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 The Theatreguide.London Reviews


The several simultaneous events that make up 'The Edinburgh Festival' - the International Festival, the Fringe, the Comedy Festival, etc. - bring 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.

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

Scroll down this page for our review of  Macbeth, Mah Hunt, Man of Valour, Man Who Planted Trees, Midnight Your Time, Mirazozo, Mission Creep, The Mole Who Knew It Was None Of His Business, Monster in The Hall, Museum of Horror, A Night Out With Tommy Cooper, Now Is The Winter, 

Odd Man Out, Oedipus,  Oh F**k Moment, One Fine Day, One Night Stan, Ovid's Metamorphosis, Penny Dreadfuls, Phillipa And Will Are Now In A Relationship, Pip Utton is Charles Dickens, Pip Utton is The Hunchback, Presentment, Princess Bari,  Private Peaceful,  Questionaire, Rape of Lucrece, Realm of Love, Release, Revolting Rhymes, Riot, Roar, 

Scary Gorgeous, Seagull Effect, Selfish Gene, Sentimental Journey, Shakespeare For Breakfast, Shopping and F**king, Shylock, Slavery To Star Trek, Slender Threads, A Slow Air, Some Small Love Story, Somewhere Beneath It All, Station, Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart, Street Dreams, Swamp Juice,

Table, Teechers, Ten Plagues, Theseus Is Dead, Three Balls And A New Suit, Time For The Good Looking Boy, To Avoid Precipice Cling To Rock, Tonight Sandy Grierson Will Lecture, Trials of Galileo, Tuesday at Tescos,  2011: A Space Oddity, 2401 Objects,

What Remains, Wheel, White Rabbit Red Rabbit, Wondrous Flitting, Woof, World Holds Everyone Apart, Wright Brothers, Yianni, You For Coffee, Young Pretender, Yours Isabel, Zambezi Express, Zanniskinheads

Go to first A-L Page 

Macbeth   New Town Theatre    ***  
Every Fringe in recorded memory has had at least three productions of the Scottish play, and except for some minor cutting – the largest loss is Malcolm's self-slander in the England scene – and the slight rearranging needed to fit it to a cast of seven, this version from Icarus Theatre is a simple, direct and almost textbook interpretation. The youth and limited experience of much of the cast is a little too evident in a general tendency toward either empty recitation or forced Grand Acting, Joel Gorf's Macbeth alone in being able to find a natural balance. Though prone to William Shatner-style pauses and odd phrasing, Gorf does make both soliloquies and dialogue sound like spontaneous thoughts, and thus brings us into the character and along on his dark emotional journey. Sophie Brooke's Lady Macbeth, somewhat too shrill and near-hysterical from the start, effectively conveys the sexual energy and power of the character, and Matthew Bloxham is quietly effective as both Banquo and the Porter. The extensive doubling, frequently requiring onstage costume changes, has the haunting atmospheric effect of making the witches seem constantly present, and if a long run allows the actors to relax into more natural playing, this should prove a thoroughly accessible if never particularly original production. Gerald Berkowitz

Mah Hunt   Zoo Southside    *
According to the press release, which was given to me afterwards, this dance piece choreographed and danced by Lenka Vagnerova and Pavel Masek depicts 'what would happen if animals ceased to exist.' That seems odd, since one of the few patterns I was able to see in the episodic dance is a string of animal impersonations, to the extent of Masek at one point walking on arm and leg stilts in a clear allusion to the giraffes in Julie Traynor's Lion King. Another sequence has Masek reeling Vagnerova in and netting her like a fish, and there are passages that might be crocodiles, apes and elephants. Again, the press release hints that this is meant to suggest an attempt by post-apocalyptic humans to recreate the memory of animals, but without that gloss in advance you couldn't guess it. What you do see is mainly is a string of antagonistic and even violent encounters between the two, including one in which they vie for dominance while keeping their hands in each other's mouth. But it is all generally danced with such ponderousness that any hints of passion are as drained out of the hour as any hints of coherent meaning. Gerald Berkowitz

Man of Valour
Man of Valour is about 'an office drone [whose] imagined heroic adventures offer violent release from...ordinary life until the border between fantasy and reality begins to blur.' I know that because I read it afterwards on the flyer. I wouldn't have known it, except in the broadest outline, from the performance itself. A part-mime, part-spoken solo piece created by writer Michael West, director Annie Ryan and performer Paul Reid, it does indeed show an office worker having non-realistic experiences, but my guess as I watched it was that bad memories of his father led him to guilt at not properly disposing of his ashes, which somehow led to falling down a toilet and later making a midnight trip to a graveyard, where he somehow turned into a bat, and later (or was it earlier? It happens twice) jumped off a bridge. It is possible that I've got it right, but I couldn't bet on it, and it is likely that you simply won't know what the hell is going on for much of the hour, despite the occasional spoken lines and intermittent film projections designed to help anchor things in time or place, if not in plot. The fact is that Reid simply isn't very good at mime, at his best rising to the walking or being-jostled-by-crowds level of street mimes. He doesn't distinguish effectively between the various characters, settings or realities, or even make clear what he's miming a lot of the time. (Solo performer Joe Bone is currently doing generically similar work in his show Bane, but he is technically much batter, as well as more inventive.) There is a lot of misguided creative energy apparent in this show – misguided because coherence and communication were not made a high enough priority. Gerald Berkowitz

The Man Who Planted Trees   Scottish Storytelling Centre   ****
This lovely, thoughtful play follows an unassuming French shepherd with big dreams and his rascal of a dog, along with the puppeteers who deftly bring them to life. Thoroughly ambitious for a children’s production, the Puppet State company does not talk down to its audience and rather serves up profound topics like purpose and happiness, money, death, and the balance of nature in a way that all ages can absorb at their own level. By dutifully planting trees day in and day out, the shepherd transforms a barren landscape into a lush community that gives shelter and food to thousands of people who never even know of his good deed. A charmingly sparse but imaginative set presents mountains, wells, forests, and sheep herds. Clever interactive elements that left the kids in the audience shrieking with joy included nature scents wafted straight into the crowd and mountain mists spritzed above our heads. The dog puppet mischievously “improvised” much of his role in the play, and never failed to receive riotous laughter from children and adults alike in this tale of a quiet yet meaningful life’s work. An enchanting afternoon with an inspiring message. Hannah Friedman

Midnight Your Time   Assembly   ****
It had to come. We have long been used to epistolary novels and plays such as Liaisons Dangereuses. Now we get the 21st Century equivalent, the Skype play. Adam Brace has imagined himself into the mind of one of those typical trendy Islington lefties, though not a right-on male 30-year-old but Judy, a woman around twice that age. In a series of Skype messages - her intended recipient in almost every case is daughter Helen, who has joined an NGO in the Palestinian part of Isreal, but she never gets through - we discover a vast amount about Judy's life and family. A mother's concern is natural in the circumstances but in this case hides something else. Judy has time to worry, having lost her job as a lawyer and briefly played around with a quasi-political charity. What makes the monologue worthwhile is the pain and joy that Diana Quick conveys so expertly as Judy faces the minor problems of affluent life in North London and, more signigicantly, the relationship she has with Helen.  Adam Bruce and director Michael Longhurst have created a cleverly structured piece that can be enjoyed twice over, as Ms Quick is seen both in person and projected from a webcam onto a large screen. Philip Fisher

The Mirazozo "luminarium" is an immersive, interactive, breathtaking experience created by Alan Parkinson. Tread barefoot through an other-worldly maze of holy domes illuminated by precise and intricate colored seams in the inflatable structure's massive fabric. The theatricality of the space is meant to evoke a wonder for nature, color, and light. Divorced from the temporal and literary nature of most other performance experiences, Mirazozo visitors may create their own path, and the singular awe inspired by the show is as luminous as its encasing. A sublime feast for the senses.  Hannah Friedman

Mission Creep   Traverse   *****
The incredibly ambitious TEAM company from America repeatedly set themselves the challenge of addressing huge topics through theatre of epic resonance, all with a handful of actors and a light and airy tone that could be mistaken for triviality. And what's more, they come remarkably close to pulling it off. Mission Creep attempts nothing less than a spiritual history of America, using as its symbolic locus that capital of capitalism and vulgarity, Las Vegas. The play centres on two overlapping plot lines, one of a Dutch couple who emigrate to New Amsterdam in the Seventeenth Century and then live without ageing for the next four hundred years, repeatedly moving west with the frontier and repeatedly reinventing themselves to fit and make the most of the spirit of the time and place at hand. Not for them the toil of farmer or prospector – they open the stores, saloons and brothels to serve the hard workers – and so it is logical to the point of inevitability that they end up in Las Vegas, a city so American that they tear down hotels almost as soon as they build them to make room for bigger hotels, and where nostalgia can only remember back a decade or less. The other plot follows a contemporary Las Vegas waitress, newly unemployed, torn between her love for the city and all it represents and the sense that it and all it represents is past its peak, and it's time to head out toward some new frontier. This is a big story, and the telling is not always coherent and occasionally overwrought. But then again, so is the history of America, and this wild, frequently comic romp does take on the power and energy of myth and actually captures more of the American story than any three textbooks. It's also a heck of a lot more fun. Gerald Berkowitz

The Mole Who Knew It Was None Of His Business   C Venue   ****
For those who don't already know Werner Holzwarth and Wolf Erlbruch’s bestselling storybook, this is the tale of a shortsighted mole who sets out to find out exactly who did do a big poo on his head. His search leads him to meet a colourful range of animals who all artfully deny they supplied it. Subtly mixing in education and ecology along with the song and dance, Kipper Tie’s fun-filled version is a show for all ages. Smelly or fragrant and with inventive use of songs and props, each animal encountered sets out to prove their poo is quite different from the example perched atop the mole. And they are an international lot – there’s an American horse cowboy who does a slow hoedown with three-part harmonies, a Spanish flamenco bird who dances with castanets, and even an Australian hippy goat. Sally Lofthouse is endearing as the myopic mole in search of explanations, while the versatile Stephanie Willson and Bernie Byrnes share out the various animals who proudly present their plops, including a cow who high-fives all the way round the aisles, and there’s even an ‘it’s behind you!’ moment. The singsong script is adapted by Byrnes, who also directs, to ensure that the audience is involved in the story at every moment. With its seriously catchy tunes, courtesy of Jim Fowler, this is a simple yet well crafted production that will play any venue with success. Nick Awde

The Monster in the Hall   Traverse   *****
A thoroughly delightful and constantly surprising quasi-musical, David Greig's play for the Glasgow Citizens' youth company cushions a potentially dark tale in the triple bubble wrap of comedy, fairy tale and bouncy 1950s pop music. The monster is a motorcycle in teenage Duck's home, the one her mother died racing and her father has been promising for years to fix. But dad has MS, and is more inclined to stay up nights playing fantasy games online, while Duck transforms her daily adventures into the never-ending fairy princess novel she's writing. But what happens if dad has a relapse, one of his online co-players comes to visit unexpectedly, the boy Duck has a crush on asks for her help in proving he's not gay ('I just like designing costumes'), and a social worker is due to call and inspect the appropriateness of her home life, all on the same day? Naturally enough, Duck will try desperately to cope while her imagination constantly flits from reality to her novel, pausing along the way for visits from the Evil Fairy of Catastrophe, nightmare episodes of Mastermind, scenes played by fantasy game avatars or as the kind of video game that just brings on a harder level if you manage to get something right, and the musical stylisations of a relentlessly cheery 1950s girl group. A multitalented cast of four play everyone, sometimes more than one character at a time, and draw us into a play infused with so much love for everyone in it that we can enjoy every minute while waiting confidently for the playwright to find his way to a happy ending. Gerald Berkowitz

Museum of Horror   Spaces on The Mile   ****
Low on budget it may be, but this shock horror romp is high in entertainment. Lovingly spoofing reality shows, it also sets out to get as many thrills and spills as you’d find in a real show including a constant appeal to the audience’s salacious, erm, schadenfreude. At the museum of horrors, a TV special is taking place – a contest to see who can spend the entire night in its spooky setting without pressing the panic button. Presented by slimy but creepy Count Vroukola, our clueless contestants line up for the ordeal: the wannabe alpha male, the golden-hearted slapper, the loyal dumbo and the cute brainy one. Bumps in the nights and gory surprises test their mettle – and as the tension rises, the intelligence quotient dips with comic results. Jonathan Hartman, Ed Hulme, Sophie Berenice, Nick Hampshire and Kate Young work their hearts out and go straight to the humour of these surprisingly real characters. Admittedly, script and action-wise things start out a little unfocused but once the action kicks in, courtesy of writer Hugh Janes and director Robert Young, it enters another gear and you realise that this is a well thought-out play – as indeed we discover at the end. With an injection of cash and added TLC, placed on a larger stage and expanded to a full two-acter, this could do shocking business – and make the most of a cast who are clearly chomping at the bit to show what they can do. Nick Awde

A Night Out With Tommy Cooper   Assembly Hall   ***
It's what I think of as the Dead Comic Chronicles – the fact that every Edinburgh Festival has at least one show devoted to a beloved entertainer from the past (This year there's also one about Stan Laurel). The usual pattern is some sort of autobiographical monologue punctuated by signature gags or bits of business, but here writer John Fisher offers a simple recreation of a typical Tommy Cooper show. After a brief dressing room prelude in which Clive Mantle as Cooper drinks himself into the necessary level of tipsiness to go on while tormenting his dresser with too-often-heard old jokes, we're onstage for Cooper the magician who either fouls up every trick or immediately gives it away, all the while mumbling familiar one-liners. Directed by Patrick Ryecart, Mantle does a very good Cooper impersonation, and if you don't mind the fact that you're seeing an imitation or that you could buy DVDs of the real Cooper for less than the price of a ticket, you will have a good time. There have been other plays about Cooper in the past, that have told us more about his life or explored why he was a compulsive gagster or why he had to be drunk before he could go onstage, and I personally would rather see a play about Elvis than an Elvis impersonator. Gerald Berkowitz

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

Odd Man Out   Zoo Roxy   **
In a barely-15-minute monologue writer/producer/director/performer Peter Tate depicts a man who has lived alone so long that his own presence disgusts him. With no companion but a cat who resists his importuning for friendship or even acknowledgement, he can do nothing but look inward without pity or outward without joy. The moon briefly distracts him with its beauty, only to enrage him with its silence, and the thought of the one otherwise unidentified person who once inexplicably offered him friendship only torments him with the accompanying memory of how his neediness drove the other away. As the character's creator, Tate clearly knows more about him than the script lets us in on, and it might have been nice to have some hint of time and place, and of what experiences or internal qualities brought the man to this isolation. It would also have given Tate the actor more material with which to create a character he is just beginning to sketch in when the monologue is over. As it stands, this is an unsatisfying taster that offers neither playwright nor performer the opportunity to make much of an impression.Gerald Berkowitz

Oedipus   Pleasance   *****
I have to begin by acknowledging a Marmite quality to playwright/director/actor Steven Berkoff – you either love him or just don't get him – and I have been a fan for years. His version of Oedipus is actually a good introduction for those new to Berkoff, since it displays his signature style in full, but not as overpoweringly as some of his other work (and the overpowering quality is, of course, what his admirers love). Berkoff's mode is a unique blend of psychological realism and theatrical stylisation that turns out to be ideally suited to high tragedy. His translation from Sophocles is contemporary, colloquial and frequently obscene, but wholly true to the original, and the combination of earthy heightened realism for his leads and choreographed artificiality for the Chorus feels absolutely right. In this modern dress version Simon Merrells gives Oedipus the calm self-assurance of the successful man, with evidence of rougher roots and a hard climb to the top in his short and violent temper. Berkoff's Creon has the air of a crony from Oedipus's darker past, a crude ex-boxer perhaps, with a natural swagger and the inability to coat his thoughts in politeness. And as the ultimate trophy wife, Anita Dobson's Jocasta floats around half-stoned like an ageing flower child – or someone determined not to deal with reality. Meanwhile the Chorus, sitting along a long table that, when Oedipus is in the middle, inevitably hints at The Last Supper, is choreographed in full Berkoff mode to the tiniest gesture, looking now like old Jewish men kvetching, now like an intertwined mass of writhing serpents. Don't come to Berkoff expecting understatement; come for the uninhibited but highly disciplined joy of open theatricality, here in the service of a play that fully responds to the approach. Gerald Berkowitz

The Oh F**k Moment   St George's West      *
Part encounter group, part motivational lecture and to only the slightest degree theatre, this two-character hour preaches the gospel that mistakes and screw-ups are part of the human condition, and not something to beat yourself up over, even if you're the captain of the Titanic or error-making pilot of an airliner that makes an abrupt and unscheduled contact with the ground. Just say Oh Phooey, shrug it off as just one of those things, and move on, if you happen to still be alive. Actually Chris Thorpe and Hannah Jane Walker focus more on mundane faux pas like the mis-sent email or the wrong name cried out in passion. Performers and audience sit around a conference table where the two group leaders tell stories of trivial and not-so-trivial cock-ups and then call for us to contribute some of our own, encouraging laughter at their triviality and assuring us at length that we shouldn't feel all that bad about them before closing with a pair of inspirational poems by Walker. Despite the pretence of casual conversation, the scripted 90% of the show is recited by rote, giving the effect of the bored delivery of a too-many-times-delivered canned lecture.  Gerald Berkowitz

One Fine Day   Zoo Roxy      ***
Dennis Lumborg's monologue play tells the sweet and harrowing story of an ordinary bloke caught up in a nightmare he barely understands. Jake Addley as the lad introduces himself with accounts of a typical happy childhood and typically sex-obsessed adolescence, pausing to note with rueful amusement his up-tight mother's inability to talk about anything sexual. That led his adult self and his wife to determine to be more natural and open with their children, but when his young daughter was overheard innocently explaining the facts of life to her classmates, school authorities became convinced that only untoward personal experience could have produced such precocious knowledge. What follows is in turn frightening, blackly comic, dramatic, lightly comic and back again. I won't give away the ending except to say that it has more than a bit of deus ex machina about it. The piece feels stretched a bit thin, and cutting by as much as a quarter would probably help, because the power of the play doesn't lie in the accumulation of episodes and details, but in how deeply we are brought into the speaker's emotional journey, feeling his confusion and understanding his not always wise actions. By investing the character with a basic cheeriness and essential ordinariness, Jake Addley holds our sympathy and empathy throughout the sometimes meandering narrative. Gerald Berkowitz

One Night Stan   Assembly      ****
As reliable as the multiple productions of Macbeth, every Edinburgh season features at least one solo show dedicated to a beloved comedian of the past, in what I've come to think of as the ongoing Dead Comics Chronicles. Miles Gallant's self-written portrait of Stan Laurel follows the usual formula for these shows without deviation, as we find Laurel in a late-career moment – here, the 1954 night that Oliver Hardy's illness ended a tour of British variety theatres – that justifies some reminiscences for us to overhear. Gallant doesn't especially resemble Laurel physically, but he catches the voice and the modest persona, and so we are happy to pretend we are hearing the man himself as we are taken through his life and career. There may well be things you don't know about Stan Laurel in the story – that he came from a theatrical family, that one of his early stage jobs was as Charlie Chaplin's understudy and that he spent a decade in American vaudeville doing essentially a second-string version of Chaplin before making it in the movies. Gallant is insightful in having Laurel explain why it is the fictional character more than the comic business that makes the star, which is why he only became a success when he and Oliver Hardy were thrown together and found their double act. Many may know that Laurel was the creator of most of their comic business, but he is quick to credit Hardy with being an instinctive performer who could run with whatever he gave him and take it to unanticipated comic heights. (A generation later, Jerry Lewis would pay Dean Martin the same heartfelt compliment.) The interesting information, the believable characterisation and Gallant's warm and personable performance make this modest hour quietly enjoyable. Gerald Berkowitz

Ovid's Metamorphosis   Pleasance Dome      ****
Pants On Fire return with a critical and popular hit from 2010, the narration and basic staging of several of Ovid's fables of people and gods being transformed into other things – the gimmick being that it is all done in the costumes of, and filtered through the sensibilities of the 1940s. That complication, which at first may seem odd and irrelevant, is actually the key to the show's success, because it is the juxtaposition of images, sometimes comically incongruous and sometimes quite evocative, that brings the tales alive. Juno is a posh lady turned bitchy by her husband's inability to pass up any passing beauty, Daedalus and Icarus are airmen caught behind enemy lines and forced to improvise a flying machine, Narcissus is a movie star in love with his own image, and so on. You may have trouble keeping Jupiter's various amorous conquests, and what he turned himself into to get at them, apart, but each episode is brought to life this way, none more sweetly than that of poor Io, turned into a cow to hide her from Juno, who is eventually returned to human form but can't help the occasional moo. The whole is accompanied by, and occasionally told through, period music in styles ranging from swing to blues, and you may end up happy that Ovid is a device for exploring and enjoying the evocation of the 1940s rather than the other way around. Gerald Berkowitz

The Penny Dreadfuls' Etherdome   Assembly      ****
This immensely inventive comic company takes on a small piece of medical history, deconstructs it, pastes it together again and actually succeeds in educating us a bit while making us laugh at the jokes and delight in the theatrical inventiveness. Their subject is the race for the first practical surgical anaesthesia, with principled theorist Charles T. Jackson, naïve experimenter Horace Wells and opportunistic William T. G. Morton each laying claim to being the first to discover and use ether, and the story is in fact more-or-less true. In a mix of text, music and clowning devised by the company and written by Bernadette Russell, the competition is presented partly as knockabout farce, partly as nineteenth-century melodrama, and partly as a celebration of good old American chicanery. Scenes are played as the pitches of snake oil salesmen, an audience member is recruited to test the latest experimental formula under surgery, songs manage to rhyme Holy Moses with diagnosis and easier with anaesthesia, and the only serious criticism to make of the whole fandango is that there is the occasional quiet moment allowing us to catch our breath between laughs. Performers Dennis Herdman (Morton), Denise Kennedy (Wells) and Philippe Spall (Jackson) and director Mick Barnfather earn equal praise for creating and sustaining the Penny Dreadfuls brand of silliness. Gerald Berkowitz

Phillipa And Will Are Now In A Relationship 
Phillipa and Will portrays the turbulent but unfortunately predictable arc of a young couple’s romance, all through the medium of a Facebook chat. The actors perch across the stage from one another behind two computers and do not leave their posts, instead delivering live performances of textual (and sexual) communication in the new millennium. At first, hearing “lol” and “kiss kiss kiss” performed live is a novel take on teen flirting in the digital age, but after a while you long for the characters to become more than caricatures. There are plenty of witty lines and the writer has a good understanding on the underpinnings of fleeting teenage infatuation, but for this production to justify its nonexistent stage directions the characters should communicate the emotions behind the text instead of merely shouting the text. An admirable attempt to capture young love in the age of technology, but perhaps not enough meat here to do anything other than reinforce the vapid transience of new social media communications.  Hannah Friedman

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

Pip Utton Is The Hunchback of Notre Dame   New Town Theatre **** (reviewed at a previous festival)
Victor Hugo’s Hunchback of Notre Dame is one of the most enduring images passed down to us, even inspiring the similarly iconic story of King Kong. That romanticism however has also resulted in a myth that reduces Quasimodo to a cartoon image of pitiful brute muttering the bells the bells and the ugly reject who somehow, Christ like, finds redemption in love for others. Pip Utton’s deeply thoughtful play redresses that by probing the hunchback’s humanity and asks what is the real sympathy he should evoke, resulting in a moving reflection of what beauty means for us all. Quasimodo is keeping vigil over the lifeless body of his Gypsy love Esmeralda (Caitlin Hannah McGuinness). With a quiet focused voice and humanly crumpled features, this hunchback is no movie caricature and becomes less so as we learn more of his life, rejected at birth as an abomination, raised lovingly by the cathedral’s archdeacon but rejected by all others. He struggles to understand how the Catholic God can love him.  He now surveys the world from his lofty peak in the Notre Dame towers with only the bells and gargoyles for company. His description of the bells as family members is comic yet heart-rending, while his often poetic descriptions of life in the cathedral and the city help to place him within our own lives. We realise, for example, that his encounter with the gypsy woman is no coincidence but part of the ebb and flow of city life, that Paris’s beauty itself is skin-deep for, when night falls, evil emerges from the daily hustle and bustle.  As with every Utton production, there comes a point when you are faced with a deeper, often unexpected question. Here Quasimodo asks why something as fleeting and subjective as beauty can block love and condone hatred, the most profound emotions we know. As psychological as it is emotional, this play achieves beauty in its simplicity and plea for unconditional acceptance of every human being on this earth.  Nick Awde 

The Presentment  Augustine's       ***
An earnest and serious play on a serious subject, D. Paul Thomas's drama  is formulaic and predictable in the manner of made-for-TV issue movies. But it says what it wants to say with clarity and fervour, and this solid production from Los Angeles does it justice. The rise of religious fundamentalism in America and the widening division between right and left is encapsulated in a church's prosecution of a preacher who supports homosexual marriages. But the prosecuting cleric has a liberal son whose best friend is gay, and the dinner table debates within the family make the theoretical issues real and pertinent. Formula requires a surprise revelation that makes everything even more personal, and while Thomas's choice isn't the most obvious, it is introduced too abruptly and awkwardly to work as well as he'd wish. Given characters who are almost inevitably close to stereotypes, Nathan Wetherington as the son, the playwright himself as the father and Mary Chalon as the wife and mother caught between them provide strong performances. With no director credited, the controlling vision must be the writer-star's, and its sincerity carries the play over its sometimes by-the-numbers structure. Gerald Berkowitz

Princess Bari  Edinburgh Playhouse       ****
A Korean tale with roots in several religious, folk and theatrical traditions is told through dance by American-trained Korean choreographer Eun-Me Ahn. The result is a deliberate melange of styles that is inventive, colourful, witty, surprising and uninterruptedly entertaining. The story is of a princess sacrificed by her parents to appease the gods, who lives and grows up to save her dying father through a perilous journey into the spirit world. After a prelude danced by Eun-Me Ahn herself, so light on her feet that she seems to levitate with every step, the tale unfurls in cheery day-glow colours enhanced by black light. With frequent cross-gender casting, traditional Korean movements flow imperceptibly into visual allusions to Western choreographers such as Pina Bausch, and recurring tropes include scuttling along in a sitting position and a rhythmic walking in place that at various moments hints at Michael Jackson and ragtime struttin', all set to music, including onstage singers who double as characters, that is clearly Eastern but wholly accessible to Western ears. Key figures in the story are individually characterised by their dance styles, and the production is dotted with visual jokes, such as the contrast between the Emperor's traditional robes and his children's trendy Western wear or the equivalent of Charon's boat being a motorcycle. Indeed, a general gaiety pervades the choreography, turning a potentially sombre story into a merry romp and celebration of theatricality. Gerald Berkowitz

Private Peaceful  Underbelly's Pasture        ****
Fighting sleep as the precious minutes tick away on his watch, which has its own tale, Private Tommo Peaceful has a story that he must tell us. How he grew up as a farmboy in the rural west country, how he played with his elder brother Charlie, how he fell for local girl Molly, lost Molly to his brother, volunteered to fight the Bosch in Flanders with Charlie, pretending to be his twin while clearly under-age. We share in the camaraderie at boot camp although loyalty to one’s comrades already proves to have its dangers. At the front, though no ingenue, Tommo feels wonder at new experiences such as watching a dogfight – just as when in England he saw his first airplane – before the lice, rats, gas attacks and death take over in the insanity of the Ypres Salient. And out there in no-man’s land he now suspects his fate awaits. The genius in this adaptation by director Simon Reade from Michael Malpurgo’s bestselling book lies in the gentle contrast of Tommo’s life before and after going to the trenches. In many respects Tommo does not change despite the horror, and he still keeps hope – not as a heroic figure of tragedy but as someone as ordinary as you and I. Much more than the history of the Peaceful brothers, this is a celebration of the community, where there is more bravery in looking out for one’s fellow than attacking another. Stepping into a longstanding production can be daunting but Leon Williams smoothly makes the role his own while respecting Reade’s creative structure. He offers a more uncertain Peaceful, no less confident in himself but more sensitive to the vagaries of the world out there. Lines such as “I can shoot a rabbit but why should I want to shoot a German?” and “I want to believe there’s a heaven” take on added resonance, as does the scene where an old woman in the jingoistic crowd dares him to enlist. So affable is Williams that when he finally puts on his uniform it comes as a shock. Accompanied by subtle lighting that underpins the changing moods, he works the stage expertly and makes contact with each of the audience. With his easy rural tones he brings the characters and events in Tommo’s narrative to life and makes us share completely in his incomprehension at the unexpected event that will transpire at dawn. One should note that playing an inflated upside-down bovine in the centre of a bustling beer garden is not the kindest of gigs, and it is to Williams’ credit that he soldiers through without distraction. Nick Awde

The Questionaire    Spaces on the Mile        ***
With overtones of Pinter and particularly Orwell, this new play by Christopher Birks and Robert Neumark-Jones puts a man through an interrogation designed to break him down before he can be rebuilt in the form his tormentors wish. Birks plays a man who on whim answered some questions posed to him on the street and was invited in for further psychological testing and counselling. He finds himself challenged by Neumark-Jones' disembodied voice to explain why he isn't as happy as this organisation can make him. This leads, with Neumark-Jones' eventual appearance, to questioning the victim's concept of happiness, which, when it comes down to making the world the way he wants it, is attacked as egocentric and fascistic. The debate eventually gets too murky for the audience to follow, and if the philosophy is important to the playwrights, that section will need some rewriting. As it stands,the power of the play lies rather in the psychological battle itself and the way in which Neumark-Jones' character, with the never-wavering smile and confidence of the true believer or the madman, has an inevitable advantage over the man who is thinking his own way through his ideas. Gerald Berkowitz

The Rape of Lucrece    Zoo Southside        *****
Early in his career, William Shakespeare published a couple of book-length poems, exercises in narrative and poetic style. This one retells the story of a lustful Roman emperor who had his way with a general's virtuous wife, and what followed from that. In reciting it, Gerard Logan begins slowly and unpromisingly, his posh accent and plummy delivery threatening an hour of lovely but empty sounds. But once the story gets going and he can take us into both the dramatic moment and the minds of the characters, Logan's delivery comes fully alive and fully engrossing. We're with the rapist as he pauses before the bedroom door for one last consideration of what this will do to his sense of his own honour, and with the victim as her attacker lays out the horrifying picture of his 'or else'. Aided by his very fine scriptwriter, Logan catches all the subtleties in the situation and characterisation – the resentment of the victim that is part of the rapist's passion, the irony that the victim's fear of dishonour is greater than the criminal's, the high drama of the moment she reports the crime. Much credit must be shared with director Gareth Armstrong, master monologist himself, who has guided Logan to make a fully dramatic and theatrical event out of this material, and The Rape of Lucrece is likely to be one of the fastest, most engrossing hours you will spend at the Fringe. Gerald Berkowitz

The Realm Of Love, or Folding Laundry    Sweet Grassmarket        ****
Karyn Traut's intriguing piece of theatre is probably better characterized as a staged dialectic rather than a play. The two actors, a "He" and a "She," fold laundry and discuss different approaches to living in poetic prose that floats beyond the ear quite unlike any realist dialogue that a modern theatre-goer would be accustomed to. The characters are archetypal in that She describes living in the "Realm Of Love," a state of mind that infuses all activities and encounters which is accepting, open, and emotionally aware. He, meanwhile, is a typical cynic, closed off from his own emotions for fear of exposing old wounds, suspicious of the flowing, swaying, flower-child approach that She takes to even the mundane task of folding laundry. She eventually guides He through a tentative exploration of the Realm Of Love, and He poses very thought-provoking questions to She about the feasibility of being vulnerable and loving and "Zen" in a world that is sometimes very dangerous and hateful. She explains that one can indeed be angry in the Realm Of Love, one can be hurt and furious and saddened by the sorry state of the world, but that ultimately a person committed to living in the Realm Of Love will not have their passion for life and their potential for happiness quenched by hate. This piece was a challenge to adjust to as it did not conform to standard theatrical tropes, it even had a built-in twenty minute discussion period in which the audience was encouraged to talk to the actors and creator about the material, the rehearsal process, and their own personal reactions. This reviewer was shocked and initially horrified by the idea of having to personally engage in what is traditionally a viewing-only experience. But what is theatre for if not to challenge and surprise? This immensely rewarding, unique piece of theatre will leave one questioning the way theatre works, the way society operates, and the way life is meant to be lived. The actors give lovely, powerful performances of an intriguing text, and although almost nothing about this show meets the traditional expectations of "good" theatre, perhaps those expectations need to be reevaluated because the experience was enlivening, inspiring, and immensely thought-provoking. Hannah Friedman

Release   Pleasance Dome        ****
The stories of three young people newly released from prison and sincerely trying to reintegrate into society are presented through drama and dance in a production that tells us little that we don't already know, but brings us into the characters' emotional experience and evokes the desired empathy. Verity Hewlett plays a young woman with all the proper middle class values, who sends out more than fifty job applications only to have her criminal record blackball her everywhere. The lad played by Paul Tinto has no family support or outside connections other than his criminal pals and holds out as long as he can against the lure of his old life. And Shane Shambhu portrays a man who can't hide his boredom and frustration with a parole system that he knows is designed more to push papers around than to do him any good. The three performers also play supporting roles in each other's stories, most effectively and affectingly Shambhu as an aspirational Asian housemate who simply can't cross the culture gap to Tinto's loser. The dance sequences representing, in turn, excitement, frustration and despair nicely complement and give emotional resonance to the acted scenes. Gerald Berkowitz

Revolting Rhymes   Pleasance        ****
The young storytellers identified only as Matthew and Will bounce out onstage, high five every single child in the audience, and with the general just-this-side-of-shambolic informality of TV presenters, proceed to narrate and act out three of Roald Dahl's subversive fairy tales. The key to their success lies in their knowing full well that kids love funny voices, silly characterisations, guys playing girls, anything that requires the performers moving out into the audience, and anything that involves playfully teasing individual children or humiliating individual parents. The stories themselves, featuring Cinderella dumping the prince for a marmalade maker and a gun-toting Red Riding Hood needing no woodsman to dispatch the wolf, are clever but almost incidental to the general party atmosphere. An interpolated improvisation rises or falls on the quality of the children's suggestions but can always be saved by calling for volunteers, the children made to look heroic and the grown-ups silly, and by needing the whole audience to represent a storm by a lot of shouting and stamping. Parents will bring children here because of their – the adults' – love of the Dahl stories, and the kids won't really care what's being narrated as long as they're having what feels like anarchic fun.  Gerald Berkowitz

Riot   Zoo Roxy        ****
In February 2005 Ikea opened a new store in north London, advertising super first-day deals. They had done this sort of thing before, knew what to expect, and had enough staff on hand. But for some reason more than 6000 people showed up, jamming the roads, pushing at the doors and stampeding through the store in increasingly desperate panic, not intending to loot, but just to get their hands on the things they wanted to buy. The Wardrobe Ensemble, a young company fostered by the Bristol Old Vic, recreate the event in an inventive and evocative mix of drama, clever staging and tightly-disciplined choreography. On a set whose spotlights are provided by a collection of Ikea desk lamps, we watch the staff prepare, the customers gather, and all hell break loose when the doors open. The group-created work is able to pick out and characterise individuals, and to remind us that ordinary life can incongruously go on in the midst of high drama. But its strongest moments come as the cast members clamber over each other, fight for products and wrestle for supremacy in a string of athletic mime-and-dance sequences that fully capture the madness of the moment. Gerald Berkowitz

Roar   C Venue        ****
“Get angry – this city belongs to you!” So goes the rallying cry for the oppressed (and mainly inebriated) underclass of London Town. In a glorious mash-up that throws Elizabethan dignitaries, Jacobean revenge plays and Restoration high camp into the mix, this is a well executed romp with an unexpectedly poignant end. The date: late 17th century. The kingdom’s capital is a cultural wasteland. All pleasures of the flesh, all debaucheries of the bottle, music and more have been banned in the city, but queen of the underworld Moll Cutpurse leads a motley band of underworld courtesans, sots and wastrels in revolutionary fervour to topple the draconian puritanical judges led by the lord chief justice John Popham, unaware that for his Cutpurse nemesis it’s personal. As the city descends under Moll’s direction into chaos and intemperance, John attempts to leave with his bride Agnes for their honeymoon. But the dastardly Moll has other ideas for the newlyweds… Led by Fiona Hampton as Moll and Ed Hancock as Popham, the cast keep up the comedy, mayhem and gloriously improbable plot with enviable energy, and cajole the audience with glee. Bursting into doggerel and song, with costumes to die for and even a crimson four-poster bed sex scene (of sorts), the script by Oliver Bennett, Jack Cole and Jack Howson is witty and frenetic, honed by Michael Bryher’s direction. Things could be tighter and the characters more defined with relation to the period and its politics, but this I only mention for the simple reason that Roar should be developed further post-Edinburgh. Dumbshow exhibits an impressive pool of talent here and, given that development, I’d pay good money to see this at the National. Nick Awde

Scary Gorgeous   Bedlam        ***
Taken on its own, any single element of Scary Gorgeous could be developed into a full fledged production. Writer/creators Abbi Greenland and Helen Goalen are beautiful, lyrical dancers who evoke friendship, jealousy, longing and sexual desire in turn in expertly choreographed dance duets. These duets highlight the emotions portrayed in the relationship of their main characters, two young women who long for true acceptance and go to extreme lengths to fulfill their desires, namely through snapping illicit photos that they later regret. These characters are fully realized, and the spoken scenes between the girls flow powerfully. However, this flow is interrupted by ear-assaulting “band” scenes in which the girls perform full-fledged rock concerts with their on-stage band during their disastrous quest for fame and happiness. The music (although uncomfortably, inexcusably loud) is amusing, the dancing is powerful, the acting is convincing, and even when the girls assume two new character identities, the poetry of the prose is honest and gives voice to sexual exploration in a new generation. But after wandering schizophrenically between long music, dance and text scenes that inform but do not necessarily depend upon each other, after building up tension and interesting character motivations for a full ninety minutes, the evening ends abruptly and without any real resolution for the leads. It could be argued that this non-resolution is the very nature of a problem like loneliness, or sexual self esteem, which cannot be resolved in an evening. But if that’s the case, why not whittle this behemoth of a production down to its core parts, all of which, with proper editing, could work together and evolve into more than their sum instead of competing with one another for focus? Gorgeous dancing, compelling characterizations, lively music, not enough cohesion.    Hannah Friedman

The Seagull Effect  Zoo Roxy        ****
This whirlwind of a performance is centered around a freak hurricane that devastated Southern England in 1987. We watch repercussions both large and miniscule as personal news accounts, widespread panic, and a single romantic relationship are explored through a combination of physical, textual, and multimedia narration. The projected visuals in this production are often breathtaking, and the dancers use everyday props like umbrellas and bedsheets to communicate the interconnectedness of a seemingly chaotic world. The “butterfly effect” is a central theme for the show, and the audience is treated to a veritable tsunami of world disasters, romantic messes, near-misses, and plenty of food for thought regarding chain reactions and seemingly insignificant actions that have enormous consequences. However the chaos theory is perhaps a bit too engrained in the fabric of this plot, because although the dancers move beautifully, the multimedia is compelling, and the narrator’s worship of weather patterns is intriguing, none of these elements ever manage to gel into a cohesive experience. And although the dancers' movement is uniformly sublime, some of their acting needs a steady injection of the same subtlety. Still, there are enough luminous moments in this piece to expect similarly exciting, unique work  in the future from the Oxford artists-in-residence who comprise the Idle Motion theatre company. Hannah Friedman

The Selfish Gene: The Musical  Zoo Roxy        ***
This show features an ensemble of talented, committed performers who attempt to “musicalize” Richard Dawkins’s book on evolution, The Selfish Gene. A Dawkins-esque professor opens the show as if it were a university lecture about evolution, and the rest of the cast undertakes the challenging task of turning a lesson about natural selection and gene preservation into a play with compelling characters. They do not exactly succeed. A musical is at its best when songs further the story by evolving characters in a way that couldn’t be achieved as successfully through mere dialogue. Repeating the conclusion that “we are machines made by our genes” over and over again about 98 times does not serve as character development, no matter how many different stage positions you sing it from. Nor do most of the scientifically correct but emotionally void and always very repetitive ditties that pepper this show. For a viewer who is not familiar with evolutionary theory or Dawkins, this show is definitely more exciting than any dry university lecture on evolution, and I would encourage the company to take up what would surely be a hugely successful educational tour. But as far as straight musicals go, the characters of generic, protoplasmic mum, dad, daughter and son, who illustrate evolutionary prerogatives through songs, are just not well-drawn enough to hold interest for an hour.  Hannah Friedman

A Sentimental Journey  C Venue        *** (Reviewed in London)
This amiable little show traces the life of Doris Day, punctuating its narrative with more than two dozen songs associated with the singer-actress, from Sentimental Journey through Que Sera Sera. Adam Rolston's script has the story told by Ian McLarnon as Day's son Terry, with Sally Hughes playing and singing as Doris and a supporting cast as Everyone Else, backed by a four-piece band. This is not an Elvis impersonation or ABBA tribute show. Though Sally Hughes sings well, she makes little attempt to duplicate Day's style or phrasing, and only very rarely and briefly - in At Last and Secret Love - captures echoes of her sound. About a third of the songs are presented as performances, the rest being woven into or commenting on the action, frequently out of their actual historical order, as when Que Sera Sera is a lullaby by Day's mother, Pretty Baby marks her son's birth and Love Me Or Leave Me responds to the end of one of her four marriages. Although the production is modest, Alvin Rakoff's direction is polished and Joseph Pitcher's choreography attractive. Don't come to A Sentimental Journey expecting to be able to close your eyes and hear the sound of Doris Day. Come for the well-told and interesting story, the attractive performances, and a string of pop classics by such masters as Rodgers, Hart, Styne, Cahn, Fain and Berlin. Gerald Berkowitz

Shakespeare For Breakfast   C Venue   ****
More than two decades ago a student group found themselves with an empty morning slot, cobbled together a Shakespeare parody, and lured audiences in with free coffee and croissants. Now a Fringe institution, the show is new each year, the only constants being comedy, a healthy disrespect for Shakespeare, and free croissants. This year's edition sets Macbeth in a secondary school, with a team of Goth girls convincing posh but dim jock Macbeth that he should displace Duncan as Head Boy, and the plot taking off from there. No blood is shed – having the cool kids disown Banquo so he's dead to them is sufficient – and Mac's cheerleader girlfriend loses it when she loses her phone and goes Lady Gaga. The porter is the school caretaker telling knock-knock jokes, Ross is the guy from Friends, and if the silliness runs out of steam a bit toward the end, it's still as cheery a way to start a Fringe day as you could ask for. Gerald Berkowitz

Shopping and F**king   Gryphon at The Point   ****
Time moves inexorably on. When Mark Ravenhill’s In-Yer-Face classic was written, most of this about turn theatre company cast can only have been in junior school. Despite the passage of time, this play still has content that will disturb, though the underlying tenderness may be easier to see as the shock tactics have become so familiar. Ravenhill portrays life at the sharp end for a mismatched pair of flatmates and those with whom they come into contact. Robbie, played by Billy Knowles, is lazy and impressionable, as well as gay. He shares a flat with Abbey Mordue’s Lulu, a wannabe actress who will do anything for an opening into movies. Sadly for her, the opportunity is provided by sleazy Brian, given disgustingly convincing life by Warren Taylor. He is not only into pornographic and possibly snuff films but also drug dealing. The drugs appeal to Robbie but also his dissolute and hopeless lover, Ian Baksh as Mark. The circle is completed by a 14-year-old rent boy with a death wish after childhood abuse, Gary portrayed by Matthew Bunn. For 80 minutes, the group desperately but unavailingly tries to find love and money prior to an unexpectedly upbeat closure. Dan Hyde directs this company well in a welcome revival of a play that is well worth seeing, provided that you can stomach the sex and violence. Philip Fisher

Shylock  Assembly Hall        *****
Edinburgh is the home of the solo show and, all too often, the home of the tedious solo show. This play bucks that trend with great writing from Gareth Armstrong (and William Shakespeare) and a perfect performance from Guy Masterson as the put-upon Venetian Jew and his friend Tubal, whose calm perspective is valuable, as hatred takes over from business. Shylock works because it sets The Merchant of Venice and its central figure in perspective. The play looks at the Jewish experience in Europe over five or so centuries leading up to the play, culminating not only with Shylock but a brief burst of Barabbas from Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta. It also traces Shakespeare’s source to help viewers to understand where this creation came from.  However, the main reason for rushing to Assembly Hall is to see Guy Masterson, under the direction of the writer, who has himself performed the monologue around the globe, affectionately playing Shylock but also those around him. He is especially good as the calmly cruel Portia, who takes anti-Semitism to a new level, at least on one reading of the text and context. Philip Fisher

Slavery To Star Trek   C ECA   **
It really should be titled 'From Slavery to Star Trek' to avoid giving the impression it's about a sci fi fan's obsession, because it is the family history of Andreea Kindryd, a 73-year-old African American woman whose grandmother's grandmother was a slave, whose grandmother's father was a Texas landowner, whose grandmother's generation were all teachers, whose mother was hairdresser to the stars and who herself was a friend of both Martin Luther King and Malcolm X, while also working in Gene Roddenberry's office. There clearly is an epic story here, one with inescapable emotional resonances even though Kindryd, in her pleasantly meandering way, doesn't really do it justice. Incidental details only of interest to the family are given as much time and emphasis as her grandmother's fighting off the Klan, and one waits in vain for some real insights, personal glimpses or just information not common knowledge about King or Malcolm. To call Kindryd's delivery unpolished is an understatement, as she rambles, pauses, loses her way, doubles back, hints at anecdotes that she might tell more fully at other performances, and generally gives the impression of a nice grandmotherly lady whose grandchildren should listen attentively to all she has to tell them about their heritage, but who has not shaped her memories into a theatre piece for the rest of us.Gerald Berkowitz

Slender Threads   Zoo Roxy   ***
Chickenshed Theatre's remit is as much social as artistic, and this mixed-mode piece about breast cancer is designed to educate as well as to entertain. Dialogue scenes, dance, film projections and a soundtrack made up largely of the voices of cancer victims and doctors combine to capture what might be called the ancillary effects of the disease, its toll on the victim's spirit and on those around her. In the spoken scenes we follow a woman from the first discovery of a lump through the painful process of treatment, watching as her hunger for the support of her husband and family conflicts with her need to own her own experience. Punctuating and sometimes overlapping this story are dance sequences that capture the underlying emotions, sometimes openly, as when the walls literally close in on the frightened woman, sometimes in touching counterpoint, as when a dancing couple reach for each other while the speaking couple squabble. While each individual element in the production – script, choreography, projections and soundtrack – may be fairly basic, they do combine resonantly and are likely to lead to the rich post-performance discussions the show is clearly designed to inspire. Gerald Berkowitz

A Slow Air   Traverse   ****
There's not much that's especially original in the basic situation of David Harrower's new play, but it's a story told with skill and sensitivity, bringing fresh colours and a warm reality to a familiar premise. An adult brother and sister who have been estranged for years are brought together through the machinations of her son, and slowly and begrudgingly start the process of building bridges. Harrower takes his time with the story, which is told entirely in alternating monologues, devoting much of the play to what might seem irrelevant material – the man's fascination with the Glasgow Airport bombers, who lived in his village, the woman's discovery of the gap between her and the employer she thought a friend. But the playwright is rounding out the characters, making sure we know them as other than just estranged brother and sister, helping us to see how big or how small that one aspect of their experience is. We eventually will discover the cause of the estrangement, hearing the story from each perspective, and will by that point know the characters fully enough to understand exactly how it could have happened and what the chances or limits of reconciliation are. Harrower himself directs with a sure and delicate hand, and performers Lewis and Kathryn Howden (real-life brother and sister) make both characters real and sympathetic throughout. Gerald Berkowitz

Some Small Love Story   C ECA   *****
The stranglehold by eighties traditionalists over the musical world is showing encouraging signs of finally loosening – and this enchanting chamber piece is a perfect example of today’s new talent who refuse to toe the line. Four actors deliver two narratives of love and loss that neatly contrast – an old man’s grieving spurs his grandchildren in recalling his long, happy marriage with his wife. Meanwhile, a young couple detail life before and after the fatal accident that rends them asunder. We witness episodes of the intimate little details that only couples truly enamoured can ever share, as the greater themes of love are covered in the songs that punctuate it. Simple, static, but brilliant. Underneath there is a lot going on here – thanks to Joseph Hufton’s focused direction, the restricted movement implicit in Alexander Wright’s gentle script has the effect of channelling each character’s emotions, while the songs by Wright and composer Gavin Whitworth ambitiously play with time and format. The cast – Veronica Hare, Serena Manteghi, Michael Slater and Oliver Tilney – have winning, contrastive voices all round, although when pitched together in the quartet numbers they can be overstretched a tad range-wise, and one key sequence of overlapping dialogues is only half successfully realised. The songs they sing form a song cycle of sorts but avoid cloying nostalgia even when downbeat or contemplative. The strident Kiss Me avoids mawkishness, the poignant Dancing Down the Aisle is an unexpected two-hander from the two males, the sparsely harmonised How Do I Pick Up is exquisite in its brevity and all the more powerful for it. This celebration of love and the beauty of the memories that still live on is an unexpectedly mature work from the Flanagan Collective, and it is to this young cast’s credit that they pull it off with such conviction. Indeed, as the last note faded of I’ll See You Flying, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. Nick Awde

Somewhere Beneath It All A Small Fire Burns Still   Gilded Balloon  ****
The snappily entitled Somewhere Beneath It All, A Small Fire Burns Still runs through around several pretty distinct phases, all in under an hour. This Comedians Theatre Company production is anchored by an excellent performance from Phil Nichol, who delivers the monologue by Dave Florez with assurance, aggression and wit. The first section relates the tale of Kevin, a Scottish lad (though he lives in North London) who seems to have an unusual outlook. He eats at a café and distantly lusts after the Lithuanian waitress Diana with the fervour of a young teen. Love might well be in the air, though that is far from certain. As the performance develops, a mystery is revealed changing viewers’ perceptions of what has gone before. This allows Nichol to spend a little time deconstructing the tale and also the relationship between story and audience. That reaction seems almost obligatory, when so many Edinburgh shows are doing the same this year. This play is really quite special and despite its Comedians branding, will leave visitors contemplating some fascinating ethical issues long after they leave the Gilded Balloon. Philip Fisher

The Station     Zoo     **
Malcolm Hamilton's one-man show tracks a young man named Al and his discovery of a long-lost grandfather's obsessive quest to discover a hidden rainforest in Northumberland, England. Mr. Hamilton deftly portrays a bevy of gossiping villagers as they cluck their tongues over the strange, reclusive habits of Al's deceased grandfather, and eventually over the strange habits of Al himself as he gets sucked deeper and deeper into the quest that his grandfather failed to complete. The script suggests that mysterious happenings around England all point to a secret rainforest, that giant cats have been spotted around England beyond the bounds of zoos, and that those with the desire for truth will discover Northumberland's secret. However, the audience never gets the opportunity to figure out if Al has been sucked into a grand delusion, or if he's on the precipice of the thrilling and magical discovery that the play painstakingly establishes because this piece seems to end as soon as it should really begin. Mr. Hamilton should absolutely be applauded for his dynamic narration of what is essentially a very extended (and sometimes overly repetitive) packing list, but for an adventure story to earn its stripes there needs to be at least some adventure in the story, and The Station is missing this key element. However, if The Station: Part II returns to the Fringe with any fulfillment of the exotic mystery and excitement it only hinted at in its initial installation, this reviewer will definitely queue for a front row seat on the real adventure.   Hannah Friedman

The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart   Traverse at Ghillie Dhu   *****
This delightful romp catches the audience unaware at the start and continues to surprise and delight with its wit, high energy and theatrical inventiveness through its full length, becoming a celebration of the theatrical event as much as the telling of an original and entertaining story. What appears to be a warm-up folk band suddenly begins speaking in rhymed couplets, introducing the story of a conservative academic's encounter with the devil in a snowed-in Scottish B&B, as she finds herself living the kind of ballad adventure she had previously only studied. As the storytelling and action move out into the night club venue, the narrator-actors popping up behind, between and on top of the tables and bar, we can enjoy almost in passing a wicked satire of a jargon-ridden academic conference and a demonstration of the real folk culture of modern Scotland (Hint: a karaoke machine is involved). In Hell, Prudencia's instinctive impulse is to while away a millennium or two cataloguing the devil's extensive library, but in true ballad form she eventually finds a way to outwit her captor. The cleverness of David Greig's text and the constant inventiveness of Wils Wilson's staging are matched by the unflagging energy and infectious high spirits of the cast, holding the audience happily in the devil's thrall right through to a rousing and appropriately pop culture flavoured finish. Gerald Berkowitz

Street Dreams   Underbelly   ****
An old man living in an urban junkpile tries to go about his quiet day while birds attack his breakfast and banana skins come alive just to annoy him. Packing his minimal belongings, he sails off to a green and pleasant land, only to discover that peace and quiet are too boring. That the old man is a two-foot-high wooden doll being moved about by two puppeteers in black does not limit the charm of the fable at all, but rather enhances it, as the leap of imagination that makes him real also draws us into his experience. Like the very best puppetry, the creators and manipulators of Little Cauliflower Theatre make themselves both present and not present, the humans becoming irrelevant as the dolls and other animated objects become more real and take on personalities, none more so than the old man, whose unchanging face seems to take on different expressions as his body language indicates changes in mood. Of particular delight is the way he seems to react to the audience, glaring down supposedly inappropriate reactions and demanding others that are slow in coming. A delightful story beautifully told, this is the very model of what inventive and sensitive puppetry can be. Gerald Berkowitz

Swamp Juice   Underbelly   *****
Swamp Juice is a rollicking, rapturously imaginative puppetry tour-de-force. Creator and actor Jeff Achtem brings a menagerie of creatures to life with the deft flick of a thumb or poke of a toe, and the audience is treated to a fascinating behind-the-scenes vantage point as we watch the creator, his colorful creatures, and the mesmerizing shadow puppet art they create in concert simultaneously. The plot is straightforward: a meddling villain upsets the balance of nature and learns a lesson about respecting creatures that are different from us. The mischievous man, a perturbed snail, a dancing snake, a pugnacious bird and a toothy sea monster pepper a deliriously delightful romp through a swamp, and then the real magic begins. Playfully challenging every conceivable boundary of puppetry, Mr. Achtem transforms the audience itself into his personal puppeteering brigade as the plot’s main journey bursts beyond the confines of both the shadow world and the stage itself. And we haven’t even gotten to the 3-D glasses finale… Suffice it to say that Swamp Juice is the of the most wildly innovative creations at the Fringe. However, even stripped of all its bells and whistles, the simplest layer of this immensely technically complex show is still funny, charming, relatable characters portrayed with honesty and panache. A must-see for children and adults alike.  Hannah Friedman

The Table   Pleasance Dome   **
The puppetry and other visual theatre of this company is surprisingly rudimentary and unevocative, surpassed in both imagination and technique by several other generically similar Fringe groups. The bulk of the hour is devoted to a two-foot-high doll manipulated by three puppeteers, but the puppet never stands, walks or gestures in a natural way, and even worse, never takes on any personality or reality. It is voiced by one of the puppeteers, Mark Down, and what humour and identity it has comes entirely from the spoken words, so that you may end up looking at Down more than the lifeless figure during the overstretched forty-five minutes it is onstage. A second, shorter segment involves faces and forms moving about in and between three picture frames, to little effect and with some clumsiness, as when the supposedly invisible puppeteers' arms block what we are supposed to be looking at. A final segment creates a kind of living comic book, as a string of drawings are displayed in turn to tell a story; it is mildly entertaining but continued too long and stretched too thin. With no director credited, the company seems seriously in need of someone sitting out front and telling them how frequently their accomplishment does not match their ambition. Gerald Berkowitz

Teechers   Pleasance   ***
A cast of thirty-odd kids transform Pleasance Forth into a rowdy schoolyard, a giggly teen formal, and the staff room of disillusioned and beleaguered teachers at a rough-and-tumble school. The usual themes of inspiring disaffected youths and of lower economic classes being granted fewer educational opportunities are brought to life by impressive direction and exciting choreography for what is no doubt one of the largest casts at the Fringe. Some of the kids give absolutely top-notch performances as they share the parts of a naive new faculty hire, a big-talking bully, a dotty drama teacher, and a bespectacled headmaster with a bad sense of humor. But there is only so much that can be achieved in theatre with a lackluster script, and none of these characters evolve in an interesting or significant way. Even the optimistic new hire, who seems to be primed the entire show to give up a prime job position at a posh school in order to stick with the poor kids who really need him, doesn’t seem to learn anything or even struggle with his decision to ultimately turn tail and abandon the poor kids. Perhaps the message is that troubling situations stay the same because nobody has the guts to change them, but if so, perhaps more time for character reflection and less teenage eye-rolling would communicate the message more effectively. Hannah Friedman

Ten Plagues   Traverse   **
For some, the main attraction of this song cycle by Mark Ravenhill (words) and Conor Mitchell (music) will be the opportunity to see and hear singer Marc Almond, something of a cult favourite for three decades. For non-fans, there are limitations to the words and particularly the music that may make the hour heavier going than even the subject – the London plague year 1665 – might suggest. Ravenhill has written fifteen poems tracing the year through the experience of one Londoner, from the unanticipated arrival of the disease through the initial panic, the numbing horror of of the rising death toll, the special pain of losing a loved one, the waning of the epidemic and the realisation that the survivors can never be the same as they were before. Mitchell has set them to minimal melodies underscored by generally discordant piano chords, but in doing so repeatedly violates one of the first rules of songwriting by forcing mispronunciations or illogical mid-sentence pauses to shoehorn the words into the music rather than shaping the music (or requiring rewriting of the words) to allow natural phrasing. Only a couple of the songs – the farewell to the lover and one about discovering that he can't cry any more – have the emotional power the creators would want, though a comic song about cheering himself up with a new wig also scores in its way. The songs are intermittently supported by video projections by Finn Ross that unobtrusively imply a modern resonance simply by making the singer's loved one a man. Gerald Berkowitz

Theseus Is Dead   C Soco   ***
A version of Racine's tragedy edited to balance out the personal and political stories, this production from the young Effort company is nicely acted, but unable to make either of the plot strands as clear as they'd like. The false report of Theseus's death means that there are three claimants to the throne, his son Hippolytus, his current wife Phaedra on behalf of her son, and the princess Aricia. Their jockeying for power is complicated by Phaedra's forbidden love for her stepson and his love for Aricia, so that the tragedy that ensues is caused in part by politics, in part by passion. But reducing the cast to five, so that the same servant has to be confidante to Hippolytus and Aricia and Theseus himself never appears, re-muddies the water. Director Vanessa Pope also has some difficulty keeping things clear and interesting visually, as characters tend to just stand and speechify at each other, though the actors do navigate the long speeches of exposition or declamation with admirable naturalness. Charlotte Mafham presents a Phaedra totally at the mercy of her mercurial emotions, while Morgan Rhys' Hippolytus is an amiable innocent totally out of his depth in the realms of both politics and passion. Gerald Berkowitz

Three Balls And A New Suit   Voodoo Rooms   **
After two decades as a professional juggler, advancing from street performing to cruise ships, Mat Ricardo has oddly chosen not to do a juggling act, but rather an act about juggling. Three-quarters of his hour is talk, punctuated every ten minutes or so by a brief trick. Ricardo is an adept juggler, though his repertoire is fairly standard: he throws things in the air and catches them, balances things on other things, rolls his hat up and down his arm and pulls a tablecloth out from under things. But clearly these are not where his interest lies. He wants to talk about juggling rather than juggle – to tell us a little about great jugglers, about how he got interested in it, and random anecdotes about his adventures and misadventures, along with a screed against Britain's Got Talent, that are of more interest to him than most of his audience, who keep waiting for what they came for, another trick they can applaud. Ricardo admits that this format is an experiment for him, an attempt to find a small-scale show he can do closer to home than his career has generally taken him. For it to succeed he will have to find a better balance between talk and trick. Gerald Berkowitz

Time For The Good Looking Boy   Pleasance Dome   **

This interminable show portrays a boy waiting on his family's doorstep recounting adolescent reminiscences about girlfriends and parties and his parents' divorce. The boy is presumably meant to be a sympathetic character when we learn that he has trouble telling his girlfriend that he loves her, that his little sister is a brat, that his mother takes care of his laundry, and that his father left him at a young age. But the character is so incapable of portraying more than one high level of angry energy, of not blustering about the stage shouting like a "man volcano," (his words, not mine,) that it is impossible to sympathize with, or even like him very much. The shocking twist at the end of this show is not so much shocking as forty-five minutes overdue, and the final revelation was nowhere near as exciting as simply a break in the incessant shouting that defined much of this piece. The set was stunning, the lighting was artfully designed to shift mood and to create a chilling atmosphere for this "urban ghost story." But ultimately this tale of a teenage boy living a rather average life was not intriguing or detailed enough to warrant a full hour staging.  Hannah Friedman

To Avoid Precipice Cling To Rock   Bedlam   ****
Follow eight adventurous women as they summit a mountain, confront their greatest fears, and ultimately help one another to pursue their destiny. Through a very imaginative combination of spoken, musical, and physical storytelling the extremely talented cast of Precipice illustrates a journey through the vast travails that nature and the human psyche can create. If yodeling, prostitution, purgatorial realizations, melodious cello music and mountain climbing don’t sound like elements from the same creative work, you’re sure to be pleasantly surprised by this show. Some romantic plot twists seemed to require more satisfactory justification, and a uniformly charming but large ensemble resulted in less intimate connection with any one character’s journey. Still, the Babolin Theatre company is, at its best, hilarious, daring, and refreshingly innovative. Definitely a company to keep a close eye on.   Hannah Friedman

Tonight Sandy Grierson Will Lecture, Dance and Box   Assembly   ***
Part Woody Allen’s Zelig, part Orson Welles’ F for Fake, the tale Sandy Grierson tells is one that he assures us is true. The subject is Grierson's great-grandfather Arthur Cravan, encountered recently for the first time under remarkable circumstances in Lisbon, and so Grierson embarks on unravelling his mysterious progenitor’s adoption of multiple identities and occupations across the globe. Every once in a while he pauses for a moment of personal observation involving an apposite French aphorism or a query about our own world views. Lecturing and boxing do come into it, dancing rather less so. So good so far. The problem is that while Grierson and director Lorne Campbell have put great effort into mapping out an intriguing and thought-provoking show filled with larger than life characters and concepts, they omitted to create a character for Grierson himself. When Grierson as his great-grandfather tells us that something is fact we believe him, but when Grierson as Grierson tells us that everything is true he does not convince. At all. But maybe, in fact, this is all a cunning plan of bluff and double-bluff. Without that vital starting point, Grierson has no more insight into his relative than we do – plus, wrapped up as he is with European concepts of reaching into the audience’s heads and artfully pre-manipulating their reactions, Grierson has ignored the more British concept of the narrator’s authority. The story-telling is sacrificed to art for art’s sake, with humour and irony mere artifices to serve a theoretical blueprint. The show went down well with the audience, and yet one cannot help think that it still needs a touch more crafting. Nick Awde

Save on a Great Hotel!

The Trials of Galileo   C Aquila   ****
Because the Renaissance Catholic Church claimed infallibility and absolute authority, and because the Bible seemed to describe an Earth-centred universe, any scientific assertion to the contrary was a threat. Called before the Inquisition to recant his declaration that the Earth revolved around the Sun, Galileo was at first confident and disdainful because, as he explains in this monologue by Nic Young, he had carefully structured his writings to stay just within canonical edicts and had the personal assurance of Pope Urban that this ploy would be acceptable. But Popes can change their minds, religious and secular politics can require sacrifices and scapegoats, and the mere fact that you happen to be right and can prove it is not as significant as who your friends and enemies are. Tim Hardy plays Galileo, capturing the intellectual rigour and not-contradictory deep faith of the man, along with an attractive sense of irony, an admittedly dangerous degree of unworldliness, and a haunting sense of guilt that pure fear of torture led him to recant. Script and performer carry us clearly and gracefully through a lot of history and science, so that we always understand both the issues and the politics, while painting a multifaceted and always sympathetic portrait of a complex man in an even more complicated situation. Gerald Berkowitz

Tuesday at Tescos   Assembly Hall   ****
In this translation of a French monologue by Emmanuel Darley a woman makes weekly journeys to her home town to do the cleaning, laundry and shopping for her widowed father, whose grumpiness and lack of gratitude or even acknowledgement are compounded by the fact that the daughter was born a son, and father has never accepted the replacement of Paul by Pauline. Simon Callow plays Pauline, describing the almost unbroken string of small insults and rejections by a father who refuses to use her name and who walks apart from her on their shopping excursions, and asserting with quiet dignity that she is who she is and will not bow to any denial of that. It's a quietly moving and occasionally comic piece, but a very small and broadly sketched portrait, one that neither demands much of Callow nor really requires an actor of his talent. Despite the unquestionable pleasure of an hour in the company of this personable performer, the strongest impression is likely to be of a wasted opportunity. Dozens of actors could have done this unchallenging job as well as Callow, and it would have been much more satisfying to see him in a role that he could have done something special with. Gerald Berkowitz

2011: A Space Oddity   Zoo Roxy   ***
A Fringe favourite returns in a slightly updated version, the two-man creators and cast – Gavin Robertson and Jonathan Bex - promising 'every space movie you've ever seen in just over an hour', and if they don't quite deliver that, they do offer a fair quota of laughs. What we get is basically a take-off on Kubrick's 2001, with the central joke being the very-low-tech production. A soup ladle and an orange held aloft and moved about to the strains of the Blue Danube Waltz remind us of the film's design, mouth noises and moving hands depict sliding doors, and punching imaginary buttons while voicing boop-beep noises sets us in a rocket control room. Along the way we get jokes older than the monolith ('Is it Russian?'-'No, it's hardly moving.'), much is made of the fact that one character is named Chip ('Be efficient, Chip'), and there are passing throwaway references to Aliens, David Bowie and the Stars, both Trek and Wars. But a show like this really has to be laugh-a-second or at least several times a minute, and the pace is too leisurely, with too much comic dead space between jokes for it to be fully satisfying. Gerald Berkowitz

2401 Objects

When a piece of theatre makes you think about the world in a different way, it has achieved the intention of all good theatre. When a piece of theatre makes you think about your own thinking, makes you consider and question the very mechanism and lens with which you perceive what you are watching, it has achieved something extraordinary. Such is the accomplishment of Analogue theatre’s 2401 Objects, a meditation on memory, family, and what it means to be “in the moment,” to be alive. A heartbreakingly honest cast portrays a host of players in the story of “patient HM,” a real man who became famous for a unique trait he inherited after a botched surgical attempt to cure his epilepsy: he lost the ability to create new memories. Through innovate use of cinematic collage, creative time travel, seamless and often poetic scene transitions, and plain old excellent character development, the audience is taken on a tour through the life, the mind, and the aftermath of HM’s fascinating if tragic journey. And then, as if that weren’t enough, the audience is gifted a front-row seat into the innerworkings of their own brains, their own memory-makers, their own connection to the production they are watching and everything else they experience as their world. This is an expertly executed, extremely thought-provoking, and very moving piece of theatre that will stay with you long after you’ve left your seat. Hannah Friedman

What Remains   Traverse at University Medical School   ***
Grid Iron make site-specific theatre – or, rather, theatre in unconventional spaces that may not necessarily be relevant or specific to the content. Their current production has a macabre subject, and may borrow some eeriness from the sanguinary associations of the University's Anatomy Department, but mainly it is just using a building with a lot of rooms the audience can be led through, and might just as easily be done in an office, a government building or, for that matter, a theatre. Its central figure is a music teacher, demanding of his students to the point of madness, a madness generated by an obsessive sense of his own imperfection. The audience picks this up in bits and pieces as it is led from room to room, encountering the teacher at his own piano and then exploring telling remnants from his past, being treated as students in a dormitory, and discovering the nature and extent of his insanity. The fragmented, room-by-room process of exposition has a degree of fun to it, the alert might enjoy visual and musical allusions to horror experts Hitchcock and Carpenter, and there is an appropriately disturbing performance by David Paul Jones (who also wrote the music that underscores much of the adventure) as the madman. But is anything really happening here that couldn't have been done as effectively in a more conventional mode and setting? That is the question that too much of Grid Iron's work doesn't seem able to avoid raising. Gerald Berkowitz

The Wheel   Traverse   ****
Zinnie Harris's play bears surface similarities to Brecht's Caucasian Chalk Circle, in following the adventures of a woman trying to protect a child in a war zone. But where Brecht's focus was on the inherent and unwavering goodness of his heroine, Harris is more interested in the costs of the adventure and its effects on everyone. Saddled with the daughter of a neighbour who has run off, Harris's woman just wants to deliver her to him and be done with it. But with war and famine all around her and the man disappeared, she's not only stuck with the girl but somehow picks up another two children and must do what she can to get them to someone or someplace that will take them from her. The published text makes explicit something that is not especially clear in this National Theatre of Scotland production – that the woman's adventure takes on mythic proportions as her travels take her through every war zone in history and in the world – Spain, France, Eastern Europe, Vietnam, the Middle East – but what is clear is that she takes on some of the eternal quality of Mother Courage, an embodiment of the determination to survive at any cost. With most of the large cast doubling and redoubling roles, the burden of holding it all together falls on Catherine Walsh, who creates a complex, not always wholly sympathetic portrait of the human strength that enables one to adjust, adapt and survive. The play loses its way – or, rather, chooses to go off in an unexpected and unprepared-for direction - in the final moments, but before then it is a harrowing evocation of the darkness that makes up much of reality, and of the cost to the soul of being forced to immerse oneself in it. Gerald Berkowitz

White Rabbit, Red Rabbit   St George's West   **
Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour requires that at each performance his script be handed to a different actor who has not seen it before, so that the first sight-reading before an audience will gain in immediacy and reality what it might lose in polish. The script itself offers a string of easily-decoded political fables, one about the repression of woman through the hijab, one about society's instinctive hatred of the superior or independent, and one about the culpability of those who allow the crimes of others. The presentation of these stories involves calling individual audience members, not necessarily volunteers, onstage and making them act like rabbits or otherwise look silly, the whole supposedly cushioned by repeated saccharine exhortations to 'Dear Actor' and 'Dear Audience'. The identity and performance of the actor is really irrelevant (though the one I saw, while occasionally stumbling over his lines, did try to get into the spirit of what he was reading), as indeed is the whole theatrical context. Soleimanpour has written an essay describing in code the repressions of Iranian culture, and he might just as easily have shaped it as a letter to a journal or an online blog. Gerald Berkowitz

Wondrous Flitting   Traverse   ***
When a sudden miracle seriously interferes with Sam's life, the least he feels he can expect is some positive effect or spiritual insight. But what he gets in Mark Thomson's play is a day full of ordinary run-of-the-mill disappointments, a determined perversity in the universe that refuses to make any more sense than it did before. There's the basis for a delightfully dark social satire there, especially as Sam's day includes some nasty street kids, a mad dentist, a philosophical cleaning lady, some local druggies and a break-up with his girlfriend. But the sense you're most likely to come away from this Royal Lyceum production with is one of being as vaguely cheated as Sam is. The play keeps promising more than it delivers, if not in metaphysical answers then at least in some dramatic shape and structure. Thomson ultimately offers an explanation for Sam's disappointment, but he can't help us understand why we've been shown these particular episodes in this particular order or what the disparate characters are meant to show us about life, the universe or anything. In one scene Sam enters a church and is accosted by the disembodied voice of the preacher, who offers no answers and warns him not to look behind that door. The fact that we're promised a Wizard of Oz moment that we then don't get, as Sam doesn't look behind the door, is emblematic of the play as a whole.  Gerald Berkowitz

Woof! A Werepunk   Zoo   ****
On the edge of town by the forest a mohicaned punk lurks in the moonlight by the window of his loved one. Although we cannot see her, we get an insight into their unrequited relationship via the punk’s wild declarations and the strange murderous offerings he brings as tokens of his love. Neatly fusing the adult fairy tales of Angela Carter with the graphic comic neo-noir of Sin City, underpinned by the unrelenting physicality of Italian satirical theatre, Woof!, to be honest, is not going to be everyone’s goblet of blood. Brandishing a bloodstained baseball bat and prowling the stage wolf-like, sweat pouring off him, the punk is evidently a suitor it would be hard to refuse. Meanwhile, hard on his trail of violence is a brooding world-weary police detective who is closing in on his own prey. But slowly you realise that no one is quite who they seem – who really is the hunted, who is the hunter? In this provocative one-man show, Paolo Faroni reveals a powerful stage presence, veering from high energy menace to manic introspection within a split second, sparking off flashes of dark comedy at moments when you least expect it. Director Emanuele Crotti works subtly to channel that energy into Faroni’s intelligent script to create an intense in-yer-face performance that is captivatingly romantic for all the implied gore. Nick Awde

The World Holds Everyone Apart, Apart From Us   Underbelly   **
With the slightly creepy relentless cheeriness of a children's TV presenter, Stuart Bowden chats and sings his way through what can only be described as an optimistic dystopia. In a post-ecological disaster future, Bowden's hero explains that he is convinced that the Earth is dying because the planet is lonely, and so he has decided to build his own spaceship to find and capture another planet to bring back to become Earth's friend, making our home happy and healthy again. To that end, and to prepare himself for the loneliness of space, he has been working in isolation in the desert for years, with only three visitors, whose stories he tells with the same unvarying perkiness even though they each end in death or departure. The accumulating whimsy and preciousness of the tales and their delivery get a bit thick, even with a running time of just over a half-hour. But Bowden's mellow personality, which is essentially the entire show, will be attractive to those not put off by its 1970s John Denver-ish quality, and there is some inventiveness in the simple staging, with the spaceship, a tree and all other set elements built out of a pile of milk crates. Gerald Berkowitz

The Wright Brothers   Pleasance   ****
What could in less adept hands be little more than a dry theatre-in-education history lesson is brought to theatrical life through an adept script by David Hastings, inventive staging by Toby Hulse and two immensely attractive performances by Timothy Allsop and Robin Hemmings as the bicycle-repairmen brothers from Ohio who were the first to manage motorised flight. The audience enters to find the two actors tossing paper airplanes about, and that sense of fun, of the joy of discovery and invention, pervades the whole play, which follows the brothers through the several experiments, successful and failed, that led to Orville (whose turn it was) staying aloft for twelve seconds on a December day in 1903. The complementary personalities of the brothers are nicely established, as is the excitement of the implicit race they were in against other would-be aviators. One of the strongest qualities of Hastings' script is the ease with which it incorporates all the necessary history and science into natural conversations, so it is easily understood and never intrusive, allowing us to get caught up in the drama of each theoretical or practical breakthrough, while the staging, which incorporates period film and the simplest of props, draws us fully into the imaginative world of the play. Gerald Berkowitz

Yianni: Things That Make You Go 'Oooooh!'   Sin Club   ****
Yianni charmed a rowdy crowd with his clever and well-researched piece that explored synchronicity, coincidence, etymology, and a little LSD. With the help of a Power Point presentation Yianni takes us on a comic tour of his mind as he explains the coincidences that brought him to create this particular show. How did he get here? How did we get here? You’ll ponder these questions while learning about Timothy Leary, Carl Jung, and a young man’s perplexed perspective on the female orgasm. Yianni still needs to hone his chops as a showman, there are sometimes lags in the performance, and a few of the more traditional gags fall short of the delightful witticism bar he sets for himself in his best material. Still, this was overall a very funny show with a surprisingly erudite and thought-provoking constellation of discussion topics, and for the low price of free, it's a hard comic treat to beat. Hannah Friedman

You For Coffee?   The Banshee Labyrinth   *
If these two performers spent a fraction of the time preparing material that they did complaining about how small their crowd was and lamenting about their forgotten props, this might have been an enjoyable hour. Instead, the audience was barraged by non-stop self-effacing complaining about lack of preparedness and, toward the end, even threats. When a performer mounts the stage and wearily proclaims that she will be eating her lunch in your presence because her video equipment broke and you’re not going to laugh at her anyway, and it’s not part of the act, you start to wonder why you’re there in the first place. This is a shame, because one suspects that underneath all the “aww shucks” excuses are two really brilliant and unique creative forces. There were glimpses, there were whispers of exciting content, but they were soon silenced by the performers themselves as they mistook voicing neurotic self-doubt about their own content as passable improvised material.  As soon as these two stop undermining themselves and begin to truly think of themselves as artists who need to prepare and respect their craft instead of as comedic interlopers who, as both openly admitted aloud, were “not ready” for a full half hour of content each, they will certainly warrant a serious reappraisal.  Hannah Friedman

Young Pretender   Underbelly   ***
You might think that you know the legend of Bonnie Prince Charlie but E.V.Crowe’s version is almost literally something else. The play may have its first two acts set immediately before and after the disastrous Battle of Culloden in 1746 and the last a year earlier, but the language is very much of the present day. Charlie himself is a surprise too, since Paul Woodson plays the Scottish hero with a Geordie accent. In the order of playing, the first act sees him persuading his unconvinced cohort Chris Starkie’s Donald Macdonald that the battle against the odds will be a success.
The second sees Charlie with Donald’s young daughter (12 or 13?) Rebecca Elisa as Flora after her father’s death. The new orphan it is that provides him with a simple girlish shift to make an ignominious escape from the mainland.
Finally, we track back to the original recruitment of Macdonald Senior in a time filled with hope that BPC might become King of Scotland and even possibly England.While the language is at times vibrant, it never quite feels right for the subject and the play feels as if it needs a good deal of tightening up to reach a perfect product. Philip Fisher

Yours, Isabel   Vaults   ****
A familiar tale is retold with sensitivity and some fresh touches in Christy Hall's epistolary play set during the Second World War, as a young girlfriend and then wife exchanges letters with her soldier husband. The story beneath the story is the changing role of women during the war, and the way this was bound to clash with the soldiers' wholly natural desire to return to the same world they had left behind, and one of Hall's best inspirations is to end her play with the man's return, leaving the audience to wonder how the characters they've gotten to know will cope with what follows. Before then, we see the woman move slowly from trying to remain the dutiful wife to taking a job and being empowered by it, and discovering that she is not a small town girl at heart and wants something other than what her husband is homesick for and assumes he will return to. Playing the role herself, the author invests the girl with a lively spirit that hints at her true nature before the character herself realises it, while Matt Lutz plays the husband with an honourable sincerity that keeps him from ever being the villain. Gerald Berkowitz

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

The Zanniskinheads and the Quest For the Holy Balls   Underbelly   **
Conceived and directed by a Commedia dell'Arte expert and featuring two performers with physical theatre backgrounds, this group-created work proposes to give Commedia a 21st century facelift. But, isolated moments aside, it lacks the speed, precision and tight choreography physical farce requires, and for too much of its length merely ambles rhythmlessly through its barely-comprehensible plot. Wearing helmet masks that make them look a bit like Star Wars troopers, the two actors play dimwitted yobs sent for some reason to retrieve stolen gold balls. Though both are armed with actual slap sticks, the physical comedy is intermittent and desultory, far too much time given over to the quickly exhausted joke that they're both idiots and to static scenes of mutual confusion, as one speaks English and the other a near-gibberish Franglais. The occasional slapstick fight between them has a bit of comic energy, though generally run at about half the speed that real hilarity would require, and a couple of dance sequences are deadened by the simple error of not being in step. The whole has the feel of an early rehearsal or improv session, with far too few hints of the assurance and polish the genre requires. Gerald Berkowitz

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Reviews - Edinburgh Festival - 2011