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 The Theatreguide.London Reviews

EDINBURGH FESTIVAL AND FRINGE 2013

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. No one can see more than a fraction of what's on offer, but with our experienced reviewing team we covered more than 160 of the best.

Virtually all of these shows will tour after Edinburgh, and many will come to London, making the Festival a unique preview of the year. 

We give star ratings in Edinburgh, since festival goers have shown a preference for such shorthand guides. Ratings range from Five Stars (A Must-See) down to One Star (Demand your money and an hour of your life back), though we urge you to look past the stars to read the accompanying review.


Since serendipity is one of the delights of the Festival, we list all our reviews together so you can browse and perhaps discover something beyond what you were looking for. This list is divided into two pages, in alphabetical order (soloists by last name), with A-L on this page and M-Z on another.

Scroll down this page for our review of  The Actor's Lament, The Adventures of Alvin Sputnik, After What Comes Before, The Agony And Ecstacy Of Steve Jobs, Albert Einstein, Albion Forlorn, All Or Nothing?, All Roads Lead To Rome, Austen's Women, 

Ballad of the Burning Star, Bath Time, Beeston Rifles, Beulah, Bin Laden, Bird House, Bitch Boxer, The Bitches' Box, Bloody Ballads, The Boadicea of Britannia Street, The Boss Of It All, The Boy Who Kicked Pigs, The Break-Up Of Cause And Effect, Breaking The Silence, The Bridge, Broadway Enchante, The Bunker Trilogy Macbeth,  

Cadre, Cambridge Footlights, Caryatid Unplugged, Ciara, The Collision Of Things, Complete History of the BBC Abridged, Confused In Syracuse, Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model, The Curse of Elizabeth Faulkner, Dark Vanilla Jungle, Desperately Seeking The Exit, Devil In The Deck, Don't Wake Me, 

Each Of Us, Economy of Thought, Edinburgh Revue, Eh Joe,  Entertaining Mr. Orton, Eugene Grandet, The Event, Expiration Date, The Extremists,  Fade, The Fantasist, Fantasy No 10, Fight Night, Fionnuala, Tim Fitzhigham, Flanders and Swann, Fleabag, Dean Friedman, 

Gardening For The Unfulfilled And Alienated, Genesis/Golgotha, God Versus The Mind Reader, The Greatest Liar In All The World, Grounded, Growing Old Disgracefully, 

H To He, Happy Never After, The Hat The Cane The Moustache, Have I No Mouth, High Plains, Honest Iago And Three Others, How To Be A Modern Marvel, Howie The Rookie, Humour And Heart, Reginald D. Hunter,

I Could've Been Better, If These Spasms Could Speak, I'm With The Band, Inside, Inspector Norse, Interrupted, It Goes Without Saying,  It's Dark Outside, 

Jordan, Kabul, Killers, Kiss of the Spider Woman, Lili la Scala, Leo, Leonce And Lena, The Liz And Dick Show, London Road Sea Point, Long Distance Affair, Long Live The Little Knife, Losing The Plot

Go to second M-Z page.

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The Actor's Lament    Assembly Hall   ***** 
Too old at last to be the
enfant terrible of the British theatre he always prided himself as, Steven Berkoff makes it clear that there's power in the old beast yet as he writes, directs and acts in a three-hander that joyfully and mercilessly skews every theatrical target in sight. Berkoff casts himself as an actor-turned-director, with Jay Benedict as a playwright and Andree Bernard as an actress, and as the three express undying devotion to each other they also take turns expressing their contempt for what each other does. Nothing if not an equal-opportunity offender, Berkoff lets his actors insist that it is they who bring life to a dead script while the playwright asserts that it is he who creates their illusion of talent. Directors are, depending on who's speaking, useful, useless or randy slimeballs. Audiences are loved or hated, and the only group all can agree to hate are everyone who is working when they are not. The play is written in Berkoff's familiar couplets, giving it an oddly but not unpleasantly classical feel, as if Moliere were a modern luvie, and if we have heard all this before, much of it from the same source, it is fun to hear the old lion roar with undiminished energy.    Gerald Berkowitz

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

After What Comes Before   Greenside        ****
Had Norman Wisdom and Magnus Pike collaborated on a show, the result would surely be much like this piece. Manic Chord’s unlikely combination of buffoonery and science concocts a rollercoaster of devised mayhem that gets the laughs all the way. The plot appears simple enough: a mad psychotherapist intent on world domination mysteriously invites a physicist and a neuroscientist into his laboratory. The psychotherapist explains that he needs their help to build a machine that will alter the brain waves of anyone he considers deviant (i.e. most of the world) and so turn them into perfect, rational human beings. Since the other two scientists are only marginally less mad, the resulting chaos makes the experiment a highly tricky venture to say the least. As the boffins, Alex Monk, David Cartwright and Sam Berrill show impressive timing and keep the surprises coming right up to the end. Special mention must be made of Helen Russell Brown’s set with its nooks and crannies and hidden panels that allow the action to unravel in unexpected directions. The company has created a work that suggests a longer, more structured play bursting to get out for development without compromising any of the physicality already unleashed.  Nick Awde

The Agony And Ecstacy Of Steve Jobs   Gilded Balloon         ***   (reviewed at a previous Festival)
In this monologue written by Mike Daisey and performed by Grant O'Rourke – it's important to make that distinction, because much of the piece's power comes from the claim that we are being given a personal account – a self-styled 'Apple fan boy' tells us two stories, of Steve Jobs' rise and fall and rise again with Apple and of his own visit to the enormous Chinese factories that make Apple products. His tone is that of exposé, though the worst he can say about Jobs is that he was a hard boss and that as a corporation Apple has the goal of maximising profits. The Chinese side of the story is darker but also can't hold too many surprises – Apple products (and, evidently, every other consumer product used in the West) are made in sweatshop assembly lines, probably by low-paid teenagers, and the factories pay little attention to health and safety. This is, of course, shameful, and there is no doubt that Western consumers will eventually have to come to grips with it, but it's not exactly news (We've been hearing the same story about clothes for years, and it hasn't kept us out of designer labels or Primark). Grant O'Rourke does a good job of making it all sound like his own experience and feelings, which is the source of the monologue's credibility and authority.    Gerald Berkowitz

Albert Einstein - Relatively Speaking   Pleasance         ****
The date is 1933, the day is Albert Einstein’s inaugural physics address. And there at the door stands the mustachioed genius himself to extend a personal, gloriously scatty welcome to each member of the audience as they wind in. It’s an engaging personal touch that sets the tone for the rest of the show as Einstein (John Hinton) hijacks his own lecture to take us on a romp through a remarkable life and work. Jumping appropriately in and out of the biographical timeline, peppering his wild hair with talc as he ages, he describes leaving Nazi Germany for America, his curiosity-filled childhood, and how he fell in love (literally relatively) more than once... Indeed former wife Mileva (Jo Eagle) pops in on piano when Einstein breaks into song – check out the the MC-Squared rap. Armed with a wonderfully cod German accent, Hinton rips through bad puns and serious science in his zippy, thoughtful script and ditties, while under the whimsy and the slapstick director Daniel Goldman keeps a firm hand on the pace throughout. Offering room even for an emotive take on Einstein’s soul-searching on becoming the inadvertent father of the atom bomb, Tangram Theatre's production proves to be a winning formula.  Nick Awde

Albion Forlorn    C Aquila     **
Less a song cycle than a string of unrelated songs crowded under the catch-all umbrella of modern discontents, Sue Casson's programme is very much a hit-or-miss affair, with perhaps one song out of every three or four registering. Not coincidentally, these are all sung by Casson herself, the only one in the cast of five to give any indication of understanding the words she's singing, and the only one able consistently to be audible in a small room. The best of the songs are ironic blues numbers in the mode of Cole Porter, as Casson totes up and accepts the costs of loving an expensive man, resignedly acknowledges the way the fulfilment of all your life's dreams just makes you aware that things can never get any better, or mourns the dead with quiet and moving dignity. The other songs, when they can be heard, range from a banal salute to nature whose lyrics about waving wheat and majestic mountains seem decidedly more American than British to a pale copy of The Ladies Who Lunch. With her songwriting power so clearly focussed in one particular mode and her performance skills so very superior to the rest of her cast, Casson might be more successful arranging her best material into a solo cabaret act.     Gerald Berkowitz

All Or Nothing?    Greenside      *****
An inventive and joyful reimagining of the world of mime expands its vocabulary and produces forty minutes of uninterrupted delight in this constantly surprising and entertaining show. James Callàs Ball plays a conventional mime living in an invisible world, eating invisible food, playing invisible tennis, and so on. Next door Jasmine Blackborow also does not speak, but inhabits a world of solid things. Discovering a real and and an invisible door, they enter each other's realm and are confounded, she lost in nothingness while he is overwhelmed by all that unfamiliar stuff. Gradually they introduce each other to the new worlds, she discovering the flavours of invisible food, he enjoying real television. To a sound track made up of classic jazz by Armstrong, Brubeck, Mingus and the like (played alternately on solid and invisible stereos), Ball and Blackborow explore all the comic and occasionally touching possibilities in this culture-clash romcom with engaging personalities and unflagging inventiveness. Making its points and not outstaying its welcome, this can be appreciated for the performers' mime skills, as a clever twist on a familiar art form and as just a lot of fun, mime to make you laugh out loud. 
    Gerald Berkowitz

All Roads Lead To Rome    Pleasance at Hunt & Darton Cafe     **
Discovering that the very British Triumph Herald 1200 that had been in the family since before he was born was in fact designed in Italy, artist Chris Dobrowolski wangled an Arts Council grant to fix it up and drive it to the design company in Turin as a piece of performance art, and this is his slide and film show of the adventure. He did indeed meet the son of the car's designer, as his photos show, but there proves to be less to that work of art than he hoped, and so Dobrowolski shifts gears, as it were, devoting the bulk of his hour to evidence of following his father's Second World War advance through Italy with a Polish brigade. So the slides and films juxtapose archival images of the war with Dobrowolski's present-day shots, and even there he has to pad things out with digressions within digressions such as pictures of cemeteries or Fascist souvenir shops and the discovery that the spot where Mussolini was hung up in disgrace is now a McDonald's. Dobrowolski's running commentary is frequently witty, but the overall effect is very much like spending an hour watching anyone's holiday snaps.  Gerald Berkowitz

Austen's Women    Assembly     ****   (reviewed at a previous Festival)
What could we have in common with Jane Austen's characters, you might ask, when those girls married at 17 and guys were considered 'old men' at 'two and thirty' years old? Give this show a go and not only will you get plenty of answers to the question, but might even run home to blow the dust off one of the novels again. Rebecca Vaughan's loving homage to Austen's words and characters includes fourteen short sketches of some of Austen's famous ladies such as Lizzy Bennett, Marianne Dashwood and Emma Woodhouse, but also some lesser known ones, such as Diana Parker from Sanditon and Miss Elizabeth Watson from The Watsons. Petulant, prudent, silly or sophisticated, these wives, daughters, young lovers and sisters will have all of our own strengths and weaknesses, and could still teach us a thing or two about how to get on in life. Vaughan's one woman show has hints of Sex and the City as well as Catherine Tate in it - showing us the way in which Austen may well have laid the foundations of observational comedy too. Under Guy Masterson's direction, the piece is tightly corseted but frilly, flowing and flamboyant in all the right places. Duska Radosavljevic


Ballad of the Burning Star    Pleasance Dome      *****
Consider a show about Israel and Palestine with a broadly comic female impersonator at its centre. Or with a never-resting chorus line constantly segueing between dance steps, goosesteps (yes!) and precision callisthenics. Or offering harrowing accounts of atrocities on both sides and puncturing them with cheap gags. Or constantly breaking the reality and the fourth wall as cast members rebel against what they have to say or the martinet drag queen bemoans her sore feet. It shouldn't work, and for the first fifteen minutes or so you are sure it isn't going to, but this audacious and determined production from the extraordinarily courageous and inventive Theatre Ad Infinitum eventually wins you over, its refusal to treat this impossible subject with the sombreness it usually inspires allowing you to see it afresh. The production's politics are remarkably even-handed, each account of a car bomb matched by a brutal attack on the settlements, each anecdote of Israeli schoolchildren carrying gas masks followed by an episode of gratuitous humiliation at a checkpoint. And the production style also keeps us alert, every serious moment interrupted by a joke, every joke undercut by a shock. And somehow, through it all, the central truths become clear. The Palestinians do the things they do because they are oppressed, abused and presumed terrorists until proven innocent. The Israelis do what they do because people, and whole countries, keep trying to kill them. Writer-director-star Nir Paldi has no easy solutions, but his outrageously fresh take on the tragedy – and the unflagging energy and precision of his dedicated cast – shake up our preconceptions and push us toward thinking about it in new ways. One of the most original, risk-taking and astonishingly successful shows you'll ever encounter, and an absolute must-see. 
  Gerald Berkowitz

Bath Time   Gilded Balloon     ***
Spike, JoJo and Billy are mates, sort of, born on the other side of Edinburgh’s tracks and possibly doomed to a sad end on the streets, but at least they’ll have fun along the way. Whereas optimistic Spike thinks he can escape, weasley JoJo and weirdly stoic Billy have other ideas, each with a history that’s rapidly catching up on them and there’s nothing that can avert the looming trainwreck of their converging fates. It’s certainly a knuckle-bitingly funny ride. Documented via Ruaraidh Murray’s earthy delivery, the hapless trio end up in all manner of scrapes and complications – club nights, prison, drugs, a first sexual encounter and the STD clinic. As they age, however, the scrapes start heading them into darker territory and Spike starts to get out of his depth. Firmly rooted in the 1990s, the Trainspotting comparisons may be obvious but Murray is trawling the same bedrock of local life that is such a feature of Edinburgh – indeed this is very much a celebration of it. His characters are spot-on and he weaves together the three sets of dialogue convincingly into his story, although joining up those strands needs more work, as does director Tim Stark’s staging, which is not as focused as it needs to be.  Nick Awde

Beeston Rifles   Underbelly     ****
Philip Stokes' taut if somewhat formulaic melodrama opens with downmarket Stacy (Kate Daley) holding a posh brother and sister (Ryan Hogan and Kirsty Green) at gunpoint while her mentally handicapped brother (Lee Bainbridge) watches, comprehending little. We quickly learn that the rich siblings killed the poor kids' father in a hit-and-run accident and got off too easy for Stacy's sense of justice. So, with issues of class and privilege compounding her need for vengeance, she puts the pair through a New Year's Eve of humiliating and frightening mind games. As the playwright fills in not just the details of the crime but the broader burdens and frustrations of Stacy's life, and then goes on to reveal the dark sides of the captives' not-so-golden lives, its scope expands to a broad consideration of modern malaises. There is a formula to hostage plays, and if you can't predict every revelation and plot twist (like who, if anyone, is going to be shot) long in advance, few can come as real surprises. The class conflict adds some fresh overtones, but the play is really carried by the individual strengths and ensemble playing of the four performers, particularly Kate Daley's all-stops-out passionate portrayal of the driven and tortured Stacy.   Gerald Berkowitz

Beulah   C Chambers St      ****   (reviewed at a previous Festival)
Via matey banter, strong harmonies, unexpected props and a gift for red herrings, Jim Harbourne and Ed Wren weave the tale of two lovers who flit in and out of Beulah, William Blake’s mystical world of that exists in our dreams between life and death. Courtesy of the Flanagan Collective and dubbed a “new folk musical”, it is a enchanting piece of storytelling on the surface and an expertly thought-out piece of theatre within. Time shifts and dances around itself as our heroine Lyca and hero Liam meet over various periods of their lifespans, possibly simultaneously. Love is a constant for them, just as global warming, rising seas and sunsets also figure large in the cycle of their story, told from different directions. Lions are mimed with gentle irony, time statistics rolled out with poetic comedy, characters conjured from crowns and capes, while music comes from Harbourne and Wren’s guitars, thumb piano, hand-harmonium and harp. At times we even hear the couple directly as Shona Cowie and Tom Bellerby provide the evocative voice-overs. Writer Alexander Wright, responsible for the exquisite Some Small Love Story, and director Bellerby have created a deceptively simple work that transcends mere storytelling and, aided by their winning lo-tech approach, this is a focused production that will successfully play the largest to the smallest of venues.  Nick Awde

Bin Laden   C Nova       ****
The premise of this solo show by Toby Tyrrell-Jones and Sam Redway, performed by Redway, is that if Bin Laden's story and philosophy are presented by a boyish, charming and reasonable young man they may prove disconcertingly sympathetic and convincing. And so Redway, making no attempt to imitate Bin Laden's accent or oratorical style, comes across as part motivational speaker, complete with flip chart of talking points, and part amiable interviewee on a book tour. His story, of being an idealistic young man radicalised by the Russian-Afghan War of the 1980s and gradually shifting his focus from pan-Islamic nationalism to anti-Americanism, is presented as if it were the most natural and most moral of courses, one he can proudly recommend to others. Redway successfully creates a sympathetic and even occasionally humorous character, though ultimately the effectiveness of the invitation to see the story from Bin Laden's point of view will depend on the audience's own politics or openness, some won over while others spot the logical and moral holes in the argument, such as when the speaker moves, with no hint of self-awareness or irony, from resenting being demonised by the West to himself demonising the USA as a justification for his actions.   Gerald Berkowitz

Bird House   Assembly       ***
Imagine that four of the townspeople in Alfred Hitchcock's film The Birds holed up in the village cinema and have been there ever since, traumatised and afraid to venture out. That's the premise of this flight (sorry about that) of fancy from Devon-based Jammy Voo. The four middle-aged ladies, more than a little dotty, relive their adventure as their memories have warped it through the years, presenting key moments – a car journey into the town at night, the attack on the schoolchildren, the telephone box and the petrol station – through songs, shattered narrative and sometimes eerily evocative staging. The night drive has them facing a screen at the rear of the stage while the two in the back seat visibly hold up the small props that will cast the giant shadows of trees, telephone poles and birds before them. But moments like that are too few and the company, like some others in Edinburgh this year, seems to have spent all its imagination on the concept and the first couple of scenes so that, the spark having died, the show limps weakly toward an end.  Gerald Berkowitz

Bitch Boxer   Pleasance       ****     (reviewed at a previous Festival)
Charlotte Josephine brings high energy and absolute authority to her self-written monologue. If this isn't actually her own story, she knows the character and her psychology inside-out and brings her fully-blown and convincing to the stage. Her mother left when Chloe was eleven, and her fight-promoter father judged wisely that physical activity would give her an outlet for her anger and got her training. Six years later Chloe recognises that being completely exhausted brought with it a peace that got her through those days. And in the interval, she's actually become a rather good boxer, with a real chance of being picked for the Olympics. But two things threaten her composure – her father's sudden death, which she can't grieve for in the ways everyone expects, and falling in love, which makes her feel all girly in unfamiliar ways. Charlotte Josephine tells Chloe's story in character, shadow boxing or jumping rope through much of it, and makes us believe the girl's determination and confusion. Whether sparring to the rhythms of Johnny Cash and Eminem or just sitting and talking, Josephine exudes the intelligence and bottled-up energy of one determined 'to prove to the whole world I'm worth something'. The play ends, inevitably, with the Olympics-qualifying bout, with Bryony Shanahan's tight direction and choreography contributing to the excitement.  Gerald Berkowitz

The Bitches' Box   Assembly       ****  
Six dogs get very human voices in this clever sideways look at New Zealand’s rural South Island – all sheep, wellies and an understandable lack of decorum. Against this backdrop, the canines offer a wicked yet gentle dig at our own lives as they observe each other and comment on a dog's life in general on the Kiwi farm. A novice bitch joins an older female in the box of the title, an enclosure where bitches are kept out of the way when in heat. As the pair leisurely view the world from their confinement, the younger one asks her more experienced companion for advice on ‘knotting’ with the male working dogs. At first generous in dispensing wisdom, the older bitch turns touchy as she suspects a rival for the males' sexual attentions – oblivious to the fact that they’re locked in to prevent precisely this sort of thing from happening Outside, seasoned dogs Jack and Russell chat with all the practised wit of cricket commentators while an elderly bulldog's conservative opinions contrast with the young house dog who somehow manages to rap coherently despite having the attention span of a gnat. Emma Newborn and Amelia Guild are comically convincing as they blend human and dog mannerisms. Avoiding parody or mimicry, they create surprising, perfectly rounded characters, made all the more vivid by the evident rapport between these two versatile performers. Nick Awde

The Bloody Ballads   Assembly Roxy      **
Writer/composer/lyricist/producer/performer Lucy Rivers relocates an old Welsh tale to 1950s redneck America, punctuating its staging with original songs ranging from country through gospel to rock'n'roll by an onstage band, some of whom double as characters. The result is not as unique or innovative as she would like to think, and occasionally approaches incoherence, but at its best its illusion of down-country folkiness carries it. Rivers plays a small town girl already alienated by years of abuse by her father, who falls for the new bad boy in town, only to be betrayed by him in a way that leads to a mounting body count and an ironically happy outcome. While the songs have some raw energy, Rivers is not a natural singer, and her limited microphone skill leads to too many lyrics either being drowned out by the band or overamplified to the point of unintelligibility. She, Oliver Wood as the boy and Hannah McPake as his demon mother play all their dialogue to the onstage microphones, sometimes giving things the feel of a radio broadcast and generally either distorting voices or at least distancing them. The show has been in development for over a year, and would probably benefit from further reconceiving and reshaping. 
Gerald Berkowitz

The Boadicea of Britannia Street   New Town Theatre      ****
Feeling a bit lonely as she faces retirement, local journalist Fran sets up a creative writing club. However, the class poses rather more of a challenge than anticipated as the prospective students appear to be a touch on the eccentric – and feeling a bit lonely too. There’s battered yet stoic housewife Annie (Polly Highton), prickly PE teacher Penny (Lizzie Lewis) and wallflower librarian Janet (Alice Bernard), none of them really sure why they’ve signed up. But in making her aspiring authors accept who they really are, the recently bereaved Fran (Lucinda Curtis) learns that there is more to writing than avoiding split infinitives. Ade Morris’ sparkling script plots this discovery with a spot-on eye for character and ear for dialogue, building the tension as the quartet confront their fears and timid hopes, culminating in the empowering decision to put on a show about all-time strong woman Boadicea – songs and all. Thanks to bold casting that will win many fans along the way, this generous ensemble fit their characters like gloves and lift them gloriously from the page, guided by Morris’s sensitive direction. Adroitly balancing drama with comedy, this hallmark production from Quidem will get you laughing and crying at the same time. Nick Awde

The Boss Of It All   Assembly Roxy      ****
The stage version by Jack McNamara of Lars Van Trier's 2006 film, like its source, tells of an actor hired to impersonate the never-seen head of a company by the actual head, who prefers to pretend to be an underling, thereby deflecting any staff discontent away from himself. We watch with amusement as the actor, thrown in at the deep end, improvises frantically to keep up with the staff's divergent images of him and memories of past e-mails and other communications supposedly from him. The satire aims widely, at the actor's pretensions but also at corporate politics and bureaucracy and the very idea of a company so big that nobody is quite sure what it does. The plot thickens as our hero discovers that the real boss is planning to sell out and screw everyone else and uses his newly-anointed position to try to thwart him. At that point the twists and turns of the plot and layering of Pirandello levels of reality become a bit too many, and you may not be all that certain exactly how it ends. But there's a lot of fun to be had along the way, with a strong cast led by Gerry Howell as the protean actor. 
 Gerald Berkowitz

The Boy Who Kicked Pigs   Pleasance       ****
Kill The Beast's macabre comedy is as much a celebration of theatrical inventiveness as a narrative, sometimes to the cost of coherence. Performing in monochrome costumes and whiteface before a large black-and-white screen, they create the effect of a living horror movie, as a small-town boy who actually kicked his sister's piggy bank out the window and hit someone develops a taste for violence. While body counts mount, rats have a feast and the piggy bank starts talking, the local newspaper continues its practice of favouring classified ads over actual news. The dialogue is filled with gags and bad puns, the action is punctuated by clever songs and sort-of-dances, and the cast of five successfully manage to generate the sense of a whole town variously responding with disinterest, gossip or panic. The only real problem with the group-created show is that it swings too wildly, throwing in every joke that comes to mind (The whole newspaper subplot, funny as it is, has little to do with the rest of the show) and sometimes just enjoying effects for their own sake, so that the story line and the satirical focus can get lost. 
 Gerald Berkowitz

The Break-Up of Cause And Effect   C Nova       ***
Cause and Effect have been buddies for eternity but Cause is beginning to resent the fact that he goes to the gym and Effect loses weight, he woos the girls and Effect scores. Of course he drinks and Effect gets the hangover, and Effect's scars are mementos of his visit to Pamplona, but that's little consolation, and he wants to run off and join the circus. The premise of Larry Jay Tish's short comedy, with him playing Effect to Rob DiNinni's Cause, is clever and both the passing jokes ('Gravity has mass appeal') and the allusions to Aristotle, Hume, Kant and Locke are smooth and effective. But Tish hasn't really written a last act. Cause does run away and we're told things go to Hell, leading him to reconsider, but the second half of the play is rushed, more narrated than dramatised, and with little of the wit or unforced erudition of the earlier scenes. If viewed as a work in progress, with considerable rewriting yet to be done, this shows real potential, and DiNinni and Tish are amiable performers. But as a finished work it too rapidly loses steam and doesn't fulfil the promise of its opening.  Gerald Berkowitz

Breaking The Silence   C Nova       ****
Shaina has just come back to the USA after visiting the former Lodz ghetto in Poland. Even though her grandmother Rosa lived there before being taken to Auschwitz, Shaina knows that she will disapprove of her trip. As will Shaina's mother Renee, but neither generation will tell her why. Shaina's questions encounter different walls of denial that amplify the silence that defines their strained relationships, as the real story of her family's past unfolds in scenes interleaved with the present, with Rosa’s brother, rabbi Yakov, pleading from the ghetto for their story to be heard. Rivka Bekerman-Greenberg's script avoids the preconceptions that many Holocaust plays understandably respond to, instead launching itself into a multi-levelled exploration of family, memory, community and trust. Guided by Katrin Hilbe’s quietly effective direction, Carolyn Seiff creates a convincing portrait of the still traumatised concentration camp survivor Rosa, contrasting with Jan Leslie Harding’s distant workaholic Renee and Rachel Halper’s bright spark Shaina, while David Palmer Brown brings an East European gravitas to Yakov. With more development this should have all the makings of a powerful full-length play, but even as it stands it deserves to tour, while also able to transfer to radio or film.  Nick Awde

The Bridge   C Nova       ****
Singer-songwriter Benjamin Scheuer's cycle of a dozen songs touches on milestones in his life, his love of music, and his growing understanding of the meaning of family, love and manhood, all presented with a charm, openness and humour that protect them from any hint of pretentiousness or preciousness. Linked by a spoken narrative, the songs touch on his first toy banjo, his father's death, winning and losing the love of a woman, surviving illness and redefining himself in the light of all these experiences. By their very nature the songs, all with an American folk flavour, are mainly too subject-specific to have much life outside the cycle, though they serve it well, sometimes in surprising and illuminating ways. But the song about meeting the girl, the one imagining her thoughts as she leaves him, and the climactic assertion of his hard-won wisdom do stand on their own, and it is noteworthy that they get the strongest audience response. Scheuer speak-sings the songs with a folksinger's throatiness that occasionally suggests Dylan, accompanying himself with one of three acoustic guitars at hand. While the piece might be more at home in a club than a theatre, Scheuer's amiable personality and audience rapport make the most of the small Fringe venue.   Gerald Berkowitz

Broadway Enchanté   Assembly Hall       ***
More than eighty per cent of the songs come from films and not Broadway, her pianist sings at least as much as she does, and the general level is about what you'd expect on a mid-sized cruise ship. Isabelle Georges is an attractive singer with a gamin quality reminiscent of Connie Fisher or a young Debbie Reynolds (by which I mean she has bright red hair in a pixie cut). She sings nicely, tap dances a little, and smiles a lot. Most of her singing is bright and perky with no particular style, though there's a smoky 'Over The Rainbow' and an energetic (and bilingual) 'I Got Rhythm'. In keeping with the show's focus on Hollywood rather than Broadway, there are salutes to Judy Garland, Esther Williams, Fred and Ginger, and Gene Kelly. If you come expecting an evening exploring the rich Broadway songbook rather than the Hollywood one, you'll be disappointed. If you're a Georges fan and hoped for an hour of her singing, you'll get a little less than half that. Very little about the show is actually bad, beyond a toe-curling 'Ol Man River' from the pianist, but too little is actually good.  
Gerald Berkowitz

The Bunker Trilogy: Macbeth   C Nova       ***
Part III of The Bunker Trilogy, three separate plays sharing a company and a set, Macbeth is an immersive experience that places the audience in a bunker, recreating the trenches of World War I. As enemy shells explode ever closer, Shakespeare’s protagonists play out their fatal end game in field khaki under the ominously flickering lights of a corrugated iron ceiling. As he makes ready to go over the top, the personal conflicts of Macbeth (Sam Donnelly) match the intensity of the conflict that lies without. He sees apparitions of his wife (Serena Manteghi) while Banquo (Dan Wood) and Macduff (James Marlowe) snap in and out of his increasingly detached reality. Wraithlike, the witches declaim from behind their gas masks and predictably there is more than one moment to make you jump in this confined space as the pressure builds. The Western Front bunker itself is a touch distracting at first in terms of it being a logical setting. But no matter, for this unusual adaptation by Jamie Wilkes is an ambitious leap of faith that in the long run pays off, as director Jethro Compton cleverly charts Macbeth’s descent into his doom, trapped from the outset in the schemings of his past, his paranoia growing as the explosions threaten his lair. Typical of so many modern Shakespeare performances, the cast loses a lot of lines through slack enunciation, lines crucial to understanding this radical redux. And, perhaps a quibble, the uniform of a Scottish regiment would neatly complete the picture.  Nick Awde

 

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Cadre   Traverse       ****
There are adults in South Africa today who never knew apartheid, and the struggle of their parents and grandparents can too easily be forgotten or discounted. So Cadre is a South African parallel to the Jewish Passover seder, one generation telling the next a story it is essential for them to know and understand in order to know their identity. Omphile Molusi based this play on his own uncle's life, playing him from young schoolboy to seasoned freedom fighter, co-directing with Rick Boynton and ably supported by Sello Motloung and Lillian Tshabalala giving protean performances as Everyone Else. The production dips into the rich pool of African theatrical modes, from shadow puppetry through music and dance, as well as narrative and realistic acting. And if the mix of modes and the educational impulse of the play sometimes give it the flavour of a basic history lesson or theatre-in-schools, and if the story of a young black man joining the resistance movement, spending a good chunk of his life in prison and much of the rest having to face the very difficult decisions and actions of war is familiar to some of us, the mere fact that it is ancient history to others justifies the play.  
 Gerald Berkowitz

Cambridge Footlights   Pleasance Dome       ***
It's not a classic year for Footlights, I fear. There are some decent laughs in the hour and a couple of clearly talented people in the three-woman-one-man cast. But too many of the sketches linger on after they've made their joke or take too long to get there, so you spend too much of your time just waiting. The DVD B-sides sketch is good, and the imaginary friend bit goes in unexpected directions. The recurring gag of the see-your-own-death machine is funny the first few times, but around the fifth or sixth or twenty-ninth variation they've run out of good ideas. The other running gag, about hitchhikers, also runs out of material very quickly, while the dangerous wire bit and the sketches behind screens just go on too long with too little payoff. Granted, no sketch show can score with every single bit, but the hit-to-miss ratio has to be a little higher than this.   Gerald Berkowitz

Caryatid Unplugged   Hill Street       ****
In the early 19th century Lord Elgin saved/desecrated (delete as necessary) Athens' Parthenon by rescuing/looting (ditto) its classical marble caryatids that now reside in the British Museum. Running with the tussle that still rages between Greece and Britain over who should rightfully have them, Evi Stamatiou creates a world of bubbly satire that turns the current Greek economic collapse into a metaphor for the rest of us Europeans. Gleefully blaming her low-budget show on Greece’s economy, Stamatiou flips in and out of physical and clown-style roles, occasionally bursting into song, and creates extra characters from mops – Rita and John. The latter is an immigration official who finds himself in the tricky position of having to ring PM David Cameron for advice as to whether he should deport Rita, a Greek who is desperate to stay in the UK, but block the departure of the Caryatid, who is equally anxious to return home. It's a little rough and ready, but Stamatiou turns this to her advantage plotwise, while her infectious delivery wins over the audience. Under the slapstick, the finger stays firmly on our political pulse, and towards the end the message suddenly becomes shockingly clear when the spotlight turns on the exploitation at the heart of Europe’s dark underbelly.  Nick Awde

Ciara   Traverse       ***
David Harrower has written a play that is an open-eyed and unsentimental love letter to Glasgow while being a whodunnit of sorts in which very little is as it first seems, and it deserves a more nuanced and insightful production than director Orla O'Loughlin and actress Blythe Duff give it. In the extended monologue of the text, Duff plays one of Glasgow's ladies who lunch, the proprietor of an art gallery specialising in the large and expensive paintings the newly rich desire to punctuate their walls. She doesn't come from privilege, of course – her father was a mid-level gangster in Glasgow's hardman culture, and her husband is his protegé and heir – but Ciara keeps their world and hers decidedly separate until a series of events and revelations shows her that they've never been as far apart as she thought, and she must prove herself her father's daughter to survive. Since everything is seen through Ciara's after-the-fact narration, it is up to the actress to show us facets of her character as they are needed, but Duff's performance gives us all we're going to know about her at the start and allows us no further discoveries. In particular, there is no hint of the her-father's-daughter steel at the core that will make sense of some of her later actions. So the play has little forward momentum beyond the mere narrative, little sense of our moving beneath the surface to new understandings, and that part of Harrower's vision that includes a grudging affection for the resiliency and code of the Glasgow underworld isn't sufficiently conveyed. Visually, the play is also untheatrical, as Duff spends most of her time just sitting in a chair in the empty warehouse that is to be her new gallery, occasionally moving to some other point onstage for no particular reason except to break up the monotony. This is a case of a performance that adds too little to, and perhaps doesn't deliver as much as, what you could get from reading the play yourself.    Gerald Berkowitz

The Collision Of Things   Pleasance     ***
In a mix of acting, mime and dance three performers offer snapshots of the interrelated lives of three newcomers to London. Jan (Martin Bonger) and Luciana (Merce Ribot) meet cute and marry, renting a room in their flat to Tom (Richard Kless). All three are immigrants of a sort, though Tom has come from no further than Yorkshire, and all three are looking to the city to help them define themselves – Jan and Luciana as a couple, Tom by tracing the footsteps of the dead father he never knew. The couple squabble and make up, Tom and Luciana flirt innocently, Jan dreams of escape, and eventually one of them dies in a senseless accident, leaving the others to carry on the job of living and finding themselves. With music underscoring or punctuating every scene, naturalistic acting flowing seamlessly into snippets of dance or synchronised movement, and what appears to be the in-some-way symbolic drinking of a lot of cups of water, it is clearly the intention of the production to reach toward meanings beyond the small lives of these not particularly interesting characters. But the openly stated moral – that meaning and identity are not to be searched for but come out of what we actually do – seems imposed on the action, and the piece is best appreciated as an exercise in performance rather than a cohesive play. 
   Gerald Berkowitz

The Complete History of the BBC (Abridged)  Sweet in the Grassmarket       **
Welcome to the East Cheam Museum of Broadcasting, also known as Terrence and Ingrid's garden shed, where avid fan Terrence has built a little shrine to the BBC. With the occasionally grudging assistance of his wife he takes us on a rapid tour of British radio and television history, mentioning at least in passing dozens of programmes from ITMA and the Goon Show through Blue Peter, The Archers, Doctor Who, the shipping forecast and the red button. The title of this script by Alix Cavanagh (who also plays Ingrid to Paul Thomas's Terence) might lead you to expect some inventive take-offs on BBC stalwarts in the manner of the similarly-titled Shakespearean romp, but all the humour comes from Terrence's trainspotterly obsession and Thomas's prissy performance. So all we really have here is just a catalogue list of programme titles and performer names, with all the pleasure coming from the audience's warm memories when Listen With Mother or Muffin The Mule or Hancock or Cooke or some other touchstone of their childhood is mentioned.   Gerald Berkowitz

Confused In Syracuse  C Chambers Street      **
OPS Theatre, a Russian clown company, presents a string of mime episodes supposedly exploring Greek mythology, but with as minimal and tenuous a connection to that source as to each other. There are brief and vague allusions to Narcissus, Pandora and Pegasus, and a Panto centaur appears, but they are just passing parts of a random repertoire of familiar and generic mime exercises. Someone is blown about by an imaginary wind. A woman sits on a man and mistakes his legs for hers. A door is repeatedly opened to expose someone in an odd or compromising position. A comically big-breasted woman and a flat-chested one vie for a man's attention. People lip-sync to snatches of operatic arias. As that list suggests, there is very little that's original in the company's toolbox, and very little that is executed with impressive flair or even basic skill – the lip-syncing is particularly sloppy. A few isolated one- or two-minute bits, like the centaur shooting an arrow into the wings only to have it emerge from the other side and strike his tail, might work as blackouts in a more diverse programme. But the forty-five minute show merely exposes the company's inability to create a narrative or thematic unity and the poverty of their mime vocabulary.   Gerald Berkowitz

Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model   Pleasance Dome     ****
As she admits to the audience, Bryony Kimming’s shows are usually about herself. But this time, to her surprise, the inspiration comes from her niece. After spending time looking after Taylor, Bryony started seeing life through a nine year old’s eyes – and was shocked. This show is her response, aided and abetted by Taylor herself. Dressed in matching fairy-tale outfits, the pair bound on to chat and sometimes dance about the modern dilemma of protecting kids without mollycoddling them from stuff like the web, sexualisation and relentless advertising. Staged in an appropriately relaxed manner, we encounter a world of raunchy Katy Perry videos, internet trawls and brand awareness, experienced from a far younger perspective. It’s not all dark of course, and Taylor confidently prods her aunt’s lighter side via routines and asides that get deserved laughs. The show itself raises questions about Taylor’s exposure to the adult world, something the pair resolve by popping headphones on her along with a Nintendo DS (possibly 3D) whenever Kimmings needs to address things on a purely adult level. That sort of concern inspired the creation of Catherine Bennett, Bryony’s cheery paleontologist alter ego, who not only pops up here but now also tours schools promoting creative options for kids. The individual set pieces hold their own but the show itself does not knot together as neatly. But then that reflects the innocent yet somehow complex world of tweenagers, and cannot detract from this being a bold piece of theatremaking with not only a heart but a moral in the tale for us all.  Nick Awde

The Curse of Elizabeth Faulkner   Just The Tonic at The Caves     ***
A light-hearted horror spoof that's at its best when making self-referential jokes, Tim Downie's play is ideally situated in the Caves, a venue that always makes you feel fungus is growing in your lungs. To end a curse on both their families, a lord of the manor and an undertaker must dig up the gent's great-grandmother and bury her more properly. Or perhaps, as the obligatory mysterious stranger argues, the real curse involves a coconut holy to the ancient Aztecs. That's enough of a premise on which to hang a lot of turned-on-themselves clichés, gags and broad acting. This is the sort of show in which the lighting changes for someone's internal monologue and everyone else notices, or in which the odd prop or costume malfunction is so in keeping with the spirit of the thing that it might be scripted. The cast of four occasionally amble when romping would be preferable, but they all treat the material with the almost-straight faces it deserves, Neil Harvey as the gravedigger turned grave robber under the tutelage of Josh Haberfield's gent, Anil Desai appropriately unsettling as the man from Peru, and Harriette Sym switching between dumb secretary and cackling hag at the drop of a coconut.  Gerald Berkowitz

Dark Vanilla Jungle  Pleasance      ****
It is a harrowing tale that the clearly damaged young woman played by Gemma Whelan tells us, of parental neglect leaving her easy prey to the grooming of an older man who seduces her and lures her into a gang rape. But midway through the hour, playwright Philip Ridley shifts gears radically, introducing a whole new plot line, and we must adjust to the fact that the story we've been engrossed by and invested our emotional involvement in was just the background and prelude to an even greater litany of horrors as the girl moves into totally delusional psychosis. That adjustment is a difficult one to keep up with, and it is entirely to the credit of the actress that we stay with her even as things change so radically and as the quantum leap in shock requires her to continually raise her acting intensity to near-hysterical level. It is possible that you won't be able stay emotionally tied to the play and character as they get ever more extreme, or that you'll find the levels the actress is forced to reach for too over-the-top. If that happens, you must still admire her commitment to the demanding role and the extent of her achievement; if everything works for you, then both play and performance will be among the most intense experiences the Fringe has to offer.    Gerald Berkowitz

Death and Gardening  Assembly Roxy      ****  
Fanshaw is greeted by a team of colourfully besuited check-in attendants. They're extremely attentive - when they're not on their break, that is - and take his full details. He's very compliant - up to a point. He accepts that he's dead but frets about leaving this departure lounge for the other side while loose ends remain untied in the land of the living. Time pauses, rewinds, fast forwards as the concerned trio swing between calming their latest charge and prodding him into understanding when and how he passed away, even if it means revisiting all the key moments of his life – focusing on his relationship with his wife and their child-to-be. As scenarios both comic and poignant are enacted and reenacted, Fanshaw becomes more and more bogged down in the red tape and procedures that ironically accompany the free service so cheerfully offered him. Without getting too bogged down, Wet Picnic’s Viktor Lukawski, Charlotte Dubery, Nessa Norich and Gwenaelle Mendonca whizz through a thoughtful battery of pieces taken from the physical armoury, channelled by Matt Feerick’s direction. As with many fringe pieces this snappy show is being honed before your very eyes and looking to incorporate audience feedback, so it will be interesting to see how this plays when it moves on afterwards. Nick Awde

Desperately Seeking the Exit  The Counting House      ****    (reviewed at a previous Festival)

A few years ago a pot-fuelled 'what if?' session led to writer-performer Peter Michael Marino coming up with the idea of a stage musical version of the film Desperately Seeking Susan with the music of Blondie. It seemed at first that the gods loved the idea, because he rapidly found a Broadway producer, wrote the script, got all the needed rights and hired a star director. Then they lost the star director, lost some rights, found a London producer and a star London director, cast the musical and went into production, discovered he star director knew nothing about musicals, got back some of the rights, and went through the general hell leading up to opening night in London and the special hell following the reviews. Enough time has passed for Marino to be able to look back at the misadventure with some philosophical detachment, and he takes us through it in a monologue sprinkled liberally with named (Madonna, Debbie Harry) and unnamed (most of his collaborators) heroes and villains, pausing along the way to comment wittily on the language and culture gaps he kept encountering as the only American in the production. Marino tries his best not to whinge (one of the Britishisms he was introduced to), but he can't help presenting himself as the put-upon victim of everyone else's incompetence and ego trips. Hey, he's as likely to be telling the true story as anyone else, and he's probably a lot more entertaining.  Gerald Berkowitz

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

Don't Wake Me      Gilded Balloon   **** 
Rahila Gupta's poetic monologue has all the power of truth courageously transmuted into art by the person who lived it, the mother of a severely disabled child. After a difficult conception and much more difficult birth – marked, she would later learn, by medical incompetence and medical heroism in almost equal measure – Gupta's son Nihal was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. The rest of his too-short life would swing his mother through rage, despair and joy as they encountered medical and educational 'experts' too committed to their theories and turfs to acknowledge the actual boy before them and others who were able to uncover his abilities and foster his personality precisely because they weren't blinded by any preconceptions. Jaye Griffiths delivers Gupta's words with all the skill and sensitivity to navigate the speaker's extreme emotional swings and a commitment so complete that it may surprise you (programmes not being handed out until the end) to discover she is not the author. 
Gerald Berkowitz

Durham Revue      Underbelly   **** 
Durham's revues have a secret ingredient other university sketch shows too often lack – jokes. Where too many others too often come up with ideas for sketches but not the funny stuff to go in them, Durham can afford to be profligate with its gags. In this year's edition the policemen, doctor, clergy and family trip sketches each squander a half-dozen or more jokes where others would be happy to come up with one. And if they're not all great jokes, there's always another one along in a few seconds, and the sheer quantity becomes part of the fun. A running theme this year is taking things too literally, like the guy who thinks he has to produce every thing he spells in Scrabble. If the running Boris gags don't really work, the Armstrong ones do, and so do the Doctor's Office and Bingo Caller bits. Miles ahead of Edinburgh this year, and at least yards ahead of Oxford and Cambridge.  Gerald Berkowitz

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Each Of Us     Pleasance     ****
Ben Moor is a writer of immense charm, invention and quiet wit, and, with a style that seems far more unstructured than it is, the ideal performer of his own writing. His story here – of being dumped by his girlfriend, moping around for a while, and then starting once again to notice the things and people around him – may have little new to offer us in the way of a moral, but he meanders through it with amiable grace on his way to the almost accidental conclusion that we find not just comfort but a sense of who we are from who we know. And along the way we are repeatedly jolted by observations or turns of phrase that are not just jokes but such absolutely right ways of perceiving reality that you just know you are going to steal them and pass them off as your own – an 'unwelcome guest room', a pile of bicycles 'fallen into an accidental orgy', or the escapist narrator realising he's become a 'shirkaholic'. It is a gentle hour, disarming you with its apparent casualness, but it will linger with you longer than many seemingly more dramatic or insistently meaningful monologues. 
Gerald Berkowitz

Economy of Thought     Assembly     ****
Patrick McFadden's drama looks at the young-boy network of investment banking, a world that, if not totally amoral, runs by private and very fluid ethical rules of its own. His entry is a woman in the very male world, a rising star confident she is holding her own both professionally and sexually in this testosterone-fuelled environment. But just as things are looking particularly rosy for her she becomes tangentially involved in a laddish prank by her co-workers that goes badly wrong, and the question becomes how much she is prepared to play the game, especially since the determined journalist hunting down the story is her sister. Personal issues compound the careerist as ancient sibling rivalries and questions of who is or was bonking who muddy the waters. The play suffers a bit from glibness and a polish that seems designed to keep it from getting too deep, occasionally giving it the feel of a self-satisfied TV drama, but there are strong performances at its centre by Katharine Davenport as the woman and Jonny McPherson as the most oily blokish of the princes of the City with whom she works. 
Gerald Berkowitz

The Edinburgh Revue - Sketch Show     Opium     *
Student revues are not easy, which is one reason why Oxford and Cambridge had the field to themselves for a long time. Recently other universities have revived the form with mixed results (Durham is usually good, others uneven). Judging from this particularly weak entry from Edinburgh, there's not much comic invention to be found among the capital's undergraduates. Very few of the sketches have even potentially effective premises, and fewer still have actual jokes, and the 3f-2m cast seem desperately uncomfortable onstage, with no hint of natural comic talent. The charity appeal and insult-filled date sketches are adequate, but the Brothers Grimm and Master Race Chef are potentially good ideas wasted, and none of the rest seem likely to have paid off even if better written. A repeated gag of explaining the jokes of the weakest sketches just points out their failures, and adds to the sense of the cast's unhappiness at being stuck up there. The best thing to say about this show is that it's free, so that all it need cost you is an hour of your life. 
  Gerald Berkowitz

Eh Joe     Lyceum Theatre    ****
This Dublin Gate Theatre production of Samuel Beckett's 1965 television play, being performed four times in the Edinburgh International Festival, is the same one that was seen at London's Duke of York's Theatre in 2006, with Michael Gambon onstage and the recorded voice of Penelope Wilton. On television the camera moves ever closer to the man's face as he listens to the voice in his head. For the stage, director Atom Egoyan, after a wordless opening sequence that resembles Beckett's Film as Gambon's Joe locks the doors and windows to his shabby room and covers them with curtains to block out the world, has Gambon sitting on his bed looking toward the wings, where a camera projects his enlarged image on the scrim between him and us. We therefore from that point on can see the actor in profile sitting almost motionless while the close-up captures every small facial reaction to what he is hearing. The voice is that of a former lover, now dead, quietly gloating over the fact that Joe will soon be joining her accompanied by a lifetime of regrets. She reminds him with sadistic pleasure of the vitality he has lost, of the fact that she left him for another and better man, of the less resilient mistress he drove to suicide, and of the imminent judgement he will be facing for a life lacking in love. Meanwhile Joe, clearly trying to maintain a poker face, betrays himself with flinches, eye and lip movements and, just once, raising a hand to his face but giving up on the gesture before it reaches its goal, This time around there is a clearer sense of a progression to Michael Gambon's facial responses, as he begins by resisting the woman's insinuations and accusations, his eyes darting about as if looking for escape or closing tight in denial. His lips repeatedly quiver with the effort of trying to shape and vocalise words that won't come out, and he soon gives up, moving into a period of more passive reaction, as with the mere hints of anger at her mention of the better lover and the near-tears, which may just be the watery eyes of an old man, that are all he'll allow her to arouse with her account of the suicide. And he ends with a final blankness that can be read as an admission of guilt or simple exhaustion. While one could question how much is gained by moving this television play to the stage, since our focus is almost entirely on the close-up that is the same thing we would see onscreen, there is no doubt that the combined contributions of Gambon and Wilton would be difficult for other actors to match in any medium.  Gerald Berkowitz

Entertaining Mr. Orton     C Chambers Street    ***
Martin Mulgrew's intention in writing this play was to tell playwright Joe Orton's story in the style of Orton's own plays, and he achieves only limited success in both halves of that ambition. The play concentrates on two episodes a few years apart, Orton and lover Ken Halliwell's brief imprisonment for wittily defacing library books and Halliwell's murder and suicide when Joe was moving beyond him. Anyone who doesn't know the whole story might have difficulty connecting the two events and filling in the gaps between them. Meanwhile Mulgrew's mode is a fairly straight (pun inescapable) narrative, with only two brief scenes – the courtroom defence of some other criminals for the theft of a coffin, and a randy barrister's encounter with a new secretary – that are in any way Ortonesque, and both stand out as being in an entirely different style from the rest (and totally irrelevant to the main action). The Tower Theatre Company, London's oldest amateur theatre, do an excellent job, bringing out all that the script gives them to work with, and at least one star is for their production more than the play. Jack Burns makes an ideal Orton, the swagger of the would-be rough trade belied by an inescapable softness, while Stuart Denman captures Halliwell's clinging dependence and Karen Walker embodies agent Peggy Ramsey's blend of luvie and hard-nosed professional. 
  Gerald Berkowitz

Eugene Grandet     Assembly     ****
All kudos to producer Hartshorn-Hook for boldly taking a large-cast, full-costume, full-length play to the fringe. Even better is the company's decision to bring up new fare: an adaptation of Balzac’s early 19th-century novel about a well-to-do family ill-fated by its obsession with money. Wily, yet miserly, self-made millionaire Felix Grandet (Roger Watkins) fumes at his mansion south of Paris. His nephew, the penniless Charles (Jack Parry-Jones), has unexpectedly arrived and immediately gets get purses bulging and bodices heaving. Grandet’s daughter Eugenie (Jo Hartland) is smitten by her cousin’s smarmy charm, and so sparks a run for Grandet’s inheritance as Gallic vitriol and intrigue sets off a chain of events whose repercussions stretch into the years to come. Authentic in period attire, the ten-strong cast – including cellist Saskia Portway – place their stamp on the complex bonds and rivalries that dog the Grandets as they face the challenge of blood being thicker than water. Meanwhile, Donnacadh O’Briain keeps the action going through Jonathan Choat’s suitably epic adaptation, and creates some unexpectedly innovative scenes from Lorna Ritchie’s highly versatile pewter and oak set. The result is a powerful yet frequently subtle drama that is well adapted to tour across most sizes of venue.  Nick Awde

The Event     Traverse     ****
Playwright David Greig is nothing if not protean, his past plays ranging from children's theatre to Shakespearean sequel, romantic comedy to political analysis, sophisticated satire of academia to West End musical. He can always be counted on for exciting theatrical metaphors or leaps of imagination, and he can too often be guilty of sacrificing character depth and reality to the demands of plot or theme. The Event has both, imaginatively reaching for the understanding of one character almost entirely through a focus on another and, paradoxically, keeping both at arm's length, the better to see them clearly and dispassionately.  Greig addresses Anders Breivik's 2012 attack on innocent Norwegian campers, stripping the story down to two characters, the unnamed murderer and a priest and choirmistress who survived the attack. Greig focuses on the latter, a woman of faith whose faith was shaken, a believer in people who can only understand what happened as evidence of pure evil. Most of the play is devoted to her obsessive need to comprehend and exorcise this evil, a process that leads her to attempt to picture both reconciled forgiveness and violent vengeance, and that takes her as far afield as aboriginal ceremonies and mystical chants. Meanwhile the killer, for all his posing, political speechmaking and imagining himself as a Viking warrior, gradually exposes himself as a small, ordinary and boring little man who happened to have a political ideology and a gun. And it is the woman's realisation, in a climactic face-to-face meeting, that she did not encounter anything demonic at that bloody campsite, but just what Hannah Arendt famously called 'the banality of evil' , that offers her some peace. While Neve McIntosh makes us aware of the spiritual and existential panic underlying the woman's obsession and Rudi Dharmalingham gradually exposes the little man beneath the bluff, Ramin Gray's production seems curiously designed to distance us from the characters rather than drawing us in. An all-but-bare stage keeps the play from being anchored in a specific reality, and both McIntosh and Dharmalingham use body or hand microphones to disembody their voices, creating the dreaded actor-over-here-voice-over-there effect. A different local Edinburgh choir is brought in at every performance to play small roles, serve as a sort of Greek Chorus, and punctuate scenes with their hymns and anthems.    Gerald Berkowitz

Expiration Date     Spotlites@The Merchants' Hall     ***
Rose-Marie Brandwein's short play approaches large questions about the nature of humanity through dystopian science fiction. In an imagined century from now, when nature, beauty and all the messy things about life have been sanitised away, people live to the age of 150 and then make room for others by transferring their consciousness to computer chips, living on in TV monitors. A woman approaching the critical age and therefore old enough to remember and be nostalgic for a humane and less sterile world rebels against what is expected of her. Her son, who is not really her son, and her husband, who is the computerised version of the man she loved, argue for following convention. Brandwein thus sets her debate in a personal dramatic context, but the play is too short to do full justice to both ideas and drama, and sacrifices depth to thesis. The human story never really comes alive and the actors are forced to push too hard for effects and to flesh out their barely-sketched characters on the way to an ending that is telegraphed long in advance.  Gerald Berkowitz

The Extremists     Assembly Roxy    *****
A TV discussion show. A respectful, on-the-ball interviewer. An incisive, on-the-ball interviewee. He has a new explosive book just out on extremism, and she has the job of exploring the issues for the viewers. Seasoned practitioners in the dark arts of media, they hit their stride the second they go on air. The debate that unravels at breakneck speed switches each second from heated invective to hyper-rational reasoning and back again. Boxer-like, the interviewee dodges and parries each probe into his own evident extremism, skilfully presenting himself as more and more liberal as he manipulates the definition of 'normal' before our disbelieving eyes. Gradually the pastiche turns to parody and then to full-blown satire as our protagonists embark on a sort of moral rewind on our world of talking head politics and social control. Framed by John Clancy’s finger-on-the-pulse direction, and charged with interpreting C J Hopkins’ fiendishly complex rollercoaster of a script, David Calvitto and Carol Scudder take on the challenge with relish and enviable technique – indeed, you’ll look hard to find another pairing with the chops to pull this off. Hopkins’ slick pieces mainly come across as designed to be tour-de-forces for the quickfire fringe. This time round, however, the team has delivered a production that is perfectly suited to reach a wider audience on the national tour circuit and beyond. Nick Awde

Fade     Bedlam     ***
Alexander Owen's new play is a disconcerting piece, largely because it undergoes a startling shift in tone midway through, starting as light comedy and then turning very much darker. A journalist coming to interview a trendy film director is reunited with his first teenage love, now the new film's star. Comic awkwardness at the reunion, offbeat interjections by the director's pothead PA and general comic cross-talk give way to more serious drama as we learn that the reporter has obsessed over that lost love for a decade while the girl hardly remembers it. And then the director proves to be sadistically manipulative and demonic, blithely using this situation in a way that threatens the happiness and even sanity of the others. The young cast – Will Barwick as the reporter, Nina Shenkman as the actress and Tom Black as the director – have difficulty navigating the sudden changes in tone and the almost complete alterations each character must undergo, and the play is more successful in its lighter moments, which include some fantasy sequences involving Luke Murphy as a philosophical beach musician, than in its darker turns. Gerald Berkowitz

The Fantasist     Underbelly     ****      (reviewed at a previous Festival)
Welcome to the topsy-turvy of the bipolar world where everything’s (mostly) okay so long as you keep taking the medication. However, since Louise’s condition takes her to parallel worlds where she doesn’t so much as drift in and out but is hurled from one to the other by the creatures she meets there, keeping a sensible routine is not as easy as it looks. That wardrobe, for example, looks empty but, depending on where Louise finds herself, it also happens to be a portal to a nightmarish Narnia, from which mad, bad things emerge, each a different facet of her hopes and fears. A tall dark silent stranger dances seductively, offers potions and opens dark doors leading to who knows where. Disembodied heads of mutilated women matily cajole in comic doggerel. A small artist’s model, Morph-like comes to life to delight her but breaks our hearts when it realises it is too small to protect its new friend. Louise also has firm support on the human side of her life, the Friend and the Care-worker. They watch out for her but, when coping with someone who lives half her life in a surreal world that whizzes by at ten times the speed of everyone else, the effort can be wearing. Indeed, increasingly finding herself dodging reality checks, Louise is approaching dangerous waters. As Louise, Julia Yevnine flips with ease between the dialogue of one world and the physicality of the other, convincingly channeling the different facets of an individual balancing realities, and she plays to the strengths of this company-devised work. Julia Correa captures the dilemma of the Friend who wants to help but cannot, while as the Care-worker Cat Gerrard is all chat and bustle. The latter two double less successfully as puppeteers – too much body movement reflecting their puppets’ actions distracts and detracts. Theatrical renderings, particularly physical, of mental illness usually end up as self-indulgent exercises, but this version is anything but. Under Ailin Conant’s tight direction, this is an accomplished technical piece that keeps on-track in hitting the emotions while avoiding any mawkishness or issue-dodging.  Nick Awde

Fantasy No. 10 - The Beauty Of Life     Summerhall     ****
A bearded man stands in a tutu, another crawls back into the wheelchair from which he is perpetually pushed, a third declaims philosophy seemingly oblivious to being taken from behind, a woman sings at the vortex of her own dwindling celebrity. Although Vladimir Tzekov Stage Action Laboratory’s physical piece is intentionally open-ended and comic, it surprises with its strong moral commentary on the assumptions we make about, well, anything. On a musical note, the opening routine to the Tiger Lillies’ Together For Ever contrasts with the later strains of Demis Roussos’ We Shall Dance – both utterly compelling in their own way. Meanwhile, dreamy quotes such as 'art is not art any more' and 'we don’t feel as we used to feel before' contrast with the often violent, if stylish, images enacted. Seemingly disconnected, it is within the spaces created by the juxtaposition that the answers sought take form. Manuel Bonillo (who also directs), Raquel Cruz, Santiago del Hoyo and Francisco Muela form a supremely generous ensemble who are similarly considerate of their audience, seeking to challenge while sustaining accessibility to the piece’s narrative. Rather than looping physical movement to emphasise the point, they devise repetitions by rolling entire sections of dialogue over differing actions, thus creating variations on a theme that in turn create unexpected ironies that get you thinking hard and arriving at your own conclusions.   Nick Awde


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Fight Night     Traverse     **
The young Belgian company Ontroerend Goed specialises in presentations of the youth experience that pretend to be dangerously anarchic and unpredictable but are actually as tightly scripted and choreographed as any eighteenth-century comedy of manners. Working here with Australian and British co-producers they put the audience through a classroom exercise in psychology and sociology disguised as a game show. With the audience given electronic keypads to vote with, five contestants vie for our approval as we eliminate losers based first on mere appearance and then on. shared values and responses to their campaign speeches until eventually one wins and tells us what all this has exposed about us and about the nature of democracy. Now, I don't know if the voting is real or rigged, but it is obvious that it doesn't matter, that regardless of who is eliminated in what order, the others will play out the remaining scenes in the same way, and whoever wins will make that same speech at the end. So there is considerably less here than meets the eye, and either you fall for it and come away convinced you have learned something deep and meaningful about yourself, or you see through it and are offended by the fraud, or – like me – you're just bored. Angelo Tijssens is amusing as the host/quizmaster.   Gerald Berkowitz.

Fionnuala     Hill Street     **
Donal O'Kelly's monologue is written and performed in righteous anger, but its subject is so specific and localised that a general audience can't possibly share the writer-performer's passion. As an extensive background booklet not handed out until after the performance explains, Shell Oil has spent a decade violating Irish law, manipulating politicians and media, and resorting to criminal violence to build a refinery in Mayo and a long and dangerous pipeline to it from an offshore rig. O'Kelly imagines one of Shell's local fixers, part thug and part PR expert, having a mystical encounter with the swan-spirit Fionnuala (also the name of Shell's hated tunnel-boring machine), who forces him to confess his and the company's guilt. But the crimes he confesses to are specific and local – the beating up of one named protester, the sinking of another's boat – the sort of thing we almost half-expect in corporate-public disputes, and can't really get as excited about as the locals do. (Meanwhile, aspects of the story that outsiders could understand and be roused by – political corruption, environmental damage, etc. – are barely mentioned.) O'Kelly weakens the power of his screed even further by going off on an extended digression about the scandal of long-hidden physical and sexual abuse of children by Catholic priests. I will guess that he is implicitly arguing that another national scandal must not be allowed to go unacknowledged for decades, but he doesn't make that connection, and so valuable minutes of his short monologue are taken away from his main argument. O'Kelly performs with intensity and anger, but he can't overcome the handicap that he is investing all this energy in something most of us know nothing about and he fails to make real enough for us to care about. 
  Gerald Berkowitz.

Tim Fitzhigham     Pleasance     ****
A decade ago comic Tim Fitzhigham rowed the length of the Thames for charity and discovered his life's work, becoming the leader of that subset of comedians who do something odd for part of the year and talk about it comically for the rest. Tim has crossed the Channel in a bath, raced up Mount Vesuvius, and Morris-danced from London to Norwich, in each case building a delightful comic set around his account. This year his history of doing bizarre things got him a TV series meeting and challenging other adventurers, and he entertains us with behind-the-scenes accounts of racing barefoot through Icelandic snow, Spidermanning up a building in Qatar, and withstanding more G-force in an astronaut centrifuge than anyone else. As ever, Tim has video evidence to prove that he actually did all these foolhardy things, and as ever he tells his stories with an attractive mix of deserved pride and wide-eyed wonder at his own stupidity, making for a fast-moving and laugh-filled hour unlike any other comedian's. 
  Gerald Berkowitz.

Flanders and Swann   Pleasance   ****    (Reviewed at a previous Festival)
This salute to the duo who pioneered genteel song-and-patter comedy in the 1950s is a delight that does not rely on nostalgia or even knowledge of the originals for the fun, though I must admit I was surprised that everyone in the audience, young and old, could join in the chorus of the Hippopotamus Song ('Mud, mud, glorious mud...') without prompting. Perhaps it's one of those things, like the Goon Show voices and the Dead Parrot sketch that have entered the British DNA. Duncan Walsh Atkins, quietly droll at the piano, and Tim Fitzhigham, boisterously welcoming at the microphone and singing in an attractive baritone, take us through a dozen F&S classics, from the aforementioned Hippo through Have Some Madeira M'Dear, Transports of Delight and I'm a Gnu. Tim's intersong chatter is new but fully in the F&S mode, taking on the blimpish persona of a Kensington Tory deigning to work alongside his south-London accompanist, and the moment in which he plays a french horn concerto by blowing into one end of a music stand is truly remarkable. All together now, 'I'm a gnu, a gnother gnu....' Gerald Berkowitz
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Fleabag   Underbelly      *****
Take away the stool on which Phoebe Waller-Bridge perches and put a microphone in front of her, and at least three-quarters of her hour-long monologue plays like a stand-up comic's act as Waller-Bridge, in the persona of a sex-hungry twenty-something, recounts the travails of trying to run a failing business, trying to retain connections to her family, and trying to get laid. The jokes and situations are good, and you'll laugh a lot, but there is more to Fleabag than that. While other female comics use an exaggerated version of themselves to set up the gags, Waller-Bridge uses the humour to build a fully-rounded and not merely comic characterisation. Fleabag is a nice middleclass girl caught at just that delayed moment when university types finally have to grow up, a transition she is resisting with all her unconscious efforts. Her indiscriminate bar-hopping and bed-hopping, which are ultimately more sad than comic, are a last-ditch attempt to hang on to irresponsibility, and her growing awareness in the course of the hour that it is time to give up the fight gives this very, very funny monologue a surprising degree of depth. 
Gerald Berkowitz.

Dean Friedman   Sweet Grassmarket      ****    (Reviewed at a previous Festival)
The New York singer-songwriter who gave us silky hits like Lucky Stars and Ariel in the otherwise mad, bad 70s and championed today by our very own Gaby Roslin and Jonathan Ross, Dean Friedman has never really gone away - he's just been busy producing a string of albums over the years of precision-crafted songs in his own inimitable style. His first chart smashes aside, every song in this Edinburgh show is a classic in its own right - intimate, epic, satirical or just plain loving, there's a song for everyone. He'll have you wiping away tears of laughter to the cheerful insanity of Sado-Masochism, touch you with a ballad about a loved one's death, and arouse delicious disgust with his homage to self-pleasurement, Nookie In The Mail. Shopping Bag Ladies covers more sober territory - a winsome observation of life on the streets - as does McDonald's Girl, in the sense that this love letter to the burger girl behind the counter got Dean banned by the BBC (putting him up there with the Sex Pistols!). Dean refuses to be classified (he also does a kid's show at the same venue) but under the deceptively catchy melodies lies one of the industry's most underrated lyricists. If only for the audience duet on Lucky Stars, you won't see a better show. Nick Awde
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Gardening For The Unfulfilled And Alienated   Pleasance   ****
It's not unheard of for Edinburgh Fringe shows to have tiny audiences, but this monologue by Brad Birch is limited to an audience of two in the confines of an actual garden hut, making Richard Corgan's performance in-your-face theatre of the most understated kind. After squeezing past the two guests in his shed, Corgan chats sweetly and earnestly about a man's need for a retreat, a place to be himself or to be nothing at all if he wishes. Why he chose a shed is explained by the discovery of a gardening book at work, and all I can really say about what follows is that for the rest of its half-hour length the play will dip its toe ever so delicately into psychological horror, but in such a friendly and understated way you might not even notice it, though the spirit of The Little Shop Of Horrors may hover in the back of your mind. There's something about the Edinburgh Fringe that inspires commercial follies, and almost every year has some show deliberately playing to only one or two at a time. With a cleverly structured script and a beautifully underplayed and oh-so-sane performance by Richard Corgan, this is one of the best.  Gerald Berkowitz

Genesis/Golgotha   Assembly    ****
The New York based team of director John Clancy and actress Nancy Walsh, Fringe veterans with a decade of award-winning shows between them, each direct the other in these paired monologues by Don Nigro that invest biblical figures with modern sensibilities. Walsh's Eve is a middle-aged Middle America housewife who loves her husband though she knows she's smarter than he is, loves her children though she can see trouble ahead for them, and reserves most of her resentment for her husband's boss. Being a creator of life herself gives her a special insight into the Creator, and the psychoanalysis Nigro has her posit for the Lord of the Garden is intriguing. As an actress Walsh accepts the challenge of doing very little, letting Eve's anger seethe beneath the resignation of a lumpen hausfrau. In contrast, John Clancy (in his first acting role) bounces all over the stage with the manic energy of Nigro's modern Jesus, a Pittsburgh street crazy who may be the Messiah or just completely delusional. This burned-out hipster enjoys a drink, appreciates the beauty of a woman, secretly suspects his mother had a fling with a passing Italian soldier (and doesn't blame her for it), can laugh with affection at the eccentricities of Peter and John, and generally accepts whatever happens to him without rancour. The writing and characterisation aren't quite as tight as in Eve's monologue, leaving Clancy the actor admirably expending a lot of energy but too scatter-shot to be quite effective. Of course the idea of imagining biblical figures as modern isn't new, going back past Mark Twain to the early miracle plays, and this pair can't help having a bit of deja vu about them. But some of the playwright's posited insights, along with the flawless acting, make for an engrossing and thought-provoking hour.   Gerald Berkowitz
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God Versus The Mind Reader   Space On The Mile    ****
More than any other magic act, patter is key to the illusion of a mind reader's act. Weaving in a story that links the routines guarantees a good show, while actually convincing the audience it's all true is even better. Mark Cairns does both and creates a gripping piece of storytelling in the process. The tale is about how the mind reader’s ex-wife found God. He'd had no clue this was coming and couldn't have predicted the effect it would have on their marriage. The irony got Cairns questioning how we arrive at our own beliefs – intriguing stuff that lets him play with the concept of how we only see what we want to see over the next hour with a raft of themed tricks and a willing line-up of volunteers. I’ll let you discover the routines for yourselves but each one provokes a series of entertaining and thoughtful observations on life, the universe and everything – and, of course, the ex-wife and God. Slick and engaging, Cairns keeps the audience gripped, tantalised and strangely educated all the way right up to the twist at the end. There were a lot of magicians in on the night, which presumably limited his choice of volunteers, and this critic was chosen to be the first to step onstage to help out. Coincidence… or was my mind being read?  Nick Awde

The Greatest Liar In All The World   Underbelly      ****
In this inventive retelling of Pinocchio, our favourite factually challenged fairytale character is now all grown up, having made a lifetime career out of being wildly economical with the truth. Burnt out now and reduced to working as a sideshow attraction in a faded travelling fair, he makes the decision to end it all by holding everyone at gunpoint and finally telling the truth. As his startled fairground colleagues rush to prevent him from such sacrilege, Pinocchio shakes off his worldweariness and tells us the sparkling true tale of his life, from promising woodblock to unlikely swashbuckler. Smitten along the way by the Girl with the Blue Hair, his quest to find her again brings him fame as he roams the globe. Alfie Boyd, Dott Cotton, Conrad Sharp, Becca Cox and Jake Stevens (doubling on accordion) produce a battery of props and mediums to keep the plot bounding along, including song routines, clowning and shadow puppets. There are, however, too many ideas going into the plot pot and the funny-dark script plays second bow to the physicality. Still, the cast bring great energy to the proceedings and keep the entertainment levels satisfyingly high at all times.  Nick Awde

Grounded   Traverse      ****
Take an American fighter pilot, ruler of the skies, dealer of death. Make her a woman, with the added glory of making it in a boys' club. Let her fall in love and get pregnant and then ground her, as regulations require. Maternity leave over, introduce her to the Chair Force, the joystick-wielding crew who operate unmanned drones over the Middle East from a trailer near Las Vegas. George Brant takes the pilot from the lone eagle life of the wild blue yonder to the monochrome screen and anonymity of the interchangeable team, and Lucy Ellinson passionately and believably portrays her joy in flying, her frustration on the ground, and the gradual but inevitable way she's drawn into the new joy and eventually the madness of delivering death from afar. Ellinson's accomplishment is also remarkable from a purely technical perspective, as designer Oliver Townsend puts her in a ten-foot cube of scrims, which means that while we can see her, she is performing to four blank walls. And if the need for an ending tempts Brant toward a rushed and overly melodramatic climax, we still come away aware that a wholly new kind of human experience has been explored and brought vividly alive.  Gerald Berkowitz

Growing Old Disgracefully   Assembly Rooms   ****     (Reviewed at a previous Festival)

'Are there any young people in the audience?' demands agony aunt extraordinaire Virginia Ironside with a mischievous twinkle. A good number of hands are nervously raised. 'Then you won't understand a word of this!' comes the instant tongue-in-cheek retort. Ironside is being modest. There is no denying that there is a core audience of a certain age for a well-known sixty-something's thoughts on growing old and crinkly, but the best observational humour is universal, and this is not a show to disprove that. And  so she launches into a whiz-tour of thoughts on negotiating life in the third age. There are the changing and often illogical attitudes as she makes the transition from young woman to grandmother, the increasing aches and pains that lead to pill regimes, and the moaning about arthritis and the trick of lifting oneself from a char after a deep afternoon snooze without breaking wind. Oh, and there's sex (or its absence) of course. Lashings of that. There's barely room to squeeze in her life story, from one-night stands and interviewing the Beatles as a liberated 60s chick to her groundbreaking work in the national agony columns and the dismay of having to go up against Mariella Frostrup. She also ensures that a subtle moral beat underlies it all without being intrusive. Though the veteran of  countless TV and live appearances, Ironside is not the most natural of solo show performers, but Nigel Planer's direction nicely structures the hour, freeing Ironside to concentrate on the audience, moving them to laughs and groans of happy recognition. Nick Awde

H To He (I'm Turning Into A Man)   Hill Street    ****
Claire Dowie woke up one hungover morning, she tells us in this mad monologue, to discover that her hand was broader and hairier than she remembered, her foot bigger and less delicate, her voice even more gravelly than usual. There was only one explanation – she was turning into a man. Over the next few days she realised that her body was squarer and flatter than she remembered, none of her clothes fit the way they had, and she was losing the ability to see dust in her flat. With a striking leap of invention and considerable wit, Dowie has hit on a metaphor for that point in the life of a woman of a certain age when she realises that she does not wear the same face and body she did in her youth. It's not so much the first stray hair on the chin, but the whole shock that what she sees in the mirror when she looks honestly is not the image she has carried in her mind's eye since things were firmer, perter and more easily made beautiful. Dowie carries the metaphor to delightful comic lengths – should she sit or stand at the toilet? – and while some of her flights of fancy, like imagining a flirtation with her PA, feel a bit like filler, she addresses and illuminates an inevitable female (and perhaps also male) experience in a thoroughly entertaining way.  Gerald Berkowitz

Happy Never After   Pleasance   ***
A young couple in love set up housekeeping, face a medical crisis and cope with its after-effects as best they can. Scenes of light humour alternate with moments of emotional fragility and instantly-regretted turning on each other. Hannah Rodgers' play doesn't cover much new territory or offer any glib answers, but its strengths lie in the small touches of convincing reality along the way. Qualities in each that are cute and endearing – she's spontaneous, he more structured – become irritations and convenient places to deflect frustrations when they're stressed. Innocent comments or slips of the tongue become freighted with the potential to cause pain when there's an elephant in the room. As the boy says at one point, 'I feel that any answer I give will be wrong'. And yet the most intense moments can be defused by an expression of love or an irrelevant funny thought. Alice White and Nick Blakely make these moments work and invest their characters with a warmth that lead us to wish them well, but they can't disguise the sense that the essence of this story has been told many times before.  Gerald Berkowitz

The Hat, The Cane, The Moustache   C Too   *
An openly adoring and none-too-accurate salute to Charlie Chaplin, Jetamme Derouet's script filters its story through the sensibility of a 21st-century young actor (Clive Ellington) who identifies most fully with the young Chaplin starting his career a century earlier. The piece draws an overly sentimental portrait of the nervous but hopeful 'Cockney' arriving on his own in New York (conveniently forgetting, in a typical sacrifice of fact to thesis, that he was part of a troupe booked on a US tour) to be embraced by the open-hearted new country that would later reject him. That romanticised image is the backbone of script and performance, which otherwise is very light on facts and dates, and even thinner in insights beyond some guesses at the source of the tramp costume. Derouet and Ellington actually leapfrog over Chaplin's entire film career to get to the political exile in 1952, and conveniently ignore his later films and his triumphal return to Hollywood and a special Oscar in 1972. Ellington makes little attempt to imitate Chaplin in appearance or manner, not even pasting on the moustache until the final seconds. With too little to offer those who know anything about Chaplin and too little that's accurate or useful for those who don't, this solo show can have very limited appeal.  Gerald Berkowitz

Have I No Mouth   Traverse   **
Twelve years ago an Irish husband and father died through medical misdiagnosis and mistreatment, and his wife and son turned to memory, psychiatry, aromatherapy and dream analysis in their attempt to come to grips with their loss. Now mother Ann Cannon and son Feidlim, along with Erich Keller as shrink and dream-father, re-enact the experience for us, the psychodrama itself becoming part of the healing process. And therein lies both the potential power and the ultimate limitation of Have I No Mouth. There is no question that watching mother and son play themselves in their own story brings an immediacy and reality. But Have I No Mouth remains psychodrama, an exercise for the benefit of its participants, that we can only observe from the outside. No attempt is made to invite us in or to expand the meanings of the story beyond the specific or the emotional resonances beyond those of the family. Because Feidlim Cannon is a theatre writer and director, he has turned a private experience into a public exhibition. At moments it feels like a TV documentary. But it isn't a play.  Gerald Berkowitz

HeLa   Summerhall   ***
In 1951 a doctor treating African-American cancer patient Henrietta Lacks took some cell samples for further study. Surprisingly the cells not only survived in a petri dish but divided unendingly, eventually giving researchers around the world a reliable experimental medium. As Adura Onashile explains, the HeLa cells played an essential role in everything from the polio vaccine through genetic research, cloning, in vitro fertilisation and HIV treatment to genome mapping. But, she argues, in what amounts to a lecture on medical ethics disguised as a theatre piece, the fact that Henrietta did not give her informed consent to the taking of her cells creates a moral taint that completely negates the value of everything good that has come from the HeLa research. Making her case, Onashile not only lectures but briefly plays Henrietta, her husband and daughter, and a few other characters, while actual and recreated newsreel footage reports on the HeLa discoveries. Judging Onashile, who also dances a bit, by ordinary theatrical standards is clearly irrelevant, as the only question is how convincing she is – and she isn't, particularly. She falsely equates this case with the infamous Tuskeegee syphilis project, in which patients were deliberately left untreated to follow the ravages of the disease. She notes that the company that markets the HeLa cells has made millions and that a half-dozen Nobel Prizes have come out of HeLa-based research, but she can't explain what's wrong with that. She does make us see the moral and emotional confusion to Henrietta's family in knowing some part of their mother is still alive, but also notes that their main complaint is that they haven't made any money from the cells. And so you are more likely to come away grateful to Onashile for educating you about this remarkable scientific story than converted to her moral outrage.   Gerald Berkowitz



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High Plains (A Western Myth)   Underbelly         ****
Jake lives in a small Colorado town smack in the middle of a “windswept brown ass prairie”. He grew up there too, explaining how it’s a place where there is little need for subtlety, where even nerds like him need to be bruisers. He’s also clearly in pain, physically and possibly mentally. Jake, it seems, has a brother with learning difficulties, siblings constantly tested by scrapes, guilty secrets and a love interest that drives a wedge between them – a situation Jake accepts with the inevitability of someone who knows he lives at the physical edge of reality, and which is where his unsettling story ultimately takes us. Although things unwind a touch distractingly towards the end, this production from New York's Five Cent Whiskey is a remarkable confluence of performer, writer and director. Engagingly world weary, Ben Newman connects with the audience instantly and skilfully brings his character to life in subtle yet surprising ways. Director Anthony Reimer’s gamble in keeping this capable actor seated in a chair throughout pays off, with Newman laid back yet dangerous on the edge of his chair, a palpable sense that he’s ready to uncoil and leap into the audience. Newman effortlessly rides the richly edgy cadences of Brian Watkins’ script, mixing a lightness of delivery with hard-edged context and provoking unexpected sympathy where you least expect to find it.  Nick Awde

Honest Iago And Three Other Choice Villains From Shakespeare   Spaces on the Mile       *
The Edinburgh Festival Fringe prides itself on being open to all, with no hurdles to entry beyond the financial ones, which means that occasionally a performer or production appears that is well out of its league. Even by the most generous of judgements Richard Smithies' performance as four Shakespeare villains is not up to the standard of the hundreds of shows it competes with. Smithies' mode as an actor is entirely external, speaking very slowly, overenunciating each syllable and accompanying every word with a wink or grimace, giving him the slightly creepy air of a children's TV presenter or a Saturday morning library reader to the under-sixes. His Iago clowns and wheedles like Uriah Heep, his Edmond practically twirls his moustachios in anticipation of hisses like the villain of a nineteenth-century melodrama. The most nearly successful of the four is Claudius, since the Prayer Scene allows for a little self-pitying sentimentality, but his Richard III comes across as a staggering street drunk, slurring and leering so broadly that it is more inexplicable than usual that Natalie Burgess's nicely underplayed Lady Anne doesn't just run away.  Gerald Berkowitz

How To Be A Modern Marvel   Institut Francais         **
Two nicely-dressed women speak in hypnotically rhythmic tones to a third, in what seems at first like the indoctrination into a Scientology-like cult, but turns out to be a multilevel marketing company like Amway or Tupperware – and therein lies one of playwright Mariette Navarro's points, that these be-your-own-boss companies are quasi-religions that build motivation and loyalty through intense indoctrination, and where the actual product is almost insignificant when the real money comes from recruiting other sellers whose commissions you'll share. We do eventually get to the product, but even there the sales pitch isn't about its merits but its aspirational value – buy this modern marvel and be the envy of your friends. The women are dressed in 1950s-1960s fashions, and it is noticeable that among all the benefits of joining the company is the assurance that you can be home in time to cook dinner for your husband. So another theme of the piece is how much (and whether) things have changed in a couple of generations. More impressive in theory than practice, the play is hampered by taking longer than is necessary to make its simple points – there's a good 20 minute sketch buried in here – and by the frequently impenetrable French accents of the three actresses. 
   Gerald Berkowitz

Howie The Rookie   Assembly Hall             ****
Via a brace of breakneck monologues, Howie and the Rookie weave their doomed tale of loyalties and rivalries in Dublin’s urban netherworld. First produced in 1999, the searing imagery and struggling humanity of Mark O’Rowe’s play have lost none of their resonance a decade-plus later, guaranteed Tom Vaughn-Lawlor’s whirlwind performance. In the first half, homeboy Howie juggles girlfriends as he deals with the psychopaths who populate the manor, in the second the Rookie follows up the tale as their lives converge, sparked by a revenge beating-up that somehow, plausibly, involves a mattress, scabies, dead fighting goldfish and megathugs Peaches and Ladyboy. Like Alfie on crack, this is more picaresque than odyssey, yet there is a menacing inevitability mainlining directly from Greek tragedy as Howie’s actions and the Rookie’s mere existence set off a chain of fateful events that even the Gardai cannot avert. Originally written for two actors, Landmark’s new production opts for a solo performer – a daunting challenge at 80 minutes. Director O’Rowe skilfully maps out the limits and then steps back to allow Vaughn-Lawlor to run with it, creating an adrenaline-filled masterclass that appears simultaneously effortless. Things don’t always hit the mark – technique eclipses emotion in the first half, and the distinction between the narrators is hazy.    Nick Awde

Humour And Heart - The Most Gorgeous Songs You've Never Heard   Paradise in the Kirkhouse          ****
New Yorker Jonathan Prager has curated an intriguing cycle of American songs – some known, most obscure – and it’s a pleasure for us to share in his discovery as he delivers them in a rich baritone – the sort of tones that distinguished many of the sophisticated early 70s singer-songwriters. Accompanied on piano by the versatile Stephen Dennis, Edinburgh’s own, there are no surprises then that Prager rolls out. Flowers Are Red courtesy of Harry Chapin – an aching account of a boy forced to conform at school – but then similar subtlety is revealed in showtunes and earlier hits such as I Wished on the Moon, a moody 1936 number with lyrics by Dorothy Parker. Personally I’ve never been a fan of Sammy Cahn, but Prager almost convinces me with Time After Time, written with Jule Styne. Prager also throws in his own lighter compositions such as Where's the Phone and The Refrigerator Song, and establishes a personal connection via his work in taking songs from obscure musicals such as Dames at Sea (Raining in my Heart), which gave Bernadette Peters her first break at only 16. All in all, a revealing evening, although one wishes for a lot more patter from Prager in between, sharing his insights on why he chose these remarkable numbers.  Nick Awde

Reginald D. Hunter - In The Midst of Crackers   Pleasance             ****
Reginald D. Hunter has probably got the best half-hour set in Edinburgh. For that duration, he is consistently and outrageously funny, primarily going over old ground with his assured and winning manner. For no obvious reason, at his first performance he then ran out of steam, breezing around in search of new themes then closing at the 50 minute mark while the punters were still gagging for more laughs. There are few comedians that could get away with this but the Anglo-American is so effective when he is on song, that his packed audience will have gone away with a stream of happy memories. Dear Reg almost literally loves asking for trouble. His highlights in this set could all end up requiring apologies from one group or another. It appears that the Professional Footballers Association have already been there, though inviting a man who specialises in ridiculing “niggahs” suggests that common beliefs about the intelligence of those that kick balls around might be right after all. The man from the Deep South also reprised the notorious incident when a national newspaper identified him as anti-Semitic and seemed unapologetic about the consequences. To be even-handed, the Irish, Scots and Welsh all got the treatment too. As so often, sex reared its pretty head to good effect and, needless to say, Mr Hunter’s venerable 94-year-old father made an appearance, as both the source and butt of his boy’s humour. If this aggressively lovable comedian can find a little extra material where that came from, he could be one of Edinburgh’s biggest hits with the scope to make the whole world laugh for the rest of the year. Even half of that is good value but on this occasion, more would definitely be better. Philip Fisher

I Could've Been Better   Pleasance            **
A recognised Fringe genre is the solo show about a confident character who gradually exposes what a loser he actually is, and this entry by Anna Harpin and Jimmy Whiteaker (directed by her and performed by him) fits wholly in the mould without offering enough that's new or unique to make it stand out. Whiteaker plays the signalman of a very small railway station, proud of his skill at 'The train now arriving. . .' announcements and affectionately patronising toward his regular customers. His image begins to waver when we learn that his live-in girlfriend is the mother of one of his childhood friends, though back then she was the father. And it becomes shakier still when he admits that the poise and popularity of an eleven-year-old village girl so unnerves him that, learning she has entered an over-tens race at the local swimming pool, he argues that there is no specified upper age limit and enters determined to defeat her. And it's right about there that Harpin and Whiteaker somehow lose control over the play. Up to then both the character and the incidental humour – I don't remember now why he got the audience making paper airplanes, but he did, and we enjoyed it – bounced along merrily even as he began to get a little creepy. But the account of the race and its aftermath lacks comic or dramatic energy, and the hour limps to a disappointing conclusion.  Gerald Berkowitz

If These Spasms Could Speak   Pleasance            ****
Part sit-down comedy set, part educational workshop on dealing with the disabled ('though you'd have to pay £400 a day for that') Robert Softley's hour demystifies disability by redirecting our attention to the very typical human beings who happen to have disabilities. About half of the hour deals with Softley's own experiences with cerebral palsy, explaining the nature of the condition more quickly and clearly than any textbook. With honesty, warmth and considerable wry humour, he expresses appreciation for his mother's just-get-on-with-it philosophy and annoyance at a doctor who felt authorised to interrogate him on his symptoms even though he was only visiting someone else in hospital, and he muses on the difficulties of romantic cuddling when your arms and legs are likely to shoot off in different directions without warning. Softley punctuates his account with testimony gleaned from conversations with other disabled people, from the woman delighted when people stare at her cleavage rather than her wheelchair to the man who was always told he would die young and therefore made no plans for how to be an adult. Softley states at one point that he doesn't want to be gawked at but doesn't want to be invisible. Through a show like this he controls how the world looks at him.  Gerald Berkowitz

I'm With The Band   Traverse             ***
Completely unnecessary but completely harmless, Tim Price's play takes a potentially interesting subject and chooses not to do anything with it. The result is an amiable but instantly forgettable hour where there might have been serious drama or broad comedy. The members of a rock band have been together forever but now, in their 40s, they consider breaking up. In a programme note Price seems to think that the fact that the guy who wants to quit is Scottish and the others English, Welsh and Irish gives the play a political meaning, though you might not even notice that and are more likely to think of them as the tired one, the clingy one, the untalented one and the one who just wants to make music. The play touches ever-so-briefly on a whole string of potential topics – what it's like to be a rocker in your 40s, what it's like to face leaving what amounts to your family, having to choose between the fun career and real life, and even whether there's any need for a real band in the age of synths and overdubbing. And having raised each one, it clearly and visibly chooses not to explore any of them. Instead, the guys just waffle about, never quite splitting, never quite deciding to go on. They're an amiable bunch, and the music is good, and so an hour in their company is far from unpleasant – and that's about all the play has to offer.   Gerald Berkowitz

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Inside   Gilded Balloon            ****
The psychology of a teenager kidnapped and held in a cellar for twelve years is presented by writer-actress Rosie MacPherson as an uncomfortable mix of pathetic delusion and admirable survival technique. In part she accepts her captor's view of life, believing that he is protecting her from dangers outside and only punishing her when she deserves it, and in part she is cowed by fear of his power. But another part of her mind guides her to ritualised re-enactments of her last day of freedom, as a way of protecting her from full realisation of her plight. MacPherson gives a performance of intense realism, capturing the thought processes of a young girl who has never been allowed to grow up and the effort it takes to sustain her protective shell. Strictly speaking, this is not Stockholm Syndrome, in which the captive's dependence on the captor leads to identification and an emotional bond, since MacPherson's character is held more by fear than misplaced love. But it is a viable guess at how similar captives of recent headlines may have survived, and although some shifts in tone and in the woman's awareness are a bit too abrupt, it is a frequently harrowing hour.   Gerald Berkowitz

Inspector Norse   Assembly           ****
Lip Service, the writing-performing team of Maggie Fox and Sue Ryding, having comically demolished Wilde, Alcott, Fleming, Doyle and all-the-Brontes-at-once, turn their satiric eye on the BBC's fascination with all things criminal and Scandinavian. The result is, as ever, hilariously funny, thoroughly silly and the kind of spot-on satire that only a thorough knowledge of the victim can produce. Their plot this time has something to do with somebody killing off the members of a former Swedish pop group made up of two bearded guys and two girl singers, the blonde one and the other one. But it's just an excuse for a lot of woolly jumper jokes and ski jokes and reindeer jokes and a parody music video and a set that's a giant pop-up children's book – and, for no clear reason, a lot of knitted stuff. Evidently Maggie and Sue have recruited knitting clubs up and down the country – they're thanked in an opening film sequence – to produce not only most of the set and props, but individual knitted leaves for the audience to hold up, Burnim Wood-style, when the plot requires the coming of Spring. It is funny, and silly, and apparently the one-hour Edinburgh version is only a taste of the full-length production that is touring in the coming year.  Gerald Berkowitz

Interrupted   Assembly Checkpoint             *****
A physical theatre piece of immense energy and inventiveness, Interrupted can be enjoyed as clowning, mime, farce, merciless dissection of sexual politics and a sympathetic acknowledgement of the seductive power of mental illness. Combining the talents of a quartet of English and Spanish actresses, and performed in a jumble of both languages as well as Spanglish, it is a jolly romp from start to finish, even when it has something serious to say. We follow the high-flying businesswoman Annabelle through a few typical working days that include manoeuvring her way past a number of ridiculously macho men of various stripes. Things begin to fall apart as she appears to be the only one noticing that inanimate objects are acting oddly, moving about or refusing to move, and disorienting her enough that her work suffers. Eventually she decides to stop fighting the weirdness and just go with the flow, slipping almost happily into another reality. The physical and verbal clowning, the sly feminist humour and strong performances by Andrea Jimenez Garcia as Annabelle and Noemi Rodriguez Fernandez as one parody of manhood after another carry the hour straight through to its sad but satisfying conclusion.   Gerald Berkowitz

It Goes Without Saying   Hill Street            ****
Bill Bowers is all too aware of the prejudices that mimes have to face each day of their lives. But Bowers is no ordinary mime, having wanted to be one since he was a child. As he relates over a spellbinding hour of vignettes and true tales taken from his own life, performing without words comes naturally. And what a life. There can't be many of his ilk from the macho wilderness of Montana, especially gay ones. As he grew up everyone seemed to clam up, being ornery, moody or mad. He learnt to be silent with his parents, silent at school, told not to talk to the white trash neighbours... After moving to New York he found himself gainfully employed in his chosen profession, even spending seven years in spandex as public message figure Slim Goodbody, opening for everyone from Johnny Mathis to a dog. You could hear a pin drop as he describes his boyfriend's death from Aids in the early 90s. And then he achieved mime nirvana when he finally got to study with Marcel Marceau. Bowers wisely avoids overegging the mime, opting to punctuate the stories sparingly with a gesture or routine at the odd climactic point. Of course the irony is that he has a voice - and what a voice.  Nick Awde

It's Dark Outside   Underbelly Topside             ***
Perth Theatre's animators and puppeteers specialise in beautiful and evocative pictures that tell heartstring-tugging stories – witness their Adventures Of Alvin Sputnik reviewed on this page. Their latest is on a much larger scale – the animations alone must have cost more than the combined budgets of any three other Fringe shows – and while the effects are impressive, the story-telling is less so. A human actor in a full-head mask plays an old man who is being chased by a cartoon gunslinger with a butterfly net. The man, who variously turns into a puppet, an animation and a shadow, runs away, encountering a tent that becomes a kind of horse and a kind of puppy, and has various adventures and transformations, always stalked by the cowboy. It is all quite impressive technically, but it is noteworthy that every other reviewer has thought it meant something different – memory, Alzheimer's, Rosebud-like search for his past – while I thought the cowboy was an angel of death he was trying to escape. This is either a commendation of the company's ability to generate and sustain ambiguity or a condemnation of their inability to tell a coherent story. My gut reaction was the latter, and all the technical wizardry seemed self-indulgent and wasted if it didn't add up to anything.   Gerald Berkowitz

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Jordan   Assembly Hall             ****     (Reviewed at a previous Festival)
The true story of Shirley Jones is depressingly banal - girl escapes small town and unhappy family life by running off with bad boy, gets pregnant, is abused and deserted, has and adores baby only to face being declared unfit and losing him, leaving her with what seems like the only way out. When the suicide half of her plan failed, Jones was charged with the murder of her baby. This solo play by Anna Reynolds with Moira Buffini begins there, as Jones awaits the verdict and, talking to the child who is still real to her, fills in the backstory. And it is in the telling that the power of this hour lies. The authors evocatively intertwine Jones' life with the fairy tale of Rumplestiltskin, with its threat of a mother losing her adored child, and they make some clever and insightful leaps into her mind, as when they have her wonder if the bruises of battered women are invisible, since no one ever acknowledges them, or explain as self-evident that to a girl from Morecambe a boy from Birmingham would seem exotic. They also avoid the solo show trap of having no legitimate reason for telling her story by building her narration on a string of sudden memories that catch her by surprise and delight or upset her in the here and now of the play. An epilogue tells us what happened to the real Jones after the moment dramatised here, and it is a tribute to a sensitive script that we are prepared for the news.
 
Gerald Berkowitz

Kabul   EICC         ****
Performed by a Brazilian company, in Portuguese with English surtitles, this portrait of two Afghan families living under repressive Taliban rule begins slowly, as the domestic pictures seem to show no direct influence of the regime. A jailor's wife has a painful terminal illness but is determined to carry on as long as possible. Her younger sister is a former professional woman who is no longer allowed to work, but it is her husband's inability to find a job that most worries them. Both families are shaken by witnessing the public stoning of a condemned woman, so that when a plot development condemns one of the sisters to execution, they are forced to a solution inspired by Charles Dickens. Amok Teatro's production so fully captures the sense of time and place, aided significantly by the almost continuous authentic music played live by Rudá Brauns, that it is something of a disconnect to hear the actors speaking Portuguese, and though the ending is telegraphed somewhat in advance, the fact that it is only made possible by the obligation of women to cover themselves in burkas is itself a telling political comment.  Gerald Berkowitz

Killers   Assembly Rooms      **
What makes serial killers tick once they are incarcerated? How do they adapt to their demonisation by society, which gives them a kind of dark celebrity status? Access to prison letters provides Taggart writer Glenn Chandler with an intriguing range of material that explores these questions via Ian Brady, Peter Sutcliffe and Dennis Nilsen in their own words. Of course these extracts from the murderers to their penpals are snippets, yet flashes of their personalities shine through with shocking reality, sinister in their very ordinariness. Nilsen (Arron Usher) is fastidious and comic in his humourlessness as he defends his romantic ideals. Sutcliffe (Gareth Morrison) is a jack-the-lad who channels paranoia though his flirtatiousness, meanwhile Brady (Edward Cory) is world weary and dispenses advice on how not to embrace criminality. The collective self-obsession of these unlikely agony aunts is fuelled as much by their correspondents' desires and the media’s attention as by their prison walls. It is promising material, yet this production is patchy with not much delivered. A Casio keyboard is abandoned distractingly to one side, Morrison’s accent wanders all over the border, the costumes are unintentionally scrappy. Crucially, director Liam Rudden fails to focus the actors, glued as they are in their line of desks, and so ultimately blurs the message contained in the monologues.  Nick Awde

Kiss Of The Spider Woman   C Chambers St       ****
Like the Manuel Puig novel and the film that preceded it, Kander and Ebb's 1993 musical tells of two prisoners in a Latin American jail, the homosexual Molina and the revolutionary Valentin. Molina entertains his cellmate with descriptions of his favourite B-movie musical melodramas, including the titular one, and the contrast between their tawdry glitz and the real squalor of the prison, along with the growing bond between the two men, creates the drama. (The adaptor of the musical, playwright Terrence McNally, arguably improved on the film by making the Spider Woman an Angel of Death who moves into reality offering release from the prisoners' torment.) This production from University College London is first-rate, director Shafeeq Shajahan making a virtue of low-budget necessity by letting a bare stage flow seamlessly among the several realities. (This is definitely an improvement on the grossly overproduced Broadway version, which wasn't nearly as evocative.) The score is strong, with songs ranging from the lightly parodied production number of the movies through political anthems, though this time around I was must struck by a series of lovely songs for the mother and girlfriend of the two prisoners' memories. As Molina, Ben Whittle ably carries the burden of luring us into the play's reality and his character's fantasies, while Thomas Chesover is a solid and sympathetic Valentin and Stephanie Epperlein a sensual and alluring Aurora. Gerald Berkowitz

Lili la Scala: Another F*cking Variety Show   Pleasance Dome        ****
If tonight’s guests on Lili la Scala’s wee hours fringe round-up are anything to go by, there’s a treat in store for the rest of the festival month, topped, naturally, by the emerald-frocked chanteuse with golden-tonsilled numbers such as Don’t Rain on my Parade and Les chemins de l’amour. Illusionist Matt Ricardo keeps the audience gripped with his 'will-he-won’t-he pull off the reluctant tablecloth' act and his seriously serious near misses with swords and sundry boxes. Proving he has a similarly magical rapport, Doug Segal wows with a deceptively simple sealed numbers routine before promising to reveal how he does his mentalist trickery – if we go to his full show, that is, handily called I Can Make You a Mentalist. Terry Alderton then slinks on and apologises for not having enough material - cue hilarious non-sequiturs peppered with accounts of getting his role in The Shawshank Redemption, and, appropriately, proof that he can do a mean Morgan Freeman impression. Short but sweet, Tricity Vogue dishes up the title song of her new show Calamitous Liaisons - witty, catty and scatty in equal parts, it wickedly catalogues the ukelele queen’s entire sexual history in a couple of minutes. The Boy with Tape on His Mouth closes with a string of trademark surprises with a string of volunteers from every row in the audience. A neat stop/start-flipping-teaspoon-into-teacup-on-head trick, a blindfolded volunteer, a dance with himself - even within this short slot the silent slapstick gets more and more surreal, much to the delight of all.  Nick Awde

Leonce And Lena  EICC       ****
Teatro Maquina’s inventive version of Georg Buchner’s fairytale satire forms part of Edinburgh’s first Brazilian Theatre Season and proves to be another showcase of quality theatre out of Brazil. In this neatly inverted take on mistaken identity, Prince Leonce of the kingdom of Popo flees to Italy in the company of his waistrel mate Valerio. Always thinking too much for his own good, Leonce rejects the arranged marriage which his stickler father has brokered with Princess Lena of the kingdom of Pipi (and yes, Buchner actually used the childish terms for poo and pee in this attack on the petty states of the German Empire of the 19th-century). By chance the remotely betrothed couple meet and fall in love, unaware of who the other really is – and unaware too of the chaos back home caused by their disappearance. Director Fran Teixeira’s absurdist physical approach gets the cast using every inch of the stage – and off it – yet also gives the cast space to convincingly capture the ambiguity of each character where each has their strong and weak points, an irony which makes for some impressive comic confrontations. The music commentaries energetically push the action along, although using the onstage DJ system as chorus is less successful. The humour is kept up all the way through and don’t let the youth theatre approach fool you – even in translation surprisingly wicked quips and turns of phrase are lobbed into the exchanges and under the mash-up cladding a serious social commentary reveals itself.  Nick Awde

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

The Liz And Dick Show  Spaces on the North Bridge       ***
Meeting but never transcending the standards of this sort of peep-at-the-famous show, Dhanil Ali's hour with the battling Burtons delivers exactly what audiences want and no more. We get some wit, some bitchery, some drinking, some fighting, Burton's assertion that he's the only real actor in the family, Taylor's reminder that she's the only real star, and the reassurance that, as promised in their myth, each was the one true love of the other's life. Ali sets most of the action on the set of their best film together, Who's Afraid Of Virginia Woolf? with Burton and Taylor's bickering and banter unconsciously echoing Edward Albee's dialogue, sometime closely enough to flirt with copyright issues. There's also a quip-filled press conference and a pair of closing retrospective monologues in which they each openly state their thoughts and feelings more fully and successfully than the preceding sections dramatised them. Ken McConnell has the Burton voice, accent and manner down perfectly, giving some of what he says, like the recitation of a portion of Under Milk Wood, a special poignancy, but Lydia Poole's Taylor is less successful, both as imitation and characterisation, approaching both most closely in Taylor's most fishwife moments.  Gerald Berkowitz

London Road, Sea Point    Assembly    **** 
I don't know for sure that this is the case, but it is difficult to resist the belief that Nicholas Spagnoletti's warm comedy is at its core a love letter to his grandmother. There is a plot, and the play has something to say about contemporary South Africa, but its real reason for being is to introduce us to the sweet, acerbic and more than a little dotty widow played with rich precision by Robyn Scott. The story, such as it is, has her encountering the illegal Nigerian immigrant (Ntombi Makhutshi, in a generously supporting performance) living above her and striking up an unlikely friendship. Scott's character uses her contacts and buttinski skills to help her neighbour in her legal dealings, while the younger woman provides companionship the widow's own children don't. But it's in the character herself, and Scott's performance, that the play's riches lie. Clearly drawing on detailed observation, Scott imbues her with an initially annoying whiny voice, a touch of Parkinson's, a puppy-dog eagerness to be friendly, a variety of tics and twitches, a backbone of steel and a constant battle between appropriate sadness and the determination to be cheery. Everyone has – or ought to have – a grandmother like this, whose infinite capacity for love and life can sometimes be overpowering but who our own lives would be much poorer without. And if you don't, here's one you can borrow for an hour. Gerald Berkowitz

Long Distance Affair    Summerhall    *** 
Via a crackly Skype connection, you journey to continents, connecting live with actors in far-flung cities. Your ticket leads to three encounters (you'll need to make several return trips for the full set) which immerse you in monologues via one-on-one situations with characters who co-opt the audience in varying degrees into their story. Scenarios include a sad but mutual romantic break-up, an encounter with a pizza delivery man, and a call from the other world. Things are precisely scripted to give the illusion of a dialogue while sidestepping the need for audience response – no doubt a frustration for those seeking a more interactive experience. The laptops are placed discreetly in this small space so there is no spill-over soundwise or visually from the other ‘conversations’. Indeed, what transpires onscreen is designed to keep you engrossed until the final electronic whoop lets you know the connection has ended. On leaving you are offered a moment to correspond with one of your acts. Clearly there's no copyright on the formula – and with 50 or so writers, directors and performers from 15 countries and six continents this has to be a unique event – but it's hard to resist comparison with Ontroerend Goed's Internal. Although not as slick or psychologically interactive as the Belgian show, there is a more universal approach in popUP Theatrics production if only for the impressive logistics, the theatrical framing of the monologues and the Skype concept which somehow also makes it all the more personal.  Nick Awde

Long Live The Little Knife     Traverse    **** 
Writer-director David Leddy is something of a brand name in Edinburgh, promising inventively if not always coherently intricate stories in visually striking productions (and with titles that don't always have clear relevance, as here). Until an ending that loses focus and control over the tone, this latest play is a delightful romp, like a caper movie that constantly twists and turns back upon itself. A couple of small-time con artists, purveyors of knock-off designer goods, run afoul of the big crooks and have to raise a lot of money fast. They hit on a particularly convoluted art scam, and we watch with delight as they first seem to pull it off successfully and then learn the dangers of playing with the big kids. Directed by the author, Wendy Seagar and Neil McCormack keep the narrative bouncing along at high speed so we can enjoy the effort of trying to keep up, and along the way we can appreciate Leddy's linguistic virtuosity and the way he quietly fills the play with images of fakery and imposture, from forged passports and fake mediums to castrati and unpedigreed labradoodles. Only in the final scenes does the play too abruptly turn simultaneously much darker, much more soppily sentimental and much more glib, spoiling just a bit the sense that we have been in the hands of a master storyteller.  Gerald Berkowitz

Losing The Plot    New Town Theatre    ****
Playwright John Godber got his start on the Edinburgh Fringe in 1977 and returned many times thereafter, so it is a pleasure to welcome him back after a decade's gap. Losing The Plot offers his familiar blend of comedy, pathos and just a hint of thought-provoking thesis, in a package that will particularly appeal to audiences of the approaching-50 age of his characters. An ordinary husband and father disappears for three months 'to think things out', possibly because as an art teacher he's frustrated by curriculum changes, or maybe just because he's pushing 50. He returns to discover that his wife, once she got over the shock and anger, used her alone time to write a book about him, and that it turned out to be a potentially best-selling comedy. Cue confusion, mutual outrage, role-reversal farce and – least successfully, since it seems shoehorned in – some serious debate on high and low culture and the social purpose of art. It is safe, though, to ignore the intellectualising and just enjoy the husband's distress at finding himself a figure of ridicule, the wife's rediscovery of the satisfaction and sheer fun of accomplishment, and the expert comic performances of Steve Huison and Sue Cookson.   Gerald Berkowitz


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

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Reviews - Edinburgh Festival - 2013