Fringe Friday: Weeks Two and Three
We apologise for the interruption in service; as regular subscribers (a select group that you can join!) will know, the Seagull team has been down with COVID, so we've ended up missing a number of shows we were really looking forward to, and also publication of last week's edition, therefore this week's Fringe Friday incorporates some of the shows we saw immediately prior to our illness.
Rob Marks, Ghost Walk of the Lanes
The Lanes, 14/05/22
If you’re looking for a very fun way to spend an hour and a half in Brighton’s delightful Lanes (and you’re not too squeamish), then look no further than the Ghost Walk, hosted by the extremely dramatic Silas. We had a lovely amble while we heard about gruesome murders, amorous ghosts and vengeful lovers, stories told in a very Horrible Histories style with campy props and exaggerated facial expressions. This isn’t one for the serious ghost hunter, and perhaps the passing stag/hen dos and typical-Saturday-night-in-Brighton vibe of nearby pedestrians added to the jovial nature of the tour, but they did not in any way detract from the experience—it was genuinely a very fun, informative and exciting way to learn about some of the more insalubrious parts of Brighton’s past.
Biscuit Barrel, No Time to Digestive
Rialto Theatre, 14/05/22
The Biscuit Barrel entertained and delighted a packed out Rialto. Their mission: to go back in time and kill their bad, unfunny characters, a sort of 'Joke Patrol'.
Featuring diss track raps ('Call me Santa because I'm breaking your clause'), groanworthy jokes ('Most Richards are dicks), and the return of some old favourites like the Annual Practical Jokers Committee (we really love those guys), the gang's quest to hone their material worked well as a mechanism to keep the show moving forward.
It's always a joy to see them, and we're looking forward to seeing what their future holds: they joked in-show that it's for nice memories and a good time over promising and fruitful careers, but here's hoping that's what lies in store.
Disclaimer: One of the performers is a personal friend of the reviewer, but one she's known for long enough to be brutally honest with if she doesn't like his stuff.
Real Positive Poles, After Dusk: The Improvised Twilight Zone
The Walrus, 15/05/22
The Fringe is home to many shows that do improvised versions of well-known formulaic media properties—this year includes Wes Anderson films, 90s sitcoms and perennial favourite CSI. Reaching back to older but no less fruitful material in seminal 60s US twist-story anthology The Twilight Zone, Real Positive Poles turned audience members' anecdotes (a guy who didn't go to work because he thought it was a bank holiday) into impressively coherent "episodes" (a man whose job is automated away and finds himself arrested because his compulsion to work is too strong). They managed to capture both the aesthetic features of the source material—the constant smoking-and-scotch '60s Americana—and the thematic and structural elements, to the point where the first "episode" they presented was pretty much the inverse of Time Enough At Last.
It is also both incredibly funny and intensely engaging: while you're laughing at the performers' intentional witticisms, smooth integration of verbal stumbles into the improvisation or unconvincing American accent, you're getting drawn into the fiction they're creating. The atmosphere is heightened by the presence of an on-stage violinist who accompanies throughout. If you feel like taking a journey between the pit of man's fears and the summit of his knowledge, you would do well to take a trip, after dusk, to the improvised Twilight Zone.
Disclaimer: Some of the performers are personal friends of the reviewer, but one of them is the one whose American accent he was calling "unconvincing" in the review so hopefully it all balances out.
Alice India, Be Brave (or Whatever)
Caroline of Brunswick, 15/05/22
An admittedly-hungover Alice India brought her bawdy, confessional humour to the Caroline of Brunswick, culminating in a 'friend wedding' with none other than your reviewer. That might sound strange even by Brighton Fringe standards, and it certainly felt like everything had gone off the rails (in a very fun way), but we'd argue it epitomised what the month is all about: being slightly too hungover to be laughed at (we were distracting her!), reminiscing about the past (the March 2020 lockdown) and making Very Intense Friendships with people we might never see again. But we do hope that's not the case here, new best friend Alice!
Hannah Fairweather, Just A Normal Girl Who Enjoys Revenge (WIP)
Caroline of Brunswick, 22/05/22
Brighton Fringe is a wonderful festival, showcasing some of the world's best comedic talent... and also some of the worst. Hannah just wanted to convince us that she wasn't among the worst, and succeeded in doing so!
The show is true to its name: she is just a normal girl who enjoys revenge, and spent her hour-long show taking us through the list of people who have wronged her. And why shouldn't she? As she ruminates, Santa has a list of names and he's never called petty. And they're children's names.
Her and the people, they've got bad blood. She wants them to take a look at what they've done. They've got problems that she doesn't think they can solve, and they made a really deep cut. She was thinking they could be trusted; did they have to ruin what was shining? Did they have to hit her where she's weak? The world moves on, but not for her: all she thinks about is karma. She got smarter, she got harder... This is getting away from us, let's move on.
(The joke here is she's the Taylor Swift of comedy.)
She takes us on a journey from being a formal accountant in financial planning ('Until March 2020 which shows you how good I was at financial planning') to her shitty former colleagues, her former agent taking a dark turn, and her time at a religious university in South Carolina on a golf scholarship. It's as wacky as it sounds. It's not like I want the list to grow, but I am worried for the next person who wrongs her: she takes requests.
Dharmander Singh, Bollywood and Birmingham to Berlin and Brexit
Temple Bar, 22/05/22
I first came across Dharmander Singh while he was flyering in 2019. It was my first Fringe, and I was keen to talk to anyone and everyone handing me a flyer while walking through the epicentre of Fringe flyering, New Road. But in midlands solidarity I vowed to see him, and seeing him now three years later I feel I made the right decision.
He’s an incredible physical actor, be it his angry dad impression, his retellings of Bollywood films, or just the people he’s met through his life. Dhar, as he’s known to his friends, gave us an insight to what it was like growing up for him: encountering situations where he felt out of place no matter where he turned (he didn’t mean to upset his new Muslim friend, he just loves sausages), and what to say when people ask what your background is (his is computer science and English), and why you should always buy a ticket on Berlin trams (their inspectors are plain clothed!)
The show has changed a lot in the years since Brexit started, but one thing has remained true: immigrants revitalise the areas they live in, and Dhar is keen to impress that through his show. Everyone has prejudice, he tells us, but it’s about how you accept your prejudice and meet those who you’re prejudiced against to learn from them that matters. Because at our core, we all want the same things, and it doesn’t matter what people think Dhar is: it’s what he thinks he is. And he’s someone who is very much worth going to see if you want to leave entertained, shocked, and full of hope for the future.
Joe Foster, Hits The Roof
Caroline of Brunswick, 23/05/22
Twenty minutes before this show started, I pulled up a video of Joe Foster and said ‘if I laugh in the first two minutes, I’ll go’. A dangerous challenge, because I ended up laughing very hard and going to see Foster in-person—and I’m very glad I did! Full of Brighton-centric comedy about Hanover Community Notice Board and how certain Brighton history fans have a bit too much time on their hands, he managed that rare skill of balancing audience interaction with written material. He’s incredibly funny both in his scripted comedy and ad-libbing, riffing with D&D players (just take magic mushrooms for D&D in real life) and the owner of the venue alike. Go here for the very funny joke that made me decide to go, and then go and see him for yourself!
The Odditorium, Whisper of the Stones
Brighton Spiegeltent, 25/05/22
The queue ran the whole perimeter of the food court for the latest outing for the Odditorium, hosted by Brighton-based curator of the curious David Bramwell. These shows are always a Fringe favourite for me—indeed, I found myself queuing behind one of last year's Odditoriators, John Higgs. Unfortunately, I found this particular outing left me cold. I felt, for the first time with this event, the sensation of not quite vibing with the speakers—whether that be due to their somewhat unpolished style of presentation or their failure to translate the clear enthusiasm they had for the evening's subject (megaliths) into something that connected emotionally with me. There were interesting facts and anecdotes sprinkled throughout, and there were points when I almost felt like I was 'getting it', but then I'd once again be told to hug a henge-stone, for reasons that still aren't entirely clear to me. I think perhaps the singular focus on rocks hurt the show's ability to reach me. Last year's outing had one talk on William Blake and another on foghorns—even if neither engaged you, you could hardly say it was for lack of diversity in the subject matter. This one, though, was strictly for the stone-heads.
A Million Dreams Theatre, Revelations
St. Mary's Church, 26/05/22
Performed in the grand Gothic surroundings of St Mary's Kemptown, this play brought together an early-career cast and crew for a tale of spiralling blame, and recrimination after a theft from a Church's collection. The story told was arresting and intense, there was much smart staging—the use of "parish gossips" as a Greek chorus of sorts was particularly good—and effective blocking, as in the confession scene. What the venue added in atmosphere, however, it somewhat detracted in practicality—dialogue became echoey and difficult to hear more than a few rows back—and while the cast were full of brio, most seemed to be slightly under- or over-acting, which sadly does not average out. The play's sketch of parish life seemed to slide in and out of focus: sometimes capturing with brutal precision the alluring but slightly queasy nature of congregational gossip, but also has a priest who seems very much to be one of Mitchell and Webb's Incredibly Horrible And Twisted People Who Are Still Unaccountably Vicars. However, while its reach sometimes exceeded its grasp in terms of execution on ambition, it was still a thoroughly enjoyable performance, and doubtless future efforts from cast, crew and writer will see rough edges removed and allow the full promise shine through.