Edinburgh 2005
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 The Theatreguide.London Reviews

EDINBURGH 2005

We reviewed more than 180 shows at the Edinburgh Festival and Fringe. We originally spread them over several pages, but have squeezed them onto two for this archive. They're in alphabetical order (solo performers by last name), A to L on a first page, M to Z here. Scroll down for what you want, or just browse.



Chris McCausland - Macbeth - Madman's Diary - Making the Difference - Making the Difference - Manifest Destiny - Martha Loves Michael - Michael Mee - Eugene Mirman - Missing Persons - Monty Python's Flying Circus - MoonJourney - Moriorty is Crying - Mortal ladies Possessed - My Pyramids! - The Mystery of Chung Ling Soo - Eddy Naessens - National Hero - Joanna Neary - Robert Newman - The Night Shift - 1933 and All That - No Exit - Nut/Cracked - Nuts Coconuts - An Oak Tree - The Odd Couple - David O'Doherty - Oedipus - Outliving the Hamster - Pam Ann - Stafano Paolini - Parade - Andy Parsons - Nathan Penlingron - Sue Perkins - Petrograd - Pillar Talk - Radioplay - The Rap Canterbury Tales - Howard Read - Religion Cabaret - RenSa - Road to Pisa - Screwmachine/Eyecandy - Shadows - Shakespeare for Breakfast - The Silver Swan - The Singing Nun - Sisters - SleepLessNess - Will Smith - Snapshots - Snuff - Squeeze Box - Starting Here Starting Now - The Steppe Brothers - Stirring - Stuck Up A Tree - A Swell Party - Switchtriptych - Tales From the Dirty Dog Cafe - Tea Withour Mother - Dan Tetsell - 13 O'Clock - Tomfoolery - Topping and Butch - The Trachtenburg Family Slide Show Players - Tragedian - Trojan Women - Tropea - Twelfth Night - Tim Vine - Waiting Room - Reggie Watts - We Are Klang - We Love You Arthur - Jason John Whitehead - A World In Your Shelllike - You Might As Well Live - Zoo Story

Chris McCausland - As Seen on TV Pleasance Dome - No need for embarrassing audience participation, no meaningless ego-trips, no strings attached - just an hour of friendly chit chat and sharp wit from the natural comedy talent Chris McCausland. True, some of his jokes only work if you remember that McCausland is blind - and even though he would readily laugh at himself and joke about disability, political correctness and the little boy's mythology about blindness - you can very easily also forget that there is anything different about him. A 28-year old computer scientist from Liverpool, he is into beer, football and the Discovery channel. In fact, his whole show is about TV as its clever title indicates - casting his own light on adverts for personal injury claims and anti-wrinkle cream, air guitar championships and the internal monologues of bears, crocodiles and giraffes. An easygoing guy with an irresistible smile, McCausland takes you in gently and while he distracts you with some really good off the cuff stuff, you don't even notice that he has you in his palm and in for an unexpected whirlwind of his exhilarating wrap up routine. Pure joy! Duska Radosavljevic

Macbeth Assembly Hall (reviewed at a previous Fringe) - Theatre Babel's new production is an inventive and atmospheric adaptation that meets the constraints of a small cast in ways that illuminate characters and themes, and a visually striking staging that contains within it a thoroughly traditional interpretation of the play. Examples of how the editing, which was developed by director Graham McLaren and the cast during rehearsals, serves the play include absorbing several minor characters into Macduff, so that Macbeth's ultimate nemesis is introduced earlier than in the original, and interpolating a Brutus-Portia scene from Julius Caesar to bring Lady Macduff into the play earlier as well. Having Macbeth kill Banquo and the Macduff family himself not only eliminates the need for some extras but vividly illustrates his growing comfort with, and even enjoyment of murder. Eliminating the banquet and having Macbeth haunted by both Banquo and Duncan with only his wife looking on moves the focus from public embarrassment to private breakdown, while letting Macbeth rather than a doctor witness his wife's sleepwalking scene intensifies his despair as the play approaches its end. On a bare stage marked by dozens of Damoclean swords hanging over the actors' heads, the sense of doom is also signalled by the uninterrupted presence of Macbeth's servant Seyton, hovering silently in the shadows of even the most private scenes, whispering a truncated version of the Porter's joking about hell directly into Macbeth's ear and, as a second murderer, deliberately allowing Fleance to escape, until he earns the pun implied in his name and takes on the air of Macbeth's dark angel. And yet beneath all these changes lies a traditional, almost Victorian interpretation of the play, with Macbeth an honourable man lured into murderous villainy and then finding to his surprise and ultimate despair how good he is at it, and Lady Macbeth the dominant wife driving her husband to murder and then lost when he moves beyond need of her. Gerald Berkowitz

Madman's Diary C Electric - Gogol's brief tale follows a small man's quiet journey into madness, as a petty clerk disdained by his fellows and ignored by the boss's daughter he silently adores imagines that he could win their respect and her love if he were a more important person. Fantasy turns into the conviction that he is the long-lost heir to the Spanish throne, and then into bewilderment at his harsh treatment in the asylum he thinks to be the Spanish court. The piece's dark humour and quiet pathos come from the little man's imperceptible slide into insanity, and the awareness that he is more sad and harmless than a danger to himself or others. But when actor Shaban Arifi has been directed by Victor Sobchak to play him as a monster raving loony from the start, there is no pathos or any emotional or psychological journey for the character to take. Arifi certainly gives an energetic performance, throwing himself about the stage and accompanying almost every word with a different and bizarre pose, gesture or inflection. But that gives actor and play nowhere to go after the first couple of minutes, and too much of what the play wants to be about is lost. Gerald Berkowitz

Making the Difference Pleasance - Brigadier John Wahon (retired) is giving the last session of his personal development seminar. Though the therapy-speak is as you would expect, you start to wonder about the brigadier himself. Why, for example, is he no longer in the army - did something happen back there in Iraq? Is this connected to why they are pulling him from the course? Why is he plugged into a saline drip? And, while we're about it, what's the obsession with partying? What begins as a comedy character show slides into something darker, with moments of quiet, disturbing intensity, albeit broken by bouts of gleeful insanity thanks to party poppers and dance beats. The logic is faultless and Dominic Fitch, as the brigadier, never once slips out of character. Additionally, he has to be commended for his ability to keep eye contact with everyone in the venue without creating discomfort and he does similarly well in avoiding any awkwardness in audience participation - well, I suppose handing out party packs will always help break the ice. A criticism is that Fitch does not bring anything to his role that suggests a military background or training - plus he's far too young to be a senior officer. On the comic side this is of slight significance, but an element of authencity would greatly boost the dramatic elements. Wrtiers Fitch and Nic Fryer have created an unusual, provocative piece that unsettles and entertains at the same time, and so deserves to be developed into a longer work. Nick Awde

Manifest Destiny Assembly @ St George's West - A modern opera starts in a London flat. It's the near future. Leila is a Palestinian poet, Daniel a blind Jewish composer. They are lovers collaborating on a opera but progress is interrupted by Leila's desire to return to the Middle East to join the struggle against the injustices committed against the Arab world. 'I am the poet of the Arabian darkness come to bring light!' she sings, unintentionally conjuring images of messaianic Christianity and the pre-Islamic Jahiliyya era. She abandons Daniel for the Holy Land where she becomes involved with a suicide bomber cell. Love blossoms again as co-bomber Mohammed falls for her but their tangled quest leads them to Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay where tragedy unfolds just as Daniel regains his sight in far-off London. Interludes along the way eavesdrop on the White House where newly elected President Hillary Clinton and the Director of the CIA debate their 'Manifest Destiny' for the New World Order. Bernadette Lord creates a convincing Leila, her clear voice soaring in the welcoming church acoustics of St George's West. Adding strong support are Paul Carey Jones's rock-solid Mohammed, Peter Willcock's cynical CIA director and Peter Furlong's sensitive Daniel. Dic Edwards's unfussy lyrics sit well on the light if limited melodies of composer Keith Burstein, who accompanies on piano. Of its essence static and overambitious in scope, the production is undeniably arresting in the visual and aural departments, thanks especially to Ralph Steadman's manic images that form a constantly projected backdrop. You won't learn much about politics and certainly nothing about Muslims (irritatingly and naively confused here with Arabs), but you will discover much to do with human emotions. With a full cast, arrangement and set, it would be rewarding to experience its full potential. Nick Awde

Martha Loves Michael Pleasance - In this drama by Sally Abbott and Michael Begley, two sisters abandoned by their mother seek meaning for their lives in different ways. While one identifies with the legally-beleaguered Michael Jackson to the point of obsession, the other dreams of stardom and fame in some field yet to be determined. Each girl is drawn to a potentially dangerous man, leading to tragedy for one and a very dubious happy ending for the other. Although the one girl's obsession with the pop star was the generating concept of this workshop-developed play, it is actually peripheral to a drama whose centre is in the two girls' need to escape from an existence defined by their mother's rejection. And while the Jackson fan's adventure holds some surprises and an evocatively ambiguous ending, the other plot is both banal and telegraphed five minutes in. Naomi Bentley captures the obsessiveness and essential innocence of the Michael fan, but Donnaleigh Bailey is unable to do much with a character that exists merely to be a bleak counterpart to her sister. Similarly, the would-be hardman to whom Martha is briefly attracted and the older man with a penchant for young girls to whom the sister is unwisely drawn are more plot devices than developed characters, and Sean Cernow and Michael Begley can do little to make them come alive. Gerald Berkowitz

Michael Mee: Confessions of a Swot Gilded Balloon Teviot - Michael Mee's autobiographical material is slightly misnamed, as he admits, since he was not so much a swot - i.e., a constantly studying student - as naturally bright. But the effect on his schoolmates was even worse, since he was not only The Smart Kid, but one who could make them look bad without having to work at it. The resulting tales of bullying and (almost as bad) of being singled out for honours by teachers may be familiar territory, but Mee's amiable delivery and refreshing lack of self-pity carry him through it nicely. The one fault of the show is that Mee sometimes forgets that he's a comedian, with several of the anecdotes marked more by the subtle balance between the child's experience and the adult's insights into it than by a comic perspective. Mee's understanding of the bullies' psychology and accounts of meeting some of them in later life are bemused and thought-provoking rather than humourous, and audiences are likely to laugh more at his incidental material, like a string of jokes on his name or an explanation of why it's better to be a letter than a postman, than in the core of his show. Gerald Berkowitz

Eugene Mirman Presents Himself Underbelly - American comic Eugene Mirman's short set is built on a combination of found material and his adventures as a small-scale corporate gadfly, fighting back against nuisance callers and the like. Among his discoveries, which he happily shares with us, are a cheesy video introduction to Scotland and Scotch whiskey, and an edition of the Bible for Teens, the traditional text supplemented with dating tips and make-up advice. Like everyone else, Mirman gets mail and telephone calls from marketers of various sorts, and enjoys playing naive potential customer to lead them on. He reads some of his actual correspondence and plays recordings of his conversations, most notably with a Christian telephone company trying to convince him that all the major phone companies are to be avoided because they support gay marriage. His train of thought leads from these actual encounters to more imaginary ones, like mind-bending answers to a dating service questionnaire, an anti-marijuana video, and advertising slogans for things that are not normally advertised.  Mirman has some good ideas, though the general impression of his set is of thinness, just toying around the edges of material and approaches others have exploited more fully. Gerald Berkowitz

Missing Persons Assembly Rooms - Colin Teevan's five short verse monologues provide a perfect vehicle for the talents of Greg Hicks. (Who? A real actor's actor, whose career, mainly with the RSC and NT, has been made up of one solid performance after another without ever breaking into top star status.) Four dark tales, of a man fantasizing revenge on his abusive father, an intense but tongue-tied lover, an IRA stalwart refusing to accept peace and a cuckolded husband plotting a terrible response, are followed by a lighter piece of a football fan bemoaning a star's petulant refusal to join the team for the World Cup competition. If you're as slow on the uptake as I am, it may be the third or fourth episode before you realise these are all retellings of classical Greek myths (I confess that I vaguely sensed it in the IRA Ajax story, but didn't catch on until the gender-reversed Medea). But in fact the combination of Teevan's sinewy verse and Hicks' acting (Nobody can do intense and anguished like he can) carries the pieces even without the classical overlay, which is just a bonus. The only criticism is that the first four are a bit one-note in the writing and performance, where a little more breadth and variety in both would have been welcome. Gerald Berkowitz

Monty Python's Flying Circus Assembly Rooms (reviewed at a previous Fringe) - Compounding absurdity upon absurdity, this Paris-based company performs Monty Python sketches in French and Franglais, with subtitles for  their British audiences. No attempt is made to imitate the original performers, and indeed the general effect is of watching skilled clowns who have read the scripts but never actually seen the TV show, and who are thus free to interpret the material for themselves.. Thus some bits come out more-or-less like the originals, as with the instructions on defending yourself from fruit, where the insertion of a woman in the John Cleese role actually makes very little difference. Others, like the Llama Song or the gangsters planning an innocent purchase as if it were a robbery, bear little resemblance to the TV versions but work on their own terms. And icons like the Dead Parrot and the Lumberjack Song are so embedded in British consciousness that any differences here go by unnoticed. A few bits don't work at all, and none are really improved by the Gallic transformation, which can't help but raise the question of Why? To which, perhaps, the reply is Why not? Gerald Berkowitz

MoonJourney Pleasance - An attempt at a quick-change self-referential comedy in the Cliffhanger or Rejects Revenge mode, this mock sci-fi tale has some of the requisites in a deliberately silly plot and the created illusion of cheesy incompetence, but lacks the imagination, rapid-fire gags and join-in-the-fun spirit that make such romps work. Author Alice Lowe plays a 1970s pop star giving a concept concert in the mode of one or another of  David Bowie's manifestations, here a thin plot about a shapely space hermit lured back to Earth to save it. The premise allows for Lowe and fellow cast members Scott Brooksbank and Alex Constantine to don Spandex space suits and to interpolate some musical numbers in various 70s styles, and for the three to take turns playing various space monsters, including giant blue ducks and the spider queen of the mouse people. As things move further into absurdity we encounter a female Abe Lincoln with an Irish accent, a Russian mail order bride, and Hitler and Jesus as feuding street mimes. That description may make the show sound more successful than it is, but it is actually a fairly thin amount of material with which to fill an hour, and the show lacks the joke-piled-upon-joke speed that is necessary for the jape to work. Gerald Berkowitz

Moriarty is Crying Hill Street Theatre - As a writing partnership Derek Boyle and Raymond Friel started off in stand up and then achieved success in the film industry. In their first stageplay, it all shows. The first tell-tale signs of a mistaken medium are a TV set and second-hand furniture crowding the small stage. Not to mention three inept teenagers on their way to rob a van with plasma screens who are constantly sidetracked by controlling family members. To be fair, the script is tight and witty and the performances competent and quirky across the board. However, the play's genre is still firmly in the domain of a screen heist comedy, rather than making use of any of the available theatrical conventions. The company lists Willy Russell, Tim Firth and David Pugh amongst the play's supporters, but the writers would have benefited much more generously by getting the tickets to these gentlemen's shows or obtaining their tutelage in the area of stagecraft. Unless, of course, they aim to turn this into another movie script. Duska Radosavljevic

Mortal Ladies Possessed Assembly Rooms - Tennessee Williams wrote colourful women better than most. Linda Marlowe is an actress specializing in larger-than-life women of energy. The combination should be more electric than it is in this programme adapted by Matthew Hurt from some of Williams' short stories. But what we get is still pretty good. Flora Goforth, in the story that was a first draft for the play The Milk Train Doesn't Stop Here Anymore, is a rich woman whose susceptibility to pretty young poets has its limits. The Widow Holly is a down-to-earth landlady to whom mystical things happen. Gretchen has a fairytale romance with a young actor, made possible only by a total state of denial about his sexuality. And so on. The writing is, of course, rich to the point of overlushness, and Marlowe can never be less than fascinating. But she doesn't distinguish sufficiently between the various characters and voices, so a deadening sameness dampens things somewhat. Gerald Berkowitz

My Pyramids! Or: How I Got Fired from the Dairy Queen and Ended up in Abu Ghraib, by Pfc. Lynndie Endland Traverse - Dressed fetchingly in combat camouflage and heavily pregnant thanks to a fellow comrade in arms, Lynndie England roams a polythene-floored ring lit around the sides by uncompromising neon tubes. Though she's free to talk to us about her life story and how she abused prisoners in Iraq's Abu Ghraib military jail, she is trapped in her own prison - of whose making is the question we're posed. In a compelling monologue - at times brutal, at others darkly funny - Waneta Storms runs through an imagined rendering of Lynndie's trailer park upbringing, There appears to be an Alice through the Looking Glass concept going on here, but really Judith Thompson's script uses such a broad brush that you are free to interpret any way you wish. What perhaps comes across for a British audience is the fury and intensity of the world's demonisation of Lynndie as a woman while her equally guilty male colleagues slip into the safety of obscurity. There is also an uncomfortable feeling as we allowed Lynndie to be pilloried, the American war machine lost a PR battle but won the war of atrocities it commits in Iraq. For all its incisiveness and button-pushing, to be honest, this is a slight piece that ultimately relies 100% on Storm's ability to deliver. This she does admirably, in a performance that both shocks and creates laughter while holding the attention throughout. Nick Awde

The Mystery of Chung Ling Soo C Venue - Chung Ling Soo was the best-known magician of his time and one of the top box-office draws until his sensational death in 1918 onstage at London's Wood Green Empire. He was killed while performing Defying the Bullets, the trick he had made his own where he appears to catch in his teeth bullets fired at him from real guns. Was it an accident or murder? Or was there even more to the mystery? You'll have to watch Flying Carpet's dramatic, funny, sumptuous, almost abstractly designed whodunit to find out the answer. Matt Seidman and Michael Lopez impress with their double act of magician turned manager William Robinson and the silent Chung Ling Soo respectively, while Jerusha Klemperer makes for a feisty Dot - Robinson's long-suffering wife and Chung's assistant. Hilda Guttormsen and Chris Ferry add strong support in a variety of colourful roles befitting any music hall act. Integral to the atmosphere is Michael McQuilken's music, played live and on soundtrack, and ranging from period vaudeville to Hammer Horror effects. Occasionally things sag when the production breaks its own style rules - for instance the sudden slapstick of an imagined dinner with Kaiser Wilhem of Germany is childish and adds nothing to the story. Additionally, more tricks would be welcome. Nevertheless, there's a pleasing, subtle physicality underlying the narrative throughout and a dazzling array of costumes that help make this a truly magical experience. Nick Awde

Eddie Naessens in Little Terror! Gilded Balloon Teviot - Because Eddie Naessens trained as an actor, his satirical sketches on the news programmes and weather forecasts have the kind of edge and a hyperbolic commitment rarely found in stand up comedy. It's all exquisite work really, and you thoroughly enjoy Naessen working his way through the sociological landscape of contemporary Ireland, until you realise that this is nothing at all to do with satire or politics and absolutely everything to do with using comedy as a means of survival. There is a moment halfway through this stand up routine where you are indeed hit by terror and Naessons even steals a bit of your heart while pretending to keep a stiff upper lip. However, he is such a brilliant raconteur and the kind of writer who can squeeze humour out of a surgical scalpel and - considering we are talking cancer wards and birthdays - you'd let him get away with absolutely anything at all. I tell you, even a Bob Dylan rendition of a Spice Girls song will leave you wanting more. Duska Radosavljevic

National Hero Pleasance Dome - In Terry Mackay's new play a retired bomb disposal expert in a loveless marriage is offered two things on the same night, a very big bomb defusing job and escape with the only woman he ever loved. The choices he makes, their repercussions, and the choices he watches others making lead him to a fuller understanding of the different kinds of courage life demands. Or at least that is the play Mackay set out to write. The one he actually wrote gets too bogged down in soap opera and is too mechanical in its structure to work as well as he would hope. Each character - there's also the bomb man's wife and the old lover's husband - has a back story and is perfunctorily and improbably given the opportunity to confess all to another; and the string of choices and events leading to a sentimental conclusion is a bit too pat. Always reliable veteran Timothy West, despite some trouble remembering lines, captures a man who wishes life were simpler than it is. Nichola McAuliffe can do the cold-but-secretly-suffering wife without trying, and doesn't stretch much. The other two are plot devices more than characters. Gerald Berkowitz

Joanna Neary is Pan's Person Underbelly - Joanna Neary has the air of the slightly off-centre girl at school who hung about with the cool kids, never quite realising that she was not one of them. It is that perky cheeriness that carries this sketch show more than the strength of the individual impersonations. At her best she wanders into very fresh territory, like her prepubescent deer looking forward to rutting without being sure exactly what that is, and her teenager displaying her mastery of  the ever-changing map of who doesn't like who in her circle. Other successful turns offer unexpected twists to what seems like familiar material. The bad jokes and inept delivery of her Australian comic and the overliteral interpretive movements of her Pan's People-type dancer seem like obvious parody until you realise how very little she has had to move beyond the real thing to make them ridiculous. Generally speaking, she's at her best with the quick and unstrained zinger, and the longer her characters go on, the less funny they are likely to be. The kvetching beauty parlour customer, the Radio 4 drama parody and the motivational speaker all start well but outstay their welcome, so a little tightening of the act would probably improve it. Gerald Berkowitz

Robert Newman ­ Apocalypso Now The Bongo Club - A few years ago, Robert Newman decided to branch out on his own and plough a solitary socio-economic-political furrow in British comedy. Well, it's not that solitary - if Mark Thomas is our home affairs comic minister, then Newman is surely our foreign secretary. The thread of Apocalypso Now is currently the Iraq war. Oh no, not that again, come the groans - but Newman makes this a subject all his own thanks to painstaking research old and new added to which is the assembly of disparate but crucially linked facts. He starts off with the theory that the death of Arch-Duke Franz Ferdinand in Sarajevo as the cause of the First World War is simply a convenient fabrication to make history neat and tidy - in fact the real spark was the Allies moving to block the Germans from building pipelines to the Iraqi oilfields. The chain of thought to the present day, including a devasting impression of Blair lying as only our prime minister can, is a provocative one, broken up by ditties on the ukelele that may or may not have anything to do with anything. The hint of irregular rhythm in the delivery merely belies Newman's ability to sneak up on you and hit you with the punchline just when you thought he'd forgotten the joke. And such is the absurdity of politics he serves up, you can't help but laugh. Nick Awde

The Night Shift Traverse - A woman suffering sleep abnormalities can't tell dreams from reality and sleepwalks her way through a recurring nightmare from her childhood, to the dismay of her boyfriend. In alternating scenes, a man in a prison hospital is aided by a counsellor in facing an unnamed crime in his past and the subsequent loss of his beloved daughter. Hands up, those of you who can't write the rest of the play yourself. TV-level dramaturgy and psychology from start to finish, even to the point of having the girl instantly cured when she finally completes the dream and remembers what she saw Daddy do to Mommy, Mark Murphy's play, which he directs, wends its ponderous way to an ending, foiling every hope you have for slight touch of originality. Doubling roles in the two halves of the play allows Catherine Dyson and Jason Thorpe to take turns being patient and carer, and ironically each can find more reality in the less flashy role. Ultimately, the whole sleep-disruption theme is a red herring, a cosmetic overlay on a formulaic melodrama. Gerald Berkowitz

 

1933 And All That Roxy Theatre (reviewed at a previous Fringe) - This recital by Anna Zapparoli of songs by Brecht, Weill and others is all the more pleasant for being predictable - there are few songs or poems that the fan will not have heard before on similar programmes. But you can't hear Surabaya Johnny, the Solomon Song, Pirate Jenny and the like too often, especially not when sung with as much grace and intelligence as Zapparoli brings to them. Less familiar songs, like the Brecht-Eisler Song of the Nazi Soldier's Wife and a couple by Wedekind, are particularly welcome additions, and backing by a small band led by Mario Borciani is strong and unobtrusive. No credit is given for the translations, which I haven't encountered before, but they are good, combining accuracy with singability. Gerald Berkowitz

No Exit Jury's Inn - Jean-Paul Sartre's classic think-piece is given a fresh airing in this converted hotel conference room. Perhaps not the most inspiring of surroundings, but it does have the effect of bringing the audience right up close to to the intensity of this Existentialist masterpiece on the afterlife. One by one the deceased protagonists are ushered into a chamber by the Valet, an impish Magnus Danks. Lesbian Inez (Jeanette Longworth) is less perturbed by her past violent acts than the lack of interest shown in her by glamourpuss Estelle (Anna Kauppila), who instead is busy setting her charms on journalist Garcin (Rob Pomfret), who, in turn, is utterly in love with himself. They're stuck with each other for eternity, so creating a vision of hell that has quite a resonance for our modern times. The cast are supremely focused throughout and work generously for each other as the best ensembles should, while Sarah Norman's direction gives unexpected energy to what is of its nature a static play. What hampers them all, however, from taking their performances further is the limitation of Stuart Gilbert's translation. His rendition of Sartre's French original is worthy but overliteral and stilted, and it has not been reworked to reflect the patterns and flow of spoken English or, more crucially, to carry across the personality of each character. Nick Awde

Nut/Cracked Demarco Roxy Art House - At every festival I have the experience of going to one show simply because something cancelled or over-ran, spoiling my planned timetable for the day, and discovering a gem I would otherwise never have found. This year it is the Bang Group, a New York-based dance company led by David Parker, whose loving but uninhibited take on The Nutcracker is one of the happiest, most enjoyable hours of dance I've ever experienced. Working with a range of recordings, from the full orchestral score to versions by Duke Ellington, Glenn Miller and others, and employing dance vocabularies from ballet to jazz and tap, Parker and his dancers reinvigorate the old war horse with irresistible glee. The Chinese dance features a box of take-out, the Flowers make everyone sneeze. A rose is passed from mouth to mouth in one sequence, while Parker tap dances en pointe in another, and joins one of the girls in a frenzy of dancing on strips of bubble wrap in yet another. It is not all gimickry - when one sequence consists mainly of the dancers trying to rise from the floor after the exertions of the previous dance, issues of balance and form are explored beautifully, and when the grand pas de deux has Parker and his premier danseur Jeff Kazin winding around each other's bodies while sucking each other's thumbs, conventions of gender and eroticism are being subtly exploded. But the single quality that comes through the whole production and from the whole company, and what makes the hour uninterruptedly delightful, is the infectious and uninhibited joy of dancing. Gerald Berkowitz

Nuts Coconuts Out of the Blue Drill Hall - First a warning: get to the theatre an hour early, because the basic joke of the evening is that there has been a time mix-up and the show you thought you came to see - a tatty end-of-the-pier style variety show with an uncharacteristically large costume budget - is just finishing as the last of the audience arrive. What we get for the next ninety minutes is a peep behind the curtain, as the cast members bitch and brag, flirt and fulminate while taking down the set and packing away the props. The chorus boys and girls snipe at each other, no one except herself has a good word to say about the diva, and the wardrobe ladies interrupt their packing to show off their favourite costumes. Audience members are recruited to help with the packing and, when the crew take a break and send out for sandwiches, we each get one as well. The original Spanish version of this show, produced by La Cubana, has been a hit throughout the Spanish-speaking world. But frankly, as clever as the basic conceit is, nothing in the second half of the show is one-tenth as entertaining as the hour before the advertised curtain time. The combination of glamour and tat that makes up a provincial (here, supposedly Gibralter-based) music hall is captured perfectly, so that you can unironically enjoy the single-entendre jokes and the production numbers while also giggling at the slightly-too-chubby chorus girls or way-too-camp boys. This would be a perfect show for those who are double-booked - come for the first hour here and then go off to your other show or concert. Gerald Berkowitz

An Oak Tree Traverse - There is something endearing and generally empowering about theatre allowing us to collude in its secrets of creation. Think of moments when it goes wrong and the pleasure derived from seeing the 'real' action. Or even the ways in which Shakespeare used the nature of the ritual as a metaphor or a comic device. But then, I do have a weakness for all forms of meta-fictions and particularly theatre about theatre. Tim Crouch's experiment, although reminiscent of the kind of work usually described as 'post'-something or other, is very much within this genre that some have traced back to Euripides. Except that a different actor takes part in Crouch's play every night without having seen the script, not much can be revealed here without spoiling the effect. Yes, it is a play. Given the title, one could say it is a play about tree-hugging. But also about much more than that - loss, responsibility, belief, power of the mind and forgiveness - which is true of the performers' tasks too. If nothing else, it is a play that hordes of future students of theatre will pick up to work out how it was originally done. Duska Radosavljevic

The Odd Couple Assembly Hall - The Odd Couple may not be Neil Simon's best play (Brighton Beach Memoirs is), but it is certainly his most successful, and deservedly the one he will be remembered for. Its brilliant comic premise - two men who drove their wives crazy will drive each other crazy in exactly the same way when they live together - is combined with the machine-like laugh-every-thirty-seconds gag writing that was Simon's forte at his peak. The play is virtually foolproof, and all a director and actors really have to do is stay out of its way and let it work. So when a director and actors actually find new things to do with the overly-familiar characters that reinvent the play and enhance its comedy, something remarkable is being accomplished. Working, as is his wont, with a cast of stand-up comics, director Guy Masterson has led Bill Bailey, as slobby Oscar Madison, and Alan Davies, as fastidious Felix Ungar, to bring both characters, too often played in the past as near-cartoons, well within the range of the recognizeably human, and thus enrich the nonstop gags with a warm humour too often missing in past productions. Bailey's Oscar is more amiably shambling than shambolic - he isn't even that much of a slob - while Davies makes Felix a nice guy first and fussbudget only behind that. I've never seen a Felix or Oscar I could so fully believe might actually exist, and thus laugh warmly with, rather than cruelly at. There is a price to pay for this new realism. Much of Simon's gag humour depends on mounting intensity, one joke followed immediately by a second and third without giving the audience a chance to breathe, or one of the men relentlessly piling outrageousness upon outrageousness. And with neither star allowing his character to swing too wildly, some of the rhythm of Simon's comedy, as, for example, with Oscar's raging frustration, is lost. The supporting cast, also made up of comedians, match the stars in fleshing out their type characters and anchoring them in reality, Phil Nichol's hot-tempered Speed and Ian Coppinger's mousy Vinnie particularly standing out. Only Katherine Jakeways and Lizzie Roper as the Pigeon sisters have been allowed to play as cartoons, making their scene clash awkwardly with the rest of the play. Gerald Berkowitz

David O'Doherty Gilded Balloon Teviot - Irish comedian David O'Doherty describes his act as 'very low energy musical whimsy', but actually the whimsy never gets too thick, the musical interludes are few and fun, and the energy level is refreshingly casual in a world of frenetic comics. For the most part O'Doherty wanders the stage sharing his skewed observations on fairly familiar material. The whole Fringe experience is comically dissected, from the art of flyer-writing to the desperate search for reviews - after all, he reminds us, even Jesus got only one star. Other topics for his amused reflections are family, a Dublin's boy's perceptions of Belfast, and the only two lighting cues you need to do all of Irish drama. Occasionally he sits at a several-degrees-of-technology-ago keyboard to sing about a failed first date or the dog who chose him out of the whole family to hate. But O'Doherty is not as harmless as he pretends. The discovery that Google knows of two other David O'Dohertys leads to a feud of escalating practical jokes with one of them, with our D O'D discovering depths of comic viciousness that surprise even him. He comes out of the experience somewhat chastened, having won our sympathy along with our delight in his comic perception of life. Gerald Berkowitz

Oedipus, Oedipus at Colonus, Antigone Quaker Meeting House - To squeeze Sophocles' three Theban plays into under an hour, and still leave time for some shadow puppetry, mime and Japanese-style keening, something has to go. In the case of Performance Exchange (Daniel Foley and Risako Ataka), what goes, along with all but two or three characters per play, is all of Sophocles' language, characterisations, philosophy, ironies, moral complexities and tragedy. What's left are incomplete and inaccurate plot summaries played out in rewritten texts that combine large swathes of narrative with brief dramatic interactions. In the first play, for example, a narrator provides the full back story, leaving Oedipus to work out the rest through a brief encounter with Tieresias. Colonus is cut to little more than a ten-minute monologue of woe for Oedipus, while the time available for the stripped-down Antigone (Don't bury him - I've buried him) is reduced even further by an extended narrative and some clumsy shadow puppetry of the war between the two brothers. Oedipus is about hubris, Colonus about redemption through suffering, Antigone about a clash of moral absolutes, but there is no way you could guess that - or, indeed, exactly what happens in each play - from these inept condensations, hampered even further by one performer's impenetrable accent. Gerald Berkowitz

Outliving the Hamster Gilded Balloon Teviot - Nina is a happy housewife with a bouncy daughter and a loving husband. And then she discovers a lump in her breast. And then her world falls to bits. Hardly promising material for a comedy but Caroline Jay's script turns cancer survival on its head and depicts one woman's hilarious battle not against the odds but against the frequently surreal situations she finds herself in. After all, being squeezed into a scanner ('obviously designed by a man!') and having long needles shoved into your tit is hardly normal, no matter the good intentions, while the disintegration of Nina's family life under the pressure has all the material of a classic situational comedy. As Nina, Caroline Jay has you convinced from the start, while Andrew McDonald does sterling duty in a whole gallery of roles from confused husband to extremely odd consultants. The timing and rapport are a pleasure to witness. Meanwhile, the laughs come from unexpected directions, such as Nina's wig routine in preparation for chemical-induced baldness. And when you least expect it, characters burst into song - bouncy numbers with infectious melodies courtesy of Sarah Travis - such as the closer about the preventative powers of carrots. Based on her own recently publised novel based on her own life, this is a wonderful piece whose humour gleefully transcends any mere survivor's tale, and so deserves a far wider audience onstage and even TV. With more polish plus expansion to a full-length format, this should be seen in every theatre across the land. Nick Awde

Pam Ann - Flying High Pleasance - Tonight's inflight special is Pam Ann (Caroline Reid), so buckle up tight and prepare for a smooth journey through the Aussie flight attendant's madcap world of aerial intercontinental glamour. Admittedly some of the material has travelled around the world more than a couple of times in the past few years, but you can't begrudge the comic for that - her ability to pack them in is awesome. Barely has the show begun than she's laying into the cabin crews of British Airways, Virgin and Easyjet for their various foibles with wicked accuracy. As she pauses for breath, she discovers that in the audience are seated representatives of these very same carriers. With wicked glee she also gives them no quarter - something that gives the objects of her scorn the immensest of pleasure. Not a section of the air travel industry escapes Pam's scrutiny - Luton airport, baggage handlers' strikes, manic stop-overs in Singapore, the finer points of running a drinks trolley up and down the aisles all flight without serving a single passenger. Never far away from the proceedings is maintaining the divide between the privileged few in first class and the rabble in economy. Never has class war seemed so funny. Nick Awde

Britalian with Stefano Paolini Pleasance - Stefano Paolini has not had a happy experience at Edinburgh. Two weeks in, he devotes a chunk of his hour to what, in one of a different ethnicity, would be called kvetching - about his small houses, his time slot, his producer. His unhappiness is real and the general tone of depression puts a pall on the rest of his act. Paolini's premise, growing up in a British Italian family, proves not as rich or original in comic material as he would have wished. Though he has a few amusing observations, like the way wine turns you into various Italian stereotypes, tales of school, neighbour kids and various eccentric relatives come out rather generic. Perhaps sensing this or perhaps just running out of jokes in this area,  Paolini soon drops the theme for the obligatory Bush and Blair jokes and some tired ridicule of the Eurovision Song Contest. The last major section of his set, before a final bout of self-pity, shows off his ability to make drumbox noises in his throat while imitating various rap styles. Paolini seems a nice guy, but he will have to develop more material and a more professional attitude toward his work before attempting a competitive arena like Edinburgh again. Gerald Berkowitz

Parade Southside - Alfred Uhry, chronicler of the Jews of the American South (Driving Miss Daisy, etc.), provided the book for this 1998 musical about a 1913 Georgia murder for which a Jewish man was railroaded, convicted and, when the governor commuted his sentence, lynched. Heavy material for a musical, indeed, but this production brings out all its virtues while conquering most of its faults. Jason Robert Brown's songs are so determinedly integrated and dramatic that there isn't a memorable melody among them, but Uhry has filled the play with individualised characters, enough of whom grow and develop to hold your interest and emotional involvement. As Leo Frank, the almost personalityless company man wrongly accused of a young girl's murder, Christopher Colley may begin a bit too prissy but he shows the man's ordeal humanising him, so that his climactic declaration of love to his wife, in the best song in the show, is as dramatically powerful as it is beautifully sung. Ashley Lilley plays Mrs Frank as a woman who surprises herself as much as others by not being the simple Southern belle she thought she was, and strong support comes from Tim Hardy as the governor and Russell Whitehead as a reporter. Director Pia Furtado and choreographer Nick Winston keep things moving smoothly, but the singers, though miked, are too often drowned out by the orchestra. Nick Awde

Andy Parsons: Genocide, Suicide, Cancer (and Other Words That Make You Wince) Assembly Rooms - Andy Parson can do no wrong with an Edinburgh crowd - and he's gracious with it. You only have to witness him marvelling at how this Wednesday-night crowd gives him a bigger clap for fucking up a routine than the punchline itself. And, unlike the many who frantically invent their show titles in March with little connection to what they end up performing, Genocide, Suicide, Cancer not only does what it says on the packet but actually pumps the touchy themes throughout the proceedings. Statistics prove fertile ground in this respect - with dark glee he gets the audience to work out who's likely to have depression, a fatal disease or about to lose their job. Somewhere along the line he slips in references to George Bush's statistical chances of suicide from bike riding and the evident death wish of Franz Ferdinand (the grand duke not the band). Parsons also has an infectious pleasure in pointing out the ironies of political and society, but paradoxically his hard-nosed style softens the politics - the lite side of satire. Iraq leads to immigrants leads to British ethnic groups leads to the pope leads to ameobas and Catholic priests that leads somehow to interfaith schools for Celtic Pagan Druids. A comment on violence rising under New Labour next has him scaring off intruders wearing nothing but a gimp mask. The logic in this is scary. Nick Awde

Nathan Penlington: If My Life Hadn't Turned Out Differently Pleasance Dome - Performance poet Nathan Penlington incorporates his poems into an account of growing up in a resort town in North Wales, touching on such familiar territory as family, childhood games, first job and first kiss. His message, as implied in his title, is that dreams of what-if are no more valuable or valid as poetic material than the appreciation of what was. It must be said that the poems themselves are not especially impressive. While a couple, about lampposts and the first kiss, strain too hard to incorporate lush imagery that doesn't really fit the subjects, most are essentially prose-disguised-as-poetry, with all their power in the narrative rather than the expression, so that there is no real difference between the poems and the links between them. Penlington is amiably low-key and self-effacing, with a persona and delivery that do as much to convey his warm appreciation of the autobiographical material as the poems themselves, and his manner is light enough to allow digressions into card tricks, a bit of music, some souvenir selling and a troll through the family photo album. Gerald Berkowitz

Sue Perkins Pleasance - Surprisingly, Sue Perkins (the dark-haired, bespectacled half of the sketch comedy duo Mel and Sue) asserts that this is her first attempt at solo stand-up. She needn't worry - she takes and holds the stage with full authority and offers a set as good as any of her more experienced colleagues and better than lots. Her material itself is not particularly unique or original, with reminiscences of Catholic School, descriptions of how various people behave in museums, and the speculation that an audience with the Pope might include B-list celebrities asking questions, as in a similarly-titled TV series. But Perkins is very personable and clearly enjoying the opportunity to work directly to an audience - without straining the standard audience-interaction bit, she manages very skilfully to pick up on a couple of responses and weave them into her script - and the pleasure of her company is a large part of the hour's success. Gerald Berkowitz

Petrograd Pleasance - The last refuge of the blocked journalist is an article on why he can't write this article, and this new play by Australian Van Badham has the flavour of being about why he can't write the play he wants to. An ambitious and manipulative director cons his old girlfriend into providing a script about the lost ideals of Russian Communism. The play she wants to write is a Brechtian account of the Revolution; the one he forces her into is a domestic melodrama set in the Brezhnev era. His play sinks into a soap opera reflecting their offstage relationship; her play comes alive and starts haunting her and demanding expression. There's also a historian character who keeps telling her (in between sleeping with her) how she's got the story all wrong, and a couple of actresses who (in between sleeping with the director) don't understand any of it. If the point of the play is that the Russian experiment can't be captured in a play, this certainly proves it, though I would have been happy to accept the author's word for it and skipped sitting through the demonstration. Gerald Berkowitz

Pillar Talk/Slapdash Pleasance Dome - Edward Petherbridge is a veteran actor (He was in the original cast of Stoppard's R & G Are Dead) of immense personal charm, and for those of us of a certain generation he has almost unlimited reserves of good will to draw on for his Newman Noggs in the RSC's legendary Nicholas Nickleby. The problem is that he knows it, and is inclined to rely on his charm to carry a very loosely constructed self-directed hour. His show is made up of two parts, their order and relative length depending on his mood. The more structured part is a monologue in the person of St Simeon Stylites, the hermit who lived atop a pillar for 36 years. Here, if he keeps his focus (which didn't happen the day I saw it, so the monologue didn't work), Petherbridge captures the mild annoyance and literal above-it-all-ness of a man who has become something of a celebrity but knows that has nothing to do with what he's really up there for. The other half of the show is unscripted rambling and chatting, dependent entirely on the actor's personality and the audience's warm feelings for him. It would be nice, though, if the actor earned that warmth each day, rather than assuming it. Gerald Berkowitz



Radioplay Underbelly - Ed Gaughan's solo piece, written with Wes Williams and Andrew Buckley, starts with an excellent concept but grows weaker as it strays from it. The driver on an all-night coach from Wales to London whiles away the hours with announcements and chatter that are filled with in-jokes to amuse himself. The character and situation are rich in potential, but the authors don't seem to have trusted it, because the play also covers the adventures in early radio of the bus driver's uncle (playing all the parts in a radio drama, etc), and the story of the uncle's personal decline with the decline of radio, and a parody of a gangster movie - and in the process does insufficient justice to any of its strands while dissipating interest among all of them. There are three or four separate plays here, and the authors would have been better off choosing one at a time to focus on. Gerald Berkowitz

The Rap Canterbury Tales C (reviewed at a previous Fringe) - Like it says on the label. Former graduate student in medieval literature Baba Brinkman retells three of Chaucer's most familiar tales in rap style. The result is a mild curiosity, a nice middle-class white Canadian boy trying to sound like an inner-city American black man while not wearing his erudition too heavily, and the entertaining result is somewhat like Dr. Johnson's dog on his hind legs, remarkable not for its success but that it is accomplished at all. A newly invented frame, about stowing away on a rap concert tour bus and hearing the performers challenged to outdo each other in narrative raps, is the weakest part of the hour, with the performer-writer's efforts to move things into the Chaucerian structure particularly strained - one rapper is sponsored by Miller beer, the girl is reputed to be fun in the bath, and so on. When he gets to the tales themselves, Brinkman is on firmer ground, and he does succeed in translating the stories into the rhythms, internal rhymes and shifting verse lines of the rap format, though always at about half the speed you'd expect and never escaping the limitations and incongruity of white-boy rap. Still, it is mild fun, Brinkman himself is amiable, and the moment when his stowaway character is called upon to rap and offers a rhythmic lecture on the history of the oral poetry tradition is unforcedly educational. Gerald Berkowitz

Howard Read & Little Howard: The Little Howard Appeal Underbelly - As if the wonders of technology and a chance to converse with an animated version of himself weren't quite enough, Howard Read and his entourage, this time also featuring Chris Addison as the voice of Little Howard, have come up with an interesting ruse. Little Howard is in a coma and only laughter (and good reviews!) can save him. In Hollywood terms, that's your 'ticking clock' set. And for the sake of varying the pace and keeping up the suspense, Read throws in a couple of crises requiring a resort to the 'one-liner defibulator'. We still get quite a lot of Little Howard, in sketches that have been 'pre-recorded', but with so many stories-within-stories to follow, it is all a bit complicated, not least considering that some of the stories actually feature such wonders of imagination as matador grannies, men with heads made of cars and pyjamas made of bees. Big Howard himself is inevitably completely upstaged by his own creation in a show that is a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. Worry not about the wiz-kid Read, however. With a parallel low-tech but high-voltage stand up routine on the go in an evening slot, he can rest on his laurels until after the next year's Comic Relief. Duska Radosavljevic

Religion Cabaret - with Divinityland and Rainbow Swastika Alien Encounter Clubwest @ Edinburgh Theosophical Society - Religion is a hotter topic than it has been for a while, and Anthony Padgett's oddball assortment of theological satire probably has some resonance for us all, if we could only keep up with his countless takes on the godly worship of man. In between a series of videos set in holy sites like Jerusalem and the occasional dance number, he describes his search for his own revelation, one that unites all religions, organised and otherwise. As he expands on his theories, he dons layer after layer of holy garments, including a burqa, Jewish prayer shawl and disco glitter-ball. Pride of place is given to Divinityland, a miniature theme park that he has taken round schools. The kids get to put figurines of their favourite deities into remote-controlled cars and then race them. After praying to the winner, they have an 'inter-religious disco'. Padgett has a lot going for him (he's already been condemned by the Mail on Sunday), and there's certainly an audience crying out for his left-field take on society. But he's clearly undecided about which direction to take Religion Cabaret - is it theatre, performance art or comedy? Before doing anything, however, he needs to hire a director plus work out a way to make a virtue out of his lo-tech presentation. Nick Awde

Ren-Sa St. Stephen's - The most exciting aspect of this multi-faceted theatrical installation/experience from Darren Johnson and company is the seatbelt requirement at the point of departure. The audience members are collected into three blackened mini-buses and shipped to an unknown destination. Some members are silent and full of anticipation, others are quietly making guesses as to where we might be going, in a way reminiscent of a school trip. Once there, however, we're confronted with a massive perpendicular formation made of heavyweight gauze, hiding a projection grid. What ensues in the next 45 minutes or so is a mystifying episodic dance involving figures in white kimonos (Asako Shirai, Ann Sanh, Chiharu Aikawa, Emi Shibata), accompanied by a video projection and varying intensities of lighting and sound. Occasionally the effect is deliberately assaulting and potentially disturbing - unless you've reached a point where you're already past caring. And judging by the number of people who reached for their mobiles as soon as they were loaded into the buses for their journey back, the spell cast by this unusual piece was easily and eagerly broken. Duska Radosavljevic

Road to Pisa Pleasance - A fringe staple, the very-small-scale comedy whose production inadequacies and general cheesiness are part of the joke, is represented nicely by this three-actor piece that invites the audience into the we're-all-in-it-just-for-the-romp spirit. In Renaissance Italy a really bad travelling acrobatic act is held together by Mama's forceful personality, but things seem dark when she quits, until a stagestruck girl joins them, reshaping and ever-so-slightly improving the act. Along with wonky accents and feigned talentlessness, the humour comes from supposed attempts to cover up the show's production limitations, as when the brothers try to carry on the act without Mama, serving as assistants to a magician who isn't there or backup dancers to an invisible star, and when Naomi Kerbel, doubling Mama and the newcomer, has to play a scene with herself and the three performers race through frantic quick changes trying to cover for each other. Writer-performers Andrew Jones and Ciaran Murtagh have worked together for several years as comedy-performance company The Black Sheep, and have an easy smoothness and audience rapport. While perhaps not quite as laugh-a-minute as the genre at its best requires, the hour will satisfy audience desire for light and entertaining comedy. Gerald Berkowitz

Screwmachine/Eyecandy Assembly Rooms - As far back as 1948 Arthur Miller told us in Death of a Salesman that the American Dream was a cheat that didn't deliver the happiness it promised. In the 1950s a television comedy staple was the quiz show parody, with a sadistic host humiliating contestants guilty only of wanting to win some stuff. And now everything old is new again, as C. J. Hopkins combines the two in an unrelenting attack on the acquisitive society, whose only failing is a growing sense of dead-horse-beating. Both the evil system and its complicit victims are condemned through a metaphor-filled TV quiz that promises riches to those who can keep up with its constantly-changing rules, a challenge which is by definition impossible so that a nice couple from middle America find themselves first confused, and finally destroyed. Nancy Walsh and Bill Coelius capture the contestants' mix of innocent desire for happiness and moral weakness, and Mike McShane has the offstage announcer's oily tones down perfectly. But the hour belongs unquestionably to David Calvito's bravura performance as the slimy and ultimately satanic quizmaster. Talking almost uninterruptedly and at high speed, he combines the smile for the TV cameras with the inward sneer of the true sadist in an overpowering and truly frightening portrayal. Gerald Berkowitz

Shadows Hill Street Theatre - Like the mysterious monolith in 2001, a huge rough-hewn cabinet stands centrestage, daring us to discover the secrets that lie within. A pair of star-crossed lovers embark on a dark tale that leads into betrayal and even darker deeds, their catalyst a mysterious stranger, an asylum and a travelling show. Taking Artaud's manifesto for his Theatre of Cruelty - i.e. hit the audience right in the gut - 7K's creation explores the idea of people dreaming life, while it's in the shadows that reality lurks - the nightmares that erupt from the cabinet. As the performers enact vignettes from their descent into their alternative world, doors appear from the box's surface and wondows/flaps open to become a video screen, or reveal clown faces, creepy hands or disembodied parts. Onstage and from the depths of the box, Andy Godfrey, Sabine Tabuchi, Luke Burrough and Christina Zimmermann keep things flowing, movement subtly underpinning the drama, never getting in the way. Elements of circus and dance are subtly thrown in while the dialogue is is sparse, pairing up with evocative video projections and a soundtrack of crackly music hall piano and Eraserhead background noise. Though the whole works well, movement of the individual players needs to be more focused. The same must to be said for the story - the straight theatre element is crucial to developing the plot, and therefore the emotional range of physicality and characters or moods introduced. The intention in Artaud's spirit may be to make us feel rather than think, but there's still a distracting amount of guesswork required in the latter department. Nick Awde

Shakespeare for Breakfast C Venue - My first stop each Festival is always this midmorning romp, a different show each year always built on the idea of throwing characters from various Shakespeare plays together in musical and comic ways. This year's premise seemed at first unpromising - a version of I'm A Celebrity - Get Me Out of Here - but pitting the vampish Cleopatra, morose Hamlet, bekilted Macbeth, sexually ambiguous Viola, feminist Kate and others against each other proved to generate its share of delight, especially when they started dying off. (My favourite - Hamlet dressed in primary colours as he slept and dying from the shock on awakening) The cast of five, all female this year, double and redouble their roles through quick changes - and they give you free coffee and croissants! Gerald Berkowitz

The Silver Swan McEwan Hall - Edinburgh's McEwan Hall is a huge dome-topped structure, its circular design defined by imposing stone pillars that disappear into the heights above broken by balconies lined with tiers of wooden benches. You could easily hold a couple of circuses here simultaneously. The Clod Ensemble, however, has something a little more subtle on offer - a moody, evocative recital of two 17th-century songs. Perched two balconies above the main floor, the audience is afforded a magnificent vista as seven female singers in flowing white dresses glide into view. Unaccompanied, their voices drift dreamily in and out of each other in Paul Clark's plaintive motet arrangements of She Weepeth Sore in the Night ('Among all her lovers/She has none to comfort her') and The Silver Swan ('who living had no note/Til death approached, unlocked her silent throat'). Meanwhile, the audience's appreciation of the surroundings is echoed in the far-off balcony opposite where an usher moves a solitary onlooker or chases a stray Japanese tourist. Odd, but it all seems to work. Suzy Willson's choreography, however, consists of merely shuffling the line of vocalists during the odd musical lull and it is a pity that little thought went into judging what is restricted view seating and what is not. And yet, though at first glance the 25 minute-duration seems hardly worth the ticket price, this turns out to be a truly timeless experience. Nick Awde

The Singing Nun Underbelly - In 1963 a Belgian nun had a freak worldwide pop hit with a song in French about St. Dominique. Three years later she left the convent, only to discover that it owned all her profits and even her performing name, while she was left with an enormous tax bill and a slide into obscurity. Richard Talbot plays both Sister Luc and an obsessive male fan as he presents a somewhat jumbled and incomplete account of her life. His nun, who never looks like anything but a man in drag speaking in falsetto, is a hard-drinking, pill-popping harridan with a crush on Sting and an encyclopaedic knowledge of pop music that enables her to brag that her record was Number One longer than every other song she happens to think of. His fan has a deeper voice but no clear personality or function in the show. The narrative jumps around in her life with no thematic logic or reason for including certain facts and not others, nor does there seem much purpose, beyond the forlorn hope of generating some laughs, in bringing an audience member onstage to be repeatedly embarrassed. Talbot's writing and performance rise at their very best to the level of the amiably eccentric, though they spend most of the hour as excruciatingly bad. Gerald Berkowitz [Note: I have to salute this guy. When this review first appeared in The Stage, Talbot plastered his posters with "Excruciatingly bad! - The Stage" That's the spirit of the Fringe.]

Sisters Assembly Rooms - These two pieces by Declan Hassett cover familiar territory in Irish drama, but provide an excellent showcase for an actress of a certain age. Monologues by two aging sisters provide lots of opportunity for humour, pathos and irony, especially since they give us the opportunity to hear both sides of some of the stories. Stay-at-home Martha resents the fact that Mary was their mother's favourite, harbours warm memories of her own closeness to father, and is still haunted by a rape and betrayal she has always kept secret. Mary the schoolteacher knows some of the truth about father and has her own shocking secrets her sister never knew. Both monologues tell us even further things that neither speaker fully appreciates, building to the sense that just a little more warmth and openness could have saved them both a lot of grief. Actress Anna Manahan is more successful with Martha than Mary, perhaps because the character is less self-protectively repressed, but certainly does full justice to the script. Gerald Berkowitz

Sleep-Less-Ness St. Stephen's - What a brilliant concept for Evgeny Kozlov's dance theatre piece, when sleep, according to the company itself, is a world where the physical body is all but irrelevant. In this exploration of sleep and insomnia, the multi-award winning Do Theatre unravels reams of visual poetry on the metaphorical bedsheets of its stage. Sleep is a lover who disappears and is longed for, while being awake amounts to being cold, bored and maimed. The piece's dreamlike structure allows for a lot of associative 'automatic writing'. Hence, a bleak world of a hospital where the visitors turn into a couple of kids who get drunk on a cocktail of beer, orange juice and intravenous medicine and tell us bad German jokes. But the most memorable boys in tutus of several years ago, have now replaced them with ice-skates and winter coats and, together with their lithe female colleagues, they bring us another unforgettable dream, drenched in rainwater and yet hauntingly invigorating. Duska Radosavljevic

Will Smith - Misplaced Childhood Assembly Rooms - Don't be fooled. Contrary to the appearances, Will Smith has got everything it takes - charisma, talent, the material - but what really sets him apart is the fact that he's got the balls. Let's face it, most of us carry sentiments, memories or passions we'd be hard pressed to admit to. Not so Will Smith. He'll own up to the lot if it will make you laugh in recognition, if it will make you wallow in a false sense of superiority and particularly if it will generate some useful insight into human nature. Last year he ridiculed the need to win arguments by owning up to the weakness, and this year he's back with a series of comic insights into adolescence, adulation and the worship of physicality over personality. Assuming the ultimate geek persona, Smith embarks on a complex journey involving a dissection of his own childhood, his teenage victories and failures, his obsession with Marillion as well as a sociological study of contemporary youth. All this beautifully packaged in a smart suit, an all-singing all-dancing powerpoint presentation, against a backdrop of Jersey landscapes. So take it seriously, if you can! Duska Radosavljevic

Snapshots C Electric - A familiar genre of fringe theatre is the staged autobiography, as someone who has had an extraordinary or meaningful experience describes and re-enacts it. Such pieces always carry the authority of authenticity but, sadly, they do not always carry the potency of effective theatre. Mitzi Sinnott is the daughter of a white Southerner and a black man who fought in Vietnam and came home broken and schizophrenic, eventually abandoning wife and daughter. Mitzi's search for her own identity as a person of mixed race, her search for the man her father was before she briefly knew him, her search for what changed him and, finally, her physical search for the man himself are without question deeply moving adventures - certainly for her, and possibly for anyone she shares them with. But they do not automatically make for effective theatre, and here Sinnott the author and Sinnott the actor somewhat let down Sinnott the daughter. The script tries to do too much, attempting to capture the atmosphere of the 1960s along with the antiwar movements of both Vietnam and Iraq, in addition to the daughter's several searches, somewhat blunting the piece's emotional effect. And, trained actress though she is, Sinnott oddly has difficulty capturing the reality of her own character, too often playing her as just a role in a script, thus blunting the piece's power as a personal document. Gerald Berkowitz

 

Snuff Traverse - Davey Anderson's two-character play is certainly passionate and full of energy, but one can't help feeling that it's all being expended over-lavishly on a topic he really doesn't have much new to say about. A working-class youth feeling threatened by his dead-end life and the encroachments of immigrants into his neighbourhood needs to lash out at something, anything. Alternately attacking and over-protective of his sister (seen in a videotape that hints that he may have killed her), he turns his energy on his best friend, whose loyalty he is no longer sure about. The friend has been in the army in Iraq, and has his own demons, and the two spend the hour taking turns crying out to and turning on each other. That disaffected white working class youths are desperate and potentially violent is surely old news, but would be worth retelling if Anderson had something fresh to contribute. But the play says all it has to say in the first five minutes, and then just keeps shouting it over and over for the rest of the hour. Gerald Berkowitz

Squeeze Box Assembly Rooms - Ann Randolph's solo piece has all the virtues and vices of 'let me tell you about my interesting life' theatre. On the one hand, it has the unquestionable authenticity and intensity of autobiography and self-exposure; on the other, it smacks of self-indulgence and the not-always-correct assumption that one's life is of interest to others. Feeling burned-out in her job as a counsellor in a homeless women's shelter, and uncertain about her budding romance with a virtuoso accordionist, the speaker/actress/character searches for the passion and optimism she felt in her youth, finally finding it in the reminder that she is having some small positive effect on the lives of the women she aids. That is, on its surface, not a particularly original or interesting story, and its effectiveness as a theatre piece depends on the personality of the performer and her success in making the various characters and episodes come alive. Randolph has been doing the piece for over a year in America, and some of the life may have gone out of it, because only the occasional moment, like the evocation of a field trip with a vanload of schizophrenics, rises above the level of cliche or California-flavoured egocentricity. Gerald Berkowitz

Starting Here Starting Now C Venue - David Shire and Richard Maltby Jr began writing Off-Broadway musicals in 1961, and by a decade later had such a collection of songs from shows produced and unproduced that they were able to put together this compilation show which ironically was their first real success. (They went on to write a couple of Broadway musicals and to separate careers in film and theatre.) Ostensibly an examination of love in its various stages, the theme is quickly dropped for what plays as a random collection of songs. They are all quite pleasant, and range from the urban and sophisticated to the simple and open. You will not have heard any of them before, which points to the limits of the team - there never was a recognisable Maltby & Shire sound, the way there is a Kander & Ebb sound, and the songs are ultimately rather bland and generic. This production from Deep Blue Theatre is being done with alternating casts; the trio I saw were not especially good singers - one voice was sharp, one thin, one lisped - but brought a refreshing youth and openness to the songs that went far toward carrying them. Gerald Berkowitz

The Steppe Brothers Southside - In the tradition of Cliffhanger and The League of Gentlemen - that is, of small companies playing multiple roles in a fast-moving, gag-filled comedy whose production limitations are part of the joke - Rejects Revenge carries the flag boldly in this laugh-filled delight. A pair of untalented twelfth-century street performers get caught in the middle of a war in Lithuania, are mistaken for the mythical warrior Steppe Brothers, and recruited by both sides as battlefield icons. Factor in a pair of twin French princesses, two executioners, a talking potato, and various generals and soldiers, all played by the three performers, and the absurd plot twists and quick-change franticness would be enough to generate more laughs than any three other comedies in town, even if it weren't all punctuated by self-contained gags and excruciating puns (Our two heroes have different fathers, which makes them.....) Typical of the comic invention is making one of the princesses a master of disguise, occasionally appearing not only as her sister but, through hilarious lip-syncing, in the body of one of the other actors. Rejects Revenge founding member Tim Hibberd is joined for this production by Matthew Steer and Phoebe Soteriades, and the three work together with the fluidity and confidence of performers who know and rely on each other absolutely, a harmony that must be credited largely to director Ezra Hjarlmarsson. Gerald Berkowitz

Stirring Underbelly - This inventive, witty and occasionally touching piece from New York City-based Shalimar Productions follows seven young New Yorkers through the very modern minefields of non-face-to-face dating. Phone sex, video dating services, online chatrooms and the like are the ways all the lonely people meet each other these days, the encounters both liberated and complicated by the fact that one or both parties may be misrepresenting themselves. In one of the sweeter vignettes, a guy misreads a correspondent's name and develops a real empathy before discovering that the girl he was falling for is actually a guy, and then must decide if his unconscious was telling him something about his sexuality. Every character, in their various permutations, begins by insisting that it's all a laugh and they wouldn't really try to meet someone this way, and everyone exposes a deeper loneliness by grasping at what might be the closest they can get to their dream. Fast-moving, well-acted and with instant characterisations that might just be uncomfortably recognisable to many in the audience. Gerald Berkowitz

Stuck Up a Tree Royal Botanic Gardens - The nooks and crannies of the Wood Museum make a uniquely magical setting for the songs, dance ditties and slapstick of this delightful show, surprising us with inventive use of the hidden spaces in the tree stumps and trunks dotted around. A Bird (Hazel Darwin-Edwards ) sits hiding in a Tree (Andreas Vaehi) in the forest - she doesn't want to fly south for the winter. Suddenly up turns a wise two-headed traveller (Cameron Mowat and Ceri Mill making a sort of human Pushmepullyou) who starts to tell her stories about peacocks, goblins, snakes, foxes, mums, horrible boys and fairy princesses overcoming their fears. As the characters sing, Scott Hoatson joins in on guitar. Will the stories make the Bird happy? Will she want to fly to the sunny south? Suffice to say, there's a happy ending. Though it urgently needs an editorial eye in a couple of sections, Rachel Lynn Brody's script provides a wonderfully creative structure for director Emma Taylor and the cast, who juggle their multi-roles with infectious energy and humour. The young audience were captivated throughout - one excited 14-month-old decided to join in the dialogue at several points while a four-year-old felt inspired enough to step onstage for a closer look - they applauded loudly, and loved the free balloons afterwards. Nick Awde

A Swell Party Augustine's - This salute to Cole Porter follows the familiar format of a biography punctuated by songs, though it hovers a little uneasily between a standard 'And-then-he-wrote' structure and a more impressionistic methodology of taking songs out of chronology and context to illustrate biographical material. While the first mode helps tell the story and the second produces some striking moments - 'Anything Goes' for Porter's Paris days, 'Night and Day' for his wife Linda and, most audaciously, 'Love For Sale' for a bit of male rough trade - choosing one outline or the other and committing to it might have been more effective. Chris MacDonnell generally takes on the persona of Porter, his gravelly voice undoubtedly inaccurate but somehow fitting the evocation of the New York sophisticate. Most of the other vocal duties are carried by Wendy Killian and Philip Giorgi, with Heather Weir and Luke Paul Benjamin occasionally rising from behind the twin keyboards to contribute a song. While the show breaks no new ground, the songs are of course superb, and should please audiences seeking nothing more than an evening of familiar melodies. Gerald Berkowitz

Switchtriptych Assembly Rooms - The Riot Group is a New York based theatre company who specialize in tightly directed, almost choreographed ensemble works of intense energy. Those qualities are there in this latest play by the company's resident playwright Adriano Shaplin, but somehow the result is flabby and unfocussed. The subject is the march of technology, represented by a 1919 operator-run telephone exchange that is being replaced by automated equipment. But one problem is that it is not until halfway through the play that anything resembling a plot situation is introduced. Before that all we get is shapeless scene-setting and character-establishing. One can guess that Shaplin wanted to establish the messiness and aliveness of humanity before introducing its efficient but soulless rival. But the fact is that nothing happens for far too much of the play and, although there is a lot of sound and fury being expended, it is not in the service of anything visible. Even when the conflict gets going, there's no soul to it, and so you are paradoxically both exhausted and bored, not at all the effect you expect from this company. Gerald Berkowitz

Tales From The Dirty Dog Cafe Venue 13 - You win some, you lose some. This production from the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, which I will guess was group-created (No information or credits were provided), represents one of the inescapable dangers of the Fringe, a totally opaque and self-indulgent piece of theatre by a writer or writers talking to themselves in our presence. It opens with eight performers in various states of undress lined up in a row and fighting for a microphone to introduce themselves. Then we are in a perverted Eden, with a transvestite God groping Adam and ogling Eve while she resists her mate's sexual advances. Then what we gradually realise is a madman's monologue, then four women in a room doing what plays like a bad Pinter imitation. Who anyone is, what the point of any of the sketches is, why actors suddenly spasm or loud noises blast at seemingly random intervals, and why several of the women spend much of the hour in their underwear, the writers alone know and have not chosen to share with us. The young cast, also unidentified, give the impression of being as perplexed as the rest of us. There is talent in here somewhere, but every effort has been made to hide it from the audience. Gerald Berkowitz

Tea Without Mother Bedlam - Cheers for the Fringe. Cheers for small young companies that try new things, even when they fail. Without them we'd be doomed to revivals of Cats and The Mousetrap forever. This company-devised piece from Petit Four is virtually incomprehensible, but there is obvious talent and imagination on display, and this group is more likely to eventually come up with something both interesting and accessible than are most less adventurous companies. As close as I can gather, in some sort of dystopic future humans are ruled by a telekinetic Mother, who lives in a TV image but can control their minds and bodies. Emotions are reduced to a series of formalised and numbered physical responses, but somehow humanity keeps breaking through, if only in the impulse to go off for a cup of tea together. Or at least that's what I think is going on. What you see is a tightly choreographed string of mimes, formal interchanges, silly walks and inexplicable actions. They know what they want to do, and do it with precision, but it might have been nice if they had let us in on the secret as well. Gerald Berkowitz

Dan Tetsell: Sins of the Grandfathers Underbelly - Dan Tetsell's German grandfather was a Nazi, and Dan has made a comedy show about it. Yes, he knows that this is in questionable taste, and deflects criticism by making jokes about his audacity in making jokes about the Third Reich. He also takes his presentation into more serious territory, leaving his audience with some questions they may well not have expected to be asking themselves after a comedy show. Tetsell never knew his grandfather, who evidently died on the Eastern Front, but he has photographs of the man, standing proudly in his SS uniform or joking with friends, and some loving letters to his wife. Indeed, all available evidence indicates a man of no special evil, leading Tetsell to wonder if he himself would have refused the opportunity as a child to join the Hitler Youth (if only to become Pope), or whether the grandfather he knew, a cruel and violent person, must be considered the better man just because he wasn't a Nazi. In safer comic territory, sprinkling a few graphs among his projected photos inspires some digs at chart-loving Dave Gorman, while a monkey doll in a Nazi uniform requires an account of how he explained it to the shopgirl. Still, the major impression one must carry from the show is that Tetsell wasn't defeated by the subject, rather than that he triumphed over or through it. Gerald Berkowitz

13 O'Clock Pleasance - This comedy show, which could most easily be described as hysterical, looks like it might have been a result of an experiment involving a massive binge on a selection of opiates and Blockbuster videos from the 1980s. It is funny, all right, but then it seems that the three girls behind it - director Verity Rose Woolnough and performers Katie Lyons and Morgan Lloyd Malcolm - are blessed with masses of comic talent in a variety of ways. Their timing is impeccable, their characters a good mixture of off the wall and familiar and they seem to have a comic instinct in every fibre of their collection of wigs and Velcro shirts. Their story - concerning the struggle of a deprived girl with the determination to succee - is a complete and probably deliberate mess. It's almost as though they've taken a list of scriptwriting Don'ts and put their character Sarah through it. The result is an array of deplorable characters, unbelievable situations and contrived twists - but guess what - it all somehow works and even has the audience in stitches. Duska Radosavljevic

Tomfoolery Edinburgh Academy - In the 1950s Tom Lehrer was a Harvard mathematics professor who moonlighted as writer and singer of comic songs, and every writer and singer of comic songs since has acknowledged him as an immense influence. So it is appropriate that this programme of some of his classic songs should feature three of the best contemporary practitioners of the art, Kit and the Widow (Kit Hesketh Harvey and Richard Sisson) and Dillie Keane of Fascinating Aida. With Matthew Wolfenden along to play Callow Youth in their between-songs byplay, they go through two dozen of Lehrer's best. Chances are that, even if you think you don't know Lehrer, you've somewhere heard Poisoning Pigeons in the Park, The Vatican Rag or Be Prepared. And if not, you're in for treat, because the songs are all witty and wicked fun. So full of winners is the programme that the rare misstep is particularly striking - the audience's silent nonresponse to The Old Dope Peddler is testimony to one way the world has changed since that figure could be laughed about, as is the slight chill to the jolly nuclear bomb song We'll All Go Together When We Go. But those are very brief lapses, and we are mostly comfortable and safe in a world in which philately rhymes with Lady Chatterley and (back with those pigeons) try-and-hide with cyanide. Gerald Berkowitz

Topping and Butch - A Lot to Take In Pleasance - Reigning queens of camp cabaret, Topping (Michael Topping, the older one with the eyebrows) and Butch (Andrew Simmons, the taller one with the teeth) bring Edinburgh an ostensibly new show that is actually little different from the one that played London earlier this year and has been touring. Keeping it fresh is their signature tune, Never Mind, with new verses up to at least the week, zapping Blair's holidays, the space shuttle (with an emphasis on the angle of re-entry) and the Birmingham tornado, along with some slightly used material like the new Pope (with a reference to Heil Mary) and Harry Potter. Sequences some will have seen before include their double-entendre-filled parody of Les Miz, Les Vegetables, and the guest appearance of Maggie Bourgein with the sherry tray and later singing Stripper to the Gentry. Noel Coward gets a nod with Please Don't Be Beastly to the Burglars and the bossa nova with a salute to the ambisextrous Boy from Glasgow. No longer just a camp cult, the duo now play to predominantly straight audiences, and may soon find themselves entertaining giggling grannies on the village hall circuit. Gerald Berkowitz

 

The Trachtenburg Family Slide Show Players Pleasance - Here's a real disappointment, a truly original and brilliant concept spoiled in the execution. The Trachtenburgs buy up other people's snapshots and slides at garage sales and the like, and then imagine stories and create songs about them. Great idea. The problem is that the songs are not very good, Jason Trachtenburg can't sing, his wife Tina has some trouble running the slide projector, and the best thing about the show is eleven-year-old Rachel on the drums. Jason's songs are uniformly unimaginative, with lyrics along the lines of (imagine the slides going by) My name is Sue. I have a red dress Sometimes I go swimming, but I also like to have a drink with friends, and so on. What they consider a highlight of the show, some slides from a 1970s MacDonalds corporate meeting, consists of nothing more than the words on the screen - we must increase our advertising spend this year, etc. - badly sung to tuneless music. You come away upset that a concept someone else might have done something special with has been so wasted. Gerald Berkowitz

Tragedian 1 - The Rise to Fame Southside - Every 50 years or so across the centuries an upheaval takes place in British theatre to revolutionise our perceptions of the actor's craft and how our stage classics should be interpreted. It was the early 1800s that saw audiences mesmerised and performers unnerved by Edmund Kean's challenging of how the great tragedian roles should be played with the application of a hitherto unimagined level of naturalism. Alister O'Loughlin kickstarts his ambitious one-man trilogy of Kean's life with a virtuoso performance that frequently sidesteps into the darker side of comedy. Kean is 26 years old and on the verge of the success on the West End stage that he has always cravedand deserved. The man described in a single breath as bastard, drunk, actor and genius explains in wildly salacious detail the unlikely events and larger-than-life people that led him from his birth in 1789 to the brink of stardom. Armed with a spacious travelling trunk covered with playbills and filled with brandy and the odd change of coat, O'Loughlin uses every inch of the stage to convey the life of this most precocious of thespians, somersaulting while bemoaning the fact that he makes more money as a tumbler in the intervals than playing Shakespeare on the main bill, aping and parodying his peers and betters, but all the while learning his craft and ever honing his ego. A rivetting introduction for the Tragedian. Nick Awde

Tragedian 2 - The Fall to Infamy Southside - The middle part of Alister O'Loughlinıs trilogy about Edmund Kean bills its subject as an adulterer, star, madman and fool. As a history of this vibrant era of 19th-century theatre in Britain, O'Loughlin's script alone is worth the money as he conjures up instant portraits of John Philip Kemble, the posturing tragedian Kean ousted, the theatre managers Drury and Elliston, the critic Hazlitt and a raft of lesser theatre folk. And then there is the perpetual threat to the classical repertoire from light entertainment as the mighty Theatres Royal of Drury Lane and Covent Garden lurch from full houses to near bankruptcy and back again. Seamlessly integrating the great soliloquies into the action, O'Loughlin is compelling as he recreates Kean creating Shylock (the part that gave him his big break at Drury Lane), Othello and 'Richard the Hunchback' for his adoring fans. Equally, he is simply rollicking as he louchely dismisses the hordes of detractors, creditors and cast-off lovers he leaves in his wake. Kean became an overnight star in 1814 and held onto his crown as the undisputed tragedian of his time until his death two decades later. His is a strangely familiar, indeed rock'n'roll tale of the excesses of celebrity and the fall that inevitably beckons, served up in a study that is as throught-provoking as it is entertaining. Nick Awde

Tragedian 3 - The Decline to Legend Southside - Revenger, scapegoat, father, king... There's certainly no holds barred in this final instalment of Alister O'Loughlinıs life of Edmund Kean as the 19th-century actor is shown in his final years (he died in 1833), pilloried by the press for his love life, upstaged by rivals anxious for his crown, causing riots in Boston, yet still fighting for the spotlight. Thankfully, as performer, O'Loughlin offers no melodrama - here is no ageing Lear but a 44-year-old man who knows he should be in his prime. Instead, old before his time, his body and - the cruellest cut of all - his memory are falling apart, ravaged by the excesses of his celebrity life. After all, this is an actor whose idea of a warm-up before performances was a shag and a bottle of brandy, reprised during the evening as often as he was offstage. O'Loughlinıs insertion of contemporary and original source material into his script becomes a poignant focus as Kean regretfully sings the ditties they sang in the streets about him or brings letters to life about the break-up with his long-suffering wife and then his gold-digging lover. The scene in which O'Loughlin plays all the protagonists in Kean's trial for 'criminal conversation' with an alderman's wife is a Dickensian masterpiece. No mere exercise in stamina, the trilogy reveals O'Loughlin to be a remarkable modern talent - actor and writer in equal parts. Nick Awde

Trojan Women George Square Theatre - There was a commendable vision behind this lavishly hi-tech version of Euripides' study of women struggling against the bloody wars their menfolk are waging. The protagonists perch atop or stride around Julia Bardsley's slanted slab, its obsidian surface reflecting projections of seashores or scrawled predicitons from the parallel screen suspended above their heads. And yet it proves a case of all form and no substance. Myra McFadyen is a controlled, almost serene Hecuba, struggling to get a perspective on the conflict that has riven her people and family. She heads a cast that works hard, communicating all the passion communicated by Brendan Kennelly's admittedly uneven adaptation. If the intention is to create a lean, meaning-laden play as opposed to a post-modern opera, then a central role must be chosen as a focus - as in Electra, for example - but director Cathie Boyd's production forces each character to vie for the spotlight with little communcation with the others. The result is a series of hard to connect monologues in frequently clashing styles, and the production's declared 'powerful indictment of war' today is lost somewhere in between the overblown rhetoric and gimmicky glitz. Nick Awde

Tropea - Couch Potatoes' Paradise St Stephen's - A screen explodes into life at the back of the hall as an image of an urban flat skims into view, Star Trek-like, amongst the whizzing stars. The kitsch sitting room of the flat fills the screen and a frumpy couple settle down on the sofa and fight over the remote control. Before you know it, the audience is watching a film of people watching TV - i.e. the antics of the five performers onstage, courtesy of Austrian dance company Tropea and chroeographer Helene Weinzierl. As the couch potatoes wrestle for the remote control or settle back to blissfully channel-surf, the performers rush to a packed clothes rack to create the show on the channel selected. There's the news, football, dancing, more football, a political talkshow, a soap, even more football. There's even a commentary shoehorned in about Iraq - but, hey, doesn't every show this festival? But when the couch-potato couple doze off on the sofa, that's the cue for a straight dance middle-eight that jars the narrative flow and lets the energy severely flag, and yet a similar interlude at the end is not so misjudged and has quite the opposite effect. Helena Arenbergerova, Honza Malik, Petr Opavsky and Erich Rudolf work with supreme coordination and humour, and their constant quick-change routines alone make it worth the ticket. Nick Awde

Twelfth Night - The Musical Assembly Rooms - Devised by Giles Brandreth and some of the people involved with Zipp of a couple of years ago, this version of Shakespeare's romantic comedy has much of the same not-taking-itself-too-seriously, all-in-it-for-the-fun quality, though audiences expecting the nonstop musical romp of the earlier show may be disappointed. The premise of setting Shakespeare to snippets of modern popular music is clever, and has its delightful moments, as when Viola accompanies her disguise as a boy with Puttin' on My Top Hat and - most inspiredly - Maria sets her plot against Malvolio to I'm Gonna Sit Right Down and Write Myself a Letter. But it is oddly dropped very quickly, and what we get for the most part is straight, if condensed, Shakespeare. Giles Brandreth is likely to surprise some by delivering a quite creditable Malvolio, Andrew C. Wadsworth combines heroic-style acting with a self-depreciating humour while doubling Orsino and Toby, Amanda Symonds alternates a haughty Olivia with a down-home Maria, and Kosha Engler is pretty and perky as a Principal Boy Viola. Humourous surtitles provide a running commentary and occasional footnotes, and allusions to Brief Encounter, The Third Man, Goldfinger and other films perk up the comedy. But when all is said and done, what we have here is a quite adequate ninety-minute condensation of Shakespeare done fairly straight - and quite adequate ninety minute condensations of Shakespeare are a dime a dozen in the Edinburgh Fringe. Gerald Berkowitz

Tim Vine - Current Puns Pleasance - Almost uniquely among contemporary comedians, Tim Vine tells jokes. Not witty social observations or extended anecdotes, but one- and two-line jokes, in a rapid-fire manner that resembles the classic comics of two or three generations back. And everything old is new again, as his string of puns and sight-gags almost seems avant-garde among the hundreds of other comics in town. The closest parallel is to the late Tommy Cooper, without Cooper's magic act - jokes, puns and prop gags coming so fast that the occasional dud doesn't have time to break the rhythm (Without in any way imitating him, Vine has even picked up some of Cooper's vocal inflections and delivery style). So, does it make you chuckle to be told that the advantages of easy origami are two-fold, or that dreaming you wrote The Lord of the Rings means you were Tolkein in your sleep? If so, here's your man. Gerald Berkowitz

Waiting Room Theatre Gateway - A post-apocalyptic scene - a smashed-up doll, the ground strewn with litter, dogs howl as a harsh wind - or is it gunfire? - cracks in the background. Two women, clearly traumatised, pace the space that has given them refuge from the violence without. They know it will become too dangerous to stay there, but they are unsure where next to go. Slowly from their conversation, we piece together the shards of their shattered past and the events that have led them to to this grim present. Chalk and cheese, their fiery debates over why their vanished society self-destructed turn to shared feelings of loss - rape, a dead child, a disappeared partner. As Marah, Sian Mannifield gives a focused portrayal of a political soul hiding her hurt behind frustration at her people's inability to act. Victoria Macleod brings a subtle balance to Naomi, whose pragmatic views seem at odds with the emotional damage she carries. Nice touches of humour break through the intensity of their ordeal - maggots in a dead body make a surprising running joke. Director Nazli Tabatabai works hard to keep Isabel Wright's static script moving, but the play is prevented from attaining its objective because its style, structure and language ultimately reflect the writer's personal thoughts and not its purported subject matter. Consequently it has little to say as a drama. As a prose poem, however, it is striking and thought-provoking. Nick Awde

The Reggie Watts Tangent Underbelly - He has the most irritating hair of the festival and he's working in a space totally undesigned for his personal, hi-tech act, and yet Reggie Watts goes down an absolute hit with his unique blend of logic-bending patter and beat-box routines. American Watts moves against the tide of current British comedy, and an audience tired of audience-baiting, clever non-PC social commentary and right-on politics will simply lap him up. Not because he's safe, though - far from it. An hour with Watts is a voyage into the unknown. Non-sequiturs lead into extended jam sessions of poles-opposite facts, for example the shaggy dog story about him being born in two places at the same time, mentioning that his famiy is really from Uzbekistan and into the concept of hiding, which leads into a discussion of molecular transport systems and somehow Ray Charles, which sparks a description of Gandhi's physiology. Using a multi-track echo unit/sequencer, he pauses for breath only long enough to build up rhythm tracks with vocal pops and bass thuds to create backing tracks for deliciously wonderfully rap and pomp-rock opera spoofs. Unswervingly professional, he doesn't miss a beat even when a dodgy mic keeps him off-script for 10 minutes - and there can't be that many comics on the circuit who can effortlessly switch from Seattle grunge to rap before segueing into Depeche Mode. Nick Awde

We Are Klang Pleasance - The comedy sketch show as a genre has been marking time - some might say dying - for some time. A handful of performers doing a bunch of skits that may or may not be funny seems too predictable, and the comedy world has been looking for a new direction for the form. This trio attracted a lot of attention last year by seeming to do something new, but this year's show finds the same mix of sketches as in any other revue, with two exceptions. First, the comic stress is less on the material than on the performers - the mad wild-eyed stare of one or the funny voices of another. And second, they constantly break each other up, the corpsing so consistent from night to night that one must conclude that at least some of it is scripted. While many consider corpsing evidence of unprofessionalism, We Are Klang seem to have convinced their audiences that it is a big part of the fun (as Peter Cook and Dudley Moore did a generation ago), and those moments get the biggest laughs. Otherwise, we get an estate agent sketch, a competing beggars sketch, a play on words (Deaf Jeff the chef, etc.) sketch, and the same sort of thing you'll find in a dozen other shows. Gerald Berkowitz

We Love You Arthur Assembly Rooms - Fiona Evans' new play views the 1984 miners' strikes through a domestic lens, as two teenage girls improbably develop a crush on union leader Arthur Scargill, idolising him like a rock star. Meanwhile, an idle minor drifts into an affair, another gives up and becomes a scab so that his whole family is ostracised, a miner's wife finds new strength and pride in her strike support work, and a grandmother distributes love and wisdom to all. Perhaps a little too ambitious for its own good, the play's attempt to touch on so many areas leads it to change subject, tone and focus with almost every scene, from the comedy of the girls' schemes to meet their idol, through the drama of the wife's growth and the strains it places on her marriage, to the banality of the adultery. This gives it a soap opera structure and feel that keep threatening to overpower the worthy subject. Compounding the danger of lapsing into cliche, production and performances too infrequently rise above the community theatre level, with only Zoe Lambert as the wife able to give her character a sustained reality. Gerald Berkowitz

Jason-John Whitehead Edinburgh Comedy Room - Here's an oddity - a comic who looks nothing at all like his posters. Shedding his trademark white-Canadian-boy-dreadlocks (and showing us videos both of the barber at work and of his mother's glee at the result), Jason-John Whitehead also drops the improv portions of previous shows for an hour of straight joking and story telling. Much of his material is standard, with jokes on cultural differences between Canada and Britain, or British roads and drivers. The obligatory anti-American jokes are refreshed somewhat by coming from a Canadian perspective, but seem more a matter of form than real inspiration. He's on stronger ground when he lets his imagination wander afield, as in the concept of a porno Panto (giving a whole new meaning to 'He's behind you!'), and when he builds elaborate comic constructs on his own experience, like almost being arrested for smuggling a hamburger into the USA. And, as the opening line of a comic bit, 'I broke my roommate's vibrator' is hard to beat. An amiable and low-key performer, Whitehead carries the hour as much through his unthreatening rapport with the audience as with the strength of his material. Gerald Berkowitz

A World in your Shell-Like Sweet on the Grassmarket - Told through puppets that move across a series of sheets receding into the distance, this is the evocative tale of a man who sets off on a journey across land and sea after a storm has made him homeless. Inspired by the sound of a seashell a jackdaw brings him, he is joined on the way by a strange animal who appears to know the secret of his odyssey. Sorcerer Balaklava's genius is to take found objects from our everyday domestic world and to mix and match them to create scenery, props and even puppets. Heaped-up woollen sweaters become a patchwork of meadows, a stick of broccoli is a solitary oak tree ready to be felled, a kitsch toast-rack is transformed into a convincing tractor. Buffeting stormclouds are evoked from a manky rolled-up quilt, unravelling to become a fully fledged tempest in a shower of feathers, while later the man finds himself wandering through an eery forest of lampshades. Adding to the dramatic perspective are projected video clips enhancing the action and a soundscape of folksy yet driving music that ranges from thumping clarinet to lyrical guitar. Puppeteers Yvonne Stone, Helen Shearcroft and Stella Sargeson have worked hard to create a truly magical show designed to enchant audiences of all ages. Developing it now into a full-length work will provide the success it richly deserves beyond Edinburgh. Nick Awde

You Might As Well Live Pleasance - Christian Spurrier's portrait of Dorothy Parker violates expectations in two ways: it bypasses the conventional reminiscing monologue format for a series of scenes stretching over four decades, and it focusses on Parker the would-be social activist rather than Parker the writer and wit. Parker first found a social conscience in the Sacco-Vanzetti (two avowed anarchists almost certainly innocent of the murder for which they were executed) case in 1927, later went to Spain in the vain hope of stopping some of the atrocities of the Civil War, and was involved in enough other liberal causes for the commie-hunters of the 1950s to have a look at her. But, as she was chagrined to discover, even her secret FBI file dismissed her as making 'no significant contribution to radical causes'. Spurrier focuses on how intertwined Parker's political awakening was with her personal life, her activities frequently generated in part by attempts to connect with or get over a man, and her enthusiasms causing a particularly painful break with her best friend, the determinedly apolitical humourist Robert Benchley. Actress Pandora Colin has wisely not attempted a mechanical impersonation of Parker, but in the process has lost the flavour of this hard-edged but soft-centred urban sophisticate, and doesn't even suggest any aging over the forty years of the play, so what power and interest it has are in the script rather than the performance. Gerald Berkowitz

The Zoo Story Gilded Balloon Teviot - Edward Albee's early play remains one of his best, a frightening introduction to a character whose voice and experience of life, like that of John Osborne's Jimmy Porter, had not previously been encountered in the theatre. 'Permanent transient' Jerry lives in a world defined by closed doors and failed communications, and his desperate need to make contact with Peter, the ordinary guy he meets on a park bench, drives the hour and makes it as powerful as it was almost fifty years ago. Sensitively directed by Maggie Inchley, stand-up comic Phil Nichol, who in recent years has shown himself to be even better as an actor, finds all of Jerry's intensity and anguish while bringing some new tones and insights. Where others have played Jerry as tightly wound, Nichol makes him boiling over with energy, more Joe Pesci than Al Pacino, and the result is both more laughs than his almost uninterrupted monologue of self-exposure usually generates, but also a clearer sense of Jerry as consciously performing for his victim-listener. Graham Elwell also brings something new to Peter, making him more open and eager to listen than others have, thus exposing a loneliness merely better hidden than Jerry's, and making the play's violent climax especially believable and haunting. Gerald Berkowitz

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

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Reviews - Edinburgh Festival - 2005