Edinburgh Fringe reviews – Picasso: Le Monstré Sacre! | Cooked | Music of Charlie Parker & Dizzy Gillespie: Martin Kershaw / Colin Steele Quintet | Broken Wide Open

In a mixed round-up from across the Fringe, our reviewers meet the muses behind one of the greatest artists of the 20th century and enjoy a tribute to the founding fathers of bebop


Picasso: Le Monstré Sacre! ***

Assembly Roxy (Venue 139) until 28 August

In Picasso: Le Monstré Sacre!, Picasso is painted as a hypnotist. A saint. A magician. A minotaur. We meet the women behind the man behind the legend. He is a serial philanderer. “You women, here, are lucky I’m already dead,” our protagonist smirks.

With the exception of Picasso’s first wife, Olga Khokhlova and Françoise Gilot (who famously left him), the women in his world risk merging, becoming one, simpering monolith. His designs and desires are projected onto paint-flecked dust sheets. We see exactly what he asks of them - which is to say, everything.

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He amuses himself with these muses of his. For Picasso, the sex act and the act of making art were closely interlinked, and scenes that simulate sex are grotesque, discomforting. Peter Tate portrays Picasso’s intensities well, but as a whole, the production lacks the poetry in the paint, the presence in the paintings.

This piece has been adapted from d’Alfonso’s original for solo performance - and therein lies the problem. The life of Picasso seems too great to be contained by the body, maybe even the abilities, of a single actor. Here, it is like one instrument attempting to play a symphony - for that, you need an orchestra. Josephine Balfour-Oatts

Picasso: Le Monstré Sacre!Picasso: Le Monstré Sacre!
Picasso: Le Monstré Sacre!


Cooked ***

Bedlam Theatre (venue 49) until 27 August

Isabelle’s boyfriend Finn doesn't know how to chop potatoes and wears ugly shirts. Also, he might have ruined her life on purpose. Not one to go down without a fight, she hires a hitman to conclusively resolve the break-up, only to find that Finn has hired the same guy. Hilarity ensues, and we watch as the doomed couple spiral from bickering to murder. Millie Haldane’s quick-witted script captures Finn’s toxic sense of entitlement convincingly - there are gasps from a packed audience as he constantly belittles Isabelle’s work and social life. Their lives unravel at breakneck speed, punctuated by nicely tongue-in-cheek chapter titles projected onto the stage, and we really believe in Haldane’s farcical world.

Cooked is an amusing dissection of reprehensible male behaviour, but beyond the laughter there is a valuable examination of the cycles and dynamics that underpin abusive relationships. The young cast’s performances are polished and well directed by Haldane and Catherine Barrie, and Pete the gormless hitman-turned-therapist is a highlight, though the writing could do with a stronger dose of absurdity. Grace Spencer


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Music of Charlie Parker & Dizzy Gillespie: Martin Kershaw / Colin Steele Quintet ****

The Jazz Bar (Venue 57) until 27 August

Musical tributes can risk veering towards the hagiographic, overweighted with deference. Not so with this high-energy and above all joyful celebration of two renowned names often regarded as the founding fathers of bebop, Charlie “Yardbird” Parker and Dizzy Gillespie, led by Scottish jazz notables, saxophonist Martin Kershaw and trumpeter Colin Steele.

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Completing the quintet was a formidable trio of award-winning young pianist Pete Johnstone, drummer Max Popp and double-bassist Brian Shiels. The five of them tackled this dazzlingly inventive but demanding music with accomplished gusto, opening with Parker’s Yardbird Suite, trumpet and sax sounding in snappy unison over a rhythm section firing on all four cylinders.

There was a sense of warm familiarity combined with rumbustious energy that informed the band’s treatment of this fairly hallowed repertoire. They continued with the easeful but increasingly muscular Latin groove of Gillespie’s TinTin Deo as well as a suitably steamy Night in Tunisia – another classic from the sometimes volatile Parker-Gillespie relationship – with eloquent soloing from both Kershaw and Steele as well as an exuberant piano break from Johnstone, percussive slams punctuating bright flurries of notes.

Parker’s ballad, Laura, was an honest-to-goodness flight of romance, with Kershaw coming into his own on eloquent alto sax and some glittering piano work. In contrast Gillespie’s tersely titled Bebop was uncompromisingly so, Steele’s bitingly staccato trumpet matched by Johnstone, again in full flight, and an exuberant drum solo from Popp.

They wound up with Parker’s Moose the Mooche, an oddly upbeat number, considering its dedicatee was allegedly the composer’s drug dealer. Here, however, the highs were all in the music. Jim Gilchrist


Broken Wide Open ***

Greenside @ Infirmary Street (Venue 236) until 26 August

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In August 2019, Shana Pennington-Baird was alone in Ireland and separated by an ocean from her friends and family when she suffered a life-threatening aortic dissection. Her musical show, freshly arrived in Edinburgh after an Irish tour, tells this story. Accompanied by a live Celtic band, Pennington-Baird’s fluid mixture of spoken and sung recollections is a moving meditation on fragility and feeling “untethered”.

The hour passes quickly as we are guided through Pennington-Baird’s astonishing experience of 14 hours of surgery and a long recuperation. It is painful at times, especially when we hear her speaking in the voice of her young daughter, but each pang is balanced with humour; special mention must go to the Muppets song. Her lyrics are evocative and elliptical, and the accompaniment is beautiful throughout.

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Broken Wide Open’s overall effect is a gentle one, but the show is easy to relate to even if the experience at its centre is rare. Early on, Pennington-Baird reminds us that audience members’ heartbeats often synchronise. By the time we leave, we certainly feel that we have been brought together, encouraged to appreciate our health and hold our loved ones close.

Grace Spencer