Oxfringe 2010

100+ music, literature, comedy & theatre events in this year's bigger, faster, shinier Oxford Fringe Festival!
Various venues across Oxford, Wed March 24th - Sun April 11th 2010

April 9, 2010
As Nice As Entrail Pie
The Jam Factory
The Jam Factory, if anyone hasn’t been there, is a great venue – a bar and restaurant combined with a gallery and performance space that is really friendly, relaxed, chilled, pleasant. As Nice As Entrail Pie is a sketch show of much the same character – retro to the point of being pleasantly old-fashioned, it was as if modern comedy, going back as far as Monty Python, had never existed; completely without edge, nobody got insulted and no rude words were used.

The company, Outcast Theatre, were engagingly cheery and good-natured, and two of the sketches (The Worms that Turned, MacJeff) were pretty funny. The bloke who came on between scenes, Pete the Temp, to wind the audience up and recite his poems, was a delight – we particularly enjoyed ‘My cycle is bi’. But – I hate to say it, but – the rest of the sketches just weren’t all that amusing, and the one about the ravens was actively dire. I’m not expecting side-splitting, pant-wettingly funny, but the occasional laugh would have been good. As it was, the audience was perfectly aware that the people in the bar who were having a pub quiz were having a better time than we were, as waves of laughter barrelled through the walls.

Individual cast members were clearly hugely talented, I mention Alex Babic in particular, but the writing needs a lot of work. Sorry chaps.

April 9, 2010
LOL
Burton Taylor Theatre, Thurs 8th April 2010
LOL is a clever, funny one-woman play performed by the excellent Ros Adler. Based on supposed real-life experiences of the perils of internet dating, Adler performs the entire play on-stage, including costume and prop changes, while she flits between playing the three characters – Mags, a neurotic deluded housewife, Lucinda, a posh shallow slapper who had convinced herself men are only good for one thing, and Sarah is living in a cloud cuckoo Mills and Boon land – their lives are intertwined by one deceitful man.

During the on-stage costume changes, snippets of men reading out their internet dating ads (looking for commitment, been hurt before so be gentle with me, you must like kids, don’t apply if you are fatter/older/uglier than your photo…you know the sort of thing) – for anyone who has dabbled in the murky world of internet dating, you would completely believe that these monologues are 100% genuinely lifted straight from match.com and the like.

The show was very funny and a refreshingly honest look at the minefield of internet dating, and I came away feeling even more dubious about it – post-show conversation involved discussing who we would least identify with and which of the three roles we would least want to be like – my only criticism of the show is that it ended very abruptly, in what I thought was the middle of a scene, and when the audience started clapping I was wondering what for – you know, like when you’re at a gig and during an instrumental bit in the song some idiot starts clapping prematurely – before I realised it had actually finished. So abrupt, it seemed to have no endings, happy or otherwise – I’m all for cynical and unhappy finales, but this one was just unsatisfying. So, funny, lively and refreshing – but over too quickly and unsatisfactorily. Hmmm.....Perhaps like an internet date….

April 8, 2010
All Hail Ye Mighty Lords of Nowhere
Old Library, behind University Church of St Mary the Virgin, Radcliffe Square, 7th - 10th April, 7.45pm.
An intriguing concept, the adult puppet show, or rather I should say, a puppet show for adults. The world has effectively ended and mankind is no more. Two demons are discussing their new situation. What on earth are they going to do now?

I always thought that demonic plans to wipe out the human race were a bit short-sighted when watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. If your entire existence was directed at tormenting, thwarting, tempting, and torturing humans, you’re going to find yourself at a bit of a loose end when there’s nothing left but an ash-encrusted wasteland. Are they going to sit back, light a cigar, and congratulate themselves on a job well done? Are they going to become old codgers who reminisce endlessly about the good old days? Are they going to suffer anxiety about what the boss wants them to do next? Are they going to turn on one another in the absence of anyone else to torture? Are they going to find their existence unendurable and top themselves? Far be it from me to introduce spoilers.

The puppets were extraordinary – grotesque, creepy works of art which have the appearance of being disgustingly organic although they are in fact all papier-mache. These alone are worth leaving your house for. The puppet-master, one Alexander Winfield, who wrote, spoke for and operated the puppets, and directed, is clearly a hugely talented performer, and was ably supported with haunting piano music by Stella Shakerchi. I understand this is a work in progress, and parts of it, where audience participation is invited, are open to improvisation. I should imagine that with a larger audience than we had last night it could be extremely dynamic and entertaining.

I’d prefer my despair leavened with a bit more humour, but that’s just me. If you’d like something a bit weird and very dark, give this a shot.

April 1, 2010
Morgan and West: Time Travelling Magicians
Burton Taylor, Wed 31st March
Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, squeeze into your seats and set your faces to ‘mirth’, for tonight we shall be amused, amazed and entertained by the most affable magical duo in town: Morgan and West!

Insert cheers and applause here

Using genuine time travel, these two fine figures of manhood have come straight from the 1800s attired in waistcoats and sporting century-appropriate facial furniture. The pair emerge before the audience equipped with the twin tools of magic and banter, and, with the use of some very well thought out props, combine them, before our very eyes, to unleash an awe-inspiring display of amusement the like of which Oxford has never seen!

Insert gasps, ‘oohs’ and ‘aaah’s here

All your standard card tricks and sleight-of-hand make an appearance, and though we have seen such tomfoolery before it is skilfully used to hang the most excellent banter off. In fact, the well-written and lighthearted script, and ease with the audience, could probably have carried off a slew of average tricks quite happily by itself. However, Morgan and West have some really smashing tricks to confound and delight even the surliest of patrons. Are you ready to face the Line of Truth? Can you keep your sanity in the face of their Awesome Powers of Divination? There is only one way to find out.

Insert murmurs and hushed speculation here

We are all familiar with the famous modern magicians; we have seen their tricks and we have been amazed. But we are also amazed by the magic of the Iphone and the graphical wizardry of Avatar. You could keep cranking up the incredulity levels or, as Morgan and West do, you can combine it with good old fashioned comedy showmanship. Time Travelling Magicians is an hour of real solid entertainment that will leave you both scratching your head and smiling. After a little bit of a polish it will undoubtedly be a great hit again in the Edinburgh Fringe festival. So, good people of Oxfordshire, wax your moustaches, don your waistcoats and give it up for Morgan and West!

Insert riotous cheering and cat calls

April 1, 2010
The ‘Psychic’ Psychologist – Rob Bailey
Copa Upstairs, 31st March 2010, 8.30pm
Rob Bailey delivers an interesting and very entertaining show based around tricks of the mind – he is a psychologist rather than a psychic, and he attempts to show how magic and mind-reading is about tricks of the mind, memory and illusion rather than psychic ability. He rubbishes supposed ‘psychics’ such as Derek Acorah and Mystic Meg, instead playing mind games with audience participants and attempting to perform simple memory tricks – I say attempt, as they did not all go smoothly!

I was really impressed with his being able to pick numbers, words and even draw images supposedly based on a participant purely projecting the image mentally, but if he was attempting to convince us it was just about trickery and illusion rather than mind-reading – well actually, the mind-reading stuff was on the whole pretty convincing so I was left a bit confused as to what I was meant to believe or not from the show. A slightly suspicious set of tricks – and forgive my cynicism here – was when he asked the audience to put ‘secrets’ into a box and then he had to guess them, but at least 2 out of 3 of the secrets he guessed were from people he knew…

Bailey is engaging and slick in a Derren Brown style, with wit, sarcasm and some good one-liners smoothing the flow of the show – the final trick involving a spike was built up with lots of tension, however when he moved the ‘suspect’ cup out of the way I was a bit suspicious.…I guess I do watch these shows looking for flaws and trying to figure out how they do it, but I was impressed with Bailey and expect he will go on to bigger and better things in the future once he gets his act more polished.

April 1, 2010
Rosie Wilby: The Science of Sex
Copa Upstairs, Wed 31st March and Friday 2nd April, 7pm.
Funny Women Finalist Rosie Wilby performs this one-woman stand-up show with lots of energy, laughter, cynicism and some very disturbing scientific diagrams….did you know that the average relationship span looks like a pair of tits? Well, you will after the show, and I do recommend you give it a go.

Wilby explores contemporary subjects such as internet dating, one night stands, the differences between lesbian and straight sex, experiments with Ann Summers items (sorry, that should read she talks about experimenting with Ann Summers items, rather than actually experiments with them on the stage…I think she leaves that show until after midnight). When called on for audience participation, the Oxford crowd was a bit muted (nervous!), not providing too many confessions of an intimate nature, but Wilby is not shy of filling us in on her own experiences of sex, love and relationships – she is enlightening, uninhibited and a strong female performer.

The show is fast flowing and very entertaining, and  you should go to see this play – I hadn’t had so many belly laughs for ages and am still smiling about it now (this glowing review has nothing to do with Wilby’s brain prop which she describes as coming from a negative reviewer – honest!).

Tickets still available for Friday night’s performance, so if you want a Good Friday – take my advice and go see it.

www.rosiewilby.com

March 30, 2010
A Romp Through The History Of Philosophy
Rewley House, 29th March 2010
First a confession – I have never studied Philosophy, only knowing a bit about pop theories so you will get no pretentious waffle from me pretending to know the meaning of life etc (anyway, someone already worked that one out and the answer is 42). I went in to hopefully get what it said on the tin – a potted history of Philosophy for beginners, and that’s exactly what I got.

Talbot is an engaging lecturer; lively and warm; She invites audience participation, which keeps it interesting, and the beauty of the subject is there are no wrong answers, only different interpretations, so no one should feel like an idiot when questioning a philosopher.

A basic history of some of the best-known philosophers was given – Talbot touched on the theories of Plato, Descartes, Hume, Kant, Wittgenstein, and, most worryingly, the Eliminativist contemporary theory that we do not have minds. I prefer to think we do, otherwise I don’t think I would be writing this, and wouldn’t have been able to decide between getting a bus home or taxi, unless the Eliminativists are correct and it’s just all down to my brain state…but then surely they must have had minds to come up with this theory in the first place?

Anyway let’s not get too technical here, although I am pleased to say I would never have been able to write that sentence before the lecture so I have definitely learnt something new tonight…. Overall, it was a very engaging and inspiring introduction to Philosophy – it was the first time I’d sat through a lecture for a few years and it has fired up my desire to find out more… I have always viewed those who studied Philosophy as self-indulgent and I wouldn’t say this has changed my view, but perhaps if I ever get some time to self-indulge myself, this is what I would be studying.

After the lecture and an interesting Q&A session, Talbot invited everyone to the bar to continue the discussion – where I am certain all the best philosophy theories start - but sadly I had to go home and write up this review before bedtime.

To find out more on the History of Philosophy, try Talbot’s podcast of the same title: http://itunes.ox.ac.uk

March 26, 2010
Mouche
COPA Upstairs, 25th Mar - 4th April 2010
Laine Cole’s adaptation of Paul Gallico’s Love of the Seven Dolls takes a much loved novella, understood and enjoyed by children, and updates it for an adult audience.

The story is a simple one. A young girl called Mouche is about to throw herself into the Seine when her attention is attracted by a voice. It turns out to be the voice of a glove puppet, called Carrot Top. Mouche’s introduction to the other puppets (seven in the original book, but fewer in this show) and their grim puppetmaster, Capitaine Coq, and her subsequent adventures when she joins their travelling show form the basic narrative. But after that, Cole’s interpretation reveals the possibility of multiple layers of experience which are anything but child-like.

Tim Redpath’s muscular one man show involves vocal virtuosity, physicality, mime and crude puppeteering. A student of physical theatre in South Africa, Redpath is a mesmerizing showman, who effortlessly conveys a crowded canvas of characters using a combination of mimicry and ingenious props.

Mouche never appears – only characters’ reaction to her, but her loving relationship with the puppets is quickly established, and without her benign presence, Reynard the whooping, wise-cracking fox is reduced to gibbering stage fright.

Mouche’s relationship with the cruel and bitter puppeteer, Capitaine Coq is more complex – unlike the friendliness of his puppets, the puppeteer has a caustic tongue, and his true feelings for Mouche are only apparent when a swaggering acrobat from an itinerant circus troupe presents himself as a love rival.

The puppeteer’s own childhood experiences of abuse, neglect and insecurity are made apparent by a side show of dolls, such as might be used in a criminal case involving children, to describe indirectly alleged crimes committed. Here we see his mother killed by her married lover, the child’s subsequent exile, living with a fire-eater and a dwarf, and his witnessing of the loudest orgasm since Harry Met Sally. It has been suggested that the puppeteer’s relationship with his puppets demonstrates the possibility of dissociative identity disorder, better known as multiple personality disorder. The relationship remains confusing, both during and after the show.

Except for the beatific smile on the face of the puppeteer, as the lights fade and Mouche has abandoned the acrobat and returned in the shadows, there is little here to recall the charm of the book. It is darker, savager, cruder. However, Tim Redpath is an undoubted talent and his second show (Prodigal 29th March 8.30pm and 5th April 7.00pm same venue) would be well worth catching.

March 26, 2010
Reflections in a Distorting Mirror by Rio Fanning
Burton Taylor Studio, Thursday 24th March 2010
You know, I’ve seen some strange plays in my time but I can usually conjure up a decent review of anything, which is the nature of being a reviewer. But I am sitting here with my head in my hands wondering how the hell I can think up 400+ words to describe this. It was very odd, and I just didn’t really get it.

I had high hopes for the play, as it was written by Rio Fanning who appeared in loads of TV shows in the 70’s and 80’s including Z Cars and All Creatures Great and Small, before writing for Eastenders, Ballykissangel, Peak Practice and The Archers, so I thought he would be a pretty decent writer. However, from the first scene where the heavily pregnant Catherine seemed to be trying to kill her baby by denying it entry into the world and threatening to shoot herself in the stomach, I watched the play unfold with a kind of horror – when you watch TV you can get up and have a cuppa or switch over, but all you can do in the theatre is grin and bear it.

The play is billed as a ‘farcical look at how Family is the model for political conspiracies and corruption’, but although I don’t doubt that this was the writer’s aim, it didn’t make sense to me – the programme mentions Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin, Blair and Bush and the fact they all came from families, so I was expecting an examination of family values with some reference to these flawed leaders, but instead we got the blind and deaf Prince Baxendale nuzzling into the mother’s (very impressive) cleavage and her grotesque enjoyment of this, the lameness of the psychologist who wanted to escape the weird household but made no real effort to, the rambling old dad with the key to the Big Wide World on his hat, the pregnant daughter refusing to allow herself to give birth, and the Prime Minister son who looked about 20 years older than his mother – it was just really odd.

I think it began to make sense a bit towards the end of the first half when I got the impression that if I stopped trying to see the characters as people, but rather as representing countries, it made a bit more sense. So the dad could be seen as the traditional British Empire, the son as the immature but flash America, the flirtatious mother perhaps as Italy, and the daughter refusing to give birth – perhaps China, refusing Taiwan its independence? I’m not sure what to make of the blind deaf Prince, but when viewed in this context I could at least relax and watch it with less need to understand the characters, and watch the story of corruption and ultimately betrayal unfold.

So, sorry if this is a bit of a cop out, but I am looking forward to reading other reviews to see if anyone else understood it better than me……good luck!
It is always an exciting event for me when a new theatre company arrives in Oxford. Having a voracious appetite for theatre, both as a participant and an observer, I was eager to see what PointZero had to offer when I arrived at Wadham College’s intimate Moser Theatre. Firstly, I was pleasantly surprised at the very reasonable ticket price - £10 for three shows – considerably less than some of the other offerings during OxFringe.

The first piece, a solo performed by Danny Scott entitled Reflections of a Man was totally absorbing and intensely moving. Through a blend of dance, music and the spoken word the performer explored some of the complexities of the male identity within the 21st century. It is often easy to forget how powerfully eloquent gesture and expression can be when communicating complex emotions and ideas. Not so here. Danny Scott’s astonishing performance opened a window into the male persona and allowed us a glimpse of the confusion therein. Whether philosophising about aspects from the physical make-up of a man to the emotional and intellectual attributes, or embodying recognisable male figures, i.e. young man in search of identity, old man reflecting on past opportunities, or just trying to find justification and reason for his own existence, he held the audience with him throughout.

The considered use of costume and music allowed fluid transitions from one moment to the next and the sequence set to Behind Blue Eyes seemed to speak to the problem at the centre of the male condition in present times– no-one know what is going on beneath the surface of the modern man. An extraordinary piece of theatre by an extraordinary performer.

The audience was then treated to a “teaser” piece entitled Ritual which explored some of the daily activities and routines which shape our lives. Museum exhibits escape the confines of their display units to engage in playful exchanges with the audience and with each other. Aprons, sunglasses, smiles and an irrepressible sense of fun made this a very engaging interlude.

Masquerade, the final instalment to the trio, could almost be seen as a partner piece to Reflections of a Man. Where as the former looked at what is happening beneath the surface, the latter explored the masks that we all wear in our daily lives and how difficult in can be to throw off our adopted personas and truly be ourselves. Six female performers, joined partway by Danny Scott, explored some of the social constructs that women find themselves in whilst recorded voices relayed the very physical restriction experienced by modelling for a papier mache mask. The feeling of confinement followed by that of intense relief clearly has connotations for the way in which we shroud ourselves in terms that we feel will be acceptable to the outside world whilst imprisoning and suffocating our individuality in the process. Again, music, movement and spoken word bridge the divide between theatrical media and style and provided a performance of many levels and intricacies.

PointZero – welcome to Oxford. I look forward to your next project with much anticipation.
Life is full of surprises. Sometimes when we least expect it, we can be surprised, elevated, challenged, entertained, captivated, and quite frankly, seduced, by the actions of a group of stylishly dressed mime artists, moving to music. PointZero is such a group. Acting out a series of little playlets, under the title of Masquerade/Ritual, the attractive PointZero girls, brilliantly directed by Danny Scott, should be given free shoes for life by Manolo Blahnik, so deliciously do they capture that insatiable female appetite for sensational looking shoes in one of their beautifully choreographed 'sketches'. Masquerade/Ritual was a jewel of a performance. Quite superb. Many congratulations!
Mac McFadden is a quick-talking Mersey dynamo with an endearingly self-deprecating streak where you might expect comedy viciousness. One of the better-dressed acts of Oxfringe in a jacket and a hat, he put his stand-up comedy skills to good use in the select arena of humorous narrative poetry with an innovative twist - he divided the audience into groups who had to choose a pub-quiz style name for themselves and then pick a number between 1-25 which dictated which poems he would read for his set.

A Shakespeare-inspired homage to Marmite followed by a Shakespeare-inspired rant against Marmite replete with a jar of Marmite attracted particular hilarity, as did a tour of the North in poetry by a Northern Monkey in five dialects. Poignant poems about being the last boy in his class to hit puberty (after 3 jobs), his early promise as a boy band pin-up, sadly never realised, and now being old enough to be his dad made us smile, while simultaneously tugging at our heartstrings. An unconvincing transsexual named Brian who'd apparently run out of money mid-surgery added to the proceedings.

A poetry performer not to be missed for those who don't like poetry but are open to persuasion.
Wishing to see an OxFringe show which neither myself nor any of my friends were in, I took a punt on the penultimate show upstairs at the Copa bar on Saturday.

Teakshow turned out be to a cornucopia of oddities and delights acted out by 'teachers' Jackie and Johnny, some designed to unsettle, such as the couple whose love of birds turned Bill Oddie into an unwitting soft porn producer, to a Home Shopping Channel presenter extolling and demonstrating the wonders of the remote-controlled man who could please even the fussiest woman - unless you pressed the wrong button! A chilling scene from Dickens' Oliver Twist revealed the real reason Nancy was murdered and Noel Coward lived on in his repressed characters' increasingly desperate attempts to break out of stereotype. A crazed hairdresser menaced the men of the room, betraying what really goes on behind the 'Are you going anywhere nice on your holidays?' façade, and a parade of other unhinged characters populated the rest of the hour until Jackie and Johnny (Jonathan Hansler and Jackie Stirling) decided to reveal the terrible truth about the audience - to the audience. By the end I felt almost as exhausted as the performers, but took my hat off to the sheer talent and originality with a dash of gutsy experimentalism I had just witnessed.

Go and see Teakshow if you get the chance - it really does sketch a new dimension.
An excellent show, brilliant in its whimsy. We follow the adventures of a straight-laced man at the mercy of Bea the postal-worker's wild imagination, and we are utterly drawn in from the word 'go'.

And go they do, all around PARIS, city of dreams. You'll certainly be itching to cross the channel after seeing this slice of joy.

With great physical comedy, poignant moments and an inspired bit with a corkscrew, this is not to be missed . Join them for a 'lonely glass of red'.
This tour through internet dating from the point of view of three women left me absolutely gobsmacked. Ros Adler's consummate portrayal of the very different Sarah, Mags and Lucinda makes it nigh on impossible to believe we are watching the same actor, even with visible (and minimal) costume changes.

The repercussions of the online exploits of one man are explored, but this is not a straightforward condemnation of dating sites. Instead we see the very different approaches to love and relationships of three women, and what struck me was that any of them could very easily have been in the position of one of the others. Sarah's situation, being ditched by her date and stuck in a Mills and Boon style fantasy world, at first seems by far the worst. But when we see the ins and outs of the lives of the others, we see it's not as simple as that.

Ros Adler's characters are quite extreme and often hilarious, with irksome habits like chewing silver foil against their fillings, but she is never making fun of any of them. What I gained from this show was the impossibility of jumping to conclusions, perhaps the futility of people's cliched portrayals of themselves on online profiles. One particularly powerful scene with the 'smug married' Mags letting down her guard at four in the morning proved this.

The writing, direction and acting are seamless and extremely well paced. Take a chance with this show. Don't judge it before you go, you won't be disappointed.
This comedy sketch show with interspersed poems was creative and imaginative. While not filled with cheap gags and stand-up humour, it instead was an evening of witty, cleverly written sketches. The actors of the Outcast Theatre company were a barrel of fun, and the compere, Pete The Temp, well known for his amusing often cycle-related poetry got the audience up and engaged. The running theme of anthropomorphisation and alternative viewpoints was most noticeable in the Ravens of the Tower of London's parody of the Great Escape and the Van Gogh's sunflower's 'Going to Seed' sketches. The "Dream of the Ammonites" sketch was imaginative and punctured the pompous self-indulgence that many Oxfringe performances are filled with. Given the limited space, there was creative use of well-designed artwork and props.

As a venue The Jam Factory gallery is tiny, and if you want to get served food before the production you might have to order up to an hour in advance. The service is friendly and good-natured but slow, the food and drink are good enough.
Improvised theatre shows often receive similar reviews, ‘Great the night I saw it, but it’s improvised so I can’t vouch for forthcoming performances.’ Whilst this is pedantically accurate, it can’t be associated with The Gallant’s production ‘Byron & Shelley’.

A cast of three talented improvisers take one audience suggestion and an hour of intelligent, witty and creative theatre unfolds. Despite having a very specific starting point (the infamous summer of 1816 Villa Diodoti, Lake Geneva) the cast are adept at using the audience suggestion to generate a snapshot of what might have happened at the house that summer; a period in history that has been the subject of much gossip. Of course they know their characters (Byron, Shelley and the Boatman) – they even have authentic costumes, but it is their skill as improvisers that leave the audience thinking ‘surely that was scripted?’ It isn’t, it’s just that good.

Since every show is completely different, it’s impossible to predict the content of the next. The night I saw the show, the audience suggestion was ‘pigs’. A story of Byron’s 24th secret birthday party unfurled including [as you probably predicted] pig wrestling, Lake Geneva’s finest journalistic team and cocktail sausages. The cast [Joseph Morpurgo, Andy Murray & Craig Holmes] complement each other confidently ensuring that the production is a clever balance of wit, clowning and straight play.

If you’re an improvised theatre addict you’ll be impressed by the long-form narrative that effortlessly ties itself together in under an hour. If you’re an improvised theatre novice you’ll be amazed by their inventive quick thinking and hilarious scenarios played out skilfully and with ease.

After a sell-out run at the BT last year, I urge you to catch The Gallants return for the festival, even those who don’t consider themselves to be Romantic.
Improvised theatre shows often receive similar reviews - ‘Great the night I saw it, but it’s improvised, so I can’t vouch for forthcoming performances’. Whilst this is pedantically accurate, it can’t be associated with The Gallants' production Byron & Shelley.

A cast of three talented improvisers take one audience suggestion and an hour of intelligent, witty and creative theatre unfolds. Despite having a very specific starting point - the infamous summer of 1816 Villa Diodoti, Lake Geneva, a period in history that has been the subject of much gossip - the cast are adept at using audience suggestion to generate a snapshot of what might have happened at the house that summer. Of course they know their characters (Byron, Shelley and the Boatman) - they even have authentic costumes - but it is their skill as improvisers that leave the audience thinking ‘surely that was scripted?’. It isn’t - it’s just good!

Since every show is completely different, it’s impossible to predict the content of the next. The night I saw the show, the audience suggestion was ‘pigs’. A story of Byron’s 24th secret birthday party unfurled, including (as you probably predicted) pig wrestling, Lake Geneva’s finest journalistic team and cocktail sausages. The cast (Joseph Morpurgo, Andy Murray & Craig Holmes) complement each other confidently, ensuring that the production is a clever balance of wit, clowning and straight play.

If you’re an improvised theatre addict you’ll be impressed by the long-form narrative that effortlessly ties itself together in under an hour. If you’re an improvised theatre novice you’ll be amazed by their inventive quick thinking and the resulting hilarious scenarios played out skilfully and with ease.

After a sell-out run at the BT last year, I urge you to catch The Gallants’ return for the festival - even if you don't consider yourelf to be Romantic!
After watching Rosalind Adler's "Jubilate" two weeks ago, I was curious to discover whether she could score twice with another entirely new show. I was so sure she would, I offered the people next to me in the Burton Taylor Studio, their money back if they were in the least dissatisfied. No danger! Another brilliant show written and performed flawlessly by Rosalind and directed by Kirsty Bennett. Rosalind creates three separate characters whose lives meet at the vertices of rather-less-than-congruent triangles. We start with the self-deprecating wife, Mags, who has noticed some slippage in her own sexual allure, whilst forgiving her straying husband; (straying as far as his computer - or blackberry). His internet catches could not be more contrasted; chubby Sarah, who sets him doing a bunk through a lavatory window and Lucinda who knows exactly how to please herself whilst pleasing a man. It's all very candid and very twenty-first century. Try not to sit next to your maiden aunt!

If 'LOL' is code for 'laugh-out-loud', the message certainly got through to those of lucky enough to catch this show. But there are bitter twists, too; real drama and mini-tragedies woven into Adler's complex script. Her outstanding acting ability enables us to identify and follow four separate lives without the least difficulty. Male voices, trotting out internet dating clichés, weld the playlets together. We enjoy meeting the characters a second and a third time, predicting the unguessable denoument. It is excitingly demanding studio theatre. To watch is to become involved and the action proceeds at such a pace, the hour zooms past.

It pushes all the right theatrical buttons for me. I tingle with delight at how much you can buy with an eight-pound ticket! My neighbours in the theatre were not disappointed, either - so that's sixteen quid I saved! Still time for you to treat yourself. It ends Saturday.
There is a lot that’s good about this new writing double bill playing at the OFS until Saturday and you could do a lot worse than spend an hour after work in their presence. However, ultimately both suffer somewhat from a lack of drama.

The concept underlying both plays concerns our emotional attachment to particular music. For the former-Elvis obsessives in “Are you Lonesome Tonight?” it reminds them of their youth when they were rebels and everything seemed possible. For the former-Nirvana devotees of “Heart Shaped Box” it has more sinister overtones as they face the aftermath of a friend’s suicide apparently triggered by the death of Kurt Cobain.

The idea is very interesting and the audience can readily relate to it. Everyone has songs which define key moments in their lives or teenage crushes that seem funny now but meant everything then. Though where exactly is the line between emotional attachment and dangerous delusion? “Are You Lonesome Tonight?” comes close to delivering a powerful piece of theatre on this issue. A middle aged married couple (Dwight and Leanne) arrive at a motel with the intention of following Elvis around every stop of his final tour. As the play unravels it becomes clear that Leanne has spent much of her youth genuinely believing she was going to marry Elvis. As a result, the uninspiring Dwight doesn’t exactly live up to expectations. She comes across as a woman robbed, sold an ideal that never existed. Lizzie Brignall delivers a good performance as Leanne, but a little more fragility would really have highlighted the sadness of her situation.

Although thoroughly committed, the performance of “Heart Shaped Box” never fully hooks the audience. The play focuses on two old friends arguing over their relative responsibility for their friend’s suicide. Unfortunately, the person you find out most about is already dead and so there is little opportunity to relate to the characters on stage. Fundamentally, despite decent writing and believable performances both plays suffer from a lot of talk and not much action. It’s always hard to stay interested in two characters that just sit still and describe events rather than actually doing anything. Therefore, although these plays scratch the surface of something profound, I really wish they’d dug a little deeper.
Grimms Fairy tales bored and depressed me as a child. I preferred even Disney to the tragic, silly stories, peopled with unreal characters and fantasy situations. The Go Catch Theatre presentation, however, present the old tales with thrilling physical theatre - a mix of mime, dance drama and traditional choral-speaking that really is magical!

The eight talented players bring familiar stories to three-dimensional, full-coloured life with wonderful theatrical skills. We journey through the enchanted forest with Little Red Cap, watch her eaten to follow her grandmother into the wolf's tummy only to see them both cut out fully restored. We see the enchanted Rapunzel condemned to her tower and her prince climb her hair. The language is so excitingly delivered, the poetic repetitions resound in echo long after the performance.

There are few shows that extended and entertained me, that I would happily take my children to. But this wonderful little storehouse of traditional tales is well worth taking the family to, albeit they will be up late. On again tonight at eight at the Burton Taylor.
It is exhilarating to recognise that we live in times when, despite all the superficiality of electronic communication, the speed of teleported news and the burgeoning of phone-ins, the THEATRE has emerged to trump all as the vehicle to stimulate insight into our most intimate behaviour.

Alison Goldie's triumph with her self-written, self-analytical show Lady in Bed is a fine example of a growing genre of near-perfect studio drama pieces. Directed seamlessly by Laura Lloyd, Alison's series of finely-judged monologues takes us to the heart of sexual relationships. She achieves this with the high-risk strategy of capitalising on her own experience. This gives the entire evening a credibility and integrity as intimate as that of a a psychoanalyst's couch. Her mature self visits her teenage self to start the dialogue which holds the play together. What is in the sexual Pandora's box for the young Alison? The older one knows and takes them back.

Were it not for the belly-laugh humour woven throughout the seventy minutes, it would be hard to watch - especially a heart-rending scene of the worst possible sexual disaster. It is the reverse, a delightful series of candid revelations that relate intimately to our own most private experiences and gently enlighten. But this is far from preachy theatre, Alison sets us free to use her life to look at our own; to celebrate and laugh with her and to see clearer the rocks in the passage. To come out of a theatre, entertained, informed and positive is the supreme achievement of a very fine writer actor and thinker. You'll laugh a lot and come out wiser. On again tonight. Don't miss!
Alison Goldie’s one-woman show, Lady in Bed, is a real treat. I have to admit I had my doubts at the beginning of the piece, as the technique of ‘turning around to indicate another character’ has never been one of my favourites. The use of mime and discussion of adolescent desire at first seemed a little on the prim and low-key side. However, I was very quickly proved wrong, as stories from Alison’s love life, told to her younger self, ricocheted skillfully from the hilarious to the painful to the moving to the heart-warming.

Highlights include some of the cameos that appear, including an over-earnest Relate counselor and a copper that fancies himself as a comedian. The characters of Alison’s various boyfriends are all extremely clear, without venturing too far into caricature, and the humour Alison brings from her background in sketch comedy enhances rather than trivializes the excerpts from her life. Many recognizable dilemmas and situations are drawn up for us, and Alison proves herself an accomplished straight actor, honestly conveying what must sometimes be difficult to put on the stage (all stories that we are told in this show are true).

A fantastic show with some fresh and genuine portrayals of love and sex, and one that is ultimately optimistic. As one of the younger audience members I felt a bit like Alison’s younger self on the stage being told about the future, and I left with a big smile on my face.

Lady in Bed continues at the Burton Taylor at 9.30pm on Friday 2nd and Saturday 3rd April – highly recommended.
Last night a treasure box was sprung open at the Wesley Memorial Church in New Inn Hall Street. The Afropean Choir sang, swayed, danced, drummed, hummed and harmonised to a packed and appreciative audience, taking us on a magical journey of Africa, evoking rainforest birdsong or the swish of the dry, hot desert. Anita Daulne led our travels, concocted to be soothing to the body and rejuvenating for our world-weary hearts and minds – music to the ears indeed for an exhausted Oxfringe organiser.

I first discovered Anita’s inimitable music at one of her workshops in North Oxford and was excited to hear she was establishing the Afropean Choir. We were lucky enough to persuade her to bring the choir for one of their very first public performances to the Ashmolean Museum as our headline show for Oxfringe 2008. There they took the roof off the Randolph Sculpture Gallery with a powerful and energising performance.

Now two years on, the choir is maturing and developing a more sophisticated style, with syncopated and spiralling pieces, of more complex composition. At times the reverberation of pure African harmonies, at others continental melodies or barbershop styled jazz, the church thrummed with the Choir’s infectious enthusiasm for their craft. Anita and her commendable soloists soared high above the rhythmic sounds of the troupe, who at times became one body of movement. A real treat - we are very lucky to have such talent here in Oxford.
Some understated acting and careful writing moved the audience to tears. Worth a visit when it plays again, which it will.
Please can you pass my thanks to Marie Jones for a fair and useful review of last night’s performance of the ‘Psychic’ Psychologist.

As a result of the review, I’ll be introducing some improvements to the rest of the show’s run. I’ll make sure that I get a volunteer to move the suspicious cup, rather than doing it myself. I’ll also make it clear that I really don’t know the secrets, even from friends (if I’d used prearranged or known facts, I would have bored myself – I love the spontaneity of it all)!

The criticisms were all fair and all the positive comments gratefully received. Thanks!
Never Tell Them by Stuart Lee is a curiously old fashioned slice of theatre, and a reminder that the old fashions were often effective. It takes place just after World War One when Mrs Jones invites a spiritualist to her house in order to try and contact the dead. Her reasons for doing so, and just which of the dead she is keen to contact, form the core of the unfolding action.

The first scene is pleasingly straightforward as the spiritualist Prof Brailey explains the origins of his craft and goes out of his way to justify it as a science rather than a superstition. We can well believe that middle class households of the time would be convinced by such fancies (an obvious tip to Conan Doyle and his garden fairies leads us on) but Simon Holden-White as the Professor rather overplays his hand, delighting in his ghoulishness to such a degree that is clear we from the start we are dealing with a charlatan. This is a shame, as a more ambiguous take on whether the professor is convinced by his own performance would increase the eeriness no end. Matters aren’t helped by that fact that his obvious designs on Mrs Jones, while a creepy enjoyment, have little to do with the central thrust of the drama and only serve as a set up for an easily predicted first scene twist.

Matters improve, however, in the second scene. The séance itself has a delightfully theatrical design that, in its curious details of deception, makes us smile and sympathise simultaneously. The dead are summoned with flair, and when their representative turns up – very much Banquo without the feast - effective staging and a committed cameo make for a great ghost. Michael Fraser does well in a small role, and the decision to leave his exact nature an ambiguous loose thread is wise – are we dealing with guilt as ghostly illusion, or something actually shuffling from the grave?

It is this theme, and the attendant notion of “shell-shock” (long since supplanted by more modern, theoretically more sympathetic views of post-traumatic stress) which drive the play into an emotional final scene. It’s a high wire act, and the author doesn’t always keep his balance – and in truth the ideas put forward about a soldier’s lot are not very original or precise. But the stark contrast between the theatricality of spiritual adventure and the directness of emotional breakdown is an effective one.

Lee wisely divests the last part of the play of any trickery and leaves it to his actors to summon the spirits, which they do with pinched, pained gravitas and unaffected delivery. Steve Hay’s performance as the distressed husband is so introverted that it only just projects, and his monologues are imbued with enough conviction, but not enough performance, to bring them quite across. But Hannah Morrell is so effective a mirror of his frustrations that his agonies are writ large through her, and the two of them are conjoined enough to build to a genuinely moving climax.

Such naturalistic acting is only just able to overcome the terrible acoustics of an atmospheric but tricky venue, and the play’s linear reveals are so old-fashioned that one wonders how often they are still attempted. But when they are done well they can lead to an audience being that rare thing – involved. And combined with a certain simple sweetness in the acting, Never Tell Them reminds us that the old tricks, if done with conviction, can summon the magic once more.
Magic, illusions and conjuring will typically walk in hand with Skepticism. Skepticism with a capital S – the kind of activist rationalism that tells us all to question everything, don’t get suckered by quacks and to watch out for misplaced faith. It’s obvious why of course – illusionists are trained in looking behind how things seem and seeing how things actually are. Surprising, then, when a conjurer seems to have a contrary agenda.

At the beginning of the Oxfringe show Parannoyance, the stage was set like many modern magic shows – a table of props, a screen in the background. Then our host came out dressed like many modern magicians – sleeves rolled up, bright tie, cool-casual smart. This was Matt Prichard in the character of Johnny Façade, and despite appearances it ultimately became clear that he was very unlike a great many of his peers.

There were maybe ten illusions in the show, strung together with a powerpoint presentation on the subject of, more or less, fear. The structure of the presentation was bumpy, though some small parts were neatly conceived and cleverly built, and it certainly enhanced the magician’s effects.

Behind the effects and their sometimes nervous delivery, however, a good number of his tricks depended on similar counting techniques. The maths may have appeared confusing, but it was simply counterintuitive and a clear, logical look at what was going on would reveal most of the mechanics. I’m not saying I wanted more store-bought gimmicks, but a wider mix of techniques would have been more impressive.

At the end of the show, after the powerpoint slides had sort-of coalesced into a thematic whole and all of the fakery was done with, the last ‘trick’ pretty much turned the show on a dime. Suddenly, it became clear what the agenda was. Though the presentation seemed to be following the best-trod path in magic, in the footsteps of the atheist rationalist, we ended on a moment of Christian faith. It was… surprising. It was like a rabbit jumping suddenly out of an empty hat. It was certainly an unexpected, maybe unfathomable bit of conjuring.

Even a mediocre magic show contains a great deal of interest for me, so I was certainly pleased to have seen Parannoyance and, despite my personal lack of faith, I’m left feeling the show would have been better served had the ultimate thematic reveal not seemed so sudden.
I read the review by Chris and I decided to see the show. I'm a foreign student, so please excuse my English. Even though my first language is not English, I was still able to understand the play. Tim Redpath in his play presented a group of different peoples, with various characters. In the beginning I was impressed, maybe because I have never seen any thing like this before. While I was watching it I didn't feel any time bored. Returning to my point about characters I want to say that how he presented them and their life was extraordinary. He presented some different situations from their life, but how did he do it was unbelievable. This play was fantastic and everybody, English and non-English should go!
Despite all her published accolades, prior to the Fringe Festival, I had never heard of playwright and performer Rosalind Adler. In future, I will need to be broke or dying to miss the chance to see her shows. Sadly you will now not have an opportunity to see Jubilate!, which ran most of last week at The New Baptist Church in Bonn Square. Sadly, there were only tiny audiences for most performances.

Those not present missed an entirely original, imaginative treasure trove of interlinked playlets, forming a moving novella-within-a-play. Rosalind achieves this by making a cast of distinct characters emerge fully-fledged before our very eyes by dint of her amazing acting skills. She changes costume and make-up between each playlet, and expounds monologues as subtle and finely-judged as those of Alan Bennett. Not Talking Heads, but REAL people - living and breathing their flawed life perceptions within arm's length. Not caricatures, either. Stereotypes are there, should you judge harshly or prematurely, but since the characters appear in more than one incarnation we are made aware of their whole, discrete selves.

Having introduced us to each person in their separate contexts, the plot moves forward allowing the audience a privileged and informed perspective denied to the characters in the cast. There's a 'frontier' theatrical audacity about her play that will excite regular theatre-goers. For lovers of novels and text interrogation, there is that, too. Furthermore, Rosalind's ability to present and re-present her cast is truly stunning: like a female Ronnie Barker she extracts belly-laugh humour whilst reaching us emotionally. Obtaining laughter and tears within the same play would be an achievement for a large team of actors, so you have to pinch yourself at times to remind yourself that this is just one woman working on her own.

I'm so sorry this review is too late to enable you to benefit from seeing Jubilate! yourself. But the good news is that Rosalind presents her internet dating play, Lol, at the Burton-Taylor Studio from the 7th -10th April. I certainly won't miss that. This woman is a one-off!
Peter's site (http://www.isyourmindsafe.com/index.html) states that "Thought Thief is a startling hour of genuine amazement which will leave you wondering exactly how safe your mind really is."

On that basis, I went to see him. Well, I was not amazed and I certainly did not wonder about my mind. Much of the show hinged on the second trick when four people from the audience were called up and Peter 'read their mind'. Except he didn't. I was one of those people and, well, I won't tell you how it was done but it is really very simple. Worse was the fact that one of my housemates was also called up and he got the instructions wrong. Thus when asked to name the category he was thinking about (numbers) the audience member said 'letters' and so, of course, Peter's total inability to read minds was shown. This meant that Peter really did have to try and read Josh's mind (the audience member) and he was patently unable to do so. As the information in this trick was used later in the show the evening was rather spoilt as the 'spellbinding mindreading' hadn't happened. (To be fair to Peter, Josh is perhaps not a 'typical audience member'. At the end of the show Peter said: "If you've enjoyed yourself I am Peter Antoniou, if I have been crap, I am Derren Brown". I travelled back to Summertown with Josh who was so pleased he had met Derren Brown!)

On leaving Copa I was given a leaflet by Ron Bailey. I will go to see his show. I found Peter's show, though friendly, had too few things going on - on the serious side, he could have mentioned government mind control programmes such as MK-Ultra and Monarch, for example. That would have been interesting.
I went to see Mouche tonight. Tim Redpath is the sole performer. He was fantastic! Alison's review  on this page says it all, so rather than waste time, I urge you to go and see Tim's other one-man show, Prodigal, starting tomorrow.

Key pluses will be:
1. Snappy dialogue
2. Split-second character changes
3. Strong physical acting
4. Innovative directing

The characters:
A story-telling Xhosa woman; a morally dubious Middle-Eastern restaurant owner; an opinionated professor; a shady gangster. I have every confidence it will be fantastic. Go!
An extraordinary performance is given in this one-woman show by Ros Adler. A series of short monologues is presented detailing the various lives of several women, with the central focus being the self-righteous Anna, the Vicar's wife. With clever use of props, interspersed audio, and superb characterization, the various plots interweave until the final denouement. A play full of very comic and very touching moments, I would strongly recommend catching this show when it's next on!
If you're amongst those who have lost faith in the living - language, that is - the poetry-fest at the Vaults and Garden cafe last evening would have restored your hope. Presented were nine talented poets reading in a timeless setting of elegance and artistic splendour to match their original work.

The evening was a literary treat forming part of the Oxford Fringe Festival. Jenyth Worsley is to be heartily congratulated for organising this wonderful gathering of award-winning local poets, aided by the irrepressible Tina Sederholm and including a relaxing musical interval of favourite songs , beautifully sung by Lucy Matherson accompanied by Will Thomas.

But this was no 'Victorian Drawing Room' escapism for the tired and retired. Many of the poems carried wit with the fierce bite of a mad dog or considered deeply-thought philosophy that has the slow-burning acidity to alters the shape of one's consciousness or prejudice. The variety of poetic crafts displayed showed all that is active and fresh in modern poetry. To hear such accomplished work by so many local artists was totally uplifting.

If they do this again next year, don't miss it! The poets were: David Olsen, Louise Larchmore, Tim Greenwood, Christine Koutelieri, Laura King, KV Skene, David Burridge, Elizabeth Birchall and Caroline Ashley.
It's difficult to know where to start. This bills itself as 'a farcical look at how family is the model for political conspiracies and corruption', whilst the Oxfringe programme describes it as 'drama'. Well, the storyline made little sense, there were very few jokes for a farce (about 12, which no-one laughed at) - though it is pretty silly. A sung refrain of 'Please release me, let me go...I have a pain in my big toe' may be slightly funny once, but not, two, three and four times. Nuzzling up continually to a pair of breasts is also not particularly funny as far as I'm concerned. Maybe it's all deep and meaningful and I just didn't get it, but for me the Reflections in a Distorting Mirror by Sheila Clark (Google it) is far better. The timing of the actors was poor and on several occasions one seemed to forget his lines completely. I'm baffled.
I would like to comment on the review of Mouche by Alison Boulton. I am very puzzled by her reference to the novella Love of Seven Dolls as being 'loved and understood by children'. The Love of Seven Dolls - a novella by Paul Gallico which I dearly love - is certainly not a children's book and would certainly not be understood by children. The novella tells the story of a girl who is taken in by a troupe of puppets (though, obviously, really by the puppeteer, Peyrot). The book contains scenes depicting Peyrot's misogynistic behaviour not shown in the play, as well as a brutal rape scene of Mouche by Peyrot - a scene much toned down in the play.

I appreciate the review and am pleased the reviewer enjoyed the performance but I am puzzled at the reviewer's interpretation of the book (did she read it?) and the - well - incorrect comparison she draws between the 'innocence' of 'a children's story' and the 'dark, savage, crudeness' of the play. If one is going to compare the two one must surely have read/seen both.
The Big Bite-Size Soiree: OFS Studio 24-27th March

'Bite-sized' might sound like you're not getting much, but these performers really deliver a feast of exciting, dynamic modern theatre. It is brilliantly scripted and acted with such zest, it is totally uplifting! They performed six short plays at the New Baptists' Church last night, having already performed six different plays at The Old Fire Station! Every play is original and meaty, covering every nuance of theatre from high drama to farce. These performers should not be missed if you are a lover of fine theatre.
'Never Tell Them' by Stuart Lee, New Road Baptist Church at 9.30pm until Saturday

Stuart Lee's award-winning drama returns to Oxford with an all-star cast. The taut, atmospheric play, set in 1918, raises issues startlingly relevant today: how our emotions make us vulnerable to cutting edge 'science'. Then it promised hope to the bereaved. Our fears turn us towards those who appear to have answers. Nothing destroys us more completely than the loss of our dearest love. The play calls for sustained, deeply-felt performances. Hannah Morrell, Simon Holden-White, Steve Hay and Michael Fraser do that effortlessly. If you like theatre that makes the hairs stand up on the back of your neck, it's for you!
Before I formally start this review I want to make one thing really clear: this is an excellent show and everyone should go. Tremendous value for money – one hour of near-flawless comedy. I will be telling the writing groups of which I am a member to go, plus any and everyone else. That said, the show is not without its flaws, its elements of unease. The Soiree consists of six pieces of work, varying in quality of writing but all with a high level of acting performance.

The first piece is entitled ‘Tangled Net’ and stars Philip Dunn, Kate Willis and Clive Wedderburn. The playlette concerns the transmission of emails from and to various parties as a suitor (Philip) tries to woo Kate by sending emails. Unfortunately her Father (Clive) becomes involved – to much hilarity and confusion all round.

The second piece is 'Celebrity' and stars Hannah Brain. Hannah plays someone who is seeking to be a celebrity and becomes more and more hysterical as the play progresses. Each section of the play lasts for just a few minutes. Hannah rushes off stage and reappears in between the other plays. In this way she knits the evening together. The third piece is entitled ‘The Train Stops Here’ and stars Clive Wedderburn, Lewis Reid  and Steve Coulson. Lewis is a suicide bomber. I liked some neat lines about ‘posthumous death’ and the use of the mobile phone, but felt that this piece could have made even more use of the religious themes to humourous effect.

The fourth piece is ‘Tell Someone Who Cares’ and stars Kate Willis and Lucy Turner. The play concerns two people who say one thing to each other but actually think something different – which they share with the audience. This has been done in Oxford by another group (Playbites at the Oxford Playhouse). Nonetheless, the script is excellent, fast, witty – and the actors (especially Kate) show their versatility.

The fifth piece is Cake on a Plate and stars Kirrily Long. Kirrily is the sole actor in this piece. She plays the role of a teacher dealing with a less-than-attentive class. As a teacher myself, this, for me, was the best of the playlettes. Very realistic – at one point Kirrily eyeballed me and told me to take off my headphones. I did a double-take... This monologue was really, really good and all credit to the writer Gina Schien as well as the actor. The final piece is ‘Nice People’ starring Lucy Turner, as a bank robber who is madly in love with someone she took hostage (Clive Turner).

The £8 ticket price is excellent value for money- provided you book in person at the OFS or New Theatre Box Offices, or call the OFS Studio direct on 0844 844 0662. Once again, this is a fantastic production with wonderful actors, fast, well-timed delivery. Go see it!
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