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 The Theatreguide.London Reviews

EDINBURGH FESTIVAL AND FRINGE 2015

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 will be covering  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
 

Acts Of Redemption, Adam Long's Dickens Abridged, Albert Einstein Relatively Speaking, All The Nice Girls, Allie, The Alphabet Girl, The American Soldier, And This Is My Friend Mr Laurel, Angel In The Abattoir, Antigone, Ashes Afar, Austentatious,

Balletronic, Barbu Electro Trad Cabaret, be-dom, Belfast Boy, Bette Davis Ain't For Sissies, Big Shot,

Cambridge Footlights, Chicken, The Christians, Cinema, Clairvoyant, The Communist Threat, Confessional, Chris Cook,

Coughing Sheep, Counting Stars, Crash, Cut,

Dark Matter, Double Life Of Malcolm Drinkwater, Down & Out In Paris And London, Durham Revue, Eating Seals and Seagulls' Eggs, Echoes, The Element In The Room, The Elephant In The Room, Ericthefred, Every Brilliant Thing,

Fake It Til You Make It, Fantastic Funny And Free, Festivus, Filthy Talk For Troubled Times, Flanders & Swann,

A Gambler's Guide To Dying, The Garden, Giant Leap, Girl From Nowhere, Goodstock, The Greatest Stories Never Told, Wil Greenway,

Hamlet, The Hampstead Murder Mystery, Health Under Fire, Heartlands, Hell Hath No Fury, Hitch, The Hogwallops, How I Became Myself, How To Keep An Alien, The Human Ear, The Hunting Of The Snark,

 I Elizabeth, Idiots, I'm Not Here Right Now, Impossible, Invisible Woman, Iphigenia In Splott,  Islands,

Janis Joplin Full Tilt, The Jennifer Tremblay Trilogy I: The List, The Jennifer Tremblay Trilogy II: The Carousel, The Jennifer Tremblay Trilogy III: The Deliverance, John Lennon In His Own Write, 

Katie O'Kelly's Counter Culture, Dillie Keane, Key Change,
Leftovers, A Life With The Beatles, Light Boxes, Lisa Gornick's Live Drawing Show, Little Thing Big Thing, Lunch, Lungs,

Go to second M-Z Edinburgh page. 

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Acts Of Redemption   Underbelly         ***
Some funny, some sad, but each with a twist in the tale, the mini-stories that make up the monologues in New Yorker Ken Jaworowski’s Acts of Redemption offer a wide spectrum for actors to show their chops. The opener is Never Smile, Never Wave in which Akila Cristiano plays a post-Sloane Ranger clubber who, in a chance encounter, discovers an unexpected glimmer of humanity in the looming emptiness of her nightlife-fuelled raison d’etre. Next up is the emotional Pulse where, American-style, fathers figure in an interleaving of tales displaying a similar sense of emotional discovery. James Huntington is a student who fears returning home to an overbearing preacher father who publicly promotes the highest expectations of his son, while Amee Smith is the dutiful daughter who finds herself torn as she becomes ever more involved in caring for her dying father. Completing the trio is Dan Lees as a father who overcomes his lack of decision-making in the family and sets out to protect his son from bullying at school. There then follow snapshots of two marriages – one nearing its end, the other just begun. Luck of the Draw sees Rachel Parris talking through the bathroom door to her unseen husband about how the fire has gone out of her life – and will she, won't she leave him? In Timberwood Drive, Joe Wredden languishes drunkenly locked out of home late night, confessing the insanely convoluted plan he has hatched to make his new wife happy. There are solid performances all round from the cast, each of whom convinces with their evocations of ordinary, sympathetic characters who come to us via Jaworowski’s quirky, gentle observation. Director James Wren keeps the collection well paced throughout, ensuring that the mood of each character builds on the one set before.  Nick Awde

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

Albert Einstein - Relatively Speaking   Pleasance         ****  (Reviewed at a previous Festival)
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


All The Nice Girls
  
Sweet      ***
Ali Child and Rosie Wakley present a musical salute to the women-in-trousers stars of music hall and variety, taking delight not only in celebrating their talent and contribution to popular culture, but in the opportunity to acknowledge openly that for some the gender-bending of their public images reflected a not-so-secret secret about their sexual identities. Spotlighting Ella Shields (the original Burlington Bertie From Bow) and the team of Gwen Farrar and Norah Blaney, but dropping other names along the way, they decipher the codes within the songs and the performers' lives that alerted the knowledgable while masking the truth from the rest. There is therefore an unforced bittersweet flavour to the hour, Child and Wakley contrasting the freedom they themselves can now enjoy to the shadow lives of their predecessors, while also saluting the bohemian show-biz world of Coward and Novello that gave the women a place they could be more free than even onstage. Trying to squeeze a selection of songs, a salute to music hall and variety and a significant piece of lesbian history into a single hour may have been too ambitious, and audiences are likely to leave wishing there had been more of a focus on one strand or another. The two writer-performers are unevenly matched in their singing ability and stage presence, but their obvious warmth toward the material extends to the audience, who are not actively discouraged from the instinctive impulse to sing along with some of the classic numbers.  Gerald Berkowitz

Allie   Gilded Balloon     **
A fifteen year old girl rejects her Good Boy boyfriend for an older Bad Boy, certain she's the one who will change him. Sex, pregnancy, baby and living together follow in rapid order, as does, with absolute inevitability, his beating her up a few times and her going back to him after each time. And the only thing noteworthy about this is that it is not an EastEnders plot line, but a new play by Ruaraidh Murray which gives no indication of being aware of how much of a cliché it is. Its one plot twist doesn't come until the final seconds, though in retrospect it may have been hinted at in earlier mention of female ninja warriors and the recurring sound of the brassy opening vamp of the Coleman-Fields 'Hey Big Spender'. Murray's play draws some strength and authenticity through a very specifically Edinburgh setting, with streets and parks where this sort of story would take place being named and evoked. But as the tough Ruaraidh Murray walks through the play with the resignation of one who knows there is only one direction his character can go, while Megan Shandley gives too little indication that her character has any capacity for the strength she will abruptly show at the end.   Gerald Berkowitz

The Alphabet Girl   Space on the Mile      ****
This monologue play by Renny Krupinski serves as an excellent showcase for actress Kaitlin Howard while offering a good share of character insights, surprises and comedy as well. Howard plays three members of a family – a contemporary young woman, her mother and her grandmother. After the granddaughter introduces them all and offers her bemused and mildly critical views of the other two, we get to see them for ourselves. Grandma turns out to be indeed the bitter old soak her granddaughter remembers, but she was young more than once, and her favourite memories are of seducing all her teenage daughter's boyfriends. That daughter unsurprisingly developed a cynicism about the whole business of sex, which with a kind of logic took her into the sex business as an almost-nude model. And when we get back to granddaughter we discover she has the most unconventional – one might say weirdest – attitude toward sex of all, which I'll merely allude to by saying that the play's title has something to do with the way she catalogues her many, many lovers. It's a slight piece, but one full enough of surprises to keep you always alert and entertained, with the added pleasure of watching Kaitlin Howard's expressive range as an actress.  Gerald Berkowitz


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The American Soldier   Zoo Southside      ***
Writer-performer Douglas Taurel presents with sincere and irony-free admiration and patriotism a salute to American soldiers, and the people who loved them, through the ages. In a string of short scenes and monologues presented in thematic rather than historical order, we encounter a Revolutionary War volunteer freezing at Valley Forge, a Civil War soldier writing a pre-battle farewell to his wife, and GIs from every other war zone through Iraq and Afghanistan. For each serving soldier there is also a veteran having trouble adjusting to civilian life, a wife fearful for her husband's mental and emotional health, or a parent facing the fact of outliving a child. For each stoned Vietnam grunt or alcoholic vet there is a career soldier or a one-armed veteran just getting on with life. The individual episodes may have very little that is new or especially dramatic to tell us, though the Civil War letter is remarkably eloquent and the father visiting his son's name on the Vietnam Memorial quietly moving. The power of the show comes from the cumulative effect of one story after another and the convincing sincerity with which Taurel presents them.  Gerald Berkowitz

And This Is My Friend Mr. Laurel   Pleasance      ****  (Reviewed at a previous Festival)
Thanks to series such as Hi-de-Hi! And You Rang M’Lord, Jeffrey Holland has the comic credentials and the hangdog features that make him perfect to take on the role of Stan Laurel. In this solo homage to the English half of Laurel and Hardy, he plays it straight with more than a few laughs to create an engrossing portrait of Ulverstone’s greatest son. Here the set-up is a Californian hospital where Laurel is visiting Hardy who has had a stroke and failing fast. Talking to Hardy in his ward bed, Laurel finds himself reminiscing on the ups and downs of their past, seeking comfort for them both in their ability to take any challenge in their stride. There’s a disastrous film in France, a tour of a grim post-war UK, battles with the studio bosses, even being lured into a meeting with Bernard Delfont for the US This Is Your Life and bemoaning the fact that they wouldn’t get paid for it. He doesn’t shirk from their personal lives, and so details his seven marriages while worrying about Hardy’s weakness for the horses. Gail Louw and Jeffrey Holland have written a gentle script that concentrates on the showbiz marriage of the comedians rather than the comic process itself – a wise move because it allows Holland to show the working process of their inspired partnership. This also ensures that any comic material contrasts nicely and is all the more effective for it. When Holland regularly breaks into the monologue by popping on a bowler to uncannily become Laurel’s screen alter ego Stan, enacting classic yet now poignant routines, the effect is spellbinding and magically, timelessly funny. Nick Awde

Angel In The Abattoir   Gilded Balloon     ****
Phil Nichol was one of the first Fringe stand-up comedians to venture into serious acting as well, and has repeatedly proven himself a dramatic performer of real power and intensity. (Frankly, I think he's a better actor than comic.) This new play by Dave Florez gives Nichol an opportunity to display both his talents by telling a story of passion and pain in the guise of a comic turn. Entering as a broadly comic Panto Spaniard, he jollies us up with jokes, jumping about, audience interaction and general razzle-dazzle before getting down to his tale which, however serious it gets, will always be coloured by bits of humour around the edges. At its core, though, his story is dark and troubling to both audience and teller. As a teenager he came under the spell of the most exciting and magnetic girl in his class, only to discover that she was deeply disturbed and that her family, far from being concerned, fed into and off of her neurotic behaviour, her father, for example, essentially serving as pimp for her compulsive promiscuity. Over the years and several painful experiences with her, Nichols' character gets drawn in ever more deeply until he is carrying all the pain and guilt that should be hers and others'. As directed by Hannah Eidenow, Phil Nichol sensitively manoeuvres his way through the character's transition from light-heartedness to despair and the audience's unexpected journey from comedy to tragedy. Gerald Berkowitz


Antigone   King's Theatre     *****  (Reviewed in London)
Fresh from his triumph with A View From The Bridge, director Ivo van Hove presents a powerful version of Sophocles' tragedy that manages remarkably to be both epic and human in scale. I have seen productions that more directly underlined the conflict between law and a higher morality, or that explored the complexities and ambiguities in Antigone's character. But I have never encountered one that was so filled from the start with foreboding and the sense that the characters were all marching toward a predetermined and inevitable doom. Nor have I seen a director and cast more able to convert the rather formal speech-making of Sophocles' text into natural and even intimate conversations that fully bring out the humanity of the characters and the human cost of their clashes. Even the five members of the Chorus only speak one at a time, so that every Chorus scene becomes a quiet conversation between Kreon or Antigone and one close friend. And yet throughout we never lose the sense that a tragic ending is coming – this is, after all, the house of Oedipus – and the more human and touching each encounter becomes the more painful is the awareness of their doom. In creating and sustaining this double vision and sense of inexorable forward movement, van Hove is assisted powerfully by Jan Versweyweld's design, an empty space dominated by a piercingly burning sun, and particularly by hypnotically throbbing music by Daniel Freitag. Anne Carson's translation has moments of poetic splendour, but too often shatters its own spell with infelicities like 'I'm off the hook' and 'Get a move on'. The nominal star of the production is Juliette Binoche, whose Antigone is unwavering and dignified even in her most hysterical moments. But Binoche is somewhat limited by the one-note characterisation she's been given to play, and it is Patrick O'Kane's Kreon who dominates the evening as his character is constantly tested and ultimately forced to change. Samuel Edward-Cooke movingly captures the courage and torment of Haimon and Finbar Lynch the concern and frustration of Teiresias. I can't think of a production of any Greek tragedy that so completely translated it into modern theatrical forms that can give us something like the experience the play's first audiences had.
 Gerald Berkowitz

Ashes Afar   Greenside at Infirmary Street     ***
A couple live in a shoebox of a flat in London, where all they have as a view is a wall. But they can imagine, and it is what happens when you lose that ability to think beyond yourself that drives this insightful two-hander by Romanian Andreea Bortun on the alienation of migrants. The pair are indeed migrants but neither are particularly exotic: she is Irish, he is Romanian. Both have every right to be in the UK yet they have struggled to keep things together since, without family or job security, neither feels grounded. This handicaps them both when trying to deal with the pressure put on their relationship after she loses her memory. He tries to get her to remember again by taking her back to their courtship, when they first moved into their flat and other scenes from their life together. But this means that they also have to revisit and confront the problems in their relationship, with her reacting in ways that he has not anticipated. Crissy O’Donovan and Liviu Romanescu put in engaging performances as the couple, negotiating the different mood settings as the reality of the couple’s loneliness and isolation takes over the impression that their happiness together will sustain them. Director Bobi Pricop builds convincingly on the interleaved scenes from the past in Bortun’s play, although it feels as if it is missing a resolution.  Nick Awde

Austentatious   Underbelly George Square     ****  (Reviewed at a previous Festival)
A Fringe perennial, this improvisation on themes from Jane Austen is a proven crowd-pleaser. Though by its very nature an improv show is likely to be uneven, the company know their raw material and have played around with it long enough to be able to deliver. Things begin in the ticket queue, as audience members are asked to suggest titles for lost Jane Austen novels, and one is drawn out of a hat to be the basis for today's hour. I forget the exact title on this occasion, but it wound up having something to do with a dealer in addictive buns, his virtuous daughter forced into the bun trade, and a benevolent noblewoman willing to save her from that fate worse than death. It didn't have a whole lot to do with Jane Austen, but a bunch of attractive performers in Regency costume entertainingly improvised their way into corners and then generally found their way out again. I suspect that there was a certain amount of recycling of old gags and characterisations, but the jokes are good, and the company's rapport with the audience is strong enough that the stumbles and what-do-I-say-now moments are as much fun as the bits of inspired invention. You don't really have to know your pride from your prejudice to enjoy this light and delightful show.  Gerald Berkowitz


Balletronic   Pleasance    ***
Hot from Cuba, Ballet Revolucion offers 70 minutes of hi-energy in Balletronic, a folk/ballet/modern fusion where the dancers share solos with the musicians across shifting styles and time signatures. Throw in tastefully restrained lighting and an excellent sound mix and you have a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. From intimate to full-out, variations on a sort of boy-meets-girl story are played out as the 12-strong troupe tackles duets, trios and the full line. Highlights include a surprisingly gentle duet that segues into an intensely sensual companion piece, and a bustling street scene where the whole company weave in and out of parallel routines. The band, framing the stage with strings on one side and rhythm on the other, is tight with impressive outings from Jelien Baso Miranda on solo violin and Luna Manzanares Nardo on vocals. But if we’re to be honest, on the dance side the performances are unfocused and sloppy, with the dancers frequently flailing around, particularly when topping and tailing the pieces. This has the effect of drawing attention to the samey choreography of Aaron Cash and Roclan Gonzalez Chavez, shreds any semblance of stringing together a narrative, and effectively removes any sizzle. But trust me, among the enthusiastic standing-room only crowd at the Grand, no one noticed.  Nick Awde

Barbu Electro Trad Cabaret   Underbelly Circus Hub    ****
In many ways circus is physical cabaret, and French Canadians Cirque Alfonse have clearly been thinking hard about how to create a full-length acrobalance-focused show that glitters. With Barbu Electro Trad Cabaret it proves a more than successful venture. Burly bearded men attired only in black briefs, a pair of hirsute women and a wizard in robes (and a hamster) ply their trade along the two-levelled thrust stage in the Underbelly’s Circus Hub. Routines leap from roller skates to juggling and hoops, both giant and aerial. Particularly impressive are the Chinese pole pile-up and the sight of the guys pulling themselves round on roller skates by their whiskers. More humour comes from the illusions of the faux-oriental magician and a running joke of balancing golf clubs, while video screens at the back add images and slogans that complement the action. Meanwhile an electric band reels out a throbbing soundtrack, easily an entire show in itself thanks to the moustachioed ringmaster on analogue synths, bearded jack tar on guitar and mascaraed vamp on drums. What also makes this show stand out is its underlying yet strong folk identity. Conjuring the forests and rivers of Quebec, there is an exotic resonance in the eerie call and response refrains, the beards, the nudity and the slightly disturbing cheekiness. All this helps Cirque Alfonse to effortlessly connect with the crowd, never once taking themselves seriously.  Nick Awde

be-dom   Assembly Hall     ***  (Reviewed at a previous Festival)
A found-object drumming show along the lines of Stomp, the Portuguese sextet be-dom bring high energy, personality and a strong audience connection to what is ultimately a very limited act that seems stretched and repetitive even at 45 minutes. The six men drum on all sorts of things other than drums and on drums disguised as all sorts of other things, alternating with bits of rhythmic hand-clapping, finger-snapping and foot-stomping. There are several audience-involvement sequences, generally of the clap-in-response-to-our-claps sort, that particularly delight the children, especially when they get complicated and the kids can outdo their parents. A few tricks with lighting, along with an occasional backing track and a briefly used projection screen, are the only real concession to being in a theatre, and the act, perhaps best seen in shorter excerpts rather than trying to sustain an entire show, retains the attractively informal air of their roots as street entertainers.  Gerald Berkowitz

Belfast Boy   Spotlites@The Merchants' Hall     *****  (Reviewed at a previous Festival)
It’s a simple setup storywise: a man has been referred to a psychologist by his GP because he has trouble sleeping. It’s even simpler stagewise: one chair, one bare stage. Prepare yourself then to plunge depth after depth into Martin’s life as each routine question triggers a deluge of memories. Prepare yourself also for a stunning portrayal from Declan Perring who somehow squeezes a stadium-sized performance into this tiny basement space. Martin is a cheeky chap, a bit drug-battered and possibly we’d keep an eye on the silverware when he’s around, but the more he awkwardly rambles about being in his first psychologist’s session, the more we warm to him. When he is told that going off on tangents is good, he takes the advice onboard and starts to recount his wayward family, how the troubles drove them out from Belfast to Birmingham – and thence to party culture, drugs and his sexuality. But just when you think that’s it, there’s nothing worse, then there’s even worse. And yet, testament to the power of Kat Woods’ unsentimental script, Martin at no point asks for pity. Even when he is apologising, so, so wrongly, for having created all these tragic situations, the conflict is always on for us: do we rush to hold him tight, or find the bastards and lynch them?  Based on a real life story, director/writer Kat Woods has created the launchpad and tight dynamics for Perring’s remarkable physicality, fuelled by the cadences of the dialogue, to create a sustained, emotional rollercoaster that keeps you guessing right up to the end as to where it’ll go next.  Nick Awde

Bette Davis Ain't For Sissies   Assembly Rooms ***
American actress Jessica Sherr plays Bette Davis on the night she loses the Oscar to Vivian Leigh's Scarlett, an apt occasion for reminiscing and soul-searching. This is not the self-parodying Davis of later years, but a proud and ambitious young actress, and Sherr wisely doesn't let her portrayal slip into caricature. If anything, she errs in the opposite direction, occasionally losing Davis's individuality in generic actress, and even her nicely underdone suggestions of Davis's voice and speaking style repeatedly fade or disappear entirely. (And while I'm at it, that hairdo is really more Joan Crawford than Davis.) Sherr's Davis knows she's good but also knows the debts she owes, and there are appreciative nods to William Wyler for teaching her her craft and George Arliss for counsel and support. But the rambling structure of the monologue may confuse those who don't come in knowing the facts, as when a hitherto unmentioned husband appears suddenly just in time to be rejected or when Howard Hughes is presented as the great passion of Davis's life and then instantly dropped. Not broadly comic or catty enough to be a guilty pleasure or clearly informative enough to add much to common knowledge, the piece is too rarely more than a rough and surface character sketch. Gerald Berkowitz

Big Shot   Bedlam     ****
Theatre Movement Bazaar are an American company that specialize in deconstructing familiar texts and then putting them back together in new shapes that actually enrich our understanding of the originals while being theatrically enjoyable themselves. Having done their thing to Chekhov and Tennessee Williams in past years, they now turn to The Godfather, both as novel and film. Opening with a supposed interrogation of author Mario Puzo, who admits he was just in it for the money, and closing with a similar interview with Al Pacino, who admits nothing, the group-created piece then takes on the Corleone clan. Typical of the what-was-really-going-on approach is having the men repeatedly carry on conversations made up entirely of Italian foods and brand names, bringing to the fore what was in the film unmentionable. Irish-German Tom's real feelings about the family, what the women really thought about in the kitchen, and the way Michael and Kay never really communicate openly are all things that we are forced to admit were either implicit or deliberately avoided in the film. Admittedly some of the bits are less effective or evocative than others – I'm not at all sure why Michael's Sicilian bride is played as Carmen Miranda (funny as the moment is), and a salute to Marlon Brando really just stops the play dead for too long. But as we've come to anticipate from this company, Big Shot changes the way we will look at the original while being an hour's delight in itself.  Gerald Berkowitz



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Cambridge Footlights   Underbelly Medical Quad     ****
It's a good year for Cambridge comedy. Perhaps not a worthy-of-legend great year, but more of the close to 20 sketches score than don't, and enough have the elusive mix of clever idea and actual funniness to be memorable. They've revived the tradition of the running gag, with a silly comic premise introduced early and then returned to with imaginative additions and variations between the other bits, to keep the laughs flowing. The conspiracy theory analysis of geography, the exam nightmare and the Danish lecturer trying to tell jokes all make good use of the company's academic roots, and are genuinely inventive and funny. So are the bad sketch that gets a second chance and some of the parodies of real public figures. The auctioneer, shower and horny old lady scenes probably seemed more promising as concepts than they turned out, and the gay cowboys are just too far past their use-by date. Still, as I said, more hits than misses – and not too many sketch shows can deliver that. Gerald Berkowitz

Chicken   Summerhall     ***
There are a load of good dramatic ideas in Molly Davis's new script – maybe even too many – but you can't escape the feeling that the play itself is only half-written. And I mean that literally – that we seem to have here the first half of a potentially successful play. It takes most of the hour to establish the premise, introduce the characters and get the plot rolling, and the play ends just where you'd expect the interval preceding a second act that isn't there. In a dystopic future when Great Britain is splitting apart, East Anglia declares independence just fifty years before it's due to be flooded by rising sea levels. Its major exports are bicycles (an East Anglian in-joke there?) and chicken parts. A local girl who has lived in London returns to work on a chicken farm and sets her eye on an older guy there. But he rejects her because he's married, and his moody teenage daughter has decided she's a witch and is going around casting spells on anyone who crosses her path. She might even have something to do with the fact that the chickens are uniting and turning against the humans, Hitchcock-style. And that's where the play ends. See what I mean about a missing second act? Director Steven Atkinson and his cast – Rosie Sheehy, Beth Cooke, Josephine Butler and Benjamin Dilloway – all do excellent jobs of defining and establishing the characters, but aren't given the opportunity to do much with them once they're there. Gerald Berkowitz

The Christians   Traverse    ***
Just as all politics is local, all theology is ultimately personal. There can be no such thing as abstract theory or interpretation to true believers who have built their whole world on the certainty of doctrine. This is the premise and subject for exploration in Lucas Hnath's play, but it is as thought-provoking premise, and not as play, that it is most impressive. The pastor of an American evangelical church announces that he will no longer preach hellfire and damnation for all who do not accept Jesus. That some people leave the church doesn't surprise him, but the depth of their feeling does. What he hadn't anticipated was that his new doctrine raised questions his followers would be deeply afraid to ask. If there is no Hell, what will drive them to try to be good? If the church they've supported with their love and money is not the one true way, have they been fools? And if they still believe the old doctrine, doesn't that mean that the pastor is trying to lure them into damnation? As his own wife cries in real torment, if he's wrong then the two of them will not be able to be together eternally. The power of Hnath's play lies in its recognition that for people of faith matters of faith are literally eternal life or death issues. Sadly, however, it is just at the point that the play moves from the theological to the personal that Hnath's writing and Christopher Haydon's direction both go limp, and the second half of the play, which should be intensely real and emotionally involving, loses all energy. Even the hitherto strong actors – notably William Gaminara as the pastor, Jaye Griffiths as his wife and David Calvitto as a church elder – begin to appear lost and tentative onstage, and the play, rather than climaxing, just withers away to end on a whimper. At least one of those stars is for how strong the play should have been, given its premise.  Gerald Berkowitz

Cinema   Summerhall     **
On August 19, 1978 anti-Shah terrorists firebombed an Iranian cinema, with only about a third of those inside surviving. Among them, in this imagining by Steven Gaythorpe, was the theatre cat Scheherazade. Like her namesake she is driven to tell tales, not to save her own life, though she is down to her ninth, but to keep alive the memories of the cinema regulars she knew and loved. Nazli Tabatabai-Khatambakhsh plays the cat as a little slow of speech – after all, human is not her first language – but firm of purpose. She understands the complex political issues and, as a hunter, appreciates the power of terror. But her highest loyalty is to those like the old man who slept through most of the movies and especially the young girl who gave her her name. Gaythorpe's text and Tabatabai-Khatambakhsh's performance are both more poetic and allusive than clearly narrative, and a not fully integrated second thematic strand, about the cat's own ongoing standoff against Death, also keeps the play's central ideas from fully registering. This is a well-meaning work not without talent, but perhaps deserving one more rewrite and a firmer directorial hand to achieve its goals.  Gerald Berkowitz

Clairvoyant   C Nova    ****
A young woman inches her way onto the stage. Painfully nervous, she steels herself and blurts out an affirmatory speech about how she's a singer/dancer – well, sort of – who has just done a three-week course in achieving one's vision. And she does have a performance to share with us, except it's not quite what she expected, since she also happens to be a clairvoyant. And so, each time she launches into a spacey version of Madonna's Into The Groove, reality becomes displaced by other women – ghosts or eerily still living? – who take possession of her. Channelling their interrupted lives through our unwitting performer, we witness extraordinary snapshots of ordinary lives: a neurotic Scottish church group leader tackling a biscuit thief, a posh old battle-axe sorting out her stately home, a Russian migrant getting more than she bargained for from her English teacher, a Mancunian wannabe illusionist trying out tricks on her dysfunctional mum. Bettine Mackenzie takes the gallery-of-characters solo showcase and stands it on its head, unravelling narratives that become unnervingly realistic the more she focuses on the minutiae and tics. Seamlessly blending her own text with uncanny physicality, Mackenzie resists going over the top, allowing the simple detail of these lives to produce the big drama – which is how life really is. An absorbing performance where you’ll find technique and emotion in equal measure.  Nick Awde

The Communist Threat   Zoo Southside     ****
Rusted Dust Theatre's tense little two-hander wears its debts (primarily to Pinter and LeCarre) openly, but moves beyond them to an original and satisfying variation on its models. Two men sit in a basement room. We quickly learn that both are MI5 agents and at least one is an assassin, and if you haven't figured out already that one of the two will be the next victim, you're asleep. But which it will be, and why, and how we will get to the point where that is not only clear but dramatically logical and satisfying remain open questions that the writing and acting team of Kieran O'Rourke and David Holmes answer with the mix of surprise and inevitability that is the hallmark of the genre. Other conventional ingredients like class, sexuality and even favourite sport are blended into the mix in a fresh combination. As performers O'Rourke, playing the working class one, and Holmes, as the posh one, have been led by director Jesse Briton to start off with little more than those easy character tags, but as plot twists reveal more about each man the portrayals become more layered and complex.  Gerald Berkowitz

Confessional   C Cubed   ****
Tennessee Williams' talent was in gathering up the driftwood of modern society to reveal the humanity in our misery. Confessional, a one-acter from his later years, is set in a seafront bar where there's already an impressive catch of humanity drifting in a sea of alcohol-fuelled straight and gay encounters. Done here as an immersive set, with a cast mercifully eschewing faux American accents for the authentic tones of the Essex seaboard, it's a rollercoaster in real time through dashed dreams, delusional despair and lost opportunities. Laid-back bar-owner Monk (Raymond Bethley) presides referee-like over a slew of volatile customers dominated by Leona (Lizzie Stanton), the feisty trailer park beautician who's just whacked her mentally ill mate Violet (Simone Somers-Yeates), who's now crying her eyes out in the ladies' loo.No mere gimmick, the immersion is key because individually it's an uneven cast, not helped by Williams' script which typically veers from spot-on to self-important. But dropping all this – plus the audience – into a bar creates the setting for inspired  overall performances and brings convincing depth to Williams' vignettes. Director Jack Silver has therefore created a mini-masterpiece of theatre where the cast seriously shows its chops via a parallel script of background chat and regular rounds. Indeed Monk turns out to be the perfect host while the other characters will more than likely, if asked, provide a live running commentary on the flare-ups and punch-ups. Nick Awde

Chris Cook   Voodoo Rooms    ****
Mind reading and close-up magic have expanded so rapidly in recent years that they have easily outpaced the business’ ability to come up with new tricks in what was already a very narrow genre. Numbers, colours, cards, inside leg measurements or what is in your pocket, it can be a challenge for magicians to stand out. Enter Chris Cook. He does all that and more, but rather than stretch our credibility or patience by endlessly stringing out a trick, the Lake District magician cheekily appeals to our imagination by bringing in an extra level of humour to the proceedings and making the audience an integral part of the act. He bills himself as "the first ever fully interactive magic show", and he is not far wrong. He connects with the audience even before the show has begun by coming out to marshal the queue that snakes all the way around the Voodoo Rooms block – a turn-out for a free show that the paid-for venues would kill for. By the time everyone has taken their seats in the packed venue, they are already laughing and more than ready for a show. Selecting a volunteer becomes a whole act in itself, where Cook works every row in the crowd with the slickness of a stand-up, creating routines with lobbing rolled up posters and heads-or-tails flipping which are as elaborate as his actual tricks and just as effective. Onstage, the truth or dare element pops up as the public take over the tricks and catch Cook by genuine surprise, much to the amusement of all. With Cook discovering the unpredictable in the predictable, the fun is knowing that every uproarious night will be a unique experience.  Nick Awde

Coughing Sheep   Cowgatehead    ****
This is a hard one to review – and I suspect its creators and protagonists gleefully know it. It’s a two-handed comic slice of metatheatre, possibly masterful, in which all bar one of the cast of a lost, ‘difficult’ Russian classic called Coughing Sheep have found better (paying) jobs for the summer. Rather than cancel and let down the public, our hapless actress is forced to bring in her dad to double all the other parts. Wonderfully, Dad turns out to be a total liability, which ramps up the laughs the moment he appears. A confirmed rambler with a 33p cagoule, he’s also hyper and non-PC in a nerdy way. Ominously, he has helpfully brought along an actor’s holistic guide to method acting. Daunted but never cowed, Dad’s appalled offspring somehow maintains decorum and steers him through to a performance of the actual play. Wigs, tropical fish and scene-stealing ensue. The writing occasionally veers off the register, as do the otherwise spot-on performances of Lucy Frederick and Peter Henderson, and the second half gets a trifle lost in the surplus of ideas. Mere cavils, since Vincent Adams’ direction keeps things tight all the way – and the grin never left my face for the whole hour. I find myself wholeheartedly recommending that you support theatre on the free fringe and discover Coughing Sheep for yourself.  Nick Ade

Counting Stars   Assembly    ***
In 2009 young playwright Atiha Sen Gupta's What Fatima Did premiered at London's Hampstead Theatre and announced her as a very promising talent. Judging by this new play, she's still only promising. Counting Stars is a perfectly adequate two-hander, but no more than that, and the playwright, still in her twenties, has yet to move significantly forward. There's nothing wrong with Counting Stars except that it just doesn't go anywhere, in characterisation, theme or structure, that hasn't been fully explored before by others. Sophie and Abiodon are lovers who work in the toilets of a London nightclub, not on salary and surviving on tips and the profit they make by selling perfume or condoms at inflated prices. She is a perpetual optimist, putting her faith in her horoscope, enjoying the chatty visits of her regulars, and generally living in the confidence that all will be well. He is far more aware of the indignities of their jobs and the treatment he gets from both boss and customers, and his mounting resentment makes him desperate to find a way out and up. Since not much actually happens through most of the hour, the body of the play lies in the portraits of two people in the same demeaning situation responding to it so differently. In practical terms actors Bunmi Mojekwu and Joe Shire spend most of the play standing at opposite ends of the stage with an imagined wall between them, speaking to us, themselves and those who come into their workplaces (the two playing all these characters as well, so they are frequently in conversations or arguments with themselves) and only very rarely speaking or relating to each other. The result is a rather static piece of theatre, and only the need to reach an ending generates a sudden shocking event that puts an end to both his hopes and her happiness.  Gerald Berkowitz

Crash   Traverse     ***
Does a crisis change you or merely your perception of yourself, or does it leave you as before only more so? Andy Duffy's monologue, performed by Jamie Michie, opens with a man who survived a dreadful automobile accident, and watches him watching himself as his life seems to be taking new shapes. A City trader used to making snap decisions risking millions, he begins to hesitate and waver. A no-nonsense practical man, he turns to New Age meditation and self-exploration. But a short temper and capacity for violence seem disturbingly ingrained, suggesting that there has been a dark element in his soul from the start and that some of what we've been told about his pre-accident life may need to be re-examined. In doling out hints as to just who this man is and always was, the author piles on ambiguities and deliberate loose ends, perhaps too many for a theatre audience to absorb, and the piece really has the feel of a psychological horror short story. As directed by Emma Callander, Jamie Michie adeptly manoeuvres his way through the open narrative, subtle suggestions and red herrings, though the nature of the script deprives him of the opportunity to combine the bits and pieces into a fully coherent characterisation.  Gerald Berkowitz 

Cut   Underbelly Medical Quad   **
The audience meets at a different location and is led by a circuitous route to a venue they could have reached more simply and directly on their own. There a small room is plunged into total darkness while Hannah Norris, in the dark or lit by a dim pinspot, keeps popping up in different corners of the playing space. What at first seem fragmented and unrelated speeches gradually coalesce into the story of an air hostess terrorised by a sinister passenger who follows her through the city and to her home before attacking her. Or maybe, as a number of clues in the text suggest, that doesn't actually happen at all, and is as unreal as the woman's accounts of a scissors-wielding midget or an occasion of rolling a fish downhill in an old tyre. Or are they, as improbable and irrelevant as they seem, as true as the stalker? The story, be it of actual terror or psychological breakdown, does gain a little from the atmospheric darkness and sudden flashes of light. But the overall sense is of a very limited text and an overused theatrical gimmick being arbitrarily yoked together with quickly diminishing returns.  Gerald Berkowitz

[dark matter]   Venue 13     *
With governments crumbling and millions starving, a woman banker who destroyed world markets and a particularly corrupt U.S. Senator escape to a safe house where, naturally enough, they quarrel over why she stood him up at a Yale dance years ago. It turns out that both are agents of one of those hidden hand real-rulers-of-the-world organisations so beloved of conspiracy theorists, and that it has used them to deliberately destroy all political and economic structures, kill off 90% of the world population and start afresh. Nicholas Cross's play could be an enjoyable paranoid thriller or naughty satire if it weren't written and directed so turgidly as to be all but lifeless. The couple spend the bulk of the play debating issues of geopolitics and personal ethics with an earnestness and intensity but fuzziness of vocabulary that makes them sound like undergraduates drunk on newly acquired knowledge, and in the process do little to illuminate the playwright's ideas or establish any sense of a world outside the room. A short second act offering a glimpse of the new world order is broad and obvious satire that hardly seems part of the same play. Actors Jessica Boyde and Mark Parsons do their best, but given identityless mouthpieces to play in the first scene and cartoons in the second, can do little to create any reality.  Gerald Berkowitz

The Double Life Of Malcolm Drinkwater   Counting House     ****
One of the nicer Fringe developments of the past ten years or so is the growing opportunity for stand-up comics to stretch themselves a little in theatrical roles. This short play by Patrick Monahan is very much a production-of-opportunity, with everyone involved (starting with Monahan himself) comedians who are appearing elsewhere in their own shows, and use this lunchtime slot as something to make them get up in the morning. Monahan's story is a minimal one – a professional hitman stalking his prey keeps running into odd characters – but it's the opportunity for some able comic characterisations and a lot of funny lines. Monahan himself plays the killer, with Lucy Frederick as a neighbour who keeps interrupting his planning to borrow something, Archie Maddocks as an inept local mugger who'd really rather be an accountant, and Gary Colman as the depressed victim who may off himself before Malcolm gets a chance to do the job. I don't think the script could be extended much beyond its 45 minute length, but tightened up a bit it would make a better-than-average one-off TV sitcom.   Gerald Berkowitz


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Down & Out In Paris & London     Pleasance     ***
Adapted from George Orwell's memoir of Parisian poverty in the 1920s and Polly Toynbee's book about minimum wage jobs 90 years later, David Byrne's script and production aim to show how little has changed in the lives of the barely-employed. But so different are the two writers on whom he's drawn that the actual effect is make Toynbee's experience seem like the trivial and mildly offensive playing at poverty of a safely middle class tourist while Orwell's real experience and superior writing are all the more impressive through the contrast. The mode of the play is to flow smoothly back and forth, the actors sometimes passing each other onstage, between Orwell's days of starvation punctuated by occasional backbreaking labour for a very few francs a day, with Toynbee's visits to housing offices, job centres and minimum wage jobs, her most recurring complaint the annoyance and cost of having to travel across town on the tube. Granted that both writers always knew they had the escape hatch of return to their real lives, Orwell's power as a writer and Richard Delaney's performance convince us that the man is changed and deepened by his painful introduction to poverty, while Carole Street is unable to show Toynbee affected in any way at all by her adventure. A protean and smoothly directed cast play Everyone Else in instant characterisations and, when appropriate, caricatures.  Gerald Berkowitz

Durham Revue   Underbelly     ***
In past years I've had occasion to remark that Durham's revues had a secret ingredient too many sketch shows lacked, actual jokes. This year's team is evidently not as adept at coming up with funny lines, and have taken as their keynote pushing familiar situations into unexpected comic territory. A mere list of their sketches would make the show sound like a string of overused premises – breakfast television, song parodies, Jane Austen, dating disasters, horoscopes. But just when your spirits sag and you think 'Oh. No, not another one of these' the sketch goes sideways or something fresh is injected. Watch for the Scottish reporter in the breakfast TV sketch, or what you think is going to be a rerun of the Monty Python cheese shop, or the two girls rehearsing their lines. There aren't quite enough of those to make the revue top-level, and there are inevitably a few bits that fall flat. Durham may be treading water this year, but they don't disappoint.  Gerald Berkowitz

Eating Seals and Seagulls' Eggs   Pleasance Dome     ***
Caitriona Ni Mhurchu's multimedia drama opens with videos and recordings of government officials trying to decide what to do with the inhabitants of the remote Irish island of Blasket, plans to remove and relocate them complicated by the discovery that they were a unique pocket of uncontaminated traditional Irish speaking culture demanding at least study if not preservation. The action then moves to the stage where Ni Mhurchu and Louise Lewis focus on the experience of one woman whose interviews and writings made her briefly famous – and, to everyone's surprise, notorious. An Ireland embarrassed by its past and ashamed of that embarrassment turned against the islanders and 'the most hated woman in Ireland'. Backed by videos and soundscapes, Ni Mhurchu and Lewis tell the story in a nonlinear mode more evocative of atmosphere than clear of narrative, sometimes closer to poetry than drama. Non-Irish audiences are likely to be fascinated by the factual premise and caught up in the evocation of both the exotic culture of the islanders and mainstream Ireland's reaction to it, but frustrated by the difficulty in sorting out exactly what happened. Gerald Berkowitz

Echoes   Gilded Balloon     ***
Playwright Henry Naylor tells two stories here, in alternating pieces of monologue, implying parallels and equations that might not hold up under close consideration. A Victorian woman accepts a government offer of free passage to India to marry a soldier there. A 21st Century British Muslim girl runs away to join what she thinks is the charitable and humanitarian work of ISIS and to marry an ISIS soldier. Both discover that reality is just a fading and distorted echo of what they were promised. The Empire is just the protection machinery for financial exploitation that destroys local economies, and British soldiers so far from home are likely to be brutal and racist. ISIS is a terrorist force committed to the most violent killing of anyone they decide is an enemy, and the men treat their women as chattel. Both women are intelligent enough to recognise their mistakes and spirited enough to fight back, though with very limited success. The history and sociology lessons in each half of the play are informative, and the parallels are thought-provoking if not wholly convincing. But they're not particularly dramatic or theatrical, and only the insertion of violence into each story generates any heat. Felicity Houlbrooke and Filipa Braganca are actresses able to communicate both intelligence and passion, but both have been directed to play most of the text with a reporter's cool objectivity, further limiting the piece's theatrical power.  Gerald Berkowitz

The Element In The Room   Pleasance     ****
Tangram Theatre specialise in musical salutes to science and scientists, combining not too much education with exactly enough wit and entertainment to make the learning painless and the theatrical experience fun. Added to their theatregoers' guides to Darwin and Einstein is this salute to Marie Curie, played by John Hinton in a dress and with a high-pitched voice but no real attempt to disguise his actual gender. His Marie is a bit of a bluestocking, dedicated to her science but able to let her hair down, as it were, when enthusing about her discoveries. There's a song summarising the history of atomic theory from Aristotle to the present and another celebrating the mobile X-ray units she developed for battlefield use in the Great War. But the big song, one the audience eventually gets roped into joining in on, is a joyous paean to the ultimate love of her life – not Pierre, but radium. The plot premise, based on fact, is that in 1921 Marie ran out of the very element she had discovered and had to undertake an unpleasant American speaking tour to raise money for more radium. So Hinton has to step outside Marie to also play her overenthusiastic press agent, playing both sides of frequent arguments over just one more public appearance. He also breaks character to explain the concept of atomic decay with a ball of string tossed around the audience, an interlude so clever you almost think you understand it. Gerald Berkowitz

The Elephant In The Room   Underbelly Circus Hub     ****
In a sumptuous mansion during the decadent 1930s, a glamorous gold-digger plots to get rid of her new husband, a hoodlum in black tie desperate to impress his high society guests who include a libidinous American, all waited upon by a bumbling butler. Everyone knows that everyone else is out to grab something – sex, money, murder, even – but social niceties mean that they are never mentioned, hence the elephant in the room. It’s an excellent premise for the near non-verbal theatre of this darkly decadent piece from Canada’s Cirque le Roux. In between the plots and subplots, circus skills and slapstick integrate with the plot – like a physical musical – replacing dialogue with sleight of hand, balancing duets on a sofa or desk, swivelling atop a tailor’s dummy and an energetic sexual duet/duel between the American and the butler. A powerful and exquisitely designed set piece is the Tchaikovsky ballet quartet where the gold-digger is flung high into the air as two corps of frilled lamp shades join in the mayhem. Meanwhile, a steady soundtrack from Billie Holiday to Frank Sinatra neatly sets the mood. Directed by Charlotte Saliou and choreographed by Brad Musgrove, the team of Gregory Arsenal, Lolita Costet, Philip Rosenberg and Yannick Thomas never once break out of character even when hamming it up for laughs or focusing on the climactic Chinese pole routine that justly earns a standing ovation. With such an ambitious and complex show there are logically niggles – the narrative can be overwhelmed by the physical side, and the set acrobatic pieces are not always as polished as they should be. But this is an intelligently conceived, stylish crowd pleaser that also pushes theatrical boundaries.  Nick Awde

Ericthefred   Assembly Roxy     ***
Chris Lynam explores the underbelly of a clown’s fading career. Glumly he makes himself up, interrupted by hi-tech animations of himself that flutter about along with butterflies and musical instruments, as if the whirling thoughts in his head have taken on a life of their own to remind him of what he once used to be. At first he rails against it all, resorting to the tools and tricks of his trade to dispel them, such as using a blunderbuss to fire at the butterflies with comically disastrous results. Realising that it is none of their fault, he slowly turns to celebrating his past – with similarly disastrous effects. Achingly beautiful and seriously funny for all its grimness, this is a highly-structured, well-designed technical show, and yet Lynam’s true brilliance is that he is always there in the moment, contemporary in every way. Sensitively guided by director John Wright, this creates a tension in two ways: where Lynam’s emotions find a natural, human resonance in the audience despite the faded Gothic artifice of the staging, while he also retains the ability to improvise, to respond to the reactions he creates in that audience. Ericthefred is an entrancing opportunity to watch that process at work and to follow its consequences as the drama unravels. What it lacks, however, is a third act and the wrapping up at the end feels premature and hurried.  Nick Awde

Every Brilliant Thing   Summerhall     *****  
When his mother suffers from depression a small boy tries to cheer her up with a list of reasons to be happy – popcorn, balloons, the colour yellow and the like. It tragically doesn't help mother, but as the boy grows up he occasionally adds to the list – ice cream, kung fu movies, pretty girls – until it numbers in the thousands, and it does help him through his own bouts with depression. Performer Jonny Donahoe tells this story written by Duncan Macmillan with infectious enthusiasm, and since his narration involves citing a lot of entries from his list, the theatre fills with images of happiness. In fact, Donahoe begins the show by handing printed slips of paper out to many in the audience, so that when he calls out various numbers voices from all over the house ring out with brilliant things. Donahoe also casts audience members in small roles, including his father, a school counsellor and the girl of his dreams, encourages them to ad lib little scenes with him and then smoothly incorporates their contributions into his script. People have been known to come out of this show floating on little pink clouds of joy, but even if it doesn't affect you quite that strongly, you can enjoy watching a master performer take hold of an audience, lift them up and not let them down.  Gerald Berkowitz

Fake It 'Til You Make It
  Traverse
  **

Performance artist Bryony Kimmings met and fell in love with advertising executive Tim Grayburn and only some months after they had moved in together discovered that he had suffered from clinical depression most of his adult like, keeping it secret out of shame that it was unmanly. Naturally enough Kimmings made a theatre piece out of it, convincing Grayburn to perform it with her. The result is an uneven and frequently (and not always deliberately) uncomfortable mix of light entertainment, serious education and the inescapable feeling that, despite his willing participation, she is exploiting his illness. In practice, irreverently comic and musical sequences alternate with recordings of Tim seriously describing the pain of depression. Kimmings is, unsurprisingly, a more polished and confident performer than Grayburn, which only contributes to the sense that he is being used in a way you might find in questionable taste. You can salute the educational intentions of the piece, recognise the nakedness and courage of the performers putting their actual lives on display, and applaud their reports that others seeing this show have been inspired to face and admit their own mental health issues, while still seeing that it isn't very good theatre. Gerald Berkowitz

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Fantastic, Funny And Free     Free Sisters   **
Entertaining the under-sevens is not easy. First you have to convince them that what's onstage is more worthy of their attention than the baby in the row behind or the bit of fluff on daddy's shirt. And then you have to hang on to attention spans that can be measured in seconds. This mid-afternoon free show puts three comedians used to entertaining adults in front of family audiences, and serves as an object lesson in the difference. Actually, although three comics are named in the listings, only Martin Mor and John Scott appeared at this performance. Mor at least makes sporadic attempts to connect with the children, joking with some individually and encouraging panto-style feedback, and his brief forays into juggling and magic, along with his funny beard, give the kids something to look at. But most of his jokes bypass the children entirely to appeal to the adults. John Scott makes almost no concession at all to the presence of the little ones, his comic poetry and ghost stories being totally static and built on humour of little appeal to the children, so that even bringing some parents onstage to attempt Dalek voices goes flat. Even a small gesture toward visual appeal, in the form of a set or costumes in place of their street clothes, might be an acknowledgement by the comics that this audience is different from their usual one.   Gerald Berkowitz

Festivus   C Nova   ***
Going to generic musical festivals while at university and losing yourself in a chemical haze is pretty much a rite of passage nowadays, as an ever so slightly mismatched brace of couples discover in this fast-paced comedy of manners. Cool Tom (Jamie O'Neill) and lad Nathan (Sami Larabi) are good mates who are camping out at a festival with their girlfriends – dippy but sincere Laura (Sally Horwill) and party animal Danielle (Rosie Porter). When we first meet them they’re in high spirits but you can spot the cracks as the toll of alcohol, recreational drugs and lack of sleep – and hygiene – start to wreak their toll. Veering between comic and tragic, life in the festival madding crowd strains their criss-cross of relationships to spin a whimsical tale of romances hindsight can see were doomed never to blossom. The cast work enthusiastically with Jon Max Spatz’s tight direction and are lucky that Larabi has avoided delivering the usual coming of age script where any drama rests on drug abuse or a horrific childhood. As an observational piece it works well, with dialogue and characters well drawn, but the play does need to find a deeper dramatic hook to provide more context and pretext for the action.  Nick Awde

Filthy Talk For Troubled Times   Basic Mountain   ****
On seeing this 25 year old play from one of today’s hottest writers Neil LaBute, one can understand why this is the UK premiere. LaBute has never been afraid to court controversy but this 50 minute play is so overtly frank about sex that many would be scared to stage it. Filthy Talk for Troubled Times is set in a sleazy club. Once the pole dancer has retired to operate the sound and lighting desk, the evening features the thoughts of two workers and four punters, most delivered in short asides to the audience. The subject matter throughout is gender politics and power. The two women, played by Zibby Allen and Erin Pineda, believe themselves to be in control of the relationships that they are drawn into but most would believe that they are deluding themselves. The men talk big, and much of what they say is gratuitously offensive, but are just as far out of control as the nocturnal ladies when it comes to sexual encounters. Where the playwright scores is not so much in portraying the working women as victims but by persuading members of the audience to feel a degree of sympathy for the men who exploit them. Director Matthew Lillard has been blessed with a strong cast from his native America and, with their slick assistance, maintains pace throughout what might otherwise feel like a rather bitty piece. In any event, this is a worthy revival of an early work that sheds light on the LaBute oeuvre.  Philip Fisher

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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A Gambler's Guide To Dying   Traverse   ***
Gary McNair's grandfather was the Scotsman who famously bet he would survive pancreatic cancer and live to the Millennium, dying just hours short of winning millions. But McNair's story begins in 1966 when Granddad invited the hatred of his fellow Scots by betting on England and winning big. Grandson spent the next 34 years watching with a mix of fascination and dread as his grandfather bet and lost and bet again, in a tale that has its share of mordant laughs. The story doesn't really find its meanings until the final moments, when Grandfather's struggle to stay alive and win the bet becomes a moving metaphor for the natural human impulse to fight death as long as possible. And the monologue ends with the realisation that Grandfather and everyone else deserves to be remembered as a loving, contradictory, imperfect and complex person and not just the subject of a yellowing newspaper clipping. Gary McNair is a stronger writer than performer, and while he finds all the laughs and brings an undeniable authenticity to his tale, his thin voice and unimposing stage presence add little, and most of the piece's power might come through just as fully in reading the text.  Gerald Berkowitz


The Garden
  Traverse at Lyceum Rehearsal Room
   **
In what we gradually realise is a dystopic future of overpopulation and global warming, a woman discovers a spindly plant growing up through her kitchen floor. Her husband is oddly threatened by this hint of new life, finally admitting that as a government official he knows how really bad things are and can't allow himself to succumb to any false hope. This 'short opera' is actually more than half spoken, and neither Zinnie Harris's libretto nor John Harris's music takes the expected route of rising from speech to song at moments of heightened passion. The first sung line, a few minutes in, is 'There's a bump in the lino', and although that bump will turn out to be significant, the line itself is casual, as are many of the sung moments, sometimes no longer than a word or phrase, later on. Partly because of that, the music seems imposed on the drama rather than being an integral part of it, and one can imagine the short play being no less effective without it. Accompanied by the composer at a keyboard, generally playing extended chords or counter melodies under the sung melodies, Alan McHugh and Pauline Knowles capture the small personal drama most effectively in the spoken passages.  Gerald Berkowitz

Giant Leap   Pleasance   **
The moon landing was faked, of course. (So was Pearl Harbour, but that's another story.) But first someone had to write that line for Neil Armstrong to get wrong. So a military officer and a Hollywood producer assemble a blacklisted Southern novelist, an over-the-hill Jewish comedian, a Hollywood yes man and a docile secretary, lock them in a secret bunker somewhere and order them to come up with the quotation of the century. That's the premise of the play by Mickey Down and Konrad Kay, and it's the best thing about it, since neither the authors nor director Alexander Lass are able to do much with the concept. Inevitably the writing crew fumble around with bad ideas for the line, but they're not particularly funny bad ideas, and when one does miraculously come up with One Small Step, it's an anticlimax. Meanwhile the characters, all conceived as stereotypes, are all played that way and the actors repeatedly seem lost, as if what we were watching was an improvisation exercise, complete with stumbling attempts at jokes, long pauses and the sense that no one is really listening to anyone else. As the Hollywood big shot Phil Nichol plays as one-dimensional a caricature as the others, but at least he alone brings some life, energy and humour to the role.  Gerald Berkowitz

Girl From Nowhere   Pleasance   ****
In Nowheresville Texas in 1969 a young woman discovers that her singing voice and her attraction to a local country-and-western musician offer her a way out. But soon her own inclination toward blues and rock means leaving the band to try and make it on her own. Events force a temporary retreat back home, where she prepares for her second try at escape and stardom. Obviously inspired by the life of Janis Joplin, but not a direct biography, Victoria Rigby's monologue with songs doesn't lapse into the generic either, Rigby's writing and impassioned performance giving the woman a strong individuality and identity. The playwright-performer is particularly insightful and moving in acknowledging that the world her character wants out of has its real virtues and attractions, so that the case is not one-sided and the break not an easy one. Rigby certainly has the look and bearing of a 1960s rock chick – think Grace Slick – and the only criticism to make of her performance is that she is too good a singer, actually able to carry a melody in what was an age of growlers and wailers. A valuable history lesson for some and a strong evocation of time and place for all, this is an hour that smoothly blends music and believable personal drama.  Gerald Berkowitz

Goodstock   Pleasance   ****
The story of a cancer gene passed down the generations is possibly not the most obvious subject to stage, but in the form of Goodstock it becomes magically transformed into a powerful piece of theatre that entertains, educates and informs. The moment she bounds on, cheery Olivia informs us that she is 26 and carries the gene that gives the women who inherit it an impossibly high chance of developing breast or ovarian cancer. Like a gameshow board, her family tree lights up behind her as we meet her relatives – only to be extinguished one by one as they succumb. Shifting across those generations, the stories become interwoven, shaping the plot as the dynamics of Olivia’s family relationships come to life, spurred on by debates on the effectiveness of diagnoses, the practicality of preventative surgery and how to remould one’s body. Olivia Hirst, Illona Linthwaite and Rianna Dearden, who doubles as a musician, are the womenfolk and also share out the other family members, partners, doctors and counsellors encountered along the way. Guided by Lucy Wray’s sensitive direction, they deliver Hirst’s sparkling script with gentle humour and honesty, tackling guilt and loss with an often unexpected surrealness. What they also create is a celebration of family as a community, as well as living for the moment, that leaves you touched, empowered and uplifted.   Nick Awde

The Greatest Stories Never Told   Space at Surgeons Hall   ****
The amiable and energetic foursome who call themselves The Heretical Historians offer a sketch show with a touch of painless education as they build their comedy on oddities of history. So we discover how young Julius Caesar made a name for himself by conning some pirates who captured him into letting him go, and then coming back to defeat them. We're present as Pope Paul IV orders all the Vatican's nude statues de-penised. Other sketches touch on drunken Australian politicians, Lenin almost arriving at the Revolution late, and what happened in India when the British declared war on cobras. On top of their absurd-but-true premises the sketches are loaded with enough incidental jokes, sight gags and general silliness to make for one of the brightest revues around.  Gerald Berkowitz

Wil Greenway - For The Ground That Grew Me   Underbelly Med Quad   ***
Fifty years ago Wil Greenway would have been a very typical hippie, probably mildly stoned and happy to stream-of-consciousness his way through a rambling shaggy dog story because just sharing this piece of time and space with the audience was like, you know, groovy. Or maybe that's just what Australians are like today, because Greenway's hour seems to have no other purpose than to embrace us all in his good will and beatific smile. Preceded and occasionally punctuated by a pair of equally blissed-out musicians (soft guitar and toy xylophone), he amiably natters on about how he is exactly as tall as a grave is deep, cutting his foot, playing Scrabble with a speech therapist, drunkenly watching lovers on a London bus, the art of wrapping gifts, and how his grandfather lost an eye. Succumb to Greenway's charm and you'll be charmed. Remain immune and you'll find yourself thinking that, while all monologuists are by definition egotists, Greenway's assumption that anything and everything he happens to throw in is of equal high significance places him, if not among the flower children, then firmly in the age of Twitter.  Gerald Berkowitz

Hamlet   Spotlights at Merchants Hall   ***
English Repertory Theatre's Hamlet is fast moving, heavily cut, inventively modernised and presented with unflagging energy. The excisions, which include the Ghost, Fortinbras, the Players, the Gravediggers and the journey to England, are hardly missed and their holes cleverly papered over, while the fact that Hamlet is played by an actress is of little significance. The modernisation places the action in a posh school, with Polonius and Horatio as teachers and Hamlet and his contemporaries as students. The backstory is explained in a history lesson and the Players replaced by a drama class. The plot gets going with a letter from Hamlet Senior evidently written and posted from his deathbed, and from then on the Prince drives the action forward relentlessly and without a hint of hesitation or doubt. Those soliloquies that remain are incorporated into dialogue scenes so they don't interrupt the action, and although some inventions, like making Ophelia part of the Hamlet-Horatio team, cause plot problems later on, things move too quickly to give the audience time to notice. A little more troublesome is the fact that, as directed by Gavin Davis, Rachel Waring plays the Prince as active, determined, never wavering and not particularly given to introspection, which sacrifices a good deal of what Shakespeare's play is about. Gerald Berkowitz

The Hampstead Murder Mystery   Pleasance Dome   *****
There may well be a kitchen sink somewhere in the props list for this spoof murder mystery by Tim Norton and Jo Billington, because there's certainly everything else. Working with the Young Pleasance company, the co-authors also co-direct a rollicking romp through every convention and cliché of the genre, presented with unflagging high energy, sly wit and some of the most tightly choreographed chaos you're likely to encounter in one speedily moving laugh-filled hour. Let's see – there's a dead high court judge who was having it off with at least two married women, a butler with a shady past, a mysterious French woman, two Scotland Yard men of dubious intelligence, one private detective of dubious sexuality, two courtroom scenes, a troupe of Keystone Cops, a stage Scotsman, three dance numbers, and a cast of 30 playing a total of 150 roles among them. In a Fringe dominated by solo shows the sight of a stage full of performers is a pleasure in itself, especially when the co-directors move them around so cleverly and give every one of the characters, however brief their appearance, a touch of individuality. Sets and props move in and out with balletic precision, passers-by provide narrative links, the plot gets so convoluted that I defy you to remember which suspect is which, and the whole thing is a joyous celebration of the sheer fun of making theatre.  Gerald Berkowitz

Health Under Fire   Cafe Camino     ***
The unlikely setting of this barmy, ambitious comedy is Manchester, 1950, just as the government set up the National Health Service. Someone sinister is stealing drugs from the city's Royal Infirmary. A cynical private investigator arrives to solve the mystery of the theft and to reveal the true identities of the bizarre characters that run the hospital. Sinister administrators rub shoulders in the wards and corridors with sly cleaners and conjoined doctors, and things get ever murkier as the investigation delves deeper into the underbelly of our health system. The plot itself rolls along on the mayhem that ensues when classic noire clashes with the Goons, laced with surreal contemporary references and public announcements for the new NHS. There is a lot of promise in Nathan Smith’s play, and the ensemble – Scott Hodgson, Nathan Smith, Andrew Knowles, Roisin McCusker, James Beglin and Daniel Blake – enthusiastically multi-role while generating a constant flow of slapstick, bad puns and theatre/cinema in-jokes. The script, however, needs a good dose of ruthless editing in order to allow Death by Pie to really show their chops.  Nick Awde

Heartlands   Sweet Grassmarket   ****
Part rom-com, part ethical puzzle, Dave Fargnoli's two-hander travels a circuitous route before discovering that it's actually about a third thing entirely. The journey may be more confusing than necessary, but the conclusion is emotionally satisfying and there is much along the way to hold and involve the audience. An improbable couple, a political activist and a movie star, find their paths crossing every few years. They each sense enough in each other to keep reconnecting until she offers her celebrity to promote his latest charity, a combination that unexpectedly releases the twittering trolls and forces both to reconsider their positions and futures. A narrative structure that jumps back and forward in time, with flashbacks within flashbacks, seems to stand in the way of simple storytelling until we realize that the multiple shapes and layers of the couple's relationship are the real subject of a play that considers different ways of giving meaning to life and concludes that a simple and honest connection with another human being is the best. Directed with a mix of high energy and subtle sensitivity by Amy Gilmartin, Clare Ross and Joe Johnson effectively draw us deep into their characters while seeming to be talking about other things entirely, so the play's message about the primacy of one-to-one relationships is felt long before it is spoken aloud.  Gerald Berkowitz



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Hell Hath No Fury   Space At Jury's Inn   *
This is a sweet and modest little show that is simply out of its league, even by charitable Fringe standards. It's not assertively bad or an insult to the audience, but writing, direction and acting are just not good enough. Emma Hopkins' script begins shakily with the near-cliche of a convicted killer insisting that she is not guilty and not insane. She then lays out her story, introducing about a dozen other characters, most of whom, along with their unresolved plot lines, will be abruptly dropped when the story of a woman seeking vengeance for her dead sister suddenly shifts sideways and becomes a modern dress gloss on Macbeth, rather mechanically following Shakespeare's plot with some dips into the best-known lines. As a performer Emma Hopkins sadly demonstrates the dangers of directing oneself, with evidently no one to tell her that she is operating solely in two extreme modes, blank recitation and the kind of attempted expressiveness that fits a separate hand gesture for every word. A pattern of measured pauses at the end of every scene – you can see her mentally counting one, two, three, change character – and some memory lapses further betray an actress in need of a firm directorial hand.  Gerald Berkowitz

Hitch   Big Sexy Circus City  ***
Mary Bijou Cabaret And Social Club, a circus company, give some unity and continuity to what is essentially an hour of separate acrobatic acts and turns by incorporating them into a salute to Alfred Hitchcock in which either an announcement or a visual cue lets us know which film is being evoked by each act. The man manoeuvring himself in, out and around a wheelchair clearly represents Rear Window and the aerial ballet inside a plastic shower curtain can only be Psycho. A frantic aerial flight stands in for The Birds while a slackwire act personifies Vertigo, and it is easy to guess which film the menacing toy airplane is from. Some of the connections are less clear – a rope dance for Topaz and a hula hoop act for Stagefright – while others don't require acrobatics at all, as when choreography that has one dancer play both killer and victim evokes Rope or when three men in drag do a comic dance saluting the iconic Hitchcock blondes. It must be said that while all the circus acts are fully professional, none are more impressive than is inherent in such special talent, the entertainment value of the show arising more from the inventive packaging than from any individual turn.  Gerald Berkowitz

The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Family   Underbelly    ****
Ben Norris is on a modern pilgrimage – hitchhiking his way southward from his home town of Nottingham, retracing in reverse the places where his father lived in his own move northwards from London. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Family is not only the performance poet’s first one-man show but also the winner of the 2015 IdeasTap Underbelly Award, and deservedly so. Norris hopes the road trip will help him understand why his father is loving yet distant, their relationship being one that has left them with not a lot in common. Punctuating his tale with a video backdrop of roadside footage and photos of the individuals he meets along the way, he negotiates his way via unyielding motorway junctions and service stations, is driven down faceless B-roads, and makes stopovers courtesy of Travelodge. Every driver who picks him up has a story, as do the occupants of the houses and pubs where his father’s family lived and worked, while a running commentary comes from a shared love of minor league football and his dad’s mixtapes – an evocative soundtrack that creeps up on you with its random selections of classic 70s/80s pop. As he nears his father’s birthplace in Wembley, Norris realises that he is discovering more about himself than his father, and it is a complex emotional ride. Polly Tisdall’s direction keeps the movement neatly in tune with Norris’s language, which moves in waves that reflect the mood and pace of the stages of the journey, passing from dreamy internal rhymes to choppy, funny soundbites.  Nick Awde

The Hogwallops   Underbelly Circus Hub  ***
It would appear, from the formats of the larger than usual number of circuses in Edinburgh this year, that impressive feats of tumbling, flying or climbing on each other are no longer considered enough, and there needs to be a fictional premise or plot to justify the acrobatics. In this presentation from the Lost In Translation Circus, the Hogwallops are presented as a family whose father wants a cake for his birthday. So a little horseplay keeping the ingredients from being assembled turns into a stageful of tumbling, the mixing requires standing on the strong man's shoulders, and so on. A pause to hang up some laundry brings in a trapeze, cleaning up the general mess requires more lifting and tumbling, and any spare moments are occasions for juggling, magic or general clowning. When Mama needs a break from the tumult, she turns Papa's Zimmer frame into a trapeze and escapes into a quietly lovely aerial ballet. The acrobatics themselves are more variations on standard turns than innovative, and much of the hour's pleasure comes from the warm humour of the characters and story rather than the scary thrills usually associated with flying and tumbling.   Gerald Berkowitz

How I Became Myself (By Becoming Someone Else)    Cowgatehead     *
Sara Quin was a lesbian film technician in London when she discovered she was actually bisexual, moved to Berlin, and decided to start a new life as a filmmaker and performance poet. Part of the process was a stage name, which she borrowed from George Peppard's character in Breakfast At Tiffany's. And so it was as Paula Varjack, complete with new wardrobe and hair style, that she discovered she was freer than Sara ever was. That liberation is not especially evident in this show in which she describes the process, since as a performer she either hides behind a large microphone, turns away from the audience to play to a camera while we watch the monitor, or allows others to speak for her on video recordings. At one point a couple of Sara's old friends are recorded admitting that they didn't know what to call her when she became Paula fulltime. But what is almost completely missing is any dramatisation of the difference between Sara and Paula or any indication that the name change was any more significant a part of Paula's new self than, say, the move to Berlin. The last thing we hear is the voice of a friend wondering if Paula did it all just to be able to make this show, and so little does the text or performance bring us into Sara/Paula's experience that audiences are likely to suspect the same.  Gerald Berkowitz

How To Keep An Alien   Traverse   ****
Irish actress Sonia met Australian stage manager Kate while rehearsing a play and it was love at first sight. But Kate's visa was expiring and so the campaign began to convince the Irish Immigration Service that they were a legitimate couple and Kate should be allowed to stay or come back. Sonia Kelly wrote and performs (along with Justin Murphy) this comic account of two women and all their friends and supporters fighting their way through a bureaucracy that is more strangled in red tape than actively antagonistic. With Murphy ably and wittily playing Everyone Else, Kelly tells her story with invention, wit and just the right amount of romantic soppiness. Kate has 'eyes like the rabbits in Watership Down' and is 'all brown and healthy from not being in Ireland'. Every date, every Skype call and every romantic encounter becomes also a piece of the paper trail that will prove the reality of their love, and a cacophony of more than twenty recorded voices attests to the growing army of supporters the girls accumulate. As both writer and performer Kelly keeps the balloon afloat through at least two-thirds of the hour before falling into the trap awaiting any autobiographical dramatist, of including material that is meaningful to her but not essential to the story she's telling. And so the theatrical energy and entertainment level of the piece drop noticeably toward the end as Kelly strays into episodes and observations she hasn't effectively transmuted from reality to art. Still, there's a lot of fun through most of the hour, Kelly and Murphy are amiable and attractive performers, and it would be folly to resist the allure of such a lovely love story.  Gerald Berkowitz

The Human Ear    Summerhall      **** 
Jason appears abruptly at his sister Lucy's door after an absence of ten years. Complex reasons for his departure back then would make the reunion awkward and difficult, even without the fact that she doesn't really recognise him and he doesn't seem to remember some things from their shared past. So the shadows of Martin Guerre and Six Degrees of Separation (along with, for a different reason, David Lynch's Blue Velvet) hang over Paines Plough's latest production even before Lucy's policeman boyfriend brings evidence that Jason is actually dead. As in its predecessors the real subject of this new play by Alexandra Wood is not the visitor's true identity or his motives for the impersonation, but Lucy's experience and her hunger to believe in him. The hole in Lucy's life is explored through an almost constant pattern of short, sometimes split-second cutaways from external conversations to her thoughts and emotions, while the shifting nature of identity is reflected in part by having one actor play the visitor, the boyfriend and the brother seen in flashbacks. Abdul Salis has clearly been directed not to distinguish too easily between the three so the audience's momentary disorientation every time he switches reflects Lucy's, while Sian Reese-Williams nicely underplays Lucy, indicating largely through hesitations and pauses the depth of the woman's unhappiness and through a growing assertiveness her ability and determination to conquer it.  Gerald Berkowitz

The Hunting Of The Snark  Pleasance        ****
Excitement is spreading across the globe – the elusive Snark has been spotted for the first time in a hundred years and now everyone’s joining in the hunt to find it. But, as we are ominously warned, don’t try to snare a Snark, for no one comes back alive. Undaunted, the Banker organises an expedition with the silly but daring Mr Bellman, the sinister Butcher, the forgetful Baker and the busy Beaver. Like Raiders of the Lost Ark meets Bedknobs and Broomsticks, off they sail to Snark Island, with the stowaway Boy ready for adventure, too. Cue thrills and spills and all manner of Lewis Carroll’s odd creations from his surreal poem The Hunting of the Snark – the fashionable Jub Jub, the cunning Bandersnatch and the mysterious Boojum. There’s slick slapstick and zippy one-liners, plus a string of snappy songs that are eminently hummable and don't outstay their welcome. The Bandersnatch’s song particularly went down a treat. This versatile cast – Will Bryant, Stephen Myott Meadows, Polly Smith, Jordan Lee Harris, Simon Turner – give it their all and, reinforced by Annabel Wigoder’s bouncy script and Gemma Colclough’s tight direction, they regularly halt proceedings to follow up queries and advice yelled out from the gleefully vocal young audience. Meanwhile, the simplicity of the chugging guitar adds sound effects and atmosphere. In between all the fun, there’s a healthy space for a touch of morality in the tale and a healthy level of satire in keeping with young minds.  Nick Awde

I, Elizabeth  Assembly        ****    (Reviewed at a previous Festival)
Taking her text largely from the actual writings, speeches and reported conversations of Elizabeth I, Rebecca Vaughan creates a rounded and nuanced portrait of the most complex and politically astute woman of her age, making the point without having to press it that England was remarkably fortunate to have had her as queen. The strengths of the piece lie in the convincing authenticity of the portrait and in Vaughan's complete and unflagging immersion in the character. The lesser weaknesses arise from a rather static staging, director Guy Masterson finding little for the actress to do but sit down, stand up and then sit down again, and in a somewhat rambling stream-of-consciousness structure that occasionally wavers in focus, rhythm or forward movement. Vaughan's performance fights these flaws by letting us follow the Queen's thoughts and emotions, as when the question of succession leads to the acknowledgement that Mary of Scotland has the strongest claim. But the more Elizabeth thinks of her cousin, the more irritated she becomes until we glimpse the rage that will eventually determine Mary's fate. Similar trains of thought connect her love of country and commitment to service with her sincere Protestant faith, and offer a hint of where the Queen's remarkable strength came from. So densely packed and loosely structured, the piece might be a bit too long or overwhelming for an audience to absorb; like Elizabeth herself, there may just be too much here to fully comprehend.  Gerald Berkowitz

Idiots   Pleasance   ***
This fantasia on themes from Dostoyevsky by Caligula's Alibi starts promisingly with a lot of razzle-dazzle and comic interplay with the audience and is marked by entertaining silliness through at least some of its hour as a 100-plus-year-old Dostoyevsky takes phone calls from Mr. Blobby while struggling with a government inspector threatening to cut off his benefits and from time to time finding himself transformed into Prince Mishkin from his own novel. The absurdity is compounded by clownish makeup for all and occasional bursting into stylised dance moves. But eventually the several strands and performance modes begin to clash, and even more troublingly, dead spots begin to appear as energy and invention flag. A romp like this really has to be fast-moving and unrelentingly funny, with verbal or sight gags bombarding the audience. But here every time the cast pause for breath or try something that doesn't work the gap is palpable, the energy level drops, and they have to strain ever harder to win the audience back, with the piece eventually just petering out rather than building to a comic climax. An excellent idea for a show hasn't been developed into an excellent show. Gerald Berkowitz

l'm Not Here Right Now  Summerhall    **
It is of the essence of theatre, one would think, that we are shown things rather than merely being told them. But this two-character play by Thomas Eccleshare is almost entirely told by a narrator figure (playwright Eccleshare himself), who sits at a microphone and reads from a script what sounds like a short story, while actress Valentina Ceschi silently (until the very last moments of the play) does what he describes her doing. And I mean that when he says 'She sat down' she sits down. And when, with the fiction narrator's godly omniscience, he describes what she is thinking or feeling, the actress must attempt to look like she's thinking or feeling what he says. The story itself has almost nothing to do with the manner of telling it. She's a geologist who, on a mountain excursion, saw a bigfoot or a yeti or something and has now become something of a laughing stock in scientific circles. Without giving away too much, I'll just add that her need to believe has something to do with unresolved feelings about her father, and that in fact her father is going to appear – in the narration, not onstage – eventually. Director Steve Marmion and actress Ceschi do what they can to make what is essentially a mechanical mime role seem to have some humanity and reality, and at least one of the stars I've given is in recognition of their hard work. But they are defeated by a playwright seemingly determined not to write a play.   Gerald Berkowitz

Impossible   Pleasance Dome   ***
London, 1920, with spiritualism all the rage, British writer Arthur Conan Doyle and American magician Harry Houdini, meet in London and become friends. As two giants of the age, they have much in common, and yet one declares the authenticity of the mediums springing up on every corner while the other is dedicated to exposing their charlatanry. The pair agree to differ but inevitably, with their publicly aired views stirred up by the press, they soon find themselves at loggerheads. Based on true events, what transpires documents the rise and fall of their transatlantic friendship while examining the effects of rivalry, celebrity and faith. The cast work hard, notably Phill Jupitus’ dour Doyle and Alan Cox’s perky Houdini, while director Hannah Eidinow similarly puts in a good effort, but there is little script-wise for them to get to grips with. In assembling the facts of what was a truly gripping real-life story, writers Robert Khan and Tom Salinsky have somehow failed to establish any meaningful character build-up and dragged things down further with consistently stodgy dialogue. Admittedly, by the third act we do get up to speed with the motivations of these larger-than-life characters but wastefully too late. Nevertheless, there is no denying that this was a five-star show for the enthralled audience.  Nick Awde. 

Invisible Woman  Mash House    ****
In this modest but thoroughly winning solo show Kate Cook tells a familiar tale with audacious originality and with tongue if not firmly in cheek at least wandering thereabouts frequently. Her heroine is an ordinary British housewife in the 1940s who surprises everyone including herself by becoming an expert secret agent and saboteur in occupied France, and Cook's leap of imagination is to never portray the woman herself, letting us see her only through the observations and interactions of others. So her beastly husband demeans her and her teenage daughter is embarrassed by her, but her dotty mother puts her on to a War Office job, and soon a blimpish major is recruiting her into behind-the-lines work. Other characters range from fellow spies and Gestapo officers, through a bus conductor and a driving instructor, to a flock of chickens. Some of these are little more than caricatures, and the plot quickly leaves any pretence of documentary as it dallies among war movie cliches, but Cook prepared us for that with an opening warning that we might not find what followed wholly realistic. And yet through all the fun and indirection a portrait of the unseen woman does take shape and the story of her growth adds real warmth to the humour.   Gerald Berkowitz

Iphigenia In Splott  Pleasance Dome    ****
Iphy is the sort of girl you'd cross the street to avoid, and proud of it – foul-mouthed, threatening, full of sexual energy and imminent violence. But Gary Owen's text and Sophie Melville's electric performance make it clear that this is largely just for show. Iphy is not bluffing, but she does enjoy giving it large for the effect she has on others. So far, play and performance fit neatly into what has become a Fringe staple, the monologue of a young person ready to explode with passion. But then playwright Owen takes Iphy someplace she and we didn't expect, into real, unfeigned emotions. Iphy meets a guy and really falls in love, a love she senses softening and enriching her. And then she loses him and experiences real pain, is tempted to revenge but then stops herself and experiences self-control for the first time. Being pregnant and alone forces her to make her first grown-up decisions, and then the baby is in trouble, and then something else, and then something else. As that list suggests, Owen goes further than may have been wise in laying on the soap opera elements, and a sudden shift into open political argument in the final minutes also doesn't help. But the story of a passionate young woman discovering real emotions and her unexpected ability to cope with them, and thus growing up before our eyes, is powerful. Sophie Melville takes Iphy through that journey, always engrossing to watch and frequently, each time the girl takes a step deeper into herself, richly moving.   Gerald Berkowitz

Islands   Summerhall   **    (Reviewed in London)
I have been an unabashed fan of playwright-actress Caroline Horton since her earliest Edinburgh Fringe appearances, but I fear that with her latest show she has come a cropper. Ostensibly an analysis and criticism of international tax havens and corporate tax avoidance, Islands is an all-but-incomprehensible mess. An inventive mess, to be sure, and an occasionally amusing one, but created and presented in such an opaque private vocabulary that little is communicated. Horton opens the play as a mad bag lady who, after some preliminary comic business, announces that she is in fact God. Along with a couple of assistant gods she creates a new Eden, an island that literally floats in the air, apart from the mucky world beneath. They create an Adam and Eve to do the work, which consists largely of growing and amassing cherries, but eventually Eve rebels and departs, and the power keeping the island afloat wanes, threatening all the fun. I should mention that all the characters are grotesques, visually a mix of circus clowns, George Grosz caricatures, French bouffon, Ubu Roi and Mr. Blobby, and that there's a lot of slapstick and broad clowning throughout. You might have noticed that there's been no mention of tax avoidance yet, and indeed the subject isn't even hinted at until very late in the play, when an offstage voice makes the connection.  And so anything she has to say about the subject – any analysis, explanation, criticism, solution – either isn't there to begin with, or just doesn't come through. (An inevitable comparison is to Lucy Prebble's Enron of a few seasons back, a play and production that used a lot of theatrical razzle-dazzle to explore a complex financial scandal, and succeeded in making it all clear and guiding us to understand and feel exactly what was evil about it while also telling human stories we could empathise with.)  At any rate, there's a lot of theatrical inventiveness onstage, and a lot of hard work by the actors – Caroline Horton, John Biddle, Seiriol Davies, Hannah Ringham, Simon Startin – but, alas, almost none of it is in the service of anything beyond 'See how clever we are'. I retain my admiration for Caroline Horton as both writer and performer and look forward to her next project, but I can't find any reason to recommend Islands.   Gerald Berkowitz



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Janis Joplin: Full Tilt   Queen's Hall    ****  (Reviewed at a previous Festival)
Hailed as the first lady of rock when the genre emerged in the late 60s, Janis Joplin was iconic long before her death at 27. Impassioned vocalists abounded at the time, but the Texan singer’s accolade came from her instinctive ability to take those vocal talents into the realm of pure performance. And here she runs through her short life, pausing to deliver the career-defining songs – including a supremely winsome arrangement of Mercedes Benz – that were defined and driven by her suburban roots, life in the fast lane as rock’s new royalty, and descent into hard drug hell. Onstage too are her four-piece electric band, patiently framing her, as if guarding the talent that somehow survived despite Joplin’s journey to self-destruction. Angie Darcy has both the tonsils and the drama to capture Joplin’s spirit while wisely playing to the strengths of her own voice. As the drugs take over, she retreats to her dressing table, where the heroin lurks under the trademark Pearl feathers, and she makes a final plea for the right to self-definition even if it is via an alter-ego created on the world stage. Peter Arnott’s script cleverly incorporates many of Joplin’s own words, and, under Cora Bissett’s careful directorial eye, the result is an unsentimental show that is a celebration equally of breakthrough music and of one woman and her struggle to control her life and identity. A slight shame is that the songs, although clear crowdpleasers, tend to be samey, meaning that the show doesn’t quite hit the concluding high-point. Admittedly the mix is not as clear as it should be – yes this is a temporary Edinburgh space, but (a) it has a soundcheck pedigree after Forest Fringe’s pioneering work there, and (b) there are five musicians plus crew who should have the skill to tweak things.  Nick Awde

The Jennifer Tremblay Trilogy I: The List  Assembly Roxy    ****
I once knew a woman – bear with me, this is going to be relevant – who couldn't just sit around reading the newspapers on a Sunday because she always had a long list of chores to do. I once facetiously asked her what she'd do if one week she completed the list, and she said 'Then the list would have been too short'. The speaker in the first of three related monologues by Jennifer Tremblay is a woman whose only way of coping with all the responsibilities of wife- and motherhood, and the unhappiness of living in a small village she hates, is to create to-do lists that impose some order on what feels like chaos. But chaos keeps breaking in, in the form of child-created messes or priority shifts or the friendly but schedule-upsetting visits of her neighbour Caroline. Even more disorienting is the fact that Caroline's house is messy and her kids run wild and things don't always get done on time and yet Caroline functions quite happily. And then Caroline dies, and the speaker's only way of understanding this is to conclude that keeping Caroline alive should have been on her to-do list and that she has somehow failed. As an equally chilling, sad and (because it reminded me of my friend) totally believable picture of one particular kind of desperate coping mechanism, The List is a powerful hour. And as she does in the other two parts of the trilogy Maureen Beattie completely inhabits the character, making us not only recognise but experience a very human emotion.  Gerald Berkowitz

The Jennifer Tremblay Trilogy II: The Carousel   Assembly Roxy     *** (Reviewed at a previous Festival)
In the second part of a trilogy about a woman's journey to self-discovery, Canadian playwright Jennifer Tremblay explores the conflict and support provided by the simultaneous roles of granddaughter, daughter and mother. Forced to leave her own sons temporarily to tend her dying mother, the woman's thoughts go further back, to her mother's mother, and her mother's relationship with her. If leaving her own boys feels so wrong, how could her grandmother have exiled her daughter to boarding school? Which role has a stronger claim on her now, that of mother or daughter? And what of the men who seem to have a powerful hold over all of them even as they repeatedly fail them? Maureen Beattie plays all the characters, often in real or imagined conversations with each other, and is not always successful in differentiating among them, as perhaps she is not meant to, continuity and interchangeability of experience being part of the playwright's vision. But in her hands and director Muriel Romanes' the three generations of women do not enrich, clarify or resonate with each other, their stories remaining separate and the narrative disconnected and episodic.   Gerald Berkowitz

The Jennifer Tremblay Trilogy III: The Deliverance   Assembly Roxy     *****
French Canadian writer Jennifer Tremblay's epic exploration of the relationships of mothers and daughters that define them both is completed in this monologue that finds the same speaker as the earlier plays coping with her mother's imminent death. Her complex feelings toward her mother, explored in the earlier play, reach a head in the realisation that reconciliation and closure will not occur. The speaker has a half brother who was taken by his father as a child and alienated from the rest of the family, and his mother's last wish is to see him again. He won't come, and the speaker realises abruptly that his absence will be the defining fact of her mother's dying, negating her own presence. As in The Carousel, the road to that discovery involves extensive detours into the past, not only her mother's life but her grandmother's, and the speaker must find a way to balance sympathy for her mother's suffering with expression of her own pain. And as in the other two plays, revived for limited runs alongside this premiere, Maureen Beattie holds the stage with absolute authority and draws us into the woman's emotional journey through a general underplaying punctuated sparingly by outbursts of raw anguish.  Gerald Berkowitz


John Lennon In His Own Write
 
Voodoo Rooms   ****
John Lennon’s first book of whimsy, In His Own Write, was published at the height of Beatlemania in the 60s and then adapted for the stage a few years later by his mate Victor Spinetti for the National Theatre. Surprisingly, Baldynoggin’s production is the first time that the work has been performed onstage in its original form and entirety. And what a brilliant idea. Sharing out roles and accents gleefully between them, Jonathan Glew, Cassie Vallance and Peter Caulfield roll out the 30-odd vignettes that make up the collection with infectious humour and unexpected drama. Against a projected backdrop of Lennon’s own illustrations from the book that creates an added layer for his imagination, the sparkly trio make it very clear that his very English whimsy is not just for the completists. Lennon’s free-form language – essentially improv in print – sees the Goons driving the humour and the likes of Stanley Unwin and Edward Lear driving the words in pieces that bear titles such as No Flies on Frank, The Famous Five Through Woenow Abbey, Nicely Nicely Clive, Liddypool and the seriously bizarre The Fat Growth on Eric Hearble. This might not be everyone’s cup of tea – the constant stream of wordplay may be hard to keep up with, while the content occasionally reflects the attitudes of the period and may raise the odd eyebrow or two. But none of that stops this from being a must-see hour of sheer quality from the free fringe that would grace the Royal Festival Hall. Nick Awde

Katie O'Kelly's Counter Culture   St John's Church   ***
Writer-performer Katie O'Kelly takes us through a perhaps not typical day in a Dublin department store to make a specific political and economic point. It is likely, though, that many will find the argument against zero-hour contracts, admirable as it is, less interesting and involving than the characters whose stories O'Kelly uses to carry her message. A veteran salesclerk retires on the same day her granddaughter at another counter gives birth, right there on the display of bedding. The big boss prepares for the AGM, hoping to be able to announce that he's switched the entire staff onto zero-hour contracts, and his Assistant Store Manager works frantically to achieve that end. A veteran of earlier labour disputes joins with a feisty young immigrant to lead the resistance. And Father Christmas hasn't shown up to open Santa's Grotto. Much of O'Kelly's narration and most of her characters are warm and human, and a few are comic, making the general tone one on which her outrage at worker exploitation sits uneasily. So well does O'Kelly create her little world and so personable is she as a performer that even those who agree with her are likely to find her politics more a distraction than the essence of the play.  Gerald Berkowitz

Dillie Keane   Udderbelly    ****
Dillie Keane, the blonde ditzy one from Fascinating Aida, has been delighting audiences for decades with her wryly comic songs, mostly written with fellow Aida-ist Adele Anderson. Anderson's illness this year (in which we all wish her speedy recovery) led to a rare but not unprecedented solo show for Keane, and she has chosen to give it a theme, singing old and new songs loosely about love. So there's a warning about the dangers of internet dating, or about the guy who is 'a little more married than he said'. More seriously there's a woman's quiet mourning for the children she chose never to have, and more darkly, the mounting anger of the woman facing the Other Woman. From speculating that life might be simpler as a lesbian to recognising that golden years lovemaking can't be quite as enthusiastic or acrobatic as before, the FA wryness and Keane's masterly delivery are all there. But the song selection this time might disappoint Keane fans hungry for the audacity, outrageousness and sheer silliness that have been Keane-Anderson trademarks since 'Sew On A Sequin'. This is Dillie still masterful, but Dillie somewhat mellowed, and it may take us a while to get used to that.  Gerald Berkowitz

Key Change   Summerhall     *****
'I first went on gear when I was 17. I met these lads at my baby’s funeral.' Add domestic and sexual abuse and this pretty much sums up the reasons that land the overwhelming majority of women offenders in our prison system. And so, as five inmates amble on to tell us not only about life behind bars but also the prison that was their life long before they were locked up, it is all couched in surreally dark profane humour that somehow offers a glimmer of hope. Ironic scenes from the daily grind in the cells overlap with chilling bad father/bad partner therapy sessions, the agonising consequences of isolation from their children, and the solace of alcohol and drugs. Devised by women in Low Newton, a prison for adults and young offenders in the north east, and directed by Laura Lindow, performers Christina Berriman Dawson, Victoria Copeland, Cheryl Dixon, Judi Earl and Jessica Johnson create a compelling ensemble. And there's no denying that the combined team have come up with a touching, empowering work that hits the hat-trick of great script, direction and performance. Key Change is notable for being neither sentimental nor in your face, yet refusing to duck the issues. In so doing it becomes a potent lesson in theatremaking for its total fusion of message with audience.  Nick Awde

Leftovers   Zoo    ****
This is a play that lies to you. Most of what you see before your eyes, you eventually learn, did not really happen, at least not in the form you saw it. This is not just a gimmick, but an inventive and evocative way of taking us into a believable and very human experience it would be difficult to dramatise any other way. We are shown several significant moments in a woman's life – the eve of her wedding, the discovery that she's pregnant, her husband's departure to go to war, the news of his death and, decades later, her continual grieving despite the comforting of her adult daughter. But something is wrong with the time line and we begin to sense that these things could not all have happened as shown. The explanation and revelation of the truth may be held off a little too long, but when it comes it not only makes dramatic sense but infuses all that came before with a quietly sorrowful warmth [Later note and spoiler: it was she who went off to war and died, and this has been her dying vision of the life she might have had, made up of bits and pieces of her past.]. Along the way, the realistic playing is frequently punctuated by moments of dance and rhythmic movement that are not only lovely in themselves but, as we may realise only in retrospect, carry subtle clues to the play's resolution. Gerald Berkowitz

A Life With The Beatles   Sweet Grassmarket     **
The oft-told tale of the Fab Four is run through once again in a script by Davide Verazzani that looks for freshness through the narrative perspective of roadie Neil Aspinall, played by Ian Sexon. There are a few bits of information that might be new to some, like the fact that Aspinall was a buddy of Pete Best and sleeping with Pete's mother when he chose to stick with the Beatles despite Best being discarded. And one backstage scene of everyone calling on Aspinall at once for various tasks and errands does give a quick sense of a gofer's life. But beyond that there is nothing that is not common knowledge and far too little given fresh meaning through the roadie's point of view. Perhaps even worse, the script doesn't really give much sense of Neil as a character. He actually disappears from the narrative for several stretches, and the narrative voice he provides could as easily be a fan's or George Martin's or no one's. The three dozen or so snippets of music that punctuate the story do more to evoke the Beatles and their era than anything spoken. Ian Sexon tries earnestly to create a reality and a character but is hampered by a script that does too little to bring anything new to old news.  Gerald Berkowitz

Light Boxes   Summerhall     ***
Inspired by the 2009 novel of the same name by American Shane Jones, Grid Iron's latest offering is a whimsically dark yarn about a town where the icy hand of February, a spirit in the sky, has taken perpetual hold. As poetic in visuals as in words, the story unfolds with the audience arrayed on benches facing each other over a floor of soft bark and a sky of silver balloons, the air suffused with the fragrance of mint. Via dreamy descriptions and dialogue, a mother and father fear for their daughter as the perpetual winter eats ever deeper into everything. As the girl tries to make sense of it all, a group of birds in activist balaclavas appear and declare that February will depart only if there is war. Things turn increasingly surreal and human simultaneously, with touching scenes such as the mother bathing her daughter in a tub of mint water and the family's lament by the river. Roving Karen Tennent’s lush set, Melody Grove, Keith Macpherson and Vicki Manderson turn in focused performances and Michael John McCarthy on multiple instruments is noteworthy for his throbbing cinematic soundtrack throughout. Emotionally, however, they are handed a limited palette by director Finn den Hertog, whose script doesn't go anywhere, even according to the laws of poetry. Additionally, he evidently has never got round to sitting in the second row to note how much the audience there misses, while he creates a final scene that for all its intensity is mangled and so cancels out the climactic resolution. And another shame, given the potential talent on offer here, is that original songs were not commissioned.  Nick Awde

Lisa Gornick's Live Drawing Show   Gilded Balloon     ***
Theatre seems to have the capacity to embrace every medium, and with the burst of multimedia it is satisfying to encounter similar activity at the more hands-on end of the spectrum, such as bringing live art onto the stage. Which is precisely what Lisa Gornick does in this engaging evocation of empowerment across the generations. Speaking intimately into a microphone as she sketches, Gornick instantly connects with the audience and scene by scene illustrates her narrative, projected onto a screen centre stage. She introduces us to her grandmother and other relatives, raised by their Jewish immigrant parents in London’s West End, depicted in cheeky ink drawings sometimes given a colour wash. Gornick’s gran was quite a character who quietly rebelled through the social revolution bestowed on women by the flapper years of the 20s. Along the way, Gornick’s own tale of self-discovery in the 90s throws up a parallel of gentle revelation. She mixes patter, real-life diaries, social history and personal experience with a soundtrack of pop songs from each era, taking inspiration from the audience’s suggestions and capturing it all on paper. A wedding comes to life before our eyes, a visit to the National Gallery produces a string of the works on view. Perfect for festivals, Lisa Gornick’s Live Drawing Show will also suit many theatres with wider programming remits.  Nick Awde

Little Thing Big Thing   Assembly     ****
A thief and a nun on the run in Ireland – what's there not to like? Donal O'Kelly's two-hander has equal parts comedy, serious drama and even political thriller, and like most Irish literature is also a love letter to Ireland. The thief was stealing a statue from a closed-down convent, while the nun, back from years of missionary work, was making a nostalgic visit. And then suddenly people start shooting at them, and so they're on the road, in a clapped-out van that's low on petrol. The nun has brought back from Nigeria a role of film the bad guys want because (as we will eventually learn) it implicates some big people in some big crimes. They've got to get it to the right person before the wrong people get to them. Directed ably by Jim Culleton, Donal O'Kelly himself and Sorcha Fox play the mismatched pair as they repeatedly surprise each other and themselves with their courage and ingenuity, and their softer qualities as well. There is, of course, a lot of Odd Couple comedy and passing jokes, and one particularly sweet moment has them hide out near a pond and both remember separate youthful romantic trysts at that spot. But they also bluff their way past police cordons, siphon petrol from a tractor, race around Dublin and courageously stand up to the baddies before an ending that is both shockingly dark and tinged with some hopeful irony. O'Kelly and Fox also play everyone else in the large cast of characters, and one of the production's pleasures is watching the confidence, authority and ease with which they smoothly navigate the instantaneous changes in roles.  Gerald Berkowitz

Lunch   Just The Tonic at The Community Project   *
The South African company Sakhisizwe Edutainment bring to Edinburgh a political drama with specific localised African relevance, but make too few concessions to audience understanding or the limits of their playing space to succeed. Sizwe Mcaka's script begins with a cross section of street life in a South African township. A street trader hawks his wares, a purse snatcher grabs a bag, a prostitute bemoans her life, and speakers from rival political parties make campaign speeches. We will never meet any of these figures again, as focus eventually falls on some disaffected workers who grumble and go on strike in spite of some dissension in their ranks. The very short play is presented in a South African style that is no more than two-thirds in English, abruptly jumps about in time and space, and is punctuated by enthusiastic native songs, none of these elements contributing to clear communication. Despite at this performance outnumbering the audience, the cast of three consistently play too big for the room, the clarity of their speaking further eroded by echoes. I feel a little guilty giving only a single star to this production, which is being true to a performance style that has served it at home. But however well-intentioned, energetic and possibly more successful on its home turf, the Edinburgh production fails in the basic obligation to be accessible to its audience here.  Gerald Berkowitz

Lungs   Summerhall     ****  (Reviewed at a previous Festival)
Lungs has had a prior life but richly deserves George Perrin's outstanding revival, which works perfectly in Summerhall's Roundabout space. Duncan Macmillan's two-hander immediately brings to mind Nick Payne's award-winning Constellations and easily lives up to the comparison. It focuses on a couple played by Siân Reese-Williams and Abdul Salis. The opening scene features a discussion about having babies that is unorthodox but credible. From there, the pair live a life in fast forward, balancing reflection and narrative drive with adept skill. Comedy and tragedy rub shoulders through the ups and downs of a modern relationship that is like a thrilling rollercoaster ride, bringing every emotion in equal measure. Macmillan runs through all of the likely variations of a relationship that doesn’t ever quite work out while always promising to do so, but so adept is his plotting that what on TV would seem soapy, draws in and satisfies its voyeuristic audience. Lungs is a well-written piece given deep meaning by a carefully considered, well-acted production.  Philip Fisher


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

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