City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

Pleasance Opening Gala Showcases Its Variety - Improv, Eurovision, Magic, and Comedy


By Toby Williams - Posted on 07 August 2016

Nish Kumar

Blue smoke and green lights pervade the stage area as the seats fill up for The Pleasance Opening Gala. The lights quickly dim and the first act is up.

Showstoppers, the improv group who make up a new musical every night, starts off the event and sets a very high benchmark against which the other acts are measured. Taking subject matter and musical style from the audience, the improv performers quickly sweep the audience up into the gala event and have it clapping to the beat.

Joel Dommett takes the stage next. The co-host of Channel 5’s Impractical Jokers seems to struggle with his flow, jumping from topic to topic quite wildly, and culminating in an obviously staged but rather funny finale piece. His set is literally swept off the stage to make way for a new re-imagining of Charles Dickens’ novel Tale of Two Cities, excitingly called Blood For Blood. What follows is a tantalising teaser of the play, which leaves the audience none-the-wiser, but intrigued enough to find out more.

Next comes some magic – magician and comedian Ben Hanlin urges the audience to open the envelopes they were given, and through a series of instructions involves everyone in an impressive and clever magic trick. A fantastic foray into illusion and trickery, and a promising taster of what looks to be a brilliant show.

Following a short word from The Pleasance’s long-serving director Anthony Alderson , three figures dressed fully in white shuffle onto the stage. The preview for the show We Are Ian tries much and fails most of it. With little or no cohesion and no hinting of a plot or story, the repetitive movement and over-wrought and practised anarchy quickly becomes headache-inducing. The performers were enthusiastic and involved, but a sense of relief was felt when the next act rolled around.

The penultimate act is a welcome return to relative normality in the form of the very funny Nish Kumar. This ‘critically acclaimed’ comedian (which, to use his own words, simply means he uses long words and nobody watches his shows) has a ready wit and vocabulary which makes him a delight to listen to. Very easy laughter punctuated his short set, and it seems over before we’re ready to let the charming comedian go.

The last preview of the Opening Gala ends the event on a high note – pun certainly intended. Eurobeat is a frenetic and cheerful celebration of the Eurovision Song Contest; in the preview, dancing Russians, gypsy performers with amazing violin skills, and a powerfully-voiced Rula Lenska all compound into a wild finale which leaves the audience sore-handed from clapping.

In total, the event does its job of kicking off Pleasance’s Festival season with great success, the variety and pace of the shows impeccable, and the subject-matter enthusiastic and involved.

All the shows reviewed can be found at the Edinburgh Fringe.