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Edinburgh Fringe 2018

Bowjangles: Excalibow

Lee Martin for Gag Reflex

Genre: Comedy, Music, Theatre

Venue: Gilded Balloon Teviot


Low Down

Bowjangles are a string quartet – with a difference!  A singing, dancing, comedy, cabaret, variety, theatrical string quartet.  They themselves write: “It’s REALLY DIFFICULT to describe what we do! We were never satisfied sitting still and playing our instruments, so over the years we added more and more dimensions to our performances.” Excalibow is a new show, marking their 10 year anniversary, recounting the humorous, implausible story of 4 friends in search of a mythical violin bow.


The story of Excalibow is told by a combination of song, movement, story-telling, comedy and music. The unique and outstanding feature of this performance, however, is that, for the majority of the time, all of the above elements are performed simultaneously – with increasingly creative use made of two violins, a viola and a cello as the story progresses.

Every element of this fast-paced, one-hour show is performed to an exceptionally high standard. The vocal and instrumental work alone is astounding, but when this is combined with seamless physical movement, precise comic timing and engaging character development, this performance becomes something very special.

The improbable, witty plot of Excalibow (the writing and musical arrangements for which were generated from within the cast) provides a platform on which to incorporate all the talents of this skilled ensemble. Many humorous references are drawn from books, music (even theory!), film, TV and The Fringe itself. Although younger members of the audience may not recognise all the references and puns this really doesn’t matter, as the story has a flow, cohesion and humour all of its own.

The performance I was at quickly established the characters and personalities of each of the ensemble, to whom the audience instantly warmed. The cast communicated a real sense of friendship and camaraderie – enabling the audience to feel that they were alongside the tight-knit group on their implausible adventure.

In addition to the witty plot, innovative movement, remarkable vocals and instrumental skill, the performance had measured elements of audience interaction in which the cast demonstrated skilled responsiveness. The performance I saw had some minor issues with microphones and prop lighting, but the cast cleverly and seamlessly incorporated these issues into the dialogue, such that you were left feeling that these glitches had enhanced the humour of the performance! The use of lighting and simple props, used in a highly creative way, made a significant contribution to both the storytelling and comedy.

It is difficult to describe the performance Bowjangles create. I do not think it would be an overstatement to say that it seems highly unlikely that there will ever be another ensemble performance like this. The range of talent required to perform this show, along with the skilled and witty writing, is likely to be unique to this group.

The only minor element I could identify to improve the performance would be to use a slightly wider screen at the back of the stage, to ensure movement isn’t occasionally visible when actors are changing costume. However, this is a very, very small point, and serves mainly to illustrate how little there is that could improve this wonderful performance.

I watched Bowjangles perform at the Fringe four years ago, in a smaller venue, and thought the show to be highly enjoyable – still clearly remembering some of the highly creative elements. The cohesive, witty script underpinning Excalibow has, I feel, taken this ensemble to another level.  Excalibow is an hour of joyous Fringe fun, underpinned by admiration and amazement at the creativity displayed by this hugely talented cast.