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The Theatreguide.London Reviews

EDINBURGH FESTIVAL AND FRINGE 2016

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.

Serendipity is one of the delights of the Festival, and the best show you see may well be one that just happens to be starting as you pass the venue. In that spirit we list all our reviews together, so you can browse and perhaps discover something beyond what you were looking for.


 Scroll down this page for our review of

All The Things I Lied About, Angel,  Anything That Gives Off Light, Austentatious, Big Bite-Size Lunch Hour, Michael Billington, Blush, Bucket List, Cambridge Footlights, Company, Counting Sheep, Cut, 

Daffodils, Diary of a Madman, The Duke, Durham Revue, Every Brilliant Thing, Expensive Shit,  Fabric, The Glass Menagerie, Greater Belfast, 

Happy Dave, He Had Hairy Hands, The Hogwallops, The Humble Heart of Komrade Krumm, I Got Superpowers For My Birthday, In Fidelity, 

Lady Rizo, Le Bossu, Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons, Life According to Saki, Milk, My Eyes Wnt Dark, Oliver Reed Wild Thing, Oxford Revue, 

Partial Nudity, A Play A Pie And A Pint, Playing Maggie, Police Cops, 

The Red Shed, The Remains of Tom Lehrer, Revolt She Said Revolt Again, The Road To Huntsville, 

Saturday Night Forever, Shakespeare For Breakfast, Shylock, Stack, Stamp, Stories To Tell In The Middle Of The Night, 

Two Man Show, The Unknown Soldier, The View From Castle Rock, White Rabbit Red Rabbit,  The Winter Gift

And Also. . . .
TheatreguideLondon's lead reviewers, Nick Awde and Gerald Berkowitz, also write for The Stage. You can read more of their reviews at www.thestage.co.uk.

Airswimming    **    -    Ash  ****    -    Barry Humphries' Weimar Cabaret  *****    -    Be Prepared  ****    -    Beyond Price  ***    -    Binari  ****    -    Broken Fanny  *****    -    Care Takers  ****    -   The Chicken Trial  ***    -    Chopping |Chillies  ***    -    Cold/Warm  ***    -     Confessional  ***    -    -Dropped  ***    -    Dublin Oldschool  ****    -    The Empire Builders  ****    -    Eric Satie's Faction  ***    -    Escape From The Planet Of The Day That Time Forget  ***    -    Eurohouse  ***    -    Faslane  ****    -    Fingertips  ***    -    Fossils  ***    -    Fran and Leni  ****    -    Giant  ****    -    Goggles  ****    -    Gratiano  **    -    I Kept A Woman In My Flat  ***    -    In Our Hands  **    -    In Tents And Purposes  ***    -    Intergalactic Nemesis  ****    -    Joli Vyann  ****    -    Just Let The Wind Untie My Perfumed Hair  ***    -    Krapp 39  **    -     Last Call  ***    -    Living A Little  ****    -    MacBain  *    -    Made Up  ****    -    The Marvelous Adventures of Mary Seacole  ****    -    Mr Kingdom's Queen Victoria  ***    -    Mr Laurel and Mr Hardy  ***    -    Mrs Roosevelt Flies To London  ***    -    Mungo Park  ****    -    The Murderer  ***    -    Nel  ****    -    Nine Lives Of Antoine de Saint Exupery  **    -    Often Onstage  ****    -    One Hundred Homes  ****    -    The Other  **    -    Out Of Our Father's House  ****    -    Parish Fete-ality  **    -    Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally  ****    -    Putting The Band Back Together  ***    -    Queen Lear  ***    -    Rainbow Calss  ****    -    Scorched  ***    -    Screw Your Courage  ***    -    Shake  ****    -    The South Afreakins  ****    -    Starman  ****    -    Stuff  ***    -    Stunning The Punters  ****    -    Swansong  ****     -    Swivelhead  ***    -    A Tale of Two Cities  ***    -    Teatro Delusio  *****    -    The Trunk  ****    -    Us/Them  ****    -    Villain  ****    -    Water On Mars  ****    -    William Shakespeare's Long Lost First Play, Abridged  ****    -    Wrecked  ***
                                                                                                       


All The Things I Lied About   Summerhall   ***
Part of me sincerely hopes that Katie Bonna's self-written performance piece is a total fiction, because that would make it an inventive way to explore a moral and psychological puzzle. Because if what she presents as part of the story of her life is true, then she is making people pay money to sit and listen to her kvetch about her father. Her father, she tells us, carried on an extramarital affair for several years and deflected his wife's suspicions by convincing her that she was paranoid if not worse. Bonna calls this 'gaslighting', after the play and film about a man driving his wife crazy, and after giving other examples from history and current news, asks how people can live with themselves doing this. Her not especially original conclusion is that they have to first gaslight themselves, convincing themselves that what they see and hear themselves doing isn't really happening, or at least can be explained away as being something innocent. Her father admitted the affair but denied the psychological manipulation, and Donald Trump simply denies ever saying what the world has him on film saying. Bonna's talk is marked by considerable wit and even more earnestness, but what comes across most, assuming it's all true, is that she really, really, really, really hates her daddy.  Gerald Berkowitz
Angel   Gilded Balloon   ***
Filipa Braganca plays Rehana AKA Angel, a girl from just on the Syrian side of the border with Turkey. While her father is wedded to the land, the youngster wants to become a lawyer. However, times change and the advent of Daesh forces her to emigrate. However, when times get really tough, Angel returns to try and save her father. Almost inevitably she is captured but miraculously escapes and becomes a guerrilla. This solo show is well acted and Henry Naylor writes impressively with poetic flourishes. The only reservation lies in plotting that is real Boy’s (Girl’s?) Own stuff, with action piled on action in a very busy hour.  Philip Fisher
Anything That Gives Off Light   Edinburgh International Conference Centre   ****
The American company The TEAM specializes in group-developed explorations of national and cultural myths, presented theatrically in boldly imaginative and energy-filled productions that are occasionally more image-loaded than coherently structured. In Anything That Gives Off Light they collaborate with the National Theatre of Scotland to create an evocative comparison of the two cultures. Set largely in a Scottish pub, it opens with a Scot who has been living in London worrying that he doesn't feel particularly Scottish any more, and his buddy who has stayed home accusing him of wilfully giving up his identity. Enter an American tourist, a divorcee from rural West Virginia happily believing that Scotland is all bagpipes and Braveheart. The guys try to educate her by acting out some real Scottish history – or, at least, the Scots' version of their own history, which she counters by correcting some of their misconceptions about America and reinforcing others. The results expose as many similarities as differences. While a sequence on how Scottish and American filmmakers might treat the same stories scores, for every account of lairds throwing crofters off their land there's one of American mining companies evicting whole towns to strip-mine. An onstage band keeps things moving and allows for a quite lovely moment of dance blending Scottish jig with Virginia reel. The piece wanders off into a generic anti-capitalism screed near the end, and generally lingers on after having made its points. But for most of its length it is entertaining and thought-provoking in equal measure.  Gerald Berkowitz

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
Big Bite-Size Lunch Hour   Pleasance Dome   ****
It has been ten years since this company first assembled a program of very short plays and brought them to Edinburgh as the Big Bite-Size Breakfast, and to celebrate the anniversary they have added this lunchtime show of Greatest Hits, five complete and self-contained little plays out of their repertoire. Inevitably, some of them have the feel of slightly extended revue sketches, like Philip Linsdell's 'Quiet Table For Four', in which a nervous couple on a blind date are tormented by another pair of actors playing the inner voices out to destroy their confidence. 'Big Fish, Little Fish' by Joel Jones does actually go on a little too long, stretching its single joke of a film noir private eye parody too thin; and probably the weakest of the pieces, Lucy Kaufman's 'Vintage', about a couple who choose to live as if it was 1942, doesn't have much of a joke to begin with. But Joel Jones's 'Answer Man', about a woman encountering the fount of all knowledge and wisdom and not really knowing what to ask, is clever, funny and thought-provoking; and C J Johnson's 'Boris The Rottweiler' achieves surprising depth and emotional resonance as a dog reasons out his behaviour, good and bad, in terms of a very human-sounding sense of honour.  Gerald Berkowitz

Michael Billington   Edinburgh Book Festival
To commemorate the publication of the paperback version of The 101 Greatest Plays, the leading British theatre critic of his day made an appearance at the Edinburgh Book Festival. He was interviewed by Joyce McMillan of The Scotsman and author of a recent book herself, Theatre in Scotland. Bringing together the leading lights of English and Scottish theatre criticism was a shrewd move on the part of the organisers, as the pair sparked off each other for a delightful hour before a packed audience, who delivered as intelligent a set of questions as one could hope for at such an event. Billington explained the genesis of this book, which was no more than the germ of an idea before a lunch with his editor, who had it approved for publication almost overnight. The format and title were then honed into the current version, with assistance from friends including Lady Antonia Fraser. Much of the lively, and sometimes even mildly disputatious, conversation related to the selection process, which was proudly subjective and the rights and wrongs of those included and neglected. In particular, Billington identified the need for moral conflict as a prerequisite for a play to be timeless. Joyce McMillan had her own views and seemed offended by the lack of women and ethnic minorities but also the inclusion of The Real Thing. Billington himself raised the King Lear controversy, suggesting that the play wasn’t good enough to make the final cut but also admitting that having more than seven plays by the Bard would have unbalanced the book. One of the questions related to the neglect of any devised work and uncovered a preference from the Guardian’s eminence grise (of 45 years standing) for text-based plays written by a single individual. Most in the audience seemed to be in thrall to the two critical heavyweights and a long queue to get books signed after the event extended well beyond the bounds of the signing tent. Philip Fisher
Blush   Underbelly   ***
Charlotte Josephine is a real talent as both writer and actress. She has spread her wings this year to write a piece featuring four major characters with Daniel Foxsmith playing the two men. The subject matter is up to date and significant, considering the perils of Internet porn from differing viewpoints. The play opens as an angry woman rages about her sister aged 18, who has gone nakedly viral after a boyfriend posted a photo. We then follow the two women before, during and after the event. The men are a family guy who appears to be addicted to porn and a hotshot budding entrepreneur who behaves badly across the pond. The issues are important so it is disappointing that despite capable (and often much better) acting, the stories and characterisation are confused and confusing. Philip Fisher
Bucket List   Pleasance Dome   ****
Theatre Ad Infinitum have built a strong reputation and anyone seeing Bucket List will understand why. An all-female crew of actors and musicians relate a fable with wit and bite, not to mention a touch of Hamlet’s influence. The starting point is ex-President Clinton’s announcement of the NAFTA, a free trade agreement that would wreck the Mexican economy, while boosting that of the United States. The focus then moves to Mexico, where Vicky Araico Casas as Milagros watches first as her activist mother is murdered and then her aunt goes the same way, following a protest to the police after a rape. The 11-year-old seeks vengeance against five key figures on both the local and global stages. In a deeply symbolic way, her medium for achieving this is chess. In this, she is assisted by an inspirational American teacher/aid worker played by Deborah Pugh. By the time that she is 15, Mila is terminally ill, having contracted cancer from industrial effluents that, it is hinted, are a by-product of NAFTA, and her project takes on new urgency. Using physical theatre techniques and an attractive soundtrack, the story moves from dirty realism into low level fantasy to reach a deeply uplifting, if unlikely, ending.  Philip Fisher

Cambridge Footlights   Assembly Roxy   ****
While this year's Oxford Revue is the worst in decades, Cambridge is having a good year. The line-up includes everything from conventional comic sketches (the ways a surprise party can go wrong) through the surreal (how to create the sound effect of knocking coconut halves together). The feuding ABBA sketch may be out of an old file and the conkers sketch need a better ending, but the little kids talking like adults are inspired and the accents challenge is a real winner. Very high good-to-merely-OK average, with no real losers, and real value for money.  Gerald Berkowitz

Company   C Scala   ***
Sweeney Todd is the greater work, but Company will always be the quintessential Sondheim musical, its great songs and hard-edged New York attitude bringing out the best in the composer. The Lincoln Company, students and alumni of the University of Lincoln, offer an updated version of George Furth's book featuring some sexual juggling that works better than you might expect. Bobby, the 30-year-old bachelor observing his friends' marriages with doubt, is now Bobbi, a bisexual with a preference for women (Of her three dates, one – 'Another Hundred People' – is a boy.) Among her friends, the karate couple are two women, the happily divorcing couple two men. (Other changes, more matters of editing than thematic statement, include cutting 'Sorry/Grateful', the lost motel story with which Bobby seduces April and the dance while they're in bed, but the late addition 'Marry Me A Little' is inserted.) Mainly it works, or at least doesn't hurt. But when Bobbi impulsively asks the thoroughly straight Amy to marry her, the moment is more weird than sad as it is when Bobby does it. And, shorn of the motel story that made the seduction of April a comic scene, Bobbi's more directly sexual advances are just a wee bit creepy (as I think they would be with a man playing it this way). Anyway, now we know it can be done, though you might still wonder if it's worth doing. The Lincoln production has all the earmarks of a student show, with performances ranging from adequate to excellent. Two actresses are evidently alternating as Bobbi and April; the Bobbi I saw was a little too personality-less even for this character, and had a voice too weak for the cavernous room they were stuck in. The two patter songs, 'Another Hundred People' and 'Getting Married' are delightful, and the Joanne, after mugging a bit too much earlier, more than redeems herself with a stinging 'Ladies Who Lunch'.  Gerald Berkowitz
Counting Sheep   King's Hall   **
Immersive theatre can be an acquired taste and what appeals to one person may bore another. This highly-regarded piece created by Lemon Bucket Orkestra attempts to give viewers the authentic Ukrainian experience as war raged and the people rose up in protest. The start is not auspicious. Visitors are asked to queue in the rain (at the performance under review) for ages while bags and coats are checked (slowly). There is then a wait until 20 minutes after the advertised starting time before anything occurs beyond a little background music. For the following 70 minutes, terrifying events in Vilnius (and possibly beyond) are shown on large screens, while beneath masked cast members feed and chase paying guests around the space (which they wreck) in an attempt to let them understand what this benighted country has experienced. This requires visitors to buy in and the brief episodes can seem meaningful but seem strung together randomly, requiring significant audience participation for their overall effect. This “Guerrilla Folk Opera” is therefore, like a 1960s “happening”, an a cquired taste that many might never find a need to acquire, while others will rave (in almost every sense). Philip Fisher. 
Cut   Underbelly Med Quad   **   (Reviewed at a previous Festival)
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
Daffodils   Traverse   ***
A song-and-story cycle by Rochelle Bright, supposedly based on her own parents, tells of a New Zealand couple whose romance survives a string of ill omens and false starts, only to run aground later for unlikely but believable reasons. Their meeting as teenagers in 1964 is most inauspicious, as he finds her staggering drunkenly in the street and is stuck with driving her a long way home to her mother's Presbyterian disapproval. A few not very successful dates promise little, but a world tour he had previously arranged allows absence to do what presence couldn't, and they marry on his return. Only then do their ingrained character traits – his tendency to brood and not share his feelings, her insecurities – set them up for a crisis when his keeping a family secret pushes her into suspecting the worst. As staged by the playwright and Kitan Petkovski, the two performers – Colleen Davis and Todd Emerson – stand at separate microphones barely interacting to tell their stories, punctuating their narratives with a string of New Zealand pop songs (by the likes of Crowded House, The Mutton Birds and Bic Runga) backed by an onstage band. The story may be a little too generic and the telling kept at a safe emotional distance by the presentation. But we do believe in the characters and wish them well, watching with real regret as they walk blindly into unhappiness   Gerald Berkowitz

Diary of a Madman   Traverse   ***
A new play by Al Smith, very loosely inspired by Gogol's tale of a man descending into insanity, offers to do what Gogol didn't really attempt, which is to understand and explain the process. Life, he suggests, is made up of a number of fixed points by which we define ourselves, and loss of too many of those anchors in reality can threaten our hold on reality. 'Painting the Forth Bridge' has long been the catchphrase for unending work, since it reputedly takes a year and has to be done once a year. But suppose someone developed a longer-lasting paint? Smith's hero is in fact one of the bridge painters, and is deeply shaken by the impending loss of what seemed as sure a job as any could be. His role as husband is uncertain if he is not to be the breadwinner, his role as father by his teenage daughter's romance with an English lad. Grasping for self-definitions, he confuses these issues with his Scottishness, and falls into a world inhabited by both Braveheart and Greyfriars Bobby. The process of his breakdown is believable and, in a virtuoso performance by Liam Brennan, very touching. But it is clear that the play wants to be saying something larger about the fragile or confused Scottish sense of national or cultural identity, and it never really resonates  Gerald Berkowitz
The Duke   Pleasance   **
Shon Dale-Jones, remembered fondly for his alter ego of Hugh Hughes, amiable naif whose attempts to make theatre without really understanding what theatre was made for comic and actually quite lovely hours of pure theatre, was bound to give up the character eventually, but we could reasonably hope for something as imaginative in its place. Instead, Dale-Jones chooses to sit at a desk, as himself (or some lightly fictionalized version of himself) to tell of a recent experience. His mother broke a favourite porcelain figurine, and his attempts to replace it blended in his thoughts with the demands he was getting from a film producer to alter a filmscript he had written and with news reports of African refugees paying what were to them fortunes for boat transport across the Mediterranean, leading in each case to the sound but unoriginal conclusion that the value of anything is the price someone is willing to pay for it. Dale-Jones is a good storyteller, and he fleshes out his triple account, particularly the figurine hunt, with humour and well-drawn characterizations. But not even the assurance that everything this show earns will go to refugee relief can make it transcend a purely personal story, and The Duke never fully escapes the shadow of the Blogger's Fallacy, the conviction that everyone else will find your life as interesting as you do.  Gerald Berkowitz

Durham Revue   Underbelly   **
For a while a real challenge to Oxford and Cambridge in creating original and really funny undergraduate revues, Durham seems to have been coasting in the past couple of years, and this year's edition is disappointing. Building the show on parodies of TV genres is practically an open admission that they had no real new ideas, and too many of the sketches poke easy fun at easy targets, be they soft-spoken cliche-spouting professors on history documentaries or loud-shouting cliche-spouting macho men on nature documentaries. Gentrification, advertising slogans, James Bond, Mastermind, a satnav with attitude – even if Durham could come up with new jokes on these topics they would feel old. The occasional play on words, like someone mishearing a call for topical humour or a Labour Party in a maternity ward, offers a legitimate chuckle. But this well-under-an-hour show just has far too little that's fresh, original or surprising to offer.  Gerald Berkowitz
Every Brilliant Thing   Summerhall   *****   (Reviewed at a previous Festival)
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



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Expensive Shit   Traverse   ***
In Adura Onashile's drama-with-music, a Nigerian woman works as the toilet attendant in a Scottish night club, passing out tissues, chatting with customers, offering advice and cadging tips. Her thoughts repeatedly go back to her own youth as a clubber in Nigeria, when she and her friends dreamt of being hired as club dancers. Onashile's subject is the limitation placed on and accepted by women, both there and then and here and now. In both contexts the women define themselves and their ambitions entirely in terms of men, and in both they accept exploitation and abuse as the norm. Their hero in Nigeria was a rebel who preached liberty but kept his 'wives' on a timetable of servicing him. The Scottish night club offers its male patrons the opportunity to spy on the ladies' room through two-way mirrors. What tentative gestures the women make toward solidarity are undercut by the betrayals their need to survive forces on them. These specific indignities and abuses are, of course, metaphors for a broader subjugation, though the play sometimes seems unsure where to direct its outrage – is the attendant, who knows about the peeping toms, a victim or traitor? Other inconsistencies or clashes in tone also weaken the play's strong vision, as quietly understated metaphors stand alongside clumsy bits of over-explicitness ('I'm a person, just like you!') and the bursts of theatrical vitality in the flashbacks to the young girls dancing could be seen as celebrating an unquenchable spirit or decrying pathetic self-delusion. There is righteous and rightful outrage here, but not channelled into the most effective expression.   Gerald Berkowitz
Fabric  Underbelly   ****
Fabric is the harrowing monologue of a woman whose only crime was to dream of a fairy tale wedding and marriage, remaining wilfully blind to dark portents, and whose unearned punishment was physical abuse, vilification and near-destruction. Actress Nancy Sullivan goes through a range of extreme emotions, with hardly any pause in the more moderate levels between them, giving a performance of total commitment. The title reflects the fact that much of the story by Abi Zakarian is told through clothing, from the high-end men's store where the speaker meets her husband-to-be, through the ominously heavy and restricting wedding gown of her dreams, to the girls'-night-out dress that is used against her in a rape defence. We might spot before the speaker does that her account of an ideally romantic courtship is a little too good to be true, but she is forced to drop the rose-coloured glasses soon after the wedding when her husband's penchant for violent and demeaning sex is revealed. And his attitude toward her becomes even clearer on that night out, when one of his friends who happens to be there assumes the right to take advantage of her in even more violent and degrading ways, an attack compounded by the lies told in his trial. Zakarian's writing can be vivid – comparing parents' attitudes to the impending match the speaker notes 'No one is good enough for a son but anyone is good enough for a daughter' – and even witty – of her wedding gown, ' I look like a present that's been gift-wrapped by a bored salesgirl'. But as the tone of the monologue grows darker the writing becomes somewhat overwrought, to the play's detriment. Let me be clear here – I do not in any way imply that rape is an insignificant crime not worthy of outrage. But sometimes a writer can do an injustice to the most serious of subjects through too-purple prose, and in Zakarian's writing in the last section of the play less might have been more. There can be nothing but praise for Tom O'Brien's direction and Nancy Sullivan's performance.  Gerald Berkowitz
The Glass Menagerie  King's Theatre   *****
It may happen only a very few times in a life of theatregoing that a play you know and have seen many times gets a new production that is so revelatory that you realize everyone else simply got it wrong. This visit to the Edinburgh International Festival revival of the American Repertory Theatre production of Tennessee Williams's first success is one of those. I'll assume you know the play. Every Amanda I've ever seen played her as a grotesque cartoon, a comical freak of nervous energy, fantasies of past and future, and total denial of reality. Director John Tiffany and actress Cherry Jones make the revolutionary choice of playing her as a normal, realistic, loving and nagging mother, and it makes all the difference. The whole dynamic of the family changes, particularly in the opening act, as there is more warm domestic drama than broad comedy, and Michael Esper's Tom and Kate O'Flynn's Laura are also moved to softer performances, creating a real sense of a loving family. And later in the play, when Amanda's nervousness at entertaining Jim does make her hyper and ridiculous, we can see the change, and see all its sadness. There are other fine things in this production – the real warmth between Laura and Tom, Seth Numrich's contribution to the never-failing scene between Laura and Jim – but it is Cherry Jones's moving and, I am convinced, absolutely right Amanda that makes this a truly great production.   Gerald Berkowitz

Greater Belfast  Traverse   ***

Poet-singer Matt Regan, backed by the Cairn String Quartet, offers a song and spoken word salute to a Belfast aware of its past but looking to its future. Regan mixes personal memories with history, consciously circling around the elephant in the room until he has established enough of a context to put the Troubles in their rightful significant but not central place. A song about Sleech, the unique and characteristic dust and dirt of the city, sets the tone, and one saluting the Millies of the old linen mills makes more recent history part of a larger picture. As poet and narrator Regan relies a little too much on the device of unfinished sentences to suggest the reaching for the inexpressible, and a long story about visiting the Ulster museum as a child is not as evocative as he would hope. But his verse draws life from what you may only slowly realize are the rhythms and complex internal rhymes of rap, though with rap's characteristic braggadocio replaced by a softer and more elegiac tone. At a little over an hour, the piece may go on too long, and there is likely to be a more effective forty minute set to be extracted from it.  Gerald Berkowitz
Happy Dave   Pleasance   ***
Oli Forsyth's pleasant little play doesn't have a whole lot to say, but says it with infectious good spirits. It's set in two time frames – the mid 1990s, height of the rave culture, when thousands of revellers would descend on a 'secret' country field to dance all night to DJ music, and more-or-less today. The titular Dave was a star DJ in the first period who, like most other ravers, eventually grew up and moved on, ending in a middle-management ad agency job. A night out with a younger colleague convinces him that the club scene today is tame and lame, and needs him to bring back the raves. Can you revisit the past, and even if you can, should you? Is older Dave a pop culture saviour or just a little bit ridiculous, like an uncle dancing at a wedding? Was even younger Dave fighting a rearguard action to sustain something that was already waning? The play and production by Smoke And Oakum Theatre aren't too cruel in their view of anyone, celebrating what once was while acknowledging that it cannot again be, and Happy Dave is a lightly entertaining hour.  Gerald Berkowitz
He Had Hairy Hands   Pleasance   ****   (Reviewed at a previous Festival)
Kill The Beast is one of the incredibly inventive, incredibly courageous young companies that the Fringe has discovered and nurtured throughout its history – writer-performers who come up with wholly original ideas and styles, and have the nerve to commit to them at full throttle. Their metier is the world of classic horror movies of the 1930s, pushed to their logical extreme until they become self-referential, self-feeding farces. He Had Hairy Hands is set in a village so filled with foggy atmosphere and inbred isolation that a werewolf is not the most bizarre of its residents and you are more likely to die laughing than clawed apart. Consider the two women both named Trisha given to walking their unseen somethings on the moors at night, or the cop whose idea of dictating a telegram is to rattle off 'dididotdidotdidot' over the phone. There's the mayor who ominously always wears gloves, the mysterious 'historiorium' that town funds have been diverted to and, of course, the howling in the night and growing pile of dead bodies. Four performers (who, along with the director, are credited as writers) play everyone, the quick and not always all that convincing changes of costume and characterisation being a big part of the joke. With everyone in spooky greyface out of the Thriller video and atmospheric film projections as background, this is a loving salute and send-up of a whole genre, a celebration of theatrical inventiveness, and a whole lot of fun. Gerald Berkowitz

The Hogwallops   Underbelly's Circus Hub   ***   (Reviewed at a previous Festival)
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

The Humble Heart Of Komrade Krumm   Bedlam   ***
Babolin Theatre and writer Richard Fredman imagine a future in which a new Ice Age has decimated the human population and the survivors sit around chanting and singing tales of an epic hero of earlier days, the aviator, astronaut and arctic explorer Krumm. When one of his descendants sets off on a quest to find him, she discovers that he had none of the heroic virtues myth has given him, and that even if he weren't such a disappointment he would still be of little use to the present. A new mythology and quasi-religion develops around her, which may be a step forward for humanity. It's an interesting concept, but makes for a surprisingly uninteresting play. Director Tom Penn has future civilization spending all its time sitting around a table in vaguely monastic robes, chanting and speaking in a company-invented language that is what they imagine English evolving into. Most of the play is in this unintelligible language (which sounds vaguely like Old German), and has to be translated for us line-by-line by one of the group. Along with the decision to have the cast spend most of their time with their backs to the audience, this places a self-defeating barrier between play and audience that almost defies us to find a way in, to care about any of it, or even to follow the story (I am not absolutely sure about the plot summary earlier). It also makes it virtually impossible to judge the acting, except to note with some admiration that they are all fully committed to this stylized mode and operate as an impressive if opaque ensemble. Certainly ambitious, and more than a little pretentious and overly pleased with its own cleverness, this oddity gets at least one of its stars for its only-in-Edinburgh weirdness. Gerald Berkowitz

I Got Superpowers For My Birthday   Roundabout at Summerhall  ****

As part of the Paines Plough mission, the company likes to include a family show in the Roundabout programme. I Got Superpowers for My Birthday is a swashbuckling adventure that follows three youngsters from the same school in the days before and after their shared 13th birthday. Each has the kind of minor concerns that beset fresh teenagers, while they do not particularly like each other. Richard Corgan’s Ethan is macho but not very bright, Will played by Andy Rush is bright but insecure, while Fiona, portrayed by Remy Beasley, is a girl and thereby undervalued. Their lives transform as a gargoyle, a goblin, a slug and a dragon threaten the kids and their families. As a result, the youngsters team up in time-honoured superhero fashion and discover secret superpowers, able respectively to generate earthquakes, freeze and ignite in what becomes an exciting, but humorous play that even has an underlying moral. Co-Artistic Director George Perrin and his cast must have enjoyed the creation of a work that should appeal to young and old alike and really benefits from exceptional light and sound designs by Prema   Philip Fisher

In Fidelity   Traverse  **
In this audience-involvement show (Be warned), writer-performer Bob Drummond imagines a TV game show along the lines of Cilla Black's Blind Date. Playing the oily host, Drummond recruits some volunteers from the audience, puts them through a few humorous tests and selects the couple who will be further tested, asked intimate questions and made to do embarrassing things, all ostensibly in the cause of establishing their compatibility and probability of being faithful, but actually, of course, to generate audience laughter. Drummond is depending on those uninhibited enough to volunteer eventually saying or doing funny things, or things he can make fun of. But he has a script to move forward with and a collection of prepared ad libs to cover any dead spots or bits that don't work. There is also a second plot line as, to encourage the contestants to open up, the host describes the research he did on dating sites, and we see him moving toward an infidelity of his own. There are taste issues here, and also the real possibility that on any given night the chosen couple could prove totally unfunny. Strictly for those who watch TV clip shows in the hope that a child will fall or an athlete injure himself.  Gerald Berkowitz
Lady Rizo   Assembly Checkpoint   ****
The New York based diva returns to Edinburgh after skipping a year, during which she had a baby, and that baby, who we meet in the most intimate of circumstances, is the subject of her current show. Rizo, for those who don't know, is a superb song stylist with a tendency to talk too much and sing too little, at least for my taste. Her mode is to employ all her voice's power, with the amplifier turned up to eleven and then, without warning but at what turns out to be exactly the right moment, drop the volume or modulate to chilling effect. Her play list this year is loosely tied to her new motherhood, from John Lennon's bluesy 'Mother' and a weary 'Help Me Make It Through The Night' to several of her own songs. And yes, as rumour had it, she brings her now eight-month-old son onstage and nurses him while crooning a lullaby, and it is a lovely moment.  Gerald Berkowitz

Le Bossu   Bedlam   ****
The company withWings inventively uses acting, dance, music and clever staging to retell the story of the Hunchback Of Notre Dame in a poetically evocative and even occasionally comic way. The basic story of the deformed bell ringer, the lovely gypsy dancer and the lustful priest is told clearly and efficiently. But it is the moments of surprising and delighting stage imagery that punctuate the narrative that catch you unaware and stick in your mind afterwards. Quasimodo's bells are depicted by actors on swings, moving back and forth as he pulls on his ropes, singing their one note singly or in harmony. And when off duty, as it were, they complain about the weather or, in his imagination, trade riddles and play charades with him. Sets of fireplace bellows fill in for the pigeons of the square, and Esmeralda's gypsy dance soon has passers-by joyfully hoofing along like a Broadway chorus line, while later a group dance with darker tones evokes the troubled dreams of those stirred by her sensuality. There aren't quite enough of these magical moments to keep the whole hour at the same high level of invention and delight, and the production's hold on the audience noticeably flags toward the end. But when it works it is breathtakingly clever, making Le Bossu well worth seeing and withWings a company name to remember. Gerald Berkowitz

Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons   Summerhall   ****
Sam Steiner's two-hander, performed here by Beth Holmes and Euan Kitson, takes a fresh look at the potentially over-familiar subject of communication and makes it fresh and real. A young couple go through the predictable communication problems, discovering that words mean different things to each of them or that one is more inclined to talk through things than the other. And then Steiner throws a spanner in the works by imagining the government imposing a new anti-chatter law limiting everyone to 140 words a day. (Why, and how it could be enforced, is never explained, but even in the privacy of their bedroom the characters shut up when they hit their limit.) What this does to the couple is raise the stakes, making them even more aware of the need to be open and communicate with each other, and after some mild comedy of trying to come up with quota-saving codes, they settle down to thinking really seriously about what they want to say and how important it is to say it, before opening their mouths. Under Ed Madden's direction, it is all done with the light touch of romantic comedy, but is likely to leave the thoroughly entertained audience walking away with some serious thoughts.  Gerald Berkowitz

Life According To Saki   C Chambers Street   **

H H Munro, who used the pen name Saki, was an Edwardian writer of deceptively simple and polite short stories with a surprise twist or macabre sting in their tails. Katherine Rundell's play finds him in the WWI trenches (where he served as an ordinary soldier despite being 45, and died in 1916) entertaining his fellows with some of his tales, which they help stage. Overhearing a country gentleman complain of his boring life, a practical joker calls on him in the guise of a homicidal Russian prince and shakes him up. A boy creates a personal religion around a toy ferret, and his god answers his murderous prayers. A widow and widower contemplate marriage but must first figure out what to do with their already accumulated children. Director Jessica Lazar perhaps unwisely stages each tale in a different manner, from straight acting through Story Theatre, masks and puppetry. As a result the production doesn't establish a consistent tone or style, nor does there seem any real connection between the wartime frame and the embedded tales. Lazar also seems uncertain whether to play each episode for drama, surprise, horror or ironic humour, and too often ends up achieving none of these effects very well. Like Saki's stories themselves, the dramatisation may be a little too genteel and leisurely for modern tastes, and this bland and unexciting production does little to make them come alive. Gerald Berkowitz

Milk  Traverse  **
There are three separate story lines to Ross Dunsmore's new drama, tied very loosely by theme rather than the few plot crossings. A young couple meet a crisis when her inability to nurse her baby makes her feel a failure as a woman, a teenage girl is desperate to become sexual, and an old couple sustain their love with shared memories of the child they lost years ago. There is something about the need to love and to nourish in all three stories, but it is tenuous at best, and so they never really connect and are generally too incomplete and sketchy to stand on their own. I offer some spoilers because they're not really all that surprising – one of the older people dies, the mother is convinced to bottle feed the baby, and the girl causes a lot of trouble for others with her sexual flirting. That we can't really get too involved with or concerned about any of this is reflected in the fact that the most memorable character is the secondary one of a teenage boy the girl toys with, actor Cristian Ortega creating an attractive portrait of a kid who, all things considered, would rather have some fried chicken. Veteran Tam Dean Burn, stepping in as a replacement late in rehearsals, may be limited to playing generic sweet old man, but he does it with easy expertise.  Gerald Berkowitz
My Eyes Went Dark   Traverse   ****
Two planes crash in mid-air and a man's wife and children are killed. He grieves, of course, but even worse than the grief is the not knowing why. Playwright Matthew Wilkinson posits a man for whom things must make sense and effects must have causes, and 'accident' and 'no one's fault' are unacceptable explanations. He pursues the investigation until someone – an overworked air traffic controller – can be blamed, and is then driven to make the punishment fit the crime. That what looks like vengeance can actually be the desperate need to put the universe back in order is an impressive and convincing insight. So is the play's demonstration that grief follows no neat order or process, but is a jumble of emotions, any one of which can dominate at any point. Cal MacAninch gives an intense but externally restrained performance as a man who may well be feeling a different emotion in each scene but retains a core of consistent identity. Thusitha Jayasundera provides solid support as Everyone Else, from therapists and lawyers to the wife of the man he blames. Both the individual story and the light it sheds on darkly complex emotions are moving, engrossing and dramatic.  Gerald Berkowitz
Oliver Reed - Wild Thing   Gilded Balloon   ***   (Reviewed at a previous Festival)
Rob Crouch as Oliver Reed enters in a monkey suit, and a recurring theme of the monologue that follows (after quickly removing the fur) is that the public wants some of their celebrities to be animals and wildmen. And while Reed didn't find playing that role on and off screen particularly difficult or foreign to his instincts, he still was aware that it was a role and that his living depended to a large extent to his maintaining it. So, he insists, some of the bizarre and drunken behaviour on TV chat shows that has become part of his legend was pure (well, almost pure) play-acting. Crouch's Reed doesn't deny being a heavy drinker and hell-raiser, and he happily recounts some of his misadventures, but insists that he was far more in control of his actions and his image than may have seemed possible. Crouch makes Reed quite an amiable drunk, with the charm of the totally unapologetic, so we share his pleasure in reporting that he is descended, through several levels of bastardy, from both Peter The Great and Herbert Beerbohm Tree, and respect the respect he shows to the performers (and carousers) he considers worthy, from Robert Mitchum to Keith Moon. Never really transcending the conventions of this sort of impersonation-personification, the fast-moving hour succeeds in making us feel we know the man a little better. Gerald Berkowitz
Oxford Revue   Assembly  *
The last time two people kidnapped the |Oxford Revue and used the title for their own show was in the 1970s, when the culprits were Rowan Atkinson and Richard Curtis. Somehow I suspect that this year's pair will not have as successful careers ahead. Most of the current show's satiric targets – Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, J K Rowling, The X Factor, H from Steps – are well past their find-a-good-joke-about dates, running gags like changing the performers' supposed names with each link are simply not funny, and a video sequence is dreary. At the second-week performance I saw, the audience walk-outs began around the half-hour mark, and really threw the pair off-stride, which is odd because they should have been used to it by then.  Gerald Berkowitz
Partial Nudity   Zoo  ***
A modest little comedy with a sting in its tale, Emily Layton's Partial Nudity has things to uncover about male assumptions and female assertiveness. A small-town amateur stripper makes a few quid entertaining hen parties at the local pub, but tonight there's a stag party as well, and he has to share what passes for a dressing room with a female stripper. Strutting like a bantam cock he tries in turn to impress her, seduce her, insult her or treat her like a professional colleague, only to be shot down each time by the no-nonsense coldness of a real professional who is there to do a job, get paid and go home. Along the way each exposes just enough about their inner lives to let us see their humanity and even vulnerability, so both end the play more understood and sympathetic than they were at first. Joe Layton captures all the guy's ridiculousness but also a basic innocence that keeps anything he says or does from offending, while Kate Franz allows just enough hints of softness and unhappiness to slip past the girl's armour to make her complex and fascinating. It's a small play with nothing earth-shaking to tell us, but it says what it wants to say entertainingly and serves as a strong vehicle and showcase for two attractive performers.  Gerald Berkowitz

A Play, A Pie and A Pint: Conflict In Court   LeMonde Hotel  ***   (Reviewed at a previous Festival)
This venerable lunchtime Fringe institution does indeed include food and drink in the ticket price, along with a setting in a somewhat posher hotel space than the usual Fringe venue. This year's play is a timely courtroom drama, with a Tory MP suing a tabloid newspaper for libel over a story accusing him of spending a night with a rent boy. With volunteers from the audience in the jury box, barristers for both sides question the politician and the editor, followed by questioning from the jury, which requires some ad libbing in character from the witnesses. Then the jury is polled, and on this particular day they went with the MP. To keep things lively there's a certain amount of courtroom humour between the lawyers and judge, and inevitably there's a surprise witness and a last minute after-the-verdict confession. Characterisations throughout are deliberately just this side of cartoonish, to keep the energy level up and the tone light, and a large audience, of a significantly higher median age than is typical of the Fringe, have an enjoyable break in the middle of their day. Gerald Berkowitz

Playing Maggie   Pleasance   *****   (Reviewed at a previous Festival)
Fringe veteran and master of the self-written character monologue, Pip Utton lifts the genre onto a new plane with his embodiment of Margaret Thatcher by flying without a net or, in this case, a script. After a conventional opening during which Utton plays a fictional actor preparing for and beginning a performance as Thatcher, he stops and announces that he would rather take questions from the audience, and proceeds to ad lib the rest of the hour, in all cases answering as Thatcher in convincing guesses at what she would have said. Granted that some likely questions could be anticipated and prepared for in advance, Utton has clearly done a massive amount of research on the lady's words and thoughts and organised it in his mind so that the appropriate thing to say about the Falklands, the poll tax, the miners, David Cameron or whatever surprise question comes up is quickly accessible. So thoroughly has Utton absorbed the politician's way of thinking that even when he deflects a question into one he'd rather answer, or when you can sense him vamping for a few seconds until his brain retrieves the proper file, it is exactly the way the Iron Lady would have done it. A remarkable piece of research and memory combines with Utton's signature talent for becoming his character even when, as here, he does not physically resemble her, to create an evocative, provocative and altogether fascinating hour. Gerald Berkowitz
Police Cops   Pleasance Dome   *****   (Reviewed at a previous Festival)
The opening shot is a kid cradling his dying brother in a dark city street with the tearful promise that that he’ll become a police cop, the best. Cue police academy, rookie beat, curmudgeonly partner, the first case. Thrills, spills, betrayal and a father complex ensue in this rollercoaster parody. Will the partners survive the pressure? What new perversion will the station captain reveal? What’s the connection with The Simpsons? And who is the evil Mexican cat? Between them, Zachary Hunt, Nathan Parkinson and Tom Turner, armed with nothing but enviable stamina and a box or two of manky props, somehow concatenate a thousand 70s police movie/TV plotlines, back stories, through stories and subplots. Milking every cliche in the manual, each spoofed villain, cop or civilian seems to have a troubled past, most sport moustaches and everyone has a hat. You’ve seen this sort of thing a million times before, so what makes this show so special? Well, for a start the writing hits an impressive high as trashy exploitation goes, yet there chugs under it a fully fledged script with a solid arc that allows the trio to develop a gallery of throwaway characters into convincing, plot-driven portrayals while still earning the laughs. They’re a supremely generous ensemble too, putting in supercharged performances with a (possibly unintended) physicality that puts them firmly in Total Theatre territory. And their connection with the audience is unbeatable. Nick Awde


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The Red Shed   Traverse   ****
Comedian and activist – and the two are not labels that frequently go together – Mark Thomas offers a salute to the institution that got him started on both paths, The Wakefield Socialist Club, housed literally in a red shed and celebrating its fiftieth anniversary. Part social club and bar, part venue for radical speakers, part a symbolic home, it houses memories and inspirations that Thomas skilfully turns into funny and occasionally moving stories. His hour is built on two narrative spines, of going back to Wakefield and reuniting with old friends and comrades, and of being inspired by an old half-memory set during the miners' strike to track down the true story. Thomas's political commitment and righteous anger are never far below the surface, but his performer's instincts keep that surface light and entertaining, and he's at his best when he can blend the two – as when a present-day anecdote is interrupted by someone racing into the Red Shed bar, demanding an instant beer and blurting 'Did you see who they've made Foreign Secretary?' It helps to be sympathetic to Thomas's political position, but it's not necessary, and the only ones likely to be bothered by his show are those of any political persuasion who think it's all far too serious to laugh about.  Gerald Berkowitz

The Remains of Tom Lehrer  Gilded Balloon   ***
American satirical singer-songwriter Tom Lehrer has an enduring appeal. His wit rarely feels dated and can often be incisive, while his parodic music is generally spot on. Adam Kay goes beyond playing the piano and singing a series of Lehrer’s greatest hits, though he does deliver a good number in the hour. In addition, Kay presents a limited biography of a mathematician whose status as a prodigy must have been confirmed when he entered Harvard aged 15. Kay also updates songs and creates his own new versions, particularly refining the “Elements Song” in at least four versions. The highlights are generally predictable, “Poisoning Pigeons in the Park”, “Masochism Tango” and “We Will all go Together When we go” as pleasurable as ever, even with the sometimes clunky but occasionally very funny updated versions. Lesser-known ditties such as “National Brotherhood Week” also amuse. Overall, Adam Kay pleases when he sticks to the originals (although he doesn’t attempt the accent) but does Tom Lehrer fewer favours when he tries to improve upon the originals, which generally need no help, even when some references would now mean little to us today.  Philip Fisher
Revolt, She Said. Revolt Again.   Traverse   *** 
The flyers say that Alice Birch's new play, here produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company, 'examines the language, behaviour and forces that shape women'. I think it is both more tightly focused and broader in its implications. The text is a string of separate interactions among characters we won't see again, with the most apparent common thread being the power and danger of language – power because its effects are as real as any physical force, and danger because it is imprecise and ambiguous. What is intended by a speaker may not be what is heard by a listener, and the effects will be real regardless. A couple sitting at opposite sides of the stage flirt, their sex talk slipping into corrections of grammar and vocabulary, as exactly how something is expressed carries implications of power and control. A man proposing marriage is rejected because what means love, commitment and happiness to him translates as surrender to patriarchal domination to her. A mother who abandoned her family retains what control she has over the outcome by refusing to talk about it, even at the expense of emotionally damaging her daughter and granddaughter. That there are women involved in every sequence is of course significant, but even at the play's most gender-aware, the primary tool of both repression and rebellion is language. The problem is that the play itself is written in language, and I have made it sound more coherent than it actually is. Some sequences drown in language, others are too spare to be clear, and by the end there is a lot of shouting and everyone talking at once as the play, perhaps intentionally, descends into empty noise.  Gerald Berkowitz
The Road To Huntsville   Summerhall   **   (Reviewed in London)
Writer-performer Stephanie Ridings, or a fictionalised version of herself, was intrigued and amused by stories of women writing to convicted murderers in America's Death Rows, falling in love with them and even marrying them as they awaited execution. But as she researched the syndrome she found herself - or, as a creative writer, imagines herself – falling into it, writing to a Texas prisoner, visiting him and even considering marriage. The spine of Ridings' story is the central irony of the speaker's complete conversion, but both as writer and actress she has difficulty navigating the many changes in character, tone and performance style. The ridicule and ironic comedy of the opening gives way too abruptly to objective reporting, polemic (in several digressions on the morality of capital punishment), romantic fantasy and rude awakening. Meanwhile the production mode also keeps changing, from Dave Gorman-style mock Power Point presentation, to documentary use of film and talking heads, to narration, to melodramatic acting. The writer-actress and director Jonathan V. McGrath give us too little guidance through these constant changes and too little preparation for which version of the woman we are seeing at any moment. I saw the show during its pre-Edinburgh tour, and some of these awkward clashes of tone and style may be smoothed out by the time you see it, perhaps earning it an additional star, but what I saw was a complete rewrite away from success.    Gerald Berkowitz

Saturday Night Forever   Underbelly Med Quad   ****
In a curious way this monologue play by Roger Williams, performed sensitively by Delme Thomas, is is a companion piece to Fabric (see review). In both, someone thrilled to have found real happiness in life and love has it violently taken away in a manner that raises the question of how real and safe it was to begin with. Here the speaker is Lee, an amiable Cardiff gay man who drifts away from his partner because the guy is too compulsively into the party scene and Lee is looking for something quieter, settled and long-lasting. After the mild comedy of a dry spell, Lee meets someone new who shares his interests, his sense of humour, his taste for evenings in and his desire for a long-term relationship – and is a dish, to boot. And then one night they walk down a dark street and some drunks are coming in the other direction, and the world comes to an end. Physical wounds healed and mourning underway, Lee must face a world in which the existence of people like the attackers makes happily-ever-after too fragile a dream for him to believe any more. As directed by Kate Wasserberg, Delme Thomas not only takes Lee believably through an extraordinary range of emotions but gives a performance of great subtlety and effect, expressing complex emotions with the slightest adjustment in a smile or twitch of a hand.  Gerald Berkowitz

Shakespeare For Breakfast   C Chambers Street   ****
Twenty-five years ago a Fringe company with an open morning slot put together a Shakespeare pastiche and parody, luring audiences in with free croissants. It is now a Fringe staple, though with a new script and cast each year, the two constants being a happily irreverent attitude toward Shakespeare and the free croissants. This year's edition is not one of the truly great ones, which means that it is merely pretty darned good and a lot of fun. A Midsummer Night's Dream, which is silly enough to begin with, is filtered through twenty-first century pop culture along with a salute to the show's anniversary in a smattering of 1990's references. So the four lovers act like escapees from Made In Chelsea, Bottom and his fellow actors have all auditioned for one TV talent show or another, and Oberon has survived a couple of typos to become Obi-wan. Accurate Shakespearean dialogue is likely to morph into 'nineties song lyrics or Facebook/Twitter jargon without warning, and the multiple-role-playing cast of five make the challenges of changing costumes or characters part of the joke. The only things keeping this from classic status is that once you establish the comic premise a lot of the jokes are predictable and that some of the inserted topical references and gags have a curiously dated feel, as if borrowed from some older script. Still, there's a lot to enjoy here, along with the famous croissants, making Shakespeare For Breakfast an excellent start to a Fringe-going day.  Gerald Berkowitz

Shylock   Assembly Roxy   *****     (Reviewed at a previous Festival)
Edinburgh is the home of the solo show and, all too often, the home of the tedious solo show. This play bucks that trend with great writing from Gareth Armstrong (and William Shakespeare) and a perfect performance from Guy Masterson as the put-upon Venetian Jew and his friend Tubal, whose calm perspective is valuable, as hatred takes over from business. Shylock works because it sets The Merchant of Venice and its central figure in perspective. The play looks at the Jewish experience in Europe over five or so centuries leading up to the play, culminating not only with Shylock but a brief burst of Barabbas from Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta. It also traces Shakespeare’s source to help viewers to understand where this creation came from. However, the main reason for rushing to Assembly Hall is to see Guy Masterson, under the direction of the writer, who has himself performed the monologue around the globe, affectionately playing Shylock but also those around him. He is especially good as the calmly cruel Portia, who takes anti-Semitism to a new level, at least on one reading of the text and context. Philip Fisher
Stack   Bedlam   ***
Ed MacArthur's all-but-solo show is so clever and engaging in its silliness that, even as you suspect that it is a perhaps twenty-minute sketch stretched a little too thin to fill an hour, you are willing to go along with it. Writer, composer and provider of all pre-recorded offstage voices as well, MacArthur plays a celebrity explorer and documentary film maker who is his own biggest fan. He's here to tell us of his most recent expedition to find a lost South American tribe, a journey only slightly marred by his tendency to accidentally kill his colleagues along the way and by the interference of the rival explorer who is his arch enemy not least for sleeping with his ex-wife. What we realize by that point is an absolutely characteristic string of accidents has him not only discover the tribe but find himself installed as prophet-king, happily addicted to a native drug that has the convenient side effect of making him able to speak and understand their tribal language and thus get along happily with the native bride played by Annie McGrath. MacArthur captures the comical dimness and unshakable ego of the character with a high energy performance that almost succeeds in disguising how little material there really is here and how one-note and repetitious the gags. In short, the kind of show you'll enjoy most of the way through and forget almost immediately after – which, by Fringe standards, is pretty good. Gerald Berkowitz

Stamp   Zoo Southside   **
A perennial Fringe staple – there are at least two this year; see In Fidelity – is the mock TV game show designed to combine some easy satire of an easy target with the embarrassment of audience volunteers. This modest representative of the genre comes complete with smarmy MC, grinning assistants, deliberately cheesy set and cued audience responses. The premise is a battle of the sexes, in which actual genders are irrelevant, one side of the audience arbitrarily designated as men and the other as women, and a representative of each brought onstage to take various tests as their side cheers them on. The whole thing, we are reassured, is done in good fun, and as volunteers the onstage pair deserve everything that happens to them, and the audience does work up a frenzy that can feel like entertainment. But manage not to get caught up in the faux-excitement and the whole thing looks old and tired.  Gerald Berkowitz

Stories To Tell In The Middle Of The Night   Summerhall   ****   (Reviewed in London)
A collection of short stories, or ideas for stories, or sketches of characters who might someday fit into a story, is brought together in a solo performance by writer-actress Francesca Millican-Slater that transcends the inevitable unevenness of the material to create an evocative dream-like hour. Using the frame of an all-night radio monologist filling the dark hours, Millican-Slater tells a dozen tales of small people's small lives. Some, like the would-be sleepers kept awake by neighbours' loud music, are little more than the ideas for stories she hasn't actually written yet. Some, like the woman finding almost pornographic fascination in violence, are nicely-imagined characters in search of a story. But at her best she creates complete and self-contained miniatures that evoke whole realities. A bickering couple come together through the shared sensuality of grocery shopping. A dying man redecorates his home in his friend's execrable taste before leaving it to him. An apparent serial stalker turns out to have the instincts of a matchmaker. As performer Millican-Slater may move about the stage and change her vocal delivery a bit arbitrarily, and is at her best when she just sits or stands there and lets her soothing voice transport the audience into each of the little worlds she conjures up.  Gerald Berkowitz



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Two Man Show   Summerhall   *****
One of the most exciting, inventive and beautiful shows on the Fringe, RashDash's exploration of gender and power is the very model of chance-taking theatre that pays off. Performer-writers Helen Goalen and Abbi Greenland, supported musically by Becky Wilkie, use drama, comedy, mime, music and dance as they take turns playing women, men, one of each, and women-stronger-than-men as a way of asserting that femaleness need not be imitation maleness to be powerful. At one point they employ distorting microphones that give them little-girl voices, at another they break the frame to remind themselves which gender they're being just then. Several sequences of self-choreographed dance are beautiful in themselves and effective expressions of bonding and power – all the more so since the two dancers are stripped to the waist for most of them and totally nude for others, and the effect is more evocative of ancient Greek athletes than of eroticism. An extended and passionate speech asserting female power impresses both as an irrefutable argument and as a demonstration of the performer's remarkable ability to sustain the unwavering intensity. This is 'Theatre of Cruelty' of the highest order, using every tool, both violent and seductive, in the artists' toolbox to break through or bypass any audience resistance with overwhelming effect.  Gerald Berkowitz

The Unknown Soldier   Assembly Hall   ***   (Reviewed at a previous Festival)
Writer-performer Ross Ericson finds a new way to address the moral obscenity that was the ordinary soldier's experience of the First World War by giving voice to a figure little acknowledged in the history books, a member of the military brigade that stayed on in France and Belgium for several years after the Armistice to recover bodies and body parts, identify them if possible, and give them honourable burial or reburial. The simple fact of his existence, with the reminder that the war wasn't over when it was over, generates a powerful dramatic shock, as do both the horror stories he can tell and the casual way he can tell them. As directed by Michelle Yim, Ericson's sensitively controlled performance allows the man's repressed pain and rage to slowly overpower his calm and reserve until a flashback to the madness of battle shatters any illusions of there being anything noble about fighting or dying for one's country. And yet Ericson's vision is not entirely negative. The dramatic occasion for the speaker's monologue is the assignment to select a body at random to be the Unknown Warrior honoured in Westminster Abbey, and his way of doing the job demonstrates just where true honour and loyalty survived. This is a simple piece, but one whose originality, sincerity and quietly powerful performance make it stand out. Gerald Berkowitz

The View From Castle Rock   St Mark's Church   ***
Alice Munro, author of the short stories on which this dramatization is based, is Canadian but the Laidlaw family, who may well be her ancestors, hail from the land of the Ettrick shepherd, James Hogg. The adaptation by Linda McLean links the two continents, as six members of the clan head west from the Borders in search of a new life, and in the almost certain knowledge that they will never again see their native Scotland. Every one is a character, starting with Lewis Howden’s grumpy James Senior, a patriarch of the kind who sees the past through rose-tinted glasses. Of the rest, the most sympathetic is tiny Mary, Nicola Jo Cully portraying an old maid in the making, who is devoted to her tiny nephew, which is more than can be said for his resentful mother. The tale is told through shared narration as much as direct speech, with relatively little formal staging. Some of the sea scenes are dramatic, but the main reason for trying this Stellar Quines production, which is supported by both the Fringe and Book Festival, is the chance to understand the difficulties faced by those emigrating to America 200 years ago. Philip Fisher

White Rabbit, Red Rabbit   Assembly   **   (Reviewed at a previous Festival)
Iranian playwright Nassim Soleimanpour requires that at each performance his script be handed to a different actor who has not seen it before, so that the first sight-reading before an audience will gain in immediacy and reality what it might lose in polish. The script itself offers a string of easily-decoded political fables, one about the repression of woman through the hijab, one about society's instinctive hatred of the superior or independent, and one about the culpability of those who allow the crimes of others. The presentation of these stories involves calling individual audience members, not necessarily volunteers, onstage and making them act like rabbits or otherwise look silly, the whole supposedly cushioned by repeated saccharine exhortations to 'Dear Actor' and 'Dear Audience'. The identity and performance of the actor is really irrelevant (though the one I saw, while occasionally stumbling over his lines, did try to get into the spirit of what he was reading), as indeed is the whole theatrical context. Soleimanpour has written an essay describing in code the repressions of Iranian culture, and he might just as easily have shaped it as a letter to a journal or an online blog. Gerald Berkowitz
The Winter Gift   Space On The Mile   ***
The Winter Gift tells the story – or, rather, two separate parts of the story of Louise Brooks, star of the iconic silent film Pandora's Box. Scenes of the making of the film in 1928 are set in the frame of a 1955 visit to the older Brooks by a representative of the Eastman Film Museum, an occasion that would (spoiler alert!) end with her receiving a pension honouring her contribution to film and going on to be a valuable memoirist and film historian. The real interest lies in the 1928 scenes, as we watch German director G W Pabst recognizing and using Louise's natural talent and enigmatic beauty to create an extraordinary film. Unfortunately everyone in this part of the play is in whiteface and directed to play broad cartoons – Marlene Dietrich (who was briefly considered for the role) parades around in her underwear talking baby talk with a cod German accent – and appropriately enough for a play about an actress with a very natural style, it is the rare moments when the Rogue'z Company actors are allowed to behave like real human beings that the play comes alive. At least one star is for introducing some in the audience to Louise Brooks; the play and production are otherwise barely up to Fringe standards.  Gerald Berkowitz


Reviews - Edinburgh Festival 2016 


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