Prague Fringe Reviews 2011 - Day 1

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Dr Brown (Dr Brown Makes Love, Kavarna 3+1, times vary) has been a 'pick of the Fringe' for the past two years and its likely that he'll continue to divide audiences with another sell out run again this year. That's in part because Kavarna 3+1 is easily the smallest venue at the Fringe, with only about 20 tightly packed seats, and its Dr Brown's hilariously awkward entrance into (and over, under and through) this space via that's the highlight of the show. Wearing a slightly too revealing Chinese bathrobe, blindfolded with a dish towel and looking like a shell shocked Zach Galifianakis on a bad hair day, Brown climbed over, sat on, played with and petted his audience as he made his way to the stage, at one point even stealing a baby from the foyer and handing it to a bemused spectator. The audience are Brown's playthings but the tension that this creates only runs so far and after 20 genuinely funny minutes the audience found themselves asking what next. The funniest (and really the only) jokes that followed this promising start came from a Frenchman who was dragged up on stage and forced to be part of the show.

It was possibly a nervous first night (although Brown's breaking of character at the end of the show was difficult to forgive) and, heavily improvised, Brown will undoubtedly work better on some nights than others. But ultimately, its held back by the problem that's been with alternative comedy since the 80's: Telling a bad joke and then saying that was a bad joke just doesn't make it funny. And, after the first half, Brown doesn't even really make any jokes. Prague audiences, generally starved of any live comedy for much of the year, are generally pretty friendly and encouraging to any comedian who comes here and its difficult not feel that Brown is less tailoring his show to Prague than simply taking advantage of their tolerance. For such an interesting performer its a shame that at his third Fringe Dr Brown hasn't taken his show to the next level.

As well as theatre and comedy The Fringe also has a wide range of musical acts again this year and Gail Whitmore (The Human Jukebox, Malostranske Beseda, 2045-2145) makes perfect use of the cabaret feel of the Beseda for her Human Jukebox show. It can be difficult to pitch musical acts at the fringe with mixed audience expectations but the charmingly sweet, happy and confident (without a trace of the diva) Gail creates a relaxed and fun atmosphere from the off. Her passion for singing is infectious and the audience were quickly carried along (and even singing with her) as she whistled through their suggestions of everything from Billy Jean to Don Giovanni to The Sound of Music with her powerful, booming voice. Songs were linked with an effortless rapport with the audience and, despite a little too much reliance on all too easy sexual innuendo, 'the Jukebox' created a jovial and fun atmosphere. If there's one weakness to the show its that Gail tends to adjust all the songs a little too much to suit her own pitch and this can leave some of the tunes sounding somewhat similar. Her version of Hit Me Baby One More Time nailed Brittany's nasal tones would have been great to see such a confident singer stretch herself a little more to imitate some of the other artists she was performing.

Also at the Beseda was Alastair Bouch (Malstranke Beseda, 2215-2315) who, unfortunately failed to engage his audience at all (and at times, his own band). Clearly a talented musician and singer, accompanied by an excellent guitarist, bass player and drummer, Alastair completely failed to pitch his performance to the mood and expectations of the audience in front of him. Believing that everybody was suffering from the same wistful melancholia as him, Alastair left an unbridgeable wall between himself and his audience as he closed his eyes and bared his soul on stage in the rather arrogant assumption that we all gave a damn about his mood. The show took a step up when the rest of the band (apparently session performers hired for the gig) joined him on stage although the banter between them and Alastair was at times embarrassingly forced and, like the rest of us, they clearly weren't feeling quite as sentimental as Alastair was. Describing how the he had written a song that he naively believed was about nature and had, in fact, turned out to be about sex the only real drama to the evening came from the drummer's palpably surprised reaction to the refrain 'lets do it in the sun' as Alastair lost himself in the moment. With some great breaks and a tight performance its just a shame the audience couldn't get across the sea of sentimentality he was drowning in and lose themselves with him.

Jim High is co-producer at Prague's Blood, Love and Rhetoric Theatre

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