ‘this is getting on my nerves’. A miracle really given that I seldom manage that even when I’m sitting alone in an empty room.

I’m not going to go all that deeply into the plot. In part because I wouldn’t want to spoil it and in part because how you find yourself following it is a bit of a personal experience. Though I will say that the insect cult and the fat butterfly were personal high points for me, but then they might pass you by completely. And that’s the best bit about Around The World, the agenda free absurdism of it. Without trying to be odd or ‘zany’ it manages to create a properly immersive pallete of sounds, costumes and movement. One which you can sink into without once feeling that the creators have set out to be weird solely for the sake of it. And at the end you do find yourself being genuinely touched by the cast of monosyllabic, occasionally inept but always affectionate characters.

The only comparison I could really make for context would be to some of the efforts from Studio Ghibli but even then the medium is so different and the crowded simplicity so undemandingly giving that it isn’t one that stands to much. So perhaps I’d be better off saying what Around The World really isn’t despite what you might imagine it to be at a passing glance. For all the dressing up, enthusiasm and energy this is a million miles away from the sort of ‘aren’t we zany’ first year drama students attempt at surrealism. All of the magical wonder and indulgent immersion here is the product of a lot of work and talent which culminates in absurdism being done as it should – which is well – rather than as it so often is, which is as an easy cop out to building something complete.

Anyway, in summary, go see it if you get a chance. I managed to blag a free ticket but they were £12 otherwise and at that price I’d say it was well worth it. And now I’m off hunting for an overweight butterfly, hell, I may even sing as I go…

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Dave Chawner – Normally Abnormal

Probably my favourite thing about real life is that it’d make a really shit piece of art. The plot is usually paper thin, character development is random at best, the actors barely seem to understand their roles and the dialogue is usually shite. Like some of the more unfortunate shows at the Edinburgh Fringe real life only ever gets any sort of audience because it’s free and people can’t think of anything better to do. Unlike some of those shows though you can’t sneak a bottle of cheap rum and a plastic cup into the venue of reality so the whole affair can really start to drag. But stick with me here, because I’m still talking about why all of those failings amount to some of the best reasons I can think of to stick around until everyone gets chucked out at the end.

Y’see unlike any piece of art, be it literary, visual, performed, crafted or keyed onto a toilet door, life can, while being really badly put together, give you more, better and more interesting experiences than anything else you’re likely to find – even if you have Net Flix and Amazon Prime both. And the best art or comedy or music knows that as it walks away from anything fancy like plot or coherence and just slaps down before you the jumbled ridiculousness of life – which is the one universally translatable force for us all. And that’s why after barely having had time to recover from the trip back I’m sitting down to make my first post-Edinburgh Fringe recommendation – ‘Normally Abnormal’ with Dave Chawner.

Normally Abnormal is without doubt a stand-up one even with the big slab of human awareness that it’s built on. Dave is an anorexic with experience of depression, a negligible sex drive and a fondness for one night stands of spooning. All of which are shared and talked about as part of the heart of the show but none of which end up feeling like the focal point of it. Which is the clever part really. The declared subject matter here, the bit that for a lot of stand up becomes, in one form or another, the defining factor of a show is here just a composite part of the person on stage.  A testimony to all the honesty that Dave obviously aims for in his set.

Issues which could quite easily be held up over the show as being the point are subsumed into the beautiful mundanity of human experience and regurgitated as well crafted comedy. There’s no attempt to weave a plot line or neatly summed up narrative from the subject matter. No grand moral conclusions are reached, no profound motivational speeches are given, nothing is neatly packaged at the end of the night because as I said, life is too poor at plots and structure for anything like that to work.

Instead Dave offers a funny and thoroughly human insight into the sort of aspects and issues of life that for all of us defy any grandstanding or definition. He doesn’t take socially taboo subjects and try to present or define them, he’s simply honest in himself. Which when so many people talk about wanting to ‘normalise’ or open up debate on issues of mental health and long denied experiences is genuine relief. Because here they’re not being normalised or opened, they are normal and Dave is open about them.

The Fringe isn’t far from being over now, so it’s a bit late to be plugging his show there but no doubt he’s going to be gigging out there, somewhere before long for you to catch him. In fact going by the Scrabble players wet dream of acronym based charities and groups that he seems to be involved with I’d be surprised if there was an evening of the year where he isn’t on a stage somewhere saying something. So add him on Twitter (@DaveChawner) and keep an eye out but if you are around Edinburgh at the moment I know for sure that you can catch him at The Loft above the Counting House pub on West Nicholson Street until the 30th. Which, as a pro tip, also has an offy around the corner and no bag checks so already the show’s got one up on most parts of life.

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