Misbehaviour – Edinburgh Filmhouse

Directed by Phillipa Lowthorpe

Written by Rebecca Frayn & Gaby Chiappe

Beauty with a Purpose,’ was the slogan for the longest-running beauty pageant, Miss World; one which didn’t come into effect until around 30 years after the contest’s conception. This saw the addition of intelligence and personality ‘points’ to deter from the previous, purely aesthetic decisions in judging. Misbehaviour from director Phillipa Lowthorpe focuses on the catalyst which sparked this change in the pageant.

Miss World 1970 is fresh from record-high viewership the previous year, and a group from the Women’s Liberation plan on disrupting the event. Begrudgingly at first, history student Sally Alexander (Keira Knightley) joins Jo Robinson (Jessie Buckley) in an attempt to draw attention to the abusive control of the patriarchy, and how the objectification of the women involved in the contest reinforces this for future generations. All the while the pageant dodges controversy, threats and attempts to secure legendary American comic Bob Hope (Greg Kinnear) to host the event.

Here we stumble on the first step, which is the heft of capability with this cast; so much that our attentions are spread. Just as a scene or interaction builds to an investable conclusion, there’s another plotline which needs addressing. Kinnear, who perhaps has the trickiest task as Bob Hope, attempts to offer dimensions to the role, but there isn’t enough screen time for the presence to sink in. It’s an amiable performance, a canny likeness, but Kinnear is only able to capture the misogyny, not the man attempting to live up to his notoriety. Revelling in the raffish attitude is Rhys Ifans, as Eric Morley, ‘Mr Miss World’, alongside Keeley Hawes as his wife Julia. Ifans is hammy, even by his standards, but it works due to Morley’s attitude, his larger than life persona.

Pitching itself as following the formation, and propelling the coverage of, the Women’s Liberation movement, Misbehaviour intends on also showcasing a semi-biographic of Bob Hope, Eric and Julia Morley and Jennifer Hosten, Miss Grenada. All stories worth their salt, but the division means little weight sits on the shoulders of analysis; there isn’t time to invest, to hate or to cherish these characters. Particularly so in the case of Gugu Mbatha-Raw, who offers much promise as Hosten in the brief, but invested, snippet scenes she shares with Knightley. 

Overly considerate, Misbehaviour seems a little too British for its own good. Rebecca Frayn and Gaby Chiappe’s script leans towards the pleasantly accessible in focus, rather than the bold. It doesn’t follow its narrative journey, that while the women in the film know where to draw out the big guns, the filmmakers seem to try and concentrate on finesse for comedy and whopping out the sledgehammers for commentary, achieving neither.  

There is though, a cleverness to aspects of the screenplay, particularly in the reinforcement of allegories drawn between the objectification of women and reflective attitudes. Had this been maintained throughout, Misbehaviour could have been a spectacular comedy-drama. From the hopeful’s measurements, their constant corralling on stage and off, and the numbered discs present on the women’s wrists and ‘rump cam’ shots, Frayn and Chiappe build on this image of the contest as a cattle market. 

It’s perhaps a backhanded compliment, but there’s little inherently wrong with Lowthorpe’s film. On the whole, Misbehaviour’s intentions are admirable, and for the bulk of the film the humour balances, the interpretations of people are held throughout, but there’s a division in narrative arcs. Everything feels three-quarters full, that there’s more emotion to draw out and deeper connections to be made. Sitting at just under two hours, Misbehaviour could have easily held an audience for a further fifteen minutes, even half an hour, which would allow the film to serve as a tribute to all of those involved, rather than the couple we hone in on.

Review originally published for The Wee Review: https://theweereview.com/review/misbehaviour/

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

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