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The Theatreguide.London Reviews


The several simultaneous events that make up 'The Edinburgh Festival' - the International Festival, the Fringe, the Comedy Festival, etc. - bring literally thousands of shows and performers to the Scottish capital each August. Virtually all of these shows tour after Edinburgh, and many come to London, so the Festival is a unique preview of the coming year.

No one can see more than a small fraction of what's on offer, but with an expanded review team that once again included Edinburgh veterans Duska Radosavljevic and Philip Fisher, we were able to review more than 180 shows.

Originally spread over several pages, they've been squeezed onto two pages for this archive. They're in alphabetical order (solo performers by last name), with A-L on this page and M-Z on a second page.

Scroll down for the show you're looking for, or just browse.

Adventure Fantastique - Age of Angels - American Poodle - The Art of Swimming - As The Mother Of A Brown Boy - Ashes - Dan Atkinson - Bacchic - Ballerina Who Loves a B-Boy - Bards of Bangkok - Barnaby Brown - Basic Training - Battle of Stalingrad - Bed and Breakfast - Believe - David Benson - Best Western - Blood Confession - The Book Club - Break Out - Breaker Morant - Faith Brown - Busy Night - Cabaret Decay - Cambridge Footlights - James Campbell - A Canadian Bartender at Butlins - Captain Corelli's Mandolin - Change - Cherry Smoke - Paul Chowdhry - Cinderella - Classic Entertainment - Company - The Container - Nina Conti - A Conversation With Edith Head - Chris Cox - Damascus - Defending the Cavewoman - Denied - Dickens Unplugged - Dogfight - Druthers - Eurobeat - Excuse My Dust - Eclipse - Exits and Entrances - Failed States - Fanny and Faggot - Fatboy - Tim Fitzhigham - Flanders and Swann - Floating - Follow Me - 40 Feathered Winks - Deborah Frances-White - Frank and Dolly - Funeral Games - Game Theory - A Glance at New York - Global - Janey Godley - God's Pottery - Goodbye - Hamell On Trial - Hamlet (Solo) - Hangman - Richard Herring - Hippo World Guest Book - Alex Horne - Amelia Jane Hunter - Hysteria - The Importance of Shoes - Incarnat - Robin Ince - Insomnibabble - Iron Curtain - Is This About Sex? - Jackajack - Jesus: The Guantanamo Years - Jihad, the Musical - Jason Kavan - Shappi Khorsandi - Killer Joe - Kit and the Widow - La Femme Est Morte - Leitmotif - Lemons Are For Emergencies Only - The Line Between - Little Howard and the Magic Pencil - Life in a Marital Institution - Long Time Dead - Norman Lovett - Lucid Dreams For Higher Living

Go to second - M-Z - page

Adventure Fantastique - The Durham Revue   Underbelly Hurrah! At last a student revue that is actually funny! I've been critical of past Durham revue teams for not being able to convert sketch ideas into actual sketches, but at least they've kept trying, practically the only university company outside Oxbridge to keep sending a show to Edinburgh. Well, this year they've got it right. Not only do they have good concepts (generally built around the running theme of exploration), but every sketch is actually funny and every one is performed with real comic flair. What's more, almost every one features throwaway lines or non-sequitors that catch you by surprise and make you interrupt one laugh with another. A very funny movie trailer, a new take on Scott of the Antarctic, a German-run adventure camp, a director's commentary track for a film DVD, and proof that Benny Hill hated squirrels are among the highlights, but there really isn't a dud in the bunch. That's a lot harder than it looks, so congratulations all around.   Gerald Berkowitz

An Age of Angels Assembly Rooms Mark Soper's solo play imagines the events leading to a mass killing on the Los Angeles streets, with Soper playing ten characters who unknowingly have a part in the process leading to the tragedy. A pedophile hangs around a schoolyard watching one girl, who notices him but is more interested in the boys playing ball. A nerdy kid tries to impress her by kicking the soccer ball and somehow sends it over the fence into the street. A motorist annoyed by the traffic jam this produces tries to speed away and draws the attention of a cop, but another driver stops to get the ball, which a street crazy imagines to be a space alien come to take him to his home planet, and so on. Each step is essentially innocent, each character makes sense, but somehow they lead inevitably to someone pulling a gun and firing wildly. Actually, a couple of characters in the chain don't really seem necessary to the story, and only a few, notably the helpful driver and the cop, are developed or presented fully enough to really come alive. So one senses more authorial manipulation and less natural inevitability than Soper the playwright might wish, especially since Soper the actor does not quite get inside some of the secondary figures. Gerald Berkowitz

American Poodle Assembly Rooms Like some stand-off between rival DJs, this brace of separately penned monologues pits two rival views of the UK and the US head to head. The result is a funny and often thoughtful whizz through our linked history and culture. First off is a race through the colonisation of America from the British angle. Directed by Peter McNally, Guy Masterson gets a laugh the instant he opens his mouth as a laconic Welshman indignantly explaining how the Welsh really got there first. He changes to a harder-nosed Londoner who is more concerned with the bigger picture, how Britain wrested a whole continent from its rival powers France and Spain. But just as America at last becomes British, the colony then breaks with the motherland. The colonists' 'Can't Pay Won't Pay' attitude to tax leads to the Boston Tea Party and, handily, American independence. Sprinkled with modern references, the narrative allows Masterson to bring an infectious physicality to his roles, rolling across the stage, for example, as the mad flatulent King George III while getting in neat digs at George W. Bush in the process. In part II we meet an American just off the plane in London for a business meeting. Directed by John Clancy, David Calvitto launches into a verbal diary reminiscent of a 19th-century traveller describing the splendours of some fabled kingdom in the east. He sees what he expects: a land of Shakespearean culture, Pepsyian splendour and Victorian poverty. He wonders which airport corridor leads to 'Scot Land', and sees driving on the left-hand side of the road as one big prank, He is interested in discovering 'what God a second-tier nation prays to' and marvels at the dinkiness of institutions such as No. 10 Downing Street. His ditty about all the good America has given the Brits provides as many insane rhymes as it does laughs. Calvitto's trademark motor-mouth delivery creates a carousel of ever improbable images that reel you into this satirical Dystopia. Although these are meant to be arty digs by one nation against the other, both pieces in fact hold a mirror up to Britain which is no bad thing. Masterson's own script keeps the momentum and satire high but occasionally slips, notably in not providing any meaningful climax for his otherwise energetic performance. It is in the middle of his piece for Calvitto that author Brian Parks lets things sag somewhat - for example, the riff on fat-bottomed Americans clogging up escalators unfairly causes the performance to drag. However the real fun, of course, is in comparing and contrasting the very different styles of both actors and writers. Nick Awde

The Art of Swimming  Traverse Modest almost to the point of invisibility, this solo show by Lynda Radley quietly knocks on the door of our awareness and asks politely to be allowed a few moments (an hour, actually) to tell the story of Mercedes Gleitze, the first British woman to swim the English Channel. Minimalism is itself too big a word to describe Radley's performance. She does climb a ladder at one point to suggest a high dive, and stands gently swaying in place to evoke swimming, but for the most part she simply tells the story in an almost affectless manner, in what flirts dangerously with the borders of a parody of amateurism. What saves her from slipping over that line is her absolute control over her tone, along with flashes of evocative imagery, as when Gleitze's childhood in Brighton is encapsulated in the opening of a picnic basket. The story itself proves to have little of drama in it, but Radley's  deliberately unflashy presentation never tries to make more of it than there is.  Gerald Berkowitz

As the Mother of a Brown Boy Zoo Southside More of a cultural phenomenon than a straightforward dance theatre company, Chickenshed prides itself on having produced some really significant work over the last 30 years, especially in the area of cultural integration and in using art to make a difference to people's lives. Friends with the royalty and Oscar-winning actors as well as dancers with Down syndrome or cerebral palsy - this company's outreach track record is simply impressive. If this is your first encounter with Chickenshed, it's a good place to start. Dealing with the real life event of the accidental death of the 19 year old mixed race boy Mischa Niering during a flight from a crime scene, the piece is a transporting combination of live music, storytelling and dance. Artistically, great value is placed on stillness as well as movement, breadth as well as depth, spoken text as well as song - Natsai Gurupira's live blues effortlessly meeting Christine Niering's recorded monologue. But ultimately, the main concern of this piece is the value of human life itself, as well as motherly love and healing through shared grief. Duska Radosavljevic

Ashes Pleasance Dome Ali Muriel's earnest play has the inescapable feel of theatre-in-education about it, the sense that performances are meant to be followed by teacher-led discussions on the topics it raises. Even if that's not where its roots lie, it remains more a thesis-driven thought piece than a fully-developed drama. We meet four characters in some kind of Limbo, where they are painfully forced to relive their lives, with the other three actors playing supporting roles in each scene. Since the stories are told in alternating fragments, it takes a while before the pattern develops. All were martyrs to the cause of freedom - a seventeenth-century woman accused of witchcraft, a twentieth-century partisan, and so on - and all died in fires, and the job of the play is to discover whether their deaths accomplished anything and whether what was accomplished was worth it. I'm sorry if that line sounds like a discussion question, but the play feels like a series of such questions. It's well acted, for what it is, and thoroughly well-meaning, and probably good for you. Gerald Berkowitz

Dan Atkinson Knows That He Knows Nothing Pleasance Under the deliberately goofy face staring out at you from what is one of the more attractive posters on the fringe this year, Dan Atkinson conceals a rather fine brain. Not only that, he also has rather sophisticated tastes. Add to that a trademark gruff laconic delivery, and you have an individual who is perfectly qualified to pass acid comment on our dumbed-down green and pleasant land. Sex shop superstores and megamalls in obscure parts of the nation cause him bemusement. He wearily asks what a Cheeky Vimto cocktail has to offer that a cup of tea does not, before launching into a list of his favourite put-downs for hecklers, a snappy dissection of the economics of performing at Edinburgh and hen parties. People from Leeds get a special going over, although Atkinson is happy to admit that even posh neighbour York has more than its fair share of scallies. Still, he gloats how natural selection might work its way through York's chav population thanks to the deep waters of its fast flowing river. He speaks of many other weighty matters. In fact, Atkinson would be quite a social commentator really, if it wasn't for the fact that he sidetracks himself with what you suspect is his real love, words and crosswords. His riff on cryptic clues is as fascinating as it is funny - well, to those who care about such things probably (which would endear you forever to the man). His rapport with the crowd is instant and you believe his self-effacing claims that it's all bollocks - just so long as it's funny, obviously, which he does an excellent job of guaranteeing. Nick Awde

Bacchic Gilded Balloon We have come to expect that a piece of theatre is either script-led or performance-led and that rarely the two will be equally outstanding. Especially when it comes to physical performance, our expectations plummet in relation to almost everything else other than the physical skill and prowess of the performers. On the other hand, a textual re-reading of a classic would only tentatively consider dealing with its key themes by nonverbal means. All that changes in Tamsin Shasha and Jonathan Young's exquisite piece with the Actors of Dionysus. Reinterpreting Euripides' play about worship and cynicism as a modern day parable about the power of celebrity, this one-woman show makes a really inventive and seamless integration of scripted and physical theatre. Shasha is a highly competent performer who effortlessly combines her physical and psychological resources to create crisp, delicate and layered characterisations, and she also finds a thousand uses for the end of her rope, which transforms in seconds from a grubby tea towel into a luxurious sofa. Primarily imagination-led, this is indeed a rare piece of theatre. Duska Radosavljevic

The Ballerina Who Loves a B-Boy ClubWEST@the Hilton An enormous hit in Korea, this high-energy, high-octane breakdancing musical seems likely to be just as successful in the West. Its plot, told entirely in dance, is summed up in the title - at first annoyed by the noise of street dancers outside her studio, a young ballerina comes under the spell of break dancing and of one dancer in particular, and gives up her tutu to join the crew. Except for a brief scene-setting ballet sequence and a delightful challenge dance between ballerinas and hip-hoppers, the dance vocabulary is entirely modern, starting with the sort of break dance challenges kids were doing on the streets of New York thirty years ago, but blended with more sophisticated Hammer-style and club dancer hip-hop and, most importantly, the tight choreography and discipline of theatre and music video dancing. Of course there is precedent for mixing dance modes, with Twyla Tharp, Alvin Ailey, and before them Jerome Robbins choreographing such crossovers, and one small disappointment is that, unlike them, the creators of this show did not find ways to let classical ballet affect and enrich the street dance vocabulary. Still, while the result remains a relatively limited set of movements, there is no denying its excitement or the virtuosity of the large company of dancers, whose fast footwork, various styles of spinning, and gravity-defying leaps and cartwheels have the audience cheering all the way through (and one of the house rules is that cheering, photographing and recording are encouraged).  Gerald Berkowitz

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The Bards of Bangkok C Soco In Paul Lewis's new play four men at loose ends in Bangkok meet regularly under the pretense of being poets, but mainly to drink and talk about women. One of them, the rather wet poet Philip, announces that he's in love with a woman he's just met, but she turns out to be one of playboy Tony's recent flames. Rather than passively let the men fight over her, Amina declares herself both judge and prize of a poetry contest open to all four, leading to the display of very different attitudes toward love and women.  With Philip's sentimentality and need contrasted to Tony's have-fun-while-it-lasts cynicism, we also see the coarseness of Ronnie and the etherealness of Arnold, along with Amina's own above-it-all amusement. Unfortunately, despite all the self-exposure, none of the characters is really very interesting, nothing new is really illuminated about romance or sex, and as Amina comes to seem more manipulative and less attractive, we have difficulty caring who wins. In fact, one soft and sentimental ending is immediately followed by another, as the play itself seems unable to do much with the questions it has raised, and solid performances by David John Watton, Gareth McChlery and Helen Millar in the central roles can't really bring the characters alive. Gerald Berkowitz

Barnaby Brown: Orphan Extraordinaire Pleasance Dome In the grand Fringe tradition of fast-moving, anything-for-a-laugh, multiple-role-playing comedy, this delight from the Dog-Eared Collective leaves no pun unspoken, no sight gag unseen, no entendre left singular in its take-no-prisoners campaign for laughs. The mock-Dickensian story has orphan Barnaby, rejected by his rich and eccentric uncle, falling prey to all the dangers of evil London until a last-minute happy ending. This is the sort of show in which a doctor named Lawyer carries on both professions simultaneously, in which a character is as likely to ride an elephant through the mango groves of India (scent courtesy of an air freshener spray) as to encounter a revivalist clairvoyant from the American South, and in which Thomas Cook kidnaps poor people off the streets of London to force them on package holidays. Sight gags are literally thrown away, loose ends openly displayed in their untied state, and a handy balaclava allows an actor playing two roles to wrestle with himself. The cast of four, changing costumes at lightning speed, fill the stage with enough characters to populate a Dickens novel and the hour with more laughs than any three other Fringe shows put together. Gerald Berkowitz

Basic Training Assembly (Reviewed at a previous Festival) There is actually little that is unique or even especially dramatic in Kahlil Ashanti's autobiographical story, but the personality, versatility and intense energy of the performer make it one of the most entertaining and satisfying hours on the fringe. Ashanti joined the American Air Force but, after a few weeks of basic training, spent his entire tour of duty in the entertainment corps, touring bases around the world as a stand-up comic and occasional singer-dancer-stagehand. Providing a dramatic counterpoint to this upbeat experience was the fact that his mother told him the night before he left that the abusive man of the house wasn't his real father, but refused to help his ongoing attempt to learn more. In telling both stories, Ashanti plays himself and a few dozen other characters, from the loving mother and angry stepfather to a crusty sergeant and a camp entertainer, in a virtuoso display of his range and gusto. Since it is all true, perhaps only a curmudgeon will notice a hint of audience manipulation when, within the last ten minutes, he performs for a dying girl, defrosts his hard-nosed sergeant, stands up to his stepfather, liberates his mother, discovers that the girl's cancer has disappeared, and finally meets his father. Gerald Berkowitz

The Battle of Stalingrad Assembly Aurora Nova A puppet show about a World War II battle in Russian with English surtitles? Well it's an ambitious undertaking but one of the most magical and technical experiences on the fringe. In 1942-43, Stalingrad was more of a siege than a battle, where up to one and a half million soldiers and civilians died on both sides. Here Tbilisi Marionette State Theatre mixes puppet styles and narrative genres to conjure up the big picture by focusing on the little people, even animals, who contributed to the Soviet defence of the city. Each character has a journey both personal and geographical to the war front. Central to the story is a horse looking for his love, a circus equine, a Jew, a Kazakh, an artist, a Red Army general. All are citizens of the same country and while some of their stories may seem absurd in their insignificance, this is no more absurd than the inhumanity into which they will each be plunged - if we have our private hopes, surely this will convert into a common hope for all. The Nazis also get a look in, in the form of a monocled field marshal whose stiff sophistication is at odds with the carnage on the battlefield. The simplest of props is used to create startling effects - a revolving bucket with windows in its side represents a train racing across the steppes, egg boxes become legions of marching soldiers. Combined with a multi-layered soundscape of music and effects and the inventive precision of the puppeteers, this is storytelling of the highest order. Nick Awde

Bed and Breakfast Underbelly The landlady of a guesthouse welcomes a new guest, and their small talk moves into oddly personal areas until they seem unsure where to go next. So, to our surprise, they start all over, directing the conversation into a new and perhaps more successful path. At some point we'll twig that this is a lovers' game, but even that realisation will be modified and deepened as author Jennie Coles guides us to some understanding of why they resort to role play and what happens when one wants to end the game. Coles' short play, developed last year through the Royal Court's Young Writers Programme, is clearly still a work in progress, sometimes feeling more like the preliminary sketch for a play than the play itself. But it does have a solid core, and Coles has been wise enough not to stretch it too thin, so that at 40 minutes it doesn't outstay its welcome. Strong performances by Samantha Lynch and Perri Snowdon flesh out the characters so fully that there is not really much further for the author to go in developing them, so any further work on the script may have to explore the back story or the situation outside this room. Gerald Berkowitz

Believe Traverse Fringe veteran Linda Marlowe offers her strongest show in years in this set of four monologues written by Matthew Hunt. The stories of four Old Testament women are retold by imagining modern settings and consciousness for them, giving traditional tales of faith or faithlessness new and believable resonances that Marlowe's signature blend of passion and control brings out fully.  Rahab, a working-class whore, helps enemy spies just because they are the first men ever to ask something other than sex from her.  Bathsheba, a middle class army wife, strains to sustain the mental denial that her affair with the commanding officer had anything to do with her husband's death. Judith consciously works herself into the rage necessary to kill Holofernes by evoking memories of every indignity she suffered at the hands of men. And Hannah describes the torture and killing of her sons with a frightening calm that is a testament to the strength of her faith. Each piece stands on its own, with its own power of writing and performance, and the combination is not only the evocative exploration of faith that the title suggests, but also a convincing demonstration of Marlowe's range and intensity as an actress.  Gerald Berkowitz

David Benson Pleasance Dome Ten years ago the Princess of Wales died. Nine years ago David Benson was brave enough to look at the orgy of national mourning with a jaundiced eye, in a show that might have come a bit too early. He has revived and adapted it now for the tenth anniversary and, judging from the delighted audience response, the world has caught up to him. Benson is a monologist-comic-singer with considerable personal charm and an attractively bitchy sense of humour, and he takes delight in reminding us, for instance, that the backlash against Diana had already begun before her death, so the same people who mourned her so ostentatiously had been sneering at her a week before. He comments tellingly on things like the curious compulsion the British have to put memorial bouquets on railings, on the responses of TV commentators (Will Richard get Judy to cry?) and on the various conspiracy theories that sprang up almost as quickly as the mourning. He's at his best - that is to say, naughtiest - in taking us through the funeral ceremony, from the entrance march of celebrities, through the carefully rehearsed performances of Blair, John and Spencer, to the burial in what, he reminds us, was traditionally the Spencer family's pet cemetery.  And every time you think he's gone a bit too far, you find yourself and the rest of the audience coming right along with him in the delighted celebration of your shared cynicism.  Gerald Berkowitz

Best Western   Assembly Rooms Even in the twenty-first century the myth of the American West retains its power, and Rich Hall invokes and evokes it in this dark comedy that turns out to be more successful as a mood piece than as drama.  In the kind of third-string non-chain motel that still dots the American highways, an aged rancher is gathering his courage for a heart operation. He has called for his estranged son to visit, in hopes that he'll take over the ranch, but the son wants none of that. Meanwhile, the motel is run by the rancher's ex-wife, but any fantasies of a family reunion are blocked, at least in part because she has problems of her own, notably a very pregnant and very stupid daughter, and the imminent prospect of the government seizing her property to expand the highway. There's not a whole lot more to the play than that - just the collection of colourful characters (there's also the son's wife, the guy from the highway department and a cynical doctor) stuck in the middle of the kind of nowhere the West is still full of, with the Sam Shepard-like sense that only in this particular kind of nowhere could such characters end up in the same place. And so, although the characters are all grotesques, and not much really happens, you'll believe in them and care about them.   Gerald Berkowitz

Blood Confession    Assembly at Hill Street [DISCLAIMER: This play was written by my colleague and fellow TheatreguideLondon reviewer Nick Awde. Read what follows in that context.] In an almost deserted police station, two priests who have come on separate errands are reminded by an about-to-retire detective of a tragedy of 25 years ago in which all three were involved. A boy in a Church-run home fell from a window and died, but the cop still suspects foul play, and wants to clear up this case before he leaves the force. The cat-and-mouse game that follows brings in a junior officer who turns out to have his own interest in the case as questions of guilt and innocence, confession and absolution are explored. IF something untoward happened back then, and IF the perpetrator truly repented, then he is absolved in the eyes of God, and what role does human justice have left to play? As the characters in Nick Awde's taut procedural thriller wrestle with these questions, so does the audience, and as stunned as they may be by the shocking climax of the play, they are likely to carry away the moral and philosophical questions as well as the dramatic excitement. Gerald Berkowitz

The Book Club Assembly Universal Arts A fringe staple for several years, Robin Ince's hour is a mini variety show with a thematic frame. Ince spends a few weeks trolling Edinburgh charity shops for books with odd titles or funny content, and his part of the show consists of displaying or commenting on some of his finds. Sometimes, as with 'What God Does When Women Pray', the title is enough, other times, as with some Mills and Boon romances, Ince reads selected passages or points out the inevitably odd names of the Byronic heroes. From time to time he relinquishes the stage to another member of the company, either to continue with the theme or to do their own thing, and these are almost without exception the weakest parts of the hour. Johnny Candon stretches a persona of not having a clue, here by attempting totally inappropriate poems to famous people, far beyond its limits, and Asher Treleaven puts a paper bag on his head and staggers around the stage blindly, which some in the audience find hilarious. Howard Read sings a scary lullaby, and an operatic soprano and a tap dancer make brief appearances. Clearly very much a hit-or-miss operation, the show would probably be more consistently funny if it stuck with its theme, but audiences like it as it is and Ince may not be inclined to tamper with what works.  Gerald Berkowitz

Break Out Assembly Rooms Having dazzled international audiences for several years with its family-friendly fusion of martial arts and slapstick comedy, the Korean company behind the hit show Jump has come up with an altogether new type of creation. Consisting almost solely of hip-hop, break-dancing and voiceover, the show's striking Americanisation has also resulted in a cops and robbers type of comedy. Following a group of prisoners on the run and obviously attempting to achieve a tight and believable narrative structure, the show is still bursting with a few too many nice ideas and an overdeveloped beginning followed by a laboured middle and a contrived ending. There is also a baffling attempt to build a magical book into the show, which seems to set off everyone dancing, but otherwise seems quite unnecessary. Still, none of this stops the audience from coming back in droves and obviously thoroughly enjoying themselves. To be fair, the company do have a pleasant audience rapport and their physical skills are jaw-droppingly slick and spectacular. However, I'd much rather have the Korean martial arts, anytime. Duska Radosavljevic

Breaker Morant Udderbelly Kenneth G. Ross has adapted the 1980s film about the Boer War irregulars executed after a biased court martial as the latest offering of the Comedians Theatre Company, which gives stand-up comedians the opportunity to act, but the story itself proves stronger than its presentation. The script of what is essentially a courtroom drama makes it clear that the convicted soldiers, who were only following orders and doing what is done in wartime, were the victims of military prejudice, of British against Australians, of regular army against irregulars, of by-the-book men against more independent commandoes, and that they really didn't have a chance of getting off. So the suspense of the play lies not in what will happen, but in how far the establishment is prepared to go in perverting justice in order to rid itself of this embarrassment. While the company has had successes with comedians-turned-actors in the past, this production never rises above the level of a fairly good community or amateur theatre, with actors variously wooden, overacting, playing a single note or simply shouting at the back wall. As a result, the story's ironies play as heavy and unsubtle - not totally ineffective, but not nearly as strong as more rounded performances or stronger direction could have made them. Gerald Berkowitz

Faith Brown and her Boys in the Buff Pleasance With conscious echoes of A Chorus Line, The Full Monty and old Judy Garland-Mickey Rooney movies, this fast-moving show is a delightful capsule musical comedy that does indeed end with the guys getting their kit off, but doesn't rely on that for its entertainment value, offering a lot of fun along the way. The fictional premise has Faith Brown playing diva-impresario Diana Diamante, who is driven to rescue her down-at-heels seaside theatre by recruiting a chorus line of lads to back her in the buff, all under the jaundiced eye and amused commentary of her cynical pianist. The show takes us through the rehearsal period which, as in A Chorus Line, involves a degree of emotional self-exposure to prepare for the stripping. Enjoyable and energetic songs and dances include one about the fantasy of streaking at a football match and one tracing nudism back to Adam and Eve, while a slightly darker moment evokes memories of being teased as kids for minor physical flaws. The boys try in one song to reassure themselves that Size Doesn't Matter, and their boss encourages them in another to Let It All Hang Out. Along the way, veteran comic and impressionist Brown has fun playing the leader not quite sure of what she has let loose and sometimes not sure where to look, who seems unable to avoid embarrassing double entendres every time she opens her mouth. Brown also takes the opportunity from time to time, and in one big musical number, to run through her repertoire of voices and characterisations, from Mae West and Margaret Thatcher to Tina Turner and Posh Beckham. The final Full Monty number is appropriately the best of all, as the guys go from teasing strip to wild abandon, not only displaying their wares but juggling, tap dancing and/or skipping rope as they do. Gerald Berkowitz

Busy Night Underbelly Brian is a taxi driver who plies his trade by night, picking up the flotsam and jetsam of drunks and other lost souls and conveying them safely home. As you'd expect, he ruminates on life, the universe and everything, but is less enthusiastic about the chat from some of his fares - and when we meet them we understand why. There's an affable Polish drug dealer, an old woman nostalgic about her youth in the circus, a drunk window-dresser. Simon Goodall plays them all, jumping from seat to seat of his car. Their stories or their behaviour provide the opportunity for impressions, accents and sound effects. He creates a soundscape of opening doors, squelching seats and traffic - a South African dentist is the cue for a string of comedian catchphrases and a vicar for a farm's worth of animal noises. It's a promising premise. The main thing holding things back, however, is that Goodall, both as writer and actor, fails to provide any real indicator that his cabbie is a sympathetic character. Perhaps understandably, Goodall, who in real life drives a cab when he's not acting, lacks objectivity, but we do need to be told that Brian is not just another thieving, racist, misogynistic, bullying taxi-driver who deserves everything he gets. The same goes for his fares - they're one-dimensional, linked together only by their creator's sound effects, and, completely bafflingly, appear one and all to have stepped out of a timewarp from the 1970s. Nick Awde

Cabaret Decay Assembly at Aurora Nova Decay Unlimited take the Easyjet approach to a funeral wake - they welcome you with irresistible smiles and gooey biscuits, quickly followed by a rubbish-collecting round with a bin liner. This opening to their cabaret about death, disrepair and decomposition is one of their less bizarre numbers which gives them a chance to really connect with the audience. Not that we require them to work very hard, as this quirky Lecoq-trained trio are clearly brimming with natural singing, dancing and comic talent. But their choice of subject, being in the territory of the taboo, is a bit of a self-imposed challenge. Still this won't stop us laughing at the deceased saying his farewell from an urn or a mourner's ecological appeal being upstaged by an involuntary bosom animation. And you'll quickly find yourself delightfully humming along to I Will Survive or clapping to Fame. Only don't just take my word for it - you should really catch them while they are still around. Duska Radosavljevic

Cambridge Footlights Pleasance Dome The university revue, once a staple of the Fringe (and breeding ground of generations of British comic writers and performers) has fallen on hard times, with few other than Oxford and Cambridge continuing to fly the flag, and those rather limply. The problem is that coming up with the idea for a revue sketch is easy, but writing the actual sketch, with actual laughs in it, is very hard. The current Cambridge edition is full of ideas for sketches, but not the sketches themselves. Gay astronauts? Potential idea, but no jokes. Clown surgeons? Ditto. A song about Mr. Kipling and his cakes? There might be a funny one out there waiting to be written, but they haven't found it. What laughs - and successful flashes of originality - there are tend to be in throwaway bits, like a barrister-barrista pun or the image of the Dalai Lama obsessed with chocolates, or the satire of sitcom catch phrases. And nobody on stage leaps out as the next Cleese or Laurie. Footlights has had better years, and may yet again, but this is one you can safely pass up.  Gerald Berkowitz

James Campbell - The Spinistry of Moonerism Assembly Rooms Ever wondered what the actors are doing when they are off-stage during a show? In James Campbell's brilliant world of immensely silly children's comedy, they are simply in another show! The Spinistry of Moonerism is part of a simultaneous double bill with Onomatopoeia Society III and therefore becomes a calling point to a whole menagerie of estranged singing and dancing wannabes. Otherwise, it's a 'school for speople who poonerise - animals mainly' headed by a wonderfully ditsy Mazy Crunter, played with a delightful earnestness by Janyce Phayre. Most of the rest of Campbell's cast are so irresistibly charming too that you easily catch yourself guffawing at his perfectly absurd jokes even if you happen to be old enough to know better. I never knew what endless fun there was in a 'round of a paws' for example, but more importantly I never noticed all the more obvious narrative flaws of a play consisting of a string of characters between their entrances and exits. And neither did the thoroughly enraptured kids. Duska Radosavljevic

A Canadian Bartender at Butlins Baby Belly TJ Dawe is Canadian. That's important because not only does that give the comic a fascinating position from which to hold up a mirror on life in Britain but also because it's something he was reminded of it every second while working at a Butlins holiday camp in the early nineties. What he serves up is an immensely entertaining memoir of what was a grim time, when a holiday in Britain was anathema and holiday camps like Butlins and Pontin's struggled woefully to compete with a fortnight on the beach in Marbella. Bognor Butlins was an undeniably desperate place where Dawe started work as a barman. In his tale he first makes friends with the staff of the countless bars that litter the camp and quickly learns the difference between a lager top and a shandy. In the dingy staff quarters hidden away at the back he endures the jolly japes of his pot-smoking roommate Darren and dreams of the lovely Monica, a real Redcoat. He soon works out he can barely afford to work there on his wages, which are siphoned off him in any case by the subsidised staff bar that strangely offers a very long happy hour each payday. Dawe hooks you in right from the start with his affable delivery and instant characters. Leaping about the stage he creates narrative spaces aided only by a coffee table and the odd sound effect. There is a comforting Lake Wobegon quality about this until, surreally, you realise that this is all based on fact and the people also are real. It's more Rising Damp than Hi-de-Hi! Scary but funny, and worth the price of admission alone for Dawe's rap-like litany of grumbling Brits at the bar. Nick Awde

Captain Corelli's Mandolin Valvona & Crolla (Reviewed at a previous Festival) We are lucky that bestselling novel Captain Corelli's Mandolin has found its natural home with master storytellers Mike Maran and Philip Contini. Armed only with a handful of props - a cardboard motorbike, wooden goat, three swivelling heads to make up the opera society - and the occasional song, they weave anew Louis de Bernieres' magical tale of Cephalonia. Occupied during the Second World War by Italian and Nazi troops, the Greek island is where Captain Corelli falls in love with Pelagia, the local doctor's daughter. The realities of war, however, conspire against their love and tragedy threatens the gentle comedy of everyday life on the isle. Confidently dishing out the characters between them, Maran and Contini are so relaxed in each other's company that they finish off each other's sentences in conveying the humour, passion and horror of the events that swirl around Pelagia and her beloved music-loving captain. Of course there wouldn't be a story without a mandolin, and Alison Stephens provides haunting melodies on the instrument throughout, adding guitar, tuba and trumpet - and with a snare drum staccato she represents the shock of the firing squad - to Anne Evans' lyrical piano and flute. Their soundtrack is as expressive and emotional as the words they accompany. They've been doing this since 1999 but the production is as fresh as the first day they did it. A spellbinding experience. Nick Awde

Change - The Upcoming War With Iran Assembly at Hill Street In Mark Soper's new play a low-level American foreign policy analyst is suddenly lifted out of obscurity and moved into the role of senior advisor to the President - not, as he hopes, because of his unique insights into the Islamic world and the patterns of history, but so that his name can be cited to justify political and military decisions that have already been made. His growing awareness of this, his wrestling with whether to allow it, and finally his suspicion that what he says and does probably won't make much difference either way, are the backbone of the play, on which playwright Soper hangs several thought-provoking speeches and debates that are its real meat. A subplot in which the central character's dilemma is mirrored in his domestic life, and the enigmatic figure of an Iranian woman with an important but never actually identified document remain loose ends that are never really integrated with the main action. Director Gordon Carver works to keep the focus steady but is not always successful, nor is he able to curb the tendency of some of his cast to overact. Gerald Berkowitz

Cherry Smoke C Cubed Winner of the Princess Grace Award, James McManus's play follows the doomed romance of a pair of wounded characters to its inevitable tragic climax. Fish is an uneducated ruffian whose only talent is as a boxer and whose greatest handicap is his inability to restrict his aggression to the ring. Cherry is a homeless girl who has loved him from the time they met as children, and for whom there can be no life without him. In a series of scenes jumping back and forth between their childhood and adult life together, we watch their mutual dependence develop even as the rest of their lives are going nowhere. Providing a point of comparison are the lives of Fish's brother and the girl who picks him as her own, and the way they settle into and settle for a very modest but undramatic life. The process by which Fish's ring career damages his health and his street fighting keeps sending him to jail is perhaps predictable, as is what happens when he finally realises that he and Cherry have no hope of a happy future. More insightful and attractive is what happens along the way, as playwright McManus lets us watch both women slowly breaking through the men's barriers and teaching them how to love and be loved. Gerald Berkowitz

Paul Chowdhry - Lost in Confusion Baby Belly Paul Chowdhry is playing a cave this year - one of the Baby Belly ones, to be sure, atmospheric but dank and, understandably, not exactly conductive to the comic's quickfire style. A couple of opening gags, however, about Bin Laden in his own cave somewhere in the Afghan hills and he has the audience instantly up and running. By the time a couple of latecomers have actively provided unexpected mirth and a burly but jovial heckler in the front row becomes a part of the act (even attempting to strip at one point), Chowdhry has already covered haggling for illegal DVDs, blaming al-Qaeda for the floods, fascist self-check-in machines at supermarkets and the embarrassment of exposing todgers in the gym. A running theme is that of racism and, just as bad, inverse racism, such as being phoned up by an agent asking him to act as an Arab in a reconstruction for a Panorama special on terrorist bombings. As a Panjabi Sikh he explains why his answer of 'no thanks' meets with baffled indifference. Conversely there's the problem he hits in Indian restaurants: if he changes his natural north London twang to lilting Indian tones to show solidarity with the proprietors he somehow always gets shown the door before he's even got his coat off. Chowdhry keeps up a steady stream of gags and left-field links that fuel what is a fairly unique perspective of observations on British life, and he ties everything up neatly by the end while still leaving the audience wanting more. Nick Awde

Cinderella C Venue Karina Wilson's inventive deconstruction of the familiar story adds enough fresh touches to keep parents alert without straying so far from the familiar as to upset the 3-6-year-olds (all girls, noticeably) in the audience. The stepsisters' cynical footman attempts to tell his dark version of the tale, only to be interrupted by Cinderella with the truth. She was actually quite content in her scullery, and only the encouragement of a friendly rat, who made her slippers and even taught her how to dance, got her to the ball. Adults may be a little less surprised than their children when the rat turns out to have been an under-an-evil-spell Royal Personage, but it adds a nice dimension to the tale and helps make the point that Happily Ever After is built on more than a single date. Sarah Lark is attractive as Cindy, James Witt amiable as the rat and appropriately manly as the prince, Alastair Watson oily without being too scary as the footman, and Sara Pascoe and Gemma Whelan funny as the very contemporary and Chav-ish sisters. Under Ed Viney's direction, the show zips along nicely, staying well within the attention span of its young audience. Gerald Berkowitz

Classic Entertainment! Pleasance Like a Music Hall version of the National Theatre of Brent, this double act celebrates an entertainment form while sending it up by presenting in the guise of incompetence. The comical-looking Mr. Winchester, a supremely confident but seriously untalented variety artiste, takes us through his wide but shallow repertoire with the dubious assistance of his even more ridiculous and bumbling assistant Tommy (a last-minute replacement for Mrs. Winchester, whose sudden departure is best not mentioned). And so there are bad and seriously un-PC jokes badly told, an improvisation segment that ignores the audience suggestions, weak songs and stumbling dances, all presented with the confidence of characters who believe themselves great entertainers, and punctuated by insults and squabbling generated by the boss's impatience with his stooge. Portraying incompetence skillfully is difficult, and Dan Skinner and Tom Verrall pull off the delicate trick of being better and funnier than the characters they play. High points include a ventriloquist act that covers oft-seen ground with a freshness that makes it seem new, and a north-of-England version of TV's 24, in which Jack Bauer complains about all his compulsory overtime. Gerald Berkowitz

Company C Venue It is exactly 50 years since Stephen Sondheim had his major break as lyricist on West Side Story. His 1970 musical Company (book by George Furth), which broke the mould and introduced the format of a concept musical, is now older than its womanising protagonist, commitment-phobe Bobby, who is surrounded by happily married friends but lives all alone. Not that the age of the work really matters in this timeless and beautifully simple production by Michael Strassen. A minor intervention featuring a text message instead of a wedding card both works well and brings the story right up to date - as nothing else really seems to have changed when it comes to romantic relationships. Strassen's ultra-minimalist and mainly presentational production features some top notch performances from an obviously skilled cast. Antonio Mcardle as Robert is suitably slightly aloof in what is essentially his meditation on the mad world around him. Meanwhile, Helen George as the sexy and ditzy stewardess April really stands out of the crowd, but then again she is meant to. Otherwise this is an ensemble performance not to be missed, if you are after a quality musical. Duska Radosavljevic

The Container Udderbelly There's so word of mouth about this show that I won't be giving anything away by explaining that this thoughtful play is set in a real container trailer. And in the audience goes to perch among the packing crates and boxes. Within these claustrophobic dimensions, lit only by hand torches, we encounter first-hand the very real dangers of illegally entering the UK in the back of a lorry. It proves to be no gimmick as the weary, terrified travellers in the trailer reveal themselves one by one and we learn bit by bit about how they came to be here. It would definitely be giving too much away to go into each character's story. Suffice to say that they come from not quite the deprived backgrounds the tabloids would have us expect, and, because English is the language they have in common, we are allowed to observe them as our peers rather than as a foreign threat come to take our jobs and state benefits. Director Tom Wright gets the best out of the performers William El-Gardi, Mercy Ojelade, Deborah Leveroy, Chris Spyrides, Omar Mostafa and Doreene Blackstock, who each bring a raw energy to their diverse roles and nationalities. He is lucky to have such a finely tuned ensemble, and they have to be, since half the time they can't see each other due to the constricted elongated space or quite simply because they're acting in the dark. Although Clare Bayley's script struggles somewhat to fill 70 minutes, it succeeds not by harping on about how terrible human trafficking is but by emphasizing that these are real people with real lives, even, unsettlingly, those who traffic them. Nick Awde

Nina Conti   Pleasance After a false start in Edinburgh a few years ago, comic ventriloquist Nina Conti hit her stride and rose quickly to the top of the comedy ladder. The juxtaposition of an innocent-looking pretty girl and a foul-talking monkey dummy proved irresistible, and as Nina's skill and confidence grew, it sometimes seemed that Monkey was the star of the act, quicker thinking and better at ad libbing than his partner. The current show is Conti's first attempt at filling a full hour, and inevitably involves stretching herself beyond the interplay with Monkey.  She auditions some new dummies - a dog, a baby, an alternative monkey - and tries working without a doll, playing an old man talking in his mind with his dead wife. The sad fact, though, is that Monkey is indeed the star of the act, and the sequences without him all fall flat. Fortunately, there is enough of him to carry the hour over its dead spots and to please Conti fans, though it looks like she may be stuck with this one doll, and with the somewhat shorter act that shows him off most effectively.   Gerald Berkowitz

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A Conversation With Edith Head   Assembly at Hill Street Edith Head was chief costume designer for two major Hollywood Studios, Paramount and Universal, from 1923 to her death in 1981. In all, she designed for hundreds of films, winning the Oscar for eight of them. Susan Claassen's staging, written with Paddy Calistro and based on Calistro's book about Head, finds the designer in the last year of her life, reminiscing and answering questions supposedly posed by audience members. She is alternately helped and irritated by one member of the audience, a film buff with an encyclopaedic memory, played by Ramsay Ure. The 'And then I designed' structure inevitably involves a lot of name-dropping, with Head's memories of actresses from Barbara Stanwyck to Grace Kelly. Those hoping for dirt will be disappointed, there being little gossip beyond the news that the young Elizabeth Taylor had a 19 inch waist, Gloria Swanson wore size 2-1/2 shoes, and Dorothy Lamour hated sarongs. The pedant in the audience does force Head to acknowledge that, as leader of a large studio design department, she took credit for some work actually done by her assistants, but that is about as dark as the show ever gets. Susan Claassen captures Head's signature subdued-businesswoman look, explaining that when her stars watched her fitting their gowns in a mirror, they had to see only themselves, undistracted by what she wore. The actress cleverly affects absentmindedness, reaching for names or film titles so the audience spontaneously helps her.  It is not likely that anyone will come away from this slight piece knowing much more than they did coming in, but for those of a certain age, or those with a love of classic Hollywood, it will be a pleasant trip down memory lane.  Gerald Berkowitz

Chris Cox - Everything Happens for a Reason Gilded Balloon Magician-mentalist Chris Cox's stock in trade is made up of various sorts of mind-reading and prediction illusions, such as appearing to know in advance what card a member of the audience will pick or what word he will choose from a book, since Cox will have the answer already written somewhere. Some of his repertoire was seen in last year's Edinburgh show - the circled word in the Fringe brochure already printed on Cox's T-shirt, the audience member's drawing he can duplicate without having seen it, and the collection of audience suggestions for film credits that magically appear on a DVD that has been held by one patron from the beginning - but they are just as impressive the second time around. . Cox acknowledges that these are all tricks, built on subliminal suggestions, sleight-of-hand and the reading of unconscious giveaways by his volunteers, but if anything that only adds to his impressiveness, since we are clearly in the hands of a master technician. Also contributing to the show's fun is his amiable informality - he chooses volunteers by tossing a toy ferret into the audience - and complete absence of the traditional magician's false pomposity and flashiness. Gerald Berkowitz

Damascus Traverse Naïve Westerner travels to an exotic culture and finds it both seductive and far more complex than he could have imagined, leading to tragedy and/or his departing much sadder-but-wiser. It's a play (or film or novel) we've seen dozens of times before, and David Greig's new version doesn't really have very much to add to the genre except for some new metaphors through which to express it. His hero is a Scot, author of a series of teaching-English-to-foreigners textbooks his publisher is hoping to get the Syrians to adopt.  But it doesn't surprise us as much as it does him that the Syrians are not passive and grateful recipients of his product, and may in fact be using him as a pawn in some power games of their own. Meanwhile, his polite friendliness to an unhappy hotel clerk also proves more complicated and fraught with danger than he thought. So far, there's really nothing new here. What is fresh is the exploration of the ways the innocent sample conversations of a language text can be full of cultural and political minefields, and the suggestion of grammar as a way of defining reality, with a real gap between those who think and live in 'I would have', 'I am' and 'I will'. Under Philip Howard's direction, Paul Higgins as the Scot, Nathalie Armin as his Syrian contact, and Dolya Gavanski as a cynical observer-narrator lead a strong cast, but they cannot completely conquer the sense that you've seen this all before.  Gerald Berkowitz

Defending the Cavewoman Green Room Not to be confused with the evolutionary neurology hit title of the same name, this one woman show is a bit of a Wilma Flintstone meets Carrie Bradshaw type of affair - but in a high pitched, South African middle class incarnation. At least a cow-hide chaise longue and leopard print accessories suddenly look very much in place in Emma Peirson's inspired production of her play, while Vanessa Frost evidently relishes the opportunity to do many different voices - herself, her boyfriend, her parents, her fiends, his friends, Eve and even her maker. Jokes about blokes and chicks and gay men and how different they all are make up the bulk of Vanessa's supposed pre-nuptial rant but the further we go, the less of a laugh it seems to be, especially for the blokes in the auditorium. Frost is a sufficiently pleasant and capable performer, but for some reason her punchlines tend to fall flat, her voices fall into the basic categories of male and female, and her increasingly lacklustre routine looks like it has generally seen better days. Duska Radosavljevic

Denied C Venue You can take this play in two ways. First off, it's an ambitious human drama that makes for compelling viewing thanks to a focused and generous ensemble and a zippy array of dramatic devices. Written and directed by Jodi De Souza, this is the tale of the lives of different women and the men who seek to control them, their stories linked by Islam and terrorism, intertwining over three periods of time and place between London and southern Pakistan. Events are centred around the character of Franchesca who grows from spoilt teenager to TV journalist and mother who discovers her true activist leanings after reporting on the plight of oppressed women in Islamic Balochistan. Filmed segments allow Franchesca to interact with her father, stepmother and daughter - a clever plot extension - while the actors not only multi-role but also combine to play the same character - Franchesca is played convincingly at various ages by Jennifer Bryden and Emma Vane. As a polemic about Islam, however, Denied is complete hokum. From a human point of view we're presented with a rent-a-Muslim image straight out of the tabloids. The Muslims under scrutiny may be Balochs, but most of the actors have Arab accents and why the Pashtun cap? And, theologically speaking, it's utterly pointless to chuck abrogating verses from the Quran into the script, additionally some lines in Arabic are unforgivably mangled. The horror of violence to women and the denial of their rights is a shame shared by the world, and yet the communities within Islam have hugely varying levels of tolerance that do not quite add up to a convenient dramatic point. Admittedly, there is a wonderfully unexpected twist that puts things into perspective, but though it makes a stir dramatically, it comes too late to save the argument. Nick Awde

Dickens Unplugged   Assembly Rooms Adam Long, one of the trio who developed the fast-moving spoof Complete Works of William Shakespeare Abridged two decades ago, has turned his attention to Charles Dickens, and the result, while perhaps not quite as laugh-a-second as the Shakespeare show, is also considerably less frantic, and thus possibly even more enjoyable. A cast of five invoke songs, sketches and sight gags to work their way irreverently through a handful of Dickens novels and an outline of his life.  Oliver Twist is a five-minute condensation of the musical, interrupted by a Dickens horrified by its sugar coating. Bleak House and Great Expectations are quickly dismissed through very funny Gilbertian patter songs. David Copperfield gets a fuller treatment, with the quick-changing and occasionally in-drag cast racing through the plot and presenting the characters in ways that will make it difficult to read the novel seriously ever again. Barkus is a leering bumpkin, Dora thick as a plank, and David so cheerfully self-absorbed as to be oblivious to all the human dramas around him. A Christmas Carol gets what is almost a straight rush-through, though it might surprise some to find Tiny Tim quite so Chav-ish or to learn that the terrifying visions of the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come include television and the Millennium Dome. Obviously, it helps to know some Dickens in order to appreciate the real cleverness of some of the jokes, but there's enough broad silliness to entertain even those who don't know their Oliver from their Copperfield.   Gerald Berkowitz

Dogfight Underbelly Partly an expose of small-town America, partly a satire of what it uncovers, Sarah Sigal's play watches a small neighbours' dispute escalate until it takes over the whole population. Annoyed by his neighbour's dogs, a man proposes a town ordinance against owning more than two animals. Soon petitions are being signed, town council meetings are being disrupted, political alliances are being forged, dark prejudices are coming to the fore and everyone is thinking only of this issue, missing or ignoring more pressing problems in their own homes. The idea is clever, the plot (which the author tells us in a programme note is based on fact) is thoroughly believable, and some of the secondary characters and issues that get brushed aside in the furore, like the alcoholic and agoraphobic widow or the teenager buckling under the weight of schoolwork, are quite touching. But the play's structure virtually forces the other characters to be defined as near-cartoons, and director Jessica Beck has allowed some of her cast to mug and overact to the play's detriment. A directorial concept that has the cast play children playing the characters seems irrelevant and distracting, as does a narration in a child's voice.   Gerald Berkowitz

Druthers Zoo Southside In Dan Shorten and Karla Shacklock's new show, good ideas come in suitcases. Quite literally, there are several moments in the course of these 70 minutes which will change the way you view your baggage - whether it be literal of metaphorical. As a self-declared theatre and multimedia company, Precarious utilizes every available surface to turn something on its head in the way we view things around us. Occasionally this involves upside down dancing, but mostly it is about giving inanimate surfaces bursts of life through an innovative projection of images and use of digital animation. The characters in this piece are all endowed with striking visual identities too, making all their solos as well as their interactions with each other extremely riveting to watch. The only drawback to this piece is its over-ambitious and mostly unnecessary use of text, with its paraphrasing of Shakespeare, Alice in Wonderland and various books of wisdom. It could easily have lost some 20 minutes and still have been one of the most original examples of theatre around. Duska Radosavljevic

Eclipse C Soco At first glance, Adam Read's high definition musculature, a smoke-filled stage and harnesses hanging off the ceiling usher in a promise of a mesmerising display and technical skill. This expectation is enhanced by his career history featuring the likes of Cirque du Soleil and the sight of his body in a loin-cloth poised for some sort of an athletic masterclass. Those who have seen Derevo over the years will also recognise their legacy from the first few minutes in. Even though it features a few masterfully executed and highly inspired routines leading to a poignant finale, Read's offering as a whole unfortunately comes across as a catalogue of derivative and flimsily assembled ideas stretching on for a bit too long. The key make-it-or-break-it moment for me arrives when Read projects his abundantly lit butt into the auditorium. However meaningful the intent of this gesture might have been, it only serves to raise the question as to where the show is. Duska Radosavljevic

Eurobeat: Almost Eurovision Pleasance In theory, this kind of a show makes you wonder why no one else has thought of it before. In practice, you might wish they hadn't. Despite its rave reviews so far, this is nothing different from what you might expect from the title: scene after scene of plain old tackiness and kitsch, just like the real thing - including a video link from Terry Wogan - only worse. Craig Christie and Andrew Patterson, the makers of this show, have set their competition in Sarajevo and they have only ten competitors, which the present audience will be given an opportunity to vote for. Everyone has a lot of fun, clapping along, cheering for one country or another and guffawing at flashy one-liners on account of cultural differences and national egos. Truth be told, on this particular occasion the show has a rare misfortune of being reviewed by a continental European (and from the Balkans, no less), unable to fully appreciate the finer cultural ironies of this entire enterprise. I also wished there was more of a narrative element to the roll call of pop songs, although I do agree that the essential idea is a good one and should indeed be marketed eastwards. Especially considering that, rather suitably, the whole idea of voting seems to be a sham too, designed to extract your contact details for marketing purposes. Duska Radosavljevic

Excuse My Dust Gilded Balloon One of the advantages a play about a writer is that the subject herself is likely to have already generated the best bits of the script. When the subject is the writer of Dorothy Parker's ilk, this promises added entertainment value. However, the Dorothy Parker of Terry Wale's monologue wastes no time in informing us that 'if it's wit you're after, go and read The Importance of Being Earnest'. Perhaps in search of the person behind the flamboyant demeanour, Wale has, rather unusually, also chosen Parker's own epitaph as the departure point and the title of this piece. On a kind of an elaborately evocative set rarely seen at the Fringe - featuring an assortment of a noisy typewriter, a dial phone, silky bedsheets, whisky drinks and sparkly dresses - Lesley Mackie pitches her impersonation of New York's original cerebral party girl somewhere between Lisa Minelli, Bette Davis and Germaine Greer. For most part, all of this results in a well balanced cocktail of depth, glamour and wit. However, more opportunity for relish, less veneration of literature in general and a better considered conclusion could have made this a truly appropriate theatrical homage. Duska Radosavljevic

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Exits and Entrances Assembly Rooms Authors are entitled to indulge in nostalgia, and Athol Fugard's memories of knowing and once working with Andre Huguenet, one of the grand old men of the South African theatre, make for a warm if familiar tale. Inevitably inviting comparison to Ronald Harwood's The Dresser, the play has the character called only The Playwright recall working as a minor actor and dresser to the star at his peak and then visiting him a few years later as he began to fade. And that really is the whole story. In the first extended flashback the younger man assists the star backstage during a production of Oedipus and is in awe of his great talent and grand manner; in the second he is equally impressed by the actor's playing of a broken man, but comes to realise that it is the actor's own decay that enables him to play so truthfully. Under the unobtrusive direction of Stephen Sachs, Morlan Higgins plays the actor with the broad acting and fruitiness of a Wolfit, and the script gives him extended speeches from Oedipus and Hamlet through which to display this style.  The character of the playwright is somewhat less defined, with a political and social conscience grafted rather awkwardly onto his boyishness, and William Dennis Hurley is unable to make much more of him than generic Young Idealist. Gerald Berkowitz

Failed States Pleasance Dome Writing a sharp political musical that illuminates society is not easy. Andrew Taylor and Desmond O'Connor, assisted by an onstage team of 12, have achieved a great deal with Failed States, their often chilling Twenty-First Century response to Kafka's dystopian nightmare, The Trial. Joseph and Anya are a good example of the special relationship, with added complications. Guy Lewis plays an American businessman happily engaged to the daughter of an Iranian exile. Joanna Heap as pregnant Anya effortlessly out sings her fiancé, who has been cast for his acting and certainly gets a chance to show off his abilities. Joseph seems to be doing well until a joint CIA/MI5 team picks him up under the Prevention of Terrorism Act. Forget habeas corpus, he doesn't even get human rights at Belmarsh. The thought-provoking musical follows his journey to eventual release. To get there, he goes through the doubts of all, friends, future wife and even himself. Lewis does well to move from happy normality through belligerence, bemusement and anger to disbelieving relief. The Kafkaesque message here is that if this can happen to him, it could happen to any of us. The play is set around 7/7 and Joe's treatment moves from barely acceptable to nigh on torture after London is bombed. This would work well as a straight play but the often tuneful music and composer Desmond O'Connor's well-written lyrics add an extra dimension to an incisive and sometimes chilling political work that should worry everyone who sees it. Philip Fisher

Fanny and Faggot Pleasance (Reviewed in London) Jack Thorne's sensitive and moving character study in unlikely subjects is given as fine a production as could be asked for in this version expanded from a one-act version seen in Edinburgh. In 1968 two young girls murdered two even younger boys, and the first act of Thorne's play inevitably asks why. We never see the killings or even hear about them except indirectly. Instead, we see the girls at play, in games that include the acting-out of scenes from their trial (at which the vagaries of the law convict one and set the other free).And it is exactly in the undifferentiated quality of those games that the girls' innocence is made clear - not that they didn't do it, but that they could have no comprehension of what they were doing. Thorne's is not an overtly political play, but when he makes the girls believably unable to understand what the adults are making such a fuss about, and honestly unsure whether 'dead' means 'forever,' his insight is clear and powerful. The second act is set ten years later, as the imprisoned girl and a friend escape for a weekend and pick up a couple of soldiers, and the now-21-year-old who has not had a life must try to figure out how to be normal. Again Thorne's method is elliptical and understated, gradually letting us see that the girl in the corner is not just shy, but quite literally does not know what to do next. As directed with exactly the right gentle touch by Stephen Keyworth, Elicia Daly and Sophie Fletcher capture the young girls of Act One almost perfectly, and even the occasional sense that they are playing them a few years too young contributes to the impression of their innocence. Daly returns in the second half to capture the puzzlement, uncertainty and courage of the young woman who does not know what normal is. She is given strong support by Diana May as her less complicated friend, and by Christopher Daley and Simon Darwen, who remind us that two horny soldiers on leave can still be nice guys.Gerald Berkowitz

Fatboy Green Room (Reviewed at a previous Festival) I have never been a fan of Ubu Roi, that seminal but almost unproducible absurdist satire on greed and power, but John Clancy's new version is far more successful than any I've seen. His Fatboy is a monster of gluttony, greed and vulgarity, stopping at nothing for instant gratification, and his wife is his match in obscene lasciviousness. In their opening scene of domestic bickering they come across as nightmare versions of Jackie Gleason's Honeymooners, with volume, violence and obscenity raised a hundredfold.. They are happy to pervert justice in a hilarious burlesque courtroom scene and, when they become king and queen of the world, to absorb all of it into their unquenchable appetites. There's an extraordinary performance of seemingly uninhibited shouting by Mike McShane, and what is doubly striking is how very little author-director Clancy has to do to turn his antihero into a metaphor for American overconsumption and vulgarity. Gerald Berkowitz

Tim Fitzhigham - The Man Who Discovered the Kama Sutra   Pleasance Tim Fitzhigham does strange things and then reports on them comically. In the past he's rowed the English Channel in a bathtub and walked in the footsteps of Don Quixote. This year he has discovered Richard Burton - not the Welsh actor, but the nineteenth-century explorer, adventurer and translator of Indian erotica. With his characteristic wild-eyed enthusiasm, Tim takes us through Burton's life, and Fitzhigham veterans will know that he could not possibly uncover the story of Burton being sent down from Oxford for a particular prank without feeling compelled to duplicate it (as he proves in his slide show), and no sooner did he encounter the footnote that Burton set a record for running up Mt. Vesuvius than our Tim was on his way to Italy. Indeed, as Burton's story progresses, one is a bit surprised (and grateful for his uncharacteristic bout of sanity) that Tim did not backpack through Egypt in search of the source of the Nile. The story eventually gets to the Kama Sutra, with slide projections and an accompanying selection of excerpts. It is all hilarious, all infectiously mad, and as all Tim's shows do, it makes you fear for whatever bee he will get in his bonnet next year.   Gerald Berkowitz

Flanders and Swann  Pleasance (Reviewed at a previous Festival) This salute to the duo who pioneered genteel song-and-patter comedy in the 1950s is a delight that does not rely on nostalgia or even knowledge of the originals for the fun, though I must admit I was surprised that everyone in the audience, young and old, could join in the chorus of the Hippopotamus Song ('Mud, mud, glorious mud...') without prompting. Perhaps it's one of those things, like the Goon Show voices and the Dead Parrot sketch that have entered the British DNA. Duncan Walsh Atkins, quietly droll at the piano, and Tim Fitzhigham, boisterously welcoming at the microphone and singing in an attractive baritone, take us through a dozen F&S classics, from the aforementioned Hippo through Have Some Madeira M'Dear, Transports of Delight and I'm a Gnu. Tim's intersong chatter is new but fully in the F&S mode, taking on the blimpish persona of a Kensington Tory deigning to work alongside his south-London accompanist, and the moment in which he plays a french horn concerto by blowing into one end of a music stand is truly remarkable. All together now, 'I'm a gnu, a gnother gnu....' Gerald Berkowitz

Floating Pleasance (Reviewed at a previous Festival) Probably the only certain thing about this show is that it inhabits a place in between fact and fiction, lecture and performanc,e and water and dry land. Set in 1982, this is a story about the island of Anglesey floating away all the way up to the North Pole and back - an incident that remained unnoticed due to the public eye on the Falklands War. At the same time, having made the decision to leave home, Hugh Hughes is forced to navigate his isle back home instead. Conceived by Shon Dale-Jones and performed with Jill Norman, this unlikely multimedia story of a rite of passage is rendered with disarming earnestness and dedication, insisting only on a 'connection' with its audience. There are elements of hyper-realism, archive, and what Hughes himself calls macro-theatre in this thoroughly unpretentious piece. But above all there is a lot of humour and good old imagination, even when we are actually spoon-fed the notion of a bridge collapsing rather than being trusted to picture it ourselves. In its special place in between the extremes, this piece about safety and risk takes a plunge into a new territory which turns out to be sheer pleasure. Duska Radosavljevic

Follow Me  Assembly This new play by Ross Gurney-Randall and Dave Mounfield traces the converging paths of Ruth Ellis, hanged in 1955 for the murder of her lover, and Albert Pierrepoint, the executioner who hanged her. Alternating monologues follow the two through the last days of Ellis's life, until their one and only meeting, when he says the title words to her. Pierrepoint is presented as amiable but all business, proud of the efficiency and humanity he brings to his craft, and offended to the point of outrage by anyone who does not match his high standards. Ellis, calmly working a jigsaw puzzle in her cell, declares herself ready to die, angered only by the fact that people she considers indirectly responsible for her crime have gotten off free. But as the play progresses, the weight of what is to come affects both of them, His nerves begin to show in his impatience with others and in his beginning to acknowledge the argument against capital punishment, hers in an increasing shrillness, her smile becoming more forced and her panic more open. Guy Masterson is an actor's director, and he has guided his players to equally striking, if stylistically contrasting performances. Beth Fitzgerald's is the flashier, using a wide technical repertoire to take Ellis ever closer to hysteria, while Ross Gurney-Randall plays Pierrepoint in a more internalised way that gives extra emphasis and meaning to every small crack in his composure. Together, they create one of the most overpowering hours of drama and character revelation on the Fringe.  Gerald Berkowitz

40 Feathered Winks Gilded Balloon Through dance, mime, movement and a limited amount of spoken dialogue, the performers of the Paper Birds Theatre explore some of the things that go on during the third of our lives we spend in bed. Along with some group activities, such as depicting the pain and difficulty of awakening in the morning, several plot lines and groups of characters emerge, their stories told in alternating or overlapping scenes. A man and woman meet at a conference, flirt, and eventually end up in bed, only to face the awkwardness and embarrassment of parting the next morning. A couple engrossed in their separate books in bed manage to have sex without losing their places. A woman sits by the hospital bed of her comatose sister, reading from a Spanish dictionary just to make her voice heard, while enough filters into the patient's consciousness to produce Spanish-flavoured nightmares. A new mother battles the horrors of sleepless nights and postpartum depression. Throughout, a movement vocabulary built largely on rolling and tumbling around, on, over and under the several beds onstage adds to the fluid, dreamlike air. Gerald Berkowitz

Deborah Frances-White's How to Get Almost Anyone to Want to Sleep With You Gilded Balloon Deborah Frances-White is an extraordinarily talented woman. Not only is her show guaranteed to make you laugh and get your juices flowing, but she will actually send you away believing you are James Bond if you are a man, and feeling good about believing you are a 'Scorsese movie in a hat' if you are a woman. I don't want to give away all her jokes - and in fact that would be impossible as her best bits are actually made up on the spot - but suffice it to say that her proposed theories of what makes the other sex tick, however absurd, are most irresistibly compelling. Coming across as a combination of a sexy drama teacher and your favourite aunt in a ridiculous hat, Frances-White is endlessly quick-witted and entirely non-threatening. As a result not only does she have no problems getting volunteers out onto the stage, but it's almost a drag getting the crowd out of the auditorium. In any case, one thing is certain - in this show you'll have a lot of fun; and who knows -you might even pull. Duska Radsavljevic

Frank and Dolly Gilded Balloon It was Dolly's bad kedgeree the night before last, you see. Frank has just projectile vomited around the ballroom and that's got him and Dolly disqualified from the dance competition. He's now taken shame-faced refuge in a broom cupboard with only a bucket for company. Dolly, whose magnificent ball gown has taken the brunt of the emission, sits resignedly outside the locked door. The fact that she can't cook and he can't dance seems to be the point at which we've joined them in the argument. Oh, and Frank would also appear to be a woman under the soiled top hat and tails. This is Blackpool, it's the International Ballroom Dancing Competition and this is, correction, was the amateur couple's chance at the big one. It's a dream come true - for Dolly at least - but Frank's now wondering whether he's just along for the ride. Cue a reappraisal of their relationship both on and off the dancefloor, via lovers' tiffs, Dolly's mum's fat arse and who dances better on the ceiling, Fred or Gene - all of which provide for some achingly funny-sad exchanges. As Dolly, Dillie Keane pleads and wheedles in gruff Lancs tones, hiding her hurt as Lizzie Hopley's Frank, aggressively vulnerable, vents howls of frustration from the other side of the door. Sarah Chew's skilful direction runs with the chemistry generated by the duo, who are compelling and an utter pleasure to watch, as when their characters remember the first time they danced, creating a sympathetic lump of nostalgia in your throat. You have to keep reminding yourself that these are two actors who cannot see each other the whole time they are onstage even though we can see every facial tic and fleck of vomit on each. Playwright-actress Hopley's script is also a delight - predictable to be sure, but funny-sad, bitter-sweet, touching all the way and laced with lashings of northern soul. A TV special surely beckons. Nick Awde

Funeral Games   Pleasance A two-man show that incorporates mime, dance, acrobatics and dialogue to tell a story both comic and melodramatic, Funeral Games demonstrates a lot of imagination and skill, but just misses the pacing and snap necessary to keep a confection like this afloat. A man who has stayed home to tend his ailing father and keep the family funeral parlour going is less than pleased when his long-absent brother reappears. Fearing equally that the prodigal will dispossess him and that his success will make the stay-at-home's sacrifices meaningless, he attempts first comically and then more seriously to get rid of him. As directed by Clare Dunn, writer-performers Darren East and Gilbert Taylor are as likely to clamber over the pair of file cabinets that make up their set as to stay on the ground, as likely to pull out a ukulele and burst into song as to mime a complete funeral. But this genre demands flawless polish, faster playing and tighter pacing, without a down moment, to really work, and there are too many points at which the actors seem to be marking time while waiting for the next good bit, almost as if this were an early rehearsal with sequences yet to be worked out.   Gerald Berkowitz

Game Theory   Traverse A new play from Pamela Carter and Selma Dimitrijevic, Game Theory displays the tools of negotiation and manipulation in three settings, each exposing ironic limits of the discipline. The first - and most satisfying, since it makes its point efficiently without beating it into the ground - presents political negotiations in a setting that suggests Israel and Palestine. Three mutually mistrustful parties work toward a simple statement that merely says they've begun talking, arguing over every word until they end up with language so fuzzy that it seems to say nothing, except that we've seen how each word they've settled on is loaded with meaning and import. The second scene demonstrates the adage that the bitterest fights are over the smallest stakes. Two brothers squabble pointlessly over their parents' tiny legacy, only to have their sister feign weakness and prove herself the strongest. The longest scene, set someplace like the former Yugoslavia, shows a 'reconciliation facilitator' arranging for a victim to face his abuser, but clearly more interested in closing another case than in meeting the real needs of the two parties. So he guides one toward innocuous questions and rehearses the other in pat answers so that we can't be sure if the two realise the charade they're playing. I must note that it is possible I am crediting the authors with more conscious irony than they intended, particularly in the last piece, which just might have been meant as an example of successful talking-things-out. But the direction by Pamela Carter and performances by John Paul Connolly, Meg Fraser and Alexis Rodney sustain an ambiguity in all three scenes.   Gerald Berkowitz

A Glance at New York   Assembly Rooms Benjamin Baker's 1848 play seems an amiable and typical comedy of the period, with a country bumpkin coming to the big city and repeatedly being conned and taken advantage of until he meets a good-natured local who shows him the ropes. It is quite likely that, if played straight or even sent up inventively, it could provide an hour's fun. But Axis Theatre Company have chosen a third path - of filtering it through an irrelevant production concept - that makes it all but incomprehensible and, even worse, spoils most of the fun. Though a programme note explains that they're imagining a nineteenth-century company transported to the present and reeling from the shock, the actual effect is more like something out of the Marat/Sade, a troupe of the deeply insane attempting to put on a play. Everyone, including those not in a particular scene, bounces wildly about the stage, muttering to themselves or echoing fragments of others' speeches. The actual performances range from near catatonic to twitch-filled manic, without any regard for characterisation or relevance to the moment. Presumably everyone on stage is doing exactly what director Randall Sharp wanted them to do, but why he would want to sabotage some perfectly workable raw material is beyond me.   Gerald Berkowitz

Global Dancebase Even though the opening number of this five-part showcase is an exquisite piece of traditional Indian dance from Priya Shrikumar, this is by no means an indicator of how this global journey will unfold. Already the Korean choreographer Misook Seo defies expectations as she opens up a fascinating world of fully integrated oriental and occidental imagery in Somewhere Else. In fact, she transcends any localised concerns to simply explore the notion of beauty, and is helped along in this pursuit by extremely charismatic Jukyung Kang and fragile yet graceful Vanessa Cailhol. Inadvertently building on this theme, Shrikumar presents her second piece of the evening - a flamboyant dedication to the god Vishnu. Stephen Pelton is the only representative of the male sex in this particular set, but he has chosen to wear a frock too. In A Hundred Miles he sets out to explore the representation of female youth in a series of folk songs by rather appropriately evoking a sense of being lost in a wood. In a way this sets the scene for androgynous Kitt Johnson and an extract concerning insectival matters from her butoh-style exploration of the evolution of species. If only actual globe-trotting was as mind-bending as all that! Duska Radosavljevic

Janey Godley - Tell It Like It Is! Pleasance Dome It's easy to warm to Janey Godley. For a start, the moment you set foot into her show, she'll adopt you into her extended family and tell a little flattering story about you to the rest of the 'relatives'. There are no hidden agendas to this gesture, she just seems to enjoy a very friendly rapport with her audience. Her satirical material focusing on Brown, Blair and the Glasgow Airport terror attacks certainly requires no emotional bribery to be appreciated - she will indeed tell it like it is and you'll find it hard to disagree. It is the second half of the show that treads a slightly tricky territory of deprivation, violence and drug abuse, and it involves her own family. This year Godley is the age her mother was when she was killed by her lover in 1982. Her brother is currently battling AIDS and cancer, and Godley herself can't shake off a few of her own unhappy memories. Audience laughter is punctuated with guilty gasps of horror, but they still demand another story when the show comes to an end. And Godley happily obliges. Duska Radosavljevic

God's Pottery Saves the World! Pleasance Last year they wanted to save a single kid from Harlem. This year the stakes have been upped and it's nothing less than the whole world. Yes, the God's Pottery ('That's us!') roadshow is back in town. In between singing sing sweet songs about Jesus, New York duo Jeremiah Smallchild and Gideon Lamb use a Powerpoint presentation to show us the Way via a welter of improbable acronyms. The vocal harmonies are wonderful, as are the Virginity Rocks t-shirt and designer sandals, and the banter is suitably cheesy. They have eight problems to solve including Overpopulation, Africa, Women and British People and they have a ditty about each, such as You're Just As Special as a Normal Child, about adoption, with hideously funny lines like 'Abandon your troubles like your parents abandoned you'. Behind those toothy smiles and sophomore haircuts, however, the relationship's not as solid as looks. The more dominant Gideon is clearly unhappy at giving an equal crack at the spotlight to his slightly dopey sidekick, while Jeremiah rankles at being his partner's guitar-playing backing singer who lacks a hotline to Jesus. Slowly nerves get frayed to comic effect as they attempt to resolve their issues in public. The show's timely since the UK has just been targeted by the international God squad evangelists as needing particular salvation this year. If Legs Akimbo ever joined up with Trev and Simon and they all got religion it would end up as something like God's Pottery, but still you can't help feeling that Krister Johnson and Wilson Hall have created what is essentially a one-trick show with precious few highs - no doubt an American audience would get more out of the subtleties. Nevertheless, at the end of the evening, the audience leaves happy having laughed long and loud throughout. Who can argue with that? Nick Awde

Goodbye - The (After) Life of Cook and Moore Gilded Balloon The oft-told story of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore is given a fresh twist in a fast-moving (and fast-talking) hour that says much about the essence of both men and their relationship without resorting to mere biography. Authors Jonathan Hansler and Clive Greenwood imagine the newly-dead Moore finding himself in Limbo, where the grumbling Cook has been waiting impatiently, their fates bound together in death even more than in life. As Peter explains the rules of the afterlife to Dud, they find themselves slipping instinctively into the rhythms and even the characters of their old double act. Allusions abound - to not having the Latin, or vestal virgins, or the more scurrilous imaginings of Derek and Clive - with the added resonances of being applied to the real-life personalities and relationship of the two. One of the torments of Limbo, it turns out, is the unwelcome company of other dead comics, from the lugubrious Hancock to the bitchy Williams, but these also prove more than mere diversions. The appearance of Peter Sellers, for example, serves as a telling metaphor both for Peter's hiding behind funny voices and for Dudley's defection to Hollywood. Jonathan Hansler as Pete and Adam Bampton-Smith as Dud wisely and effectively rely less on surface impersonation than on capturing the essence of each man, while Clive Greenwood enjoys a string of scene-stealing comic turns as Everyone Else. Gerald Berkowitz

Hamell on Trial Underbelly A 50-something bald guy who plays a mean guitar, tells great stories, unapologetically celebrates a rock-n-roll lifestyle and controls a room with absolute authority, American Ed Hamell gives a nightly masterclass most Fringe comedians could benefit from. Hamell tells some jokes and sings others in original songs accompanied on a hard-rocking wired-up 1937 acoustical guitar. Whether it's his teenage self's illusion-destroying encounter with John Lennon, his own later revenge on the teenage manager of a pizza place, or the bizarre experience of tripping on mescaline at a Catholic folk mass - in short, whether the joke is at his expense or others' - he shares his infectious conviction that taking life too seriously is a mistake. Nothing is so serious that he can't see the humour in it or at least celebrate its humanity, whether it be a friend's anarchic behaviour at his mother's deathbed or the potentially tragic story of Hamell's own parents' deaths, and the tightrope between the comic and serious is expertly walked as he wonders how he'll answer his own son's inevitable questions about his life choices. Gerald Berkowitz

Hamlet (Solo) Assembly St George's West There must be something in the Canadian air. Nobody in their right mind would consider performing Hamlet solo. Yet, a decade or so ago, Robert Lepage produced his multimedia epic Elsinore in which he played every part in Shakespeare's great tragedy. Now, his fellow countryman Raoul Bhaneja has chosen to respond, using a very different visual style. The budget for this hour and three quarter long adaptation might have been zero, as the actor wears black and performs in a pure, unadorned black box space, relying on his own abilities to convey the story and hold his audience's attention. One inevitably has to quote Dr Johnson in the context of this amazing feat. The great doctor said of a woman preaching, comparing it to a dog walking on its hind legs that "It is not done well but you are surprised to find it done at all". The difference in this case is that Hamlet is done extremely well. The perfect combination of actor and director, Robert Ross Parker make for an outstanding lunchtime. With no more than his voice and body, this prodigiously talented character actor takes us to Denmark and fleshes out the play, playing every part himself and rarely, after an overly-fast opening, losing his audience in confusion over who is speaking. Having said that, anyone who did not know the play would probably struggle but that is not Bhaneja's target audience. Hamlet (Solo) is for theatre lovers, who will be dazzled by the acting and love a pretty full version of the play, though whither Fortinbras? Bhaneja is at his best with the older men, offering us a fine, Indian-tainted Polonius and a witty gravedigger, while the women do not come across quite as well. One might question why anyone would decide to take on a project of this nature but nobody could seriously fault the execution. Philip Fisher

Hangman Assembly Aurora Nova A clacking typewriter echoes around the hall. Newspaper pages are arrayed side by side in a giant criss-cross of words across the stage. Suddenly a techno gamelan track whooshes into action. Three bowler-hatted figures at a levitating table spring into action and over it play a bizarre game of musical chairs - bizarre because one has a giant eye, another a giant ear while the third has his mouth taped up. End of the game and the figures run into the neat newspapers and roll around scrunching them up. Soon we are faced with a violent sea of newsprint as a figure at the side, similarly bowler-hatted, builds a small-scale gibbet. What follows is a visually compelling series of setpieces that explore hangman both as a game and as a real-life executioner. Coupled with a vibrant soundtrack, the spark for many of the sections lies in the mobiles and mechanical devices that hang around. Like giant Rolodexes, some have letters that rotate to create words while in between hang lights inside books, splayed open like birds in flight. The metaphor of words and the terrible consequences they can have continues visually as well as scriptwise. Do-Theatre successfully conveys a multi-layered show of arresting images, often unsettling or sensual - or both - thanks to disciplined co-ordination and invention. Perhaps things do not quite hit the highs this show aspires to, and the clown elements occasionally seem out of place, nevertheless there is a sustained narrative tension that effortlessly carries you to its low-key yet immensely powerful final scene. Nick Awde

Richard Herring: Oh F*ck, I'm 40! Underbelly Funnily enough, Richard Herring doesn't tell us when exactly he turned forty. Very coy. However, he doesn't spare any details about the effect that the big 4-O is having on his hormones. He's rather rampant on the subject in fact. Suddenly he feels he wants sex with (almost) every woman he sees, and confesses to the odd gerontophile leanings. Still, that doesn't stop him from looking back and ruminating on how he had expected to be married with kids at this stage. Somehow that gets him sidetracked into denying that his thoughts about teenagers are perverted which somehow turns unexpectedly into a wonderful lampoon of another comic's recent defence against paedophilia charges. Aside from sex, more subtle motifs run through the set such as wordplay and pedantry. All three come together in his possibly true tale of a woman in his hotel room who takes pedantic umbrage at his ill-judged attempt to talk dirty to her mid-fellatio by overestimating the size of his tumescence. It's a self-indulgent story and shouldn't work at all but he had the whole house roaring with laughter over his fumbling attempts to get her definition of 'average'. Midway he meanders somewhat as he gets into American gun control and then expands the metaphor of being over the hill but soon gets back on track with a lengthy riff on taking T-shirt slogans literally and hey presto, he's back into sex again, of the backdoor kind, and has the audience roaring once more. And yet the more Herring ups the ante, the more thoughtful you realise he becomes. Nick Awde

Hippo World Guest Book Pleasance Dome To credit Chris Goode as author of this piece is misleading, as he happily admits. Except for an opening explanation, the entire text comes from a website he stumbled on devoted to hippopotami and the comments left by visitors between 2000 and 2006, Goode's contribution consisting of selecting about 10% of the total and then reading them, grammatical errors, misspellings, all-caps shouting and all. The result proves considerably less consistently delightful or amusing than he might have hoped, creating an hour whose basic joke wears very thin, with far too little variation to sustain it. As one might expect, there are several postings of the 'I love hippos too' sort, sometimes with the shouted variations 'HIPPOS RULE1' or 'HIPPOS ARE KOOL!' and then some more cynical responses about how lame hippos are and how weird hippo lovers must be.  A few small hints of pathos encroach in the messages of people who have clearly come to the wrong site or misunderstood its premise, a couple seeming to think it is about hip-hop music.  Even so, a show whose highlights are 'Hippos taste like chicken' and 'All hippos must die. They are working with the squid to take over the world' has not set the bar very high, and despite the enthusiasm and amusement with which Goode reads the entries, audience attention begins to flag long before the hour ends with the site being overrun with spam and closing down. Gerald Berkowitz

Alex Horne - Birdwatching Pleasance You might have come across that epithet for a good performer which involves making a telephone directory sound interesting. For those of us who have very little knowledge or passion for ornithology, a show about birdwatching might seem like much more of a feat. Alex Horne not only manages to make the topic sound interesting, but he actually comes up with a first class comedy show on the subject - and without a trace of irony. The interest he inherited from his own father seems to have lay dormant for a long time until last year he set out to compete with Duncton (an affectionate nick-name for Mr Horne derived from a birdwatching text-message). Combining an account of that year-long contest, sound recordings of his world-wide avian field trips, impassioned power point presentations and irresistible audience banter, this is much more of a progressively inclusive family comedy than your typical stand-up, and the feelgood factor is unrivalled. You may not run out of the auditorium to buy a pair of binoculars, but it's well worth your while witnessing Horne's sharp eye, quick wit and excellent audience rapport, as he effortlessly moves the boundaries of the genre itself. Duska Radosavljevic

Amelia Jane Hunter is Keith Flipp Gilded Balloon Australian comic Amelia Jane Hunter's new show is what Hollywood would call low concept - that is, you can't summarise its premise in six words. She plays a woman who has a vanished twin, a fetus that was absorbed in the womb but whose personality now vies for possession of her body. But where the fictional Amelia is prim and conservative, her alternative personality is devoted to sex, drugs and general debauchery and is, by the way, male. Keith gets possession of the body every few months, and devotes his time to destroying whatever dignity and health Amelia has built up. What gives this comic premise unexpected depth is the discovery that the only way Keith can be recognised as a man is by pretending to be a drag queen, and performing in a small town drag bar. Having surprised us with that touch of sadness, the script returns to dark comedy as the two personalities battle it out for control, leading to an ironic ending. Although Hunter doesn't distinguish sufficiently between the two personalities, her portrayal of Keith is impressive, as she carries herself with just enough masculinity to create a teasing and evocative ambiguity.   Gerald Berkowitz

Hysteria Assembly (Reviewed at a previous Festival) This is a potentially simple story that mixes physical theatre with spoken. It looks at nothing more than a couple on a first date but periodically manages to get beneath the skin of a society as well as the three protagonists. The star is actually silent. Director Lucinka Eisler plays the lugubrious, blank-faced waiter who serves the couple. Bringing to mind Mr Bean, she remains straight-faced throughout but with slow movement and precise behaviour, conveys disapproval brilliantly. Eating at top restaurants is supposed to be a pleasurable experience with understated but attentive service. However, seeing Hysteria, you get a feel for the disdain with which these servants must view so many of their customers. Arguably, in this case, the disapproval is justified. The man, Ben Lewis, is a priggish social scientist who regularly slips out of character to rush off and deliver a lecture on the impact of global warming and societal change. His guest, Giulia Innocenti, says little for some time but eventually the flood gates open and by the climactic end, their differences forgotten, they find happiness, at least for a moment. Hysteria is an odd play with its combination of theatrical styles but more often than not, the experimentation pays off to great comic effect. Philip Fisher

The Importance of Shoes Green Room Women have been known to rank shoes right up there with chocolate and above men, so their relationship with footwear might be an enlightening prism through which to view their relationships with men. This is the premise of Jay Johnson's new play, which  presents a couple of familiar stories, following two couples from meeting to break-up, and also showing how the women are shaped by traumatic experiences, by keeping track in every scene of what the women have on their feet, and what that says. So a shoe salesman wins a woman's heart by suggesting the perfect pair, and it may not be coincidence that a broken heel accompanies the end of a romance. A very bad experience is partly explained in a woman's mind by a bad choice of shoes that day, and a new life requires a completely new foot wardrobe. If the connection between romance and footwear is not always as clear or illuminating as the author might wish, it does allow him to tell his stories in a fresh way. The cast of four - Jack Bowman, Hayley Doherty, Emily Juniper and Robbie Byrne - nicely individualise their somewhat stock characters.  Gerald Berkowitz

Incarnat Assembly Aurora Nova For Lia Rodrigues nudity is just an essential part of her politically-driven artistic vision. A few years ago her company gave us Such Stuff As We Are Made Of in which they took it in turns to confront and beguile us, mostly in the state of undress. This time round they present us with a selection of really striking tableaux while also sharing with us their off-stage presence and elements of their working process - alternating between nudity and rehearsal gear. Exploring Susan Sontag's enquiry into the effects of pictorial representation of atrocity, the piece is uncompromising in both its intent and execution. Some counterpoint is provided through the grooming rituals and ablutions that the dancers help each other with on the margins of the stage and in between individual numbers. Also the piece explores artistic and erotic aspects of the human body as well as the more controversial notion of a body-bag and the animalistic or humiliating implications of nudity. Although this show will probably be best known for its extravagant ketchup consumption, a stronger overarching structural concept would have given it the right kind of thematic and rhythmic balance between excess and restraint. Duska Radosavljevic

Robin Ince Knew This Would Happen Assembly Rooms Having previously been referred to as a 'trendy sociology lecturer' in one of his reviews, 38 years old Robin Ince has ditched newspapers for - well, popular science books and Penguin digests of Schopenhauer. He has kept his Zara cardigan, however, and is enjoying a very suburban married middle-class lifestyle with an airing cupboard, a garden and occasional visits from his comedian friends. You might wonder what could possibly be funny about all that, but give Ince a couple of cups of coffee and you'll quickly get exhausted just trying to keep up with his fanciful digressions. He is extremely articulate, quietly charismatic and makes a bit of a difference on the comedy circuit by relegating his sexual material to a very brief afterthought following discussions of evolution. In addition to Darwin, he will also introduce you to his favourite apes, astronomers and BBC documentary programmes. His consistently agitated delivery, however, gradually loses all sense of pace and rapport with some of the audience members who begin to nod off well before he's reached his intellectually sophisticated punch-line. Duska Radosavljevic

Insomnibabble  Assembly (Reviewed at a previous Festival) One guy plays a character and the other plays Everybody Else - that's a familiar Fringe genre, but rarely can it have been done with as much wit, high energy and ensemble playing as in this two-hander from Big Wow, written and directed by Robert Farquhar. Mark Rutter plays an office worker with insomnia, for whom night thoughts, half-dreams and reality are beginning to blend into one continuous and  indistinguishable flow, a nightmare quality enhanced by having Tim Lynskey play everyone from his jargon-spouting boss through a date-from-heck to all the other members of an insomniac support group. Silliness abounds, one scene or character unexpectedly morphs into another and, if it eventually gets a bit overpowering and a bit repetitive, there is more invention here, and more genuine laughs, than in a half-dozen typical fringe comedies put together. Gerald Berkowitz

Iron Curtain   Augustines A musical comedy that pokes fun at musical comedy while making it perfectly clear that its creators know and love the genre, Iron Curtain is perfectly suited for the kind of small-scale production the Fringe can provide.  Written by an American team (music by Stephen Weiner, book by Susan Dilallo, lyrics by Peter Mills) and performed by students of the Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama, it never claims to be more than the light entertainment it is, and is thoroughly enjoyable on that level. The premise - no sillier than that of many musicals - is that in the 1950s the Soviet propaganda ministry decided to use the Broadway musical form to inspire the workers, but that nobody behind the Curtain could write one. So a couple of unsuccessful New York writers are conned into going to Moscow, where they encounter the inevitable spies, counterspies and femmes fatale. That's enough of a skeleton on which to hang some pastiche songs, small-scale production numbers, and allusions to Oklahoma, Damn Yankees and A Chorus Line. The student singers sometimes have trouble doing silly accents, projecting over the small band and enunciating intelligibly, all at the same time, but they usually manage some two of the three at any given moment. It's silly, it's trivial, it's forgettable, but it's fun.   Gerald Berkowitz

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Is This About Sex? Traverse Christian O'Reilly's play is, on its surface, the sex farce that its title suggests, and a quite funny and entertaining one at that. Daniel, who is married to Kay, is a superb lover, which is one reason he has decided he must be a woman trapped in a man's body. He turns to shopgirl Cathy for transvestite fashion advice, and Cathy falls for him. Meanwhile, Cathy's boyfriend Paul, who is obsessed with the suspicion that he is not a great lover, is having an affair with Kay. All the material is there for the comic accidents and misunderstandings  of farce, which O'Reilly delivers in full. But there's more, which lifts this play above the norm. Without breaking the comic tone, the play raises, and offers partial answers to, such questions as whether there is more to love than sex, and more to sex than love. What does make one a great lover, and can striving for that goal actually get in the way of things? Can being loved - or being served sexually - become a burden rather than a pleasure? Lynne Parker directs with a light hand and a first-rate cast led by Darragh Kelly as Daniel and Hilary O'Shaughnessy as Cathy keep the comic and more serious levels of the play serving each other rather than clashing.  Gerald Berkowitz

Jackajack Underbelly Few are the theatre companies that take children's theatre so seriously that they will lead a summer school in order to workshop their new fairytale with a potential audience. TuckedIn is one of those few. They are blessed with a fresh new vision of what theatre for 7+s should be like and they don't stop at just a few customary monsters, enchanted forests and fortune-changing storms. This post-apocalyptic story of the dog named Jack who is looking for his mistress is rendered in predominantly sombre tones, but this never stops it from being engaging, quite moving or even funny at times. Indeed its version of the origin of double yellow lines will raise more than just a few giggles and when Jack says 'I need to find her, without her my life is pointless' it resonates with a universal sentiment which even adults will appreciate. Performed with great energy and sensitivity under Nick Chambers' inspired direction, this show is likely to remain with you for a long time. Duska Radosavljevic

Jesus: The Guantanamo Years Baby Belly (Reviewed at a previous Festival) Abie Bowman deserves a comic sainthood simply for the idea of Jesus Christ as a Middle East terrorist suspect incarcerated in Guantanamo's Camp X-Ray. In fact, Our Saviour has just escaped and hotfooted it across the water to Edinburgh to continue the greatest stand-up story ever told. He's back on the road, recapturing the success of his first tour 2000 years ago when he wowed the crowds with the loaves and fishes trick amongst others. He admits that attitudes have changed. He's still trying to claim royalties on the Bible and moans about the use of his copyrighted material in Monty Python's Life of Brian, threatening to tell John Cleese jokes in revenge. Health and safety considerations mean that his stigmata have had to go while he acknowledges that in pre-Aids days the idea of a billion Catholics drinking his blood every week wouldn't have been considered a problem. He has also discovered that the modern world is not quite geared up towards anyone with a beard presenting themselves at a US airport without proper ID after emerging from a cave in Palestine. You can see the problem - as did the American authorities who promptly packed him off him to Guantanamo where the Americans panic after thinking all the Muslim detainees are on hunger strike only to be told it's Ramadan. Like all good stand-ups, Jesus's own personal life comes up for scrutiny - his aged father, for example, gives him grief by refusing to retire - while politics also suffuses the laid-back observations. In the fight against terror, he idly calculates the amount of airplanes Al-Qaeda needs to blow up to match the mind-numbing statistics of deaths caused by medical malpractice in the USA each year. Bowman's kosher beard, deadpan Irish tones and gently barbed delivery ensure that the irony never gets in the way of the laughs. Funny, thoughtful, impassioned and one white-knuckle joke make this a classic encounter that should be made required viewing for all. Nick Awde

Jihad - The Musical C Venue You can try not to laugh but you will. You can try to hate it, but I doubt that'll work either. For Jihad - The Musical is a wonderfully kitsch old-style musical hall Broadway musical just like they used to write 'em. Oh, and it just happens to be about a suicide bomber. From the opening big chorus number, the gloriously irreverent Jalalabad It's Good To Be Here, it's clear where they're going with this. Enter Foxy (a feisty Emily McNamara), a US network news reporter with cameraman in tow looking for salacious interviews. They bump into Sayid Al-Bloom (Ben Sheuer, gentle-voiced and witty), a street florist who worries about his future in the plaintive If My Flowers Won't Grow How Can I? But he is recruited by the mysterious Nur (Meetu Chilana, seductively sultry behind that veil) into going to New York. Cue security check routine by two burly immigration officials in drag. Sayid is brought to the terrorist cell HQ where its leader Hussain (a larger than life Sorab Wadia) steals the show as he teaches country bumpkin Sayid how to make a big bang in the Big Apple. But fate, in the form of Foxy, now plays its part... Zoe Samuel and Ben Sheuer's songs are classic belt-'em-out numbers - naturally there's a Jihad Jive chorus line - and if the Jewish cast of Fiddler on the Roof suddenly appeared onstage singing Tradition you'd be pressed to spot the difference from the Muslims. Of course it's a little bit overstretched, but Samuel's script gives this hardworking ensemble zinging one-liners aplenty, while also notching up the benchmark are Andy Jordan's inventive cartoon props and Deb O's spot-on costumes. With enough burqa jokes to throw a yarmulka at, never has Homeland Security been this fun. Nick Awde

Jason Kavan: According to Jason - Chapter 1 The White Horse Jason Kavan has good news and bad news. Surprisingly both would appear to be true. His father died recently and shortly afterwards Jason's wife gave birth to twins. The comic boldly uses these events to create a circle of life show that makes you laugh first and think later. Talking about the death of someone close to you might seem a little too close to the knuckle even given Edinburgh's notoriously low threshold, but a rich lode of appallingly black almost Kafkaesque humour lies in what you actually have to do after a death. There are strange condolences from even stranger people in the hospital while a visit to the undertaker leads Kavan to working out that the £1,200 for a coffin includes a whopping £400 for the handles. His twins, born soon after, provide similar inspiration as he considers the insane world out there that is waiting for them. In between Kavan reels out a whole string of observations on life, the universe and everything. And being half white British and half Indian means that he has automatic membership of that select band of comics who can get away with the dodgiest of Islamic jokes, mainly because they're taken for a suicide bomber every time they walk onto a bus or tube. Comics like this make the free comedy festival worth every penny, so to speak. True to that spirit Kavan earns every laugh. Nick Awde

Shappi Khorsandi: Carry on Shappi Pleasance Dome We've had waves of stand-ups in recent years suddenly settling down and introducing reassuringly safe material about marriage, children, turning forty or simply discovering what a laptop can do. That sort of material, however, has something of a hilarious edge to it when that stand-up is nine months pregnant and gives instructions to someone in the front row on what to do if her waters break onstage. Welcome to Shappi Khorsandi, Iranian mother very nearly about to be. In fact there's a bit of a double act going on here as she talks in asides to the bump (it's a boy) or stands or sits according to which part of her insides he's kicking. Despite admitting to hormone-induced amnesia, Khorsandi delivers a high energy set about mothers and low esteem - clearly a favourite topic with both her and the audience - and strangers touching her expectant belly inappropriately in the street. Her horror at finding herself married to a comic and musician sparks the fond memory of dumping his predecessor - you almost feel you were there - while the analysis of retrojealousy gets huge laughs of recognition from the female half of the crowd. All this somehow leads into a story about googling a cure for her pet guinea pig's swollen willy and her mum happily chatting to drug dealers at Brixton tube station. Unexpectedly, her attitudes of parents to drugs really hit the audiences' spot as did the frankly appalling memories of her school years in grim west London as a put-upon Iranian with only two Jewish girls for friends. And somehow all that landed her on a stage in Edinburgh 2007 about to give birth. Now that's show business! Nick Awde

Killer Joe Pleasance First performed in 1993, Tracy Letts' funny-violent play has become a mini-legend for its depiction of a Texas trailer trash family stuck on the self-destruct button. It's now the turn of The Comedians' Theatre Company to take us on the latest tour of the trailer parks of Dallas. Chris (Ed Weeks) crashes through the front door of his trailer home late one night waking the rest of the family. He owes money and he's going to get knobbled if he can't find the cash pronto. His dad Ansel (Phil Nichol) scratches his crotch in sympathy while stepmom Sharla (Lizzie Roper) screeches half-naked in his ear. His sister Dottie (Charlotte Jo Hanbury) sleepwalks in and out. It's hard to go on without giving away the plot. Suffice to say that a murderous plot that the family hatch to make them all a bit of cash provokes a visit from Killer Joe Cooper (Tony Law), police detective by day, assassin by night. In the convincing caravan interior set, some great scenes unfold: Sharla wheedling at her stepdaughter to put on her dress while Dottie simultaneously tries to get her stepmother to admit to having a secret boyfriend, or the appalling humour of watching Chris and Ansel applying the logic of who would be missed in order to justify killing. The cast is energetic and work hard throughout at getting the laughs and keeping the tension high, but they are not helped by Maggie Inchley's static direction which leaves Tony Law in particular stranded by not letting him get to the sinister heart of Killer Joe. Additionally, the cast's accents need improving right across the board, and not just for authenticity - a bad accent equals bad diction. Funny certainly, violent yes and even momentarily pathos-filled, this gory game of Happy Families is still not the high-octane blood fest it promises to be. Like last year's creaking Talk Radio, written by Eric Bogosian and performed by the same company, Letts' play is showing its age, particularly in the lazy Sam Shepherd-style introspective monologues. The company would have a more enduring hit on their hands if they simply transposed the action to a mobile home park in Britain. Nick Awde

Kit and the Widow   Edinburgh Academy Here for their twenty-fourth festival, the masters of gently satiric cabaret offer their loyal audiences (notably older and better-heeled than your average Fringe house) exactly what they come for - witty songs and banter delivered with a never-threatening camp archness. And so the pair, Kit (Kit Hesketh-Harvey) doing most of the singing, the Widow (Richard Sisson) at the piano, open with a song full of name-dropping, poking fun at current Scottish politics, and follow with one celebrating how safe we are in the war on terror now that the government is stockpiling all those manicure scissors and shampoo bottles confiscated at airports. Kit channels Noel Coward for a perfectly toned ditty on how ghastly London is and the Widow does his party piece of Tom Lehrer's rapid patter song listing the chemical elements. There's a song about there being no plumbers left in Poland and a version of Goodness Gracious Me that somehow involves traffic wardens and suicide bombers. The camp does occasionally get a bit thick, and one wonders whether all of what Kit calls the Edinbourgeoisie catch all the jokes, but the duo are, as always, great fun.    Gerald Berkowitz

La Femme Est Morte    Pleasance Dome '...or, Why I Should Not F%!X My Son.'  A modern dress version of Phaedra, set in the world of paparazzi and pop music, and shaped to accommodate criticism of American war policy, sounds like a Really Bad Idea. But Shalimar Productions come very close to pulling it off, thanks to a strong concept and high-energy performances all around. In this version Phaedra is a general's trophy wife and Hypollitus a golden-boy prince looking not unlike our dear queen's grandson, who avoids women and burns off his energies in the boxing ring. Surrounding them and their hangers-on are a chorus of celebrity photographers and reporters in search of scandals and scoops, and likely to break into very well-choreographed songs and dances at every opportunity - or roughly as often as a Greek chorus would have taken centre stage. The updatings actually work, and the whole thing is done at such high speed and with such high spirits that the occasional lapse (generally when the text tries to return to the formal language of the original) goes by too quickly to spoil things. The American connection is a little more troublesome, and the energy level of the show drops noticeably with the return of the general-king and the intrusion of his comments on the art of war. This is very much an ensemble piece, with everyone from leads to backup singers serving to sustain the tone and keep the bubble from bursting.   Gerald Berkowitz

Leitmotif Assembly Aurora Nova For this particular project, Andrew Dawson took a few of his friends down his memory lane - or to be more precise down the Bognor Regis-London Victoria railway line - in order to help him make a show about himself. As a result this is something of a collage of congenial chat, art film, shadow puppetry and verbal and non-verbal storytelling that also veers off briefly to New York. One of the few dance numbers in it is a jaunty parody of himself as a teenager, mainly serving to cue a story about an affair with his dance teacher. The stories Dawson relates to us are often amusing, nostalgic and occasionally moving, but this piece as a whole lacks the rigour and thematic complexity of his previous works. I suppose it is a bit of a case of too many cooks ending up with too thin a broth, but it takes someone of Dawson's stature and experience to be able to get away with it and still have an auditorium full of fans. Duska Radosavljevic

Lemons Are For Emergencies Only Gilded Balloon A woman sits in her kitchen preparing for a party, but something about her little-girl demeanour or her inability to avoid the subject of the kinds of potential disasters that can happen at picnics or parties signals us that all is not as it seems. Indeed, though a tale of past horror and present schizophrenic withdrawal will eventually emerge, the whole secret is telegraphed so fully within the first five minutes that there can be few surprises for any member of the audience who has been paying attention.  Performing her own script, Claire Titelman captures the eerie air of the child-woman who maintains her internalised composure only by resisting memories and thoughts that could bring her back to reality. But the fact that the whole story has been all-but-told in the first few moments can make the rest of the not-quite-half-hour play seem empty and tedious, despite its very brief running time. Gerald Berkowitz

The Line Between Gilded Balloon If you think about the world's greatest comedians, they are most likely to be misfits in some obvious way - too short, too tall, too fat, too ugly, too awkward or too poor. Especially when they come in a tandem, like for example Laurel and Hardy, they must be able to emphasise each other's flaws. Danny Frost and Mark Knightly are both tall, handsome and beautifully spoken middle class boys, much more easily suited to romantic leads than to clowning around. Even if, with their gangly limbs, bowler hats and anxiety-ridden monosyllabic exchanges, they seem to be taking their inspiration from a Beckettian existentialist variety of a clown, they never quite take it far enough into that extreme either. The Line Between is therefore only too easy on the eye and middle of the road for its chosen genre, but you should still catch Frost and Knightly in their current phase, as when they find their path, they are both likely to go very far. Duska Radosavljevic

Little Howard and the Magic Pencil of Life and Death Assembly The big screen at the back of the stage is the first star to appear in this winning show. Caricatures, a la Rolf Harris doodles, are quickly drawn on it, followed by bursts of laughter as people recognise themselves. And then on bounds Big Howard (aka Howard Read) to introduce the show's real star, Little Howard. The six-year-old cartoon boy leaps from the big screen to Big Howard's laptop depending on his mood, all the while upstaging the show's carefully planned jokes, meaning that the hapless Big Howard has to start all over again and again. And that makes it all the funnier. After Little Howard has been enticed to the laptop for a quick nap, Big Howard embarks on a series of inventive games with the audience, with the younger members providing some wonderfully unexpected moments of interaction. We then discover the Magic Pencil which can rub out characters in Little Howard's virtual world just as easily it can draw them. Things get a little sinister here but never fear, the audience is there to help him out. There's even an action-packed 3-D segment, complete with coloured glasses for all the audience. Thanks to his laptop, Read takes interactivity to a level where it seems like real life as he gets the children to line up to play with Little Howard onscreen. This has to be one of the most magical double acts on the circuit, as entertaining and educational for adults as for little ones. Nick Awde

Life in a Marital Institution Assembly New Yorker James Braly is in the marriage from hell, which for some reason he cannot break out of. He and his wife have been together for 23 years and have gone through 13 marriage counsellors. She sounds like a bizarre combination of aging hippie and control freak, continuing to nurse their six-year-old son, choosing doctors and counsellors on the advice of a witch, making dinner party conversation out of the debate whether it is best to ceremonially bury a placenta or eat it (and if the latter, how to prepare it). She has still not forgiven him for an unconsummated temptation to stray that happened before they were married. And he is so totally whipped that when his baby is born (at home, of course) with breathing difficulties, he chases around New York for her approved healers instead of taking him to a hospital, and is eventually reduced to sleeping part of the week in a storage facility near his office and being relegated to a separate part of the house on weekends. Of course it is not likely that he is as innocent as he presents himself - the glimpses he gives us of his parents and siblings suggest that that family is not a model of sanity and stability, and he admits to checking himself into a psychiatric hospital as a teenager 'because I couldn't wait to leave home.' Braly offers himself as a confessional storyteller in the mould of Spaulding Gray, but he lacks Gray's writing, editing and performance skills, and merely stands (and occasionally sits) there rattling off the story in a rhythmless monotone. Any half-decent stand-up comic could mine gold in this material, and Woody Allen has made an entire career out of its equivalent. But the fact that Braly can only generate an intermittently interesting or chuckle-provoking monologue is a measure of his limitations as writer and performer. Gerald Berkowitz

Long Time Dead Traverse A play about mountain climbers may not sound like your cup of tea, but Rona Munro's warm and insightful drama is a set of character studies that illuminate not just the climber obsession but also the deeper and sometimes surprising drives beneath the surface, as well as the coexisting and seemingly contradictory impulses to normality. It also has a lot to say about mourning, about when the past is to be held on to and when given up, and (back where we began) why people climb and why they decide to stop climbing. We are introduced to three climbers, the veteran Grizzly and the younger Dog and Gnome. When Gnome (a girl) is injured in a climb, Grizzly meets a hospital nurse who is a grieving widow. Their connection helps Griz decide that it may be time to move on and stop climbing, but the woman is not ready for the parallel decision - to her, moving on would mean denying the reality of what she lost with her husband. There are similar self-examinations and self-discoveries for all four characters, and in this Paines Plough production, you believe in all four characters, self-contradictions and all, and wish them all well. An excellent cast is led by Garry Cooper and Jan Pearson and directed beautifully by Roxana Silbert.  Gerald Berkowitz

Norman Lovett's Slide Show Pleasance No one can accuse Norman Lovett of misrepresenting his show, though one can question its entertainment value. The veteran actor merely stands at a microphone commenting on a few dozen snapshots projected on a screen. Some, such as pictures of his dogs or of himself in his garden or of the fluff produced by his tumble dryer, are purely personal. Some represent minor grudges of his - chewing gum on the pavement, a car whose colour offends him, a shop he thinks too twee for his neighbourhood, a TV newsreader he dislikes. The largest group are random street scenes, of someone he thinks funny looking, or of where someone funny looking was, but the guy moved out of shot, or a rear view of someone he assures us was funny looking from the front. Perhaps one photo in ten - an odd sign or juxtaposition of things - is actually humorous in itself, perhaps one comment in ten actually witty. This is strictly for those with very low expectations, for whom merely being in the same room with someone they once saw on the telly is worth the ticket price. Gerald Berkowitz

Lucid Dreams for Higher Living Baby Belly A man is alone in the downstairs room of his home as his family sleeps upstairs. We know that he has a problem he's trying to work out because he has just switched on a self-help motivation video. The polite, sympathetic woman's face that clicks into view on the television instantly starts to reassure him. 'I exist for you, I won't judge - it's your own will,' she purrs. In no time she has him moving the furniture around, breathing deeply and answering questions about himself. After a while he's ready to move on to interactive role play. Of course the video isn't interactive - the presenter is just a series of previously scripted prompts, but Brian gets so into things that we ourselves start believing that the exchange is real, even when he stops, rewinds and pauses to recollect his thoughts. Like a Philip K Dick story, paranoia short-circuits the human world with the impersonal corporate machine universe, and reality takes a raincheck. The question on the lips of both man and image now becomes: will he find an answer to his madness? As Anthony, urged to 'sell the complete package' and 'get with the programme', Rhys Swinburn goes from awkward silence to euphoric confidence and shows split-second timing as his character's unravelling emotions send him out of synch with the video. Helen Bradbury's slick talking head, however, is the unexpected star of the show and her video stands as a commercial, marketable work in its own right. Without actually being there, she manages to make scenes such as asking Anthony to dissect sentences and empty the words into his lap gloriously surreal, sensual even, yet wholly unnerving. Despite an unpromising play title, Jack McNamara's inventive script is as magically poetic as it is comically sad. The programme notes describe it as 'a satirical look at self-help culture' but that's unfair - it is far more, namely an exceptional study of loneliness and the human condition. Nick Awde

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(Some of these reviews appeared first in The Stage.)


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Reviews - Edinburgh Festival - 2007