Banff Mountain Film Festival – Festival Theatre

For many years now a Canadian treat has found itself a warm home in the centre of Edinburgh, as the Festival Theatre hosts the Banff Mountain Film Festival in the shadow of our very own Arthur’s Seat. An international film competition, originating back in 1976 from the Canadian town of Banff, Alberta, the Mountain Film Festival celebrates upwards of 300 films, whittling them down to a final competing set which tours globally.

Promoting two spectacular programmes, labelled Red & Blue, Banff Mountain Film Festival moves from a simple evening affair into an experience for the whole day/weekend. This evening, witnessing the Red programme first-hand it cannot be stressed how envious you feel knowing others in the theatre were smart enough to catch both programmes. An evening of accomplished filmmakers captures the mind-boggling intensity of human endurance, far-flung cultures, and on occasion, our compassion towards one another and the environment around us.

There’s little which can be gained in reviewing the films showcased at the event, as the quality of each is superb. What is striking, however, is the variety in which the audience find themselves sampling. If onlookers view this as an event purely for the climbers, extreme sports fanatics or hikers – you couldn’t be more mistaken. Banff has polished their festival into a welcoming environment, with brief, but efficient live interludes to introduce film segments and handle this evening’s most important aspect; giveaways.

Particular highlights which, in essence, capture the event’s atmosphere spectacularly are the found in Danny Day Care, Reel Rock: Up to Speed and a near feature-length tour edit of Sarah Outen’s four-year journey across the globe. A tremendous piece, not only as an example of the human condition but of time-lapse film making keeps the audience on tenterhooks for the entirety of the film. Other films provide a fount of knowledge, both for the accomplished enthusiast and those of us spooked by the heights – and on occasion, a whole heap of unexpected hilarity. 

It isn’t all about the big-budget however, select small-scale productions still invigorate a sense of adventure, containing the sort of fear-inducing stunts which would panic any mother. Celebrating dedication, Thabang offers an account of Thabang Madiba’s dedication and eventual pay-off, becoming the first black South African to represent the country in running. Touching, with multiple first-hand interviews, it’s an accomplished piece which opens our eyes to sporting legends and competitors we hadn’t known existed. 

Still, at the heart of it all there’s an element of business, but a tasteful display rather than corporate. Transforming the festival into a full-blown event, people taking inspiration from there films, or even just keen beginners can find merchandise for Banff themselves, and the occasional piece from other suppliers and sponsors of the events.

Whirring, it transforms the Festival Theatre in a peculiar way not traditionally associated by many of the traditional theatre crowd. An award-winning lineup, with an award-winning team of producers, runners, hosts and event staff – there’s little wonder why the Banff Mountain Film Festival draws in a diverse crowd of eager film watchers into Edinburgh, finding itself as an annual tradition awaiting discovery for many more.

Tickets for the Banff Mountain Film Festival can be found at: https://www.banff-uk.com/tickets

Banff Mountain Film Festival finishes it’s Scottish tour in Glasgow King’s Theatre on February 25th

Edinburgh Gang Show – King’s Theatre

Directed by Andy Johnston

Musical Direction by Andrew Thomson

Dance Direction by Louise Williamson

Once a year, chaos, music, dance, fabulous costumes, and those young at heart or young in years descend upon The King’s Theatre to light up the frosted evenings of the capital – and the Panto doesn’t even start until next month. No, this time we’re talking about one of Edinburgh’s illustrious performance groups which stands along with The Bohemians or Southern Light as the peak of amateur theatre – The Edinburgh Gang Show. For over sixty shows now, the gang has been an integral part of the cities theatrical heritage, with no signs of slowing in this slew of vibrant majesty. 

At first, the array of performers on stage have their difficulties working with such volume in numbers, but overcome these issues remarkably, having a reliable understanding of the stage. Andy Johnston has always had an uncanny ability to bring together a wealth of Scouts and Girl Guides, drawing together gang shows of past, present and even glimmers of the future. This 60th show contains all of the gags, nudges and football jabs you may expect, but there have to be a few surprises lurking beneath all those jazz hands and gooey gowns.

Continuing to capitalise on Louise Williamson’s choreography, the gang pay tribute to the dames and dappers of Hollywood’s past, with a spectacular movement piece to the classics of musical theatre. There isn’t exactly structure to the production, more a showcase of talent which bleeds into the next – sometimes with no explanation, other times with an acknowledging gag to the lack of coherent connection. An honest admission, it still causes a few bumps and grinds to the flow which, yes, can be overlooked, but needn’t necessarily have been issues to begin.

So what you might expect is dancing, there may even be a few songs, but variety is a core element of The Gang Show. So yes, these jokes are meant to be bad, the puns are the height of dad humour – and we adore every second of it. It must be said though, that whilst the humour takes a back seat to the other talents, especially some exceptional dance routines, we get the occasional bout of originality, and a few choice celebrity guests from William Wallace to The First Minister and a certain chart-topping Scot whose love for crisps might rival his adoration for number 1 spots. Singing Someone You Loved, Mackenzie Woolard captures the tone of the song marvellously in a number to be proud of, characterising Lewis Capaldi rather well. Nowhere though, does the seamless blending of gags and vocals merge quite so well than a trip to Andrew Lloyd Webber’s world-renowned feline musical.

Alisa Maclean’s rendition of Memory, a pinnacle of musical theatre’s illustrious history, is given a fantastically inventive twist which we daren’t spoil. Not only are the vocals rather sublime, but the goings-on, decisions and timing are exceptional. Offering a break in the tumultuous number of routines, this brief snippet showcases the vaudeville stylings of the gang marvellously, with the ‘stage-hands’ causing as much mischief as they find physically achieve. Indeed, along with the likes of Tatiana Honeywell’s subdued, spellbindingly impressive performance of I Wanna Dance with Somebody, which showcases the team’s most elegant choreography, this evening is very much in the hands of the ladies.

Shaking things up a bit from the straight routines and belting it out for the women in the audience, Kelsey Main strikes out with Speechless, meanwhile Jessica Lyall who too performs during the Medieval Mayhem segment, who has so far been dominating the stage with fluid footwork, turns towards a vocal performance as she and Main show the ‘lads’ of the round table just how it’s done. This said, the male dancers, a few of whom have been paying attention to their toe-points such as Andrew Brown, have the makings of terrific dancers, particularly for comedy routines as they treat us to a little unexpected Spamalot leading up to the show’s climax.

What a finale, a solo performance from young Matthew Knowles whose performance of I’ll Always Remember You This Way gives a brief chill of a future career in the arts. Marvellous control, which sets up the farewell to a few members who, like Brown, will be leaving the gang this year, but in their place, they leave behind a legacy of achievements, memories and hope that the future performers will match their dedication and canny. 

And as a 60th year closes for The Edinburgh Gang Show, bright prospects for Scottish theatre remain. A wealth of talent, across all moulds of the stage, there’s a rich community making a stamp on Edinburgh’s history, and evidently, it’s future. From the smallest soprano to the older twinkle-toes, mirthful in enthusiasm, this 60th show serves as it does every other year, to showcase the capital’s talent, spirit and community.

The Edinburgh Gang Show runs at The King’s Theatre until Saturday 23rd. Tickets available from: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/gangshow

Photo Credit – Ryan Buchanan

An Evening with Elaine C. Smith – Festival Theatre

Warm-up Act by Johnny Mac

There are a few things which capture the richness of Scottish culture, art and theatre quite like actress, comedian, and all-around character that is Elaine C. Smith. Scotland’s auntie, there’s no better way to spend an evening than in the company of an entertainer who is just that – family. From The Steamie right through to Two Doors Down, Smith has been keeping Scottish smiles going through it all, and she has no intentions of stopping.

Warming us up, the home-grown talents of Johnny Mac offer a comforting jovialness to the evening, but while his passion may lie in ‘silly’ jokes, there’s a silver tongue lashing around. There’s a timeless quality to Mac’s set, striving not to rely on easily punchable targets in politics or fame, instead, he continues a familial feel. These are the sort of gags you share with your cousins or granny when she’d clout you round the ear if you swore. His work with Smith in the panto makes him a fitting warm-up act, drawing fire at the various regions of Scotland with pantomime mirth.

The glittering main event, naturally gifted, Smith is quite at home on the stage, treating it like the front room, stopping for a chat, regaling us the odd anecdote of her career – wedging them around honest humour which provides more than simple laughter. A cosy evening, a chance not only for Smith to entertain the audience, but to express her thanks for their continuing support.

In this age of comedy, it takes a great deal for a comedian to carry off jokes which centre around the archaic notions of ‘men and women’, and yet, Smith is capable of keeping these alive. Not only this, current with insight on the changing dynamics of gender, Smith touches on her championing attitudes for woman across Scotland. Complete with a stirring rally cry for those of us in an industry where, things are never easy, especially for women, and that the illusion of being handed fame on a platter may seem tempting, but soon the meal grows cold.

Never forget – Smith has pipes. It’s no secret, star of the Susan Boyle musical I Dreamed a Dream, Smith has taken to the roles of Miss Hannigan, Betty in Fat Friends and a staple of Glasgow and Aberdeen’s pantomime history. This evening, however, any ideas of a comedic singer, with vaudeville roots are displaced as Smith delivers a tingling rendition of I Will Survive, alongside a special guest. Marvellous control, it takes a tremendous restraint to equalise tempo with an operatic performer – without straining to override the performance, Smith blends the harmonies.

Not only here for the comedy, we’re also after a right good gab. It wouldn’t be an evening with if we didn’t have a few insights into the woman behind the performances. Regrettably, rather than taking live questions from the audience, Smith is instead prompted with a selection of social media questions. The answers we receive are enlightening, enjoyable, but have an air of rehearsal. With such a wit, it’s a shame Smith isn’t able to cut loose and fire back into the crowd who no doubt have a few hidden gems among them.

Kindly, Elaine offers translations for the awfy posh folk of Edinburgh, the mark of a true Lady. It’s the smallest of punches like these, that offer a sense of playful welcoming. Smith is a Scottish woman through and through. West coast born, as one of the few Glaswegians who loves Edinburgh, Smith is a representative of Scotland. All of Scotland. No matter if you’re a Dundonian, Teuchter, Buddie, Fifer or an unfortunate Aberdonian, Elaine C. Smith is a treasure we all share.

An Evening with Elaine C. Smith was performed at The Festival Theatre, Edinburgh.