Edinburgh Reviews Day 5 (05/08/12): Jack and Nikki: Killing Machines, Love in the Key of Britpop, Once Upon a Time in Space, Alternative Sex Education and Jack Heal: Murderthon

– reviewed by James Webster and Dana Bubulj

Last week we reviewed a selection of Edinburgh Previews from Tea Fuelled Arts. We enjoyed them so much that this week Sabotage’s Performance Editor James Webster, and trusty reviewer Dana Bubulj, are up in Edinburgh taking in the Fringe Festival. While they’re there, they are trying to review as much Spoken Word as they possibly can, as well as a few other things that catch their eye (and fall vaguely within our purview, e.g. no tax evasion acrobatics)

Jack and Nikki: Killing Machines

We’ve reviewed this show already at preview stage, and it seems that it’s come on in leaps and bounds since then (in a relatively short time). This comedy double act is very sleek, smooth and confidently performed; Jack proving an effectively funny ‘straight man’ to Nikki’s well rendered off-the-wall-osity.

The conceit that the whole thing’s a business presentation for a new contract killing start-up is well put together, with lots of ridiculous business jargon, a terrible jingle on the glockenspiel and a hilariously bad logo. And the transferable skills they have accrued in their various dead-end jobs are both funny (a high score on Modern Warfare proves marksmanship), and capture the truth-bending reality of presentations and job interviews.

Some highlights are the dance number, some fun audience interaction and a really awkwardly funny (and somewhat sad) video of the two proving their assassination skills (on a cat), while the finale provides a great payoff and is surprisingly sweet.

Some of the humour aims for awkwardly funny, but just hits awkward, and some jokes are repeated to the point they’re not amusingly self-referencing, but just a bit tired. While the portrayal of Nikki as a mentally unstable woman who just wants love (and killing) may make some uncomfortable, and the show still flags a little before the end, the strength of the pair’s comic timing, sense of character, and strong absurdly silly writing carry off an intensely enjoyable hour.

Star Rating: 3/5 (but if it keeps improving at this rate, who knows?)

Jack and Nikki: Killing Machines is on at 12.05pm at The Voodoo Rooms, 4th-14th August, FREE


Love in the Key of Britpop

Emily Andersen’s tale of anglophilia, Britpop and doomed transcontinental love has some lovely lines and is slickly performed, but fails to engage either the audience or its themes in any depth.

Telling the story of a relationship formed quickly and intensely in Melbourne between the narrator and a British lad over on a tourist visa, the two decide ‘after the second beer that from now on [their] fates bleed together’ and so their relationship begins (in the best part of the show) amidst boozed-up hopes and Britpop idols.

The problem is this: the continued description of their misadventures, drunken bohemian antics and markedly and too-deliberately-quirky lifestyles go on too long and are too repetitive. There’s also a definite feeling that Andersen could have done more with her themes: for a poem so heavily invested in a certain kind of music, the feel of said music, its rhythms, atmosphere and quirks feel noticeably absent. There are lots of references to bands and some quoted lyrics, but she barely even attempts to capture the spirit and ridiculous joy of Britpop, and as such the poem has to rely on the ups and downs of a fairly standard-sounding relationship for its limited entertainment.

With a more animated performance, more of her occasionally superbly imaginative phraseology and more engagement with its own themes, this could have been a really good piece. Instead it’s just ok.

Star Rating: 2/5

Love in the Key of Britpop is on at 3.10pm at Fingers Piano Bar, 4th-26th August (no Mondays), FREE


Once Upon a Time (in Space)

Performed by The Mechanisms, a character-band of lovable space-pirate-misfit-immortals mixing steam and cyberpunk, this dark and twisted take on familiar fairytales was performed through rocked-up folk songs with jovial energy and bone-rattling showmanship.

Throwing King Cole, Snow White, Rose Red, Cinderella and a host of other recognisable fairytales into space, they recreate their narratives into an epic space opera through story and song, where there are ‘no happy endings’. This is hard-hitting and emotional storytelling, with phenomenal world-building on a grand scale, all reported by the immortal crew of the Aurora, who watch the unfolding war with morbid glee (and inject the show with its few moments of comedy).

While the crew of the Aurora are a little too resonant of the cast of Firefly (in costume, irreverence and plot), and this kind of fairytale reimagining has been done many times before, the sheer rip-roaring fun that The Mechanisms bring to it, and the grimly epic war-torn worlds they create, make for an entertaining hour of bloody dictators, plucky doomed rebels and doomed love.

Star Rating: 4/5

Once Upon a Time (in Space) is on at 5.30pm at Whynot?, 4th-25th August (no Tuesdays), FREE


Alternative Sex Education

Lashings of Ginger Beer Time, if you didn’t know, are a queer feminist burlesque troupe. In this, their latest show, they tackle the importance of good sex education, and the potential damage bad or nonexistent sex ed can do, with a mixture of hilarious sketches, songs and stand-up.

Some highlights are the sketch on female role models in pop culture (pointing out the successes and failings in Lord of the Rings, Harry Potter, Star Wars amongst others), a Twilight themed version of Lady Gaga’s ‘Bad Romance’ and a brilliant and educational ‘kink scouts’ skit. Plus Sally Outen’s stand-up on the distribution of snails by ‘overzealous gender warriors’ was hilarious. The show’s genuinely full of clever parody and funny lines.

There are some issues though, mainly with the show’s format and structure; it’s set up as a lesson in alternative sex education, but the show’s more pop-culture material isn’t as clearly linked into this mission statement as it could be. While a later tribute to young queer people makes it clear why inclusive and liberal sex ed and positive cultural role models are so vital, it comes a little too late to make all the material make sense.

There are also a few weaker numbers, some songs that aren’t as inspired (such as the opening ‘2012’ set to ‘America’ from Westside Story) and a couple of songs that were a little out of time or off-key.

But overall it’s a very good, very funny, and well-performed show that provides a real queer and kinky education and the information and message that it conveys make this a fundamentally important show if our society’s going to continue to progress.

Star Rating: 3/5 

Alternative Sex Education is on at 8.30pm at The Bongo Club, 3rd-17th August.


Jack Heal: Murderthon

Former Student Comedian of the Year (2008) Jack Heal’s show is a kind of stand-up storytelling, full of intricately written jokes and plays on language, amusing mime, and some groaningly good puns.

Presented as a kind of ‘found’ show, it revolves around a diary that Jack supposedly found on the train to Edinburgh and suddenly finds himself in. The plot is appropriately meta, with lots of nods to the diary’s written format, gags about storytelling, and the collision of fiction and reality. The jokes come fast and, well, not furious, but impressively ridiculously, and Jack has a very practiced and accessible manner that helps keep the audience engaged at all times.

Heal seems to have made the more confusing aspects of the plot more clear, and also made an effort to make the female characters less of a punch line than in previous incarnations of the show (but there are still several jokes about prostitutes and loose women).

It’s very strong, very clever, and I really liked the way the final twist was worked into the show throughout (and even made it into his request for donations).

The ending could have been a little bolder and more defined, but that doesn’t really detract from this superbly funny tale of meta-theatrical-murder.

Star Rating: 4/5

Jack Heal: Murderthon is on at 9.50pm, at the Banshee Labyrinth, 4th-14th August, FREE.

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