Becoming Electra: A Queer Mitzvah – The Studio

Directed by Tash Hyman

Written by Isla Van Tricht’s 

A child of Abraham, but all the same a sister queen, actor and drag queen Guy Woolf/Electra Cute and writer Isla Van Tricht’s production not only examines what it means to be open with yourself in the current world, but also explores the impact of religion, family and culture on one’s existence. Becoming Electra: A Queer Mitzvah offers a compelling, humorous storytelling experience exploring a young queer woman’s journey through life, with just a few songs along the way.

Rabbis to the left of her, queer friends to the right, Electra finds herself struggling with the reconciliation of her identity. As well as fretting over explaining to her Jewish family, friends and neighbours her attraction to other women, Electra also worries about her gay friends discovering her cultural heritage and middle-class upbringing. It’s a precarious situation, in an era of supposed acceptance, where scrutiny still lies with attitudes towards anti-Semitic behaviour on a growing scale. Unafraid of fragility, Electra opens herself up to the audience. With her, we move from her days studying the Tanakh with friends to loft-room poetry readings, leading up to one big ol’ Queer Mitzvah celebration, with plenty of surprises.

Becoming Electra combines Woolf’s natural performance ability with Tash Hyman’s direction, which makes for an outgoing piece with a minimalist approach. Relying on ability, rather than spectacle, it allows the intended message to come across clearly without glam or interference. As such, the narrative journey Electra takes is relatable as she shifts around social groups, slowly accepting herself while finding discomfort in leaving behind her past. It’s a refreshing look at the incorporation of God into gender and sexuality, rather than a flat-out rejection of a higher being. 

As you may suspect, comedy plays a substantial part in Van Tricht’s script. Woolf’s drag prowess allows Electra to control a crowd with relative ease. Still, we gain a semblance of the person behind the performance. Woolf is awkwardly charming in his mannerisms as Electra, with extravagant facial expressions as her story culminates with a drunken mother, the free the nipple campaign and a touching connection with her grandfather. You also don’t have to be one of the faith to understand Woolf’s humour. Indeed, even those outside of London can understand the references made by Woof, including mentions to suburbs or shopping centres known for their Jewish communities.

Part of what makes Becoming Electra such a success is Van Tricht and Woolf’s dedication to not merely re-hash covers of songs from or about Jewish musicians, but instead adapt the lyrics and composition to create uniquely entertaining musical interludes. Excluding a sensational climax, which showcases Woolf’s vocals in a way which has been noticeably lacking in projection thus far, a take on the ever classic ‘Reviewing The Situation’ from Oliver! takes the song beyond stereotyping, turning it in on itself. Woolf’s voice here is a soothing affair; enticing, yet natural and refraining from showboating.

L’Chaim! all around for Becoming Electra: A Queer Mitzvah, which captures the party atmosphere but still allows an intimate look into a cross-section of cultures many will only partially connect with or previously know existed. Wholly personal, Woolf communicates with a broad spectrum of people, which works tremendously in the production’s favour. A one-woman drag show, Woolf’s role as Electra offers a glimmer of light in the endless, bleak darkness of hopelessness. It is a sobering, wonderfully warm show.

Review originally published for The Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/becoming-electra-queer-mitzvah/

Tommy Tiernan: Paddy Crazy Horse – Rose Theatre

Performed by Tommy Tiernan

For just one night only, the lyrical prowess of Tommy Tiernan’s topsy-turvy language could be found reminding the inhabitants of Edinburgh the power located in the basement of Gilded Balloon’s Rose Theatre; a tremendously lively venue which is often cast aside outside of Fringe time. Irish through and through, Tiernan’s Paddy Crazy Horse is a stand-out routine where brief snippets could be removed from context, slapped into soundbites and you would have a seller there and then. 

Before asking, yes, Tiernan is Gerry from the sensational creation which is Lisa McGee’s Derry Girls. Thing is, Tiernan is a veteran of the comedy circuit, he’s a basement dweller. Not one to be found in the gilded halls or arenas, preferably in the dank, dingy confines of club undergrounds, a candle-lit illumination the only helpful presence to identify the man. Without a warm-up or blowhard introduction, Tiernan walks onto the stage, says his hellos and casually strolls into his routine which builds momentum until it is a force of insult, wit and grim commentary which cannot, and will not, halt.

If you’re easily offended, or quick to judge, in the kindest way possible – don’t bother showing up. Never a stranger to controversy, indeed it seems to follow Tiernan from the homeland, around the UK and then the states and back. Tiernan’s set pieces reinforce his Irish heritage, where family and national humour sits as a focus. There’s a tremendous amount of ‘angry logic’, a passion-driven delivery of intense aggression which thrusts humour into the room, smashing itself into listeners. It’s that exceedingly wonderful variety of stand-up where the audience laughs, then feels a pang of guilt, a delicious sound to hear from a room who refuse to admit they found something ‘offensive’ comical.

Conversational in construct, Tiernan’s routine isn’t reliant on significant subject matters, and is more a general chit-chat, even if it seems to be with himself. Without relying on audience interaction, his comedic roots lie in observational humour with a stem of identity and satirical jingoism. While this shouldn’t cause an issue with many audience members, there will be the occasional one who finds it odd to identify with Tiernan’s humour. His reliance on the occasional gag which has fine delivery, but dated subject matters such as men vs women, still hits the mark, but bruises the funny bone less than one would hope.

One for an accent or two, Tiernan doesn’t so much aim at any particular target, rather his shots spread themselves far and wide. In terms of performance, no doubt a testament to his acting ability, they hit. He’s a superb storyteller, hanging the room even when taking elongated pauses. Whether it be exaggeration or physical, the punchlines can hit hard, particularly the ones we didn’t expect, those sneak remarks which seem to have fallen by the wayside, only to circle and strike us in the back of the head.

Tiernan is a breed of comedian who refrains from plunging into the foray plenty of new generations of stand-up venture into. His act isn’t designed to entice media presence, drum up deliberate scandal or downward punches. Tiernan is who you are coming to see, and who you will receive, no character or false pretense. His set isn’t dressed up with obvious targets or cheap, easy-to-reach gags. It’s an evening of shooting the shit, living life, take shots at himself, his family and anyone while appreciating stand-up for its roots in the bars and clubs.

Review originally published for The Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/tommy-tiernan-paddy-crazy-horse/

The Two Popes – Edinburgh Filmhouse

Directed by Fernando Meirelles

Written by Anthony McCarten

With an audience of around 1.2 billion (give or take), Pope Francis, head of the Roman Catholic Church, arguably has the globe’s largest draw of worshippers, certainly exceeding actors, directors and writers. Some welcome his influence in an age where many criticise the Church over its inability to ordain women, its archaic views of sexuality and failures to tackle bureaucracy within. His predecessor, disagreeing virulently with Francis, may have just been the man to recognise this ability. Now if that isn’t a sound premise for one of the industry’s esteemed biopic writers, then we don’t know what is.

Delving into a subject many would resign to niche, Anthony McCarten’s The Two Popes squeezes each ounce of enthralling drama from one of organised religion’s most frustratingly difficult modern periods. With little surprise either, given McCarten’s previous work with award-winning biopics The Theory of Everything, Darkest Hour and Bohemian Rhapsody. An excavator of character, McCarten is an alchemist of biographies, homing in on aspects which are enticing for audiences, offering insight at the underbelly, though never to the off-putting degree. The same is true for the lives of Pope Benedict XVI and then-Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, who would later become Pope Francis following Benedict’s resignation.

Moving from the stage, it’s evident that McCarten’s screenplay still rings of its theatrical counterpart, particularly in the staging and framework of Anthony Hopkins’ conversations with Jonathan Pryce. Much of the film is centred on dialogue, discussing world issues and individual moralities. Naturally, Pryce is in his element, and it’s clear to see in his movements that Meirelles’ has put some form of staging into his direction. Visually, the film is superb, entirely cinematic in thought-process, Mark Tildesley’s design work gorgeously reflecting the hollow emptiness of the Vatican halls.

The two stars retain the English language, for the most part, dipping into Latin or German when appropriate, but the physical transformations are spot-on. Particularly Hopkins static, open-armed frame of an ailing leader, coming to terms with his redundancy in a fast-moving world. It stretches into the comedic elements, Hopkins’ Pope Benedict XVI, a man noted for his less empathetic approach, with a profoundly German wit ricochets well against Pryce’s more conventional pun making, the two naturally flowing from one to the other.

Reliant on Pryce and Hopkins, it’s no wonder The Two Popes is in safe hands. Profound character studies, blending histories, McCarten draws parallels with Bergoglio’s history with the atrocities surrounding Pope Benedict’s time as ‘Il Papa’. A scandal to shudder the church, the concealment of child abuse sharply turned the public eye towards the secrets of organised religion. Acknowledging Pope Benedict’s involvement in the cover-ups, this is not the focus of the narrative, but instead focusing on Bergoglio’s lesser-known past, and the ‘betrayal’ he feels to have committed in South America, which feels like a side-step from controversy. 

Their flashbacks mark a tonal shift for the film, which for the most part has conducted a slower pace, reflective of the men it marks. The cardinal who once whistled ‘Dancing Queen in the Vatican bathrooms, who sought the piety of life, was of course, once a man. Juan Minujín’s performance offsets Pryce’s jolly, humble exterior for an aggressive, younger Priest who had a part to play in the ‘Dirty War’ of Argentina. 

Concealing itself behind the visage of stuffiness, try not to judge The Two Popes on subject matter alone. For while it focuses on two men standing as the pinnacle or relics of religious spiritualism, the meat of the film centres on adversaries who find harmony within one another. A striking visual splendour, humour rippling itself in the vein of the script, Pryce and Hopkins carry McCarten’s delicately humane adaptation, with meticulous direction to present a true event. It encases a playful stretch of accounts of how these two men, a progressive moderate and a conservative leader, would find a common ground, and a love for tango dancing.

Review originally published for The Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/the-two-popes/

The Two Pope’s is available to stream on Netflix from December 20th