Friday, May 29, 2009
Das Fenster 26/5
Holmbush describe their roster as 'folk step, poetronica and kittencore' – well I get the first two, but not too sure about the third. Maybe it was epitomised by Steve Elston, who sang quirky sweet songs about being treated 'like a horse', with a neat guitar style, charming the audience with his delivery.
Harry Neve combined electronics, sampled soundscapes and guitar with an engaging set, and Kopek impressed with a solo set of amazing guitar work and melancholy songs.
I'd only heard Das Fenster's demo but thought I'd pop down on the strength of that, and they far surpassed my expectations. A five-piece of German, Dutch and British origin, they comprise female vocals, double bass, violin, bassoon, guitar and sweet, sweet harmonies. The set of beautiful dreamy summer songs kept the audience enthralled throughout. Quite marvellous.
But Copperdollar at the Black Lion rose to the challenge and met it with panache. I'd never normally set foot in the Black Lion, drinking in the Lanes being one step up from West Street, but the venue was rendered unrecognisable with Mexican Day of the Dead decorations, a coffin, giant skeleton and staff dressed in amazing Mexican outfits with painted skull faces.
Every aspect of the night had been thought through meticulously, with a house band playing amazing rock n roll versions of songs like Don't You Want Me and Stayin' Alive, and sporadic outbreaks of cabaret performance – two skeleton people dancing a raunchy tango, a funeral parade passing through, a conga snaking round the bar.
They call it 'immersive theatre' and that's a great description, happening all around you, constantly surprising and with attention to every last detail. It was just a pity that they only ran for two nights, but with the amount of work and participants involved, I don't really blame them. Copperdollar were worthy winners of Best Cabaret in the Latest Brighton Festival and Fringe awards, and I look forward to future events if they're only half as good as this one.
Oh- and the Blind Tiger Club didn't come away emptyhanded – they won Most Groundbreaking Event, so I hope to see them again soon too, when the dust has settled.
Monday, May 25, 2009
Antony & The Johnsons 21/5
The preponderence of songs from recent album The Crying Light highlighted their qualities in a way I've not got to grips with on CD, displaying a pastoral character almost in the English folk song tradition, and two rousing standing ovations showed the audience was in no doubt we'd been witness to a truly extraordinary performance.
Group Doueh, Omar Souleyman/ Marina Celeste, 20/5
The guitar playing verged on the psychedelic at times, but the harsh sound mix proved a less than pleasurable listening experience, and the band never seemed to get into a groove. Syrian Omar Souleyman was a different proposition. The sound sorted out, he started with a long vocal intro before the rhythms kicked in and his mojo started working on the eager audience, inspired into bursts of 'ethnic' hand-dancing to his infectious Arab pop.
Then it was a nip onto a bus for Marina Celeste at the Speigeltent. Marina is one of the multutide of breathy French female vocalists to add her talents to the three albums by Nouvelle Vague, who re-work punk, new wave and 80s classics into a bossa-nova style. She's now working on solo material, and her elfin charm, cheekbones and sexy French accent wowed a packed house as she slunk and skipped her way through impressive original material and Nouvelle Vague classics. Lovely.
Monday, May 18, 2009
Eric Walton Esoterica, 16/5
A dapper New Yorker, his entertaining show at St Andrew's Church combined a raffish wit with tricks that just left you wondering how on earth he did that? He's on again next Saturday afternoon at the same venue, and appearing nightly as Mephistopheles in And the Devil May Drag You Under, an entertaining late-night musical comedy revue.
The Art of Not Looking Back 15/5
The physicality and precision of the dancers' moves was astounding in a beautiful piece with an underlying darkness. It's always hard to impose a narrative or decide what a work like this is 'about' but debate raged in the pub afterwards with fellow audience members as we'd all interpreted it in different ways – probably all of us wrong!
This is the first time I've seen Shechter's work and while modern dance is often a 'difficult' medium, I'm sure he'll be winning hearts and minds through amazing works like this.
**** UPDATE: This show won 'Best International Act' at the Latest Festival and Fringe Awards
Lady Carol of the Moon 14/5
That was everyone's reaction last night after a staggering performance by Lady Carol of the Moon, a vivacious Irish musical comedian with a ukulele and one of the biggest voices you'll ever hear. Despite the comic interludes, delivered with an easy charm and engaging verve, this was a dark, unsettling show, opening with a version of Nirvana's Heart Shaped Box which perfectly set the tone for the rest of the evening. The take on Radiohead's Creep genuinely sent a shiver down the spine, and The Show Must Go On was almost heartbreaking.
The couple of hundred of us in the audience were left in no doubt that we were surely privileged to have witnessed this startling one-off performance at St Andrew's Church, and if Lady Carol returns to Brighton, I'll be first in the queue.
However, the same couldn't be said for the Raymond and Mr Timpkins Review show later that evening at the same venue. Raymond and Mr T deliver a hilarious wordless physical comedy performance, using fast-cut snippets of songs which they mime to using placards with mis-heard lyrics, in a high-energy performance.
Unfortunately the acts in between their sketches were frankly appalling: a woman who wouldn't have lasted two minutes in an amateur open mic night and a man who made noises from the Battle of Britain until you wished the Stukas would appear and put us all out of our misery. Final stand-up Noel Brittan almost saved the day and was genuinely funny, but one out of three ain't good.
Erpingham Camp, Palace Pier 13/5
One of notorious writer Joe Orton's lesser knows plays, the play is set in a Butlins-style holiday camp, and deals with power and pomposity and what happens when you lose your grip on absolute control. But there's a twist - the audience are actually part of the show, divided into three groups and joining the action as it races up and down the length of the Pier from three different perspectives. An electric performance from all the actors, and a theatrical tour de force to perform three plays in one and hold it all together.
Not for the fainthearted who can't cope with a bit of audience participation, this is an astonishing show and very funny to boot.
Tuesday, May 12, 2009
Janis & And the Devil May Drag You Under 11/5
One minor criticism is the lack of amplification, as the church's acoustics occasionally swallowed the more intimate moments of the piece, but the sheer energy of the performance itself more than carried the event off. If you missed it, there's another performance on the 16th of May.
Late-night at St Andrews is And the Devil May Drag You Under, a deliciously camp cabaret with musical comedy from Frisky & Mannish (pictured above), stunningly fit acrobats and aerialists and the obligatory hula hoops and nipple tassels, all in the most inappropriate setting. A special mention for Devil Des O'Connor, whose panache, comic songs on the uke and cheeky humour soon perked up a smallish Monday night crowd.
Legless & Harmless, The Haunted Moustache, Aviator Club & Voodoo Vaudeville, 9/5
Dave Bramwell's Haunted Moustache was an entertaining monologue about the weird (and true) experiences Bramwell had when he was bequeathed a Victorian moustache in a glass case from his great-Aunt. Funny and engaging, St Andrew's church was the perfect setting for a quirky and very Brighton show.
It was hula girls, 20s hot jazz and nipple tassels all the way for the last night of The Aviator Club at the Speigeltent and Voodoo Vaudeville finished a marathon evening with surreal comedy, odd films and a star turn from the hit of the Fringe, 75-year-old cabaret artiste Lynn Ruth Miller, whose show Ageing is Amazing gives us all hope that there's plenty of fun to be had even if you don't have all your own teeth.
Monday, May 11, 2009
Spacedog at the Marlborough 8/5
Coming on like a bunch of science teachers putting on an end of term show, Spacedog charm, beguile and surprise with their collection of home-made electronic instruments, including a rack of small bells programmed to work automatically, and an odd construction of steel tubes stroked with a bow to produce eerie other-worldly tones. And of coursethere's a musical saw in there too.
Taking in songs by Brel and Weill as well as originals including a tribute to the original spacedog, the hapless Laika, Jenny Angliss’s soaring vocals augmented by her sister Sarah's electronics, Spacedog's Marlborough show provided a magical escape to other worlds.
The second part of the show was a re-creation of a Victorian seance, conducted by Professor Wiseman. We sat in the darkened room, having contemplated a number of objects which would invoke the spirit of a long-dead music hall star. Holding hands in a circle, the collection of objects before us identifiable only by luminous strips to make them visible in the dark, there were gasps and screams as the wicker ball flew into the air, and the tambourine clattered on the table, sending the candlestick flying. All Victorian parlour tricks of course, but you could see how a gullible audience of a previous era could willingly believe the spirits truly were amongst us.
Lynn Ruth Miller at the Quadrant
With no buildup, Lynn Ruth's week long late-night residency at the Quadrant's Laughing Horse club became a word of mouth success, pulling in audiences from twenty-somethings to slapheaded oldies, drawn by the sheet quirkiness and charm of this musical comedy show.
By turns shocking, filthy and touching, Lynn Ruth has an innocence in her performance which leaves you gasping incredulously “Did she REALLY say that??”. Taking up comedy four years ago at the age of 71 after a career as a writer, she's showing that her life experience is a rich mine of hilarious comic potential and I hope she achieves her ambition to pop her clogs onstage at the age of 99. I'm sure she'll get what she wants.
The Oyster Princess, Brighton Dome 6/5
Unfortunately the words “Belgian” “jazz” and “silent film” don't necessarily draw in a crowd, and sadly the Dome was only half-full for this treat of an evening.
The first half was disappointing, a 20s film about a femme fatale 'exotic' Chinese dancer in the dance halls of Piccadilly with plenty of smouldering glances and lively dance sequences. unfortunately it was cut up tediously repetitively as if by an over-enthusiastic VJ, and the improvised soundtrack bore no relation to the film's movement or spirit.
However The Oyster Princess was a different matter. A genuinely funny film with a ludicrous storyline of a spoiled rich girl who wants to marry a prince, this time the soundtrack perfectly complemented the film's action, adding to its comic potential. Disappointing that events like this don't have a wider appeal as it was a thoroughly entertaining evening with plenty to smile about.
Breaking News, Theatre Royal Brighton
Set in the plush surroundings of the Theatre Royal, Breaking News stripped the stage back to the bare walls, with a bank of TV monitors, cables and racking to bring us a riff on today's news from around the world.
Real-life journalists from Russia, Germany, India, Syria, Iceland and South America took us through that night's 8 o'clock news from their own country, describing the top news stories, stopping and rewinding to return to noteworthy stories, changing channels around the region to find something more interesting (it was s slow night for news), bouncing back and forth between each other.
This was interspersed with autobiographical details about each individual's career in the media, and readings from ancient Greek texts about the Persian wars, the context the modern parallel with the war in Iraq, and being a story of the bringing of bad news.
However, coming in at more than two hours in length with no break, the show could have done with some judicious editing, requiring as it did extreme concentration from the viewer. The Persian war readings just reduced those sequences to a snail's pace and added an extra unnecessary layer to an otherwise challenging show with an original and fascinating premise.
No Fit State Circus at the Brighton Festival 28/4
Originating in Ireland with the aim of training people in the community in circus skills, NoFitState features an international cast of aerialists, trapeze artists, and even a clown, whose spectacular mishaps from on high provide the laughs in the show.
The action takes place in and above the audience so you're constantly moving around the big top, as performers swoop above you, or bounce from one side of the tent's roof to the other. The performers have an astonishing level of fitness, providing an entertaining and impressively physical experience.