Life of Si, or Si-ing to get a job in TV

Life of Si, Si Harder at the GRV, Edinburgh Fringe

This review was first published on The Skinny’s website.  There are lots more reviews of comedy from the Edinburgh Fringe there, and other stuff besides.

Ever wondered what it would feel like to be in a live studio audience? Well, you may just find out with this comic double-act who have been wowing audiences with their combination of live performance and pre-recorded material with some clever interface between the two thrown in.

The show is a collaboration between Simon Feilder and Sy Thomas, a pair of talented, emo-inclined media enthusiasts with bundles of charm and an elusive yellow teapot named Alan. The venue’s comfortable couches and warm atmosphere are skilfully exploited to recreate the pair’s shared flat, lending a sitcom feel to proceedings.

The alternating live and pre-recorded pattern becomes a little repetitive and at times the transition between the two feels awkward. But the duo’s live interaction with the multimedia element of the show evidences potential comic genius and maybe even a TV career or two.

You can’t help wanting to see a little more of the live show and less of the pre-recorded material, but with a quirky take on traditional performer-audience banter and possibly the funniest a cappella impression of contemporary indie music you’re likely to hear, this show is well worth an hour of your time.

Absolute Best of Absolute Beginners – not quite true but quite good

Here’s my review of Absolute Best of Absolute Beginners.  A decent bunch of Scottish stanp-up acts battling against a venue that’s more like a hot lab than a theatre, but they shine through and earn an easy three stars from me.  First published on The Skinny’s website. Lots more Edinburgh Fringe reviews available there.

These guys are really up against it. In a Fringe dominated by international acts and TV celebrities, it can be difficult for local talent to shine through. Add to this a venue that’s all flourescent lights, that familiar sweaty warmth of Fringe stages and an indundation from the heavens just before the show went up. But from the midst of adversity, Absolute Beginners brings a decent show that has audiences laughing and cringing with just about the right intensity to send you back out into the rain with a smile on your face.

Don’t be fooled by the name either: some of these locals have experience under their belts, and you can tell. You won’t find a bad act here, but look out for Matt Winning for instant laughs and Eddie Cassidy for a hilarious take on that most Scottish of comic subjects: drugs. There’s a total of eight comedians in rotation of five per night. The quality is mixed, but on the whole it’s worth the effort. A good show to see if you want to catch a glimpse into the home-grown scene.

Edinburgh Festival Time – The Comely Banking Crisis Reviews

Summer reviewing in Edinburgh

Not noticing that it’s festival season in Edinburgh is like not noticing a punch to the face, but if you haven’t, well, consider yourself told.  The Comely Banking Crisis will be doing the odd review for The Skinny here and there, posted up here.  But before I go and inundate myself with plans, any suggestions for things to see for the rest of the fest would be much appreciated.  I’ll be posting my reviews here, but you can also find them plus many more on The Skinny’s website.

Here’s a review of Sarah Campbell’s show 27 Up.  Honestly, it’s a great show.  Four stars!

27 Up may be a free show but you can’t help but feel genuinely privileged to be in the room with Sarah Campbell as she takes the audience through one charming autobiographical anecdote after another.  What begins as deceptively simple banter with the audience ends upcareering through everything from family to 1980s politics to sexuality, and not without a significant amount of uproarious laughter on the audience’s part.

The concept, based on the Up television series, is a reflection on Campbell’s life at regular intervals, this show being the first in her 27 years.  Needless to say, a second instalment is planned for 2037.  This future perspective is central to the show: expect to be asked to communicate with the future audience (which may just include you, considering the show closes with each audience member receiving a free ticket for the sequel).  Campbell’s sharp, conversational style and story-telling bring an atmosphere of intimacy and camaraderie to the venue.  At 30 minutes, the show is a little short, but has abundant freshness and charm. You won’t get many more chances to see Sarah for free.  Don’t let this one pass.

How many times can I get drunk in the same suit?

I haven’t blogged for ages, I know.  If you want to know what I’ve been up to: weddings, weddings, and more weddings!  Two of them conincided with holidays, so I suppose I’ve been on holidays as well.

Apart from that I went to see the Glasgow Boys exhibition in the National Gallery on the Mound in Edinburgh.  I love the Glasgow Boys but I have to be brutally honest: this is a mediocre exhibition.  Nothing wrong with the works on display here, but they could have done a lot better with curation.  The soporific dungeon below the gallery is challenging at the best of times and when an exhibition is added to this space with minimal expense or effort, it’s not going to be good.  And despite the fact that they are attempting to show us an almost ‘behind the scenes’ picture of the movement in question, it’s amazing how poor an assemblage of works this is for a Scottish Gallery doing an exhibition on Scottish artists.

But it’s the explanation that I find completely perplexing: the fact this is running concurrently with a far superior Glasgow Boys exhibition in the Kelvingrove Gallery in Glasgow!  Why two?!  Well, the Edinburgh one would seem to claim that it’s complementary, showing us the Boys’ inspiration and the cultural and artistic context in which they worked, but I have to say I am only aware of this from subsequent research, not from the exhibition itself, and one could fairly easily walk in and out of the Edinburgh exhibition and remain unaware of the main event in Glasgow (and feeling a little short-changed, despite the fact that this is FREE!).

If you like the contemporary painting then check out John Squire’s Nefertiti exhibition in Edinburgh’s Henderson Gallery.  Several paintings generally around the same concept are for sale here.  The idea is Miles Davis translated to canvas by a Stone Rose. It’s free – do it!

PS – pictured: Spring, by Thomas Millie Dow (a Glasgow Boy).

Johan Grimonprez at the Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh

Johan Grimonprez at the Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinburgh

Edinburgh’s Fruitmarket Gallery is running an exhibition of films by the Belgian artist and filmmaker Johan Grimonprez.  It runs until 11th July so there’s still plenty of time to see it.  It’s well worth a visit but you have to be prepared to sit down for a while as the two highlights last in excess of an hour each.  There are a number of items to see here, the main draw being Double Take, Grimonprez’s newest work written by Tom McCarthy and featuring Alfred Hitchcock meeting his double.

However, most visitors will likely end up remebering the 1997 production dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y, a somewhat gruelling film about plane hijackings and subsequent media coverage that will certainly cause you significant stress.  If you’re about to fly in a plane somewhere, I strongly advise you not to watch this!  It’s a powerful and frightening take on a subject that has only grown in our collective consciousness since the film was previewed in the late 90s.  The only solace is that this is an experiment of sorts which demonstrates the shock factor that the media has in reporting terrorist attacks.  That is, when you leave the room at the end, that feeling of pure sickness at the bottom of your stomach is your own little piece of proof that the media do engender fear; your own fear is the evidence.  Why was this solace for me?  Because I realised at that point that Grimonprez is right: this manipulated series of media clips with a voice-over which features extracts from novelist Don DeLillo’s Mao II and White Noise, is put together to show you how horrified the media can make you feel.  In this respect I realised after watching it that this feeling doesn’t necessarily come from terrorists or the threat of terrorist attacks, but from the news, so panic over… for now.

For some light relief, Kobarweng or Where is Your Helicopter (1992) is a good follow-up.  In this shorter film, Grimonprez draws on his experience as a graduate Anthropology student to show how ethnographers have become cultural commodities and status symbols for many Papua New Guineans.  The profound effect that ethnoographers have had in certain villages and especially regarding village rivalries is troubling for the discipline but the symptoms of it evident in this exhibition are quite frankly hilarious.

The time factor is a little demanding for some of these films, especially Double Take and dial H-I-S-T-O-R-Y, but think of it this way: you’d probably go to see one of these in the cinema at the drop of a hat – they’re so compelling and affecting.  You can see them here for free (but only until the 11th July).

Refugee Tours

An artefact, whether a painting, vase or samurai sword, will inevitably have a multitude of stories to tell, stories of miners in times long past, forgers’ furnaces, battles, artists’ workshops, aristocrats’ houses, temples, churches and so on.  And then there are the stories of modern recovery and interpretation, often involving imperialists or archaeologists, communities, maybe the odd chancer with a metal detector or perhaps more excitingly the Russian Mafia.

We can of course focus on materials and techniques, but mostly what draws the crowds in are the human stories associated with these inanimate objects, whether ancient or modern – whether we are facinated with the sexual exploits of Cleopatra or the series of ominous events which befell so many members of Howard Carter’s team after discovering Tutankhamun’s tomb in 1923.

Last week was Refugee Week and one of the most interesting efforts to mark it I read of was in London’s Victoria and Albert Museum.  They want more stories told about and around their collection, and on Sunday the BBC reported that the V&A held a series of events to mark Refugee Week including inviting refugees to give personal tours of their collection, reflecting on their own experiences and journeys, discussing and reacting to the collection as they go.  It’s a facinating article and a wonderful idea, which all museums could consider implementing.  Not only would visitors gain insights into the lands from which the various items were pilfired and the experiences of people from those places, but there is also a lot of integrative and educational potential in such an idea.

It would be great to see this rolled out in Scotland.  The Royal Museum in Edinburgh had a related event, Travelling Tales, but this had a more limited scope, being concerned with children and fimilies as part of Storytelliing Week also.  I’d love to see an event which involved old-time Highlanders and Islanders, for example, reacting to the material culture of the Kingdom of Scotland exhibit in the National Museum in Edinburgh.  Imagine how much they could potentially have to say on the materials, crafts and fishing techniques, for example, evidenced there.  The fantastic collection in the Kelvingrove in Glasgow also has huge potential with respect to Glasgow’s culturally diverse population.  Plenty of potential here.

Antony Gormley’s friends haunt Edinburgh and are foiled by the Bikini Vandal

Many in Edinburgh will already have noticed Antony Gormley’s 6 Times, a series of six cast iron, life-sized figures positioned along the Water of Leith (a river, in case you hadn’t heard) between the Scottish Gallery of Modern Art and the sea at Leith Docks.  The exhibition, commissioned by the National Galleries of Scotland, optimises the beauty, fecundity and occasional seclusion of the Water of Leith along its most well-trodden section, taking the participant through the natural beauty of the glen and it’s busy, green banks, into the picturesque Dean Village, under the magnificant Dean Bridge and eventually through neighbourhoods and some fantastic disused industrial architecture before arriving at the Port.

There’s no doubting that the walk itself is well worth doing, Gormley or not, but the presence of these firgures adds a certain mystique, a feeling of connectivity with the city and other walkers (and of course the many gawkers and photographers the figures are attracting daily) as well as an odd feeling of loneliness and longing which is inevitable given the characters’ isolated nakedness and distant gazes.  The tall, slender bodies are characteristic of Gormley’s sculpture, but each of the six has its own personality and orientation.

Gormley's figure looks up towards the bridge in Stockbridge, Edinburgh

Gormley is well-known for his figures, particularly the Angel of the North, but Edinburgh’s 6 Times is more reminiscent of Another Place, which places 100 similarly pensive characters along 3 kilometres of foreshore at Crosby Beach outside Liverpool, integrating them into the natural flow of water and distantly interacting with recreational visitors.  6 Times has been well received in Edinburgh overall, receiving a welcome review in the Scotsman.

I strongly encourage anyone who hasn’t seen it yet to do so, if for no other reason than to drag you down the Water of Leith, one of my very favourite things to do in Edinburgh (okay, maybe without the dragging).  And while you’re at it, spare a thought for the now infamous intervention of the mysterious Bikini Vandal, whose addition (pictured below) has now unfortunately been removed.  I’m not advising you to steal a traffic cone and place it on one of the heads, but let’s just say that if you did, I would find it hilarious.  Suggestions for more interventions welcome.

Passport to Edinburgh

This has been an exciting week in the realm of the Comely Banking Crisis.

The BBC reported on Tuesday that a bomb disposal team was called out to the University of Edinburgh to attend to an intimidating, apparently unexploded hand-grenade which some workmen found under a stair-well.  It later turned out that it was not a live device.

I can picture the scene.  Man A in mid conversation lifts a filing cabinet, and suddenly freezes in silent horror.  Man B, his interlocutor, doesn’t think.  His experience in the service has taught him not to.  He just grabs the menacing device and throws it in the direction of his other colleagues outside the door, who are standing around outside chatting and enjoying their bacon rolls.  Then Man B leaps to the ground, hands covering head.  Colleagues never speak to Man B again.

When the devise finally detonated, the resultant crater exposed a hoard of Burgundian treasure and a small document archive.  Experts in the university have reported that among the latter is a royal charter stating that the university and its grounds are officially ceded to the Duke of Burgundy in perpetuity, implying that all students and staff of the university are now, technically, French.

On Saturday, I watched Passport to Pimlico.  I am currently renewing my own passport too.

Key: truth; lies; speculation.

This week is payday week, thank Christ!

Image: British Museum

Eek, it’s been a five-weekend pay month!  Holidays have to be booked, passports have to be renewed (I’d rather gouge my own eyes out), work has to be done, and above all we’ve had a fairly beautiful weekend in Edinburgh.  Okay, Sunday wasn’t amazing all day, but generally there was plenty to draw one towards a beer garden.  Despite this, one persevered with cans of Tennents in the flat with the window open.  But we needn’t despair, Wednesday (like, right at the beginning of Wednesday, like Tuesday at midnight), one’s misery will end.

But it hasn’t been misery, really, just a touch of end-of-the-month frugality to soften the hedonism of the first couple of thirds.  Here are a few things I enjoyed.

1. Walking around outside.  You can’t beat it.  It’s free, normally healthy, and pretty in this city.

2. While doing same, popped into Leo’s Beanery on Howe Street for a gorgeous cup of coffee (one of a couple of indulgences which flew in the face the emergency budget).  I fully intend to comprehensively review this place as I think it’s a hidden gem.

3. Doctor Who, The Time of Angels.  The new series of the Doctor has been a little touch and go if you ask me – it’s teething.  This might well have been my favourite episode so far.  You can’t fault those weeping angels.  They were bound to bring them back.  They’re like the Borg of Doctor Who.  Awesome, intimidating villians who are seemingly indestructible.  If you’re not a fan, these are statues who only remain statues as long as they’re being watched; at all other times they’re totally murderous and absolutely moving around.  So basically they turn to stone when you look at them.  But they never tell you what material they’re made of otherwise.  It could be paper for all we know!  But an original take on a familiar form, which is a strong feature.  Looking forward to seeing where that goes.  Here’s a clip from the last series:

4. Yojimbo.  I’m going through a mini Akira Kurosawa movie season at home with no strict order to it.  Ran was recently watched and enjoyed.   Samurai King Lear works.  Yojimbo?  Many people would say this is a masterpiece and subject it to careful criticism and analysis.  For now, I’d rather just say I enjoyed it.  I have to admit I fell asleep a few times trying to watch it last week, but that was entirely the week I had rather than the film.  Finished it this weekend.  Happy to recommend it.  It’s a good, short, snappy film with a great soundtrack.  I had been wondering what film to start my Kurosawa season with and Ran happened accidentally.  Yojimbo would have been a better kick-off.

5. 500 Days of Summer.  The Comely Banking Crisis does Lovefilm and this one was on the Icy Penguin’s list, with the former, Yojimbo, being on mine.  We’re still digesting it but I think we both enjoyed it.  We were both frustrated by the female character, but that’s kind-of the point of the film.  A sort-of romantic comedy with a twist.   It thinks it’s Amelie a little bit, without all the magic or Paris.  Los Angeles is the setting and one of the things I enjoyed was the fact that the the male lead character is an architecture graduate who discusses LA and its architecture regularly.  This led me to think about another film set there, In Search of a Midnight Kiss, a better film actually, also portraying a brief-ish relationship and very much referencing its Californian backdrop.

But aside from these small mercies, we wait for the money!

Diane Arbus and RSA New Contemporaries, or Seeing Putin in Jesus

RSA New Contemporaries – a mixed bag (of treats)

Omar Zingaro Bhatia

As mentioned here earlier this month, the Royal Scottish Academy brought together highlights from fine art and architecture degree shows across Scotland at this exhibition, which is running until Wednesday 21st April. (That’s this Wednesday, so hurry hurry hurry if you want to catch it!)

We thought it was good overall, a mixed experience in places, but then it promised art and architectural projects from those at early stages in their careers, so we should be understanding, especially at £2 per person!

It’s interesting in some ways to see how architects present and propose projects, and we could all learn a lot from some of the impeccable work here in terms of design and presentation, but I do tire of purely theoretical architecture after a point, and find that despite the artistry of it all and the possible brilliance of the proposed building or urban space, it just doesn’t deliver the profound reflection and unbridled aesthetic pleasure we get from art.

But criticisms aside, at the upper end of the ‘mixed’ is, of course, the ‘great’!  And there was a lot of great.  I was accused of deciding that I liked Omar Zingaro Bhatia‘s work before I ever saw it properly, and that’s partly true, as evidenced by this blog.  However, while his painting may not be as accomplished as some of the other artists’ works here, I felt that he emerged strongest in terms of overall concept (the ‘junkshop’) and he distinguishes himself by integrating his own real-time persona and life into that concept.  His junkshop is not as random as it first appears and a closer look reveals that the assemblage of bits and bobs is actually carefully considered so as to reflect relationships, places, thoughts and memories from his life to the present.

Only until Wednesday, so quick!

Diane Arbus, Dean Gallery Artist Rooms

This exhibition of the photography of Diane Arbus runs until 13th June so feel free to indulge your procrastination glands.  It’s a little self-indulgent of me to blog about this because a) it seems as though most people I know in Edinburgh have already seen it and made their own mind up about it; and b) you can do an image-search for Diane Arbus (give it a go) and lots and lots of her photography will appear before your eyes in an instant so that YOU TOO can make up your own mind without my whimsical intervention.

So I’ll limit myself to a couple of brief observations.  We had the pleasure of my parents’ company on this particular outing and we all agreed that the photography is great.  And there is a lot of it, giving you a fantastic, broad idea of the photographer’s interests.  These tend to focus on strange, unique and just bizarre individuals, often on the edge of society – epitomised by her Eccentrics series – or unique perspectives on ordinary people.  But here’s my perspective (thanks to Arbus) on a world leader: did you know that Vladimir Putin occasionally masquerades as Jesus?  Have a look at Arbus’s Christ in a Lobby!

Do you remember what other interesting character, not so popular with religious leaders, looks like Putin?  Find out here.

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