Edinburgh 2004
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 The Theatreguide.London Reviews

EDINBURGH 2004

We reviewed more than 160 shows at the 2004 Festival and Fringe. Our reviews were originally spread over several pages, but we've crowded them all onto two pages for this archive. They're in alphabetical order (solo performers by last name), with A-M on this page and N-Z on the second. Scroll down for what you're looking for, or just browse.



 After Chekhov C Central - To mark the centenary of Chekhov's death, Angela Barlow has revisited the last years of the author's life from the point of view of his flamboyant actress wife Olga Knipper-Chekhova. They were married for barely five years and spent most of their married life apart ­ Chekhov with his TB in Yalta and Knipper with Stanislavki's Moscow Arts in the capital. Having arrived at a provincial theatre near Yalta, ten years after Chekhov's death, Olga Knipper reminisces. She takes us through his life and plays, remembering also an instance when Moscow Arts came to this very theatre to perform for the sick playwright. Mostly lighthearted and deferential, Knipper is occasionally filled with remorse over her absence from her marriage. But then again she'll have us know that Chekhov too had his way with the ladies and 'he exploited women's love for him by using their stories in his writing'. Barlow succeeds in making her monologue immensely amusing and convincing. And although a theatrical portrayal of a massive theatre personality - or two - is often likely to fall short of the expected, she goes for competence rather than charisma. Duska Radosavljevic

Stephen K. Amos Gilded Balloon Teviot - A Stephen K Amos show is an almost mystical experience in some ways, when you consider how his seamless string of observations, provocative questions and bizarre images sum up our ordinary lives, opening a window of sorts on our collective psyche. He somehow manages to involve one and all whether discussing the songs of Cliff Richard or locating people who have the necessary skills to help rebuild society in the event of a world cataclysm, a routine that somehow transmutes into a cheesy gameshow and a touch of truth or dare that gets the entire hall squirming in their seats. But Amos has more on his mind than mere laughter rousing ­ this year he is a man with a mission. Since he feels the need to prove to his dad that the boy done good, the comic has set himself the task of learning a new skill each day this August in Edinburgh. Things like changing a plug, cooking more than an egg ­ the sort of things that would make anyone's old dad proud. This evening, things take a sophisticated turn when a representative of the Mull Historical Society makes a surprise appearance to jump up on stage to show Amos how to write a song on the piano. Provocative, thoughtful and wickedly funny. Nick Awde

And In The End C Venue - Set in the moments between the shooting of John Lennon and his death, Alexander Marshall's play finds the musician in a kind of limbo in which he is required to tell the story of his life to the unseen presence of Death himself. What follows is for most people familiar material that might be summarised as Liverpool, Beatles and Yoko, though some might not know about Lennon's unhappy childhood or how stormy his second marriage was. Though he is supported by two performers identified as Gatekeepers, who make brief appearances as various figures in his past, the play is essentially an extended monologue for Lennon, divided into sections identified with the stages of relating to death - denial, anger, etc. Little is made of that structure, the autobiography being continuous, nor does the author develop the interesting idea that Lennon could never get the sound of screaming fans out of his head. Valentine Pelka wears the granny glasses and captures Lennon's rapid-fire speech patterns, though his version of Lennon's throw-away wit occasionally comes closer to the sound of Spike Milligan. The play will undoubtedly appeal to Lennon fans who will welcome any evocation of their hero, however little it has that is new. Gerald Berkowitz

Andromache Royal Lyceum Theatre - A new version by Luk and Peter Perceval, based on Racine and ultimately Homer and Euripides, proves to be that Edinburgh International Festival staple, a visually striking and intellectually interesting but theatrically lifeless production. After the Trojan War, Hector's widow is the captive of Pyrrhus, who loves her. But Hermione loves Pyrrhus and Orestes, who has been sent to kill Andromache's son, loves Hermione. These four - there is also a fifth character, Orestes' friend - act out what is essentially a banal love quadrangle complicated by the political setting. In a programme note, director Luk Perceval sees the key as the difference between Eastern and Western concepts of love, but it seems rather to be a matter of gender differences. For the women all is simple - Hermione wants Pyrrhus, and Andromache wants to be true to Hector's memory - while the men are torn between love and honour and repeatedly vacillate and reverse themselves. To stress the knife-edge dangers of the situation, the actors are restricted to a narrow walkway about six feet above a stage strewn with broken glass, and all five are always present, supposedly offstage characters continuing to act out their feelings or interplay. But actual physical movement is minimal. Andromache and the fifth character hardly change position for the entire play, and only Hermione, repeatedly throwing herself at Pyrrhus and having to be wrestled off, visibly displays much passion. The coldness of the production is added to by amplifying the actors' voices in a way that flattens them, so that it is frequently difficult to tell who is speaking. The end result is a production that illustrates the play's themes without ever making them come alive. Gerald Berkowitz

The Andy Warhol Syndrome Pod Deco - Bored with the label that she is the 'first and only woman to win the Perrier', Jenny Eclair has joined forces with co-writer Julie Balloo and director Chris George to put together her own theatrical monologue. And so she leads us into the world of Carol Fletcher, a 44 year old slimming champion and reality TV celebrity from Dewsbury with the 'flippin' fuckin'' catchphrase. We meet Carol just after her own fifteen minutes is up and follow her on a downward spiral of loss and loneliness. But in Eclair's boisterous rendition this journey of resilient denial and chain-smoking bitchiness can only end in a triumph of sorts. The writing combines Eclair's trademark foulmouthed wit on stilettos at turbo speed with Balloo's knack for a clever narrative. Past and present chase each other here in a way that is both revealing and deeply satisfying and George paces all of this carefully so to make the sting in the tail work a treat. It's a birthday bash gone wrong in fact rather than any particular instance of gratification, but the revenge is sweet and it will be taken even for the sake of another brief moment in the limelight. Exploring the nature of fame, its cost, and the thin line that separates it from notoriety, The Andy Warhol Syndrome is both an entertaining condemnation of the times we live in and a wistful tribute to the world of show business. Gone are the times of diamonds, mink and pearls and the barmen who won't kiss and tell, but you can tell true talent faster than you can say 'flip' and it is here to stay for longer than fifteen minutes. So brace yourselves for if anyone's staying, Jenny Eclair is. Duska Radosavljevic

Dan Antopolski - A Whim Away Pleasance - This year's Antopolski concept is honesty. Honesty about the stand-up's craft, which sounds a bit boring really. But Antopolski's twist is defining comic art as a combination of lying and boasting ­ so the more honest he is, the taller the stories get, and the funnier things get as we race to work out what is fact and what isn't. Cue a breath-taking cycle of whoppers about the comedian's life to date, covering subjects as diverse as sub-contracting child-rearing to prostitutes, taking a holiday job as rhyme-finder to the king of thieves in Antwerp and the trials and tribulations of flat-sharing with his multiple personalities. Antopolski does not create any great comic vistas and he could focus more on spinning more plausible yarns to keep us guessing and so add to the suspense. But no matter, the audience hangs on his every nuance ­ verbal and physical ­ while, like an intellectual Harry Hill, he piles up the asides and non sequiturs fast and furious in between. A magnificently febrile mind means too that Antpolski comes out with far more material than the format demands as he postulates using photos on a Rubik's cube to generate new sexual positions to put the oomph back into a relationship, analysing the predicate calculus implied by No Woman No Cry or the comparative phonetics of jokes on a whiteboard. Learning has never been this much fun. Nick Awde

A Paradise It Seems Bedlam - Wordshed Productions, a North Carolina-based group, offers this evocative staging of three stories by John Cheever, chronicler of upper-middle class American angst in the 1940s and 1950s. Using modified Story Theatre techniques, with the actors speaking the narrative in character, they stage O Youth and Beauty, about a businessman whose life and self-image revolve around his retaining his athletic prowess; The Wrysons, about a couple who cope with their fears in secret and separate ways; and The Swimmer, about a man whose journey through neighbours' pools leads him to painful self discoveries. Clever staging - the swims are represented by glasses of water thrown in his face - and some fine performances, particularly by Hannah Blevins as the athlete's wife and Chris Chiron as the swimmer, make you want to go back and read Cheever - and that's a compliment. Gerald Berkowitz

The Aquatic Ape Lift at the Pleasance - It's actually performed in a full-scale replica of a typical lift, a space perhaps 2 meters square, holding no more than 14 audience members - one of a series of half-hour plays commisssioned for this unique space. In this one the doors open to admit a couple in scuba gear, and we are in a diving cage as they go shark-watching. We soon learn that the magic has gone out of their marriage and each has plans to feed the other to the sharks. Black comedy mixes with the serious question of which predator is the deadlier, and the claustrophobic setting, in which they're constantly swimming through us and pointing us out as passing fish, adds to the fun.Gerald Berkowitz

Ash Wednesday - Stop Drinking Roman Eagle Lodge - Dan Bird's 25-minute play offers an original, surprising and sharp-edged look at friendship, gender roles and sexual power politics. Almost uniquely among fringe plays, one could wish for it to be longer and its characters, situation and ironic humour more fully developed. Two friends have a Shrove Tuesday tradition of pancakes followed by a night of drinking. But Miles missed the meal to be with his girlfriend, and Russell has brought his girl to the booze-up. No points for guessing that they're the same girl, but that's the last predictable thing about the situation. While Russell remains totally oblivious to the problem, Miles is no better off for knowing. Torn between friendship and honour on the one hand, and sheer lust for Anna on the other, he is helpless as she extends the torment mercilessly, even to the point of floating the teasing idea of a threesome. By the end there is no question at all of who is and has always been in charge, as Anna declares her position, her motivation and her intentions. Despite the play's brevity, each of the actors effectively develops and presents the textures of their characters. Mike Thompson's Russell is romantic and earnest without being foolish, Adam Jackson-Smith's Miles a man whose heart says do-the-right-thing to a groin that isn't listening, and Jane Witheford's Anna Pinteresque in her cool and enigmatic sexual cruelty. Gerald Berkowitz

Baglady Diverse Attractions - Frank McGuinness's 1985 script was something of a pioneering attempt to humanise the sort of half-mad homeless woman we all turn our faces away from in the street, and also one of the first contributions by a major writer to the fringe genre of solo shows. If it has aged somewhat in some of its construction, working a little too hard and obviously to tell its not-too-original story, its subject is still real and its opportunity for an actress to inhabit it still potent. As the dotty old tramp babbles on, we sense her fighting to break through the defenses her own mind set up against a painful truth of abuse and infanticide, and the strongest aspect of Joy McBrinn's performance is the sense that there is an intelligence still in there under all the mental handicaps, as well as a strength and courage that just might someday help her find her way back to sanity. Indeed, since McBrinn plays her through much of the hour with the physical mannerisms and vocal inflections of the small child she was when last she was happy, and switches to a more adult voice near the end, we may be witnessing the first steps to recovery in the play itself, a touch that makes this modest production particularly moving. Gerald Berkowitz

Ballet West USA Edinburgh Playhouse - Billed simply as 'romance, comedy, tragedy', this retrospective triptych of Antony Tudor's work restaged by Ballet West is quite openly intended as an event of conservative mass appeal, catering for a carefully considered variety of preferred genres. Technically too, the admirers of muslin-clad pas de deux will find the opening piece The Leaves are Fading a quadruple pleasure, whereas those with more robust taste can whet their appetite on the Follies Bergere-inspired finale in Offenbach in the Underworld. This third offering of the evening also represents the premiere of Ballet West's revival and an interesting counterpoint to the preceding two pieces. Even though chronologically Offenbach (1954) sits in the middle of Tudor's career, it is in every way more boisterous and adventurous than the 1936 defining success of his youth, Lilac Garden, set to a Romantic score by Chausson, or the nostalgic meditation from the tail end of his career, The Leaves (1975). Aesthetically, these two are also more filmic, framed in subdued colours, and featuring the prototypes of 'graceful ballerinas' as well as Nureyev-type dancers with flowing scarves and pale tights, lower limbs on full display. The romantic theme runs through all three pieces - in The Leaves a woman reminisces about the liaisons of her youth and in dramatically more accomplished Lilac Garden we witness the complexities involved in a marriage of convenience whereby the bride and groom are forced to forfeit their past loves. Offenbach, on the other hand, is more of a romp. The programme note tells us this colourful mating dance is set in an 1870s café but there is no story here as the flirtations are 'half-forgotten by the morning'. Just the usual kind of a night out then, but in classical terms. The same applies to the Ballet West's showcase which was graced and maybe even upstaged by a spirited musical accompaniment from the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. Duska Radosavljevic

Bang Bang You're Dead C Venue - In a play written by William Mastrosimone for American high school students, a boy who brought a rifle to school and shot five classmates is haunted by the voices of his victims crying 'Why me?' As they force him to retrace the steps that led to his attack, a familiar portrait appears as encounters with parents, teachers and a psychiatrist display the tale of a somewhat pampered middle-class boy who still feels the inevitable adolescent torments of loneliness, insecurity, uncertainty about his manhood, and resentment of those who seem to be so much happier than he. Neither the psychology nor the dramaturgy ever transcends the familiar and even cliched, but for those who have not heard it all before - which is to say, the adolescent audience to whom it is directed - it can still be both illuminating and powerful; the author reports receiving letters from young people who, recognising in the play that they are not unique, stepped back from the temptation to similar tragic action. Performances by this American high school company never transcend the limits of their age and inexperience, but the awkward touches no doubt add to a realism to which their contemporaries can respond. Gerald Berkowitz

David Benson's Haunted Stage Assembly Rooms - David Benson is a talented and attractive story-teller, but his current production is not his strongest, as his attempt at a haunting hour is weakened by a seeming uncertainty as to the tone he wants and he switches back and forth between the comic and the eerie, weakening the effect of both. After an overlong opening collecting ghost stories from the audience, Benson recounts the plot of The Turn of the Screw - or, rather of the Deborah Kerr film version, treating it with camp disdain that undercuts his attempt at a scary conclusion. That imbalance runs through the rest of the show, as the serious telling of ghostly encounters in his family is marred by broad mugging and funny voices, while an openly comic depiction of a fraudulent medium at work sets the wrong tone for the E. F. Benson horror story (which is really more a monster tale than a ghost story, anyway) that follows it. By the end, the audience has gotten so many conflicting cues that it can't be sure when Benson is being scary and when camp, so that the climactic appearance of his own personal demon falls flat. As always, Benson's own charm and audience rapport carry him far, but in this case the guiding hand of an editor or director might have made for a stronger show. Gerald Berkowitz

Between the Quiet Poles Roman Eagle Lodge - As a concept, a Faustian tale about the entertainment industry is perfectly plausible. In director-choreographer Suzanne Mackay's production of a play by Keefe Healy, the concept stretches only up to a point; we can see the ending from the word go, and yet we have to sit through 75 minutes of theatrical torture. The redemption - promised in the blurb alongside 'a story of love, lust and brutality' - arrives in the form of occasional moments of narrative or performative clarity. Dennis Smith as violent night-club owner Lester and Lauren Anne Martin as mysterious red district medical worker Marla are reasonably interesting to watch. But the rest is a melange of incomprehensible interactions, ineffective make-believe, occasionally disastrous direction and soppy sentimentalism, set to an eerie background sound-scape. Fair enough, we're at a sordid end of the entertainment industry, but if we cannot be made to care for this particular Faust or his Margaret, then surely the whole point is lost. Duska Radosavljevic

Bill Shakespeare's Italian Job Gilded Balloon Teviot (reviewed at an earlier festival) - The movie that is such a British favourite that it's gone beyond cult is combined with some very witty cut-and-paste Shakespeare quoting in a comedy that ultimately runs out of steam but has a lot of fun before it does. It really helps if you know the Michael Caine heist movie by heart, in order to follow what passes for a plot and to get all the in-jokes; and if you happen to know your Shakespeare extensively enough to spot that virtually every line is filched from somewhere in the Collected Works, all the better. Anyway, there are three Minis onstage, and bits and pieces of Romeo & Juliet, The Merchant of Venice and Twelfth Night woven into the story, and the cleverness keeps the thing afloat for at least two-thirds of its length. Gerald Berkowitz

Bima and Bramati Traverse - Side by side in a hospital or nursing home, Bima and Bramati play at being Vladimir and Estragon, speculating on who they are, whether they exist and whether there is anything outside their limited range of vision. Although totally immobile, they hit upon the idea of an excursion into the corridor, to look out a window and see if there really is a world out there. The bulk of the play is devoted to their plans for this imaginary voyage, which they treat like a polar exploration, stockpiling sugar cubes from their morning coffee as provisions, and facing and finding solutions to the problems of warmth, obstacles and possible discovery. Alternately invigorated by the challenge and despairing at its enormity, their moods are reflected in a pattern of supporting or turning against each other. Tord Akerbaek's play unforcedly implies that all of life is like that, social interaction being built on shared goals and the imagining of a project more important than its achievement. Limited by life support systems that make them look like mermaids, the two performers do all their acting from the waist up. In a role written as male, Maureen Allan invests the more inventive and optimistic Bramati with a woman's instinctive patronization of a mere man, while Nicholas Hope colours Bima's cynicism with a believable touch of mysogeny. Gerald Berkowitz

Biographies in a Bag (program 1) Assembly Rooms - Lynn Ferguson has written three monologues to be delivered by three actresses in a single program, but the exigencies of fringe scheduling require that they be presented in rolling groups of two at a time. In the set I saw, Rachel Ogilvy plays a Glasgow girl who is Doris Day's biggest fan, gradually letting us discover that the attraction is the contrast between the romantic world of 1950s Hollywood and her own disappointing life. Her story is juxtaposed to selections from Day's autobiography, in which she describes an unhappy period in her life with a matter-of-fact perkiness that suggests that it is not so much what happens as how you cope that matters. The second monologue has Lynn Ferguson herself as a 38-year-old new mother overwhelmed by the power and responsibility of motherhood and drawn to the pessimistic philosophy of Schopenhauer in hopes that it will explain how scary the world seems. What she discovers is considerably less wisdom than she can get from her own mother and her own motherly instincts, in a piece that is both wise and witty, and played with moving authority and conviction. Gerald Berkowitz

Biographies in a Bag (program 2) Assembly Rooms - You only see two of the three blondes at a time, but from what I've seen today you're unlikely to leave the theatre lacking in anything, least of all good humour. Admittedly Lynn Ferguson is earthier and more thought provoking than her fluffy Geordie counterpart (no pun intended), but Donna Air is a girls' girl and very charming at that. The idea is that the three ladies have been assembled to relate their own biographical material by focusing on other biographies of their choice. As Ferguson puts it 'you're only interested in somebody else's biography through how it relates to you'. So, Air wanted to become Fay Wray when she was growing up in native Gosforth and attending a convent school, and she ended up both becoming an actress and meeting her own King Kong. Meanwhile, in the aftermath of giving birth to her son, Ferguson is contemplating Schopenhauer. Hers is a fine playlet in its own right, competently constructed and ranging from ballsy stand up to most moving drama and back to satire again. Within 30 minutes she manages to lay her heart bare and sew it back up again in philosophical comedy of the highest standard. Air, on the other hand, takes a consistently confessional tone and an affable 'naughty but nice' manner tinged with TV presenter efficiency, to come up with a well-timed verdict that 'the biggest monsters we have to meet in life rarely come in a gorilla form'. Produced by the steel lady Karen Koren herself, this triptych looks like a real triumph of femininity and womanhood, proving once again that wit and success have nothing to do with gender, subject matter or even hair colour. Duska Radosavljevic

The Blind Fiddler Assembly Rooms - This new play from Marie Jones, author of Stones in His Pockets, is predictably filled with Irish local colour and a bittersweet attitude toward the power of family and tradition on the one hand and the need to deal with the real world on the other. In 1950s Belfast a Catholic pub owner resists his wife's desire to move up the social ladder and push their children to excel, because he knows it will distance him from them and deprive them of their roots. And indeed that is what happens, because the play is framed in the present, after his death, as his son has no family feeling at all and his daughter goes in search of the father from whom she feels painfully disconnected. There are few surprises of plot or character - the father represents all that is traditional and life-affirming, the mother all that is practical and soul-destroying - but the journey is a warm and frequently humorous one. Gerald Berkowitz

Bombshells Assembly Rooms - Class tells. So does real talent and star quality. The one-woman show in which the actress plays a string of different characters is a fringe staple, but Caroline O'Connor makes it all seem new and delightfully alive. O'Connor, who looks more like Betty Boop than any living human being has a right to, and who has more energy than Starbucks' annual output of caffeine, introduces and instantly inhabits four very different characters in this script by Joanna Murray-Smith. From the bride-to-be bouncing off the walls in a mix of excitement and dread, to the teenager determined to win a talent contest even if she has to invent a new act seconds before going onstage, O'Connor fills the stage with her vitality while catching all the humour and unforced touches of pathos. In between, we get the run-off-her-feet guilt-ridden-because-she's-not-superwoman mother (and if I have any criticism at all it is that this one sounds a bit too much like the bride) and a quieter Alan Bennettish look at a widow thrilled by the improbability of a sexual fling. Without question one of the high points of the festival. Gerald Berkowitz

Boogie on Down With The Happy Gang C Venue - The Happy Gang are all at sea. Nicky, Spatz and Mr P are doing a concert on a cruise ship and need to give an absolutely brilliant performance or else their agent won't be impressed enough to book them on a world tour. Can the kids help them? Will the panto dame chef cook up a storm? Will the pirate ghost frighten everyone away? Will everyone have a good time? Finding out the answer to all of the above is a fun-filled voyage for all the family as the Happy Gang - Alan Penman, Allan Dunn, Nicola Auld - sing and dance their way to stardom with lots of jokes old and new in between and even more slapstick. Singalong and clapalong at every possible moment, the songs are some of the most infectious songs on the circuit as everyone fills their lungs to shout out 'Eee-ooo!' in Don't Be Shy, Shout the Jungle Cry or joining in with Ahoy There Me Hearties! One the many highlights is the rock'n'roll polar bear complete with leather jacket. He then teaches everyone how to be rock'n'rollers ­ the cue, of course, for a rousing version of Bare Necessities. The gang also have a wining way with their young volunteers, dressing them up as cooks utterly thrilled to be up onstage banging pots, while the disco closer literally has everyone dancing in the aisles. Nick Awde

Borge Again! Assembly Rooms - Not only a virtuoso piano player, Victor Borge was also a brilliant comic who effortlessly used his stand-up from the piano stool act to reach out to audiences across the world. Though the US-based Danish comedian worked right up to his recent death and was once the world's highest paid entertainer, his star has sadly been allowed to wane in this country. Until now that is. Step forward Rainer Hersch, comic and piano player whose own star will continue to be in the ascendent for quite some time to come. In this one-man show, Hersch apprises us of the Great Dane's life and how he came to epitomise classical music comedy. It is a fascinating and entertaining story as Hersch alternates between his career and Borge's, doing a more than passable imitation of the Dane's laconic cipped drawl. And so begins the fascinating, intertwined biographies of both men, laced with verbal and musical gags and slapstick beloved of both. On the grand piano Hersch runs through the canon of tinkly classics favoured by Borge and his audiences ­ schmaltzy but showbizzy, the more sentimental and florid the better, And so there are oodles of Chopin, Mozart, Tchaikovsky and even Gershwin. Each gets the Borge treatment, where chords get inverted to segue unexpectedly but logically into an Abba number, or a strange piece beccomes instantly regonisable when Hersch realises he is reading the sheet music upside down. Unlike so many similar shows, Hersch has wisely invested in a director's input and Guy Masterson's polish guarantees the show's pace and longevity. A little more work needs to be done, however. While Hersch captures Borge's wit and flair with precision, he fails to get across his subject's physical presence, and Hersch's musical interpolations from his own shows, while excellent as always, are out of place here, being more Hoffnung-inspired. Crucially, Hersch fails to end with a complete piece on the piano, thus robbing himself of the real curtain closer both audience and show desire. But these are but superficial cavills and should not detract from a show that is long overdue and that deserves to tour worldwide. Nick Awde

The Bridge Old College Quad - Chantal McCormick and Jennifer Paterson are not only the performers with a rare accomplishment at aerial dance, but their acting skills too are honed to the level of being able to move the audience emotionally from an unusual distance. True, we're aided through their characters' horrific emotional journeys by way of a video beam relaying close-ups of their faces. But the choice of lyrical subject matter is a strange one within a form of performance usually associated with epic, celebratory displays. Originating from a war-torn landscape, I have a problem with Roxana Pope and Paul Pinson's choice of narrative material on this occasion. The wars from all over the world are customarily exploited in drama for the sentimental value that they generate. Yet it is rare, and I would say morally problematic to make a spectacle out of war. Certainly, Boilerhouse pursue their project with due seriousness and aesthetic commitment, and I sincerely hope they travel far in enlightening audiences about the problems of war by means of search-lights and fireworks. Duska Radosavljevic

Arnold Brown - Life Tips The Stand - Veteran comic Arnold Brown could never be accused of being dynamic or exciting. He meanders his way through a joke, mumbles, pauses in mid-sentence as if having lost his way, and frequently swallows the punchline.. He speaks so slowly that any other comic could get in three jokes by the time he reaches the end of his first. Sometimes the wait is worth it, as in a riff that begins with the warning that soft drugs lead to jazz. Far too often, though, it isn't. An extended build-up to the idea of sending the annual Orange March to New York fizzles out, as does a similar foray into the concept of adopting dolphins. Elsewhere, Brown wanders into the subject of Israel, finds no jokes at all there, and wanders out again. He frequently seems unable to remember his next bit, and returns repeatedly to the opening gambit of asking audience members what they do for a living, though in no case is he able to build or recall a relevant joke, and he has so little sense of how the hour is progressing that he needs someone to call out the time to him at intervals. In a younger comic all these failings could be chalked up to inexperience and not having yet learned timing and joke construction. In Brown's case it looks more like a matter of coasting on his reputation and a reserve of audience affection he may be in danger of using up. Gerald Berkowitz

Rebecca Carrington - Me and My Cello Pleasance - As she'll tell you in this hour of virtuosity, Rebecca Carrington has been there and done it all. Well, almost. Ever since losing an international cello competition to a bunch of familiar-looking musical nerds, she and her instrument have given a go to every compatible career path, from automated telephone services around the world to teaching, ship entertainment and Hollywood. In other words, Carrington's business sense is as flexible as her ultra-supple facial muscles and her perfect pitch has found a good use in her rendition of languages and accents from all over the world. And that's only half of it, for her cello is utterly cosmopolitan too, impersonating every possible ethnic string instrument and not even stopping at bagpipes either. She calls him Joe and tells us all about their intimate life of many years. And Joe nods, dances and puffs on an occasional post-coital cigarette. True, Joe's strings are stronger than Rebecca's vocal cords, but she makes up for an occasional hitch with a magnificent show that is an addition long-overdue to the comedy scene swamped by uniformity. Duska Radosavljevic

Catalpa Roxy - Donal O'Kelly's one-man play is based on historical fact in its tale of a New England whaler hired to help some Irish nationalists escape from an Australian prison, though O'Kelly complicates and to some degree enriches it by placing it in the incongruous frame of a modern screenwriter trying to peddle his movie script about the story. So Michael Cassady plays both the writer and, as he acts out his image of the movie, all the roles in the story. The best thing about this device is the staging, which has the writer turning the furnishings of his apartment into the film's sets and props, with sheets becoming sails, a bit of paper towel serving as a map, and the like. The weakest is that it is written into the character that he is not much of an actor, and his portrayals of the historical characters lapse into the exaggerated and camp as often as they are done seriously. The play does have moments of dramatic power and evocative beauty, and one can't fault the energy and commitment Cassady brings to it, but the constant shifts in tone within the tale and of focus between the tale and the teller's staging ingenuity keep the piece from hanging together enough to be fully effective. Gerald Berkowitz

Jo Caulfield - Role Model Pleasance Dome - Jo Caulfield's amiable personality carries her hour of stand-up more than any special strength to her material. Judging, rightly, that she attracts a slightly older audience, she quickly wins them over by establishing a comic Us-Them relationship to the under-25s out there, and the occasional slightly naughty joke is thereafter quickly dismissed as more appropriate to Them. The core of the hour is the development of two topics, pet peeves and role models. Oddly, she offers very little of her own opinion on either. Rather, for each, she has surveyed friends and reads out their selections, and for each she also invites audience additions. This means that a good chunk of her show comes from sources other than herself, and a good chunk is read rather than spoken extemporaneously. She continues relying on found material when she turns to an American guidebook to Scotland and reads out some of its more ridiculous errors. The resulting sense that there is comparatively little of her in the hour is its biggest weakness, while her easy and unthreatening rapport with the audience is its greatest strength. Gerald Berkowitz

Chaucer's Cock Tale C Venue - Dedicated to fusing classical and contemporary performance vocabulary, After Midas Theatre Company has theatrically translated Chaucer's Nun's Priest's Tale into the context of the 1950s celebrity lifestyle. Although the production almost exclusively utilises the original text, aesthetically it is a melange of Restoration comedy, the stage musical and contemporary dance with some fairly graphic sexual and gustatory naturalism. Narratively, we have a multiple Oscar-winner led astray from his high profile marriage to a cookery queen. It all ends of course in a kind of kiss and tell debacle for the mistress that would be the envy of some contemporary football husbands. But then again this is the 1950s as we're told by the programme note, and further still what would Chaucer have known about the possibility of divorce? Bad wigs and creased dresses aside, this is a worthy exercise in accessibility to the classics and will probably delight a wide range of the audience, at least in parts. Duska Radosavljevic

Chronicles - A Lamentation Aurora Nova at St Stephens - If nothing else, this is the year's 'best show by word of mouth'. I have repeatedly met instant devotees going to see it again, and evidently there is much to admire in these 50 minutes. The seven-strong ensemble is technically unrivalled, not least because they've matched their vocal skills to those of their bodies trained in the supreme Polish tradition of physical theatre. The fact that they personally come from diverse cultural backgrounds is also a testament to the strength and clarity of the company's technique which exists as a pedagogical discipline too, certified by a British university. Yet their audiences are as universal as their material. Combining the ancient epic of Gilgamesh with the traditional polyphonic singing from Albania, Song of the Goat have created a layered atmospheric experience, rather than a straightforward narrative. Consequently, the audiences return to admire the show's various facets - fire and darkness, harmony and discord, ritual and lunacy - and one particular instance of silent, flawless capoeira on a wooden table. You have been warned. Duska Radosavljevic

The City Club Pleasance Dome - Glenn M. Stewart's drama with music is consciously and proudly a catalogue of film noir conventions, kept from slipping into dead cliche by the unironic sincerity the cast bring to it and the first-rate music that punctuates its action. An idealistic guy pours all his money into a nightclub dedicated to bringing good music, unwatered drinks and a fair deal to his customers. But almost immediately he faces the facts of life. The mob wants a piece of the action, a corrupt cop demands a share for his protection, the bartender is dealing dope and the chorus girls turning tricks, and before our hero knows it, he's just an employee in a crooked gambling den. All the music is performed from the nightclub stage, with band and singers delivering some solid blues and boogie-woogie along the way. It's a very polished production, and clearly has ambitions beyond Edinburgh, and there's no reason why it shouldn't be a touring success. Gerald Berkowitz

Cloning Adam C Cubed - Warning bells sometimes ring when you read in a fringe show's programme that author, producer and star are the same person, and Andrew Shepherd's short play does not escape the feel of the earnestly amateur. In the very near future a scientist is recruited into a big budget project to clone a human being. After missing several deadlines the team declares success and then dumps the boffin, raising the child in secret until they regretfully announce his death. Some years later the young man, who did not die, accosts the scientist, threatening to go public with revelations about the project that all involved would prefer to keep secret. Andrew Shepherd legitimately uses the timely subject of cloning as the vehicle for a study in scientific morality and the human frailties of scientists, though neither the questions he asks, such as whether the mere fact that we can do something means that we should, nor the discoveries he makes, such as that scientists are not immune to the siren calls of fame or sex, are particularly original; nor is his dramaturgy sophisticated. Shepherd as the scientist and Carly Ramsdale as his seductive recruiter are most successful in rounding out their barely sketched-in characters, in what is more an idea for a play than a fully developed script. Gerald Berkowitz

The Composer, The Singer, The Cook and the Sinner King¹s Theatre - The selectors of the Edinburgh International Festival are subject from time to time to strange waves of enthusiasm, inviting favorite artists back again and again even when audiences and critics do not share their fascination. Author/director/designer/company manager Carles Santos has been here before with work very similar to his current striking but totally opaque adventure in visual and musical pictures. In no particular order, here is some of what happens. Two stagehands throw a pianist bodily against the keyboard, producing discordant chords while a soprano writhes orgasmically on top of the instrument as she sings. A man and woman simulate intercourse in various positions on a platform dragged around the stage by a crawling dancer. A dozen giant cooking pots are rolled onstage, sit there for a while, and then roll off. In a gag that was old when Monty Python did it thirty years ago, a dancer crawls across the floor as if scaling a vertical cliff. The tenor, wearing an enormous spurting phallus, sings as he looks up the soprano's dress. In the private symbolic world of Carles Santos, all this has meaning and some relevance to the music of Rossini, which accompanies many of the visuals. A recurring image is of water. The first two minutes of the show consist of a lighting effect that simulates single drops of water falling very slowly from the rafters. The same effect returns later, allowing the soprano and mezzo to give the impression of catching the drops as they sing. Then the tenor, in drag, has real water poured on him. The piano spurts water into the hollow busts of other composers. A grainy black and white film shows water being poured on various body parts. In this context one cannot even be sure whether the dancer slipping and falling on the wet stage is intentional. What it all means only Carles Santos might possibly know, and he definitely has no interest in sharing any insights with the audience. The show ends with fairly straight-forward renditions of a duet for the women and a solo for the tenor, and they are lovely. But for most of its length, this resembles nothing so much as a 1960s-era Happening, and what could be more theatrically dated and uninteresting than that? Gerald Berkowitz

The Consultants Pleasance Dome - Winners of the Perrier Best Newcomers Award in 2002, this buttoned-down trio give the impression of chartered accountants on holiday, but bring a nicely skewed sense of the absurd to formulaic sketch comedy. If the rapidly rhyming auctioneer is a variant on a routine as old as music hall, the Machiavelli sitcom has a whiff of the Pythons about it, and a song about a crafty undertaker is stolen bodily from a recent men's mag joke of the month, still there is plenty of fresh and unexpected material. A sketch of dreamy New Age types playing Monopoly while rejecting all the trappings of money and property takes a stock situation into fresh comic territory, and when, in the middle of a hostage sketch that is going someplace else, they take off their blindfolds after four years and discover that there has been a toilet in their cell all along, the joke catches you by surprise to extra effect. A recurring trope has them revisiting an earlier sketch with one more punchline, as when we discover the Monopoly players beginning to get the hang of capitalism. With the most conventional material still funny and the best sequences funny in highly original ways, the hour passes quickly. Gerald Berkowitz

Cris Corcoran - Welsh Assembly Pleasance - Chris Corcoran is Welsh ­ important to know because his mission is to convert as many Festival punters as he can to becoming Welsh (there's even a signed certificate to collect at the end). He is also very funny, at least if this hour of barely controlled mayhem is to go by. Inducements to turn Taffy include Welsh buns and ogling Kylie Minogue's bum. Corcoran refers to a Welshometer to gauge the audience's Welshness throughout the show while promoting as role models numerous celebrities with a Cymru connection, no matter how tenuous, hence the Kylie connection. What follows is a whistlestop cultural tour of the hills of Wales. Music involves a Mexican wave while singing Delilah at the top of our voices. Language involves more singing, this time of partly phoneticised ('ewe' instead of 'you', you get the idea) power ballads. But, lest anyone think they have stumbled into a sinister nationalistic karaoke rally, there are more practical issues such as a list of sexual dos and don'ts (mostly dos) from the valleys. Corcoran is disarmingly funny and lives dangerously to prove it. By happily demolishing the wall with his audience within the first few minutes, all he is left with is his wit, his audience and, of course, his Welshness. Presented with proposition like this, how could you refuse to be converted? Nick Awde

Crooked Cowgate Central - American Catherine Trieschmann's lovely little play is a moving and comic salute to adolescence and that moment in a girl's life when questions of sex, friendship, faith, and rebellion are almost overwhelming, and the most loving and understanding of mothers is confusingly both refuge and foe. When mother and daughter move to small town Mississippi, the very sensitive child's combination of quick mind and social insecurity compounds her disorientation. Overwhelmed at making her first female friend, she announces that she must be a lesbian; visiting her first Pentecostal church, she is in a rush to be saved. Her mother does her best to keep up with all this, but has demons of her own to conquer. If at moments the daughter seems a bit too eloquent for a fourteen-year-old, the mother a bit too patient and understanding, and the friend too obviously a plot device, these are acceptable fictions in the service of the play's poetic and psychological truths, which are rich, warm and satisfying throughout. The three performances could not be bettered, with Shelly Stover's bright and frightened heroine particularly endearing. The author has not quite found her ending, and the last scene, moving as it is, is rushed and cluttered. But it does not spoil a play that has long since won us over with its truth, humour and honesty. Gerald Berkowitz

Barry Cryer and Ronnie Golden - Men in Beige Gilded Balloon Teviot - Playing to audiences predominantly as white-haired as they, these two veteran performers offer a low-key program of songs and jokes simultaneously acknowledging and mocking their mature image and appeal. A song about rock singers eligible for bus passes and a salute to stairlifts are typical, along with jokes about aged streakers and Hitler's rumoured testicular deficiencies. Barry Cryer serves as compere, providing a satisfying string of one-liners and groan-inducing puns - typically, the Scottish frontiersman Hawkeye The Noo - and occasionally joining singer-musician Golden in song. Other highlights include the title number, a mock-cowboy song about what might be called Queer Eye for the Straight Cowpoke, and a closing song called Unplugged which turns out not to be about guitar styles but do-not-resuscitate orders. Ronnie Golden is adept at a variety of instruments and singing styles, and Cryer has a deep baritone that can suggest Johnny Cash, along with a polished dry delivery of his understated jokes. Together they give their bus pass holding fans just what they came for. Gerald Berkowitz

Dance Monkey Boy Dance Gilded Balloon Caves - This quintet of Glaswegian comics - Raymond Mearns, Joe Heenan, Sandy Nelson, Des McLean and Allen Chalmers - build about half of their act on improvisation, much of it of the Whose Line Is It sort, in which one or two of them are challenged to cope with an audience-suggested situation or limitation. So we get the party whose host has to guess who his guests are, the scene that has to be played in ever-changing styles, the scene to be played entirely in song, and other staples of the genre, generally pulled off with the success of a cast who have heard many of these suggestions before and who have worked together and can pick up each other's cues. Scripted material includes a brief solo spot for each, with the stunt man proud of his only slightly dangerous tricks and the double-speed keyboard version of Bohemian Rhapsody working better than an overly-stretched imitation of Billy Connolly doing Ronnie Corbett's sit-down act. Several videotaped sequences prove less successful, not least because the combination of Glaswegian accents and a dodgy sound system renders them nearly unintelligible, but a parody of Christopher Walken's appearance in a music video is telling. Gerald Berkowitz

Dancing With Dragons C venue - As far as children's shows go, the good old storytelling format with live music and quirky gimmicks is always guaranteed to do the trick. There is a fair deal of slapstick comedy, occasional non-threatening audience participation and some really beautiful singing tying together nine fables, myths and witty folktales from various parts of Pacific Asia in this colourful offering from Singapore. The four young actors - Joni Tham, Adelynn Tan, Jonathan Lum, and Eleanor Tan - accompanied by three musicians on an array of authentic instruments, infuse the show with a lot of good vibe, making a swift and effortless rapport with the audience and removing all cultural barriers. Placing the quality of communication above reverence to the material, they also make these stories sound contemporary and perfectly accessible. It takes a while before we actually get to the dragons of the title, and even though there is much un to be had along the way, it feels like the show could easily have lost ten minutes. However, the kids don't seem to mind the length and that's all that matters. Duska Radosavljevic

Dazed and Abused Sweet at the Apex - Kinvara Balfour has written a play in which she plays a young woman named Kinvara who interacts with characters who bear the same names as their actors and who, we are told in a prologue, are based on them. One of them is a psychiatrist playing a psychiatrist and written into the script just in case any of the cast have identity crises. The plot involves a date which is interrupted by the guy's doctor uncle and blokish neighbour and the girl's depressed friend. After various cross-flirtings, the date and depressed friend seem to be hitting it off when the shrink stops things because they're straying from the script. And then, because (we're told) time's up, the play ends. What we have here is a beginning writer's character notes and back-stories, admirable exercises as part of the playwriting process, but not the play itself, which she has yet to write. Gerald Berkowitz

Derevo - Tanya Khabarova: A Reflection St Stephen's - On her own, Tanya Khabarova is every bit as inspiring and entertaining as Derevo itself. It is the same aesthetic, the same disciplined performance and depth of stage imagery - only in a solo edition. In her exploration of 'the secret place between light and darkness known only to the Creator', Khabarova unravels a series of myths of creation. From shamanistic dances via the Greeks and the Bible to Darwin himself - the ough not in that order - Khabarova assumes countless shapes and forms, twisting and turning her limbs like magical wands and laying her whole body and soul on the altar of her art. Though her choreography is not impeccable, she moves in a measured and refined way whether she is scampering around the stage naked, hovering in the air or donning evening dresses and pyrotechnical headgear. It makes all the sense for a woman to contemplate creation and having completed her beautiful stage picture - with the constellation of Sagittarius on the ceiling, wings on a swing and a cross/totem/tree centre stage, she lets the audience admire her creation for a long time before they spring to their feet. She modestly receives the rapturous applause, nodding at her 'tree'. Duska Radosavljevic

Dinks II: Mouthbreathin' Pleasance - A recipe for instant laughter: take three talented hard-working comics, mix them up, plonk them on a sofa, tell them it's the backwoods of deepest Canada, stir up an unfeasible plot, then sit back and enjoy. Part Odd Couple, part Deliverance, deadpan Dan Antopolski bounds on to explain how he has ended up in smalltown Alberta, adopted by gorgeously loopy Tony Law and the sinister but also loopy Craig Campbell. One day Antopolski, as the family wage earner, announces he has lost his job and now they all need to make some cash. The ensuing mayhem is is a mini-masterpiece of character comedy. The one-liners are fast and furious, and running gags abound, including a clever reprise of working inside and outside the box where a bemused Campbell loses sight of the others each time they jump out to address the audience. I admit I was perhaps the only audience member killing himself rather than merrily guffawing at Law's winsome tale of a 14-year killing spree of rodeo clowns in the Deep South, but it has to be one of the best comic moments in recent years. Except maybe for Campbell's epic mega-power ballad about trucker porn. Like the Marx Brothers with a bad case of cabin fever and an even worse wardrobe, the Dinks respect no genre and keep you guessing to the end. Nick Awde

Dirtnap Sweet on the Royal Mile - If ever there was a waste of talent, then this is it. Thad and Martha McQuade are obviously accomplished movers and they have some sound ideas about stagecraft, basing their stage imagery on a series of hanging buckets and a couple of weaving frames. But their 'weaving' skills are absolutely atrocious. One of the three overextended sketches, even though it involves a necrophiliac clown, is passable as a piece of dark theatrical fantasy. The rest of the hour is a nebulous collection of visual and conceptual devices fit to drive a third of its audience out of the auditorium before the end of the show. This is indeed what happened on this particular occasion, and it wasn't as though this fortunate lot missed out on anything at all. Even though I stayed till the end I'm none the wiser as to what this was all about other than some American couple gracefully indulging in their favourite bits of gibberish, music and theatrical S&M. Duska Radosavljevic

Durang Durang Underbelly - The London-based Skullduggery company offer two separate programmes, on alternate days, of short plays and sketches by American Christopher Durang. The set I saw was a mixed bag, with a couple of the six barely qualifying as revue sketches. The most successful were 1-900-desperate, about the motley group of lonely types on a telephone chat line, and the parody of Medea written with long-time Durang collaborator Wendy Wasserstein, which successfully sends up the cliches of Greek tragedy while still managing in its brief length to cock a snook at Stephen Sondheim, Tony Kushner and Oscar Wilde. A polished production that draws all it can out of uneven material. Gerald Berkowitz

Matt Dyktynski - Pole Dancer Pleasance - In this day and age the line between acting and other forms of show biz entertainment is indeed almost nonexistent. But in the case of the recently domesticated Australian actor Matt Dyktynski, Pole Dancing is a matter of pedigree rather than secondary career, and stand up comedy his true hidden talent. His Edinburgh debut is a disarmingly earnest tale of how he got 'fucked up' by his Polish father and his dancer mother originally from Blackpool. Dyktynski's well-formed routine entails tailor-made songs and shots of vodka for the audience as well as a host of naturally flowing anecdotes and punchy one-liners. To top it all, he has an excellent rapport with his audience, getting even the most timid members to play along with his favourite kinks. Mr and Mrs Dyktynski may have usurped all the possible vices leaving Matt with nothing as a means of teenage rebellion, but at least we can thank them for this brilliant hour of entertainment, in more ways than one . Duska Radosavljevic

The Egg C Central - In this 1957 play by Felicien Marceau, a young man sees the world as filled with impenetrable constructs from which he is excluded, with everything from the cliches of everyday conversation to the patterns of adultery bound by rules he is determined to learn. In the course of an alternately comic and melodramatic plot he proves himself a master of the games, literally getting away with murder. The play's two central structural devices - letting the protagonist address the audience directly, and having two performers play all the other roles - were new to French drama a half-century ago, and it is not the fault of theTall Stories company that just about every play in the fringe today employs one or both. Lacking that shock effect, the play's success must ride on its own mild and amiable comedy, and on the attractiveness of the performers. Toby Mitchell as the young man on the make has a natural ease and rapport with the audience that complements the charm he employs within the play. But Rachael Spence does little more than put her hair up and down and change funny voices as she switches among her several characters, and Michael Neale does even less than that with his. Gerald Berkowitz

The Elephant Woman Pleasance - I am a sucker for the kind of show Population 3 put on (See The Wicker Woman below), and thankfully they and similar companies have made it a fringe staple over the years - three actors playing the entire cast of a mock drama whose whole point is the tackiness of it all. So, for example, when the script requires one of the actresses to play a man, every other character she encounters makes a point of noticing that she's really a woman with a silly moustache stuck on. And when, in this parody of The Elephant Man, two performers accidentally come on with the sack over their heads, they go into a version of the great Marx Brothers mirror routine. The plot, which has something to do with the doctor falling in love with the woman even though he's never seen her face, gets lost rather quickly in the jumble of self-referential jokes, and everyone is too busy laughing to mourn it. Gerald Berkowitz

Epitaph Gilded Balloon Teviot - Ethan Sandler and Adrian Wenner offer a production that is half play, half sketch revue, with a bizarre collection of scenes and characters tied together by a loose and meandering plot. The premise is the death of a young woman who men couldn't help falling in love with, and nearest to the centre of this melange are the stories of a guy who was obsessed with her in life - to the point of buying an expensive apple tree costume and standing outside her home for days on end - and one who becomes obsessed after her death, editing answerphone messages from her to create conversations. Around them we encounter, among others, a minister who shows up at the wrong funeral, a doctor more interested in a drug company's freebies than their medicines, and some Spanish TV commercials. The two performers accomplish the constant switches of character with ease, work off each other beautifully, and keep things going at a speed and energy level other sketch comics could envy. Gerald Berkowitz

Everything You've Always Wanted to Know About the Fringe But Were Too Drunk to Ask C venue - Here a trio of Radio 4 sketchwriters serve up a slice of, well, the title says it all ­ a whistlestop tour of the Fringe that reaches back through the mists of theatrical time to its timid genesis almost 60 years ago. The journey back to the present proves as educational as it is lovingly irreverent. Dave Mounfield, Dave Mitchell and Clea Smith ­ they write, they act, they do impressions ­ have an expert turn of satire that runs close to the bone and yet is so very refreshingly comic in evoking the arcane world we all know and love. It is all here ­ from flat sharing and who gets the living room to awkward punters and a grim Edinburgh tour guide. There is a viciously funny analysis of the code of cliches within the programme, sandwiched between descriptions of American 'coffin dodgers' claiming nebulous Scottish ancestry, producers going into damage limitation after the bad notices arrive, while Craig Hill comes in for a lot of stick, undeserved I am sure. Ripping stuff even if you haven't a clue about the Fringe or the city of its residence and lots for the festival trainspotter too. Did you know, for example, that the Fringe might still be called the 'Festival Adjuncts' if they hadn't changed it by the second year? Nick Awde

Fae Lang Syne Augustine's - This lecture-cum-concert performed by an offshoot of the Ulster Scot Folk Orchestra offers a brief history of the Scottish in Northern Ireland and beyond, illustrated by samples of the community's folk music. The narration takes us rapidly from the Celts and St. Patrick, through the potato famine and mass emigration to America, to the First World War and modern Troubles; and the music ranges from wailing laments to jigs and drum-driven marches. Except for a couple of incongruous interpretive dance sequences, the performance consists of Willie Drennan sitting in front of the band and narrating the history with a nervousness and tentativeness that suggest a schoolboy reciting an imperfectly-memorised lesson. The musical segments are pleasant and occasionally striking, as when they illustrate the connection between Scot-Irish roots and American bluegrass, but many of the numbers seem to want to be played much faster than they are here, and some of the singers too obviously rely on lyrics pasted to their instruments. Clearly the performers love the music they play and the tradition from which it grew, but they have not given sufficient thought to the requirements of communicating both the music and their passion to an audience. Better prepared, better rehearsed and injected with more theatrical vitality, this modest program could satisfy undemanding audiences in schools and village halls. Gerald Berkowitz

Fanny and Faggot Lift at the Pleasance - Part of this year's all-day programme at the Lift, this 30-minute playlet is a real triumph of skill, imagination and dramatic accomplishment within the confines of two square meters. Flitting between a children's playground and a courtroom, the piece confronts us with the psychology behind and the moral problems involved in juvenile homicide. As a writer, Jack Thorne appears to be a real master of brevity and accuracy in social observation. His thirty minute script manages to capture the minutest nuances of a relationship between two ten-year-old girls as well as skilfully incorporating documentary material from Mary and Norma Bell's 1968 trial. Furthermore Sheena Irving and Elicia Daly's brilliant interpretation is entirely convincing and wonderfully communicative of the piece's inherent complexity. Their playground role-play intertwined with the court-room role-play creates a unique platform for an exploration of circumstantial evidence as well as the shifting perspectives and intricacies of our own moral judgement. That this platform is within a confined space which has the potential to release or imprison, makes this piece all the more effective in its conceit. Duska Radosavljevic

Fatboy Assembly Rooms - I have never been a fan of Ubu Roi, that seminal but almost unproducible absurdist satire on greed and power, but John Clancy's new version is far more successful than any I've seen. His Fatboy is a monster of gluttony, greed and vulgarity, stopping at nothing for instant gratification, and his wife is his match in obscene lasciviousness. In their opening scene of domestic bickering they come across as nightmare versions of Jackie Gleason's Honeymooners, with volume, violence and obscenity raised a hundredfold.. They are happy to pervert justice in a hilarious burlesque courtroom scene and, when they become king and queen of the world, to absorb all of it into their unquenchable appetites. There's an extraordinary performance of seemingly uninhibited shouting by Mike McShane, and what is doubly striking is how very little author-director Clancy has to do to turn his antihero into a metaphor for American overconsumption and vulgarity. Gerald Berkowitz

Fierce: An Urban Myth Assembly Rooms - The touring company Grid Iron has developed the most successful hip hop musical I've ever encountered or heard of, and that is no small accomplishment indeed. Part of the explanation is that, although the script is credited to Justin Young and the music to Philip Pinsky, both were developed through a series of workshops with actual Scottish street kids, and have the sound and authority of authenticity. The plot has a social outcast who happens to be both intelligent and artistic falling in with a group of fledgling graffiti taggers and pushing them to grander ambitions culminating in painting an entire train car. There are a couple of frustrated romances, threats from neighbourhood bullies and one death, but the focus is on the identity validation tagging gives the kids, which is observed and understood without moral judgment. Much of the dialogue, along with several musical set pieces, is in rap, and the graffiti scenes are staged as acrobatic dance numbers, choreographed by Allan Irvine, that capture the energy, excitement and beauty of the characters' experience in a way that recalls (though the styles are different) Jerome Robbins' dances for West Side Story. Even if hip-hop is not your cup of tea, or if you disapprove of graffiti, this production will bring you closer to an understanding of their appeal than you might think possible, and be surprisingly entertaining in the process. Gerald Berkowitz (Grid Iron subsequently won The Stage's Ensemble Acting Award for this show.)

Finding My Mother's Voice C Central - 'I survived, I sang - that's it'. These are the words of Chayela Rosenthal, a Holocaust survivor, an entertainer and author-performer Naava Piatka's mother. More a story of Sheherezade, or even a Jewish version of My Big Fat Greek Wedding, than a ponderous elegy of human suffering. More a life-affirming celebration than a solemn occasion - but that's exactly how Chayela wanted it. In this luminous autobiographical sketch, Chayela Rosenthal repeatedly steals the stage, her cackling and crackling voice breaking into an entire revue of songs, all composed by her brother Leyb. And Naava Piatka helps her along, commenting from time to time, filling in the gaps that separated her from her mother as much as they now help to bring us closer to her. With only a suitcase on the stage, Piatka takes us on entire journeys from South Africa to America and from Poland to Paris and South Africa again. Back and forth in time and through the dictionary of comic superstitions. 'When you don't have theatre - that's when you die,' states Chayela matter-of-factly, and we believe her and her daughter, who keeps her alive through theatre still. Long may she live. Duska Radosavljevic

Tim FitzHigham: In the Bath Pleasance - I'm beginning to suspect that Tim Fitzhigham may be a bit mad. Other comics sit at home writing jokes and then stand in front of a microphone delivering them. Tim goes out to risk life and limb in search of material. Last year he rowed the length of the Thames in a paper canoe for charity, and built his show around the experience. This year he decided to row across the English Channel in a bathtub, and his current show tells us all about it, from preliminary contacts with the Royal Navy and the French Coast Guard, through getting a sponsor (Connoisseurs of bathroom fittings will applaud his choice) and training with the British Olympic rowing team, to the crossing itself. I won't spoil the story except to note that he encountered both storms and supertankers at sea, and a stunt that was meant to end in early July actually finished a couple of days before he was due to open in Edinburgh. Lesser men (like me, for instance) would have found plenty of occasions to give up, but here he is, telling the whole hilarious tale (and I haven't even mentioned Ranulph Fiennes' socks, the money launderers or Bernard the rubber duck), and only occasionally with the wide-eyed intensity of the sort of person you might slowly back away from if he accosted you on the street. Gerald Berkowitz

Flop Pleasance - The American company Pig Iron specialise in physical theatre, and with this production they move into the realm of clowning. Three brightly-dressed red-nosed female clowns offer an almost wordless hour of slapstick and mime. The tall gangly one is responsible and forever trying to keep the others in line; the one in the frilly dress sees herself as an elegant diva, and the tomboy combines the innocence of Chaplin with the anarchy of Harpo. (Offered teabags, one tries to brew up a cup, one puts hers on her eyes, and one eats hers.) There's inventive and funny stuff involving bicycle pumps and a clock that makes time go backwards, though a sequence involving a flying saucer and its crew gets a bit opaque. Far more works than doesn't, and the hour goes by in a flash. Gerald Berkowitz

Forbidden C Venue - In Nazi Germany a Jewish woman living incognito is torn between the need to escape the country and her love for a German. She waits too long and is captured, leaving her lover to be haunted by her memory for decades after. Although a new play, it is thoroughly old-fashioned in its dramaturgy and heart-on-sleeve earnestness, the only indication that it wasn't written fifty years ago being that the German lover is a woman.. And that twist is not particularly underlined or stressed - if, in the course of the play, the German woman is in danger, it is strictly for harbouring a Jew, not for her own supposed decadence. And so it adds little to a play that itself has little new to tell us. Cordelia Rayner plays the Jewish woman with a combination of insight into others, such as the Jews who save themselves by betraying their neighbours, and blindness about her own danger. Clare Grogan's portrayal of a simple woman who grows in moral stature as she faces her lover's inevitable fate is weakened by a voice too weak to project even to the first rows. Jacqui Somerville's slow and rhythmless direction adds little to a play whose strengths must lie wholly in its overpowering subject. Gerald Berkowitz

4.48 Psychosis Greyfriars Kirk House - If Sarah Kane had not been the Royal Court Theatre's pet young writer and had not killed herself soon after writing these ruminations on the temptation to suicide, would this manuscript have been staged, and would it stand out from the diaries of hundreds of similarly tragically disturbed teenagers? Perhaps. Sprinkled through the sadly familiar banality of much of the writing are occasional well-written passages - the title refers to the time of day her medications leave her feeling most in control, and thus the time she plans to kill herself. More disturbing are flashes of outward-directed anger and even of humour and irony that we can recognize as qualities that might have saved her had she been able to build on them. This production divides what is essentially an unbroken monologue among three actresses and one actor playing a sympathetic but unhelpful doctor, but that does not significantly clarify or focus the rambling text or help personalise and identify its voice. There is no doubt that this document gives some insight into the confused and painful experience of its writer, but there is doubt that it makes for an effective theatre piece. Gerald Berkowitz

Julian Fox: New Spaces for Role Models Pleasance - Julian Fox takes on the persona of an affectless, humourless, personality-less train (or rather plane-) spotter sharing his obsessive fascination with Gatwick Airport and other subjects with no awareness of how uninteresting they and he are. This is obviously a very risky gambit, and Fox does not escape the trap of slipping from the presentation of a boring and uninvolving little man to being boring and uninvolving himself. Opening, after some aimless fumbling, with a tuneless song summarising the history of Gatwick, Fox shows us the map of his six-hour walk around the airport perimeter; he will punctuate the show by occasionally reading from picture postcards he wrote to himself during the excursion. He shows a videotape of himself onboard a plane and later finishing the in-flight meal he brought home, and another of walking on a beach. He sings tunelessly of driving on a motorway and of a couple he saw in a cafe in Pittsburgh. He stands silently listening to a recording of his grandmother. All this is done in the flattest and most affectless of tones, in a mode that occasionally recalls Andy Kaufman. But with no variation or development, the thin joke runs out very quickly, making much of the show as unpleasant as an hour with a real bore would be. Gerald Berkowitz

Freshness Dance Base - Never has contemporary dance had more popular appeal than with Freshmess. Drawing completely on the forms of hip-hop and break-dancing, the 6-strong ensemble has ditched the solemn gravitas and elaborate techniques of their formal training and opted for just good old fun. That said, their triptych of social dancing, disco and street-type 'breaking' is the work of proper professionals - the variety you mostly shouldn't try at home. Even if it appears casual and rough at the edges, Freshmess' secret is that they are all individuals within a tightly-knit team. Even if they are doing only a duet (though mostly it is chorus work) they give each other an equal share of the limelight before fusing back together into a chain of Contact-type routines. Their effortlessness is conjured through the fact that they also have a great sense of humour and an amiable stage presence. They simply beam their smiles and their skills across in such an infectious way that you can hardly resist the temptation to join in, which might explain why their show is selling out fast. Duska Radosavljevic

Fuse Traverse - Even the opening image of this show, a man asleep on the backs of two others, looks like physical theatre at its best. It's not about the idea, it's about the attitude. And sure enough a story unfurls at manic speed about an autistic scientist Phil (author Andrew Buckland), a global microbiological disaster and two lab rats trying to clone a human. It's A Curious Incident precisely 32 years from now, in collaboration with the MGM cartoons ­ but still physical theatre at its best. The South African Mouthpeace theatre company, winners of three Fringe Firsts 1989-1995, have returned to Edinburgh with a timely, though futuristic account of the world we live in. So, even George W. Bush XII gets a mention in this satirical take on current affairs coupled with a most entertaining lesson in genetics. The three wonderful performers are given only a screen, a frame and a retractable ladder to create a world of shifting proportions and irresistible charm. Janet Buckland's direction is both inspired and inspiring, and this is definitely a kind of show that you're likely to come across only once in every five or six years. Duska Radosavljevic

Galileo C venue - The attraction of this show was the text, an unproduced screenplay by Tom Stoppard, written in 1970 and not published until last year. But I'm afraid what this production by an Oxford student company shows most clearly is why the film wasn't made. The multiple tasks of telling Galileo's life story, explaining the several scientific and theological issues he raised, and carrying us through the intricacies of the secular and religious politics of the day would have daunted any writer, and perhaps only Stoppard could have come as close to pulling it off as he did. In performance the science gets explained rather well and the politics rather less successfully, as a rapid string of short scenes and multiple doubling of roles keeps us never quite sure who we're looking at and whether he's friend or foe. Gerald Berkowitz

Gamarjobat: A Shut Up Comedy from Japan Sweet on the Royal Mile - You might have already seen Ketchi and Hiropon, the two Japanese guys with colourful mohicans delighting the crowds on the Royal Mile with their completely silent mime show. The indoors version is an equally riveting experience made all the more charming by the fact that the audience sits huddled on cushions, true Japanese style, obviously spilling out of the allocated seating capacity. Such is the appeal of these two mime comedians that they have no problem getting the audience members onto the stage to assist with various belly-achingly funny acts. They easily have us gripped with their twisted close-up trickery and elaborate mime sections whereby they defeat imaginary obstacles which they've created for themselves with a kind of precision that is reminiscent of a fatal variety of Japanese martial arts. Yet this only turns out to be a warm up prelude to their main number of the evening, a mime rendition of a boxing story inspired by the film Rocky. Gamarjobat not only excel in terms of their own craft and comedy, but also bring us one of the most dramaturgically accomplished plays on the Fringe. Duska Radosavljevic

Garden of Fools Bedlam Theatre - Richly inventive and evocative concept and staging threaten to overwhelm a simple tale in this group-created piece by an Oxford company, which is almost too clever for its own good. At its core is a children's tale in which fallen leaves are treasured for the human stories they tell, and a young woman leading a closed, unhappy life is given a brief opportunity for romance and happiness. With set and props made up almost entirely of umbrellas - there are umbrella doors, umbrella filing cabinets, even an umbrella microwave - and a lovely and subtle use of black light, one actor forces the somewhat bolshie cast to help him tell the girl's story. The script is witty, the fairy tale quality sustained beautifully and the tightly choreographed staging flawless throughout. It seems churlish to complain of too much invention, but the only stumbling point is too much of a muchness. The narrative occasionally loses focus as it strays into digressions and subplots, the visual imagery sometimes goes by too quickly to be absorbed, and the sheer inventiveness keeps calling attention to itself and away from the play it is serving. This show has much more to offer than most, but this is a case in which a little less might have been more. Gerald Berkowitz

Gavin and Gavin in Our Funny Bones Assembly Rooms - Sisters Sharon and Lauretta Gavin's act is structured on the idea of a documentary day-in-the-life look at a comedy double act, featuring themselves and their alter egos, the somewhat rougher-edged duo White Lightning. The concept is loose enough to allow for a string of brief bits on topics ranging from sibling rivalry, through experiences with men, to unrelated characters like a paranoid barmaid and a stalking fan. The sketches in which they play themselves are the most successful, as their catty digs have the authentic feel of family in-jokes while being clever and funny on their own. The other bits don't move far enough from the personal material to score, the bickering White Lightning team sounding too much like the bickering sisters, and the other characters too often undeveloped. Their humour is never too sharp, their barbs never too biting, their invention never too cutting-edge. They say the occasional bad word and seem particularly to enjoy playing the more downmarket team who might be their slightly evil twins, and generally give the impression of two nicely-brought-up middle class girls playing at being naughty. The result is an acceptable if never particularly impressive middle-of-the-road, middle-of-the-afternoon entertainment. Gerald Berkowitz

Gielgud - A Knight in the Theatre Cafe Royal - George Telfer's solo salute to Sir John follows the standard format of having the actor just stand or sit there and tell us his life story, with simple chronology providing the structure. The account is straight-forward though strikingly low on colourful anecdote or real insight into the man until the halfway point, Gielgud's embarrassing arrest for soliciting in 1953. Telfer's portrayal of Gielgud's fears of how he would be received after the event, and of his gratitude for the loyalty and support of fellow actors and audiences is moving. Equally evocative are his depictions of Gielgud's growing fear of aging and of being left behind in a changing theatrical world, and his pain at watching so many of his contemporaries die before him. Direction is absolutely minimal, Telfer moving seemingly at random among three chairs lined up across the stage, His impersonation of Gielgud seems a bit off, the voice, accent, gregariousness and strong element of camp much closer to Noel Coward. (When Coward does make an appearance, he sounds like Edward R. Morrow. Ralph Richardson sounds alternately like Humphrey Bogart and Edward Fox, and Richard Burton like Gabby Hayes.) The piece is coloured throughout with a warm affection for the man that goes far toward compensating for its other limitations. Gerald Berkowitz

Goblin Market Greyfriars Kirk House - In the 1970s this exquisite sample of Victorian literature about fruit was serialised in Playboy magazine. It might sound like an oxymoron, but Christina Rossetti's poem is indeed bursting with unbridled eroticism. Even director Melanie Branton and performer Catherine Rhodes in their current rendition need to do little to put this across. And indeed they approach their task with utter restraint and self-discipline. Rhodes is daintily perched on her chair at tea-time, dressed in black, towering over a still life table laid with fine china and an immaculate fruit display. In the equally immaculate 30 minutes that follow she recites a goblin epic of her youthful fascination with forbidden fruit and her sister's ultimate sacrifice on her behalf. It's all wrapped up in Victorian fantasy, but when Rhodes as Laura buries her face into a slice of melon, we get a believable glimpse of what might have been hiding behind the prim facades. As for stage-worthiness of the poem itself, what really makes this work is precisely the tension between the content and its presentation. Duska Radosavljevic

Gone Pleasance - Glyn Cannon's update of Sophocles' Antigone puts it in modern dress and frequently very obscene modern language. Creon makes his proclamations by TV, the Chorus is his coterie of buttoned-down advisors and spin doctors, and some of the mechanics of how characters die have been altered. But for the most part, this is a scene-by-scene duplication of the original, and that's where most of its considerable dramatic and emotional power comes from. A reminder: Antigone's two brothers died on opposite sides in a war, and Creon has ordered that the one declared a traitor is not to be buried. Antigone insists on doing it or, in this case, taking the body into her room so it stinks up the whole palace. One small criticism: Sophocles raises enough questions about her motives to leave the morality ambiguous, while Cannon's is fully an anti-Creon interpretation, making it a more directly political piece but slightly weakening the dramatic complexity. Gerald Berkowitz

The Gospel of Matthew   St George's (reviewed at an earlier festival) - As an actor, George Dillon is openly an acolyte of Steven Berkoff, so much so that he threatens to become the theatrical equivalent of an Elvis impersonator, submerging any personal style he may have into a slavish imitation of Berkoff's mode of gesture, grimace and vocal inflection (essentially a very broad, almost silent-film-type mugging, which Berkoff can sometimes make very powerful and effective). Here he applies the imitation to a playing of Matthew's version of the life and ministry of Jesus but, except for an undeniable intensity he brings to the telling, he does little to illuminate character or text. His Jesus is something of a hard man - 'Oi! Follow me!' he shouts to the fishermen - but no real characterisation is built on that voice. It's just one of the two voices Dillon can do, and everyone else in the story shares the other one. There's a lot of what looks like acting going on, but it's all sound and fury.  Gerald Berkowitz

Boothby Graffoe and the Following People Pleasance - It would be hard for lovable singer/songwriter/comic Boothby Graffoe to put a foot wrong, and you have to be thankful that he does not take this for granted but works hard each year to give you value for your money with each n ïew show. His acoustic guitar-based songs are deeply funny yet eminently hummable ­ there is a fine songsmith at work here. Flower Face is a short but bizarre ditty about love while Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde leads to a bizarre rabble-rousing vocal duel with the audience concerning a baseball-playing spider. The sweet melodies and surreal lyrics cannot, however, disguise the bite in the breathy baritone of this bastard son of Nick Cave and Jake Thackery. Unusually for this type of show, Graffoe feeds off the unpredictable, particularly when this emanates from the audience and he seems, in his links between the songs, to have a routine for every eventuality. Meanwhile, his enviably slick backing band ­ trumpeter Toby Shippey, bassist Quee MacArthur and drummer James Macintosh ­ add a frisson to the proceedings by continuously threatening to upstage Graffoe and occasionally succeeding, much to everyone's delight. All in all, in among the sophisticated melodies and Radio 4 quips, there is a glorious end of pier feel to the whole evening. Definitely, as ever, a highlight of the Fringe. Nick Awde

Jeff Green From A to Z Assembly Rooms - Though his title alludes to a couple of humorous books about relationships and the single life that he published this year, Jeff Green's act is not structured as a guide or encyclopedic coverage of any one topic. Rather, in the manner of most stand-up sets, it is a bit of a grab-bag, seemingly directed as much by the undirected working of his memory or the inspirations of the moment as by a scripted theme or outline. He opens with some effective ad libs based on the fact that things are running well behind schedule at the Assembly Rooms today, making him go on almost an hour late. From there, the first half of the show plays like a random collection of bits, on subjects like being too old for Glastonbury, the behaviour of Brits on holiday, and the usefulness of panic in an emergency. Though the comic ground is generally familiar, his angle on it is original, and images such as comparing tantric sex to a coach trip to Bristol raise appreciative laughs. Much the same is true when he gets to the main subject of relationships midway through the hour. Topics such as the differing skills of men and women (reaching high shelves v. shopping), things you'll never hear a man or woman say, and the dangers of honesty are all well-mined comic ground, but he still manages to find new gems or to wander from there into profitable new territory, such as imagining chat-up lines for single senior citizens. Green's delivery is amiable, though his clear desire to be likeable leads to too-frequent apologies ('It's just a joke') that threaten to weaken his authority. His manner is low-key to the point of seeming unstructured, an impression reinforced when he repeatedly interrupts one bit or another to throw in a few more jokes he forget to use in a sequence ten minutes ago. Gerald Berkowitz

Hamlet, Cut to the Bone Old St. Paul's - There have been one-man Hamlets before, generally with the goal of turning the play into a dream or projection of the Prince's neuroses, but Simon Rae's adaptation seems designed simply to see if it can be done. And on that level it more-or-less succeeds, although some scenes and plot turns are likely to be opaque to anyone (if there is anyone) not familiar with the original. Horatio, the watchmen, Fortinbras and one gravedigger are cut, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern reduced to sock puppets, the players to marionettes and the gravedigger to a toy skeleton, but David Keller plays the Prince and everyone else, using a symbolic prop or bit of clothing to identify each character. The effect is too often like a ventriloquist act, even when he's not using puppets, as he moves back and forth and slightly alters his voice to conduct conversations with himself. Occasionally the device is evocative or inventively staged, as when he manages to fight with himself in the climactic duel without looking silly, though equally often it doesn't work, as when the middle aged actor donning a dress to become the mad Ophelia strays too close to panto territory. It is noteworthy that some of the most effective moments, such as the quietly underplayed soliloquies, are the least gimmicky. Author, director and actor have shown that it can be done, but not really that much has been accomplished by the experiment. Gerald Berkowitz

Handbag Roman Eagle Lodge - Mark Ravenhill's follow-up to Shopping and Asterisking is a study in different sorts of families, in the presence or absence of the ability to love, and in dependency and the mixed motives for helping. To complicate this ambitious agenda further, it is played in two time schemes, a modern story juxtoposed to an imagined prequel to Wilde's Importance of Being Earnest. In the present, two lesbians and two gay men combine to make a baby and form a family to surround it, but the stability of the situation is immediately threatened when one of the men gets involved with a bit of rough trade and one of the women with a clinging and dependent girl. In the past, Miss Prism arrives at the Moncrieffs' to be the nanny for the baby she will eventually lose in Victoria Station. The cast of six double roles, appearing in both centuries, but the Wildean story does not seem to add very much beyond some undeveloped ironies. A Victorian parent can give the baby everything but love, while a modern figure loves but cannot cope. Prism resents her charge and deliberately loses him, while her modern counterpart loves the baby too much. Arguably the modern story of an idealised plan and the frailties that doomed it could have been told more clearly on its own, giving the actors more scope to develop and inhabit the characters that play and audience are most interested in. Gerald Berkowitz

Harry and Me Gilded Balloon Teviot - He looks like a cartoon and sounds like Have I Got News for You, but judging by his manic, forensically investigative 60 minute journey down memory lane, Robin Deacon is a force to be reckoned with. Just the idea of a 'scientific investigation' of the circumstances surrounding the making of a religious TV programme is a genuine stroke of genius. That he happens to have been involved in the shooting of the programme as an unsuspecting token to racial equality is added bonus to this perfectly hilarious autobiographical satire. Picture our host as an awkward fifteen year old singing halleluiahs with Sir HarrySecombe - or, in the words of Deacon himself, 'a Coon and a Goon' united together in a policy-makers' televisual dream come true. In fact you can even see it for yourself in Deacon's meticulous reconstruction of his evidence. What makes this theatrical marvel particularly praiseworthy however is Deacon's own instinctive understanding and intelligent handling of the conventions of a stage show. He doesn't only use his visual aids as a means of telling the story, but inconspicuously exploits them to their theatrical maximum. Halleluiah, indeed! Duska Radosavljevic

Head Underbelly - Zoe Simon's play attempts with more success than you might expect to get into the heads of the thoroughly damaged feral kids of an inner city slum that has lost almost all connection with the civilized world. A boy and girl living rough in the ruins of an abandoned estate have each retreated into private languages and private mental states so they have to work hard to connect with each other, much less the social worker from outside who tries to help them. The result is something like a love story, something like a docudrama, something like a small-scale tragedy of opportunities missed or never really there. The play is weakened a bit by having the characters' back stories, as we gradually learn them, turn out somewhat clichéd, and by the role and motivations of the outsider remaining murky, but its picture of young lives irretrievably lost can't help but be moving. Gerald Berkowitz

Craig Hill - One Man and his Kilt Pod Deco - No comic works a crowd quite like Craig Hill. That would be a Scottish crowd, obviously, since his unique brand of Caledonian campery is unlikely to venture south of the border unless Graham Norton decides he has had enough of the limelight and Channel 4 needs another compere of that ilk. Coiffure, couture, home town or sexual mores, the home crowd is queuing up to be insulted but they are canny enough to deliver panto-style reprobation and boo each time Hill veers too close to the knuckle with a wicked aside about speech-defective Fifers or small-town gay pensioners getting it on. The routines are barely discernible from spontaneous forays into the front rows (where, fortuitously for the rest of us, a woman had fallen fast asleep) or some arch aside about the day's political headlines. No mere gagsmith, Hill's appeal lies in the mad visions he re-creates of Scots society, including his mate's mum who does the Tannoy announcements at Prestwick airport and an explanation why Americans claiming Scottish ancestry should wear not kilts but shellsuits and push buggies if they truly desire authenticity. Love him or hate him, Hill easily gives the best value for money in town ­ even if us tourists need to be handed a sociolinguistic map of Scotland to work out the jokes. Nick Awde

Hitler Sells Tickets Assembly Rooms - Comic Boothby Graffoe (or someone else using the pen name Boothby Graffione) has written a short comedy about Mussolini that might have been a bit more topical sixty years ago. Opening with some scenes playing off the popular image of Il Duce as an ignorant and pompous buffoon, the play shows him taking on every government and military leadership role and bolluxing them all up - as Admiral, he sends the navy to attack Greece at precisely the point where there's noplace to land and nothing to shoot at, while as minister of propaganda, he issues thousands of posters that misspell Hitler's name. Once all those jokes have been explored, the play shifts to a soldier who happens to resemble Mussolini and is used as a double, and to his misadventures when he returns home and tries to tell about the experience. This modest little comedy is the sort that probably would not have gotten beyond a first reading in any context other than Edinburgh, but it delivers a handful of legitimate laughs. Gerald Berkowitz

Horror Vacui Pleasance - It is no news that anything coming from Ecole Jacques Lecoq graduates is extremely watchable, inspired and funny. This cartoonish offering from TheatreRUN is no exception' and you will find yourself spellbound with amusement by the simple ritual of morning tea-drinking. The setting for their story is a strange hotel run by three good-natured spinsters and their tender brother with literary aspirations. The only problem is that they haven't had any guests for many years, until beautiful Tallulah arrives. Remotely reminiscent of many a fairytale where an opportunist outsider destroys the domestic bliss by turning a good boy against his family, Horror Vacui then descends into an elaborate thriller to put matters right and have the good triumph at all costs. Still, this is a character comedy rather than a first class plot, and although it will have you entertained for an hour, it won't rise above what we've already come to expect from a standard Lecoq piece. Duska Radosavljevic

How To Act Around Cops Pleasance - Logan Brown's dark comedy is a study in paranoia, a picture of a nightmare America in which a policeman has to fear every driver he stops for speeding and a civilian has to fear every cop he sees. Its power comes from the audience's suspicion that it may not be as exaggerated a depiction of reality as they might hope it is. Opening with a comic scene of two guys panicked to the point of gibbering idiocy by the prospect of being stopped by a traffic cop, the action cuts to what seems to be a violent rape and eventually includes three deaths and the hint of a ghost story. Tying these strands together is the cop who, suspicious of one of the guys in the car, traces him to a motel where the apparent rape is taking place and then chases everyone out into the desert for the final deadly confrontations. Throughout, nothing is as it seems, as people's stories and alibis change by the minute, the cop is never as much in control as he thinks he is, and those who seem most suspicious turn out to be the only innocents. All this is presented with unflagging intensity, the constant twists and revelations contributing to the audience's experience of a nightmare that is often as funny as it is disconcerting. Gerald Berkowitz

I Can Only Think of One Night When I Slept Well Cabaret Voltaire - In the interest of letting the show speak for itself, I don't read programme notes before going in. When speaking for itself this particular show abounds in visual language and highly stylised presentation, even if offering little in terms of coherence. In amongst poetry about rain, oranges and kissing gates, it is suggested to us that the narrator is alone, displaced and victimised through the early loss of her mother and subjugation to child abuse. In a rather charming instance of wishful thinking we also understand that she dreams of having a home and a happy family of her own. She then talks us through the process of eating Quavers and rather bizarrely proceeds to take her multilayered underwear off while singing an aria about some countryside landscape. Though deliberately disquieting, Jessica Bendellali's performance is beautifully controlled and attentively observed by the author/director Jennifer Elvy who is on the stage as an instrumentalist. But then again, a casual glance at the programme reveals that the monologue is entirely autobiographical, and retrospectively becomes quite haunting too. Duska Radosavljevic

The Ignatius Trail Underbelly - In this family show Vera the Ugly Mermaid (Dan Lewis) discovers Ignatius Trail (Daniel McGowan) clutching a plank and alone on the high seas. The pair discover they have been cast adrift by their friends and soon find themselves swapping tales about how they ended up as flotsam and jetsam. The result is an action-packed adventure that will shiver your timbers with as many laughs as thrills along the way. Most of the plot is taken up with Ignatius' story ­ how he joined a band of gormless pirates where the blind Look-Out (Ross Devlin) senses land by smell, the Poet (Harry Hadden-Paton) is more inclined to poetry than plunder and the spoonerism-prone Captain (Ben Smith) simply adds to the confusion. Things need to look shipshape when Celia Salt (Tiffany Wood), the Pirate Inspector, makes a surpise visit to ensure that things are up to scratch in the yo ho ho and a bottle of rum department. A cunning blend of Pirates of Penzance and Blackadder, Oliver Birch complements his action-packed swashbuckler of a script with an armada of amazing songs that deserve a show of their own. But things here need cutting by a good 20 minutes, particularly in the meandering final third. Still, great storytelling, wonderful singing and lots of thrills and spills create a mini-epic that will appeal to kids and adults alike. Nick Awde

In Wonderland? Cowgate Central - She still looks like the golden locked girl in a blue dress from the pictures, but Samantha Morris's Alice is older and cleverer, fully aware of all her assets. Exuding sexual charisma in bucket loads, she comes back to Wonderland, chewing gum and sounding like something straight out of Eastenders, and is bent on dethroning the Queen of Hearts. But Queenie, sporting a 70s hairstyle, Dickensian backstreet attire and policeman's accoutrements, turns out to be just a reformed Queen of Tarts. This female sextet has ripped Carroll's classic apart, making it read for a more cynical audience. They've done this with considerable literary skill, wonderful humour and due reverence to the curiouser style of the original. Even though the show lacks directorial vision and a plausible ending, the cast's commitment and acting accomplishments make this a palatable hour which also raises interesting questions for those who have grown disillusioned with their Wonderland. Duska Radosavljevic

I Put a Spell on You Gilded Balloon Teviot - Part performance, part illustrated lecture, Wendy Bounaventura's tribute to dancing women is a rare fusion of thought-provoking art and inspiring fact. Most impressive is the sole notion of a mature dancer refusing to bow to the convention of retiring from the stage by a certain age. On the contrary, she sets off to show us that she can still do it - with great conviction and masterful precision - while also persuing a writing career. This show is in fact an off-shoot from her recent book launch at the Royal Festival Hall where the film projection that she's showing us was banned on account of unsuitability for a family venue. So - art, fact and controversy to boot. This journey through the history of female dancing and male chauvinism is delivered in Bounaventura's delicate RP voice and punctuated with graceful bodily gestures. It is all only seemingly timid but immensely provocative on all levels, testifying to the fact that, like her heroines Carolina Ottera and Isadora Duncan, Bounaventura too still possesses her own brand of spellbinding power. Duska Radosavljevic

Katherine Jakeways: Lost in Bank Station Assembly Rooms - Katherine Jakeways introduces us to three characters through alternating scenes and video clips: a talentless would-be performer who thinks she can imitate everyone from Tina Turner to Margaret Thatcher, a hospital volunteer whose ministrations of the terminally ill are far more intrusive than helpful, and a driving instructor who is 35-going-on-17. Each is presented in her innocent harmfulness, and what keeps them from being totally horrifying is a shared complete lack of self-awareness. They are excellent creations, in some ways even more effective onscreen, where we see the cringing effect they have on others. The only problem is that they are not laugh-a-minute funny, and punters who come to the show because it's listed in the comedy section of the programme can be disappointed. On the other hand, with a little tweaking and general deepening of the characters and their stories, this could be an effective and very satisfying piece of solo theatre. Gerald Berkowitz

Jarrett and Raja Assembly Rooms - Variety is the essence of the fringe and here, among the plays and comedians, is a magic act. The one original touch in this otherwise conventional act is the presence of Raja Rahman, a classical pianist supposedly trying to give a serious recital and constantly interrupted by Jarrett Parker, his showgirls and their Vegas-style glitz. So piano excerpts are either upstaged by or incorporated into the magic tricks, as when Raja plays the piece written on a hidden piece of paper or Jarrett is challenged to escape from his chains before the Minute Waltz finishes. It must be said that Jarrett is not a particularly adept magician, and even those sitting not very close to the stage can see him palming cards or balls and fumbling with the wires that will make things float. He is a little more successful with larger illusions, generally of the sort that involve one person going behind a curtain and another coming out, though on this particular night the do-this-or-I'll-kill-the-bunny machine jammed, ruining the whole bit. The byplay and supposed antagonism between the two is mechanical and lifeless, and the whole hour-long show has the feel of the half-hearted and second-rate about it. Gerald Berkowitz

Joe Edinburgh Playhouse - When the curtain lifts on Joe, Jean-Pierre Perreault's large-cast Canadian dance piece inspired by early British socialism, the music never starts, and the audience takes a long time to stifle their coughs and huffs at the noisy latecomers. But as soon as 64 feet (or 62 as the case might have been tonight) hit the floor, sliding and stamping in heavy boots, we're instantly captivated, with a kind of childlike wonder. At moments, the chorus dressed in fedora hats, suits and raincoats looks like a street crowd, or a funeral procession. Then it acquires more abstract characteristics, suggesting a complex industrial machine, sea waves breaking against the shore, raindrops falling and sliding down the window pane. Perreault's piece has the quality of an absolute masterpiece simply because it's one of those that 'anyone could've made' but didn't think of. It grew out of 60 hours of work with a group of students he wanted to have fun. Still Joe's appeal resides mainly in the fun the audience is having. Its jazz dance vocabulary is immensely accessible, it is witty, it gives us the picture of the world as it might look from up above or as represented through a metaphor of a lava lamp, or a microbiological sample. As a choreographer, Perrault here appears immersed in play with all the elements at his disposal, including the dancers' sweat which he uses as a paintbrush. Theatrically, it is a perfect homage to the origins of theatre. And finally, the audience leaves the auditorium stamping their feet joyfully. What more can you ask for? Duska Radosavljevic

Johnothan's Cassettesac Pleasance - In creating the character of Johnothan Pram and the situations that surround him, Ben Faulks acknowledges the influence of Rowan Atkinson's Mr Bean, Samuel Beckett, Captain Beefheart, Franz Kafka and David Lynch. One would argue that this postmodernist take on existentialism also features the influences of '70s Disney shorts as well as, musically, Tom Waits and some '80s underground rock. In fact, Ben Faulks takes all 24 years of his cultural experience and processes it into a character that he labels the 'victim of the 21st century'. Wearing a costume that seems to have shrunk in the wash and a pair of toeless socks, Faulks enacts various daily routines dictated to him via a cassette player strapped around his abdomen. It all appears artistically autistic, but within the mixture of all his influences, Faulks seems to have developed his own language to express his bleak view of contemporary life. There are flashes of profundity here such as 'I have a feeling I've already passed my sell-by date', but mostly it is a piece about the surface that may appeal to those who still remember their adolescent angst. Duska Radosavljevic

Johnothan's Living Room Pleasance - Performed in rep with Johnothan's Cassettesac, which could be viewed primarily as an exploration of time, Ben Faulks' complementary piece therefore qualifies as an equally absurdist exploration of space. There is much everyday maths involved in this piece too, such as how his salary divides across every day of the 24 years of his 'confirmed existence'. Johnothan's living room is furnished with white paper, 5 suitcases and a briefcase and we soon discover that each suitcase, yet again, represents a particular period of his life, for 'it hasn't always been 2004, you know'. While arranging and re-arranging his suitcase time-line, Johnothan also chats to his neighbours through the walls of his box, at least reassuring us that there is life outside of his world. Still, this is quite a bleak portrayal of contemporary life, despite the fact that Faulks manages to find interesting existentialist reasons to his questions of where he is, what he is doing and why he is here. Faulks' work does have a predominantly intellectual appeal but his stage presence is endearingly unassuming and quite promising too. Duska Radosavljevic

Kafka's Metamorphosis C Venue - When it works it is brilliant theatre, when not it is because the screen tries to make up for the limitations of the stage. Adaptor-director ReneMigliaccio's conceit is interesting in that it translates the polarisation of Kafka's central character and the world around him into the stage/screen divide. Where others might have interpreted the alienation of Gregor Samsa culturally or philosophically, Migliaccio is interested in communicating it in purely aesthetic and physical terms. Jay Gaussoin as Samsa is positioned on a set consisting of paintings of furniture and a massive projection cloth split in the middle. His performance is a combination of spasmodic mime, gothic buffoon and stylised physical theatre, while all verbal action happens in an Expressionist style black and white movie. Samsa's sister and mother sometimes cross over from the film (through the cloth) onto the stage, wearing bright colours and masks. But the stage acting in this kind of a story is reduced to reacting. Migliaccio therefore walks a fine line with his daring attempt at challenging theatre, verging more towards brilliant cinema. Duska Radosavljevic

Kathmandu Pleasance Dome - In Greg Freeman's inventive and evocative new play four people with holes in their lives take turns holding imaginary conversations with the missing. With frightening choices ahead of her, Rosalind falls back on memories of Owen, the one boy who loved her unquestioningly. Owen can't get the criticising voice of Martha, the aunt who raised him, out of his head. Martha has not resolved her anger at Frank, the husband who deserted her; and Frank, who later became Rosalind's father and abandoned her, wonders who and where she is. As the stories and tangled relationships are explored, some secrets from the past are told, but not always to the person who might most want to know them.. In the end, character proves to be destiny, as those who were born to be responsible find themselves acting responsibly while the others succumb to the call of escape suggested by the title. Ken McClymont's direction isolates a small area centre stage as the only real space, with the various memories and fantasies played out around it. He has guided his strong cast to draw the most out of this sometimes comic and frequently moving script. Gerald Berkowitz

Kenneth What is the Frequency Assembly Rooms - In 1986 American TV anchorman Dan Rather was mugged by two men who spoke the enigmatic phrase that is the title of this piece by Paul Allman. No one knows what they meant, but Allman has built on some scattered coincidences in the lives of Rather and postmodern novelist Donald Barthelme to create a phantasmagoria worthy of Barthelme himself. Hurricanes, eyes, selected quotations from Brathelme's stories and Watergate-style paranoia combine to create a world in which Rather's mugging may have been part of some larger pattern just beyond the reach of explanation. You'll be left confused but fascinated, just as you are with Barthelme's fiction, and the polished production from New York's 78th Street Theatre Lab could not be better. Gerald Berkowitz

Killing Paul McCartney Assembly Rooms - Perrier-winner wannabes, brace yourselves, here comes Tommy Kay, a dirty ginger Cockney geezer with a show title that cannot go unnoticed. Ranting off spontaneous one-liners and entire theories, he never breaks his blue eye-contact with his audience, quickly identifying those to pick on, those to flirt with and those to let heckle him. He eventually arrives at his grievances about the vegetarian Beatle but then proceeds to parade his crotch in front of us, and wraps things up with a song. Somebody once said 'comedy is tragedy with the trousers down', and the brain behind this show, author-director Nick Grosso of Royal Court fame, has taken that adage quite literally, as you can witness for yourself. As a recreation of a stand up comedy routine, Grosso and actor Jake Wood have got it down to a tee. But is Nadia more a woman or a transsexual? Ironically, Grosso has actually taken the balls out of the play but just like a transsexual will never have a child, Tommy Kay will never have a Perrier either. Which is not a judgement on Grosso or Wood. Duska Radosavljevic

Kit and the Widow - Twenty Years Man and Boy Edinburgh Academy - The gently camp team of Kit Hesketh-Harvey and Richard Sissons celebrate their twentieth visit to the Edinburgh Fringe this year, but the balding Kit and greying Widow limit their reminiscences to one or two songs and some chat, the bulk of their show made up of new material in their familiar mode of witty and lightly satirical songs. And so they open with a song inspired by the government's booklet of anti-terrorist warnings and follow with a version of Mandy filled with pointed but not really poisonous barbs at Tony Blair's favourite colleague. There are musical jokes at the expense of TV chefs and TV property shows; a bit of pastiche Coward about the Fringe and a song of pastiche Gilbert suggesting that the police are not always free of flaws. Brief detours from their own material include the Widow racing through Tom Lehrer's musicalisation of the periodic table, and Kit singing a ballad from Beautiful and Damned, the West End musical for which he wrote the book.. Then it's back to musical jokes about Joan Rivers' facelifts and Tim Henman's inability to win a tournament. No one is harmed in the making or performing of this show, but the genteel humour that is their stock in trade remains thoroughly satisfying to the duo's fans. Gerald Berkowitz

K-Pax C Too - A stage adaptation of the novel and film about a mental patient who claims to be from outer space proves occasionally evocative but limited by the community theatre level of acting and direction. The young man who claims to be Prot from the planet K-Pax combines charm, some minor magic tricks and a genuine warmth and empathy toward his fellow patients to convince them and half-convince his doctor and the reporter who falls in love with him, even though therapy sessions and investigations suggest he is a trauma victim who has escaped into the personality of his childhood invisible friend. Andy McQuade plays Prot with a supercilious suavity that is at first off-putting, though his kindness toward the other patients wins back our sympathy as merely listening to them does them more real good than the hospital's medications. The other characters are less developed, as doctor, nurse, reporter and patients are sketched in too briefly to be more than one-note types, the reporter's falling in love happening particularly quickly and unclearly. Victor Sobchok's direction is adequate until the ending, when the central figure's alien personality leaves and he retreats into catatonia, which is too rushed and cluttered for those unfamiliar with the story to know what's happened. Gerald Berkowitz

Last Night A DJ Saved My Life Gilded Balloon Teviot - A radio DJ who rings up phone boxes to chat with whoever answers gets a social worker who is burned out after years of listening to the problems of others. She is so relieved by being listened to for a change that she invests the DJ with imagined wisdom and empathy, and is broken when they meet and she discovers that he's just a glib entertainer looking for ratings. The point of Gaby Crewe-Read's short play - that we must be our own saviours and not look to others - is conveyed effectively and movingly. A subplot involving idle neighbourhood teenagers is not really integrated into the main action, though it does provide a strong symbolic connection in one girl's account of a disappointingly unromantic one night stand with a rock star. Hugo Cox captures the DJ's smoothness and false facade of caring without ever descending into villainy, and Kaitlyn Riordan goes far toward fleshing out a complex character, only barely sketched in by the script, who movingly undergoes repeated cycles of despair and hope. Gerald Berkowitz

The Law of Tango Hill Street Theatre - Forget the first-class clowning and poverty-stricken stage imagery usually associated with the post-Soviet theatre. Combining the prose of Borges, the music of Piazzolla and some really accomplished tangoing, the young Ukrainian ensemble Theatre on Pechersk is set to pull a few stereotypes apart. You may think that their choice of Latin-American material is strange, and the schmaltzy Russian arrangements of the famous ballroom tunes might strike you as a bit awkward. But there are more crossovers between the two cultural contexts than it seems. The inter-war Argentinian underworld, with its overpaid assassins and the women forced to seek financial security through the use of sex appeal, offers a useful metaphor for the post-socialist 'mafioso' variety of capitalism. As for the ensemble's genre of 'tangodrama', it is a case of stylishly streamlined khazachok kick-dancing. They glide across the stage, intertwining their lanky limbs, exuding glorious charm and telling a nicely-crafted tale of lust, jealousy, love and revenge. Their English voice-over is a bit counterproductive, but they still get the audience up on their feet by the end, everyone applauding in perfect theatrical bliss. Duska Radosavljevic

Andrew J. Lederer - Bridge-Burner C Venue - American comic Lederer's unfunny act is based on the premise that he has spent a lifetime of screwing up opportunities. After delaying the show and then leaving the room to hunt for some friends he invited, he opens with a pointless story of once shaking hands with Leni Riefenstahl. He follows with a slightly more relevant, if no more humourous anecdote of damaging fellow comic Jerry Seinfeld's trousers and then tells a couple of perhaps true but once more not particularly funny stories about sabotaging himself in job opportunities. He wanders aimlessly about the room, forgets the big story that was supposed to cap the act, is seriously thrown when laughs do not come when he expects them and, although he has been doing stand-up for decades, gives the impression of never having been in front of an audience before. He complains about there being such a small audience, tells us he really didn't want to go on tonight, and promises that he'll be better some other night. There is the slimmest of chances that this is a subtle performance-art piece in which he deliberately not only describes past self-destructive behaviour but acts it out in front of us. If so, he will undoubtedly take great pleasure in the future in telling about what a flop his Edinburgh appearance was. Gerald Berkowitz

The Little World of Don Camillo Valvona and Crolla - Giovanni Guareschi's stories of a village priest in post-war Italy, first publisdhed in the 1950s, lend themselves ideally to the low-key storytelling styles of Mike Maran and Philip Contini. Sitting in an authentic-looking grotto in the rear of an Italian delicatessen, the two take turns standing to narrate a tale, using minimal props and the natural gestures and inflections of a storyteller. The running theme of Guareschi's books is the amicable conflict between the modest priest and the village's Communist mayor. Sometimes one wins, as when Don Camillo quietly blackmails the Communists into diverting some of their funds into his charitable projects; and sometimes the other, as when his attempt to keep a red-sponsored band out of a religious procession is foiled. More often, though - and this is the essence of Guareschi's warm comic vision - the two old friends find themselves on the same side, whether it is sharing a hunting dog or restoring an angel to the church tower. It is that quality of warmth and that conviction that good spirits matter more than politics that the gently ironic styles of Maran and Contini capture most effectively, supported by musicians Colin Steele and Martin Green who provide, among other interludes, the unique sound of Verdi scored for accordion and jazz trumpet. Gerald Berkowitz

Losing Venice Roman Eagle Lodge - It's almost twenty years since this play by John Clifford won its Fringe First. As a play, it may not be his best, as there is much toing and froing between genres here - satirical commedia dell arte meets an adventure story meets boy meets girl meets boy meets homosexual death figure. But what a joy to be watching genuine Latinos playing themselves, and all set to genuine flamenco accompaniment. The Polish director Aldona Figura has assembled an excellent cast of comic actors from Spain and Italy as well as his native land, and the result is a pure uproarious delight. Imaginative, uninhibited, perfectly timed. True, it is also rough at the edges and incorrigibly naive, but I looked on bemused and wished most of the entries in the comedy section of the Fringe guide were half as good. I have no means of knowing what the initial award-winning production was like, but it is clear that this is primarily an actors' play ­ and it has fallen into the right hands. Duska Radosavljevic

The Love-Hungry Farmer Assembly Rooms - Returning to the stories of John B. Keane, the same source material that produced The Matchmaker, for which he won a Stage Best Actor nomination in 2001, adaptor/actor Des Keogh portrays that literary staple, the aging Irish bachelor farmer in search of a wife. What could have been (and sometimes is even in Keane) a comic cliche is fully individualised, however, and not presented as either pathetic or the butt of cruel humour. Instead, he's a strong, intelligent and witty man, fully aware of how slim his chances of finding a woman are, and how unlikely it is that she'll prove fully satisfactory if she is out there. So his accounts of his dealings with the local matchmaker are marked by a resigned and unbitter irony and even amusement, as he recounts meeting each candidate and discovering her not insignificant flaws. Even the darker material, such as his account of how adolescent clumsiness ruined one chance of romance or how another opportunity of losing his virginity was farcically foiled, is presented with a wry enjoyment of the comedy that comes with distance. Indeed, the one small failing of Keogh's performance is that he makes the man seem so strong and healthy, undeserving of his solitary fate but clearly able to cope with it, that the few notes of pathos along the way and the character's succumbing to despair at the end are not really convincing. Gerald Berkowitz

Macbeth Gateway Theatre - Theatre Babel's new production, which will tour through the coming year, 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 John Kazek's Macbeth an honourable man lured into murderous villainy and then finding to his surprise and ultimate despair how good he is at it, and Rebecca Rodgers' Lady Macbeth the dominant wife driving her husband to murder and then lost when he moves beyond need of her.. Ian Grieve's Macduff is a particularly manly soldier, making his anguish in the England scene particularly moving, and Malcolm Shields is appropriately intimidating as the mostly silent Seyton. Gerald Berkowitz

Mark Maier Objects Underbelly - Though containing its full share of laughs, Mark Maier's set is less a typical stand-up act than a visit to a looking-glass world in which we not only curse at inanimate objects that frustrate us, but they answer back. So the shirt that is criticised for being too gay-looking turns out to have the voice and personality of Woody Allen having a crisis of sexual identity. A French car has the appropriate accent and attitude as it sneers at the driver that didn't fill up its tank, while a felt tip pen takes on the menacing tones of a Tarantino-esque Mr. Green. A child's schoolbook moves from mocking to Churchillian tones of inspiration, a grain of sand has Shakespearean pretensions, and a pair of socks hold the secret of their owner's destiny. In Maier's world even living things are transformed, as a whining child morphs into Bob Dylan, a dachshund sounds and thinks like Sigmund Freud, and a schoolmate with a fascination for unexploded landmines takes on heroic stature. The material is original and well presented and Maier himself amiable and enjoyable company, producing an hour of comedy that impressively stands out from the pack. Gerald Berkowitz

Ennio Marchetto Pleasance - It is rare that a performer can legitimately be called unique, but Marchetto has monopolised a very specific niche in entertainment, as what can most nearly be described as a quick-change paper-tearing lip-sync mime artist. What he does is imitate various pop singers and others, but in costumes made out of brightly-coloured paper and designed to change in mid song. Rip this, fold that, re-attach this here, and Gene Kelly turns into Stevie Wonder, Frankenstein into Frank Sinatra, Doris Day into Dolly Parton on a donkey. A mummy unwraps to reveal Cher, who morphs into C3PO, and Madonna goes through three or four of her looks as we watch. One must note that there isn't much that's new in this show, and fans will recognise a lot of old faces, from ABBA through the three tenors and Liza Minelli, to his signature image of an idiotically grinning Mona Lisa. But there's no denying that any first-timers will be overwhelmed by the sheer cleverness and imagination of it all. Gerald Berkowitz

Manchester Girl Underbelly - The genre is a fringe staple and the story has been told before, but the high energy and authenticity Sue Turner-Cray brings to her solo show make it stand out. One assumes she has fictionalised it a bit, but she herself was a Northern lass who dreamed of something better in the early 1980s, hooked up with a dodgy Manchester modeling agency, and actually got jobs, spending a couple of years of modeling, romance, drugs and constant dieting in Japan before giving it all up and moving on to a saner existence. And that's the story she tells here, bouncing around the stage with the energy of the coked-up 18 year old she portrays, conveying both the excitement of the moment and the ironic distance of looking back at it, unsparing in her depiction of both the modeling world and her own naiveté and yet neither bitter nor regretful. It's a wild ride and a fun one from start to finish. Gerald Berkowitz

Me, Will, and the Fairer Sex Berlitz Language Centre - In essence this is a stylised version of a student-actor's process. Italian actress Paola Balbi grapples with Shakespearean female speeches by relating them to her personal experiences and she explains it all to us in the form of storytelling. She is accompanied by a fine percussionist, Daniel Earley, who punctuates and colours her Elizabethan content. But we can hardly escape the educational format, as we're even huddled in an unusually tiny seminar room. Balbi is a hugely confident performer which makes up for the fact that the idea behind her show is simplistic and her contextualising material is poor while also self-aggrandising. She seems to shy away from her convention of simultaneously translating her storytelling between English and Italian and tends to just skim through the Italian bits. This is a pity, for her Shakespeare in Italian clearly sounds divine. As a university assignment, this is a highly effective presentation which certainly gets an A. As a piece of theatre, however, it's barely past its work-in-progress stage. Duska Radosavlevic

Men Pleasance Dome - Some people liked Brendan Cowell's play more than I did. I found it annoying in its excessive and pointless mystification, refusing to make sense for far too much of its length, just in order to pull a surprise ending on us - an ending I found anticlimactic in the extreme. In a room that holds some of the menace of a prison, three guys with very different personalities strut, cower, bicker and take drugs. A countdown by an offstage voice suggests that something dreadful will be expected of them or done to them in an hour or less. Are they prisoners about to be executed? Astronauts about to lift off? Lab subjects about to be experimented on? I disliked the show so much I'm going to give away the ending, so stop here if you don't want to know it. They turn out to be a boy band in the hour before their concert. Yawn. A more skilled writer or more subtle director might have been able to make that a satisfying joke, but it plays as an is-that-all-the-fuss-was-about letdown. Gerald Berkowitz

Millicent Must Share C too - Kipper TIE's approach to their work is very simple -they make theatre about children's problems in ways that are extremely accessible to children. Their inaugural show two years ago, The Mole Who Knew It Was None of His Business, was a positively subtle way of introducing the notion of toilet training. Two years on, they make a show about the second biggest taboo - the arrival of a rival sibling. Their trick is that they never try to reason with their audience. Instead, they just tell a story, befriending the kids, championing their view of the world and sympathising with them. In order to introduce the benefits of having a brother or a sister, Kipper TIE tell a story of Millicent, the girl who gets just what she wants. It's fun for a while, but in the end, Millicent ends up all alone until she learns how to share. The story is jazzed up with catchy songs and dance numbers - the actors are accomplished singers too - and while the kids hum to 'Life's better with two - or three or four or more', they've got the message, without ever knowing there was one. Duska Radosavljevic

Mimirichi Paper World Pod Deco - This troupe of Ukrainian clowns - three in all the publicity but four onstage - build their irresistibly silly act around paper - scraps of it, large sheets of it, crumpled balls of it. A clown trying to practice a speech is constantly foiled by another who is desperately in need of loo paper or a third obsessed with collecting trash. The stage backdrop is revealed to be an enormous sheet of paper, from which they tear off strips for various purposes. By the time they have a stage full of paper scraps, they toss it all at the audience, and when the kids (and adults) start tossing it back, the clowns whip out their tennis racquets or recruit someone to play goalie for a paper ball penalty kick. One turns into a monster, insatiably gobbling up all the paper, and audience members' coats and purses as well. Another goes after eyeglasses. Some very clever things are done with shadows. They're very inventive and, unlike some clown acts, know exactly how long they can keep the laughs flowing, and don't outstay their welcome.Gerald Berkowitz

Misery Underbelly - Though it is hard to believe that there is anyone who doesn't know either the book or the film, this stage adaptation by Simon Moore of Stephen King's novel captures much of the claustrophobic horror. When a best-selling author is in a car crash, the good Samaritan who takes him in turns out to be his biggest and most obsessive fan. Upset that he killed off her favourite character in his last book, she holds him prisoner until he writes a new novel resurrecting her, and the body of the play is made up of the fan's increasingly mad domination of the author and his attempts to placate her or escape. A couple of police appear near the end, but this is essentially a two-character piece dependent on the nightmarish sense of her unwavering obsession and domination. Eileen Nicholas probably peaks too soon, giving away at the start how barking mad her character is rather than letting it be discovered, and she is best and most chilling in the scenes in which she has the scary calm of the self-confident insane. Thomas Garvey always seems a little too healthy and strong to be so thoroughly at her mercy, and is most convincing when we see him turning active to save himself. Gerald Berkowitz

Patrick Monahan: Game On Gilded Balloon Teviot - Any young comedian coming from the North East has got to face comparisons with countryman Ross Noble. Patrick Monahan has barely escaped them but his strategy involves invoking a harmless Mr Nice Guy attitude and, on this occasion, restricting the material to the issues of playground rivalry. In his hour of struggle with a mildly responsive audience who have to answer polite questions concerning their biographical details, he tells us all about his childhood games. In some ways the idea is interesting - at least it spares us more talk of Bush, weather and masturbation - but essentially it is just as navel-gazing as any basic stand-up routine. Something gets lost in Monahan's delivery too and it's not only that vital ingredient, the punchline. Unless the punchline was something to do with the fact that boys and girls are different because their games are different, in which case his joke is lost on me. He wraps up with a ludicrous Postman Pat routine, but charming Monahan had better think carefully about who he wants to be when he grows up. Duska Radosavljevic

Mongoose Assembly Rooms - Previously seen in an earlier version in a London fringe theatre, Peter Harness's monologue play is a quiet study in a kind of madness that only gradually becomes evident. The aging bachelor farmer played by Richard Bremmer recalls his unhappy childhood with a drunken and abusive father and the magical mongoose who came to stay. There are hints that the animal, who left little gifts and notes for the boy, may have begun as the father's game, but it quickly took on an independent life in the boy's mind. Reflecting his moods as he grew up, the animal was in turn playful, comforting and destructive until, as the man remembers, it played some unspoken role in the father's death. Through much of the narration the mongoose could be seen as the child's attempt to make sense of things happening around him, but a few quiet hints, like a throw-away reference to years spent in prison, guide us to the realisation that it was a projection of forces from within. Richard Bremmer inhabits the character completely, subtly avoiding any overt indicators of madness, but allowing the man's natural reticence slowly suggest something being hidden and his quiet calm gradually expose a life of passions repressed and deflected. Gerald Berkowitz

More to Life than Sex Greyfriars Kirk House - Peter Yates's play is advertised as a warning against the dangers of online paedophiles, but in fact that element takes up only the last few minutes of a play whose subject, tone and implicit message are entirely different. For most of its length, the play is a light romantic comedy. A teenager places an online personal ad in her single mother's name, and makes a date for her with a nice guy. When he shows up in person, the mother is at first annoyed, but agrees to go out with him. Predictable awkwardness leads comically to a rather successful date, and it is only when they return home and discover that the daughter was also advertising in her own name and has gone off to meet a dirty old man that the play turns serious. That twist is really too little too late. Along with some preliminary scenes about the first guy's previously unsuccessful social life, the tone up to that point has been comic and the success of the date an implicit vindication of online contacts. For attention suddenly to shift to a secondary character, tone to go from light to dark and message from positive to negative is at best disorientating and at worst counterproductive. Yates has written two separate and incompatible plays here and unsuccessfully grafted them together. Gerald Berkowitz

My Long Journey Home Pleasance - New International Encounter, a Czech company performing in English, pull off one of the most difficult of theatrical challenges, telling a serious story comically without destroying its power. They take as their basis the true story of a Hungarian farmer conscripted into the German army in World War Two, abandoned in Russia, and then lost in a Siberian mental hospital for over 50 years just because no one could understand his language. Choosing to stress the black absurdity of the story, the quartet of actors make it the basis for some inspired clowning, from a narrator who keeps getting distracted by details that he has to remind himself are unimportant, through the at first comic and then actually very lovely use of a rag doll as the girl left behind, to a failed German lesson that the Marx Brothers could envy and a hilarious parody of a simultaneous translator. As funny as this all is, the basic pathos of a life lost to the stupidity of others comes through movingly - and that is a remarkable accomplishment. Gerald Berkowitz

 

 

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

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Reviews - Edinburgh Festival - 2004