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 The Theatreguide.London Reviews

EDINBURGH FESTIVAL AND FRINGE 2010

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. No one can see more than a small fraction of what's on offer, but with our expanded team of dedicated reviewers, we reviewed almost 250. Virtually all of these shows tour after Edinburgh, and many will come to London, so the Festival is a unique preview of the coming year.

This year, for Edinburgh only, we gave star ratings, since festival goers have shown a preference for such shorthand guides. Ratings range from Five Stars (A Must-See) down to One Star (Surely there's something better you can do with your time), though we urge you to look past the stars to read the accompanying reviews.

Because the list is so long, we have split it into two pages. The reviews are in alphabetical order (soloists by last name), with A-L on another page and M-Z here.

Scroll down this page for our review of Mandrake, Man Who Was Thursday, Mary and William, Master and Margarita, Medea, Memoirs of a Biscuit Tin, Memory Cells, Metronome, Midsummer Night's Madness, Misconception, Mission of Flowers, Monkey Poet's Welcome to Afghanistan, Ms Minnelli and the Daring Do, Susan Murray, Mussolini, My Hamlet, My Name Is Richard, My Romantic History,

Naked Live And Never Again, Nevernight, Night Heron, No Child, The Not-So-Fatal Death of Grandpa Fredo,  Now Is The Winter, Occasional Students, Of People and Not Things, Opera Sins, Others, Our Share of Tomorrow, Our Town, Oxford Revue,

Pandora's Book, Partisan Babies, Sarah Pascoe, Penelope, Penelopiad, Pennarum, Penny Dreadfuls, A Perfect Corpse, Performance Postponed, Petite Rouge, Emo Philips, Photo 51, Pip Utton Is Charles Dickens, Plague, Private Peaceful, Productivity, Pulse,

Radio Hoohah, Reverie, Rhythms With Soul, Adam Riches, Paul Ricketts, Roam, Romeo and Juliet, Route 52 & A Perfect Honeymoon, Frances Ruffelle, George Ryegold,

Sex Lives of Super Heroes, Shakers, Shipwrecked, 6766, Slacker's Guide to Western Theatre, Slice of Saturday Night, Smiler, Sometimes I Laugh Like My Sister, Songs for a New World, Speechless, Spring Awakening (RSAMD), Spring Awakening (KUDOS), Star Child, Stationary Excess, Stripped, Studio 54, The Sun Also Rises, Suspicious Package, Swann and Company Present...,

Tailor of Inverness, Talented Mr. Ripley, Techtonics, Tempest, Tempest-Without a Body, 10 Dates With Mad Mary, They Shoot Horses, Threepenny Opera, Tis Pity She's a Whore, Tokyo Love Story, Touching the Blue, Track of the Cat, Trappings,

Under the Blacklight, Unshakeable, Up To Now, Vanity, Tim Vine, Waiting for Apollo, Wealth, What Money Can't Buy, While You Lie, Wild Allegations, Wonderland, The World's Wife, Yale Wiffenpoofs, Charlyne Yi, Zambizi Express


Mandrake   Zoo Southside         ***
Machiavelli's comedy, as adapted by the seventeenth-century Earl of Northampton, plays very much like an English Restoration comedy, with a lovesick swain enlisting a crafty friend to help him get to the married woman he yearns for, in this case by actually convincing her foolish husband to assist in the seduction. Style is all in this sort of witty romp, and director Luke Beattie and his cast get it exactly right at least half the time, although the occasional undeveloped character or lifeless scene keeps this Foul Papers Theatre production from complete success. Matthew Howard defines the lover by boyish enthusiasm and impatience that quite rightly sometimes make him almost as comical as dashing, and although Jeremy Bourget's comic shtick as his servant is essentially irrelevant, it feeds nicely into the play's silliness. Rob Stott is attractive as the devious pal, though he never quite captures the sense that the fun of the game is the guy's driving force, and Andrew Boxer as the cuckold and John Canmore as an easily corruptible priest are only intermittently the broad cartoons the play's farcical nature demands. Were the whole production as spirited and inventive as its best moments, this would be a completely delightful naughty romp.  Gerald Berkowitz

The Man Who Was Thursday   Gilded Balloon           ****
As anyone knows when flying around the US, you mess with the Department of Homeland Security your peril. Designed post 9/11 to police people in transit, Homeland America makes Nazi Germany look like Butlins. Do exactly as they say – remove your shoes sir, empty your pockets madam, walk through again miss – otherwise they call in a SWAT squad. But one citizen is not prepared to put up with this bullying as he keeps tripping off the metal detector at an airport, and his demand to have his rights respected triggers a major security alert.  He is, however, not stripsearched and thrown into a cell but recruited into a top secret counter-terrorism unit. Now codenamed Thursday, he is dispatched to infiltrate a terrorist cell. The ensuing crosses, double-crosses and stand-offs keep you both guessing and entertained in the satirical mayhem that follows. There are some terrible spaces around in the Fringe and the Nightclub is one of them. It is to the Jam Theater Collective’s credit that it overcomes such an unbecoming dimensions to deftly perform this company-devised piece inspired by GK Chesterston’s 1908 anarchist thriller. The seven-strong ensemble could be tighter but with enviable energy they manage to hit all the right buttons as they go. If you like your Pirandello spiced with Tarantino (well sort of), then this is your sort of theatre and, if expanded into a longer work to the standard of the slick opening airport sequence, Jam Theater has a real hit on its hands.  Nick Awde

Mary and William  Gilded Balloon    
       ***
In this confessional piece of theatre, Mary Hamill recounts many personal experiences from about the age of three to the present day and from the thrills of becoming an actress to the deep pain of a damaged childhood.  It is interesting that despite her illustrious acting career, which has included Broadway hits and Little House on the Prairie, when it comes to playing herself, Hamill is surprisingly modest and retiring. In a Fringe venue suffering from acoustic interference from a cabaret show next door, it actually is very difficult to even hear her at times. It is only when she steps out of herself to depict her mother or another character that we get a glimpse of her talent, and it is a pity that the narrative of the piece does not allow for more of these moments.  After all, this is a tender and intimate self-portrait of a woman with a capacity for rising above her own pain – admittedly with the help of William Shakespeare’s verses on this occasion – and one can’t help wanting Hamill to really relish her triumphs in the end.  Duska Radosavljevic

The Master and Margarita   C Soco         ****
Adapted from the novel by Mikhail Bulgakov, Oxford University Dramatic Society's performance of The Master and Margarita is a fantastical tale of Stalinist Moscow, Vodka and the Devil. This outstanding piece of student theatre boasts a polished, high-standard with a multi-talented cast. Director Max Hoehn plays a delightfully bewitching Woland that exudes all the sickly charisma that the Devil deserves. Accompanied by his beastly cat, Behemoth, Woland proceeds to meddle with the lives of both the literary elite and the lovers Master and Margarita. The rowdy Behemoth is well played by the talented Matt Monaghan, who slips with ease between piano and violin to provide wonderful musical accompaniments. Occasionally the play loses tempo, with certain performances and scenes not quite managing to maintain the high-standard evident elsewhere. Luckily these moments are rare and, before the dust has truly settled, the play picks up again, often redeemed by one of the various characters of engaging actor David Ralf. The Master and Margarita is a very well conceived piece of theatre, making good use of the C Venue's site-specific space. This show is definitely worth seeing, if only to experience Cassie Barraclough's voice echo beautifully around the derelict loft.  Kris Lewis

Medea   Church Hill Theatre         **
This Euripides' tragedy is realised in a post-apocalyptic tribal wasteland, reflected by the destructive pain of Medea caused by Jason’s betrayal. Kimberly Morris' costumes are convincingly made to almost mimic a contemporary Broadway production, with animalistic influences from The Lion King, and fantastical elements from Wicked. At times the way the show is dressed is the only thing that captivates the attention. Too often every member’s acting, including the principals, is two-dimensional, seemingly stuck in the same ‘tragic’ programming. Even Fiona Stephens’ Medea, a model-like beauty not afraid of maniacal scorn, can’t achieve a sense of beastly desperation without it feeling a little cold. While monomania is certainly a difficult thing to embody, the fixation feels unfocused. Only the final scene of filicide is in any way emotionally effective. Suffice to say I was disappointed by the lack of dynamics, the limited range of pace and any sense of depth. This Medea is desperate for a lightness of touch that is currently only being provided by the whimsicality of the costumes. While the energy is good, the company needs to occasionally take off the mask, and find a little variation. If they do, perhaps I’ll start believing in this most vengeful of Greek tragedies.  Joe Morgan

Memoirs of a Biscuit Tin   Pleasance        **
Here is an excellent example of a company which has vision and some great theatrical ideas but is in desperate need of a director and ideally, a dramaturg.  The original idea for this piece came from the three performers’ shared experience of having had widowed grandmothers and no recollections of their grandfathers. Exploring the unfortunate predicament of solitude in old age and death, the trio take on the roles of inanimate objects which would have witnessed mysterious Mrs Benjamin’s days. Not understanding the concept of ‘passing away’, the long neglected Wall, Floor and Chimney struggle to come to terms with their own abandonment until they discover the Biscuit Tin of the title which entertains them with animated mementos of Mrs Benjamin’s most intimate moments.  Offering some inspired characterisations and imaginative puppetry sequences, Maison Foo are at their best when engaged in non-verbal storytelling with the aid of coat stands, lamp stands, bags and suitcases. This is when the audience is given the best opportunities to participate in the magic and wonder of Number 92. As for the often tautological and patronising dialogue, it could well do with a pair of Scissors.   Duska Radosavljevic

Memory Cells   Pleasance         ***
Perhaps to commemorate the forty-seventh anniversary of John Fowles' novel The Collector, Louise Welsh's new play tells much the same tale, of a delusional man who kidnaps a woman and holds her prisoner, convinced that this is an act of love and that her resistance is really an expression of her love for him. Welsh's major alteration of the formula is to tell the story backwards, so we first encounter the victim comatose and perhaps dead, with the man lovingly tending her body, and then watch as she gradually becomes more active and more resistant, right up to the bright and innocent moment of their first meeting. While this structure may take a while for the audience to catch onto, it does effectively colour everything that happens with our awareness of the outcome, denying us any hope that might lighten the tone, our only cause for disappointment being the discovery that this is, after all, just another variant on a familiar story. John Stahl unswervingly invests the captor with the cold confidence of one who cannot imagine a reality other than the one he has created in his imagination, while Emily Taaffe admirably navigates the more complex task of taking the woman through the long process of decline in reverse order.  Gerald Berkowitz

The Metronome   Spaces@Surgeons Hall            **
The Edinburgh Fringe Festival is a hotbed of experimentation, creative energy and theatrical expression. The Metronome is a new play by the young Will Bourdillan, but has all the creativity and zest of a lazy television drama broadcast in the middle of the afternoon. It’s about two alcoholic scientists, post-World War One, that wish to build a time machine. It could potentially be moving, or funny, or tragic, examining the things in life we cannot change. But for over an hour I longed for the last ten minutes, somehow maybe, to turn into a rollicking adventure ride. It starts well, with Chekhovian influences and an intriguing group of upper-middle class characters. But then the exposition is abruptly forced into the first scenes, and results in repetitive motion throughout. It could have potentially been good to keep the science fiction element ambiguous, allowing a sense of mystery to bait the audience’s curiosity. While it is staged, dressed, and directed to the best of the company’s ability, perhaps there wasn’t enough exploration of subtext to act it decently. That said Rachael Shwenn’s Helen is possibly the play’s saving grace, her suffering maid as a believable mother role to the desperate fools around her. The Metronome steadily ticks on and on, and is a symbol for the overwhelmingly long duration. Strangely enough, this does not make for an interesting hour and a half.  Joe Morgan

A Midsummer Night's Madness  C Venue       
****
You might think from the publicity that this is another hiphop retelling of the bard’s timeless comedy. Possibly ‘exuberant’ and ‘joyous’, no doubt ‘sizzling’ and certainly ‘down with the kids’. Not that there’s anything wrong with hiphop Shakespeare – rapidly becoming  genre of its own – and this production by does indeed contain elements of hiphop. But it is the play, first and foremost, that you’ll experience here, and it’s a bewitchingly good update at that. Music and song feature widely while the comedy and drama hold themselves both well in this, erm, exuberant adaptation from Hackney Harlem Theatre set in the streets of today’s Hackney. As an exasperated Oberon Kofi Boateng mixes authority with distraction as Samuel Folaya’s Puck flits manically into the audience while, Cerberus-like yet sensuous, Titania is the tuneful trio of Chantelle Masuku, Debbie Ogunbodede and Jessica Symonds.  On the human front Bradley Cumberbatch gives one of the most engaging comic performances of the Fringe as the unwittingly OTT leader of the traffic warden Mechanicals – and justly steals the show – Kate Cox is beguiling as Hyppolita and Rashmika Torchia’s feisty Hermia wins your support as soon as she appears. The cast are focused throughout and not once do they break out of character even when doubling in the band section or waiting in the wings. Movement and dance adopt a variety of styles but, while a feature, they rarely take second place to the snappy dialogue which ensures that plot and characters shine through.  As a company devised piece, the text is a mix ’n’ match of street talk, modern dialogue and Shakespeare’s lines and, to be honest, it is the original that works the best. It would lose a few laughs from the contemporary references, but director Susie McKenna should nevertheless have risked it by sticking to the original text throughout – the production itself is already contemporary enough – and you even find yourself thinking , boy I’d like to see this team do a straight version. All in all, however, this is one of those rare pieces of winning theatre that could and should tour top-notch venues and schools alike.  Nick Awde
 
Misconception   Assembly        **
A man who didn't want children married a woman who was infertile, and all was well until she discovered that conception was possible after all and began to get broody and plot ways of making a baby behind his back, as it were. That is the premise of Bill Dare's new play, which quickly moves in the direction of the couple's best friend and a turkey baster. But what starts as a simple sitcom keeps straying into more serious territory as it explores the feelings of the three characters and the moral implications of achieving one's ends at the expense of another's wishes. As the play also devotes some attention to the husband's private dreams and his plans to make them come true without consulting his wife, and to the friend's comic and serious reactions to his involvement in these secrets, the uncertainties of focus and inconsistencies of tone keep the play from succeeding either as comedy or drama, though individual moments can register in each mode. Director Katie McAleese doesn't seem to have helped her cast through this shifting dramatic territory, as Toby Longworth (husband), Sian Reeves (wife) and Stewart Wright (friend) too often seem unsure how glibly or deeply they should be playing.  Gerald Berkowitz

Mission of Flowers   C Aquila              **
Bill Lancaster was a British-Australian aviator of the 1930s whose life seemed made up of almosts. He didn't set a record for the England-Australia flight, he didn't set a record for the New York-Mexico flight, and when he attempted the London-South Africa record he crashed in the single most isolated and uninhabitable spot in the Sahara. In between, he left his wife for a woman who he taught to fly and who went on to win all her races, he introduced her to a friend only to have them fall in love, and when the friend killed himself, Lancaster was tried for his murder (and, in what appears to be one of his few good days, acquitted). Gerry Greenland's script places actor Leof Kingsford-Smith as Lancaster at the Sahara crash site, thinking about his past while waiting for searchers to find him. But as my summary might suggest, the more Kinsford-Smith tells us about Lancaster, the less interesting and worthy of our attention he seems. The one piece of his story that inspires interest and sympathy, and that allows this account of a perennial also-ran to resonate, is a surprise saved for a closing slide projection.  Gerald Berkowitz

Monkey Poet's Welcome to Afghanistan!  Sin Club    ****
You'd be hard pressed to find a one-man Fringe show with such passion, professionalism and historical poignancy at any of the major box offices, let alone at the low, low price of absolutely free. Actor/creator/co-author Matt Panesh brings to life a veritable squadron of characters from his source material, Lt. John Greenwood's autobiographical account of the first Anglo-Afghan War. From wide-eyed narrator, to bumbling generals, to the war-weary lone survivor of a fifteen thousand man army, Panesh embodies each new voice with conviction. Although at times his enthusiasm for the story supercedes the crispness of his characterisations, the art of unfolding the absurdity, tragedy and exoticism of a sweeping war epic with nary a single hand prop blooms in Panesh's capable hands, and is proof of his marvelous potential. There are many laughs to be had, and a particularly poetic and resonant finale will have you thinking about the show for a long time after you've left your seat. Hannah Friedman

Ms Minnelli and the Daring Do: Tim's Last Stand  C Venue     ***
Ever sing out your deepest diva fantasies in front of the mirror with a hairbrush mic? No? Well our hero Tim did, and it has cost him his girlfriend, his friends and possibly a whole lot more. In his front room, surrounded by his treasured vinyl records. Painfully straight (though with a hint of Liza around the nose) Tim shoehorns his male figure into a leotard and silk kaftan and offers us a glimpse into the secret world he shares with Liza Minnelli, Julie Garland, Barbra Streisand, Dinah Washington... He sings along with his heroines seeking reassurance and meaning in their torch songs, from wistful Cabaret to an exuberant Don’t Rain on My Parade. A sort of High Fidelity meets Priscilla, the show is rambling and uneven, and yet gloriously so when you look at the effort Sam Thackray puts into this, making it a   true Edinburgh experience, and he may have a commercial show with legs on his hands. All he needs to do is decide whether he wants to use his limitations (body and voice) to the full and truly embrace the diva crack’d. That tricky artistic statement resolved, he then can work on the script with a director, get all those emotional pressure points working with the music, and really break our hearts rather than just touch them.   Nick Awde

Susan Murray: The Glottal Stops Here   Stand      ****
If you know your glottal stops from your epiglottis then you’ll love this show. If you don’t, you’ll love it just the same. For her Fringe debut Susan Murray has decided to eschew writing gags for a themed show on accents and the weird and wonderful way they shape our lives. Sure there’s a bit of linguistics, but that’s just an excuse to fill the rest of this ripping show with a wry look at life (particularly Murray’s), the universe and everything. After all, everyone has an accent don’t they, Murray points out. Indeed some of us even lose them or change them, as brutal video clips of the Queen (lost) and Margaret Thatcher (changed) attest. She works her way through old favourites like Scouse, Ulster and RP (“Really Posh”), gauging the pros and cons on the national ratings scale. And though Murray bemoans it, we’re lucky that her family situation meant that she is now fluent in the two worst offenders: Black Country (as in “kipper tie”) and Glaswegian (“see you Jimmy” obviously).  Routines include her Scottish mum asking for turnips in Wolverhampton, a momentary rip into Cheryl Cole and a clinic for STDs (sexually transmitted dialects). Murray works the packed audience with skill – there is the added pleasure of realising that asking where people come from is linguistic fieldwork – and conducts us through elocution lessons of how to say hello in Geordie. In the process she shows how accents still play a big part in our supposedly classless and regionless society. Oh, and in the process she gets us to laugh long and loud both at them and ourselves.  Nick Awde

Mussolini  Hill Street     ***
There’s been quite a trend in biographical monologues about prominent fascists. First it was Pip Utton with Adolf in 1997, then Ross Gurney-Randall with Goering’s Defence in 2002. Now, the latter returns with a portrayal of Mussolini.  What all of these projects have in common is the desire to come closer to the human being behind the image of villainy that those figures have acquired. After all – however evil they might have been – they all had enough charisma and political skill to climb to the top and take the lead of significant numbers of people. You might be surprised to find that Mussolini had began his career as a schoolmaster. The son of a blacksmith who had taught himself to read in order to read Marx, Benito enjoyed Plato, Dante, Machiavelli and Nietzsche. He also worked as a journalist for a while, and his ultimate downfall was his weakness for women. Gurney-Randall puts energy and dynamism into the portrayal, adding childlike fervour to his numerous pursuits (which also included posing for photographs). This is all done with taste and Paul Hodson ensures that while adding nuance to the depiction of a dictator, he is never in danger of being redeemed for his sins.
  Duska Radosavljevic

My Hamlet  Assembly         **
Linda Marlowe joins with the Georgian puppet company Fingers Theatre to create what amounts to a rapid-fire one-woman race-through of Hamlet, with all the positives and negatives that implies. Foremost among the first is an hour of pure Marlowe, the opportunity to watch the actress play all the roles, bringing her talent and perspective to characters and speeches most actresses never get to play. Foremost among the flaws is that director Besik Kupreishvili doesn't always bring out the best in his star. The premise has Marlowe as an immigrant actress denied the opportunity to practice her craft in England and determined to show what she can do. This gives the character a desperation that carries over into her portrayals of Hamlet and the other characters, a quality that feeds Marlowe's inclination toward broad and external acting. The puppets playing Everyone Else are not particularly expressive (though the Polonius and Osric are droll), leaving it to Marlowe's speaking of their lines as well as Hamlet's to provide characterisations, and under the pressure of playing all the roles she does not always distinguish clearly among the voices. The textual editing is intelligent and occasionally evocative, as when 'To be' is moved back to comment more on Ophelia's suicide than Hamlet's temptation to it. But the overall effect is of an undeniably talented actress working so hard that the determination to do it gets in the way of doing it well.  Gerald Berkowitz

My Name Is Richard   C Too            **
Earnest and well-intentioned as it may be, this new musical by Tom Kirkham and Nicolas Bloomfield can't escape the feel of the sort of theatre-in-education that comes with discussion guides for teachers. And, a couple of performances aside, this production from Kerfuffle Theatre never rises above the barely adequate level of school theatricals. The titular Richard is a teenager with mild Asperger's Syndrome, which means he understands language only on the most literal level and is unable to read the emotions of others. He copes with being bullied at school and with his parents' crumbling marriage by not really registering these things, and because he loves the prettiest girl in his class he can't grasp the concept that she might not love him. The parents split up, the girl rejects him and the bully beats him up badly, but Richard's handicap ironically protects him from the full emotional pain others might feel. Blair Anderson, an A Levels student himself, captures Richard's cheery innocence, though his singing is barely audible over the generally too loud band. Almost everyone else in the cast is seriously bad, mugging and broadly overacting in ways that argue that much of the blame must go to director Kirkham. Only Amira Matthews as Richard's mother joins Blair Anderson in acting with any naturalness, and she also does full justice to the score's best song.  Gerald Berkowitz

My Romantic History Traverse      *****
D. C. Jackson has taken the staples and conventions of romantic comedy, shuffled them, and dealt them out in constantly surprising and entertaining patterns, reinventing the form as he goes along so that every time we think we can predict the next twist or joke, we are delighted to be proven wrong. Though perhaps it runs just ten minutes or so too long to sustain its otherwise unflagging comic energy, it is for most of its span an irresistible mix of recognisable comic truths and laugh-out-loud comic situations. A guy starting a new job dreads the inevitability of an office romance, but falls into one, commenting ruefully on each development as it occurs. He also fills us in on the far-less-than-perfect amorous history that brought him here, notably his first big romance - and one central joke is that the girl in those flashbacks is played by the same actress as his new entanglement. But just when the rich veins of comedy thus explored seem to be thinning, we switch to the new girl's point-of-view, reliving some of the previous scenes as she experienced them and learning about her own first great love (played, of course, by....). With two stories now being told and commented on simultaneously, we can enjoy not only the ironies, but the skilful way the playwright develops parallels and convergences. Playing what amount to four roles each - their inner and outer selves, themselves as seen by the other, and the memory characters, Iain Robertson and Alison O'Donnell juggle the comic balls with admirable ease and style, while Rosalind Sydney plays a string of Everyone Elses so that it comes as a bit of a surprise to find only three people taking curtain calls. Lyndsey Turner directs with a light but sure hand, making particularly inventive use of Chloe Lamford's surprise-filled set. Gerald Berkowitz

Naked, Live and Never Again  Pleasance Dome     ***
Unappreciated actor and teacher Jack Treadwell has had enough of the celebrity-filled cesspool that his beloved profession has become and so now, after one last lecture on his particular brand of Method acting, he's going to chuck it all in. That's the premise of Andrew Hawkins' solo show, but what the author-performer knows and the character can't completely disguise is that there's a more immediate and personal reason for his decision to go. We never learn exactly what it is, but we sense that the phone call supposedly from Al Pacino probably isn't, and the BBC series supposedly cancelled in favour of another reality show may not have been there from the start. In short, Hawkins lets us watch a slowly drowning man trying desperately to keep up appearances, with all his jargon about his theories of acting and all his pride in his great personal triumphs of the past seeming more and more empty with each reiteration. It's a thin tightrope to walk, and Hawkins doesn't always escape the danger of making the guy just a pompous bore or of letting him go on at length about things only of interest to other actors. A clearer image of what the character is running from and trying to hide from us would strengthen what is only intermittently successful as a character study.  Gerald Berkowitz

Nevernight   Greenside                          *
This is a show inspired by J.M. Barrie’s classic Peter Pan that is in desperate need of being rethought, rewritten and recast. The performers are simply not talented enough, the songs weak and nonsensical, the script clichéd and ridiculous. Focusing on Jane’s return to the world of Nevernight, none of the magic or pleasure you would expect of this fictional world is present due to a bland and empty stage. Leads Peter (Luis Fonseca) and Jane ( Sorcha Stott-Strzala) have a difficult evening, the former overacting, and the latter rather nasal. Their Peter and Jane lack any chemistry but are not helped by bad blocking. Peter Hose provides a solid performance as Dr. Kaeronson but his cabaret tune is underwhelming. The musical is orchestrated by Adam Sharp, a lone pianist on an electric keyboard – the only flawless performer. Nevertheless, the type of songs written by creators Calow and Hose demand further instrumentation and there are questions as to whether the cast can even hear the music: they are frequently flat and sometimes completely off-key. There is one good song in the style of a jazz show-tune, about a former lover of Peter’s with the hook (no pun intended) ‘remember my name’. The rest of the show however is plagued by bad writing, dire staging and forgettable performances. During the fourth number Peter awkwardly clasps Jane by the shoulders and garbles ‘tell me how I can improve!’ – The answer? Start again. From scratch. Jamie Benzine

The Night Heron   Spaces@Surgeons Hall        
***
I have no idea what Jez Butterworth's 2002 play is about, but it's fun sitting there and trying to guess. Part Pinter, part Orton and wholly Butterworth, it's a display case for a bizarre comic imagination let loose - too loose perhaps, since a bit more of a coherent plot couldn't have hurt. As it is, the collection of deeply strange characters and the askew sense of humour that brings them together offers more than enough in the way of entertainment for those willing not to ask too many questions. Two more-than-slightly-weird guys live in a shack in the fens since they lost their jobs as gardeners in a Cambridge college because one freaked out and accused a cub scout of being the Antichrist. They take in a boarder, a girl fresh out of prison with, let us say, not a firm grasp on the outside world's social niceties. There's a loser friend who has started a religious cult, a kidnapped student who recites Shelley in the nude, someone blackmailing them over the scout incident and birdwatchers roaming the fens in search of the titular rare sighting - and damned if I know what it's all about, except that the mostly-from-Oxford-colleges Rabid Monkey Productions make it always intriguing and frequently laugh-out-loud funny. 
Gerald Berkowitz


No Child....   Assembly             *****
Based on her own experience as a 'teaching artist' in the New York City school system, Nilaja Sun's solo play comes to Edinburgh trailing every writing and acting prize available in every American city in which it has played. Sun recreates the experience of going into a class of 'academically and emotionally challenged' teenagers with the goal of interesting and motivating them toward putting on a play. Sun plays a score or more of roles, including the kids in the class, other teachers, parents, and the school janitor as well as herself, rapidly moving back and forth amongst them in a bravura performance. Though the instantly-created characterisations are, almost of necessity, all stereotypes and cartoons, Sun lets us enjoy the exaggerations and still see the reality beneath them. And however simplified and romanticised may be the tale of the students first resisting her and then slowly being won over, of her own wavering and being reinspired by their dedication, and of their working together toward a goal that is realistically far from perfect but still more than they themselves would have thought themselves capable of, it would take a determined curmudgeon to resist the piece's inspirational message.  Gerald Berkowitz

The Not-So-Fatal Death of Grandpa Fredo
Traverse      *****
This show from Vox Motus is a hoot and a holler and a delight from start to finish, and the only thing to complain about is that there isn't more of it crammed into its eighty minutes. Inspired by what they swear is a true story, writer-directors Candice Edmunds and Jamie Harris tell the tale of a simple backwoods lad in rural America who builds a home-made cryogenic cabinet in his shed, to hold the to-be-resurrected remains of Grandpa, and of the town elders who try to cope with something that they don't actually have any laws for it to be against. Add in a mayor whose main qualification is having been a beauty contest winner, a police chief emotionally attached to his pet raccoon, local TV reporters on the scent of the first actual news story they've ever met, a river so polluted that even the fish imported for the annual trout festival don't live long enough to be caught, and an inclination on the part of everyone involved to burst into mock country-and-western songs at the drop of a dead trout, and the only thing I have to add is that the cast of dozens is played by four performers doing some rapid costume and accent changes. It is so much fun that it is purely curmudgeonly of me to suggest that it could benefit from a little tightening up and a little more polish to the faux lack-of-polish. If by chance you find the Festival a little too culture-heavy, a little too Good For You, here's a dose of sheer uncomplicated fun you would be very remiss to miss. Gerald Berkowitz

Now Is The Winter   Vaults           ****
Through clever and sensitive cut-and-paste editing, Kate Saffin converts Shakespeare's Richard III into the monologue of an imagined gossipy house servant, played with warm realistic humour by Helen McGregor. Starting with the title soliloquy, spoken without irony by the loyal York supporter, and accompanied by the depiction of various household chores or back fence gossiping, the speaker reports on overheard conversations or bits of news passed on from others, following Richard all the way to Bosworth where she witnesses the defeat and turns Richmond's victory speech into the common woman's earnest prayer for peace. A few episodes, including the murder of Clarence and everything involving Queen Margaret, are omitted entirely while the rest are described or reenacted for us with the excitement of one with inside information, and it is striking how easily the substitution of 'he' for 'I' or the very rare bit of non-Shakespearean paraphrase translates so smoothly into reportage, allowing the actress to create and sustain a believable and sympathetic character as she responds naturally to each turn of the plot. It is a small piece, but much more than just a condensed plot summary, as the woman invented by Saffin and brought to life by McGregor is thoroughly Shakespearean in spirit and might well be a cousin to Mistress Quickly or Juliet's Nurse.  Gerald Berkowitz

The Occasional Students   C Central          ***
From Christ's College Cambridge come the Occasional Students, a group of promising young comedians with a variety of sketches covering everything from murderers to meerkats. The Students' satirical scrutiny focuses on highlighting the absurd in the mundane, but lacked the dynamism to be truly hilarious. Under their wide scope of material, sketches ranged from side-swipes at social-networking, with the attention-seeking gossip Facebook, to peculiar perspectives on the advertising world, pondering how some of our most loved commercials came to fruition. The gags had distinct student feel, although the show managed, for the most part, to avoid overly vulgar sketches. Although no sketch failed to elicit laughter, the scenes felt slow-paced, with most skits over-staying their welcome. The punchlines weren't particularly hard hitting and sketches tended to lose momentum quickly, with the funniest moments coming from the playful nature of the performers, rather than the quality of their writing. There is a great deal of potential here, with sketches that are funny and relevant, but in need of polish and brevity.  Kris Lewis

Of People and Not Things    Vaults           ***
A podium. A chair. An otherwise empty stage. A man nervously appears from the curtains and introduces himself as our speaker for the night. Richard apologises profusely for not being as organised as he should be, admitting to more than one drink the night before. In between the bullet-points and sub-headings, he vers into enough tangents for us to piece together who he is and the world he lives in. Post apocalyptic, a terrible cataclysm has decimated the world’s population and eradicated technology. Through fond and bitter memories of his life before and wry observation of the peace that now reigns, our speaker admits that he is exorcising demons from his past. It’s not giving too much away to reveal that after he has left the stage a young woman appears. Karen has no speech prepared but clearly seeks an audience. Finding one ready-made, she too chats about the life she once had and the challenges it posed. Gradually, Rashomon-like, we hear her side of Richard’s story and assemble a more complete image of their world and how the cataclysm came about. As Thomas, Andrew Hungerford is edgy yet vulnerable, matched by Lauren Hynek’s edginess and vulnerability Karen, and Elizabeth Martin directs well what is the difficult show of what is essentially two monologues structurally speaking. Although very much of a genre favoured by modern American writers, Andrew Hungerford’s script is inventive and thoughtful yet does not reach its full potential. Tighter control all round would release tons more of the humour and poetry encapsulated in the dialogue and create the complete production this deserves to be.  Nick Awde

Opera Sins   St Andrew's & St George's Church            ****
The opera, most kids will tell you, is the musical for old boring posh people. I would guarantee they’d by astonished by 14 talented students and graduates from the University of Edinburgh. Without question they rank as one of the most talented groups of young classical singers I have ever had the privilege to hear. They do need a little more work on technicalities, like diction and discerning the emotional drive. But most of all I was stunned by their maturity, their elegance, and their sound. Opera Sins is a sequence of scenes from various works by different composers, from Vaughn Williams’ The Pilgrim’s Progress to Mozart’s Le Nozze di Figaro. Each work encompasses a single human biblical weakness. When they are familiar, like Rachel Timney and Laura Reading’s glorious rendition of Humperdinck’s Hansel and Gretel, the audience almost visibly salivates. While the familiar may be easier to act, without the programme (including the script) I did find some of the pieces confusing. In more modern works, such as Benjamin Britton’s Peter Grimes, I believe the English language helped both actors and audience. It’s incredibly pedantic but I also noted the tendency in some of the males to slouch, suppressing the diaphragm resulting in a poorer clarity. However this is classical music and good posture is vital. The voices are surprisingly professional for their age, which makes me long to see what will happen in ten or fifteen years. This is an energetic, surprising display - a myriad of audible delights.  Joe Morgan

Others  Pleasance           ****
Just when you thought that verbatim theatre was a thing of the last decade, here comes a piece that takes the form a bit further. Making a piece about the process of making the piece has become part of the Paper Birds’ methodology. This is often accompanied by a choice of complex subject. The investigation of form and content is then carefully problematised and, quite literally, shared with the viewers. The all female ensemble’s last show, In a Thousand Pieces, used found materials and verbatim and physical theatre to explore the issue of sex trafficking with boundless imagination and sensitivity. This time round they bring humour into the equation too. Others is a piece about three very different women outside of the domain of the cast members’ daily life – a foreigner, a prisoner and a celebrity. However, realism is by no means the aim of this verbatim piece – which, incidentally, subjects body language to mimicry too. Instead its makers delight in the necessity to fill in the gaps and bring in a personal perspective on the material. The result is an intriguing, insightful and instinctively well shaped piece that will send you away both entertained and provoked.  Duska Radosavljevic

Our Share of Tomorrow  Pleasance          ***
Dan Sherer's one-hour play is more character study than story, using a basic situation to examine and empathise with three figures who are each emotionally damaged but determined to carry on as best they can. A fifteen-year-old girl travels to meet the father she never knew, accepting the assistance on the way of an older man who is estranged from his own daughter. Each of the three reach out in their own ways to each of the others, but the connections made are not strong enough to do more than offer a little comfort after they have gone their separate ways again. Sherer tells the story from the middle outward, beginning with the girl on her way and then matching each scene of what comes next with a flashback to what came before. The device may be more ponderous than it's worth, though it does let an awareness of the future colour our vision of the past, and vice-versa, and the playwright's inexperience shows in his having to let one character spell out the message of self-acceptance and self-forgiveness rather than being able to dramatise it. As directed by the author, Jot Davies (father), Tamsin Joanna Kennard (daughter) and Toby Sawyer (protector) capture the tentativeness of those who have too little to be able to risk opening up to others.  Gerald Berkowitz

Our Town   Space@the Radisson            *
Stumbling through Thornton Wilder’s text, the Italia Conti Ensemble fails to impress. It is possible that this is partly due to space issues; a jumbled stage crowded with an overly-large cast is not ideal. Unfortunately, what is most evident is a shocking lack of energy and focus, causing the actors to lose spontaneity and rush through lines. The characters become difficult to connect to, whilst the time travel elements are inadequately illustrated through shambolic scene changes and peculiar actor replacements. On several occasions one feels lost from a story which is already not the most contemporary or engaging given the age of the play itself. Furthermore, props are sometimes present and sometimes mimed, whilst the casting is questionable. The lack of off-stage area means one is often distracted by a nearby, far from discreet, costume change. It is also tiresome trying to concentrate on the on-stage action when the rest of the cast are fully lit and constantly fidgeting with set, props or costume. This production is hardly slick in its approach and disturbingly unbelievable. The performers have a tough job bringing us into the world of the play as we are rarely treated to a sense of place or age. The company does not do justice to, let alone shed any new light on Wilder’s words, a statement which I am sure the woman snoring next to me would agree with.  Georgina Evenden

The Oxford Revue   Underbelly            **
After an unusually good showing last year, Oxford's revuers have reverted to the disappointing level that has been their norm for almost a decade. Too often they fall into the trap of getting the idea for a comic sketch but not developing the sketch itself. Is there a joke in the Chuckle Brothers wanting to do serious drama? No, as it turns out. How about a vulgar, intrusive marriage counsellor? She would have to be funnier than this one. Ditto the wine tasting and masseur sketches. A few things score, like the French cinema-style TV adverts and the maths exam, but too many ideas that have some comic potential, like the flower arranging skit or the tea song, go on too long for their fragile jokes, losing comic energy with every passing second, and the toilet sketch oozes desperation.  Gerald Berkowitz

Pandora's Book   Church Hill Theatre         ****
Meet Pandora, a lively eight year old with a sense of adventure. Dressed in a bright green dress, complete with pink wellies, a balloon and aviator goggles atop her head, we follow the girl (and her shadow) to the bookstore as she runs an errand for her cold-hearted father. Little does she know what the books have in store for her.... Serving up a delightful tale which explores three exotic stories, Emily Holmes writes and directs with a flair for children’s theatre. The show comments upon itself and even provides some laughs for the adult audience member. The narrator (Daniel Reardon) guides us throughout, flitting between story-telling and interaction with the characters on stage whilst a large chorus, coloured lighting and a variety of props create visually stimulating stage pictures, complemented by a live musical score. Madeline Graves is adorable as Pandora and captures the audience with every word, developing a fantastic repartee with them. There is never a dull moment as the journey shoots from scene to scene, each one taking us to new and exciting territories of imagination. Perhaps this show is a little long and wordy to maintain a child’s attention, but it is undoubtedly well produced with excellent energetic performances from Reardon and Graves. Georgina Evenden

Partisan Babies   Counting House          ***
This massively flawed production could be an interesting first step towards something powerful. Writer Aleksandra Bilić presents two intriguing central characters, surviving in war torn Sarajevo. While their story of friendship has the kernels of great drama it is suppressed beneath an ineffective and amorphous production. There is little sense of direction, the pace is slow, and systems are continually put in place then forgotten. The cast establish that accent denotes language then inexplicably disregarded this method causing confusion. With little set there is abysmal effort to sustain imagined settings with characters walking through walls and windows. The acting was often strong though varied amongst the cast. The initial characterisations of the two central characters, Slaven and Srdjan, offer much promise but, failing to develop depth, become monotonous. Over ten years have passed since the Bosnian war and one might perhaps question the urgency of the piece. However one can hardly discourage fresh voices from returning to this horrific moment in recent history. With a second act (which is being written, I am told) the relationships that are hinted at in this production might be allowed to develop to their full potential. This piece should be treated as a work in progress, a writer trying out some thoughts on a fringe audience. And with free admission one can hardly deny her that right.  Ashley Layton

Sarah Pascoe   Pleasance       ****
Sarah Pascoe’s idea of being naughty involves swapping over the eggs in the supermarket and prank-calling Richard Dawkins. But let that not fool you, for this pretty blonde is certain to catch you out at a game of Scrabble, or at least in a quiz she’s made. She is so brilliant in fact, she says, that she has had to make this show in order to try and knock herself off her pedestal.  Featuring frequent references to French philosophers as her ex-boyfriends as well as neatly categorised dad jokes, 1980s jokes and period jokes, Pascoe’s routine acquires the form of a well crafted comedy essay. Her nerdyness is made entirely palatable by her immense quirkiness and her charm will save her even when she drys up in the middle of her own song. To top it all she is a fine chanteuse, which surely gets her a double first in this round. One suspects that at this rate she won’t be looking for Mr Right among inanimate objects for much longer, and her career prospects look good too.  Duska Radosavljevic

Penelope Traverse    ****
The last four of the hundreds of suitors camped out in Ithaca hoping to win Odysseus' wife maintain their vigil while beginning finally to question whether it has all been worth it. Enda Walsh imagines the four to be roughly a decade apart in age, from thirties to sixties, with appropriately varying levels of commitment, theories of competition and cooperation, and philosophies of wooing. In the course of the play each will be given a chance to present his case to Penelope, in modes ranging from the sadly moving - the eldest admits that he has shrunk into nothing but offers the purity of that emptiness to her - to the broadly comic - another offers a quick-change vaudeville routine celebrating the great lovers of history and myth. But the strongest impression that is likely to come through is their slow awakening to what this campaign has cost them in the lives they might have led and the aspects of reality they might not have closed themselves off to. And so the play becomes most evocative as an extended metaphor for any life choices that limit us, from value systems to simple career ruts. All four men are excellent, with special honours to Niall Buggy's eldest and Karl Sheils' preening cockerel who turns out to be deeper than expected.  Gerald Berkowitz

The Penelopiad   Church Hill Theatre       **
Twenty-Seven Canadian High School students perform Margaret Atwood’s rewriting of Homer’s Odyssey. The young cast clearly exude passion and commitment whilst on stage and this is what helps forgive the lack of innovation in this production. The atmospheres of Hades, Sparta and Ithaca are created gracefully with sheets and eerie lighting states which house the trials and tribulations of the female lead Penelope; wife of Odysseus. Lauren Fuller as Penelope successfully maintains the audience’s attention with an abundance of energy as she narrates her character’s downfall. Laughs are there to be had as the tale unfolds, although at some moments this seems inappropriate. There is a strong sense that the cast are missing the point and brushing over themes from the text; serious issues typical in Grecian drama such as rape, incest, murder and suicide are dealt with insensitively or not at all in favour of comedy. The effect is shallow, heightened by some wooden performances in which the only intonation is up-speak. Rather than a re-working of the original Greek myth, we appear to be witnessing a parody. The performance is long and feels it. Playing with the idea of a musical number (complete with choreography), it even accommodates a cheesy “I am your father” moment. Though the company are clearly enthusiastic, one can’t help but feel that this text is too big for them. However well-executed, the dramatic techniques lack the depth and originality that such a well known story calls for. Georgina Evenden

Pennarum   Pilrig Studio                **
In this modern remix of mythology, Cupid is sent to Earth to teach humans how to love. The problem is, Cupid has no idea what love is. Part of the American High School Theatre Festival, Pennarum is a devised ensemble piece from El Dorado High School, California. As you might expect from a piece of devised high school drama, this play is self-absorbed and rife with overacting. Gavin Sellers' Cupid is a whining teenager, prone to tantrums and tears, screaming the cliché: “I didn't ask to be born!” The play is fleetingly improved by a song that highlights some of the cast's real singing talent. Unfortunately, this high-quality singing happens just once, and swiftly the melodramatic acting resumes again. We are asked 'What does love look like in a media saturated society?', but this play seems to focus instead on the question: 'What does love look like from the eyes of an American High School adolescent?' Although disengaging and dull, this play is not without promise, and we briefly glimpse seeds of potential from within this group of young performers.  Kris Lewis

The Penny Dreadfuls  Pleasance    ***
The Penny Dreadfuls made their reputation with new twists on a fringe staple, the full-length play of absurd comic complexity, with the three guys playing all the roles, so their frantic costume changing and trying to keep up with who they are and what they're doing at any moment became part of the fun. This year they've discarded that mode for a more conventional sketch show, and while there's some nicely twisted inventiveness to be found, it still is just another sketch show, and they are not immune to the trap awaiting any sketch show - of coming up with the concepts for sketches but not the jokes themselves. A boy bullying his stepfather or two guys going all macho over a very small-scale bet sound like potential comic situations, but turn out not to have anything to them beyond the idea. The parody quiz show and teenage vampire sketches could have been done (and probably are) by any other sketch show in town. The bizarre seaman's tales are nicely skewed, as are some unexpected twists in the secret agent sketch. But on the whole you may come away with the sense that they've gone from being in a class of their own in a genre they'd made their own to being just quite good at something lots of others can do.  Gerald Berkowitz

A Perfect Corpse   Space@the Radisson            ****
Not your average doctor. Not your average surgeon. Thomas Proctor is not someone you should consult if you have a medical problem. Dissecting corpses for medical research may be a gruesome thought, however, Todd Heppenstall often makes it hard not to see Proctor’s scientific rationale. Addressing his audience as students in a medical class, Heppenstall is outstanding as the charming yet mysterious doctor. ‘A Perfect Corpse’ performed by Grim Theatre is staged with great attention to detail. A gauze screen splattered with blood serves as both an atmospheric backdrop and a window into the operating room. As the light shines through the gauze, the silhouette of a corpse, Proctor and his tools can be seen at work, providing just the right balance between gore and discretion. The whole production has been well crafted. Costumes are flawless and the props, that can unexpectedly speak Proctor’s thoughts, are ingenious. A blind cellist who never leaves her seat is both musically and physically haunting whilst the cunning script unfolds around her with great suspense. The actors are believable and their comic timing has been perfected so that moments of black comedy fill the room with laughter, greatly juxtaposing the spectators’ otherwise intense silence. Thomas Proctor is in search of his perfect corpse. Just like him, Fringe theatre-goers are in search of their perfect show. This is it, a meticulous production. It cannot be missed.  Yasmeena Daya

Performance Postponed/Reporte La Performance  C Aquila         ***
The first scene of this two-hander is a slow one, especially compared to the frantic assault of scenes to follow. Louise Bowens and Iain Gibbons, the actor-devisors of the piece, sit opposite us wearing simple blacks on two black wooden chairs, the only set. What follows feels like a Mr Bean sketch as Gibbons initiates a charming and gently physical routine, his buffoonish persona mimicking the efforts of Bowen’s focused actor preparing for an audition. Undoubtedly the majority of the festival’s theatre-savvy audience will immediately appreciate this satirical stab at the actor’s process. Indeed this is principally a piece of theatre about theatre. However, the duo’s presentation of young people struggling to make something of themselves in the current financial climate extends the piece’s relevance beyond its initial focus. Minimalistic theatre is often a showcase for the physical and vocal talents of the actors. Gibbons and Bowens have clear strength in both these areas although they could afford to push themselves further. Their grotesque caricatures aren’t quite grotesque enough and the duo seem to lack the courage of their conviction when approaching physical sequences. Perhaps what was needed here was a director to push the duo and encourage them to fully explore the techniques they could clearly excel at. Either way this is a respectable first piece of work from the recent graduates. Ashley Layton

Petite Rouge   Spaces@Surgeons Hall     ***
This Southern American take on the Red Riding Hood tale opens beautifully. As they enter a charming, interactive world, the piece’s young audience will delight in hugging and playing with some of the creatures from the Louisiana swamp. Puppetry is used to great effect, though it is sadly underused in the rest of the production. A new take on a familiar tale ensues as Petite Rouge, the Cajun Duck Little Red, takes her grandmother some hot sauce in her time of ill-health. Claude the alligator replaces the traditional wolf, a role Sam Clifford delivers with just the right amount of menace for the intended audience. This threat is balanced well with Kieran Mortell’s lovable T-Jean and of course Petit Rouge herself. The show is at its best when interactive, and certainly this could be expanded upon. The songs and story aren’t always quite enough to keep a young audience engaged when left alone for too long. Little effort has been made to entertain the adult portion of the audience. There are few laugh out loud gags for the little ones, let alone the adults. However parents will no doubt be satisfied with the delighted giggling of their children. This hopefully will also be enough to distract from the occasionally weak singing. That said, there is some good choreography, especially considering the space, and for the most part Canvas Theatre present fun characters for little ones to enjoy. Ashley Layton

Emo Philips   Pleasance     ***
Twenty years ago, when Emo Philips was deeply into his comic persona as a writhing, falsetto-pitched, weirdly disturbed little boy in man's body (think Peewee Herman after a bad acid trip), I sensed that his skewed one-liners and gags were so good that he really didn't need the silly behaviour. Now in his mid-fifties, Philips has toned down the bizarreness considerably (though the voice remains), and you know what? His material isn't all that good without it. He still relies on a disconnected string of one-liners rather than an extended monologue, and some of them do register. Contrasting Scotland to his native Los Angeles, he imagines drive-by forehead buttings, and he blames indigestion on a late-night snack after which his body rejected the doner. But as you listen to these and to one-liners about Scientology, his evil ex-wife, unlikely greeting cards and the like, you begin to realise how generic his material is, and how just about any other comic on the circuit could be telling these same jokes (and perhaps is). There is no doubt that Philips has an enormous memory file of gags to draw on, but none of it is particularly unique or inventive any more. This is especially evident in his audience interaction, where it is clear that his questions are designed not to allow for ad libbing but to trigger a rapid search of his memory bank for a relevant joke, and that when he doesn't find one he can't come up with anything on the spot. As a gag man rather than a monologist, Philips can be categorised alongside Tim Vine or Gary Delaney, but the veteran has been outclassed by his younger competition. Gerald Berkowitz

Photo 51  Zoo Roxy         ****
What at first sight appears to be a mere experiment in technique rapidly turns into a daring and ambitious fusion of genres to create the complex story of Rosalind Franklin, the almost forgotten scientist who discovered the double-helix structure of DNA, thus unlocking the key to the building blocks of life. Equations, theorems and x-rays are shuttled around via projections, jigsaws and wordplay by quirky boffins - some cuddly, some prickly – whose joint pursuit of human knowledge is at odds with their dog-eat-dog competitiveness. Socially awkward, Franklin finds solitary comfort in the images produced by crystallography and dreams of leaving the laddish hurly-burly of her London lab for the intellectual acceptance she once knew in Paris. You may raise an eyebrow at a  devised show that claims a trio of directors, but  this is what makes Photo 51 of interest since each brings a different narrative to the table, each of which finds its natural level and contribution to the action. Slates scrawled with words and images initially seem gimmicky yet prove to be a powerful means of introducing each protagonist and enhancing dialogue. An absurd strand appears in the comic pairing of Franklin’s rivals James Watson and Francis Crick, while a collage of whirring machines and throbbing industrial soundtrack neatly underpins their scientific world.  With supreme concentration, Theatre with Teeth’s five performers start out all geeky but end up with a shockingly personal portrait of one woman’s struggle with herself in what is a carefully layered and remarkable transformation.   Nick Awde

Pip Utton Is Charles Dickens   New Town Theatre     ****
The 'is' in that title is nice because it builds on one of veteran monologist Utton's unique strengths, the ability to find something in himself that connects to the character he plays and brings him alive from the inside. Here it's Utton's signature ability to make scripted material sound off-the-cuff, a quality that allows his Dickens to chat informally with us, breaking through the formal image of schoolbook portraits. Utton's Dickens tells us, with the casual candour of one with nothing to lose, why the last fifteen years of his life were the happiest. His personal life, however unorthodox, was finally shaped to fit his taste - he was separated from the wife he hated and estranged from the children he disdained, free to enjoy the platonic companionship of his sister-in-law and to indulge in the old man's prerogative of doting on a young actress. And he discovered his highly satisfying second career, as a public reader of his own works. This account allows Utton to be in turn confessional, angry, delighted, wistful and above all contented, while interrupting the conversation every once in a while for sample readings as histrionic and hammy as Dickens (and the actor playing him) could wish. Pip Utton has more than a dozen monologues in his repertoire, but if he wants to he can tour and entertain audiences with this show for the rest of his life.  Gerald Berkowitz

Plague - The Musical C venue        ****   (reviewed at a previous Festival)
This is what you come to the Fringe for - a show that sounds like a really bad idea and then surprises you with its wit, inventive staging and all-round fun. A musical comedy about the plague, with characters including giant rats, the pied piper, a mad alchemist and Death herself ought to be a non-starter, but Matthew Townend and David Massingham capture exactly the right spirit of Panto-like silliness to make it a delight. A country lad comes to London, where he is befriended by an apprentice undertaker and falls for the inevitable dark beauty. Meanwhile, plots and counterplots by the undertaker, the alchemist and some mutant rats make the body count rise until the overworked Death has had enough. The songs are all witty and lightly self-mocking, from the opening salute to the glories and horrors of London through the mock-dramatic Nail Down The Coffin Of Your Past. Jill Hamilton's choreography makes a virtue out of a modest budget and small stage, Robert Massingham's colourful projections add to the cartoon feel, and everyone onstage actually seems to be having as much fun as the audience. Gerald Berkowitz

Private Peaceful Augustines        ****   (reviewed at a previous Festival)
You'll be seeing quite a few plays about World War I as the centenary of its years of carnage creeps up on us, but Private Peaceful has to be among the best of the crop. Based on a story by best-selling children's author Michael Morpurgo and adapted by Simon Reade, this is the tragic yet gripping tale of a young soldier at the Western Front. As Tommo Peaceful waits for dawn and the firing squad, the condemned private tells us of his short life and the events that have led to his being sentenced to death for cowardice. He introduces us to his home in rural Devon, his family and neighbours and the news of approaching war and joining up to fight. Barely has he arrived at the front than he is sent on a trench raid, whose successful outcome proves that he is made of the right stuff. And yet old rivalries raise their head when he falls foul of an NCO from back home and when the day comes to go over the top for the big one it explodes in murderous no-man's land. Everyone involved in this production has done their homework on what is still a controversial part of our history, and every detail convinces from the recreation of the raid to the way Tommo puts on his puttees. Only the ending perhaps takes one step too far from reality since, paradoxically, death would be a just sentence but one that would also be commuted under the complex circumstances of Tommo's story. Nick Awde

Productivity   Underbelly         ***
'Do not give them any money!' we are warned upon entering a business seminar-turned- investors pitch for the market’s wackiest product. What this product is could be anyone’s guess as we are led through a slapdash education on business including a fairytale featuring Gordon Brown, David Cameron and Nick Clegg as a means of illustrating that the recession is, in fact, a hoax. Matthew Mulligan’s David Brent style characterisation is complemented by ambitious ‘nice but dim’ Thomas Lyons, in a performance delivered in a mockumentary fashion. The banter between Mulligan and Lyons is both expertly timed and undeniably electric. Facial expressions and awkward pauses reign in this off-beat commentary on business within the context of the economic climate. Together, Mulligan and Lyons form a highly entertaining double act, incorporating audience interaction to keep us on the edge of our seats. This dynamic sense of spontaneity is interspersed with nostalgic film montage documenting the pair on their quest for entrepreneurial success. However, there are some structural flaws; the footage is not properly introduced and the style shifts clumsily with little coherence. Yet the content within these juxtaposing sections is so well crafted that structural issues are easily overlooked. Rather, we grow accustomed to this manic, jumbled world and appreciate its unpredictable nature. When it all goes horribly wrong at the end for the disastrous duo, we watch Lyons exit the space, ranting fervently at Mulligan. The fact that he is sat on a motorised armchair, departing at an excruciatingly slow pace is the perfect, if unexpected, comedic device to leave us with, the ultimate icing on the cake.  Georgina Evenden

Pulse  C Soco       **
An idea with some potential isn't explored satisfactorily in David Asher's short play. An asteroid is about to crash into the Earth unless a superbomb rocket smashes it, and a group of friends gather to watch Armageddon or its avoidance. As things look good, then bad, then good again, the most pessimistic resists his chums' invitation to party but then suddenly shifts position to out-hedonise them, while they also repeatedly change personalities and alliances. Someone attempts suicide, someone attempts murder and someone with amnesia wanders in for no particular reason. The reliance on a particularly clumsy exposition to establish the situation and the flat language throughout ('I still can't believe it. It feels like a dream.') make it difficult for the audience to enter the world of the play, while the constantly shifting characterisations, unexplored premises and unresolved loose ends give the actors very little to work with, and a pattern of missed cues, inconsistent or single-note performances and flat line readings suggests under-rehearsal or under-direction. Pulse (the meaning or relevance of the title is never explained) does not succeed as a showcase for any of the parties involved.  Gerald Berkowitz

Radio Hoohah   Pleasance Dome           ***
One definite advantage of setting a sketch show in a radio studio is having the perfect excuse to use voice-over for additional characters or as an easy cover for scene-changes. But Octavia Mackenzie and Ashley McGuire also seem to enjoy making videos, so the old trick of filling the gaps with filmed sketches makes its appearance here too. They are definitely at their best when using us as their studio audience and it is a pity they miss the opportunity to make this more of a feature, or even possibly turn it into a much needed backbone for their piece. They go for versatility instead, churning an array of characters ranging from schoolgirl-style amusing to elderly eccentric, and even at times mid-life-crisis hysterical. A particularly interesting choice is that the two take it in turns to play high and low status characters rather than picking individual types. As for the subject matter, issues of class - and puzzlingly, male homosexuality – are satirised.  Hence an interminable parade of wigs, which nevertheless suggests a double act still very much looking for their feet. And of course there is always a career risk involved in a comedy act choosing to parody a radio station. Duska Radosavljevic

Reverie   Pleasance Dome     ****
As is almost typical of Three's Company, Tom Crawshaw's new play has ambitions perhaps just a bit beyond the author's capability, resulting in a work of evident talent and strong elements that doesn't quite succeed in all that it sets out to do. The central character is a professional dreamer, a man whose control and waking memory of his dreams enables him to participate in scientific studies of dreaming. But his dreams choose this moment to begin running away from him, notably by having an old girlfriend suddenly appear in situations that rightly belong to his current love. Eventually an alternative reality develops in his dream life, a sort of It's A Wonderful Life in which he can see what would have happened if he had made different choices. And eventually that alternative becomes so alluring that his grasp on reality weakens. Juggling all these concepts in a performance mode that, as directed by James Farrell, moves without warning from reality to dream and back, sometimes with actors switching roles, ultimately proves a little too much. But the degree of almost-success, along with a sympathetic central performance by Yaz Al-Shaater, makes this far more attractive than works that aim lower and reach their easier goals.  Gerald Berkowitz

Rhythms With Soul   New Town Theatre         *****
Like many other traditional art forms, flamenco is at a crossroads today. The traditional society that gave birth to it is being rapidly eroded by modern life and new ideas and trends risk drying up. Dancer/choreographer Miguel Vargas, however, is doing his all to  ensure flamenco has a vibrant future. Venezuelan-born and trained in Spain he embodies the prerequisite Andalucian passion, has the international outlook to ensure the genre’s survival and is an exciting phenomenon to boot. Rhythms with Soul shows that process at work – amazingly with a full ensemble of dancers and musicians – where Vargas moves modern and parallel Latin American and Caribbean traditions into the flamenco orb, keeping motifs going throughout the dance and music numbers to propel a suitably passionate narrative of the gitano who comes to town, gets the girl and falls foul of the local nobs, resulting in showdowns, face-offs, swirling sevillanas by ladies on the town and fiery rumbas. The modern moves Vargas incorporates do not always mesh completely since they offer less opportunity for the synchronisation that the rat-a-tat that conventional flamenco handclaps and boot-stomp afford – nevertheless the barefoot opener is stunning. But no dance form is an island, and Vargas is right to bring in the Latin American rhythms that have been influenced by flamenco and vice-versa. This is a rare and wonderful chance to get up close and dirty to such large-scale energy-filled performances.  Nick Awde

Adam Riches  Pleasance    ****
Two years ago Adam Riches breathed new life into the one-man sketch show format with his gallery of self-styled alpha males, all delightfully making fools of themselves while strutting their stuff, and if last year's similar show sometimes seemed made up of out-takes from the first, Riches' B+ grade material was better than most comics' A stuff. This year Riches branches out with a less tightly defined show whose only loose theme is horses, from his entry as a four-legged Pierce Brosnan (don't ask) through his Mexican boxer and height-challenged cowboy to his closing shoot-out. Along with employing several assistants in his set-ups and sight gags, Riches also involves audience members more than before, and in the process displays his quick wit, with some of the biggest laughs coming from spur-of-the-moment ad libs. Which is not to say that his prepared material is not as skewed as ever - while the big game hunter from previous shows may have outstayed his welcome, the counsellor for probiotic addiction and the good and evil twins are welcome additions to his collection of characters.  Gerald Berkowitz

Paul Ricketts   Just the Tonic           ****
Have you noticed how rarely the English fly their national flag? Paul Ricketts certainly noticed and, via this weird and wonderful, almost anthropological lecture, he shows the funny side of that very English loathing of any expression of nationalism unless there is international football on the agenda. He explains his own background first of all: a black Briton from Luton who lives in Barking, home of the BNP. Rather than sidetrack us with the racists, he instead turned to the kids of immigrants in the area and asked them how English they feel. The videoed responses are as eye-opening as they are funny – suffice to say that they’re 100 per cent English to the point of feeling iffy about taking an England football shirt home. And so Ricketts, intrigued, sets off around the country looking at attitudes to the flag of St George uncovering the expected variety of local life but always encountering the same seasonal love of England. He meets the proud football supporters who will support anyone but Engerland, he dresses up as a clownish St George on the saint’s day and videos the local kids’ reactions, misses the BNP councillor in armour but ends up chatting to Billy Bragg instead and getting his picture in the Sunday Sport. Like a David Attenborough of comedy, Ricketts stalks his subjects yet never intrudes, always allowing their natural behaviour in their natural habitat to be observed with objectivity. This being England, that behaviour is decidedly oddball and, like Attenborough, Ricketts should be given his own TV show to further explore.   Nick Awde

Roam   Zoo Southside                 ****
Choreographer Tom Dale describes his attractive forty-five minute dance as 'navigating a path across the landscapes of our lives,' an abstract concept that leads his dancers (three women and two men) through a series of variations suggesting encounters, wariness, power plays and departures. Set to the alternately techno and Caribbean-flavoured music of Sam Shakleton, Jo Wills and Guy Wood, the episodes repeatedly begin with one or more dancers self-protectively holding back to watch another or others before joining in, and typically one dancer will seek to dominate, setting the steps for another or others to follow - one duet ends with the dominant woman leading the man on an invisible leash. Other recurring patterns in Dale's choreography include stylised casual strolling, sinuous movements driven by waving or flailing arms, and animal-like crawling and rolling about, the dancers sometimes spending as much time close to the floor as on their feet. Both the movements themselves and the small dramas they suggest are engrossing and pleasurable to watch.  Gerald Berkowitz

Romeo and Juliet   C Plaza            ****
For two hours’ traffic, I witnessed perhaps one of the most visually impressive Romeo and Juliets in recent memory. The effect is similar to imagining an English Baz Luhrmann production with a social revolutionist edge with an intelligent knack for creative exposition. With a killer contemporary soundtrack and an energetic cast, it only needs a little maturity before the company can become unstoppable. The aesthetic is a tribal dystopian wasteland, with monochromatic photographic projections with flashes of blood red representing the scene. It is a disparate environment, the dilapidated urban look created on stage with minimal props and maximum imagination. It needed shades of light with so much grey, and luckily it was there. Director Lucy Cuthbertson created a show with so much clarity, that Romeo and Juliet’s marriage wasn’t an unseen brief line, but a beautiful moment before the terrible turn of events. The star-cross’d lovers are believably played, capturing the naivety of the original characters. It’s especially the little idiosyncrasies making the couple relatable that I liked, for example Kay Payne’s Juliet constantly catching Michael Omo-Bare’s Romeo as he dances his slightly embarrassing moves. Year 10 student Billy Beswick as the Nurse was also consistently wonderful, breathing new life into a normally underplayed role. While it was a treat to not hear drama school Shakespeare and overbearing theatrical voices, an issue was certainly diction. At times I could barely hear through the muffled slurring. Thankfully in time that could be easily fixed. After the knife fights and social disorder that the production explored as well as tragic love, what’s left is a simple message on the screen: ‘Throw your mistempered weapons to the ground.’ It was a moving delight for the modern soul.  Joe Morgan

Route 52 & A Perfect Honeymoon   C Central           ***
This slight but entertaining double bill might not be worth a special trip, but makes a pleasant topper to an evening's entertainment. The curtain-raiser Route 52, by Helen Marshall and Jodie Anderson, follows John Henderson's bus driver on his last day as he grumbles amiably about his passengers, with Marshall and Anderson playing a grumpy mother and her child, posh teenagers trying to act street, catty matrons and the like. It's predictable and mechanically structured - each time the driver mentions a minor annoyance the others enter on cue to depict it - but the vignettes are all amusing. A Perfect Honeymoon, by and with Roisin Keogh and Chris Bailey, is a thoroughly conventional sitcom nicely executed, the authors playing newlyweds on a seemingly doomed camping trip as well as the amorous farmer and narcoleptic birdwatcher they encounter. The four characters are all amusing and well-played, the quick changes add to the fun, and the play finds its way to a satisfyingly happy ending.  Gerald Berkowitz

Frances Ruffelle   Pleasance@Ghillie Dhu            ****
Those who know her won’t need much persuading to go and see Farnces Ruffelle’s show. Here we have a Tony award winning musical theatre actress, a proud former Eurovision contestant and an all round success story of British show business. Ruffelle is also blessed with dazzling looks and charisma which despite the apparent length of her professional career never seem to wane.  As its title suggests, her latest cabaret act is brimming with sensuality and innuendo. There is much provocative dressing and undressing in and out of various kinds of sexy evening-wear to accompany her breathy vocals and power ballads. Even her six piece jazz orchestra are all adorned in various kinds of silky kimonos and night-shirts. Though members of the audience are captivated throughout – singing along or letting out enchanted sighs – one can’t help wishing that there was some sort of a build up to the display of Ruffelle’s brilliance or more of a built in counterpoint to the show’s own structure. While any existing fans will be thoroughly spoilt, newcomers might be ever so slightly stunned. Duska Radosavljevic

George Ryegold   Pleasance Dome      ***
For the uninitiated, contentwise George Ryegold falls somewhere between the stools of Ricky Gervais (knuckle-bitingly un-PC) and Simon Evans (unflappably laconic). It’s also worth pointing out that Toby Williams’ creation is not everyone’s cup of tea. ‘Cup of tea’? I’m hardly getting the witty medical metaphors in - Ryegold is after all a surgeon with lashings of gallows humour. He also happens to be suspended, living at his mother’s, gloomily awaiting news of whether he’ll be struck off by the BMC (an unfortunate CPR call or, rather, lack of it). Distracted by boredom and the bawling baby next door, Ryegold whiles away the time by regaling us with nostalgic tales of not bothering to tell patients they have cancer, treating men with bashful bladder, ruminating how similarly bashful women poo, and crucifying human growths on the hospital chapel wall.  Williams’ forte lies in using that doctor’s bedside manner we all take for granted to dissect even the most sacred of cows with charm and authority, and then promptly seguing leftfield into a topic that turns your initial shock on its head. It is all beautifully crafted and hits the humour spot where few dare to go, but it is not taboo-busting as we necessarily know it and the good surgeon possibly digs too many holes to successfully clamber out of within a single hour.  Nick Awde

Sex Lives of Super Heroes   Church Hill Theatre           *
Did you know that Superman and Lois Lane can’t have sex because it’s mechanically impossible? His ejaculation would literally blow off her skull. How lovely. Facts like this intertwine with the episodic structure of Stephen Gregg’s poorly written 'Sex Lives of Superheroes', about a neurotic loser Michael in the throes of love with the beautiful Lisa, who rewards him by stealing his things. It is only when Eleanor, his date, comes to the rescue that his possessions can finally be safe again. It’s as badly written as it sounds, and the direction by Robby and Dotty Davis feels distinctly amateur. The directors’ poor choices aren’t limited to choosing the play itself, but also deciding to cast an actor as an animated poster, and including a final scene where Michael receives a plaque with the inscription 'Certified Superhero'. Vomiting aside, it’s a shame because the group are a charismatic cast. The leads Rab Davis and Jenna Luke attempt to work with terrible material, but ultimately cannot pack enough of a punch to make any of it particularly funny. A graphic novel, like any work of literature, needs good writing. Without it, all the colourful images stand still and become lifeless, as iconic characters churn out useless dialogue in the name of a 'journey'. Sex Lives of Superheroes is similar to a badly written comic book, and despite a charming cast, its writing and direction deal devastating blows to the final product. Joe Morgan

Shakers   Space@the Radisson          **
Jon Godber's Shakers arrives in Edinburgh promising a ‘performance cocktail with plenty of flavours’ – the reality is that no long drink could be as strenuous to see off as RUDS’ production. The play follows the hard lives of four cocktail waitresses and snipes at a host of easy targets; yuppies, greasers and airheads but the clientele familiar to any sleazy bar under the sun are presented in predictable fashion. The facet of the show most at fault is the direction. Ensemble freeze-frame movements reveal a lazy, unimaginative approach to developing the dialogue, befitting too many student productions; cringeworthy poetry sections are not alleviated by the decision to deliver them in chorus. Redeeming features do arrive in the form of Eleanor Massam’s consistently good delivery and Emma Devenish’s humorous physicality and all the performers sustain numerous convincing accents. The one hearty laugh comes from an exaggerated slow-motion sequence as the girls mimic a prematurely cracked face-mask fiasco, expertly executed from the cast. Frequently however the ensemble movements are predictable and repetitive, such as the motif of rotating bar stools to indicate a scene-change and the entire cast are guilty of underplaying potential highlights and overacting easy gags. The entire packaging and presentation of the play would not seem out of place in a GCSE examination and although individual performances are of a higher standard, the direction lacks the ideas or interest to justify the fifty-minute run-time.   Jamie Benzine

Shipwrecked: The Amazing Adventures of Louis de Rougemont As Told By Himself   Quaker Meeting House   ****
Call me an angry sardonic theatre snob if you will, but I didn’t think I was going to enjoy any play specifically made for children’s theatre. I didn’t enjoy children’s theatre when I was a kid; I was hardly going to start now. However this young talented cast managed to raise an amazed smile in my bitter inner child – changing, possibly forever, my opinions on the genre. A sick youth, the wide-eyed wonderer Louis is always being read adventure stories and the works of Shakespeare by his caring mother, although he longs to play outside and see the world. Ten Louises narrate his tale from boy to man, and I was stunned at the company’s ability to not only encompass the same dreamer with seamless finesse, but also his evolution in character. Shipwrecked is directed by Joseph Whelan. He presents a minimal stage and with the use of less than ten props at any one time is able to conjure up worlds. A single blue gift ribbon and a lighting change welcomes us underwater, and two actors with socks on their hands become fish. The result is simple and cheap, but wonderfully effective. For adults Shakespeare permeates throughout both visually and in the text, from Louis’s tempestuous wanderings, to a Shylock inspired sea captain. The final scenes are intriguingly mature for children’s theatre, raising questions about the validity of Louis De Rougemont’s narration that are never quite answered. For ninety minutes this talented energetic cast are able to create an original inspired treat, captivating every child, and possibly every inner child as well. Joe Morgan

6766    Zoo Roxy         ***
In a medical waiting room, a pensioner holds forth loudly as another patiently listens. He wants to know why he’s there, why publications are always two days out of date in such places, why the other man came of his own volition. As numbers are called over the Tannoy, we soon learn that they are here for ‘processing’, a handy euphemism for euthansania, now an integral part of the national health programme, every terminal citizen reduced to a number in their final hour. As the pair talk it becomes clear that this is less about euthanasia/eugenics than about the consequences of one’s actions and confronting mortality. The more the older man rails about his impending doom, the more his waiting-room companion insists that it could only be so since this is precisely what the other voted for – when a young man, of course, and ironically with no real vision of how democracy would actually determine his future. Bigotry snatches the spotlight when a paralysed teenager in a wheelchair enters to a barrage of prejudice and disgust. Sariel Heseltine, Josh Ward and Renwick McAslan, aided by Lucy Mattias as the Nurse, work hard at their characters but they have their work cut out for them. 6766 harks back to works such as Sartre’s No Exit, revealing the very European core of Heseltine and McAslan’s self-directed short play. And there lies the problem. Absurd yes, but there is little of the satire so vital to this genre, the dialogue reduced to blocks of monologue bemoaning the human condition yet devoid of personality – the players merely ciphers for the polemics. Faced with an Anglophone audience, greater success will lie in seeking the irony, motifs and vocabulary as expressed in the likes of Soylent Green, Brave New World or 1984.  Nick Awde

A Slacker's Guide to Western Theatre  
Bedlam  
    ****
This amiable romp through a few million years of entertainment evolution begins as the first monkey laughs at another monkey's pratfall and ends somewhere around Stephen Berkoff and Les Miserables. In between, the attractive and far-too-perky-for-a-Fringe-morning student cast mix songs, gags, parodies and even a bit of information about how the Greeks invented theatre, the Romans added knob jokes, the Dark Ages forgot it, and so on. Stephen Challens' script, adapted by the company, is inevitably uneven, the potted Morality Play, for example, more successful than the horse race of Elizabethan contenders for Best Play Ever. Variants on this premise have been appearing for years, and there are some signs of wear. Antonin Artaud was very briefly trendy enough to warrant parody decades ago, though I doubt many would get the joke now, and even Brecht may be no longer worth making fun of. The Pinter sketch is weak, though the feminist debate on Ibsen and Chekhov scores, and the finale, which manages to celebrate the Fringe while skewering musicals from A Chorus Line through Les Mis, is delightfully wicked.  Gerald Berkowitz

A Slice of Saturday Night   Space@Venue 45        ***
A Slice of Saturday night may focus on young people in the sixties but it is more than just a piece of nostalgia. Its sexually frank and charmingly crude content still speaks about and to young people now. It should appeal to audiences of all ages. Everyone should want to get up and dance at the club A-Go-Go. Whilst Canvas Theatre’s production had its moments it wasn’t quite as fun as it really should have been. It was a very mixed level of talent on display. When it came to individual performances there was some good acting, singing and dancing ability to be seen but rarely all at once. The notable exception was Lorna Harris as Sue. Harris - clearly a confident dancer who sang beautifully - flirted as much with the audience as she did the characters on stage. Florence Gannaway-Pitts also presented an excellently endearing Sharon. If there was a disparity in individual performances the company gained strength when performing the group numbers, especially some of the great dance routines. What was missing from this piece was a connection with the audience. This is surprising considering the intimate staging which could be taken better advantage of. Instances of interaction were rare, which is a shame - if you’re practically dancing in the lap of the audience surely you might as well go the whole way? Involving the audience more, inviting them into the gang might be a way of improving the actor-audience connection and creating a show that is as fun as it should be. Ashley Layton

Smiler  Gilded Balloon         ***
Richard Fry's self-written solo show creates a sympathetic character in a convincing world and carries us on an emotional journey, in a nicely satisfying hour that nonetheless never really transcends the average for this genre. Fry presents us with a genuinely happy young man despite, as we will eventually learn, having had a very unpleasant childhood. He credits the change to his meeting and friendship with his buddy, the determined-to-get-the-most-out-of-life Smiler. The notable thing about Smiler, aside from his infectiously positive attitude, is that he was left brain-damaged by an automobile accident, and Fry's narrator is in fact his paid carer. But the guys still go everywhere Smiler's chair can be rolled, even breaking down some barriers to the disabled along the way. They drink, they smoke the occasional joint, they stare at the stars and philosophise, and the simple ordinariness of their friendship is healing and enriching for both of them, until things take a dramatic turn. Like Fry's other scripts, this one is written in sometimes strained rhymed couplets that jog along happily, occasionally surprising us with their wit but just as occasionally grating on the ear, and Fry's performance is minimal, amounting to little more than occasionally sitting down and/or standing up again. It's a small piece, that satisfies without being overwhelming, more a pleasant addition to a Fringe day than a destination event in itself.  Gerald Berkowitz

Sometimes I Laugh Like My Sister   Pleasance       ***
It is a well known fact that the bereaved need to talk about their loss to help them cope. Rebecca Peyton’s loss occurred five years ago when her sister – a BBC journalist – was assassinated on an assignment in Somalia she’d undertaken without adequate preparation. Her need to share the story is therefore also motivated by a desire to raise consciousness about people dying for their jobs and by her belief that naming one’s fears – including the fear of death – helps to disempower them. This sort of activist storytelling is very hard to review, not least because it deals with real pain, rendering the craft less important. Peyton’s artistry is contained in finding striking metaphors to articulate aspects of her experience. She also deploys humour and radio-style pauses to move between sections of the narrative and engage the audience in a vaguely challenging eye contact.  Last year Kristin Fredricksson made a successful theatrical tribute to her dead father using found objects from his home. The bereaved do need to talk, but in the end grief is a personal affair, and theatre most definitely a public one. The question is what does it take to make the bridge between the two?  Duska Radosavljevic

Songs For A New World   Church Hill Theatre            ****
With hit TV shows like Glee becoming increasingly popular, the La Salle Academy Award Players have chosen the ideal opportunity to wow their audiences. As I have come to expect from the American High School Festival, the ten strong company have boundless energy and unwavering enthusiasm as they perform a range of musical numbers composed by Jason Robert Brown. The majority revolve around one person’s perspective on various relationships, including the tale of a gold digger on the quest for her perfect (rich) husband and a bitter attack on Santa from Mrs Claus herself. As can be imagined from a Catholic College Preparatory School, there are religious references and connotations which are sung with up-beat and heart-warming faith. Beautiful harmonies rarely fall flat with delightfully humorous performances from the powerful voice of Shelby Clarke. Victoria Szlashta’s delicately small frame is matched by a refined soprano voice, whilst boasting a surprisingly strong stage presence. Generally, the five women outsing the five men on stage, but this is not to diminish the capability of the male voices here. This young cast is bubbling with potential and whilst they are competent singers and performers in their own right, the beauty of the piece is when they all come together. Coloured light projected on a cyclorama helps to add atmosphere, but otherwise the stage picture is rather stagnant. Some melodies are difficult to follow and at times the cheese factor can be testing, perhaps even for some hardcore Gleeks. Yet these are comparatively small complaints which can be overlooked, particularly with a haunting rendition of ‘Flying Home’ which follows a soldier as he dreams of returning from war. A vibrant showcase of new talent, with a standing ovation that says it all.  Georgina Evenden

Speechless  Traverse      ***
Based on actual events and a book about them, this new play by Linda Brogan and Polly Teale tells part of the story of June and Jennifer Gibbons, twin girls who turned their backs on the world and refused to communicate except to each other in a private language. While it isn't much as a play, with a methodically linear plot and little drama, the character study and attempt to understand the girls' experience is engrossing and emotionally involving. The playwrights trace the girls' withdrawal to early experiences of racism and bullying, which led them to take comfort in each other, the introversion eventually becoming pathological, much the way anorexia can overcome the victim's conscious control. Jennifer, the dominant but ironically less confident one, tries to merge their identities into a single strong unit, while the submissive but more self-aware June has moments of rebellion. Touchingly, it's adolescent hormones that briefly seem to offer a way out of the self-imposed cage, as their discovery of boys leads them to study the art of conversation and compose lonely hearts ads, and we are repeatedly reminded of the intelligence and inventiveness the girls have tragically locked within themselves. The play doesn't finish their story, but just chooses a more-or-less arbitrary place to stop, leaving you wanting to know more (some of which is provided in the printed text). With solid support from Anita Reynolds as their perplexed mother, Emma Handy as a sympathetic teacher and Alex Waldmann as the boy of their fantasies, Natasha Gordon (Jennifer) and Demi Oyediran (June) create believable and sympathetic could-be-true characterisations. Gerald Berkowitz

Spring Awakening  Pleasance       **
Aside from all the accolades that Duncan Sheik and Steven Sater’s musical has received, one of its greatest achievements is the re-popularisation of Wedekind’s classic rite-of-passage play from 1891. There are two productions of Spring Awakening at this festival, and one can imagine that due to the age range of principal characters, it will long remain the staple of many university courses and theatre societies.   The Royal Scottish Academy of Music and Drama’s production involves some twenty members of the cast who take it in turns to play the leads and form a chorus. Director Andrew Panton has made a logistical decision that all adult parts would be played by the same actors throughout each show and this is both a challenge and a limitation for some of them. Another dramaturgical risk is the squeeze into a continuous 90 minute slot which – following a highly effective climax in a star-lit hay loft – results in a rather flat second half.  With all the sex, drama and rock’n’roll, there is much gusto in the rendition of this show, but one fears that with the inevitable loss of emotional depth, the overall effect is closer to Britney Spears than Wedekind.  Duska Radosavljevic

Spring Awakening   C Central          ***
Page 3 aficionado and model Katie Price recently declared, a little bemusingly, that the sexualisation of young people has gone too far. Spring Awakening, the controversial German play reinvented for the 1950s, introduces us to teenagers that have the other problem. These boys and girls are naive but caught between the sunset of childhood, and the perplexing prospect of being an adult with all the pressures and sexual maturity. Most of the time the production uses a tender touch, gently playing with the heartstrings. The sex scene between Michael and Wendy is delicately portrayed, the powerful silence and rough swift action easily establishing it as dramaturgically the best moment. However, with advertising that promised a reimagining of the classic, the lack of innovation was disappointing. Morris’ ghost was uninspired, dressed more like a cheap Halloween costume with white makeup and bloody prosthetics. That particular confusing scene with a comic looking hooded man was a real compromise of the staging potential. The KUDOS ensemble was previously nominated for a Stage Award, and they remain a highly capable entertaining cast. With the same consideration for the directorial work, some of the more interesting ideas could be better executed. While the sexualisation of today’s children has supposedly run amok, Spring Awakening suggests that maturing too early while maintaining naivety doesn’t work either. I’m not a parent, but perhaps we should just let kids be kids.  Joe Morgan

The Star Child  Sweet         *****
A poor woodcutter finds a baby in the winter woods. Named Star Child because he was found wrapped in golden cloth, the foundling grows up to be clever and beautiful all the while despising his adopted family and the community that has nurtured. Predictably, such haughty ways do him no good when one day he is forced to realise that he might not be as perfect as he thinks. Tell Tale Theatre’s delightfully dark retelling of an Oscar Wilde story  is a simple yet striking fairy tale with a neat moral update presented through a gentle blend of world physical, storytelling and (human) puppet theatre. Expertly directed by co-creators Lauren Whitehead and Raza Rizvi, this eight-strong ensemble shares out a multiplicity of characters as bodies pile up to become mighty oaks, slump over each other to become sleepy kids or a whole village comes to life before us. A violin provides sinister blows on the Star Child from his evil master, a veil whisks to instantly create a beggar or leper.  A little rough around the edges this may be, but there is not a move out of place, not a space wasted. Indeed to see a cast of eight, shimmery costumes, props and all, utilise this tiny stage so adroitly is worth the ticket alone.  This is all the more remarkable when you consider that this is a young company formed only this year. Their longer serving peers could learn a thing or two here.  Nick Awde

Stationary Excess  Underbelly    ****
How many different things can you fit into the chorus of You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feelin’?  You’ll be pretty surprised to find what actress Jessica Latowicki is capable of. Let’s just say that preparations for this show have involved an awful lot of physical exercise, verbal memorisation and champagne drinking – often all at the same time. This thirty minute show, consisting of a story of love and loss, a complex uninterrupted exercise bike routine, a breakfast and a make up and costume session consequently packs a lot more in than at least three average Fringe shows put together. But the form is very much part of the content too. Though seemingly absurd in its basic conceit, this piece ultimately delivers an interesting and thought-provoking reflection on what human beings do for love. Haven’t we all, at least once in our lives, fallen for someone unattainable or done impossible things to reach them? Tim Cowbury and Jessica Latowicki’s creation should therefore be considered a powerful parable on romantic heroism and endurance that goes with it.  A memorable feat and definitely worth adding to your list.   Duska Radosavljevic

Stripped  Gilded Balloon           ****
It would be true, though entirely misleading, for me to say that this is a show about stripping created by a former stripper herself. In a place like the Fringe, you might expect a juicy and gritty, socially-aware narrative with some real erotic titillation thrown in for special effect.  What you get in fact is a consummate piece of character comedy, featuring over a dozen of character portraits and sketches, a couple of dances (a sexy and a comic one) and some fascinating insights into the world of exotic entertainment – all by one woman alone. Although the plot is occasionally prone to some pitfalls of cliché, the actor/writer Hannah Chalmers seems to have a natural instinct for theatrical storytelling and comic timing. This results in a really crisp delivery and great audience rapport which Chalmers enjoys without necessarily exploiting it. But then again the latter might be a bit too close to the bone. The show is ultimately a satire too, deeply motivated to raise ethical issues of power struggles surrounding money, sex and interpersonal transactions between strangers. So in fact this is a show about human relationships by a really perceptive actor and writer who did stripping for a bit.  Duska Radosavljevic

Studio 54 The Musical  C Venue      **
Studio 54’s sinfully sequined, notorious setting, its swanky choreography, retro-fab costumes, and cast of pretty, powerful singers could have amounted to a musical extravaganza not to be missed. Unfortunately, its paper-thin plot sabotages most chances of invoking empathy for any of the characters. A very long hour-and-a-half of unmotivated twists and bizarrely escalating betrayals climaxes in a murderous scheme allegedly based on Othello. Indeed, the green-eyed monster is present and accounted for in Studio 54’s Nikita, a cut-throat employee who will do anything and everything to land a coveted spot on the famed nightclub’s stage. But the redundancy of her endless scheming, and the clunky, expository dialogue of all of her victims ultimately results in what one might expect to discover the morning after a raucous, disco-filled dream: with all the evening’s glitter and glamour stripped away, the club is disappointingly hollow.   Hannah Friedman

The Sun Also Rises  Royal Lyceum Theatre        **
The work of New York's Elevator Repair Service is described in the programme as an attempt 'to stage the encounter between literature and theatre.' In practice this means a thoroughly conventional, not especially theatrical and, for too much of its three and a half hour length, ploddingly pedestrian slog through Ernest Hemingway's novel. The Sun Also Rises follows a collection of the idle well-to-do of the Lost Generation of the 1920s as they drink their way through empty Paris days and nights and then on to the bullfights in Pamplona. Jake Barnes and Brett Ashley love each other but Jake's war wound means he can't serve Brett's sexual needs, which she feeds in a string of empty affairs. Everyone else either passes through Brett's bed or observes the parade from an alcoholic distance. Director John Collins seems to have been defeated by the desire to include every last detail of the novel and to be unable to theatricalise them in any but the most literal ways. Except for a few half-hearted expressionistic touches, like the amplified sound of corks popping and drinks being poured, and a bullfight represented by a table being pushed around the matador, the production is unimaginative, a single very solid set serving as a string of interchangeable bar rooms and hotel lobbies. As Jake, Mike Iveson has some trouble projecting his voice but offers a performance of notable stamina, being onstage almost without interruption and speaking Hemingway's narration and description as well as the character's lines. Lucy Taylor captures the pain Brett's sexual neediness and promiscuity cost her, making the woman more victim than vixen; and Matt Tierney and Ben Williams register in featured roles.  Gerald Berkowitz

Suspicious Package  C Venue       ****
Give yourself a well deserved clap at the end of this whodunit with a difference for you are the cast, along with five others. Rendezvous at the venue’s terrace café, say hello to your future co-players, choose your role and costume (suitable hat or boa), pop on your iPod (sorry, make that Zune), follow the directions out of the venue and read your dialogue on the screen. American accent optional. If I conjured up Bogart and Bacall, and mentioned that the line-up includes a Broadway starlet, an heiress, a detective and a Broadway producer, you’ll get an idea of the ‘noire’ nature of the plot. After the first couple of prompted encounters in Victoria Street with your co-stars negotiating the witty expositions and snappy one-liners you quickly get the hang of things and by the last scene you feel a pro where there is the suspense of learning who will be revealed as the guilty party. Although the company (and sympathetic shop-owners) are on hand to nudge things along if required, Suspicious Package is entertainingly user-friendly throughout, with the Zunes providing a zippy jazz soundtrack as you walk to assignments in Edinburgh’s streets and showing darkly comic audio-visual backgrounders in between dialogues. Creators Gyda Arber and Wendy Coyle have made a complex interactive concept look wonderfully simple, timing it to perfection, in the process empowering the participants. (And I forgot to mention, I was the showgirl starlet in a pink feather boa, due to a shortage of females in the audience of course.)   Nick Awde

Swann & Company Present The Sad, Miserable Tale of Albert Belacqua and His Family of Doomed Neurotics   C Aquila         ***
The dysfunctional Swann and Company desperately attempt to present the tale of Albert Belaqua, a Heart Of Darkness/Apocalypse Now pastiche. There are plenty of enjoyable moments as the power play amongst Swann and Company jeopardises the performance at hand. The difficulty with pieces such as this, however, is that they must display clear competence in their presentation of incompetence. Whilst Swann and Company’s melodramatic and chaotic acting reaches great comedy potential the piece would be greatly improved if Southampton’s actors made their own performances more subtle and realistic in contrast. The show's dénouement is a clever comment on theatre, but the difficulty is in discerning what effect it is supposed to have on the audience. It feels like writer Alexis Forres has assumed that no one will be able to follow what is being said. Indeed, for some, the theatrical gobbledygook will fly straight over their heads. Others may see the speech as an affront to their own intelligence, follow the convoluted use of theatrical lexicon and find the rather confused arguments lacking. This is a shame because in all likelihood Forres was deliberately presenting this confused and nonsensical speech as another comic comment on the pretentions of the theatre. Unfortunately the ultimate effect is a distancing one, undoing some of the good character based comedy that came before. Clearly Forres is an intelligent writer and along with his cast has a good sense of comedy. What is needed now is the confidence to hold back. Ashley Layton

The Tailor of Inverness   Udderbelly's Pasture           *****
First seen in 2008, this compelling piece of theatre tells the extraordinary story of an ordinary man based around World War II, a conflict in which many more civilians perished than servicemen. Not were the Jews rounded up but the populations of entire regions on the Eastern Front suffered massacres or displacements as the Nazi-Soviet battle lines shifted almost daily like a grim pendulum. After the war’s end, as we come to understand from this story, most civilians carried secrets inside them that made little sense in the peace that followed. It is also a personal piece of theatre, since this is the story of Matthew Zajac’s father, a Pole from Galicia, an ethnically diverse region straddling Poland and Ukraine. After being caught up in the conflict, Zajac Snr reached Inverness where he made his living as a tailor. As he sews, he chats about Scottish everyday life before moving into the times before that. Intriguingly, as more and more details emerge he needs constantly to reset the focus of his narrative, particularly as a fuller picture grows of his hometown  and how he was forced to abandon it to take up arms. Zajac relies more upon physically roaming around the stage than characterisation to achieve dramatic contrast, something director Ben Harrison should have fixed. Nevertheless Zajac winningly guides us through the complex layers of family, history and geography that drive his story, and Harrison must take credit for the slick pacing – if this were a book it would be justly acclaimed as a page-turner.  Message-wise, Zajac’s acceptance of the uncertainty of his father’s story convinces – even when faced with such horrors of war, most ordinary people accept they have no choice and just get on with life one step at a time. What is less convincing, however, is the claim of tolerance in this multi-ethnic community which one man’s tale alone should not be used to justify.  Nick Awde

The Talented Mr. Ripley   Space@the Radisson         ****
Reading's The Talented Mr Ripley is certainly one of the highlights of university performance at the fringe this year. An excellent interpretation of Phyllis Nagy's play of the same name, we follow the ups and downs of Tom Ripley, as he lies, cheats and murders his way through the Greenleaf family fortune. Based on the character by Patricia Highsmith, Tom Ripley is a nefariously multi faceted persona, making him difficult for any actor to portray. Dan Whatley does however do a wonderful job of displaying the characters evolution during the series of escalating events that entangle and frustrate his life, with the exception of a somewhat poor American accent. Each member of the cast plays an important role in creating an excellent dynamic in the performance, and all of the scenes are professionally performed, with accents ranging from passable to believeable. The show itself is minimalist, almost black box in style, with only a few travel cases as the main stage props. These are well utilised to create the locations in which the play is set as we travel from stately homes to foreign countries, following Tom on his travels. Costume is well designed and grounds the show nicely within its own era. Overall the performance is well concieved fully committing to some of the more violent scenes in the play and allowing the dialogue to frame the events rather then command them, whilst swift scene changes, mostly impressive American accents and some professional level acting makes The Talented Mr Ripley a show not to be passed up lightly.  Chris CJ Belfield

The Techtonics   Sweet Grassmarket         ****
While it was raining cats and dogs outside, inside the Sweet Grassmarket theatre it was remarkably raining men! Eleven male vocalists from Imperial College London have recently formed their own a cappella group. The Techtonics sing their own arrangements of popular songs, some of the most notable of which include ‘Sittin’ On The Dock Of The Bay’, ‘I’m Too Sexy’, ‘Go Your Own Way’, ‘Dreadlock Holiday’ and a particularly entertaining snippet of ‘It’s Raining Men’. With the aid of nothing more than a pitch pipe, the seven tenors, three bases and one baritone are a sound ensemble whose voices blend seamlessly. Whilst their harmonies were often sublime, their choreography was also highly amusing. Synchronised hand gestures and their own personal jigs meant there was always something or someone to watch. It was, however, a shame that their stage was so small, often restricting the physicality of their act. Moments where they wavered a little were few and short lived as the group quickly recovered. Despite all this; their performance, in need of nothing more than a little polishing, never lacked energy and continued to induce a few goose-bumps among the spectators. In fact, it was not only the audience who enjoyed the show; The Techtonics appeared equally excited to be performing. From the moment they stepped on-stage in suits and funky coloured socks, the vocalists oozed their confident yet cheeky persona. The Techtonics were a delight to watch and certainly added some vibrancy to an otherwise grey and rainy day.  Yasmeena Daya

The Tempest   Quaker Meeting House         ****
Using a combination of physical theatre, tribal storytelling and a great a number of hats, The Tempest Ladies have managed to create a spellbinding performance of Shakespeare's classic tale of self-fulfilment and forgiveness. This cast of six young women have made a show so seamless and performed with such energy and skill that it wouldn't seem out of place alongside Kneehigh. Remarkably, six seems neither too few nor too many, and between them these talented story-tellers are capable of performing the most crowded of scenes without a hiccup (unless, of course, it contains the double-sighted drunkard duo Trinculo and Stephano.) The girls playfully switch characters amongst themselves, and although this sometimes feels unnecessary, it never feels obstructive, as every actress brings her own idiosyncrasies to each character. The true skill in this show is what these girls can do with Shakespeare. Every single line was savoured, gently teased, then worked to deliver every possible laugh. Their rare ability to perform Shakespeare to its true potential meant that this show was as impressive to listen to as it was to watch. The Tempest Ladies are only performing until the 14th of August, so catch them at the Quaker Meeting House while you can. Kris Lewis

Tempest: Without A Body  Edinburgh Playhouse    *
A few minutes before the curtain rises, the auditorium is shut down and a stillness descends. There is a strict ban on latecomers as a long drone and a slow walk establish a somewhat ritualistic opening to what promises to be a very dark piece of theatre indeed. Paul Klee’s painting of a startled and pained Angelus Novus, which was seen by Walter Benjamin as the angel of history, provides an important opening image to Lemi Ponifasio’s version of the Tempest. A scream of the angel punctuates the show. One has to wonder what exactly is the purpose behind Lemi Ponifasio’s revision of Shakespeare which uses some self-confessedly Western avant-garde influences and a little bit of traditional Samoan singing. For a dance show, it features surprisingly little movement of any kind too. The overall theme of the International Festival this year, which opens with this piece, is colonialism. As far as the reclaiming of Prospero’s island is concerned, Aime Cesaire got there in 1969. However, in Ponifasio’s case, colonialism is clearly a bit of a red herring. Seemingly interested in the recurrent nature of history, his Tempest is intended as a statement on 9/11, he says. On the face value, and on a purely experiential level, the piece asks an awful lot from its audience. And quite understandably, a lot of the audience flees, even despite the ban on latecomers in the opening minutes. Having stayed till the end, I can only impart a health warning. Ponifasio’s numbing drone almost sent me in the path of a speeding car.   Duska Radosavljevic

10 Dates With Mad Mary  Pleasance Dome
         *****
Calipo Theatre continue the Irish tradition of presenting perfectly-constructed monologues, in this case following a wild young woman’s adventures in the seaside town of Drogheda. Under the direction of Darren Thornton, Caoilfhionn Dunne’s Mary fully deserves the Mad adjective, as the play opens having only just emerged from prison for bottling her half-sister. Mary’s instability causes her many problems, despite gaining friendship from a group of teens who look up to a woman who has spent time in the ‘joy. The dating is a direct consequence of the impending wedding of Mary’s friend Charlene and the need to have company at the event. Drogheda is hardly packed with fine specimens of manhood and the ten men that she dates are all disasters. However, along the way, she meets desirable David. He is a guitarist and for whatever reason, gets closer to taming Mary than anyone else. She is her own worst enemy, which slows the development of what could be a loving relationship and David’s proposed emigration to England is a further impediment. Yasmine Akram builds her story to an interesting climax and does not fall into the prevalent trap of tying every loose end securely. This is an assured piece of writing, delivered expertly by Caoilfhionn Dunne, who somehow enables us to sympathise with someone who should be instantly dislikeable. With so many solo performances on show at the moment, it takes something rare to appeal to jaded theatregoers, and 10 Dates With Mad Mary is just that.   Philip Fisher

They Shoot Horses, Don't They?   Space@the Radisson            ****
'The kids gotta dance...' Rocky Gravo argues, and they do, 960 hours worth, all competing in the Marathon Dance Contest of 1935. We follow three couples in their relentless determination to outdance the rest for $1000 prize. In Los Angeles, the land of freedom and opportunity, the Great Depression ravages the economy making this contest only one step up from life on the streets. Poverty drives these young contenders to dance continuously for nearly six weeks in return for food and a roof over their heads; this is survival of the fittest. The Italia Conti Ensemble deliver V.T. Simpson’s words with exceptional talent across the board. Each character is skilfully formed with infinity of depth and historical background. Sub-plots are aplenty whilst the cast never fail in their dedicated portrayal. American accents are occasionally dubious, nevertheless the intention and attention to detail is omnipresent. This sometimes means one is unsure where to look, but we do find the point of focus eventually and it is worth waiting for. As the piece progresses, so does the tiredness of the dancers, with six months pregnant Ruby particularly feeling the strain. There are some questionable dramatic techniques used to illustrate the passing of time and keep us up to date with the plot, concluding with an especially chaotic scene of raucous ridiculousness. However, what communicates most poignantly throughout the play is the devastating nature of poverty, how it tests human nature and leaves one vulnerable to exploitation. Georgina Evenden

The Threepenny Opera   Augustine's            *****
From beggars’ rags to rich musical talent, Edinburgh University Savoy Opera Group’s The Threepenny Opera is a powerful performance. As you are queuing up outside, a young lady hands out programmes and asks if you would like to donate money to charity in return. Despite it being a gesture, this is also a clever way to prepare you for the themes of begging and giving central to the show. EUSOG’s stimulating performance is filled with elements of epic theatre; however, the Brechtian techniques such as placards or harsh lighting have been smoothly incorporated into the overall image. The washes of yellow light perfectly depict the glare of oil-lamps and pollution associated with early Victorian London. Similarly, the versatile set consists of three blackboards that are drawn upon according to the scene’s location. Director Naomi Lawrence skilfully balances Brecht with beauty, to create an impressive mise-en-scène. With true flair, she captivates the spectators, allowing them to contemplate the action without stirring their emotions. Consequently, the enchanted audience watches with great admiration whenever any of the performers start to sing. Although each actor performs with passion and strength, some should be noted for their stunning portrayals. Lauren Matthew’s interpretation of Mrs Peachum is highly entertaining, Jimi Mitchell plays a riveting Mr Peachum, and Finalay MacAulay’s voice is sublime. Not one ounce of this performance has been neglected or cast aside. Every aspect runs with precision and every move has reason. EUSOG’s performance is so flawless, so challenging and so compelling that it would have you begging for more.  Yasmeena Daya

'Tis Pity She's A Whore   C Plaza         ****
Incest, murder, attempted rape and adultery; this slick interpretation leaves out none of the drama in its cleverly edited adaptation of John Ford’s play. The effect is engaging, moving through the action with a sufficient pace, swift enough to keep a contemporary fringe audience interested. At some moments, however, the delivery could slow down to become fully comprehensible, although the clarity of the actors’ intentions means one is rarely confused. This unconventional story is inspired by Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet and Othello, produced to highlight the consequential themes of freedom, gender politics and rebellion against the restriction of society’s morals. The play presents the young couple (brother Giovanni and sister Annabella) compassionately, but one flawed edit is the under-development of the relationship, making it difficult to grasp how this incestuous relationship came into fruition. Nevertheless, as the tale unfolds, we begin to identify with some of the emotional constructs of this far from ordinary situation. Place is indicated skilfully through lighting and projection, yet occasionally both are questionable. Red light for death seems cliché, whilst a projection of Giovanni’s face as Annabella is sexually attacked transfers unwarranted focus to him. This somewhat deconstructs themes of masculine authority, almost condoning the importance of the man’s state of turmoil rather than allowing us to sympathise wholly with the woman who suffers; a problematic concept when attempting to illustrate a poignant issue. Despite this, there are elements of innovative direction, complemented by an ominous underscore and some outstanding moments of performance from Sam Wood, Jessica Bayly and Adam Elms. The drama is carried expertly without over-acting and scenes of a sexual nature are dealt with tastefully. A visually stimulating piece with a powerful aesthetic, this adaptation proves that Ford’s words do have a place in today’s theatre.  Georgina Evenden

Tokyo Love Song  C Soco    **
There is no doubt that Shoko Ito is a skilled and technically accomplished performer. There is a scene where she very precisely enacts a dialogue between the main character Harumi and an elderly fortuneteller she meets on the train who despite Harumi’s polite exterior manages to read her inner thoughts, which are shared with us, accurately. Reality and fantasy constantly intertwine here in a way which does not compromise the storytelling. However, one must wonder whether this hour as a whole is a bit excessive in its aspirations.  Behind the backdrop of a photographic slide-show, Ito attempts almost every performance genre in her show from sci fi and psychological thriller via dance, cabaret and comedy to confessional theatre and tragedy. The rock concert type of a curtain call only just stops short of crowd surfing. Audience reactions too shift from amusement and enchantment to stunned silence, laughter of disbelief and even some surreptitious walk-outs. Ito’s energetic performance certainly leaves a strong and memorable effect, if somewhat coloured by eccentricity. But at the end of it all, one can’t help thinking that she would greatly benefit from working with a director.   Duska Radosavljevic

Touching the Blue  Assembly            ***
The Fringe really has something for everyone. Designed to appeal to the fans of snooker, this one man show about the rise and fall of a multiple Scottish snooker champion, even features video appearances from some of the sport’s great exponents. If like me, you are the kind of person who will flick over to another channel whenever you see the green table on your TV screen, you might be persuaded to take this opportunity to meet a man behind the cue. Not that you will find out anything particularly different from what you already know about the life of an average celebrity sportsman. Deprived childhood, a doting mother, marriages broken by the life in the limelight and an insatiable desire for victory and success at all costs make up the typical mix. What does make a difference is the portrayal of this tale’s hero, Derek Hodges a.k.a the Thunderbolt Kid, played with wiry enthusiasm by Clive Russell who returns to the stage after a successful screen career. He lands real heart and soul to a script that is otherwise quite run of the mill, making Joe Wenborne’s production a decent piece that will satisfy a niche market.  Duska Radosavljevic

The Track of the Cat   C Venue           *
A minor classic of Western American fiction is adapted for the stage by Bearplate in a process that almost perversely seems determined to stand in the way of success. In Walter Van Tilberg Clark's 1949 novel a wildcat's attacks on a cattle ranch trigger old animosities within the family and a string of soap opera revelations and confrontations. The stage adaptation by Chris Fittock might capture some of the hothouse atmosphere of the book had not director Graeme Maley made a string of oddly misguided decisions that block any effectiveness or, indeed, simple clarity of story-telling. The all-female cast are dressed in party frocks and not guided toward any characterisations. Those playing men offer no suggestions of masculinity, and none attempt any hints of being American, Western or even related, speaking in their babel of natural accents so that identities, genders, relationships and even plot facts take a very long time to become even vaguely clear. Acting consists mainly of standing up and speaking at the others for a while before sitting down and turning off again; the fact that one character is drunk is established by the actress holding a glass in her hand, rather than by anything in her performance. The actresses are all doing what they were told, which evidently wasn't much, and one can only wonder at the impulse that would drive a director to do everything so very self-defeatingly.   Gerald Berkowitz

Trapping(s)   Space@Venue 45           **
Leaving university signifies the end of an era. Trapping(s) explores this period of moving on and finding yourself which, with the current graduate employment trouble, is becoming an ever unstable time of life. Having recently graduated myself I felt a connection to this piece, although not as strongly as I would have hoped. Physical theatre is a powerful tool in conveying emotion, but the vicarious effect I had hoped for was diminished by a variety of flaws with the ensemble. Reading that members of the company had previously worked with the likes of Grid Iron and Frantic Assembly, I was disappointed with the emptiness of some of the gesture used and it seems that in some respects the style of the piece became movement for movement’s sake. Nevertheless, there were elements of inspired composition, particularly the expressivity of gesture between two friends (Flo Gannaway-Pits and Laura Kidd). Kieran Martell also illustrated an understanding of the language a body can speak and impressed with his ability to shift between natural and choreographed movement in a style akin to that of DV8. Over-prepared group choreography lost spontaneity, and the company failed to keep time with one another. In some cases this works to their advantage, highlighting the individuality of each character and making the sequence seem casually natural. The eclectic music jumps erratically between sound tracks as we move through the stories of each of the group of friends, but unfortunately this lacks the commitment to pull it off. This is a feel-good, if shallow piece of contemporary theatre, simply an example of potential unfulfilled. Georgina Evenden

Under the Blacklight   Zoo Roxy       *
Nick Moran's half-hour play is evidently meant to be a comic backstage All About Eve, as an untrained but ambitious new Assistant Stage Manager displaces the veteran Stage Manager, the basic joke being that they're both, in slightly different ways, as crazy as loons. One of several problems with this production is that the premise is not particularly funny, nor does the playwright seem always to want it to be funny, as it repeatedly shifts into other modes, from amiable peep behind the curtain to eerie psychological horror. What laughs there are generally come from irrelevant insertions, including the universally recognised symbol of comic desperation, a rubber chicken. In a much stronger production this script might appeal to undemanding community theatres, but this version is poorly directed, with no sense of the rhythms or pacing of farce, and the two actresses - no need to name and shame - are equally shockingly bad.  Gerald Berkowitz

Unshakeable   Spaces@Surgeons Hall               **
Plagued by severe shakes from the age of 22, Paul Betney was not diagnosed as having Parkinson's Disease until eighteen years later, mainly because such early onset is so rare. Indeed, although he had figured it out long ago, it wasn't until a new Parkinson's drug produced dramatic improvements that his doctor made the connection. With his tremors significantly reduced, Betney could now lead a more normal life, only to discover that he was not sure what that was. Coping with the disease had been so central to his existence that he had no real identity without it, and had first to overcome shock and depression in order to learn how to be healthy and who the healthy him was. An experienced stand-up comic, Betney tells this story with charm and good humour. But even with the occasional jokes it remains much more a lecture than a performance, and is probably more suited to the inspirational speaker or after-dinner circuit than a theatrical setting.  Gerald Berkowitz

Up To Now   Augustines            *
Martin Shaw was an early-twentieth-century musician, part of a circle that included Edward Gordon Craig and Isadora Duncan. That's worth knowing before coming in, since this monologue drawn from Shaw's memoirs dives right in without any concession to the audience's limited familiarity with the man or his context - we aren't even told why actor Mark Ross has precisely half his face painted dark (to symbolise a large birthmark Shaw had). The memoir selections may reflect the man's personality but do so in dramatically unsatisfying ways, the speaker repeatedly beginning anecdotes only to drop them without punchline or point, or getting bogged down in details, like the precise geography of places in north London, that are of no interest to an audience. Mark Ross's performance is less than minimal. He stands on one side of the stage, crossing to the other side at seemingly random moments (The lighting man doesn't expect him there until he arrives), and then later crossing back. He mumbles and swallows his words, and even midway through the run flubs lines at a rate of once every minute or two. A lifeless performance of an undramatic monologue about a relatively unknown man whose life is not made to sound interesting does not seem worth forty-five minutes of a ticket-buyer's life.  Gerald Berkowitz

Vanity   Space@Venue 45          ****
The slender and sexy Fantasia is the most attractive supermodel in the world, generally considered by everyone, everywhere to be the best person ever. That is, until her über-gay fashion consultant and super-strict manager decide that she is too fat for fashion and ban her from ever returning. Ejected from the two-faced world of haute couture, Fantasia is left alone to fend for herself, surrounded by people that are, surprisingly, genuinely nice. This piece of slick social satire from Joe Aston deals with the media’s distortion of the female image, trying to correct the effect that the fashion industry has had on women’s perception of beauty. The cast are faultless in both acting and appearance, boasting a whole variety of models, each one more gorgeous than the last (as long as you start with the one in drag.) Jess Shearing is perfect as the naïve Fantasia, giving a performance that is as innocent and beautiful as a Disney Princess. Set changes are carried out in a heartbeat, while the whole show is held seamlessly together by a pair nonsense newsreaders played by Joe Aston and Joel Redgrave. Wandering the stage, they irreverently deliver headlines whilst commenting on their adoration of Fantasia, later beaming moronically as they call her a ‘fatty patty'. This is a show that is bold and brave, and displays a confidence and clarity that are rare at this amateur level of theatre. Harry March’s closing speech is touching, perfectly-paced and side-splittingly funny.  Kris Lewis

Tim Vine  Pleasance               *****
Tim Vine tells jokes. He doesn't comment on the large and small absurdities of life or complain about his girlfriend or report on strange adventures or any of the other things most comics build their acts around. He tells jokes - one-liners, two-liners, puns, song parodies, sight gags, silly props - one after the other, without letup. There must be close to two hundred separate gags in his hour, and if they're not all gems, the waiting time until the next is absolutely minimal. Of course jokes are not to everyone's taste, and if you are inclined to cringe at lines like 'I found an old day return ticket. That took me back' or 'B-N-A-G - that's bang out of order,' or the thought that if Handel had lived long enough to join Hinge and Brackett they could have formed The Doors, then he's not for you. But if the thought that an elephant funeral is a big undertaking tickles you, or the mere mention of 'mountain earring' or 'napkin cole' leaves you hungry for the set-ups for which those are the punchlines, then look no further.  Gerald Berkowitz

Waiting for Apollo   Underbelly    ***
One of the basic rules of the Aristotelian theory of tragedy claims that the character must be good and morally sound – there was no space for a villain in ancient Greek theatre. But this is not the only rule broken by Jennifer Moule’s new take on Euripides’ Orestes. She resolves in fact to merge the pop and the high art and turn the classic into an episode of Dynasty. Moule is blessed with a gifted and good-looking cast, which really helps when you have to have the face that launched a thousand ships on your stage. Natasha Staples as Helen and Elena Byers as her nemesis Electra both get to wear a range of stilettos and stylish dresses. But it does not stop short at sheer voyeurism - if you’re lucky you might even catch a piece of lingerie flying around the auditorium. That’s not to say that any of it is gratuitous. There are many visually interesting ideas and resonant parallels to the original – Apollo’s own dues ex machina appearance as a stag will make aesthetic sense of the entire show’s shoe fetish. You’ll just have to bear with it. And in a few year’s time Moule might well have a real winner.   Duska Radosavljevic

Wealth  C Soco    **
There is more that has to be said about the back story to Ben Charland’s psychological thriller than the show itself. It concerns a massacre in Rwanda in 1994 and an encounter between a young survivor Grace and a western diplomat’s family. They take her into their car, she shares her doll with a boy on the back seat, but as they approach the frontier, the girl is refused passage. She stays behind as the family drive off, the boy Nathan clutching Grace’s doll. Sixteen years later Grace now living in Belgium, visits Nathan to reclaim her possession. Laura Burdon-Manley’s production of the play is slick and atmospheric. Ben Charland and Adanna Oji play leading roles with commitment and Saskia Solomons as an androgynous doll provides an interesting metaphorical level to the narrative. However, essentially, this is an overly ambitious play whose attempts at Pinteresque menace only end up in enigmatic tedium and unconvincing narrative reversals. It takes a sensitive and deeply disturbing topic of the thin line between the instinct for survival and moral culpability and fails to make any meaningful point about it. Charland and his company have talent and good ideas, but they should take care to pace themselves.   Duska Radosavljevic

What Money Can't Buy   Space@Venue 45          *
The only selling point in What Money Can’t Buy is girls, barely legal, in lingerie playing prostitutes. It is a gross, inappropriate portrayal of the divisive subject, the only message apparently being that women are stupid, emotional whores. This is no morality tale, or even an independent glamorous female fantasy. It’s not only immaturely done, but feels unnervingly humiliating. The plot involves a working girl falling in love with a client, with a broad back-story of something like a stage adaptation of Prostitution’s Wikipedia page. At times I hoped one perfectly timed joke about Pretty Woman could save the entire production. But it never came, and I spent most of the hour thinking that not only the girls look like they’re still in secondary education, but they act like it too. Some conversations between courtesans uncomfortably resemble a sleepover on a school night. Suffice to say this is not inspired work. The acting is weak, but if I were a young girl parading myself in La Senza posing and pouting, I doubt I would have felt inspired either. The scenes which explored physical theatre techniques, while few, were probably the most stimulating and intriguing to the eye. With a mature approach, the cast could draw out the sense of desperation for human contact that the writing suggests. But this is a young cast, and I hope they realise that women deserve far more respect than this.  Joe Morgan

While You Lie   Traverse     **
Sam Holcroft's play begins as romantic comedy, shifts to social and political satire, pauses for a while to be psychological melodrama, and then finds its way back to rom com territory, mainly by ignoring all the problems and plot loose ends left unresolved. The result is a play that never seems sure what it is, and never is anything long enough to register, and the shifts in mode and tone are only achieved by altering the personalities or judgements of the characters every few minutes. A woman who is neurotically insecure about her sexual attractiveness with her boyfriend becomes assertive and seductive in trading sex for advancement at work. Her delighted boss is abruptly filled with guilt and the need to be demeaned, while the boyfriend becomes first vindictive and then forgiving, as plot twists demand. Everyone is improbably drawn under the power of an oily plastic surgeon, and a makeshift tabletop Caesarian performed on the boss's wife is treated like a farcical pratfall. Director Zinnie Harris is unable to find a unifying style or tone for this centre-less text, and the earnest efforts of the cast can't make any of their ever-shifting characters sustain a reality from scene to scene.  Gerald Berkowitz

Wild Allegations   Bedlam            ****
The amount of dramatic irony in this play is quite astonishing. Matthew John Curtis is unaware that his girlfriend and brother are both using the same journalist to expose the truth about Curtis’ personal life. To top it all off, neither girlfriend nor brother know that the other is also deviously plotting against him. The strength of the performance, highly entertaining as it was, owes itself to the hilarious script. Though it may exude a very particular sense of humour, the comic throw away lines always succeeded in generating fits of laughter. Of course, it was the actors who brought these comic moments to life. Paul Brotherston, was hysterical as Alex Curtis, the jealous brother. Similarly, Ed Sheridan, as Matthew, had the audience giggling at his straight-faced deliveries and disastrous Oedipus Rex audition. It could be said, however that the most notable performances came from the male and female supporting roles. Sophie Pemberton and Tom Watret’s portrayals of a frenzied newspaper editor and oppressed secretary, crazed fans and the Curtis parents were superb. Compared to all this energy, the part of Theo, played by Alexandra Wetherell, felt rather stiff and a little too depressive. In a society currently obsessed with comedians and their comedy shows, Wild Allegations feels quite contemporary. However, any reflection upon our society was not strong enough to surpass the script’s unrivalled wittiness. Yasmeena Daya

Wonderland  Assembly        **
Charles Dodgson, better known as Lewis Carroll, was an extraordinary person – a distinguished mathematician who enjoyed word play, charades, magic tricks and photography. Much controversy has been created in recent decades about his friendships with prepubescent girls, including Alice Liddell, the daughter of an Oxford Dean, on which Carroll’s famous literary heroine was supposedly based. However, the book itself continues to enchant and inspire readers and adaptors around the world. It is no wonder therefore that Brandreth and Pearse’s musical two-hander has already drawn in significant audiences on the strength of its subject matter alone – the relationship between Dodgson and actress Isa Bowman, who first played Alice in a theatre version. The 90 minutes is conceived around a series of role-plays that Dodgson and Bowman, played with finesse by Maloney and Spencer-Longhurst, engage in – including a re-enactment of the novel and situations between Dodgson and Liddell. The idea is that while he is stuck in the past he is missing a romantic opportunity with Bowman, herself on the brink of adulthood.  There is so much this piece of romanticised biography could have been, but attempting to render a life like Dodgson’s through a series of playful dialogues and songs is also bound to left something to be desired.  Duska Radosavljevic

The World's Wife EICC   ****   (reviewed at a previous Festival)
Unless written to be performed, poetry is notoriously difficult to stage in any way that doesn't involve just standing in front of a microphone. But there is a first for everything. Not only is Carole Ann Duffy the first woman to be appointed as the official 'royal bard', but she must also be the first Poet Laureate to be getting a successful theatre adaptation of her poetry on the Fringe. This speaks volumes about the popular appeal of Duffy's work but also about the genius of the show's performer and adaptor Linda Marlowe. Nineteen poems are given life here through a combination of inspired delivery, slick computer-generated scene changes and a skillful use of minimal props and costumes. Marlowe reigns supreme on the virtually bare stage, like a mythical shape-shifter, she flits from one swift portrayal to another easily stretching her range from the sweet teens Little Red Cap, Salome and Delilah to Mrs Quasimodo, Frau Freud, Queen Kong and the Kray Sisters, while not forgetting the Greek gorgons of course. At just over 70 minutes the show feels a touch too long by Fringe standards, however, its structure is carefully considered and the show makes sure you've had a royal serving of your verse. Duska Radosavljevic

Yale Wiffenpoofs World Tour: Songs for Edinburgh   EICC         *****
If their name alone doesn’t ensure sold out houses, then the extraordinary vocal virtuosity of this world famous a cappella choir will. The Whiffenpoofs will immediately appeal to older audiences, especially during their rendition of Cole Porter classics and of course The Whiffenpoof Song - which I have since been informed was quite the hit back in the day. Their smart dress and charming, polite manner oozes nostalgia for the days gone by in their hundred year history. One might fear that younger audiences would be less engaged by these distinctly ‘geeky’ Yale students. There is no denying that their white gloves, ridiculous anecdotes and a song about Zombies forgo any attempt at being cool. However the Whiffenpoofs have thrown in some well chosen pop songs into the mix, including a Michael Buble cover: an upbeat massage for the ears. These a cappella covers extend the troupe's appeal to the Glee generation. To top it off the inclusion of The Prettiest Girl in the Room as originally sung by the Flight of Concords adds a self-aware irony to the act. They are called the Yale Whiffenpoofs! A must see for the entire family.  Ashley Layton

Charlyne Yi - Dances on the Moon  Assembly      *****
Charlyne Yi treats her audience to a beautifully unique brand of stand up that’s simply not to be missed. Her show is a comedic cornucopia of dry one-liners, quirky musical interludes, hilarious video shorts, endearingly awkward audience interactions, and wry self deprecation so razor-subtle you’re never entirely sure if you’re laughing at, or with, or for Charlyne; but rest assured, you’re definitely laughing. Dances on the Moon is a marvelous romp through the strange, sometimes silly, and always brilliant mind of a singular and gifted comedian. Catch her while you can!   Hannah Friedman

Zambizi Express  Assembly Hall   ****   (reviewed in London)
Zambezi Express promises an evening of colourful and high-energy African music and dance, and it delivers just that. This co-production of the Cottle circus family and Zimbabwe's Siyaya theatre company is almost uninterrupted song and dance, drawing on African forms but also street, jive, hip-hop and even cheerleader styles, all organised by choreographers Wayne Fowkes and Thuba Gumede into tight and disciplined theatre dancing, alternating with powerful group a capella singing.There is a plot of sorts, about a Zimbabwe lad who takes the titular train to South Africa to try out for a football team. Of course he makes it, and of course he scores the winning goal in the big game. But the story is just the most skeletal of hooks on which to hang twenty extended song and dance sequences, with rarely more than a single line of plot-advancing dialogue between them. Though the acting is sometimes very elementary and the dances a bit too obviously have built-in mini-climaxes and pauses appealing for spontaneous audience applause, it is the unflagging high energy, frequently driven by no more than one or two native drums, that caries the evening. Makhula Moyo is attractive as the hero, Ishmael Muvingi amusing as an amiable drunk, and Pride Phiri appropriately menacing as a big city gang leader. But the real stars of the show are the chorus of singers and dancers, whose energy never flags despite having barely a moment to catch their breath between numbers.
Gerald Berkowitz

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

Reviews - Edinburgh Festival - 2010