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A cabaret that combines dynamic dance, dark humour and decadence to exploit the underside of showbiz!

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      11.08.2009 09:52
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      Martha & Arthur.

      The first show I saw at this year's Edinburgh Fringe kicked the arts festival off in suitably weird style. 'A Lot of Nerve' is a fusion of cabaret, dance and what is perhaps erroneously billed as 'comedy,' performed by Martha & Arthur, two nimble performers who are clearly unknown veterans of the stage, however much the performers and their characters are intended to overlap. The show was inventive, artistic, a little rubbish, slightly embarrassing and almost certainly condemned to perform incredibly poorly and make a debilitating financial loss. It perfectly encapsulates the spirit of the Fringe. Perhaps most confusing of all is the relatively high-budget venue chosen to host the performance, the Pleasance Dome on George Square. Whenever I've been invited to review an unknown theatrical oddity like this in festivals past, it's invariably been staged in a tellingly ramshackle venue, one of the previously non-existent cellars and caves that spontaneously appear in August when Edinburgh shifts to an extradimensional plane for one month of the year. A cavern hewn out of the Old Town with some lighting and sound equipment visibly rigged up in a manner that complies with health and safety regulations in only the most perfunctory manner possible. Not a comfortable, functional theatre with adequate toilet facilities. Fortunately, no one had asked me to review the show this time, so I'm free to say what the hell I like. It's a little shameful that my main preoccupation throughout the show was, "how are they going to afford this?" With an audience of only seven people (on a half-price preview night of all nights), Martha & Arthur would have been playing to a crowd of three if me and my friends hadn't impulse bought tickets, in a show that requires both the dissection of a dress and a fresh place of donuts each night, not to mention the cost of hiring the venue and dry-cleaning Arthur's star-spangled pants. This is clearly a show being performed for the sheer love of theatre rather than for financial gain, and for this reason I respect it quite a lot. I just wish I could do it the service of a glowing review, but nobody's paying me to do that. And it's not like anyone's reading this anyway. To their credit, the performers never broke character or toned down the performance for the minimal audience. Even as they entered backwards onto the stage and slowly revolved to face the almost-empty room, their eyes betrayed no flicker of despair - and believe me, I was looking. The show is a mix of cabaret and minimal acting, with several instances of live, low-key singing and more in the way of exhaustive dance interpretations of old cabaret chestnuts, all well choreographed and varied enough to maintain interest throughout the hour-long performance. There's a fairly oblique story charting the rise and fall of the characters in the theatrical world as well, or something, but don't worry too much about that, and shenanigans involving Arthur jumping around in just his pants that could be raunchy, if you're a bit strange. More importantly, there were no slip-ups with the prerecorded track, which is always a danger with shows like these, and impacted several others I saw shortly after. This is clearly a show that's been honed and choreographed to perfection, even if that perfection is some significant distance away from artistic genius. I liked it, but it was an odd one.

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