Archive | May, 2013

Brighton Festival Review – Luke Harding: Mafia State

24 May

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Brighton Dome Studio: Sunday, May 12 2013

Despite the end of the Cold War and the establishment of a so-called democratic system, in many respects the Russian security services still act like the Iron Curtain never fell.

That was the experience of the Guardian’s man in Moscow Luke Harding.

Harding – promoting his book the Mafia State – said he made one crucial ‘mistake’; he sought to write the truth as he saw it about Vladimir Putin and the security services.

The reaction of the state’s henchmen was both predictably intimidating yet at times surprisingly comical.

During this hour-long talk, Harding revealed how he would be put under surveillance when meeting friends, claiming the “pasty-faced” security men were more “keystone cops” than serious operators.

More concerning, however, was the repeated break-ins to the flat in which he lived with his wife and two young children; the point being not to steal anything, but to repeatedly remind them they were being watched.

While being the first Western journalist to be expelled from the country since the end of the Cold War brought him lots of attention, Harding was modest about his journalistic achievements.

The real heroes, he rightly maintained, are the Russian journalists and human rights activists who courageously stand up to Putin and his ruthless regime every day. For them, there is nowhere else to return.

Brighton Fringe Review – The Dying Days of Blair

24 May

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Hove Town Hall: Thursday, May 9 2013.

Six years to the day that Tony Blair announced he was standing down, Brighton-based writer Chris Henry’s one man show was given its first outing.

Set in the office of newspaper editor Andrew Harding (played by Matt Cotton) it followed the hack’s increasingly desperate and comical attempts to stand up his story that Blair was set to resign – after it had gone to press.

While this show might have its roots in reality, much of what followed was far fetched.

Cotton played the part with gusto, but the role of a panic-stricken editor, lacking any semblance of self-control or conviction, just didn’t ring true.

That said, it was the absence of credibility – such as Harding not being able to pull a front page five minutes after the presses started rolling – that laid the play’s comic platform.

Henry was then merciless with his withering treatment of Harding and the likes of Alastair Campbell, Peter Mandelson and Cherie Booth – with the hilariously crafted text messages and emails that pinged between them flashing up on a big screen as the ‘will he, won’t he go’ plot unfolded.

As a concept and a feat of presentation, this was an undoubted success – albeit one tempered by a less than believable central character. Not too dissimilar to New Labour then.

Brighton Fringe Review – Phil Kay

7 May

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The Temple Bar: Sunday, May 5, 2013

It says a lot about the free-spirited nature of veteran comedian Phil Kay that he started his annual fringe appearances with an hour-long bike ride for willing participants.

It says even more that he didn’t have a bike, hence numerous tweets throughout the afternoon from promoters asking if he could borrow one.

Anyone who’s seen the Glaswegian’s frenetic, rambling comedy routines will know he takes the same haphazard approach to stand up as he does to bicycle procurement; he’s far more inclined to wing it and hope for the best than come equipped with something that’s been expertly crafted for his particular needs.

And that’s why he’s one most of exhilarating performers around.

The only thing you can legitimately expect is the unexpected – as was the case here with an hour-long mishmash of inane waffle, out-there musings and booze-soaked recollections loosely hooked on the good old bike.

He regaled the crowd with tales about numerous cycle-related scrapes, run-ins with the old bill, falling victim to thieves and the joys of free-wheeling at night while tanked up – not to mention frantically careering off at numerous unrelated tangents whenever the mood took him.

Kay is the ultimate comedic easy rider; you have to hop on the back of his rattling tandem and be prepared to go wherever he fancies. You won’t be disappointed.

Brighton Fringe Review – Jonny and the Baptists

7 May

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Komedia: Saturday, May 4, 2013

High octane musical comedy rabble-rousers Jonny and the Baptists don’t conform to stereotypes.

Not only does self-confessed posh lad Jonny Donahue sound like an old Etonian while looking like a Cockney wide boy in his flat cap, but they are one of very few acts whose politically motivated songs don’t ever grate with even a hint of right-on indignation because they are expertly infused with biblical proportions of sillyness and surrealism.

Their opening number about saving libraries sought to put the “oo” back into “books” by persuading people to have sex in said premises – although “not in the children’s section”; Scottish independence was tackled with the ‘love song’ Scotland Don’t Leave Me which compared devolution to a trial separation and concluded that England “can’t bring up little Wales without you”; while their lament to the diminishing number of traditional pubs rightly revealed a visceral hatred for those establishments which flog wasabi nuts instead of pickled eggs.

The musical offerings were interspersed with bucketfuls of bluster and bonhomie from the infectious Donahue whose seemingly unlimited confidence was countered by some essential self-deprecating charm – even if they have “been on Radio 4 you know”.

If they carry on like this, their congregation will soon stretch much further and wider than that.

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