Edinburgh Festival Reviews

I’ve been in Edinburgh on and off during August, doing some reviews for a couple of local magazines, The List and Fest. It’s been great fun – I’ve seen some great stuff as well as the inevitable dross – but rather post all my reviews here I’ll paste a couple of samples with links to the rest of them.

Winner By Submission
Derek, Winner By Submission’s odious protagonist, lives by the snappy motto: “Life is a cage fight.” It’s an apt metaphor: sitting through this lopsided new play by American writer William Mastrosimone feels a lot like watching a couple of ring-rusty cage fighters halfheartedly going at each other. There’s a decent move or two at the start, then lots of heavy-handed rushing about, before someone (in this case the audience) is finally pounded into surrender.

Greasy, lank-haired Derek is the friend from hell: he lives in his parent’s basement, dreams of being a pro fighter, drinks copious amounts of Budweiser, and generally acts like a spoiled brat. The latter mainly involves bullying his putative friends, geeky Kelly and preppy Jared (or is that Jerry? The carbon-copy nasally American accents are difficult to decipher).

So far, so “suburban America.” However, when Derek introduces date-rape drug GHB into the equation (and into coquettish schoolgirl Shannon’s drink) the lines between fantasy and reality become hideously blurred.

At least that’s the intention. But while Derek’s dark fantasies of gang-raping Shannon and broadcasting the event live on the internet are real—and scary—enough, Jared’s sudden change of heart is not only out of character, it destroys any dramatic potential (though it ultimately saves Shannon).

In the end, Winner by Submission lacks the courage of its own convictions. Mastrosimone purports to shine a light into the dark hearts of men but shies away from revealing what lurks within. This play wants to be nasty, LaBute-ish and short – but in the end it’s just short.

Henry Paker’s 3-D Bugle
“I’m Henry Paker and I approached Nick Faldo in an airport when I was 12.” For most comedians, writing for Mock the Week and 8 Out of 10 Cats would rank higher in their career achievements than a chance encounter with the 1996 Masters Champion – but then Henry Paker isn’t your average comedian.

Paker’s standup mixes off-the-wall observations about conventional subjects (mobile phones, clothes, toasters) with wild, anarchic flights of fancy. In lesser hands this would be a surefire recipe for comic disaster but the tall, shaven-headed Englishman’s commanding presence and chaotic wit has the audience rolling in the aisles for vast majority of an action-packed hour.

There is a script—or it least there seems to be—but Paker is at his gleefully misanthropic best when throwing it out the window. The discovery that an audience member is reading “The Taxidermist’s Book of Recipes” (or The Embalmer’s Book of Recipes, as its author calls it) leads to an extended, inspired riff about a Swiss doctor stuffing foxes with beef to present to the King of France.

Although his humour is mostly observational, Paker has no fear of throwing physicality into the mix. He bounds excitedly about the stage, jumping onto empty front rows and using his not insubstantial frame to great comic effect.

Paker is a riotous, iconoclastic star in the making. On current form, bumping into former golf icons in departure lounges won’t be his main claim to fame for much longer.

The rest of my Fest reviews are available here and my reviews for The List can be seen here.