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 The Theatreguide.London Reviews

EDINBURGH FESTIVAL AND FRINGE 2011

The several simultaneous events that make up 'The Edinburgh Festival' - the International Festival, the Fringe, the Comedy Festival, etc. - bring thousands of shows and performers to the Scottish capital each August.

Virtually all of these shows will tour after Edinburgh, and many will come to London, making the Festival a unique preview of the coming year. And in spite of the last-minute loss of some of our reviewing team, we were able to review almost 150 of the most significant.

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For the Archive we have gathered all the reviews onto two pages, in alphabetical order (soloists by last name), with A-L on this page and M-Z on another. 

Scroll down this page for our review of Adventures of Alvin Sputnik, Adventures of Wound Man and Shirley, Alive and Breathing Almost, Alphonse,  Anton's Uncles, Are There More Of You, Around The World in 80 Quid, At The Sans Hotel,  

Ballad of the Unbeatable Hearts,  Bane, Bane 2, Bane 3, Beowulf, Blood And Roses, Bones, Cambridge Footlights, Captain of Kopenick, Celebration, A Celebration of Harold Pinter, Clockheart Boy, Constance & Sinestra

Danny And The Deep Blue Sea, David Leddy's Untitled Love Story, Devil In The Deck, Devil In The Detail, Diaries of Adam and Eve, Doctor Brown: Becaves, Dream Pill, Drift, Dry Ice, Durham Revue, Dusk Rings A Bell, Dust, 

EastEnd Cabaret, Emergence, Eunuchs In My Wardrobe, Fascinating Aida, Fit For Purpose, Tim Fitzhigham, Flanders and Swann, Flynch Looking, Forum,  Futureproof, 

James Galea, The Games, Generation 9/11, Golden Dragon, Dave Gorman, Grisly Tales From Tumblewater, Gutter Junky, A Hero Of Our Time,  Hex, Hot Mikado, 

If That's All There Is,  Images, Infant, An Instinct For Kindness, It's Uniformation Day, John Peel's Shed,  Kafka and Son, Kidnapper's Guide,  Lach's Antihoot, Leo, Life Still, Lift, Lights Camera Walkies, Locherbie

Go to second M-Z Page. 


The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik   Underbelly   ****
This gorgeous tale of heartbreak in a post-apocalyptic, watery netherworld is executed with elegant precision by writer/creator/puppeteer Tim Watts. Travel with widower Alvin as he tracks his wife’s departed soul through the inky ocean deep, meets a few unexpected friends, and ultimately saves the remainder of humanity. This production is expertly orchestrated with a mesmerizing live combination of video, live performance, music, and puppetry. The lead puppet, a mini diving helmet attached to a gloved hand arranged into four human limbs, was one of the most expressive performers, human or otherwise, at the entire Frige thus far. This alone is a testament to Mr. Watts’ skill as a craftsman and actor, but the vast scope of the world he creates, the countless moments of joy and magic and moving interaction evoked by cartoons and cardboard cut-outs as Alvin searches for his lost love, speak to his faculties as a truly masterful storyteller.  Hannah Friedman

The Adventures of Wound Man and Shirley   Pleasance   ****
Chris Goode writes and performs a lovely little fable about a lonely boy and the fantastic friend who helps him get through some of the more painful journeys of early adolescence. It helps to know (though Chris explains fully) that Wound Man is the nickname of a famous illustration in a very early medical text, showing a man with all the damages – a knife here, an axe there – a military doctor was likely to encounter in the field. Goode's young protagonist, already saddled with the name Shirley, the recent death of a beloved older brother and a crush on a handsome schoolmate, awakes one morning to discover that the living, breathing and surprisingly unbleeding Wound Man has moved into his street. Deciding that this must be a superhero of some sort, he offers himself as boy sidekick, and the two have a string of adventures that must eventually end, but not before helping young Shirley grow up a bit and take some steps toward facing his own challenges. The sweet little tale sometimes ventures just this side of being unbearably twee, but Goode walks that tightrope with practised ease and with an openness and good cheer that take you into his imaginary world and bring you back again refreshed in spirit. Gerald Berkowitz


Alive and Breathing - Almost 
 Sweet Grassmarket  
***
Lynn Ruth Miller is bawdy, brash and bubbly. The seventy-eight year old bemoans the woes and highlights the joys of being a septuagenarian in her one woman show. Some of the jokes are delightfully wry, and Lynn’s delivery is a cross between a beloved grandmother and a raunchy best friend, but truly this performer was at her best when she went off-script and interacted with the audience or the (often amusingly uncooperative) venue surroundings. More honest realities about what is surely an interesting and long life, and less contrived, old-school “bit” jokes would ensure that the unique charm of Ms. Miller’s humor stays “alive and breathing” for many seasons to come.
 Hannah Friedman

Alphonse    Pleasance   ***
Wadji Mouawad's story, here presented by Canadian actor Alon Nashman, follows the double plot of an imaginative boy's unintentional disappearance as he wanders away lost in thought, and the adventures of his imaginary friend that so absorb him, pausing occasionally for digressive fantasies and tales-within-tales. It's a celebration of the richness of a child's imagination, and an exhortation to the reader or audience not to allow that capacity for wonder to completely fade. Although playing to an almost entirely adult audience, Nashman takes on the mode of a children's performer, combining high energy and the infectious fun of jumping among more than two dozen characters and voices with a slightly patronising and creepy forced cheeriness, the last particularly noticeable when the audience doesn't respond as openly as he would wish. Both adults and the occasional child can respond to the cleverness of some of Nashman's instant characterisations, like a laid-back policeman and a jargon-spewing school psychiatrist, and those caught up in the tale-telling will respond to its moral. But the unvarying TV presenter tone of his narration has a homogenising effect, constantly running the risk of reducing reality, fantasy, fiction and commentary to an undifferentiated drone. Gerald Berkowitz

Anton's Uncles    Bedlam   *****
A visual fantasy on themes from Uncle Vanya, this lively and surprisingly touching piece by Theatre Movement Bazaar captures much of what Chekhov is about through thoroughly unChekovian means. The original play is, among other things, a study of several men all tortured by the presence of a beautiful woman most of them cannot have and (because, after all, they're in Chekhov) all fighting to avoid the awareness that their lives are empty and wasted. Adaptors Richard Alger and Tina Kronis strip the cast down to four men, and cut-and-paste Chekhov's text to bring out their essences. Vanya realises he has thrown away his life serving the Professor, who is a fool; the Professor hides behind his egotism to avoid the same realisation; the Doctor takes refuge in the familiar Chekovian dream that future generations may be happier; and hanger-on Waffles is just delighted that anyone notices him. From time to time they freeze in silent yearning as a piece of 1940s movie music represents The Woman passing by. And from time to time they break into dance or bursts of wild rushing about and changing the set, the line between actors and roles nicely blurring. Aside from being visually exciting in themselves, these explosions of action (tightly choreographed by director Kronis) capture the passions boiling under the men's surface placidity. An hour of inventive physical theatre that is also a sensitive and intelligent gloss on the text and a moving capture of its emotional content makes this a real highlight, and an object lesson that even the most seemingly foolhardedly ambitious projects can be pulled off if you have the talent. Gerald Berkowitz

Are There More Of You?    C Aquila   ***
Alison Skilbeck showcases her versatility by writing and performing all the roles in a script made up of four character-revealing monologues tied together by cross-references that fill in some of the back- and future-stories of the others. A newly divorced woman begins to come out of her mourning and rejoin life without fully realising she's doing it, a cafe owner describes a chaotic night, a psychic healer discovers that a trusted client has betrayed her, and a tough businesswoman reveals a soft and vulnerable core. The tales range from sad to farcical, and the touches of interconnection, such as the restauranteur noticing the divorcee and a man at one of her tables, round out a sense of the characters beyond what they say about themselves. Although each monologue sticks to the standard formula for such pieces, with little self-revelatory slips along the way and an inevitable reversal or surprise near the end, they're all quietly touching when they want to be and entertaining throughout. And knowing each character so fully, Skilbeck the actress can fully develop and enrich what Skilbeck the writer has created. Gerald Berkowitz

Around The World In 80 Quid    Pleasance   ****
It’s 2003, Year of the Celtic Tiger. Producers are flocking to Ireland in search of cool Oirish musicians and the next Riverdance. Fiddler Aindrias de Staic is waiting for his break but finds himself distracted by the booze and the craic (and the coke) that go with blowing your dole cheque in the cocooned bars of north Galway. As he cheerfully admits, “ignorance is bliss when you’re on the piss”. Fate plays a hand when he finds himself on the street, evicted with nothing but his fiddle and half his rent deposit (the 80 quid), just enough to get him to Italy in the company of a busload of eco-political hippy protesters. And so begins the mother of all shaggy dog tales or – if de Staic had been born in a different age – an exquisite picaresque with none of the bawdy bits bowdlerised. Playing mercilessly on that cheery Irish demeanour and cheeky traveller’s aura, he relates how he inches his inebriated way across the rest of the world via Irish pubs, from the Balkans to Indonesia to Bondi Beach and the Melbourne Festival. Like Ballykissangel on speed, the 65 minutes fly by as de Staic somehow finds comic poetry in running lines of coke on pool tables, being trounced by a bouncer for sleeping with the publican’s daughter, or going dry after a spiritual experience in Bangkok – a huge mistake with hilarious if surreally improbable consequences involving a Scottish babe and a tattoo, although here the inveantiveness almost comes unstuck and the script unravels a smidgeen. The fiddle also punctuates the action with sound effects and reels, and, with even a Q&A at the end, de Staic consistently gets us laughing at even the most miserable situations he stumbles into. Rarely has storytelling been so foot-tappingly funny. Nick Awde

At The Sans Hotel    Assembly Hall   **
Australian writer-performer Nicola Gunn attempts something truly audacious in her solo show – creating a character so disturbed, annoying and unpleasant to be around that sticking out an hour in her audience is a challenge. That she pulls it off, that she never succumbs to the temptation to give the woman a single redeeming quality, is an accomplishment of sorts, and earns her one extra star. But I could not recommend this show to any but technical students of performance art. Gunn's persona, either French or German depending on her mood of the moment, begins as a faux naif, a simpleton not quite sure why she's there or what she wants to do with her audience. She hands out imaginary questionnaires with real pencils, scribbles things on a blackboard to illustrate an anecdote she never finishes, and almost arouses our sympathy as someone thrust into a position for which she is ill-equipped. But gradually the character is exposed as truly mad, rambling, shouting, obscenely flirting, demanding attention, like the sort of madwoman you run from in the street – except that this one has elaborate stage machinery at her disposal. That – the fact that complex light and sound effects are all on cue and her stagehand knows exactly when to wheel her props on and off – reminds us that this pretended rambling of a chaotic mind is actually tightly scripted with nothing left to chance. (At one point she invites the audience to converse with her, clearly intending an uncomfortable silence. When someone near me actually said something, Gunn was thrown, unable to cope with this variation from her script.) The major faults of this show are not the unpleasant character. First, all Gunn's devices, from the audience challenges through the video projections and imitations of madness, are terribly old hat, and in a show whose one claim to merit is the actress's technical accomplishment, she isn't doing anything that generations of performance artists haven't done before her. But far, far worse, Gunn commits the one unpardonable theatrical sin. She's boring. Gerald Berkowitz

The Ballad of the Unbeatable Hearts  Gilded Balloon   ***
In previous years Richard Fry has written and performed rhymed monologues, generally on the pains of growing up homosexual, that drew much of their power from the authenticity and intensity of the voice he brought to them. The current piece represents a stretch in that he moves beyond the single character and confessional mode, but the result is a dilution of power and an exposure of the writer-performer's limits. The story is of a failed suicide attempt that gives the unhappy lad a second chance not just to accept his homosexuality but to found and lead a gay pride organisation devoted to saving other confused youngsters from despair. Fry voices the boy, other characters and a narrator, and also repeatedly steps outside the story for direct-to-audience exhortations, inspirational speeches and digressions into editorialising on racism, gangster rap and other evils. Lacking the tight focus on one character's emotional journey, the piece is distanced from us not just by the several intervening voices and lapses into a preachy tone, but by the device of having several of them reading formal speeches, while Fry the performer has some difficulty distinguishing among the various characters and retaining or recapturing the audience's emotional connection. Gerald Berkowitz

Bane  Pleasance Dome   *****   (reviewed at a previous Festival)
Bane is a hard-boiled detective story, with a typically broad and colourful cast including snitches, baddies, assistant baddies, molls, opera singers, a mad scientist and of course the lone wolf hero himself - all played by Joe Bone. The result is simultaneously a salute to and send-up of the genre, as the solo performer plays both sides of every conversation or shoot-out, not to mention a raft of sound effects and mood music. The fun of a show like this lies in the accuracy of the parody - that is to say, in having every comic moment or absurd plot twist vaguely remind us of some film noir precedent or at least seem true to the genre. And of course we enjoy the inventiveness and versatility of the actor jumping so seamlessly from role to role. This is in some ways the solo version of the sort of quick-change, multiple-role-playing almost-lose-control-of-the-juggling farce that has long been a fringe staple, and just about the only criticism to make of Bone is the seemingly perverse one that he is too much in control, not allowing us the added fun of watching the story and performance complications threatening to overwhelm him.
Gerald Berkowitz

Bane 2    Pleasance Dome        *****   (reviewed at a previous Festival)
Bane is back, and those who loved Joe Bone's first film noir tour-de-force are flocking to see the sequel. As in the original (see our review), Bone both salutes and parodies the conventions of the hard-boiled detective story, demonstrating in lines like 'He was as crooked as a dog's hind legs and as dirty as a hooker's underwear' how well he knows and loves the genre. And added to the homage is the delight of watching Bone playing all the roles himself. With nothing more than some live guitar mood music from Ben Roe, Bone plays the hero, everyone else (I lost count after twenty characters), several animals and all the sound effects, with his inventiveness and quick changes a large part of the fun. This time around Bane is the muscle for an Italian crime boss while a Russian godfather wants him killed. A buddy of Bane's doublecrosses him, the Russian is a bit too interested in his bodyguard's body, someone gets dumped in toxic waste and turns into a monster (much to the delight of passing Japanese tourists), and there's an open rip-off of a classic Monty Python gag, along with dozens of other quick jokes tossed off with the casualness of one whose comic imagination seems endless. Bane 3, we are told, is already in the works.  Gerald Berkowitz

Bane 3    Pleasance Dome        *****
Joe Bone's third instalment in his loving parody of film noir and hardboiled detective fiction is just as much fun as the first two, his imagination not flagging a bit, his inside-out knowledge of the genre allowing him to mine all its formulas and clichs, and his remarkable talent as mime and performer carrying the hour with infectious high energy, and retroactively earning him an extra star for the whole trilogy. This time around, lone wolf hardman Bane is on the run and goes undercover as an ordinary guy in small town America. But the baddies find him and he has to come out of hiding for a showdown. As before, Bone plays all the roles, along with props, narration, sound effects and cinematic devices. A chase down a city street involves not only the hunter and prey, but weather, traffic and all the people they pass along the way – one of whom turns out to be a set-up for a great gag that surprises us a few minutes later. A peaceful small town morning is evoked in a chorus of neighbourly greetings, each figure instantly and comically individualised. Bone's creation can be enjoyed on several levels at once – as an evocation of a beloved genre, as sharp parody, as inventive stage comedy and as a bravura performance. The three episodes of Bane each stand alone, but Bone is currently performing them all in rotation, and it is clear that audiences are not settling for just one. Gerald Berkowitz

Beowulf     Assembly        *****
The ninth-century Norse epic poem, too long the private property of English professors, is riotously deconstructed, reconstructed, turned on its head and made into vibrant living theatre that respects and disrespects the original in exactly the right proportions. Narrated by a trio who can't agree on how academic and how blood-and-guts exciting their approach should be, the play makes the decision for them once Beowulf enters as a greying punk rocker and one of the narrators turns into Grendel only to be teased for being a mama's boy until the battle between them is played out in the aisles to the beat of a hard-driving band and a pair of wicked back-up singers, who switch from German cabaret to hard rock to smoky blues on demand. But Grendel is only the first of Beowulf's foes, and his encounters with the monster's vengeful mother and with a dragon, each played by one of the other narrators, are staged with equal inventiveness, both theatrical and musical. Under the direction of Mallory Catlett and Rod Hipskind, a uniformly fine cast earn equally enthusiastic praise, with special note of Jason Craig's weary but dignified Beowulf, Jessica Jelliffe's monster-mother-from-hell and the sexy and driving back-up of Anna Ishida and Shaye Troha. Gerald Berkowitz

Blood And Roses    St George's West        *****
If we're honest about it, site specific/promenade shows tend to be high on the visuals and low on the script. But Poorboy’s winning production is the reverse and is all the better for it. Let me emphasise that you are unlikely to see anything of immense significance in the promenade, sites or Jen Robson’s scrappy art installations, that you will encounter no performers, that you just need to walk where told to, close your eyes and absorb this inspired work. Shared via pre-recorded voices on headsets, Blood and Roses follows three generations of families in Scotland and Russia. The action is split into episodic slices that are interleaved timewise. The spark is a young Scottish woman who wants to marry a Russian, to the horror of her anti-wedlock mother and delight of her anything-goes grandmother. Mixed in with their conversations are snippets of folk stories, a Russian grandmother’s matter-of-fact recollections of living through the horror of the battle of Stalingrad and the pleas of a 17th-century Scottish woman condemned for witchcraft. Despite the physical absence of live performers, Sandy Thomson’s script is no wannabe radio play. Distracting references to Russian folk heroes and rock singer Alex Harvey aside, her vision propels the 14-strong cast into placing you right in the centre of a world that convinces at every level. Expertly they use the different personal relationships between their characters – mother-daughter, husband-wife and so on – to map how families adapt. They also bring to life the wider picture of empowerment as seen through the parallel lives of strong-willed women, each standing up for herself according to the restrictions of her time – the witch, the siege survivor, the mother who will not marry, the daughter who will. Couched in a cinematographic sound design and punctuated by Alex Attwood’s haunting music, the emotions of all these women run riot, to the bemusement of their men, before all come together in an emotionally-charged conclusion that will stay with you long after leaving the dramatic setting of the final scene. Nick Awde

Bones     Zoo        ****

This gripping, raw, tragic piece of theatre tells the tale of a young man struggling to survive under terrible circumstances. His mother is an addict, his boyhood is full of traumatic circumstances that he is still struggling to make sense of, and his new baby sister makes surviving a life of poverty even more fraught than before. Actor Joe Doherty narrates the memories of his troubling youth with pitch-perfect authenticity, and he draws the audience into his gritty reality almost immediately. At the hands of a less gifted actor this show might have plodded along as a gory sob story, but in the deft hands of Mr. Doherty the audience remains utterly transfixed throughout his thorough and heart-rending portrayal of a boy on the edge of a rash and gruesome decision to save his mother and himself. The script is unrelenting in its exploration of a character who, from a very early age, has seen a dark and disturbing side of addiction, and yet there are many moments of levity in which Mr. Doherty’s character draws in all the sympathy required to justify or at least rationalize a decision that at the show’s opening seemed unthinkable. This is by no means a light piece of social commentary, but if one is prepared to delve into the sorrowful depths of a childhood lost there is much pathos and perhaps even a glimmer of hope for the understanding of others to be gained. A brutal subject expertly acted.   Hannah Friedman 

Cambridge Footlights    Pleasance Dome        ****
After some recent up-and-down years, the current edition of this venerable student revue is one of the best ever and a real reinvigoration of the revue format. In place of sketches that may have had promising concepts but wander around searching frantically for a joke, the four-man troupe of writer-performers offer us an hour of blackouts – a string of very short bits that last only long enough to get the basic joke made and then move on. A medium with an amorous ghost, parody award show clips, a car commercial, spies talking in code, a time machine put to silly purpose – there may be just one gag in each premise, but they find it and make it without feeling the need to extend the scene. And everything goes by so quickly that the occasional dud, if there is one, is barely noticed. As a nice extra touch, you might begin to notice the puns that unobtrusively serve as links – a blackout whose punchline is 'Will you check, mate?' is followed by a chess sketch. There's a pleasant hint of Pythonism in that device, and a more direct borrowing in the chain gang song, and there's a welcome reprise of the old tradition of running gags in a recurring white lie routine – in all, very much a return to the highest standards of the franchise. Gerald Berkowitz

The Captain of Kopenick       Spaces at Surgeons Hall   **
A century-old social satire might seem a dubious prospect for revival, but when the topic is German bureaucracy and over-respect for authority things haven't dated all that much, so there's real potential in this fable of a poor shnook who can't get a break in life until he buys a second-hand military uniform. The real challenge Carl Zuckmeyer's play gives to actors and directors is that it keeps changing styles without warning. A scene of serious social criticism is followed immediately by one of light satire, then by farce, then by soppy melodrama, and round about again, and it would take a cast far more skilled than these recent graduates of the Central School and a director with a stronger vision of the play than Paul Tomlinson to find a unifying tone and stick to it. Instead, they seem to be still exploring each scene, trying to figure out what mode it's in. Too many moments that are meant to be comic aren't, too many that are meant to be serious just lie there, and too many of the actors are too clearly floundering, desperately needing a stronger hand at the tiller. David Fairs as the antihero gets the tone and character just right and gives a taste of what the whole show could be like, but the rest, most of them doubling and tripling roles, range from adequate downward. Gerald Berkowitz

Celebration       Spaces at Surgeons Hall   **
Harold Pinter's last play is a dark comedy of people pretending to be what they are not, growing more frantic and less in control as their masks slip. In typical Pinter fashion its character insights are understated almost to the point of invisibility, and actors must pick up on tiny clues, like a bit of slang or vulgarity slipping into a polite conversation, to spot and convey what's really going on beneath the surface small talk. It is no shame, therefore, for the young actors of MCS Drama to be somewhat out of their depth here, though one could wish that their director had offered them more help. We're at a fancy restaurant, with two couples at one table and one at another. We will gradually sense that those at the larger table, while flush, are out of their class - minor criminals, perhaps, a bit too loud and vulgar for the setting. The other couple betray themselves as the right class, perhaps, but the wrong status – a businessman desperate for a big deal to come through and the ex-secretary he's beginning to regret he married. But almost every character is a little off as played here. The vulgar group are too obviously vulgar too soon, the businessman isn't nervous enough, a waiter who should surely be asserting his superiority in a dignified or even snooty way is too ingratiating, and the subtle jockeying for power among people who aren't too secure in their place is almost entirely missed. Only the quietly bitter ex-secretary and the disdainful-but-hiding-it hostess seem to catch the right tone. In a programme note the director expresses his belief that any characterisations are equally valid in Pinter and so he left the cast to find their own. He's wrong and they deserved better. Gerald Berkowitz

A Celebration of Harold Pinter      Pleasance   ***
It should actually be titled A Celebration of Harold Pinter's Poetry, since actor Julian Sands begins by asserting his belief that even if he hadn't written the plays, Harold Pinter's high place in literary history would be secured by the poetry he wrote, almost in passing, throughout his life. I'm not convinced, and I doubt whether this programme would convince many. Harsh, sharp-edged and generally resisting any temptation to rhyme, regular rhythm or evocative imagery, Pinter's poems have always struck me as essentially prose in disguise, gaining some power from terseness and concentration, but primarily concerned with making a simple statement, be it War Is Evil or I Love You, and little in Sands' selection and expert recitation changes that impression. A string of erotic poems written decades apart are amusing, and the love poems to Antonia Fraser show a side of Pinter that he hid from the world. When the overtly political poems of his later years express sympathy for the dead or abused, they can be moving, but when they voice his anger at war-makers they become strident and heavy-handed (as Pinter's political writing and speeches tended to be). Julian Sands' admiration for the poetry and his affection for the man come through clearly, and it is Sands' personality and talent that carry the hour, not what he's reading. Gerald Berkowitz

Clockheart Boy      C Venue   ***
A well-meaning and frequently imaginative little fable for family audiences, Clockheart Boy is weakened by a meandering script and languid pacing. A genial mad scientist invented a set of living dolls to be playmates and guardians for his daughter but the child still disappeared fifteen years ago, leaving the household in confused mourning, especially as the doctor's attempt to create a substitute daughter proved a mistake. The discovery of a new child, a boy without a heart, reawakens the doctor's involvement in life as he creates a clockwork heart for him, and a string of positive and negative adventures for the humans, the dolls and the bitter-at-being rejected mechanical daughter leads to everyone realising it is time to give up grieving and move on with life. Most of the scenes involving the dolls are clearly designed to entertain children, though the slapstick and broad jokes generally lack the necessary precise timing and punch, while some of the plot twists may be too dark or confusing for younger kids. Some textual trimming and a lot of directorial tightening-up could only help, by keeping the play from straying into narrative dead ends or dips in energy. Gerald Berkowitz

Constance & Sinestra      C Soco   ****
Two children. Evil adults. A gothic tale with great songs. Constance is the good sister who cares for her demented taxidermist father who has incarcerated himself with his stuffed animals in the cellar. Sinestra is the bad sister who collects and itemises people’s screams in jam jars. Their long departed mother watches over them in angelic resplendence, powerless but forever loving of her mismatched brood. A young homeless lad enters their world and sends a ripple of change through the girls’ lives that cannot be undone, as their father takes him under his wing and teaches him the trade. A dark series of events is set in motion as we suspect that the motives of the charitable confectionery-concocting Mrs Vanderscab and her mysterious husband are not as they seem, and that Sinestra may not be as irredeemable as we think. The production utilises the atmosphere in the burnt-out shell that is C Soco – you feel you are eavesdropping on the girls’ personal conversations, you sense them hiding under the tables and the father lurking in his cellar, you join with the mother watching down on their every intimate and possibly fatal move. Alexandra Spencer-Jones’ script is a romp of appropriate wickedness and, led by Kirsty Wray as Constance and Samantha Arends as Sinestra, the nine-strong cast work confidently through a variety of genres. However, the direction could be tighter in the dialogue scenes, the odd visual jokes of physical theatre distract while a host of potentially useful quirks strewn amongst the characters – such as Mr Vanderscab’s blindness – remain undeveloped. But the jewels are the strong songs which allow the cast to shine. Written by Spencer-Jones and composer Patrick Gleeson, their vision, depth and thoughtful arrangements put to shame the hackneyed standards of the contemporary musical scene. Nick Awde

Danny and the Deep Blue Sea      St George's West   ****
John Patrick Shanley's 1983 two-hander is one of a cluster of similar American plays of the period in which an improbably romantic man struggles to convince a sceptical woman of his sincerity. Here the pair are working-class New Yorkers with complementary emotional wounds, he bursting with passions he has no tools except violence for expressing, she aching with loneliness and need, both of them convinced that they are undeserving of even an ordinary degree of contentment in life. In the reverse formula of the genre, they go to bed first and discover they're in love after, and the power of the play lies in our hope that they will fight the habits of a lifetime and overcome their fear of happiness. To have Italian-Americans played by a German-Croatian and a Hungarian-Romanian almost sounds like a joke, but Alessija Lause and Nikolaus Szentmiklosi not only master the sound and rhythms of American speech but capture the tragicomic insecurities and yearning of the two characters, he conveying a vulnerability even in moments of belligerence while she lets us see that the woman's hard front is actually brittle and fragile. Together with Andreas Schmidt's sensitive and perfectly paced direction, they deliver all the sweetness of Shanley's surprisingly delicate romantic fable - and according to the programme, the same actors are prepared to do the play in German if needed. Gerald Berkowitz

David Leddy's Untitled Love Story      St. George's West      ***
David Leddy is something of a brand name in Edinburgh, promising productions of visual beauty and emotional intensity, often in enveloping environmental spaces. Working on a much larger canvas, author/director/designer Leddy is less successful, his effects dissipated and his characters dwarfed by a large stage. Leddy brings four characters to Venice at different times, giving them each an experience of love or its absence. A young woman is jilted by her boyfriend and left alone in the city, a priest confusedly finds his meditations on love first embraced and then violently rejected by the Church, a man receives loving care from a casual pick-up and then discovers he is not capable of returning it, and art patroness Peggy Guggenheim has a brief affair with Samuel Beckett that she later finds echoed in Krapp's Last Tape, while having no emotion to spare for her suicidal daughter. Through most of the play the four stories remain separate, connected only by the city, the theme and haunting allusions to Beckett, and it is likely that one or another will affect each viewer more. Meanwhile, music, lighting, projections and other effects are designed to evoke the beauty and spirit of Venice. But, as I said, the effects are all but lost in the cavernous church hall, and the fragmented nature of the stories themselves keeps them from capturing and holding us as much as we might want them to – I thought the young woman's adventure particularly thin and underwritten, while the priest's was unclear. Untypically for Leddy, who usually immerses the audience in his world, it is we who have to fill in too much of what was intended but not delivered. (Note: That star rating is provisional on your seeing a successful performance, because this technically elaborate production has been plagued with breakdowns, with either lighting, music, projections or set elements failing at many performances and (it is reported) a planned water feature onstage never working and eventually abandoned.) Gerald Berkowitz

Devil In The Deck      Zoo Roxy   ****
Paul Nathan is an excellent raconteur who also happens to be a brilliant magician. Or perhaps he's an excellent magician whose patter extends to elaborate and entertaining story-telling. In any case, Nathan devotes his hour to the engaging telling of a string of supposedly autobiographical tales, punctuating them with truly mystifying card tricks, all to the accompaniment of John Anaya's alternately mood-setting and witty guitar music. Nathan's character was, as he tells us, predicted to have a short and unhappy life by a Tarot reader, and so he filled it with experience, becoming a con man and card sharp, falling in love with a fellow hustler, running with the bulls at Pamploma and defying the predictions, thanks in part to a doctor who had his own tale of out-conning a conman. And along the way, Nathan has everyone in the audience pick a card and then finds them all, plays Find The Lady with a camera on the cards and still puts her where she can't be, and even shows us in close up and slow motion how he manipulates the cards and we still can't see it. Other storytellers may weave more elaborate tales and other magicians may fit more tricks into an hour. But Nathan's combination is very enjoyably unique. Gerald Berkowitz

Devil In The Detail      Zoo Roxy   ****
Those nostalgic for the golden era of Trestle Theatre, the pioneering mask-and-mime company of the 1980s, will be delighted to learn that some of its founders and early members have regrouped as MetaMorpho, returning to a mode very much like the one that delighted us so much back then. Like the more recent Theatre Ad Infinitum, MetaMorpho put cartoonish full-face masks on human bodies and then act the characters so skilfully that the masks seem to come alive, changing expression with the body language below them. This time they have a very entertaining black comic story to tell, about a crooked landlady who rents the same room to an accountant who's out all day and a night watchman who's only there to sleep during the day. Factor in a drug dealer the accountant is skimming from, the night watchman's pet rattlesnake, the landlady's amorous daughter, a dog, some mice, a cheery postman and a bottle of poison, and stir well. Each character is thoroughly individualised, the several A-must-not-encounter-B farce scenes are impeccably timed, and the whole is a delight. This time around the masks are more character-specific and less blank-expressioned (and thus less subject to seeming to change) than you may recall, and the particular story doesn't allow for some of the humanity and touches of pathos that were Trestle signatures. But they're back and that's cause for celebration. Gerald Berkowitz

The Diaries of Adam and Eve      Assembly   ***
Drawn from a pair of comic sketches by Mark Twain, Elton Townend Jones' stage comedy is a harmless bit of fluff with some of the feel of a 1970s or even 1950s TV sitcom. His Adam and Eve are a typical young English couple on holiday, Adam content to lie in his beach chair reading a newspaper while Eve bustles about organising things and chatting away happily. She annoys him by disturbing his peace and quiet, while she complains about his grumpiness, but they might be an old married couple from the minute they meet. Even the expulsion from Eden can't upset their general contentment, and their post-lapsarian life isn't noticeably harsher or less comic. The general sensibility does seem a half-century out of date, with Eve's perkiness and Adam's dimness both playing as cute, but it is exactly that safe and stereotypical humour that will appeal to many. Directed with a light touch by Guy Masterson, the playwright plays Adam to Rebecca Vaughan's Eve, neither of them being particularly stretched by the acting exercise, but sustaining the double vision of biblical references and sitcom unreality with comfortable ease.  Gerald Berkowitz


Doctor Brown: Becaves    
Underbelly       
****
This is not a show to attend with your grandfather. Or your daughter. If you have any reservations about the idea of watching a comic madman who’s part Harpo, part Chaplin, and part naked for part of the show, you’re advised to sit this one out. However, if you’re prepared to watch a bizarre and surreal pantomime unlike any other hour of Fringe comedy, if you’re prepared to titter nervously with a confused audience while the man of the hour undulates ominously from behind the back curtain and then falls down into it until the set is bare, if you’re predated to alternate between riotous laughter and utter bafflement, this might be the show for you. Very original, very strange, very naughty, and very funny, this show includes an X-rated Kabuki pantomime, a hugely offensive costume, a riotously awkward sequence of audience participation, and a performer who challenges the concept of what we should expect when we want to see comedy. If you don't like it he doesn't seem to care: he's been keeping a running tally of walk-outs which he gleefully ticked off on the wall when one audience member decided that he was in over his head. Prepare to be confused, prepare to be amused, prepare to laugh. Hannah Friedman

Dream Pill     Underbelly        ***
Rebecca Prichard's very short play about human trafficking draws its power from avoiding open outrage and preaching, while presenting its horrors through the voices and perceptions of two nine-year-old Nigerian girls who have only the vaguest perception that something bad is happening to them. As they experienced it, the nice lady their auntie handed them over to made the excitement of an airplane trip possible, the daddy they live with in the UK doesn't beat them too hard, and the men they have to dance for are unpleasant but easily forgotten when they take the happy-making dream pills daddy supplies. The gap between their perception and ours charges everything in the play with double meanings, as when their thoroughly normal game of charging found objects with magical powers alerts us to the unspoken fears they need amulets against. The subtlety and understatement, along with the children's innocence and still-unbroken natural high spirits, so heartbreakingly conveyed by performers Danielle Vitalis and Samantha Pearl, make Prichard's play more effective as polemic and more moving as drama than a more direct or statistic-filled approach could be. Gerald Berkowitz

Drift     Udderbelly's Pasture        ***
Grab the A5 programme at the door before you go in – you will find the family tree printed on it handy as it traces four generations of Chinese who move between Shanghai and Singapore. There is the businessman who flits between his wife and lover in the two cities. His urbane wife plans to leave him, while his son is content to be estranged. Meanwhile, an old man yearns to return to Shanghai, the city he has never seen, his birth mixed up with the brutal Japanese occupations of the Second World War. These snapshots from Shanghai Repertory Theatre create a thoughtful perspective of displacement and yearning, reflected by the fact that the performers are themselves foreigners in their host country China. The scenes and time periods neatly interleave and the result is an intimate odyssey for each character as they seek to reduce the distance between their two cities just as they create distance from each other. The staging is not particularly fluid but it does make the best of this cramped space. Nevertheless, director Michael Ouyang needs to find a clearer vision in Nick Yu’s script that will focus on plot and character with greater clarity and thus free up the various talents on offer here from this nine-strong cast. Nick Awde

Dry Ice     Underbelly   ****
Sabrina Mahfouz’s one-woman show is a running testament to her talent as a poet. She weaves complicated, evocative rhymes in an hour-long narration of her character’s life as a young stripper. Sabrina assumes the role of a jaded young woman with a quick tongue as she explains her life on the pole, in the dressingroom, and in the company of judgmental or titillated acquaintances. The spoken-word rhyming prose is layered and lovely to the point of occasional confusion, as Ms. Mahfouz sometimes seems to forget that although she can weave through the complex text effortlessly, the audience is hearing it for the first time. A restaging could do with more articulation and clarity of the text so as to highlight narration instead of allowing it to be lost in the rhythm of what are unquestionably nuanced rhymes. The direction, however, is crisp and powerful, with a single chair and some hand props setting  the stage for the protagonist’s many juicy, tawdry, silly, and ultimately sad tales. Ms. Mahfouz has a magnetic energy that allows her to narrate entire boisterous dinner parties and quiet personal revelations with the same confidence and honesty. The final plot twist is not earth-shattering, but this is a creative and engagingly executed treatment of the familiar tale of a little girl lost. Ms. Mahfouz’s writing and acting skills will surely elevate other subjects to similarly dynamic performance pieces, and I would be eager to see what she takes her pen to next. Hannah Friedman

The Durham Revue     Underbelly        ****
Just about alone but for Oxbridge, Durham continues to carry the flag for witty university sketch shows, and just about alone full stop, they are consistently funny. They come up with good ideas for sketches and, more importantly, actually find good jokes to put into the sketches. This year's edition is characterised by set-ups that go off in unexpected directions. One set on a train seems at first to be about two airheaded passengers, but then moves on to find further laughs elsewhere, while one set in a TV studio offers rapid scattershot satire that hits everyone in sight. What would happen if Narnia characters went through the wardrobe in the other direction, did Shakespeare's costume and prop demands cause problems for his stage manager, and did the Bronte sisters have as much trouble as we do remembering who wrote what? And a special salute for bringing back the ancient and honourable tradition of the running gag with a series of blackouts about wars of the past. Once again Durham trounce the competition with a fast-moving hour in which just about every joke scores.  Gerald Berkowitz

Dusk Rings A Bell     Assembly        ****
A nice, sincere, quietly touching and very American (because it's more interested in its characters' thoughts and feelings than any social issues it raises) play, Stephen Belber's two-hander misdirects us slightly at the start and then takes us places we didn't expect to go. A seemingly stereotypical woman pushing forty and thus no longer quite qualifying as a yuppie, whose unstoppable flow of self-conscious eloquence is, she explains, a reaction to a childhood of stuttering, tells us about her mildly unsatisfying life, which has led her on a nostalgic journey to a vacation spot that she associates with a rare period of adolescent happiness. She encounters a man she knew as a fellow teenager back then, and the play discovers, a bit to its surprise, that he is a far more complex, original and interesting character than she is. He committed a terrible crime a few years after they first met, and has spent the two decades since trying to understand, make restitution for and forgive himself for that one he-hopes-uncharacteristic moment in his life. As she digs further, fascinated and repelled in equal measure, it becomes clearer that she is not the main character, as we first thought, or even much of a character at all, but just a playwright's device for exploring him – which is fine, because he is an original creation and, as directed by Steven Atkinson, Paul Blair takes us on a moving and convincing journey into his courage and his torment. Professional celebrity Abi Titmuss plays the woman and, not knowing or recognising her, I did not realise I was supposed to be contemptuous as other reviewers have been, and found her doing a totally creditable job of making the dramatic device she was given into a real character. Gerald Berkowitz

Dust     New Town Theatre        ****
Ade Morris's drama is a solid, old-fashioned, well-made problem play, and I don't mean any of those terms to be pejorative in any way. It sets out to deal seriously with a serious issue, and it succeeds admirably. That it also offers a compact and understandable history lesson for those to whom the 1980s are as distant as the Middle Ages is a bonus. (But that means that a very brief bit of history may be needed here: In 1984 the miner's union, led by Arthur Scargill, went on strike against planned pit closures by Margaret Thatcher's government. Everything beyond that statement is open to debate, but let's just agree that after a long strike the pits were closed and Thatcher was generally considered the victor, seriously damaging the power of unions in general.) Morris imagines Scargill on the future date of Thatcher's death, still convinced that he was in the right, visited by an old miner friend who is not unsympathetic but determined to make the union leader aware of the ongoing human costs to the individual workers and even their children. That generates a debate – a good, dramatic debate in which we not only grasp but care about the issues – reflected in events that personally affect the people involved. Indeed, so good is the argument that the dramatised personal stories, of the miner's son and his wife and of a female friend of both older men, play as more soap-opera-ish than they deserve to, as we resent their interruptions to the good stuff. A polished production, Dust is clearly intended for a life beyond Edinburgh, and it is likely to move and involve audiences wherever it goes. Gerald Berkowitz

EastEnd Cabaret: The Revolution Will Be Sexual     Counting House        ****
From the opening notes of a jaunty Berlin-style Let’s Talk About Sex, Bernadette Byrne and Victor Victoria (aka Victy) pull off the laughs as they coyly bust taboos with the most innocent of faces. With deliciously cod European accents, the duo lead their audience on an uplifting revolutionary soapbox stomp through our sexual peccadillos, exhorting one and all to “rise up and come together” in celebration of getting down and dirty. Self-penned numbers include the raucous Still Hard, a paean to a penis that doesn’t know when to go down, while a tale of travelling in Thailand not only runs through an impressive gamut of styles but also involves infectiously comic ping-pong sound effects. The show’s nod to Eastern Bloc chic comes when Mr Little Red Book appears, a Communist sex expert, who po-faced, explains improbable ways to get Mr Hammer to give Miss Sickle a three-fingered Trotsky Tickle. Byrne and Victy have a particular genius for subverting other people’s songs. Sex on Fire brings the house down with a literal burning of the bush after an encounter with a latex-clad dominatrix and some quite frankly spellbinding bondage – the scene of the two singing blindfolded is worth the price of emission alone. Meanwhile, the double entendres they fondle from the already camp Like a Virgin are pure genius as Bernadette serenades a surprised punter (be warned, you’re not safe in the back rows) with a ukelele to the jealous preenings of Victy on menacing musical saw. This is a highly talented, hard-working duo who not only know their music but also their audience. Their rise in recent years is therefore thoroughly deserved, meaning that it is a pleasure to lie back and place oneself in their expert hands. Nick Awde

Emergence     Underbelly        **
Some sort of cosmic grief counsellor, a mystic figure who really wants to be a cabaret singer, narrates and interjects herself into the story of a young woman living far from home whose grief when her mother dies is compounded by guilt for not having been there to care for her in life. Conceived by director Lorraine Sutherland, herself Scottish and Peruvian, the play moves between the mother's South American home and the daughter's British exile, pausing occasionally in the narrator's neverland, and incorporating interludes of song and dance to capture the haunting emotions of all three. The never fully explained role of the narrator is a distraction, as are some unexplained details, such as why the mother sent her daughter to a British school and why she didn't return as she berates herself for not doing, and some unintegrated symbols, like a mystical bird that appears to comfort the mother in her loneliness. Emergence – the title seems to suggest a chick leaving the nest - has something small but true to say about the ambivalence children always feel about moving out of their parents' world into their own, and is at its most successful when it keeps its focus on that emotional reality. Gerald Berkowitz

Eunuchs In My Wardrobe     Assembly   ****
Anglo-Indian actor Silas Carson begins his show with the memory of a childhood visit to India and the sight of Hijra, the equivalent (though it is culturally much more complicated) of Western transvestites and transsexuals. He immediately drops the subject in favour of what seems like a lengthy digression on growing up half-Indian in provincial England and of surviving both Catholicism and public school. But as he describes his younger self instinctively knowing that his sexual confusion and experimentation were more honest than the sadism and hypocrisy of both priest and headmaster, that childhood memory comes to the fore, those 'silk-wrapped revolutionaries' who choose to be 'not one nor the other' becoming symbols of freedom from convention and freedom of self-definition, with resonances beyond the sexual. Carson tells this story in couplets marked by clever and complex inner rhymes ('hassock/cassock/masochism') and wordplay ('jesters gesturing') that are fun in themselves but also serve his heart-felt message. Those who come out of prurience or idle curiosity will stay to be moved and perhaps even changed. Gerald Berkowitz

Fascinating Aida - The Cheap Flights Tour     Gilded Balloon   ****
If you are a fan of Fascinating Aida, you don't need me to send you to their latest show. And if you don't know this veteran trio of singing comediennes, hie thee hence to the Gilded Balloon for an hour of delight. In the tradition of Flanders & Swann or Noel Coward, sweet FA sing self-penned songs skewering everything from budget airlines to this morning's news, sex in carparks to taking mother on a one-way holiday to Switzerland. Actually a lot of people may be coming to the trio for the first time this year, as their budget airline song, after which the show is named, has become a YouTube hit, and many will have the adventure of discovering how funny they are on other topics – and what good song writers they are, as the one serious number, about absent friends, demonstrates beautifully. That said, I have to admit that long-time FA fans may find this year's show not quite top-level. As they'll know, Dillie Keane (the blonde pianist) and Adele Anderson (the tall brunette) are constants and there have been a string of third persons over the years. This year's Sarah-Louise Young is lovely to look at and listen to, but she hasn't developed a comic character yet, and is essentially just a third voice. And while everyone likes to hear old favourites, a little too much of this show, including all the songs I've mentioned so far, just repeats last year's programme. But those are cavils. They're funny. Go.  Gerald Berkowitz

Fit For Purpose     Pleasance   **
An earnest and sincere exploration of the plight of asylum seekers, Catherine O'Shea's play is not particularly successful as the indictment of the system it wants to be, and less so as effective theatre. The play follows a Somali mother and daughter from their arrival in Britain knowing no English beyond the word asylum through their stay in a detention camp while their case is considered, leaving their status unresolved as they choose to disappear facelessly into the populace. The story is inherently a sad one, and is likely to move those already inclined to be sympathetic. But O'Shea's desire to be even-handed means that the worst she really says about the system is that it is overloaded and that some individuals in it are unsympathetic toward their charges while others make yeoman efforts on their behalf, somewhat blunting the outrage and anger the play clearly wants to express. Meanwhile, rudimentary and stodgy direction and performances ranging from adequate downward, even to the extent of inaudibility in a very small room, make this, for all its good intentions, barely adequate to the classroom or church hall, and not up to the not especially demanding standards of fringe theatre.   Gerald Berkowitz

Tim Fitzhigham: Gambler   Pleasance   ****
He's not the biggest name on the comedy circuit, but Tim Fitzhigham has accumulated a discerning fan base who know that this slightly mad adventurer annually delivers an unlikely but demonstrably true tale of his derring-do. For Tim is one of those monologists who spends part of the year doing something truly eccentric (like rowing the Thames in a papier-mache canoe or setting the record for long-distance Morris dancing) and the rest making people laugh with his reporting on it. This year he discovered in the records of London's gentlemen's clubs accounts of the bizarre things members wagered fortunes on in centuries past. But those who know our Tim realise he couldn't be satisfied reporting on, say, the 19th-century lord who bet he could ride to Dover and back before his opponent could make a million dots with his pen. Tim got on his bicycle while a friend got out his felt-tip, and here's the video to prove it. We also see proof that Tim actually did go out and see whether a man could outrun a horse on a short course, how long it would take to pull a mile of rope, and other things our ancestors wagered fortunes over – all recounted with the wide-eyed enthusiasm that might make Tim a scary person to encounter in a dark alley but makes his hour a laugh-filled delight. Gerald Berkowitz

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


Flynch, Looking
  Zoo
   ***

These Lecoq trained performers illustrate the desperate journey of James Flynch as he flees to a seaside hotel after his girlfriend dumps him for being "ridiculous." The cast of talented movement artists manage to portray every part of Flynch's trip, from cleaning ladies to lampshades, with grace and fiery intensity as required. James attempts to make friends and make sense of his abandonment, and in one beautifully choreographed scene he gets drunk and expresses his distress along with the hotel telephone and television that will not stand still in his altered state. By the end of his trip Flynch seems to embrace his own ridiculousness in a triumphant and self-asserting swim. However, despite the powerful pantomime technique of these performers, the story of Flynch, Looking is not compelling enough to keep us looking raptly through Flynch's extensive, strange and seemingly meaningless encounters with bellhops, fellow hotel guests and their silent wives. When the entrancingly choreographed movement of bedsheets is more transfixing than any of the dialogue in a show, perhaps the plot needs a tweek. Still, these performers communicate with intense movement what many monologues could never achieve, and their storytelling will surely serve a more fleshed-out story beautifully. Hannah Friedman

The Forum
  Underbelly
   ****
Four chatroom IDs, four very different people who are all interlinked by online forums and chatrooms, whose lives will be transformed by that connection. The internet, after all, is a space where truth takes on different forms and falsehood is a quality to be admired. It offers dangers but it can also be a source for positive actions, as the characters in Charlotte Essex’s one-act play eventually come to realise. Stu – Cerith Flinn – is affable yet friendless and seeks virtual companionship and occasional sexual kicks under the cloak of anonymity, while Frankie – Meghan Treadway – is just idly looking for kicks, her own needs carefully concealed by her self-proclaimed hedonism. Meanwhile Jed – Jacob James Beswick – is quietly desperate for support for the bullying he experiences at college as his concerned mother Laina – Kate Cook – teaches herself the forum ropes in a desperate attempt to find the key to her son’s pain. Essex has devised an intelligent, personal take on the virtual world that is an integral part of our social reality, tapping into the online society where "shift star hug" says it all, along with that small-hours sensation of being the only one in the world who is logged on. That strange trust of never knowing who is behind the alias, the flirting, over-honesty about fantasies, typing with "sticky fingers", snooping where you shouldn’t, regulars teaching newbies about icons, pound sign, acronyms and chatroom etiquette. Director Laure Keefe makes the most of the dialogue but the delivery and action remains static – no real problem really since it reflects how the computer screen demands physical inertia. The cast work hard to make the coincidences believable of the interlocking lives of these four characters plucked from the many millions out there. They make a convincing case that this is a morality tale for our times – and provide reassuring proof that that you don't have to be a psychopath to be a headcase, and that not all forum nerds need be nerds in real life. Nick Awde

Futureproof   Traverse   ****
Glasgow-based Irish playwright Lynda Radley boldly takes on a very un-PC topic in order to explore some very relevant (and PC) questions about identity, family and definitions of normality. Her play is set in a travelling freak show, a carnival featuring a fat man, a bearded lady, Siamese twins and the like, and her first surprising assertion is that these people are generally quite happy, comfortable in their differentness and content to make their living being gaped at. But business is dwindling, perhaps because the townies are becoming uncomfortable about gaping, and the boss comes up with a new plan – a show preaching the possibility of change by displaying former freaks who are choosing to become normal. The fat man goes on a diet, the bearded lady shaves, the conjoined twins look into surgery, and not only does the sense of community begin to break down, but everyone has to face the question of who they will be if they are not who they have always been, and whether, by choosing to stop being different, they are buying into the same prejudices they have fought all their lives. The actors of the Dundee Rep have been together for years, and share the task of creating and sustaining the characters and milieu with practised ease, quickly overcoming our own temptation to gape and drawing us into the play's emotional reality and philosophical/moral challenges. Because the play's concern is not something as simplistic as sympathy for the abnormal, but rather a challenge to our assumptions about the value of normality, it is likely to linger with you and generate some fascinating post-theatre discussions.   Gerald Berkowitz

James Galea - I Hate Rabbits  Playhouse   ***
Young Australian magician James Galea begins his hour a little dubiously, with a videotape of him being welcomed by TV hosts around the world, as if to assure us that he really is famous even if we've never heard of him. But any implicit insecurity proves unwarranted once he takes the stage in a show whose title declares his intention to avoid any magic show cliches. Galea may attempt little that you have not seen other magicians do, but he does it very well. He devotes the bulk of his hour to close-up card tricks, a video cameraman on hand to project his manipulations on a large screen. He is, unsurprisingly, quite good at the false shuffle and card palming that are the core of such tricks, so much so that even when he tells us how he's going to repeat the illusion that just amazed us, we still can't see him do it. Away from the camera he makes money and wristwatches disappear and then reappear in impossible places, finds a chosen card in a sealed envelope, and accomplishes other marvels that are clearly all the product of skilful manipulation and misdirection rather than large machinery. At least half of any magic act is the patter and personality, and Galea's enthusiasm and joking create a party atmosphere the audience happily joins in with.  Gerald Berkowitz

The Games  Zoo Roxy   ****
Billed as Aristophanes’ lost comedy (with a little bit of academic conjecture thrown in,) this jubilant little hour of theatre has everything you might expect from a comedy about Ancient Greece, (jealous Gods, feats of strength,) and a whole lot more that you won’t see coming, (gender-swapping, ballad crooning, and a runaway penis.) The three actors deftly orchestrate chariot races, arguing deities and impromptu circumcisions with the help of a few choice props and a slew of clever lighting design techniques. Three unlikely champions are thrown into the Olympic Games with the help of a bet made by Gods atop Mount Olympus. The very moment this production seems to settle into the groove of mere slapstick physical humor, quiet romantic longing, or a buddies’ comedy, it whisks us away faster than you can say “Zeus” into a totally different genre and mood. The result is a whirlwind of fun with liberal helpings of romance, friendship, and heroic revelations. The Games is part Monty Python, part Aristotle, part musical farce, and is overall a very playful, enjoyable show.   Hannah Friedman

Generation 9/11  Spaces at Surgeons Hall   ***
With the tenth anniversary looming, writer-performer Chris Wolfe interviewed a number of Americans about their memories of the World Trade Center attacks, to see if the event still reverberated in the culture, and this solo show is made up of selections from their responses. After a quick run through a wider cross-section of replies, Wolfe returns repeatedly to a handful of voices including a young American Muslim, a radio DJ who stumbled into the role of motivational speaker, a young man inspired to join the army and then subject to post-service stresses, and a hippy-dippy airhead and born-again Christian barely able to register anything outside her own bliss. Wolfe reaches no real conclusions except that each character seems to remain themselves only more so, finding new clarity in their identities or commitments. As performance the piece is minimal, Wolfe not strong enough as an actor to create instant characterisations out of the brief snippets, and frequently having trouble remembering lines or which voice to use. Some of the most successful moments come when he returns to his own voice for a satirical analysis of generation labelling and a comment on the disappointment this century has been so far. Gerald Berkowitz

The Golden Dragon  Traverse   ***
A Thai/Chinese/Vietnamese restaurant is the nexus for several stories and a fable that seem unrelated except for that setting: a restaurant worker with a toothache, a young couple facing an unexpected pregnancy, an older couple separating, a shopkeeper hoarding products, and others, along with the tale of the grasshopper and the ant, which takes a dark turn as the grasshopper is forced to earn her winter food. The whole is held together by being punctuated frequently with descriptions of items from the restaurant menu, and at least some of the various plot strands do eventually converge, though somewhat later than would be ideal, and without resonating, either thematically or emotionally, as much as the playwright would wish. We are left with a greater sense of a writer showing off how cleverly he can resolve the problem he set for himself than with a satisfying sense of the moral interrelatedness of things. Five actors play all the roles, without regard to age or gender, minimal costume changes and bits of narration making clear where and with whom we are at all times, and it is not their fault that we are always observing from the outside without being drawn into the characters or stories. Gerald Berkowitz

Dave Gorman  Assembly   ****
Dave Gorman is a polished pro who has the whole powerpoint format down pat, and this show is guaranteed to make you laugh out loud repeatedly. There's less of a coherent theme than in some past shows, like when he devoted the entire hour to analysing the lyrics to one song, or travelled the world to meet other Dave Gormans. This show is more a ragbag collection of things that he's spotted, had sent to him, found on the web or generated himself with mischievous tweets. People who think they look like him, odd products, the differences between the same commercials in different countries – that sort of thing, all accompanied by the evidence right up there onscreen. He might go on a little too long denying that he's Jewish, and dumb web chat and Twitter exchanges are such easy targets they're hardly worth the effort. And you might sometimes feel that his patter is so smooth that it probably doesn't vary by a word from show to show – he even has a prepared joke about the unlikelihood of him ever ad libbing – and might just as well be a prerecorded accompaniment to the slide show. Gerald Berkowitz

Grisly Tales From Tumblewater  Pleasance   ****
A sort of one-man Penny Dreadfuls, Edward Jaspers plays all the roles, along with the narration, sound effects, music and songs, in this fast-moving and inventive adaptation of Bruno Vincent's black comic novel. The mock-picaresque tale of an orphan who sets out in search of his fortune and his long-lost sister, it involves entering the titular town where it always rains (a particularly ironic joke in an Edinburgh August), discovering that his sister is being held by the evil Boss who owns and rules everything, joining a literal underground – that is, a rebel group operating out of the sewers – and frankly I don't remember the rest of the plot and I don't care, because the fun is in the accumulation of eccentric characters, the incidental side-jokes and the imaginative presentation. This is the sort of show in which our hero, looking for an address, will mime wiping the dirt off a name plate only to discover it announces a school of mime, or where he will regularly pause in his adventure to cheer himself up with a Struwwelpeter-type song, like the one gloating over the fate of the girl who would insist on picking her nose. Caroline Horton directs with the light touch and never-too-twee sense of whimsy that characterises her own solo shows, and Jaspers deftly dances his way through this delightful mix of farce and fable. Gerald Berkowitz

Gutter Junky  Assembly   ***

Gutter Junky, written by David Kantounas and directed by Fiona Clift, has many of the elements necessary for an incendiary and visceral piece of political theater. The trio of actors, at their best, capture moments of hauntingly tortured madness brought on by experiencing different but equally brutal facets of a South American civil war. The patter of the script is, at its best, reminiscent of Mamet or Sorkin. And the theme of imperialist naivety , of youthful passion overshadowing reason in an exotic and savage landscape is an interesting one. But for this show to evolve beyond its Fringe setup, all these elements must be distilled and edited of their overly didactic nature. Long monologues could be enhanced by being trimmed, performances could be elevated by saving more space for the beautiful subtle moments than all the performative bravado, and themes need not be hammered into the audience’s head (even quoted in the program) for a story to make a powerful impact. Impressive elements, more assembly required.   Hannah Friedman

A Hero of Our Time   Zoo   **
Based on Lermontov's novel of the same name, this debut adaptation tracks swaggering anti-hero Pechorin as he tears apart the hearts of women and men alike. Pechorin sets havoc in motion during his military stay in a Russian spa town as he seduces a princess, scandalizes her mother, cavorts with a dying ex-lover, humiliates a friend, and executes a fool. Some of the performances in this show were fantastic, and the period text was often heightened to true poetry. However, much of this piece felt fragmented and awkward, from the mismatched accents to the unsustained and underrehearsed theme of slow-motion transitions, to the plethora of undeveloped and extraneous characters. Pechorin is meant to be the true focus, and his cavorting and venomous behavior is engaging, but (without reading the book) one suspects that Pechorin's character arc is truncated so much as to flatten his journey. If  we are meant to behold an evil man who has no regard for anybody and who remains evil even after ruining many lives on stage, what exactly is the reason for portraying these particular evil events rather than any of the other hundreds he's alleged to have committed? But if, as hinted at by a scene in which Pechorin seems remorseful for half a moment, his destructive approach to society ultimately leads to lack of fulfillment if not remorse, why not spend some theatrical energy exploring that rich motivation instead of waxing poetic about "predestination" without any satisfactory thematic thread harkening back to the theme? This company has quite a lot of talent and quite a lot of potential, but the script would do well to distill and energize the main character's journey before expanding into the ensemble.   Hannah Friedman

Hex   Hill Street   ****
This slight but delightful little comedy by Tim Primrose and Sam Siggs constantly surprises by taking twists and sidesteps into unexpected directions. I doubt if you could remember all of its convoluted path the next day, but it's a lot of fun trying to keep up with it at the time. Gwen is an airhead prey to every New Age practitioner and conman while husband Toby, sceptic that he is, is surprisingly indulgent. He even manages to be fairly polite to the pair of obviously bonkers witch-healer-aura readers she has invited into their home, but his patience is explained when they are introduced to the couple's real problem, which I have been asked not to divulge. With a friendly nod to Little Shop of Horrors, the play offers comic revelations of plot and character at every turn while also poking fun where it needs to be poked through the portraits of the mad mediums. Directed by Primrose, the young cast – Sarah MacGillivray as determinedly cheery Gwen, Ben Clifford as Toby, Beth Godfrey as the mystic and Colleen Garrett as her truly weird assistant – adeptly keep the comic bubble aloft. Gerald Berkowitz

The Hot Mikado   C ECA   **
A 1939 adaptation of Gilbert and Sullivan, further adapted in the 1980s and 1990s, this is The Mikado filtered through American swing and jazz, a thoroughly disrespectful romp that can in the right hands be a load of fun, with hipster gentlemen of Japan, jazzbaby maids from school, blues mama Katisha and tapdancing Mikado. This student production from Durham, however, can never fully escape the sense of a director and performers for whom the 1890s and the 1930s are both ancient history. They go through all the right motions, but too often with no real feel for what they're doing, and everything from dancing the Lindy to snapping their fingers like hipsters is just a little bit off, with the three little maids, for example, owing more to Britney Spears than the Andrews Sisters. To compound the problem, absolutely no singer in the cast can always be heard clearly over the small band, and several can not be heard at all and might as well be miming – and with some of the cleverest lyrics ever written, that is no small handicap. I saw an early performance, and they might sort out the sound balance and relax a little more into the show's style as the run progresses. There's a lot of good energy here, and some of the musical's fun comes through – perhaps enough to make for an enjoyable hour. But more of what's good will come from the script than from the production. Gerald Berkowitz

If That's All There Is?  Pleasance     ***    (Reviewed at a previous Festival)
A couple planning to marry hit a wall of last-minute panic. He consults a bored heard-it-all-before shrink and prepares multi-volume power point presentations on his fiancee's good and bad points. She daydreams the day away at work, oblivious to anything around her, or wanders the streets imagining apocalyptic scenarios that might forestall the event. He takes lessons in feeling and expressing emotion while she buries her face in a chopped onion to try to release the tears. They carefully plan out a moment of spontaneous passion that inevitably fails, and can't even make it through a rehearsal of their first dance without panicking. All this is shown with impressive theatrical inventiveness and high spirits by the three writer-performers of Inspector Sands, Lucinka Eisler, Giulia Innocenti and Ben Lewis. And yet one can't escape a sense of overkill, of immense creative energy devoted to insights and theatrical effects that don't require, or warrant, all that work. Because if you take away the razzmatazz this is just standard rom-com sitcom stuff, and might just as well star Jennifer Aniston. Gerald Berkowitz

Images    C ECA     ***
The themes of Jake Linzey's spoken-word-and-dance piece for Backhand Theatre are urban isolation and alienation. Katy Helps and Megan Elizabeth Pitt alternate short monologues on such topics as a broken romance, the pain of only learning of a friend's death through Facebook, and why people don't talk to each other on the Underground. Even those that acknowledge the existence of a society around them are distanced – sneaking glances at kissing couples or watching the world go by from a window. Some of the spoken excerpts are accompanied or followed by a brief dance by the non-speaker. At one point Pitt hangs from a trapeze, at another Helps sways in place while attached to a bungee cord. The choreography and acrobatics are fairly basic, and no dance lasts more than a minute or two, so they generally serve as punctuation to the text rather than enhancement of it. Appropriately, most of the dance sequences are solos, though the few duets actually serve the theme better by having the dancers keep their backs to each other, mirroring the other but not acknowledging her. Gerald Berkowitz

The Infant    Pleasance     ****

The Les Enfants Terrible theatre company is back at the Fringe with another imaginative and delightfully dark piece, this time decidedly not for younger audiences. The parents of a young boy are interrogated by a bizarre and frantic duo who claim to be protecting national security. When the cause for the investigation is revealed to be a small child’s drawing, paranoia, intrigue, and a quest for truth weave the four characters together in increasingly complex alliances. As always, Les Enfants make imaginative use of mobile, sparse set design to illustrate changes in location, time, and mood. Anthony Spargo is extraordinarily entertaining as the manic yet refined Samedi, and the rest of the cast achieves the difficult goal of turning an unseen four-year-old into a diabolical menace to society. The intensity of the “investigation” can get repetitive, and the unchanging rhythm sometimes wears thin what could be a more varied and therefore intriguing terrain of climaxes, but overall Les Enfants brings what they have always brought to the Fringe: a charmingly twisted, crisply directed, unique piece of theatre all their own. Hannah Friedman

An Instinct For Kindness    Pleasance Dome     ****
Actor Chris Larner's wife was diagnosed with MS in 1983 but managed to live with the progressive debilitation until the combination of helplessness, humiliation and constant pain led her two years ago to Dignitas, the Swiss assisted-suicide organisation. And although she and Larner had divorced, he joined her and her sister in the process of preparing for the departure. Larner is obviously sincere in his sympathy for his wife, and equally frustrated and enraged by the subterfuges they had to go through to fill her request. As he points out, suicide was decriminalised a half-century ago, but aiding and abetting wasn't, a unique case of helping someone do something that isn't criminal being itself criminal. And so simple things like collecting her medical records or arranging a flight to Switzerland, as emotion-charged as they were in themselves, were further darkened by the knowledge that at any point some doctor or lawyer or travel agent could turn them in. Larner unflinchingly takes us through the horrors and the surprising moments of sweetness in the final days, the title referring to a spontaneous but much-appreciated gesture from a hotel chambermaid, his skill as a performer unobtrusively serving his intention as an author and his experience as a man. Gerald Berkowitz

It's Uniformation Day    Zoo Roxy    ****
It's Uniformation Day RoxySome time in the far future, Uninformation Day is celebrated each year by a space cruise where the lucky passengers (from various planets) get to work out their hang-ups. This they do via an onboard game show, the challenges becoming ever stranger to the point of surreality. Each of our three contestants has to lose their obsessions – all-consuming pursuit of happiness, guilt as the only survivor of a devastated planet, dreams of romance – in order to win. Aided and abetted by director Jamie Wood, our participants Ben Philips, Britt Jurgensen and Mary Pearson sport an infinite array of costume changes and display a honed sense of timing across Mamouru Iriguchi’s packed set – appropriately THX 1138 meets 2001 – accompanied by a galactic synth soundtrack courtesy of Barry Han. The trio negotiate plastic chairs, cardboard boxes, bits of hair, plasticine. And not to forget the metal foil. Nor the post-its. And the polythene sheets (1,001 uses for it here). Plus ELO’s Ticket to the Moon will never be the same after experiencing the Fool’s Proof version. But after in-yer-face set-pieces such as the extraordinary bubblewrap transformation, the very ending is oddly touching – a personal moment that makes you suddenly aware that you were an integral part of the show from the very beginning. Including multiple audience contributions, the show’s concept and structure – more akin to a Japanese survival game or Californian social experiment – mean that pacing is not as tight as it could be, but this will no doubt be ironed out over the run. Meanwhile, somewhere under it all, lurks a ‘serious’ message about exploring people’s identities – it’s ‘serious’ physical theatre after all. But one suspects that the team had so much fun concocting this show that the message got buried somewhere in the ambitious, madcap, inspired and frankly loopy mix. Nick Awde

John Peel's Shed, by John Osborne    Underbelly   **
No, this is not a lost play by the author of Look Back In Anger, but a low-key chat by the author of a book on 1990s radio, who got hooked when he won a competition for a box of records from DJ John Peel's private collection. In what feels like an elaboration of a book promotion tour talk, this John Osborne plays a few excerpts from obscure bands like a punk rock Boyzone tribute act, but mainly recounts favourite anecdotes from his favourite Radio One shows – a remembered joke, a funny call-in to Tommy Boyd, an intriguing piece of music introduced by Peel – and reminds us that a perhaps false sense of community can be created by listening to the same familiar radio voices every day. Osborne's initial contempt for the current Radio One is then tempered by the realisation that today's fans may be experiencing the same connection. There is a trainspotting quality to this topic, and it will no doubt be of far more interest to those who share Osborne's nostalgia, while others may see little more than a nerdy but amiable enough guy wittering on a bit sadly about his harmless little obsession. Gerald Berkowitz

Kafka and Son    Assembly        ****
Franz Kafka’s Letter to His Father is a strange piece of literature – is it really ‘literature’ for a start, since it was originally a private letter (admittedly a hefty 45 pages) moaning about his overbearing father? It is possibly of interest only to Kafka completists or those seeking extra insight into the writer’s worldview. And yet, in the hands of Alon Nashman’s one-man show, it becomes something far greater. Adapted by Nashman and director Mark Cassidy in a sort of inside-out Chekhov or petulant J’Accuse, the letter is almost comic in its bleakness, challenging our disbelief at how a father could be so unrelenting but also why a son could still be hanging in there, living at home at the age of 35. Family, society and its expectations figure prominently in Kafka’s work, and Kafka and Son gives us the reality behind a masterpiece such as Metamorphosis. We hear Kafka Senior belittling his son’s friends, ordaining correct etiquette at the table, dominating in swimming, a monster with the employees at the family firm, a hypocrite for cleaning his ears with a toothpick. Of course there was a gentler side, and father and son did have points in common such as failing to find solace in Judaism. To amplify his words and gestures, Nashman has an eerie arsenal at his disposal, created by designers Marysia Bucholc and Camelia Koo – a set of wire cages, black feathers and a bare bed frame. Combined with composer Osvaldo Golijov’s washes of raucous klezmer-tinged strings, they help to punctuate the action, creating discrete episodes and moods. This is clever stuff where there is a lot more going on under Nashman’s deceptively simple narrative and matter of fact tones. We understand that Kafka understands that this is what has made him what he is, that it rightly or wrongly gives him his drive. The result is the realisation that we have spent an hour eavesdropping on family intimacies where rejection goes hand in hand with acceptance. Nick Awde

The Kidnapper's Guide    Zoo   *****
This thigh-slappingly hilarious comedy takes place on a Hollywood star’s estate in the 1950s. The star in question is being held for ransom by a trio of bungling crooks, and when none of his so-called friends want to pay for his release the kidnapping escalates to total pandemonium. A dozen of some of the most talented and promising young comic actors at the Fringe execute every beat of this fast-paced, highly amusing play with pitch-perfect precision as schemes become more and more disastrously entangled when kidnappee turns kidnapper. This scrip is crisp, fresh, flat-out hysterical, and the skilled direction of this show juices ever comic opportunity to the utmost. The large cast manages to portray a surprisingly satisfying array of character transformations in one of the most enjoyable hours I’ve spent at the Fringe. Even the smaller parts were absolute comic gems, a miraculous monologue only about fishing being a particular highlight. Although some of these players don’t seem quite old enough to drive a car, let alone summit and destroy a Hollywood career, their professionalism and excellent comic timing results in a suspension of disbelief so thorough that the audience would probably follow them home for a second act if they asked us to. A comic romp reminiscent of Noises Off, but with a pizzazz all its own, this play is most certainly a harbinger of great things to come from Article19 Theatre Company.  Hannah Friedman

Lach's Antihoot    Gilded Balloon   ****
One of the great pleasures of the Fringe is its wide variety of theatrical fare, and Lach’s Antihoot showcases the festival’s diversity. Each night serves up a different combination of performers, but the constant feature is consummate host Lach, who makes sure the evening moves along with many laughs and a smooth rhythm of eight minutes per perfomance snippet. This reviewer was treated to a cabaret soliloquey, a performing vacuum cleaner, a slug mating ritual as interpreted by an accordionist, and a handful of very talented comedians and singer-songwriters. Lach ensures that the environment is extremely supportive and welcoming to artists trying out new content, and forbids heckling of any kind. The result is a truly dynamic sample of the best, the strangest, and the funniest stuff that Fringe has to offer. This is a lovely amuse-bouche of an evening and a great way to be exposed to performers one might otherwise not have encountered.   Hannah Friedman

Leo    St George's West   ****
The solo performer Tobias Wegner enters a room with a blue floor and red wall. A TV camera mounted sideways projects his image on a large screen, so that the red surface looks like the floor and the blue the wall. So when the real Wegner lies on the floor with his feet on the wall, his image seems to be standing up and leaning. Starting from this clever shift in perception, and with the audience able to watch both the man and the screen, Wegner explores the potential for invention and comedy. At first surprised that things fall sideways, the man begins to enjoy defying gravity, sitting without support or dancing on the wall. He draws chairs and other furnishings that are right-side up onscreen, and then sits or climbs on them. The concept does run out of possibilities after a while, and Wegner is forced to abandon it for other, ultimately less satisfying – if only because less surprising – variants such as superimposing animated water on his video image as the standing man pretends to swim. Perhaps better seen in short excerpts, before the novelty wears off, this remains a unique and thoroughly delightful bit of theatrical magic. Gerald Berkowitz

Life Still    Pleasance       *
The programme calls this 'abstract science fiction set during the aftermath of an unknown catastrophic event'. In fact it is a weak exercise in found-object puppetry, with no evident content and only the most minimal evident skill. The two uncredited performers spend the first fifteen minutes assembling with painful slowness what ends up looking like a crude golf cart, only to immediately discard it. A sack on two sticks becomes a rudimentary puppet for a while, while a folding camp bed is fiddled with until they manage to make it into a folding camp bed. An amusing sequence involving two chickens made from understuffed pillows goes on long after the joke has died. A cloth bird is created and placed in front of a light to make the shadow puppet of what looks like a cloth bird, and the final overlong sequence builds a tabletop construct evidently meant to look like something (a boat? A skyline?) in shadow, which it might actually do if the light were pointed accurately at it. At their very best, some of these bits might make amusing 30 second interludes in a puppet show; overstretched and inadequately presented as they are, they communicate nothing of the intended meaning or mood. Gerald Berkowitz


The Lift    C ECA       ***
Three men get stuck in a lift for hours. Once they get past the original panic, they settle into a mix of small talk and self-exposure so that each is eventually moved and affected by the encounter. Actually, so inevitable is this plot that once I wrote that first sentence you could have written the second, and the only real originality open to the playwright is exactly what effects they will have on each other. In this case, after amusing but just time-filling chat about driving tests, football, superheroes and favourite foods, it emerges that each has issues regarding fatherhood. One never knew his father and is afraid of becoming one, another is alienated from his cold and overbearing father, and the third is a divorced man denied as much contact as he wants with his own sons. The piece was developed out of extensive improvisations, and there is no question that the actors know their characters thoroughly. But in shaping the text the credited playwright Kieran O'Rourke devoted far too much time to the rich background stuff so that the one-hour play is almost three-quarters of the way through before it even discovers its subject, and its climactic crisis – one man has to make a specific telephone call before it's too late – isn't even hinted at until the last five minutes. The theme is good, the three actors are good, but it just takes the playwright too long to find the play, and he runs the risk of losing your interest before he finally gets there. Gerald Berkowitz

Lights, Camera, Walkies!    Gilded Balloon       ****
An amiable little sitcom, Tom Glover's script has the feel of a pilot for potential TV series, something like The League of Gentlemen Meet The Extras. A cast of three play everyone involved in making an adventure movie, the budget kept low by using a dog as the hero. (Glover may or may not know that the biggest adventure film star of the 1920s was not Douglas Fairbanks or John Barrymore, but Rin-Tin-Tin.) Two dogs are hired and filmed alternately, their owners kept in suspense as to which will make the final cut. And so there is jealousy and competition and sabotage, the differing personalities of the rival owners adding to the fun. One is a martinet more devoted to his pooch than his wife, who he treats as the family's Beta dog, while the other is laid back and easy, though quick to spot the amorous potential of the neglected wife. Meanwhile the same trio of performers – Richard David Caine, Zoe Gardner and the playwright – double and triple roles as, among others, the harried producer, the harried assistant director and a string of hired-and-fired harried directors. The whole is satisfyingly silly, if a bit thinly stretched, though paradoxically there would appear to be enough raw material in the basic situation for several more equally enjoyable episodes. Gerald Berkowitz

Locherbie    St. John's Church     ****     (Reviewed at a previous Festival)
The Pan Am flight that exploded over Locherbie Scotland in December 1988 because of a terrorist bomb in the luggage continues to haunt the world more than two decades later, in no small part because of the determined efforts of Dr. Jim Swire, whose daughter was on the plane, and who has fought governmental foot-dragging and stonewalling, first to bring the Libyan suspects to trial and then, convinced the trial was flawed, to force reexamination of evidence that the real guilt lay elsewhere. David Benson, best known in Edinburgh for more lightly comic solo shows, presents a much more serious face as Swire, showing us in turn the grieving father and the angry campaigner, and in the process presenting Swire's convincing arguments for continuing the search for truth. Speaking purely dramatically, there is an inherent problem built into Benson's script, in that we see the two faces of Swire sequentially, and one or the other is likely to be of more interest and emotional involvement to each viewer. Those - and there will be many in a Scottish audience - for whom Locherbie remains an open sore will be drawn into Swire's exposure of what he sees as a determined effort not to find the truth. Others will find the earlier moments, depicting the father's hearing the news reports, struggling to learn whether it was his daughter's flight that went down and fighting bureaucracy to be allowed to view the body, the most deeply moving, especially when Benson beautifully captures the moments when Swire almost loses it and has to pause to regain his composure. I'm in the latter group, and while I can recommend this show with little reservation, I can't help regretting that the more Benson's Swire becomes an angry lecturer, the less he remains - and the less opportunity Benson has to create - a rounded and sympathetic character.  Gerald Berkowitz

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Reviews - Edinburgh Festival - 2011