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Postcard from Brighton: The Return
Written by Richard Stamp   
Published on Wednesday, 20 May 2009

So, we said May 9th's Postcard was the last of the series - but in the end, we just couldn't stay away.  So here's the finale, the curtain-call, the Captain's Log Supplemental... our very final word from the seaside this year.

Previously on Postcard From Brighton, I'd boarded my train and trundled off into the sunset - headed for the next great Festival in my home-town of Edinburgh.  So what's brought me back for an encore on the South Coast?

Well, I can never resist a good argument... and I was honoured to be invited to speak at the annual debate on reviewing and critiquing, hosted by our much-respected rivals, independent website FringeReview.  This year's chinwag tackled the ever-controversial subject of objectivity.  In the opposite corner stood Paul Levy, my opposite number at FringeReview, and you can hear the whole discussion over on their website.

It's a good listen; if anything, the debate brought home to me how desperately we all strive to put out fair and accurate reviews, notwithstanding our differences on exactly what that might mean.  Do we manage it?  I wouldn't dare to comment; listen to the recording, and make up your own mind.

Of course, I couldn't come back to Brighton without taking in a couple more shows... and I managed to choose two corkers this time.  So here are the final reviews from my final trip to the coast.  I'm back up to Edinburgh now, but I do like to be beside the seaside; we'll do it all over again next year!


4.5 starsA Fistful Of Snow

Run ended

Oh, I just have no idea how to review this show.  I loved it, even when I hated it; I admired the plot, though I often suspected I hadn't understood it at all; I winced at the jokes even as I rocked with laughter... and although, deep down, I think it must be wonderful, I'm honestly not sure I can tell you why.  But hey, I'm a professional, and nobody ever said this would be easy.  So bear with me as I give it a go.

The sound of a howling blizzard welcomes the central character, Chester James, to the stage; ably portrayed by real-life Aussie Danny Alder, Chester's abandoned his scorching bush-land home for a stint guarding an island near the North Pole.  Driven to the edge of madness by his solitary stay, Chester begins a dialogue with a cast of fictitious animal friends.  The imaginary menagerie is led by an inflatable reindeer's head - yes, really; the donkey to Chester's Shrek, the talkative moose supports our hero through a convoluted foray into his memories of a troubled past.

So who is Chester?  Why's he exiled himself to the North Pole, and does he really want to go home?  You'll have to concentrate if you want to unearth the answers: the backstory's revealed gradually and subtly, with a single misplaced word often furnishing the critical clue.  It's a cleverly self-referential plot, which manages to blur the boundaries of invention and reality without ever resorting to Matrix-like naffness.  Even by the end of it all, you won't be sure you've quite pieced together what was really going on.

But for all its depth, this is first and foremost a very funny show.  Much of the humour revolves around its many utterly unexpected diversions - and I can't say too much about the weirder oscillations, lest I spoil the whole experience for you.  I'm not giving the game away, though, when I mention it had song and dance numbers, a few exceptionally bad puns, and a talking polar bear.  The fact that the dialogue is all in Chester's mind has almost unbounded comic potential; in one inspirationally offbeat number, his lead vocals begin to argue with their own backing track.

With so many weirdly creative ideas packed into a single hour-long performance, the show's continuity sometimes fell down - and on the night I visited, Alder's generally-compelling performance didn't build up quite enough momentum to carry me through the final manic scenes.  One interlude, played entirely off a tape to an empty stage, was far too long; and a few of the props were a bit too am-dram for a production of this overall quality.  But that's the critic in me speaking.  My less world-weary self watched in wide-eyed wonder, while the crowd around me whooped and hollered in delight... and once I'd witnessed the talking reindeer's hilariously touching finale - you'll know it when you see it - I forgot and forgive all.

So in the final analysis, it's a big thumbs-up for A Fistful Of Snow: wacky, thoughtful and funny, it's a rough-hewn gem of a play.  You might join me in loving it... or you might wonder what I, and its authors, were on.  But one thing I can say with certainty: miss it at your peril.  You'll be waiting a long time to see its like again.


 

4 starsThe Haunted Moustache

Run ended

There should be more shows like this in Brighton: not one-man theatre, nor pure stand-up, but a straightforward honest-to-goodness well-told yarn.  It all begins when host David Bramwell implausibly - but, apparently, genuinely - inherits a display box containing a moustache.  But that was really just the jumping-off point for a ninety-minute gallop round all the conceivable houses, taking in subjects as diverse as circuses, seances, cults and situational art.

Bramwell's mixed with some colourful characters in his life, and he does them all full justice on stage.  The reprise of his various attempts to contact the moustache's (dead) owner are hilarious, tinged with just the right amount of outrage at the sundry false mediums he meets along the way.  Later, we hear all about a meeting with Drako Zarhazar, a noted local eccentric who once posed for Dali; this time, the good-natured humour contrasts with some genuinely touching insights into the world of a man who's chosen to live his life on the fringes of convention.

But the problem with such rambly monologues is that they're easily sidetracked by rambly diversions - and though the patter was 100% endearing, only 80% of it really got us anywhere.  Just occasionally, too, it felt a little too parochial for what is - after all - an international Festival.  If you neither know nor care what the Basement was, you'll feel disconnected from a whole chunk of this show. 

Still, at the very end - after Bramwell's joined a cult, hosted a freak show and finally connected with his moustachioed ancestor - the plot tightens up, turning pleasingly spooky as a recurring mantra draws together the show's many threads.  So how much of the story is actually true?  It's always hard to say, but one thing's sure: there really is a moustache in a box.

Whether fact or fiction, this is an uncomplicated, big-hearted show from a talented but self-deprecated performer.  Though I know he's told this story a hundred times before, and though I recognized the skill of the delivery, it still felt like an anecdote told by a friend in a pub.  It could do with being a little trimmer, yes; but it was a great way to spend a relaxed evening.  And I'll never look at facial hair in quite the same way again.

Postcard from Brighton: M... >>

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These are archived reviews of shows from Brighton 2009.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to performers, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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