FRINGE GURU 19/09/16
However much you might love the eclectic, unpredictable Fringe, there are times when we all crave a good solid piece of writing, and a performance that lets you know you're in safe hands. Shylock is such a play. Returning to Edinburgh after a five-year absence, it's written by much-starred actor (and Shakespearean scholar) Gareth Armstrong, but performed here by the equally well-regarded Guy MasterSon - perhaps best known at the Fringe for his one-man adaptations of Under Milk Wood and Animal Farm.
As the title suggests, this is an exploration of Shakespeare's Merchant of Venice, but the story isn't actually told through Shylock's eyes. Our narrator is a man called Tubal: a character who, unless you're the most dedicated of Bardic buffs, you've probably never heard of before. He appears in exactly one scene, and is mentioned in precisely one other - but, as Tubal is all too anxious to remind us, he's Shylock's one and only friend. Much humour is made of Tubal's jealous claim to that status, but there's a serious point here too; a reminder of how isolated Shylock's life would have been when Jews in Venice were required to live behind locked gates, surrounded by high walls.
In Shakespeare's England, mind you, things were even worse. The Jewish community had been expelled - and one of Armstrong's most striking observations is that Shakespeare could never have met a Jew, at least not one who acknowledged their identity. To reinforce the point, Tubal illustrates how Jews were portrayed in theatre at the time, a grotesque parody made all the more chilling by the humorous relish with which Masterton performs it. It's important context for interpreting the more problematic aspects of Shakespeare's text; and there are other analytical strands as well, unpicking some of the implications and meanings that might pass a modern audience by.
Masterson is convincing and commanding as Tubal, yet he also brings an air of homely geniality to the role. It's a combination that ensures the densely-packed script never feels too ponderous or lecturing. More sensitive or shocking moments stand out well amidst the general bonhomie, and he switches adeptly into other characters as the narrative demands, while always retaining enough of Tubal to remind us who's telling this tale. It's a sprightly performance too, bringing visual interest to a relatively bare stage - though three hanging banners, covered with the word 'Jew' translated into dozens of languages, serve as a constant reminder of just what this play is all about.
Ultimately, Shylock is unashamedly educational, but it delivers its lessons with a lightness of touch and an ironic sense of comedy. The credit for that's equally shared between Armstrong's finely-tuned script and MasterSon's note-perfect performance - with results that are entertaining and informative, and deliver a warning too. Both a study of Shakespeare and a brief history of prejudice, it'S a meaty, thought-provoking, yet thoroughly enjoyable play. (Richard Stamp - FringeGuru - 17/09/16)
BRITISH THEATRE GUIDE 22/08/16
Taking its cue from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice, as you might have guessed from the title, Masterson does not actually portray the famous Jew - well he does occasionally, but the story is told through the character of Tubal, friend to Shylock, rather bitter about only having 8 lines in the whole play.
Somehow, in just an hour and a quarter, the script covers the important elements of Shylock's story in Shakespeare's play as well as 400 years of the play's production and 2,000 years of Jewish persecution.
It's a remarkable achievement, but on top of all of that it's also very funny for much of the time. But when we come to the climax of the Shakespeare tale, I've never seen a more moving and sympathetic portrayal of Shylock's final fate in any production of Merchant.
Masterson has been playing this part since 2011, and that shows in the confidence in his performance and the slickness of the production. He demonstrates various characters, acting styles and comic turns as well as narrating the various stories and histories in a way that keeps the audience's rapt attention throughout.
Managing to be both entertaining and informative and to be totally relevant to a modern audience, this well-researched and energetically performed hour and a quarter is highly recommended. (David Chatterton - British Theatre Gude - 22/08/16)
EDINBURGH FESTIVALS MAGAZINE 20/08/16
Guy Masterson presents the fantastic, dramatic and comical Shylock, based on the famous character from Shakespeare's The Merchant of Venice. It explores the history of Jewish suppression whilst tracking the legacy of Shylock's character through subsequent Shakespeare performances.
Masterson draws our attention to Shylock's best friend Tubal, who, despite appearing only briefly and with very few lines, acts as the central figure. The narrative unfolds around him and covers a tremendously wide array of history centred around Jewish persecution and Shakespeare's play. It is an incredibly ambitious project that may benefit from being a little more concise but undeniably fascinates its audience from beginning to end.
Masterson is incredibly talented and gives an astounding one man performance, engaging his audience in it's important and captivating story, and even managing to throw in some hilarious comedic moments to boot. (Nastassia Sutherland - EdFest Mag - 20/08/16)
BROADWAY BABY 12/08/16
Guy Masterson and Gareth Armstrong deliver a tour-de-force of history, drama and comedy in this one-actor show. Starting with Shylock in The Merchant of Venice, we are taken on a journey that spans both centuries of Jewish persecution and centuries of the play and its various incarnations. What does it mean to be Shylock, at once the villain and the victim, and the star of his play; what does it mean to be any Jew throughout history?
This show, written and directed by Gareth Armstrong, takes a look at what Shylock means for his creator, for his audiences then and today, and for the only other Jew in Shakespeares works-Tubal - This is Masterson's role - underlooked in the original, perhaps, only eight lines long: but vital. Tubal is an essential character on this journey, but Masterson flits between roles as the narrative switches from history to theatre and back again. We hear about the slaughter of Jews in York in 1190 woven in with the performance of Barabbas from The Jew of Malta by Shakespeare's contemporary, Christopher Marlowe. The origin of the blood libel slips into a performance of scenes from the Bible. Folklore, theatrical conventions, and the Puritans; superstition, politics, and tragedy. This is compelling material, and with its careful structure, and an actor as skilled as Guy Masterson, it is displayed to the fullest advantage: not a lecture (though it is heavy on the historical information) but a piece of theatre in its own right.
Masterson is in complete control, both our jolly guide with plenty of jokes up his sleeves and the angry Jew who has been silenced too long. That's just in his role as narrator. He slips in and out of multiple characters throughout: Shylock, Tubal, Barabbas, Portia, Pontius Pilate, Charles Matlin, Thomas and Henrietta Bowdler, and Hitler, to name a few.
There's well-timed comedy (especially of the ironic variety), but a steely determination to uncover aspects of the truth underneath. At one point Masterson, exasperated with people who want to cut and edit Shylock's part, demands that the plays are just left to speak for themselves. This is a show that aims to deepen our understanding of the issues around Jews, history, and the theatre, not to dictate or proselytise. A word for the set and the techs as well: both are stark and effective, well integrated with the performance. Well-researched and well-delivered, this is a forceful and thought-provoking piece of theatre. (Fiona Mossman - Broadway Baby August 12, 2016)
Shylock Punters' Reviews
Glenys Mclaren 17/08/16
***** performance. Guy Masterson never disappoints and this is yet another excellent performance. I also learnt a lot about the history of the attitudes towards the Jews.
Susannah Hart 13/08/16
An engaging performance and a fascinating informative look into the treatment of the Jewish people in Europe - still relevant today
Ken Miller 12/08/16
A masterful performance full of humour, power and occasional menace. Thought provoking yet always entertaining.
Lisa Hadaway 10/08/16
Thought provoking and entertaining. A must see!
LOVE & CANINE INTEGRATION
GUY MASTERSON IS A GREAT GIFT TO THE STAGE! - EDINBURGH49+3 18/08/16
When Guy Masterson punched above his weight and married the beautiful Paris-based model Brigitta, he forgot the first rule of life: no person is an island. Brigitta's personal little slice of Alcatraz comes in the form of her oh-so-cute German Spitz: Nelson. Never in the course of human history has one man fought so hard against one dog for the heart of a beautiful woman.
In this show, Masterston relates the autobiographical story of how first he met his (now) wife Brigitta and her 'other man', Nelson. Only one of the matches here are made in heaven. Masterson uses the entirety of the small stage to reveal the darkest recesses of this epic battle of wills between man and dog. Plots are hatched. Fantasies are spun. Opportunities taken. It is a sign of character that Nelson is able to rise above these foolish webs laid at his feet by a mere human. Nelson is channelled through his rival, with Masterson performing every snarl, growl and sniff of contempt. In suitable tones, he explains Nelson's stratagems: exploring the options that could lead to victory over the new would-be Alpha male.
As an award-winning actor and story teller, Masterson is a great gift to the stage. Extensive experience of one-man shows means that the audience is in the hands of a consummate professional. That is, once the story gets going. I think the preamble, where he explains the genesis of the show, while 'enjoying' a cold jacuzzi in a bargain four star spa retreat with his wife, does not work so well. Hearing Masterson relating Brigitta's question 'Why can't you be more funny? led me to think, at that time, she may have a point mate. Fortunately once the main course is delivered, it is no dog's dinner. The story is taut: Masterson's exasperation palpable as failure is piled upon defeat.
The delivery is flawless but Masterson is an honest man. This is his first foray into standup and I suspect he has stuck too closely to the truth and, in doing so, has sacrificed some laughs for the sake of integrity. A more experienced comic may well have hanged truth from the nearest lamppost and had the audience rolling in the aisles.
A certain truth is this: Masterson has a problem. He thinks it is all over but it isn't. Guy Masterson is suffering from PTPS: post traumatic pet syndrome. (Martin Veart - Edinburgh 49+3 18/08/16)
WITTY & VERY ENTERTAINING! - LOTHIAN LIFE 11/08/16
What happens when you fall for a gorgeous German model with a manipulative uber-intelligent rabbit-hunting dog? Guy Masterson (pictured) can tell you, and does in his one man show Love and Canine Integration.
In this autobiographical confession, Masterson takes us through the many intricacies of his life with Brigitta and her hellhound Nelson, a patch-eyed cutie who bit, fought, and outmanoeuvred Masterson at every stage of his early days with Brigitta, and continued to blight his marriage.
Masterson is a master of delivery, and can impersonate Nelson to a canine T. We can actually see the little shite as he claims his rightful place as the number one man in Brigitta's life. Even the birth of the Masterson first child did not shake Nelson's certainty - he knew who his progeny was.
This is an amusing and entertaining hour. Masterson has a good grip on his script and carries his audience with him. It's good fun, witty and very entertaining. (Ros Mackenzie - Lothian Life 11/08/16)
AN ENTERTAINING RAMBLE! - UK THEATREWEB 18/08/16
Guy Masterson has several shows at the Feinge and is a prolific writer, performer, producer and director. This one is personal, looking as it does at how he and his wife came together and how his wife's little dog nearly tore them apart.
An entertaining ramble through Guy's relationship with "Ze bastard", as he renamed the dog, and a nice break for those on a theatre binge at the fringe. (Anon - UK Theatre Web - 18/08/16)
EDINBURGH GUIDE 11/08/16
Standing centre stage, Clair Whitefield, wearing a simple red T shirt and loose blue trousers, begins to tell us an extraordinary, humbling story of love, family, loss, grief, new beginnings and unexpected friendships.
From the first line, we are drawn into a traveller's tale from India to London. We begin on Parliament Hill in the early morning before the dog walkers arrive; beside the trees you will observe a Kalari master practicing the sacred martial art, a ritual of flowing kicks and sticks to represent power, respect and balance.
This is Ajna Jan, who has arrived from Kerala to take over his late uncle's cobbler's shop in Camden. He has left behind the colour and chaos, tuk tuks and street vendors to experience the black tunnel of the Northern Line en route to 75 Camden Street.
But he is no ordinary cobbler, repairing battered shoes. The kindly, quiet Ajna is a spiritual gentleman who is able to combine the ancient art of reflexology to refresh and energise the tired souls of his customers with magical results.
Clair is a masterly mime artist and actress, who, with graceful movement, brings to life with meticulous detail the various characters, from lawyers to young lovers, who visit the shop.
Next door, Katy, just back from a gap year in India has opened her Kerala café and Ajna is of course quick to offer his expertise as a taster of her pakoras and samosas; the enticing description of fragrant coconut, lime, Kashmiri chillies and banana leaves is so pungent you actually believe that Madhur Jaffrey is sizzling the spices on stage.
Written as a richly imaginative poetry-play, the lyrical language is reminiscent in its gentle humour and emotional insight of T S Eliot's The Love Song of J Alfred Prufrock. It is beautifully directed by Guy Masterson, like a choreographed dance with just sound effects and lighting to create a real sense of being taken on this journey from Cochin to Camden.
This is storytelling at its most simple and most enlightening and rather like the memoir and film, Eat Pray Love, explores issues of nationality, language, faith and culture. Ultimately it is about the joy of cooking and sharing good food which brings people together, the true meaning of companionship. Chopping Chillies is a delicious, appetising spicy feast of a show. (Vivien Devlin - Edinburgh Guide 11/08/16)
THE LIST 01/09/16
Claire Whitefield's Chopping Chilies first appeared in 2015's Free Fringe: now under the direction of Guy Masterson, the play has added new levels of theatricality with lighting, sound effects and music. Yet the heart of the play remains Whitefield's charming performance and well-crafted script.
A martial artist, suffering grief at the loss of his family in a tragic accident, inherits a shoe repair shop, moves overseas and uses his knowledge of the body's pressure points to alter his customer's footwear, posture, confidence and ultimately their lives. Powerless to repair his own life, he finds himself challenged only when a young, dreadlocked hipster opens up a cafe next door, and begins making food that reminds him of his lost family and the country he left behind.
The play features stories within stories, and a variety of colourful characters who speak in verse, a nod to Whitefield's background in poetry. The plot is fast moving, with a dense layer of foreshadowing and symmetry but the simple premise sweeps up the audience with its charm.
Perhaps its most intriguing point is the refusal to become a stereotypical love story, ignoring romance in favour of exploring ideas about neighbours and friendship. It also looks at how the things people create influence those that come into contact with them. Leaving the theatre after Whitefield's energetic performance, you may find yourself looking at your own shoes and wondering how they are affecting your own course of life. (Graeme McNee - The List - 01/09/16)
A THOROUGHLY ENGROSSING WAY TO SPEND AN HOUR! - TV BOMB 18/08/16
There's no doubt about it, Clair Whitefield is the Real Thing. A poet-turned-playwright, Chopping Chillies is her first play, and this is its second outing at the Fringe, having been seen and subsequently picked up by renowned producer-director, Guy Masterson, in 2015. This polished, newly-directed production is therefore an amalgamation of Whitefield's passion and Masterson's experience, and it shows.
The premise is simple enough: We, the audience, are treated to the gentle unravelling of the unlikely yet compellingly believable tale of Ajna Jan, a martial arts Master in Kerala, who becomes a cobbler in Camden following the death of his family. Next door to his little shop, a young woman named Katie opens an Indian restaurant and, while Ajna is helping strangers through pressure points on the soles of their shoes, he also helps Katie, more overtly, with the 'soul' of her food. This is no contrived love affair, but a low-key, organic friendship as panacea to pain. Rarely has a character's journey been related with such subtlety *and* pathos.
Alone on the practically bare stage, Whitefield plays all the parts, beginning with Ajna himself. At times, she immerses herself fully into the here and now of the story, so that we are incontrovertibly transported to that moment through Whitefield's voice, her mannerisms, her very body. At others, she is the narrator, reverting to the third person and the past tense, which controverts the standard format of a 'play', and yet serves as counterpoint to the 'present' scenes, pushing them into vivid relief, wherein all the senses waken. We can smell Katie's spices, and we can taste her chillies. As for Ajna Jan, we can taste his tears.
It is difficult to determine whether Chopping Chillies truly challenges the boundaries of theatre-writing, or whether it is simply a more theatrical presentation of a piece of beautiful prose. Whitefield herself calls it a 'poetry-play', and her performance poetry origins are certainly in evidence. However, Masterson states in the programme notes that, "Great theatre should be a tempest of energy, illuminated by flashes of blinding communication" and "it should be an experience that no other medium can provide". The former description encapsulates this performance perfectly and, whilst the script would no doubt work well enough on the radio or printed in a book, there is no substitution for the live experience of witnessing - and sharing - this tale around a stage. It is, after all, our modern equivalent of the campfire.
Whitefield is undoubtedly an accomplished wordsmith of lyrical sensibilities, and ultimately, her pairing with Masterson is a hit. Together, they convey the universal power of storytelling with a feather-light touch, which nevertheless hits home when it needs to. However, a huge part of the magic comes from Whitefield herself. She is a performer of unconscious but captivating charm. Chopping Chillies is a thoroughly engrossing way to spend an hour. **** (Laura Ingram - TV Bomb 18/08/16)
THREE WEEKS 21/08/16
Walk a mile in someone's shoes to know them; walk 4,000 miles, and you may strike the depth of compassion reached in this quietly powerful tale of an Indian cobbler exiled in Camden. Through a captivating performance by solo storyteller Clair Whitefield, the audience follows the path of Ajna, a widower who swaps the Ganga's holy waters for the 'black spine' of London's Northern Line. Struggling to make sense of both his grief and city life, Ajna becomes a reluctant taste-tester for the woman next door's gap-yah inspired Indian kitchen. Their unlikely friendship is a gently comic backdrop to an aching but ultimately uplifting portrayal of life after loss, the imprint of which lasts long after the performance ends. (Sarah Richardson - Three Weeks - 21/08/16)
FRINGE REVIEW 25/08/16
A solo show, written and performed by Clair Whitfield and directed by Guy Masterson, which is a mix of prose and storytelling, physical theatre and character performance weaving London and India in a tale of fate, friendship and personal transformation.
This is a tale set mainly in Camden where Ajna, an Indian martial arts teacher from Kerala, unexpectedly inherits a cobbler's shop due to the death of an uncle. New to the metropolis Ajna quickly learns the cobbler's art and sets about trying to help those with whom he comes into contact with by engineering slithers of insole to work some kind of magic on the meridians in the feet and thus bring about life changes in the wearer of the repaired shoes. Katie, the other main character of the piece, open's a pop-up Indian delicatessen next door and Anja becomes her food taster and adviser on the exacting science of Keralan food preparation processes and technique. The ensuing friendship, as well as a number of other minor characters that appear passim, is the main emotional meat of the piece as they connect to each other in unexpected ways. As an out-of-towner with a rather traumatic history, Ajna is somewhat comparable to the lone cowboy of Western movies who, due to his own story, can never take root in town but nevertheless is a source of transformation for those around him and is himself transformed.
It is delivered by Whitfield with much gusto and panache and I found her prose and rhyme to be sophisticated and very pleasing, and her physical delivery via her postures and quasi-dance enactments was not overplayed. The delivery was word perfect with not a single slip.
It is an enthralling tale, full of charm and atmosphere, well executed with great enthusiasm by Whitfield - and a few laughs along the way too. (Leslie Lane - FringeReview.com - 25/08/16)
Chopping Chillies Punters Reviews - Edinburgh 2016
Lotti Gompertz 18/08/16
***** I am not sure who wrote the story but this is worth more than the price of the ticket... It begins a story and unfolds a visceral tale of cross continent connection that is sensuously spicy and tenderly reaches in to move you when you least expect it to. If you have ever grieved, lost, loved, pined through nostalgia and been frustrated by do gooders..... This show will be something that merges with your soul. The performer evokes taste and smell with her words and blissfully carries this fast paced narrative with its characters to a fantastic finish. This should win an award. My only regret is that I want moments to linger like flavour of a great dish!
David G 24/08/16
Charming and well written and performed - go and see it.
C J Nichol 22/08/16
I am not sure who wrote the story but this is worth more than the price of the ticket... It begins a story and unfolds a visceral tale of cross continent connection that is sensuously spicy and tenderly reaches in to move you when you least expect it to. If you have ever grieved, lost, loved, pined through nostalgia and been frustrated by do gooders..... This show will be something that merges with your soul. The performer evokes taste and smell with her words and blissfully carries this fast paced narrative with its chataracters to a fantastic finish. This should win an award. My only regret is that I want moments to linger like flavour of a great dish!
Karen hatchell 22/08/16
Must see. Takes you on a journey of taste sight smell emotion. So glad I saw this Can't recommend it enough.
Ramon Estevez 21/08/16
Excellent and very intimate. Very well acted and non sentimental. A very moving piece well worth seeing.. Highly recommend.. Very relevant piece not what I was expecting.. A nice mix of drama tragedy and humor. Loved it!
Sean Davis 17/08/16
***** This one woman show has an Indian martial arts guru coming to London to run his deceased uncle's shoe repair store, and proceeds to help his hippie neighbor with her Indian restaurant. Clair Whitefield brings both the dour Indian and the light restaurateur to life with equal ease. Though the coincidence of shared sandals is unnecessary, it does at a touch of magic that fits the story.
This was the most enjoyable of the 80 shows I have seen so far this year. You may see my other similarly short reviews, in order from best to worst, at my non-commercial website: www.fringefan.info.
Jane Calvert 15/08/16
Wow ! What an amazing talent. Claire held us spellbound throughout her enchanting performance , transporting us from Camden to Kerala with her tale. Her characters full of both human vulnerability and great strength . She kept us transfixed for 60 minuets without missing a beat ! My favourite show so far .
Pat Reid 10/08/16
wonderful show and an excellent performance from Clair. Her charisma, imagination and powerful story telling hold us rapt from the start. She weaves her tale seamlessly, engagingly, and all too soon we are at the end of this fabulous feast, left wanting more. Go and enjoy!
Catherine Walker 06/08/16
What a pleasure to spend an hour in the divine company of Claire Whitefield. A storyteller extraordinaire who conjures up sights, sounds, smells and emotions through an utterly compelling 60mins. Spellbinding stuff from a rising talent.