amaz- Circuit training
Suddenly Edinburgh is catching up with Glasgow in the number of its comedy clubs. Mark Fisher goes in search of laughter.
Funny thing comedy. Despite its huge popularity at one end of the scale — your Newman and Baddiels. your Eltons and your lzzards — at the other end ofthe scale - the novice end where. of course. your Newman and Baddiels. your Eltons and your lzzards started off — audiences consider it a high-risk activity and generally stay away. Reason being. i suppose. that nothing is more embarrassing than crap comedy. If it‘s crap dance. you can always listen to the music. a crap play might have a diverting story. and a crap ﬁlm is a splendid chance to catch up with your sleep. But with crap comedy. there‘s you. there‘s the stand—up and there's the inescapable agony of embarrassment shared.
And this is stand-up‘s great problem. How can you leam to become a decent comedian when audiences will only tolerate those who are already accomplished? This is exacerbated in
Phil Kay Scotland by the fact that those who have become accomplished. with a . handful of honourable exceptions. have I done so on the London circuit. So I audiences get to figuring. and not j without some justiﬁcation. that Scottish f comedy equals second-rate. And that‘s a vicious circle difficult to break out of. So it‘s pleasing to report. on the . strength of a quick run round the latest f manifestation of an Edinburgh comedy Q scene. that not only do audiences seem to be turning out in reasonable numbers. but also they're getting i reasonable value for money. What counts in comedy is the difference between competence and brilliance. but it‘s still a relief to see that the general 1 standard is a good deal higher than it i might be. If you venture out to the Comedy Stop at the Stepping Stones or The Lost 1 Comedy Club at TG‘s on George
Street. you‘ll find that slickly professional comics are far more common than truly exceptional performers like Phil Kay who is inspiring. as in his recent Traverse gig. even as he ﬂounders in a sea of his own improvisational making. Alan Taylor's talent. by contrast. is far more disciplined and. as a result. somehow less essential. i caught him at TG’s which. with its stage built on beer crates beneath stuccoed ceiling and chandeliers. is a curious and comfortable cross between a polite dinner-theatre venue and a boozy comedy dive. Taylor does an impressive job of keeping a fragmented (and unwarmed-up) audience laughing at his tightly-written domestic tales and he has a lot of fresh. sparky material. But what is Alan Taylor really like? i spent a happy half-hour in his
Resident comperes at the Comedy Stop are The Bri-ilylon Five. There are in fact only three ofthem and only one ofthem is funny. Number two thinks he is funny and number three is a pianist who labours under the belief that what the world of comedy needs is another Richard Clayderman. If they are not as funny as their level of energy and the level oftheir microphones might suggest. it could be because they‘ve spent too much time working up new material — reading out a Natural Law Party leaﬂet does not constitute a joke — and too little time developing an on- stage relationship. There is no apparent need for them to be a double-act (plus mail-order pianist) especially when the best moments by far are the psychotic
company. but feel i know him no better.
improvised rants that the wee-guy- from-Paisley occasionally blusters into.
First guest at the Comedy Stop was endearing newcomer Stuart Murphy who goes in for a spot of good old- fashioned narrative comedy, some shaggy-dog story about a bleeding finger and. if he gets the chance to work it in front of a few more audiences. loosening it up. building on the detail of the comic asides. then he's got a lot of potential.
Then came the surprisingly accomplished - given l‘ve never heard of him before - Andrew Walker who has a touch of Eddie lzzard and Lee Evans about him without being too derivative and without detracting from a naturally buoyant and witty personality. His material jumps about between animals and genitals — rather too much of the latter — but even when our attention wanders. he has enough technical skill to pull us back again. One to watch.
Finally a quick mention to lnsinuendos Cabaret Club at QT's Bar. Picardy Place. The basement bar (once the Comedy Boom) looks just like a rough-and-ready cabaret cellar should. and it has booked in an almost nightly programme ofcross-dressing musical entertainment. hypnotists and karaoke aimed at a gay audience. The act i saw. a drag duo called The Playgirls who wear elaborate costumes and mime to their favourite records. struck me as being rather like Ennio Marchetto without the cardboard. but in this non- macho. anything-goes atmosphere they were warmly received.
See Cmnedy listings/Ur details.
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THE ERPINGHAM CAMP
Arches Theatre, Glasgow. Until Sat 18 Jun.
The world is a happier place for Andy Arnold’s Arches Theatre Company. For Arnold to have had so much success reviving plays from the 1960s can only be because he has an instinctively 60s sense of fun. ills is a pie-Python, post- Goons sensibility, a creative openness coupled with a love of souped-up silliness, that has proved infectious in
a whole series of off-beat productions.
And so to Joe Orton’s short one-acter - extended here to all of Til-minutes by the inclusion of a handful of relatively unfamiliar period songs - about a Butlins-style summer holiday camp that erupts into anarchy after an over-enthusiastic talent show gets out of hand. If you read into this lunatic farce a metaphor for the repression of the British people kow-towing to traditional forces of authority, then it
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50 The List l7--3() June I994
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i‘ .4. revolutionary events that followed four or five years after it was written. If this production has a weakness, it } is that it doesn’t have a firm enough ; grasp of such a social context. The 3 larger-than-life caricatures are fine, but they need some kind of tension to hold them in check; without that, the show borders on the indulgences of an end-of-term revue. But for the most part it works as a daft and breathless romp that, as with Arnold’s previous comedies, is too good-natured not to enjoy. (Mark Fisher)
THE WISHING TREE
Seen at The Tron Theatre. (in Tour.
I The trail of rubbish strewn across the
l Tron’s stage is a surefire sign that we
; should brace ourselves for an
i onslaught of reallsrn. The village
1 inhabited by playwright Martin McCardie’s characters is indeed a
hellish place: blighted by
unemployment and a suffocating
parochialism that conspires to trap its youth into the full-time occupation of being ‘wine moppers’. The heavy- handed metaphor of the play is that even the magical wishing tree is slowly dying, thus reflecting the fate of its people.
Embodying this downward spiral is Dava, played with apt, frustrated rage by Stevie Hannan. An unemployed, 33-
<‘ 5 year-old man devoid of spirit and hope 5‘ a for the future, too frightened ever to i leave the very place that is crippling
Ej l him. Interwoven with his story we
“2 l glimpse that of his father, a man
i clutching at straws, the cousin who ’ escaped to London, the aunt who harbours the terrible family secret and Craigy, the Bucky-drinking friend and sharply written comedy vehicle of the l piece. The problem with the play is that there are too many jarring elements splintering rather than binding the production. Knee-deep in gritty realism, we are asked to suspend belief while a map is produced to uncover the family secret and the brilliantly conceived humour of Craigy is undercut by the unnecessary bludgeoning wit of the father. In short, the audience are made too aware of the themes being tackled, and subtlety is sacrificed for the sake of hammering home a political point. (Ann Donald)
Seen at King’s Theatre, Edinburgh. At Theatre Royal, Glasgow until Sat 18 Jun.
Macbeth as Grand Guignol sitcom anybody? From the Spinal Tap-like opening scene where three Goth babes rise up on a platform surrounded by plenty of dry ice, you get the sneaking suspicion that Adrian iloble’s RSC production of the Scottish tragedy might just be playing it for laughs.
Enter Derek Jacobi as a kind of menopausal Blackadder, with Banquo (Christopher Ravenscroft) a diction- impaired Percy and you know it. Jacobi is the biggest stumbling block. He’s a love of course, and when it comes to stuttering Emperors or medieval sleuths he’s your man, but he doesn’t have the passion or projection for this role. That perky beard smacks more of Saturday evening game shows than homicidal intent. Too often the grand moments of internal anguish and doubt are reduced to the flustered gibbering of bedroom farce, and Jacobi isn’t helped by Cheryl Campbell’s Lady Macbeth, all frock flounces and Stevie flicks perm.
It improves in the rare moments when the principals are offstage cleaning up the castle’s guest suite. Michael Siberry is a fine Macduff, appropriately distant and powerful, although being ‘untimely ripped’ from his mother’s womb seems to have left him with a fondness for ileseltine- style tresses.
The fact that the hairstyles leave such an impression is an adequate summation of the level of tension. You suspect there were more thrills to be had over the road, where the Cameo was showing Faster Pussycat, Kill,
Kill. Turn left at the blasted heath. (Torn Lappln)