EDINBURGH 2003
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The Theatreguide.London Reviews

EDINBURGH 2003

The several simultanous programmes collectively known as the Edinburgh Festival take over the Scottish capital each August, bringing thousands of shows in around-the-clock performances. No one can see more than a tiny fraction, but we managed to review more than 150. Most of these shows went on tour after Edinburgh, many eventually playing London.

We originally posted these reviews on several pages, to save the reader excessive scrolling. But for the archive we've condensed them all onto one page.

They're in alphabetical order (solo performers by last name), so scroll down for what you want, or just browse.

 

The Actor The Roxy - Horton Foote may be America's best semi-unknown playwright. For fifty years he has been turning out nice little realistic plays, many about rural life in the 1920s and 1930s, that have become staples of the amateur and student repertoires without ever really making a mark in the professional theatre. But this very characteristic play, about a Texas lad's discovery that he wants to be an actor and his family and community's disbelief, turns out to be not one of his best. From the brief description I just gave, you could write the whole play, and might well come up with more interesting interactions than he does. It is not helped by a static production in which only the lead actor, Ben Hynes, rises above the lowest levels of school acting. Gerald Berkowitz

Adventures in a Bath Theatre Workshop - From a feminist perspective, a girl becoming a woman can be seen as a political act, especially when there are the conflicting temptations of suicide, psychosis and anorexia. But it is something of a stretch to equate the process with the fight against the inequities and oppressions of the Third World. And that is particularly true when the primary means for expressing this in a play is statement rather than dramatisation, while the onstage action focuses on the emotional conflicts within the young woman. Ysabel Collyer's play puts two young women in adjoining bathtubs, gradually letting us understand that they represent two aspects of the same person, along with a third avatar played by a rag doll. For the first part of the play their debate is about the whole personıs inner conflict as she faces the experiences and burdens of becoming a sexual being. But somehow the talk turns to broader social issues, with the two actresses taking turns addressing us on Marxist interpretations of world geopolitics in general and the Zapatista movement in Mexico in particular. No part of this becomes theatrically alive, despite some film projections, and none is effectively related to the personal story, so the play sinks into an uninspiring classroom lecture. Gerald Berkowitz

Again Greyfriars Kirk House - This brief play  by Lucy Traube touches on the lives of two brothers, one of whom suffers from obsessive-compulsive disorder, forced to wash his hands repeatedly and near-agoraphobic in his fear of contamination outside. A string of brief scenes jumps among several time frames - the relatively normal childhood of the brothers, the beginnings of the disorder in adolescence, the depths of the obsession, and what appears to be a period of recovery. The play is too short and disjointed in its structure to offer any coherent characterisation or explanation of the psychological process, the author's one insight that the boy's fear of outside contamination may have begun as an excessive sense of his own uncleanness tied to the adolescent discovery of masturbation. More of a sketch for a play than the final product, the piece leaves too much unexplored - for example, the role of the brother - and gives Nick Waters and Matthew Cranfield too little to work with, so that they are challenged by the basic tasks of keeping the time scheme clear and finding their way around the small stage.. Gerald Berkowitz

The Argument   Assembly Rooms - Theatre O is a performance group whose style incorporates mime, movement, exaggerated gesture and clowning to evoke an emotional intensity beyond naturalism. Their current group-created show uses all these tools in the dissection of a dysfunctional family. Mother died while the children were young, and father seems unable to keep the family together as every encounter, in their childhood and when they are adults, is filled with unexpected tensions. Eventually we learn that a lie at the centre of their relationships has kept them from developing healthily, and its exposure near the end of the play may have come too late for them. Undoubtedly inventive, with several telling moments, as when a daughter's innocent questions about her mother turn into a chilling formal interrogation. But the play's basic structure of withholding a key piece of information until the end means that for too long we cannot be sure what all this theatrical cleverness is in aid of.  Gerald Berkowitz

Baby Jane Traverse Theatre - Aka People Show 113, four performers take to the stage and, as out of synch video screens fast-forward through the movie Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, in similar disjointed fashion the quartet simultaneously describes what's going on. What seems a random, pointless act of anarchy soon becomes a funny if unsettling act of anarchy that suddenly makes sense. It's a taste of things to come. As the credits close, the actors wheel out revolving mirror stands and tables with telephones to create four dressing rooms. The phones ring with scenes to play from the film and so begins a bizarre rehearsal that leads into the dark side. One actress bows to pressure and lets her character consume her while the other struggles to resist. The two men, reduced to a string of supporting roles, are powerless to help yet rivalries grow within the troupe as each minute the quibbles, spats and stresses accumulate. The cast responds skilfully to such demanding roles where the hi-tech element is as crucial as the human and music hall constantly bubbles under the surface. In throwing every theatrical genre up in the air, they have created a unique take on metatheatre taken to its extreme. Nick Awde

Bill Bailey: Part Troll Pleasance - Okay, so Bill Bailey avoids the cutting edge and he can do no wrong in front of his partisan audiences. But where most comics struggle to fill an hour, Bailey struggles for the opposite reasons - he's bursting with routines. And anyway the material is, well, immaterial since Bailey's laidback personality alone touches the parts other comedians do not. Tonight it's shaggy dog tales of sending subliminal messages as a lounge lizard pianist at the Basingstoke Hilton, sending Rod Hull and Emu on black ops into Cambodia, and the definition of "strict" vegetarianism and its effect on Hitler. Keyboards, acoustic guitar, Theremin and beatbox all get an outing too, expertly mixed and cued. No Bailey show would be complete without a lecture on the songster's craft and chart hits get the rundown this time. Craig David comes in for especial criticism requiring the response of a "real" love song of Sturm und Drang - a sort of Brell meets Scott Walker meets Slayer. Consistently funny and even provocative, if only for the Portishead reinterpretation of the National Anthem, Bailey is well worth the ticket money. Oh, and the part troll bit? No idea, and he probably doesn't know either. Nick Awde

Bill Shakespeare's Italian Job Gilded Balloon Teviot - 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

The Birds of Sarajevo The Roxy - Unless the door opens in the middle of the stage, any show whose director absolutely forbids admittance of latecomers is missing the whole point of the Fringe and gets docked four stars automatically. When such amateurish preciousness is compounded by making the audience wait 20 minutes under the same prohibitory sign, it incurs the loss of the remaining star. So Birds needs to be good to work its way up from nul points. And, irritatingly enough, it is. Damn good, in fact. Hailing from Yugoslavia and France, Florence le Juez and Harris Burina enact the transformation of a young Christian-Muslim couple's domestic idyll to nightmare prison as war rages outside. Not a word is spoken save for anguishedd cries when the creeping tension needs real release. Instead, a soundtrack of folk melodies and birdsong follows the exquisitely choreographed action. Le Juez is all joy and innocence, cradling her soon-to-be born child as she dances, snuggling up to her postman husband. As the man who loves her, Burina evokes the gentle strength of the wager-earner who ensures she gets all the munchies she craves. Such perfection cannot last and so, when the celebratory gunfire outside turns to conflict, the end of innocence begins and their undying love cannot prevent the ensuing madness that splits their lives. Nick Awde

Boy Steals Train Assembly Rooms - Most boys (and girls, admit it!) dream of driving their own train, hooting whistles, announcing stations. Precocious teenager Darius McCollum decided he'd actually follow up on those urges. As a result he's spent years in jail in his native New York for illicitly driving subway trains. Courtesy of NYC's 78th Street Theatre Lab, Paperhat has created a high-octane zoom through the bizarre but true life of this possibly autistic trainspotter who irreversibly crossed the line. As an obsessed kid he played truant to hang out with the subway drivers, getting so good they'd let him take their shifts whenever they felt like skiving for a Knicks game or a bit on the side. Darius' subsequent arrests made him something of a celebrity in the process. Ron Simons charms as Darius, capturing the vulnerability of a hapless perp of victimless crimes, while Misty De Berry shines as his longsuffering mother. The rest of this buzzing ensemble fills in a gallery of MTA drivers and cleaners, judges and lawyers, plus the subculture of buskers, trainspotters and lowlifes whose hearts beat to the rhythms of the subway. It's criminal to laugh and cry this much at one man's misfortune, but you can't help it. Nick Awde

Breaking Strain C Venue - Justin Butcher's modern version of the Phaedra myth is clever and inventive, hampered only by an uncertainty about just how seriously he wants the play to be taken. It opens with a comic prologue reminding us of the story of the stepmother whose love for her stepson led to tragedy, and the opening scenes of the play proper continue the comic tone. Katy Feeney plays the new wife of a Greek millionaire as a slightly dumpy middle-aged woman whose sudden lust for the man's athlete son is ridiculous even to her, while the author plays the boy as such an uptight prig that he can't be taken seriously. But then things suddenly get very serious, as he tries to use her lust to discredit her and she takes an extreme and very unlikely revenge. There are both a serious play and a satire jumbled together in this script, and if the author could separate them he might have two excellent plays on his hands.  Gerald Berkowitz

Bright Colours Only Pleasance (reviewed at a previous Fringe) - Pauline Goldsmith's meditation on death, dying and bereavement looks at it all with a tenderly amused eye, domesticating the subject without disrespecting it, and paradoxically creating one of the happiest and most emotionally satisfying hours on the fringe. Goldsmith begins in the persona of a frighteningly perky undertaker, welcoming us into her parlour and proudly displaying the tacky but oh-so-tasteful-looking accoutrements on offer, such as the gold-effect plastic handles which, she warns us, should not actually be used to lift the coffin. She follows with a realistic and benevolent mix of warts-and-all memories of the departed - a spinster aunt, a grumpy grandmother - and the incongruous behaviour of the living - watching television at a wake, or babbling hysterically. Projections of computer-generated animations, particularly effective in their simplicity, accompany key sequences. Goldsmith's performance in this self-written and self-directed piece is beautifully controlled, moving seamlessly from one persona to another and from the gently comic to the touchingly evocative, such as the catalogue of a child's first experiences of death or the departed's realisation of the life not yet lived. And the piece ends with a fourth-wall-breaking coup de theatre that is as unexpectedly moving as it is audacious. Gerald Berkowitz

Brilliant! The Blinding Enlightenment of Nikola Tesla C Venue - We take electricity for granted yet without it the modern world wouldn't exist - and so we should thank the Yugoslavian inventor, visionary and madman Nikola Tesla. Here, artfully realised via every trick in the performer's handbook, snapshots of his life and career chart his decline from whizzkid to Howard Hughes-like isolation. Jonathon Young is a suitably Balkan and intense Tesla who emigrates to the US to work with inventor-industrialist Thomas Edison, a barmy but wily David Hudgins. Money rows lead to Tesla setting up on his own and predictable rivalry between the electro-titans. Always on the look-out for their brilliant friend's wellbeing are members of New York's hoi poloi: caring and brilliant Katherine Underwood-Johnson (Kim Collier) and her clever journalist husband Robert (Kevin Kerr). But his unique brain couldn't unlock his bad head for business and he died paranoid and lonely in 1943, destroyed by his quest for the Holy Grail of free energy for all. This Canadian company performs with an innovation of which Tesla would have been proud to produce great narrative with touches of humour and charming physicality that includes human-sized pigeons, a giant ball and slides. Oh, a re-creation of Edison's notorious public electrocution of a kitten. Nick Awde

Cambridge Footlights: Non-Sexual Kissing Pleasance Dome - You can always learn something about the entertainment zeitgeist from the annual Cambridge and Oxford revues. For a while every witty undergraduate clearly wanted to become a Python; then they were all aiming at BBC writing careers; then for a while they all had stand-up comic aspirations. Judging by this latest Footlights, they now want to be Alan Ayckbourn when they grow up. The current show eschews erudition or absurdity in favour of the bittersweet, comedy with a hint of insight into middle class life. So we get a guy unable to process the news that his girl has dumped him, a mixed group awaiting the guest at a surprise party and exposing their emptiness in the process, two guys who bond more fully in a chance meeting in a lift than either does with his girlfriend, and so on. There are some laughs, but the clear goal is something slightly deeper, and they do at least sometimes pull it off. Gerald Berkowitz

Chicken - The True Story of a Teenage Gigolo in Hollywood Assembly Rooms - Servicing middle-aged women at their homes at 100 bucks a trick, polishing silver in nothing but a black lace pinny, discovering tantric sex with a dippy hippy ­ just how does a nice American middle-class teenager become a freelance industrial sex technician, the chicken of the title? David Henry Sterry helps explain this via this frank, funny, surreal romp through his own experiences as a youthful hooker. More Personal Services than Valley of the Dolls, he describes his precocious younger incarnation chancing upon the seedy underbelly of the LA sex industry. After meeting charismatic pimp Sonny, it's a rumpy-pumpy joyride from there on as he moves up the sex ladder via straight sex to orgies and the arcane levels of fetishism. Most bizarre of all is when he tries to go on a normal date. Sterry resists overglamorising his exploits and never lets the laughs get in the way of the story. Skipping the STDs, exploitation and street slang allows him to keep the appeal universal and he considerately withdraws just before things too explicit. And though the stylised gestures that punctuate the delivery are a little irritating, his storytelling technique always engages and never lets the attention droop. Nick Awde

The Child-Killer: A Portrait of a Paedophile Pleasance Dome - This is a significant play. Translated by Paul Moor, Oliver Reese's work assembles direct excerpts from the correspondence of Jurgen Bartsch, a German jailed in the sixties for the killing of four children. Dramatising material straight out from this murderer's mind runs the risk of diluting the message and glamorising a man whose actions are beyond revulsion. Here you find Bartsch's words without embellishment, their intensity given perspective through the device of representing him with two actors. Any Jeckyll and Hyde scenario, however, is strictly resisted. Here is a child killer who started killing when he was barely a teenager. Good and evil may or may not have relevance for this paedophile, yet no moral judgment is imposed since by the end Bartsch has provided more than enough to judge himself. Daniel Goldman is compelling from the onset, homing in on the complexities of Bartsch's voice as he tries to disguise his wheedling under matter-of-fact postulating. Archie Young takes time to warm up, but his starker, more calculating persona soon kicks in with a chilling vengeance. Rarely acknowledging each other's presence, the creepy connection between the two is tangible and electric thanks to Hazel Pearson's direction which refuses to let the attention falter for an instant. Nick Awde

Julian Clary - Natural Born Mincer : St Georgeıs West - Clearly designed for those who find the sight of him in glitzy drag and a string of single-entendre gags inherently funny, Julian Clary's current tour show is made up of half-developed bits and pieces that sometimes look like leftovers and rejects from past scripts. Clary is at his best in the opening stand-up sequence built on audience interaction, delivering the insults and bawdy invitations his fans expect. A history of homosexuality through the ages is dropped after one weak skit, in favour of a more extended sequence in which two straight men are recruited from the audience to play a love scene with him. A final stand-up bit stretches a particularly unfunny scatological story beyond its limits. Clary has three or four changes of costume, each appropriately outrageous in a sub-Danny LaRue way, speak-sings his way through a couple of songs, and makes strikingly little use of his second bananas, in a show that seems designed to deliver the very least that he can get away with. Gerald Berkowitz

The Complete Ring of the Nibelung (abridged) St. Cut's - Well, if it worked for Shakespeare... Pitching his tent somewhere between the Reduced Shakespeare Company and Gerard Hoffnung, Hugh Janes and his cast do to Wagner what should be done to Wagner. Two performers and an occasionally speaking pianist manage to tell us most of the story of the operas and manage to get much of it right, despite their conviction that The Valkyrie is actually set in Scotland and Siegfried should be sung in a country and western mode. Obviously we are in the realm of broad parody and no opportunity for cocking a snook is overlooked. Michele Moran's Brunnhilde, clearly having seen Apocalypse Now, insists that her big number should be accompanied by helicopters. The battle between Siegmund and Hunding takes place at the Highland Games, with David Plimmer playing both roles. And the audience is repeatedly involved in the action in panto style, helping to form the rainbow bridge, singing along with the valkyries, and ­ don't ask me why ­ line dancing in their pews. Some of this has been done before, in sketch shows and the like, but throwing all these comic and satiric devices into one show, with the comic butt that everyone is ready to see skewered, makes for a thoroughly satisfying entertainment. Gerald Berkowitz

Confessions of a Justified Sinner   Netherbow - James Hogg's 1824 attack on the excesses and hypocrisies of Scottish Presbyterianism has been turned into an intense two-hander by John Carnegie, who also directs. Matthew Burgess plays a young man so convinced that he is among the Elect and thus guaranteed salvation for his religiosity that he is easy prey for the devil-like figure played by Alan Steele, who lures him into a variety of sins under the guise of doing God's work. Steele has the flashier role, doubling as a fire-and-brimstone preacher and others. But it is Burgess whose tightly-wound portrayal of the zealot creates and sustains an almost unbearable reality to this twist on the Faust story.  Gerald Berkowitz

Cradle King John Knox's House - James VI and I is found in his old age in this pleasant little solo show, remembering, as old men will, both the triumphs and the griefs of his life. But author David Coulter adds a nice touch by remembering that James was also patron of Shakespeare's theatre company, so that the king's memories are filtered through the plots and words of Shakespeare's plays. James's relations with his sons became a male counterpart to King Lear, while his continued bitterness at the murder of his father is shown by casting his mother as both Lady Macbeth and Gertrude. Playing in a small  (and authentically Jacobean) room to audiences usually numbered in the single digits, Robin Thomson makes the man come alive in an understated and attractive performance.  Gerald Berkowitz

Cyril's Little Moments of Weakness and Strength    Pleasance - Julian Garner's sadly comic look at the life of an aging carer is given a sensitive production by C.H.A.O.S. Theatre, as Jeffrey Mayhew plays a sixty-something man who has lovingly and uncomplainingly devoted himself to the care of his blind and wheelchair-bound brother (David Williams), who has, in the unmalicious way of some invalids, become ever more demanding in small and large ways. A chance meeting with a local widow (Janie Booth) hints at an opening up of Cyril's little world, and the play looks at that possibility. Under Mayhew's direction, the actors underplay nicely, keeping the story on a small scale with, for example, Cyril's frustrations just hinted at by small gestures of anger he can safely make in the knowledge his brother won't see them. It is little touches like that, and like the realistic awkwardness of two older people not used to making new friends, that stick in the mind and make for a warm and moving hour.  Gerald Berkowitz

The Damage Gilded Balloon Caves - Paul Sellar has written two short monologues in the Conor McPherson mode, shaggy dog tales with a black comic tone, in this case both about sport. In Killer a son describes his father's one opportunity of making something of his life as a darts player, how he was thwarted and how the son waited decades for his chance of revenge. In The Stake a suddenly-called-in loan shark debt forces a man to stake all on a horse race that goes bad, leading to gunshots, a Wild West-style getaway and the surprise discovery of who was really behind it all. Both monologues have built-in strengths, in the hardman atmosphere, the suspenseful accounts of the darts showdowns and the horserace, and  the black comic elements. Unfortunately Andrew Dickens' flat delivery has neither rhythm, humour, audience engagement nor even much variation in inflection, volume or tempo, and thus makes far too little of these opportunities. Gerald Berkowitz

Dark Earth Traverse - Like any theatre company, Edinburgh's Traverse does a variety of work. But there is a particular sort of realistic drama, frequently with a Scottish flavour, that I always think of as the typical Traverse play. This year's version is David Harrower's study in localised culture clash and loss of a past that still has a hold. When a young Glasgow couple's car breaks down somewhere in mid-Scotland, they are taken in by a farm family. Inevitably, life styles clash, truths are told, and both sides are severely shaken by the encounter. The locals, immersed in the land and in the area's history, are faced with losing both; the city mice realise that their freedom and affluence mask an emotional rootlessness. The play breaks no new ground and ultimately tells us little we don't know, but it does its job solidly and lingers in the mind longer than most - the very definition of a Traverse play. Gerald Berkowitz

Dean's Silly Song Sing-Along Assembly Rooms - A historic show for two reasons - it's Dean Friedman's first appearance at the Fringe (he's also doing Songs For Adults at 6.35pm at the same venue) and he's part of the Assembly Rooms' first children's programme. Better known as the man responsible for 70s hits like Lucky Stars, Ariel and Woman Of Mine, Dean is also an accomplished kids entertainer with a raft of infectiously funny songs for every eventuality. Suitable for under-10s, you'll instantly find yourself jigging along to catchy ditties about bees, elder brothers and smelly feet. And, of course, there's the Silly Silly Silly Silly Silly Song which is gloriously, um, silly. Participation is high on the agenda as every song has a hook for everyone to join in, plus there's lots of silly costumes for the younger members to dress up in when they're invited onstage to be Dean's backing group. A must-see for all the family. Nick Awde

Death in the Chapel St. Cut's - An amiable comic whodunit with an opportunity for the audience to play along by trying to guess the who, how and why, this modest two-hander is a vehicle for two personable performers. In the guise of dim detective and dimmer assistant, they take us back to 1930 and the wedding of Agatha Christie and Max Mallowan where, they would have us believe, one of the guests was murdered. Whodunit? The dodgy archaeologist who once got lost looking for the Lost City? The society dowager with a weakness for Mae West one-liners? The malevolent media millionaire, the mousy secretary or the flapper floozie? Or perhaps the butler did it? Playing all the roles, with the most minimal of costume and voice changes, the two actors keep things moving swiftly while carefully dropping both clues and red herrings until they stop the action to let us record our deductions before they solve the case. A slight piece, but thoroughly entertaining. Gerald Berkowitz

Descent Assembly Rooms - Elizabeth Hess is a New York-based writer-actress who was raised in an emotionally repressed and repressive Canadian Mennonite family, and wrote a previous solo play about the ways in which that experience affected her. She returns to the same material in this new piece, but with a different self-awareness and perspective. While recounting many of the same emotional and psychological crimes against her and other relatives of her generation, she comes to realise this time that her parents' generation did not set out to harm her but were merely responding to the way they had been raised, which was in turn a response to what the previous generation knew, and so on, so that this play ends on a note of understanding and the possibility of reconciliation. Despite - or perhaps because of - her unique intimacy with the material, Hess may not be the best actress to perform it, since her emotional excesses, writhing about the floor and the like, come across more like bad acting school exercises than dramatic truth.  Gerald Berkowitz

Dr. Bunhead's Bananas of Doom George Square Theatre - By way of introduction, Dr Bunhead gravely announces he has caught wind of a dastardly plot to dominate the world. Its architect is the evil Banana who has converted Banana Fart Gas to a new superformula most deadly to humankind. And so begins a wonderfully loopy race against time to thwart the Banana's plan, 007-style. And, of course, this is the perfect excuse for 60 minutes of Dr Bunhead's trademark non-stop explosive mayhem. Within seconds of starting the doctor already has an unsuspecting parent up onstage and the kids are shouting instructions even before the lights have gone down. The hunt for the deadly BFG leaves a trail littered with the debris of one pyromanical experiment after another. The three-cup routine gets improbable mileage, the infamous potato cannon makes a return while there are thrills and spills with liquid nitrogen. Oh yes, and still up there as crowd favorite is the amazing exploding water bottle. Though the material is a tad stretched compared to previous years, this remains one of the most consistently inventive and entertaining acts on the circuit courtesy of Tom Pringle. Fun, farts and suspense, life's always a gas with Dr Bunhead. Nick Awde

Duck    Traverse - Her boyfriend calls her that because of her big feet, which nicely encapsulates his mix of real fondness and unconsciously blokish cruelty, and neither her parents nor those of her best friend have any awareness of the difficulties of growing up, so one understands why the teenager played by Ruth Negga is drawn into an affair with a seemingly more sensitive older man. But inevitably he fails her, too, and Duck faces the challenge of moving forward on her own. A typical coming-of-age play, then, with author Stella Feehily adding two original twists - the central figure's gender and the fact that it is her friend, to whom much less happens, who actually moves on. The company Out Of Joint and director Max Stafford-Clark make the most of the material, though without ever really transcending the familiarity of the genre.  Gerald Berkowitz

Dulcas's Woman Pleasance - The pretence of a salute to Emile Dulcas, a mythical author and filmmaker, is the frame for a programme of ten brief one-woman sketches supposedly from his work. That premise proves an unnecessary and distracting baggage that weighs down a piece whose real strength lies in the sketches themselves, the best of which belie a comic opening with a fuller emotional resonance or a sting in the tail. A grieving widow guides us to the understanding of how the burden of her husband's extended illness made his death a relief. A teenage girl's one perfect day is remembered by her adult self with a full appreciation of its uniqueness. A groom's rejected girlfriend realises at his wedding that she had completely misunderstood him, herself and the bride, and accepts the redefinitions with a grace that surprises even her. Genevieve Swallow performs the varied sketches with admirable versatility and sensitivity to both the comic and serious colours of each piece, and repeatedly creates an instant reality other actresses might have trouble achieving in a full-length play. Gerald Berkowitz

Ego Pleasance - A Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist fast approaches his 50th birthday and is suffering a crisis of self-confidence. What can another book, another prize tell Steven Marks (Stephen Crossley) about himself? From the couch he wonders, as his analyst (Jeff Harding) takes notes, might he ever enter the posthumous literary canon? A massive dose of narcissism is diagnosed. As Marks leaves, he hints he may not return for his next session. He turns out to be right since he goes missing after a boating accident and is believed dead. Miriam (Tara Hugo), his ex-wife and a successful "edible artist", soon esconces herself on the same shrink's couch, plagued by guilty curiosity over his abrupt demise. A twist in the plot arrives shortly after and sets in motion a whole new take on posthumous celebrity. Carl Djerassi is not an exceptional writer but he has created promising situations with farcical undertones. Yet director Andy Jordan misses most of his chances and, more crucially, wastes an experienced cast. Badly paced, the piece goes wide of the agenda and so each protagonist lacks depth. A little of the barbed commentary on the excesses of fame does come across, however, and there are a few deserved laughs along the way. Nick Awde

Eros of Love and Distruction The Garage - The Indo-Japanese choreographer and dancer Shakti addresses the journey of woman in search of fulfilment in this one-hour dance, showing a series of false starts in religion, love and the like before ending in a triumph of the spirit. Recurring images in the dance are of beauty turning into a trap or perversion of itself. An Indian bridal gown is stripped away to reveal a tawdry strip-show costume; a flowing scarf becomes a prisoner's yoke; a whirling dance of religious ecstasy leaves her hobbled by the skirt wrapped around her feet. As always, Shakti borrows freely from various Asian and western dance vocabularies, moving eclectically between the beautiful and the banal, happily running the risks involved in both extremes as, for example, her final dance of fulfilment resembles a Hollywood version of an all-purpose pagan dance, the sort of thing Debra Paget would have danced in a 1950s costume epic. Gerald Berkowitz

Fascinating Aida - One Last Flutter Assembly Rooms - The much-loved comedy-in-music trio are putting away their sequins after this twentieth anniversary farewell tour, they insist, so those who don't know them should grab the opportunity. The songwriting team of Dillie Keane (the ditzy blonde one) and Adele Anderson (the tall elegant one), along with Marilyn Couts (the operatic one), offer a new batch of Tom Lehrer-ish songs that are as delightful as the old favourites. The ladies all admit to being vaguely in the vicinity of 50, and so there are hilarious songs about face lifts and hot flashes, along with one about the horrors of touring with the colleagues from hell and one about the unexpected temptation of retiring to New Zealand. It's sad to think this may be our last chance to hear throwaway allusions to Camilla Park-and-ride or the FA anthem Sew on a Sequin, so just go. You'll thank me. Gerald Berkowitz

The Father, The Son and Holy Moses Gateway Theatre - A flat in Finland, it's winter, the heating's turned up and the obsessive father and son who share the residence zip in and out in true farce fashion, inviting all manner of mayhem. It's not only the humans that have a slight tendency to dysfunction but also most of the furnishings and fittings. Shoes stick to the floor as dad enters, door handles fall off as whizzkid son exits, both have an unnerving tendency to disappear into the heating vent or fridge. Mostly silent and with shades of Monsieur Hulot and Mr Bean, this is classic Finnish comedy where tragedy always seems to be heartbeat away, a world-weariness exquisitively mapped out in Martti Suosalo's deadpan features as he doubles the roles of father and son. As if playing a cinema Wurlitzer, Iiro Rantala ­ the neighbour whose jazzed-up etudes are constantly interrupted by the phone ­ provides a virtuoso soundtrack on baby grand. Beautifully written and directed by Raila Leppakoski, the energy ebbs somewhat in the final act as pathos replaces humour when the father comes to terms with a flat that isn't half as fun without the son who has finally left the nest for a glittering career abroad. A low-key ending for a high energy masterpiece. Nick Awde

Tim FitzHigham Pleasance Dome - Inventive comic Tim FitzHigham was talked into a stunt for Comic Relief this year, rowing down the Thames in a kayak made out of paper, and this low-key show is his account of the adventure. Some may have already spotted that doing something weird and making a show about it is Dave Gorman's forte, and indeed FitzHigham doesn't really escape that comparison, even borrowing some of Gorman's gimmicks, like a number-of-capsizes-per-mile chart. His most successful variations on the format involve brief sketches in which he plays some of the people he met along the way, and particularly when he invokes the ghost of eighteenth-century poet John Taylor, the first to attempt the stunt, and when he involves the audience in a recreation of his wandering into the middle of an Oxford boat race. Low-keyed, more chuckle than laugh-inducing and perhaps a bit too much of a wander into Gorman territory. Gerald Berkowitz

Flamingo Flamingo Flamingo Roman Eagle Lodge - This delightful small-scale comedy is very much in the spirit of the fringe in its inventiveness, exuberance and ability not to take itself too seriously. Adam Brown and Clare Plested play a loving couple on their wedding day, but with everything gone as wrong as it possibly could, and flash back to trace the conflicting expectations, the difficulties in meeting the mounting costs, and the discoveries of dark secrets, to understand how they came to this impasse. The road is a highly comic one, made even funnier by a series of self-referential fourth-wall-breaking jokes that signal the audience to enjoy the absurdity. A recorded narration by Barry Wilsher interrupts things in mid-plot to introduce the actors, scenes are played and then rejected to start over again, a running gag built on sound effects escalates exponentially with each appearance, and backstage mutterings call our attention to the difficulties of quick costume changes. The two onstage performers have the grace and confidence to allow themselves to look silly from time to time, in the service of the comedy, and their obvious enjoyment is infectious. So a script that is satisfactorily comic on its own is enhanced and enriched by a  clever and high-spirited production. Gerald Berkowitz

Flora The Red Menace Old St Paul's - The first theatrical collaboration of John Kander and Fred Ebb 40 years ago was this charming little Off-Broadway musical that also introduced the young Liza Minnelli, which makes this revival by JRAFF Productions doubly welcome, as a bit of history as well as for its own merits. The Depression-era tale follows an unquenchably perky young fashion designer as love for a labour organiser lures her briefly into the Communist Party, only to have her native good heart and  good sense rebel against Party orthodoxy. Very attractive performances by Sarah Lane and the rest of the young cast  make the most of the play, though they can't disguise the fact that Kander and Ebb hadn't really found their voices yet, with only a couple of quiet songs - You are You and A Quiet Thing - really registering. Gerald Berkowitz

Footers Assembly Rooms - Deep in the Zambian bush a conversation between an itinerant teacher and the trees surrounding him is disturbed by a ruffian on the lookout for easy pickings. There's no money to rob but the would-be thief Yoyo hangs around, intrigued by the Zedy's musings on life, the universe and everything - oh, and his savings book. And so begins an unlikely pairing as they travel on together, pitting street savviness against rural idealism. Yoyo convinces Zedy that he's in deep financial trouble, and so the duo go to the big city. There among the police, streetgirls and hustlers they set up the Church of Happy Healing to sell Zedy's medicinal potions. There's a pleasing energy and violence about this energetic two-hander that Becket would be proud of. Benne Banda makes Yoyo a scheming rogue but all the more lovable for it, while Augustine Lungu ensures that Zedy, for all his wide-eyed ways, is no dupe. Like all picaresques, it meanders somewhat and at times the allegory gets a tad preachy for British sensibilities but Banda and Lungu keep the energy flowing while Shay Linehan's constant wordplay and absurdist situations neatly showcases the duo as comsummate comics. Nick Awde

Forgiveness Day Assembly Rooms - The Assembly continues its unique collaboration with the Caucasus through this one-woman play from Georgia's Marjanishvili Theatre. Performed in Georgian and set in the present, a grandmother returns to her village to sell the family home. She wants the cash so she can join her daughter in Australia and the grandchildren she has never seen, but as she discovers she'll get no more than a "groshi" (penny) for the property, the ghosts of its memories come to life and her thoughts turn inwardly to the father and Spanish mother she never really knew - killed in the gulags - and the uncle and aunt who raised her. Sweetening her uncertain past are the music and dance that inspired her and gave her clues to her real identity. It's a story many Georgians can relate to and has resonances for the rest of us, overcoming any language barrier. But while Guranda Gabunia's performance is technically sound and Keti Dolidze's direction makes good use of space, together they fail to bring the emotional depth needed to flesh out Inga Garuchava and Peter Khotianovksy's intriguing script. Nick Awde

Fraulein Else C Venue - Amy de Lucia's adaptation of Schnitzler's novella follows a playful 17 year old girl as she is forcefully thrust into the world of adult responsibility and sexuality and ultimately destroyed by her inability to cope with it. As both adaptor and actress de Lucia is particularly successful in the earlier section, capturing the sometimes paradoxical mix that is innocent adolescence, as she bounces between lightheartedness, blind self-absorption and sentimental fantasy. When a family crisis puts her into the power of an odious dirty old man, she finds the prospect of being sexually exploited both horrifying and alluring, and Schnitzler leaves ambiguous which of those sensations is the more horrifying. This part of the story, with its rapid mood swings and ambiguous psychology, offers the greatest challenge to the actress and director Eve Collyer, and both have difficulty sustaining the reality through the melodramatic emoting and events. Gerald Berkowitz

Dean Friedman - Songs for Grown-ups Assembly Rooms - The New York singer-songwriter who gave us silky hits like Lucky Stars and Ariel in the otherwise mad, bad 70s and championed today by our very own Gaby Roslin and Jonathan Ross, Dean Friedman's in town for the first time with an umissable solo show. Dean's never really gone away - he's just been busy producing a string of albums over the years of precision-crafted songs in his own inimitable style. His first chart smashes aside, every song in this Edinburgh show is a classic in its own right - intimate, epic, satirical or just plain loving, there's a song for everyone. He'll have you wiping away tears of laughter to the cheerful insanity of Sado-Masochism, touch you with a ballad about a loved one's death, and arouse delicious disgust with his homage to self-pleasurement, Nookie In The Mail. Shopping Bag Ladies covers more sober territory - a winsome observation of life on the streets - as does McDonald's Girl, in the sense that this love letter to the burger girl behind the counter got Dean banned by the BBC (putting him up there with the Sex Pistols!). Dean refuses to be classified (he's also doing Dean's Silly Song Sing-Along at 11am at the same venue) but under the deceptively catchy melodies lies one of the industry's most underrated lyricists. If only for the audience duet on Lucky Stars, you won't see a better show. Nick Awde

Gob Pleasance Dome - The nation needs a wake-up call, or at least that's what The Liberator (Mark Rose) is trying to convince his mate, the drug-addled Hard Man Les (Tom Hayes) as they stumble from yet another club. 'Wake up London!' urges The Liberator ­ the capital must fall with the hordes at its gates, armed not with bullets but the power of 'heathen tongues', i.e. their gobs. If Citizen Smith's Wolfie took acid or Little Malcolm and his Eunuchs got out a bit more often things might be very different now. Jim Kenworth's promising Swiftian satire turns into a bit of a Brechtian ramble as our unlikely duo dodge Parliament and aim for the South Bank instead where, Stop the City style, they rally the lost tribes of London, riding trashed supermarket trolleys like Don Quixote, bollard loudhailers and Tennants Extra in hand. Pleasing anarchy ensues as the pair meet their match at the Royal Festival Hall in the shape of a couple of posh superpoets handily performing that night and a battle of the alter-egos ensues. Director Lee Macintosh Jones pushes Rose and Hayes into darkly, madly, funny performances, while DJ Spike supplies enough beats, scratches, fanfares and SFX to create a whole comic script in itself. Nick Awde

Dave Gorman's Googlewhack Adventure George Square Theatre - Dave Gorman does weird things and then creates shows about them. A couple of years ago he scoured the world for other people named Dave Gorman. This year he discovered Googlewhacks, the game of putting two unrelated words into an internet search engine in the hope of finding only one site containing both. Characteristically, Dave took the game further, travelling to meet people whose websites uniquely contained the words unicyclist and periscopes, for example, and then getting them to find another Googlewhack for him to track down. What saves this from total trainspotting insanity is the fact that Dave is a really great storyteller. He's aware of  how mad the game is, and comically recounts his attempts to resist a quest that came to take on a life of its own. He skilfully characterises the people he meets in his obsessive journey, from the Australians unhappily stranded in Washington DC to the octogenarian creationist in (of course) southern California, all with an infectious delight. And he carries the audience through the highs and lows of his absurd adventure, inspiring cheers, gasps and virtually continuous laughter. Gerald Berkowitz

The Gospel of Matthew   C Venue - 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

Greed Pleasance (reviewed in London) - The Clod Ensemble's staged silent film draws its nominal inspiration from von Stroheim's epic film of Norris's McTeague, though the connection amounts to little more than having a dentist as protagonist and performing in silent film mode, complete with broad mime, mugging and pauses for projected intertitles. A more direct debt, at least in the first half, is to classic silent comedians, as Lloyd, Chaplin and particularly Keaton are repeatedly alluded to. In this group-developed piece dramatised by John Binias and Suzy Willson,  the shy dentist befriends and marries a poor girl, and then discovers a miracle tooth-whitening formula that makes them rich. The mode then shifts away from romantic comedy as demon drink, war, rats and tooth decay conspire to destroy their happiness and lead to a melodramatic ending. Jason Thorpe has the showier role, and makes the most of set pieces like a hat-modelling routine that directly quotes Keaton to comic effect, and a sequence condensing all the discomforts and horrors of war into three minutes. Sarah Cameron has the more prosaic job of carrying much of the plot, with less opportunity to shine.. The basic joke of acting in silent film style onstage wears thin even at an hour's running time, a case, perhaps, of a natural two-reeler unwisely extended to feature length. Gerald Berkowitz

Guts Theatre Workshop - Connor is a schoolby growing up friendless with a lush of a mother who loves him but ignores him, pushing him to find solace with his grandmother. He's hiding a remarkable talent for writing poetry, a talent his gay English teacher Jez wants to reveal to the world but his good intentions soon turn to an obsession that threatens his relationship with live-in lover Mark. You know everyone's doomed but that doesn't mean they're going down without a fight. Sort of The L-Shaped Room meets Teachers meets anything by Jimmy McGovern, Karlton Parris' slice of Mancunian life is simply packed with characters and ideas. Ths script shows its film origins via episodic set scenes with neat punchlines, making for snappy plotting and instant characterisation, compounded by an awesome ear for language. A cracking cast responds with near perfection to Parris' flowing direction. James Denton is achingly vulnerable as Connor, matched by Maragret Boschi's dippy but astute Gran ­ their kitchen conversations are as funny as they are heart-rending. Rob Clyne (Jez) and John Last (Mark) keep the energy going but almost blow their crucial final scene. As Connor's mum Eileen, Wendy Laurence-James finds savage humour even in her darkest moments. It may be grim up north but it's certainly not boring. Nick Awde

Hardcore Pleasance Dome - Watching Jonathan Hall's play is like entering a time warp back thirty years or so to an earlier generation of gay plays, when the goals were to get the cast's kit off as quickly and often as possible and to offer the reassurance that homosexuals were just as normal underneath as the rest of us. Here, auditions for a gay porn film attract a porn veteran, a neophyte looking for kicks, a cynical hustler and a straight actor who sees it as just another acting job. No points for guessing that the veteran is not as hard-nosed as he seems, that the cynic is just looking for love, that the straight guy's sexuality is open to question, or that flashbacks will show all four to have had unhappy childhoods that made them what they are today. Faced with such stereotypes and with the unlikely dramatic premise of a consciousness-raising workshop before they're allowed to film, Alex Hassell, Phil Matthews, Christopher Redmond and Simon Thomas do what they can to create and sustain a sense of reality, but they are ultimately defeated by the cliches. Gerald Berkowitz

Hector's House   George Square Theatre - Lip Service are Maggie Fox and Sue Riding, a pair of writer-actresses who pretend to be earnest amateurs putting on little shows for women's clubs and the like. It's a recognisable fringe genre, but they are among the best at it - see our review of their Withering Looks elsewhere on this page. Here, they take on a 'newly-discovered Greek-style tragedy' that is in fact the Iliad story, from Paris' judging the beauty contest (here done as a version of TV's Blind Date) through the Trojan horse (which they assure us is parked just outside the theatre). The production is a bit more elaborate than their normal mode, with a third performer and some film sequences, and there's some audience involvement, as we are called upon to fill in gaps in the ancient manuscript, but the basic joke of overreaching theatrical ambition is still at the core, and still very funny.  Gerald Berkowitz

The Hero of the Slocum Hill Street Theatre - An old New Yorker props up a bar and explains any who'll listen why he needs a stick to help him walk - an injury sustained long ago, in 1904, when as a 15-year-old he became one of the few surivivors of a terrible fire. A group of German New Yorkers take a celebratory cruise up the East River aboard pleasure steamer The General Slocum but the fun turns to nightmare as the ship catches fire and our teenager vainly struggles to save himself and his loved ones. They perish - among more than 1,000 souls - but he survives, floating in the river, his head gashed open by a looter's boathook. Tabloid hysteria hoists him high as the hero of the disaster, an error he is powerless to correct as public cartharsis focuses on him. From the mists of the past Patrick Tull plucks the voices of the narrator's younger self, of his neighbours, of his lost family. Period slides and tunes keep a flowing backdrop to the story which holds you gripped throughout. Tull's treatment of the snappy script, taken from Eric Blau's novel, is honed by Emily King's focused direction, resulting in as fruitful a collaboration as you'll find. Storytelling rarely comes this good. Nick Awde

Alex Horne: Making Fish Laugh Assembly Rooms - In 1976 a convention was held in Wales to produce a scientific report on what makes people laugh. Ken Dodd was there, and as if to bless the show, Horne has a pic of Alex Horne and the knight of Knotty Ash holding up a copy. Its chapters serve as a blueprint for Horne to create a human laboratory to test the ideal conidtions for laughter. At his side, nerdy sidekick Tim takes his wry eye from the laptop only when he needs to scrutinise the levels of audience enjoyment. Slides, calculator and cheapo tape recorder at the ready, carefully constructed anarchy ensues as Horne launches into a welter of laughter graphs, pop-up charts, guffaw/groan Venn diagrams. All prove essential tools to the experiment in hand as tasks are assigned, data is compiled from the audience then fed into instruments, and before long the whole hall is one huge humour analysis centre. Running through the tricky subjects of deadpan gags, punchlines, audience participation, coincidence and, obviously, tickling, Horne remains supremely focused and doesn't miss a trick. Being blinded by science has rarely seemed this fun. Nick Awde

The Housekeeper C too - The guests are ushered into a square kitchen where macintoshes are handed out and obediently donned. Instructions on our correct deportment are issued curtly but kindly by the housekeeper, who is promptly joined by three like-attired colleagues. What follows is a pocket masterpiece of physicality and one of the surprise hits of the Fringe. Snippets from Mrs Beeton's Housekeeping Manual provide a springboard for the dialogue, delivered as lists of dos and don'ts, inventories and repeated affirmation that, in keeping the place spotless, "it's as if I've never been here!" In between the frenetic washing-up liquid, mops, baking tins, real-time cuisine and acrobatics, what starts as a disjointed romp evolves into a darker picture of concentrated humour. Guided by Anna Fenemore's inspired direction, Anna Barzotti, Louise Bennett, Gillian Knox and Louisa Penny are a remarkable performance machine and instantly dispel any thoughts of claustrophobia through a near psychic feel for space. They ripple along, shadowed by layers of dialogue that hit dissonance and harmony until the quartet finally becomes one, their manias and movements fused. The action throughout is in your face ­ and over the rest of you as slops, tomatoes and dough get splashed everywhere. But cakes and a nip of wine keep the appetites whetted for more. Nick Awde

Hurricane Assembly Rooms - It may not be on the grand scale of Muhammad Ali, but the homegrown tale of Alex 'Hurricane' Higgins has all the elements of a sportsman facing adversity on every front. The similarity probably stops there, since this is the no-holds barred account of the Ulsterman who came to England, took the snooker world by storm and then lost everything only to overcome booze and birds and his own ego to stage a comeback that won him the world championship ­ and then he lost everything all over again. When Richard Dormer appears as the crumpled, prematurely aged, ailing Higgins bitching in a bar, you're instantly aware that an extraordinary talent for characterisation lies beneath the uncanny resemblance. Time swiftly rewinds into the whirlwind of the younger man's journey into his older self's present ­ pausing along the way to visit gruff Higgins senior, spoilt Aussie first wife, loud Lancs agent and Oliver Reed himself as they arm-wrestle. The boozing is recreated with the same loving precision as the games. Rachel O'Riordan's direction overcomes any tendency towards the generic, bringing a constant undertow of physical action that creates extra dimensions in the narrative and always keeps you guessing. The standing ovation meant everyone left a winner. Nick Awde

Ideas Men Theatre Workshop - This 50 minute piece written and performed by David Woods and Jon Hough of Ridiculusmus purports to be a satire of pretensions to creativity in the corporate world. Two ideas men assigned to come up with the next big thing spend their day playing games, flirting with secretaries, deferring to superiors, and complaining about their ideas being stolen. The two performers play all the roles, continually jumping about in time and place. The result is a mess. At its best, the piece resembles an acting school exercise in which they take turns suddenly changing roles or realities, often in mid-sentence, daring the other to keep up - a game at which neither actor is particularly good, since they repeatedly forget which character they're supposed to be, what funny voice they're meant to use and where they are in the story. Ridiculusmus might argue that this is all a post-modern joke that the audience is meant to be in on, ridiculing the concepts of linear plot and coherence. It is in fact an open expression of contempt for an audience too frightened to admit how naked the emperor is. Gerald Berkowitz

The Interrogation Netherbow - After the success of his Winnie the Pooh stories, ace puppeteer Richard Medrington presents this ambitious full-length show aimed at adults. It's a complex political tale of life behind the Iron Curtain inspired by the prison experiences of Silviu Craciunas, a Romanian refugee he knew in the eighties. Medrington recreates Craciunas' life via his trademark set-up of splitting the stage into three spaces. In the centre is the bed that serves both as the nursing home room of 1997 where Craciunas lies after an accident and as the Romanian prison cell of 1950, where he languishes after his arrest. The stock scenes of spotlight interrogations, evil prison guards and mysterious visitors are woven together to create a highly personal tale. Setting the edgy mood is David Heath's carefully themed music, arranged by John Harris. Medrington is on the way to achieving his goal but in many respects this is still a work in progress. In particular he breaks a number of his own rules ­ he loses personal contact with the audience and permits too many black-outs between scenes. As the production stands, it's not sufficiently entertaining as, say, Rizo Gabriadze's The Battle of Stalingrad. But I suspect these will be ironed out as the show develops. Nick Awde

Iz Pleasance - Three men who loved the same woman, two former boyfriends and her husband, mourn her sudden death. As what is at first an obviously romanticised portrait of the dancing-in-the-rain vital spirit gradually gives way to more realistic and even disturbing memories, they find themselves both united and divided by their grief, taking comfort in shared recollections but jealous of each other's personal memories. The men each find their way through the mourning process differently, one dreaming of her, one seeing her on the street everywhere, one perhaps too coolly moving on. Dan Bye's direction has the three performers never actually make eye contact, even in what are fictionally face-to-face scenes. This device of having them face front or stand at right angles to each other proves a strong metaphor for their isolation within their their own emotions, and allows the three performers to create effective individualised portraits in a short time. A deceptively simple piece, the play has the power to linger in the memory. Gerald Berkowitz

The Jesus Principle Gilded Balloon Teviot - This is an interesting take not so much on Christianity but the glitzy roadshows of the hard sell masquerading as soft. Andy Williams and Nick Hodder bound on as cod clerics trying to sell religion as a product ­ special offers, payment plans, Jesus on a Nokia, you get the idea. Central to the show is a well designed multimedia presentation that throws up visual jokes in between the realistic slogans and spreadsheets. And then up on the screen flashed a series of repellent sketches of racial, religious and sexual stereotypes. Satire and non-PC are one thing, ignorance is another. And that's when I lost interest in the whole thing. Nick Awde

Jukebox Theatre Underbelly - The gimmick of this clever show is that they have a menu of about ten short playlets that each audience gets to choose three or four from, so there are only-a-math-geek-knows-how-many possible permutations. The selection I saw was uneven, with David Ives' Arabian Nights the best, as a creative interpreter turns the buying of a souvenir into a romantic encounter between shopgirl and tourist. Mary Miller's Ferris Wheel has a couple meet cute on a fairground ride, while Paul Osuch's 3x3x crosses Groundhog Day with Pirandello, as a script takes on a repetitive life of its own. The weakest piece was one that seemed the company's favourite, Laura Cunningham's Flop Cop, about trying to calm a panicking fringe playwright. Gerald Berkowitz

Kaye's the Word! Pleasance - Singer Paul Hull offers this loving salute to singer-comedian Danny Kaye in a fast-moving and pleasant hour. For those who don't remember Kaye, he was a Broadway and Hollywood star of the 1940s and 1950s, a physical clown like Jim Carrey who was also an excellent jazz singer, with a special affinity for scat and patter songs. Hull makes little attempt to capture Kaye the comedian, except to the extent that he is reflected in the songs, but focuses on his musical repertoire, with comic songs like the Russian composer tour-de-force and Anatole of Paris, jazz standards like Minnie the Moocher, and a medley of the lovely songs from the film Hans Christian Andersen. Without slavish imitation, Hull captures Kaye's phrasing and intonations well, making for a lovely nostalgia trip. And if that whets your appetite for the comic Kaye, I suggest you rent his best film, The Court Jester. Gerald Berkowitz

Kept Their Humanity Underbelly - It's 1994. The Hutu people are slaughtering the Tutsi people. They happen to all be citizens of the same small nation, Rwanda. This had been brewing for decades but when the slaughter turned to genocide the world just watched until it was too late. There were witnesses to the darkest moments, however - foreign correspondents and UN forces sent "in an observational capacity". Through the innovative split-narrative of this provocative play, we see the horror unfold, reflected through these Western eyes. As the journalist just off the plane, Leila Rejali wins your sympathy as she struggles with an assignment no training could have prepared her for. Claire Spence gives a powerfully sensitive portrayal of the Tutsi girl who seeks protection as the reporter's guide yet refuses to let her hopes die. Paralleling their journey into hell is the impotent soldier, played by Dominic Brewer with worldweary conviction, whose eloquent despatches reveal his haunted conscience. Writer-director James Hammond at no point allows the message obstruct the drama and he constantly ambushes with flashes of humour, making this is a must-see - not only for your conscience but also as one of the most compelling dramas on the Fringe this year. Nick Awde

Kid Pleasance - Playwright Chris O'Connell has hit that difficult third play stage in his Street Trilogy, and while the result is not as powerful as its predecessors Car and Raw, it has all their impactful anger. The sun is out and the baby clothes are already up on the line as heavily pregnant Zoe (Samantha Power) tries to relax in the garden, but boyfriend Lee (Paul Simpson) just can't sit still. The aggression boils and subsides with depressing regularity and isn't helped by the equally restless Bradley (Rebekah Manning), Lee's teenage hiphop sibling. These are the neighbours from hell but that's nothing to the internal hell they're living, and the tension increases with the arrival of Lee's long-gone mate K (Richard Oldham), who just adds another level to the numbing pecking order that dictates their lives. And, of course, everyone's sharing a grim secret. The writing piles on the significant looks and Northern bravado that can tend to the relentless, amplified by director Mark Babych. The result is some great set pieces but uneven action ­ the flashbacks in particular don't really work ­ and so things can get a bit bitty in an otherwise stunning production. Hard-hitting, uncompromising and insanely overambitious, someone now needs to quickly option the whole trilogy for the National. Nick Awde

Kit and the Widow Stage by Stage - It's almost a cliche to say that this veteran duo are today's version of Flanders and Swann, but that really is the best way to explain their genteel and laid-back mode of singing cleverly naughty songs, like the one inspired by the fact that the composer of one archetypal English song was not only an Australian but a kinky one, leading them to speculate on just what sorts of goings-on you might find in an English country garden. Uncharacteristically political material has been creeping into their shows in recent years, and the current one has a bit too many songs about Blair and Bush for me, though the mock holiday advertisement for Camp X-Ray is witty both in words and music. More to my taste are the love song in TXT language and the lament for diminishing ocean life with references to the sole sole and the bloater quota. They may be a little too camp for some and too soft-edged for others, but if you like your satire and entertainment with a cultured air, they're a lot of fun. Gerald Berkowitz

Kvetch Pleasance - One of Steven Berkoff's minor works, this broad comic study in social unease uses the device of repeatedly freezing a frame while one or another character expresses his fear of making a social gaffe, before going ahead and doing it. The whole is done in thick London-Jewish accents and milieu, as the title suggests. The young actors of Theatre Vivant come from north London, not all that far from Golders Green, but they give the impression of never having met a Jew in their lives. Some wander in and out of the accent, while others don't even try, and none can even pronounce the word kvetch (much less any of the other Yiddishisms sprinkled through the text) correctly. Some of the jokes still work, but this is clearly a directoral failure, either in picking a play that was beyond the cast's abilities or in not guiding them through it.  Gerald Berkowitz

Love, Lust and Lonely Hearts St. Johnıs Hall - The title seems to imply a tale of computer dating or the like, but instead this company-created piece tells a more domestic soap-opera tale in an inventive way. The lives of two couples are threatened when, in the course of 24 hours, one husband and the other wife declare their love, consider running off, and then decide it would be best to return to their forgiving spouses. The whole is done in Shakespearean language, with lines seamlessly cut and pasted from a dozen plays and several sonnets to make relevant and coherent conversations. This young company's ambitions are admirable, even if the product is not as impressive as they might wish. The technical achievement aside, the Shakespearean quoting does not achieve the aim of elevating and dignifying the soap opera story, but actually calls attention to its banality. A pattern of marking the passage of the day by hanging up bits of costume with the hour marked on them seems just a gimmick. Despite earnest performances by Scott Brooksbank, Andrew Fishwick, Sara Masters and Helen Murton all the inventiveness seems to have gone into the presentational devices, leaving little to free the story from cliche or the characters from stereotype. Gerald Berkowitz

The Loves of Shakespeare's Women St George's West Church (reviewed at a previous Fringe) - Susannah York offers a programme of linked readings from Shakespeare as part of a promotional tour for her book of the same name. Every actor should have a solo show like this, that they can trot out to fill fallow periods, and there is no reason why York can't continue doing this one, on and off, for years - no reason except that it's not particularly good. Her readings, ranging through the usual suspects, from Juliet through Cleopatra, are rather perfunctory and unevocative, playing either like lifeless recitations or over-explicit audition pieces, while the links are obviously sentences taken out of context from the book, with abrupt and jarring transitions. Above all, the programme fails my two acid tests for this sort of reading: does she offer any excitingly new line readings or interpretations, or does she make me wish I could see her in one of these roles? The audience I was in was dominated by a coach party of Americans, between their city tour and their afternoon of shopping, and they applauded politely. I'm sure there are plenty of people like this who will enjoy York's painless foray into high culture, but I am not one of them. Gerald Berkowitz

Linda Marlowe: No Fear Assembly Rooms - Linda Marlowe is an actress who has no difficulty holding a stage on her own, and this self-penned hour is a good showcase for her versatility and high energy. In a roughly autobiographical structure, she takes us through a history of triumphing over fears, be they the nerves of a first audition or joining forces with her first husband's second wife to deal with his third girlfriend. Accounts of the births of her children are both comic and moving, and her range includes songs, acrobatics and a couple of rhymed narratives in the style of Stephen Berkoff. If there is any flaw to the piece it is that it is too highly polished, with even the ad libs and moments of audience interacting seeming totally scripted and frozen. Gerald Berkowitz

McCloud & Black: The Hook Pleasance - The twee chaos of parents' sports day seems an unlikely first-choice scenario for a sophisticated sketch show, but Jessica McCloud and Laura Black go to the top of the class for this darkly comic take on the mores of middle-class mums and their schoolkid offspring. Everyone's a little on edge as they prepare for the great day. A pair of chalk and cheese sisters are teachers on the staff. There's Miss Jolly Hockey Sticks ('The kids ­ it's all about trust!') who lays into Miss Couldn't Care Less ('They steal your sandwiches'), and everything somehow leads into a row over casting for the school play. Meanwhile, Working Mum and Homely Mum swap saccharine claims of maternal martyrdom over lunch. Their daughters pop up later, perfectly formed personalities and the complete opposites of the big kids who brought them into this world. The scenes build into a complete story climaxing in the big event when embarrassment erupts, rivalries come to a head and carnage ensues. Perfect for radio and TV alike, the humour picks up on the type of velvet-gloved satire that French and Saunders lost the plot on years ago. As gifted writers-performers, McCloud and Black could well be natural successors. Nick Awde

McNaughton clubWEST - McNaughton was the nineteenth-century Scot whose mad criminal act led to the legal rule - if they know right from wrong, they're sane - that still operates in some jurisdictions. So there might be a good play in his story - who he was, what he did, what his madness was, how the rule entered jurisprudence. Unfortunately Steve Gooch hasn't written that play. His script gives McNaughton a monologue that answers virtually none of those questions, indicating only that he was paranoid in some way. How that led to his crime is never made clear - indeed, who he shot and what happened to the victim are so glossed over that you'd need to know the facts coming in to make sense of the story. And the trial and legal precedent are evidently of no interest at all to the playwright. Or perhaps I'm being unfair. As McNaughton, Stewart Preston is so unprepared that, between several calls for prompting, the long pauses, circular rambling and evident omission of key plot facts may well be his rather than the author's. Were this underwritten, underdirected, underrehearsed show offered for free, it would be an imposition on the audience's time. The fact that they charge for tickets should embarrass all involved. Gerald Berkowitz

Meat & Two Veg Theatre Workshop (reviewed in London) - Cartoon de Salvo is a trio of writer-performers who honed their skills in street theatre, an arena that demands constant inventiveness and instant audience rapport. Meat & Two Veg is a 1950s-era deconstruction of Twelfth Night, a warm and inventive comedy that raises the techniques and spirit of street theatre to new heights and pokes benignly satiric fun at both the innocence of mid-century middle England and the absurdities of Shakespearean romance. When young Violet, played by David Bernstein, dresses in her absent brother's clothes, she is accepted as a playmate by Brian Logan's neighbour boy, who sends her with a love note to Alex Murdoch's Olive, and the evocation of an England just about to enter the rock'n'roll era is so delightful that we are halfway into the plot before we realise it's been cribbed from Shakespeare. The company's street theatre roots are evident in the quick changes, instant characterisations, ingenious use of Becky Hurst's simple set, and amiable communion with the audience. Witty episodes employing shadow puppets, Potteresque use of pop music to express the characters' emotions, and touches of the totally absurd, like a Sicilian skittle trio, keep the level of invention and engagement high. At only a few moments do the Shakespearean plot and 1950s pastiche seem to be fighting for the play's focus rather than supporting each other, and the whole might benefit from a bit more energy and pacing. But how can one cavil with a company who stop the performance in mid-plot to call a tea break, and then share their tea and biscuits with us? Gerald Berkowitz

Mental Assembly Rooms - Inspired by their experience of being trainee psychiatric nurses together years ago, Jo Brand and Helen Griffin have concocted an unsettling two-hander between them that is a mini-masterpiece of dark humour tinged with social commentary. Funnily enough, their characters, Jean and Pat, are also mental nurses. Stuck in a south London asylum in south London, it's hard to distinguish them from their charges, such is the degree of their own institutionalisation. In a world informed by Asda, OK! and reality TV, they bitch and carp as they endure the daily drudgery of incident forms, medication levels, averting ward deaths, well-hung inmates and their own valium intake. Jean worries about her loose stools, food additives and God while Pat finds bored solace winding her up at every opportunity. After a shaky first ten minutes, the relationship starts to take shape. As the crabby Jean, Griffin brings a vulnerability underlying the crotchety exterior while Brand is deliciously profane as Pat, her trademark stand-up delivery making the transition well to drama. As director-writers, they transform the chair-bound action into a dramatic virtue and commendably avoid the temptation to make this a star vehicle for the more exposed Brand. Definitely one of the must-sees of the Fringe. Nick Awde

Miguel Street Theatre Workshop - V. S. Naipaul's novel of growing up in Trinidad has been adapted for the stage into a solo show, with Jim Findlay playing the young boy who watches and describes the lively community in his run-down section of Port of Spain. He introduces us to such characters as the carpenter who spends his days diligently building nothing, the street preacher who comes to think he is the messiah and isn't satisfied until he is crucified, and the self-proclaimed poet who is composing an epic at the rate of one line a month. Findlay uses Naipaul's words to bring each of these figures to life with very little in the way of impersonation, and also conjures up a sense of the vital, peaceful community in which even a crisis like a woman deserting her husband merely becomes the subject for a hit calypso song. The linear structure of the novel does not translate effectively to the stage, however. With few changes in rhythm or intensity, few highs or lows, and little in the way of forward movement, it becomes an extended string of shaggy dog stories with no real payoffs or climaxes. Gerald Berkowitz

Missing Memaw Hill Street Theatre - This intriguing trilogy is a multimedia showcase for the combined talents of director Stephan Mazurek and writer/performer Loren Crawford, both from America. Missing Memaw opens, Crawford's ambitious stream of self-penned pieces inspired by the surreal slides of the backdrop. She talks with restrained passion of dodos, lucky charms, a plea to believe in God ­ and mostly avoids oversentimentality. More poet than playwright, the substance of Crawford's pieces pales before the beauty of the whole, created from images, music and the rippling sounds of the words themselves. Next up is Mazurek's short film Isolation of Desire, acted out by XSight! Performance Group. Moody shots of moody people moving moodily to an edgy drum soundtrack evoke Cremaster, Mat Eks, Last Year in Marianbad and so on. A bit of bondage, mysterious rooms and slogans flash over female necklines. Arresting as the imagery is, it's only a matter of time before the girls get their kit off. No complaints there but in order to redress the balance of gender perception surely Mazurek could have found better looking men? The closer is The Canary, based on a short story by Katherine Mansfield, a contemporary of Virginia Woolf. Again Crawford brings her emotive approach to the monologue, bringing this valedictory memoir to poetic life, but she is let down somewhat by an accent that veers from Vienna to Alice Springs. Nick Awde

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

A Most Curious Murder - The Madeleine Smith Story Sweet at the Crowne Plaza - Unless you're at the Traverse, rule number one at the Fringe is to never have an interval no matter how many hours your show runs. The surprisingly untechnical explanation is that once you let 'em out they never come back. This is the first Edinburgh show I've ever seen with an interval. They never came back. This rambling musical tells the tale of Madeleine Smith, a nice upper middle-class girl put in the dock accused of the murder of her secret lover prior to her marriage to another man. Act I reveals the protagonists and what may have happened, Act II covers the court case. Original research is claimed that throws light on the 19th century events. Not really. Rachel Grainger's book is cut and paste dialogue that is neither historical, whodunit nor noire, rendering her characters as cardboard cutouts. The poppy songs are at odds with the Victorian parlour period and the styles clash. The ballad What Kind of Man?, however, is one of those exceptions that prove the rule, and Alana Bell as Madeleine is given a chance to show off her vocal ability. Costumes and set aside, this show is nowhere near ready for public consumption ­ and it's hardly fair on the hardworking cast, who gamefully give all they've got to bring things to a sort of conclusion. Nick Awde

My Husband Is A Spaceman Theatre Workshop (reviewed in London) - Kazuko Hohki, half of the 1980s Japanese pop duo Frank Chickens, was always more of a performance artist than a pop singer. The title of this show is a metaphor of culture clash, with the twist that the alien is a conventional Englishman as seen by his Japanese wife. Kazuko begins with a traditional Japanese folk tale that is a variant on the Frog Prince, of a man befriending a crane who becomes his wife and then departs as a bird again. Kazuko has had a similar adventure, she announces, taking us back to her Tokyo days, when she befriended a duck in a Tokyo park, and was convinced that he reappeared as the British anthropologist who met and married her, bringing her back to an England she only knew from old movies. Now she's beginning to feel like an alien herself, and fears he is transforming her into his species with all those cups of English tea, but if she exposes his secret, he may disappear like the crane in the story. It's a lovely tale, half folk myth and half high comedy, and Kazuko simply stands onstage and tells it, in a heavily-accented English that is occasionally indecipherable. She has a few props, notably a series of things - book, teacup, pillow - with large pink noses attached to represent her husband. But the most inventive elements come in a projected video behind her, where she has concocted animated origami puppets to add flavour to the play's folk tale elements, and collages that inventively place her, Zelig-like, in a variety of English scenes. There's some karioke-style singing in both Japanese and English (and, to be honest, she may be halfway through the song before you can tell which), and the whole thing is alternatingly poetically evocative, very funny, and totally opaque - just about all you could ask from a performance piece. Gerald Berkowitz

Napoleon in Exile Traverse - The Camden People's Theatre's latest group-created piece is a study in loss of roots and self-redefinition that is frequently evocative and beautiful but ultimately has difficulty hanging together. An amnesia victim who has given up trying to rediscover his old self and is trying to create a new one encounters a young woman who thinks she is Napoleon and spends all her time writing love letters to Josephine. Both are under the care of a doctor who seems to have no life outside his office and a Finnish nurse studying French. Each of the four characters in search of an identity has his or her own story, each of them moving and sympathetic. But it is in the too-infrequent moments that they bounce off each other that the play really comes alive, as when the two patients join in a lovely dance of lost souls or the doctor attempts to express his jumbled and inchoate feelings for the nurse. Chris Goode directs with an eye for the moving stage image or character-illuminating moment, and the cast of four movingly inhabit the roles they helped create. Gerald Berkowitz

Nearly at the National Underbelly - Three girls and three guys romp through the theatrical canon, showcasing their talents through wicked spoofs that cover an impressive range of genres in a single hour. There's a certain excitement in catching this sort of revue since it has become something of a vanishing tradition. Delivering clipped vowels like gunshots, Laurella Fox-Pitt and Daniel Napier give a delicious take on Noel Coward's Private Lives and discuss tumours amidst the ennui and cigarette smoke. Andrew 'Lord' Lloyd Webber is next on the block in the shape of Chris Fitchew. Frighteningly made up as Norma Desmond, he delivers a heartfelt, gloriously OTT ballad about being 'just the understudy'. Sending up Alan Ayckbourne might be a touch redundant but Rebecca Lisi and Sarah Ireland show impeccable timing as they gleefully recount what their characters are doing in the farce-meister's style. An example of genius coupling is the Jane Austen/Edward Albee piece where Emma (Ireland) and Mr Knightly (Napier) valiantly attempt conversation with Laurella and Adam Shipway, straight out of Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Excellent performances all round, though cast and director can't always make up their minds whether to play it straight or ham things up. To be honest, this isnt a song and dance troupe and the plays rather than the musicals bring out the best performances. Nick Awde

Nice Mum Are Chocolate Benders Gilded Balloon Caves - Spreadsheet comedy as spearheaded by Dave Gorman is now the new rock'n'roll and already the spoofs are erupting around you. Kris Dyer and Dave Marks, aka Nice Mum, are so laid-back in their 'letıs Powerpoint our ideas for a Fringe show' methodology that theyıre spoofing the spoofs. The result is one of the funniest shows of the Fringe. Marks is the straight guy ­ at least when compared to Dyer, the one with the alarming lapses into animal behaviour and guzzling the chocolate that forms their show's raison d'etre. At the beginning of this year neither had a clue what the show was going to be about but, inspired by a Curly Wurly, they decided to plan to test the bendiness of chocolate bars. Off went the usual flurry of emails, letters and phone calls to public figures (Uri Geller) and corporations (Cadburys). Geller confirmed he can bend Yorkie bars with his eyes, Cadburys sent a £1.50 voucher. What then follows is very difficult to describe. It's chaotic, it's all over the place but audience participation is instant while the duo are so infectious that lead-balloon puns and fluffed lines become a line of gags in their own right. Simply crying out for a TV contract. Nick Awde

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

Nine Parts of Desire Traverse - Provocative yet lyrical, this series of portraits brings unique insight into the liberation and oppression of Iraqi women by both US bombs and the strictures of their own society. Writer-performer Iraqi-American Heather Raffo brings her characters to life with convincing passion. Layal is a Baghdadi artist, delighting in her sensuality. She paints the older Amal who recounts leaving her Saudi husband in London. Another sitter is The American, whose father is Iraqi and who tells of powerlessness as her relatives sit at the mercy of US forces. Others punctuate the proceedings as war rages and its aftermath begins. Raffo instantly connects and her mannerisms are spot-on, producing unexpected flashes of both humour and pathos. She falters however in her demarcation of characters - accents are wobbly, as is her unforgiveable pronunciation of Arabic words, while a weak script makes times, places, nationalities and religions difficult to track. Credit therefore goes to director Eva Breneman for bringing out the best in performer and play while allowing Raffo's vision to shine through. More Middle England than Middle East, the nation's liberals will overlook any cracks - healthy applause assuages the guilt nicely. But it is the power of Raffo's performance that makes this such a compelling success. Nick Awde

Ross Noble - Unrealtime Assembly Rooms - Ross Noble is a very funny guy, almost certainly the fastest-thinking and most inventive comic on the circuit today. While just about every comic starts his show with some audience interaction, Noble is confident enough to build as much as half his set on the flights of fancy that come to him on encountering someone in a funny coloured shirt, say, or an unexpected child. The nearest parallel I can draw is to Robin Williams when he's on a roll, but without the slightly scary sense of desperate compulsiveness Williams often betrays. That said, Noble's current show seems somewhat more dependent on prepared material than in the past, a shift he effectively disguises by jumping around among several uncompleted bits in a seemingly random stream of consciousness before tying them all up, along with the improvised audience stuff, just as his hour runs out. Gerald Berkowitz

Only the Lonely Roman Eagle Lodge - The back pages of the theatrical newspaper The Stage are filled with ads for tribute and look-alike acts, and I have always wondered what it was like trying to earn a living as an imitation Elvis or Kylie. Pip Utton's latest solo show addresses those questions in a convincing and moving picture of a man who has failed at everything in his life except for his ability to entertain undemanding audiences with an imitation of Roy Orbison. Utton takes us through the man's story, singing occasionally with just the right quality of not-quite-good-enough, and helps us understand how someone who has no real life of his own could choose another's. As his character says, "I know who I am. I'm somebody else." In Utton's signature style, it's a quiet piece that sneaks up on you with its emotional power. Gerald Berkowitz

The Palindrome The Roxy - An office. Any old office you might think, but here things are done a little differently as a slick executive stands expectantly by his desk. Flustered job applicant Wry Slant (Henry Layte) arrives after having sent his CV and photo to Sir (Philip Bosworth). In the interview that ensues, every vagueness or generalisation is taken at face value until their converstation becomes a solid volley of left-field questions and philisophical non-sequiturs. All the while, Bertrand (Chas Allen) provides devoted service whether he's fetching drinks or gagging Slant with his tie. After descending momentarily into dark violence, a very different meeting (or is it?) takes place a week later. The cast deal with the dialogue well and their timing is spot-on but one feels they are held back from truly exploring the comedic and farcical elements here. There is some interesting writing here by Layte, but instead of delving into abstract questions of identity, the reward would be greater if he made this into a dark farce or even a direct attack on corporatism. Perhaps this is what Kafka would have done if he'd written The Office. To be honest though, Monty Python took less than five minutes to make a similar point. Nick Awde

Pansori: The Saga of Heungbo Reid Concert Hall - After their father dies, the poor second son is kicked out of the family home by the elder son who inherits everything. Struggling with poverty, the ousted youth finds happiness in his nest eggs ­ in this case magic gourds from a wounded swallow that pour forth riches. His brother's greed leads him to grab his own gourds, but reaps evil goblins instead. So not quite a happy ending for all in this tale of sibling rivalry. Welcome to pansori, a revived form of storytelling in song unique to Korea ­ imagine Under Milk Wood sung in Korean with accompanying percussion. Singer Kim Soo-yeon adds to her unfaltering voice a compelling range of subtle movement ­ from the air she eats the gourds, her fan becomes a swallow ­ all the while breaking off to pass comment on the brothers' rift or the hangover status of her percussionist. Meanwhile buk drummers Lee Tae-baek (first half) and Jung Hwa-young (second half) vary the beat according to mood, and vocally bring their own brand of humour to create a foil in what must be one of world culture's more intriguing double acts. While the show is lengthy, it is really a cycle of shorter episodes with each 'song' lasting no more than a few minutes. Aided by accurate, witty surtitles, Kim's exquisite movement and earthy language makes it all accessible and entertaining. For once the EIF's erratic programming has got it right. Nick Awde

Nicholas Parsons as WS Gilbert, 'A Great Victorian' Pleasance - In this engaging one-man play we meet WS Gilbert, the words half of opera's hitmaking partnership Gilbert and Sullivan. It's 1906, the great man is in his seventies, his partner long gone, but he's still brimming with ideas with not a spark of his ambition dimmed. A consummate satirist, Gilbert gives us the benefit of his views on the political events of the day and wonders where things may or may not lead. In between, he talks of his family and Sullivan, avoids answering his newfangled telephone, and reads his own works to the delight of the audience. Sadly there's no Major General's Song but selections of his lesser works, which prove just as comic. As Gilbert, Nicholas Parsons is, well, Nicholas Parsons. He can do no wrong with his audiences and is something of a gift for Noel Ross-Russell's script as he brings just the right balance of gravitas and wit to the role. The end of the Victorian era has strong resonances for us today at the beginning of the 21st century, particularly in Britain, but the parallels attempted here are somewhat forced and the time could be better spent on more of Gilbert the writer. With a little more development, this will undoubtedly prove a winner. Nick Awde

Peepolykus: Mindbender Assembly Rooms - From the very first sight gag of Peepolykus's spanking new show you're in their power. In a mimed backstage sequence Iberian mind-reader extraordinaire Michael Santos berates his sidekick because the curtain's delayed, but both have a problem with where the imaginary wall should actually be. You can't hear a word but if you can lipread Spanish it helps. Once they get the show up and running, Santos (David Sant) reveals himself to be a smarmy showman aided (or not, as the case may be) by his over-enthusiastic stooge Colin (Javier Marzan) while Raymond (John Nicholson) is the mistreated plant, who storms off at one point to seek improved prospects with Paul Daniels up the road. The mind routines go hopelessly wrong or are blatantly rigged - guessing an audience member's name, palm reading, relieving the plant of his watch - you've seen them all before but never this badly and never this funny. Like bastard sons of the Marx Brothers, the trio not only send up the mind games genre but also mercilessly pillory their own clown speciality. Director Darren Tunstall ensures it's impossible to tell between scripted and improvised moments. Irony taken to its logical, hilarious extremes. Nick Awde

The People Next Door Traverse - A spaced-out doper with mental problems is forced by a bent cop into infiltrating the local mosque in search of terrorists. But the reluctant mole is actually drawn to the peaceful community of Islam while he and his own neighbours - a Scots grannie and a lost kid - find their resistance to the cop generating a sense of unity and purpose for them. Henry Adam's play is part black comedy built around the loser's complete inappropriateness for his assignment, part drama of good sense winning out over Islamophobic hysteria, part soap opera of the neighbours' domestic problems. Despite strong moments in each mode, the play's diverse intentions end up at cross purposes, with not a consistent enough pattern of laughs for the comedy or sufficient tension for the drama to score fully, and director Roxana Silbert has been unable fully to conquer that difficulty. Fraser Ayres as the hapless hero is the only member of the cast whose role is not a stereotype, and thus the only one able to do much with it, giving the guy a whining resistance to anything that involves getting up off the couch and yet a good heart that carries him through to the happiest available ending. Gerald Berkowitz

Pickle   Assembly Rooms - India Ink, a multiracial New Zealand company, present a moving and delightful story that combines telling insights into the immigrant experience with the dreamlike quality of a fiary tale. The young Indian manager of a hotel loves the porter, who is actually a skilled heart surgeon awaiting the re-credentialing required by his new country. But past experiences have convinced her that she is cursed, and the arrival of a hotel guest who may be Death himself compounds her emotional dilemma. The company mix masks, mime and self-referential jokes with realistic playing, and it all works to create an engaging fable that we follow with exactly the same involvement, fear and delight in the resolution as children listening to a bedtime story.   Gerald Berkowitz

The Pickled King Gilded Balloon Teviot - This group-created mock folk tale is inventive in concept and frequently clever in execution, but lacks pacing and edge, remaining amiable when it wants to be sharp, ambling when it should be snappy. A king preserved in a pickle jar, a usurping prince, a body-snatcher with poetic ambitions and several other characters are all played by the three writer-performers, in a story that has the king revived just in time to save the realm from his evil son. Touches of absurd colours in the plot and characterizations are evidence that the tone being reached for was more comic than whimsical, as some of the conventions of the genre are sent up as soon as they are invoked. But an inconsistancy of tone and a general lack of pacing repeatedly dissipate comic momentum as soon as it is established, and the piece remains a collection of effective moments all but lost in the intervening weak stretches. Gerald Berkowitz

Playing the Victim Traverse - This satiric comedy, performed by the company Told By An Idiot,  plays so comfortably as a study in British eccentricity that it is a bit of a shock to look at the programme and be reminded it is translated from the Russian of the Presnyakov brothers. A young man, played with a delightful deadpan by Andrew Scott, avoids real work by taking a job as the dead body in police reconstructions of murders, and we see several such investigations, all led by the same eccentric Inspector (Paul Hunter) and his hapless assistants, along with a string of remarkably helpful suspects. There's a three-minute bit of almost unbearable hilarity involving Amanda Lawrence as a singing Japanese waitress, but a very weak self-referential ending almost spoils the whole thing.  Gerald Berkowitz

Point of Yes Underbelly - We're all supposed to be worrying about chemical warfare today, but they've had it for years in the East End of Glasgow. Since 1979 in fact, when heroin first hit the streets. Janey Godley's harrowing yet comic eyewitness account documents the spread of the drug and the devastation it has caused on an already devastated community. This is the East End of gangsters, street fighters, factory workers and everyone who remembers wee Billy Connolly down their street. A 17-year-old newlywed arrives to run the local pub with her harsh but loving husband. From her vantage point behind the bar, she observes the first dealers move in, an event followed immediately by the first junkies. Not only are there smackheads, jakies and single mothers but also artists, musicians and writers seduced by the needle. There are searing bursts of humour as saying yes to smack is put firmly in its cultural context ­ while the rest of us were watching Charles take Di up the aisle, the junkies are just shooting up or trying to flog her the dirty bra or kitten in their pocket. It's hard-hitting stuff, but Godley is a committed communicater who refuses to oversentimalise or lapse into impenetrable colloquialisms, while keeping true to the reality she's sharing. Nick Awde

Pugilist Specialist Pleasance - Adriano Shaplin's new play for The Riot Group is a dissection of the military mind that sensitively and not unsympathetically shows us what makes strong and intelligent people submerge their identities and even individual values to military discipline. We watch four marines on a covert assassination mission: the commander just wants to get a job done, the communications man withdraws into the comfortable distance of observer, the sharpshooter is driven by the pride of his expertise, and the one woman in the group has defined her personal feminism as never failing. Shaplin directs them - Drew Friedman, Paul Schnabel, Stephanie Viola and himself - to an almost parrot-like uniformity of vocabulary and speech patters, the 'almost' being the key, as we see how each of them adapts military jargon and discipline to meet their individual needs. The play has a surprise ending, but it is the intense intelligence of what goes on before then that is its greatest strength.  Gerald Berkowitz

Red Hat and Tales   Assembly Rooms - Sometimes it seems that an author deliberately sets himself a challenge. How successful would you expect a play to be about a man and woman, both bisexual, literally living in a closet while he writes bitchy postcards to everyone he's ever known and she doesn't mail them, pausing only to check whether he's put in a postscript to her, his only way of communicating? Factor in his dead brother and her long-lost childhood friend, to make it even harder. And yet Nick Salamone makes it work as a study of two people so immersed in their own griefs that theyıve lost touch with each other, and he and Elizabeth O'Connell make the hour both funny and touching.  Gerald Berkowitz

The Return   C Venue - Two toughs on a late-night train start flirting with a girl who is the only other rider. Things get a little menacing, even after other passengers get on. We've been here before, and  even though Reg Cribb's plot takes some twists and turns, and some characters are made to do or say unlikely things, the surprises in this Australian play are all telegraphed well in advance, and anyone who isn't way ahead of things at every point just isn't paying attention. What makes it all work are solid performances, particularly by Alistair Scott-Young as the more forceful of the hoods and Melanie Vallejo as the girl who is not as vulnerable as she seems, and direction by Geordie Brookman that keeps the tension high.  Gerald Berkowitz

Saint Hollywood Gilded Balloon Teviot - Through monologue and song, gravel-voiced Willard Morgan introduces himself ­ a New Yorker actor from Hollywood ­ still smarting from forking out $200 in sushi to impress a girl or cruising the blacktop freeway to California in a black Cadillac. Other colourful oddbods line up to introduce themselves ­ the lecherous Russian cabbie, a wheelchair-bound transgender Latino, the doo-wap ex consigned to girlfriend heaven. Aided by the ace duo of guitarist Riley Briggs and percussionist Ian Stoddart, it takes a couple of numbers to get the feel for Morgan's world but once you're there it's an intriguing, entertaining even educational world as you realise that every one of these loonies is based on a real life character. And then he takes his clothes off, jumps into a white catsuit and reappears as Jelvis, the Jewish Elvis. And so carefully crafted satire turns to parody and it becomes just another show with just another Elvis impersonator. Classfication at the Fringe can be a problem and this comedy show would be better listed under theatre. Despite the unorthodox delivery, the depth of Morgan's material is pure drama, while his subjects are so LA that other Americans, let alone Europeans, will struggle to get the nuances if they're just looking for a laugh. Nick Awde

Salt o'the Earth Brunton Theatre, Musselburgh - This touring solo show follows the popular Irish-Scot raconteur Little John Nee on a fictionalised journey from a Glasgow childhood to a Spanish mountain and home again, by way of Ireland and France and a number of comic and romantic adventures. If it has a point beyond the pleasures of the trip itself, it is the comforting reassurance that good things eventually happen to good folk. There is little that is new in the Glasgow section of the monologue, though the milieu is conjured up evocatively. It is when he goes to Ireland and somehow hooks up with a belly dancer and a touring band that the account begins to take on the dimensions of a tall tale that will eventually embrace gypsies, a decadent Berlin night club, Islamic Celtics fans, talking rocks, and a woman he had a crush on when he was five years old. Little John Lee is an amiable storyteller and, as he too infrequently demonstrates, a loping, rubber-limbed physical clown. But even the relatively small dimensions of the Brunton Theatre force him to push his fragile material harder than is ideal and to bray what should be quiet little songs. Just up the road at the Edinburgh Fringe are dozens of shows in a similar genre, and one can't help feeling this one would be more at home in a small intimate room than in this slightly overblown production. Gerald Berkowitz

San Diego Royal Lyceum Theatre - David Greig is back at the International Festival with this multi-stranded Altmanesque tale of all manner of human flotsam, set in San Diego. Well, things happen in the States, others happen in Britain and there's a bit of flying between the two, and Nigeria even gets a look in. A character with the same name as the playwright talks of flying to San Diego, and once there he meets a string of people whose lives all touch on one another in unexpected ways. More Angels in America than Our Town, there are some classic Greigisms and genuine flashes of insight, yet nothing hangs together long enough to convince by the final curtain. The cast work the patchy material well, but there are no stand-out performances. Billy Boyd's Greig is removed too early to make any impression as narrator, while the stop-start scenes prevent the more promising storylines such as those of Abigail Davies' autophagous Laura and Milton Lopes' mother-seeking Daniel from developing any meaningful humanity. Meanwhile, Simon Vincenzi's obstructive set of suitcases poses unresolvable problems in blocking as well as for Chahine Yavroyan's lighting. A black hole of logic pervades (and, irritatingly, no one uses the word 'mammy wagon' in Northern Nigeria, as a character here does) while, most crucially, not a`single character elicits sympathy ­ stabbing, overdose and emotional rejection are cheap ways to provoke a reaction. The aim of writer and directors is to leave the questions and answers with the audience, but in the absence of discernable pointers it raises only questions. Such as 'why?' Nick Awde

Sarah-Ellen Diverse Atractions - This solo play by Roy Hyams presents the title character as a happy, fulfilled wife and mother, contentedly awaiting the return home of her loving and protective husband while pitying the troubled, lonely girl next door. It takes very little insight to guess that all is not as it seems and gradually a darker, unhappier truth about loneliness and self-delusion is exposed. There are some nice subtleties and small twists in the writing, as when the pity-laced telling of the neighbour's story gradually and unconsciously becomes about herself. Those who are not a step ahead of the play at every moment may find such revelations surprising and all can find them touching. Self-directed, Alexandra Bliss' performance too often leans away from subtlety toward broad signifying and overplaying, handing everything to the audience and thus undercutting their emotional involvement. Gerald Berkowitz

Schwartz It All About Pleasance Dome - This compendium show salutes Broadway and Hollywood songwriter Stephen Schwartz, best known for Godspell. Eschewing the usual and-then-he-wrote format, Mark Powell and John Cusworth arrange the songs in little dramas, usually involving a romantic situation that goes right or wrong. This requires moving a lot of the songs out of their natural context, and in some cases the square-peg-now-in-round-hole shows. The attractive young cast sing and act them with verve and humour, but the problem is that very few of the songs are really memorable. Schwartz once famously complained that more people knew that Bob Fosse directed Pippin than that he wrote it, and I suspect more people will come away from this show remembering the staging and performances than the songs. Gerald Berkowitz

The Seagull Kingıs Theatre - The major accomplishment of Peter Stein's first foray into directing Chekhov in English is the clear vision of a stage full of characters each believing themselves to be the heroes of their own dramas, but each in their own way demonstrating the same qualities and limitations. Like Masha, everyone is a little drunk with self-pity; like Arkadina, egotistical; like Kostya, lovesick; like Dorn, cruel. Unfortunately, however, this means that every actor is also in his or her own play, too rarely acknowledging the others or even acting in the same style; and the sense of ensemble so essential to Chekhov is totally absent. From moment to moment some of their acting decisions are impressive, but at least an equal number fall flat. And as a result, a three and a half hour running time, long even for a masterpiece, brings with it a heaviness, shapelessness and apparent absence of directorial vision. Though she was born to play Nina, Fiona Shaw finally comes to this play as Arkadina, clearly taking as her keynote a passing mention of the fact that the family were lower-middle class before her stardom. So, never far beneath the grande dame's instinctive upstaging of everyone else is Arkadina the vulgar fishwife braying, grasping and fighting for what she wants. Iain Glen carries Trigorin's big scene, in which he goes from explaining the pains of the writer's life to a cool announcement to her face of how he plans to destroy Nina, and Michael Pennington conveys the complacent doctor's disdainful cruelty well. Cillian Murphy invests Kostya with an attractive boyishness in the early scenes but is less successful as the character becomes haunted by thwarted love and ambition. Jodhi May can only hint at either Nina's early freshness or later madness. Gerald Berkowitz

7 Assilon Place C Venue - To address the topic of asylum seekers through clowning is audacious, to say the least, but Talia Theatre pull it off, luring us through unrealistic theatrical means into the unreal world of refugees in a detention centre waiting for word on their fate. The whole bag of non-representational styles is employed, from choreographed and stylised movement through mime, cartoon characterisations and symbolic set and costume elements. And, amazingly, it works, as we come to understand the nightmare world of three individualised characters learning a new language, coping with incomprehensible and unending bureaucratic forms and, above all, living a nightmare in which unseen (literally - they appear only as telephone calls or disembodied voices) forces control their fate. My only complaint is that as the piece progresses and its point-of-view becomes more overt, the style becomes more conventional - clearly a directoral decision, but one that reduces the theatrical energy just as the emotional involvement is peaking.  Gerald Berkowitz

Shakespeare for Breakfast C Venue - This Fringe perennial is always an entertaining start to the day. This year's version is Macbeth - the Panto, complete with Ugly Sister witches, Principal Boy Macbeth, audience participation ('Behind you!' and the like), lots of silly songs and bad jokes, and of course a happy ending. In some ways it's a risky choice, because with an unresponsive audience (or one that doesn't know the conventions of the form) it can fall pretty flat. But if you go prepared to revert to childhood and enjoy yourself, it can be a lot of fun. And they give you free coffee and croissants. Gerald Berkowitz

Shamlet C Central - One of the funniest hours on the fringe, this comedy by Andrew Doyle is a delightful mix of wit and absurdity. A group of actors assemble in Stratford to do a fringe production of Macbeth, not knowing it's a front for the producer's plan, inspired by Shakespeare's ghost, to rob the poet's grave in search of lost plays. And so we get, piled one on top of another, lots of backstage jokes involving dreadful auditions and bitchy zingers among the luvies, lots of Shakespeare parody in the rehearsals and plans for an all-singing all-dancing Macbeth, and lots of earthy comedy as Anne Hathaway's ghost lays out her grievances against her hubby. The cast are all first-rate, with special praise due Harry Dickman's sly Shakespeare. Gerald Berkowitz

Sholom Aleichem - Now You're Talking, Part 2 C Venue - In this latest instalment of the stories of Sholom Aleichem, Saul Reichlin returns to Kasrilevke, the Jewish village in 19th century Russia that gave us Tevye the Milkman and Fiddler on the Roof. Whereas the tales in Now You're Talking! ­ Part 1 are filled with details that focus the day to day life of the village, Part 2 shifts angle to allow the personalities of the villagers themselves to entirely take centre stage. This frees up Reichlin to delve into Sholom's characters to create a more expansive, physical performance that complements the multi-layered storytelling of the previous show. Painting great swashes of this unique cultural life where even the lowliest is important enough to have a story, Reichlin relates with glee each wily rabbi, absent-minded estate agent and drunken shoemaker. Telegrams provide a handy device to keep track of a runaway train inadvertently hijacked by a villager trying to impress a visiting Christian priest. Sholom's own voice appears as he somehow ends up knocking on doors at midnight to get a body buried in return for eternal life. These are tales you never want to end thanks to Reichlin's energy and humour. Roll on Part 3. Nick Awde

Sixteen Types of Happiness   Roman Eagle Lodge - Big State Theatre Company offer a sweet little fable that, if it is not quite as successful as they might wish, still provides a share of laughs and sober thoughts and gives the performers some fun stuff to do.  The owner of a seaside bed-and-breakfast is depressed, and decides that all the satisfied guests are stealing his happiness, carting it away in their suitcases with the pilfered towels. We ultimately learn the true cause of his unhappiness, which is a lot more real, but before then we are treated to a cross-section of holidaying Britons, from the never-satisfied to the easily-gratified, the self-sufficient to the demanding, the honourable to the dishonest. These, along with the owner and his ever-cheerful wife, are all played by Mark Bishop and Julie Black without even the aid of costume changes, and the only flaw in the piece is that it can't decide from minute to minute whether it wants to be comic or serious, so the audience doesn't know how to react and the potentially moving ending doesnıt quite work.  Gerald Berkowitz

Sniperculture Traverse - Masked as an expose of the pop music business, Johny Brown's play for the company called Underground Utopia tells us little that is new and much that is unbelievable, while ineffectually reaching for emotional resonances with a tacked-on allusion to Medea. An ageing country music star falls for a fan in Greece, and the girl becomes a punk rock star herself. Despite the fact that she is now the label's biggest money-spinner, the company head decides to break them up, marry the guy off to someone else just for the publicity, and destroy the punker's career. Will love triumph over commerce? Will the female boss played virtually as the Wicked Witch of the West ever get out of her chair? Will we believe that either of the lovers is actually a singer? Will we believe or care about any of this? A couple of days later, I've forgotten the answer to the first question, but am quite certain about the others. Gerald Berkowitz

The Snow Queen C Venue - Andersen's tale of the evil spirit who captures a boy and freezes his heart, and of the brave girl who travels to save him, is given a straight-forward and only intermittently inventive staging by this young company. Some of the cleverest conceits, like playing the flowers as a self-absorbed society couple, would seem to go over the heads of most children in the audience, as might the clever lyrics to a couple of original songs. Lewis Barfoot is an attractive heroine, and could do much to carry the show if she were directed to connect with the audience more. The fact that the narration is delivered by a disembodied recorded voice is probably an error, doing little to engage the children, and it is noteworthy that the sequence in which an onstage crow tells a story is one of the most successful in the play. In sum, parents may find more to entertain them, and also be more able to follow the plot, than the under-6s for whom the play is intended. Gerald Berkowitz

Something Else C too (reviewed at a previous Fringe) - Tall Stories Theatre have adapted the picture book by Kathryn Cave and Chris Riddell into a quietly pleasant one-hour play for children. The title character is a strange beast shunned by all the other animals because he is different. When he encounters a similarly lonely Something, his first instinct is to reject it because it isn't exactly like him, but good sense wins out and he discovers that they can be friends and play together even if they aren't exactly alike. The three performers present the story with unthreatening charm, punctuating the action with quiet songs. Sharon Morwood's sweetly childlike Something Else is balanced by Angela Laverick's more boisterous Something, while Toby Mitchell provides genial narration. Some jokes, like giving a pair of rabbits a hip-hop song, may be well over the heads of the audience, and in general the piece may be a bit too understated. The under-fives in the audience watched attentively but seemed engaged only by the most active rushing-about scenes, and the subtle moral may have required an after-show chat with mother to sink in. Gerald Berkowitz

Song and Dance Man Stage by Stage - The title is not one most people would instinctively apply to Gustav Mahler, but one thesis of Mike Maran's narrative-with-music is that the composer was capable of both song and dance, and that much of his music has a happier quality than is sometimes recognised. Maran begins with his own Mahler connection, as a teenage member of the Edinburgh Festival Chorus for the British premiere of Mahler's Eighth Symphony at the 1965 Festival. He then imagines himself another young man, an acolyte of the composer in a unique position to watch his life with Alma and experience his music in that context. In this way, with six musicians backing Maran's tale, excerpts are played to illustrate or counterpoint events and emotions in the composer's life. Particularly telling is the repeated trope of playing an exquisite piece of music and then reading a contemporary review dismissing it as Jewish sentimentality. It may be that Maran cheats a little in interpreting the musical selections as more personal and programmatic than they actually are, but the device works theatrically, and the rich beauty of the music itself does much to carry the evening. Gerald Berkowitz

Songs for a New World Pleasance Dome - Jason Robert Brown's musical plays like a collection of unrelated songs pulled from his trunk rather than a structured musical or even song cycle. There are hints that the composer had the rueful model of Stephen Sondheim's Merrily We Roll Along in mind, opening, as that show does, with the optimistic anthem of young graduates and returning repeatedly to that song in contrast to the more bittersweet or blackly comic songs in between. But no such balance or counterpoint develops, leaving merely a string of independent numbers, some of them quite effective. A woman recalls how she repeatedly passed up opportunities for happiness. An outsider wonders why he never gets a break. A man realises love is both a glory and a trap. In a more comic mood, Mrs. Santa complains about being left alone every Christmas, and a tipsy wife can't get her husband to notice her suicide attempt. Like every other theatre composer of the past thirty years, Brown cannot avoid occasional melodic echoes of both Sondheim and Lloyd Webber, though he does have an attractive sound of his own. The young cast take turns doing full justice to each of their solos, but the songs remain separate, and the program has no cumulative effect. Gerald Berkowitz

Southern Discomfort Gilded Balloon Teviot - Butch Hammett's solo show offers what might be a generic autobiography of an ordinary guy from the American South, juxtoposing scenes of him as an adult washing dishes at a society dinner while dreaming of dating supermodels, with memories of growing up. The memories and the personality they create are familiar to the point of stereotype: going to summer camp, picking up dodgy sexual information, hanging out with a self-indulgently burned-out Vietnam vet, playing football in high school and falling for a cheerleader, discovering that he's on the wrong side of a gap between the rich and the poor, drinking and fighting in various bars, and the like. Meanwhile, the adult's inclination to fantasize beyond his potential merely adds another layer of old news. This is all very, very well-trodden territory, and Hammett is unable to make it his own or shape it into fresh or newly illuminating form. He is a personable enough performer, however, and an hour in his company has some charm. Gerald Berkowitz

Spoonface Steinberg   Underbelly - Lee Hall's short play has become something of a modern standard, so I may be in a minority in finding the monologue of an autistic child who is dying of cancer more than a little manipulative and even in dubious taste as the Holocaust is rather clumsily dragged in and platitudes about the meaning of life and  hope in the face of death are presented as deep truths just because of the speaker's mental limitation. That said, Emily Wright offers a sensitive portrayal of Spoonface, going far to make both her naivete and preternatural wisdom believable, and the device of including a live singer to illustrate the girl's love of opera adds to the theatrical effectiveness.  Gerald Berkowitz

Squonk Opera - Bigsmorgasbordwunderwerk Gilded Balloon Teviot - Bizarrely attired individuals materialise from every corner and converge onstage. Musical instruments appear in their hands and, as a giant cornucopia unfurls itself from the wings, they burst into heavenly music. This is Squonk Opera, and their latest work is a multi-format symphony of music and movement that celebrates music and movement, laced with a suitably decadent feel. A vague leitmotif of food links the sections ­ think Grid Iron's Gargantua ­ but other concepts remain elusive. This US company has done its homework and drawn from a wide range of mainly European sources. The result is a visual and aural feast, almost epic, that reels from style to style with pleasing logic. A snake dance of hands behind a Venus de Milo turns to a strident barn dance with illuminated tomtom. Drum'n'sax invokes a dance of three-headed monsters straight out of Tremors, a huge organ machine appears like something out of Mad Max, bass and bass bassoon duel like ships in the night. Bouncing off Jackie Dempsey's keyboards, Jeffrey Beck's bass and Kevin Kornicki's percussion, Steve O'Hearn's stunning synth horn threatens to upstage the proceedings. Meanwhile singer Christina Honeycutt takes centre stage like a cabaret Bjork. Behind all the pzazz, though, one senses a certain aloofness from their audience outside of the usual dance snobs, which is a pity. Nick Awde

Star Struck Assembly Rooms - David Benson's new solo show is a salute to all his personal culture heroes, the ones he'd like to invite to an ideal party. He runs through the list, offering charming anecdotes about personal encounters with Eric Morecambe and Quentin Crisp, and instant evocations of others ranging from Fred Astaire to Groucho Marx, Judy Garland to Noel Coward. Benson is a good mimic, but he is at his best when he doesn't attempt direct imitation but goes rather for the essence of his subject. A few bars sung in the Sinatra style or just the silent image of Garland walking onstage, for example, capture them better than more extended imitations later. The fuller impressions come in a fantasy sequence in which he attends the party of his dreams, only to be sadly disillusioned by the discovery of his idols' clay feet, thus giving the hour an emotional core and an unobtrusive message that are nicely satisfying. A little long and prone to lapses in pacing, both familiar problems for Benson, the piece is carried ultimately by the performer's unassuming but solid talent and great personal charm. Gerald Berkowitz

The Story of Funk Assembly Rooms - Pint-sized P-Funk Chainsaw bursts onto the stage and launches into a motormouth monologue about all the lowlife challengers for his world wrestling title. Later we meet his arch-rival and top slob Venezualan Meat Sack plus a non-wrestling mate from NZ, John D Bankteller. Kiwi comic Dai Henwood has rather more imaginary friends than, say, you or I, and this evening he's introducing them to us. At first you rather wish he wouldn't since he's evidently spent a long, long time in their imaginary company ­ not necessarily a good thing for the sanity department. And then something clicks and you're plunged into Henwood's world, where the bemusment turns to chuckles turns to fullblooded belly laughs. The logic-bending is effortless. Straight out of the hood, P-Funk floats like a butterfly, stings like a bee and raps like Ice T. The Meat Sack turns out to be not Venezualan at all but from the Eastern Bloc, with dried fish hanging from his fighting togs but he's more concerned about where to stick his sausage. Bankteller gets even more laughs with his tales of smalltown derring-do while P-Funk returns to re-enact his comeback fight in glorious gore. An oddly eighties time-warp adds a bizarre tinge to an already surreal hour. Nick Awde

The Straits   Traverse - Gregory Burke follows his remarkable debut play Gagarin Way with one that is considerably less in-your-face brilliant but may have more enduring depth. His subject is the 1982 Falklands War, but in the manner of David Rabe's Vietnam plays, he observes it through the filter of the experiences of those at home - or, in this case, in the British colony at Gibralter, where Burke was a teenager at the time. A quartet of teenagers excited by the war news confuse it with their own xenophobia, so that in their minds fighting with local Spanish youths is somehow doing their bit for the war effort. Deaths in battle and at home are sobering reminders to us and to at least some of those onstage that there is more to war than jingoistic flag-waving.  That's about the extent of the play - the rest, about the kids' ineractions, is pretty standard stuff - but director John Tiffany and the actors of Paines Plough make all the sad ironies resonate.  Gerald Berkowitz

That's Life Augustine's - The old morality plays justified Man's position on this mortal coil in a world where everyone was considered Christian or heathen. For all the dogma, they were intended to reassure and entertain. This musical update smugly offers heavenly salvation in an increasingly heathen world where most couldn't care less. It isn't reassuring and will only entertain the already converted. Sermon over. A rock star dies but can't enter heaven until someone's said a good word for him, and from there play makes its worthy if undramatic way to a foregone conclusion. As rock musicals go, Alan Moon's tunes in this original Canadian production aren't half bad. John Illingworth's book is cartoon bubble stuff, however, and one wishes for more songs and dance numbers. The members of this young cast work hard with the material available. As Knowledge, Maxine Marcellin is transfixing with the slowburner More Than We Can Ever Know while one wishes Nadine Villasin as Good Deeds was allowed to really let go on Hey, God. The four-piece band is tight, with MD Jeanine Noyes on keyboards, and the arrangements are pleasingly loose, but the fact that director Barbara Cotterchio-Milligan sits them with backs to the audience is offputting. Now when are we going to get an edifying Christian musical about more pertinent matters like genocide? Nick Awde

Thebans Assembly Rooms - Liz Lochhead's version of the epic of the House of Laius opens and closes with straight-forward condensations of Sophocles' Oedipus and Antigone, with the middle and most original third compiled from Aeschylus and Euripides. The whole is structured so that it can be played with nine actors, the key performers of one scene donning masks to join the Chorus in others. It is likely that most will find the central section of greatest interest. Drawing on a version of the myth that has Jokasta not dying at the end of the Oedipus play, Lochhead has her trying to broker a peace between her warring sons before the fatal events that open Antigone. This creates an opportunity for a strong expression of a woman's view of war and of the absolute superiority of any kind of peace, while the sons cannot see or hear beyond their own values of honour and ambition. The first and last thirds, however, are little more than Sophocles-lite, with the condensation and the occasional clashing anachronism of language preventing much emotional power.  Peter Collins as Oedipus and Lucianne McEvoy as Antigone are forced to race through their sections of the play, with only Jennifer Black's Jokasta really able to register. Gerald Berkowitz

Thick Jongleurs - The central character in Rick Bland's moving little comedy was dropped on his head as a baby and is slow of thought and limited in perception. Like Mark Twain's Huck Finn, though, he is a scrupulously accurate reporter of what he sees, erring only in his innocent misinterpretations, through which we are allowed to see the truth. Thus, for example, a salesman who rips him off seems to him friendly and helpful, while his alcoholic and nearly psychotic mother is, in his eyes, loving and merely dependent on her medicine. The author shows this innocence carrying him through small indignities and major family tragedies, if not with equanimity then with a protective veil that enables him to learn and grow a little without being damaged further. With Tamara Bick and Ross Mullan each playing several characters around him, frequently in broad comic terms, it is the author's own solidly realistic and unironic portrait of the boy that anchors the play in a somewhat sentimentalised but always convincing and moving reality. Gerald Berkowitz

Think No Evil Of Us - My Life With Kenneth Williams Assembly (reviewed at a previous Fringe) - David Benson's salute to Kenneth Williams has three movements. It begins with the familiar picture, loveable warts and all - Williams recites a comic poem, answers a simple question with an endless dissertation on philology, philosophy and church history, flirts outrageously with a ditch digger and a butcherıs boy (with pointed references to mince & tongue), and berates himself for wasting his talent on trivia. It closes with the far less attractive side of the actor bullying friends, rude to fans, self-absorbed, loud and vulgar. In between, Benson takes the audacious risk of stepping out of character and speaking in his own voice about himself. Starting with his very tenuous connection to Williams (as a child he won a Jackanory contest and the comedian read his entry on the radio), he tells a lengthy, convoluted and alternately comic and embarrassingly personal story. We realize only late in the process that this is a typical Williams performance, and that Benson as Benson is actually closer to capturing the essence of his subject than the bracketing scenes of Benson as Williams. Gerald Berkowitz

Thin Walls Assembly Rooms - In a series of 37 very brief scenes, Alice Eve Cohen evokes life in a decaying New York apartment building over a decade. A handful of characters form the core of the action: middle-class newlyweds who move in, have a child and split up; working-class neighbours who face their own crises; and a pair of ex-hippies who have become the building's unofficial historians; along with a collection of residents and staff ranging from the friendly through the crazy to the murderous. The running theme is the paradox of a community that manages to work even though each of its constituent units is dysfunctional, and of people settling for less or sinking into reduced standards or expectations without realising it. With less than a minute for many of her monologue scenes Cohen is rarely able to create much in the way of characterisation or reality, and her performance too rarely extends beyond variation in accents or postures. The piece remains a sketch for a play along the lines of Elmer Rice's Street Scene rather than a fully developed work in itself. Gerald Berkowitz

This Lime Tree Bower   Assembly Rooms - Conor McPherson's early play is, like most of his others, built on a string of monologues, here three interlocking ones by three very different characters whose lives eventually come together - a randy college lecturer, a shy teenager and his older brother. The three actors (Nick Danan, Dermot Kerrigan and Peter Quinn) barely acknowledge each other, taking turns with their frequently very funny shaggy dog stories, until the brother takes vengeance on the local bookie by robbing him and the three stories converge, improbably on their way to a happy ending. Typically with McPherson there is barely any play here, and it would work equally well on radio. But just as typically, the three stories are good, and you enjoy an hour in the company of this master tale-weaver.  Gerald Berkowitz

Those Eyes, That Mouth   Gridiron Theatre - Gridiron is a company specializing in site-specific works, here a residential building in Edinburgh in the midst of heavy redecoration. They use the stripped-down rooms to tell a tale with echoes of The Yellow Wallpaper and Pinter's Dwarfs, among others, of an artist so immersed in her work that the outside world seems a ghostly intrusion. As the necessarily small audience are led from one bare room to another, Cait Davis as the artist wanders about the building in various states of sanity - now relating to the outside world, now lost in memories of the past, now inhabiting her closed reality. Singer-actor David Paul Jones follows her around helping to sustain the eerie mood. I must report that I was in a minority in not being moved or caught up in the play or in finding the unconventional location a significant contributor to what I thought might just as well have been done on a stage.  Gerald Berkowitz

Three Guys Naked From the Waist Down   Greyfriars Kirk House - The 1980s Off-Broadway musical by Jerry Colker and Michael Rupert might have seemed particularly appropriate to the Edinburgh Fringe, dealing as it does with the lives of a trio of stand-up comics, but this production from the National Student Theatre Company is unable to make much of either the satiric story or the admittedly weak songs. A typical stand-up comic (Edward Harrison), one with an angry-guy persona (Richard Michael-Morse) and a weird Andy Kaufman type who may be a genius or just unstable (Pete Howe) form a trio, become a hit, achieve the comic's dream of a TV sitcom and cope or don't cope with selling out. I'll leave you to guess which embraces demeaning success, which kills himself and which returns to his stand-up roots, and just say that the hard-working actors were unable to create much reality in either their characters or the milieu.  Gerald Berkowitz

Throat Pleasance (reviewed at a previous Fringe) - John-Paul Zaccanini is a dancer/mime/aerialist/performance artist whose solo performance has a number of striking moments, but doesn't add up to much. We first see him in the guise of a drag queen kneading bread, only to have the dough take on the shape of a babe-in-arms, sweetly betraying his unhappiness. He watches trash TV, speaking along with the dialogue in several languages. He attempts to flirt with every person in the audience. He becomes a picky, demanding pop singer in rehearsal. He climbs a rope for aerial ballets or splashes around in a pool of water, the ripple effects projected on a screen. Some of it is lovely. If there is a subject, it is loneliness, as he portrays the isolate, the social inept, the wanker.   Gerald Berkowitz

Tina C: Lifestyle Guru Pleasance - Tina C breaks away from a sultry tantric pose, slips out of her sari and silkily informs us that it's a session not a show. World issues like the Iraq war added to a hectic year on the international circuit with hits like Other Guys Love Parts of Me (But You Love My Whole) have finally made her realise that she's been ignoring the ordinary people, people just like us. And now, trained from feng shui to primal scream, Tina has so much love to give and we're about to get it. After a spot of audience hugging and swaying - something you'd never believe possible of a midweek Scottish crowd - Tina launches into Let Me Be Your Lifestyle Guru, a mini-epic that Celine would be proud to cover, bar, of course, the fact that we're now officially in double entendre heaven. Reading out audience questionnaires filled in earlier, she dispenses advice on matters as diverse as alcoholism, golf widows and US foreign policy prompting adorable swipes at, well, just about everything. The message occasionally overreaches itself, such as the slightly baffling War, where Tina sings War and We Are the World over I Love Rock 'n' Roll. But deliciously dippy whatever. Nick Awde

Tittle Tattle Gilded Balloon Teviot - In a bad piece of marketing, almost nothing alerted audiences to the fact that TV writer Lesley Calre O'Neill had actually produced three separate plays performed in rotation, all set in Yorkshire in 1959 and all featuring such familiar TV soap actors as Marc Bannerman and Keira Malik. In the first, Cross Your Heart and Hope To Die, a fortune teller announces that someone in a woman's family will die soon, and as her husband has already had one heart attack, soon everyone in the neighbourhood is trying desperately to avoid foot-in-mouth faux pas or making book on the side as to which day he'll choose to snuff it. The second play, Irma Bullock, brings a femme fatale into the neighbourhood, catching the eye of all the men and almost stealing the lead in the community theatre musical from the wife of one of her conquests. The situation established, much of the onstage humour comes from familiar am-dram jokes of bad performances, missed cues and the like. The Crakenhedge Flasher has the structure of classic farce, as a relatively innocent slip must be covered with an ever-escalating series of lies and stratagems. Here, a man examining a collector's quality gun in a dark spot is mistaken by a passing matron for a flasher. Rather than admit that he was making the illicit purchase, he begins a series of lies that culminate in promising the appearance of a big pop star at the church Christmas fete and then having to pass off an impostor. Despite the seemingly foolproof structure, this is the weakest of the trilogy, with the joke running out of steam quickly and the interpolated gags involving lip-sync performances at the fete not really scoring. In all three plays the acting is broad to the point of caricature, with much of the fun for the audience - noticeably older than the typical fringe audience - lying in seeing familiar TV faces in a new context. Gerald Berkowitz

Titus Andronicus Gateway Theatre (reviewed in London) - Titus Andronicus is perhaps Shakespeare's least-often produced play, because its wave upon wave of Grand Guignol horrors intimidates or defeats most conventional companies. (Briefly, the Roman war hero finds himself the target of vicious enemies: his sons are murdered, his daughter raped and mutilated, he conned into mutilating himself and driven mad, until he achieves a horrible vengeance.) But Shakespeare's phantasmagoria of murder, rape, mutilation, madness and cannibalism proves fertile ground for KAOS's signature mode of eclectic physicality. Under Xavier Leret's direction, the cast of eight employ all the performance styles in the company's repertoire, with such inventiveness and freedom that if there are three people onstage at any point, it is likely that one will be acting in an entirely different mode from the others. But this stylistic eclecticism is not random or pointlessly showy. Shakespeare's play of extreme atrocities and extreme revenges actually benefits from an approach that does not shrink from its excesses, but rather underlines them theatrically. A great deal of stage blood is spilled, but the Grand Guignol approach is carefully controlled, and the company's repertoire of styles is expanded to include moments of quiet naturalism that movingly convey the central character's barely-imaginable depths of pain and despair. Neither the play nor the performance style can be for all tastes, and the squeamish are particularly advised to look elsewhere for safer entertainment. But this is a rare opportunity to see an inventive director and company addressing a classical text, and finding theatrically effective ways of serving it. Gerald Berkowitz

Toast C Central - This very, very short one-hander, barely 15 minutes from start to end, is nonetheless complete and very satisfying in its creation of a reality and a character, even though (or perhaps because) both bear little similarity to the reality we inhabit. Katy Slater plays a woman who lives on a stepladder, having moved up in the world from sharing accommodation in a suitcase and brief  but in different ways unsuccessful sojourns in an oven and a cushion. She describes her various homes and also her neighbours above and below her on the ladder. What makes it work is Slater's performance. With the sweet, confident rationality one sometimes sees in the totally insane, she offers an absolutely normal, matter-of-fact narration, giving no indication whatever that the world she describes has anything unusual about it. And so we are drawn into her reality, accepting it as reasonable until the spell is broken by the end of the play. And by then, something truthful has been said about the accommodations we make to life and the ways we try to keep our sense of self through various compromises. Gerald Berkowitz

Tonight We Fly   George Square Theatre - Trestle is a company whose work I have always loved - a mask and mime group with none of the preciousness that label might suggest, and with the ability to individualise characters so that their full-head masks almost seem to change expression. Fearing that their style was limited, they have been experimenting with variations, as in this biography of painter Marc Chagall, which adds puppetry and - for the first time in my experience of them - an unmasked, speaking actor as the artist.  I am particularly unhappy to have to say that he is the weakest thing in the show, and that it is the 'old' Trestle elements of masked real-life characters and their painted equivalents that most capture the spirit of Chagall's dreamlike paintings. Gerald Berkowitz

Paul Tonkinson Pleasance - Paul Tonkinson is an interesting case. Discuss. He trots out the same old mildly offensive jokes about her indoors, encountering resistance in the bed department, regional stereotyping... well, you get the idea. But so long as most of the nation's population finds it funny, reflecting what goes on behind behind their lace curtains, there'll always be a demand for an act like this. To his credit ­ and enduring success ­ he updates and packages it well and brings the house down as a result. In fact, Tonkinson is one of those natural comics who has the gift of instant connection. If you wrote his act down you'd be pushed to find a single punchline, it's all in his deadpan North Yorks tones and rampant physicality as he takes a laidback run-through the Brits (and Yorkshiremen) at their funniest and their worst. Steering clear of the territory of the born-again stand-up with young kids, he takes you David Attenborough-style through the Zeitgeist of parenthood before moving on to burning testicles in chemistry at school and post-partum conjugal rights. Thoroughly old school, discreetly end of pier and with nary a hint of spreadsheet comedy, it all somehow makes sense. Nick Awde

Topping and Butch: Afternoon Tease Underbelly - The duo of Michael Topping and Andrew Simmons put on an in-yer-face front in their leather or rubber gear, but they're really lovely boys, a slightly hipper and somewhat camper version of Kit and the Widow - that is, witty songs from, in this case, an openly gay perspective. And so we get a version of the 'You say potayto' song contrasting the vocabularies of gay and straight men, a barbed salute to Robbie Williams and passable impersonations of Marilyn Monroe and Tony Curtis singing that condoms are a girl's best friend. There is perhaps too much chatter and filler involving their assistants serving sherry in this afternoon hour, leaving you wanting more of the songs than you get, but it is, as the title suggests, just a teaser for their evening show.  Gerald Berkowitz

Touched by Fire C Central - One of the problems for those in the West seeking to probe the human condition is that we've already had our inter-ethnic conflict, civil wars and world conflagrations (well, hopefully, that is), so writing about national injustice is a bit of a dead end. A scientist found dead in woods or firebombing second-homers in Wales is as close as the British get. Inspired by world events such as the Moscow theatre siege, writer Ciaran McConville has come up with an intriguing response via a mental institution. Inmates include a forlorn murderess (Barbara Johnson), barmy physicist (George Varley), bubbly nurse (Luanna Priestman) and a mysterious inmate (Daniel Weyman) who seems to know their secrets. Who is the mystery stranger? What is it that binds them all? Stranger-in-asylum has become a well-trodden sub-genre, but between cliched onset and conclusion McConville veers into unexpected territory. A confident storyteller, he interweaves stories to show the chaos of a well-heeled society that reflects the insanity of the asylum. The cast works hard and each shines equally, doubling parts with skill. Unusually for the Fringe, McConville directs his own work with objectivity to create a neat political parable with gentle humour that prevents things from stumbling over their own importance. Nick Awde

Trick Boxing Gilded Balloon Teviot - Two attractive American actor-dancers combine their talents to good effect in this brightly comic  Depression-era tale with overtones of an Astaire-Rogers movie. Playing virtually all the roles, Brian Sostek tells the familiar story of a talented amateur plucked from the sidewalks and groomed to be a prizefighter, with Megan McClellan as the temptress who, for possibly nefarious motives, lures him away from his training. In true Fred-and-Ginger fashion, the seduction takes place on the dance floor, with the story allowing for three extended dance sequences. And the couple take full advantage, burning up the small stage with fast-moving and high-kicking Lindy-based action. In between, a variety of accents and postures, and some tongue-in-cheek puppeteering, allow Sostek to keep the story moving and invest it with fresh and infectious humour. A slight piece at best, but one that delivers fully the bouncy and light-hearted entertainment it promises. Gerald Berkowitz

12 Angry Men Assembly Rooms - Reginald Rose's acclaimed teleplay, later a classic film, and even later a stage play, proves its strength 50 years after it was written in this powerful new production directed by Guy Masterson. The special attraction of this particular version is that Masterson cast it almost entirely with stand-up comics, in the faith that their stage instincts would translate successfully to serious drama. And he was proven right, as the tale of a jury in which one man resists the drive to a quick guilty verdict and gradually wins the others over to his reasonable doubt. is as well-acted and gripping as anyone could want. In the key role played in the film by Henry Fonda, Owen O'Neill is perhaps just a bit too self-effacing. But Stephen Frost as the hothead, Bill Bailey as the methodical one, and Phil Nichol as the bigot - along with straight actors Russell Hunter as the old man and David Calvitto as the baseball fan - give flawless performances. Gerald Berkowitz

Twelfth Premise C Central - Three post-adolescent mates are emerging into the real world, their days of teenage experimentation replaced by the realisation that now they'll have to take responsibility for their adult actions. But what seems at first to be the mawkish navel-gazing exercise so beloved of visiting American companies swiftly turns into a hard-hitting exploration of the newlytwentysomething condition. Aidan (Brian Crano) fancies macho Con (Josh Cooke), who succumbs but enjoys telling his shocked girlfriend the gory details. Surfer-bum Christian (Mathieu Young) watches on with irritation before returning with a more balanced view after travelling abroad. The fun is watching each new encounter or rejection spiral out into other relationships and trying to second-guess from which direction the emotional repercussions will come. Lovers come and go, friendships are put to the test, and we learn that the death of a parent is as much a rite of passage as losing one's virginity. Director Aaron Mullen is faithful to Crano's script, underpinned with Josh Cooke's soundtrack of moody guitar, and deftly orchestrates the eight-strong cast, who respond with impressively restrained performances. Terribly worthy but deliciously profane the play avoids all the self-important pitfalls of similar works, producing a moving, thoughtful and gently funny experience. Definitely one of the (pleasant) surprises of the Fringe. Nick Awde

Twentieth Century Legends - The Lives, Loves and Music of Bing Crosby and Peggy Lee Rocket at Apex Hotel - This small-scale salute to the two singers combines biographical sketches by Jack Jaffe, read by him and pianist Allan Mills, and selected songs by Jaffe and Corliss Randall. Though the program notes that no direct attempt will be made to impersonate either of the subjects, Randall is wigged and made up to resemble Peggy Lee and does have a good microphone technique and the same blues-based singing style, so that her numbers do suggest the essence of Lee. Jack Jaffe, on the other hand, has a thin, nasal voice that occasionally hits a recognisable note, sometimes even the right one, and he makes no attempt at all to approximate the sound, style or phrasing of Bing Crosby. He frequently forgets to aim at his microphone, and has trouble remembering lyrics, so that his half of the show does very little to evoke Crosby. The narration puts an emphasis on scandal, like Crosby's drinking and Lee's love affairs, and has nothing at all to say about their singing, missing the opportunity to illuminate their influences and innovations - in short, what made them legends. Gerald Berkowitz

21 Dog Years: Doing Time @ amazon.com Assembly Rooms - Poised somewhere between the muckraking of Michael Moore and the anecdotal monologue of Spaulding Gray, Mike Daisey's account of his three years working for the online bookseller is a low-key, quietly comic dissection of American corporate culture and the dot-com madness of the 1990s that is most effective when least assertive. Adopting the same sort of ordinary-Joe persona as Moore, Daisey tells how he, a liberal-arts graduate with no career prospects, was won over by the recruit-speak of the Amazon trainers and the cult of founder Jeff Bezos, only to discover that being a Customer Services Representative meant fobbing off complaints with empty promises while being monitored and graded on the number of calls and toilet breaks per hour. Learning to play the game, he engineered a promotion to a totally meaningless executive job before quitting to save his sanity, only to discover that failing at Amazon meant he was highly desired by other mad dot-com companies. Daisey's half-amused half-outraged rants against some of the wilder dot-com absurdities are comic and telling, but it may be the quieter moments, as when he realises the toll his job is taking on his soul, that resonate most. Gerald Berkowitz

Under Milk Wood St George's West Church - To tie in with the 50th anniversary of Dylan Thomas' death, Guy Masterson's near authoritative version of the poet's proto-soap opera has been given a revamp, most notably the addition of specially composed music by Matt Clifford. And so that other Coronation Street more than repays another visit. Though Clifford's contribution mainly takes the form of journeyman chord progressions for strings, the mere fact of its presence is key to this production, since it opens up new dimensions to the piece. There is a significant effect on pace, breaking the action into discrete sections while maintaining the flow. This altered structure enables Masterson to frame his characters with almost camera-like focus, while also giving pause to redirect his energies ­ rarely has a one-man show of this duration and without an interval seemed so effortless. The old favourites glow with renewed vigour ­ Blind Captain Cat, Organ Morgan, Mrs Ogmore-Pritchard terrorising her departed husbands ­ 'And before you let the sun in, mind it wipes its shoes!' ­ and the children's manic kiss or pay games. Thanks to the combined vision of Thomas and Masterson, you'll be made to feel completely at home in Llareggub. Nick Awde

The Usual Suspects Roman Eagle Lodge - This stage version of the hit who-did-what-to-whom film adds nothing to the cinema experience while introducing staging and acting flaws that make it considerably less effective than the original. The story of a group of petty crooks brought together by a master criminal for a disastrous project, and of the one survivor's account which may not be fully accurate, depends on our believing everything that we see and are told, until it is all called into question at the end.  But Ricardo Pinto's adaptation and direction leave most of the characters undeveloped and much of the action unclear. The red herring character of the chief suspect, for example, is insufficiently distinguished from the others to stand out, and the several action sequences are so clumsily staged that one needs a mental reference to the film to know what is supposed to be happening. The two biggest  and most important roles, of the testifying survivor and his interrogator, are played respectively by Pinto, who has a thick accent, and Kyle Phillip, who is prone to inaudible mumbling, meaning that whole chunks of essential exposition are lost. And the key sequence involving a notice board, in which the truth is finally revealed, is here played with slide projections, but with Phillip standing directly in front of the screen, blocking the audience's view of the essential clues.  Rent the video. Gerald Berkowitz

The Vegemite Tales Pleasance Dome (reviewed in London) - Imagine a TV sitcom modelled on Friends, with the gimmick that all the flatmates and neighbours are Australian 20-somethings living in London, and youıll have some of the flavour of Melanie Tait's audience-pleasing but slight comedy. In strict TV mode the characters are an unlikely mix of recognizable types - the stud, the shnook, the perky tomboy, the motherly one, etc - along with (for no reason except that Tait once knew such a person) an Italian fascinated by obscenities in different languages. In strict TV mode little actually happens, with token gestures toward plot - an unwanted pregnancy, a tentative romance, a decision to go home - merely providing the slimmest of skeletons on which individual scenes or jokes about job-hunting, flatmate discord, partying and culture clashes are hung. And much as in a sitcom, several of the characters are underwritten and underused, although you can imagine them playing more central roles in another episode. By the undemanding standards of the genre, the play is not bad at all. Certainly an almost entirely young and largely Aussie audience finds a lot to recognize and enjoy in the flatmates' adventures, while the device of punctuating scenes with to-the-camera monologues in which each in turn list their most and least favourite things about London repeatedly strikes comic paydirt. It's all a little too shapeless, even by its own modest standards, but a harmless couple of hours that provides its intended audience with a moderate quota of laughs. Gerald Berkowitz

Vengeance Pleasance - In the course of Wayne Buchanan's play for the Kushite Theatre, two characters are separately knocked out, tied up, threatened with violence, and then just quietly untied and released . And that is emblematic of the play as a whole, which repeatedly invokes tension and threat, only to let it repeatedly dissipate anticlimactically. A young black couple have some sexual and compatibility problems but seem in a stable enough relationship until the man's brother returns from prison and immediately begins undermining it. Flirtation with the perhaps oversensitive woman escalates to the threat of rape, while lies to his brother raise questions of her fidelity. At various times several possible motives are offered for the interloper's actions but most of them either disappear, are explained away as misunderstandings, or just fail to pay off as revelations. With no clear explanation of any of the characters' actions, no clear through-line for the plot and no satisfying discoveries at the end, the cast has difficulty holding the audience's attention or involvement. Gerald Berkowitz

A Very Naughty Boy   Pleasance - Graham Chapman, the tall, military-looking member of Monty Python, was an embarrassed homosexual and an alcoholic who was sometimes barely able to function, and yet something about him made his colleagues loyal, particularly John Cleese, who was his writing partner on various projects for almost thirty years. Adrian Poynton's play tells Chapman's story with remarkable sympathy, not just for his pain, but for Cleese's after-the-fact guilt at never really thinking of Chapman as a friend. The author plays Chapman and Tom Price Cleese, neither attempting a direct imitation, but capturing a recognisable essence of each, and the script evokes the Python style, so that, for example, Chapman's entrance interview at Oxford plays as a variant on the rent-an-argument sketch. Those who come for light entertainment will get it, but also some sobering insights into both characters.  Gerald Berkowitz

The Water Engine Assembly Rooms - David Mamet's 1976 play centres on the American urban myth of the fuelless engine suppressed by the automobile and oil companies, but to extend its scope to a general dissection of the dark side of the American Dream Mamet also brings in the insistantly optimistic Worlds Fair held in the middle of the Depression, a chain letter promising riches and threatening doom, and the Lindburgh baby kidnapping. He also multiplies reality levels by placing part of the action in a radio play complete with scripts and sound effects. The result is something of a jumble, and New York's 78th Street Theatre Lab have not been able to master its difficulties or avoid adding obfuscating problems of their own. Though most of the cast are required to play multiple roles and to move between the play's various realities, the acting rarely rises above the level of earnest amateurs, and Eric Nightengale's direction is cluttered and poorly paced. As a result, what is at best a difficult play is too infrequently coherent. Gerald Berkowitz

Western   C Cubed - Ben Woolf's four-hander is a clever twist on the innocent abroad theme, with his hero a disgraced 19th century English dandy come to America for a new start and quickly taken in by a series of canny Americans, from cowboys to Indians. The running joke is that this naif completely misinterprets everything and everyone, and thus gets deeper and deeper into a convoluted land-grab scheme. The author and three other actors take turns playing the hapless hero and everyone else, frequently switching roles in mid-sentence, making for a fast-moving and very inventive hour.  Gerald Berkowitz

The Whale: A One-Man Moby Dick Assembly Rooms - Moby Dick gets the one-man treatment in this version of Herman Melville's classic 1850 tale of Captain Ahab's epic hunt for the great white whale. Visually arresting thanks to Carlo Adinolfi's infectious physicality, it nevertheless threatens to sink itself thanks to relentless delivery that obscures meaning and characters. Adinolfi roves the small stage, brandishing harpoons, hauling sails, perching atop focs'ls, creating huge waves of action on which ride Melville's words. The dialogue is split mainly between Ishmael, a sailor aboard the whaler who philosophically charts his captain's obsession with killing Moby Dick, and Ahab himself, who easily gets the best scenes. Unexpected props add to the atmosphere: a model ship spawns two smaller rowboats which in turn are rendered life-sized by a flexed wooden spine with ribs that becomes the diving whale with the addition of a sailcloth. A pleasing eye for technical detail evokes the novel but the poetry of it all founders in superficial swells of drama. Adinolfi earns his ten out of ten for effort but credit also goes to the edgy lighting, FX and David Pinkard's rolling music for evoking Ahab's nightmare. Nick Awde

The Whore's Tale Underbelly - Reclining, writhing and dancing on a heart-shaped bed, a proud and happy whore declares herself to be the spirit of prostitutes since the oldest profession's beginnings, and takes us through its stages and her manifestations, from tribal holy woman, through vestal non-virgin and Magdelaine, to Nell Gwynn wannabe and contemporary streetwalker. Except for the last portrait, which offers some hint of deprivation and desperation, the portraits are all proud and assertive, romanticising whoredom as a celebration of female power and self-definition. In keeping with this message, writer-actor Catherine Kirk eschews any hint of subtlety in her acting, varying only the styles of broad performance, from the children's TV storyteller of the tribal fable to the in-your-face daring of the modern figure. This relentless one-note quality loses its effectiveness after a while, allowing audiences to notice how one-sided the history lesson is. Gerald Berkowitz

The Wicker Woman Pleasance - Population:3's show is a fast-moving anything-for-a-laugh romp that delivers almost as much fun as it hopes to, and certainly enough for a satisfying hour. Doubling and redoubling roles, the cast of three tell a consciously silly story that is a variant on the cult horror movie The Wicker Man with, in this case, a woman PC kidnapped by Scottish islanders and sacrificed to propitiate the wind gods and save the local windmill farm. But the fun lies in the openly cheesy jokes and comic effects. All the characters, from the innocent copette to the local yokels, are cartoons, and all sets, props and costumes comically inadequate or exaggerated.  Sound effects and even musical bridges are all done by mouth. The cast member providing an echo effect can't catch what the caller says and has to fake it. One of the women puts on a fake moustache to play a man, and the comment that she looks like Freddy Mercury triggers a string of impressions. Such silliness is infectious, and while even more would be even better, few could complain that there is not enough. Gerald Berkowitz

Wide Awake Greyfriars Kirk House - Melanie Challenger's new play addresses a fairly arcane subject that may mean more to the author than to her audiences. Two female soldiers alone in the woods on a field exercise begin displaying erratic behaviour, some of which is explained by the fact that they are testing a new drug that does away with the need for sleep, and have been up for months. The author's point is that sleep deprivation does strange things to you, and as the plot eventually shows that almost everything we've been told up to that point has been delusion, the play eventually makes its point. But, despite earnest performances by Tamsyn Challenger and Brigitte Jarvis, the issue never really comes alive or seems as important as it evidently is to the playwright .  Gerald Berkowitz

Wishbone: Interference Pleasance - June 5, 1972. West Berlin. A partitioned city amputated from its nation West Germany, itself sliced up by waves of inhumane terrorist attacks. An American woman, Frances, arrives in search of her brother. Driven by dreams and a pervading sixth sense, she fears for his safety and contacts Bruno, a photographer with something to hide and who knew her brother. They end up in the Cabaret Charlie, where things take a surreal turn and the answers to all Frances' questions are revealed. Building on the deserved success of Scapegoat, Wishbone have created a sort of Twin Peaks meets Funeral in Berlin with this darker, more sophisticated piece that wouldn't be out of place in the International Festival. Devised and performed by Karen Glossop and Paul Murray, at first the action takes place in three compartments to create a split-screen narrative, the protagonists then moving out to physically meet where the action remains cinema-style as cuts, crossfades and reaction shots. An eerie soundtrack keeps the atmosphere neatly edgy. Unsettling as it is beautiful, this is abstract theatre true to its mission without sight of the audience while the technical inventiveness used to realise this vision without a mega-budget is simply extraordinary. Nick Awde

Withering Looks Pleasance. - This is the show that the duo of Lip Service began with, and the revival is always welcome. Maggie Fox (the tall one, given to baleful looks) and Sue Riding (the cheery short one) impersonate two earnest amateurs offering an illustrated talk on the lives and loves of the Bronte sisters. Of course, the fact that there are only two of them means that Anne must be imagined to be off tramping across the moors, but they soldier on, and the skilled professionals pretending to be over-reaching amateurs are uninteruptedly hilarious, whether they're confusing the arrival of a neighbour with the plot of Jane Eyre, or melding the book and film versions of Wuthering Heights.You don't have to be a Bronte scholar to enjoy this, though I suspect there are enough in-jokes to keep them as happy as the rest of us. Gerald Berkowitz

The Woman Who Dances with the Wolves The Garage - The Indo-Japanese dancer and choreographer Shakti offers this salute to the power of woman as part of a repertory season in Edinburgh. Drawing on Indian, southeast Asian and Japanese dance vocabularies, and with an impressive music score that alludes to those cultures along with Western symphonic and church music, and even the sampling of spoken voices, the dancer holds the stage with an evocative and frequently beautiful celebration of the female essence. A strong dancing actress as well as a fluid mover, she takes us through the varieties of the female experience, with an emphasis on the positive.   Her self-created dance is an impressive celebration of both sexuality and strength, presented alternately or in combination, as in a sequence in which her face and hands display kittenish flirtation while her feet stamp with powerful authority. Except for one mournfully toned section in which a regal train evolves into a shroud, the spirit is affirmative throughout, leading to a final image of proud but not aloof womanhood fully in tune with the universe. Gerald Berkowitz

Jason Wood Gets His Hits Out For The Lads Pleasance - Armed with more teeth than any three sharks, a suit about as shiny as their skins, a microphone set at nerve-damage level, and a determination to out-camp Craig Hill or Julian Clary, Jason Wood could be more than a bit intimidating were he not obviously so puppy-dog eager to please. Even the obligatory humiliate-a-member-of-the-audience segments are cushioned by the kind of local-amateur-night charm that grannies find irresistible. A structural premise of describing what it was like to grow up gay is dropped after a couple of home movie snippets, and the act then becomes alternating bits of broad camp, audience interaction and short singing imitations of B-list performers like Jimmy Somerville and Tony Hadley, the comedian thoughtfully telling us in advance who each impression is meant to sound like. There is not a whole lot that is actually funny, and your appreciation of Wood depends entirely on your empathy with his brand of personal charm. Gerald Berkowitz

 

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

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Reviews - Edinburgh Festival - 2003