Hotter – Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh

Written & Performed by Mary Higgins & Ell Potter

Directed by Jessica Edwards

Real talk here; what gets you off? Do you prefer to be cold or too warm? How about your toilet trips, how’re they coming? These may be the sorts of questions which make some of us blush, so you better crack a window, it’s about to get Hotter in here. Tired of playing life by the straight and narrow, writers and performers Mary Higgins & Ell Potter are best friends, previously dating, and want to discover what gets you hot, and are tired of playing things cool. 

Chemistry is everything, and unsurprisingly, Higgins & Potter have it in droves. Not only with one another, but with their audience, and while there is little to no direct interaction, the room feels like one unit. It’s a safe space, where all the ‘gross’ or ‘private’ affairs are out in the open, slathered on the floor and up for discussion. Because why the hell not? Why should what makes us tick, how we bump, rub and grind through the world be something confined to closed doors, and in the cases of women and transgender, kept silent? Higgins & Potter have a voice, and they intend on using it to speak for the people they have interviewed, young and old, proud and self-conscious, shavers and growers.

More than spoken word, these interviews have been compiled into a delightful expression of movement, which moves from the ludicrous to the sultry, and the downright addictive. Further enhancing an authentic feel, the tightness of the pair’s movements does slip, they laugh, they tumble and smile at one another, and it completely sells the intent of the show – this is the paradigm of feelgood, inclusive theatre. Twerking, slow dancing and incorporating this movement into the physical aspect of comedy, Hotter may well be a comedy in shape, but it has a sympathy of dance sweats of spoken word beneath.

This comedic form prominently exposes itself cheekily as Higgins & Potter incorporate ‘skits’ into the production, is a piece of brilliance. Imitation is the name of the game as the pair give character to the voiceovers we hear of the interviewees. Ranging across the board, each person feels whole, even if a caricature. There’s a backstory in the way Higgins holds her nose up at the woman who preaches warm over cold, or an understanding slouch from Potter. Additionally, the recordings of the girls meeting with Pommie, Potter’s gran, adds a sincerity which touches a nerve, reminding us that despite the humourous nature there’s emotion to Hotter.

Unabashedly diving arse-first into the opinions and feelings concerning body hair, periods, boobs, body image and masturbation, Hotter isn’t here to educate, to drive opinion or push, this is a chat with sincere frankness in delivery. Reflective of the slow removal of clothes, Hotter doesn’t lunge face-first, it gradually builds, as if reflecting the growing self-confidence in accepting our bodies. Exquisitely simple, comforting, Higgins & Potter aren’t talking down to the audience, nor across them, this is our show, your show and it’s about the women and trans people who just want to talk about these things in as natural a way as possible. 

And that’s Hotter’s strength right there, Mary Higgins and Ell Potter. Who not only write a spectacularly exquisite production but carry it in such a genuine manner that nothing feels clinical or intense. Health conscious forbidding, the desire to leap up, embrace a stranger and feel a connection erupts as the show closes. Returning in August, it couldn’t be clearer that even as someone who prefers the cold, sometimes you just have to get a little sweaty, a little flushed and a lot, lot Hotter.

Photo Credit – Holly Revell

Cirque Berserk – Festival Theatre

Creative Direction by Julius Green

What’s a circus without a tent, but maintains all the wonderous surprises we would find within? Why a Berserkus of course! That’s precisely what Cirque Berserk aims to achieve with their touring production. An amalgamation of more than thirty circus stunts honed within the big tops of the world and melding them into the stages of the UK, pairing the traditional artform of the ring, with the approach of the stage. Motorcycles, gymnasts, clown antics and even the occasional ‘animal’, they certainly deliver on a circus front, but can you really contain such a large event to a smaller, confined space?

Authentic circus experiences (complete with expensive merchandise), made for theatrical setting, this is the mantra for Cirque Berserk. The best of both worlds, capitalising on the idea of staging this production, attempting to communicate the circus experience, but on occasions, scope suffers. Fundamentally, their staging cannot replicate a ring, no matter the construct or innovation. Now, replication may not be the intention, aiming to present a new form of artistic creativity, but at times, the additional space would limit the feeling of a crowding.

Presenting danger in such proximity with the audience though is a game-changer. Particularly the feats of the daredevil Lucius Team, who silence the neigh sayers with their first act performance, and leave them aghast at their return. Exhilarating and occasionally breathtaking, you only need to listen to the audience around to gain a semblance of the impact these stunts still take. Knife-throwing, human launches and trapeze work command silence before thundering applause follow. Occasionally the sadists out there may not sense a genuine aura of danger, but on the whole, the trickery and stunt work is second to none – these are masters of their respective talents, with the Khadgaa Troupe and the Timbuktu Tumblers claiming the right of death-defying feats and the audiences’ appreciation.

An authentic circus requires a focal point, a driving force for the audience to connect with. Storytelling isn’t an inherent part of Cirque Berkerk’s format, it’s a collection of impressive stunts, rather than a narrative performance. We may not build a personal relationship with The Lucius or Khadgaa Troupes, but boy do we find a charmer with Paulo Dos Santos. The comedic heart of the show, with acrobatic skill rivalling the headliner acts, he embodies berserkus nature. He may have a few loose screws to sign up to these stunts, but there are lashings of performance capabilities and diverse skill.

Santos is a weapon of sorts, a key component of what separates Berserk from others of its ilk, but in places, it isn’t enough. There is no question of merit or skill, but there are concerns on originality for circus fans or regular visitors. Only a spattering of sets feels unique, sometimes for peculiar reasons, such as the large, robotic invader who fails to make an appearance outside of his fireworks display or the swooping owl, a brilliant piece of costume design, but peculiar in placement.

No longer do you need to trek into the wilderness to catch the circus, but perhaps that’s where Cirque Berserk loses the magic. Achieving their goal of theatrical experience, the dimensions of the tent don’t carry over, and remove a smidge of the adventure quality. No question of skillset, nor the solid teamwork present by the company, this paves the way for similar experiences within closed settings, but you may find yourself enjoying the spectacle, but missing the crunch of grass beneath your feet, and the warm aroma of popcorn pervading the air.  

Cirque Berserk runs at The Festival Theatre until Sunday March 15th. Tickets are available from: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/cirque-berserk

Allan Stewart’s Big Big Variety Show – Festival Theatre

In the past sixty years, social media has become a dominant force as Great Britain has joined and then left the European Union, gone through twelve Prime Ministers and somehow, Allan Stewart’s career survives it all. Quite rightly, Stewart may host the Big Big Variety Show, we may be celebrating his sixty years in the business, but the celebration is about the industry, the lights, the songs and the people within. With his two best pals onstage, this is genuine entertainment in a manner which, regrettably for some, has died out.

Striking the band, working with them in a way only a comfortable performer can do, Stewart and The Andy Pickering Orchestra once again settle into their old haunt. It isn’t just panto pals who join Stewart on the King’s Theatre stage, supporting the show are eighties’ treasure Mari Wilson and comedian Mick Miller, a legendary comic whose stylings hark back to club gigs. A woman of stupendous talent, Wilson’s career spans decades, rubbing shoulders with the greats, and on occasion eclipsing them. Taking the boy’s sketches in her stride, Wilson rolls with the laughs and warming the audiences cockles, there’s no finer way to celebrate Stewart’s prominence on the scene than with a wealth of vocal talent.

From song to laughter, the inclusion of a comedian at first seems a jarring decision, with a trio of capable entertainers, and from Miller’s first gag we are reminded of the stark difference between a comedian and an entertainer who happens to be humourous. His control is effortless, like a true stand-up if a joke doesn’t land, his rebound does. Puns, crowd work and a few dated jokes, Miller’s finale, a radio drama featuring the story of Noddy, as told by an alcoholic, is a grand concoction of audio humour, imagination and echoes of a genre the audience will connect with.

Let’s face it, much of the crowd is here for The Three (Scottish) Stooges; Allan, Andy & Grant. Chemistry hardly needs to be mentioned in how authentically charismatic and enriching they are with one another, and their reliable delivery of the one thing no crowd can resist – cockups, massive ones, or wee ones depending on who you ask. Taking it all on the chin, Stott and Stewart recognise where the evening is turning, how the scene is playing out and precisely not to fix it, to accept the mistakes, run with them, build on them and cause the audience to howl.

Showbusiness ain’t the same, or at the very least it has (d)evolved into an incomprehensible behemoth of social media, quick ‘likes’ and faux-images. In reality, the construct images celebrities manufacture is no different than before, just quicker to process and digest. Reaffirming the concept of variety, in places, the show suffers from the bulk of music and comedy, it’s an overload. There is something to be said though on Stewart’s capitalising on nostalgia, making a comprehensive argument for it. As he recites tales of the old stars, or his ten-year-old self is projected onstage at his first Barrowlands gig, it’s difficult not to find a fondness for the decades Fame has left in her wake.

Sixty years in showbiz, thirty-nine pantomimes and a dash of fake-tan, Stewart’s career spans a wider pool than the dameship with which many are familiar. Ignoring the idea of a ‘triple-threat’, Stewart decides to tackle different aspects, with some choice impressions to boot. The Big Big Variety Show seems to be taking a permanent vacation, and if this is the case, there is only one way for the city to thank a remarkable Scottish legend, and that is to let him thank the crowds for their support, appreciation and money adoration.

Allan Stewart’s Big Big Variety Show runs at The King’s Theatre until Saturday March 14th. Tickets are available from: https://www.capitaltheatres.com/whats-on/allan-stewarts-big-big-variety-show