Jess Robinson: The Jess Robinson Experience

By Ron Bingham

Jess Robinson’s forte is musical impressions of famous divas, but she is also a dab hand at other vocal impressions and a very funny conversational comic to boot.

Featuring an on-stage band, this year’s show looks back at Jess’ life – her origin and influences. The songs are reworkings of well known tunes with adapted lyrics, that tell the stories of her musical and film heroes, growing up in a small town (Aldbury) in Hertfordshire (or, as she described it, Brexit central), and her grandmother, who was a remarkable woman (and who managed to escape from Germany in 1939). There is even a very special tribute to Kate Bush with a “special guest dancer”.

The venue is a wooden “tent” featuring wood pillars with mirror panelling a central seating area and booths around the edges. I recommend trying to sit somewhere in the middle as the pillars block the view of some of the action on the sides. Jess wore a bright costume with sparkly bits (and some impressive sparkly boots). The audience was raucous in their applause and even joined in on most of the singalong bits. The big finale song featured Jess singing along with a number of other Jess Robinsons on the big screen, which was the best way to break from the poignant version of Climb Every Mountain that Jess sang for her grandmother. This was a very entertaining show and it was hard to believe how much they crammed into one hour. If you’re a fan of musical comedy songs, then this is definitely the show to see.

The Jess Robinson Experience is on at Assembly Rooms until August 24

Mervyn Stutter’s Pick of the Fringe

By Ron Bingham
mervyn stutter
Mervyn Stutter’s shows are an Edinburgh institution and at least half the audience appeared to be regular attendees (judging by the enthusiastic hand raising when he asked the question). Mervyn has a team of elves out checking all the shows on at the Fringe and picking a select few to appear on his stage for our pleasure. Today we had seven acts as well as a quick turn from our host, who deviated from his own script to stick the boot into the current government and celebrity paedophiles with a few well chosen song parodies. The audience loved the material, partly because there has been little deviation from the script by the media and no way for people to express the anger they feel at the lies being fed to them (well, that’s what I think, anyway). Please note that the order of the shows may not have been the actual order, but I’m forced to rely on my festival fuddled memory.

The first official act was Jess Robinson, who is a petite vocal impressionist. She has starred in the stage version of Little Voice and is appearing at the festival in a cabaret game show called The Rise of Mighty Voice, where there are two wheels of fortune (one with eight random singers and one with eight random songs) so there are 64 different tunes you can hear. We had a compilation of Marylin Monroe, Barbra Streisand, Cilla Black, Marlene Dietrich and Judy Garland in Jess’ spot.

Next was The Terrible Tale of the Twiddly Widdlies, in which two gentlemen wearing dinner suits and bandages covering their heads (imagine The Invisible Man) told a story in poetry. It was very well done and darkly comic, but in the actual performance, the bandaged heads have images projected on them and the gents stand in front of a screen with further images to enhance the story, so what we saw was only a fractured piece of the show. It did look very good and they ended their story on a real cliff-hanger. If I had enough time, I’d be adding them to my list…

After this was Elf Lyons, who is appearing in Being Barbarella. She was wearing a futuristic silvery top, with plastic glasses and a perky little hat. We were told about her job writing erotic stories and how she managed to crowdfund a trip to the Adelaide Fringe last year, before finishing with one of her stories, which involved living in Stockwell, South London, with a vegan boyfriend in a share-house that housed thirty other people if I remember right. Very funny and perky and probably another show to add to my list of “get a ticket for”.

Following Elf was Jamie Wood in O No, who perfomed a surreal and hilarious series of pieces around the stage and into the audience. He was such a lovely, joyous person that everyone was happy to join in with his antics. He was dressed in a nappy/loincloth and had a great mane of golden hair and a beard, so perfect for leading a cult, I’d say. The show was loosely based on the teachings of John Lennon and Yoko Ono, and looked like the perfect show for anyone who was feeling a little down and needed something mad and funny.

After this was a drum/tap duo from La Clique and The Famous Spiegeltent presents VELVET!, which was loud fast and very rhythmic. The board the tap man used was almost destroyed by the end of the routine and there was a huge pile of dust under the board as he had pulverised the timber.

Next was Danny Ward, who is performing St Vitus Dance, he took us (well the old people in the audience) back through time as he recounted a visit to the Science Museum and was horrified to find most of the fabulous technology of just a few years ago encased behind glass as exhibits including mobile phones with aerials, walkmans (walkmen? walkpersons?), computer game consoles etc. Some very funny stuff.

The finale of the ninety minute spectacular was one of the performers from Wings In My Heart, a sophisticated circus show in the style of Cirque du Soleil. He did some awesome work with a whole bunch of hula hoops, finishing with what I can only describe as a human slinky. Apparently most of the rest of the show involves flying stunts and huge set-pieces.

To summarise, this was an invaluable introduction to the enormous variety at the Fringe, a good way to get a whole lot of acts ticked off your list (or added to the must-see list) and an excellent way to start the day, after you’ve had your wake-up lunch. Just book early for this one, as it is a sell-out show.