… And This is My Friend Mr Laurel – 2015 Edinburgh Fringe

Arthur Stanley Jefferson, better known to the world as Stan Laurel, is visiting his old friend Oliver Hardy. 'Babe' has recently had a stroke, cannot speak, and is represented by the frame of a bed (too small for the real Hardy!)

The show is a mix of reminiscences from Stan about the boys' career, from start to end, and some reminders to the audience of some of their routines, with Jeffrey Holland doing both of them.

It's a bit of a mix: there's not enough of the routines for casual fans, and not enough insight for the more dedicated ones. I enjoyed it, but as a biography piece, I didn't learn anything new.


(Seen 'in preview' but this show has been touring for two years.)

Lysistrata – 2014 Edinburgh Fringe

In comparison with previous Fringe visits, I hadn't seen many plays and this – an adaptation of the Aristophanes' classic play, first performed in 411 BCE, of women going on a sex strike to end the Peloponnesian War – sounded interesting.

The original's large cast has been reduced to two women playing multiple parts, and the action set in 4014. It is also the men who are the ones who are about to stop having sex with their partners, because women run things, including fighting a long-running war.

Alas, the adaptation's language wasn't very good and the performances were much more suited to the Shakespearian monologues they are also doing for another show. Had I had more time in Edinburgh, I'd have happily seen that, but I walked out of this after about five minutes.


On at noon at George Next Door (venue 430) until the 12th August.

Macbeth – Greenwich Theatre

The production that is based on the line "If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well / It were done quickly"?

Shakespeare's shortest tragedy is cut still further in this adaptation: a cast of six (five men and one woman) take on (nearly) all the roles. As they don't change costume, this is sometimes a case of speed over clarity, as when the King becomes one of the witches simply by not leaving the stage between scenes. For no very obvious reason, the set of actors playing the witches even changes between their first and second appearance.

You probably do need to be familiar with the play to work out who someone is supposed to be at any point – when the actor who played Banquo a minute ago is present as one of the other nobles at the dinner attended by Banquo's ghost, for example – and it also suffers in comparison with the Shakespeare's Globe production last year. Anyone who saw that won't have forgotten the Porter opening the gate.. he's one of the things that's gone here, his performance taken away in a different way.

But it moves along quickly and if not always too well, then effectively enough. The lighting and sound design works well with the simple set (sheets supported by wooden beams, with three slits for entrances and exits), plus the violence is shown effectively without needing to resort to splatter effects.

The audience I saw it with included two school parties. One section laughed at some inappropriate moments, but the applause at the end was thunderous.


Dial L for Latch-Key – Etcetera Theatre

The worst professional production I've seen was of a play called On the Playing Fields of Her Rejection at the Drill Hall early in 1996. The flyer was fabulous, promising mix of lesbianism, astronomy and gardening. The reality was tedious, biting the carpet bad. At one point, the play featured a solar eclipse and, when the stage lights went out, there was nervous applause from those who thought that, at last, it was over. No, and there was no interval for people to leave during either. So they were openly leaving in the middle of scenes. Come the real end, I remember at least some of the cast looking suitably embarrassed. (Amusingly, the director still has it as a proud point on her CV, even if it is noticeable she doesn't appear to have ever directed anything else.)

Why do much on that play? Because this one is not much better. Again, the publicity was great:

We tried to dial M for Murder. But instead, we accidentally dialed L for Latch-Key…
A plotting husband who strongly resembles Ray Milland…
A framed wife as eleganced out as Grace Kelly…
An Inspector straight out of Monty Python…
Hitchcock would be spinning in his grave, if he weren't suiting up for his cameo.

The idea of spoofing Hitchcock's films is great. (See Mel Brook's film High Anxiety, for example.) But here what is supposed to be a mash-up of his greatest hits is merely messy. Film titles clunk when dropped and, a couple of sniggers aside, it's simply not funny. In the penultimate words of the piece, "it's just stupid". It's also very short at just over half an hour. Normally that's a bad thing, especially at the price, but here it's more of a relief.


My Trip Down the Pink Carpet – Apollo Theatre

I need to confess to never having heard of Leslie Jordan, the author and star of this autobiographical one-man show, before today. Half the audience knew him through a role on Will and Grace (it's a American TV 'situation comedy', m'lud) for which he won an 'Emmy' award.

The story is how he ended up being able to make a joke about taking the Emmy statuette to bed, "the first woman I've ever slept with", on live TV despite starting out loathing his homosexuality. It's also indirectly the story of how the audience – a list of names in the front row is dropped – applauds him for doing so, as does the audience here, in contrast to the homophobia of years ago.

In wondering whether or not to see it, I came across a review that wondered how many of the audience would have heard of some of the names that get dropped, like Faye Dunaway and Cloris Leachman. Erm, the main target audience, people for whom Sylvester's Do You Wanna Funk means something, will know them, even if they prefer Dunaway in Mommie Dearest to, say, Bonnie and Clyde.

As well as the showbiz gossip, he covers his childhood in Missionary Ridge, Tennessee (which I had heard of – it was the site of a battle in the American Civil War) where his father died when Jordan was aged eleven, through numerous crushes on other boys, to his decision to go to the only local gay bar.. with a little help.

He also covers his drinking (he credits the experience of being in a rehab group with a hundred straight men as teaching him how to be a man), drug use ("look, a pill on the floor, take it!") and promiscuity (his accountant said he knew when Jordan was working because all the street hustlers had new trainers). One noticeable omission is any mention of HIV and Aids. For someone who arrived in Los Angeles in 1982 and spent years partying on the gay scene, it is not possible for HIV not to have had a major impact on his life.

After writing this, I had the thought that it reminds me of an extended version of the scenes in La Cage Aux Folles (the original French film version, of course) where the effeminate Albin is attempting to 'butch up' to pass as heterosexual, but ends up a star as what he really is.

It's a good mix. I laughed a lot, and the night ended up with a standing ovation from a large portion of the audience. You probably know whether or not you'll enjoy it from the subject matter alone.


The Overcoat – Brockley Jack Studio

Despite living two minutes away for over a decade, it was only late last year that I first went to the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, blush. This was the second visit. The run had sold out, so an extra performance was added on the last day…

The Nikolai Gogol short story The Overcoat is adapted from is a classic of Russian literature. Akaky Akakievich Bashmachkin, an aging clerk copying endless documents in some St Petersburg government department, is bullied because of his threadbare coat. The tailor refuses to patch it again so, with the help of a bonus, a brand new coat is ordered. When he's dressed in the replacement, everyone treats Akaky very differently.. until it is stolen after a party for him (or was the party for the coat?) leading to his death.

Chris Bearne as the hero does both the bullied and newly confident Akaky very well within the limitations of the production, but those are substantial. A story about the way people are judged by their possessions and their jobs has stayed relevant for over a century, but this is largely missed, with too much of it set 'pre coat'. It does feel nicely Russian though.

Akaky's return as a ghost is also miswritten. The original story ends with the ghost visiting, and terrifying, a high ranking official who had refused to help recover the coat (and also had enjoyed terrifying the office Akaky worked in). The ghost leaves with the official's coat and is never seen again. Instead a second ghost starts haunting the city, looking like one of the people who had stolen Akaky's coat.

Here, Akaky's ghost turns up, smokes – productions should post 'contains smoking' warnings, especially in small spaces like this – and makes the lights go out. The end. Hmmm. Given the pace of the script, it was more of a relief than a fright.

Another oddity is that it was advertised as being 75 minutes long, but despite starting eight minutes late, it still finished 'on time'. Did something get cut? If so, it was the wrong bits.