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Edinburgh Fringe: Celia Pacquola/ Could It Be Forever?/ Sammy J | reviews, news & interviews

Edinburgh Fringe: Celia Pacquola/ Could It Be Forever?/ Sammy J

Edinburgh Fringe: Celia Pacquola/ Could It Be Forever?/ Sammy J

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Celia Pacquola made her Fringe debut last year after storming various comedy festivals in her native Australia with a show about her boyfriend’s infidelity and, while it was entertaining enough, it lacked a bit of oomph. But her new show packs a real emotional and comedic punch and displays a noticeable development of her writing and performing talents.

Celia Pacquola, Gilded Balloon ****

It’s again an autobiographical story and ostensibly Flying Solos is about those moments in life when we have no choice but to go it alone. To illustrate the point, Pacquola describes the task she set herself last year - to learn the piano break in the Pointer Sisters’ "I’m So Excited". It’s easy enough to go along with such an obvious device as it provides an amusing throughline for a story that has some very funny anecdotes and well-judged video excerpts.

Ultimately, though, Flying Solos is about Pacquola’s mother, Pam, who had to learn to fly solo herself, in more ways than one. The show becomes even warmer and funnier when Pam becomes the subject because Pacquola is clearly in awe of her mum, although it never descends into sentimentality as the performer has that most Australian of virtues -  an acute sense of self-awareness where bullshit is concerned.

Pacquola proves herself a fine actress and a writer with a talent for neatly summing up experiences in one-liners - high school is described as “that carnival of humiliation”, for instance - and one of the video pieces contains a laugh-out-loud joke about Googling that remains with me days after I saw the show. An absolute treat. Until 30 August

Could It Be Forever? Gilded Balloon ***

Ladies (and some men) of a certain age still go moist at the mention of David Cassidy, the heartthrob who first came to fame on television musical drama The Partridge Family and whose solo career included a raft of British and American top-10 hits in the 1970s. Now Lucie Fitchett and Victoria Willing, two of his fans from that era, have written a play prompted by their experiences.

It opens as six middle-aged men and women meet for the first time since 1973, when Cassidy played six concerts over one weekend at the Empire Pool, Wembley and his fan mania was at its height. The three women recall when, as teenage girls, they went to one of the Wembley gigs and then, aided and abetted by the boys, had bunked off school to go and scream at Cassidy where he was staying in London. As the play progresses, the group’s old loyalties, bonds and rivalries re-emerge and the actors slip into their characters’ teenage selves to play out those events in 1973.

The characters are stock (a closet gay, a ditzy hippie chick, her one-time love rival, who has turned into a bitter adult because She Had An Unhappy Childhood, are among the mix), and the exposition is often clunky - “and so that’s why your dad took you to live in Australia” -  but the cast act as if they believe in it and the 90 minutes passes easily enough, helped by some poptastic Cassidy music, of course. Until 29 August

Sammy J, Underbelly ***

The immensely likeable Australian comic made his 2008 Fringe debut with the musical comedy Sammy J in the Forest of Dreams, a show devised with puppeteer Heath McIvor, and then returned last year with a solo play, 1999. This is his first stand-up show, with a few musical interludes, and proves him to be a comic of real talent and presence, even if he weighs only 58kg, as he tells us at the top of the show.

Skinny Man, Modern World is a collection of anecdotes about Sammy J’s childhood, his travels and his life on the road. They are beautifully crafted and some are told at daring length, and he is always cast as the butt of the joke - whether it be the gruesome after-effects of greedily wolfing down a beefburger when drunk, upsetting a member of his audience in Australia, or a teenage prank involving a “double-cocking” on the school bus. The songs may not be memorable, but the payoffs to Sammy J’s stories certainly are. Until 29 August

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