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

Oor Wullie The Musical – King’s Theatre

Book & Lyrics: Scott Gilmour

Music: Claire McKenzie

Director: Andrew Panton

Being blunt, the concept of drawing on an eighty-year-old comic script – rife with slang, Dundonian heritage and is as quintessentially Scottish as Irn Bru chews and Haggis Pakora could leave a potential unpleasant taste in the mouth if done tacky. Capitalising on nostalgia is by no means a new fad, and Oor Wullie, aye that annual yer granny gets you which you never bothered to pick-up has been delighting kids, and big ones across Scotland for decades. It would also seem, that with the right knack, embracement and know-how, Oor Wullie is a fandabidozi musical.

Coherently nostalgic, yet modern, Claire McKenzie and Scott Gilmour craft a sentimental production which captures a thick vein of Scottish humour while pumping it full of enthusiastic energy, maintaining the comic’s origins, and ensuring a modern spirit of inclusion. Frankly, the coming months will be a trying period for us all, particularly those who may not ‘look’ Scottish enough, thankfully we can look to the past to hopefully lead our future.

Young Scot Wahid, whose parents originate from Pakistan, starts a new school in a country where he has always called home, even if fellow students seem confused about his origins. Finding solace in the library, under the watchful eye of the librarian Dudley, a touching reference to original animator Dudley D. Watkins, Oor Wullie lands himself in trouble again, emerging from the very annual Wahid finds solace in. No longer in Auchenshuggle, Wullie and the gang must adapt to this peculiar world. Through Kenneth Macleod’s vivid designs, directly out of the Sunday Post, emphasising the comic roots for the characters with layers upon layers of colour, effects and one very special Wullie Wagon.

Lifting the skirt of risqué, Oor Wullie capitalises on the countries passionate thirst for double entendres, in-jokes and having a belter of a time. None of the jokes feels harsh or targeted, levelling off as safe for the whole family. The entire cast achieves a brilliant sense of comic timing, particularly Dan Buckley’s Bob and Ann Louise Ross as the charmingly befuddled PC Murdoch. The cheeky chappy himself Martin Quidd tackles the role of Wullie, exaggerating to accentuate the comic-strip background. His chemistry with the entire gang is tangible, but with a touching reflection found in Eklovey Kashyap’s Walid offers a real sentimentality amidst the frolic and fun.

Course, it wouldnae be right to celebrate eighty years of Scotland’s favourite son without a little music, now would it? McKenzie’s musical composition carries Gilmour’s lyrics well, capturing the overall tone of the production. Though a mixed lot vocally, there’s a communal sense to the vocals rather than a polished feel, almost folky. Standout numbers offer a fleshed-out role for Leanne Tarynor’s brilliantly portrayed Basher Mackenzie, and what may at first raises eyebrows as the gang don saris, is a meticulously well-structured number, with taste, humour and delightful choreography courtesy of Chi-San Howard.

All across Scotland Oor Wullie could be found perched upon his pale from the cobbles of Edinburgh to the high streets of Dunfermline and was an expression of the astonishing artistic talents of over two-hundred designs. Now, here is the chance to meet the lad face-to-face, leaping from his two-dimensional form, with a breath of life befitting his cheeky demeanour.

Review originally for Reviewshub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/oor-wullie-the-musical-kings-theatre-edinburgh/

Photo Credit – Tommy Ga-Ken Wan

Strange Tales

Based on the stories by Pu Songling

Adapter: Ewan Macdonald

Written & Directed by Pauline Lockhart and Ben Harrison

Our nightmares may be home to Kelpies, Redcaps and Banshees but for a different culture, who grew with the stories of Chinese writer Pu Songling, who five centuries ago wrote over five-hundred tales of demons, beasts and spirits, this is the fuel of their midnight imaginations. Join us in expanding your horizons of folklore but be careful not to stray far from the path of twilight, or these Strange Tales may claim you before the morning light.

Tying a creative meta to the narrative, as these tales are told, we come to realise that the deeper we delve into the heart of fantasy, the less likely we are to escape, enveloped, seduced by these spun tales of fox spirits, ghoulish lovers and small creatures living in our gaze. Just eight of Pu Songling’s stories are premiered for the first time on a British stage here in Edinburgh, but will any of the audience be able to sleep this evening?

Spearheading this revival, Grid Iron Theatre Company are offering more than a mere re-telling, instead, a conjuring of Songling’s creations. The stage of the Traverse is raised off the ground to intimately thrust directly into the audience. Karen Tennant’s set design offers quite enough detail to transport us to the humble settings of a storytellers canvas. Torn cloth, laden with symbols, drape into the crowds below, where one can’t help but feel a chill in tonight’s performance, despite the warmth of our hosts.

And luckily, we have three spinners of tales to safely guide us, well, we hope. Co-writing the premise, from Ewan MacDonald’s translation, Pauline Lockhart is the Scottish core of Strange Tales, bringing a rich humour, which is the most fluid of the three, though Robin Khor Yong Kuan brings a roguish charm to the antics. Performances vary, With Lockhart’s young lad from Paisley seeking the talents of ancient masters from the East a standout role, as is Luna Dai’s take on the antagonistic fortune teller. It is though, a combination of sleight of hand, magic and some finger puppets which captivates the audiences. As Khor Yong Kuan’s ‘Big Sneeze’ takes us intently out of reality and into the moment.

With a cacophony of stories, ghouls, effects and characters – it was bound to cause a tripping hazard. There’s an ounce too much, which unbalances the performance and stifles what should be a spectacular finale. In a twist to the parable, Lockhart confronts the three spirts of Paper, Clay and Light, previously shunning the warnings of delving too deep into these tales. The spirit of paper, another of Fergus Dunnet’s live effects is a strong start, but it is video design from Bright Side Studios which spellbindingly ties together the arts of modern technology and ancient storytelling.

That said, even with the power of the Light spirit, and impressive fight choreography from Philip Ho, it feels excessive in the closing act, as Pauline tosses and uses physical prowess, rather than wit or word, to evade the spirits. It seems to be acting against the general lessons, where many of the evil spirits are outwitted, only resorting to physical violence when cornered. Instead, here it feels shoehorned in, that with all the grandeur of puppets, visuals and tone, there was no way to write their way out of the scenario causing abrupt conclusions.

At its height, Strange Tales is sumptuous stage sorcery which places storytelling above all else and echoes a profound admiration for culture, narrative and theatre. This is a quintessentially traditional show for the festive period, it just so happens to be a tradition many here are unfamiliar with. Fusing a Chinese and Malaysian Chinese heritage with a Caledonian tongue, Strange Tales is a welcome addition to the world of folklore, a triumph of bracing theatre.

Review originally published for The Reviews Hub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/strange-tales-traverse-theatre-edinburgh/

Photo Credit – Tommy Ga-Ken Wan